“Proper Spanish?” That’s just my day job.

Somebody asked me the other day how to say “lunch” in Spanish.  Someone shouted “lonche” and someone else shouted “almuerzo.”  They looked at me, and I said, “la comida.”  Immediately one of the shouters snapped at me, “why do you always tell us different words?!”  It wasn’t a question, it was an accusation.

My best answer; my only answer:  “I’m not from here.”

Spanish in California is different from what I’m used to.  To my ear it sounds like northern Mexico, plus a distinct /b/ vs. /v/ distinction that just doesn’t exist in other varieties of Spanish, apart from maybe some Gloria Estefan songs.

And of course, my Spanish is different from theirs, and I know I sound weird to them.  I’m keeping a list of words that have stumped my Spanish speaking friends, colleagues, and students.  Some of the words are fancy and academic-sounding, like el simulacro and la tertulia.  Some are words that I know to be common in Mexico, like piropo, nefasto, but when I say them here, people blink at me.  In a conversation with my new colleagues I tried to refer to an all-boys school as todos varones, a term I learned from a colleague in 1998, and now I’m starting to think it was never the right term in the first place.  What do I know?

It’s not a nice feeling to use these words and have local people blink and squint at me. I’m trying to get them to like me, and here I am with these strange words they never heard of, I feel like a jerk.  Luckily my new friends are quickly getting used to me; instead of awkward vocabulary moments, they’re starting to just chuckle at me and ask me to explain my crazy word. This must be what it feels like for a speaker of  Australian English to be harassed by… me. By the way, if there is a contest for the nerdiest, most dorky way to explain the word tertulia, I won it this afternoon.

On the other hand, it’s a delight for me to learn local words.  The other day my friend used the word nortearse (which is definitely more charming when pronounced “nortiarse”).  I understood what it meant immediately (to get disoriented, discombobulated) but it was just agiphy surprise to hear it, because it sounds like the root word is “norte,” which cracked me up because it sounds like a comment on what happens when you go north… to the US.

My friend also took it upon herself to teach me the word chivearse, which, again, is more charming when pronounced “chiviarse” (to get embarrassed and go coy, to get flustered by a compliment).  The root word is “chivo,” a kid goat; which is adorable.

So my friend says she’s going to teach me the phrase “qué bolado” tomorrow.  I looked it up but I can’t wait to hear how she explains it.  I told her I would take notes.  She promised to teach me all of her slang, if I would teach her proper Spanish.

I’m told her I’m happy to teach her everything I know. You know, I’m thankful that I can speak Spanish and that people perceive it to be “proper.”  I, personally, don’t hear my own Spanish as proper; I hear a bunch of pronunciation and grammar mistakes, fumbling for words, and awkward expressions.  I think I’d much rather have native-speaker intuition and be able to tell a joke, to write a poem, to talk on the phone without anxiety, to  choose concise words and make powerful and moving statements, to understand stand-up comedy, or those adivinanzas, like this one:

Agua pasa por mi casa;
cate de mi corazón,
el que no me lo adivine
será un burro cabezón.

I understand all the words, but I don’t understand why those words are together, and I don’t get why when my coworker heard this one, she was delighted and said “that was a good one.”  The answer, by the way, is “aguacate…” high fives all around.

I would take slangy, colorful native-speaker intuition over “proper Spanish” any day of the week.  Besides, “proper Spanish” is just my day job; I want to leave it behind after the five o’clock whistle.


Locusts and Wild Honey

I have moved. To the desert.

Here’s the deal:  on July 1st, 2016, I quit my job at Age of Learning.  Since then, I’ve thrown a rooftop Fourth of July party, attended a teacher training workshop/surf vacation in San Diego, visited my parents in Las Vegas, found myself a place to live in Palm Desert, rented a truck and moved to the new apartment in Palm Desert…. Most of these things I did during the Great Sibling Sleepover; my sister tagged along with me for most of July and a couple of days in August. Having my sister with me was the best part! We spent a lot of time on the beach; siting on a sarong, watching the surfers.

