The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Who Needs Fiction: Bad Economy Hurts Golddiggers



It reads like a headline from The Onion, doesn’t it? I’m not kidding. Below is an excerpt from an article in the NY Times. If you click on the title of this post, you’ll be directed to the full article. If you REALLY want to see just how out of touch and entitled these young ladies are, follow the link in the article to the blog. I found it very entertaining.

It’s the Economy, Girlfriend
By RAVI SOMAIYA


The economic crisis came home to 27-year-old Megan Petrus early last year when her boyfriend of eight months, a derivatives trader for a major bank, proved to be more concerned about helping a laid-off colleague than comforting Ms. Petrus after her father had a heart attack.

For Christine Cameron, the recession became real when the financial analyst she had been dating for about a year would get drunk and disappear while they were out together, then accuse her the next day of being the one who had absconded.

Dawn Spinner Davis, 26, a beauty writer, said the downward-trending graphs began to make sense when the man she married on Nov. 1, a 28-year-old private wealth manager, stopped playing golf, once his passion. “One of his best friends told me that my job is now to keep him calm and keep him from dying at the age of 35,” Ms. Davis said. “It’s not what I signed up for.”

They shared their sad stories the other night at an informal gathering of Dating a Banker Anonymous, a support group founded in November to help women cope with the inevitable relationship fallout from, say, the collapse of Lehman Brothers or the Dow’s shedding 777 points in a single day, as it did on Sept. 29.

In addition to meeting once or twice weekly for brunch or drinks at a bar or restaurant, the group has a blog, billed as “free from the scrutiny of feminists,” that invites women to join “if your monthly Bergdorf’s allowance has been halved and bottle service has all but disappeared from your life.”

Theirs is not the typical 12-step program.

Step 1: Slip into a dress and heels.

Step 2: Sip a cocktail and wait your turn to talk.

Step 3: Pour your heart out. Repeat as needed.

About 30 women, generally in their mid- to late-20s, regularly post to the Web site or attend meetings.

“We do make light of everything on the blog and it’s very tongue in cheek,” said Laney Crowell, 27, who parted ways with a corporate real estate investor last month after a tumultuous relationship. “But it all stems out of really serious and heartfelt situations.”

When she introduces other Wall Street widows to the group, Ms. Crowell added, “They call their friends and say, ‘You’re not going to believe what I just read. It’s going to make you feel so much better.’ ”

Once it was seen as a blessing in certain circles to have a wealthy, powerful partner who would leave you alone with the credit card while he was busy brokering deals. Now, many Wall Street wives, girlfriends and, increasingly, exes, are living the curse of cutbacks in nanny hours and reservations at Masa or Megu. And that credit card? Canceled.

Raoul Felder, the Manhattan divorce lawyer, said that cases involving financiers always stack up as the economy starts to slip, because layoffs and shrinking bonuses place stress on relationships — and, he said, because “there aren’t funds or time for mistresses any more.”
(One such mistress wrote on the blog that when she pouted about not having been taken on a trip lately, her married man explained that with money so tight, his wife had taken to checking up on his accounts.)

Harriet Pappenheim, a psychotherapist at Park Avenue Relationship Consultants who wrote “For Richer or Poorer,” a 2006 book on money in marriage, said that the repercussions could be acute for Wall Street wunderkinds who define their identities through their job titles and the size of their bonuses.

“It’s a big blow to their egos and to their self-esteem,” she said of the endless stream of economic bad news, “and they may take it out on their partners and children.”

Ms. Petrus, a lawyer, and Ms. Crowell, who works for a fashion Web site, started the support group when they realized that they were facing similar problems in their relationships with bankers last fall.

“We put two and two together and figured out that it was the economy, not us,” Ms. Petrus recalled at a recent meeting in the lobby bar of the Bowery Hotel. “When guys in banking are going through this, they can’t handle a relationship.”(She and her boyfriend split up last year; he declined to discuss it.)

Many of the women said that as the economic crisis struck last fall, they began tracking the markets during the day to predict the moods that the men they loved might be in later. On big news days, like when the first proposed government bailout failed in Congress, or when Lehman went belly-up, they knew that plans to see their partners would be put off.

“I was like, ‘O.K. I signed up for that, it’s fine,’ “ said Ms. Cameron. “But all of a sudden,” she said, her boyfriend “couldn’t focus. If he stayed over he’d be up at some random hour checking his BlackBerry, Bloomberg and CNBC.”

Ms. Cameron said that she and her boyfriend broke up at the end of November but that they still saw each other occasionally.

