A Global Village?

Assuming, of course, that the world actually survives this century:

When historians look back on our century, they may remember it most, not for space travel or the release of nuclear energy, but as the time when the peoples of the world first came to take one another seriously.

Huston Smith, The World’s Religions (1991), pg. 7.

A little rosy, perhaps – I would put the quote in this century and change the last bit to: “… when some of the peoples of the world were forced to take one another seriously” – but I still like it.

One anthropologist we’ve read considers the “global village” idea, which – you may have noticed – is part of our blog’s tagline, to be misleading and naive.

Societies may appear to be growing similar as politics, products, technologies, Wal-Mart, Coke, Nike, Pokemon, and (please spare us) Hello Kitty spread around the globe. But meanings, worldview assumptions, thought processes… these things don’t change nearly as fast or as easily. Writing in 1996, this author points out that we often speak of Japan as a “Westernized” nation, but the deeper and more important cultural differences remain vast.

We have geographic proximity; international urban centres boast diverse populations, and advances in travel and communication make every corner of the globe easily accessible. But this does not mean we are living together the same world; such an assumption seems, according to him, “the height of naiveness.” In our languages and worldview differences, we in effect participate in separate realities at the deepest levels; the close physical proximity of our homes and products doesn’t change this fact.

Living in Taiwan and listening to our boss talk about underlying causes for differences in everything from rule of law to driving habits has made me consider this critique more than I would have before arriving in Asia. I still think that the spread of technology and products will continue to have a profound effect on the world’s cultures, including our own. But perhaps it’s less potent and slower than I previously assumed.

Regardless of how poorly people of different cultures understand one another, how separate our ‘thought-worlds’ are, or how little of our selves and others meaningfully transcends the cultural differences as we attempt to share our lives, we must at least still deal with one another’s increasing influence on our lives whether we understand it or not.

The way I see it (thanks for asking), we live in a global village that contains many different worlds, and the sooner we learn to understand one another and communicate, the better (in spite of what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says).

Content vs. Process

Content – the stuff you need to know to effectively do and pursue becoming the things you want to do and become. Content is what you know or understand, but all the knowing and understanding in the world can’t do what process does.

Process – intentionally or unavoidably engaging practices and experiences that grow and shape you over time, changing you and what you’re capable of. Engaging the process is applying what you know, and what that does with you. Process in part depends on the right content.

(I found this in the drafts – it was written during this last semester, probably in November sometime. We turned in our last assignments Dec. 23.)

I’m blowing off some steam here. I can’t wait to get this M.A. degree business out of the way and start some real Mandarin learning. I love the books and the learning, but we’re way overdue to enter the real world of family, jobs, and people.

I’ll always read, always pursue learning, but I’m sick of a life dominated by books and papers. Where are the people? When do we get to focus on our family? (that’s not a James Dobson reference, for anyone concerned ;) ) To earn our own living? To start life?

We are Word doc typing machines. We can’t really ‘read’ the books, let alone think about them, but somehow we’re supposed to produce pages of creative critical interaction. We’ve been through senioritis and burn-out before with school, but this is different. You start to wither after living too long in this artificial environment where reading books and writing about their content dominates your time and energy. It sounds like a luxury to people juggling jobs and marriage and kids, and it is – but it’s not a luxury in which I want to live to the exclusion of more important things.

In the beginning it makes sense to spend time front-loading content at the expense of process – I guess. But (overused metaphor ahead) a sponge will rot if all it ever does is soak. I’ve seen this happen, it’s ugly and sad. Absorbing content should always continue, but there’s a point when acquiring content should take a back seat to engaging process. I can’t wait.


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Somehow, Calvin’s expressions seem to capture perfectly my emotions and the way my brain feels right now….beyond exhausted, and feeling more than a little goofy. My last few papers were a little rough…but I don’t really feel bad about it. Given that it feels like every single academic tendency or urge I once had has been sucked out – far past the point of dryness, it was the best I had to give. And, for once in my life…that’s good enough!

But, I’m very happy to report that after months of seemingly endless homework, I’m finally finished. That probably makes all of our friends and family happy, because now we’ll have some more interesting posts and no more than whining complaints about our homework. :D Thanks for bearing with us. Joel is close behind, with one more paper to go.

Now, on to the baking of Christmas goodies!!! :D

Delete=ouch! & Paper Intimidation

We just turned in a paper where we were supposed to explain selected aspects of Chinese worldview and culture and their implications for Westerners who want to live within Chinese culture, in 15 pages. But at 1am, I had 30 pages. Something had to give.

So I started clear-cutting. Whole paragraphs, nay, whole sections, sub-headers and all, 13 pages worth, representing untold hours of my recently-overly-caffeinated life, ripped out and discarded like so much pumpkin guts at a jack-o-lantern carving. It’s a feeling similar to what you get after watching TV: I want those hours of my life back! Every time I highlighted paragraphs and pressed delete… Aa! my life! it’s gone!

It’s not my fault cultural subsystems are interrelated. It just feels wrong to talk about one without talking about the others.

Of course, it’s not the first time we’ve done this, and although we only have a few papers left to go, I doubt it will be the last time. But this paper is unique. Instead of turning it in to an American university professor for grading, our practicum on-site supervisor is grading it, and he’s Chinese. We’re writing a paper that’s (supposedly) about his culture. We know we don’t know what we’re talking about, but we still have to write like we do. I hope it’s entertaining for him, anyway.

