Today I began working full-time as a translator and editor for the Executive Yuan of the Republic of China. I doubt I’ll be able to contribute to this blog daily as I did before, but I’ll write when I’m able! Thanks again for reading!
Archive for the ‘La Vida’ category
Don’t Invite a Shocking Rejection! These Marriage Proposals are Bound to Fail
Article by Minako Kume, All About’s Weddings Writer, posted on Yahoo! Japan December 11, 2011
An uncouth proposal can make a marriage go up in smoke
When entertainers hold press conferences to announce their marriages, they are always asked, “How did you propose?” That’s because those words carry weight for the rest of the marriage. There are already married couples who were aware of this at the time, but remember, marriage is a big hurdle to cross, and the proposal is an important start.
If the proposer (usually a man) wants to make a good, snappy, successful proposal, he should ask the person being proposed to (usually a woman) to describe the situation and words she would like to hear. If the couple’s expectations are the same, their “wonderful proposal” will put them on the way to a happy and successful marriage. If the woman feels the proposal is reluctant, though she may accept it anyway, she’ll keep complaining that “that proposal was terrible!” long afterward, and if the proposal is even worse, she could just say “No!” In order to keep that from happening, do a thorough examination of what you’re going to say.
Don’t tell a careerist that you want her to make you miso soup
What kind of phrases are turn-offs largely depends on your lifestyles, environment, personalities, and tastes, so there’s nothing you absolutely cannot say.
For example, if you ask a woman who is very invested in her career to “wash my pants” or “make me miso soup every morning,” she’s probably not going to like it. There’s a big chance she’ll say “I’m not your housewife!” and punch you in the face. But if she already wants to be a homemaker, she may not dislike hearing those same requests.
On the same token, “I’ll make you happy” sounds like a wonderful thing to say, but if your girlfriend is self-reliant, she might get angry with you and say “I don’t need anyone else’s help to be happy!” Saying you’ll do something for someone or make them a certain way sounds assertive in an old-fashioned way, you see. “We’ll be happy together!” would be safer.
Avoid negative phrases
The same idea can leave a good impression or a bad impression depending on how you say it, so be careful. For example, “let’s be together forever” and “let’s enjoy growing old together” won’t cause problems, but “follow me into the grave” will kill the mood. You might want to say “if I become an invalid, change my diapers” to make your proposal more playful, but the person hearing that would feel nauseous.
Married life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. There are plenty of painful and trying times as well. Even so, introducing negative thoughts at the proposal stage isn’t very wise. There are times when hearing a frank statement like “I’m not confident we can have a happy life together, but…” will make a good impression on a woman, but when it comes to the proposal, deep down she’d rather hear you bluff a little.
Lines that will not be taken as a proposal
An actress on a variety show once told this story: her boyfriend told her he wanted to buy a house. When they entered the model room, he said “what do you think of this home?” He seemed to think he had made a marriage proposal, but she didn’t realize it and thought he was just asking her to discuss the purchase with him. The man thought he had been rejected, and they never married.
There are definitely times when the wording is too indirect and someone doesn’t realize she’s hearing a proposal. If the actress’s boyfriend had followed “What do you think of this home?” with “We’d be living here together, you know,” perhaps she would have realized what was going on. Complacent lines are dangerous. The desire to say something elaborate is understandable, but if the other person doesn’t understand your meaning, it’s meaningless. Being easily understood is the most important thing, right?
What you can’t say when you consult her parents
If she accepts your proposal, the next step is to speak with her parents. You have to be careful about what you say to them, too. For example, “[Her name], please.”…people say that in TV dramas, but today’s parents would smack you down and say “our daughter is not a thing!” The safe thing to say would be “please let me marry [name]” or “please give me the permission to marry [name]“.
And another thing
You only have one chance in your life to propose. Even so, you can get too hyped up about it and blow it. Simple and straightforward words in a romantic situation can make a woman’s heart pound all the same. Please think not only about the words you will say but the place where you will say it.
I’m traveling to Hong Kong, Yunnan, Xi’an, Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai, and Hangzhou to improve my knowledge of the continent. I’ll resume writing in this blog when I return. Peace be with you!
