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  • grenphi 1:31 am on September 30, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Taiji   

    Move like a turtle, Sting like a bee. 

    It’s working! For now at least… I’m back on wordpress until the next mix-up. Thank you to Juliet and Doug for being so helpful these past few weeks. Hopefully things will run smoothly from here. Now, back to our scheduled programming:

    A few weeks ago I posted about Nanjing’s first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu dojo. I’ve been training there regularly ever since that post. However, since being here I’ve also taken up training in two other martial arts styles. So for part two of my martial arts in China series, we’re going to look at Taiji.

    Why yes, we are well dressed. Thank you for noticing.

    To the left is a picture of my Taiji instructor and I. I have no idea what her name is, and to be honest, most of the time I don’t know what she’s saying either (the classes are entirely in Chinese). I manage to pick out a few things like “relax” and “turn your hips”, both of which are instructions I’ve been hearing from my Karate sensei for the past eleven years. It’s nice to know I still can’t do either of those things. Otherwise, I rely on universal martial artist body language. So far, it seems to be working.

    The instructor is very good at what she does. She can move from deep Karate style stances to ballet height kicks, all in slow motion (did I mention she’s 3x my age?). I know a lot of martial artists. Extraordinarily few can do this.

    That being said, my instructor has some qualities that are much less mystical, or Kung fu-y if you will. She does not act in the super Zen fashion that masters are portrayed to have in movies. If anything, she’s got some spunk to her. If there’s something on her mind, she’ll say it very directly. If she’s not saying it with her mouth, she might be pushing and prodding at various parts of your body to get her message across.

    Our class meets twice a week in the lobby of our building, and are offered for free to international students. Each day we go through the exact same set of warm ups, and then work on a form (Kata, set of techniques, etc.). Each class we learn a new technique to be added on to the form. We’re then expected to be able to perform these techniques in the next class.

    Our class is small now. We used to have many people, but numbers quickly dwindled as students got bored of moving from position to position in slow motion for two hours a week. Personally, I love it. No, Taiji is not turning me into a cage fighter, but I’m learning and practicing focus, balance, and relaxation among other things. I end Taiji class with my undershirt soaked with sweat, meaning I’m working just as hard in Taiji just as any other class (except my academic classes. I work way harder in Taiji than I do in school).

    And that’s all I’ve got for this post. Tune in for my next edition to see what other martial art I’m focusing on instead of work.

    Best wishes to my fellow Asiapod bloggers and to everybody back home.


    • Sam Smukler 3:24 am on October 3, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Hey Gennady. When I was in Vietnam this summer I took Muay Thai from a Vietnamese instructor, and ended up loving it for the same sorts of reasons you were talking about (classes entirely in Vietnamese, teacher that defied the “mystical Zen master” stereotype). It’s great to see your story. Hope to hear more from you soon!

      Also if you don’t know about this guy yet (http://www.youtube.com/user/brooklynmonk1), he’s spent the last 10 years or so training all over Asia and has some pretty great videos on pretty obscure martial arts, ethnic minorities, etc.

  • Sasha 11:21 am on September 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    A Minority–Me? 

    I love being a minority. I know what you’re thinking: I’m a white, American girl. How could I possibly be a minority? In Japan, I probably stick out the most. Blonde hair and pale skin doesn’t exactly blend in too well with the Japanese. But I don’t actually mind. I don’t care that I’m stared at when I’m waiting for the train at the station, or when I’m sitting with a bunch of people at a restaurant. I see people’s sideways glances as I pass them on my bike, and watch as little kids point my way as I walk up and down the aisles at the market. I’ve also found that I value not knowing the language that I’m currently submersed in. I like looking at signs, mostly in かんじ (kanji), and not knowing what is being said or advertised, and walking by people and not understanding everything they’re saying. Even when they try and speak with me, their Japanese words sometimes all running together in ways I can barely comprehend, I still marvel at their native language.

