The Ultimate Revolution

Delving into the third speech/interview I have seen with Aldous Huxley, this gem stuck out and seems to be very pertinent to today’s situation. The talk is on developments in science/technology that allow the controlling of the masses in ways that are not as blunt, and potentially more effective than those historically. Transcript of the speech here.

Quite clearly, if everybody were extremely unsuggestible organized society would be quite impossible, and if everybody were extremely suggestible then a dictatorship would be absolutely inevitable. I mean it’s very fortunate that we have people who are moderately suggestible in the majority and who therefore preserve us from dictatorship but do permit organized society to be formed. But, once given the fact that there are these 20% of highly suggestible people, it becomes quite clear that this is a matter of enormous political importance, for example, any demagogue who is able to get hold of a large number of these 20% of suggestible people and to organize them is really in a position to overthrow any government in any country.

Aldous Huxley – The Ultimate Revolution (Berkeley Speech 1962)

S’moot’h Point

Today’s title is brought to you by lack of intelligence. You see, I may have already said my piece about this piece. To be sure the computer ran a little search. I asked it to find posts that had ‘moot’ in it. In all sanity I knew that I didn’t write ‘moot’ in my last post yet, the search query returned my last post. I forced myself to click on it, and when I searched the page for ‘moot’ I came up with this:

Blah, blah blah blah smooth blah blah blah blah blah… blah blah.

Serves me right.


Onto moot…

Students very often ask the question, “May I come in?” after they have already entered the classroom. I mean really- if I say no, are they going to stand outside or stay inside anyway? All they are doing is disrupting the classroom flow. Perhaps they are trying to show respect. If it’s the case, I advise them to show up on time or don’t shop up at all. I dunno. But it’s a complete waste of their breathe and everyone’s time, this little exchange.

IMHO… moot

‘pass’ on the pong, but I’ll have more soup please

Earlier this week there was great excitement in the office about a ping-pong tournament. Normally I, being of foreign status, stay outside the realm of mindless banter but somehow I found myself deep in the midst of the commotion. Yes, I can play table tennis. Yes, I’m pretty good. I was invited to join our office’s team.

Throughout that day, though much effort was put into finding the exact day, time and location of the tournament, these facts remained a mystery. Several calls between classes were made to the organizers but to no avail. I was passively interested, mildly excited.

Today I decided to bring my ping pond paddle with me to school. I even brought balls. Why not be prepared? What luck! As it so happened, the tournament was today. But unfortunately the matches were to be in the afternoon, when I had my classes. It was to start during lunch, and the way things tend to go, there was no way I would end up playing very long. Ten minutes is not enough to enjoy oneself, let alone long enough to get warmed up. Dreams of exciting drop shots and high speed bouncing balls faded into a more placid image. In fact, I was more relieved than disappointed.

When lunch rolled around I just disappeared without comment, avoiding awkward conversation about the afternoons activities. I headed to the canteen. I even stopped to use the restroom along the way. I wasn’t in any hurry.

I arrived at the canteen, and, against my better judgement, I went to the second floor. I know from past experience that the first floor is crowded and hectic, but usually one can get food quickly there despite its chaotic nature; mostly middle school students are on the first floor.

The second floor. Several years ago, the second floor had a counter designated for teachers. This is no longer the case. Several years ago, the second floor had a dining room designated for teachers. This, too, is no longer the case. I get in line behind the dozen or so students who are in front of me. These are high school students, some of them are my students.

Many other teachers jump the queue, or cut in line, to get food sooner. I understand this in two ways: one is that they are busy and they have to eat and then head back to the office to take care of stuff; the other way may have to do something with respect for the teachers. Maybe. I often don’t understand the Chinese mentality and its dichotomous nature. So I wait in line. I’m not comfortable with putting myself ahead of others. I like to practice what I preach, at least some of the time. While I wait, I recall someone telling me that in Chinese culture, those younger than you eat first, or eat first when there isn’t enough, or something like that. I feel better about waiting. But am confused by the teachers actions in regard to this wisdom.

I must have waited five minutes, maybe ten. People seem to be coming and going. I look behind me but there are only a few behind me. I wonder how this is possible. Oh well.

