I was reading the book Nudge recently, and this passage struck me as odd:
> Visitors to London who come from the United States or Europe have a problem being safe pedestrians. They have spent their entire lives expecting cars to come at them from the left, and their Automatic System knows to look that way. But in the United Kingdom automobiles drive on the left-hand side of the road, and so the danger often comes from the right. Many pedestrian accidents occur as a result. The city of London tries to help with good design. On many corners, especially in neighborhoods frequented by tourists, the pavement has signs that say, “Look right!” (91)
I learned to drive in high school as a 15-year-old through a driver’s ed class. The only really vivid memory I have of that class occurred in a road test. The instructor was in the passenger seat, and he had his own brake. I was stopped at a red light.
When the light turned green, I confidently stepped on the gas. The instructor immediately broke hard, giving me quite a jolt. I glanced up to see that, yes, the light was green. I turned to the instructor, expecting an explanation for his mistake. But no, he was livid.
“What are you doing?” he demanded.
“I’m going straight. The light’s green!” I replied.
“Did you look to see if there were any cars coming from the left or right?”
“No, but the light was green,” I insisted weakly.
“You didn’t even look, and that can get you killed. I don’t care if the light is green. You still have to look.”
The key part of the Nudge passage was this: “who come from the United States or Europe.” Drivers from those countries have very rigid expectations for pedestrian behavior. Likewise, traffic patterns are so regular and predictable that pedestrians only really need to look one way when they cross the street, no matter what they supposedly learned in driver’s ed.
It’s easy to call traffic in countries like China or Mexico chaotic and uncivilized, and there’s clearly some progress to be made, but isn’t it better for pedestrians to be putting a bit more effort into protecting their lives? Isn’t it better for drivers to be a bit more alert for unpredictable pedestrian behavior?
At the very least, I’m pretty sure after living in China, I don’t have to worry too much about crossing the street in London.
I was at a dinner, listening to the conversation of some Chinese acquaintances. At one table, two young women sat side by side. In the context of their conversation, one of the women said, pointing to the other:
The grammar of this sentence is so simple that any first semester student of Chinese can figure it out. But without the proper context, they’re probably going to conclude that one of the women was actually a transvestite: I’m female. She’s male. (She wasn’t a transvestite, and no one listening found her statement strange in the slightest.)
The two women were talking about their newborn children, when one of their friends asked what sexes the babies were. So 我是 and 她是 were easily understood to mean “my baby is” and “her baby is.” This is totally fine in Chinese.
(You also get lots of statements like this when people are ordering food… I’m beef noodles. You’re dumplings, right?)
While I’d like to kick off the new year with an interesting post about language, I’ve been enjoying myself too much recently to put one together. I’ve become addicted to a cool independent game called Spelunky.
Spelunky has cool retro pixel graphics. It’s kind of like Super Mario Brothers (physics) + Zelda (items) + Indiana Jones (theme). What really makes it unique, though, is its random level generation. The game most famous for this is the old 1980 classic Rogue, but Spelunky does it in a more sophisticated, fun way.
You play randomly generated level after randomly generated level, knowing you will never play them again. And you die many, many times. Randomly generated levels strewn with enemies and traps are often very unfair, yet the design is sufficiently balanced and full of surprises that you keep coming back for more… again and again and again.
Well done, Derek Yu. It’s innovative games like this that make me glad I still have a PC and not just a Mac.