Now I’m all moved in to my new apartment in Palm Desert. I’ve found a new Crossfit place to join, and I’ve found the Filipino grocery… which seems to be the grocery for the whole Asian communty.  I haven’t yet found a ukulele community, or a place to get my hair cut.

The nice lady at the Filipino market recommended a guy named Jesse, a Mexican, who cuts all their hair, “we all go to him.” She wrote down his number from memory on a slip of paper.  I might call him later, or I might just drive two hours back to LA so I can get my Koreatown haircut from the lady the calls me handsome and makes me look like I’m going to a gala.

I haven’t found a vegetarian Indian cafeteria in the desert like the one that was down the street from me in LA.  That was a big part of my nutrition program, that made eating a calorie deficit cheap, easy, and delicious.  Now I’m not sure what to do. I would eat locusts and honey out here in the desert… but actually both of those foods fall outside of my nutrition program.


What I have found in the desert is a seafood restaurant which I refer to as Fisherman-thang since I can’t seem to remember the name of the place.  The first time my sister and I went there, we noticed that the staff was Mexican so we talked to them in Spanish. My sister ordered a campechana, and I ordered a big salad with grilled fish, grilled shrimp, and a handfull of crab on it.  It turns out my salad was super good and my sister’s campechana was super sugary and ketchupy.  I felt bad for her.

The next day our friend D drove out to visit, and we took her to Fisherman-thang for lunch, and this time D got the salmon salad, I got some mahi mahi tacos, and my sister got a bunch of fried things.  Their fried things are REALLY GOOD, they have it down.  The menu says that they beer-batter the fish but it’s tempura, I know.  Maybe they put beer in the tempura batter but it’s not that puffy ass beer batter that people think they like until they put it in their mouth and it tastes like puffy garbage.  Beer batter is the worst.  THE WORST.

We did some more casual hanging out in Palm Desert and then it was time to take my sister to the airport for her flight back to Seattle.  We dropped her off, there were hugs, and I was sad to see her go.  After that D and I went to the outlet mall, which is kind of spectacular.  I’m surprised to hear myself praising the outlet mall, but yah.

After the outlet mall it was time for dinner, and there was only one place that D and I wanted to go, and that was BACK TO FISHERMAN-THANG.  So to review, we ate there for dinner on one day, lunch the next day, and then dinner that same day.  YES it’s really good but don’t order anything Mexican from those guys, they’re cooking for gringos.


I’ve had two days of new teacher orientation at my new place of work.  At the end of it our new teacher mentor told us to go out and do great work, “or however the kids are saying it these days.”  I immediately said, “slay,” and then regretted it, maybe I should have kept my mouth shut.  There was no time to explain the context and proper use of that word.  Then again maybe it will come out wrong and they’ll talk about it.


People might not say “hella” here.  I mentioned to a younger woman working at Goodwill that smoking was “hella expensive” and she asked “did you say that smoking was hell of expensive?”  Maybe it’s a different population than I would expect.

A Crossfit Addendum

This is an addendum to the Crossfit post I wrote over here, since apparently there were a few people who thought I talked too little about Crossfit.  I’ll do it in FAQ format in an effort to keep my answers focused.

How is Crossfit different than a traditional gym? I’ve said that Crossfit feels like the opposite of going to a gym to me, and I think they key word is “isolation.”

First of all “isolation” in the sense that at the traditional gym the exercises are meant to separate cardio from strength, biceps from quadriceps; there’s a machine that’s just for pecs.  In language learning terms, it’s like flash cards: one skill, again and again.

Second, there’s “isolation” in the sense that in a traditional gym, I feel alone. That’s awesome when I want to hide my fat rolls and lack of strength, but less awesome when I’m bored and I don’t know what to do, so I quit and go home.  It’s not just doing flash cards, it’s doing flash cards at the library.

To me, isolation is boring, unrealistic, and unsustainable.

Why does Crossfit feel like “the opposite of a traditional gym” to me? The key word is “integration.”  I’m doing very few moves that isolate muscles and more moves that try to integrate everything; upper and lower, strength and heart rate. Burpees, thrusters, farmers carries, muscle ups; things that feel accomplishy. You know, accomplishy, rather than endless and monotonous.

