Video of the Day – Learning Chinese in Beijing

Do you remember the first moment you arrived in a new city? If you are anything like me, everything about a new place seems strangely fascinating, from the unfamiliar smells and sounds to the new customs you discovered and captivating language. Today’s video, which follows the journey of a student as he begins to learn Chinese in Beijing, feels a lot like that first moment. This beautifully produced video is actually part of a series produced by a language company called Education First. So yes, it is an ad for their language courses – but the spirit of joy and discovery in the video feels very true to travel form.

[Via Core77]

[Thanks Jon!]

BBC World Service radio facing major cuts

It’s been the best source of news to travelers for generations, but now the BBC World Service is facing serious cuts. Five of its 32 language services will disappear completely, many other language services will be limited, and 650 of its workforce of 2,400 will lose their jobs.

Radio is the hardest hit. Services in Azeri, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Spanish for Cuba, Turkish, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian will all go. Shortwave broadcasts will cease in Hindi, Indonesian, Kyrgyz, Nepali, Swahili and the Great Lakes service (for Rwanda and Burundi).

While best known in the developing world for its radio service, the BBC World Service also has broadcasts on TV, mobile, and online. Those aren’t immune either, and all services for some languages will go–Macedonian, Albanian, Serbian, English for the Caribbean, and Portuguese for Africa.

The BBC hopes to save £46 million ($73 million) a yea r. It estimates it will lose 30 million weekly listeners.

While wandering in the more remote regions of the globe I’ve always found the World Service a timely and reliable source for breaking news. It warned me of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait while I was excavating an archaeological site in the Israeli countryside, told me of Nixon’s death while I was crossing the border from India into Nepal, and has kept me up-to-date in countless other places. The BBC says it will increase its online presence, but we’re not a fully digital world yet, and in the places I like to go, good old-fashioned radio is still the only reliable means of communication. This is bad news for adventure travelers everywhere.

Ancient Jerusalem tunnel causes friction between Israelis and Palestinians

Here’s a big surprise–the Israelis and Palestinians are squabbling over land rights in Jerusalem again.

Archaeologists have cleared an ancient passageway they believe was a drainage tunnel leading away from the Second Temple, the Jewish holy spot destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The Canadian Press reports the tunnel runs from the Temple Mount, now the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, 2,000 feet under the Old City and into the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan.

The controversy centers around the dig’s sponsors, the Elad Association. Not only do they fund excavations of Jewish sites, but they also move Jewish families into Silwan. Locals have cried foul and say the dig is politically motivated, that what the archaeologists are really trying to do is make a connection with the Jewish temple and Silwan as a justification for moving the Palestinians out. Archaeology quickly gets political in a land where the past justifies the present. As I discussed in my article Two Tours, Two Jerusalems, residents of this city can look at the same thing and see something completely different. Silwan even has another name in Hebrew–The City of David.

But none of this matters to the child in this lovely photo by user Flavio@Flickr via Gadling’s flickr pool. She’s content to sip her drink in a quiet spot somewhere in Jerusalem’s Old City. Looking at her face you can’t tell if she’s Jewish or Arab. Many Israeli Jews can pass for Arab and vice versa. They both speak Semitic languages that share a large number of words. In Hebrew, the word for peace is shalom. In Arabic it’s salaam.My Spanish wife commented that the kid looks Spanish. Hardly surprising considering that many Spaniards have both Arab and Jewish blood, a legacy of the many periods in that nation’s history when they lived in peace. A thousand years ago, this kid would have been allowed to play with “the other side”. I doubt she gets to now.

I wish it were the same in Israel. When I was working there as an archaeology student back in the Nineties, I made friends with a Palestinian guy and an Orthodox Jewish family. Despite their homes being only a few minutes’ walk apart, they never met. I tried to get them all together, but they weren’t interested. So if you go to Jerusalem, remember you’re actually going to two cities and try to visit both.

Ask Gadling: What if I don’t speak the language?

Today’s question comes from Justin in Boise, Idaho:

“I’m going on a vacation to Zurich next month. My girlfriend chose the place. I don’t speak any German. Neither does she. Are we going to die?”

Gadling: Everyone dies someday, Justin, but not speaking German will probably not be the end of you.

It just so happens that I went to Zürich last month. Like you, I speak not a word of German. However, it turns out that German wouldn’t have helped much. In Switzerland, they speak Swiss German, which Germans can barely understand.

I’d love to tell you “don’t worry, everyone speaks English there,” but they really don’t. The people at your hotel probably will, and they can direct you to some restaurants and activities where there will be English speakers, but you’re definitely going to be in some situations where you just plain can’t converse with the locals. You will be thankful for your girlfriend, just for somebody to talk to. Here are some tips for getting along:

1. Have the hotel people teach you to say “Do you speak English?”
in Swiss German.
You could say it in English, but it’s more polite to ask in the primary language of wherever you are. Even if you say it poorly, people will appreciate the effort — and that gets whatever conversation (or rigorous gesturing) you’re starting off on the right foot.

View more Ask Gadling: Travel Advice from an Expert or send your question to ask [at] gadling [dot] com.

2. Use silly tricks to remember street names.

Languages like German include some very long and complicated street names. If you look at the whole word, like “Waffenplatzstrasse,” it can be a little intimidating, and thus, impossible to remember. That can be a problem when you’re trying to get back there later; you don’t even know what to look for on the map. Firstly, keep in mind that “strasse” just means “street,” so the only part you need to remember is Waffenplatz. Sounds like … “Waffle place.” That’ll work. As long as you can get the first four or so letters into your head, you should be able to recognize it when you see it again.

3. When shopping, just watch the till.

In Europe, numbers are pretty much the same. Someone ringing up your snacks doesn’t even need to know you don’t speak their language — just watch the numbers on the till and count out the money. A thank you in the local tongue is a nice touch, and it can be a big thrill to feel like maybe they didn’t know you weren’t fluent.

4. Bookmark Google Translate.

If you have an internet-enabled phone and plan to roam internationally, bookmark Google Translate or a similar site on the phone. When deeply in doubt, you can quickly check a word or phrase. For example, you might see a sign by a door and not know whether it says “Come in” or “Staff only.” It’s easy to find out. If you’re not going to have internet access, it’s best to invest in a pocket dictionary (though that makes you look really touristy — nothing wrong with that, but it can be dangerous to be conspicuously confused).

5. Visit the Tourist Info center.

In Zürich, you can find a Tourist Info center right in the main train station, and there are others throughout the city, as well as in most other major European cities. Look for a prominent “i” on most city maps. The Tourist Info center is a great resource for things you can do around town — even off-the-beaten-path things. They’ll have a wealth of brochures printed in English and can improve the quality of your trip 100 percent or more, especially if your hotel concierge is a dud (or your hotel doesn’t have one).

6. Keep a small notepad with you.
As a last resort for when you are trying desperately to pantomime “toothpaste” and nobody seems to understand you, it can be helpful to have a notepad and pencil with you. Draw it.

Good luck to you, Justin, and have a great time in Switzerland!

How to say “cheers” in 10 different languages

Cheers! Bottoms up! To your heath! This New Year’s Eve, whether you’ll be clinking classes in another country or just want to impress your friends, bring a little international flair to your New Year’s party by toasting at midnight in languages from around the world. Here’s how to say “cheers” in 10 different languages.

Czech – Na zdravi!
Dutch – Proost!
French – A votre sante!
Gaelic Irish – Sláinte!
German – Prost!
Italian – Salute! or Cin cin!
Japanese – Campai!
Polish – Na zdrowie!
Portuguese – Saude!
Spanish – Salud! or Salut!