Sunday, July 30, 2006

Make of this what you will

Many years ago, my mother met an elderly missionary who as a young man had gone to evangelize Yap, which has always been the most primitive island of the Pacific. He told this story in all earnestness at their church gathering. My mother said he was a tall man, taller than me, so he would have stood over 180cm.

Upon arriving in Yap, he respectfully presented himself to the elders of a village and explained his wish to spread the word of his god. The elders said, "There is a time for everything. When we have our village gathering, you may speak, but you may speak only when we say so. Do not speak without our permission." This was reasonable, so the missionary readily agreed.

Within days, the village held a gathering. Three girls stood in the middle of an open flat space. The villagers formed a circle around them. The minister joined the circle. Everybody turned the same direction so they formed a continuous line. They began dancing, a slow, simple shuffle that the missionary picked up within moments, and danced with the best of them. The circle sang a monotonous chant. The missionary stole a peek at the three girls in the center. They were standing still, and seemed to have their eyes shut as if they were falling asleep.

Boring. The same simple shuffle and monotonous chant, for about an hour. The missionary stole another peek at the three girls in the center who were still standing still. He couldn't believe his eyes. Their feet were hovering inches above the ground. He managed to keep dancing. He looked and looked as the line circled the girls, but no matter what direction he looked at them from, the three motionless girls seemed to be hovering inches above the ground.

Half an hour later they were knee high off the ground. The missionary had no idea what was going on, but he was absolutely certain of what he saw. He was a sober, cautious man, but he said with no doubt that the girls were not standing on anything tangible, but were floating in the air. There were no props, nobody was near the girls, and the missionary was honest enough to face as a fact that there were three motionless girls floating off the ground.

After another hour or so of chanting and dancing, the girls were standing in midair, high enough so that the tall missionary looked upwards to see the soles of their feet, standing on nothing, high above his head.

With no noticeable signal, the dancing and chanting stopped. Nobody seemed very interested in the girls hovering overhead, or exhilarated by the dancing. They just stopped, that's all.

The village elders came to the missionary, and told him, "Now is the time for you to tell us what you have to say about your god."

"But what about them?" he asked, motioning to the motionless girls suspended in midair.

"Oh, they're all right. We'll bring them down later. You may begin now." Nobody seemed alarmed at the maidens dangling up there, or even interested. Nobody, that is, but the missionary.

This was a contingency not specifically dealt with in his seminary training. No doubt about it, he felt discomfited looking up at soles when he had come to save souls. He tentatively chose to begin sort of generally, as it were, and work his way into things, so he somewhat hesitantly called out, "Praise the lord!" Thud! No sooner had the words passed his lips than the suspended maidens dropped to the earth. They were hurt by the fall.

The elders immediately revoked his permission to evangelize. Everybody was polite, there was no shouting or finger-pointing, but that was the end of his missionary work in Yap. He left the island, never to return, never to figure out just what had happened.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lest we forget: Hungary
Once my sister Steph met a woman a few years older than her from Hungary. Steph said she remembered the cover of Life magazine of the Hungarian revolution. The Hungarian woman said she was a little girl in Hungary then, living in a rural area, and her mother had sent her to the store for a loaf of bread. She was walking home with the bread when she heard a huge deep loud sound, rumbling and getting louder. She had no idea what it was, but instinctively threw herself down the embankment and hid as best she could by hugging the side there, in sparse little bushes. She looked up and saw Russian tanks like MOUNTAINS moving around the curve in the road where she froze until they passed, and then streaked home. That was the Russian tanks rolling in to Hungary.

Lest we forget: Czechoslovakia
One of the geologists from CalTech (where my mother worked) happened to be in Prague in 1968 when the Russian tanks came to crush the sprouts of freedom. He put on a bolo tie and tried to look as American as possible. The Czechs surreptitiously told him, "Don't forget us."

All's well that ends well.
Lest we end on too somber a note: Czechoslovakia
I remember this one from the Soviet occupation of Prague. Richard the Red, our beloved Russian teacher, told this one.
A Czech rushed into a police station and reported to the officer on duty, "A Swiss soldier just stole my Russian watch!”
The officer was puzzled, and then said, "Oh, a Russian soldier stole your Swiss watch."
The citizen pointed at the officer and said, "YOU said it!”