The Facebook Generation
Author: James Smyth
Editor: Shen Ruo-yu
Ever since I went to college, I’ve been able to use Facebook to effortlessly keep up with my friends from a distance. And whether my friends are American or Taiwanese, they can use Facebook to keep in touch with me. Because Facebook also lets friends trade web addresses, it’s also made a great contribution to the news and entertainment industries.
If we can use the network to ease the pain of separation, what could be wrong with it? Well, such a convenient social network can be addictive. Though Facebook is a handy communication tool, it still can’t compare to face-to-face interaction. Even if you maintain a friendship with someone for years through the Internet, you can’t understand certain things about their lives. Not cultivating one’s interests outside of Facebook and spending most of one’s life in front of a monitor are not things we should look favorably upon.
I have a few friends who refuse to use Facebook. They say only life in the outside world is real. Because Facebook has done so much good for me, I don’t want to give it up, but I keep track of how much time I spend on the computer; I want to use my limited lifespan wisely.
Author: James Smyth
Editor: Zhou Chang-zhen
Today my classmate Stephanie said that some people who are “half-planted in their hometown soil” [a Chinese figure of speech] can’t help hating the place. I think this is very true, so first I’d like to expand on her thought. When I was a student, I often used sarcasm to describe my hometown. Even though I knew it was a very safe and prosperous place, I thought the people there were shallow and arrogant. When you’re an adolescent, it’s natural to criticize other people and things, but if you don’t have a good reason for it you’ll simply hurt yourself and others. My love for my hometown has never been stronger than it is now.
Taking it a step further, I’ve now lived in four other places: Duke University, Madrid, my Japanese farming village, and Taipei, each of which has its own great qualities. I’ve thought of each place as “my home” before. Whenever I start to dream of a place, I know I’ve become comfortable there. I supported three teams during last year’s World Cup. I woke up at 4 AM to watch the championship game, and I was celebrating all day after Spain won.
I imagine my attitude conflicts with traditional regionalism and nationalism, but in today’s internationalized society there are more people like me every year. To tell the truth, though, more than a few emigrants to Japan complain that no matter how many years they’ve lived there, and no matter how many local activities they’ve participated in, the natives see them as guests and ask them when they’re planning to return home. This is completely different from the emotional burden carried by, for example, an emigrant to America. Though the Japanese easily distinguish a person looks different, they should at least acknowledge that Japanese ancestry is not a necessary condition for being a Japanese person. You all know I treasured my experience in Japan, but I also felt this kind of distance from people when I lived there.
Though I am also a minority in Taiwan, I’ve never felt left out here, and I find that amazing. ICLP’s international atmosphere obviously plays a big role in that, but my Taiwanese friends also say that because their island already has so many ethnic groups, and it has been governed by many different nations, it has a more open society. As far as I can tell, Taiwanese-style “nationalism” is a rare thing.
3: Congratulations to Indian cricket and Indiana basketball for nervy victories today!
4: It’s Circle of Life-like to have Children’s Day and Tomb Sweeping Day back to back with the added irony that the day for new life is 4/4 though 4 symbolizes death, and the day for honoring departed ancestors is in the midst of spring. (Only Taiwan and Hong Kong put Children’s Day on 4/4. Tomb Sweeping Day is a Chinese holiday, and it’s on the 15th day after the spring equinox, typically 4/5.)
4: I’m looking forward to the day when there are more views for Justin Bieber’s “Baby” than there are people in China.
5: 清明節。 Peace be with those who have left this world or were taken from it.
5: In an excruciating night for Butler, the ball just would not go in – Joe Posnanski
7: Walkin’ home music
9: 我不能過更長的日子，只好更珍惜生活。 I can’t make my days any longer so I’ll just have to live more intensely.
10: How come I can’t even see that something is dirty until I start to clean it?
11: Though I practically wrote a novel about Japan, I’ve said very little about Taiwan. It’s not because I’m bored here; it’s because I’m peaceful. I’ve quite possibly never felt this comfortable with a place before.
