Thursday, May 29, 2008

Overheard in Tokyo Narita Airport: Ladies and gentlemen, we are now ready to begin our fright.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I went through Tokyo’s Narita Airport 東京成田空港 several times when it was new and was distressed by the abysmal design. Five jumbo jets shared the same lounge with the space usually reserved for one, so it was SRO: space to sit on the ground leaning against the wall was hard to find and quickly taken. Squeeze into the miserable little shops and don’t jiggle as you patiently wait your turn for the lavatory. After a couple trips through, I was as eager to transit through Narita as English in Calcutta were to return to the Black Hole.

I thought we were coming back from the US the way we went, through Osaka, an unpleasant warehouse of an airport, albeit spacious. I resigned myself when I realized our route took us through Narita, but was pleasantly surprised to find a new, rebuilt airport with great sofas to lounge on and plenty of space for all. A vegetarian can starve to death there, because there are only a couple small eateries with few vegetarian options, but overall the experience was nice.

When it was only a couple years old, I took a flight on 長榮Eva Air and hobbled for days after, the seats were so tight. No thank you. But coming back, the best transfer from Narita to Taipei was Eva, so I resigned myself to airplane seat contortionism. I was pleasantly surprised to find a new, rebuilt airline, with tastefully decorated cabins, spacious seats, and the finest lavatories I have ever seen aloft. Okay, they go overboard on the Hello Kitty; everywhere you look, Hello Kitty. I was just as happy our flight landed near midnight so nobody saw me returning on a plane with three huge Hello Kitties on the fuselage, but overall the experience was so nice that I will repeat it.

From time to time, it’s good to examine the evidence underpinning your judgments and opinions.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Overheard in Little Saigon (Westminster, CA):

A: Don’t go to San Francisco in the summer, because it’s too hot.

B: Too hot?? Aren’t you Viet Namese?

A: Yes, but ~

B: You’re Viet Namese and you think SAN FRANSISCO is hot??

A: Yes, but I’ve been in America for thirty years. America has done what China could never do. I have become American. China tried to make us Chinese for thousands of years, but we Viet Namese never became Chinese. Thirty years in America, and I’m American. The American Empire conquers everything.

B: Yeah, right, Disneyland.

A: Yes, exactly, Disneyland and Coca Cola.

B groans.

A: The American entertainment industry conquers all before it.

B groans again.

A: When I went to the Immigration office to become a naturalized American, I raised my right hand and solemnly swore, I pledge allegiance to the entertainment center of the United States of America.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Flying over Philadelphia to transfer to Cleveland from Boston, I saw more baseball diamonds than I had ever seen in one metropolis. Few of those in LA: tracks, swimming pools, and streets lined with beautiful blooming jacaranda trees. Apparently they hadn’t planted these trees when I lived in LA, because I don’t remember seeing any, but now they line streets with purple. Better than cherry trees, if you ask me.

Boston: lots of people walking, joggers everywhere.

Cleveland: nobody walking, nobody jogging.

LA: nobody walking, some joggers.

Boston: a Dunkin’ Donuts every five steps.

LA: few Dunkin’ Donuts.

Boston public transportation: outdated, dirty, unreliable subway, buses, and trolleys.

LA: What does “public transportation” mean?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

When someone tells you where to go,
now you know where it is.
actually, this is Heil Avenue, in Huntington Beach, California. But I did a real double-take.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Amish used to be called the Pennsylvania Dutch, but actually, there are more of them in Ohio than in Pennsylvania. Visiting my niece and her kids in a suburb of Cleveland, we made an outing to Amish country, which surprisingly is only about an hour’s drive outside of Cleveland.

An hour by car, anyway, probably longer in the horse drawn buggies the Amish drive. We ate in a very good restaurant, Mary Yoder’s Amish kitchen. Vegetarians beware: Amish aren’t, so we attacked the salad bar and ate our fill. I am not quite sure how a website fits in with horse and buggy. We enjoyed the contrast of the traffic outdoors: car, car, horse and buggy, Harley hog, horse and buggy, FedEx delivery truck.

Evidently the restaurant is very authentic, because most of the staff wore Amish plain clothes, and soon after us, an Amish clan started to fill the next. First some adults, then a dozen girls, none yet in their teens, took their places. To our eyes, they looked healthy inside and out; fit, good clear skin, good clear eyes, well bred, demure, shy, but lively and affectionate among themselves. They probably get sick of being gawked at, so we tried not to, but some of the little ones were so cute it was hard. We suspected they may not see many Chinese, because several of the girls gawked at Chao, delighting us both. (Not a lot of ethnic diversity in Cleveland: black and white. The ethnic diversity in Amish country was one African American we saw walking down a road, and Chao.)

