Minor Things of Note

ChinaJapan.org Down

My host for my ChinaJapan.org site had a crash and had no functional backups. They handled the whole thing with complete incompetence which I will be describing at major hosting forums to warn future customers. I’m going to be moving the site to another host where I am hosting Muninn and FrogInAWell along with numerous other projects. I have fairly recent backups so I think I can get everything back up.

Che and Sponheim

By the time I post this to the internet, the Norwegian Storting elections will be over. However, one amusing thing about the last days of the election campaign. The Left party, or Venstre, was campaigning in downtown Stavanger on Friday, my last day at the library. The Left party is actually one of the non-socialists (Norwegian parties are traditionally but somewhat misleadingly divided into socialist and non-socialist camps) and are in the current (relatively) conservative coalition. However, they had some interesting campaign posters which were appealing to young voters. They depicted that famous image of Che Guevera (sp?), the Communist revolutionary leader on a red background. However, instead of Che’s face, they put Lars Sponheim, the leader of the Venstre party.

This was cute but somewhat surprising given the Høyre (Right party, their coalition ally) party’s recent ineffective attack on the Socialistic Left or SV party by associating them closely with Communist regimes and their atrocities. However, I suspect the irony of the poster escapes the notice of most.

And yet imagine if you will, the same campaign poster, approved by the party in the United States. While the Left party in Norway is a very moderate centrist party in comparison to the Republicans, imagine if you will some moderate republican putting their face on a Che poster in a effort to appeal to young voters. It just wouldn’t happen, right?

Norwegian Television Debate

VG, one of the major Norwegian newspapers (although it has always looked like a tabloid to me) has a strange way of measuring up the political debate between the party leaders in its Sunday, Sept. 11th issue. It first give all the participants of the debates a grade from 1 to 6 (six being best). It gave a 5 to Jens Stoltenberg (Labor party) and Dagfinn Høybråten (Christian Democrats) and 4s to everyone else except the right-wing Progress party (3 points) and the marginal Coast Party (2 points). Then it marked each one along a scale showing whether they were on the offense or defense in the debate. The highest “offense” ratings went to the hard left-wing Red Alliance, Socialist Left and Labor party, basically the left spectrum of Norwegian politics. Then, most bizarrely, it marked the mood of each participant with happy and sad faces on a scale. The most happy were apparently the Center party and Progress Party, with the most miserable being the Right party (who are set to lose big in this election) and the Coast party.

Critique of Domination

Roger Cohen had a good editorial in the Sept. 10-11 Int. Herald Tribune I got in the airport today where he discusses the political split on discussing looting during a crisis like the Katrina hurricane. He notes that conservatives are taking a hard line “zero tolerance” for looting (even those stealing food and water) but notes sardonically that Rumsfeld once said “While no one can condone looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of oppression.” Of course, he was referring to Iraq, which led Cohen to say that Rumsfeld and conservatives think that “A little mayhem in Mesopotamia was just fine” as long as it wasn’t within the US.

However, I found most memorable a quote from a French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut in the article. He was deeply critical of any sympathy towards looters, who he described as having a “revolting reaction.” Now, I strongly disagree with his take on the looting question and find myself having no moral opposition to any looting for food and essentials in a crisis situation. However, he then added a quote which sums up one of my biggest problems with recent critical theory.

While I’m very much influenced by a lot of recent critical theory out there, especially those important in historical research, I’m worried about the kind of moral paralysis I feel can result from some approaches suggested by things like postcolonial theory and postmodern critiques of society. Finkielkraut sums this up very nicely into one line, “It’s funny, our dominant ideology is a critique of domination in all its forms.”

A Few Notes on Traffic in Seoul

I don’t drive in Seoul so I don’t have to face any traffic jams and such. The subway system in Seoul is fantastic, easy to use, and is very cheap compared to Tokyo and even New York and Boston. The network is in my opinion far superior to New York and Boston. One of the things I find most annoying about New York is its annoying design which effectively segregates the East side of Manhattan from the West side and has such inconvenient connections that almost everyone has to go through Times Square to get anywhere interesting.

Though the nasty smelling and polluted streets of Seoul will fill your nostrils alternatively with the scent of sewage, tobacco, and car exhaust, Seoul subways are also far cleaner than New York’s smelly and dirty subways, where conductors occasionally yell at passengers, make bizarrely grumpy announcements, and the summer months are plagued by cars whose air conditioning is broken. The one thing that we can all appreciate about the New York subway is the fact that they very conveniently run 24 hours.