One frequent topic among the group is the link between the boardroom and the bedroom.


“There’s actually the type of person who has a bad day on the trading floor and they want to have sex more,” Ms. Spinner Davis offered as she sipped a vodka gimlet, declining to say how she knew.

Ms. Petrus chimed in.

“If you’re lucky you’ll get that guy,” she said, not revealing whether she considered herself lucky. “Middle-case scenario: It gets relegated to the weekends.

“Worst-case scenario,” she began, and then took another sip of her drink.

Brandon Davis, Ms. Spinner Davis’s husband of almost three months, acknowledged in a recent telephone interview that his new job was “certainly more stressful and there’s certainly more pressure” because of the economy, but disagreed that such stresses had affected his home life.


He did not want to talk about golf.

Some women in the group said the men in their lives had gone from being aloof and unattainable to unattractively needy and clinging. Others complained of being ignored — one, who called herself A.P., wrote on the blog that three weeks had passed without her boyfriend “asking a single question” about her life. Another wrote, fearfully, that her beau had told her to make a list of their favorite New York restaurants before the bad market forced a move to the Midwest.

“Next time you are stressing over some finance guy, remember that he is just a math-club nerd,” one woman wrote after recounting a breakup. “This recession just bought everyone an extra two years of the single life.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Who Needs Fiction: Economy Hits Criminals Too


Having just cleared the driveway one more time (this winter is set to establish new records for both snow and cold in this area - damn that global warming), one can't help but think about everyone who is being hurt buy the bad economy, including ... gangsters.

While it sounds like a headline from The Onion, it's true. Below is an excerpt from an article on "Japan Subculture Research Center" which describes the consequences of the bad economy for the Japanese Yakuza. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

The JSRC is an interesting site. I've created a link for it. Many of us in the West sort of idealize the East, thinking of it as some sort of utopia. Nope. They have their problems too.

Anyway, it's an interesting article. Please pay them a visit.


Leo Lewis in Tokyo

An attractive residential backstreet, a highly desirable postcode and a hugely provocative bit of corporate relocation could unleash a murderous gang war on the streets of Tokyo.

Veteran observers of Japanese organised crime are predicting a sharp increase in violence in the coming weeks as two rival yakuza crime syndicates threaten to battle it out for supremacy of the protection, prostitution and drugs rackets in the centre of the city.

The stakes are rising fast. With many of their business interests such as property and construction battered by the country’s deepening recession, the gangs are scrambling more aggressively for the profits from rackets such as blackmail and loan-sharking, which thrive in the more glamorous districts of Tokyo, according to one authority on the yakuza.

The immediate risk, said police sources, arises from a short strip of road in the glitzy Akasaka district of Tokyo and potentially explosive relations between the long-term residents and the new neighbours.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy Year of the Ox


A friend sent me an article, a portion of which I've excerpted a bit below. To read the whole article, click on the title of this post. Along with the article is a nice slide show to go with it. Please check it out.

Celebrations will welcome Year of the Ox

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Within moments, the 238-foot dragon twirled, soared and zigzagged through the often narrow streets of one of the nation's most historic and largest Chinese enclaves.

Awakened with the red dye that symbolizes blood, the dragon comes to life two weeks a year as Chinatown celebrates the Lunar New Year, which begins Monday and is observed in much of the East Asian world.

Gum Lung is the unquestioned star for the fortnight of festivities, embodying thousands of years of tradition and attracting a legion of local volunteers who carry it during the annual Chinese New Year Parade.

"It's always good luck and prosperity when the dragon comes around," said Frank Ung, 57. As dragon master for the parade, he has overseen the creature's care for 35 years.

Monday marks the beginning of the Year of the Ox. People born in that year are dependable, patient and methodical. They do not back down in the face of obstacles. President Obama is an ox.

Gum Lung (pronounced "goom loong") has a skeleton of bamboo and is connected by rope. Linen, paper, rabbit fur and decorative disks serve as the dragon's sinewy skin. Hundreds of LED and compact fluorescent bulbs vein the body, allowing Gum Lung to glow during the parade the creature will highlight on Feb. 7. For the first time, the dragon will lead rather than end the procession.

Wear and tear render Gum Lung unusable after several years. This year's dragon was made in Hong Kong and brought to San Francisco three weeks ago. It is the longest in the parade's history, which is believed to date back to at least the 1860s.

Weighing an estimated half-ton, Gum Lung is carried and escorted by some 100 volunteers, not including the drummers, stilt walkers and lion dancers who walk in its wake. As the dragon careened down the hilly streets of Chinatown on Saturday, small children and the elderly were left equally awestruck.

