Monday, March 21, 2011

Japan post-earthquake: Glimpses of Stoicism, Humanness and Strength

This is from a friend of mine, a Japanese translator and interpreter, Yoko.

Compilation of personal episodes, comments, and tweets from earthquake-affected people translated (by me) from Japanese:

1. Tokyo Disneyland started distributing sweets and treats from the Disney shop. I saw conspicuously dressed up high-school girls demanding more than they should need for themselves, and felt dismayed. Later I saw the same girls distributing the treats to little kids in the Earthquake shelter. Mothers with small kids could not stand in the line to receive the treats, so the high-school girls' action was very much appreciated.

2. In a supermarket where all the merchandise were still on the floor after the earthquake, shoppers picked up the merchandise and put them neatly back on the shelves as they shopped, calmly waited in line for their turn to check out, and paid for their purchase as usual. In the packed train, an elderly gave his seat to a pregnant woman. Many foreigners were speechless to see such acts. Japan is extraordinary.

3. When the lights turned green, typically only one vehicle could get across the intersection before the lights turned red. But all the drivers were calm. The traffic would come to a standstill at a more complicated intersection, but during the ten hours of traffic jam, I never heard any honk other than to thank other drivers. Despite the fears that had engulfed me, I came to love Japan even more.

4. When I was walking home from my university late last night, a baker-woman was distributing bread to people who were walking home. The bakery is normally closed at that hour. In this time of confusion, she had discovered what she could do to help. I was warm inside. Tokyo is not a bad place to be in right now.

5. I received an email from my Korean friend: "The only country that has ever received atomic bombing. A country that lost the WWII. A country that receives typhoons every year. And earthquakes. And a tsunami...A small island nation, and yet, it always knows how to stand up after it fell. That's Japan. Keep it up." I'm crying right now.

6. When I was getting really fed up waiting for a train on the platform, a homeless man gave me a cardboard box and told me to sit on it to keep myself warm. We always ignore the homeless people. Now their warmth has hit me.

7. I walked for four hours to get home. I saw a woman who was standing in front of her house and showing a large sketchbook to the many passers-by. She had written on the sketchbook, "Please use our toilet if you need." Perhaps Japan is one of the most hospitable counties in the world. When I saw her, it was hard not to cry.

8. I had to walk four hours to get home and the streets were packed with people walking home. But it was not chaotic as people marched in a very orderly manner. Convenience stores and other shops were operating as if nothing had happened. Network infrastructure withstood the huge quake. Many shelters for stranded people were instantly set up in many locations. The train services came back on the same day and the trains run throughout the night to carry people home. It is a great country. This is something you wouldn't know from a simple GDP ranking.

9. A friend in Chiba told me this. An old man in a shelter murmured, "I don't know what's going to happen now." A teen-age boy started stroking the man's back and said, "Don't worry. When I grow up, I will bring everything back to normal." We will be all right. Our future is bright.

10. The man had been rescued after 42 hours of being trapped in a destroyed house. When he came out, he smiled at the TV camera and said, "I was there when the tsunami from the Chilean earthquake hit us. It's all right. All we need to do is rebuild." What is important is what we do from now.

11. "Operation Tomodachi" [meaning, "Operation Friends"] is the name of the U.S. military's rescue operation this time.

12. It's so dark with the power down, so the stars are shining the brightest ever. My fellow earthquake refugees in Sendai, let's look up.

13. M9.0. One of the greatest earthquakes in the human history. Well then, let's make the passion to rebuild and love for each other one of the greatest in the human history.

Japanese migrants' communities across the State are preparing for fundraising activities. The activities will typically involve paper-craft cranes and in some cases music or dance performance. If you see one like that in your suburb, please make generous donations, but make sure the fundraising activity is legitimate. (Normally the organisation that receives the funds, such as Red Cross, issues an official letter of authority. If you are not sure, you can always ask the fundraiser to show you such a letter before making donations.)

Thank you very much for your support for the earthquake victims in Japan.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Slowly Catching Up to the Reading Nations



Called a "flagship project" - more like flagging-stone. Or is it flogging?

