Sunday, June 12, 2016

On the road to ?

It used to really annoy me, when we were living in Switzerland, that the highway entrance ramps were not labelled by cardinal direction such as "North" or "East" but by the next insignificant town in a given direction. For example, getting on the A1 (the main highway in the country) in Bern (the capital) with the intention of going to Zurich (the largest city) one would have to seek out the entrance ramp labelled "A1 Solothurn".  Not something sensible such as "A1 North" or "A1 Zurich". If you didn't realize that Solothurn, which by the way is in fact just such an insignificant little town, was located on the way to Zurich, you could never find Zurich.  It is a bit like a chinese box puzzle, or a rubik's cube,  requiring that you memorize lots of intermediary steps in order to achieve the ultimate goal. Or maybe Swiss cartographers consider it unfair to the people of Solothurn to label the highway as heading to Zurich, when their exit came first?  Switzerland is after all uber-democratic. At first I thought this road direction indicating convention was categorically inefficient - perhaps just some consequence of Swiss cartographers and geographers inbreeding and communicating in Rumantsch in some remote valley since the days of Ancient Rome. But Min then pointed out to me that the US system is hardly free of flaws either. To get from Lyme, NH to Sharon VT, for example, you have to take 91 South and then switch onto 89 North, all in order to travel due West. And I remember very distinctly once being pretty sure I must be lost because we were clearly driving due south on a good long stretch of route 9 North in Northern New York State on our way to Canada. Maybe the Swiss aren't so stupid afterall.

Naming roads by the town they are headed to is also done in the USA, but not with highways. Lyme road (in Hanover, New Hampshire) is indeed the road to Lyme and the same road is called 'Hanover Rd' when you are in Lyme. Somewhere in the middle they meet and become one.  The convention works for the most part, though there is also a "North Thetford Road" in Lyme which does not go to North Thetford, but ends at River Road, along the bank of the Connecticut, where there was once a bridge to North Thetford, though it was destroyed about a century ago.  They could have perhaps renamed the road to 'River Road" in order to indicate its new post flood destination, except there already is a River Road, running along the river. Indeed North Thetford Road now ends at River Road, so maybe it could be called the "River Road Road", indicating it is the road that leads to river road?

Lyme is an old town though. In modern developments in the US, roads are purposely built to avoid going anywhere, thereby keeping traffic slow in the McMansion developments full of little lord Fauntleroy's who might, horrors, chase a soccer ball into a street now and then.  In these places the roads are all named after some category of nouns like trees or presidents, or flightless ground birds. Directions to someone's house generally sound like: "just stay on Quail Lane until you see Ptarmigan Street, take a right. The third crossing will be Guinea Fowl Avenue, turn left, and from there just keep straight until you see Dodo Drive on the right - we're in the cul-de-sac at the end".

In Kenya some roads are named after their destinations. Like Limuru road - which is the road we take from our home in Runda out to Lake Naivasha via, surprise, Limuru.  But there is another naming convention where in some area, such as in Runda and neighboring Ruaka, the roads are all simply called by the area name and then distinguished by changing the word for 'road'. Like trying to relabel the US suburb using only one flightless bird name (hmmm...take Quail Lane, right on Quail Drive, left on Quail Road, and then to the end of Quail Close).  Let me provide an example. Min and I walked Apple today starting at our house on Runda Drive, to Ruaka Drive, Past Ruaka Lane, to Ruaka Road, then Runda Road, past Runda Ridge, down Ruaka Grove, past Ruaka Annex, back onto Runda Road, and finally home again on good old Runda Drive. Get the picture? (incase not I have attached them). And this is actually a fairly simple walk since we didn't have the energy to walk all the way over to Runda or Ruaka Close, Crescent or Gardens. As you can see the first word indicates nothing beyond the general vicinity one is in, then the imaginative Kenyan town 'planners' swap out all possible synonyms for 'road' in order to drill down to the streetview level. Someone in town probably has a really big thesaurus. This is particularly confusing for people like me with mild dyslexia since, unless I concentrate, which I rarely do while walking the dog, I usually don't make out the difference between 'Ruaka' and 'Runda' anyway since they both start with 'Ru' and end in 'a' and are about the same length. Even the locals get confused - as for example happened to whoever was in charge of putting in the house number signs and located 196 Ruaka Road directly adjacent to 197 Runda Drive. Which is it? (for the record, Ruaka Road).

