hanzi/kanji variations

Repost from my other blog

When I signed up for my first Chinese class in college, they gave us a choice between two versions of the introductory textbook: one used the traditional Chinese character set, and the other used the simplified Chinese character set. I don’t remember my reasoning at the time – probably something as simple as having an easier time writing in class – but I went with simplified Chinese. But eventually, you see enough to recognize general transformations between one and the other, and keeping up with the language in the long run makes this decision not matter.

Nowadays I spend a lot more time reading Chinese than speaking or listening to it, and I guess not living in mainland China, naturally I’ve taken a preference to the traditional character set for study. This means I check the online dictionary a lot, so I need to type Chinese. Basically, there are two classes of input methods, you can either “sound it out” with a phonetic input method like pinyin, or you can “write it out”. There’s a great input method called Cangjie for “writing out” any traditional character using at most 5 keystrokes. The advantage is that you can still look up a new word pretty quickly despite never having seen it before and not knowing how to pronounce it. Also (at least on Windows) you can type part of a character and have it show you a list of partial matches. Here are some examples:

休 = 人木 = OD

森 = 木木木 = DDD

意 = 卜廿日心 = YTAP

我 = 竹手戈 = QHI

訶 = 卜口一弓口 = YRMNR

The middle columns are some of the “building blocks” that the method decomposes all characters into.

To some degree, you can also type in simplified characters, but I’ll just try to copy and paste those guys or, in the worst case, physically write it out.

The unexpected reward for learning Cangjie is that it’s been amazingly helpful with my Japanese study in the past few months. There is a ton of overlap in the Japanese kanji, but their pronunciations is so overloaded that sometimes its easier to just write them out. Also, there is the annoying problem of these Japanese-only variants of certain kanji. They fail searches on Chinese dictionary sites, and you really can’t type them in using Chinese (because they’re not in the charset) or Japanese (because you don’t know how to pronounce them). The best case scenario for these is if I can copy and paste it, but if I’m playing a game, watching a video, or reading a manga, if I can’t guess the corresponding hanzi, I just have to give it up until I somehow see it again in copy-paste-able format or hear it.

Here’s a collection of some examples.  Japanese version on the left, Chinese on the right.

内 = 內

Here the 人 is switched with a 入. Actually, I think the character on the left is how it is written in simplified Chinese.

発見 = 發現 (发现)

Interesting variation and good example of how sometimes the kanji is just so familiar to a commonly seen hanzi.

徒歩 = 徒步

How annoying is it that the Chinese version leaves out a single mark here. I didn’t notice the difference until I searched the wrong word.

両手 = 兩手 (两手)

脳 = 腦 (脑)

連続 = 連續 (连续)

様子 = 樣子 (样子)

不満 = 不滿 (不满)

児 = 兒 (儿)

It’s nice that the IME on Windows has an extended dictionary that includes simplified Chinese and Japanese variants if you can manage to figure out the decomposition.

Dusting off the cobwebs

Originally I started this as a blog about my study abroad experience in Hong Kong. Well, I’m back in California now, studying as a graduate student in computer science at UC Davis. While I’m not going to be traveling a lot, I am going to be spending plenty of time in front of a computer, and doing plenty of reading. So I think I’ll pick up this blog where I left it, with an emphasis on learning Chinese and, most recently, Japanese.

back to normal…

…at least that’s how it seems, now that I’m back in my home in San Jose, California. Things around here don’t seem to have changed much. Actually, my perception of this place is that it’s such a quiet little town compared to Hong Kong.

Reflection is something I didn’t do much of when I was actually in Hong Kong. My excuse was that time would much better be spent living and going out doing things rather than writing and daydreaming. My thought was that I’d wait for a gap of free time to open up and then I’d compose my thoughts in an essay. I think that was a mistake as I look back at this measly collection of 11 blog posts! Luckily, I do have a bunch of unsorted photos. I will share them with everyone; the ones worth sharing, that is.

I’ll pick up with this blog again. Though I’m not in a foreign land any more, being there made me realize how foreign I am in my own home. I will pay more attention to my city and my neighborhood. It seems like the best thing that I can bring to the table. Well, you’ll hear more from me soon after I rewrite some of this old stuff…

china travels

I’ve been to mainland China for three trips now but have yet posted a word about the experience.  I hope to pick it back up starting now with an overall summary.

