Decipher Chinese: a HSK-based reading app



I had another serendipitous (this is fast becoming my favourite English word) find: an excellent Chinese reading app called Decipher Chinese

It is a service that provides HSK graded articles written by Mandarin teachers through a learn-as-you-read activity that you can do on a daily basis with their  new articles posted everyday. 

I think this would work better than the HSK-based books I found earlier, which I have not purchased any yet. 

This is how the app looks like today:



I am still using the free version and therefore, I do not get access to all their articles. Each article is marked with the HSK level, which you can choose to attempt reading. 

And this is one of the articles I was reading today. Each word is marked with the HSK level and as such I should know all the words in grey and green, which is from HSK1-3 and some of the words in yellow, which is HSK 4. When you tap on each word, you will have its meaning, pinyin and audio. 



I am also able to add words into a vocabulary list that can be used as an SRS-based flashcard deck. 

But alas, as it is with free apps, there are limitations to it. Articles I have read will become inaccessible after a few days and I have a limit of only 30 words in the vocabulary list. 

Subscription is at RM20.90 per month, which isn't too bad but I think I will try it out further before I decide. 

pearlie

My Mandarin learning progress update

I have been asked this question many times: why are you studying a language?

I was asked the question again by my colleague at work today. And I gave her my usual answer, that's it's something I've always wanted to do--which if you think about it, does not actually answer the question! 

So why am I learning languages?

I need to give it much more thought but I do find that I have been doing it rather serendipitously now, having the aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident. 

Well, I won't say it's all accidental but I seem to somehow find the right tools or maybe we are now in a golden time where there is a flood of language learning resources out there. 

I mentioned many times before that I have been trying to learn Mandarin all my life. But for some reasons, I could suddenly able to pick it up so much faster and easier than before with the tools that I have. 

To mark my progress. This was how it looked like back in June 2017, after learning it for 3 months, growing from zero to 3033 mature cards. 



And after another 4 months now in October 2017--don't ask me why the pie chart has grown larger--it took me much longer to gain only another 1083 mature cards. It is much more difficult as I progress on. 



There isn't any finish line when it comes to acquiring a language. And it looks like I will still be trying to learn Mandarin all my life. 

But at least I got to a better place now. 

pearlie

No TV? I'm about to go insane

TV
Today I am feeling exactly like Homer here...TV, not the beer. 


With the day off today and not really having a mood to read, I'm running out of ideas what to do with my time other than watching TV. 

I'm still persisting if you need to know. 

pearlie

Are you a wall rat at work?

I was in a discussion about how some organizations or projects operate on a need-to-know basis and whilst I understand why there is a need to do that sometimes, it is really frustrating for team members not to know what and why they are doing what they are doing. 

More importantly, creativity will not happen because they do not even know what to be creative about. 

With that in the midst of our discussion, this scene from Ratatouille suddenly came to mind.



Can we not equate such team members to rats in the walls?

In the scene, as Remy the rat escaped from the sewers up to the walls of a building, he scurried from room to room observing what was happening in each. 

Isn't this akin to team members who only have the privilege to peep in to departments or sections in the company but do not know what they do?

And only when Remy climbed up and up and up onto the roof--which analogically is where top management is--he sees Paris. 

Isn't it tough to be working in projects or organizations like these, where all we can do is scurry here and there to find out what's going on?

And isn't it sad that we are all along in Paris but do not know it?

pearlie

Which you think is the most energy hungry organ of the human body?



I have not been watching TV for the longest time--only 16 days but it does seem like an eternity--and what I have doing instead are reading and going through my language flashcards that can go up to 300 cards a day. 

What I found was that I became so much more tired than before. 

Why?

I came to the conclusion that with watching TV, it is an almost brainless activity that I can last till the wee hours of the morning but when I study languages, my brain works so hard that by the time it's 10 o'clock at night, I'm so exhausted I'd fall asleep at the blink of an eye. Learning languages is hard work. 

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History says this: "Did you know that your brain makes up about 2% of your body weight…but uses about 20-25% of your body’s total energy, just for its basic activity? That’s one hungry brain!  No wonder it’s good to eat nutritious foods that offer a lot of energy. The brain of a newborn baby is even more amazing, as it takes up about 60% of the baby’s energy as the brain grows at an astonishing pace."

I'm not sure where they based that information on because as I understand it, it's only still a theory for now but there are enough studies to point to that fact though. 

According to this article Energy-hungry brain likely cause for slow human growth: study, "Most researchers believe this is because human body needs to divert a huge fraction of its resources to the brain during childhood, leaving little to be devoted to body growth. As humans we have so much to learn, and that learning requires a complex and energy-hungry brain."