Another sense of “integration” is that I’m there with people.  I’m there with coaches, coaches who I’m comfortable working with, who know me personally, and who can offer me a huge variety of exercises at different strength levels so that I don’t have to keep that information in my head, I can just do it.  I’m there with classmates who encourage me and who don’t seem to give a single crap about my fat rolls or my lack of strength; people with weight, strength, health, and injury histories of their own. It feels, frankly, they way I want my Spanish classes to feel, where community and cooperation are much more important that individual achievement and competition.

What was wrong with my traditional gym experience? For years I thought I wanted free access to a traditional gym where I could go any time I wanted, so I could go when it was empty, and no one would have to witness my fat rolls and lack of strength.  I would go and do the eliptical trainer for a few minutes, watching a rerun of the Golden Girls on TV, and then do the freeweights or circuit machines that I remembered from 8th grade PE.  I had this kind of access in New York because there was a gym in my building.  When I moved back to Seattle, I joined a gym and paid $40 per month.  When I moved to LA, I picked an another apartment building with a gym.

The problem with this traditional gym plan is that I never talked to anyone, always did the same workout, never learned anything new, got bored with what I was doing, and didn’t want to go; it was a horrible chore to make a habit of going.

For crossfit, it’s different:  it’s a different workout every day, I’m learning new moves and new skills, and I don’t mind going. I have a habit of going.  I sass the coaches and sometimes cuss them out, and they keep teaching me new things and being encouraging.  I haven’t done a handstand pushup yet, or toes-to-bar, or climbed the rope, but nobody’s yelling at me or making me feel bad about it; I’ll just start at Level 1 and stay there until I’m strong enough for Level 2… Maybe it will take years to reach Level 3 or Rx, but who cares?  That’s the attitude my crossfit coaches have; I keep improving over time and they keep getting paid. Everybody’s happy.




The Health Journey, Part III:  The Crossfit Post

I’ve been doing Crossfit at Crossfit Merge now for about two and a half months, since mid April.  It’s two short blocks from my apartment, and every time I walk to a class I feel a low-grade dread as I wonder how I’m going to fail or be humiliated.

Yesterday I was introduced to the GHD, the Glute-Hamstring Developer. Imagine feeding yourself feet-first into a giant pasta roller, your face toward the floor.  Go into the pasta roller until it’s halfway up your quads, and from there, SUPPORTED BY YOUR QUADS, hip extensions:  you straighten your back and then raise and lower your chest.  It was terrifying, and I told the coach I was going to tip the apparatus forward, where I would fall on my face and break both my legs at the upper thigh.  Coach said if that happened he’d let me go home early.

In between sets of  hip extensions on the GHD, we were supposed to do “banded good-mornings” where you stand on a rubber band, squat down and hook it around your shoulders, and then use your glutes to stand up straight. I was pretty sure that the band was going to snap and fly sideways and flay my coach alive.  Coach said if that happened he’d let me go home early.

So when I started doing crossfit, people that hadn’t done it themselves exhorted me not to do it; they said it’s a cult that forces you to injure yourself. One friend said it’s just a fad, our generation’s jazzercize.  Two other friends have done crossfit; one who left because he kept injuring himself, and another who left because of injury but misses it terribly.

One of my friends, K, said that she went to the crossfit by my house, and she liked it a lot, that it was a different workout every day, and she wasn’t sure why she didn’t do it anymore. She said the atmosphere was very positive, and that it’s appropriate for all levels, and that it was right by my house.

So that’s when I signed up for Crossfit Merge; almost everybody warned me against end it, but K likes it and it was by my house.  I signed up because it was by my house.

After the first intro class I was dizzy for over an hour, and all that first week I had to throw myself into chairs like Betty Davis, since I was too sore to lower myself with control.  Sitting down on to the toilet was the worst, and I wished my bathroom had the big handrails like in the wheelchair-access bathroom stalls.  I messaged positive K and asked her if she was this sore after her first week of Crossfit Merge, and she said Crossfit Merge?  No, the place I went to was All About You Fitness, right by your house.