Since I have only been in Korea for a week so I shouldn’t be too confident about my observations but two things I have noticed so far about traffic rules: First, as if the pollution isn’t bad enough, scooters and motorcycles often drive on the pavement. This is perhaps partly because many of the streets make it difficult for them to cross over to the direction they want to drive. They billow out foul smelling exhaust from their tailpipes and I’m not the only one to cough and hack as they drive past. The scooter exhaust mixes with the smoke that flows out from street venders selling various kinds of orange colored food. In Taipei I remember them sticking on the road mostly, often in the hundreds as they collect at intersections. Some of the streets in central Taipei even have “no scooter” streets (such as the one near the central train station).

Secondly, red lights seem to be optional in Seoul when they are by crosswalks. On many occasion I have been happily crossing the street at a crosswalk with a green man showing (and a red light for cars) and the cars will drive by me (albeit somewhat more slowly) both in front and behind. I know they must be annoyed at waiting for pedestrians, but this can’t be a very safe practice. I like to be able to cross crosswalks when the man is green without having to be too paranoid about being run over.

Japanese Bakery

One of the many fun things about Japan is that a very large number of bakeries in Japan claim to be “Scandinavian” bakeries (occasionally, they claim to be French). The puzzled Scandinavian visitor who enters them will, of course, find nothing (except perhaps a long loaf of fresh Parisian bread) which is remotely recognizable to them, or, when they are, will be shocked to find out what lurks within the walls of a delicious-looking pastry.

It was thus amusing to me to find a small Chinese-run “Japanese bakery” here in Cambridge, MA (in Porter Square). With the exception of a few unfamiliar items, however, it did, in fact, sell authentically “Japanese Scandinavian” bakery products.

The Character 着

I usually use the digital Wenlin dictionary because of its convenient look up features, speed, and high quality. Today an assignment I’m working on consists of reading reading a 1936 essay about Shanxi 山西 village life. (I often have to look up older terms in an 1930’s dictionary known as the “Mathews” dictionary. Wenlin is great to check first because looking up Chinese characters in Mathews is a major pain and the software provides the Mathew’s character code number) Just now I was trying to look up the perfectly normal word 着实/著實 and had to try looking this up under as many pronunciations for the first character that I could remember. While this may be common knowledge for everyone else who speaks some Chinese, found out that 着 is often an alternate of 著. In fact, the Wenlin software author, who usually gives very short and concise definitions (or includes the definition from the ABC Chinese dictionary that it has licensed) got unusually chatty in the description of the character, even using personal pronouns/anecdotes and telling the reader not to “get discouraged”:

Originally 着 was just a different way of writing the character 著. Now 著 is mostly written only for the pronunciation zhù, and 着 is written for the other pronunciations; but sometimes 著 is still used rather than 着 among full form characters, regardless of the pronunciation.
 着 seems to have more pronunciations and meanings than any other Chinese character. Don’t be discouraged. Even Chinese people can’t always get it straight, especially the distinction between 着 zháo and 着 zhuó. For example, a friend of mine says 着陆 as zháolù though the dictionaries say zhuólù. The dictionaries disagree on whether 着 in 不着边际 (‘not to the point’) should be zháo or zhuó. On the other hand, the distinction between 着 zhe and 着 zháo really is important.

Best Places: San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle

I just tried the Sperling’s BestPlaces survey and It would appear the top 10 places for me to live in the US are: San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Washington, DC, Tacoma (WA), Long Island (NY), Syracuse (NY), San Jose (CA), Minneapolis-St. Paul (MN-WI), and Denver (CO). I’m a bit confused about some of them, but the top three includes both the place I live now (Boston) and the place I would most like to live in the US (Seattle).

What is in an Aquarium?

I had some Kimchi Sundubu at a little Korean mom and pop restaurant in a mall north of my dormitory. As I tried to eat without splattering the bright orange soup sauce onto my copy of Nietzsche’s Untimely Meditations (a task I ultimately failed), I watched a couple approach the restaurant, the father holding an infant child. At the entrance of the store is a large blue aquarium. Inside the aquarium were various coral like decorations, a bunch of brightly colored tropical fish swimming about, and a stream of bubbles flowing from out of the rocks in the center to the top where their release at the top created an expanding star like shape.

