The year of the Yao

I rented and watched The Year of The Yao from Netflix recently. It was a documentary of Yao Ming’s rookie season. We all enjoyed it.

I have great admiration for Yao Ming. When he came to the NBA, he was just 22 years old, with language, cultural, and social barriers to overcome, not to mention the pressure of NBA life, the media, and great expectations of a lot of people from China. Yet he seemed to take everything in stride, and handled all of those with grace, humility, and a great sense of humor. I was very excited to see him coming to the US and play for the NBA. And, frankly, as a fellow Chinese, I am very proud of him.

Most of the details, games, and background information are not new to me anymore, since I followed reports of Yao Ming pretty closely during his rookie year. However, I think it is going to be a great movie for people who generally do not follow the NBA, or people who are interested in this interesting cultural exchange between US and China. Strangely, one thing that still surprised me was how tall he is. The footage of him at a Bestbuy store and the airport really struck that point home.

Someday I’d like to see one of Yao’s games live. My son is a big Yao Ming fan now and would like to get his signature. I planned to go see the game between Houston and Chicago in January, but Yao was injured and did not play, so we didn’t go.

Yao, by the way, is his surname / family name. Ming is given name. It means brightness in Chinese. I wrote some explanation on Chinese names here.

胡适与胡适之

我正在读团结出版社于1996年编版的《胡适自叙》。用该书的话来说,胡适(1891-1962),“是中国现代有影响的学者和思想家,是传统中国向现代中国发展过程中继往开来的一位启蒙人物”。从我有限的阅读和其他我所尊敬的作者对胡适的态度来看,对这位启蒙人士的评价,是很难说过头的。我个人对于他的“多研究些问题,少谈些主义”的观点非常赞同。

在国内读书的时候,我读到的东西都一直称他为胡适。也可能我当时不在意忽略了。但在我最近读的林语堂、季羡林和李敖的文章里,不少提及他的地方,有的称其为胡适,有的称其为胡适之。我对此一直搞不明白。现在我把《胡适自叙》读了一大半,才明白了原因。

胡适原名嗣糜,学名洪骍。在1906年左右,胡适在上海上学。当时严复的《天演论》及社会达尔文主义非常流行。一天他请二哥代想一个表字。他二哥就说出了“物竞天择适者生存”的适字。他很欣赏。胡适的二哥和三哥的字分别为绍之与振之。所以他就为胡适之。他与1910年赴京考赴美留学。在另一文中,他写道:“我怕考不取为朋友所笑,所以临时改用胡适的名字。从此以后,我就叫胡适了”。胡适的率直自此可见一斑。(见该书第77页及114页)

在我看来,出版、介绍胡适、蔡元培、林语堂、梁实秋、周作人等其他很多人的文章与传记是非常有意义的事情。这些人大都是新文化运动的领导者与推动者。他们中很多人亲历过中西文化,生活在不稳定的政治、经济和社会环境里。当时国内有很多挑战,国际形势也不稳定。而他们在那种大环境下,尽其所能,写出了不少比较客观的分析与评论,引进了不少新的观点和思维方式。这些文字,今天读来,仍有不少感想和共鸣。

我最近读的这些人的选集与传记,都是后人选编的。这倒无可厚非。读过之后,我感觉有以下方面可以提高。但暇不掩玉,总的来说,这些书对我都非常有启发:

一、所选的文章,都应标明初始的出版或写作年代。如可能的话,写作地点也会有帮助;
二、对原文和题目,不要作删改或调整。还是原汁原味最地道。

简评龙应台的《人在欧洲》

几个星期前读完了龙应台的《人在欧洲》。这是北京三联书店1994年出版、1997年再版的。我是从芝加哥公共图书馆借到的

龙应台的作品我不是太陌生。记不太清什么时候读了她写的《中国人,你为什么不生气?》及其他评论文章。那时我深为她犀利的文笔、透彻和精辟的分析所吸引。当时读她的文章,有一种痛快淋漓的感觉。

十几年前读她的书觉得过瘾,现在倒是未必。其主要原因是我觉得她的文笔太狂,不少的时候偏激。总而言之,就是太“生气”。所以当我拿起这本书时,是有一些犹豫的。但当时我刚读完毛毛的《我的父亲邓小平》,所以想找一本内容和风格不同的书来换换口味;加上媒体上又有报道她炮轰中宣部的关闭冰点的决定(我个人对冰点基本上一无所知)和我个人对于东西文化比较的兴趣。所以就拿来读一读。

