Somewhere Between

Good title for a documentary portraying girls adopted from China. Bring an extra sleeve. The people, young and old, with their ordinary lives, ultimately resonate and make this documentary what it is. Ordinary? Because the ordinary and extraordinary are not so different after all. Here is the site.


Chinese Women's Documentaries in the Market Era

A nice summary of some recent documentaries that might be of interest to check out. (And if in the area to go see.)


Chinese theories of poetry


mimetic - work to universe
pragmatic - work to audience
expressive - work to writer
objective - work as object

-Page 188. See The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics for more information.

This reminds me of a particular section in Percy Shelley's "Defense of Poetry," though it is not entirely related, just about relationships and layers of meaning and perception. What is experienced as existence is different than that which is perceived and this in turn is different from what is expressed.

"In the infancy of society every author is necessarily a poet, because language itself is poetry; and to be a poet is to apprehend the true and the beautiful, in a word, the good which exists in the relation, subsisting, first between existence and perception, and secondly between perception and expression. Every original language near to its source is in itself the chaos of a cyclic poem: the copiousness of lexicography and the distinctions of grammar are the works of a later age, and are merely the catalogue and the form of the creations of poetry."

"...language is arbitrarily produced by the imagination..."


Drawing the Line Between Security and Freedom of the Press


The Obama administration "has brought more prosecutions against current or former government officials for providing classified information to the media than every previous administration combined." (Adam Liptak in "A High-Tech War on Leaks, The NYT 2/12/12)

(The point, which maybe is a bit overstated in some cases, but not others (how is one to judge in general statements?): journalists cannot protect their sources anymore. What this means to communication between good-intentioned officials and reporters. The difficult-to-escape digital trail. The danger of phones. The threat to rigorous investigative journalism...)


"Blogs vs. Term Papers"

This is a good quote from the article:

“We’re at a crux right now of where we have to figure out as teachers what part of the old literacy is worth preserving,” says Andrea A. Lunsford, a professor of English at Stanford. “We’re trying to figure out how to preserve sustained, logical, carefully articulated arguments while engaging with the most exciting and promising new literacies.”


Foreign Babes in Beijing

Anyone interested in China, read Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China. Published in 2005, it's smart, engaging, and filled with cultural insights that I am certain still hold relevance.


"Is Banking Bad?" - Kristof, Again with Opinion

"Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance."

"Too often we...enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."
-John F. Kennedy

It must be nice to have such clear-cut opinions. One of the best things about opinion is that it makes you think about your own.

A study on political rhetoric. Thanks, Mr. Kristof. This excerpt from his op-ed caught my attention:

"Among Americans ages 18 to 29, more had a negative view of capitalism than a positive view, the survey found. Those young Americans actually viewed socialism more positively than capitalism. In other words, America’s grasping capitalists are turning young Americans into socialists."

Fascinating. On first impression, I'd agree. But then I think about this somewhat discrediting op-ed (Kristof's test-score op-ed neglecting to mention the basic background of the study forming the opinion) and wonder if the first two quotes might apply in the above. (This opinion piece - confusingly placed in the "On Education" section - is much better than Kristof's.)

Back to this excerpt. Gotta wonder at the bravado in a statement like that. If Wikipedia and my high school Critical Thinking class serve me correctly, this might just be a fallacy in "Affirming the Consequent," "Denying the Antecedent" and "Fallacy of false cause." Not to say that he's completely or at all wrong, but that there sometimes seem to be cracks in his reasoning and solidity of opinion that could be filled out a bit more. Or maybe some cracks in that solidity of opinion would be good.

In another op-ed, he writes, "so many Americans have in mind a caricature of Europe as an effete, failed socialist system." This partially questions the notion that young people are so put-off by capitalism that they are unabashedly turning to socialism. (All while so-called socialist Europe is - wrongly, according to him, but nevertheless - perceived to be failing around us.) Then again this contradiction could point to how desperate young people are to find anything more successful but capitalism, "even" socialism, as seemingly-socialist Europe suffers.