Once I realized I had failed to join the place K was so positive about, I thought about switching over, but by then I was already liking Crossfit Merge.  They are teaching me new exercises, looking out for my safety, and are encouraging and motivating without being drill sergeants.  If someone has an injury or is too inexperienced to do an exercise safely, they are quick to offer a scaled-down version of the exercise, an appropriate alternative.

It’s impressive, actually, how fast they offer you a scaled-down alternative when you ask for one, and that’s one of the key reasons why this is a good program for me.  I need a good coach in the room because there’s just too much technical knowledge involved in exercise for me to carry around in my head; it is a lot to remember.  Just yesterday it dawned on me that a power clean = a deadlift + a hang clean.  Is that right?  I DON’T KNOW.  My brain is full of French relative pronouns and Italian irregular past participles.  I don’t know the weightlifting moves; the coach knows.  Ask coach.

By the way, I noticed on my first day that the coaches all look like they’re wearing that fake superhero armor; the men and the women.  Except it’s not armor, it’s their muscles, with no help from the fabric.  I don’t want to be overly creepy about that, but I do feel like I made it in life when these kids with movie star physiques are paid to be kind to me.

Just a quick note about squatting:  there’s a lot of squatting involved in crossfit, and it turns out that I have a substantial cultural advantage in my ability to squat.  We work on squat position occasionally, and I’m able to go heels flat, full planting-rice right away, it’s a relaxed position for me, you might as well give me laundry to sort while I’m down there.  My coach said once, “That’s a deep squat, JP,” and I was like, “guh, this is how Filipinos wait for the bus.”  I’ll smoke a cigarette in that position.  The only thing is, squatting is a tense position in weight lifting; my Ilocana massage therapist warned me not to go all they way to “picking sweet potatoes” because then I’d be working harder to lift those weights.

I have a lot of silly stories and brilliant thoughts about crossfit now, but I know it can be off-putting to prosthelatize for the injury cult.  Suffice it to say, that I like Crossfit, for all the same reasons that I hate going to a regular gym–I didn’t get into that here but if you want to know, ask me in the comments.

If you want to join a crossfit box, read the Yelp reviews and look for comments that talk about how safety-oriented, and how kind the coaches are.  Coaches that make you feel bad or let you get injured don’t get your money.  Expect to be debilitatingly sore the first week, and if you’re as out of shape as I was, dizzy for an hour after the first workout.  If you want to know more, just ask me in the comments, because oh, I’ll talk about it…

The Health Journey, Part II: Calorie Deficit

Here’s that heartbreaking article that says that eating fewer calories than you expend is really the only way to to lose weight; that exercise is good for health but doesn’t directly make you thinner.

Here’s what I’ve been doing to create a calorie deficit lately:

  • I moved to a place where I’m not emotionally attached to the food.  I know there is good food in LA, but for the most part I haven’t found it yet, and realistically that is important to my weight loss.  Also, there is a lot of junky, cheap, tacky, low-quality food all around, and I don’t have a taste for it.
  • I’m diabetic, and that means that sugar and fruit juice are poison to me, and simple carbohydrates turn into poison in my blood.  I haven’t had a Dr. Pepper or a glass of orange juice in 10 years.  Anyway, I know not everyone is diabetic but I recommend to everyone to lose their taste for sugars and simple carbs.  
  • I’ve stopped eating land animals.  Part of it was the horrible meat industry, and the animals, and the environmental damage.  Also, part of it is that it’s an easy shortcut for eating fewer calories; it’s easy to explain to people and it’s easy to stick to.
  • I’m using a calorie tracker; loosely.  The one I use is My Fitness Pal, for the most part I can dial in a food by name and it already knows how many calories that is.  I don’t really care to track or record all my meals and calories, I just want to know where I am in relation to my calorie ceiling; if I go above, it’s weight gain.
  • I eat on time.  When I studied in Europe, I always came back thinner, despite eating calorie dense foods and dessert every night.  I noticed (everybody noticed) that my appetite was way smaller than in America, and I think my stomach may have actually shrunk.  I think this happened because I ate at regular times.