Looks like my brain has been on full swing these 16 days of no TV. 

Hmm...I'm really wondering now if I should ever get back to mindless television binging again. 

pearlie

No TV for 15 days and counting

I started a TV fast on October 1st and today marks the 15th day I've stayed away from the television.

I won't celebrate yet because I'm only half way through and I have been really tempted during the weekends to break the fast. There is so much to watch and I feel the urge every Saturday and Sunday. 

The temptation is pretty strong today as I am a bit lazy to read. I am in the midst of reading four books but none of them really have that stayability in them. 

This is how I feel right now:


Sigh...okay. Let me go open a book and start reading now. 

pearlie 

Trip to Kampar

Grace Notes will soon be putting up a concert to raise funds to help the Sengoi orang asli kids in Kampar, and we went there to visit them today. 

We wanted to find out what their needs are. And according to their sharing, we found that other than physical needs like shoes and eye glasses, revision books and a computer, what they also need are opportunities. 

Opportunities to learn and to be exposed, to find out what they can do as they grow up and when they move into the working world. 

And on the whole, there is a need to support them when they grow from the current 16 kids to 37 next year. 



They are a bright and smart group of kids. In just 9 months, a few of them have progressed from being the poorest in class performance to being the top best performers. Amazingly, they picked up English very well too, and as we spoke to them in Malay, they were even helping us to translate English words into Malay. 

We really hope we will be able to make a difference for them. 

Would you? Let me know if you would like to help too. 

pearlie

Isn't life a bit easier to manage with apps but...

I have just updated my iPad with the latest iOS 11 and I'm very happy with it but since there are not many big changes for the iPhone, I've decided to hold on to it first for the phone. 

This is because I do have some apps that will be rendered useless if I do the update:



I am not worried about any of those apps except for Xiezi HSK-3. I just bought it for RM17 in June! And I don't think there are any plans for them to upgrade it. 

I am still so far away from writing any Chinese and I have to give that app up when I upgrade. Looks like it's back to paper and pen then. 

The other app I paid money for that will no longer work is Travel Pocket but I suppose I've got my value worth of $1.99 for 5 years. It's a good app but I should be able to find something free to use. 

It's trivial but these days my life seems to evolve around what apps can do for me to make life easier. 

pearlie

What a gloomy day

It was at 16:40 today when I noticed that the skies outside the window of my office were as dark as night. 



Doesn't it look like midnight with a blackout? A good friend told me it looked like a scene from a movie!

I was only thankfully traffic wasn't that bad when I drove home after work. 

pearlie

Where shall we go?

My mom really wanted to go travel before the year is out and we started talking about where we can go. 

Air Asia has a new route to Jeju Island, and I really wanted to go to these canola flower fields. 



But this is only possible in spring. It's winter now. Moreover, my mom is not really into nature and scenery and so we might settle for Taipei. 

And when I saw pictures of Jiufen, I was captivated. To me, this picture of Jiufen really looks like the Santorini of the East. 



And true enough. I checked it out and it is indeed called Santorini of Taiwan. 

Isn't it pretty?

pearlie

We Will Keep Our Faith Alive

We at Grace Notes are preparing for a presentation two weeks from now and one of the songs which we will be doing is We Will Keep Our Faith Alive. 

We did it once before 8 years ago and as I listened to it here, we were fine until the last note! Oh dear, I really hope we will have improved over these many years to at least nail the last note. LOL



pearlie 

Let me encourage and motivate you to cook!

I have begun to cook and bring my lunch to work. I found that it is so easy and it doesn't stress me up at all. And it's healthier and so much cheaper. 

It all began with a fluke. 

One evening some months back, I realized that I have these lamb shanks in the freezer I need to cook them already. 

And I only have onions. 

The thing is I cannot even say that I don't usually cook.  More accurately, I don't cook at all!

I popped the lamb and onions into the pressure cooker and amazingly it came out so well. But I couldn't finish it and so I decided to freeze it and brought it to work the next day. 

That's how it all started. It was easy, tasty and very satisfying. When I had reheated the lamb at work, the others in the pantry area kept trying to figure out where the awesome aroma was coming from. I was smiling to myself and quite amused too since it's nothing but just lamb and onions. 

Since then I have bought some small containers for storing and freezing. And I have not been really adventurous. I just kept it simple. 

Here's what I do. 

I buy a ginseng soup pack and a tray of 4 to 6 drumsticks. I put them all in the pressure cooker with 2 cups of water for 30 minutes. I separate them into 4 containers. I freeze them. 

