Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Loss of Lions

News is still coming in on exactly where and when, but CNN is reporting that Senator Ted Kennedy died this evening U.S. time, succumbing to his fight with brain cancer.

Even though he had known for months it is still tragic, the passing both of one of the last lions of the left in the U.S. Senate and the end to the political dynasty that lasted from Camelot through Iraq. For many people who did not grow up in the Kennedy generation, Edward Kennedy was the only link to a near mythic time and to two of the tragedies that rocked our country in the 1960s, the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy.

No matter how you feel about his politics it is safe to say that one of the last of the old guard of the Senate has passed away, and a dynasty is truly at an end. We mourn the loss of Edward Kennedy.
Wenn es Dienstag ist, muss es Zeit für Lappalien sein!

(If it is Tuesday...)

When Nathan was here we tried valiantly to find a trivia game, but struck out on the two we tried. One said over the phone they had stopped, the other said that when we got there and were greeted by their creepy midget dressed as a Leprechaun.

However, once he returned to the States Nathan came through, and found trivia at The Londoner Pub. A nice place that brews it's own (decent) beer, a little expensive for dinner but an entertaining trivia round. We came in 7th out of 12th, decent for our first time.

So here are (some of) the questions! There were 75 questions; some I can't remember, and some relied on music or pictures so we couldn't transcribe. Answers to follow at the end

1) In what year did the British reach an agreement to establish a trading post in Singapore?

2) Who starred as Rick Decker in Blade Runner?

3) With what country does Austria share its' shortest land border?

4) With what 3 countries does Vietnam have a border?

5) In 1997 what country changed its' mailboxes from red to green?

6) Where did the QE1 burn down and sink?

7) If you write the numbers from 1 to 100, how many times do you use the number 9?

8) What U.S. University is home to the Fighting Irish? (Easy for us, but there were a lot of Brits at the Pub)

9) Which of the following numbers is not a prime: 319, 521, 103

10) According to Warhol, how many minutes of fame do you get?

11) What U.K. city is known as the 'Granite City'?

12) In which Asian country was the Rickshaw invented?

13) What color is Cerulean?

14) How long is a nano second?

15) In 'Gone with the Wind' what was the name of Scarlett O'Hara's home?

16) On which continent is the nation of Israel on?

17) What was the name of the terrorist group responsible for the murder of the Israeli Olympians at the 1972 Munich Olympics?

18) In what year were the Rome Olympics, which is also the year Ben Hur won Best Picture at the Academy Awards?

19) How many years in prison did the gang of 12 get for the 'Great Train Robbery' in 1964?

20) What North African City's name means 'White House' in Spanish?

21) What was the first Asian country to host a Formula One (F1) race?

22) What is Absolute Zero in Farenheit, to the nearest 10 degrees?

23) If you go two miles south, two miles east and two miles north and end up where you started, where are you?

At the end of each round was a question where you had to name 4 things, and then get 2 bonus points for telling what the Common Denominator (theme) was.

24) A) Crack or Crevasse
B) A controlled opening
C) Main highway or road
D) A group of people convened for a specific purpose or task

25) 1) End
2) An outer garment
3) A false appearance of quality
4) To grow or increase in prosperity

26) 1) A.K.A. Kit Walker
2) Varying by a slight degree
3) Fictional terrorist organization
4) Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?


1) 1819
2) Harrison Ford
3) Lichtenstein (Like 34 kilometers)
4) Laos, Cambodia and China
5) Hong Kong, China
6) Hong Kong, at the time not China
7) 20 (9, 19, 29, 39, 49, 59, 69, 79, 89 and then 90-99)
8) Notre Dame
9) 319
10) 15
11) Aberdeen
12) Japan
13) Blue
14) One billionth of a second
15) Tara
16) Asia
17) Black September
18) 1960
19) 307, we guessed 312 and won a free round of bad drinks
20) Casablanca
21) Japan
22) -459.67 degrees, we guessed 450. Made it by .33
23) North Pole
24) A) Vein B) Valve C) Artery D) Chamber THEME: Parts of the heart
25) A) Finish B) Coat C) Gloss or Veneer D) Wax THEME: Things you do to furniture or a car
26) A) The Phantom B) Shade C) SPECTRE D) The Shadow THEME: Ghosts.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Untranslatable

I have been involved in Karate at various points in my life, and I've been involved in the SCA for five years now, so there are some things that I have done on a fairly regular basis that most people don't; and I don't give this a lot of thought, it is just a part of who I am. But something came up in my class today that really made me stop and think about the difference in experience that I've had. I came to a realization.