Speaking of diversity: American Amish are not the same as the Taiwan aborigine Amis tribe.

Some of the young men were in their twenties. I told Joe to look at their physiques; they are obviously very strong, trim, and healthy, but they don’t have the ridiculous clumps of useless, decorative muscles city people pay exorbitant gym fees to develop. I admired their free easy gaits; these are people who walk.

The contrast to the Typical American Family on our left couldn’t have been stronger: junk food obesity, tattoos, grotesque hairstyles, obstreperous children, loud, intrusive voices, vulgar clothing. It was obvious why American consumerism attracts few Amish.

At a general store in a nearby town, I accosted a young brother and sister. Their conversation was cheerful, polite, and intelligent. I asked about taking photos; they said, Some people mind, some don’t, so ask. I did, and they assented.

Horse and buggies don’t pollute like cars, but they don’t smell much better. But jeer while you can. When gas goes up to ten bucks a gallon a few years from now, people will be lining up to learn horseshoeing from Amish blacksmiths.

Friday, May 23, 2008

overheard at a playground near Cleveland, Ohio:
one 10 year old girl leading another into playground: "This playground has everything! swings, slides, monkey bars, rock wall.... Welcome to heaven!"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I was surprised to see a sparrow fly past me as we sat in the departure lounge waiting for our flight out of Philadelphia. A passing cleaning man smiled and told me, “We have three birds inside now, and we can’t catch them. We have set out traps and traps, but they are too smart. They come down to the floor and trash barrels to eat, but they never eat out of the traps, and they fly away too quickly. It started with one bird five years ago, and now we have three birds living indoors.”

“Smart birds,” I said, “They can spend the cold, snowy winter indoors.”

“Right, and they can enjoy the air conditioning in the summer!”

The light, agile sparrows made an amusing contrast to the hulking jet liners outdoors. The jets can fly farther, but they can’t make nests up near the roof!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

overheard in Brookline Finale, Boston
Pompous man with European accent: The difference between Chinese and Japanese, you see, is that Chinese are all the same, but Japanese have real individuality. Japanese are individualists.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

May 20 is a glorious day. In an earlier post, I referred to our three futile attempts to visit the USS Constitution. Last Monday, after our marriage ceremony, we decided to take a water taxi over to visit Old Ironsides. We marched right up to the gate, and examined the sign that said
Ok. We are nothing if not persistent. Today we carefully checked and double-checked the calendar, figured it must be Tuesday, took the water taxi to Charlestown Navy Yard, marched right up to the gate, and actually visited the great ship! Hurrah!

We took a very interesting half hour tour. If you come to Boston, be sure to go! But not on Monday.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The 20th is a great day for Taiwan. President Chen is actually following the basic rules of democracy and turning over the presidency to President Ma; on loosing his immunity, Chen will immediately face prosecution for crimes of corruption and so forth. I think when he steps down, everybody will heave a sigh of relief. For eight years, he has worked to stir up animosity and polarize the people. He has never even tried to be the President of Taiwan; he wanted only to be the president of his followers. A new day has come. President Ma has said, No more talk about party affiliation. We are all in this together, and we will all work together. Hurrah!

Old American saying: You can fool some of the people all of the time, you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. I believe this is President Chen’s greatest failing. He thought he could fool all of the people all of the time. Sorry, good bye, good riddance. Now Taiwan can finally face the future and move forward. Hurrah!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Today Chao received her Master's degree in Dance/Movement Therapy from Lesley; the first commencement ceremony I have attended since my junior high school graduation.

The Mayor of Cambridge addressed the exercises, saying 'significant' five times and 'passion' eight times within five minutes. A noted Doctor, receiving his 44th (!) honorary degree, reminded us "how important you and your generation is." Another speaker told about someone who was awarded a degree "post-humorously," and exhorted us to "remember the ordeals of our school." It took me a moment to realize she meant 'ideals.'

I was surprised to learn that, of Americans 25 years or older, only one out of four has a bachelor's degree, and only one out of ten has a Master's. I thought the figures were much higher.

