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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!)

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.