"It's cool how that many people can synchronize it," said Megan Van Hoorebeke, 27, of Petaluma. "It's this big bulky creature, and they move it so fluidly."

Tradition attracts many

The long tradition of Chinese New Year celebrations in Chinatown always has drawn many non-Chinese.

Mark Langley's grandfather was an Italian American living in North Beach, but he worked alongside Chinese Americans and often shopped in Chinatown. Langley grew up in the Mission District and remembers coming to his first Lunar New Year celebration in 1968.

The memories of storefront neon lights mixed with incense and patchouli-wearing hippies are still vivid to him. Every year, to mark the past and present, Langley hosts a dinner in Chinatown for 30 friends.

"Chinatown was a magic place, and the parade just made it more so," said Langley, 52, who lives in Concord, one of the many who run while holding up Gum Lung.

The mythology of the dragon is central to Chinese culture, and one of the highest forms of divinity in polytheistic Taoism. It is the most desired birth year in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese horoscope, and is the only mythological creature. With horns of a stag, claws of an eagle, scales of a fish, whiskers of a cat and a body like a serpent, the Chinese dragon embodies many creatures.

Unlike European concepts of dragons, which portray the creatures as evil and destructive, the dragon in Chinese lore is benevolent. It brings luck, longevity and prosperity. The longer the dragon - and San Francisco's Gum Lung is believed to be the largest outside Asia - the more luck it's supposed to bring.

"Everyone is happy to see the dragon," said Jefferson Lee, a head priest with the Ching Chung Taoist Association of America, who awakened Gum Lung on Saturday morning. Lee and several others said traditional belief holds that all Chinese are "children of the dragon."

Prayers to the dragon are also believed to bring rain.

"Hopefully, the blessing of the dragon will bring us some water," said Lee, referring to the fact that California is facing a third straight dry winter.

Dragon energy

Gum Lung is a just a visual symbol. But Lee said Taoist belief holds that meditation can bring dragon energy into your life.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Martial Arts and Aging




Time flies like an arrow. Just yesterday I was waiting for the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. Now I’m helping my youngest daughter with her college applications.

We age. I’m working on my “next 50 years” now.

My late mother was in assisted living and nursing homes for the last 8 years of her life. I saw everyday what physical wrecks people can become. We can only control to a certain extent what becomes of us, but the people of that generation simply didn’t know what we know now about aging more gracefully.

One of the reasons I decided to study taijiquan was to help myself age more gracefully. The martial art is intellectually engaging, and I’m not sure anyone could ever finish plumbing it’s depths. While push hands practice requires a partner, almost everything I need to do to practice this art, I can do on my own, with no need of a special location or equipment (ie training mats for falling like judo or aikido). I have very good balance, which is the nemesis of old people; the art promotes deep breathing, strong legs, flexibility, etc., etc., and so forth.

Zen over at Zen’s Sekai I sent me a link to an excellent blog entry of which I’ve excerpted a portion below. I’m really only posting a teaser. Please follow the link and read the full entry. It could make all the difference to you several years from now.



Martial Arts and the Art of Aging



Introduction


We are bombarded by claims (in the hundreds – and counting) in the media that have purported to discover the “secret to longevity” and the ultimate “anti-aging” pill or elixir. We are overwhelmed by such marketing and publicity stunts and over time many people are sucked into purchasing these “magic bullets” and as a result their money and time have disappeared into a black hole of quackery and scams.


The fountain of youth does not exist – at least as we think of it from some “golden time” in the past or on some “golden isle” somewhere – these grand hopes are a part of the mythology and the story telling that captures our imagination – but escapes our reason.


But there are ways in which we can work toward a healthier lifestyle, achieve tranquility, and age with grace and dignity. The approach is straightforward, but yet takes effort and a dedication to the practice and an acceptance of the art. I am convinced that science and medicine are tools by which we can understand – and create – a more complete experience (and existence) in the aging process. But there is more to it than that. We must be our own best stewards of our health by nourishing both the body and mind with activities that sustain well being.


I am not claiming that the following approach is the Holy Grail to defeat the aging process; rather, I am claiming that there are many techniques that create an opportunity for us to embrace the transformations of the aging process in a more creative and adaptive manner.