The father held the infant near the glass of the aquarium and moved it here and there so that it might get a good look at the passing fish inside. I noted with great curiosity that the infant wasn’t the least bit interested in the fish. No matter where the father moved his child, it (he? she?) would focus its attention on the stream of bubbles in the center, and especially the top of this stream where the bursting of the bubbles created that bright star-like shape when viewed from an angle below the water.

The couple left after only a minute or two, but I kept staring at the aquarium. At first I felt sorry for the father who totally failed to get his infant to recognize the fact that various colorful living creatures were swimming about in the glass box full of water. However, when I actually took the time to look closely at the stream of bubbles, I shared, if only for a moment, that infant’s sense of delight and enchantment. I would go so far as to say that it pretty much made my day. It made me remember a line from Dostoyevsky’s Idiot, “It is through children that the soul is cured.”

What is so interesting about fish anyways?

The Character 的

Today during my Korean class, our instructor was introducing everyone to Korea’s use of Chinese characters, or 한자. It was a welcome respite since I usually don’t understand about half of what the instructor is saying. Chinese characters, on the other hand, I feel much more comfortable with. At one point in the discussion our instructor introduced us to the character for 적(的) which we first found use for in a vocabulary word for this week 인상(印象). When you put the two together you can say that something was impressive, or left an impression (as you can in Japanese and Chinese with this same word).

Our instructor then made the most remarkable claim, “This character was invented by the Koreans, and doesn’t exist in any other language.” That is an interesting thing to say about a character which is the most frequently used character in the Chinese language. In Japanese, it is also very often used, especially in the creation of adjectives.
Continue reading The Character 的

The Month of the Flying Squirrel

In celebration of the month of the flying squirrel, a holiday spanning late September and most of October with a 3000 year long tradition in the land of Muninn, I have resolved that for about one month this blog’s name will change to the Chinese for Flying Squirrel (鼯鼠 or wushu in Chinese, musasabi in Japanese, naldaramjui in Korean). Because I have a horrible memory, can someone remind me to do this next year? Oh, and can someone else remind me to change the name back again in late October?

Software Plug: VoodooPad

I have been using a piece of software (for Macintosh) over the last six months or so which I have really come to depend on. I have just realized how often I now use this that I wanted to recommend it to others. It is called VoodooPad. It is basically a kind of offline Wiki (although it supports communication with an online wiki) or you can think of it as a kind of “document database.” Basically, if you are a completely disorganized person, like me, and you have lots of little snippets of information (links, dates, lists, notes, etc.) then you can use VoodooPad to keep it all “linked” together in one little file that is easy to backup.

Basically you type in the VoodooPad ($20, or free Lite version) notebook and create a new document by putting two words together and making it a “link” which automatically creates a blank document in VoodooPad. You can then create more links within that document to new documents and so on. The new documents can open in a new window or in the same window (kinda like a document “browser”). You can also drag web links into the pad (which open a browser when you click on them) or files (which open the file when you click on its link). I first found this useful when preparing for my PhD applications. I made a “link” for “PHDNotes” and then a link for each school I was looking into, then each professor, department, or various categories of information about the application process. It was then easy to add tons of information within any of these while still having it all kind of “naturally” organized like a Wiki website might be. Of course, you can search through all your documents at once and export data in various formats. For a person like me, either I dump stuff like this in dozens of files and never remember what goes where, or I tend to dump everything into one file which is really a pain to sift through.

Japanese People Discovering Themselves

As a kind of follow up to my recent article at Chanpon.org on Japan “Losing its soul” I have also noticed a lot of posters in recent Japanese advertisements which claim that visiting some place will help you discover yourself—that is, discover one’s latent or forgotten Japanese identity. Today I noticed just such a poster on the bus going from Kinkakuji to Ryôanji promoting tourism to Kyoto:


I am so glad Japan has this place called Kyoto. It is a landscape of the spirit that, for some thousand and two hundred years has devoted itself to spending time surrounded by beauty. Spanning the ages, a wind bound to eternity runs through this town. In this [ancient] capital that always yearned for peace (Heian) I think I might have found, blowing in the wind, “A Me that I have never known.”

Feel free to correct my translation, but if it seems a little on the cheesy side, I assure you it was no less so in the original. Sayaka noticed that the “Heian” is probably deliberately used with two meanings, peace (which is a very important component of Japan’s national identity in the postwar period), and as the name for the period when the capital was moved to Kyoto and also representative of its glory days.
Continue reading Japanese People Discovering Themselves