Daily Archives: 9 September 2006

Wordcatcher Tales: Nakayama > Zhongshan

In 1987–88, the Far Outliers spent a year teaching English at newly founded Sunwen College in Zhongshan City, Guangdong Province, China, about an hour by car north of Macao, which at that time was still a Portuguese colony. Our daughter, who was two at the time, learned to recognize the Chinese characters 中山市 (Zhongshanshi), which were ubiquitous on vehicles and signs around the city. (The photo shows her with the principal of her preschool, who was also the auntie of one of our students—otherwise they wouldn’t have taken her. They didn’t realize until too late that she was a year younger than the others in her class.)

We soon came to realize that hardly anyone in China recognized the Cantonese name Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙), whose famous bearer is known throughout China as Sun Zhongshan (孙中山). The name of the college, Sunwen (孙文) was the same man’s “school name” (学名 xuémíng, informally 大名 dàmíng ‘big name’), the name he signed on official documents. The man had a lot of names.

What I didn’t realize until just recently was that the name by which he is known in China derives from the alias he used in Japan—and not vice versa—at least according to Wikipedia:

In 1897, Sun Yat-sen arrived in Japan, and when he went to a hotel he had to register his name. Desiring to remain hidden from Japanese authorities, his friend wrote down the Japanese family name Nakayama (中山) on the register for him, and Sun Yat-sen chose the given name Shō (樵).

Allegedly, on their way to the hotel they had passed by the Palace of Marquis Nakayama (family home of the Meiji Emperor’s mother) near Hibiya Park in central Tokyo, and so his friend chose the family name which they had seen hanging at the door of the palace.

For the most part of his stay in Japan, he was known as Nakayama Shō (中山樵). The kanji for Nakayama can be read in Chinese as Zhōngshān.

And now you can find universities, roads, and parks named for Zhongshan all over China and Taiwan (thanks to the imperialism of Japanese aliases, or the anti-imperialism of the alias holder, or something).

PS: Our daughter, whose first preschool was Zhongshan No. 2 Preschool (中山第二幼儿园) in Sun Yat-sen’s hometown, later graduated from Sun Yat-sen’s alma mater in Honolulu.

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Filed under China, Japan, language

Inuit and Viking Settlement in the Far North

Prolific book reviewer Danny Yee posted a longish review last month of John Hoffecker’s A Prehistory of the North (Rutgers U. Press, 2004).

The Vikings reached Greenland before the Inuit, but unlike the latter they were unable to cope when temperatures dropped after the Medieval Warm Period; their basically European economy and technology was not readily adapted to northern latitudes. A Prehistory of the North begins with this recent episode, but is otherwise a chronological account of early human settlement of the Arctic and sub-Arctic.

This is a story not of steady northward progress, but of successive movements — including some retreats — constrained by climate change and enabled by anatomical changes and technological innovation. Hoffecker covers the paleoanthropological and archaeological record, but sets it in the context of changing climates and broader ecological trends….

The final chapter surveys later developments, moving from Europe eastwards: the Late Stone Age in northern Scandinavia, the Siberian Neolithic and movements to the northeast, the Paleo-Eskimo world in North America, and the expansion of the Inuit.

“The modern Inuit are the direct descendants of what archaeologists have termed the Thule culture. Thule culture was the product of a number of interrelated technological and organizational developments that began in the Bering Sea region slightly more than 2,000 years ago. These developments enabled the Alaskan ancestors of the Inuit to expand rapidly across the central and eastern Arctic after AD 1000, creating the remarkable uniformity of culture encountered by the Europeans.”

There were numerous technological innovations, including maritime technology, sleds and dogs, and the use of mammal fat in lamps.

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New Findings on Dolphin Intelligence

Randy McDonald’s wide-ranging LiveJournal recently noted new findings about dolphin intelligence.

Paul Manger of Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand says the super-sized brains of dolphins, whales and porpoises are a function of being warm-blooded in a cold water environment and not a sign of intelligence. “We equate our big brain with intelligence. Over the years we have looked at these kinds of things and said the dolphins must be intelligent,” he said….

They are widely regarded as one of the smartest mammals. But Manger, whose peer-reviewed research on the subject has been published in “Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society”, says the reality is different. Brains, he says, are made of neurons and glia. The latter create the environment for the neurons to work properly and producing heat is one of glia’s functions. “Dolphins have a superabundance of glia and very few neurons … The dolphin’s brain is not made for information processing it is designed to counter the thermal challenges of being a mammal in water,” Manger said.

As a couple of Randy’s commenters note, other measures of intelligence seem to tell a different story.

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Impressions of an Albertan in Florida

Albertan Colby Cosh reports from Florida:

I have to admit I had some subconscious trouble dealing with Americanness when I went to Florida last year for the Western Standard Cruise. It was really my first time anywhere on the east coast proper, and my first time in the South, and as it turned out I hadn’t psychologically prepared myself….

There was a related but very different effect once I got onto the boat, where the WS passengers were immediately immersed in a sea of overtanned gravel-voiced northeasterners between the ages of 50 and 80. For some reason all the Seinfeld accents (Oh my gawd, Lenny, you have to troy the smoked SAAA-m’n) just made me giggly instead of resentful. Whenever possible I’d just hang out in one of the restaurants after breakfast, listening to old Italians and Poles, folks from Philly and Boston. Everything these people say sounds like movie dialogue to me–they could be talking about shaving their corns and I’d be inhaling it like it was Chekhov. Again, it’s not strictly a matter of accent but also of how outlandishly oral these people are because of the different cultural influences–it’s like absolutely everything that’s ever in their minds has to be communicated at once or they’ll physically explode. Going to the States always makes me despair of ever writing a novel, because I discover I was born with a great disadvantage–namely, that I live in a place where people’s inner lives are actually interior. It’s not even fair, really: in the U.S. it just seems like you could create excellent literature with a tape recorder.

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Filed under anglosphere, Canada, U.S.