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the simple life

"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Friday, December 31, 2004

Gaijin Ghost

Allow me the pleasure of introducing you to a fellow Gaijin, whom I met in my Tokyo travels. Read about our misadventures here and here. His blog is a detailed account of his travels so don't miss it. It helps that he's cool, a Captain Beefheart fan and a former Apple hired gun. And I'll have to tell you this before he kills me, that he's from "The Biggest Little City in the World".

Gentlemen, place your bets!

For those of you who requested for photos, pls visit http://photos.yahoo.com/isaiah_sg

I'm German at last!

I'm German at last!

Fo those of you desperate to have EU citizenship, click here.

Nice work, Apple

Accessed 31 Dec 04 Apple.com

I was at Apple.com to send some iCards to friends. This is a classy touch. Simple, elegant and heart-felt. No products here, all replaced by links to the aid organizations.

Accessed 31 Dec 04 Microsoft.com

I headed to Microsoft.com for a comparison. Not bad, but not as good as Apple.

Still, Microsoft fares better than Ibm.com, Sony.com or Dell.com.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Kung Fu Hustle

Since I set my eyes on a featurette of Kung Fu Hustle in Fuji TV Building, I have been wanting to catch Stephen Chow in his latest madcap adventure.

When I caught it yesterday, it met all my expectations and more.

I haven't laughed so hard for such a long time.

Apart from the jokes, the spoofs and the gags, I think it is a film that speaks to me about the state of our times.

(Probably reading too much into it huh?)

If there is a single word that summarizes the film, I would say it's a film about bullies.

The film started with a Big Bully pushing his way around in a police station. Then this Big Bully gets into trouble with a Big Bully Gang. At Pig Sty Alley, we have the Big Bully Landlady bossing her way around. Even Stephen Chow tried very unsuccessfully to be a Big Bully Conman. There's a pivotal scene where we found out that Stephen Chow was harassed by Big Bullies Schoolboys in his past, not to mention conned by Dirty Monk. In the present, Stephen Chow and Fat Buddy is assaulted by Big Bully Four-Eyes. And then head of Big Bully Gang gets walloped (love this word!) by Big Bully Assassin.

Get the idea?

In the real world, there's a lot of people who are fed up with the US of A. They may not see her as the Great Satan, but certainly as the "Great Bully". Her sworn enemies, the Terrorists, strive on fear and terror and on a very base level, are certainly Big Bullies of the most heinous nature.

With bullies, there is a sense of being overwhelmed by a great force as well as complete helplessness. Asia is certainly feeling these emotions now as we deal with the devastation of Sunday's earthquake.

Japan: Odaiba

One of my favorite places in Japan is Odaiba.

"Prepare to be hit by the 22nd century! With space age buildings, electric cars and fantasy shopping malls, Tokyo's newest district is futuristic and surreal. Built on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay, a monorail links Odaiba to the mainland. Watch out too for the silent couples. As the site of the world's largest Ferris wheel, it's also a popular, if not compulsory, dating spot."

The monorail ride is great, as you can have a fantastic view of the grand office buildings in Shimbashi and a spectacular view of the Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Bay. It is slightly more expensive though, costing between 300+ to 500+ yen. If you like, you can pay for the first stop in Odaiba, take the monorail all the way to the end of the line, cross the platform and take it back to the stop that you've paid for. A cheap way to see Odaiba, especially the Tokyo Big Sight and the Panasonic Center which is at the wrong end of Odaiba.

The Ferris Wheel was ok, though it should be quite amazing at night. Especially if you have some enamored companionship. Then again, you wouldn't get to do much sightseeing anyway.

I liked the Toyota Mega Web, a gigantic car showroom, although I'm not mad about cars. Nice exhibits, especially the futuristic concept cars. Paid a token fee to take a driverless spin (electronically controlled) around the different showrooms. If you drive, you can arrange for a test drive here.

Although I'm not big on shopping, there was a mall I like. It's called Decks Tokyo Beach. There was a floor devoted to the theme of Old Tokyo. There were small exhibits of day to day life in Old Tokyo. For example, old arcade and amusement park games where you can actually play as well as scenes of ordinary homes and shops. There were many shops, dedicated to selling retro stuff, such as old toys and memorabilia.

Aqua City is another nice mall. There's a Sony showroom there. Saw the PSX there but unfortunately couldn't see it in action. The Coke museum is just an excuse to sell their merchandise. Avoid it if you're not addicted to coke.

At Aqua City, you can see a replica of the Statue of Liberty, with the Rainbow Bridge (looking like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco). Trust the Japanese to combine the East and West Coast in one shot.

