Two Travelogues by Guy Delisle

There’s a huge difference in style (as well as size) between the Guy Delisle book about Shenzhen and the Guy Delisle book about Jerusalem. In the Shenzhen book, the drawings are darker and fuzzier like pencil or charcoal sketches, whereas the drawings in the Jerusalem book are very clean, with splashes of color added.

I think part of the reason is the separation in time between the books. The Shenzhen book was published in 2006 about a trip in 1997, and the Jerusalem book was published in 2012 about a trip in 2008.

In terms of content, I think I enjoyed the Shenzhen book more. China feels frustrating and foreign… but you’d expect it to. Jerusalem feels if anything more frustrating, since in theory it’s less foreign. The ongoing conflicts there involve the political ideologies and religions of the West. In reading this book, I realized I know very little about those conflicts…

As always, I admire the artist’s nonchalance in the face of daunting situations, and his ability and willingness to transmit his experiences to us in words and pictures. Sometimes the episodes depicted are funny and sometimes they’re not, but they are eye-opening.

More on when and why I read the books below.

Continue reading Two Travelogues by Guy Delisle

The Once and Future Singapore MRT System

So many trains now! I wish I still lived in Chinatown!
In December 2011, Flat Stanley was proud of Stage 2 of the Circle Line.
(Not a Downtown Line station in sight!)
In April 2011, Stage 2 of the Circle Line was just a glimmer in the eye of an urban planner.

I wish I had a photo of the map with just the green, red and purple lines, but apparently I don’t. You’ll just have to take my word for it: The circle line totally didn’t even exist in 2008 when we moved to Singapore.

The Three Circles of English edited by Edwin Thumboo

The Three Circles of English is a collection of conference papers published in Singapore on 2001.

The title refers to the varieties of English in the inner circle, outer circle and expanding circle of the “three circles” model invented by Braj Kachru.

I’m glad I read this book, though parts of it were eye-stabbingly inarticulate and other parts contained opinions that went all the way through defensive and out the other side…

I now have more sympathy for people who feel that although they have grown up speaking English, they can never really achieve a respectable level of English, simply because they weren’t born and educated in places where the local variety of English is automatically respected. I mean, how unfair is that? Especially since all our enshrined standards are nothing but historical accidents. I’m not saying that we don’t need standards, or even, necessarily, that they should change or multiply, just that it stinks if you’re on the receiving end of one, so to speak, through no fault of your own.

For a list of the papers and what I found interesting about them, keep reading. (TL;DR? Try this summary instead.)

Continue reading The Three Circles of English edited by Edwin Thumboo

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I was expecting Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar to be depressing, and it was—just not as depressing as I’d expected.

I don’t think I’d read anything by Sylvia Plath, but I had the impression that she was famous for poetry relating to depression and death, and that this famous book had some kind of morbid theme. I also had the impression that Plath was the author of “Resumé”, a memorable and oddly charming poem about suicide that turns out to be by Dorothy Parker.

The novel tells the story of Esther, a nineteen-year-old college student in the US who has been sent to work at the office of a New York City fashion magazine for one month. The story follows her anguished personal struggle with others’ expectations of her and with her own professional and romantic ambitions.

The novel did not impress me favorably overall, but I attribute that judgment to my personal taste for happier content.

For more about when and why I read the novel and what stood out (including a detailed plot summary in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat), see below.

Continue reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Jungle Book (1967)

Yes, that’s a VHS tape of The Jungle Book, and I just watched it at home using my VHS player. (Nothing beats a video that starts off with “Coming Soon in 1997.” Did you know that they released the 1989 movie The Little Mermaid back into theaters that year? Best Disney movie ever.)

I have mixed feelings about the Jungle Book cartoon. On the one hand, I love watching Bagheera slink around and roll his eyes. Shere Kahn is delightful as well. The voice of Baloo is just perfect. The animation of Kaa the snake is hilarious. On the other hand, I can’t get over the fact that Kaa speaks with the totally incongruous voice of Winnie the Pooh, a character who is the opposite of sneaky and threatening, while the Mowgli in this story does absolutely nothing but sulk and giggle and sulk and giggle the entire time. The only time he makes a decision is in the tacked-on ending invented by Walt himself—about which, more later—and his use of tools is limited to the aimless swishing of various twigs.

