The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Monday, August 29, 2011

Who Needs Fiction: Life Will Find a Way

A friend sent me this.

The catastrophe at the Fukushima Reactor in Japan is very, very bad. But then again ...

"Life will find a way."

 - Ian Malcolm, "Jurrasic Park"

Friday, August 26, 2011

Unstoppable

Remember the Crane Kick from the Karate Kid?

Lyoto Machida in a MMA match: No gap.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Big vs Little

Here's a clip of some Sumo matches where the (relatively) smaller guy succeeds against a larger opponent.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems, #41 A Song of an Autumn Midnight

The Tang Dynasty was a cultural high point in the Chinese civilization. Poetry was especially esteemed during this period and the best works of that age were compiled into The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. A free online version of this work may be found here.

For now, please enjoy #41.


Li Bai
A SONG OF AN AUTUMN MIDNIGHT

A slip of the moon hangs over the capital;
Ten thousand washing-mallets are pounding;
And the autumn wind is blowing my heart
For ever and ever toward the Jade Pass....
Oh, when will the Tartar troops be conquered,
And my husband come back from the long campaign!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Capoeira vs Karate

While looking at some videos on YouTube, I found this video of a Capoeira fighter who engages in full contact karate tournaments. His kicking skills are mind boggling. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Demise of Cursive Characters

The noted sinologist Victor Mair contributes to the Language Log. A recent post of his describes how in both China and the West, cursive writing is becoming a thing of the past. An excerpt of his post is below. The whole post may be read here.


In "The Case for Cursive," (NYT [April 28, 2011]), Katie Zezima states that:
For centuries, cursive handwriting has been an art. To a growing number of young people, it is a mystery.
The sinuous letters of the cursive alphabet, swirled on countless love letters, credit card slips and banners above elementary school chalk boards are going the way of the quill and inkwell. With computer keyboards and smartphones increasingly occupying young fingers, the gradual death of the fancier ABC’s is revealing some unforeseen challenges.

This immediately reminded me of the lamentations that have been widely voiced over the loss of the ability to write Chinese characters by hand that has been occasioned by the same technologies.

...

The difference between the impact of computers and smartphones (also mobile / cell phones) on cursive and on characters is that, in the former case, it is a loss of motor skills and esthetic sensitivity, whereas in the latter case, it is increasingly often the inability to produce many characters at all, whether clumsily or handsomely.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

13 Assassins

Below is an excerpt from a review of the film, 13 Assassins. The full review may be read here.


April 28, 2011
Movie Review | '13 Assassins'

Swords Drip Red With Revenge

A stirring, unexpectedly moving story of love and blood, the samurai movie “13 Assassins” opens with a dignified man seated alone in a large courtyard. Perfectly centered in the shot, he says nothing, his face a ferocious mask. But words are immaterial given his open shirt and the blade in his hand.

The Japanese director Takashi Miike has no qualms about letting the red run down the screen. Here, though, instead of showing the blade sinking in, he moves in closer, letting the scene play out in the man’s crumbling face, the gray sky framing him as the moist, tearing sounds of the knife doing its terrible work fill the air.

Set at the close of the Edo period, not long before the Meiji restoration, “13 Assassins” is at once a tale of revenge and liberation, though it takes a little while to grasp the stakes. Mr. Miike, a jaw-droppingly prolific director who makes several movies a year and is perhaps best known in America for shockers like “Audition” and “Ichi the Killer,” plunges right into the action in “13 Assassins.” Initially that action is mostly bureaucratic and a question of strategy, one worked out by men plotting in darkened rooms, like the council of elders who convene after the ritual suicide and set the narrative on its course.

The dead man, it emerges, has committed seppuku to protest the baroquely barbaric excesses of Lord Naritsugu (a fantastic Goro Inagaki), the shogun’s half brother, who’s poised to assume even greater power. Pretty, petty and very likely insane, with a lazy walk and small twitchy smile, Naritsugu is the embodiment of outrĂ© imperial decadence. He doesn’t just rape the wife of a minion, he also murders her husband in front of her, hacking at the poor man’s (off-screen) body and lopping off the head with so much force it rolls across the floor. Later, during another convulsion of violence, while murdering a family, Naritsugu will kick a ball across a court and still later will boot another severed head in similar fashion. For him it’s all the same.

These cruelties and others serve as the evidence against Naritsugu, justifying the ensuing violence that will wash blood away with blood. This sanguineous deluge comes, but all in good time because first Mr. Miike has to round up his avengers, the 13 warriors of the film’s title. It’s a sign of difficult samurai times that the leader of the group, Shinzaemon Shimada (the great Koji Yakusho), enters perched on a fishing ladder, a pole in his hand. It’s unclear if he’s fishing for food or leisure, but the point is that he’s fishing, not fighting, having resigned himself to a quiet twilight. Like the not especially dirty dozen he assembles, Shinzaemon finds purpose in battle: he becomes a samurai again, with a flashing and wet sword.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Do the Work

You can't guarantee the results, but you have to do the work. Below is an excerpt from a review of one of Steven Pressfield's books, Do The Work. The whole review may be read here.


The good news is that you can change your life at any point, on any day, regardless of your age, health, financial status, technical ability or experience.

The bad news is you will have to continue to change it—you, pushing that c*cksucking boulder up that motherf*cking hill—every day of your life, regardless of your age, health, financial status, technical ability or experience.