As the end of the line becomes the front, it is obvious that choices are dwindling. The line next to mine has all but evaporated it seems; there is no more food being served at that lunch window. When I arrive at the front of the line, there isn’t a choice. Lunch today will be one serving of vegetable in contrast to two servings, and the main dish which is chicken. Two girl students, one of which says something, incites a chuckle among those present, myself included. “I guess we’ll be having meat,” she says in Chinese. It’s not something one normally laughs at- it’s just one of those moments when someone says what everyone else is thinking- despite its disappointing nature.

The price of lunch is decreased from seven yuan to five yuan. I take an extra bowl of free soup to make up the difference in food quantity as even my helping of rice appears to be less than the usual amount.

The room that once upon a time was reserved for teachers was in all aspect of the word- used. The stools were is disarray, the tables littered with scraps, the floor wet with spilled soup, and people where these weren’t. I found a table slightly soiled and settled in. Nose to the grind stone, I ate my meager meal. Once or twice I looked up to catch a breathe from the stare of my meal. Instead of my meal’s, I caught the stare of my students, to whom I quickly flashed a wave in their general direction before diving back into the few grains of rice I hadn’t managed to scoop with my two sticks.

When I finish, I am still hungry. But less than before, so I contemplate- it will be alright. I return to my office, and to my desk. The brisk air of the day in concert with the blood rushing to my stomach leave the rest of my body chilled so I put on my puffy black down coat. I lay my head on my arms on the desk and plan a twenty minute nap and, as a Chinese student recites a text to his teacher in German, I take my Thanksgiving nap.


Idleness is sometimes misunderstood.
We are often so ‘busy’ that we don’t think and/or are unaware of our surroundings, actions and even our own thoughts and desires. When we are doing ‘nothing’, we are in fact doing something, though usually passively.
Great value can be attained by a state of inaction, a state of active reflection and active observation. 
In fact, we can often learn more by ‘doing’ less. As a society today, it seems, we are less carefully observant than before, less aware of what we do or are doing.
Stepping back, doing ‘nothing’, and being still might provide helpful insight into our lives.
We ought learn in school the skill of idleness for it is a useful tool few possess.

2 B R 0 2 B

cover picture source:

 This is a great short story, you can read it here. Twenty minutes of food for thought, why not take a look?

An interview with author Kurt Vonnegut inside ‘Second Life’:

Another interview with Vonnegut (missing a few minutes at the end), originally posted on the website, complete transcript found here.

Consequences of Telling [Bad] Jokes: Case of a Broken Heart

I’ll confess when a technical problem arises in class- for example my Word document is formatted in the newest .docx format and the computer only has .doc support, or when the projector is blitzing out of control, or there is an awkward silence- the first thing I reach for in my head is a joke.

My sense of humor was born somewhere else, perhaps in England, where the weather is wet but their comedy seche. Jokes often come in the form of a pun, most of the time requiring me to explain them to my students along with the added ¿benefit? of not being entirely funny. Delivery is the key to my limited success, wearing an ear-to-ear grin a requirement.

Because the first semester was ripe full of these moments, it was spoiled with frequented attempts at humor. I won’t give away my gems as they are too few to just hand out. Sorry…!

At the end of the semester one class gave me an awesome dictionary (which I will blog about next post) & (one class, or rather each student in the class) gave me a mini greeting card with, most commonly, a Merry Christmas wish. One student, no doubt set upon revenge, gave me some of my own medicine:

Actually, I was quite ecstatic when I finally read through 30+ mini cards eventually stumbling on this one. 开心 (kai xin) in Chinese means 1) Happy 2) pistachio. We’ll examine the first definition as the second is surprisingly unrelated. 开 means ‘open’ or ‘make an opening’. 心 means ‘heart’. √ is something we all know from math… the (square) root. So… √♥  is ‘happy’ or happiness. The root of your heart is happiness. It’s quite fun and poetic.

This is one case when a ‘Broken’ (or opened) Heart is a good thing! 😉

P.S. Okay, I’ll share one lame joke- and this is really lame.
*Ahem* Why was six afraid of seven?