Ok, here’s specifically what I’m eating.

6:45 am — Breakfast before crossfit.  It’s usually a Glucerna meal replacement shake that the dietitian told me to start doing to get ready for bariatric surgery, and weeks of all-liquid diet.  There’s also coffee:  fresh roast, ground on the spot, french press.  No cream or sugar.

11:00 am — “Haimaiketako.”  An entire stalk of celery, sliced into sticks.  Or a few celery sticks and some hummus.  Or a green salad with some tuna on it.  It’s always vegetables.

1:00 pm — Bento lunch.   I try to make a lunch that I don’t have to refrigerate or microwave, so that I don’t have to talk to coworkers in the break room.  Usually I just grab a bunch of banchan from the Korean supermarket deli and cram it into the bento and call it lunch.  Here are some examples.

Sometimes I don’t get the chance to go shopping or pack a bento in the morning.  On those days I usually go to the Middle Eastern place and get either a Veggie Plate or a Grilled Mahi plate.  It’s too much food for me, I don’t eat all the rice or salad.

4:00 pm — Four o’clock fruit.  It’s usually an apple or a banana.

Anytime — Rescue snack.  It’s usually a handful of roasted almonds.

7:00 pm — Dinner. When I first started I ate a lot of ratatouille and salad.  Then I stared going to the all-vegetarian Indian cafeteria down the street, and just eating curries and dosas.

If I’m hungry before bedtime:  some kind of soup, like miso, or a vegan soup from the Italian lady at the Sunday farmer’s market.

I don’t know how long the breakfast shake thing is going to last.  It’s a convenient thing to do in the morning but I’d honestly rather fry an egg.  We’ll see.

Next time:  the crossfit post.

The Health Journey; Part I

Last year at this time (May 2015)  my doctor in Seattle said that my hemoglobin A1c was 9.4%, and that it was time for me to start insulin therapy; I would have to inject myself with insulin twice a day, through a syringe.  Wait, I said, I’m going to quit my unhealthy job, move to LA, and go back to a carless lifestyle, like when I lived in Manhattan and Shanghai, where my diabetes was under control.  The doctor agreed to hold off on insulin therapy, telling me that moving cities is a bad time to start insulin anyway.

In November I met with my new doctor in LA for the first time; he said nice to meet you, your A1C has dropped to 8.4% which is a nice drop but still dangerous, have you thought about gastric bypass.  And I said, oh, doctor, nice to meet you, I’m JP.

Two months later, I told the doctor I was ready to think about getting my stomach cut out, and he sent me to a bariatric surgeon, who sent me to a dietitian.  Because of my diabetes I qualified as a candidate for gastric bypass, but they don’t just hand it out.  They want to make sure you’re not going to be one of the people that gets the surgery and then gains all the weight back anyway, which is a mess.  This was in January, and they also did an A1C test and didn’t tell me the results.

At my first meeting with the dietitian, she asked me what I had eaten the day before, and when I told her, she said, ” I notice you didn’t have ANY FRUIT!” and then meta-morphed into a werewolf.  The werewolf went into a well-rehearsed monologue about whole grains and protein-centric eating.

For my part, my eyes glowed orange and flames shot around me as I shook the earth with the words, “WHITE PEOPLE HAVE THE MOST DEMORALIZING HEALTH FOOD ON THE PLANET.”  As I said the word “planet, ” I hovered about a meter above the Living Simply sofa.  We didn’t speak for the next twenty minutes, listening to a windstorm outside the shuttered window, sitting quietly.

That was the first meeting.  Weeks later at the second meeting, I told her, “I’ve stopped eating land animals, and I’m starting crossfit in the next cycle.”  For her part, she said she thought a lot about how ethnocentric a lot of her information was, and thanked me for bringing it up.  She hadn’t realized how most of the industry’s recommendations were by and for white Americans, and that for people like me, changing cultures to eat healthy was an added stress.

