Saturday, January 8, 2011

Why my brain is fried

I am trying to have a peaceful, understimulating evening.  I do love Hong Kong.  I love the incredible variety of street activities, building ages, cultures, views, possibilities.  And I love looking at Chinese characters.

I am fried because I can't stop trying to read the characters.  My brain does pattern-matching.  It just does, compulsively.  I'm one of those people who kicks butt on the tests where you have to identify which shape is the same as another but at a different angle.  I can find visual sameness.  But I also can't stop doing it.

I know enough about Chinese characters that I can perceive them -- they aren't just a bunch of lines: they are a bunch of meanings.  I am proud that I can break them down into their sections; I know a fair amount about stroke order (the system for writing them); I know some of the fundamental symbols.  (For example, coming to this blog website I landed on the usual blogspot page but in Chinese rather than English.  I knew which word was "sign in" because it had the character for "person.")  I can glance at a character and know it refers to water: I did that this afternoon and then read in the English that is so always handy here as subtitles that it was the character for "lake."  (Water characters, like lake and river, have three dots on the left.  There, I've ruined your life, too.)

The character for "lake"
I look at the character for "lake," right, and I can see "water," "month," and "place" (more precisely, but I am not precise, "entrance").  I missed "ten," but it's there.  I don't know why they are all there or what it means.

So when my eyes hit a character I break it down into its components; I consider stroke order; I match what I see to what I know of fundamentals; and I note things I don't know but that seem striking in case I come across it again.  I prioritize: What do I know?  What looks familiar?  What looks new?  Does it match any other sets nearby, such as elsewhere on the sign? 

I love doing this.  And because I compulsively do this whenever I see a characther I have overdone it, and now I have to hide in my hotel room and decompress.

There is no escape from reading.

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