Achtung

Posted in Prose by Sandra on September 12, 2009

The German word “achtung” always causes a little cringe of embarrassment in me. I believe it meant “stop” or “danger”, and is pronounced “ahk-tung”. It is a very harsh word phonetically speaking.

When I was working at the Starbucks in Changi Airport T2, I fancied myself a bit of a polyglot. After all, I had managed to sell a bottle of water to a Japanese tourist using mangled Japanese picked up from watching anime (after about 10 minutes of guess-work). I had made it my business to either learn the local greeting of the international traveller I was serving, or to greet them in their language in the first place. At that time I thought it was a brilliant idea so people could feel a little closer to home. Now, I think they laughed because it was a rather WTF experience having this 17 year old Singaporean Chinese speak Japanese or Spanish to them, however badly spoken.

So, the story of “achtung”.

As you might have guessed, it involved German travellers.

I was trying to make some conversation with this family – parents, daughter and son – while they decided what to eat. They told me they were German, and I cast about for any bits of German I knew. All of them were just looking at the menus, at the food display… not paying any real attention to me whatsoever except for the husband, who seemed to be a bit curious about what I could come up with.

“I know only one German word… I think it was achtung!”

Oh, that got their attention all right. And half of the cafe’s, probably. The wife was the one who was most stunned, shocked senseless that this Chinese girl – how dare I – say achtung! in her presence! In hindsight it was probably more disbelief and surprise… though at that moment all I could think of was how to quickly shrink away and hide in a hole.

I still do. I can’t remember what happened after – either I tried to smile and brush it off as me not knowing the meaning of the word, or I ran off to the back room and got someone else to serve them.

Still, I figured that 3 years have passed since the incident, and hopefully they were too jetlagged to bother remembering it. Which is why I thought it was safe enough to put this up for people to read.

If you happen to be part of that German family – I’m very, very shocked for having shocked you in a foreign country in your own language. I’ve repented and never spoken, nor attempted to speak another word of German again.

Not even in private.

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Fantasy Fiction and Stereotypes

Posted in Prose by Sandra on July 12, 2009

Skye has been waxing lyrical over the Wheel of Time series — especially over Lan.

“Oh, Lan, how much I desire thee, to feel thy strong arms envelopeth aroundeth me, to shriek in fan-girlish squeals as, gallant gentleman thou art protecteth me!” she cooed.

Really, I swear she actually said (typed in MSN) it all!

True story.

.

..

Ok, maybe I over-exaggerated a tiny little bit.

I’ve been tempted to pick up the heavy series again, but laziness stills my hands. They’re a colossal pain to prop up in bed and while eating with a hand. Of late, I’ve been reading a lot of Raymond E. Feist. The Murloc had introduced me to this extraordinary writer – for the curious, his first book is Magician – when our WoW-centric relationship turned to more RLish topics. (He also claims that he’d tried to order it through Borders Australia so I can pick up a copy from Borders Singapore… which didn’t happen because it can’t be done…?)

So far, I’ve noticed a thing (or three) about fantasy novels/movies. There’s always at least two factions (duh) and more often, three. By factions, I mean cultural factions.

There’ll be the obligatory Western /English society which your primary protagonist (for there can be many) stem from. This society will use terms that are familiar in most aspects, most evidently in their military and governmental infrastructure (ie, Sergeant, Baron). Free will is greatly valued; there will rarely, if ever, be slaves – for most men will be freemen, like merchants and carpenters. Not much store is placed by death – for the most part people of this society prefer life, not death in any form. Mannerisms will be polite but easy without much societal constraints, depending on station.  Clothing will be either conservative or slightly fancy, but never too extravagant. And nakedness is definitely a topic to blush upon. Religion is part of the free-will package, and there’re usually a variety of Gods to choose from. Appearance-wise, these people are usually “average”, like humans, with hair colour typical of Westerners. And similar builds.

Then, there’ll be a society with great semblance to the Eastern society, particularly Japan and Korea. They are the “foreigners” whose customs make sense only to themselves. This society’s language is usually convoluted with societal niceties, and words are often carefully considered before spoken lest it leads to an undesired consequence. When it comes to names for stations, they are usually unnecessarily long and ornate. Slavery is an accepted fact of life, and chances are practically nonexistent for slaves to be freed or climb up the social ladder. Free will exists in two choices when death greets you in the face – death, or the shame of you and your entire family. Honour is (very, very) important, and can be the deciding factor in decisions made rather than logic. Clothing can either be very formal with layers upon layers of robes, or so informal that a sheer short robe is appropriate for lounging within one’s own house… even with guests around. As you can expect, nakedness isn’t as taboo a subject as it is for the Western society “read-alike”. Religion is worship of the Emperor (or in the “…Of the Empire” series, the Light of Heaven), even to the exclusion of gods with temples. These people usually have dark hair and eyes, and slender of shorter build.

The third society would be of barbaric origins. The closest RL example would be tribes. This society’s language range from primal to “normal” (of a Western society’s). Government and military infrastructure range from simplistic to a structure that rivals even the best organized equivalents of their world, with station names of a straight-to-the-point-and-obey-immediately nature. Free will is commonplace – which is probably why there’re so many factions within this society around; half of them are renegades from the original faction. These barbarians, for a lack of a better name, don’t discriminate when it comes to slaves. They can be outsiders or of their own society; they don’t give a fuck. Slaves are slaves, and all slaves do the same thing. Survival is key, and there is no family to speak of, for one could easily turn on members of their own if their life was in danger. One who runs away, lives to regroup and attack another day. Clothing is versatile, they can be sparse or be a varied combination of spoils taken from their victims, but hardly elegant and pretty. Nakedness is probably a way of life… swing on, twig and berries! Their god is whatever god they have for harvest, life, and bloodshed. Of course, that’s simplifying it a whole lot.

