Sunday, July 17, 2011

Week IV: A Retrospective

I'm halfway through both the program and my main textbook by now, and have for some time neglected this blog. Sorry! Too busy prepping for midterms to write a proper update now. Instead, I've collated fragments from some dispatches sent abroad, which will hopefully fill in some of the gaps-- mostly academic-- in this record of my experience here.

They've been been lightly edited, mostly to translate into standard English those passages which were originally rendered in either pinyin Romanization or my own bizarre idiolect, a baffling creole of academese, First-Order Logic, and lolcats. My correspondence partners are valiant indeed for wading through my thorny syntax and precious diction. 

On Settling In:

I haven't seen hide or hair of my roommates. I'm sharing a bathroom, a kitchen, and cleaning duties-- should figure those things out soon. But right now I don't particularly feel like breaking the film of my isolation. I've just been kind of walking out in the sun, which is an ordeal in this heat; I've bumped up "parasol" to the top of my mental shopping list. Today I arbitrarily decided not to feet myself until I could find a morning market-- you know, one of those messy paragons to small-scale capitalism wherein streets are taken over by rickety stalls occupied by fruit-sellers, butchers, bakers, and the lot. Stumbled onto one even closer to my abode than the school, had my breakfast amongst cages full of glossy squalling chickens. I'll try to budget enough time to explore the metro system before sundown-- armed with scribbled notes from Google Maps, of course. I've got a really tragic sense of direction; it ought to be considered a disability. My naivety is the only thing that stops me from being too afraid to leave my little room-- still have this notion that nothing can hurt me, that if I get lost I can always get unlost again.

On Thought and Society:

We don't even get grades-- teachers and classmates just wield shame as a tool to keep you academically motivated. So I'm taking a class called Thought and Society, which has a one-on-one tutorial in addition to a group class. Basically we read, like, rudimentary cultural criticism and then talk about it. (My classmates and I are really good at railroading the teacher into totes irrelevant discussions, which is fun.) The style of the texts is chatty and journalistic rather than academic-- think op-ed-- but still stylistically sophisticated, laced with quotes in classical. So for that class I've got about sixty units of vocab a night, meaning approximately 120 characters. I'm also memorizing my readings verbatim-- the equivalent of a 4-minute speech every night-- which isn't required and may in fact make me look either douchey or overzealous!undergrad in seminar. But eh, I like memorizing things.

On Classical Chinese:

My teacher's reasonably old-school, makes us memorize passages she finds particularly beautiful. That's deffo something I can get behind-- I don't know, there's just this weird pleasure in intoning aloud a freshly memorized text. Although I admit I took a break from memorizing Liezi to memorize some John Donne, lulz. Didn't get very far before the guilt kicked in. #battermyheart #colonized. The way class is run, though, makes me appreciate Keulemans' criticisms of how classical is taught in modern Chin(a/ese)-- we translate sentence by sentence instead of word for word, so we're focusing on semantic content and resorting to a lot of foggy approximations. Really different from Paize's classroom, where we looked at every word in context, and then tried to generalize. For some reason, this reminds me of how the character yi for yisheng evolved-- the bottom component, once wu for "sorcerer", was switched out for jiu [alcohol] to represent science. So what we're doing now is witchery, and not science. :P I'm kinda ambivalent about it, since my interest in classical is twofold-- wanna be able to use that shit for research, but also to wangu-- play with antiquity.

On Tuche:

Over the course of reading about the health problems of the moderns, I myself seem to have succumbed to the ills of modernity, i.e. a cold. Being fallen is so hard. :P The irony is delicious. So is the shaved ice I keep dining on to soothe my throat. It's not unpleasant-- feels like I'm being cordoned off from my own sensory experience by a curtain of heat. The tenor of my thought dissolves into petty mysticism-- that spirituality, concomitant with fever, so useful for the writing of papers on Buddhism. :P Burning burning burning burning. Which is why this email probs sounds cray. It's kinda fun-- I like playing the martyr. Although sometimes I'll look up mid-reading-- my ceiling is oddly high-- and think with giggly champagne sarcasm, Eloi eloi lama sabachthani.

On Study Habits:

Hmm, I'm kind of ambivalent about memorizing the text verbatim. It's not such a hardship just because I read it aloud enough times beforehand that the words feel natural in my mouth prior to even beginning the disk-writing process. But that sort of approach weirdly mechanizes the whole affair, turns it into a fleshly exercise instead of a mental one. I appreciate the fact that it's kind of keeping the knife of my mind (ha) well whetted in some really basic way-- the way doing arithmetic in your head, I guess, would keep you sharp without actually presenting substantive intellectual challenges. It's a different kind of brain-stretching than grappling with, like, difficult philosophical questions. I don't have to really think, but I can kind of still feel this sense of mental growth. It's comforting, like meditation? Except less challenging than trying to sit in front of the mandala at Stillness and Light with the rigid discipline to keep your mind from wandering.

On Quarter-Life Crises:

Hanging out with grad students is definitely making that whole ivory tower thing seem like a more and more natural place for me to end up. Today I looked up language requirements for rando Chinese PhD programs during my lunch break. (Which is weird-- I feel like if I do that whole doctorate thing I'd rather do it through a Religious Studies or maybe History department since I'm not actually that into the study of literature qua literature.) IDK, I'm feeling more quarter-life crisis-y than usual right now-- thinking about maybe doing an MA in East Asian Studies, because then I could still technically go on to law school only having dicked around for a year. Totes justifiable. Problem is that stand-alone MA programs don't usually give funding, and as for the PhD programs that do... Well, dicking around for a year is justifiable, but seven? Even on a stipend?

On Friendship:

Yesterday marked the third time I've spent the Fourth of July in the Orient. Since I lack rigor with respect to star-spangled patriotism, I'm well-pleased with this state of affairs. Asia <3. Went to that Mary Jane place by the Shida Night Market with my mostly-Columbia contingent, celebrated capitalism with pesto pizza, lychee beer, and American Asianists. It's nice to sink back into the comforting familiarity of having a default social group. These folks, with their left-leaning politics and their unabashed academic seriousness, remind me so much of my Stilesian dinner circle.

On Chance Discovery:

Like, over the course of chugging all this rando philosophy, I think I might have actually acquired a taste for the stuff! This is unforch, because I'm bad at it. It'll be like academic!unrequited love. My life is so hard. I mean, not that I want to do philosophy things-- too late in the game to learn ancient Greek just so I can do comparative things with the Confucian canon, you know. (I did find a guy who does that, and it made me happy. But that means it's been done. Nothing new under the sun!)

On Taipei Weather:

Had a Genesis moment today, got marooned at ICLP by the most epic downpour of my life, I swear. I thought God said he wouldn't do this again after Noah. :P Taiwanese weather is cray. My umbrella/sun parasol's irredeemably broken (just like, you know, our fallen modern souls-- O tempora O mores!). I don't really mind though-- we just hung out in the study lounge, talked about the Rapture and eunuchs. :)

On Confucian Culture:

The museum I visited today was glutted with mainland tourists. They were markedly deficient in courtesy relative to their cross-strait cousins (and also, I think, more poorly dressed-- sartorial sin makes my life so hard!). Silly CCP, China needs Confucian culture!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Rectification of names

This is old, but I forgot to post it. Rambling about deism, neopragmatism, and other such things-- with tea! As my group class instructor put it, "Long live -isms!"