Watch on Amazon

SPOILERS, including a detailed plot summary and comparisons with the 2016 movie, below.

Continue reading The Jungle Book (1967)

The mission of a dictionary

If you accept a ‘word’ such as ‘alright’ (which I consider to be a mistake) just because it’s in the dictionary, for consistency you will probably also have to accept ‘words’ that you consider to be mistakes. (How accepting do you feel towards nucular?)

Furthermore, if you accept any word that’s in the dictionary just because it’s in the dictionary, you are trapping yourself in an inescapable bit of circular logic.

I’m using it because it’s in the dictionary…
and it’s in the dictionary because I’m using it.

That’s because the mission of a dictionary (these days, anyway) is to document how people actually write, not to dictate how people should write.

Dictionaries are comprehensive. They’re not carved in stone and increasingly they include examples of anything and everything that’s statistically common enough to pass some minimum threshold. There’s no value judgment involved. In fact, descriptivism, the linguistic philosophy that motivates lexicographers, categorically prohibits interference from value judgments. The passing of judgment on any form of linguistic expression is termed ‘prescriptivism’ and is frowned on by academic linguists.

To my way of thinking, then, there’s a huge difference between the mission of dictionary writers and the mission of pretty much any other kind of writer. Writing is all about value judgment—writers must constantly choose what to say and how to say it to best communicate with the audience, for a given purpose, in a given context. Therefore, writers are constantly looking for and giving one another advice on appropriate forms and formulations.

There are many, many books out there that purport to contain well-considered recommendations for word use. They’re just not dictionaries.

Don’t all write ‘alright’, all right?

I must have been told early and often that ‘all right’ must be written as two words because it just absolutely baffles me that anyone would want to write it any other way.

But hey, maybe I’m wrong. Why don’t we get some other opinions on this?

Below are the first ten Google hits for “all right vs alright”.

  1. Grammar Girl says historically ‘alright’ was always wrong, but that it might somehow be gaining limited acceptability.
  2. says ‘alright’ is acceptable in written dialog and informal writing only.
  3. Oxford Dictionaries says despite the existence of ‘altogether’ and ‘already’ in standard English, it is still inadvisable to use ‘alright’ because it is widely regarded as incorrect.
  4. Writer’s Digest says ‘alright’ technically isn’t a word. Its status could change but hasn’t yet.
  5. Grammarist says that because ‘alright’ has never been accepted by dictionaries or usage authorities, for now you should play it safe and avoid it, unless you’re feeling particularly bold.
  6. Writing Explained says young writers may not even be aware that there’s a debate over ‘alright’ and ‘all right’, and then beats readers over the head with the mnemonic “It’s not all right to use alright.”
  7. Merriam-Webster says you can use ‘alright’ if you don’t care that it’s not the favored form, but points out that ‘all right’ is exactly equivalent, and furthermore keeps you from looking like you don’t know what you’re doing.
  8. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary entry for ‘alright’ says ‘alright’ is common in dialog and informal writing. (Incidentally, beware of insisting that something “is a word” just because “it’s in the dictionary”.)
  9. Grammar Monster says ‘alright’ is a nonstandard variant of ‘all right’ and is best avoided in formal writing.
  10. Cambridge Dictionaries Online says that ‘all right’ may be written as one word but that it’s less common to do so.

I think there’s overwhelming evidence in favor of avoiding ‘alright’. Unless you’re militantly anti-conservative, linguistically speaking.

In which case, what’s next? A big push for spelling ‘a lot’ as one word?

So, upshot: I may be fighting a losing battle, but according to the authorities, it isn’t lost yet. And I’m not fighting alone, even if it for sure feels that way sometimes. Fight with me! If you’ve read this far, you can no longer claim that you just didn’t know better.

Q: What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy?
A: I don’t know and I don’t care.

National Orchid Garden at the Singapore Botanic Gardens

The National Orchid Garden at the Singapore Botanic Gardens is my favorite local tourist attraction. It’s centrally located but feels like a universe apart from the skyscrapers and shopping malls.

Below are 23 photos from my latest visit.

Continue reading National Orchid Garden at the Singapore Botanic Gardens