Obviously the third society has the most to offer when it comes to variety. Do you want a grunting region of barbarians who barter instead of using currency, but overwhelm the more “civilized” nations with their sheer force and tactical ingenuity? You got it. Perhaps you prefer barbarians who are almost indistinguishable from those of the Western society, apart from their array of materials thanks to their incredible resourcefulness. Or maybe, barbarians who’re actually the most normal of the lot, a people you can actually sympathize with, apart from the fact that they eat babies every full moon. These barbarians usually look a lot more aggressive and dominating than the other societies with their imposing stature and tanned skin, but hair colour can be quite varied. Oh, and unlike the other two, this society revels in bloodshed and living in gloominess. They also seem to have a natural aversion to light (think Romulans of the recent Star Trek movie).

It’s a little annoying to read a fantasy novel series and then be able to say, “These Tsurani people are way too similar to the Japanese!”. It’s almost as if it takes the magic away because you now have a people in real life that you can compare to the characters in the books.

However, I understand that it’s unavoidable, these stereotypes. They help the audience identify with the various characters on a subconscious level, saving the author a great amount of work when it comes to explaining his societies. It’s easier and less complex when you have real life stereotypes to build your fictional characters on, requiring only minor tweaking of the real life counterparts to make your fictional heroes more believable in the pages of your novel. It’s okay.

I’m too tired to argue otherwise anyway… not that I have a good alternative for you, aspiring authors of fantasy fiction novels to come.

Homosexuality

Posted in Prose by Sandra on March 26, 2009

It’s a topic that’s been cropping up in conversations with The Murloc lately. (And also possibly caused by the book I’m currently reading – Linda Grant’s “Sexing the Millenium“.

The question is, why do some homosexuals make their sexual orientation their raison d’etre?

I don’t know any homosexuals on a friendly level (well, one, but said person is very conservative and hence not in the subcategory of people I speak of here anyway), so my conclusion here is very much one of an armchair analyst’s.

Self Esteem

Most people identify their sexual orientation in their mid-late teenage years, which are usually turbulent times for most. I think some decide that they are homosexuals, and as that becomes the only thing that is constant through the years as s/he grows and changes in every other way but their sexual preference, it becomes something of a self-esteem booster that they are reliant on. “I may not know what I am, but I know one thing for sure: I’m a homosexual, and I’m proud of it.” — so much so that they take displaying their uniqueness to an extreme.

Revolutionary

In conservative countries like Singapore, meeting someone who declares him/herself to be a homosexual isn’t a regular occurrence. (I’m not saying that it is so in Australia, just in case, but Australia gives one the opportunity to expand mindsets with all the possibilities available here… as long as you’re in here legally.)

Now, imagine for a moment that you are a homosexual. You’re proud of it, and you think people should be more accepting of homosexuals like you. But the fact is people usually aren’t, especially the older generations. So you decide to make your sexual preference a revolutionary action. A move against the traditions which your countrymen escone themselves safely in. You want to do something, to shock people into sitting up straight instead of dozing off and listen to the world changing right before them. So you decide to make homosexuality and identity your thesis, perhaps even publish it. You create a strong bond with other homosexuals – just because you are all just a few people against the majority of “normal” (not that homosexuality is abnormal.)

I Want Some

Or perhaps one is simply so loudly homosexual because one wants to be noticed, to be talked about, and to be in/famous. And then you have a higher chance of getting some.

Note that I’ve written this when I’m 19years and some months old, on this date and day at this time.

I expect that perhaps a decade or two later I’ll come back, read this, and try to burn this post off the internet because I’ve been such a narrow-minded nutcase.

Mersault and I

Posted in Prose by Sandra on February 18, 2009

In my Philosophy 101 class last year, my professor introduced us to Albert Camus’ works. By that time I was beginning to feel a real despair for how subjective the class was. After the professor asked for our opinion on Mersault (of “The Stranger“), I voiced my opinion- that simply, to be Mersault must be very painful. My opinion was faced with silence and what I had thought was derision and dumb-founded shock that someone could point out something so silly and “duh” to everyone else.

In embarrassment and some anger at being embarrassed (because my opinion didn’t warrant a full-blown discussion), I started scribbling my on-going thoughts of the class discussion which proceeded with another student’s opinion. (Yes, I was a vindictive little kid, ill-adjusted too. Still am, probably.)
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“Standardized” Aussie Accent?

Posted in Prose by Sandra on October 7, 2008

Yes, I’ve changed the design – isn’t it easier to read the stuff in blockquotes now?

“Australians are becoming more confident with the standard Australian accent,” according toMr Moore, whose new book istitled Speaking Our Language: The Story of Australian English.

“That means there’s no longer the need for those sorts of extreme sounds.”

Words like “mate” would no longer be pronounced “mite” as some of the unique characteristics of Australian speech disappeared, he added.

— full article here

If this is indeed true, I’d prolly have an easier time understanding them than I was worried about. :P

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