True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart

by Thich Nhat Hanh

I like Thich Nhat Hanh’s books, because its so beautiful in its simplicity, and so universal and trans-religion in its teaching. This is a short book, so it’s great for re-reading.

The book begins with a short Buddhist explanation on the four components of love: loving kindness, compassion, joy and freedom, and he offers examples for us to self examine our love to see how true it is. There are also practices such as meditation, mantras and breathing exercise.

One interesting exercise is telephone meditation. Whenever the phone rings, take it as the bell in a meditation. Draw a few breathes to center and calm the mind before answering. Very simple to do and it most certainly helps one reach a calmer and more focused state.

Another concept that really stays with me is “I think, therefore I am not here.” A lot of time we worry about the future, about the past, about things far away, and ignore what is here and present with us. We may hear but not listen to the person we are talking with face to face. We do not notice things on the path we walk, we are not aware of what we are eating, because our mind is somewhere else. This little twist on Descartes’ famous words is a wonderful way to remind ourselves to be more present and mindful, to be more fully immersed in our lives, so that we can respect the people we interact with, appreciate the food we intake, and experience our life. Whenever we find ourselves thinking too much, our mind too scattered, it’s worth repeating these words, to bring ourselves back to where we belong.

Published in: on May 30, 2009 at 4:12 am  Leave a Comment  

Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone

by Rajiv Chandrasekaran


The Green Zone, Baghdad, 2003: in this walled-off compound of swimming pools and luxurious amenities, Paul Bremer and his Coalition Provisional Authority set out to fashion a new, democratic Iraq. Staffed by idealistic aides chosen primarily for their views on issues such as abortion and capital punishment, the CPA spent the crucial first year of occupation pursuing goals that had little to do with the immediate needs of a postwar nation: revamping the Iraqi tax code and mounting an anti-smoking campaign.

As the Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post, Chandrasekaran has probably spent more time in U.S.-occupied Iraq than any other American journalist. In this acclaimed firsthand account, the former Baghdad bureau chief of The Washington Post gives us an intimate portrait of life inside this Oz-like bubble, which continued unaffected by the growing mayhem outside. Chandrasekaran unstintingly depicts the stubborn cluelessness of many Americans in the Green Zone—like the army general who says children terrified by nighttime helicopters should appreciate “the sound of freedom.” But he sympathetically portrays others trying their best to cut through the red tape and institute genuine reforms. He also has a sharp eye for details, from casual sex in abandoned offices to stray cats adopted by staffers, which enable both advocates and critics of the occupation to understand the emotional toll of its circuslike atmosphere. Thanks to these personal touches, the account of the CPA’s failures never feels heavy-handed.

This is a quietly devastating tale of imperial folly, and the definitive history of those early days when things went irrevocably wrong in Iraq.

When I opened the pages, I suddenly felt very proud to be Chinese. For right there, in the first pages, smack right in the middle of the map of Green Zone, is the marker “Chinese Restaurants”. Not pizza parlor, not hamburger joint, no, it’s Chinese restaurants. Mind you too, it’s not just one, but two of them. As some travelers commented, you will always be amazed that no matter how far you travel, there’s always a Chinese restaurant where you least expect it.

A really interesting and engaging book. We’ve all read about how inept the US govt’s handle of the Iraqi occuption is, but condensing the interviews and anecdotes into one volume really opened my eyes. A lot of it seems to be variations on the same theme: big, lofty idea thought up by someone unqualified for the position. Like the idea of using a food ration debit card, when neither electrity nor telephone was working; or Operation Smiles when the hospitals had been looted clean of the most basic supplies and beds, and patients are dying from the most curable sicknesses and injuries. Too bad when, filling positions, what matters is not what certificates or diplomas you hang on your wall, but whether there is a photo of you with Bush and Cheney.

While there are a few people who went there with the intention to make some quick bucks (the ludicracy of the contractor’s story is really something), in all honesty most of the people who went out to Iraq brought with them good intentions.

Published in: on May 29, 2009 at 3:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation

by Veronica Chambers

From the dust jacket flap:

Forget the stereotypes. Today’s Japanese women are shattering them — breaking the bonds of tradition and dramatically transforming their culture. Shopping-crazed schoolgirls in Hello Kitty costumes and the Harajuku girls Gwen Stefani helped make so popular have grabbed the media’s attention. But as critically acclaimed author Veronica Chambers has discovered through years of returning to Japan and interviewing Japanese women, the more interesting story is that of the legions of everyday women — from the office suites to radio and TV studios to the worlds of art and fashion and on to the halls of government — who have kicked off a revolution in their country.

Japanese men hardly know what has hit them. In a single generation, women in Japan have rewritten the rules in both the bedroom and the boardroom. Not a day goes by in Japan that a powerful woman doesn’t make the front page of the newspapers. In the face of still-fierce sexism, a new breed of women is breaking through the “rice paper ceiling” of Japan’s salary-man dominated corporate culture. The women are traveling the world — while the men stay at home — and returning with a cosmopolitan sophistication that is injecting an edgy, stylish internationalism into Japanese life. So many women are happily delaying marriage into their thirties — labeled “losing dogs” and yet loving their liberated lives — that the country’s birth rate is in crisis.

Part of this book reads more academic than I expected. It’s rather comprehensive and the author definitely knows the subject well and has a deept understanding of the Japanese culture. Her “geishas” is a very bunch: young hip-hop DJ, diplomat’s-wife-turned-TV-chef-turned-government minister; an openly gay Osaka assembly-woman, restaurant owner, host club addict, competitive snowboarder, executives, and the stereotypical OLs and housewives. She covers a board spectrum of subjects, interviewed plenty of men and women, and presents a very completed pciture of modern day Japan. I like how she discusses the topic evenhandedly. For example, when she talked about the middle aged divorce, she certainly shows a lot of sympathy for the men.

The author is African American, and that adds a interesting perspective, such as the mention of the b-kei, Japanese who are fans of the black culture, which is slightly different from the typical Westerner focus.

The most interesting part for me is the discussion about Japanese men. It was kind of surprising to read how dissatisfied the Japanese women are with their men. Granted, the surveyed subjects are not necessarily representative of the whole population, but it still makes me feel “wow”, how come they view their men so poorly? In fact, among the men interviewed in the book, they did not come across badly at all. Some even appeared more open-minded and supportive than the average American guy I know of. Or were they too polite to be bash about feminism and working women in front of the author?

I mean, I have dated Japanese guys and know some as friends, and I certainly did not find them so lacking. Looking back at my single days, I think Japanese guys have better rep than Korean guys (who are supposedly even more male chauvinistic) and American guys (who only want sex and have a 50% divorce rate). And I and my friends certainly do not have such negative opinion of the men of our own cultures, there may be areas they fall short of compare to men from other countries, but the repeated expressed sentiment was really a surprise for me. I wonder if the author would consider for her next book to research how happy are the women of different cultures with their own men? She has totally piked my interest.

Published in: on May 29, 2009 at 2:49 am  Leave a Comment