Last week (May 2016)  I had another appointment with my doctor.  He told me I had lost 15 pounds since my last visit and that my A1C way back in January was 7.4%, just above my target of 7.0% where it’s considered “well-controlled.”  The following day I went for another blood draw.

The results from that blood draw came back this week:  6.7% “well-controlled.”  I am no longer a candidate for insulin therapy. To celebrate, I ate a whole pecan pie.*

In future posts: the land animals, the crossfit.

*I did not actually eat any pecan pie.

Friends from Other Places

It’s 11pm and I didn’t do laundry this weekend, and my kitchen is a mess, and I don’t have any lunches ready for this coming week.  In other words, it was a great weekend.

Saturday morning I went to a crossfit workout, and I learned about the insanities of “Turkish Get Ups.”  I have a hard time getting up from the kneel.  We also did snatches, and coach J made me take the weights off my bar, which is FINE WITH ME.  My quads are starting to rebel against their new job in my life, which is to constantly get up from a squat while my back is straight.  These workouts are hard but I enjoy the endorphins afterwards, that feeling of well being.  It’s the same feeling I get after an ugly cry, the kind with uncontrollable sobbing.

After that, I made bought some ono fish and baked them up for tacos, brought the whole kit to M&F’s house for JB’s big birthday party.  It was supposed to have been a beach party but the cloudy weather made it a backyard firepit party.  I learned that when LA people start a fire, they buy a cardboard box filled with firewood, which has some kindling in it.  At first none us knew about the kindling because we all failed to read the box, and I offered to bust up some kindling if I could use a hatchet, which is a chore I kind of like to do.  They all looked at me like I was an alien from an other planet and brought out  a box of “fire starter” which is how they do it here, it’s a package from the convenience store that you light on fire, and that starts the kindling which starts the wood.  I felt I had stepped into the future.  I couldn’t believe there was an actual product that saved us from using wadded up news paper like some cave people, and that firewood and kindling came from a box.  The package of firewood was marked as from Madera, California, by the way, and all the Spanish speakers winked at each other.  Haha, Madera.

By the way, I think my fish tacos were a hit.  The fish market was a little reluctant to sell me ono fish for tacos, which further confirmed my suspicion that they don’t know much about fish.  Good product though.

Today I went to a yoga class at the box, my first yoga class ever.  I liked it mostly, it was strenuous and relaxing at the same time.  For the most part I was limber enough and strong enough for the class, but my knees didn’t like being in table position or, even worse, being in a tripod position.  These yoga sessions are once a week, I would consider going more.  After yoga I got a mysoor dosa and then hit the road for San Diego.

I met JG in Del Mar at a highly rated taqueria which I deemed mediocre.  After fish tacos we walked around La Jolla, got a beer in Pacific Beach, and then a sushi restaurant in downtown San Diego.  JG is in town for a surfing vacation, it was good to see him as always.

My knees feel a little bruised but we’ll see if I’m up for more crossfit tomorrow.  I have a feeling it’s going to be a big week.  

Still Early

Here are the things I’ve done this weekend:  

  • Help my friend C move from Baldwin Village to Boyle Heights, lunch at BCD Tofu
  • Send my credit card information to so crossfitters and tell them to help themselves to the membership dues every month. 
  • Do my laundry, clean the entire apartment, sweep.  
  • Make poke for the week with M from grad school, after a trip to the Fish King.  We made albacore, ahi, and hamachi. 
  • Organize my Von’s Monopoly game, with the help of M. 

Next weekend I’m hanging out with the gang on Dockweiler State Beach and then going to meet JG in San Diego , maybe go to Mexico, who knows.  

I haven’t been blogging lately, which feels wrong to me, as I have plenty of time and ideas to blog about.  I just don’t feel as energized to sit and write anymore like I did, which is bad because becoming an famous author is my retirement Plan A.  So I gotta work on that…

Maybe I’m too distracted by the weather here.  I’ve got doors and windows open, a breeze going, and my fridge is full of poke. I’ll go out later to buy coffee beans.  