Before I left wonderful Odaiba, I went to Fuji TV Building where I took a nice picture in a replica set of a popular kids' tv programme. Don't know anything about the programme, but was happy as hell.

Next time, I want to see Odaiba at night.

(Visit http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3008.html)

Monday, December 27, 2004

Japan: Disneyland

I was tearing a little when I stepped into the entrance of Tokyo Disneyland.

All of my childhood, I desperately wanted to visit Disneyland. Finally at the age of 30, I fufilled my childhood dream.

I really wished my dad was around.

Anyway, was there the whole day. Alone, but really happy. I did almost all the rides I wanted, except for Haunted Mansion, Buzz Lightyear and Winnie the Pooh rides. Damm. Really wanted the first 2 rides.

But the rest was fun. Not terribly exciting but fun. Thought the Lethal Weapon ride at WB Gold Coast was a lot more exciting.

I find the whole idea of Disneyland fascinating. It's a happy place and for some strange reason, I can't stop smiling the whole time there. (Maybe it's the case of too many Saturday mornings watching The Wonderful World of Disney when I was growing up.) Seeing Cinderella Castle with my own eyes was kinda of inspiring. It started off as a possibility in some artist's head and now to stand before it in all its reality and concreteness is simply amazing.

There is a "Partners" statue of Roy Disney and Mickey in front of the park. It inspires me to think about Walt Disney the artist. To have a whole body of work that creates an industry itself is a mammoth achievement. But to have a body of work that continues to inspire generations of young and old, to make them believe in a better world, to make them laugh and forget their troubles, an artist cannot ask for anything more.

"I would rather entertain and hope
that people learned something
than educate people and hope they were entertained".

Walt Disney

Japan: Food

I finally found it.

I now know my last meal request should I ever land up on Death Row.

Here's my answer: Sushi and Sashimi from Tokyo.

I've been told about the great food in Tokyo. I did try some ramen, some soba, a cake, some croquettes, small pieces of shabu shabu and steak. All pretty good but nothing beats the out-of-the-world sushi and sashimi.

(By the way, after this trip, I have decided to stop using the label semi-vegetarian, as I am when I am home in Singapore. I make exception when I travel, to sample selective local cusine. Instead, I think it's easier for me to say apart from fish, I rarely eat meat. )

But really with those heavenly sushi and sashimi in Tokyo, who needs other kinds of food?

The thing that frightens me is that I haven't even tried premium sushi yet. But it's already so good. Most of the sushi that I have eaten is from a chain of restaurants called Tsukiji Sushiko.

"TSUKIJI SUSHIKO (Sushi & Sashimi Restaurant) Roppongi Branch of a famous Tokyo chain of top quality fish restaurants.

The restaurant is small, only two tables (max 8 persons), and a "Sushi Counter" for about I2 people. The food is excellent, the quality of the fish top class, and the prices very budget minded for a sushi restaurant. You can eat for 10, 20 or 30 dollars depending the number of beers or sake you drink.

The have only one menu in English with photos of the dishes, but you can always see at the counter what is on sale from the fish of the day.

Tsukiji Sushiko is a "hole in the wall" located in the middle of Roppongi Crossing, corner of Gaien-Higashi Street & Imoaraizaka, next to Citibank Cashing Corner & in front of Almond Coffee Shop the landmark of Roppongi Crossing & the Meeting Point at the Crossing."

My first experience there was great. We sat at the counter and the chef was slightly cheeky without being rude. He speaks little English but we were able to get by just reading off the Japanese menu with the nice pictures of the sushi.

There were 3 sushi chefs on duty and they would handle about 3 -4 different parties each. We would order 1-2 sushi each time. The chef would make it fresh on the spot and then move on to other customers. Then he would look at us, signalling it's time for us to order if we wish. Hence, he was dictating the pace of our dinner, which was a very refreshing change for me.

I don't know whether it was because I lacked sleep but 2 glasses of Asahi and I was feeling light-headed. But Asahi and Sushi = bliss.

(Do check out this page: http://www.digitalsushi.net/)

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Japan: Toilets

I love Japan.

I mean any country where I don't have to wash my own ass is simply worthy of my adoration.

For the clueless, I'm talking about the onsuisenjoubenza.

Or in my own words, purifying ass- washer.

My first introduction to the device was the one in my hotel room. It's got a nice seat warmer, which is defintely helpful in this cold weather. In fact, it's so cozy and warm that I spent a longer time on it than usual. By the time you're done with your business and it's time for wash-up, you have 3 settings to choose from: wash, mild spray and bidet. And for each of this setting, you can choose to adjust the intensity of its operation.

