The chart below, shows the number of criminal requests received from a law enforcement agency and/or court seeking Skype customer data.
|Country||Requests for Information|
Source: Microsoft, 2012 Law Enforcement Requests Report
“Take a long-term view, and the interests of customers and shareholders align.”
在阴凉处, In the shade
WeChat (微信, Wēixìn) has received increasing attention from the major tech blogs. As a consumer focussed mobile app with voice messages at the core of it’s product, it is heralded as what Facebook should have done with mobile. Recently, I’ve begun to see examples of it being used for business. Not everything we do has to be real-time and with many small business spanning multiple time zones this is becoming increasingly evident. WeChat seems to have cracked voice messaging and I wouldn’t be surprised to see its unofficial use for business conversations increase over the coming months.
As our trip to Harbin (哈尔滨) drew to a close we debated what we thought of the city. Much of the city’s past is still a mystery to me. I’m still unsure What triggered the influx of Russian Jews to the city and even less clear about the trigger for their apparent departure. I suspect much of the debate may have been lost in translation – either that or I may just have been too cold to appreciate the finer social and political aspects of the region’s history. For me, the take away impression of the city was one of admiration.
Snow, ice, wind, cold and yet the city continued to function as normal. I come from a city that grinds to a halt at the first sign of inclement weather. Leaves on the line or the wrong kind of snow and people start to worry. It doesn’t take much for people to be sent home from work, trains delayed and flights cancelled.
Our plane landed in Harbin and taxied over an ice covered apron. A taxi driver promptly took us into the city regularly exceeding 110km/hr on ice covered roads. But more impressive was the way people shuffled (try walking across an ice rink and you’ll know what I mean) around the city on ice covered streets as if it was perfectly normal. And why not? In Harbin this is normal. I can understand that we don’t invest quite as heavily in snow ploughs and ice clearing equipment in the UK, but it wasn’t infrastructure that kept Harbin moving. More than anything it was just the inevitability of having to deal with whatever the weather throws at you. It is this that I’ll remember about Harbin, this and the bitter cold.
In a local clothing store in Beijing, I was puzzled by this sign on many if the clothing rails. In English, this means 50% off. But I couldn’t understand why.
> 折, zhé, discount
It wasn’t so much the character 折 that confused me as how 5 could imply 50% off. I could understand 5% off but 50% seemed odd.
When used in this context, 5折 means 0.5 times the price, and hence the 50%. So in the photo above, an item of clothing costing 100RMB would now cost 50RMB, a good deal.
So here’s a test for you. If the original price for an item of clothing is 100RMB, what is the price after the discount advertised in the photo below?
If you answered 65RMB you would be correct. But you could just as easily have answered 35RMB which would be wrong, and leave you disappointed at the till.
When we advertise discounts in the UK we often talk about money off. So you often see signs for 20% off or 50% off. Here, the percentage value indicates the money saved. However in China 6.5折 indicates the final price after the discount has been applied. So, the price you pay is 65% of the original or, in this case, 65RMB. So the lower the displayed discount the better the deal.
So there you have it; Chinese discounts explained. Now you have no excuse for not picking out the best deals.
Almost 6 months in, and Apple still has a little further to go with their maps.
“How is your Chinese?” Truth be told, I don’t know how to answer this question. In part it depends on who is asking. If you are an English speaking colleague for example, my Chinese is awesome. I may as well say I’m fluent. If you are a native speaker, I have to come out and admit that my Chinese is hopeless.
I have been learning Chinese on and off for longer than I can remember. I listened to my first Chinese podcast ([ChinesePod](http://chinesepod.com)) probably somewhere in the region of six years ago. Six years is a long time to be learning anything and still not have a feel for how you are doing. The truth is, when I stop and think about it, I’m surprised at how much progress I have actually made.
Sat here, in a café in Beijing (admittedly [one that serves a steak baguette](https://foursquare.com/v/alba/4b6a7b14f964a52073d62be3)), I can’t help but feel more than a little pleased with my progress. Buying a travel-card, topping it up, finding my way, ordering coffee, asking why there were so few people in the coffee shop, and finding out how many cups of coffee they’d expect to serve in a day, are just a few of the things I’ve accomplished, all without a word of English. A year ago, that would never have happened. So what has changed?
Last year I took a risk and cancelled my ChinesePod subscription. I had no podcasts to listen to, no practice sessions and generally felt as if I’d hit a dead end. For several months I debated a new approach in the hope that this would give my studies a much needed pick-me-up. In the end though, the pick-me-up came from an unexpected source: I simply started speaking more.
I don’t know what triggered it. It could have been the desire to keep my Mandarin going while in-between lessons, increasing opportunities to practise, or just that my [resident translator](http://alicialiu.co.uk/) decided enough was enough. Whatever it was, it has been the most significant boost to my Chinese for a long time.
I used to open my mouth and utter a few polite words, certainly nothing like a coherent sentence and would be met with full on praise for the fact that I could speak Chinese. Now, I stumble through something close to a sentence and am met with a response as if I was a native speaker. Gone are the niceties and the simplification. I’m just expected to understand. This has led to many a blank look and many a misunderstanding. I regularly have to admit defeat and ask for a translation. My language may not have improved, but I have certainly grown in confidence and it feels awesome.
I may just have found a way to break through the language learning plateau and start making progress again. It feels great to be back at the bottom of the ladder and starting to climb. If you have found yourself struggling to move forward, I’d highly recommend putting yourself out there and seeing how far you get with speaking, you’ll surprise yourself. When you do, please let us know how you get on.
It has been a couple of weeks since I accepted the Chinese Character Challenge laid down by Olle on Hacking Chinese and I’m overdue on a public update on progress. Before I get in to the details of my progress to date, I should explain the challenge I’ve set myself.
I’m going to try (once again) to learn the first 1,500 characters using Remembering Simplified Hanzi by James W. Heisig. I’m starting at the beginning of the book with a clean Skritter account. By starting from scratch I’ll be covering old ground and so initially I expect progress to be quick but it won’t be long before I start hitting new characters. I’m hoping to crack some of my problem characters along the way. I’ve previously faltered as I’ve found various excuses to stop learning Chinese characters, but see this challenge as an opportunity to crack the first book.
Progress by the numbers:
- Days Studied: 11/29
- Hours Studied: 2
- Minutes per Day: 4
- Retention: 95.6%
What instantly stands out to me is how little time I’m spending on character study, just 4 minutes a day since I started. Admittedly that jumps to 11 minutes a day in the last week but that’s still not as high as I expected.
The key emphasis of the challenge is not to skip over any character you get wrong. Get it wrong and you need to re-visit your method for remembering the character. In order to help me stick to this rule, I’ve taken to modifying my Skritter mnemonic for every character I’ve got wrong. If I haven’t written a mnemonic, I write one; if I have, I amend it to better jog my memory.
Progress feels slow. I’m used to flicking through characters on The Underground but having to get my book out and review every time I get one wrong means I’m less inclined to do so. However, taking the time to document a mnemonic for every character I get wrong also seems to be having an effect. I appear to have cracked a couple of the problem characters and I’m still tracking above the target retention rate of 95%.
I’ll check back in a couple of weeks (I’m out of town for a bit) and will let you know how I’m getting on.