Furthermore, these activities and techniques are not written out on prescription pad – Rx – nor do they have to be purchased at outrageous prices. The barriers to participation may be more psychological than physical. The involvement will take time and practice and a dedication to the craft- to the art. I am not talking about an obsessive/compulsive approach; rather, I am proposing an approach where the practice is effortless – where the activity is more of a flow – than a burden and drudgery. But in our frantic world of busy distractions, the practice can be vulnerable to displacement and a lower priority compared to all else.


The practice is breath. The practice is stretching. The practice is posture. The practice is a knowing and experiencing of your center, your core, your muscle, your movement, your flexibility, your balance, and your mind.


Walk. Hike. Bike. Meditate and reflect. The practice can be Yoga. The practice can be Pilates.




The practice can be weight training. The practice can be all of the above.


The practice can be Tai Chi. The practice can be Kung Fu.


To age well = stretch and strengthen. The body and the mind.


Aging Well: The Center, the Balance, and the Sphere


In one of the most significant publications on the topic of aging ever produced, Thomas R. Cole, the author of “The Journey of Life”, has captured the developmental essence of the spiritual and scientific understanding for the life course from pre-modern, through modernity, and into the so-called “post-modern” domain of how we come to interpret and dialogue about the meaning of – what it means to be old – and an aging individual.


Now, while I find this publication to be the exemplar of “complete” scholarship in the field of aging, this publication nevertheless had as its primary focus, the Anglo-European traditions as the overarching template and optic for analysis (however, see The Oxford Book of Aging:




Reflections on the Journey of Life, Cole & Winkler, 1994). While this limited focus is fine and worthy in its own right, the complementary perspectives of eastern beliefs, philosophical nuances, and the respective cross-cultural approaches to the aging process also intrigue me (personally and professionally).


My interest has less to do with the role of “alternative medicine” (as compared to the “scientific biomedical model” associated with western perspectives), and rather, more the interest of the belief systems and practices of the martial arts as a potential for enhancing the quality of life as we age in all domains: physical, mental, and spiritual (and very much the totality of all three as integrated). While not all styles of martial arts are necessarily embedded within an “eastern” approach, my approach here is to recognize the diversity of martial arts, while showing the highest respect for the origination of most in the sphere of Asian culture.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

300 Tang Dynasty Poems: : #30 ON MEETING MY FRIEND …


This past weekend, I had to clear the driveway three times within a 24 hour period. I heard that our total snowfall for last winter, the 4th snowiest since they’ve been keeping track was 46”. This year we’re already up to 42”.

Today, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States of America. No matter how you feel about his politics (I’m a conservative), we all have to hope that the country returns to prosperity during his term.

For many years it’s been customary for an inauguration to be commemorated with a poem. This time it was with a truly forgettable, friggin’ awful poem written by a pointy headed Yale professor.

How unlike the days of the Tang Dynasty in China. The Tang Dynasty was regarded as a Golden Age of art and culture in China. Poetry, good poetry, was especially esteemed. There was no occasion, no event, no homecoming or leave taking which was too small to be commemorated by a poem.

What is considered to be the best poetry of that age has been compiled into a famous anthology, The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. If you click on the title of this post, you’ll be directed to an online version of this classic book. In the meantime, Below is #30, ON MEETING MY FRIEND FENG ZHUIN THE CAPITAL

ON MEETING MY FRIEND FENG ZHU IN THE CAPITAL
Out of the east you visit me,

With the rain of Baling still on your clothes,

I ask you what you have come here for;

You say: "To buy an ax for cutting wood in the mountains"

...Hidden deep in a haze of blossom,

Swallow fledglings chirp at ease

As they did when we parted, a year ago....

How grey our temples have grown since them!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Who Needs Fiction: Farm Machine Music


While enduring the excrutiating cold (on the way in to work today, the message center in my car indicated -8F, with the radio informed me that the wind chill was -30F, and we will never even approach 0F today), what better way to pass the time than to watch an entertaining video that circulated on the internet some ago, as “Farm Machine Music,” or something similar.

Snopes.com debunked this as an excerpt from a music video. If you click on the title of this post, you’ll be directed to the Snopes page which explains it. It’s still entertaining. Enjoy.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Different Versions of the Dao De Jing Compared


It has been said that the Dao De Jing (Tao Teh Ching) has been translated more than any other book, with the exception of the Bible. If you click here, on the title of this post, or over at the left, you'll be directed to a website that has many different translations of the Chinese text, side by side. It's very interesting to look at.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Taijiquan Manuscripts


If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a blog entitled "A Quan-Shu Manuscript."

It is a collection of martial arts writings, from back in the day. Take a look. These articles were written by people who knew what they were talking about. You'll also find the link over at the left.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Samurai Archery


I just published a post that had to do wtih Japanese Kyudo, which is a fairly modern form of archery as a budo, although it has ancient roots.