12: Isn’t it great when technical support asks you to try out your broken thingamajig one more time for them, and at that moment it magically comes back to life, and all you can do is sheepishly say you’re sorry for bothering them?
14: It’s easier to enjoy life now that I’ve heard this song!
14: 勉強 means “studying” in Japanese and “forcing yourself to do something” in Chinese.
15: WSJ: “According to Internal Revenue Service data, the entire taxable income of everyone earning over $100,000 in 2008 was about $1.582 trillion. Even if all these Americans—most of whom are far from wealthy—were taxed at 100%, it wouldn’t cover Mr. Obama’s deficit for this year.”
16: 多虧我妹妹是編輯之女王，獎學金申請好多了！A big thank-you to my sister (“writing/editing sub-500 word statements is what I do at work all day every day”) for helping me so much with my scholarship application!
18: why is my mood so easily affected by the Yankees daily outcomes? The season is 162 games, and even the best lose 40% of the time. Take it week to week.
19: Resisting all the outside pressure to take matters seriously and mature (at all costs): important life skill #1. Maybe if we don’t get maturer, we won’t get older!
20: I’m out of town until the stone is rolled away on Saturday night.
20: Question of the Day: Does anyone actually button the top button on collared shirts? I’d bet clothing makers could save a few pennies if they purged that perfunctory piece of plastic. Most people button the top here, so I go along with them. One day at school I didn’t, and the kids were like “wow, you have chest hair!”
23: 「妳們為什麼在死人中找活人呢﹖衪不在這裡了，衪已復活了。你們應當記得：衪還在加里肋亞時，怎樣告訴過你們說：人子必須被交付於罪人之手，被釘在十字架上，並在第三日復活。」 Luke 24:5-7
30: If I sleep at 12, I wake up at 6. If I sleep at 10, I wake up at 4. When did I become a farmer?
My Hunter-Gatherer Lifestyle
Author: James Smyth
Editor: Zhou Chang-zhen
The last time I took a sick day was ten years ago, but my family was moving to another home that day, so instead of resting I helped my parents. Why am I so healthy? The most important reason is good fortune, obviously, but my lifestyle also plays an important role.
My father’s example has made a big impression on me. My mother says that healthy living has always been important to him, and even as a college student it took some patience to dine with him because his nutritional standards were so high. His favorite kind of meat is fish; every Christmas, we give him a salmon. He adds olive oil to whatever we’re eating. When I talk to him each week, he tells me about his new lifestyle habit. (Last year, it was weightlifting, and this year, it’s breathing exercises.) But seriously, no one believes he’s already 58 years old, and he isn’t a pound overweight, so it’s easy to see his techniques are effective.
The author of Thought and Society advocates exercise and physical labor, and I’m in agreement with him. I believe that our present-day sedentary lifestyles don’t suit human nature. My parents have always encouraged me to exercise daily: I’ve swum and played on sports teams since I was three. In high school, I ran long distance. After running for nine years, my knees started to ache, so I made swimming my primary sport. I’ve been worried about time ever since I started studying at ICLP, so I haven’t made room for swimming, but I stretch and lift weights every day after I wake up, and every other day I ride the dormitory’s exercise bike, run on a free sidewalk, and climb stairwells.
Do you remember the food pyramid? Ever since learning about it, I’ve tried to eat various kinds of food every day. Taiwan Today says the Yamei tribe on Lanyu Island have lived on fish and sweet potatoes for generations. I’d like to try their diet. Because our ancestors had to hunt or gather their food, their diet was small in quantity but abundant in nutrition. We’ve made rich and wheat our staple foods because they’re the easiest to mass-produce, not because they’re the most nutritious. My favorite foods from foreign countries are their healthiest dishes, not their most famous ones, for example Spanish olives, Japanese miso soup and bitter melon, Taiwanese sweet potatoes, sesame, and fruit, and so forth.