I took a rather systematic approach to my ass-washing. As I would in most of my experiments involving body parts. I started with a gentle wash, and very slowly increase the intensity. Then I gradually moved on to the mild spray and finally to the bidet. I found this way of easing my ass in most comfortable and even enjoyable.

But to each his own ass.

I also found out, the hard way, that this fully-automated process may not be as clean as good old manual washing. So don't throw that toilet paper away. Also, if you slowly rock your ass backwards and forwards, that might help with the washing, among other things.

Another interesting thing I found out about the toilets here is the use of the Sound Princess. This is a device that mimics the sound of toilet flushing. It's popular in female toilets as many Japanese women are embarrassed at the thought that someone else can hear them while they are doing their business on the toilet." Before this device was invented, Japanes women would continuously flush the toilets to drown out any embarrassing sounds, hence wasting a great deal of water. With the Sound Princess, Japanese women can activate the device and do their business in peace.

Although definitely not quiet.

By the way, this cultural curiousity was relayed to me by my female colleague and not an accidental straying into unwelcome territory.

That would have been nice too.

(Pls check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_toilets for more fascinating facts about Japanese toilets)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

An Excerpt

Excerpt from The Chrysanthemum and the Sword by Ruth Benedict

Ch. 5: Debtor to the Ages and the World

In the English language we used to talk about being 'heirs of the ages.' Two wars and a vast economic crisis have diminished somewhat the self-confidence it used to bespeak but this shift has certainly not increased our sense of indebtedness to the past. Oriental nations turn the coin to the other side: they are debtors to the ages. Much of what Westerners name ancestor worship is not truly worship and not wholly directed toward ancestors: it is a ritual avowal of man's great indebtedness to all that has gone before. Moreover, he is indebted not only to the past; every day-by-day contact with other people increases his indebtedness in the present. From this debt his daily decisions and actions must spring. It is the fundamental starting point. Because Westerners pay such extremely slight attention to their debt to the world and what it has given them in care, education, well-being or even in the mere fact of their ever having been born at all, the Japanese feel that our motivations are in- adequate. Virtuous men do not say, as they do in America, that they owe nothing to any man. They do not discount the past. Righteousness in Japan depends upon recognition of one's place in the great network of mutual indebtedness that embraces both one's forebears and one's contemporaries.

It is simple to put in words this contrast between East and West but it is difficult to appreciate what a difference it makes in living. Until we understand it in Japan we shall not be able to plumb either the extreme sacrifice of seIf with which we became familiar during the war or the quick resentments which Japanese are capable of in situations where we think resentments are not called for. To be a debtor can make a man extremely quick to take offense and the Japanese prove it. It also puts upon him great responsibilities.

Both the Chinese and the Japanese have many words meaning 'obligations.' The words are not synonyms and their specific meanings have no literal translation into EngIish because the ideas they express are alien to us. The word for 'obligations' which covers a person's indebtedness from greatest to least is on. In Japanese usage it is translated into English by a whole series of words from 'obligations' and 'Ioyalty' to 'kindness' and 'love,' but these words distort its meaning. If it really meant love or even obligation the Japanese would certainly be able to speak of on to their children, but that is an impossible usage of the word. Nor does it mean loyalty, which is expressed by other Japanese words, which are in no way synonymous with on. On is in all its uses a load, an indebtedness, a burden, which one carries as best one may. A man receives on from a superior and the act of accepting an on from any man not definitely one's superior or at least one's equal gives one an uncomfortable sense of inferiority. When they say, '1 wear an on to him' they are saying, 'I carry a load of obligation to him,' and they call this creditor, this benefactor, their on man.'

One has particular on too to one's teacher and to one's master (nushi). They have both helped bring one along the way and one wears an on to them which may at some future time make it necessary to accede to some request of theirs when they are in trouble or to give preference, perhaps to a young relative of theirs, after they are dead. One should go to great lengths to pay the obligation and time does not lessen the debt. It increases rather than decreases with the years. It accumulates a kind of interest. An on to anyone is a serious matter. As their common saying has it: 'One never returns one ten-thousandth of an on.' It is a heavy burden and 'the power of the on' is regarded as always rightly overriding one's mere personal preferences.

