Saturday, July 28, 2007

kanji -漢字 – hanji – 汉字 - two birds with a han


If one reads only English, one would think that this is purely a Japanese-English Dictionary.

If one reads only Chinese, one would think that this is a Chinese-English Dictionary.

If one reads English and Chinese one would at first glance thought that it could have been a mistake in the title – for how could a Chinese-English Dictionary, as read from the Chinese words, be called a Japanese-English Dictionary, in English.

And perhaps this would what most bi-lingual Singaporeans would have thought.

However, the catch is in the word ‘Character’. For, ‘Character’ refers to kanji - 漢字- in Japanese - 汉字 – hanzi – that is the Han or Chinese Character, in written Chinese.

Being a bi-lingual, and able to read Chinese, would give you more than just the Chinese language alone. With a strong foundation in written Chinese, one is also half way into the Japanese language. Though one may not be able to pronounce it in Japanese, however one would have known the written meaning.

As reading the Japanese (or Chinese ) title of the dictionary would testify, if one knows Chinese, one would have known that it is the - Newest Edition of Han-English Dictionary, i.e. a Han Character – English Dictionary, which carries the same meaning in Chinese or in Japanese.

最新漢英辞典 is pronounced as:

saishin kan-ei jiten - in Japanese
zhuixin han-ying chidian – in Chinese

How many Kanji characters are there in the Japanese language, you may ask.

In 1946, the Japanese Government listed a list of 1,850 ‘Current Characters’ - Toyo Kanji – 通用漢字 - with the recommendation that publishers and writers confine themselves to these characters.

All in there are 1,850 commonly used Kanji Characters in the Japanese language, and there are possibly 3,000 to 5, 000 commonly use hanji in the Chinese written language.

So, for those of you in the wildness struggling to learn the ‘Mother’ tongue - if the economic value of the language does not entice you to persevere with it – do not be dishearted, that idea that you are half way thro in learning the Japanese language, might perhaps do the trick to boost you on.

For, if you travel to Japan, you will be able to identify many of the characters in the signboards which will aid you making your way around. You can even engage a Japanese in ‘pen talk’ i.e.笔谈 – histudanbitan i.e. conversation thro writing Chinese characters.

So, ‘To study Chinese’ – would be written in Japanese as:

中国语 no 勉强 - chugoku go no benkyoo


But the two characters - 勉强 - has taken on a different meaning & connotation in the two languages, since the Japanese adopted it into the Japanese language a thousand two hundred odd years and more.

For :

勉强 - benkyoo suru – to study in Japanese ,
勉强 - mianqiang – as an adverb in Chinese has various meanings, namely i) to do one’s best despite difficulty or lack of experience or ii) reluctantly, grudgingly iii) inadequate, unconvincing, farfetched iv) barely enough.

In Chinese to study is : 学习 - xuexi. It is pronounced as as gakushyu –in Japanese – though it connotes a higher level of study, and delving into research.

Perhaps that’s what most of the Singaporeans students are facing when they study Chinese, they -勉强中国语 – mian qiang Zhongguo yu. They are struggling with their Chinese Language! It describes it well in Japanese.

Well, kanji -漢字and hanzi - 汉字- is not so similar after all, ne.


1)  漢 or 汉
The two characters are the same in Chinese, with one written in the simplified stroke – down from 14 strokes to 5 stokes. In pinyin - han - pronounced in the 4th tone.

Japanese have maintained the traditional standard Chinese character.


The Modern Reader’s Japanese-English Character Dictionary - 最新漢英辞典 - by Andrew Nathaniei Nelson, Phd. D published by Charles E Tuttle Company, 1978

Purchased at:

Marican & Sons (M) Sdn Bhd, Podium G5 DBS Building, No 5 Shenton Way Singapore -1
Tel: 221-4037
Date: 13.September.1980,
Price: $64.80


Sunday, July 22, 2007

the kereta that no longer runs on local ayer

Date: 8Jul/Sunday
Time: 9:30pm
Place: Junction of Smith Street – Trengganu Street

Was making my way to the MRT station and while passing thro the junction of Smith and Trengganu Streets, bumped into the street performance and stopped to watch. . Had thought that it was a Cantonese Opera but it wasn’t. The singing was in the Beijing Opera style.

