Thursday, February 21, 2008

The purpose of living a longer life

Mr. and Mrs. Aawaraa always have disagreement on their desire for a long life. Mrs. is interested in all kinds of health related information, while Mr. has the Buddhist belief that living is painful process and only lucky person are given a sudden ending of their life, which is the minimum pain. We recently watched quite a lot of programs on air crash investigation in the National Geographic Channel. I am interested in the thrilling settings these programs created, while Mr. Aawaraa always regrets that he couldn't be that "lucky". Of course, there is always argument after his comment. It thus also bring me more seriously thinking about death and the reason for a long life.

Whenever I watch or read about the universe, it is a little discomfort to think about "I" in the universe: at most being a piece of sand in its history. Everyone will die, and the earth may die also one day. The desire of living is from the desire of happiness. Sometimes you are so happy or satisfied that you feel there is nothing to regret if you just die at the moment. You want to enjoy the happiness the life brings. Recently we watched a movie "Into the Wild", about a new college graduate who was troubled by his parents' relationship and the world. He left every one and started traveling alone to look for the meaning of life. His goal was to go to Alaska and live there by himself for several months. He learned his lesson at the end as he noted down in his book "Happiness needs to be shared", but it was too late for him to be able to save himself.

So, the desire to live, is actually originated from the connections you make in the society: those who you love, and those who loves you. That is the main reason that you feel you would want to live longer, and share the maximum time, and experiences with them. It will be ideal that a loving couple could die together. The one who dies earlier is the lucky one since the left-over pain might be unbearable to the other. I wonder whether a person without any relatives or friends in this world would care whether to live or die.

A friend's parents, in their 90s, were occasionally sad because of their friends' passing away. Her Dad plays Golf, and his playmates have changed several turns. It might be a complicated feeling when you are in that situation. Maybe that is the reason that people have their children, someone to love, to live longer.

Lots of efforts have been put on research on how to fight the aging, diseases so that people can live longer. Three towns with the most number of centenarians are investigated, and different reasons are i
dentified as the reasons for their old ages people.
OKINAWA, JAPAN: food varieties, and eating habit of 80% full;
OVODDA, SARDINIA: family long life gene preserved in close marriage;
LOMA LINDA, CALIFORNIA: faithful church goers.

It is still not sure what are the main reason but it is true that there are a series of reasons that contribute to a long life. You might learn from these researches how to live a longer life, by eating healthy and less, and living in communities with people. A longer life gives you longer time to experience and enjoy the happiness the life brings to you. We might not be lucky enough to be born in these lucky towns that have better environment for a longer life, but we always have the control in pursuing a happy life. It is possible that a life of 60 years can bring as much happiness as a life of 100 years. In that way, the number of years might not be as important as the amount of happiness in your life.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What Spielberg did, less to Darfur, more to China

Recent news about Darfur and China have generated a lot of media attentions on the 2008 Olympic games, and what Beijing can do to stop the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Knowing about this connection was not new to me. Last year at Providence, there was a "Photojournalism Record of Life and Death in Darfur" organized by groups at Brown university. Giant images of the escalating crisis in Sudan were displayed on big walls in the reception hall. Later the lecture attracted thousands of people, although I am not sure whether I was the only Chinese there. Speakers included Mia Farrow, the UNICEF’s goodwill ambassador who has pushed Steven Spielberg's resign from the Olympic artistic adviser. That was one year ago. It was clearly pointed in the lecture, China can do more, and we should push Chinese government to do more to stop the genocide.

Another time at Brown, when the Chinese ambassador came for a talk, the Darfur was brought up in the QA session. After coming to this orange country, we also came across a lecture on human rights issues in China. Certainly, Darfur was one of the issue. It is really not a easy task for a Chinese living in China to accept the fact that Beijing's Olympic is connected with the Darfur genocide. However, there are some understandings that might be useful in sharing.

The common reaction to China's role in the African countries are, US and European countries did worse in Africa in terms of exploitation and slave trade in the history. It seems to be an easy argument to make. One made a mistake, and hope that cursing someone else who made similar mistake would make his own mistake less blamable. It is important to know that mistake is always mistake. It is impossible to justify one's mistake by the other's mistake. One criminal kill a person. It doesn't mean that you can also go and kill someone.