读完之后的感觉和上面所写的并无太大变化。她的笔锋依旧锐利,一针见血。在我看来,不少情况下她的分析都是切中要害,毫不留情。她的不少观点我也会鼓掌赞成的。

但不少时候我也觉得虽然她的出发点是好的,但她的结论下得太早、太快,有以偏概全、格式化、笼统化的嫌疑。举例来说, 她的关于瑞士人的有计划及刻板的描写,关于瑞士幼儿园的描写,都是单维及单向性的。还有更多的例子,这里不好一一列举,因为书已经还掉了。

对于一个文化、一个社会的观察,管中窥豹的评论只能给人简单的、模式化的理解。这对于文化交流的意义不会很大。

但如前所说,龙应台的文笔和类比确实不错。现引她的《思想栏杆》的两段话做结。在《思想栏杆》里,她从反面描述了一个公正、客观媒体的重要性:

一个渺小的个人的文字,一旦成为铅印,就罩上了一层“权威”的外衣,以新闻为媒体,就更加上了“客观”的金冠。几百万人读这篇报道,几百万人中有多少人会注意意识形态的诱导而有所警惕?

你见过养猪的人如何把几十只肥猪引导到同一个出口吗?只要用栏杆围出一条长长的窄路,连到出口,猪就会一只一只排队走向你要它走的地方。无形的思想栏杆,也是如此。

Wawa Yaya is great

I talked about Muzzy Chinese program in this post. It’s a great program. We loved it.

Another children’s Chinese language material I recommend is a game series called Wawa Yaya. These games are very interactive. All characters speak great Mandarin Chinese and they talk a lot, which is good if you want your kids to learn Chinese. The game, music, and interactive activity help to get your little ones engaged. It is also educational in that each game focuses on one particular area, such as painting, music, reading, math, etc..

Another good thing is that the graphics are done using DirectX, which is part of Windows. So no installation is required on the computer. Pop in the CD and it will start playing.

If neither of the parents knows Mandarin Chinese, then it may be somewhat difficult in the beginning. But overall, it is not difficult to figure out how it works. Plus, the game interface is pretty consistent, so once you know how to get around in one game, it is not difficult to play others.

English books I’ve read recently

Since I listed some of the Chinese books I read in this post, I made a list of some English books I’ve read in the last 3 years or so for completeness. The books are not listed in any specific order. I highly recommend most of them.

I am currently reading a Chinese book, 我的父亲邓小平,(My Father Deng Xiaoping), written by Deng’s daughter. I usually alternate English and Chinese books for reading.

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Great book. Highly recommended. Funny I can relate to Frank McCourt’s Irish experience, growing up a country boy in rural China.

Soul Mountain by Gao XingJian
Great book. Great, great translation by Marbel Lee. It helps if you know some of China’s recent history.

One Man’s Bible by Gao XingJian
See comment above.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Great book and very entertaining. A great blend of culture, religion, history, and geography.

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
See comment above

Mapping Human History: Discovering the Past Through Our Genes by Steve Olson
Excellent book, highly recommended for people who are interested in understanding more of our common ancestry.

Waiting by Ha Jin
Excellent, excellent book. Ha Jin writes individual’s longing, helplessness, kindness, cruelty with beautiful and compact language. I am deeply impressed by his mastery of the English language.

The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman
Good book. It helped me to contemplate and organize a lot of thoughts I already have on the subject of globalization. I don’t necessarily agree with all his conclusions, especially his discussions on the Middle East and the Muslim world. Nonetheless, the author provides good background and interesting anecdotal evidence to put globalization in perspective. I wish he did more research on China, though.

Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
A classic. Pete Jackson did a great job adapting the trilogy to the big screen.

Getting Things Done by David Allen
A great book full of practical tips on how to prioritize, manage your time, and enhance productivity. I followed the principles for a while but kind of fell off the wagon, so to speak. I’ve got to re implement most of the ideas again.

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Interesting book. One takeaway is to remember many so-called experts are biased when giving you advice, especially when the expert’s own interest is at stake. Think your real estate agent and financial adviser.

The Importance of Living by Lin YuTang
A best seller in the late 1930s, this book is a classic. I haven’t finish it yet, but so far I love it a lot. I will borrow it from the library again and read it in its entirety soon. Lin YuTang is a true great author that bridges East and West, and I think he deserves more credit than what he gets. Frank McCourt also talked about his reading of Lin YuTang’s work in Limerick, Ireland.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
I brought this book to Sweden in summer, but didn’t finish it. I read probably 2 chapters and loved it. I will read it in its entirety soon. The novel was made to a movie of the same title. I remember seeing it a few years ago and loved it.