there is an old politically incorrect russian jokes that goes:
do you know how chinese people name their children?
they throw some silverware down the stairs and name the child by the resulting sound.
well, as an american liberal arts enlightened student, i dismissed this as culturally insensitive nonsense.
but just now, i dropped a spoon in my room, and my flat mate (whose chinese name I cannot pronounce and out of sensitivity for the shortcomings of our pronunciation he introduces himself as john) suddenly responded from his room down the hall, ‘yes’.
bewildered, i thought, is there anything to this? does it deserve a follow up experiment?
update: 3 hours later.
my friend was over this time, so i say this with the weight of 4 ears. i accidentally clanked my cup on the table. this time john was in the kitchen. ‘yes’, he said but then walked over to the door and checked to see if anyone was there.
it must be that he has sensitive ears and timid quietly knocking friends, which actually is the case.
today, i was talking to a professor about the divergent in-class speaking practices of students in england vs. america. in england they remain intelligently silent. in america students take as a general rule to ask a question or say something per class. is my following remark true:
In American classrooms (and possibly as a microcosm for wider academe) talk is used to dispel misconceptions. To talk in class is to expose yourself. May as well say things with conviction which your evidence allows you to conclude. Ideally this will serve as incentive for the next piece of evidence which contradicts your assertion to emerge. The louder a conviction is broadcast the more likely someone who is in possession of such evidence and whose interests are (or sense of dignity is) sufficiently perturbed will respond. This is a healthy classroom discussion.
It also helps to know that the disbursement of social activity is different in American colleges. Classes have to be more conversational because they are replacing other communication venues, such as: supervisions, tutors, meetings with the director of studies, even the pub. A classroom setting is often seen as a plebeian assembly. Besides classes are 3 to 4 hours a week. Some lecture seminars are three hours long. Or when considered from the perspective of educational economics in large classes you have to talk to ever lock eyes with a professor.
the fact that she is originaly from czekoslovakia, reminded me of an absurdism i used to assert to my friends after czeckoslovakia (in my lifetime) became two countries; you may find it humorous:
the humbled people of the independence movement of the czeck republic and slovakia arrived at the respective names of their counties out of consideration for the many people in the world who have purchased a map which lists them as one country. to minimize universal inconvenience, they drew the border in pen on the bestselling map. this line crossed through the ‘o’ and it was settled, one side “czeck” and the other “slovakia” and a convenient rule of thumb for where the border passes.
one of the seminars i’m attending this term is called the modern city. the following is an idea trajectory i shared with the class last week, and now i share with you.
for practical reasons in the distant past, walls were built around cities. these walls also acted as areal contraints on the growth of the urban center. technical limitations prevented vertical growth. expansion was a prolem solved by creativity and increased complexity and “fractalness” within the limited area (as opposed to an urban sprawl.) the result is what is today a feast for the eyes.
having spent the past weekend in san francisco, in constrast to the last half year in europe, i realized just how european san francisco feels. keeping the last thought in mind, it is possible to formulate a hypothesis. while san francisco is not surrounded by walls, on three sides it is surrounded by water. vertical expansion is capped by earthquakes. these are the necessary conditions for increased complexity, and that is exactly what you get.
of course, we can theorize about san francisco without end; this is merely one observation.
while working at my desk, i was startled by something large smashing into my window. when i turned my head, i was staring into the eyes of pigeon in an unnatural flight position — prostrate in a cloud of its own plumage. it was a strong gust of wind and several feathers were already cascading onto my floor when the bird regained its composure at positive altitude and returned safely to the trees.
as they tend to, this shock reminded me of another, such, inexplicable moment. a bird rammed its beak into my head during the summer of 2002 (the day before my 21st birthday). i neither taunted or threatened it — in fact, i did nothing at all to deserve this — the worst i could be indicted of was a peaceful stroll along chicago’s waterfront while talking to kris. he’s a witness.
and what doesn’t the wind bring? it has been severe and whistling past our ears for a third day and counting. this was recorded yesterday:
on an occasional nighttime stroll through cambridge, leaning thick into a gust of wind, for a fleeting second i caught an unmistakable scent of the sea.
for new year, we traveled to the fashion capital of the world, Milan, to report on what’s hot this year:
(the outdoor celebration spanned three plazas, each hosting a diversely themed concert, and the interconnecting network of streets housed all sorts of fan fare.)
in the plazas, we encountered bomb shelling. or so we thought initially. evidently, it is IN to throw firecrackers into crowds of people and to aim projectile fireworks at the same crowd shortly thereafter. (this way, they are sufficiently shocked from the first explosion that if you aim right, they’ll be too disoriented to have any chance of avoiding impact.)
for the more sophisticated, it’s also IN to place firecrackers into beer bottles and throw the bottles as this causes more damage from the ejected shards of glass. no worries, ambulances are near by and will take the victim to fashionable hospitals.
when you are done drinking champagne, of which the cheap variety only costs 5 euros at your nearest peddler in the square, break this bottle too, especially if you have just downed it because the clock reads 12:01 am.
remember, though these activities are fashionable in and of themselves, it is possible to perform them with more or less style. your neighbors will notice; but they will not tell the police.
an eloquent girl provided the closing argument to a spontaneous performance by her prenubile troupe. though i’m not clear on what she said, the whole flock scurried away quickly and not without a fuss when i expressed an intention to “hand these videos over to the authorities.”
britain has a peculiar relationship with its grass. after all, britain has significantly contributed to the many grass based activities and sports of the world: golf, tennis , and football have all originated here. in fact, the local claim is that the first written rules of football (soccer) were set down on a plot of land called parker’s piece, several minutes from my lodgings.
britain has in turn infected america with its passion for a verdant lawn forming the cornerstone of a stereotypical suburban existence to such an extent that more water is spent irrigating lawns than for drinking. (a harper’s index fact)
the deification of the green blade is apparent in every courtyard in cambridge in the form of a permanent “keep off the grass” sign. the instant you disobey a stern-spoken grey english gentleman will approach and invect, “are you a member of this college?” then process you into the street (by the ear) without waiting for an answer.
occasionally, you will see “fellows”, who are permitted to transgress this edict, rolling balls around, perhaps working on another sport to popularize/export.