Every day. No exceptions.

Because the way to change—to creating things that never before existed, to fixing things people didn’t realize were broken, to making anything—is not through daydreaming or wishing or fairy dust, but through work. Joyful, tedious, challenging, maddening, daily work.

Steven Pressfield’s newest book, Do the Work, is a sort of high-octane, super-condensed variation on his previous devotional for makers, The War of Art. It’s shorter and tighter and carries a greater sense of urgency—perhaps because Pressfield has weathered the daily battle of getting meaningful things done that much longer, but also perhaps because the change cycle has accelerated in the nine years since he introduced us to Resistance, that bane of all meaningful change.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Who Needs Fiction: The Flying Fists of Kung Fu

An article in The Economist. The original article may be read here.

Hong Kong Airlines

Kung Fu flight attendant

Apr 21st 2011, 11:32 by A.B.

NEXT time you travel with Hong Kong Airlines, you might want to think a little harder about behaving loutishly. The carrier's cabin crew have been given compulsory training in wing chun, a form of kung fu that is ideal for close-quarter combat.

A spokeswoman for the airline told the Sunday Morning Post about a recent in-flight application of the new skills:
One of the passengers was sick but he was probably drunk and felt unwell. The crew member attended to him and she realised her fitness was helping her, especially because the guy was quite heavy.
Normally, a female cabin crew can't handle a fat guy, especially if he's drunk, but because of the training, she can handle it quite easily.
An article on Wing Chun wouldn't be complete without a video of Bruce Lee, would it? 


Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Two Book Reviews

Below are excerpts of book reviews for two books I've recently added to my wish list. I think you might like to read them too. With each exceprt I've included a link to the full review.

Character Building

When I used to ask my mother about her family village in China, she always said it was three hours from Canton by bus. A hundred years ago, when my great-grandfather left China for good, that couldn’t have been far, but it was certainly no help in locating it. So I was pleased — though still mystified — to read in Deborah Fallows’s charming and witty little book that in China, “if you ask someone where their hometown is, they’ll say it is seven hours by bus. Or four hours by train. They won’t tell you where it is.”

Fallows spent three years living in China with her husband, the journalist James Fallows. Since she’s a linguist by training, her method of getting under the skin of the country was to immerse herself in its language. In “Dreaming in Chinese,” she uses key phrases and concepts to unlock aspects of the society that interested or surprised her, casting light along the way on many idiosyncrasies of the Chinese view of the world.

Fallows doesn’t arrive with many preconceptions. Instead, she takes the Chinese as they see and present themselves. And she soon discovers that what the Chinese think is important isn’t always what we think is important. One thing they’re interested in is ensuring good luck. This explains why the Beijing Olympics began on Aug. 8, 2008, at 8:08 p.m. Eight, ba, rhymes with fa, “as in fa cai, which means ‘to become wealthy,’ ” making it a very auspicious number. And even though Aug. 8 was well into the rainy season, it didn’t rain.

Auspiciousness also enters into the choosing of names, an art in itself. Most Chinese have three names: surname (there are just 100 common surnames in a population of 1.3 billion people), middle name (to identify your generation and connect you with your cousins) and personal name. Which yields the realization that — in a country where most people are allowed only one child — future generations will have no cousins.

On matters that Westerners make a fuss about, like human rights, Fallows presents the common Chinese viewpoint. At a conference on censorship, technology and commerce, she recalls that “one exasperated Chinese participant finally blurted out that people, the laobaixing, aren’t as preoccupied as Westerners about free speech and an uncensored Internet: what laobaixing really want, he said, is . . . a flush toilet, a refrigerator and a color TV.” For ordinary Chinese, material concerns come first.

Fallows has an endearing affection for these laobaixing, these common folk. Unlike conventional journalists, she’s not very interested in press conferences, in listening to what the politicians say. Little by little, she finds herself becoming more like the laobaixing: learning to deal with the plethora of rules as the Chinese do — by finding ways around them.
To outsiders, China may seem purposefully dynamic. To its own people, the same ceaseless change can seem frighteningly chaotic. During my own recent three years of living there, I was often startled by the dramatic stories told by my Chinese friends — both the terrible parts (famine, split and scattered families, trust betrayed, fortunes lost) and the astonishing rebounds (an against-all-odds admission to a university, a fearless gamble that paid off, a random kindness from a generous stranger).

But China has gone through previous periods of tumultuous change, as Liel Leibovitz and Matthew Miller’s “Fortunate Sons” makes abundantly clear. Their story begins with Yung Wing, who came to America in the late 1840s. The first Chinese student admitted to Yale, he returned to his homeland in 1854, determined not to be the last. Under his tutelage, 120 Chinese boys crossed the Pacific in the 1870s, intent on learning Western skills that might help their country modernize. Yet mixed fortunes awaited them on their return to a country whose Qing-era imperial rule was crumbling, where their schooling at various colleges in New England made them both influential and, in some cases, rootless and estranged.

The boys arrived in an America that was going through its own post-Civil War transformation, and Leibovitz and Miller use the newcomers’ experiences as pretexts for discourses on extraneous subjects. One such observation — “For the boys,” the story of the transcontinental railroad’s creation “could have contained many lessons about the contrasting outlooks of imperial China and the young American republic” — is followed by a lengthy discussion of the Central Pacific Railroad, ethnic tensions involving its Chinese work crews and how John Deere tractors tamed the prairie.