Thursday, December 31, 2009

Watch me.

Happy New Year!  新年快乐!새해 복 많이 받으세요!  新年おめでとうございます!

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Schubert's Moment Musicals: A summer? A year?

(Standing in front of Tiananmen, New Year's Eve 2008).

I recently had a Google Chat conversation with a friend at Yale. For privacy reasons, I'll call him Dough. Dough studied Chinese as a Light Fellow this past summer, and was seriously considering going to China for a longer period of time. However, he asked me for advice on when and how long he should go. This summer? After I graduate? This summer and another academic year?
Dough loves all that is China, from the characters to its bicycles, from its natural wonders to its women. He is thrilled by the idea of fending for himself and carving a new identity in a foreign environment. He read my blog (yay!) and said, "I want to have the experiences you had." I am flattered.
However, Dough admitted that he participates in many extracurricular activities on campus and has friends across the classes and faculty. How could he leave everything just to study a language? He would be leaving behind friends, advisors and organizations that will need him.

Dough raised interesting concerns. He at once wanted to leave and remain in his network. Allow me highlight some of the savory bits of our discussion:

-- "I don't want to leave my friends, my campus job, my positions, etc."
Simply put, your friends and your commitments will be waiting for you when you get back. Your friends won't desert or forget about you. After talking with other alumni who had taken leaves of absences, and experiencing for myself, I found that organizations in which you were a member will want you back because you're know more globally aware and knowledgeable. However, you'll probably want to leave them and find new activities that suit your newfound tastes. Also, by being a part of society abroad, you can pursue much more interesting junior/senior research when you're back at Yale.

-- "I want to have the experiences you had."
Sorry, but you won't. I'm not saying this with any sort of pride - rather, I say it with jealousy. Your experiences will be more exciting and awesome, guaranteed. In countries as confusing, bizarre, exciting and insane as China, Japan and Korea, you can walk down a street, talk to ten different people the same question and hear widely different responses. East Asia is changing rapidly - my blog attempted to capture, in several hundred word bits, brief moments that I found amazing. I want to go back and continue being a part of the change. If I had the choice of either finishing my Yale degree or going back and submerging myself in any of those countries for another year, I'd choose the latter in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, Yale only allows leaves of absences with a maximum length of one year. I guess I'll just have to read your blog until I graduate.

-- "I had a lot of fun during summer, studying and partying."
The academic year experience can be very different. Many of your summer drinking buddies will probably go back home, and you'll have to find new ways to keep yourself occupied. You'll probably feel homesick, alone, depressed, annoyed. You'll probably complain often. (Complaining, though, is something we have to do anyways in order to learn languages.) But think of the good things: you'll experience the other three seasons. You can use your solitude to seriously reflect about your life - assuming we all will live until we're 100, you've already lived one-fifth. How will you live out the remaining four-fifths? You can build more intimate relationships with local friends. You can visit more exhibitions, participate in club events far more interesting than the ones at Yale, attend events you'd never go to - and in the process, you can begin understanding your own passions. At Yale, most people don't really allow themselves the peace and serenity necessary to find their interests.

-- "The idea of being a foreigner excites me."
Read this piece on being foreign by The Economist.

Dough, I hope you ultimately make the decision that you won't regret.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Silent Night - 이야기

An exercise in English-Korean translation. English passage from John Welwood's Journey of the Heart, pages 25-26.

어떤 상황을 알게되는 것은 간단해도, 있는 그대로 알게 되는 것은 쉽지가않다. 우리는 현실의 식상한 견해를 유지하고 촉진하는 것들에 익숙해져있어서, 어떤 상황을 사실되로 보는 능력이 저해된다. 특별히 사랑에있어서, 우리의 한정된 희망, 두려움과 여러 선입관, 믿음및 의견들이 우리의 눈을 멀게한다.