Attack of the Fish

This last weekend was filled with new experiences. Instead of attending class, we were offered the ‘escape’ of attending a conference for the weekend. To tell the truth, I was looking forward to seeing my Friday classes as we hadn’t had class the previous Friday due to a sports meeting. To tell the truth, I was also happy to go on this trip which would give me another week to grade papers. This excursion was probably as beneficial to me as it was to the students. Our time was probably better spent away. Having come to a close, here is what the weekend presented to me.

A lack of information led me to dress somewhat more formally than others. I donned a tie, put on an ironed shirt, pulled up some pressed trousers- all to no avail. As it turned out, our conference group was rather intrinsic to our own department. Only a dozen faculty participated in our ‘conference’, two of them giving keynote speeches on cross cultural communication in the teaching environment. The air was, in accordance with the participants, familiar and fitting was the dress.

Again, having no solid idea of what was to happen, I prepared myself with loud techno music in the form of Prodigy and caffeine in the form of a liter or so of French pressed coffee. Just to lift the spirits, you see. The proper mindset is beneficial in these circumstances- of course. In the end, my preparation turned sour as our one hour bus ride dragged on for nearly two, my liter of coffee pushing the limits of my internal body organs.

Despite being distracted by the aching sensations felt at every bump over the country roads, I managed to take in some of the surrounding scenery along the way. To some extent, the countryside reminded me of rural Laos or Vietnam: small, buildings, rather decrepit; trash thrown here or there without future consideration; green fields and farm animals running this way and that. My mind once wandered as to the chronology of the buildings I saw before me: When was this slab of pavement poured? When was this wall of bricks built? That half constructed, seemingly new building over there- is it still being worked on? Or has it been abandoned?

By the time we arrived out our hot springs resort come conference location (somewhere around here <>), it was all I could do to not internally explode. For what seemed like hours, and not to my surprise, we stopped at the concierge desk to pick up the keys to our lodging. Our representative went in to take care of the business while we waited on the bus. Eventually: she came in; we rode the bus a bit longer; she dispensed the keys; I was relieved. It’s amazing at how much one can focus on just one thing when the ¿need? arises.

I paid little heed to whom (to who?) my roommate would be. I need not repeat what I was meditating on. Without much adieu, I bunked with a man different in age, though similar in origins. Several times we have met, also having exchanged communications though something leaves me to believe he instantly forgets. If one word is to describe him well, it would best be the word ‘hippy’. He might also use this would in describing himself, so I fear little in using it…

After we deposited our luggage, we boarded the bus and headed out towards the conference center. Strangely enough this was a good distance away from our lodge. It would have been a good twenty or thirty minute walk. How amazing the inventions of the wheel and combustion engine are!

The conference room was a short hike up three flights of stairs, and we followed one after the other in an orderly single file fashion. On the third floor, inside the room, was situated a table with half a dozen microphones on top. Surrounding the long rectangular table were just enough seats plus two or three. A fuwuyuan appeared poured water into our tea cups, and organized bananas and oranges in half a dozen baskets. Seated in our pseudo leather chairs, thus we began our conference.

Without going into the intricacies of our rather long, formal, yet somehow seemingly non-formal conference, I’ll briefly highlight what our two speakers said.