It was a short act from the script - Jin Pingmei – 金瓶梅 - with Wu Song (the hero who killed a tiger with his bare hands) - 武松- Pan Jin Liang- – 潘金莲(the loose sister-n-law of Wu Song ) and Ximen Qing ( rich philander) – 西门庆-in appearance. The drunken screen of Wu Song gulping down huge jars of wine, was superbly acted, and the fighting of with Xiemen Qing was acted with such acrobatic skills and force that it could have broken the make shift stage into pieces, brought applause from the small but mainly tourist audience.

It was a weekend event to rejuvenate the nigh live in China town, possibly organized by the local community club or the STPB. Much has been said about Kereta Ayer having lost its true character, and the Beijing opera in the street certainly had further added on to it – maybe not so much visually, but certainly acoustically.

When I first arrived in Singapore in the late 1980’s, and when I felt a little homesick, I would make my way down to China town. Then, you still find the old styled Cantonese dim sum restaurant - such as Tai Tong dim sum restaurant in Mosque Street -大东海记 . These restaurants had big huge mirrors both sides of the walls, where the menu was written, and a bill of $2.70 would be sung out by the attendant to the cashier as, 二两 礼拜, and in Cantonese – yiliong leibai - literary two tales and a Sunday. 2 tales for two dollars and Sunday, a seven meaning 70 cts.

The Da Dong Restaurant – 大东酒楼 - at the junction of Smith and Trengganu Streets – with the same name Chinese name though as the former TaiTong Restaurant – is not the real McCoy any longer. The attendants for one could do not speak Cantonese – which used to define Kereta Ayer. Without the atmosphere and the familiar sound, the dim sum in this new restaurant does not seem to taste as good and as delicious.

With Kereta Ayer in constant make that which is a part of its unique heritage is visually much altered on its main streets. Not far from Yu Yan Sang Medical Hall –余仁生 - along South Bridge Road, there is now a Tong Ren Tang – 同仁堂 - medical hall from Beijing. A brand new temple styled in Tang architecture which is more at home in Xian - 西安 , or Kyoto, than in this tropical island, just came about.

A Taiwanese style tea salon, a Sichuan hot pot restaurant - is found next to the to the local hawker fare in Smith Street; Chinese cuisine from the North-eastern Provinces such as Heilongjiang, & Shanghainese noodles. And well, a German sausage stall near to Sago Street has definitely added an international flavor to the potpourri of Chinese oriental selection.

Much that I could remember of Chinatown in the past 15 to 20 years odd since I first came has gone – for better or for worse. And for the local folks who are born and bred here, what more has make way for the new and is lost forever, one could get a glimpse of it in the Chinatown heritage museum in Pagoda Street.

It was the ‘Cantonese’ character that use to bring me to Kereta Ayer, as that was the place where I would go to when I wanted to have a taste, feel and hear - of hometown.

A ) Kereta Ayer – 牛车水 – ngau che sooi (Cantonese ) – niu che shui (Hanyu pinyin)

Kereta Ayer – or Bullock Cart Water is the local name for Chinatown. Kereta is the Malay word for a vehicle or a cart. Ayer is water. History has it in the early days of the Singapore, bullock cart would be used to transport water to this place, and thus it was called Kereta Ayer.