세상은 이렇게 돌아간다” – 이런 주제의 물든 반복적인 이야기들을 통해서 세계를보는 한정된 시각들을 영속하게한다. 이런 이야기들은 사람들이 아는 체계에다가 실제적사건을 해명하고싶은 허구다. 우리는 평소에 이런 이야기가 자신의 꾸밈이라는 것을 알지 못하고 그것들이 대신 현실을 표현한다고 믿는다. 이런 이야기들은 정신의 배경에서 기계처럼 작동해서, 잠재의식을 통해서 우리에게 영향을준다. 그것들이 우리를 지배하는 것을 자각하지 못하면, 그 것들은 우리들을 식상한 행동양식에다가 더 묶여지게 만든다. 성숙한 인간관계의 제일 큰 장애물은 대개 인간관계가 어떻게 되야 된다는 이야기들이다. (누구를 사랑하면, 그를 영원히 행복하게해야한다그를 반듯이 지켜야한다자기의 화를 꼭 억 눌러야한다) 그런 이야기들은 우리의 선택과 자유를 적어지게하고 꼭막힌 상자속에 갇혀있게 만든다.

이런 믿음과 이야기들의 구성은 자연스러운 의식의 투명성과 유동성을 여과기 처럼 불투명하게한다. 이 구성이 너무 두텁고 얽혀서, 우리는 자신이 구성의 이야기를 꾸미는 것을 발견하고 간파하고, 그리고 실제로 일어나는 것을 볼수있는 간단한 기본적인 의식으로 회복하는 방법을 찾지못하고있다. 우리는 언제든지 사상에서 의식으로 옮길수 있다는것을 이해해야된다. 그러므로, 악기를 연습하면 더 아름답게 연주할수있는 것처럼, 우리는 의도적으로 자각을 연습해야 그상태를 더 쉽게 접근할수있다. 더 큰 의식을 갖으면서 우리의 행동을 제어하는 이야기들도 버리고 우리의 삶에서 더 큰 자유과 투명을 발견할수있다.

While becoming aware of what is happening is simple enough, it is of course not always easy to do. This is because we have an investment in maintaining and promoting an old familiar version of reality, and this prevents us from seeing what is actually going on. Especially in the area of love, we are blinded by conditioned hopes and fears, by cherished preconceptions, beliefs, and opinions of all kinds, both personal and collective.

We perpetuate these conditioned ways of perceiving the world through repetitive stories we tell ourselves about "the way things are." These kinds of stories are mental fabrications, judgments or interpretations that put what is happening into a familiar framework. Usually we do not recognize these stories as our own invention; instead, we believe that they represent reality. Stories often operate in the background of the mind, as part of an ongoing stream of subconscious gossip that we keep up with ourselves. The less conscious we are of how they control us, the more they keep us locked into old patterns of behavior. The greatest obstacles in relationships are often our stories about how we think relationships should be. ("If you love someone, you should always keep them should always want to be should set aside your anger.") They narrow our options and keep us stuck in very tight boxes.

This dense fabric of entrenched belief, stories, and reaction patterns acts as a filter that clouds and obscures the natural clarity and fluidity of awareness. Because this web is so thick and entangling, we need to find ways to catch ourselves in the act of constructing these stories, see through them, and return to a basic, simple awareness of what is immediately happening. We need to discover that we can, at any moment, make a shift from thought to awareness, which is the larger space in which thoughts and stories arise. So, just as practicing a musical instrument allows us to play more fluidly, we must at first intentionally practice awareness before it can flow more fluidly and reflect more accurately on its own. With greater consciousness, we can begin to dislodge the stories controlling our behavior, thus developing greater clarity and freedom in our life.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Jingle Bells: Online Resources to study East Asian Languages

This past semester, I began studying Japanese. Because I am familiar with Korean grammar and studied Chinese for a bit, learning Japanese has been a very smooth and fun experience. Occasionally, I had to learn how to write certain characters differently, or rearrange words to conform Japanese structures, but overall the language is interesting. It has been particularly interesting to find linguistic similarities and go on small etymological quests to understand the history of related words. Sometimes, I confuse pronunciations and add onomatopoeia using the wrong languages: "その車は、ちょっと。。。那个那个那个。。。비싸, no, 高いですねえ!”

