Moments You Wish You Were Elsewhere
My Pol. Sci. class just started when my seatmate started having an asthma attack. The teacher asked if there was anyone who could accompany her. I hesitated but a second (because anyone willing to assist her would have stood up during that brief moment) and stood up to accompany her.
Now don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't want to help the person. It's more of because I'm unqualified. I mean what can I
do when someone's having an asthma attack? That and I didn't want to miss my teacher's lesson.
Accompanied my seatmate to the restroom. The female's restroom that is. See my point in being useless and unqualified? Obviously, I can't go into the female's restroom and make sure she's okay (but I was by the door, in case I hear her suddenly collapse).
When we came back to the classroom, the teacher told an anecdote probably relating to my seatmate having an asthma attack. He was on his flight to Bangkok, taking the morning flight so that he could enjoy the night life, but a passenger suddenly had a heart attack and they had to go back to Manila to bring him to the hospital and save his life (he eventually got to Bangkok early morning the next day). Of course the moment they landed in Manila, the first concern of the companions of the man who had a heart attack was where would their luggage go.
The Longest Constitution in the World
I think I already mentioned before that the Philippines has the longest constitution in the world. To prove a point, my Pol. Sci. teacher brought out the Japanese constitution, all of which was neatly written in a Japanese fan (back to back, small font, for those who are curious). Of course to our credit, Japanese (and Chinese!) text is shorter (length-wise) to write than the English language. (For example, France is written as 法国.)
For simplicity's sake, I'll move on from Japanese characters to Chinese characters (a significant number of which is part of the Japanese use as well in their language). Chinese characters are faster to read than English characters. Years of watching anime subtitled (in either English or Chinese) has shown that to me.
It begins with the fact that Chinese characters are much like symbols. With English, you have to read the word one letter at a time (e.g. w-o-o-d). With Chinese, you take one glance at it and you either know it or you don't (e.g. 木 the Chinese character for wood). To put it in another way (or for those without unicode installed in their browsers), reading in English is like reading the number one (o-n-e), while reading in Chinese is like seeing the number 1 (1). While both convey the same meaning, your brain translates 1 faster than o-n-e.
Another factor in the reading speed is the number of syllables a word has. For example, there might not be much difference between reading 1 and o-n-e but there's a more noticeable difference when we use a higher number, such as seventeen. Read the word in your mind: se-ven-teen. Compare when you see "17". The meaning of "17" occurs faster than the spelled out se-ven-teen. At least that's for comprehension. Chinese characters take it to another level because each word has one (Japanese Chinese characters have anywhere from one to three) syllable (or two for compound words). For example, in English, we have per-son. In Chinese, 人 or ren (forgive me if I don't put the appropriate pronounciation, because in Chinese, there's five ways to pronounce a word, much like "maragsa" and "malumay" in Pilipino).
I'd also like to note that for the same reasons, reading in Tagalog words can take longer than reading an English word because Tagalog words tend to have more vowels (which in Tagalog is synonymous with syllables because unlike English, we read syllables as they are; for example, oo is read as o-o and not oooooooo, or Ta-ga-log and none of those -ou in English like "pour", "sour", etc.), which is something to take into consideration when making your layouts (because honestly, reading long lines with a lot of syllables is difficult to read).
A Better Memory
Of course a disadvantage of the Chinese language is that you really have to memorize all the Chinese characters and all their possible combinations (for compound words), whereas with English, there's just twenty six letters to remember and the specific sequences they come in.
So my friend asks me this question: "Does that mean that Chinese have better memory than other people?".
My initial answer was that strictly speaking, not really. Just because one manages to know Chinese (and if one lives in a place [and exposed to it at a young age] where one uses and speaks a particular language, one will eventually learn that language) does not necessarily mean that that person will have a good memory (such as memorizing the multiplication table, etc.). And also, learning Chinese is a step by step basis and not an arbritrary system of characters. For example, using the symbol analogy, one could memorize all the road signs in any particular order. Memorizing "no U turn" first before "no left turn" makes no real difference. In Chinese, however, there is (it is a systematic to be a language, after all). While Chinese characters involve symbols of various sorts, there are "root characters" which are like root words and more complex words use a variety of root characters (which sometimes hint at the meaning of the word). For example, 木 (mu) stands for wood. When you take the same character and put it side by side, such as this, 林, you end up with lin, which stands for forest (I hope you get the transition from wood to forest). Basic education involves teaching those root characters, and as students get older, more complex characters are introduced and even characters with multiple root characters (one way to distinguish a root character as a word in itself from a character with multiple root characters is the spacing and size... I mean 木 looked smaller in 林).
So while I am right in the fact that just because one knows Chinese does not necessarily mean one has better memory in other aspects, I do think that the brain of your average Chinese person has more folds in the part of the brain involved with memory, compared with say, your average American.
Of course now when I think about it, Chinese education uses other mnemonic devices. The abacus, for example, is the "Chinese calculator" but it's far from the calculator in which we just input the figures and it computes for you. Rather, the abacus is just there to aid you in memorizing and does not perform the actual computing (that's still left up to you, but you have a "marker" of what you've already counted).
So perhaps indeed, I was wrong and Chinese do have a better memory than other people, because of the various forms of education that rely on memory they receive (and not solely because of their language).
It's Not Really Surprising
There was once a survey that showed that the average Japanese person can finish reading the phone directory-thick weekly manga in Japan under an hour. For me it's not phenomenal, because of the reasons mentioned above. Japanese (and Chinese) is not English, and words aren't read one letter at a time (well, it's only half-true in the case of the Japanese). Their language also enables them to convey a lot of things in as little volume as possible, so reading long texts are not as intimidating.
But one really has to admire a nation whose entire constitution can be written in a simple fan.