Monday, February 08, 2016

Life in the fast lane

Back when I was in graduate school, my apartment mate--who was pursuing a doctorate in marketing--always argued in favor of efficiency and speed.  He was a good debater too, which made my thinking life both interesting and difficult.  But, he never managed to convince me about the primacy of efficiency and speed over everything else in life.

Whether it is on the road or in the kitchen, I am not a speed guy.  Life in the slow lane suits me just fine.  Which is all the more why the opener in this essay appealed to me, a lot:
More than 40 years ago, as a young woman in Melbourne, Australia, I had a pen friend in Papua New Guinea. She lived in a coastal village, an hour’s slow boat trip from the city of Lae. I went to visit her. The abundant tropical fruit, vegetables such as taro and sweet potato, and fish fresh from the sea made up for the mosquitoes that plagued me. No one was in a rush to do anything.
We spent an entire day making coconut milk. I suggested a different way to squeeze the coconut flesh that would allow us to make the milk faster. The young New Guineans looked quizzical. Making coconut milk always took a whole day. There was no hurry, they said. Today I see my interest in saving time and increasing productivity as a peculiar and interesting cultural eccentricity.
Now, I admit that I could not adjust to the pole pole pace in Tanzania, where everything seemed to unfold in the slowest speed.  It is not that I love, love a slow life, but seem to have my own pace that is faster than the speed in traditional cultures but slower than, heck, every other person in the US

What exactly are we trying to do with this obsession with speed?  As much as we are obsessed with speed, we are also the same people who complain about not having enough time to do everything within the 24 hours of the day.  We are one interesting species!
Are digital technologies at all complicit in our sense of time pressure?
Emails coming in all the time at work.  Text messages from friends and family. Facebook. Twitter. So much so that there are people who actually prefer Soylent over slow-cooked regular food!  Why the subservience to speed and the digital gods?
Human beings build the present and imagine the future with tools designed for certain purposes, and there are more reasons than ever to think about what kind of society we want those tools to advance.
Damn right!  

Articulating what kind of society we want will require us to understand what it means to be human, what it means to belong to humanity, and what it means for us to belong in this cosmos.  But, apparently we do not have the time for all those questions!

It is not that I want to return to a slow life that existed before all these modern technological tools.  But, I can't help wonder why we do not see these as mere tools--a set of tools that we could put to use for a much bigger, richer, understanding of life and its meaning.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

I, too, was young once ... not too long ago

Re-posting this from two years ago
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"Did you watch the game, Dr. Khé?" asked a student when the class met on Monday.  A warm-up of a different kind before we got into discussing the learning materials. It was, of course, the joshing small-talk time.  So, nothing about what I did during the Super Bowl.

(If students were to read my blog, perhaps they will wonder why I am being so not revealing anything about myself in the classroom when I do that in a lot more public manner here in the blog. If they do, I bet they have also figured out why.)

During the conversation with the two women, when I asked the older woman about her growing up years, they remarked about how they, too, were young once.

That was a profound comment, I thought. As Ken Robinson noted in his hilarious, and thought-provoking, talk, we don't imagine Shakespeare as having been a kid once and giving his parents and teachers quite some grief, especially with his English!  When we see, meet with, people who are "old," we so easily think of of them as nothing but old. A grandma is a grandma is a grandma to us.  But, that grandma, too, was once a young girl, who ran and played and cried like any of us.

Over the winter break, when talking with my mother's aunt, I asked her about her childhood. It was back in the old ancestral village, in a traditional and orthodox Brahmin household. After she "came of age," the norms then precluded her from playing outside with other kids--even girls. She wasn't even allowed to sit on the steps outside and watch others play. It was a house-arrest of sorts!  That is a small piece about her childhood. But, it says a lot, doesn't it? About her life then. That she longed to play with other kids and she could not.

Every once in a while, in the obituary pages of our local newspaper, the photo of the "old" person who died is accompanied by a photo of that same person much earlier in their life. I have no idea what message they wish to convey, but to me the message is always the same: it is not merely the old person who died. That young person they once were also died. The kid that they once were also died. It is, after all, the kid who became a teenager, who grew into an adult, became old, and died.