But he doesn't point this out, so we're left wondering more about what overriding positives the young see in socialism, how a greater positive view of socialism and negative view of capitalism precisely infer causation, the validity of emphatically projecting the label "socialist" on someone who responded to a word in a survey, and that which is beyond the "grasping capitalists" ranging from healthcare to other welfare issues that cause associations with certain words. (Don't get me wrong, I love the idea that my generation might bring on the terrors of socialism.)

Which also brings up the question of capitalism and if it's epitomized by the big banks too big to fail - we supposedly "grasping"-ly need it, but want the benefits of life without it (socialism)? A young person can have a positive reaction to socialism and a grudgingly positive one towards capitalism, a positive reaction to socialism and a bitterly resigned one towards capitalism, a positive reaction to socialism and a completely negative one towards capitalism. Sometimes I don't like surveys because they minimize the thoughts of those behind them...I know all of those people. Disenchanted, but in a difficult and counter-intuitively long-term dalliance with capitalism, might be a good way to put it.

This is the time to remember Plato's quote and zip the lips, waiting for the future to show up.

Birds Among the Wires (and Close to the Moon)

A good bucketlist item might be to go watch birds migrate sometime. I took these a week ago while bird-watching with an Android Samsung Infuse phone. The phone was surprisingly better color-wise and for sunset shots than mom's Nikon camera. No photoshopping. Though it's difficult to see some of the birds in the pictures.


"Vibram FiveFinger" Shoes

A minimalist approach to an alternative exercise experience... Not sure if my toes are strengthening as advertised, but am hoping... I can vouch for a "good ground sensation" though. You can also (as recommended) throw them into the washer.


Great idea on giving.


Bothersome Op-Ed on Good Teachers

I have a few issues with this seemingly good op-ed.

First, define "an excellent teacher." Here is the actual study. Kristoff completely ignores detailing this definition in his argument for more refined teacher-hunting. I'm all for excellent teachers, just don't hide the fact that the study was all about test scores in getting to the argument.

(TEST SCORES?!?!?!?!?!)

Second, it's a bit pitiful appealing to economic outcome when common sense has always told us of the importance of "good" teachers. Hopefully studies that connect test scores with other qualities in a teacher emphasize teachers' importance, or studies that connect other teacher qualities with good "outcomes" (not limited to money made in the lifespan, for goodness sake) will be brought to light and/or conducted. Maybe the study is misrepresented here. But it remains bothersome.



"The American people are now very favorably inclined towards the idea of an independent presidential candidate challenging both Barack Obama and the eventual Republican nominee next year. According to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll an overwhelming 61 percent favor the idea of such a challenge, while only 32 percent hold an unfavorable opinion of a possible independent run ... The reason we face the choice of only a Democrat or a Republican in almost every election is that the two parties have worked together to rig the election laws to favor either of these parties, or both, but not others. The two parties worked together to reduce choice so they only need to be slightly less worse than each other to win an election."

Not sure about the working together bit, but it does make one wonder. I get the sense that people enter the primaries and general elections with the groupthink mentality of having their vote count - in the sense that the vote will only count if voting for a major candidate. That needs to change.


Some homeless won't leave illegal camp

Here is the article. I do not see why the police cannot focus on preventing crime or other more worthwhile activities compared to eviction, making other people's lives more difficult for seemingly little reason except that it is the law. (What is the purpose of the law? Not very relevant to this case I think. So it needs to be changed or something needs to be done so that such a question doesn't even need to be asked in this case.) The homeless are part of the public interest, and I would think that the police work in the public's interests unless that means privileged folk who want to go on a walk along the river.

Going back to that question of something preventative needs doing, I don't see why campsites cannot be SET UP for the homeless, as one commenter mentioned below the article. From the article: "They asked me what I'm going to do," said "Brother" Eli, a camp elder. "I said 'I don't have anywhere to go.' " If properly executed by city officials - including safety and health measures - it could be beneficial for the homeless, and legal if such measures were taken and thus a help to redirecting police energy to more important work. Land and room for community development (and leadership and sustainability) needs to become a priority.


Home-A Movie

Watch this free movie, called Home. (Who knew YouTube had free movies...!)

Breathtakingly beautiful imagery.

Even if you don't believe in its core ideas.

"It's too late to be a pessimist."