My first trip into China was a three day trip in Guangdong province.  I was a guest at my friend Frankie’s apartment in a place called Shunde.  I went with him and another friend, Yilong.  We entered China by taking the Hong Kong KCR train to the border at Luohu station.  The city at the border is called Shenzhen, which is a great big bustling city next to Hong Kong.  From there, we took a bus to Shunde.  There at Shunde, it is common to take the taxi to get around, and the buses are also quite cheap.  We left Frankie in Shunde after the second day for Zhuhai on our way to meet another friend, Andy, at Macau, but Yilong couldn’t get in with a mainland passport.  At that point we were just about out of money, so we had Andy cross over and give Yilong enough to get back to Hong Kong.  I finished the trip with Andy and spent the evening in Macau, finally going back to Hong Kong a few hours after midnight.

The second trip would take me to the city of Wuhan in Hubei province.  My friend Qingfang invited me there and had a friend, Jesse, help me to get there.  Again, we would go through Shenzhen, this time taking a flight to Changsha in Hunan province.  His car is parked there and we would drive for a few hours to Wuhan.  I stayed in Wuhan for about a week before taking the train back to Shenzhen with the help of a few good newly acquainted friends I’d met in Wuhan.

The third and most recent trip was a four day visit to Shanghai.  I, along with Andy and new friend, Trevor, went to visit my friend Jason, whose house we stayed at, and many other good Shanghainese friends I’d met in my first semester at CUHK.  This trip was potentially complicated since we’d booked one way tickets with the hope of finding some train tickets back as a combination of unusually bad weather and a busy Chinese new year made it hard to book anything in advance, but thankfully Andy was able to find some cheap flights back to Shenzhen, which we immediately booked.

I came back to Hong Kong from each trip with a few recurring thoughts:

  1. I’d have a tough time taking care of myself if I were really by myself in mainland without a helping friend.  I dare say I could manage with what Chinese I do have, but (1) it would be very troublesome and (2) I would be missing out on things I would completely overlook without a guide to point out.  Even more is that I feel like I’d been on a great journey when none of the trips lasted more than a week.
  2. Life is good in Hong Kong.  Transportation has been an issue to some degree in each of the trips.  I was afraid I would even get on the bus on the last night of 2007 in Wuhan because there were so many people fighting to get onto the few buses that came around.
  3. People make the experience in mainland.  This mainly applies to the big cities that I’ve been to.  I’ve certainly never seen the huge buildings and extra wide expressways of a metro like Shanghai, but it feels like a big commercial center and I have seen enough of it.  Having a chat with my friend on the bus in Wuhan or watching a quarrel go down in Shanghai is a lot more appealing to me.

More posts and pictures to come (hopefully before the next month comes!)

Halftime (pt. 1)

    The term is winding down and that means that some of my friends who are also on exchange here will be leaving very soon.  It’s too bad because we spend a lot of time together, and it makes me wonder what will happen the next semester to fill that gap.  Then again, there hadn’t been many gaps this semester at all, which is both surprising and frightening.  I guess that means I’ve been busy on the one hand; and on the other hand, maybe I’ve been a little lazy.

My friend Jason was talking about how he’s begun to have a sense of identity in just a semester’s time and I wish I could say the same.  I might have adapted to life here but I don’t feel like I’ve become a part of things here any more than I blend in.  I came here to immerse myself but actually it’s pretty tough to do because of what I immerse myself in.  For one, there are elements of Hong Kong that are too Western for my liking.  I am not a tourist out for a good time, after all.  But in some ways it’s the best I can manage.  Sure, strolling down the heart of Hong Kong is pretty amazing, but after all, it’s just a big city that looks nice because people expect it to.

Maybe because Jason comes from Shanghai and is part of Chinese culture that he feels differently than I do.  But he’s one of the many people who are able to speak so much about his own culture as if it really belongs to him, as if he really belongs to it.  I really don’t know how to explain myself to others because even I’m not sure what American culture is like, though I suspect some of my friends may have conceptions of what it might be.  Even if such a thing existed, I wouldn’t be able to speak of it because I don’t feel that it belongs to me, maybe simply that I belong to it, that there are many different groups of people that belong to it, and so the typical American doesn’t exist.

One thing is for sure: I’ve gained an awareness of my own ignorance and how much I live in a bubble.  But it’s definitely not all I’ve gained.

MTR : pipes :: people : water

Really, I think it makes a really nice analogy.

They say that Hong Kong public transportation – specifically the rail and subway lines – are the best in the world. What I realized today is that with many millions of people moving every day, it really can’t be any less than the best.