Our next destination is Japan. I understand from Wikipedia (cited below) they employ something that at first sounds a bit similar to Kenya, or Paris with its clockwise number arrondissements, whereby it is regions rather than directions that matter, and - here is the real kicker - the numbers are ordered in time rather than space, so that buildings built earlier have the low numbers and modern ones the high numbers. Sounds like we are in for some really interesting dog walks.

Wikipedia Quote: The Japanese addressing system is based on areas, subdivided from big to small. The largest division is called a "Prefecture" in English. There are 47 prefectures in Japan. A prefecture can be one of four things in Japanese, To (都), capital, for Tokyo only,  (道), territory, for Hokkaido only, Fu (府), metropolis, for Osaka and Kyoto, and 43 Ken (県), which cover the rest of the country. The Ken are divided into counties, Gun (郡), or cities, Shi (市). Small cities are generally divided into Chō (町). This is translated as "town" or "village" in the dictionary, but corresponds to "areas" or "neighbourhoods". Big cities are divided into Ku (区), "wards".
Wards are divided into Chō (町), though sometimes the name doesn't include the word Chō. Sometimes the Chō are divided into Chōme (丁目), which are numbered divisions of a Chō. Then the blocks are numbered and, at the lowest level, the building has a number. Finally comes the room or apartment number. For an apartment, the name of the apartment building is often included. However, it is not necessary for mail. It is, however, a convenience for visitors who ask for directions. The buildings within a block are either numbered in the order that they were built, so they jump all around, or numbered in clockwise order around the block. In this clockwise numbering there is sometimes skipping of several numbers for later assignment, where future construction between existing buildings is possible.

Min's epiphany - reading Japanese is not so hard afterall.

顧 敏 (My Cow) had an epiphany today. She was looking at apartments in Osaka online with what at first appear to be incomprehensible labels of room names and sizes. The sizes are indicated not in square meters but in 'number of tatami mats'. This is a pretty simple numerical conversion: one Tatami mat is 1.6529 square meters. But it was not these numbers that excited her, but rather the ones hidden in the labeling of the バルコニー room.  "Is this the Balcony?" she asked pointing at a rather small (2 tatami?) space along the side of the 客廳 (living room). See this first letter looks kind of like 八 ('ba', meaning 8 in Chinese) and the last one is ー ('yi', meaning 1 in Chinese), so it must say "ba" lcon "yi"! QUite a stretch of imagination, but as usual she was correct.

About a quarter of the nouns are Chinese characters, so if you can read those it is already a good start, then there are the katakana words. All you have to do is learn this special angular alphabet for foreign words, sound them out, and it is usually an easy English homonym. I remember having the same epiphany myself while bored at some meeting in Japan many years ago fidgeting with my room key,  looking at the apparently indecipherable squiggles on it and suddenly realizing that ホテルフロントデスク('return' ho-te-ru fu-ro-n-to de-su-ku) was actually quite easy to read as long as you know Chinese characters, katakana and English. From incomprehensible squiggles to coherent writing in one light bulb moment. And useful too - when checking out of my room, I certainly did not forget to return the key to the hotel front desk. So far I have only come across one Katakana word that wasn't English. In the NHK radio Japanese language course (lesson 7) that I am struggling through in preparation for the move to Osaka the main character goes to a bakery and buys some シユークリーム (chou à la crème). Or maybe it is a hyrbrid transliteration of "chou cream" mixing French and English. I look forward to finding some more languages in Katakana. Maybe Japanese could write "My Cow" asミンク transliterating out of Swedish rather than employing the Kanji form (顧 敏)?
Linguistic Note: 顧 敏 is my spouse's name - pronounced Gu4 Min3 in Mandarin. It is transliterated into English as "Min Ku" (putting the suraname last, and changing the G to K). Reading in Swedish, Min Ku literally means "My Cow". Transliterating the Swedish into Japanese using Katakana results in: ミンク. Hence: 顧 敏 = Min Ku = ミンク = My Cow. And yes, we were once invited to the Swedish Ambassador's residence, and I did in fact greet him by saying "Hello, I am Keith Alverson, and this (pause for effect) is Min Ku"