Anyway, congratulations to all members of the class of 2008, whatever school. Remember how important you is, and keep up your passion for the significant ordeals you have learned.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I spotted this sign on South Street in Jamaica Plain, near the Forest Hill T station. I'm not sure what it means, but I suspect it is a comment on Our Exalted Leader, President Dubya.

Friday, May 16, 2008

You may have expected that enlightenment would come ZAP! instantaneous and permanent. This is unlikely. After the first “ah ha” experience, it can be thought of as the thinning of a layer of clouds.
Ram Dass

The West's conception of Ch'an (Zen) has been so sorely malformed by Suzuki that you can be pretty sure that anything which says Zen isn't.
Under the influence of Suzuki, you might think enlightenment is something that comes suddenly and stays, turning you into a buddha in a moment. Far from it. Ch'an stories may tell of the moment of an enlightenment, but as they were originally recorded for Buddhist practitioners, the stories do not need to recount the decades of strict discipline and hard work that preceded the enlightenment, and the years and years of increased dedication that followed. Those are taken for granted.

來果禪師 Master Laikuo, a contemporary of 虛雲老和尚 Master Hsuyun (early 20th century) told that when he was a young monk, one retreat he attended was so harrowing that he thought of running away. The Master in charge of the retreat picked up that thought, and announced, "If any practitioner thinks of running away from this retreat, we'll catch him before he gets over the wall, break his legs, beat him to death, and burn him to ashes before the retreat is over. Sit where you are and keep your mind on your work!”

Ch'an cultivation requires more work and dedication than most people are willing or capable of. It is more than something you write on your products or place in your mouth to raise your value or inflate your ego.

It is ludicrous to suppose that a body fed with meat, clogged by onions and garlic, polluted by cigarettes or liquor, and numbed by the hammering of television shows and popular songs, could approach the tranquility that is the first stepping stone of Ch'an.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I saw a great T shirt across the street from Harvard Yard. There was a picture of Our Exalted Leader George Dubya Bush, and underneath it said

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Thank heavens for disasters such as the cyclone in Burma and the earthquake in China! Well-fed comfortable citizens of developed countries can write off their consciences with a donation check and with great self-satisfaction continue their lives unexamined and unaltered.

Cyclones and earthquakes are great tragedies, brook no dispute on that, but more people suffer from the repercussions of unbridled consumerism than from natural disasters.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Evidently there is an inviolate Massachusetts law that before you even consider having a baby, you have to promise to spend at least a month’s pay on a stroller. Nobody in the Boston area actually carries a kid: dog forbid that you touch your child, it may learn to love you. Rather, you place your progeny in a stroller, the more expensive the better, where it cannot see you, cannot smell you, cannot feel you, probably cannot even hear you, and push your kid forward inexorably into the world unprotected and unaccompanied.

These photos were all taken within a short time within a small area, just a sampling of what rules Boston sidewalks. You can see that some irresponsible parents are risking drastically impairing their children’s futures, because they are in four wheel strollers. Better parents go into hock if necessary to place their babies in three wheel strollers made of nylon, aluminum, titanium, and carbon, with safety belts, pneumatic brakes, and, most important of all, coffee cup holders.
But surely you can see how important strollers are. First, without strollers, parents would have one less item to compete for conspicuous consumption. Even worse, without strollers, parents might have to touch their babies and hold them close. Yikes!

Monday, May 12, 2008

announcing the marriage of Yugan and Sabiy
超 + 極
Boston City Hall
by Judge R Salerno
May 12, 2008

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Anybody who doubts that glamour has disappeared from flying should go through Osaka's Kansai Airport, which displays all the grace and splendor of a parking garage.

Japanese esthetics are very good at small, and they can sometimes manage big, but they cannot do grand. Flying may no longer be glamorous, but a line of jets lined up at a terminal, with some gliding to the runways, others taxiing for takeoff, is a grand sight.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

What is this man so happy about?

He was, until today, Vice Premier. Past tense, because he is responsible for the disappearance of US$30 million of public funds. Now, in today’s national budgets, US$30 million is no great shakes; it would fund the American war in Iraq for half an hour, maybe. But the sticking point manner in which the money disappeared.

President Chen, leaving office on the 20th of this month, has worked hard at his diplomatic offensive, with startling results. Costa Rica, Taiwan’s friend for decades through thick and thin, broke off relations. Nicaragua, another faithful old friend, appears to be gone. On a state visit to Central America, Chen was in the middle of a speech when the President of Honduras turned off his microphone. When you get snubbed by Honduras, you ought to ponder how successful your diplomacy is.