I don’t want to say too much about Crossfit because I’m not great at it, and everytime I go I think, “I’m finally going to hate it this time.”  But I don’t.  So I’ll just say this: I think I’m not the worst at rowing.  

Langauge Learning: How to Spot a Chaos Informant

When you’re learning a language, you should know that some native speakers will feed you misinformation, and they will believe it deep down in their hearts that their misinformation is true, completely oblivious to the fact that they made that shit up on the spot.  I call these people “Chaos Informants;” take their explanations with a grain of salt. This is not a term that professional linguists use, in fact I just made the shit up on the spot.

Sometimes, they will offer you their chaos information unsolicited, but more often the chaos informants come out when I ask a question.  In fact, you can use questions to identify Chaos Informants, so you can take their explanations with a grain of salt. Here’s how.

“What is the difference between much and many?”  If you’re learning English, you can use this question to identify English speaking Chaos Candidates.

The “professional” answer to that question is countables; we use the word “many” for nouns that are in countable units (too many bananas, too many armpits, too many individual liberties).  We use much for things that are not in countable units,  (too much money, too much talking, too much sex).

I call this the “professional” answer because usually it’s only langauge professionals that can answer this question off the top of their head. This answer probably does not occur to someone who learned English as their native language.  Here’s the deal: linguistic knowledge is separate from conscious or academic knowledge. A native speaker can live a hundred years without ever mixing up “many” and “much” and never be able to supply the “professional” answer.

A “chaos answer” is any explanation that is yanked out of the ass region that doesn’t involve countability.  So if someone tries to tell you something like “always use many with objects you can fit in your pocket,” they are a Chaos Informant; grain of salt.  It’s probably not malicious; people are just trying to be helpful.  Some people just have horrible horrible intuitions about language and have a “tin ear” for what their own mouth is doing.  One British lady railed against /r/ insertion and then burst into tears when a researcher pointed out that she was totally an /r/ inserter.  She’s not stupid; it’s common for poeple’s perception of their own langauge to be different from actual acoustic reality.  I used to tell my classes that there was an [m] sound hidden in the sentence “I lived in Paris for a year;” this exercise divided the class and upset people, not kidding.

If you’re not blessed to be a language professional and you don’t want to be a Chaos Informant, here’s a good alternative for you; just say, “I don’t know.”  If that’s too humiliating for you, you can try “I’m not sure.”  It may not be the answer to the person’s question, but at least it’s the truth, and it’s more helpful than making shit up like a jackass.

Here’s a test for Spanish-speaking Chaos Informants:  “When do you use the subjunctive?”  The professional answer is that there are certain clauses and conjunctions that trigger the subjunctive; I can list them all for you if you need me to.  Native Spanish speakers who are not language professionals have no reason to know the professional answer, so don’t bother them with that. Hopefully they’ll tell you “I don’t know, I’ve never had to think about it before,” which doesn’t answer your question, but at least it’s true.  A chaos answer, one that I’ve heard before, is that you have to use the subjunctive whenever you use the word “que.”  Total chaos.

By the way, the students in my Spanish classes often felt confident about making up their own rules for Spanish, you don’t have to be a native speaker to be a Chaos Informant.  I was always stunned at their classmates willingness to believe the explanation as that still smelled like the ass they were yanked out of.  They’d say something like “you can’t have three verbs in a sentence” or “there is no umlaut in Spanish,” and then try to convince me that they were right.

For Tagalog, ask your friends, “What’s the difference between galing mo and galing ka.Both sentences mean something like “you’re sharp.” The professional answer is that “galing mo” is an abbreviated form of the exclamatory “Ang galing mo,” and the focus is on the adjective “galing.”  In the sentence galing ka, the focus is on the pronoun.  Easy.

If the person tells you that the verb “galing” means “to come,” you know that this person is a Chaos Informant; grain of salt.

Do I have one for Chinese?  I don’t remember anymore.  It might have been the difference between modal verbs 必須,必需and 需要.  I think I’m back to being a chaos informant for Chinese.

