Friday, July 22, 2011


337. French Lesson #1.
Marion: Bisous!
Me: Bisous! (See how French I am now?)
Marion: It does not count if you repeat after me :-) 
Me: Ouais, it so does. Wish I knew how to say the last part of the sentence in French, because that would have been way cooler!
Marion: When you want to say "yes" to a negative question, or to a negative sentence, you should say "si" like "t'es pas gentille!" "si, je suis gentille!" (not at all inspired from my life...)

338. Realizing, for the first time, that Stephen Hawking has a sense of humour. It was not that I had specifically thought he was humourless. I simply haven't read much of his writing (hope we can still be friends, Pierre), and funny is not usually the first word that comes to my mind when hearing about a mathematician, a theoretical physicist, or a cosmologist. Obviously, Hawking happens to be all three at once, and rather good at it, which was why I had selected his TED video on big questions about the universe to be the next translation project, without seeing it first.

When the time came to translate -- that is, 29 nine days later, as the deadline for each translation is one month after a talk is assigned -- I began by watching the video to put me in the right mood, only to stop the video less than thirty seconds later. Unlike all other TED talks I have seen, Hawking's video was not a recorded live footage on stage, but of a static photo of Hawking in the inseparable chair, slowly zooming in to his somber face with almost no detectable movements, accompanied by Hawking's computerized voice. So, whatever mood this video was putting me in, it was not the right one. Turning off the video, I started the translation.

The way that the website works, is that they provide the whole transcript, broken down into approximately half-sentences, and there is a text-box following after each half-sentence to write the translation. Reading Hawking's talk in this manner, coupled with the continual distraction of a mental rummage for the right Vietnamese words, I couldn't easily see the forest for the trees. So when I reached to the part, "We think we have solved the mystery of creation. Maybe we should patent the universe", something truck me as odd but I did not immediately understand. Then, after "and charge everyone royalties for their existence," I had to go back and reread the whole paragraph, to make sure that he was in fact trying to make a joke, just like he would later do again and again with other offbeat comments.

His are probably not the type of jokes that would make their way into stand-up routines, but they have really struck a chord with me. Perhaps, it was because he managed to joke about cosmology which, it seems to me, is not an easy thing. More likely, it was because by selecting Hawking's video, I had set out to learn more about the universe, only to end up learning more about a human being.

339. "YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE WHAT I AM DOING," I send off the email. On the TV screen, Nick Dal Santo of St. Kilda is kicking a goal against the Adelaide Crows, my one-time love, back during the time when, if woken up in the middle of the night, I could still easily name all forty four players in the team, together with their individual jersey numbers. At a particular peak of heightened feelings, I went to every home game during a six-month season, wearing a Crows scarf, a Crows beanie and Crows gloves (yes, Australia could get that cold). Towards the end of this season, I seriously contemplated carrying with me to the stadium a sign, KENNY WILL YOU MARRY ME?, with my mobile number helpfully written underneath the heartfelt question. It is hard to remember why the plan did not eventuate, either CS and I could not find the right-sized cardboard for my proposal, or Kenny McGregor has soon stopped scoring goals and dropped every single ball passed his way. In either case, as with most great loves, mine fade away with time, and what with living in Europe, I have hardly followed any news about the Adelaide Crows, until tonight.

As I am deep in my reverie, Gaston comes home.
Gaston: What is that?
Me: Oh, Australian football.
G: Like, American football?
M: No, like, Australian football. A little like soccer, rugby and American football combined together.
G: So, uhm...
M: Each team has eighteen players on the field...
G: Eighteen?
M: Yes, and there are three goals side by side...
G: Three?
M: Yes. You get six points for kicking the ball into the middle goal, and one for each goal on the side. There is no net, so you can kick as high as you can.
G, thinking about it for a few seconds: And is there a goalkeeper?
M: No, but there is a goal umpire standing in the middle goal.
G: Is this a real game??

Gaston and I are no longer friends.


  1. Come on!!! You probably knew that Richard Feynman was funny! Or Albert Einstein, at least when he was sticking his tongue out in pictures. Or even me!

  2. Actually, you're right about Richard Feynman. Albert Einstein... I'm not so sure. He was sticking his tongue out in *one* picture. You... :)

  3. Ah ah ah ah!!!! You see, even you as a mathematician, you can be funny :)