The first speaker was a Confucius scholar, having studied Confucianism during his higher educational experience. Right away I was delighted to listen. For fun, and because I’m motivated to self-educate, and because I’m slightly nerdy, I read a *few* textbooks on the history of Confucianism about a year or so ago. It’s actually quite fascinating and while I don’t remember any details specifically, I can say that my soul retained the gist. Should I ever return to a school of higher education, I’d liked to take a class and discuss with fellow students and teachers. Quite humorously though: he spent some time, a year I think, in American teaching at the Confucius Institute. Why ‘humorous’ you ask? Well, the institute actually has almost nothing to do with Confucius or his -ism. Perhaps in some ways he was over qualified being a scholar. Who knows. All this aside, here were some interesting insights either by him or ideas that were sparked in my head by his talk:
  • During his time in the States, he noticed the difference in food habits. Through his Chinese perspective, he attributed the reasons in terms of Yin and Yang. In China, it is almost impossible to get ice water at a restaurant. Here, we always drink hot (well… warm) water or tea with our meals if we drink anything. This is because our diets are different… Americans eating meat, sweat, and fatty foods balanced with cold water and Chinese eating something of an antithesis to this requiring a hot water balance. A lot of this goes back to Traditional Chinese Medicine which incorporates Yin and Yang philosophies.
  • The scholar also spoke of the word 法. In English, this means law, rule or method. Much to my pleasure, he also noted that in American, people for the most part always follow the law. In China, he noted that we almost never see this. The reason he hinted at was that the Chinese 法 (fa) is closer to the definition of method. He offered that there are many methods and that the law was just one method of doing something. While we might have a recommended method or law, we can by no means confine ourselves to this one method as there are many methods or ways to get from point A to point B. I guess it’s more of a mindset and way of thinking and acting towards an idea. It’s a fun mind game to play if you really try. Imagine that there are many versions of the same method or law. The end result is the same but how you get there may be different. Before I make no sense at all and get lost in my own tangled brain, I’d just like to say that I am very grateful that he explained what the meaning of this character and idea was in China. It’s entertaining and serious at the same time. I understand a little better why we can drive on the wrong side of the street sometimes and bend rules here and there to help get us to where we are going, both literally and figuratively.
  • He also talked about the character 中 (zhong) which has several meaning, among them ‘center’, ‘middle’, ‘on target’. My notes were pretty terrible, as terrible or worse than my memory on the subject so I can’t tell you now why I wrote this down. Which makes me typing this pretty worthless. He elaborated on the idea of the middle course, to not stray too far from center. Radicalism is not a part of this culture and zhong helps illustrate this point.
  • We talked about religion a bit and this lead to discussing ethical systems. Chinese culture uses shame as a motivation of moral conduct. This probably has its pros and cons. We didn’t discuss those, but it helps us paint a picture of the cultural differences. I suppose that we would say religion in America plays this role as a large percentage of the population is religious.
  • One other fascinating point he made was the idea of China and it’s relation to agriculture. He noted that traditionally, and even today to some extent, an agriculturally based society is to be found. In order for this type of society to work, there need to be peace and stability within. In order to tend to the crops, one needs to stay put in one place and work the land, invest in it, and discourage unnatural changes. On the other hand, some cultures may have traditionally based on hunting and chasing game, leading to a nomadic lifestyle. Though I may not be relaying his ideas appropriately, it sparked my interest enough to write it down and share with anyone who might read.
  • Last in my notes are some thoughts he shared with about relationships. In an individualistic society, we are born and for the most part we remain an individual. This is due perhaps to our views on religion, about God and how ‘we were created in his own image’. We answer to God and that is our relationship with the world. In contrast, while the Chinese do have religion, there isn’t an overwhelming and omnipotent individual know as God. Again- I’m by no means and expert on the matter- I think he was getting at the idea that when you’re born in China, you’re born into a relationship. For example, you are born as a son to a father, you are born to a sister to brother, you are born a nephew to an aunt. You have some kind of place, hierarchy or position which it is your natural place to fill to your utmost ability. Or at least this is how I interpreted this spiel…


The second speaker presented ideas that wouldn’t be considered alien to Western listeners. She presented some theories on patterns of culture. While interesting, I won’t go into detail here…