Lately I’ve realized that the amount one eats is important, as well. Over the last five years, I’ve lost about 13 kg (29 lb), but I have more energy than before. That’s because I’m listening to my body more. “Listening to my body” means that when I don’t feel hungry anymore, I stop eating. How did I realize this made sense? When I was hiking on Yakushima and Mount Fuji in Japan, eating too much made it harder for me to climb. Because I was exercising at that very moment, I realized that when I was doing homework or the like, I should eat even less. I also realized that eating a little every three hours is more efficient than having three big meals. Should we eat to live or live to eat? I’m not one to restrict fried food, but I do think we should count calories. For example, I think Coca-Cola is a good dessert, but I can’t abide by its status as a substitute for water in America.
Even when I don’t feel well, I don’t take medicine. I heard that viruses can adapt to our drugs, so I don’t want to give them a chance to get stronger; nor do I want to become dependent. I also rarely drink and never smoke; that in itself doesn’t mean I have a healthy lifestyle, but it definitely helps.
My father and I have the same perspective on health, but we also have the same weakness: we don’t sleep enough. In the old days, when it got dark, the temperature dropped, and people didn’t have the energy to do anything else, so they simply went to bed. Today’s society is different; you can work or play 24 hours a day. I don’t like to stop working and go to sleep, myself. But I’m also an early riser; I naturally get up early even on holidays. My teachers and classmates often say I look tired, a clear sign I need to adjust my lifestyle and do my homework a little faster so I can go to bed earlier.
In conclusion, though we don’t need to live in poverty like our ancestors, we should still continue their good habits.
Author: James Smyth
Editor: Shen Ruo-yu
On the one hand, the United States considers itself a nation of immigrants; on the other hand, few Americans emigrate. Less than 40% of Americans even have passports. The vast majority of U.S. citizens believe that their country is one of the freest, fairest, and most prosperous in the world, and that people from all over the world want to move there. But in recent years, America has suffered a recession while several other national economies have taken off. Could this influence Americans’ self-image and even inspire more of them to move abroad?
One Taiwanese friend told me that ten years ago, his family moved to the United States, but he thought Taiwan was more convenient for him, so he stayed behind and continued studying in his Taiwanese high school. He doesn’t regret his decision, and this year his younger sister, who has just graduated from an American university, plans to return to Taiwan herself to seek employment.
I asked a Taiwanese-American student whether he would like to stay here in Taiwan. He said he definitely could, not only because he loves this environment but also because his brother is coming here this year to work, but he said it would be strange if his parents emigrated to America and stayed there while he and his brother came back to Taiwan. I told him it wasn’t odd at all: his parents moved to America for a better life, by moving for the same reason, he would be following in their footsteps, just going in the opposite direction.
To be honest, although I originally planned to return home after completing my Chinese studies here, this week I’ve realized that ever since I moved to Taiwan I’ve felt extremely comfortable, and besides that my work opportunities and cost of living here may well be much better here than in the States. That isn’t the kind of situation you happen upon every day. Some people can’t stand to leave their friends and family, but I think the Internet has helped to mitigate this issue, and in addition my American friends and family all live in different cities, so there isn’t a place on earth to which I absolutely must return. If I settle down here, the thing would make me most lonely is missing friends’ weddings, but is that something to plan my life around? Ultimately, only God can decide my future, and I should follow the road he sets out for me, no matter where it leads.
English Translation: Spring Break in Japan
Before I came to ICLP, I taught English for two years in Tensui-machi, a rural town in Kumamoto, Japan. Because it was such a great experience, I was very sorry to leave everyone, so I promised to come back to visit. Fortunately, ICLP’s spring break overlapped with Japan’s elementary school graduation day, so it was great timing for my visit. Little did I know there would be a massive earthquake in Japan on March 11. Because Kumamoto is in the center of Kyushu, Japan’s western island, my old town wasn’t affected, but many people, especially my grandmother, were afraid that if I visited I would get radiation poisoning. That risk aside, I still had to go, because telling small children “I’m not coming to visit you because the place you live is too dangerous” would have been even worse. All I could do was take my planned flight on March 20.
