Scratching the Chinese surface

Monday, February 9, 2009

Exploring a Silk Trip

I have been staring at the world map lately and discovering countries I have never heard of before. Kyrgistan is my favorite.

I read few articles about recent travelers who followed the silk road, and then how much they learned and enjoyed the journey.

So I am exploring what it would take to follow the trail of Ibn Battouta and Marco Polo.

Here are my first notes about the trip:
- Unlike Ibn Battouta, I would need a lot of visas.
- Recent travelers observed that the silk road population is dominantly muslim and the experience is sometimes tricky as the locals may be reluctant to interact with Russians and Westerners, and a minimum of understanding of the muslim habits is important to avoid upsets.
I still did not encounter any documentation about a muslim silk road traveler.
- There are different alternative silk roads, some of these roads should be avoided at this time for security reasons. (e.g. Afghanistan, Georgia)

Do you know anybody who walked this path before?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Proposal to the Arabs

It is well documented and understood that the best innovations happen at the time of crisis. Wars pushed to the extreme the human mind to think and create. The Arab world has been struggling since 1948 and has been losing it all. Where is the Arabic mind? What did the Arab mind create on the last 60 years? Who are the best doctors? Best journalists? Best engineers? Best students? Etc. The Arabs have a slim share on the “bests” club.

History is rich of examples where countries stood up after failures (Japan, Germany, Spain). Even today, we can learn from countries that are successfully emerging from poverty (e.g. China, India). The Indian family is proudest when the son is a famous surgeon; the Chinese kid spends most of his childhood preparing for the university exam, etc.

Do we really value education? How many books do we publish? How many movies do we produce? Who stopped us!

Do we really value hard work? Check the level of cheating and corruption at all levels? I remembered cheating on my high school exams. Everybody did. And I was a very good student.

Our problem is not only the Governments and the West. A big responsibility of the failure lies on you and me, on the people.

Instead of pointing finger to the west and blaming it for all the misfortunes, it is time for a serious and frank introspection. We should all do an open self-evaluation, and draw concrete conclusions, then change ourselves.
Here is a proposal. Tell me what you think:
1- Say: I lost. Feel embarrassed and accept the loss. (Loss of Palestine, Iraq,our situation, etc)
I am born in 1978. I am 30, and lost every single war, and there were a lot of them. I remember crying when Baghdad was invaded on 1991. I remember how I forgot 1991 then 19xx and 20xx and now 2009. Why did I forget? Because we never really lost, we were somehow persuaded that the real war is not over, or even that we actually won the war, or sometime that it is not our war.
It is time to say: “We lost!” , or rather “I lost!”
The simple fact of declaring the defeat is a mixed feeling. From one side, it will free us from the chronic feeling of agony, and on the other side, it will enable us to breath and look back.
2- Create your own Marshall Plan, or cultural revolution.
Do not rely on the west and the government. Spend time to think how to prepare your kids (in 30 years) to be the world best.
3- Become the best at whatever you are doing: Fill this statement:
“I will try my best to do ….”
Write in a piece of paper, and when you meet with your friends and family during every Eid, show off on how much you are contributing to the best.

We have been trying hard on manifestations and talks, and that failed too. Maybe it is time for a new approach, and if it fails, it is ok, we are used to defeat.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Zen in practice

My colleague mentioned that she uses Zen practices to make decisions on her daily life. She told me this story to explain her point:
The Zen master wanted to appoint his successor, so he asked his disciples to explain "Zen".
The smartest student came upfront and said:
I am like a solid tree, my heart is like a mirror. To stay pure, I need to keep cleaning the mirror from the dust everyday. That's Zen.
A young student stood up and said: There is no tree, and there is no mirror. What is dust?

The young student became the new Zen master.

Another story to explain Zen goes like this:
The Zen master was watching his students practicing their ritual, and his best student kept doing his movement incorrectly, as other students were getting in his way. The master went to him, and asked: "What is wrong?", the student replied: "I am trying to do my ritual, but I keep failing. I don't know why". The master then asked him to follow him. They walked to the side of the river. And the master pointed to some rocks on the river, and said: "Watch how the water flows smoothly on the river around the rocks. That is Zen..."

These stories remind me of an old Arab proverb: "كم حاجةً قضيناها بتركها" which can be translated as "Some tasks can be finished by abondoning them". For example, you need to buy a gift to your friend wedding, but you dont know what to buy. You can solve this task by not going to the wedding.
The proverb is normally used to describe negative bahavior of people who keep silence, close one eye and dont resist. And that reminds me of another Chinese proverb that says: "Sometimes it is good to not be too wise or too smart, it is better to close one eye".

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The wise frog

I heard this Chinese fable today..
There was an old frog who spent years of her life on the buttom of the well. The frog had a white and long beard. She would spend hours everyday looking up learning about the sky and the universe. She wrote her observations down, and came up with very predictable theories about when to expect, darkness, blue sky, and even rain. She was very proud of herself, and the frog community respected her achievements.
On one warm spring day, a small white bird peeked on the well, and cheerfully invited the frog out. The bird told her about the trees, the rivers, the lakes, the wind, and the human-made cities.
The frog shrugged about the absurdities of this young bird, and told him: "You just don't get it young boy. I know the truth, look at my exact theories."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Thoughts from Zhengzhou

I missed the train "again", and I will be late to work tomorrow. I thought to update this blog with my latest thoughts.
This weekend made a symbolic milestone. I survived to travel alone without meeting any Non Chinese speakers to help me on the way. My best friend was an "English to Pinyin" translator device... Anyway, let's me talk a bit about Zhengzhou.
First of all, I have never ever heard of Zhengzhou. When I booked the ticket, I did some reading and found out that it has the population of 7 million people that is similar to the population of Switzerland (a famous European country). My knowledge is shockinly skewed to the West...
If you are serious about connecting the dots between the history and the present of China, do visit Zhengzhou "Henan" museum. ( I will add some details later)...
The city has the stamp of a boring Chinese city "post office next to china bank next to massage place next to big ugly building next to post office ...". But its downtown is quite impressive. The architecture, the lights, the big brand shops, etc.. For some reason, I recalled downtown Zurich (a city in the small Switzerland).
Though, nobody talked English around here, I found some useful vital references: Mc Donalds and KFC.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Chinese joke

Ten Chinese men were talking about how badly they were treated by their wives, and decided that it was unacceptable and something had to be done. In the midst of their discussion, the ten wives showed up and all the men hurried to run away, except one, who remained boldly in his seat.
The women, satisfied of their effect, went back to their daily routine. The 9 men were impressed with the courage of the other man and decided to appoint him as their president. He would then be resposible of leading the resistance against the dominance of women.
When they returned to inform him about his new elevated status, they found him dead of heart attack...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A 1900 chinese child description of Westerns

From the book: "Moment in Beijing" authored by Lin Yutang in 19 :
Oceanic people did everything upside down. Their writing went from left to right, instead of from right to left, and horizontally in "crab-walk" fashion instead of from top to bottom. They put their personal names before their family names, and strangest of all, in writing addresses they began with the house number, then the street, then the city, then the province, as if purposely to be contrary. They had to begin from the bottom if they wanted to know to which city a letter was going. And their women had large feet, a foot long, and talked in a loud voice, and had curly hair and blue eyes and went about arm in arm with men when walking.
All in all, the foreigners were the strangest imaginable sort of people.