After our two speakers did their thing, the floor was opened up for discussion. There only being a baker’s dozen, we all had to add our two cents. As most of the participants were older than me, I wasn’t so confident about throwing out my own, original thoughts. As most of the participants were unknown to me, I wasn’t so confident about coming across in a neutral manner. Even though the group was relatively small, I wasn’t comfortable expressing me so I tried to stay quite. A couple of us were more than happy to speak, which is always amusing to listen to. This blog aside, because for some strange reason it doesn’t count, perhaps for the reason that no one is forced to read this assemblage of words, I can’t fathom putting other people through the torture of listening to me talk about something I have absolutely no idea. I’m not one to volunteer b.s. when I don’t know what I’m talking about- I just don’t talk. 
Wow… so back to the account/story, huh? After what, in my opinion, dragged on longer than was necessary or productive, we finally finished sometime late in the evening. Descended the stairs, boarded the bus, went to a restaurant to eat a late dinner.
I instantly liked our restaurant. Reason one: hungry. Reason two: it was small, in the middle of nowhere, and we were the only customers. It looked cold, drafty. It was unadorned with decorations and exquisitely unattractive. Yes, I loved it.
The food was great. Ok, it was good. Well, it wasn’t bad… that’s for sure.
Went back to our room, chatted with my newly-found hippy friend, we ended up playing Uno with my floor-mates (can I coin this new word?) and eventually slept. Tragically I didn’t win a single game and am bitter about the whole ordeal. Ok, not really- I’m just being dramatic.
The second day was all pleasure. We woke up, took the bus (again) back to the conference room place where we had our continental breakfast. After breakfast we discovered that our chicken chasing and potato digging events for the day were cancelled because of the recent rain and therefore muddy ground. All to our chagrin. The hot springs were still on though, so the day wasn’t a complete loss.
Two hours later, after marinating in our rooms, we boarded the bus, again, and made our way to the hot springs.
My hometown is Jack London’s favorite hotspot (not the Wi-fi kind), or so a sign at the entrance of my hometown said before it was recently torn down. Talk about a childhood memory. We also had an ‘Eat, Play, Golf’ sign (the last one might have said ‘Live’). Anyway, enough traumatic relapse. My point is that I have never been to a hot spring before, despite having lived in an area renown for its hot springs. Therefore, I cannot my recent experience to much, except to say that it will NOT be like any other I’ll have in the future. Oh wait! I take that back. Come to think of it, at the base of Macchu Picchu rests a quaint little village called Aguas Calientes (minus the necessary accents I believe) where I did indeed partake in hot springs. Anywho…
These hot springs near Nanjing seemed anything but natural. The landscape was sculpted in a very- shall we say… commercial way. The experience was great though. The hottest hot spring was inside a large building, and was tepid at best. The cool thing about these springs though were that they were flavored. Each ‘pool’ had a different flavor so to speak. A large floating teabag filled with bark-of-this, or flower-of-that made sure that we were brewed in true gourmet fashion.
The most epic part of the trip was the flesh eating fish. These fish are said to be therapeutic. It was actually a really cool sensation, much like getting the chills in your spine but lasted for as long as you we in the water accessible to the fish. Our breed of fish came from Turkey, or so the sign indicated. And we had two sizes- a hot springs pool with big fish and one with smaller fish. I preferred the smaller fish though their feces floating in the pool was a bit of a turn off. The big fish pond was cleaner but the sensation from the bigger fish was different. If you want to read more about this medical treatment/cheap thrill, take a look at these websites here, here and here. I swore that I would take pictures but was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t. So I’m going to *borrow* the picture from the first link and post it on here- this way you get a visual idea. Again, this is NOT me in the picture. 😉

And of course I managed to fit in twenty minutes of sauna time. I *heart* sauna. I don’t know why, but it’s my favorite. Just sit in a box and sweat until your heart’s content. I would sauna every week if I could. Yes, definitely. This is why a gym membership would be nice. Ah…

Last but not least, as we left, we received a parting gift: a box containing fifty-five free-range chicken eggs. I think that they’re free range. In Chinese they happen to be called 曹鸡蛋 (cao jidan) which directly translated means ‘grass chicken eggs’.

Ah… so that was last weekend. A whole week and another weekend has already flown by, with their own stories to tell. Hopefully they can be put up here soon.

The Grapes of Wrath

This summer I began and finished reading an American ‘classic’ which for some reason I had never read before. The book is called “The Grapes of Wrath” and is written by John Steinbeck. If you are alive you’ve probably heard mention of these here grapes, but unless you’ve read the book, you’re really missing out. It is possible that this may be one of my all-time favorite books, for more reasons than one. The book is about a time, about a people, about human nature. If at all an honest description of the times, this book will definitely make you reflect on just what it is to exist in hardship.

Here is one of my favorite parts of the book. I quote it here now as I believe it is equally applicable, if not in an abstract sense, to our current trials and tribulations:

The decay spreads over the State, and the sweet smell is a
great sorrow on the land. Men who can graft the trees and
make the seed fertile and big can find no way to let the hun-
gry people eat their produce. Men who have created new
fruits in the world cannot create a system whereby their
fruits may be eaten. And the failure hangs over the State like
a great sorrow.

