Monday, October 30, 2006

Bridget's Tulip

My friend Bridget lives in New Zealand. She sent me this picture of a tulip she grew. She claims it is the first thing she's ever grown.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Pirate Joke

My friend Patrick sent me this joke. I'm not sure I actually get it, but I figure if I can't share bad jokes with the world, then what is the use of a blog? Huh?

A pirate walks into a bar with a steering wheel shoved down the front of his pants.
Bartender says, "You know that you have a steering wheel in yer pants?"
Pirate says. " Arrrrg! I know. It's drivin' me balls"

People Named "Ass Munch" in the United States

There are 0 people in the U.S. with the first name Ass.

There are 2,430 people in the U.S. with the last name Munch.

There are 0 people in the U.S. named Ass Munch.

How many people have your name?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

People Named Adolph Hitler in the United States

I did one of those "how many of me are there" searches for the name Adolph Hitler. The results were a little surprising. There were a lot of Adolphs, but ZERO Hitlers. Thank god for small favors, eh?

By the way, I put the picture on here not because I like Hitler, but because I like pictures.
LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Quick Update

It has been a while since I've written anything on this blog or otherwise, so I thought I'd toss out a quick update.

Right now I am attending National Chiao Tung University in Hsinchu, Taiwan. I'm in an International MBA program. So far it is going well other than a few adjustment problems I've had getting used to the Taiwan university system.

Here are the classes I'm taking:

* Marketing Management
* Mandarin
* Macroeconomics
* International Marketing
* Taiwan Folk Beliefs
* Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital

I have a lot of reading for each class, and I have exams and presentations to worry about. Basically it is the same as school always is.

On top of that I'm working at three part-time jobs. I work Monday through Friday at a kindergarten that is very close to my home. I only work an hour and a half each day, but I still take home a nice sum each month. I also work at a buxi ban, otherwise known as a cram school. I work there two days per week, and I only have the job so I can get an Alien Resident Certificate, which is basically a green card. My last job is on Saturday mornings. I teach writing to mostly junior high kids. That job pays my rent and most of my bills.

Things with my girlfriend are going well. She lives in a different city from me, so we don't see each other as often as we'd like.

Finally, I want to apologize for the brevity and the irrevelence of this entry. One of the main reasons I started this blog was because I wanted my friends and family to be able to know what I'm up to while I'm overseas. I know that not everything I put on this blog is interesting to the general public, but I hope it at least serves the purpose for which I started it.

Essay on Joyce's "The Dead"

The Dead-Gabriel’s Reactions to the Revelation about Michael Furey

Before Gabriel learns about Michael Furey from Gretta, he is already in a state of emotional turmoil. He is filled with desire for his wife, yet she seems unresponsive and distant. Unable to open his heart to her about his “sinful” intentions, he makes small talk. Inside he is consumed with anger and frustration, both at his wife for her detachment and at himself for his lack of self-control. When Gretta praises his generosity and kisses him, he is flooded with sudden joy. He believes that Gretta has been in synch with him all along. In a mildly condescending way he asks her what she is thinking about, a question to which he thinks he already knows the answer. He probably assumes that she is still bothered by his brusqueness about the trip to Galway. In any event, he seems sure that what ever is distracting Gretta is directly related to him. Yet he finds that once again he has misjudged her. He is stunned when she bursts into tears over the song. His complete loss of emotional orientation is illustrated by his reaction to his own reflection in the mirror: “He caught sight of himself . . . the face whose expression always puzzled him . . .” (55). Not only does he find his own expression indecipherable, but he seems to have lost control over the tone of his own voice as he tries to draw the cause of Gretta’s sadness from her in a “ . . . kinder note than he had intended . . .” (55).

When Gretta admits that the song arouses memories of someone from her past in Galway, Gabriel’s emotional state begins to be dominated by anger. All the time that he has been thinking of her, lusting after her, and believing that she had been thinking of him, he had been wrong. Instead, she has been thinking of someone that she knew during the time in her life that was before Gabriel knew her, a time that Gabriel looks upon with some measure of contempt for its lack of sophistication. He uses sarcasm to cover his anger, asking her flip questions. Now that he finds that his passion is being frustrated by another, his anger and suspicions grow. He says that she loved this person from her past and she does not deny it, and in fact reinforces Gabriel’s suspicions by telling him that she “ . . . used to go out walking with him . . .” (56). Gabriel’s anger grows cold when he connects his wife’s past in Galway and Michael Furey with the Galway trip. Still unable to express his true feelings, he obliquely accuses her of wanting to use the Galway trip as a means to see this person. When Gretta informs him that his imagined rival is long since dead, he tries to maintain his facade of angry sarcasm. However, in another sudden rush of emotion, his facade crumbles.