From the YouTube website:

We are living in exceptional times. Scientists tell us that we have 10 years to change the way we live, avert the depletion of natural resources and the catastrophic evolution of the Earth's climate.

The stakes are high for us and our children. Everyone should take part in the effort, and HOME has been conceived to take a message of mobilization out to every human being.

For this purpose, HOME needs to be free. A patron, the PPR Group, made this possible. EuropaCorp, the distributor, also pledged not to make any profit because Home is a non-profit film.

HOME has been made for you : share it! And act for the planet.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand

HOME official website

PPR is proud to support HOME

HOME is a carbon offset movie

More information about the Planet


The Color Of Pomegranates

Must, MUST see this, The Color Of Pomegranates. It looks so revolutionary, so epic!!!

"Are All Bloggers Journalists?"

Read about this recent case where a blogger was sued.

This is more detailed.

Very relevant debate.

I believe in a clear differentiation between bloggers and journalists, though this millions-dollar punishment seems extreme.

Bloggers, even if they have inside information, should pass this information on to other sources like newspapers rather than hurry to be the "first" to write and spread such information at risk of inaccuracy, for personal protection, and to emphasize newspapers as the most objective sources. This creates a more professional reliability because of that objectivity, something that is not typically associated with blogs. Blogs are a means of expression, and should never be used to convey information misleadingly, but subjectivity is for many at the heart of the blogging culture, and this in itself implies a necessary differentiation.


Sexual Education

What a wonderful article on sexual education! It's a good length. Here are some excerpts, but I hope they would point to reading the entire article!

Friends’ Central, a Quaker prep school that prides itself on both its academic rigor and its ethic of social responsibility, is tucked away in the bucolic hills of suburban Philadelphia. Vernacchio joined the school’s English department in 1998, and when, three years later, he asked to start Sexuality and Society, administrators were delighted. “He teaches at the very highest level,” said David Felsen, who in June retired as headmaster of the school after 23 years. Because Vernacchio was such a gifted instructor, Felsen said, he didn’t worry about parents’ reactions. And in fact, Vernacchio says that no one has ever complained or even voiced reservations about something he discussed in class.

Early in the year, Vernacchio gives an assignment asking students to interview a parent about how he or she learned about sex, and the father said his son handled it with aplomb: “He was very natural, and I’m the one thinking, This is embarrassing. He was a lot more mature about the conversation than I was.”

The lessons that tend to raise eyebrows outside the school, according to Vernacchio, are a medical research video he shows of a woman ejaculating — students are allowed to excuse themselves if they prefer not to watch — and a couple of dozen up-close photographs of vulvas and penises. The photos, Vernacchio said, are intended to show his charges the broad range of what’s out there. “It’s really a process of desensitizing them to what real genitals look like so they’ll be less freaked out by their own and, one day, their partner’s,” he said. What’s interesting, he added, is that both the boys and girls receive the photographs of the penises rather placidly but often insist that the vulvas don’t look “normal.” “They have no point of reference for what a normal, healthy vulva looks like, even their own,” Vernacchio said. The female student-council vice president agreed: “When we did the biology unit, I probably would’ve been able to label just as many of the boys’ body parts as the girls’, which is sad. I mean, you should know about the names of your own body.”

The attention paid to S.T.I.’s, pregnancy, rape and discrimination based on sexual orientation, while understandable, comes at a cost, he says. “We’re worrying about which bathrooms transgender students should use while teens are worrying whether they should shave all the way or leave a landing strip,” he said. “They’re worrying if someone special will find them sexually attractive, whether they will be able to do it as well as porn, whether others have the same kind of sexual feelings they do.”

“We don’t tell them: ‘Look, there are different shapes of condoms. Get sampler packs, experiment.’ That would be entering pleasure into the conversation, and we don’t want that.”
[this last comment is sarcastic if you didn't catch that...]


Another Thought Or Two About Poetry

It seems that this question of interest also brings up a question of sustained interest.

Poetry seems to be characterized by an intensity of thought in every word and every relationship between every word, line, and poem.

So then how can sustained interest reach maximum excellence? Is it humanely possible to take in and absorb something so intensified? Or is it more about a digestion of words and tangential thoughts, that which is related to the experience of poetry? Is it a process of digestion rather than consumption?