However I would like to think that the Ayer – as in - 水 - sooi - or water in Cantonese - is to mean a thoroughfare or a street. A busy street in Cantonese could be called a sooi – I think。

Thus - 牛车水 – ngau che sooi - is a thoroughfare jammed packed with bullock carts. And it so happened that these bullock carts were carrying jars of water to sell to the local population.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

of nihongo one point lesson & a gift from fukuoka

It was probably in 1970 when I first started to learn my first Japanese sentence – kore wa nan desu ka – literary – This is what? It was the year of the Osaka World Exposition. Third Brother went to Tokyo to participate in the Asian Youth Football Tournament, and he came back with a English text teaching rudimentary Japanese.

However that was not the first Japanese Language text book that I came across. In my childhood days in the old house I was often curious of what was written in an old thin book with drawings of kids, and animals and in stiff funny characters. I learnt that it was a Japanese text book from the Japanese Occupation ( 1942-1945) . Other than the then the old banana bank notes, this was the other archeological remain from the War years.

The book was written in Katakana and meant as an educational text book to teach Japanese. A few years back I saw another Japanese Language text book from the Occupation era at the defunct Singapore History Museum, at River Point. (The text book is most probably still packed among the boxes which we shifted to another house later in the 1980/s. I would do an archeological again when I balik kampong and if I could find it again).

It was thro Radio Japan, that I was first indicted into a formal Japanese lesson – with text and pronunciation and a native Japanese teacher from the air wave. Shortwave radio listening or DX-ing - was my hobby and my window to the world in my boyhood days, and Radio Japan was my favorite station. While my From One classmates were following the Bee Gees & Sam Hui in the 1970/s I was tuned in to the Japanese pop and enka - 演歌-charts, Aki Yashiro, Masao Ken, Sawada Kenji and the likes.

Later I got a pen-pal from Japan thro the station. She was from Kyushu, in southern Japan. We corresponded in English and kept in contact for close to ten years. We exchanged photographs and she taught me a phrase of two of Japanese. The dictionary in the photograph was a gift from her. I still recall how elated I was when I got it in the mail. It’s dated - 17/3/75, from Fujiko Mizusaki, 水崎富士子。

In 1981, when I first went to Japan for my post graduate study, I was posted to the Osaka University of Foreign Studies for a six month Japanese course. She informed me that she had a friend studying in the same college. I did not meet up with her friend nor did I make a trip to Fukuoka to meet up with her. By then, she was already married.

1. Enka - 演歌
You have the country and western and the blues in the western music, and enka is a genre of music, variously know as the blues of Japan. The tune is melodious and often with a touch of melancholy & nostalgia. The song sings of jilted & lost love, a longing for the warmth of mummy's bosom or the fireplace of the furusato – 故乡- in the north covered in deep snow.

The Japanese would tell you that these enka songs have such deep and unexpressed sentiments in the lyrics and melody that is so uniquely Japanese that only a Japanese born and bred in Japan would be able to feel for it. Much of the Hokkien Karaoke songs are music of this enka genre.

The most well know enka is probably Kitaguni no Haru – 北国no 春 , rendered by Masao Sen – 千 昌夫 , in the late 1970/s or early 1980s. The lyrics starts with - Shiraka ao zora, minami no kaze - 白桦 清空南风 - translated literary as - White birch, clear blue sky and southern breeze. The title is - Spring in the Northern Hometown. It was a hit across the Far East. Its Mandarin, rendition is entitled - 榕树下 – Rongshu xia .

Shiraka - in Japanese is white birch – a commonly found tree in the colder parts of Japan in the mountains and the northern region.

Rongshu - in Chinese is Banyan tree – an equally romantic tree, for an exotic up market holiday resort was named as such, cos the founder and his wife dated among the trees on an island.

2. Japanese names here are written in the order that the Japanese would write and read them, i.e. Masao Sen, or Abe Shinzo, instead of Sen Masao or Shinzo Abe, the western rendition.

3. While searching for enka in goolge, found this interesting web-site on Japan. If you are into museums in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, and the Japanese countryside, do pop in:

4. You can catch singer Masao Sen & Kitaguni no Haru - in Youtube :