Realizing the absurdity of his anger in light of Furey’s demise, Gabriel enters into another characteristic fit of self-deprecation. He seems to see his misreading of the situation as a metaphor for his entire existence: “A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him. He saw himself as a ludicrous figure . . .idealizing his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror” (56). Realizing with shame his insensitivity and the futility of his lustful intentions, Gabriel begins to comfort Gretta. Then, she makes the revelation that threatens to plunge him into yet another abyss of self-doubt. She believes that Michael Furey died for her. However, after a moment of terror, Gabriel manages to retain his composure and continues to try to comfort Gretta. The irony drops from his tone as he gently draws the rest of the story from her. No longer angry but still unable to really relate to Gretta’s sorrow, he withdraws.

After Gretta falls asleep, Gabriel reflects quietly on the events of the night. The emotions that ran out of control earlier are in perspective now, and he searches for the reason for their severity. He has entered a state of relatively detached melancholy. His thoughts turn to death. An awareness of his mortality and that of his loved ones brings the realization to him of the necessity of living life to the fullest: “Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, that fade and wither dismally with age” (58). His thoughts begin to drift as he thinks in increasingly abstract terms about the life, love, and death.

Throughout the story, and especially in the last scene, Gabriel’s emotional state is like a roller coaster ride. First he is full of lustful anticipation, and then is gradually frustrated by Gretta’s distraction. With her unexpected show of affection for him, his emotions soar as he feels suddenly connected to his wife. Then this feeling is once again overturned when he realizes that she is thinking of Michael Furey, not him. This angers him, and then when he learns the fact of Furey’s death, his anger turns to shame which manifests itself as a kind of detached pity for his wife. Each of these changes is caused by Gabriel’s inability to relate on an emotional level with those around him, particularly with Gretta. He is constantly mistaken in his reading of the situation. Under the false impression that Gretta feels one way, he throws all his emotional energy, negative or positive, into that assumption. When he finds that he has been mistaken, he crashes as he did when Gretta tells him that she is upset about the memories that the song stirred up, or soars as he did when Gretta unexpectedly kissed him. He doesn’t reach an equilibrium until he finds himself alone.

In this story Joyce gives us a difficult task: look into the hidden emotions, thoughts, and doubts of an imperfect man and try to find something redeeming there. Much of the understanding of this is tied up in the point of view from which the story is told. Joyce could have chosen a detached or critical or sympathetic 3rd person, but instead chose a view like that of one telling of his own experience in brutally honest detail. Granted that Gabriel is insecure, socially awkward, and insensitive at times, but we get somewhat of a distorted and magnified view of these aspects of his personality because they are the aspects that he dwells on. This in itself could lead one to realize that there must be some good in him, for if he only concerned himself with showing us the positive side of himself, he would strike us as vain. I think that Joyce wanted us to see Gabriel as a real person, an imperfect person who struggles with a kind of emotional impotence, but still a person who is worth our time to try to understand, and maybe thereby gain deeper insight into our own experience.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

How many of him are there?

I saw this on my friend Nedra's blog. Thought it was kind of cool, so I added it here.
LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Magazine Article on Writing Poetry

One of my part-time teaching jobs is at a school called Bacon Writing School, or something like that. They mostly teach writing in Chinese, but there are a few classes in English. I'm the only native English speaker there, so they asked me to write some articles in English for their quarterly magazine. I have to admit that I don't do much (okay, any) research for these articles, and I could be completely wrong in some of the assertions I make. The thing is, the only people who read the articles are the other people who work at the school, and the parents of the students. This is not an audience which a very high level of English understanding per capita, so I have to assume that I could write almost anything and get away with it.

Still, I try to write stuff that isn't too far out in left field, and that is somewhat related to what I'm teaching in class.

Below is my latest contribution. It is about the importance of learning poetry.

Why Write Poetry?

This term I’ve been working with my P5 class on writing poetry. I’m sure my students, as well as some of their parents, are thinking, “Why poetry?” That is a valid question, and I’ve decided to write this response to help explain my reasons.

First, I’d like to say that I can understand why people might wonder what practical use can poetry be put to. Most people have the misconception that poetry is just a flowery, romantic, fancy, and confusing way of saying simple things. There doesn’t seem to be anything good to be learned from it, when all we really want to learn is how to write strong, clear essays and reports for school and business. Clearly poetry has no purpose in that, does it?

The truth is, poetry does have a place in learning how to write strong, clear prose (prose is the kind of writing that is not poetry—essays, reports, novels, comic books, street signs, advertisements, newspapers, and other forms of writing that are not poetry can all be thought of as prose). Before I explain why I think poetry can be helpful in learning to write good prose, I am going to switch to a topic that I think is analogous to what we are examining: music and math.

Studies have proven that children who study music when they are young end up getting much higher scores in math and reasoning. It isn’t certain why this is, but one reason may be because in music, spatial relationships are very important, and musical intervals are aural representations of the relationships of differences in vibration frequencies, all of which are easily described mathematically. In other words, music can help a child to understand mathematical relationships on an intuitive level, before he or she ever learns how to add or subtract. Math and music don’t seem to be related at first glance, but when we look deeper, we can see how the understanding of one can strengthen the understanding of the other.