Yes. One must digest poetry, not consume it. Then maybe there is no such thing as sustained interest in poetry, but sustained interest in the delights of digestion, the relatively more constant intensity of discovery rather than the intensified impact of consumption...

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

I loved it. Good introduction book to more modern poetry. Here is some of what I wrote in a reaction paper for poetry class...

Nelson approaches this work with her love of the color blue. Beginning with blue leads to discussion of a multitude of other topics, many seemingly unrelated yet somehow threaded together. By combining her many “bluets” she constructs her own dictionary definitions of the word, placing it in a new light with the various connotations she plays with. Focusing on one thing with such intensity seems to illuminate that which surrounds it, while also reflecting on itself on a deeper level than if there were not one unifying idea. She is explicit that her purpose is not to equate blue or any color with the standard expectations or general ideas that might be associated with it – a black mast on a ship signifying something ill, for example – but (to put it simply) that there is more complexity and interest beyond such simplifications.

I get a sense that her love for blue seems to draw people to her and promote her curiosity and interest in the world as related to blue and beyond. She manages to link this curiosity and the people around her together. (I think this is true for writers in general. A general passion for wanting to find something to write about – whether it is for a specific subject or not – seems to promote my curiosity about everything.) For example, on page 9, she speaks of God and blue in her friend’s eyes consecutively, implying a parallel nature between the two, where God is perhaps in her friend. She also mentions that the blue collage “you” sent her made her hopeful, but not because it was blue.

By writing about blue, she seems to write herself beyond the mental struggles she might have about writing about her relationship, and finally end up in a place where she does in fact write about it, and in a more beautiful place than she would have in the first place probably. Often blue is associated with sex, the divine/religion, intense emotion (loneliness, hope, depression, et cetera) and vision, and could be an indirect approach and metaphor for her relationship with the “you” she addresses consistently, but not frequently, throughout the work.

Thought About Poetry

(This blog is about a memory device by now.) Poetry seems to be about as deep as one wants to make it, which is to say it can be extraordinarily astonishing in the discoveries one can make over a lifetime, or extraordinarily dull if perused without actual interest. (Curiosity?) (Investment?)


Lonely Guinea Pigs

I had a nightmare about having to cut up a pig (and I am a vegetarian). This is not about pigs, but a much smaller creature, the guinea pig:

"Like San Francisco and other European countries, Switzerland has been tightening its animal-welfare laws, and because guinea pigs are prone to loneliness, it's now illegal to own just one. This leaves you in a tight spot if you own two guinea pigs and one dies. You could buy a new one, but then, when the next guinea pig died? You might get stuck buying guinea pigs for the rest of your life. Fortunately, a market-driven solution has emerged. Priska Kung of Hadlikon, a town just outside of Zurich, now rents guinea pigs - a castrated male goes for about $30 - for as long as you need them." - Jacob Goldstein



Word of the Day for Monday, October 24, 2011

anoesis \an-oh-EE-sis\, noun:

A state of mind consisting of pure sensation or emotion without cognitive content.




Turkey's neck, chicken's body.

This relates to my interest in chickens.



A few surprising academic-related realizations and notes on my classes:

Poetry is more meaningful to me than fiction at the moment, as I sometimes find fiction too distant. At times contemporary fiction can seem too sarcastic, not sincere, very distant - of course the same can be said of much prose and poetry. I used to never consider reading a book of poetry because of its supposed inaccessibility. Yes, sometimes it still seems inaccessible. But more and more beautiful. Maybe beauty makes things more accessible? A beautiful thought or line or observation cannot be denied. Think of how many words there are in the world, and how much it took to pull all those words together!!! This is what makes sentences and phrases beings, creatures, living...

I love having confidence in writing Chinese characters. Sometimes it is intensely painful to memorize, and other times it is surprisingly easy - still don't know why. You sit for several hours staring and trying to practice, then realize SHIT I just wasted so much time not focusing and spent too little time on trying to become a fast learner. Or that you know how to write the character but have no idea what it means in English. And then you try to learn the English. (And the SHIT part happens again.)