What am I raving about, you ask? Well, a UAE-based software company has "unveiled" a new mobile book-reading application. They called it Rufoof. In the words of its developer:

- it is one of the prominent Arabic apps on the app store, is an amazing reading experience for Arabic Content (I read Arabic on Kindle, what's so amazing?)

- Users of Rufoof can view a wide range of book titles in different categories and download a sample to have the content available even when the device is offline. Another feature of the application is reading through bookmarked pages, search and change the font size as well as colour of the shelves. This represents a big advancement in the world of reading from an iPhone, Ipad or other smart phone devices. (DUH? Ditto Kindle, Sony, iPad, etc. etc..)

- is a revolutionary bookstore application that targets the Arab audience with more than 4,500 books covering various sectors (OMG. I have this much and more ebooks alone. Must be a drought in publishing).

Something is telling me that they will be selling it oveseas to the diaspora. Only a few days ago, a blogger I respect posted a Yahoo Maktoob research on reading in the Arab World. She says that "the survey polled 3,503 online folks, which means that it should definitely be taken with several grains of salt. Internet penetration in the Arab world does not go beyond 35%, and the fact that the poll takers are online already says a lot about them." And what were the results? A quarter of people polled hardly ever or never read books for personal enjoyment. Roba (the blogger from Jordan) blames lack of pulp fiction as a reason for turning off young readers. Would I rather they didn't have intellectual junk food? Of course, yes.

So will reading off the electronic shelf be any more enticing? Is Edward Said or Nawal Saadawi more palatable in e-ink than on paper? You never know. Research is beginning to show that reading online makes one more shallow and destroys the ability to think deeply. What it does to heads that were empty in the first place, is something we need to wait and see.

Suitably empty!


For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Communication Experts at

Writing in a Language Other Than Your Own

It is interesting to see how, at the time Arabic-speaking Gulf countries complain about the morbidity of their own language, an American university in Qatar is celebrating "the creative possibilities for expressing oneself and one's experiences through writing - in a language other than his native tongue."

"The Writer's Craft: Teaching Creative Writing in Qatar", edited by Amal Al Malki, Ph.D., assistant teaching professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, is a book based on a collection of essays written by students of Al Malki's creative writing course - in English.

Al Malki says that her students "were encouraged to acquire both comfort and competence in a variety of English genres - but, not really to mimic the English of a native speaker."

Even more fascinating is how Al Malki explains the difference between writing in Arabic versus writing in English: "Many students in Education City had grandparents who were illiterate, and have parents who are literate primarily in Arabic. The students find themselves the first generation cultivating two languages, and two identities. They see the Arabic language as the language of family and religion, and English as their global self - the language in which they can relate their pride in their Arabic heritage to the world."

I have seen and experienced very similar sentiments among first and second generation migrants in Australia - but it didn't relate to "pride in one's heritage" as much as to the innate ability of English to express the inexpressible in Arabic - alternative identities, erotica, technology, theories of science that have not yet caught in Arabic, for which there are no terminologies in that language.

Arabs face huge obstacles in gaining access to western knowledge, the most significant hurdle being the language barrier between them and the industrialised
nations to the north that generate the majority of technical/social/philosophical innovations.

This situation is further complicated by the lack of clarity regarding the correct Arabic equivalent for numerous technical/scientific terms. The region speaks various dialects, and there is often no distinct or standard term for technological innovations. Often, Arabs from different countries in the region are forced to use a third language (mostly English) in order to communicate that sort of knowledge.

I am not a proponent of conspiracy theories, but when much of the teaching material at science courses in Middle Eastern universities is only available in either English or French as there are no Arabic translations, while students are often given texts in English or French while receiving instruction in Arabic during class time, it makes one wonder how Arabic could ever evolve and catch up?

This is a proverbial shooting yourself in the foot.

It is also a great time for lexicographers of all colours to start producing real dictionaries for a real, 21st century, Arab world. Enough esoterica. Sufis need technology, too :-)

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Communication Experts at