Archive for July, 2008

The Elusive Air

My brother shared with me yesterday how different cultures perceive the effect of air on crispy biscuits. For the Malays, biscuits lose their crispness because of masuk angin (air has entered). The Hokkiens look at it differently for they say it is due to lau hong (releasing of air).

When air is released from one’s body, it can be released via the mouth or the alimentary canal. The air that is released from the mouth is pretty much affected by the onomatopoeic influence. Malays call it sendawa. Hokkiens call it pak ok. And the English burp or belch.

However it’s a different matter when it’s released via the other end. The Malays prefer the onomatopoeia kentut. Respectable English speakers refer to the act as breaking wind (because of the explosive sound). Hokkiens are more euphemistic for they call it pang pui (releasing of air) with no allusion to whatever sound.

I think I’d better stop now lest I be called a windbag.

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July 10, 2008 at 8:46 pm 1 comment

How many in a couple?

When I was in my primary and secondary years, I had the impression that a couple was synonymous with a few. Later I came to realise from my discussion with native speakers of English that it can also mean two. This can prove problematic in certain cases.

I remember watching a talk show where the host introduced a couple of books written by his guest. Most Malaysians would assume that it meant a few but as the interview unfolded, it was clear that only 2 books were discussed.

My stand is that if it is more than two, it’s better to say a few. This is because when couple was first coined, it meant two. Therefore, when we refer to a man and a woman who are meant for each other, they are a couple. However that becomes a bit difficult to define if the man is polygamous. What would you call a man with three wives? A couple? A few?

July 8, 2008 at 8:38 pm 3 comments

A working Sponge

Students are like selective sponges. What you want them to remember, they conveniently forget. What you want them to disregard, they remember for life.

During my teaching practice, I had this student who would make it a habit of talking to the person behind her even when I was talking. No amount of dissuasion could stop that behaviour of hers.

And so one day, I accidentally spilled out, “We are a progressive lot. And it’s a pity that one of you is still backward-looking.” That did the trick. She never once looked back after that.

I didn’t expect much from her on my last day in that school. Farewell cards were given to me plus a short speech by the monitor. But the best gift was what this backward-looking girl told me. I can’t remember her exact words but it was the fact that she couldn’t stand the thought of being branded a person who’s not progressive. The fact that it was uttered without malice, I feel, also had a small part to play.

July 2, 2008 at 8:38 pm 2 comments

What’s in a Name?

I once entered this class of rowdy students (who had this aversion to English) with a battery of what I thought would be interesting activities. As with most well-prepared lessons, they did not turn out as expected because students are after all unpredictable.

I knew they loved watching Chinese films. And so I asked them to name me those actors who had an impact on them. I remember one boy shouting out, “Air Kencing!”

Quickly I went to him but I didn’t notice any wet splotches on his pants. He even shouted all the more. I knew something was amiss for this student was not known to play the fool.

He then took out a newspaper clipping with this face:

That wasn’t the end of it because years later, I bumped into this old friend of mine. Guess what she’s called? You Reen but it sounded much better in Mandarin.

July 1, 2008 at 8:47 pm 4 comments


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