Writing workshop is fun (for me). You don't speak as the writer, for the most part, as you don't want to be stuck in the position of trying to defend your work or stupidly deny compliments. And it is incredibly useful. It's also very discouraging afterwords when you're sitting at your computer trying to get up the energy to approach (and maybe even start) that dreaded but terribly necessary editing.

I'm learning about engineering concepts in my biology class, on the "architecture" of organisms - Biomechanics, basically. It is a splendid thing to find something that you never would have thought existed. The word "interdisciplinary" is starting to have a bit of a contemporary-arrogant ring to it for me (don't know why), but it's really all I care about in college. It's important to delve into a subject deeply and fully, but it's also good to make the connections and realize that academics is an ecosystem.

Poetry was a major part of Japanese courtier life. (This is from my Women's Words/Comparative Literature class.) Witty poetry, and writing by women! Such a difference between the days of studying Shakespeare! And such a necessary one, for all students at some point! Much of the poems written down involve nature and love. Brilliant on-the-spot poetry established prestige for these people of the court. Here is a poem by Ono no Komachi, I think translated by my professor:

The hue of the blossom
Has faded
To no avail
As I gaze out
At the long rain of years

Ono no Komachi was a famed poet and there are many legends about her as a lover. It is difficult to describe the number of ways this poem is brilliant, mostly because of the basic need to understand the cultural context and to know a bit about the language. For example, some words can mean several things, certain words invoke certain ideas or imagery (blossoms always invoke Spring), and the outside landscape reflects and has a bond with the landscape of the human heart (or something to that effect, according to my professor).

Ephemerality - impermanence, a core idea of Buddhism -is referenced in the fading and the effect of long years of rain, gazing out refers to longing (pivotal to love poetry, where often the women are the ones waiting), and the long rain of years can refer to the process of waiting and thus the giving up of waiting (put the faded blossom and long rain together, and you can see what rains do to blossoms and love, in time).

This is another one of those really surprising things that everyone should know about the Japanese, since people don't know much beyond anime...Also that they used Chinese characters for a long time...still use some...but that's another topic...

List of Everyday Items in the Village

This might be of interest to future travelers/teachers in rural areas (what I carried every day to school in my little REI backpack, a miracle bag that holds way more than it appears to hold):

Random personal items:
mosquito spray
mosquito bite itch relief bottle (looks like a miniature green beer bottle)
China Mobile phone
personal notebook
mini tape
packet of tissues (essential for the bathroom)

Teaching Supplies:
kid scissors (handy at unexpected times)
color pencils and pens (drawing activities)
spiral notebook with class lesson plans (always - i.e. dictation)
packet of 10 lead pencils (drawing or if they needed a utensil for the day)
mini water bottle from a train ride (throat can get sore and the day can be hot)
fold-up fan (gift from teaching partner, very useful in the hot weather)
blow-up ball (sometimes)
soft football (sometimes)
mini music player (sometimes, unless my teaching partner had his laptop)
prepared index cards (if relevant to the day's lesson plan)
MY OLD COLLECTION OF STICKERS-they loved them (always - for those who participate/are on the winning team in a competition)



We ate a delicious egg dish, a very simple one with the consistency (but better) of tofu. You use about half water, half eggs (so about 5 eggs would make a good amount, with that amount in water). Add salt and ginger. Stir. Either microwave for about 5 minutes or steam (not sure how or how long so I used a microwave which my host family didn't have). And eat. Mine actually tasted disgusting compared to theirs', so I think it takes some experimentation. But it was my favorite and it's worth the effort.

Other tasty dishes:

Pumpkin stems
Sweet pea soup
Sweet white bread
Egg/tomato soup
Noodles with fried egg
Bok choy and other greens I couldn't identify
One green that looked like it had gooey stuff mixed in, but was actually a part of the plant


Observation 18: Contacts

Some girls wear contacts to make their eyes (irises, specifically) look bigger. There are contacts with different colors, and my living partner had ones that were gray, and emphasized her brown eyes. They were a bit hard to get used to...