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

My mother reports a phone conversation early one evening last week.
Mom: Hello.
Caller: This is Critical Data Design. Is your mother in?
Mom: I'm 87. Will that help you?
Caller: …. CLUNK….
Her voice is youthful, but maybe not that youthful.
I just hope the caller had the sense to guffaw after hanging up.

Monday, July 24, 2006



Friday, July 21, 2006

Feed a cold, starve a fever
Around 2 Monday morning, I kicked my blanket. By the time I woke up, I was cold through and through. The temperature was about 20C.

The resulting fever didn't last very long, but sapped every ounce of strength from my body. I have spent most of the week flat on my back. Turning over required preparation of at least twenty minutes. Since my last posting on this blog, I have ingested a total of
1/8 of a watermelon;
2.4 菜包/stuffed buns;
2 bunches of grapes;
and tray after tray of ice cubes (that's my medicine).

Feeding the dogs entails opening the back door, lifting the plastic lid on the kibbles container, scooping out three bowls of kibbles, placing them on the ground, and stepping back indoors. Such exertion exhausted me so thoroughly that I slept half an hour immediately.

Today I am stronger, and rushing to prepare recording scripts for my new Listening course. Type twenty minutes, go lie down another twenty. I'll get it done. At least today I can sit up.

But then, a strong typhoon snaps away deadwood and dredges turgid streambeds.

I can't recall having been so poleaxed by sickness. Ling sent me delicious blue tortilla chips (yum yum!); Sunday night I opened a bag that had a very small amount of onion in it. A very small amount, last on the list of ingredients, but present. I ate a couple handfuls and decided to see what happened. Voila. Onion had not entered my body for over 20 years. Maybe the onion upset my system so that it was not able to respond to the fever properly.

Tuesday I had to go teach. Dragging myself along, I was stupefied by the sight of people smoking. People, don't you know how precious health is? I've just had a fever, it'll be okay naturally, but what are you doing to yourselves with those cigarets? Treasure your health!

FYI: Hindu and Buddhist vegetarians do not eat onion, garlic, leeks, shallots, and asafetida, because they upset mental, physical, and spiritual balance.

Monday, July 17, 2006

One of my more cultivated pursuits is Wedding Betting, in which you are shown a photo of the happy couple, a caption, and asked, How long will this couple last?
This couple wins my vote for class, forthrightness, and good luck. Wow, the first try! Notice the groom's elegant suit, which matches the dog and the trailer. The designer ripped those jeans personally, and chose the boots specifically to match the carnation in his lapel.

Beaula and Cecil
We got preg on the first try!
for that matter, who did? the wife or the dog?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

I Didn't Know Cheney Had Kids That Age

Amherst alum: So we're looking over the applications, and there are all these amazing kids. Won the Westinghouse, worked for the UN. And the questions: "Who do you most look up to?" "My parents, because they're immigrants, and they taught me to work hard." And with each of them it's like, "in". And then we get to this one, it's like, "What's a recent intellectually stimulating experience?" The answer is, "I love my dog, walking my dog." Stuff like that. On and on, really ridiculous. And then, "Who do you most look up to?" The answer: "my parents, especially my dad. He's the President of the United States." And we look at each other, and Steve is like, "in."


Overheard by: Julia Mandell

via Overheard in New York, Jul 16, 2006
Nobody Voted For Lex, Though

In Superman Returns, Lex Luthor is explaining his plans for attaining huge amounts of land, power, and wealth at the expense of billions of people's lives.

Man, shouting: George Bush!

--Magic Johnson/AMC Theater, 124th St.

