Monday, October 29, 2007

Vietnamese Classes: Many Miles Later

I returned to Vietnamese classes a couple months ago. I can't remember when I stopped with the updates. They brought in a new teacher at the language school I go to; our new teacher also teaches at UCLA. She's really good.

It's amazing how long it takes to learn things in a Vietnamese class: after months and months of Vietnamese classes, we're on page 15 or so of our book. We will never finish our book.

But that's okay. We have spent most of our time learning how to pronounce things in Vietnamese. It's slowly starting to settle in, and the tones are beginning to feel somewhat natural. With all the emphasis on tones and pronunciation of vowels and certain consonant combinations, it's weird how little vocabulary we have learned. For example, I still don't know how to say "big" or "small". I know just a handful of verbs, and a very bare bones set of adjectives.

I'm going to stick with it for as long as I can. I am enjoying it a bit more, especially since every now and then I can amuse my in-laws when I say things like "The weather tonight is quite beautiful. Yesterday was hot and was difficult to enjoy." My most often used Vietnamese phrases are "tôi không biết" (I don't know) and "ngon" (tasty).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Everything Old Is New Again

image by Bpilgrim - C.C.L.

Empires fall.

Old empires rise again.
The possibility of rebuilding Nalanda University goes to the heart of both those issues. Founded in 427 in northeastern India, not far from what is today the southern border of Nepal, and surviving until 1197, Nalanda was one of the first great universities in recorded history. It was devoted to Buddhist studies, but it also trained students in fine arts, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, politics and the art of war.

The university was an architectural and environmental masterpiece. It had eight separate compounds, 10 temples, meditation halls, classrooms, lakes and parks. It had a nine-story library where monks meticulously copied books and documents so that individual scholars could have their own collections. It had dormitories for students, perhaps a first for an educational institution, housing 10,000 students in the university’s heyday and providing accommodations for 2,000 professors. Nalanda was also the most global university of its time, attracting pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey.

The university died a slow death about the time that some of the great European universities, including those in Oxford, England, and Bologna, Italy, were just getting started, and more than half a millennium before Harvard or Yale were established. Its demise was a result of waning enthusiasm for Buddhism in India, declining financial support from successive Indian monarchs and corruption among university officials. The final straw was the burning of the buildings by Muslim invaders from what is now Afghanistan.

But Nalanda represents much of what Asia could use today — a great global university that reaches deep into the region’s underlying cultural heritage, restores many of the peaceful links among peoples and cultures that once existed, and gives Asia the kind of soft power of influence and attraction that it doesn’t have now. The West has a long tradition of rediscovering its ancient Greek and Roman roots, and is much stronger for that. Asia could and should do the same, using the Nalanda project as a springboard but creating a modern, future-oriented context for a new university.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Saturday morning in Los Angeles. No one on my street at 9:20 a.m. Just sunlight on grass, the occasional squirrel, and some parked cars. Lots of long shadows -- but the morning kind, the kind that make you feel hopeful, not regretful.
The planet was named for the Roman god of agriculture Saturn. It has been called dies Saturni ("Saturn's Day"), through which form it entered into Old English as Sæternesdæg and gradually evolved into the word "Saturday".

Saturday is the only day of the week in which the English name comes from Roman mythology. The English names of all of the other days of the week come from Germanic mythology. In India, Saturday is Shanivar, based on Shani, the Vedic God manifested in the planet Saturn. In the Thai solar calendar of Thailand, the day is named from the Pali word for Saturn, and the color associated with Saturday is purple.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Cha, Tee

Some history on the two root words for tea in the world:
The Chinese character for tea is 茶, but it is pronounced differently in the various Chinese dialects. Two pronunciations have made their way into other languages around the world. One is tê, which comes from the Amoy Min Nan dialect, spoken around the port of Xiamen (Amoy). This pronunciation is believed to come from the old words for tea 梌 (tú) or 荼 (tú). The other is chá, used by the Cantonese dialect spoken around the ports of Guangzhou (Canton), Hong Kong, Macau, and in overseas Chinese communities, as well as in the Mandarin dialect of northern China. This term was used in ancient times to describe the first flush harvest of tea. Yet another different pronunciation is zu, used in the Wu dialect spoken around Shanghai.

Languages that have tê derivatives include Afrikaans (tee), Armenian, Catalan (te), Czech (té or thé, but these words sound archaic; čaj is used nowadays, as explained in the next paragraph), Danish (te), Dutch (thee), English (tea), Esperanto (teo), Estonian (tee), Faroese (te), Finnish (tee), French (thé), (West) Frisian (tee), Galician (té), German (Tee), Hebrew (תה, te or tei), Hungarian (tea), Icelandic (te), Indonesian (teh), Irish (tae), Italian (tè), scientific Latin (thea), Latvian (tēja), Malay (teh), Norwegian (te), Occitan (tè), Polish (herbata from Latin herba thea),Lithuanian (arbata from Latin herba thea), Scots Gaelic (tì, teatha), Singhalese (thé), Spanish (té), Swedish (te), Tamil (theneer), Telugu (ṭī), Welsh (te), and Yiddish (טיי, tei). Tea in Sesotho, the language spoken in Lesotho is tea.