The Grapes of Wrath, Chapter 25 excerpt

This is taken from the climax (in my opinion) of the Chapter 25, and incomplete as such, may be clearer if read in the context. Fruit is fact is what they were speaking of, but I pose that it can stand symbolically for any of our endeavors, our ideas or our efforts. The sad truth is our wasted potential, the things we set out to achieve but are systemically blocked from beginning, completing or from sharing our finished products with others.

An amazing book, well worth the read. Here are a few follow up links for those interested:

The Grapes of Wrath (Centennial Edition)

An ugly (but free) text version of the book.

An embedded version:

And if worse comes to worse you can always watch the movie starring Henry Fonda: (though I would recommend reading the book first. You may end up a little lost without having read it first. Also most of the author’s brilliant work can not be conveyed through motion picture, only through text and in one’s imagination and thoughts. The movie does not come close to doing the book justice.)


By the time I make it to Sunday afternoons, I’m quite spent. Most of the morning and early afternoon is spent tutoring. To top off the day, I tutor yet another girl in the early evening. What was in store for me last week I would have never expected.

As we only have 30 minutes to practice our oral English, the sessions go quite quickly. If I had it my way, I would extend our time by another thirty minutes as the ball doesn’t really get rolling until it’s time to go.

This girl, who I’ve had the honor of helping name ‘Elaine’ is the typical teenager. She is slightly rebellious towards the views of her parents, but seems to be harmless in comparison with her Western counterpart. She craves to be modern and is into the latest trends. In fact, we spent one session reenacting something that could have been taken from Disney’s High School Musical.

My friend and pupil is quite animated when she speaks. She has a bit of a stutter it seems, only when she is thinking of a word that she is diigging up from the depths of rote memorization. Between our electronic dictionaries embedded in our cell phones and equally our patience, we make a slow and steady progress towards free flowing conversation.
(I must add that the classroom is a shared room and, as we converse, another teacher, whose acquaintance I have yet formally made, listens in and occasionally chimes in some help, though I’m not sure her vocabulary is all the much greater.)

On this particular day though, see seemed a bit more distraught than usual. Perhaps the word distraught doesn’t quite fit the situation I’m describing but it’s the best word coming to mind at the moment. She recounted to me how she either read in the paper or seen in the news how a foreigner had come to China, had moved to a remote part of the country, worked for pennies on the dollar, and had done this all from the kindness in his/her heart. She seemed amazed at this and asked why a person would do such a thing. Why would they give up a comfortable living? Why would they go to another country and help out the poor people? She commented on how she didn’t believe a Chinese person would ever do a similar thing. This made her a bit uncomfortable, uneasy, and really question the whole scheme of things.

Call me a softy but I was a millimeter from tears. I could feel them welling up inside. These are the moments that make me have hope in this sick world. Her feelings were genuine and she was truly thinking about life. With the utmost humility I opined that indeed most foreigners were not as selfless as this one appeared to be. I asked her to tell me for what other reasons the foreigner might want to help out the poor people in her country. I also ensured her there were Chinese, just like this foreigner, with good hearts and a selfless attitude. Without getting too philosophical, we also talked about why people fight and go to war, and in the end I tried to get at the difference between sympathy and empathy, and what it meant to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes“. It came down to the trusty cell phone dictionary- sympathy came up and she understood it, but empathy was a completely new idea to her. She didn’t recognize the character and/or concept in Chinese, so I asked her to look it up later in her dictionary at home.

The end came quick as usual and I told her that I thought it spectacular that she was depressed and in such a mood. I clarified that I wasn’t glad she was unhappy- quite the contrary. But I was glad that she had been thinking and that it was quite rare for people her age to have such thoughts (as far as I am judge).

These thoughts and feelings I might almost say that I wouldn’t wish them on anyone, except that I believe them important in this day and age to contemplate. It gave me hope that all is not lost and that all are not caught up in the glitz and glamor of pop culture and the daily routine.

The student left. Meanwhile, the teacher who shares our room offered that I should prepare a topic and in doing so we wouldn’t talk about ‘nothing’. I wasn’t sure how to take this, but I just ‘uh huh’ -ed my way out the door and until now haven’t given it a second thought. Quite frankly, life is more unprepared than prepared and it does her well to talk as one might talk with a friend, a stranger or acquaitance. Sometimes less structure and more meandering thoughts are the best tools when learning.

Not always, of course. But thirty minutes once a week isn’t too much to ask…