The smooth working of this ethics of indebtedness depends upon each man's being able to consider himself a great debtor without feeling too much resentment in discharging the obligations he is under. We have already seen how thoroughly hierarchal arrangements have been organized in Japan. The attendant habits diligently pursued make it possible for the Japanese to honor their moral indebtedness to a degree that would not cross the mind of an Occidental. This is easier to do if the superiors are regarded as well-wishers. There is interesting evidence from their language that superiors were indeed credited with being 'loving' to their dependents. Ai means 'love' in Japan and it was this word ai which seemed to the missionaries of the last century the only Japanese word it was possible to use in their translations of the Christian concept of 'love.' They used it in translating the Bible to mean God's love for man and man's love for God. But ai means specifically the love of a superior for his dependents. A Westerner might perhaps feel that it meant 'paternalism,' but in its Japanese usage it means more than that. It was a word that meant affection. In contemporary Japan ai is still used in this strict sense of love from above to below, but, perhaps partly due to the Christian usage, and certainly as a consequence of official efforts to break down caste distinctions, it may today be used also of love between equals.

In spite of all cultural alleviations, however, it is nevertheless a fortunate circumstance in Japan when on is 'worn' with no offense. People do not like to shoulder casually the debt of gratitude which on implies. They are always talking of 'making a person wear an on' and often the nearest translation is 'imposing upon another' - though in the United States 'imposing' means demanding something of another, and in Japan the phrase means giving him something or doing him a kindness. Casual favors from relative strangers are the ones most resented, for with neighbors and in old established hierarchal relationships a man knows and has accepted the complications of on. But with mere acquaintances and near-equals men chafe. They would prefer to avoid getting entangled in all the consequences of on. The passivity of a street crowd in Japan when an accident occurs is not just lack of initiative. It is a recognition that any non-official interference would make the recipient wear an on. One of the best-known laws of pre-Meiji days was: 'Should a quarrel or dispute occur, one shall not unnecessarily meddle with it,' and a person who helps another person in such situations in Japan without clear authorization is suspected of taking an unjustifiable advantage. The fact that the recipient will be greatly indebted to him acts, not to make any man anxious to avail himself of his advantage to himself but to make him very chary of helping. Especially in unformalized situations the Japanese are extremely wary of getting entangled in on. Even the offer of a cigarette from a person with whom a man has previously had no ties makes him uncomfortable and the polite way for him to express thanks is to say: 'Oh, this poisonous feeling (kino doku}.' 'It's easier to bear,' a Japanese said to me, 'if you come right out and acknowledge how bad it makes you feel. You had never thought of doing anything for him and so you are shamed by receiving the on.' 'Kino doku' therefore is translated sometimes as 'Thank you,' i.e., for the cigarettes, sometimes as 'I'm sorry,' i.e., for the indebtedness, sometimes as 'I feel like a heel,' i.e., because you beat me to this act of generosity. It means all of these and none.

The Japanese have many ways of saying 'Thank you' which express this same uneasiness in receiving on. The least ambivalent, the phrase that has been adopted in modern city department stores, means 'Oh, this difficult thing' (arigato}. The Japanese usually say that this 'difficult thing' is the great and rare benefit the customer is bestowing on the store in buying. It is a compliment. It is used also when one receives a present and in countless circumstances. Other just as common words for 'thank you' refer like kino doku to the difficulty of receiving. Shopkeepers who run their own shops most commonly say literally: 'Oh, this doesn't end,' (sumimasen}, i.e., 'I have received on from you and under modern economic arrangements I can never repay you; I am sorry to be placed in such a position. ' In English swnimasen is translated 'Thank you,' 'I'm grateful, , or 'I'm sorry,' 'I apologize.' You use the word, for instance, in preference to all other thank-you's if anyone chases the hat you lost on a windy street. When he returns it to you politeness requires that you acknowledge your own internal discomfort in receiving. 'He is offering me an on and I never saw him before. I never had a chance to offer him the first on. I feel guilty about it but I feel better if I apologize to him. Sumimasen is probably the commonest word for thank- you in Japan. I tell him that I recognize that I have received on from him and it doesn't end with the act of taking back my hat. But what can I do about it? We are strangers.'

The same attitude about indebtedness is expressed even more strongly from the Japanese standpoint by another word for thank-you, katajikenai, which is written with the character 'insult,' 'loss of face.' It means both 'I am insulted' and 'I am grateful.' The all-Japanese dictionary says that by this term you say that by the extraordinary benefit you have received you are shamed and insulted because you are not worthy of the benefaction. In this phrase you explicitly acknowledge your shame in receiving on, and shame, haji, is, as we shall see, a thing bitterly felt in Japan. Kata- jikenai, 'I am insulted,' is still used by conservative shopkeepers in thanking their customers, and customers use it when they ask to have their purchases charged. It is the word found constantly in pre-Meiji romances. A beautiful girl of low class who serves in the court and is chosen by the lord as his mistress, says to him Katajikenai; that is, 'I am shamed in unworthily accepting this on; I am awed by your graciousness.' Or the samurai in a feudal brawl who is let go scot-free by the authorities says Katajikenai, 'I have lost face that I accept this on; it is not proper for me to place myself in such a humble position; I am sorry ; I humbly thank you.'