I sometimes have breakfast with my friend Andy over in Shatin Wai. To get there, we have to take the train from university for a few stops before transferring to another line at Tai Wai. Getting off the train at that station during the rush hour of the morning, I can see people pouring out from the train opposite from me, spilling across the ramps and walkways, eventually funnelling into the trains headed to their destinations.

I also had the pleasure of experiencing the rush in MTR. I was pretty impressed with how crowded the KCR train was in the morning, but the situation at the MTR was ridiculous. People literally cram into the car, and you literally are compressed as people pack their way in. There was a Canadian couple in front of me holding hands so that they might not get separated, urging me to stop pushing. I actually had no choice; I was just another person swallowed up by the swarm of people.

I’d say that observing the dynamics of MTR is like watching a great waterworks system in action and someone could learn a lot about how things work just by watching. Actually, the fact that MTR exists means that someone has already really did their homework before building the thing and literally reduced it to a problem of moving fluid through a pipe it is so efficient. Transportation could be much worse, but besides being crowded, which is expected in a dense place like Hong Kong, the experience is actually really great.

Here is a picture of the subway platform at the Wan Chai station on Hong Kong Island during an off-peak hour, otherwise it would be packed full of people lined up to board. Doesn’t the concavity of the corridor make you think of pipes? The clear barrier on the right is there to keep people away from the track when the train comes through. It also makes it safer for cramming as many people in as possible because you don’t have to worry about anyone falling onto the track. The doors automatically open and close to let people board; during the rush, it may open and close multiple times in an attempt to close and make ready for departure because people insist on pushing onto the train even though there may not be any evidence of free space.


Here is the front end of a KCR train, which isn’t a subway train at all: KCR is the surface train line that runs throughout the New Territories and connects to the MTR subway, which links to Hong Kong Island and Lantau Island.


Holiday shopping

I think that the holiday season begins around the Thanksgiving holiday. In fact, back home there is a massive day of shopping and sales that happens right after Thanksgiving, which draws people to queue up the night before for the chance to get first dibs on the holiday gifts, for themselves or otherwise. There are also big sales here as this advertisement shows.


The cute cartoon of a throng of people is not exaggerating as this is the line outside the store just before opening. See how the hall extends all the way into the distance. Yes, there are people waiting all the way back there as well.


Happy holiday shopping!

“I’m Livin’ In”


During one of my weekly chats with Elvis, my language exchange partner, he mentioned that there are three things that each student of CUHK “must do” before graduation:

  1. Date the opposite sex
  2. Join a student society
  3. Experience life in a student hostel

At the moment, I am definitely missing out on the first two, but one out of three isn’t bad: life in the hostel is awesome. Life in my student hostel, the Adam Schall Residence, has been a bunch of fun and very pleasant at the same time. I feel especially lucky because the time I arrived on campus is about the time the renovations to this residence was being completed. On the first day I was moving my luggage into my permanent room, there was still work being done in and around the hostel and there would be for weeks to come. So in more ways than one, the place is full of life and always improving.

Every day, the hostel is tended by a regular team of workers who are all very kind and helpful, especially one lady who tends to my hall who I only know as wah je (華姐). Besides the regular housekeeping and handiwork (which from what I hear from my friend in another college is quite the VIP treatment), she is also generous. I thought it was strange that she handed me a sweet potato one day and a baglet of chicken wings. Initially, I thought there was something special going on that day but in fact it was her own. This isn’t even special treatment to the American either: another day she wouldn’t let my roommate head out the door without a jacket so she lent him her own. She doesn’t speak English but it’s fun to try to talk to her, even if it’s just ‘hello’.

Besides the staffers who mill about, there is also the resident student association living among us. To me, they appear to be a family of students who take up the job of working with the staff, organizing and running activities throughout the year, and basically take care of the hostel and the residents. My guess is there is a new group of a dozen or so students who takes the job each year since I was welcomed by one group when I first moved in, but in recent days, the events have been overseen by a new group. A lot of these events consist of free giveaways: whether it be free snacks or free mouthwash, they like to show that they take care of you.

The spacious pantry on the second floor is really the best of the hostels in United College, I think.  There’s a lot of room for hanging out and chatting here and also downstairs in the commons.


Our student association, which call themselves daai tong ga (大湯家), like to put out food for everyone to enjoy and it really stirs up a crowd. Here, the pantry is packed.


But really, not everyone gets to enjoy it as I find that everything is gone by the time I wade to the front of the crowd. I really only wanted one piece, but judging from all the cooking pots I see during these events, I guess the custom is to just take as much as they want.


Here’s my friend Andy demonstrating some old fashioned Chinese calligraphy (書法). He let me try it, and I managed to write a few characters with my right hand.