I cook 2 cups of brown rice for 20 minutes in the pressure cooker and store them in 6 separate containers. I freeze them. 

And the beauty of it is that I can do these two things on separate days. 

And here is what I have for every serving. The chicken in ginseng soup, rice, a bowl of fresh green vegetables and a bowl of dried seaweed with added hot water:


I assemble them and this is what I get:


I am one person that don't mind eating the same thing over and over again. But this time I had this craving for Thai Green Curry. I followed this recipe and made 4 servings of this:


This took a little longer since I did not use the pressure cooker but the jar of ready-made Green Curry simplified the process by a whole lot. I couldn't find any bamboo shoots but next time I will substitute it with green beans. 

I am very glad I took the Coursera course, Stanford Introduction to Food and Health. I usually forget what I learnt but this one thing stayed with me:

Keep it simple and stick to the few ingredients you have. You don't have to be fanciful. Stick to the basics. You don't have to cook like a gourmet. Forget those cooking shows. They are just for show. 

Let me encourage you to cook!

I can still stick to these two recipes with some variations. One medium turkey thigh instead of chicken drumsticks. And there are so many different kinds of soup packs. I'll try Bak Kut Teh the next round. And I just heard someone said the word Marmite. Hmm...I'd try Marmite Chicken after that. The key is to just keep it simple. 

So go cook!

pearlie

Finally, a sermon on envy



It was just two months ago when envy reared its ugly head in my life and I was quite badly affected that I really need to get it managed before it went bad that I found and bought a book to help me with it, which I blogged about here

The book termed it as a sin that no one talks about which is why I am so grateful that it was the topic of our sermon this morning by Pastor Wong Fong Yang. 

Pastor gave us these four ways on how to overcome envy:

1. Having a proper grasp of the gospel that will lead to godly contentment. Jesus is the Lord of all our circumstances. From that deep contentment will flow a right desire for and rejoicing at the good of our neighbour. 

2. Love others, for in 1 Cor 13:4, love does not envy. 

3. Enjoy the glory of God's creation and workmanship. Look on beauty and be grateful. Look on truth and be grateful. Look on talent and be grateful. 

4. Have faith in future grace. Meanwhile, live, work and play with the view of the One audience in mind - his praise matters more than anything or anyone. 

And I would like to add one more, courtesy of the author RT Kendall, that we should accept our calling. We should embrace what God has called us to and not look beyond it. He said, "He has a calling for your life--one that is infinitely better or greater than you could have come up with on your own. When you accept His will and His choice of a career--or job--you are at peace with yourself and lessen the temptation to envy or to be jealous."

And I also have this thought that we will still never ever be satisfied if we get what we covet or envy for. We will still want more and so to counter that, accept what we have and be grateful for it.  

It is however, not an easy thing to do and I am not sure what will happen when it comes again. 

We also talked a lot about it during our CG today and pastor teased us with the possibility of another sermon on Envy Part 2. 

When eh, pastor?

pearlie

Beauty Sickness is a disease we all have

The topic of beauty and plastic surgery came up in a sermon some weeks ago. And as I thought about it, I was surprised when I asked myself this question: what's wrong with it if it is required for your job, if you are a model or an actor or actress. Of course, it's not as simple as that. 

Which is why when I saw this book on sale in Kindle, I got a copy and started reading it today. It's a good book. 

Beauty Sick, How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women
by Renee Engeln. PhD

It does not talk about people where beauty is required for their profession, but it's about all of us--men included but especially for women--having this thing call beauty sickness. 

Beauty sickness is what happens when women's emotional energy gets so bound up with what they see in the mirror that it becomes harder for them to see other aspects of their lives. 

Beauty sickness is fed by a culture that focuses on women's appearance over anything else they might do or say or be. It's reinforced by the images we see and the words we use to describe ourselves and other women. 

Englen gave a TEDx Talk and if you don't want to read the book, the talk pretty much sums up her message. 



We all fall somewhere along the continuum of this sickness. None of us can extract ourselves out of it but we need to manage it and not let it take away too much of our cognitive resources or time or money which we can spend on other more useful stuff. 

I must say I have been quite involved in my effort to lose weight but I dare say that I am doing it healthily (except I should add in this thing call exercise which is not yet in the picture). 

But I did learn that our bodies is not for show but function. Our bodies are given by God and for us to care and nurture. Be kind to yourself, and don't objectify it and don't let others judge you. And most of all, don't put your voice into others to judge yourself. Other people have other problems of their own. 

pearlie

We pigged out again

Whenever I go out with my good friend Wee Yin, we pig out. 

This time, it's The Butcher's Table in SS2. 


And again I have no food pictures to show you because as usual, I forgot to take them!