These phrases tell, better than any generalizations, the 'power of the on.' One wears it constantly with ambivalence. In accepted structuralized relations the great indebtedness it implies often stimulates a man only to put forward in repayment all that is in him. But it is hard to be a debtor and resentments come easily. How easily is described vividly in the famous novel Botchan by one of Japan's best-known novelists, Soseki Natsume. Botchan, the hero, is a Tokyo boy who is teaching school for the first time in a small town in the provinces. He finds very soon that he despises most of his fellow teachers, certainly he does not get along with them. But there is one young teacher he warms to and while they are out together this new-found friend whom he calls Porcupine treats him to a glass of ice water. He pays one sen and a half for it, something like one fifth of a cent.

Not long afterward another teacher reports to Botchan that Porcupine has spoken slightingly of him. Botchan beIieves the trouble-maker's report and is instantly concerned about the on he had received from Porcupine.

"To wear an on from such a fellow even if it is for so trifling a thing as ice water, affects my honor. One sen or half a sen, I shall not die in peace if I wear this on...The fact that I receive somebody's on without protesting is an act or good-will, taking him at his par value as a decent fellow.

Instead of insisting on paying for my own ice water, I took the on and expressed gratitude. That is an acknowledgement which no amount of money can purchase. I have neither title nor official position but I am an independent fellow, and to have an independent fellow accept the favor of on is far more than if he gave a million yen in return. I let Porcupine blow one sen and a half, and gave him my thanks which is more costly than a million yen.'

The next day he throws a sen and a half on Porcupine's desk, for only after having ceased to wear the on for the glass of ice water can he begin to settle the current issue between them: the insulting remark he has been told of. That may involve blows, but the on has to be wiped out: first be cause the on is no longer between friends.

Such acute sensitivity about trifles, such painful vulnerability occurs in American records of adolescent gangs and in case-histories of neurotics. But this is Japanese virtue. Not many Japanese would carry the matter to this extreme, they think, but of course many people are lax. Japanese commentators writing about Botchan describe him as 'hot-tempered, pure as crystal, a champion of the right.' The author too identifies himself with Botchan and the character is indeed always recognized by critics as a portrait of himself. The story is a tale of high virtue because the person who receives on can lift himself out of the debtor's position only by regarding his attitude as worth 'a million yen' and acting accordingly. He can take it only from 'a decent fellow.' In Botchan's anger he contrasts his on to Porcupine with an on he had received long since from his old nurse. She was blindly partial to him and felt that none of the rest of his family appreciated him. She used to bring him secretly little gifts of candy and colored pencils and once she gave him three yen. 'Her constant attention to me chilled me to the marrow.' But though he was 'insulted' at the offer of the three yen he had accepted it as a loan and he had never repaid it in all the years between. But that, he says to himself, contrasting the way he feels about his on to Porcupine, was because' I regard her as part of myself:' This is the clue to Japanese reactions to on. They can be borne, with whatever mixed feelings, so long as the 'on man' is actually oneself; he is fixed in 'my' hierarchal scheme, or he is doing something I can imagine myself doing, like returning my hat on a windy day, or he is a person who admires me. Once these identifications break down, the on is a festering sore. However trivial the debt incurred it is virtue to resent it.

Every Japanese knows that if one makes the on too heavy under any circumstances whatsoever one will get into trouble. A good illustration is from the 'Consulting Department' of a recent magazine. The Department is a kind of 'Advice to the Lovelorn' and is a feature of the Tokyo Psychoanalytic Journal. The advice offered is hardly Freudian but it is thoroughly Japanese. An elderly man wrote asking for counsel :

I am the father of three boys and one girl My wife died sixteen years ago. Because I was sorry for my children, I did not remarry, and my children considered this fact as my virtue. Now my children are an married. Eight years ago when my son married, I retired to a house a few blocks away. It is embarrassing to state, but for three years I have played with a girl in the dark [a prostitute under contract in a public house]. She told me her circumstances and I felt sorry for her. I bought her freedom for a small sum, took her to my home, taught her etiquette, and kept her as a maid. Her sense of responsibility is strong and she is admirably economical. However, my sons and daughter-in-law and my daughter and son-in-law look down on me for this and treat me as a stranger. I do not blame them; it is my fault.

