Thursday, July 31, 2008

EGC: Foreign Languages In EGC

First of all, I want to tell two stories that underplay the importance of language skills. First of all, Tommi said that learning foreign languages is mainly a hobby for the leisured. Secondly, a relative (mother's sister) told that she was visiting China as part of a tourist group, and the one person who had the best contact with the Chinese didn't even attempt to learn or speak Chinese - instead she used gestures. She was a nurse by occupation, so she was exposed to huge amounts of human relationship training in her work.

Here, I've met Swedish, German, British, Japanese, Korean and Chinese persons. I bought a Swedish novel (Kafka On The Beach) and to my surprise understood most of what I read. Despite that, spoken Swedish is producing problems: I couldn't understand anything announced on the train, nor anything spoken by the organizers. Reading the written notes poses no problems, though.

I've read the mandatory 6 years of Swedish, voluntary 2 years of German, and one course of Russian. In addition, I'm making good progress on Chinese (level of knowledge: 1500 - 2000 characters, while uneducated Chinese know 3000 - 4000 characters and educated ones 5000 - 6000). Also, I've banged through Slime Forest Adventure, a teaching game for Japanese. Being fluent in these these languages would give quite good coverage of the languages used in EGC (except for Korean), but I've noticed that even spoken English is quite difficult to understand when spoken by totally unknown persons with whom you haven't got a second of communication before, and on the other hand that most communication can be done with very little simple speaking. And English is fine for that little simple speaking.

There were some lectures where the lecturer couldn't speak English at all and all content was translated. (A Chinese speaker read straight from written notes which were also displayed on screen and immediately translated, which was great for me who am studying Chinese.) Translation slowed down the lectures and drew attention away from the content (which wasn't interesting at all in those translated lectures anyway).

Also I've spend most of my leisure among the Finns, and when people gather up, they usually gather according to their language group. Exceptional are mainly the British, who can go anywhere and be understood in their native language.

To sum it up, EGC underlines the importance of knowing well a few languages, so that you can actually understand what is spoken, the unimportance of hard-to-develop foreign language skills, the fact that the most widely teached and spoken languages really do cover the languages you'll meet, and the fact that mutual effort to be mutually understood by any language (gestures, speech, prices) easily overcomes language barriers when there is need.

Life Around Lake Siljan

Yesterday, I was on a tourist bus trip. The trip took whole day and we visited towns around lake Siljan.

Half of the participants were Japanese. They're a nice group of people to go to tourist trip with, since they're unashamedley conformist, which is usually good when visiting totally new places.

Pretty much the whole region is full of houses which are similar to the picture below. They are made from wood, and painted either red or black. The corners are painted either white or black. The guide told me that that in many places they don't give permissions for other kinds of houses anymore, and also that many families build the houses from their own forests.

red house

What do people around Siljan do for living? Very, very few get living from farming, the tourist guid told that Leksand has about 10 farmers. Even if you add part-time farming and animal husbandry, it doesn't do much.

The guide told a lot about tourism, probably because she knows the industry inimately. In Rättvik, pop. 12000, there is an old car event which brings 30000 people there for one week. And the go congress of 1000 persons for two weeks is quite big event for Leksand, pop. 6000. He told about a village with pop. 200 and 6 hotels.

We also visited a Dalacarlian horse workshop. The horses are 5 - 50 cm high. The factory makes a rough cut with a bandsaw, sends the rough horses to carvers who work in their own houses, and then to painters. They have about 50 carvers making these dalacarlian horses.

Dalacarlian horse

Naturally there is also a lot of services which are essential for maintaining modern standard of living and industrial base, but the guide didn't tell about any specific big export industries apart from tourism, hadicrafts and forestry.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

EGC: Europe: An Emerging Market For Go Education

It's funny and scary to see how others take dead seriously something that is only a hobby for me.

AC Nielsen is a big market research company, which collects market research data by web panel, among other means. The web panel works so that about once a month they send a web questionnaire, which takes 5 - 30 minutes to fill.

Typical market research questions include:

  • Brand recognition: They list a set of brands and ask which of them are familiar.

  • Brand image: They ask what kind of associations some brand brings into mind (quality, price, user group, etc.)

  • Advertisement coverage: They ask if I've heard about a specific campaign.

  • Buying habits, needs, preferences

Well, some players from Korean Myongji Baduk University were collecting similar information about go teaching. The brand recognition part was replaces by asking people to compare Japan's, Korea's and China's influence and contributions to go.. The need part was directed at gauging how much demand there is for professional teaching either face-to-face or over the internet, and what attitudes people have towards go and teaching.

Some questions were quite far-fetched: Since in Europe we use a mix of local language, English and Japanese, unification of go terms and concepts couldn't be less meaningful - it's such a small part of the whole body of knowledge. Also material is widely available. Therefore I guess it does produce new information for those who do it, and you are going to make your living as a go professinal, this kind of market research is the things to do.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

EGC: Trust And Social Condemnation In The Countryside

Greetings from the go congress. Arrived on Saturday, will spend 7 days playing go, meeting foreign people and idling. This is also my first trip to a foreign country, so I'll use this to decide if I like travelling or if watching TV has brainwashed me to believe that I MUST travel, MUST travel, MUST travel...

I grew up in Pinomäki, a farming area near Pori (pop. 80000). The go congress is at Leksand, which is very similar to Pinomäki. Big, spacious farm houses and crop fields everywhere. The distances (1 - 5km to everywhere) are also pretty similar.

What really sets small town apart from cities is the high level of trust among citizens and the power of social condemnation. I'll tell you an example. When I arrived at the Bed & Breakfast accommodation house (3k from center), there was nobody present. The door only had a note announcing opening hours and a phone number to call outside opening hours. When I called the number, a female instructed me to just open the door (no lock!), to take the room key from reception and to mark my name from the list of guests. They trusted that the person who came there will act according to their assigned role (hostel customer) and won't do any damage, that is, they'll use their common sense.

The rooms and public spaces also had lots of notes. You shouldn't take soap from the toilet, because it will prevent other guests from using it, said one. Another told that you can use the kitchen facilities as long as you leave the dishes washed where they were. I've never seen so many notes in urban premises. Basically, they believe that people will to what they are told.

This works in the countryside: They know that the people who come to the house are go players, they know their names, and should there be "rotten eggs" then the group of go player would probably get forever socially condemned. They save huge amounts of works by not keeping the house manned, and most people know how to behave, so it is economically rational to trust to the power of social condemnation.

Next, I'll compare the experience to Queen's Hotel in Stockholm, where I spent Friday night. It was in the main walking street in Stockholm (Drottingsgatan) so huge amount of people walked past, certainly containing some rotten eggs. To get inside the building you just needed to open the door, which was not locked in the first place ... no!!! you had to use a doorbell and talk with the receptionist, which opened the door. They had few instruction notes, they offered the basic hotel services which everyone knows.

The price for a night in Queen's Hotel was ~80e. In the guesthouse it was ~35e, so trust clearly makes transactions cheaper. The service is essentially the same.