Useful Phrase

"I was adopted." This is a phrase I used a lot, because it explained indirectly why I looked Chinese and said I was American, and I also clearly spoke English better than Chinese. I think there was a cultural difference in that many people refused to accept that I called myself American, as someone who looks Chinese to them is, by blood, Chinese.

Wǒ shì bèi shōuyǎng de.

Wǒ - I

shì...de (this is a grammatical structure) - was

bèi shōuyǎng de (adjective) - adopted

Hopefully I explained it right and I was saying the correct thing! (For awhile I didn't say "shì" until my living partner corrected me.)


Observation 17: Mosquitoes

TONS of mosquitoes. They ate my feet and my ankles mostly. I think I developed an immunity to the red bump that forms, because by the end I was just itching, but not forming any kind of rash. To aid the feet: put socks on. If possible, shoes as well. The heat and pressure performs miracles and the bites don't itch as much. I don't like killing anything, which was a problem, so my living partner ended up being the one who killed the mosquitoes. I just guided them out of the mosquito net tent. I accidentally killed one guiding it out of the tent though.


Observation 16: Peanuts

Rice wasn't the only thing they grew. Peanuts were a major crop in the area. So peanuts for a snack (hard and roasted with salt, out of the shell, or soft and boiled with salt, still in the shell) and peanut oil for cooking (yay, not usually pig fat or other kinds of oils!) were common. Guess what part of a plant the peanut is. (No, they do not grow on trees!)



Observation 14: Ages

At morning market I noticed that almost everyone was either very old or very young. That's because everyone who can goes into the cities (Guangzhou most likely) to look for work. It almost seemed like a town of babies and the elderly. (Except of course there were the kids we were teaching who could be up to eighteen, though that is rare).


Observation 13: Popular Guys in Chinese Ads?

I've noticed Nicolas Cage and George Clooney on billboard ads, which really amused me for some reason but I don't know why... Kobe Bryant is also huge and I kept seeing him in a television ad with children promising he'd teach them how to play basketball.


Observation 12: Double-dipping

It's okay with chopsticks! You do it all the time! You share dishes in the center of the table, and often help yourself with your personal chopsticks.


Observation 11: Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut is unbelievably fancy in China. I went in there meaning to grab a quick bite to eat, but they had the fancy menus, nice tables, decoration, lighting, and everything. They completely reinvented themselves there! It's a fancy restaurant chain there...


Observation 10: Karaoke

Karaoke is HUGE in China. It's very cheap, usually less than $10 US. But some have a very poor selection of American songs/artists. My theory is that a lot of American songs are just not very singable (Think Lady Gaga.), and people who grew up knowing Chinese, because of the tones in Mandarin and Cantonese and dialects, have a better ear for singing. (Maybe. It's like the theory that Chinese-speaking people grew up knowing Chinese numbers which are so short, and this can aid quick in-the-head mathematics skills - who knows.)

Popular American singers in China include Lady Gaga ("Oh my Lady Gaga!" is the phrase there!), Justin Bieber, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, and the Backstreet Boys. Yet a lot of American songs that are not at all popular in America are well-known in China and thought to be popular in America as well though they are not. Like "God is a Girl" and "The Day You Went Away" (the latter of which I taught the English version to my classes).


Observation 9: Eating rice

Rice is more common in the south, and noodles more common up north. You eat rice with other food though, not by itself. (Unless you are me and like rice by itself, which can be seen as strange.)



I cannot bring myself to kill mosquitoes (which, in part, draws me to explore Buddhism and Jainism), so in China - where there are a lot of mosquitoes - my living partner (the Nanjing student I shared a bed with) would always be the one killing them.

Below is a fun video (the title of which is awfully misleading). I dislike that Bill Moyer/others sort of suggests that not killing mosquitoes is a radical and unnecessary extension of environmentalism. While both are based on empathy and respect, I believe that the consciousness in not killing a mosquito more closely and specifically represents the Buddhist way of living a peaceful life. It is not an extreme tangent of the more general save-the-environment attitude - which of course is a good attitude to have, but one that seems somehow less conscious if it does not embrace all of life...and so we must have the consciousness of not killing a mosquito in the same way we approach the environment as a whole, applying the very basic principal of recognizing a small being to recognizing the whole being of the earth and all around...and so environmentalism could in fact be seen as an extension of our attention to a little mosquito and all other little and large lives.