Overheard by: S

via Overheard in New York, Jul 14, 2006

Saturday, July 15, 2006

I am not much of a dog trainer. Tlahuy and Yumin will sit and come on command, if and only if they feel like it, and that's as far as it goes. One more: stay. That was the hardest to teach. I never tie them up. They follow me everywhere. How to make them stay when I go to the city? For Tlahuy, Bengax, and Yumin, it was a long, arduous process, involving tying them to the chain with a breakable string as I rushed downhill. The theory was that it would take them long enough to break the string that I could get out of range. Many times I had to scoop them in my arms and carry them home again when they caught up with me…

Be that as it may, the dogs are incredibly sensitive. They know when I am getting ready to take them for a walk. I may be upstairs, but before I come downstairs with the intention of taking them for a walk, they know it. I have searched for any physical signs, but have discerned none. They also know when I am going to tell them to stay. When I am going to the city, Tlahuy and Yumin know, and act upset, but at least they stay put (if you're interested in this line, be sure to visit

so I have been worried about Byajing. She doesn't just follow me, she likes to bump into my heels as I walk. She is picking up the idea of sit, but how to train her to stay? What I have been doing is shutting her in the first floor bathroom when I go to the city, until she is trained.

To my great surprise, Yumin is training her for me. Yesterday afternoon, when I left, Tlahuy was sitting by the door looking silly and distressed, thumping the ground with his powerful tale; this is how he usually acts when I leave. Yumin had led Byajing to the back of the house, and kept her there as I rushed downhill. Byajing did not follow me. I was astonished, and grateful to Yumin for his help.

but there's a sequel…
ten minutes down the road, Dali's grandchildren, Wen and Dali drove by on their way to the city, and picked me up. (Dali grandfather is the chief; I live uphill from them; they are my closest neighbors. Grandfather and grandson are both Dali.) When we got to the bridge, Hanna (their mother) phoned and told them she was getting a ride uphill, so she wanted Dali to ride the motorcycle home; better the son get wet than the mother. Dali drove to get the motorcycle, and rode it home as Wen drove home; then we would head to the city again.

Wen and I got to their house before Dali did, and what a sight met my eyes! Have you seen films of how lions or leopards slink stealthily towards their prey? Who should I see but Yumin the Beagle slinking along silently, sneaking up on Dali's dogs’ food dishes. I feed Yumin all he wants, but I think he enjoys the thrill of the hunt. I had never seen him moving so softly or silently. The hunter on the prowl.

I can be pretty soft and silent too. I slipped out of the car and snuck up on him. Then I suddenly showed myself, with my hands on my hips. Yumin leapt into the air, ears flying, turned around in midair, and swooooosh was OUT OF THERE racing uphill like greased lightning before I had a chance to say a word.

Friday, July 14, 2006



Thursday, July 13, 2006

Bush's approval ratings are at an unsightly low. But to improve those ratings, you'd have to come up with a plan the Dubya, The Great Decider, could agree to. After much thought, I have wrestled out a plan for a Constitutional Amendment (can't have too many of those) that he can really whip the voters into a frenzy about.

My proposed Constitutional Amendment would make it illegal for two illegal immigrants of the same sex to get married if one or both were an abortionist, a stem cell researcher, or flag burner, or had been heard by phone tappers to be discussing any or all of the above mentioned items, especially if the Administration had been able to extract a confession through torture.

Whew! That'll have hordes of Bush supporters waddling their obese carcasses through the streets, waving their flags. Or maybe they'll just drive their SUVs and honk.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A visitor on a banyan leaf.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

You have to shout in order to be heard by someone who's hard of hearing. For people with normal hearing, speak in a normal voice.

An ad for New Zealand tourism shows a guy bungee-jumping off a bridge saying something like I'VE NEVER FELT SO ALIVE. On I saw a clip about a surfer who says that only when he rides giant waves does he feel alive.

I can feel very much alive doing something as prosaic as hanging up the laundry to dry. Why do I need to scream and shout to make myself aware of my life?

The advantage of finding joy in everyday pleasures is precisely that: they are everyday, so I live every day, unlike people who have to launch themselves off bridges to feel alive. They walk dead for 364 days a year, and live only a few minutes.