Now back to poetry. Poetry isn’t music, and writing isn’t math, but in fact all three are closely related. Writing, and language for that matter, is a symbolic process. We make sounds or marks on paper to represent things in the real world. Poetry (or at least good poetry) is the highest form of any language, and the most symbolic. Mathematics, too, is a symbolic language. It uses numbers, variables, and various other symbolic notation to represent ideas in the real world. Good math, like good poetry, is elegant, clear, and extremely expressive.

My hope is that by helping the students to understand some of the basic tools of poetry writing—sometimes called tropes or figures of speech—, I can help them to think and write on a higher level. Examples of figures of speech are metaphor, simile, personification, anthropomorphism, hyperbole, irony, and many more. In my next article I will discuss some of these figures of speech in more detail. Until then, the next time you are looking for something to read, why not give poetry a chance? It might make you think in a whole new way.

A cheesy ending, I know, but I'm limited to one page and I was running out of time.

Friday, October 13, 2006

中秋節, aka Moon Festival, aka Mid-Autumn Festival

中秋節 or Zhong Qiu Jie is something like the Chinese Thanksgiving. I got most of the following information from an email which in turn was quoting from Taiwan Magazine. I edited it a bit to suit my needs.

The Mid-Autumn Festival fell on the 6th of October this year. It is typically characterized by family reunions, moon gazing, jubilant festivities and abundant moon cakes.

I spent the holiday with my girlfriend and her family in Penghu, which is a group of small islands off the Southwest coast of Taiwan.

We had a delicious dinner, and then went outside and barbequed oysters for a couple hours.

It seems like that is fairly typical in Penghu.

Here is a link to all the photos I took over the weekend: Penghu Photos.

Background of Moon Festival
The festival shares with all Chinese festivals a selection of rich historical legends that weave the intricate web of Chinese culture. Origins of this festival can be traced back to two stories: one a legendary tale, the other linked to an important historical event.

Lady Chang 0 and the Jade Hare
Among the oldest folklore, reaching back to 2000 B.C. is the legend of Lady Chang 0, the unrivaled beauty and bride of Ho Yi. In their time 10 hot suns appeared in the sky, scorching the earth, destroying crops, and threatening to wipe out all humanity. Ho Yi took up his bow and arrows and shot nine of the suns down, restoring the earth to its normal temperature and allowing life to flourish again. To reward him, the goddess gave him a magic pill of immortality.

Ho Yi became emperor after shooting the nine suns out of the sky. Wealth and power soon consumed Ho Yi. He treated his people badly and even thought of preserving his rule by eating that magical pill of immortality. Chang 0 attempted to save the people from his tyranny by stealing the pill from her husband. However, when she ate the pill she floated to the moon.

But she is not alone. The Jade Hare is there too, standing on his hind legs as he eternally pulverizes medicines for the gods with his mortar and pestle. Look carefully, and you can see his profile in the dark spots on the moon.

Wu Kang, the Chinese Sisyphus
Yet another legend holds that there is a giant cassia tree on the moon, along with an unfortunate immortal named Wu Kang (who has been sentenced to chop it down as punishment for a crime). Every time he gets it cut almost through, a dog snatches his lunch basket and runs off with it; Wu Kang gives chase, and by the time this Oriental Sisyphus recovers his lunch and returns, the tree has grown whole and he has to start all over again.

Aside from myth, the most profound origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival derives from an historical event. In the 14th century the Mongols ruled China. Security was tight, yet the Chinese resistance cleverly devised a way of communicating their plans for revolt. Secret messages detailing the day of the rebellion were hidden, inside moon cakes and passed between families as part of customary celebrations of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Unaware of this deception, the Mongols were taken by surprise and later overthrown.

Whether you believe theses stories, or prefer to trace its origins to ancient harvest celebrations, the Moon Festival is a great time to catch up with friends and family. It is also a good opportunity to sample Taiwanese moon cakes. You never know what you may find inside!

Mooncake (from Wikipedia)

(Simplified Chinese: 月饼, Traditional Chinese: 月餅; pinyin: yuèbĭng) is a Chinese confection that is traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival, although they can be eaten at other times of the year as well. Typical mooncakes are either round or rectangular puck-shaped pastries, measuring about 10 cm in diameter and 4-5 cm thick. They have a relatively thin crust (2-3 mm), which surrounds a thick pasty filling and may contain yolks from salted duck eggs. Mooncakes are typically rich, heavy, and dense compared with most Western cakes and pastries. It is usually eaten in small wedges accompanied by Chinese tea.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Temple of the Empress of Heaven

This is a famous temple in Penghu. I will post more information and photos about it soon... well, as soon as I can. I have a test in my macroeconomics class tomorrow, and I have to prepare a case study for my international marketing class. So don't hold your breath.