A friend sent me the following article that was published on Yahoo. It is about a much older form of Japanese archery that is still practiced today. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original article, where there is a slide show.

Samurai archery, an ancient sport, still thrives

ZUSHI, Japan – It is about as far from the Olympic sport of archery as it can get. The bow is taller than the person shooting it, and, to the uninitiated, it appears lopsided and unbalanced. There are no sights, no high-tech stabilizers.

And, of course, it is done on horseback, at upward of 40 mph.

It's called yabusame, and it is the sport of the samurai.

Each year, archers in feudal shooting gear climb atop their decorated mounts for a lively competition on the beach of Zushi, a town just south of Tokyo, galloping in the sand as thousands of onlookers cheer and shout. The first competition was held here in 1199.

The scene is like something out of a movie by the great Akira Kurosawa. Banners flap in the ocean wind marking the beginning and end of the shooting runway. Little boys in bright robes and black hats scamper about collecting the arrows and the debris from the wooden or clay targets destroyed by each hit.

"There is nothing like this outside of Japan," said Ietaka Kaneko, who heads the Japan Equestrian Archery Association and the Takeda School of Horseback Archery, which traces its origins back more than 800 years.

The targets, held about seven feet aloft on small poles or scaffoldings, are roughly the size of a mounted opponent's chest. There are three along the runway, which is only 165 yards long, giving the archer just enough time to raise his bow, load and shoot — three times — all the while spurring on his horse.

When the dull, turnip-shaped tip of an arrow strikes just right, the board explodes in a blur of splinters. But as often as not, the arrows miss, sailing past the targets and thudding into the canvas behind them.

In battle, hitting the target was the whole idea. But yabusame has from its origins been almost as much an art as a sport. In many competitions, hitting the target is almost an afterthought — archers are judged, if they are judged at all, on the beauty of their run and the form they display as they release each arrow.

Here, hitting counts.

"Many schools today see yabusame as more of a ceremonial thing," said Kaneko, a retired veterinarian. "In our school, it is our earnest desire to connect."

Each score brings a loud round of awed cheers and raucous applause and each splintered target is branded with a hot iron commemorating the day and recycled as a good luck charm. A long line stretches along the beach well before the competition is over as spectators make sure they go home with a piece for their collection.

Yabusame in Japan is something like polo in England, or rodeos in America.

Very few people actually participate in yabusame, because few have access to horses or the time to learn all the technique involved in riding them for sport. But Kaneko, whose family roots are in the now-defunct samurai class, grew up around them and his steeds were trained specifically for archery competitions.

"I have been shooting since I was 17," he said. He's 87 now, and was on hand to officiate at this year's beach competition, though he did not shoot at any targets. Instead, he started it all off, as drums beat, with a symbolic draw at the cloud-filled sky.

"The most difficult part is staying absolutely stable no matter how fast the horse is galloping," he said. "The style is not like Western or European equestrian riding."

Archers don't actually sit. They squat, using special stirrups and very light saddles.

There are three main types of shooting.

The first, and most common, involves releasing the arrow at a target directly to the side of the archer from about 10 feet. Targets can also be placed obliquely to the front of the archer's path, or up to 50 feet away.

"When people think of the samurai, they don't realize that in the old days, archery was more important in battle than swords," said Hisashi Yoshimi, one of the featured shooters at the beach competition. "Archers didn't shoot at targets close up. They kept a distance and fired upward so that the arrows would rain down on advancing troops."

Yoshimi said that tradition is reflected in the longbows, which are better suited for long-range attacks on a general area rather than picking off single adversaries.

"The bows haven't really been adapted for this kind of shooting, because there is a big part of the sport that is spiritual, rather than practical," he said. "That's a lot of its appeal."

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Last Shot


There is a post over at Zen's Sekai I, entitled The Last Ya ... '08. The author is a student of Japanese Archery (kyudo), among other things, and the article is about his last kyudo class of the year.

It is their custom that each of the students fires off one last arrow ("ya" in Japanese) to sum up and let go of the expiring year. With that last shot, you are giving up your disappointments and frustrations; and giving yourself a clean slate with which to begin the new year.

What a wonderful concept.

I don't think those of us who don't practice archery need be left out. Whatever form your practice takes, perhaps dedicate yourself one time to summarizing and letting go of 2008, so you can move forward cleanly into 2009.

Please pay Zen's Sekai I a visit. It's an article worth reading.