I have no memory of ever meeting a Chaos Informant of French or Italian, although there are many times where I’d hear someone make a grammatical mistake for fun, and then deny that it exists and forbid me to repeat it.  Also, I discovered last week that I’m making shit up when it comes to French.  Here’s a lamp post sign in Glendale that’s up right now:


As you’ve probably noticed, they’ve written “Welcome” in several languages.  None of them are Filipino, so I guess Filipinos are not welcome.  Chinese is on there twice. And the French looks like a feminine singular; they’re welcoming a single French woman.  Ho ho ho. Look everyone, a French mistake!

Only my friend Armando pointed out that, “Bienvenue” is the noun, and that’s the appropriate way to write “Welcome” in this context.

So in other words, I’m a Chaos Informant for French; grain of salt.  Don’t trust my judgement!

Learn Pangasinan: Existence Sentences

To declare the existence of something in Pangasinan, we use the word wala.  To declare the non-existence of something, we use angapo.


  • Walay andeketa pusa ed dalanan. There’s a black cat in the street.
  • Angapoy andeketa pusa ed dalanan. There’s no black cat in the street.
  • Walay priton pusit ed lamisaan. There are fried squid on the table.  
  • Angapoy priton pusit ed lamisaan. There aren’t any fried squid on the table.  

Piece of cake. You should notice that there’s a -y suffixed onto our target words.  That -y is a focus marker, it tells you when the noun in focus is coming up. In this case the nouns in focus were andaketa pusa and priton pusit.  

You may have noticed that we use the preposition ed to specify a place in Pangasinan.  In English, we have specific prepositions like on, in, at, and to… In Pangasinan we can use ed for all of those; it’s a general-purpose location preposition.

If you want a more general locations like here and there, there are a couple of options. Here are the location adverbs:

  • dia here (near the speaker)
  • ditan there (by the listener) 
  • diman there (far from speaker and listener)

Note that it’s a three-way distinction, which corresponds to 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person. It’s different than the two-way here/there system in English.

So now you can use these location words in your existence and non-existence sentences.


  • Angapoy andeketa pusit dia. There are no black squids here.  
  • Walay priton pusa diman.  There’s some fried cat over there.  (DISCLAIMER: Pangasinan speakers do not eat cats.  Language learning has to be surprising sometimes.)

Hooray, now you can declare existence (and non-existence) of objects and specify locations!

But wait, there’s more!  If you are really committed to the preposition ed, you can feel free to use it with diaditan, and diman; there’s no change in meaning.  One thing you should know, though, is that the forms contract.  Here are the contractions:

  • edia (ed + dia)
  • edtan (ed + ditan)
  • edman (ed + diman)

I’m told that you can switch corresponding forms out freely, that there’s not a meaningful difference between walay bastosa ugaw edman and walay bastosa ugaw diman.  

There’s one more thing. The existence verb wala loves the location adverbs so much, that it contracts with them.  Check it out.

  • wadia (wala + edia). Wadiay narasana aso ed abong.  There’s a hungry dog here at the house. 
  • wadtan (wala + edtan)  Wadtan so narasana aso ed abong. There’s a hungry dog there at the house (near you, listener). 
  • wadman (wala + edman) Wadman so narasana aso ed abong. There’s a hungry dog over there (far from both of us).  

You’ll notice that wadtan and wadman both end in consonants, so it’s impossible to add the focus suffix -y to the end of that word.  Instead, we use the other focus marker so.

As far as I know, it’s just wala that has contractions; if there are angapo contractions I’m not aware of them yet.

To summarize, there are a few ways to declare the existence of, for example, a big house over there, you’d say it like this:

  • Walay balega abong diman. 
  • Walay balega abong edman.
  • Wadman so balega abong.  

You can deny the existence of that big house over there with angapo; just remember the word angapo doesn’t want to make a contraction.

  • Angapoy balega abong diman.
  • Angapoy balega abong edman.  

That’s all for now, here’s a summary.

Existence and non-existencelocation prepositionlocation word three way