Admire the weeds making their way through cracks in the pavement, or the gasoline rainbows in a puddle. Disadvantage: everyday pleasures can't be packaged, bar-coded, and sold. When I stop to watch a cloud pass over a building, nobody's making a penny off of it. Can't have that. There should be a law that you can't watch clouds without official an Cloud Watching hat, glasses, and adiabatic measuring devices; in other words, it should be illegal to watch clouds unless you have spent at least a week's pay on it. Then you can feel alive. Then and only then.

Come to think of it, I would even go so far as to say that the times I feel most alive are often when I am bored to the point of irritation, such as waiting for a tardy bus on a hot, muggy day. It may not be the most memorable experience, but then I am acutely aware of life, mortality, and body, as the sweat trickles down my back when I should be sitting inside an air-conditioned bus making progress towards my destination.

Monday, July 10, 2006


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Much has been made of Reagan's tough stand on the Soviet Union. Less well known is Reagan's standing upon the faithful ally, the Republic of China, Taiwan.

When Reagan took office, in Taiwan very few boys smoked before their military service, to keep themselves healthy. Even fewer women of any ages smoked. Oddly enough, even among Taiwan's smokers, cancer rates were far below the worldwide average; if I remember correctly, they were the world's lowest. This is because tobacco and liquor were government monopolies. Tobacco was cured by traditional, time consuming methods that were lousy on economic efficiency, but it was a government monopoly, so who cares? That curing method greatly reduced the amount of nicotine.

People drank lots of liquor, but held it well: public drunkenness was almost unknown. There were no liquor stores. Liquor was sold along with other products, but there was no advertising. No advertising for either liquor or tobacco. Tobacco and liquor were controlled by government monopoly. Little was imported, and duties kept it out of most people's mouths.

Overall, the people were slim and tough. A slight bulge in the waistline was enough to earn the label 'fat.' The government successfully resisted incursions by McDonald's, preferring to protect the populace's health rather than profits. 7/11 tried to enter too, but the government protected mom & pop stores, which kept communities close.

That all changed with Reagan. He demanded that Taiwan import American cigarets and alcohol, or else he would use 301 to enact sanctions and reprisals to cripple the economy. The ROC had no choice but to buckle under this intense pressure. American tobacco and liquor roared into the market like barbarians sacking a library.

Where there had been no advertising, American advertising strategies filled the market. Not only advertising, but also promotions. For example, concerts were thrown, and free packs of cigarets were given to all as they entered, regardless of age or sex.

The problem was the beer drinkers preferred Taiwan Beer, which has always won high marks in international competitions. Nobody wanted Budweiser or the other American brands that were imported. Reagan got mad and demanded people buy American beer, but the consumers didn't want it. Finally, to move the stuff off the shelves and make the US happy, businessmen gave a can of American beer with every can of Taiwan beer. I remember a lot of beer drinkers tossing out the American cans unopened.

No such problem with tobacco. The Marlboro Man rode into Taiwan, bringing death and devastation with him, but hey those ads look great. Large numbers of young people started smoking.

Once the door had been wedged open, MacDonald's muscled its way in. Now there are fast food chains all over, and overall people have noticeably put on weight, although obesity is nowhere near the problem it is in the US. The Aborigines in Wulai are terrified that MacDonald's will open a branch here; we already have three 7/11s in a village of 2500 people (lots of sightseers), so why not MacDonald's? Presently, the nearest McD is a half hour drive away, so Tayal parents can keep their children away from that garbage except on special, controlled occasions at great intervals. But what if McD does decide to come? The Aborigines feel helpless against that sort of economic firepower, and say that "If MacDonald's comes to Wulai, it will destroy the health of our tribe." But think of the profits!

It all started with Reagan, and what particularly galls me about it is, tobacco and liquor! If he had insisted Taiwan buy more American cosmetics or electronic goods, okay. But tobacco and liquor!

I recall reading (the Atlantic Monthly, I think) that the negotiating room in the State Department in which the ROC representatives were forced to their knees was beautifully decorated. The wooden wall panels were adorned by hand-carved bunches of tobacco leaves. The decoration for that negotiating room alone cost US$1 million (at the time), but at no expense to the taxpayer: the entire fee was covered by tobacco companies. 羊毛出在羊身上.