The parents of the girl did not seem to understand the situation and since she is of marriageable age they wrote wanting her returned. I have met the parents and explained the circumstances. They are very poor but are not gold-diggers. They have promised to consider her as dead and to consent that she continue in her situation. She herself wants to remain by my side till my death. But our ages are as father and daughter and therefore I sometimes consider sending her home. My children consider that she is after my property.

I have a chronic illness and I think I have only one or two years to live. I would appreciate your showing me what course to take. Let me say in conclusion that though the girl was once only a 'girl in the dark,' that was because of circumstances. Her character is good and her parents are not gold-diggers.

The Japanese doctor regards this as a clear case of the old man's having put too heavy an on upon his children. He says :

You have described an event of daily occurrence. ... Let me preface my remarks by saying that I gather from your letter that you are asking from me the answer you want, and that this makes me have some antagonism to you. I of course appreciate your long unmarriedness, but you have used this to make your children wear the on and also to justify yourself in your present line of action. I don't like this. I'm not saying that you are sly, but your personality is not to have let them wear the on (for your remaining unmarried). The children naturally are against you because you have laid such emphasis on this on. After all human beings don't lose their sexual desires and you can't help having desire. But one tries to overcome the desire. Your children expected you to because they expected you to live up to the ideal they had formed of you. On the contrary, they were betrayed and I can see how they feel, though it is egoistic on their part. They are married and sexually satisfied and they're selfish to deny this to their father. You're thinking this way and your children the other way (as above). The two ways of thinking don't meet.

You say that the girl and her parents are good people. That is what you want to think. One knows that people's good and evil depend on the circumstances, the situation, and because they are not at the moment seeking an advantage one can't say they're 'good people.' I think the girl's parents are dumb to let her serve as concubine of a man about to die. If they're going to consider their daughter's being a concubine, they ought to seek some profit or advantage from it. It's only your fantasy to see it otherwise.

I don't wonder the children are worried about the girl's parents seeking some property ; I really think they are. The girl is young and may not have this in mind, but her parents should have.

There are two courses open to you : 1) As 'a complete man' ( one so well rounded that nothing is impossible to him) cut off the girl and settle with her. But I don't think you could do that; your human feelings wouldn't permit. 2) 'Come back to being a common man' (give up your pretensions) and break up the children's illusion about you as an ideal man.

About the property, make a will immediately and state what the girl's and the children's shares are.

In conclusion, remember that you are old, you are getting childish, as I can see by your handwriting. Your thinking is emotional rather than rational. You want this girl as a mother substitute, though you phrase this as wanting to save her from the gutter. I don't think any infant can live if its mother leaves -- therefore, I advise you to take the second course.

This letter says several things about on. A person once having elected to make even his children wear an extra heavy on can change his course of action only at his own risk. He should know that he will suffer for it. In addition, no matter what the cost to him of the on his children received, he may not lay it up for himself as merit to be drawn upon; it is wrong to use it 'to justify yourself in your present 1ine of action.' His children are 'naturally' resentful ; because their father started something he couldn't maintain; they were 'betrayed.' It is foolish for a father to imagine that just because he has devoted himself entirely to them while they needed his care, the now-grown children are going to be extra solicitous for him. Instead they are conscious only of the on they have incurred and 'naturally they are against you.'

Americans do not judge such a situation in this light. We think that a father who dedicated himself to his motherless children should in later years merit some warm spot in their hearts, not that they are 'naturally against him.' In order to appreciate it as the Japanese see it, we can, however, regard it as a financial transaction for in that sphere we have comparable attitudes. It would be perfectly possible for us to say to a father who has lent money to his children in a formal transaction which they have to live up to with interest, 'they are naturally against you.' In these terms too we can understand why a person who has accepted a cigarette speaks of his 'shame' instead of saying a straightforward 'Thank you.' We can understand the resentment with which they speak of a person's making another wear an on. We can at least get a clue to Botchan's grandiose magnification of the debt of a glass of ice water. But Americans are not accustomed to applying these financial criteria to a casual treat at the soda counter or to the years' long devotion of a father to his motherless children or to the devotion of a faithful dog like Hachi. Japan does. Love, kindness, generosity , which we value just in proportion as they are given without strings attached, necessarily must have their strings in Japan. And every such act received makes one a debtor. As their common saying has it: 'It requires (an impossible degree of) inborn generosity to receive on.'

the simple Japanese life (Tues)

Hi Faithful Reader,

I've just arrived in Japan and it's wonderful so far.

On the plane, I was reading a fascinating book about Japan. It's called "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture".