Those that use cha or chai derivatives include Albanian (çaj), Amharic(pronounced shy) Arabic (شاي shai), Assyrian (pronounced chai), Azeri: (çay), Bengali (চা), Bosnian (čaj), Bulgarian (чай chai), Capampangan (cha), Cebuano (tsa), Croatian (čaj), Czech (čaj), English (char, slang), Georgian (ჩაი, chai), Greek (τσάι tsái), Gujarati (cha), Hindi (चाय chai), Japanese (茶, ちゃ, cha), Kannada Chaha, Kazakh (шай shai), Korean (茶,차 cha), Macedonian (čaj),Malayalam ("chaya"), Marathi (chahaa), Mongolian (цай, tsai), Nepali (cheeya), Oriya (cha), Persian (چای chaay), Punjabi (ਚਾਹ), Portuguese (chá), Romanian (ceai), Russian (чай, chai), Serbian (чај chaj), Slovak (čaj), Slovene (čaj), Somali (shaax), Swahili (chai), Tagalog (tsaa), Thai (ชา, cha), Tibetan (ཇ་ja), Tlingit (cháayu), Turkish (çay), Ukrainian (чай chai), Urdu (چاى), Uzbek (choy) and Vietnamese (trà and chè are both direct derivatives of the Chinese 茶; the latter term is used mainly in the north and describes a tea made with freshly-picked leaves).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Al's Big Day

The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced tomorrow, October 12, in Oslo, Norway. Former Vice President Al Gore is said to be in the running for the award. There is much speculation that Gore may decide to run for President if he does win the Nobel Prize.

Here's hoping.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

On the now nearly empty bus

Summer is over and the sunlight we've grown to feel so entitled to here in L.A. is steadily being dialed back. Darkness in L.A. is darker than in other places.

The 81 wheezes and sighs and squeals its way up Figueroa through the early darkness. Gas stations shine under mellowly lit blue (Mobil) and yellow (Shell) roofs -- self-contained beacons of pristine daytime. Blue and green neon signs in darkened, shuttered storefronts reading "Insurance" and "Water" heighten the general darkness.

Figueroa is receding and approaching red and white dots of light, passing under green lanterns. The Bargain Land blazes a cream-colored light out of its giant retail windows. T-shirts hang on a circular rack under the blaring light, unbrowsed. A field of artificial grass is bright under towering floodlights, and fifth graders wearing full sleeves dribble soccer balls through cones.

It's autumn in L.A.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Octopus TV

This clip, 3min and 46 sec, is worth watching to recall in vivid, nauseating detail, the tremendous load of horseshit we were fed by the same assholes who are now trying to drag us into war against Iran. The neocons are shameless, honorless, craven liars who will say anything to advance their warmongering agenda.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A World Without Bananas: Octopus Dietary Notes Vol. 1

Alexander the Great brought the banana to Europe. From India. Bananas were first mentioned in Sanskrit texts dating from about 500 B.C. The name for banana derives from the Arabic word "banan", which means "finger".

Domesticated chickens emerged from Southeast Asia and were transported across the Pacific by the Polynesians. (Chicken bones dating from the 12th century were found in southern Chile last year, providing strong evidence that the Polynesians made contact with the Americas before the Europeans.)

Potatoes and tomatoes are indigenous to Central and South America and were not introduced to Europe until the 16th century, when the Spanish brought them back. Mama Mia!

Coffee was first cultivated in Africa. It spread from there to the Middle East, where it was very popular with the Arabs. Arab traders brought coffee to Italy, through Venice. Coffeehouses in Europe became hotbeds of political unrest, as were coffeehouses in the Middle East.

The Gross Michel banana, allegedly tastier than our current Cavendish bananas, was largely killed off in the mid-twentieth century. The Cavendish bananas are apparently in some danger of going extinct this century.

In Japan, the word "ramen" is written in katakana, the special Japanese alphabet for loanwords (i.e., "apatoo," "konputa," "pasucon," etc.) because ramen is considered a Chinese dish. The dish was imported from China, where it was known as "lo mein".

The Portuguese brought the pineapple to India. They got it in South America. Portuguese cooking techniques also led to the creation of tempura in Japan, which the Portuguese also visited very early on. Those guys got around, and ate well.