Chen has thrown wads of money at small countries all over the place. There was a bidding war for recognition from Vanuatu, which you probably don’t remember is a small island nation in the Pacific. I forget who won, but these people do pay visits (at our expense); sometimes downtown Taipei, near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is draped with some really unusual flags you probably see almost nowhere else.

And so the focus shifted to Papua New Guinea. To forge relations with PNG, and the word forge seems especially apt here, Chen’s regime promised to give them thirty million US dollars. PNG decided not to set up relations, and the middleman skedaddled with the thirty million.

People are seeing the safeguards in red tape and bureaucracy; you have a clear path of how much money went where for what. Chen’s regime has always leaped past those safeguards, throwing public funds to friends and associates with as little legal oversee as possible. Chiu, the man you see smiling here, did not do any background check on the middleman; his reason was, “He’s the friend of a friend.” That should be reason enough to entrust somebody with a fortune, no?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is trying to write off the money as ‘lost due to accident,’ but the public, already sick of Chen and his regime, is aroused and will not buy that. After avoiding the issue for days, President Chen finally announced his apology and in the same breath announced that this scandal has nothing to do with him, that he didn’t know anything about it.

Although I think it would be great if Dubya walked through Iraq with the troops, nobody really expects a ruler to fight a war personally; a ruler does not drive buses, ring up sales, pour concrete for houses, or grow produce for the markets. A ruler’s job is to see that others do their jobs properly. In other words, a ruler’s job is to choose people who can do their jobs, delegate, and supervise. A ruler who does not choose people, delegate, or supervise has no business in power.

Chen’s regime has been one corruption scandal after another. If he will not be held responsible for his people, what is he doing in office?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008






Monday, May 05, 2008

Don’t repeat your parents’ mistakes

I wrote this refreshing little piece on 1994.12.25.

A sick child’s parents spare no pains to cure it. They can stay up night after night until the child gets well. If the sickness is more serious, they can leave work and hobbies behind to be present at the sickbed or outside the operating room. They are willing to accumulate enormous debts so that their child may, if not be healthy, at least live.

But what about old folks? They’d better not get sick, because if they do, their children are busy with their careers and don’t have time or patience to spare for them. Doctor’s bills are paid grudgingly. If the old father or mother needs attention for more than a week or two, their children have a hundred other more important things to do.

This shows the basic ingratitude of humanity. Parents willingly sacrifice their time, their money, and their talent for their children. But it’s a one-way street.

2008 note: actually, it makes evolutionary sense. But why bother?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Many are concerned about the Hispanics entering the United States. They say that few Hispanic children in the US learn English; the signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages, and in some places only Spanish. Spanish is heard in courts, so there is a continual need of interpreters, and if current trends continue, legislative sessions may even be held in English and Spanish! Some Nordic, WASP, or Aryan type Americans say that since the Hispanics have so many kids, they will soon outnumber others, so America will not be able to preserve proper English, and even the government will be changed.

Do you foresee a future United States taken over by Spanish speakers? Before you answer, consider what Ben Franklin wrote about German immigrants in 1750:

“Few of their children in the country learn English…. The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages, and in some places only German…. their own language …[is] allowed in courts, where …there is continual need of interpreters; and I suppose that in a few years they will also be necessary in the Assembly, to tell one half of our legislators what the other half say…. They will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will be precarious.”

By today, over 200 years later, over a third of all Americans have German blood. Please tell me which of your true-blue American friends and neighbors have German blood; tell me how many of them speak a word of German. Yes, German immigrants have influenced American culture; would you throw out the Christmas tree because it was brought by Germans? When I moved to California as a boy, I was charmed by a strange custom we read about in our local history textbooks, called a piñata. There were some for sale on Olvera Street, but none of us had ever seen one elsewhere, much less batted at one. Will you toss the piñata out of your next party because it was brought by Hispanic immigrants?

Saturday, May 03, 2008








Dali Watan, yaba maku, Chief of the Wulai Tayal, former Headman of Wulai Township said, In 1966, when I was Headman of Wulai Township, President Chiang Kai-Shek paid a visit to Wulai. He came to my office. He rode in his car from Taipei to Wulai, and at my office I got in his car and we rode to the waterfall together; I was his guide. Of all the Tayal in Wulai, I am the only one who rode in Chiang Kai-Shek’s car, none of the other people in the Tribe have done that. His car was very smooth and steady.