Too busy to talk – have a panda instead

The experience of the long drawn out butt-kicking that is our last semester of grad school is kind of like accelerated reverse gastronomy. We’ll have to pass these courses before we can begin digesting their contents.

So instead of writing about interesting stuff we’re doing, we’re writing typing Word documents about interesting ideas we’re ‘reading.’ I’d like to say that between the ‘reading’ and the typing we’re reflecting deeply on said ideas, but the question “When?” has me crushed beneath its mountainously unassailable and 苦-ly relevant logic. I concede defeat. Gastronomical reversal it is.

Anyway, all that to apologize for the lack of action around here the last little while and for pulling ‘filler’ posts from the saved drafts (see below).

13 seconds well worth it! Turn your sound way up, and pay real close attention.


A brief indulgence of childishness…

Recently my friend Kelly has taken to posting the occasional poem on her blog. I won’t claim that this post was inspired by her poetic posts, especially since she is quoting serious, grown-up kind of poets like Shelley and John Howard Payne.

For me, however, children’s poet Jack Prelutsky’s epic poem will serve to convey my current (somewhat childish) attitude and frame of mind.

Homework! Oh, Homework!*

Homework! Oh, homework!
I hate you! You stink!
I wish I could wash you
away in the sink.
If only a bomb
would explode you to bits.
Homework! Oh, homework!
You’re giving me fits.

I’d rather take baths
with a man-eating shark,
or wrestle a lion
alone in the dark,
eat spinach and liver,
pet ten porcupines,
than tackle the homework
my teacher assigns.

Homework! Oh, homework!
You’re last on my list.
I simply can’t see
why you even exist.
If you just disappeared
it would tickle me pink.
Homework! Oh, homework!
I hate you! You stink!

* With regards to my third grade teacher, who forced us to memorize this poem, in what I now consider to be a somewhat ironic choice of a homework assignment. I am however, thankful, because almost twenty years later, the thought of taking a bath with a man-eating shark is cracking me up and helping me stay (a little bit) more sane.

Sometimes, when all I’ve been able to do is homework and bellyache about doing homework, a brief indulgence in childishness can be a nice break! :D

Museum of World Religions

After a delicious lunch of famous Taiwan noodle soup, thousand-year-old egg, and stomach strips, we had a good time at the Museum of World Religions in Yonghe, Taipei, Taiwan. There was a class of elementary age kids visiting from Nantou who had never seen foreigners before (according to one of their teachers). I wondered why we were being followed and stared at as if we were one of the museum’s exhibits! We had a fun time talking with them, taking pictures, and of course, letting them measure how tall their were compared to me, how big their feet were and the obligatory “sure, rub my arm hair all you want! Yeah wow. Look at that!” It was fun.

The Museum
The MWR is all about atmosphere. The elevator on the way up dims the lights, plays a moody welcome message, and opens to a display about purification beside a transparent waterfall. This leads to the entrance hallway called “Pilgrim’s Way,” where esoteric questions (in several languages) are played over a background of ambient music and the walls light up with the same questions in Mandarin and English beside life-size pictures of people praying. The hall ends at a heat-sensitive wall on which you can leave your hand prints. All this is probably the least-impressive part of the museum experience, but it sets the mood.

The museum is designed to make a strong impression and send a message, rather than primarily convey large amounts of cognitive information (though there is a lot of info to be had). It’s an engaging multi-sensory experience; it’s easy to get “lost” among the displays. In addition to the main hall profiling ten major world belief systems and traditional Taiwanese religion, there is: a small movie theatre showing “Creations,” an artsy story-telling of various creation myths; a globe-style theatre that attempts to help visitors “grasp the spirit” of the Avatamsaka sutra (“one is all; all is one”) through an audio-visual experience; a tatami-style “meditation gallery” with a giant video screen on each wall and banks of meditation instructions for various religions; a “Hall of Life’s Journey” show casing religious paraphernalia associated with birth, coming of age, marriage, old age, death, and afterlife; detailed replicas of famous religious architecture with movable internal cameras; and more. In the main hall, each world religion has a wall with text, a floor to ceiling video screen, a large, tall display case set in wall with audio selections corresponding to various numbered and encased religious paraphernalia, and a touch-screen computer database.

The museum was founded by a Buddhist master for the purpose of promoting peace, tolerance, inter-religious dialogue, and for providing a “department store of religions” where people can learn about and choose a religion. On the whole it’s really well done. It didn’t seem to be overly pushy with the Buddhism, though there is a pervasive message of Buddhist inclusivism, or maybe pluralism. Judging from the Christianity displays, they’ve done a lot of homework, but I don’t think someone would have a balanced or basic understanding of Christianity if all they knew was what the MWR told them. It seems to go out of its way to emphasize the similarities and inconsequential differences of each religion at the expense of fundamental, mutually incompatible differences. For example, the Christian meditation instructions in the Meditation Gallery say, “As the aspirant progresses in the ascent to God, he/she experiences a breakthrough en route to a dazzling darkness beyond all desires and concepts” and uses the quote “My being is God” while referring to kenosis. In an Eastern, Buddhist/Daoist context, this will likely be understood to mean things that are actually more Buddhist than Christian.

I should also mention that St. Nicholas gets much better treatment at the museum than he does on their English website.

See our photos here.