I wasn’t expecting a guy like Rex here as one of my roommates. He enjoys classic rock and playing the electric guitar. Sometimes it’s just noisy, but he’s got skill one can appreciate.


I think when you’re in a place like a student hostel, you can’t help but absorb what is around you because there is so much going on and so many different people that you can simply hang out with. Also, between the custodians, the student association, and my friends, I feel very well taken care of. When I am at home, I really don’t feel like I am on my own. But now that I am here on my own in Adam Schall, I still don’t really feel like I am on my own. I like the fact that I am among friends I can rely on, that it feels like home here, and that I don’t have to be on my own in the strictest sense of the phrase. Life in the hostel is pretty swell.

Campus Life

Studying abroad in Hong Kong is a brand new experience for me simply because it is on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, halfway across the world in a different neighborhood. But besides this, I realized not long ago this month that I am experiencing life on campus for the first time.

One thing that I noticed right away is that people like to gather in a circle, stomp a beat, and shout out who they are. Sometimes it is a matter of pride like this group of students associated with business. Other times, they are publicizing some activities they organized and would like everyone to know about. I also notice that a lot of the people involved in the activities are first year students – as my roommate says, they are the most eager to get involved.

I should mention that at CUHK, students are organized into four colleges, each having their own little town center in their own spot on campus complete with a set of dormitories, a food canteen, gym, library, etc. Also, within each college, the students are divided up into dormitories, another opportunity for exercise some group pride. But it doesn’t stop there: my dorm divided all the new students – typically the first years but also included me – into groups for the sake of organizing games and, again, creating a group that includes you.

Whether the college division has something to do with related fields of study, I’m still not sure, but it does make an opportunity for some rivalry. One form of this rivalry comes in the form of putting on a week of events within the college for students to come and enjoy. People buy food, play games, and enjoy performances organized by a few devout students of that particular college. It reminds me of the days of high school to see friends cheering each other on to get on stage to sing or take part in some stunt that involves getting soaked or covered in food. Watching all of this makes me feel like I’m not a twenty year old college student but just a kid again.

This is my table on the night of the Thousand Person Banquet (千人宴) for United College.  Behind me you would see a side view of the stage where they put on performances and stunts to entertain the thousand people gathered there that night.  It was a big party and everyone was invited: the table to the left of us seated many professors, and the custodians of my hostel also had their own table.


Here’s the look at the crowd in front of some food shops at a party called Shawlane, a much hyped event in Shaw College.  Many people came, I think, to see the local celebrities come and perform, but I spent all my money and left early.  My friend tells me I shouldn’t buy some of the “rubbish” I buy, but everything is new to me and I’ve got to try it all!


Here are some goods from the United College’s Open Bazaar. Besides the cooked food, people also sell little souvenirs and play games for prizes.  I was really surprised to see actual businesses come in and set up shop at this event.  I’ve also heard haggling going on at some of the shops.  I guess some people really enjoy shopping.  Let me know if you see something you like!


CUHK has half the number of undergraduates enrolled that SJSU has, but the culture is definitely different and something special.  It’s true that it’s a whole new world out there: if you hop on the train at the university station, you’re basically thirty minutes away from mainland China if you head northbound or thirty minutes away from the heart of Hong Kong. The university station is also a hub for many bus lines travelling around in the New Territories as well, so there’s a lot of culture to find and a lot of places to explore. But at the same time, the campus is alive with its own culture and in fact you don’t have to go very far to see something uniquely Hong Kong.

Umbrellas for Democracy

I went with my friend this past Sunday to see the demonstration for democracy at Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island. From the dorms at the university, it is about an hour trip: take the shuttle bus down to the university train station, take the train to Kowloon Tong to transfer to the subway, which connects to the main island. Several thousand people gathered with yellow and blue colored umbrellas to form 2012, which as far as I know is the year that they hope to be able to vote for their own leader. This was actually the fun part though I didn’t follow the public demonstration/march that came right afterwards. I got to keep a yellow umbrella as a souvenir.

PA060017 (Large)

PA060013 (Large)

This isn’t the first demonstration for universal suffrage. I remember seeing photos of a march earlier this year; that also drew a big crowd and it also used Victoria Park as the staging point. All I know is that the number of people who turned out for the umbrellas was over five thousand.

Article about Sunday’s demonstration (Boston Globe)

Video compilation of Sunday’s demonstration (Youtube)

Photos of a previous march in March 2007 (Hong Kong Digital Vision)