Hope to have some time to share some rich insights from the book.

Pics soon....

- isaiah

Monday, December 13, 2004

Faith is the key

In his book Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning tells the following story:

When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at "the house of the dying" in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Theresa.

She asked, "And what can I do for you?" Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him. What do you want me to pray for?" she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: "Pray that I have clarity."

She said firmly, "No, I will not do that." When he asked her why, she said, "Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of." When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, "I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God."

Famous Atheist Now Believes in God

Famous Atheist Now Believes in God
Thu Dec 9, 4:57 PM ET

By RICHARD N. OSTLING, AP Religion Writer

NEW YORK - A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God — more or less — based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released Thursday.

At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.

Flew said he's best labeled a deist like Thomas Jefferson, whose God was not actively involved in people's lives.
"I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins," he said. "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose."
Flew first made his mark with the 1950 article "Theology and Falsification," based on a paper for the Socratic Club, a weekly Oxford religious forum led by writer and Christian thinker C.S. Lewis.
Over the years, Flew proclaimed the lack of evidence for God while teaching at Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele, and Reading universities in Britain, in visits to numerous U.S. and Canadian campuses and in books, articles, lectures and debates.
There was no one moment of change but a gradual conclusion over recent months for Flew, a spry man who still does not believe in an afterlife.
Yet biologists' investigation of DNA "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved,"
Flew says in the new video, "Has Science Discovered God?"

The video draws from a New York discussion last May organized by author Roy Abraham Varghese's Institute for Metascientific Research in Garland, Texas. Participants were Flew; Varghese; Israeli physicist Gerald Schroeder, an Orthodox Jew; and Roman Catholic philosopher John Haldane of Scotland's University of St. Andrews.
The first hint of Flew's turn was a letter to the August-September issue of Britain's Philosophy Now magazine. "It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism," he wrote.
The letter commended arguments in Schroeder's "The Hidden Face of God" and "The Wonder of the World" by Varghese, an Eastern Rite Catholic layman.
This week, Flew finished writing the first formal account of his new outlook for the introduction to a new edition of his "God and Philosophy," scheduled for release next year by Prometheus Books.
Prometheus specializes in skeptical thought, but if his belief upsets people, well "that's too bad," Flew said. "My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato's Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads."

Last week, Richard Carrier, a writer and Columbia University graduate student, posted new material based on correspondence with Flew on the atheistic www.infidels.org Web page. Carrier assured atheists that Flew accepts only a "minimal God" and believes in no afterlife.
Flew's "name and stature are big. Whenever you hear people talk about atheists, Flew always comes up," Carrier said. Still, when it comes to Flew's reversal, "apart from curiosity, I don't think it's like a big deal."
Flew told The Associated Press his current ideas have some similarity with American "intelligent design" theorists, who see evidence for a guiding force in the construction of the universe. He accepts Darwinian evolution but doubts it can explain the ultimate origins of life.

A Methodist minister's son, Flew became an atheist at 15.
Early in his career, he argued that no conceivable events could constitute proof against God for believers, so skeptics were right to wonder whether the concept of God meant anything at all.
Another landmark was his 1984 "The Presumption of Atheism," playing off the presumption of innocence in criminal law. Flew said the debate over God must begin by presuming atheism, putting the burden of proof on those arguing that God exists.
On the Net:
Varghese page: http://www.thewonderoftheworld.com
Infidels on Flew: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/antony_flew/index.shtml

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Barber Shop

These days, I'm watching them DVDs fast and furious.

My membership with my DVD library ends in Jan and I've got 20 coupons left. I'm anticipating a very busy 2005 so I'm trying to finish the 20 coupons by December.

There was a time when watching DVDs means a 100% focus, put-down-everything-else approach. Since then, I've learnt to live a little and adopt a more relaxed attitude.

These days, I can watch DVDs and be on the computer at the same time. However, I make sure these DVDs are less intellectually and artistically stimulating.

Whatever that means.

Yesterday, that meant borrowing The Barbershop, 15 Minutes and Along Came Polly. I also borrowed Super Size Me but I'm reserving that for a wholehearted viewing.

The Barbershop wasn't great. But it had its moments. I liked some of the lines in there, especially from Eddie, played by Cedric the Entertainer.

Black people have such cool names.

It was fun watching Eddie slaughter the sacred cows, and especially the reactions of the people around him.

There are three things that Black people need
to tell the truth about.
Number one: Rodney King should've gotten his ass beat
for being drunk in a Honda
in a white part of Los Angeles.
Number two: O.J. did it!
And number three: Rosa Parks didn't do nuthin'
but sit her Black ass down!