I would estimate that roughly 75-80 percent of Americans will never seriously, in the entirety of their lives, ever bow to another person. Conversely that number is 0 percent of Thais (at least in Thailand) who will never bow to another person.

Now the second part of that is fairly obvious; Thailand is in Asia, and for various reasons and in various different forms people bow to one another. But the first number really kind of shocked me to just how vast the difference is.

The issue that brought this up was one of translation. It was Thai Mother's day on August 12th, Mother's day being celebrated on Queen Sirikit's birthday. I made the students, as I am want to do, write about what they did on the holiday with their Mothers. Two of the students, sister and brother Millie and Best, needed to say that they did something. The word was 'Glaab', or some less idiotic spelling thereof, and we eventually decided on the word prostrate.

To Glaab is to ritually prostrate one's self before another person. You go down on your knees and wai (the Thai greeting involving hands together as if in prayer at face level with a bow) all the way down to the floor. You do it a different number of times depending on who you are doing it to. One for another person, three for a monk or the King. Prostrate is a decent word, but at least to me it doesn't have the same effect really. Prostration is something you do once, not multiple times. And kowtow, while originally likely the exact same (at least in the original Chinese we bastardized it from) has now come to mean an act of appeasement (and a somewhat degrading one).

It made me think a lot about the gap between experiences, and also about the challenges posed by cross-lingual communication (and teaching). There are words that literally have no meaning in other languages, words that are so psychologically linked to the culture that they come from that they cannot be translated to another culture let alone another tongue.

Like all good moments of philosophy, I was reminded of the West Wing, in a Season Five episode. The President is asked if he knows the Korean word 'Han', and comes to the following conclusion about the word: ""There is no literal English translation. It's a state of mind. Of soul, really. A sadness. A sadness so deep no tears will come. And yet still there's hope."

It amazes me that anyone ever learns another language, when our languages and our cultures and our psyches are so loaded with these traps and dark corners that we cannot even comprehend of a way to share. How is it we can teach one another when we have so many things about ourselves we can hardly put in to words?

It is a humbling thought. The world spins quickly around us, and what keeps it spinning is the medium of language. Wars are fought and averted, won and lost or avoided altogether, with words that represent the thoughts behind them. I read recently in the book Among the Righteous that the author was baffled to find a Muslim friend of his who supported Israel's right to exist but hated Zionism. Because to her, and to her culture, Zionism meant differently than a belief in the right of Jews to a homeland. To her, because of where she came from and her culture, Zionism was a form of racism involving the systematic persecution of Arabs by Jews.

How can we ever hope to come to a table and find common ground with one another in all of the dark places where conflict rises when we cannot even agree on the meaning of words, let alone these ephemeral cultural concepts locked away in our collective cultural psyches?

If you thought I was going to have an answer at the end of this I am afraid you are going to be in for a long bout of han. Perhaps the only answer is the one we have been trying for so long. To keep trying, to be undoubted, to never give so fully into the despair at the distance between us that you lose that point of hope that spites it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Simultaneity of Time

Next year is an interesting time. I don't mean this in the way that I have prophetic powers or anything of that nature, though that would would be awesome. I just mean that in the past couple of weeks I have had some very strange feelings about next year, both as a concept and as a specific time frame.

The plan on the table right now is to come home next July, but to come home the other way around the world to meet Mom and Spike in London. AirAsia runs remarkably affordable flights from Kuala Lumpur to London's other airport (not Heathrow), and it is cheap to get from Bangkok to KL by several different methods. We would spend time in London, then fly to Dublin, and I would fly home from Dublin. This would have the effect of allowing me to have circumnavigated the globe in my travels, which I think would be really awesome. If I could afford it I might also spend some time on my own in the U.K., a couple extra days and see if I could get to Wales or Scotland or something.

None of my feelings are that this would be a bad trip; far from it, this would be an amazing way to cap off my time abroad and see places I have always wanted to. Maybe try to get out to Hadrian's wall, stand on ground that Roman legions patrolled 2 during the time of Julius Caesar (and that my own Knight walked along in a less vigorous fashion a bit ago). I am really looking forward to it.

I have been a little bit daunted by the prospect of starting a new and full school year, especially given that the current batch of Kindergartners has me tearing what little remains of my hair out. The prospect of a whole year makes the target date of July 2010 seem like a very long way away indeed.

But at the same time I feel very rushed to make the plans. Mom and Spike have to book using their miles and that requires a lot of planning in the future; so it feels like we are rushing to meet a deadline to do this even though it is a whole year away, which is somewhat jarring. Adult, as well, but still jarring.

It is very confusing to me how 12 months can seem like an eternity and next week at the same time. I would like to go back to boring linear time now, thank you.