When he came to Wulai, I accompanied him for one hour. We went to the waterfall and sat down by that big tree there, and he told all the other people to go away and leave us alone; we talked privately for half an hour. We spoke Mandarin and Japanese. He could speak Japanese, but his Japanese was lousy. He had a very heavy accent. Most people could not understand his Japanese, but I could understand him. He went to a military school in Japan, so he could speak fluently about military affairs and war. He asked me how the Tayal tribe fared during the Japanese Occupation of Taiwan, and I told him all about it. He was very concerned about how Aborigines lived.

After President Chiang went back to Taipei, all the reporters asked me, “You two talked privately for such a long time, what did the President have to say to you?” I answered, “The President gave me three directives. First, the road from the city to Wulai has to be widened and paved better, so the Tayal of Wulai can have better development. Second, the President said that the bridges in Wulai are not good enough. In Wulai the mountains are steep and the rivers are fast, so if the bridges are not good enough, the people cannot do their jobs well, so the bridges have to be upgraded, to improve the living standards of the residents. The President’s third directive was, we have to improve education for the Tayal, so that our Aborigine children can have a brighter future and to improve the living for the next generation."

I told the reporters that President Chiang Kai-Shek gave me these three directives. Immediately construction units got in touch with me and started improving the roads and infrastructure of Wulai!

Friday, May 02, 2008

A recent headline:

Supreme court to weigh usage of murder victim’s statements

Usage? 名正言順; language is built on the foundation that words have a certain, conventional meaning that we all agree on. There is no objective reason that that thing which flies through the air is called a bird; we all agree that it is a bird, so that is what you call it. Certainly you are within your rights if you call it a giraffe; there are no laws that prohibit this. But don’t expect to be understood if you say, A giraffe just flew up to the window and started singing.

Use, noun and verb; usage means the way a word or sentence is used; utility may mean the merit of use; utilities are water, gas, and electricity; don’t even say ‘utilization’ when I am present, please.

So if we are to insure communication by using language correctly, as Confucius urged, the headline that the Supreme Court is weighing victim’s statement means the Justices are examining the grammar, syntax, and meaning of the statements given by a murder victim. I strongly doubt that the Justices are teaching Freshman Comp. I strongly suggest that whoever wrote that headline go back to Freshman Comp, and take his editor along too.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Of all the reasons I have heard given for homosexuality, the most absurd is, “Homosexuality is biological.” Biology is evolutionary; biology is tuned for having babies to pass on the genes. The only ‘path’ biology treads is to perpetuate the species by sending genes to the next generation. Homosexuals don’t have babies. How could biology possibly herd individuals into a dead end? If you say homosexuality is biological, this is tantamount to saying that for some reason biology ‘wishes’ to eliminate those genes.

If homosexuals are so proud, free, and open, why do they have to claim it is caused by circumstances totally beyond their control or choice? I didn’t mean to do it, but my biology forced me to; I didn’t mean to do it, but society forced me to; I didn’t mean to do it, but I ate a Twinkie; I didn’t mean to do it, but the Devil made me do it!

Even if homosexuality were biological, I do not see that that implies a stamp of approval. Step-mothers maltreating step-children makes far more biological (evolutionary) sense than homosexuality; if homosexuality is to be approved because it is ‘biological,’ then we should condone the maltreatment of step-children by step-mothers. There is a quirk in chromosomes – I forget just what, XYX, something – that has a direct correlation to violence; men with this chromosome fill jails serving time for violent crime. Before homosexuality is approved because it might be ‘biological,’ these men should be freed from prison, and be exempt from further punishment for any injury they do to others, because medical science has proved that the chromosomes they were born with tend them to violence.

IMHO, widespread modern homosexuality probably has nothing to do with biology, and much to do with modern methods of raising meat animals. For economic efficiency, cows, pigs, chickens, and other meat animals are pumped full of hormones to make them grow faster. These are passed almost undiluted into the consumer, because the animal is slaughtered before the chemicals pass out of their systems. I observe that, in Taiwan at least, I do not know any homosexual vegetarians; the people I know who are most strongly opposed to vegetarianism, and most adamantly dedicated to eating as much meat as possible, are all homosexuals. Naturally, correlation does not prove causality, but if an outside cause were to be found for homosexuality, I would place meat eating over biology.