I noticed that if I was aware of all the internet resources to study the East Asian languages earlier in my Yale career, I probably would have enjoyed first-year Chinese more (though, Zhou Laoshi's lectures were always fun and second to none). I'll try to compile a few sites I use to study Japanese now, including a few other sites that I use to review Korean and Chinese.

First of all, I'd like to highly recommend a blogging site called Lang-8. You can write entries and have native speakers correct them for you. The website has fairly large communities of Japanese, Chinese and Koreans. This is one of the few social networks online that I've found to actually be effective in learning languages.

nciku - Back when nciku was still in beta, there were lots of expats trying to build this site and make it as organic as possible. The result today is impressive - you can write in characters that you cannot pronounce, or write in pinyin for the characters you can't write, and find definitions quickly. The example sentences are especially helpful to understand the contexts for word usage.
zdic - All Chinese interface, for the advanced learner. This site is excellent for understanding classical definitions of characters and finding fun chengyu (成语). It uses Kangxi Zidian and Cihai (kind of like OED, but Chinese) to explain character etymologies.
wenlin - translation and dictionary software. You can copy and paste anything Chinese into the interface to find quick definitions of characters. Whenever I write essays or translate articles, I usually have this open in the background for quick cross-referencing. Wenlin also offers flashcard programs to help you memorize pesky words and difficult phrases. Unfortunately, Wenlin is not free. For a free, but not as resourceful, software similar to Wenlin, try Chinese Practice.

jisho - Pretty basic layout, with search engines for hiragana, katakana and kanji all on the main page. You can even search/translate sentences!
naver - The major Korean search engine designed this dictionary for Korean speakers learning Japanese. It allows you to write Japanese on the screen to find definitions. The example sentences are extremely helpful. If you look up grammar words, the site also offers grammar explanations written and approved by bloggers.
wakan - like the Wenlin for Chinese learners. Built-in dictionary is a bit cumbersome to use, but the translation and pronunciation features are awesome.

naver - This one is a no-brainer. This site is not just a Korean-English dictionary, but also offers Korean-Hanzi, Korean-Chinese, Korean-Japanese, H-K, C-K and J-K dictionaries. Other major Korean search engines, like Nate (originally Empas) also offer dictionary services, but they are nowhere as comprehensive as Naver's.

Hope this helps. Happy holidays!

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

legend of ashitaka: musings in the rain


Gray dabbles the sky as the rain softly falls,
but the puddles reflect white. The squirrel skitters.
I forgot my dorm key and am standing under the door rail——
I see cold but feel warm - why?

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Street Stomping: MRN

Over the past few months, I have been developing an online knowledge platform called the Migrant Resource Network. This initiative was started by Compassion for Migrant Children. While I was designing the health education program, I learned about this project and decided to contribute, knowing that it would encourage me to stay update about migrant-related issues.

The best part about this project is that I know this database is necessary, significant, and will bring change to how migrant support NGOs communicate in China. Most NGO work is fairly decentralized in China; fundraising for local non-profits is always a difficult issue; and there currently exists no core Wikipedia-like website that addresses one of China's greatest social problems. The purposes of the site include 1) facilitating NGO communication; 2) attracting more donors; 3) functioning as encyclopedia on all things migrant-related; and 4) functioning as consultancy that will aid grassroots NGOs with capacity-building.

I suppose it is something akin to what Cal Newport over at Study Hacks calls "a grand project." Even though I have a reading-intensive course load completely different from my previous studies at Yale, I have been able to work on MRN weekly by blocking out specific times from Thursday to Sunday. I've found the three to four hours after dinner and before college nightlife to be golden hours to research new material, skim over the database for technical updates and have video conferences with other team members abroad. The database is still under development, but I envision it will be ready very soon.

If anyone is interested in the website, please visit

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