Young we might be today, but we too will be nothing but old in the future--if we live that long.  Imagine if you were seen by others as nothing but an old man or an old woman, as if your lively and energetic childhood and youth and middle age never existed at all!

As this wonderful song from Romeo and Juliet put it,
A rose will bloom;
it then will fade
so does a youth;
so does the fairest maid
Nothing new, yes. As Yeats wrote, "That is no country for old men."

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Hey, it is Super Bowl!

(Am re-posting this from two years ago)
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"Do you want me to move my car, sir?"

I was unloading stuff from the U-Haul truck on a drizzly Oregon morning.  We were the latest in the long line of Californians moving to Oregon.  The apartment would be home until we found a permanent place of our own.

I looked towards the sound. It was from the kitchen window of the apartment next door. I walked over and introduced myself.  That is how I met her a decade and a year ago.

She had moved in there not much earlier, after the death of her husband. They had been married for a very long time--about fifty years, I think.  Yet, she yelled out a "sir" to me when I was so much younger than her?

Over the months, she was often emotional when talking about her husband and her life.  She talked about her family, her church, and the different places in the US and around the world that she and her husband had been to.

She introduced us to her church friends, who later became the neighbors that I still am lucky to have. She gave us a big potted plant for the new home that we moved into.  She came over once in a while for food or coffee. 

Once when she and the neighbors were home for dinner, I played a CD of Hank Williams hits.  Yes, the old style country music. She was excited, especially when the neighbor danced with her.

Life happens.  She moved to another apartment complex. I visited with her there, too. She was the perfect old-style host that she always was.  With coffee and cookies came her stories of her grandchildren. Her old photos, in which one could see the stunning beauty that she was as a young woman.

She knew I couldn't care for church and god, in which she was a firm believer.  She never, ever figured out how to say my name and I never, ever cared to correct her either. What's in a name, after all, when she cared so much for a stranger that I was.

A couple of weeks ago, my neighbors had an update for me about her. Cancer, with perhaps not much time left to live.

I requested my neighbor to go with me to visit with her.  "Sunday afternoon should be a good time to visit. She is very happy to see you" was her reply.

Game time!

ps: she died a few months after ...

Friday, February 05, 2016

Somewhere over the rainbow ...

A late night email from a co-worker was unprofessional.  But, after years in academe, I am no longer surprised.  In fact, being polite and courteous, and sincerely engaging, are the kinds of behavior that will shock me--apparently, I am rarely ever shocked anymore ;)

The morning came and soon it was time to drive to campus.

It was one of those rainy days when every once in a while the sun tried to peek out from behind the clouds, but failed and then it rained for a while.  As is almost the case, I drove in silence enjoying the scenery.
The gazillion shades of green that I never knew existed until I moved to Oregon.
The rolling grass fields.
Sheep.
Hills.
Horses.
Hawks.
How people could possibly be rude and unprofessional in such settings is simply beyond my wildest imagination!

I noticed the truck ahead in the slow lane indicating to move to the faster lane in which I was approaching.  I slowed down. After seeming to confirm that I had indeed fallen behind, the truck moved over to my lane and as it passed the slow vehicle, the driver flashed his tail-lights in the truck-driving-fashion to thank me.  Here was a truck driver being polite and thankful on the road, while he could have simply gone on.  What  a contrast to the email the night before!

I passed the truck.  Slowly, the northwest sky darkened.  The sun tried to peek from the other direction.  And it started raining.  In a matter of seconds, a huge rainbow appeared on the horizon.  The cosmos was reminding me that life is immensely more than awful emails late in the night.  I was near ecstatic.

After having freshly-brewed coffee in my office, I walked over to the copy room and got my work done.  I hoped that the students would enjoy the task that I had prepared for them.  As I was walking away from the copier, the late night emailer was walking to the machine.

"I'm sorry that I jumped all over you."

I couldn't care.  "I'm used to it by now" I replied as I continued to walk.

I suppose saying "sorry" has become far easier than to behave properly in the first place.  Such is life--it is not always rainbows and green grass and hawks and horses and sheep and drivers saying thanks.  But, I know better:
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world