I lately have loved to learn about the Buddha's original teachings and have compiled a list of various things/characteristics I now associate with Buddhism. I am typing this up having, in the last few weeks, heard a talk introducing Buddhism at the local temple, read the chapter on Buddhism in Huston Smith's "The Illustrated World's Religions," and seen PBS's two-hour documentary "The Buddha."

-the miracle of life - there need not be any other miracle greater (i.e. magic, etc)
-living in the moment
-being aware
-compassion for all creatures (bugs included)
-mindfulness of all
-reason/rationality/freedom to debate (the Buddha wanted followers not to blindly follow, but experiment for themselves and challenge things they disagreed with)
-lack of ritual (original Buddhism)
-having humor
-the path, not the end
-hopefulness (the end of suffering* is possible, in recognizing and addressing the cause of suffering, desire*)

*suffering = along the lines of dissatisfaction
*desire = many forms, and not necessarily bad, like the desire to attain enlightenment; the kind that causes harm is what we want to end
(these are two words that are often misconstrued and taken too literally in the simplistic teaching of the basic Four Noble Truths; the words turned me off at first)


Observation 8: Watermelon

Eating watermelon is common as a snack or dessert. Spitting seeds (and bones and other unwanted food pieces) on the table or the ground (inside) is also a common practice. The watermelon there is delicious, and there are two kinds that I saw, the typical light green/patterned western kind and a darker/non-patterned kind.


Observation 7: Cell Phone Coverage

Cell phone coverage from a Chinese phone company is virtually guaranteed, including rural areas. A major provider is China Mobile. My host family, to make a living, ran a China Telecom store, had a small internet cafe (a small closet-like room with three computers), and had a peanut farm.


A Sheet Of Paper

"If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in a sheet of paper. Without a cloud there will be no water; without water the trees cannot grow; and without trees, you cannot make paper. So the cloud is in the paper. The existence of the page is dependent on the existence of a cloud. Paper and cloud are so close. Let us think of other things, like sunshine. Sunshine is very important because the forest cannot grow without sunshine, and we as humans cannot grow without sunshine. So the logger needs sunshine in order to cut the tree, and the tree needs sunshine in order to be a tree. Therefore, you can see sunshine in the sheet of paper. And if you look more deeply, with the eyes of a bodhisattva, with the eyes of those who are awake, you see not only the cloud and the sunshine in it, but that everything is here, the wheat that became the bread for the logger to eat, the logger's father- everything is in the sheet of paper. . . .This paper is empty of an independent self. Empty, in this sense, means that the paper is full of everything, the entire cosmos. The presence of a tiny sheet of paper proves the presence of the whole cosmos."

-Thich Nhat Hanh

Observation 6: Red Bean...

There are red bean popsicles, red bean McFlurries from McDonalds, red bean buns, and probably a lot more things with red beans in them.


Stories and Power

"I believe stories have this power--they enter us, they transport us, they change things inside of us invisibly, so minutely, that sometimes we're not even aware that we come out of a great book as a different person from the person we were when we began reading it." -Julia Alvarez

(I finished reading Before We Were Free, by Julia Alvarez, and saw this quote in the "About the Author" description. Powerful book.)


The Art of Happiness

Thich Nhat Hanh is an inspiring writer and Vietnamese Zen master, scholar, author, poet, and peace activist. I am quoting him from the Buddhadharma (Fall 2011) below:

"We have to learn the art of creating happiness." (29)

"Mindfulness is the paintbrush in the art of happiness." (30)

(Lately I have enjoyed reading about the original teachings of Buddhism. By original, I mean to imply that I ignore the many rituals/explanations/traditions associated with all religions including Buddhism; original Buddhism sounds like it was more simple and not a religion, but more along the lines of a set of thoughts about the world and life...which attracts me to what I think of as original Buddhism...)


Observation 5: Cooties

Girls and boys do not sit next to one another willingly, and it was very common for my students (junior high age) to stand up and protest sitting next to the opposite gender. When we played "Telephone" they sometimes willingly changed seats though, for strategy. (They LOVED "Telephone.")