Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The names in this blog.

At this fag end of November, it appears my viewership has jumped - mostly by incoming links from See Lai and The Road to Surfdom. Howdy everybody, and props to these good blogs. And if you've been wondering "Why the name", then this is the post for you.

The "Down and Out" part is inspired by George Orwell's book Down and Out in Paris and London. It's a nice read - albeit about not-so-nice conditions: we're talking about empty-walleted poverty in Europe in the middle of the Depression. Fortunately, the author gets a job. Not like my current situation, I'm glad to say. Unfortunately, there are others in this town who could relate very well. Very well, indeed. Việt Nam's not a rich country.

"Sài Gòn" is obviously the name of this city. It became the unofficial name of the city in 1975, when the (then) North Vietnamese conquered the city. Overnight, the official name became "Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh" - literally, "Hồ Chí Minh City". But the name "Sài Gòn" survives in (among other things) the name of the river, and also various company names like Saigontourist.

Living here a year and a half, I naturally think of this city as Sài Gòn. However, the official name makes the snappy acronym "TP.HCM." - and the "DOWN-UP-DOWN-UP-MID" tone of the words also give it some rhythm. That's why I chose the domain "tphcm.blogspot.com".

For some reason, I never use Hồ Chí Minh City, except when teaching English.

On Colonialism, yet again.

Now that's prolific. My ADSL connection had been broken since Sunday, and I haven't been able to access the Internet. Now it's up. And in that time, Steve Gilliard has posted - not one, but nine posts (as of writing) on colonial wars. And why it's a bad thing. He's dealt with insurgencies in Indonesia, the Belgian Congo, and the United States' folly in the Phillipines. Perhaps you can start with the first post, which gives a much needed smackdown to wannabe neocolonialist Niall Ferguson. It's all good. Read it all.

All of this is offered as a (to some, obvious, and to others, not) parallel to the current SNAFU in Iraq. It's not that the Americans want to spend the next 100 years in Iraq, like the Poms did in India. But there are parallels between the two cases:

1) Colonial Warfare is a losing proposition
There are a never ending series of wars which comes with colonies, because people dislike being subjected to the rule of strangers

2) Colonial Warfare rarely brings about the benefits attributed to it.
Unless you can enslave people, the benefits of colonies are rarely seen

3) The rulers rely on the disunity of the ruled.
It is in their interest to keep the ruled at each other's throats and to prefer one group to another. Ethnic strife is the colonial ruler's best friend. They start out picking sides and then divide and conquer.

4) Disorder is the friend of colonial rulers
The more strife they can suppress, the more power they will ultimately have.

5) You have to kill a lot of people to rule a colony
The only way to have a colony is to indiscriminately kill everyone who might oppose you.

The problem with number 5 is - apart from being a BAD thing, is that most people - especially Americans - do not like indiscriminate killing.

UPDATE: Steve is now up to post 14, describing the 1947 French colonial war in Madagascar, with a death toll of 100,000. And he's not even YET up to Algeria. He'll probably get around to Điện Biên Phủ, but his interest is what happens after the battle.As he says in comments:

The whole series has a two-fold purpose. One, to explain to Americans that Colonial Warfare is almost always genocidal. Unless we kill a lot more Iraqis, we are doomed to fail and even then, wholesale murder is only a temporary respite before failure.

Two, to get Europeans to think about why they suddenly live in multiracial democracies. That it wasn't an accident and it's not just the result of immigration. If you consider the years 1945-50, we could be talking 200,000 dead at a minimum in Indonesia and Madagascar alone, over a million killed in the partion of India.

Barring any accident, there's more to come.

Friday, November 26, 2004

That's some bad sushi!

Before and After

Vienna: What ails Viktor Yushchenko? As Ukraine's popular opposition leader claimed victory, the mystery surrounding an appearance-altering condition that twice prompted him to check into a Vienna hospital persisted.

Mr Yushchenko has accused the Ukrainian authorities of poisoning him. His detractors suggested he had eaten bad sushi. Adding to the intrigue, the Austrian doctors who treated him have asked foreign experts to help determine if his symptoms may have been caused by toxins found in biological weapons.

Medical experts say they may never know what befell Mr Yushchenko. But the condition has dramatically changed his appearance since he entered Vienna's private Rudolfinerhaus clinic on September 10.

The "sushi" theory is bollocks. Bad sushi would give you the runs or make you vomit. It wouldn't turn your skin to sandpaper. The regulars at Daily Kos think it's more likely to be dioxin poisoning - a more plausible explanation.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

I hate dubbing

You have a show or a movie in one language. You want to target it to a different country: one that doesn't share this language. There are two ways to go. First, there's dubbing, when actors from the target language record their voices over their original. Alternately, you have subtitling, where the translation is printed on or underneath the film, and no change is made to the soundtrack.

Guess which technique Vietnamese TV prefers? And guess which technique makes me unhappy? If you picked "dubbing" for both, give yourself a pat on the back.

I hate dubbing for several reasons. The first is that it restricts the audience to the target language. Subtitling expands the audience; dubbing just switches it. Vietnamese TV is adept at grabbing programs from the western world (sometimes with the original blotchy TV logo) and mutating it for their purposes. That makes it useless for me.

The aesthetics are also a disaster. Apart from the problem of lip sync (or lack of it), you often hear the original soundtrack underneath. But what's worse is that Vietnamese TV has shocking taste in the actors it chooses dubbing. S.O.P. seems to be to use soft-spoken women to cover both male and female voices. Imagine Lethal Weapon. Now imagine Lethal Weapon where Gibson's and Glover's voices  are replaced by the Indochinese equivalent of Yeardley Smith. It's that bad.

(And I even hate it when I am part of the target audience. Case in point: Christiane F., that sad movie about a German teenager turning to heroin and prostitution. I've only seem the dubbed version, and the choice for voice over - a very bored sounding American - ruined it for me.)

Fortunately, there may be some winds of change in the local television network. And the harbinger is (don't laugh) Barney the Dinosaur! Yes, Barney and friends play it up for the pretty young things of Hồ Chí Minh City and Hà Nội! Most of the program is still dubbed but at least they use a wider range of actors: Male and female. Young and old. Appropriate choices. But the best thing is that they give up dubbing the songs altogether, and make do with subtitles!  Trying to speak over the songs would be a waste of time - and as for singing - the hurdles one would have translating a tonal version of the song while preserving the original tune. And then you have to make it rhyme as well. I reckon the local producers gave it up as a bad job, and thought subtitles would be a tidy band aid.

I think it's better that a band-aid. Subtitled movies give the Vietnamese (many of whom want to learn a foreign language) a chance to listen to English. Unfortunately, listening is probably the worst skill students seem to have - and that's me speaking as an English teacher. They need all the help they can get. Yes, some can pick up some foreign DVDs if they want to, but many don't have the time or the wealth to do it too often. And if the speech get too hard, they have the  fall back of the written word. Unfortunately, subtitled movies are not common here. Only one cinema (Cinebox) actually subtitles its movie. Every other firm in town relies on dubbing.

The only drawback with subtitles is that it assumes literacy of the watcher. Now the literacy rate in Việt Nam is officially about 90% - but there's the other 10% to think about.