So here is the point I want to make: what China is doing in African countries have some impacts that China is ignoring but other countries are worrying. It is very likely that their worries are reasonable. China's development aid in Africa most of the time are for the exchange of natural resources, without any extra condition that western foreign aid would most of the time restrict with. Chinese are good at making things done, build the road, build the factory, with the whole crew sent from China, including farmers planting Chinese favored vegetables in Africa. This kind of aid is questionable because it just give rather than teach the locals how. When this aid is removed, there is no sustainable impact left in the local community.

How can Spielberg help then? In fact I do not think Spielberg's resign will have much to do with China's behavior. China has tried to help in the Darfur issue, and its help is limited. What China can do is to put some pressure, but whether the pressure works or not is out of China's control. However, what Spielberg did, generated a great voice, to act as China's conscience. It push the government to think about its actions in Africa, more carefully and more responsive. China knows that China can not act in a vacuum, and has to be responsible in the international community. Being responsible is important for the government of China as well.

China and Chinese will argue, it doesn't make sense to mix sports with politics. Spielberg might have to face a big entertainment market that might stay hatred to his films in the future. But the important task is done, China will act more cautiously in the future, avoiding leaving any tails for others to blame upon. That is enough.

If we believe that politics should not be mixed with other things, Chinese should not boycott Spielberg's movie in the future. If we do that, then we are making the same 'mistake' that Spielberg made. Politics are everywhere.

The picture is from here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Rabbit-proof fence and government apology

It is today's first news that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized in parliament to all Aborigines for laws and policies that "inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss". He singled out the "Stolen Generations" of thousands of children forcibly removed from their families.

It is interesting to me since we recently just watched the movie "Rabbit-proof fence", which was about the 'stolen generation' in Australia until late 1960s. It brought to me part of Australian history that I was not aware of before.

During the early years of the 20th century, white Australians panicked about the supposed disaster of an "unwanted third race" of "half-caste" Aborigine children. By 1950, it has been alleged the widespread removal of children from their parents and exercise of sundry guardianship powers by Aboriginal protectors over Aborigines up to the age of 16 or 21. The alleged aim was to culturally assimilate mixed-descent people into Australian society. Policemen or other agents of the state (such as 'Aboriginal Protection Officers') were given the power to locate and transfer babies and children of mixed descent from their mothers or families or communities into institutions. In these Australian states and territories, half-caste institutions were established in the early decades of the 20th century for the reception of these separated children.

The movie was based on true events. The author of the book "Rabbit-Proof Fence", Doris Pilkington Garimara, her mother was forced to separated from her family and the story was based on her recollection of her experience. It is about three girls who were taken from their parents and sent to a mission far away from home. They managed to escape, and walked 1,500 miles to finally find their mothers following the rabbit-proof fence. They knew that their home "Jigalong" was along the rabbit fence and it stretched all the way from north to south. The story is quite simple, but clearly depict a disastrous, racist policy that brought about the misery of the so-called "stolen generations".

I am happy to see the new Australian PM could stand up and say sorry. It is not easy and previous PM were not able to do it. Maybe there is some insider's policy that I am still not knowing. It is a big lesson that people learned when they treat different racial groups of people as different people, rather than admitting they are equal human beings. When the policy makers talk about assimilation and integration in today's politics everywhere, they might learn something from Australian's experiences.

I start to like the courage people have to stand up for whatever they believe right or wrong, rather than messing up or watching as an outsider. My similar appreciation also goes to Spielberg today, for his resignation in the 2008 Olympic artistic adviser. China always claims that sports and politics should not be messed up together. In fact, politics is everywhere that you can never single it out alone. I would love to have these international forces working as conscience for China, and let China moving in a better direction for the whole world including all Chinese people.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The north end of the Netherlands - Groningen and Eems canal

Last time when we went to the southern city of Maaschtricht, it was the first day you could buy a discount NS train ticket, 25 euro for two persons traveling for one day unlimited. Before the tickets expired in March, and also a sunny and warm weekend like spring, we hopped on the train for the northern city of the Netherlands, Groningen. The G in Dutch is pronounced somewhere between G and K, also with some vibrating sound, I bet you might not be able to say it right.

It was such a warm day in February, and the train was crowded from the beginning. Many people are traveling, especially you see lots of white hair couples. Now we know that this might be a fashion in the Netherlands: go visiting other cities. They might be like us, bought a discount ticket, and take a one day trip. The three hours' journey passed easily with our Ipod fully loaded with the latest Economist podcast. The return trip was felt to be longer than expected, maybe also because the train was running in the dark, and nothing to see outside.