    When I finally started my にほんぶよ (Nihon buyo: Japanese traditional dance) lessons, I didn’t really think too far into it. I was excited, of course, to be learning a traditional Japanese art, wear a traditional Japanese      ゆかた (yukata) and learn to properly hold a traditional Japanese fan. I somehow forgot that my teacher wouldn’t be speaking English. The first time I visited the りょかん (ryokan: Japanese style inn), I accidentally interrupted my せんせい’s (sensei’s) lunch. Strike one for awkwardness. Strike two for staring in awe as my teacher and her other students spoke to me in rapid Japanese. Strike three for growing up in America and being too embarrassed to dress in the traditional garments in front of the other women. I deserved to be laughed at after that one.

    I soon discovered that it’s relatively difficult to learn a dance with head movements and tilts while still watching the teacher. Yes, she was (I’m assuming) saying aloud the movements we were supposed to make, but all I could pick up was the occasional ひだり (left) and みぎ (right). My せんせい took to prodding my head in various ways and pushing my legs and arms into their proper positions rather than merely saying what I should be doing. Her encouragement was appreciated.

    While it’s still hard to learn the dance moves without vocal instructions, I’ve found I prefer it this way. They don’t seem to mind my minimal vocabulary, or my obscure hand gestures when asking a question. In turn, I actually enjoy watching them laugh at my mistakes and smile when I finally get something right or understand what they’re saying. To me, being different here is good; it’s a learning experience. I’m still able to understand people and create friendships despite the incredible language barrier. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • DougReilly 11:01 am on September 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    Asiapod Challenge 2: Linguistic Reflection 

    Congratulations for Andrew Upton, who won the drawing for the Asiapod Challenge #1: Haiku, for his poem and photograph. Andrew wins a $50 Amazon gift certificate! (We’ll be in touch with you shortly, Andrew, about delivery:)

    In the 1940s, the linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf argued that the structures of language deeply effected how people conceptualize the world:

    “[T]he world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds–and this means largely by the linguistic systems in our minds. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way–an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language. The agreement is, of course, an implicit and unstated one, but its terms are absolutely obligatory; we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees.” (Benjamin Whorf, “Science and Linguistics,” 1956)

    This view of linguistic relativity became known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. As a hypothesis, it has yet to be proven and many have attacked the idea (notably Chomsky who argued for universal structures underlying all human language). Yet the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is interesting to consider, and language-learners, particularly those in immersion experiences, often make connections between the linguistic structures they are learning and insights they are gaining into the culture through their own encounter of it.

    This week’s challenge: make a Whorfian observation about the language and culture you are now a part of. Tell us about a saying, grammatical structure or word that suggests a very different worldview than what you are used to. A hint at finding examples: things for which there are no easy translations are usually rich sources of this!

  • jhboisselle 4:57 pm on September 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    Animal Flesh…Yum! 

    [Note: This text, authored by Gennady on another site, has been re-posted for the convenience of Asiapod readers. Please contribute comments, but note that Gennady himself may not have access to them for weeks at a time.]

    Animal Flesh… Yum!

    About three months ago I made a decision to drop vegetarianism as a life style in order to be better prepared for dietary changes upon my arrival in China. Little did I know that would be one of the best decisions I could have made. Being omnivorous has not only allowed me to adapt to the culture with much greater ease, it has also helped me manage my own health and conditioning while I’m here.

    Before coming to China, my vegetarianism was the subject of many discussions with concerned friends and family. I don’t know how many times people have suggested to me that vegetarianism in China would be easier than in the states. Looking back, I think that idea came from lofty dreams of Kung Fu monks in flowing robes eating simple diets and being in harmony with nature and all that other hooey. Maybe it came from the fact that Chinese restaurants serve little bite size pieces of meat with vegetables, as opposed to brick like slabs of animal sinew the size of my leg on a plate with a side of starch.

    No matter where the idea came from, what I’m trying to get to is that vegetarianism in China is much harder to maintain than in the states. This is because almost every dish is cooked in either meat stock, or has bits of meat in it for flavoring. This isn’t to say that vegetarianism is impossible. I’ve met quite a few who make it work, but they usually make more compromises than their American counterparts.