Apparently Americans were wising up then and cutting down on their consumption of cigarets and drinks, so to keep profits up, Reagan used the might of the US to cram those down our throats. At least he didn't insist on Taiwan's importing guns. But what would Teddy Roosevelt have had to say about that? That's not what the big stick should be used for.

Friday I took the dogs to the stream to introduce Byajing to swimming. There was a group of high school girls there enjoying the stream, and they were all smoking. Such a scene would have been unthinkable before Reagan. Now it's common.

Every child born unhealthy because its parents succumbed to advertising and smoked American cigarets; every person who dies a miserable death from lung cancer caused by smoking imported cigarets; every heart destroyed by tobacco; each family ruined by alcoholism; each body ruined by American junk food. Each and every one has Reagan to thank. This is his legacy in Taiwan.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Little things

Now you know what Lassie's been up to all these years.

Friday, July 07, 2006

我揣測,華語本是一種creole。Bickerton著Language and Human Behavior 說明,各種族群、語言雜處會形成pidgin共用簡語,而第二代孩子快速將pidgin綜合成新語言,是為creole。中國話具有creole的許多特徵。


由于交通漸漸進步,商政遠達,各方相聚,必通其語言,生 creole焉,斯為中國話濫觴。吧。

Thursday, July 06, 2006

On their deathbed, nobody says, "I wish I had spent more time in meetings at the office! I wish I had spent more time working overtime!”

Only the most emotionally deprived say, "I wish I had earned more money." But for them, life never had any meaning, anyway. Neither did money.

What regrets do you think you may have on your last breath? Work to put an end to those now.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Everything I ever needed to know, I learned in kindergarten

The teeter-totter technique for painting second floor eaves.
As he was coming back inside, he spilled his bucket of paint all over the floor.
BUT! the good news (?) is that not ONE DROP was spilled outside...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Monday, July 03, 2006

In The Teeth of the Tiger, very poorly written by Tom Clancy, a character "wondered what they serve for lunch in hell.”
That's easy: McDonald's.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

This photo was taken in Singapore in February of this year by Angela Thompson (who is not to be held answerable for any views expressed in this blog). It shows two parades of celebration, one of the Indian community, one of the Chinese. The Chinese are dancing a dragon. The Indian paraders have secured heavy strands of metal to themselves by means of sharp metal points digging into their flesh; then they pierced their cheeks with one needle and their tongue with another, and tied their hands behind their heads around a weighted pole. The two parades happened to pass through each other.

This photo is an excellent illustration of differences between Chinese and Indian culture. After the dragon has danced, you can be sure all the Chinese are going to eat a lot of good food and enjoy talking with friends and family. After the Indian parade is over, I have no idea what they will do. I wouldn't feel like eating after removing a needle from my tongue, but maybe that's just me.

If we use yoga and 太極拳\taichichuan to exemplify the two outlooks, Indian and Chinese, it is instructive to compare dedicated practitioners of each after a lifetime of practice.

Think a moment about a 70 year old yogi and a 70 year old taichi master. What kind of images do you conjure up? Even if they are stereotypes.

Speaking generally, probably the yogi is scrawny, tough as old shoe leather, bearded, and has hard, unrelenting eyes. He is perfectly at ease sitting next to, or even in, a blazing fire under a hot sun. He has mortified his flesh. The taichi man is probably roly-poly and loves to stuff his grandchildren with candy. If he is sitting anywhere near a hot fire on a hot day, he's cooking something to eat, and you're invited. Of course he could throw you across the room and bounce you off the wall as easily and lightly as a tennis ball, but eat, eat, the food is good, have something to eat!

India wants to leave the world behind. China wants to enjoy the world since we are here.

My mother once made an interesting comment. She was an art major, so they studied world art history. On Asia, first they did India and then China. She said moving from India to China was like moving from darkness into light.

As for me, I'm glad I chose China. Dance a dragon? Ok, should be fun, let's eat. Pierce my cheeks with long needles? No thank you, not today.

Saturday, July 01, 2006