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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Extreme Weather Condition and Moral Masochism

The recent natural phenomenon, hurricane Sandy and typhoon Bopha, both are tied to extreme weather events, which are related to climate changes and global warming. In the recent Doha climate meeting, Philippine climate commissioner, Naderev M. Sano, was choked in tears when he was appealing for actions due to the devastating effect typhoon Bopha has inflicted upon Philippine. The conclusion is that human beings are guilty. The proposed cure is to cut down the emission of heat trapping gases and to cut down the usage of fossil fuels.

Human beings have been guilty for devastating natural phenomenon for a long time. From very early in human history, in various places, human activities were blamed for causing flood, drought, volcano eruptions, and so on. This belief is a mythological one. For example, in biblical terms, the devastating flood was God’s wrath at decadent human behaviors. And the terrifying formation of Crater Lake in Oregon’s was expressed in local Indian’s myth and it had a single cause which is human. At those times, humans and gods co-existed. Gods created the world and humans were the center of the world. Human activities are checked by gods and justice for any wrong doings was directly appealed to gods. .

Different from those gods-fearing eras, in modern human’s mind, gods no longer have all-powerful positions, or even died. In the absence of all-powerful gods, there is no place for humans to appeal for justice directly. But the residue from the past mythical roots lingers. Fueled by modern technological developments, humans are more than ever convinced as being the center of the world. Justice for any wrong-doings is directly appealed to ourselves. Therefore, human activities are continued to be blamed as evil causes to devastating natural phenomenon. We continue to be always ready to take on the guilt and, in this case, glorify ourselves through moral masochism.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Foul of Practicality

Chinese people are practical. It is so over-praised for millenniums. What a pity! Countless great inventions have been buried under this tombstone: NON-PRACTICAL.

Chinese invented compass, but abandoned ocean-liners. Chinese invented gun powder, but did not make bombs. Nobody could come to the future and went back to predict the power of these inventions. So for some practical reason, we did not pursue.

These two are perhaps well-known and over-cited casualties. You probably did not know that long-distance flying machine was invented in China as well. Pity!

Around 700BC, Mo Di (墨翟) and Gong Shu Ban (公输班), both of them Shandong origin, were two great inventors of all times. If both of them had been two geeks, that would have been better. But unfortunately, Mo Di was also a politician. He believed that inventions should better people's lives, should not be for the purpose of wars, neither just a plaything. The worse of all was that he was also a great speaker, perhaps an orator in the Greek sense.

One day, Gong Shu Ban showed Mo Di one of his inventions. It was a bird made of bamboo and once the mechanism inside the bird was set into motion, it could fly for three days non-stop. What a great invention as that! Who could dream of such kind of thing today? Not battery driven, no gas, and so on? The energy crisis would have been solved long ago.

Now you would guess why such kind of invention did not flourish at all. Mo Di, with his flawless eloquence and his passion for bettering the people, said something like this: What a useless thing you have made! Why don't you make more useful things like the wheel-barrow to better people's life? Gong Shu Ban was overcome by shame and stuffed his wonderful invention into a trunk and never cast it another eye.

Mo Di and his doctrine perished after 200BC. But long before that, that bamboo bird perished too, together with who knows what great inventions!


p.s. Mo Di was a great inventor, a great thinker and a great mathematician in Chinese history. I only hope he was not so practical sometimes.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Language is a very time-consciousness thing.

I often hear people say something like this: "Once I got stuck with a word which I don't understand, I lost myself completely." In other words, it is like that if you miss a tempo, you miss everything.

This temporality of language is inevitable. We can only utter one word after another, and we can only read one word after another. And it is the primal condition of any possibility of learning a language. Unless we can disregard language completely, we have to deal with it across time.

When we are listening, we need to use our imagination, to punctual the flow of language to a certain rhythm, to retain the past sound with a meaning attached to it, to expect the future sound which we can comprehend, and to focus on the current sound which we understand. It's a very complex issue indeed. Yet, when it's your turn to speak, you are continuously facing this temporality. You need to have a certain rhythm, to project your voice across time and make people understand.

Chinese is no different from other language in this aspect.

Internet offers a huge collection of various resource of Chinese materials. My website also offers some. Explore all the materials to sharpen your time-consciousness!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Today is 清明节, a time for people to honor their ancestors. This reminded me of a little poem written by 杜牧 of Tang dynasty:


One thing is interesting is that the above punctuation is modern western punctuation. When the poet wrote this poem, such kind of punctuation did not exist in Chinese literary works. So this is where the fun is. If we play around with the punctuations in this poem, we will make the poem to yield different meanings.

Version #1
清明时节,雨纷纷。路上,行人欲断魂。借问:“酒家何处有?” 牧童遥指:“杏花村。”

Version #2
清明,时节雨。纷纷路上行。人欲断魂。借问酒家:“何处有牧童?” 遥指:“杏花村。”

Version #3

Of course, this kind of playing really does not do justice to a great literary work, and twists the original meaning. And also I vaguely remember that I read something like this long ago.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

All the podcast transcripts of 2011, total 24 of them, are available now here:

I hope they will be useful as some supplementary reading and listening materials.

Friday, March 02, 2012

How do you know you are not in a dream?

Maybe we don't really know, unless we happen to wake up from it. In the movie Inception, it is nothing but dreaming and waking up, to the extent that a person is never sure whether he is awake or in a dream. There are many people believed that we just fall asleep in our clothes. Especially when we are preoccupied, the same thing will hunt us in life and in dream.

There is a close relationship between life and dream. That is the reason why so many literary works are about life is nothing but a dream, and at a certain time, the poet woke up and uttered, e.g. 苏轼:“人生如梦!”

The similarities between life and dream provoked people to believe that things you learned during sleeping will have real effect when you wake up. If it is really true, all the people will be able to speak fluent Chinese as long as they listen to it when sleeping.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Can trees have multi-colored leaves? I think so, at least in art. Actually, they are quite pleasing to see. I guess we need to add plenty of varieties to make learning pleasing as well.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Numbers are so hard. They are probably hardest part in a language.
Chinese numbers are really logical and easy to learn, but it's not easy to recognize them when listening to a speech, especially "5" and "10".
To overcome numbers really needs persistence and practice.