Tuesday, December 09, 2008

“Chinese Alphabet Now!”

While doing some research for Oracle Bones Peter Hessler came across Imre Galambos, a polyglot he found so interesting Hessler decided to profile him in a sort of parenthetical to the main text (Hessler calls such chapters “artifacts).

Galambos has his own website. The site he created featured short essays on the origins of Chinese and Greek writing, a history of Russia, and a blog about living in Budapest. But what seemed to bring most visitors were searches people made for “the Chinese Alphabet.” Even after coming upon his essay on the matter, visitors weren’t quite getting the difference between Chinese characters and an alphabet. Not that they wanted to know. All they really wanted was a cool-looking way of writing, “Jesus.” (He would even get resentful emails calling him to task for misleading the search engines: “Your sight SUCKS! Iwant the Chinese Alphabet Now!”.) So, bowing to the needs of the market, Galambos set up an order form. You can buy the Chinese character(s) for what you want to say. He calls the page, “Chinese symbols for tattoos.”

As of the interview (Oracle Bones was published in 2006) Galambos was making $2000 a month. He said, “’The most popular ones are “love,” “faith,” “fate,” “friend,” “brother,” “elder brother,” “younger brother,” “sisters” – this sort of thing. Sometimes “God” and “Jesus.” I had the Holy Ghost up, but nobody bought it so I took it down.'”

Some Chinese themselves “’are starting to do the same business on the Internet. But the Chinese cannot sell the characters by themselves. They have to put the character on a cup, or a pen, or a T-shirt, or whatever. They cannot seem to grasp the idea – people don’t need the cup or the T-shirt; they just need the fucking character. It doesn’t make sense to the Chinese. It’s like you selling the letter B to Mongolians.’”

source: Oracle Bones: a journey between China’s past and present by Peter Hessler

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