Kyushu hasn’t suffered any visible harm, but there has been plenty of invisible damage. For example, although the Kyushu Shinkansen Train just opened on March 12, there have been very few passengers up until now because of the earthquake, which is making JR rail executives very anxious. The common people are worried that the government is not being truthful with them about the nuclear accident in Fukushima and that the Bank of Japan’s emergency quantitative easing is creating long-term risk for the national treasury. Some residents of eastern Japan have fled the confusion there and returned to their childhood homes in Kyushu. Every event, be it an elementary school graduation or an adult English conversation salon, begins with everyone bowing their heads in prayer for the victims. Many people expressed thanks to me for the Taiwanese people’s generous donations to disaster relief efforts.
But when we Tensui people reunited, our worries disappeared. I’ll never forget the obvious looks of surprise and then happiness on my students’ faces when I saw them again. I spent at least 3 hours at 4 elementary schools and one junior high and visited many people. My mouth never stopped moving: I was always talking or eating. Seeing my students’ growth and encouraging my former coworkers reminded me of the joy of teaching. My friends first updated me on their lives and those of our mutual friends, then asked me questions like whether Chinese is more difficult than Japanese, what exactly the Republic of China and the International Chinese Language Program are, why I lost weight despite Chinese food being oilier than Japanese cuisine, and when I’m going to decide my future job and wife.
I showed everyone a Taiwanese newspaper, which they thought was really colorful: some third grade boys took special interest in the entertainment section, and I realized too late that this was because there were pictures of half-naked women inside. Embarrassed, I grabbed the paper and tried to keep it away from them, but they chased after me, saying, “Please please let me see it again!” which tired me out.
I didn’t totally leave the Taiwanese cultural zone that week. Some of my friends were born in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period. Others have gone there to travel, and they remembered that you can buy anything at the night market, that the Palace Museum has every possible kind of antique, that traffic is frightening, that they went home happy, and so on, and they also recognize celebrities like “Little Fatty” (Lin Yu Chun). Before the Xinhai Revolution , Sun Yat Sen came to Kumamoto, including Tensui, so good friends of mine who are mikan orange farmers have some calligraphy written by the Father of the Country. I saw my foreigner friends, a couple of whom speak Chinese: when they caught me unconsciously saying things in Mandarin like hao, hao and yinwei, they burst out laughing.
The week passed in a flash. I did indeed return to Taipei last Sunday rather than staying in town and usurping my replacement. Because the trip made me so happy, helped my Japanese tremendously, and encouraged my friends and students, I’ll definitely go to my Japanese hometown again next year.
Eight months ago, I left Japan. I had a wonderful two years there, and we were all sad to say goodbye, but I felt like I’d already done everything I could there. Everyone made me promise to come back, though, and last week, I did. My plane slammed through clouds of nuclear radiation and crash-landed in an apocalyptic urban landscape; I emerged in a protective suit and ferried across 25-foot waves and – actually, besides minor gasoline rationing, everything in western Japan was the same as always on a physical level at least. It even looked nicer because the trans-Kyushu bullet train line just happened to open the day after the earthquake, but sadly, that disaster made everyone cancel their travel plans, so the new Tamana Station felt like a haunted house when I arrived: there were no sounds except piped-in birdsong and the recording announcing the next departure and arrival. People were also anxious about the stability of the Treasury, which has been bicycle-pumping money into the market. We said silent prayers for the victims of the disasters at every event I attended.
I did worry about everything else related to the trip before leaving. Would my students be so much bigger that I’d feel like they’d left me behind? Would I be able to see everyone in this workaholic society despite not planning everything in advance? Was my Japanese (or my psyche) up for thirteen hours of talking per day? Could I avoid car accidents, calling students the wrong names, and getting poked in the butt by small children?
I had nothing to worry about. My successor, Joe Fowler, hosted me in the third room all week; my friend Valerie lent me her second cellular phone; my old host family lent me their big ol’ company van, and everyone gave me some of their time. I did say hao instead of hai! the whole week, and I suffered the dreaded kancho, but every day in my old home was so relaxing that by the end I couldn’t remember what I was taking a vacation from. It was one of the fastest weeks of my life. I only spent a few hours in front of the computer. Only today did I open my gmailbox and collapse under a load of birthday notes.
