Abstract Ink: Japan in a Paintbrush

What does it tell you when arguably the most famous abstract artist of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso, says “Had I been born Chinese I would have been a calligrapher, not a painter”? Eastern Calligraphy, with roots dating back thousands of years, has evolved from its humble and crude stone and chisel beginnings to a means of fluid communication and high art. Shodō (書道) “The Way of the Brush”, handed down through the generations, used by Japanese princes and monks alike, is to this day regarded both as a means for communication and of spiritual awakening. Though unaccustomed Western eyes may be intimidated by its complexity, what is certain is that Shodō is more than just painting: It is a connection to thousands of years of history dating back into Korea and China; it is connecting with language at a deeper level; and at some levels it is a spiritual pathway to enlightenment.

History

Chinese Characters on a Turtle Shell

Chinese Characters on a Turtle Shell

The story of shodo begins tens of thousands of years ago before the brush even existed. In dimly lit caves such as the ones of Zhongwei, China, our ancestors took stones to stone and chiseled away into history their everyday life: horned animals, fellow hunters, bows and arrows. Written language in the East, just as was the case in the West, was born out of pictures.

least as far back as 3,000BC one finds examples written on animal bones and that can be traced directly to characters in modern use. From here these characters and their use gradually spread until at one point roughly two thousand years when it was decreed a unification of writing was necessary and a standard of 3,300 characters were selected. It was at this time that the development of a brush gave way to more fluid characters, which in turn allowed for the development of different schools of style.

However, it was not even until the middle of the first millennium AD that the use of Chinese characters made its way across Korea and into Japan. Once there, its adopters faced the challenge of matching an already existing way of speaking with a foreign way of writing. Continue reading

Radiolab: Leopards, Language, and Mr. Fernyhough

This week, take a load off your eyes and just listen. One of the most influential pieces of technology to ever hit the human race is surely the radio, is it not? Radio, in all its forms, influenced our grandparents and will surely influence our great-great grandchildren. Years ago (and not too long ago, mind you) if you missed a show on the radio, you would either write to the broadcaster for a copy of the program or wait to hear it again…somehow. Today, with the invention of the internet, nearly everything is available for listening consumption at any time you deem worthy…many times in the form of podcasts.

One such podcast that has never let me down both in variety of subjects as well as entertainment value is the American show Radiolab:

Radiolab believes your ears are a portal to another world. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience. Big questions are investigated, tinkered with, and encouraged to grow. Bring your curiosity, and we’ll feed it with possibility. -Radiolab

With a new podcast every week, Radiolab is the perfect way to escape your routine and challenge your mind for twenty minutes to an hour a week on subjects ranging from natural selection and fate, words and language, or time and gravity (as well as many other subjects!) It is to this podcast that I highly encourage a bored blogger to visit in their spare time for it not only offers you a ears a world of entertaining sound but it offers your mind a new way to take in the world.  What with all this reading, our ears certainly are ready for some stimulation!

Radiolab is a member of WNYC radio as well as a part of National Public Radio.  Radiolab is supported, in part, by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.

If you have not listened to it before, here are a couple good ones to get you started:

1) Words: Imagine a world without words!
2) Wild Talk : Animals with grammar? Words in the wild.

The Problem of Books: Linear Thought

In many ways, the idea that any matter can not be explained but only experienced is quite right.  Zen masters speak of giving an ideal lecture on the nature of Zen by simply walking into the room, ringing a gong, and then walking out. For in that sound and whole experience is all that is needed to fully comprehend everything.  Yet, we can not.

We are bound to words.  We are bound to words and words are bound to sensible sentences…and those sentences are bound to lines.  Lines do not in any way describe what actually exists they only serve to crudely translate to our limited minds what we have only begun to understand, and then those translations are interpreted as symbols.  Before continuing, please refer to this video I have edited specifically for this blog entry.  It is an excerpt from “Alan Watts: A Conversation with Myself” The initial spark for this entry most certainly were these considerations:

What must be expressed and considered is that language as we know it to be is too primitive and, as we evolve further and further, must too evolve and be improved upon.  Continue reading

South Korea Travel: Andong City

Forgive me for being a bit outside of my normal topic of language, but I thought it necessary to dispense some of my travel experience…

If you ever go to South Korea, check out the city of Andong.  If you ever go to Andong, heed my advice.  I traveled to there with weeks of preparation and phone calls under my belt…but of course~things went wrong.  Here is what I learned and what you must see if you are ever so fortunate as to have the opportunity to experience “The Capital of The Korean Spirit”:  Andong City.

Situated in the center of South Korea (and a bit to the East) is the city of Andong.

South Korea: Andong

How To: Get There

By no means impossible to get to, Andong’s recent popularity boom has made it quite accessible by both bus and train.  Though the train may be novel, the bus is most definitely the way to travel.  The bus is fast (1~3 hours faster), cheap (about 15,000won or roughly $12), and very comfortable thanks to its plush, wide seats.