We found all cities are very similar, when you travel on a Saturday. A Saturday market in the center of the city with fruits, vegetables, kaas (cheese), flowers. Things are all the same as what I saw at Delft. I am not a big fan of the open market, because I do not feel it is much cheaper than grocery stores. There is a kind of fried fish, Kimbeling, which was our occasional snacks in the market. But soon both of us felt it was oily and stopped buying. Things I bought from the open market always get rotten faster. One stalk at Delft I sometimes visit is a grocery stalk. In the afternoon of Satuday, they will sell some vegetables at very cheap price. 50 cents you can buy a big cauliflower, or a Chinese cabbage.

Maybe it is around the Chinese New year, there were two museums hosting China related exhibitions. In the canal in front of a modernist museum right across the train station, there was a boat with some post, like in the picture. I am not sure why a canoe was used, maybe for fireworks? I was reading it as "I love China, you shoot China, We all love China". The Netherlands seem to be promoting its relationship with China. The NS trains already painted 2008 Olympic signs in the front. This coming year Tulip seaon flower show also has one theme as the coming Olympic in Beijing.

Briefly browsed the city, we decided to go further to the north. It was about another half an hour's train journey, we reached a town called Delfzijl. It was along the Eems canal, and out to the North sea. We were excited to see the water, big and open view of water. Mr. Aawaara commented, we have been bored of seeing all man-made things, we need some natural scenes. Actually, it was not totally nature either, it was a canal. Maybe it is because we were bored of the crowded city, and in need of some openness.

Across the canal, the other side is Germany. We could see many windmill along the canal on the other side. Germany was said to be the global leader in green energy, which seems to be true. We took a walk along the dike, the man-made bank along the canal. You can clearly feel that the water level is much higher than the land inside the dike. The whole country, more than half of its land, is protected by these dikes. Some teenagers were playing along the dike with their bikes, rushing down the steep slope again and again. A tiny tiny sand beach was made in a corner, almost the size of a basketball court. Two kids wearing rain boots play in the water with their grandparents watching besides. There were some kind of sea-weeds growing along the bank, and you can also see some broken shells washed on the shore. Not too far away, we saw some ducks are swimming. It might be the connecting part where the fresh water and sea water mixed together. I did not dare to taste the water.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Happy the Year of Rat, my readers!

Do you know that I know you are reading my blogs?

Happy the Year of Rat to everyone who come here! I hope all your wish would come true in the new year, and all your family members healthy and happy!

So now is the new year, first relax!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Academic writing - working with co-author

It is my own fresh experience and lessons after working with someone together on a writing project. Finally I submitted the final but it is a lot of thoughts after this working process. It was not really a happy experience, but I am still hoping for a happy ending, in which I can only know in June.

We two are together writing a proposal. He was very busy and traveling when it was due. In the morning I was ready to submit the proposal, I got an email from him saying he was really not happy. The main reason was because I replaced part of his text with mine, since I don't feel his writing make enough sense to me... ... I was not happy either. Anyway, do not want to focus too much on the details, just want to share with you what I learned from this process. Maybe it would save you from some bad experience in later time. One thing is necessary to keep clear from the beginning: this applies to a co-authorship between persons with similar experiences. If you are working with a much respected person, stories might be different.

1. Discussion is never too much. When you want to work with someone, discussion with the person about this work is all the time the best way to make things clear. The biggest lesson of mine is that I realized very late that we do not share the same value in judging some issues. What happens in the writing process, is his trying to delete my words that he felt too biased. On the other hand, I do not like his words the same way around.

2. Read the person's work before hand, and decide whether you would like it or not. I actually read his work in which he asked for my comments, I did give quite some comments, and I knew I did not like the kind of work he was doing. But all these did not warn me enough to stop working together on a proposal, since I felt the topic was also my interest. The writing process became a battle of both our interests: he wanted to pull it towards his expertise and interest, and I wanted to drag to my direction. It is quite a painful battle. Really, you need to get to know this person well, and like his work.

3. Write together and exchange with comments. It is better to write upon an agreed structure, and exchange between with added writing and comments. You need to give reasons on why you like or do not like some part of the text. Bluntly delete other people's writing effort is all the time hurting to the other party.

4. Stay open between each other. In the writing process, if you seek advice or comments from other people, do share it with your co-author.

Now I am writing on this, it seems that I just made so many stupid mistakes in writing up an three pages proposal. It is a little piece, but it does give chances for all these little stupid problems to occur. We thought it was small, we thought it might be easy. Then it turned out to be the worst co-authoring experience I have had. Maybe you will never come across situations like mine. Be careful if you do.

The image is from here.