We had baby back ribs, the signature shoulder loin and a Cumberland sausage, and they were good. 

Apparently, The Butcher's Table marks the return of Mr Ho of Bangsar Shopping Center's Mr Ho's Fine Food, after an absence for 10 years. (Oh my, has it been that long?)

Read about it here

pearlie

Why is it so hard to lose weight

I have been eating so much lately and not disciplined at all in keeping to my calorie counting diary, which surprised me when I weighed myself this morning and found that my weight dropped though it is still hovering a little above my goal. 



With that I shall adjust my goal to a new one, -3 kilograms on top of my current goal and get back to logging in all my food intake on a daily basis. 

I use the MyFitnessPal app which is very versatile. It provides a wide array of food with its nutritional values that you can search and add into your daily calorie intake. You can also add your own foods.

I started doing this September last year and I lost 10 kg in 12 months. But my colleague started on a fruit juice diet and he lost 6 kilograms in just 2 months. I really don't know how they do it. 

Whatever it is, I need to get back to my daily discipline of limiting my daily calorie intake and stick to it to lose another 3 to 4 kilograms. 

Since my body has already adjusted to my current lifestyle, food intake and weight, will it take me another long year to lose a mere 4 kilograms?

Why is it so hard?

pearlie

Yummiest Curry Noodles

I don't normally walk out of my office building for lunch but I did that today, and quite far off too. 

We went to 168 Curry Mee in Pudu and the curry noddles there is really awesome. 



And as usual, I always forget to take a photo of the food when it's served, but it look really delicious, doesn't it?



168 Curry Mee
1, Jalan Brunei Utara
Pudu
55100 Kuala Lumpur
Opening hours: Tue-Sun, 6am-5pm

pearlie

Sell With A Story

I am very happy with the time I have, now that I am not watching any TV. I finished a book all in one sitting yesterday and today as I looked through my huge list of books to read, this one stands out. 


Sell With A Story: How to Capture Attention, Build Trust, and Close the Sale
by Paul Smith

I am not a sales person but I am intrigued with the power of story telling. And as much as I don't sell products, I am convinced that I need to learn up some salesmanship because I still need to sell own brand, my ideas and my proposals when I am at work. 

I have only started with the book but it is a good start. I like the voice of the author and I am looking forward to learning how to tell stories and how to sell. 

What is interesting is also this: the author provided a link to a website that has a quiz for you to gauge how well you spot a story. Not every "story" that people tell is a story. 

From the 10 examples provided in the quiz, you are to determine if that is a story or not. Before proceeding to read up what makes up a story, I took the quiz.

And I am so pleased with the results. 


It looks like I am a story spotting expert and that I find and retell great stories. 

Only that now I need to learn to tell them. 

And sell. 

pearlie

The Furious Longing of God

I am in Day 2 of my fasting from TV. 

I am reading again. 

I have heard of Brennan Manning and the popularity of his books but I never did find out more about him though I did purchase a few of his book in my Kindle. 

I decided to read The Furious Longing of God, and it was exactly what I needed. 


The Furious Longing of God
by Brennan Manning

Manning was a master and expert on words. He really had a way with it. Mark Batterson who wrote the foreword to the book said, "Brennan has a raw poetic writing style that puts him in rare writing company. His words will gracefully confront the status quo in your life and reawaken a deep desire to know the One who desires you. Brennan also has a way of putting into words the subliminal fears and hopes and desires many of us have a difficult time verbalizing. That’s why his books resonate with readers on such a deep level."

The book touches on Christian Spirituality and how furiously God loves us. 

Both theology, which is faith seeking understanding, and spirituality, which is the faith-experience of what we understand intellectually, offer a glimpse into the mystery. Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles (1 Cor. 13: 12).

The men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their own imperfect existence.

However, I find myself getting wary of it getting too loose on the grace of God. The book seem to elevate the love of God without enough mention of the grace of God and how undeserving we are of it. 

Manning said, "if we continue to view ourselves as moral lepers and spiritual failures, if our lives are shadowed by low self-esteem, shame, remorse, unhealthy guilt, and self-hatred, we reject the teaching of Jesus and cling to our negative self-image."

It is true that those qualities are not what God wants in our lives. There is after all no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 

Maybe it's just me, but I cannot read the book with reckless abandon, though that was what I felt when I read it - to really immerse myself in the furious longing of God. 

To simply be in his presence all the days of my life. 

pearlie

TV in bed

I just found out that there are these beds upholstered with a television at the footboard, and I am here trying to stop myself from watching too much TV. 



I am fasting from TV for one month. Will I last?

pearlie