Directions: Go to Dongbu Seoul Bus Terminal (on subway line 2)and from there hop on one of the Andong-bound buses that depart every 20 minutes.  This will take you right to the Andong Intercity Bus Terminal in the center of the city.

Distances to Attractions: WARNING!

Though advertised by their website as all easily accessible via the Andong Intercity Bus Terminal, DO NOT BE FOOLED!  Though every tourist site in the city is technically on one bus line or another, the locations are far and the buses are few.  Not knowing this, I was in for a real headache.   This is my only warning:  Planning your Andong trip with the idea of getting from place to place via bus will frustrate and exhaust you!

So, how do you resolve this problem?  Simple: Rent-a-Car**.  If I ever go back to Andong in the future, I will not think twice about this!  This is my one strong suggestion. Renting a car in Andong will save your mind, body, and soul as you come to realize the distances you must travel even by bus to get to some of the more amazing attractions.  **I have just been informed those in the business of renting out cars in Andong will not rent out to anyone without sufficient Korean language skills!!  Taxis may be the next best thing. **

The Amazing Attractions

1) Dosan Confucian Academy (Dosan Seowon)
2) Bongjeong Temple (봉정사)(鳳停寺)
3) Sinsedong Seven-Story Brick Pagoda
4) Jirye Artist Colony
5) Hahoe Village
6) Andong Folk Liquor: Soju Museum

When they say that Andong is the center of tradition and culture of Korea, they are not lying.  Within a one-hour radius of the center of the city are a dozen treasures (some literally are national treasures!) that are completely unique and breathtaking.  Here is a list of the places I went to see and can personally attest to their existence and worth. Continue reading

Silence: The Language of Thought

Our Thoughts are a Universe

Our Thoughts are a Universe

Within the confines of our mind in places where no one may ever be able to map out precisely, lie our thoughts and emotions, our feelings and hopes, fears and secrets.  Inside our minds lie our unspoken words, our shouts of pain and joy.  In this vast confined space of our brains and beyond into the ether lie what no one will ever be able to hear but is there nonetheless: Our Personal Dialogue.

To say that it does not exist would be ridiculous! Consider only the moment that is NOW.  Upon the reading of the word “NOW” you evoke the feelings and all memories associated with that word, the memories may lead to more thoughts and feelings and–if you never returned to reading my blog but instead expounded on the internal energy you possess from the word “NOW”–you very well may drift off into an eternal internal personal dialogue. Continue reading

Consciousness: Impossible sans Language

Every thought, every consideration, every observation, and every emotion is realized in our consciousness though the medium of language; without language, conscious human thought is impossible.  In other words, without a language as a medium, none of our human experience could even exist.

Korean SOS

SOS in Korea

The idea occurred to me prior to any kind of reading into the subject (later research found such references to this idea in such books as The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language by David Crystal) and I was struck at the realization of how deep the repercussions of a world without language would be.  If such a catastrophe were to occur and all knowledge of language of any kind were to disappear from our race, I concluded, we would plummet instantly into an animalistic, prehistoric, and utterly instinctual state.  Literally overnight our financial status, thoughts of loved ones, future plans (for the nest 10 minutes let alone the next 10 years), and our own well-being would revert to a level of importance no higher than eating and relieving oneself for the time being. Continue reading

Top 10 Ways NOT to Start Learning a New Language

In an effort to assist any learner of any language get started in their exploration of said language, here is a list of the top 10 ways not to go about beginning your studies.   This list has been formed out of 10 ways that I tried to learn new languages but then failed epically.  May you not make the same mistakes that I did.

Easy Language?

Easy Language?

10) Easy Phrase Books. Unless you intend to kill your desire to learn any language right from the start, I suggest you steer clear of such books as these.  Books that offer 101 easy phrases in ____________ (insert language here) are sure ways to get frustrated and give up.  The content is often scattered and colloquial, filled with phrases that are at a level far beyond that of the beginner or even intermediate learner.  I have picked up books in Japanese and even Spanish and been befuddled as to the content.  Oftentimes, such everyday phrases are so wrapped in complex grammar structures and vernacular that there is no way that any learner could actually learn any of the individual parts.  For example, in Spanish

Could you speak more slowly? Puedes hablar más despacio, por favor?

If you speak Spanish already, you don’t count.  Please take a minute to imagine yourself completely incapable of any expression in Spanish, and your pronunciation is horrible.  How can you be expected to learn anything (as a beginner) from such a phrase?  The book this was from has no explanation on what any of the words mean, nor is there an explanation on conjugation of verbs etc.  It is a dead-end for language learning.


Language Absorbtion

Language Absorbtion

9) Repetitive Drama/Cartoon Viewing. I once had a friend who, in his attempt to learn Japanese, watched anime…a lot of anime.  In fact, he had so convinced himself that he could learn Japanese simply by listening and absorbing the language that he watched over 100 episodes of Naruto or One Piece before he decided to call it quits.  What was his result?  Very basic listening skills at best, and right next to zero comprehension when it came to grammar and building his own unique sentences.  Though, admittedly, his vocabulary was okay (unfortunately limited to such phrases as found in cartoons, however.) Continue reading