My jaw is tired because all I did was talk and eat. One friend said, “Yoshiko heard from her mother that you’d forgotten Japanese, but you’re speaking just fine…what happened?” I replied, “Well, she saw me on Tuesday, and today is Saturday.” Everyone said, “You lost weight! [This is the "you got a haircut!" of Japanese small talk.] The food there is so oily, though! How is this possible?” I replied, “No home invitations and no enkais (work parties).”
Speaking of which, that was elementary school graduation day. Since all the ceremonies were at the same time, I could only attend one (and it was emotional), but I spent a half-day at all 5 of my schools (including the junior high) over the course of three days. I didn’t tire of the shock and then joy on kids’ faces when I materialized before them. Everyone was so welcoming. Does absence make the heart grow fonder? I’m lucky enough to say we were just as fond of each other at the time. Some classes had really grown up. One class made me lovely impromptu thank-you cards with photos and hand-drawn pictures that I’ve showed to my friends here. A five-year old made a tricolor threaded bracelet. Not that it was as triumphant a return as Julius Caesar’s to Rome: I walked into one second-grade class not realizing my fly was unzipped. And some of the junior high kids were more cheeky and sarcastic than friendly, but that comes with their age group.
My best conversation pieces were Taiwanese and PRC newspapers I picked up in the airport on the way. Japanese can half-read them because all the countries use Chinese characters, but Japanese have simplified the them a little and the PRC a lot, so there are clear differences. It was nice to not have to start out by explaining where Taiwan was and how it’s not the same as Thailand.
Plus Taiwanese papers are way more colorful than Japanese ones…and in more ways than one: when the third graders found color pictures of an actor and actress in bed together on one page, they MARKED OUT, and I had to crunch the whole thing up and stuff it in my pocket, then hold my pocket shut because so many boys were prying for another glimpse of that holy grail.
It was good to see my fellow Tamana ALTs before most of them change jobs themselves this July and to meet the new guys I’d only encountered on Facebook. They said it felt like I’d never left. What we had at the time was good, and our values haven’t changed. I spent my birthday dinner at a J-diner called Joyfull with 20 of my junior high school grads; it was gratifying that so many showed up on 24 hours’ notice. One of my 16-year olds invited me to swim with him, exercise I really needed, then encouraged me and taught me technique between the lane lines. I wouldn’t say I was loyal or supportive at that age, but some kids just “get it,” and I don’t hesitate to call them friends rather than students.
Many of my friends are teachers, some much older than I am, and this trip reminded me what a wonderful calling it is to help people grow up. If you don’t have a dream of your own, you can do worse than becoming a teacher and helping other people find theirs. One of the best parts of my job is that I spent time in about 50 different homeroom classes. It was much more revealing than theoretical textbooks, and I wish Japanese trainees had the same opportunity themselves. I even got to teach my colleagues some things on this run.
The good things about Tensui and Tamana were as good as ever. Not that I want to usurp Joe; he’s doing very well and is getting as much out of the job as I did. In the words of the Japanese, he doesn’t have my “tension” (a la jumping around and singing and saying HELLO in a BIG VOICE) but he is 落ち着いている or “natural and relaxed.” I think I spent the right amount of time in the job and on this trip. After catching up on how everyone was doing (and even updating people on later days with gossip I’d heard on previous days: it’s like Rural News Feed) and then discussing languages, education, the earthquake, and Taiwan, it was just about time for me to get up and go to the next home. I didn’t feel like the time between now and last July had slipped away from me; I’ve done almost everything I could with it.
I’ll definitely come back to Kumamoto. Besides bringing my Japanese back to life, and it’s such a beautiful language that even repetitive sentences like airline flight safety features are interesting because of how they’re said, this trip sparked my emotional engine. I was back to spending time with kids and the elderly [the ladies at the church made 20 different dishes for our Tuesday reunion lunch, by the way...I have over a hundred pictures of food alone]. I was back home and back to speaking with people I already knew rather than introducing myself again. I’m laughing loudly again and even speaking Chinese a little more naturally.
But from the moment I post this I’ll be back to making my Chinese better rather than just dropping a few phrases to widespread applause and back to living this life rather than explaining what it’s like. I’d love to end this with a philosophical flourish, but my time’s up.