The bit on Rosa Parks was hilarious.

Eddie wasn't only funny, he was wise as well.

See, in my day, a barber was
more than just somebody
who sit around in a FUBU shirt
with his drawers hanging all out.
In my day, a barber was a counselor.
He was a fashion expert. A style coach. Pimp.
Just general all-around hustler.
But the problem with y'all cats today,
is that you got no skill.
No sense of history.
And then, with a straight face,
got the nerve to want to be somebody.
Want somebody to respect you.
But it takes respect to get respect.

Care to comment on the last 8 lines?

More tomorrow.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Communication let me down

"What we've got here is failure to communicate."
-Cool Hand Luke

My mother had to borrow $300 from a friend because I forgot to give her pocket money for the month of November.

I am so ashamed of myself. For forgetting my duty, for neglecting her needs, for only thinking about myself.

And I'm sad that she feels bad asking me for money. I feel sad that it was easier for her to borrow from her friend rather than telling me.

It's my fault and I don't blame her at all. But we, and especially I, need to work on our communication skills.

I am not alone.

Last night, my friend was telling me about problems with her boss. Today, my colleague shared with me her problems with another colleague. From a third-party perspective, you know the solution to their problem is being transparent with the other person. But this is apparently easier said than done.

Someone the other day asked me about why my past relationship ended. I didn't know the short version of it so I told her that it was a long story.

Now I do.

Basically, this is a short, accurate but not a perfect answer. I was insecure and in my insecurity, I kept it all in and failed to communicate. (I'm totally aware that the other party might have a totally different perspective, even if you've struggled for years to find the answer. It's so tragic that it's funny.)

"How to Win Friends and Influence People" (the "grandfather of all people-skills books") is a wonderful book. I'm reading it now for the first time and getting some helpful tips from it. But at the end of the day, it's not so much the skills but how we master our emotions and allow ourselves to be vulnerable to others.

For this, I don't need a book.

Simply courage.

Things would be a lot easier if they sell this on Amazon.com.

King of the World

Poll reveals cheesiest film lines

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio's declaration "I'm the king of the world!" in the film Titanic has been voted the cheesiest line in movie history.

Patrick Swayze's famous line in Dirty Dancing - "Nobody puts Baby in the corner" - came second in the survey.

"Is it still raining? I hadn't noticed," uttered by Andie MacDowell at the end of Four Weddings and a Funeral was placed third.

The survey of 2,000 film-goers was commissioned by foodmakers Warburtons.

Swayze makes another appearance at four in Ghost, although the cheesy line belongs to co-star Demi Moore. "I love you," Swayze says, to which Moore replies: "Ditto."

Top Gun came fifth for the moment Val Kilmer tells Tom Cruise: "You can be my wingman any time."


Julia Roberts' line from Notting Hill - "I'm just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her" - was voted sixth.

Bill Pullman is at seven for the moment when - as the US President - he vows to fight off alien invasion: "Today we celebrate our Independence Day."

Eighth place went to this Mel Gibson line from Braveheart: "They make take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!"

Renee Zellweger was ninth on the list for the line in Jerry Maguire when she says to Tom Cruise: "You had me at hello."

And a line delivered by Kevin Costner in his flop The Postman rounds off the top 10.
"You're a godsend, a saviour," a blind woman tells his character. "No," he replies. "I'm a postman."

Story from BBC http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/entertainment/4070771.stm

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Simply Thankful

Today is the first day of the last month of 2004.

Looking back, it's been a great year for me. I found a job I really wanted and completed a BA with some good results. I'm extremely grateful that my mother and I are healthy. And that we have a place that we can call our own. I'm thankful for good friends and that I got to travel more this year.

The Bible commands us to" in everything give thanks" so I will be thankful for the things that fall short.

On the relationship front, I have yet to meet a girl that I'm excited about so let me thank God for that. Of the 4 goals that I set for myself, I only managed to achieve 1. I'm putting on far too much weight. I don't spend enough time talking to God and getting to know Him. I started tithing regularly and I stopped that a couple of months ago. I have problems communicating with people. I'm spending too much time on unnecssary stuff and too little time reading. I'm not exercisng enough. I lack discipline. I am impatient. I talk when I should listen. I procrastinate. I do not do what I preach.

For all these, I am thankful to God.

I'm excited about 2005. I have decided it's going to be a simple and fantastic year for me. As you can see, there's lots of things I need to work on. December is going to be crucial as I lay the groundwork for 2005.

I'm beginning to believe - less is more.

Do keep me in your prayers.