Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Eastern Intellectual Tradition

For 2,000 years or more, China had good reason to think of itself as the world's most civilized and advanced country.  Imagine the shock to Chinese feelings when it was discovered during the recent centuries that the countries of the West had technology, customs and ideas that the Chinese needed to learn.  Americans are used to thinking these days that they have the best country in the world: richer, freer, more fulfilling and more fun.  But if we are as smart and as advanced as we want to be, we will start now learning a bit about current India and China.  

That is a very tall order, but we really should also keep a eye on our ideas and understanding of Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and other countries in that part of the world.  

It is not easy to learn new language and new ideas.  Listening to Prof. Grant Hardy discuss Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition, a Great Course offering, I experienced the same obstacle I faced in Hawaii.  The names go right through my head.  I think it is my ear and my brain.  I am not used to different tones.  I learned that when I say "Mom", I am communicating a word for my mother, whether I say it in a high voice or low, with a whine or with an exasperated impatience.  But lip and tongue work in one voice can be something worlds different from the same word in a rising or falling or modulated tone.  As with Hawaiian, I am not used to many short syllables that seem to be strings of say, a, with different consonants inserted.  Indian names tend to all sound like "Badafagalatamata".  Chinese names are easier for the most part, but I have to hear them since I have not learned to decode the weird English representations of Chinese sounds, called "Pinyin".  It rather bugs me that I haven't and I may develop the motivation to work on learning a little more.

I realize that there are probably several thousand Chinese people my age who would be interested in learning more about me and my culture if I would just speak or write to them in language they can understand. It does help my understanding to keep remembering that the US currently has less than 400 million while India has more than a billion people and China has several hundred million more than India. 

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