    Ironically carnivores in my group have been eating more vegetables here than in the US. This is quite simply because the Chinese cook vegetables very well (with or without adding meat). According to my roommate, the Chinese are a bit perplexed at why we Americans eat so many raw vegetables due to their lack of taste. I find both styles to be delicious, but my roommate does have a point. I have yet to see a child in a Chinese restaurant refusing to eat their vegetables.

    Personally, I’ve taken to unabashedly eating dead animals whenever the chance presents itself. This has mostly centered on health and time constraints. In his book “A Tooth From The Tiger’s Mouth”, Tom Bisio states he’s observed that some vegetarians need to eat constantly in order to compensate for the energy they aren’t getting from meat (page 125 for those playing along at home). From my own experience, I’ve noticed the same thing. By eating meat, I have drastically decreased the volume of food that I consume while still maintaining weight and energy levels. Two fist sized dumplings, stuffed with chicken, beef, pork, bamboo, and mushrooms can tide me over for 3 hours of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practice. I couldn’t have eaten so little and done so much as a vegetarian. This not only saves money, it saves time. I can eat small quick portions and get moving.

    Am I a bad person for going back on my morals and eating at the expense of other sentient beings? To many people I probably am. Then again, I wear clothes made in sweat shops, I buy regularly from corporations with records for workers rights abuse and disregard for the environment, I consume at an unsustainable rate, and live a life of privilege and wealth that extraordinarily few people in the world will ever know. Was I really a good person while I wasn’t eating animals?

    Probably not.

  • Tatianna Jasmine 11:11 pm on September 25, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Saying goodbye to HCMC 


    I have been living in Sai Gon for three weeks, and now it is time to say goodbye to this wonderful city. My classmates and I will travel through the central highlands, before settling in Ha Noi for the remainder of the program. As I reflect on my time living in southern Viet Nam, I can say that it has been an experience filled with hospitality, excitement, fun, adventure, and so much more. I was warmly welcomed into every home, place of business, restaurant, and shop I entered. I enjoyed almost every meal I ate, and met some amazing human beings. During my stay in HCMC I was paired with a local Vietnamese college student, she is a year older than I and is currently studying economics. My new buddy is a sweet girl, who tried her best to help me out with whatever I needed. Like most people in Vietnam, she drives a motorbike, and often took me on rides around the city for dinner and such. Initially, riding on a motorbike was terrifying, as traffic in Vietnam is ironically more intense than traffic in my hometown (NYC). However, after a short while, I developed a trust in my buddy’s familiarity with the techniques necessary to navigate such dangerous roads. My buddy is very interested in traveling to the U.S., and plans to apply for a work-study program that will aid her in her endeavors. I hope everything works out well for her, because it would be awesome if I could return her hospitality and help her explore my hometown. Another person I will miss dearly is my language instructor. I am so appreciative of the immense amount of patience and kindness she showed me. She always encouraged me when I was struggling with any of the material, and always tried her best to explain any concepts that may have been difficult. Although I am not a pro at Vietnamese, I can say that her excellent teaching skills have given me a new confidence in my own abilities. I must admit that leaving HCMC saddens me a bit because I would have liked the opportunity to build a stronger bond with both my buddy and instructor. Despite my slight disappointment, I am grateful to have met such wonderful people, and look forward to all of the new people I will meet along my journey.

    • Sam Smukler 1:47 am on September 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Yeaaaah cô Hóa! I had her this summer, she was great. 🙂

    • DougReilly 1:19 am on September 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Great post! Hanoi will be a big change, but I think you will like it.

    • Irene Perez 6:48 pm on September 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      So happy you’ve had these great experiences; details great; keep it up. Godspeed!

  • andrewupton 3:01 pm on September 24, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   


    Casting a line
    We hope to catch
    The last rays of summer

    • DougReilly 1:47 pm on September 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Beautiful pairing of poem and photograph. Is there a Japanese art for that?

  • Sasha 2:09 pm on September 24, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    the shadows 

    Through muddled shoji

    grotesque shadows, fade away

    now monsters, disappear

    • DougReilly 1:20 am on September 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Yikes, reminds me of one of those Japanese horror movies!

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