Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review: Dreaming in Chinese by Deborah Fallows

I found Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life and Love by Deborah Fallows to be quite an interesting read. Fallows is a linguist who derived some wonderful lessons during the process of learning Chinese.  Now, these lessons are not overly deep or profound. I guess I wouldn't really call them lessons but rather observations.  Nonetheless, the book was an easy and enjoyable read and it served as a great opportunity to learn a little bit about the Chinese language and culture. I found Fallows' writing to be very fluid and comfortable.  It was quite accessible and very funny at times.  Every time I sat down to read it, I was able to read through one chapter--they were short and to-the-point. That helped me to get through the book and really engage with it.  

As for the Chinese language, let's just say that it's a language I hope I never have to learn. Fallows really helped me appreciate how complex it is but I also found it to be very beautiful. She talks about a poem called Lion Eating Poet in the Stone Den that uses the same word to tell a whole story. The only difference is tones. She points out how difficult it is for Westerners to even hear the tones and I've found that to be true.  Igbo is also a very tonal language and it's funny sometimes when I say a word and the hubby repeats it and I say it's not the same word and he gives me a confused look.  But I don't think Igbo is anywhere near as tonal as Chinese so I think it would be challenging for anyone to learn.

Linguistics is a fascinating field and I'm always intrigued by how much language is a window into the life and culture of a people.

A short, interesting interview with the author.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Martial Arts

It seems like martial arts have become just one more activity on the long list of activities the well-rounded American kid should do.  But I've always felt a bit hesitant about signing Z1 up for martial arts classes.  Karate is offered at our local Y and so many parents I talk to have their kids taking some form of martial arts. At a birthday party I went to a few weeks ago, two parents were debating discussing the merits the superiority of the particular form of martial arts her child was learning (one was learn jujutsu and the other tae kwon do).  As I sat there listening to the conversation, I felt rather uneasy and frankly, I wondered how much the parents actually knew about that particular form of martial arts.  How much did they actually know about martial arts in general?  The history.  The purpose.  The discipline.  

Much like yoga in the West, martial arts has changed significantly and a lot of the timesfeels hollow and naked  to me.  Stripped of something somehow.  I saw this video on The World of Ensayn Reality and Mr. Roberto Sharpe really got to the heart of why I feel hesitation about just signing Z1 up for some martial arts classes:

I feel equally uneasy about just going to yoga classes.  Yoga, to me, is spiritual.  The martial arts, to me, when practiced in their truest form is spiritual too.  It's not just exercise or something to put on a resume.  It takes time.  Lots and lots of time, patience and learning to reach the heights of the practice (consciousness).  (And the heights of the practice don't necessarily involve a trophy or a certificate.)  And so, if you seriously want to delve deeply into it, you (preferably) need a master.  You need to be committed.  Patient.  Open.

Now maybe that's just taking something that could simply be a fun activity (that as a perk teaches kids some discipline) and making it more complex than it needs to be.  Maybe it's just not that deep.  But to me, it really seems like something I need to think on and meditate on before we just do it.  Z1 is taking piano classes and will soon start swimming classes.  These disciplines also require commitment, discipline and time so I don't feel like Z1 is not acquiring these important traits.  I feel like I have the time, if he expresses interest, to find him a true martial arts teacher.  And that is what I would like to do.  
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