Monthly Archives: April 2017

Good Art Is like a Good Haiku

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Yangshuo, Guanxi

A summer river being crossed
how pleasing
with sandals in my hands!
– Yosa Buson

Haiku poems are short, orderly pieces created in the Japanese tradition. The most common form has 5 syllables on the first line, seven on the second, and five again on the last.

Haikus are very closely related to Japanese culture and Zen Buddhism.

The goal of a haiku is to capture a moment. It does not seek to explain or analyze, but simply strives to present the moment clearly. If the composer is very good, then a certain shade of emotion will also be present in the words.

Good art is often like a good haiku. It clearly presents a moment and emotion without explanation.

 

Reflection on a Fake Japanese Internet Quote

I was browsing reddit earlier today, when I came upon a quote.

The Japanese say you have three faces. The first face, you show to the world. The second face, you show to your close friends, and your family. The third face, you never show anyone. It is the truest reflection of who you are.

This is slightly oversimplified, yet still true. The concept of putting on a “front” for strangers is nothing new, to me anyways. I see people doing it all the time. I do it myself. It’s just part of human nature.

Whatever the case, I thought about it on my run today.

When I am running, and deep in my element, I feel my third face comes out. My true, wild nature. Swashbuckling and brash.

Maybe that’s why running is so amazing. 

Sidenote: I can’t find the source of this quote anywhere. Perhaps I am just circulating more fictional Japanese proverbs. Oh well.

Ghost in the Shell- Review

This past weekend I watched the remake of Ghost in the Shell with my girlfriend. IMDB gave it a rating of 6.8 out of 10. Fair enough, but I would probably give it at least a point higher, maybe even two.

(Full disclosure- I have been an anime fan since forever. I grew up watching Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon, Gundam Wing, etc.. So, I am partial to stories being told in this format.)

Why did I like it?

Well, visually it was phenomenal. You can really see how far Hollywood has come these days with movies like GITS. It’s setting was portrayed very tastefully. (But caution- I am not sure it would be as cool in your living room. Definitely recommend going to see it.)

Acting wise, it was pretty good. The lead, Scarlet Johansson, did a good job of playing a stoic, if not slightly psychotic Major. None of the supporting roles stole the show, but they certainly didn’t hinder it either.

Story wise it worked. Good sci-fi themes of technology, evolution, A.I., etc. The growth of Major was strong enough to carry the viewers interest, although it wasn’t the coolest part. As I have said, that was it’s setting.

The villain, Kuze, was very evil and I loved it.

If you like action, sci-fi, or anime, definitely check it out. If you are reading this and you saw it, what did you think? Unfortunately there appears to be some hate going around the internet about this movie. I think it deserves a least over a 7 on the IMDB.

The Importance of Stories

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Sihui parking garage.

This past week I have been reading the classic A Hero With A Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell. Although it is quite academic, it is also an incredibly powerful book. (Hey- people are still reading it past the turn of the century- do you need more proof?)

The book is all about heroes and mythology. The journey a hero must go through, and how these patterns are played out time and time again.

The forward to the 2004 edition (I couldn’t find the author- sorry! – I believe it was Phil Cousineau) talks about how children in the Hungarian countryside were traditionally expected to learn 12 stories by the time they were twelve years old.

Here is the quote-

There was a serious piece of advice given by the very old people in our family. It was that every child ought to know twelve complete stories before that child was twelve years old. Those twelve tales were to be a group of heroic stories that covered a spectrum—of both the beautiful and the hellacious—from lifelong loves and loyalties, to descents, threats, and deaths, with rebirth ever affirmed. No matter how much “much” a person might otherwise possess, they were seen as poor—and worse, as imperiled—if they did not know stories they could turn to for advice, throughout and till the very end of life.

What are we without our stories? How can we live a decent live without this knowledge?

Evolution

Time and money.

We always want more. And when we get more, it’s never enough.

“Wow! How did you do that? How did I ever live without…

a food delivery service app,

a ride sharing service,

coupons?”

But what happens when we give people too much time? Too much money? We have to change and adapt.

We have to take more responsibility and evolve.

Questions That Effective Language Learners Ask Themselves

Have you ever wanted to learn something so badly that you studied it all the time?

If you are like me, then you have experienced the point at which studying becomes counterproductive.

When learning something new, it is important to take intermittent breaks. This practice allows you to replenish your “focus muscles” and reflect on your progress.

In fact, this past weekend I took a break from my Mandarin studies.

I knew it was time for the break because I had lost both my focus and desire to sit down with textbooks, flashcards, movies, etc. Moreover this period coincided with a three day weekend courtesy of Qing Ming Festival in China (I live in Beijing).

Qing Ming is a time for Chinese to visit the tombs of their ancestors and pay their respects. For me, it was a good time to let my brain relax.

While I relaxed, I noticed how my brain actually had a hard time cooling down. It seemed like I was constantly looking for things- anything I could consume- a book, movie, writing in my diary, anything to distract myself.

(I am very aware of my own preoccupation with being occupied. I find that meditation, exercise, and eating healthy are good ways to keep myself sane.)

But sometimes I still blow up little things, like my language learning hobby, and create new areas of stress.

That’s why I take breaks. And when I take breaks I also ask myself some questions.

I like to reflect and consider these areas of stress within the context of my life.

Once I do this, I can better understand why I am acting in such a way, and then change my behavior if it will help to decrease my stress (or accept it and move on if there is nothing that I can do in that moment).

I wrote down these questions for language learners, but you could also apply them to other subjects/areas in your life.

OK, so here it goes…

1. Why am I interested in learning this language/subject?

The most successful students have a good answer to this question. Such answers normally go deeper than the surface. They are tied to our likes, interests, and backgrounds/childhoods.

In terms of language learning, people who live in a target country have a strong reason to learn. People with family ties to a language also have a strong reason.

Try asking yourself a few questions about why you are learning a particular language.

  1. Do I enjoy the culture?
  2. Do I plan on living/visiting this country in the future?
  3. Do I have familial ties to the language?

2. What are my goals for learning the language?

Tests and courses are popular for learning because they give people clear learning outcomes. They become even more useful when they are tied to industry or academic standards.

People who are studying English, for example, often take the TOEFL or IELTs to enter university or acquire that highly sought after raise. Such reasons are powerful motivators.

These questions should help you judge the efficacy of your language learning goals.

  1. Do I have a professional use for the language?
  2. Will I use the language outside of my job?
  3. Am I interested in the culture that the language resides in?

3. How much time and resources do I have to put towards learning the target language?

People have different amounts of time and resources available at different times of their lives. When you are younger, then you need to consider your studies. As you get older, professional and familial responsibilities take up more of your time.

Tutors, language courses, books, apps are all good resources but they also cost money.

A student, for example, will have much more time than a single mother. A young sales clerk might fit somewhere in between.

Consider these questions to help better understand the limitations of your time and resources.

  1. What are my personal and professional responsibilities?
  2. How much free time do I have and when do I have it?
  3. How much money can I allocate towards learning materials?

Wrap Up

These three questions are a good start to understanding 1) why we are interested in a language (or subject for that matter), 2) what we hope to accomplish, and 3) if we are being realistic or not.

I find that being realistic is perhaps the most important of all the three. If we are not being realistic, then we are apt to either overstretch or underestimate ourselves.

Of course, a large part of this practice is the art of understanding yourself. The more practice you have in learning new things then the easier this will be for you.

Do you use a process similar to this? Is there anything that you agree or disagree with in the article? What language are you learning now?