Little Guy Home Sick

Hello Readers,

Recently my two year old son (a.k.a. “Little Guy”) came down with a case of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease. It started after the Memorial Day weekend at a party we went to with some friends, and other kids got sick at the same time as my son.

We knew nothing about the disease until after Little Guy started acting irritable and showing small red spots on his legs and hands. The doctor confirmed that Little Guy had the disease and that he would be highly contagious until all the sores healed. That usually takes up to a week.

Right then and there, our plans for the week were over. Little Guy missed his soccer class, I had to work from home for the week in case I got sick too, and we couldn’t take him anyplace in public for fear of getting other kids sick.

The good news is that Little Guy was never seriously ill. Many children get painful sores in their mouths and can’t even drink fluids because it hurts so much. Somehow Little Guy somhow avoided that. He ate and drank fine, and was pretty healthy overall. My wife fed him a lot of soba noodles because they contain zinc, which supposedly is good for when you are ill. Although he is a picky eater, he does like noodles quite a bit. Here is a photo of him playing with his toys. 

But the experience made me pause and think about how easily something expected like an illness or some other problem can completely interrupt your life. This was a mild illness and was gone in a week (just like the doctor predicted), but imagine if it had been something even worse like a car accident, serious illness or job loss. 

People always expect such things to happen to someone else, but in truth, they can happen to anyone. 

Star Trek Exhibit!

Hello Dear Readers,

I am still catching up on my blog posts after a busy couple of weeks, but first I wanted to talk about a recent adventure with daughter and I at the EMP Museum, which has a 50th anniversary exhibit for Star Trek.

As readers might know, I am a big Star Trek fan. The Star Wars franchise is easier to share with the kids, and I enjoy it too, but grew up more with Star Trek and I’ve always enjoyed it in a more personal way. So, it was nice that my wife encouraged me to go and take our daughter (who is a scifi fan like her father) with me.

The exhibit mainly shows props and set pieces from the various Star Trek shows and movies. Here’s the main bridge from the original show:

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It’s funny seeing the original prop pieces, mostly painted wood, some plastic, etc. They’re definitely showing their age, but at the same time they still look cool.

A lot of the props like tricorders and such were also made out of wood:

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Even the old Klingon battle-cruisers were apparently wooden models:

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Speaking of Klingons, it was cool seeing such things as the Klingon costumes:

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Khan’s costume from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan:

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…and costumes from Star Trek: The Next Generation:

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Finally, at the end of the exhibit one could sit in the “captain’s chair”. Here’s me looking thoughtful and captain-y:

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It was a cool chair because it had all the switches, and was pretty comfortable too. Unfortunately the little data “cards” were glued to the chair, so I couldn’t hold them.

It was a great afternoon to spend with my daughter. I was surprised how interested she was in the whole thing. Later, she wanted to watch the old movies, so over that weekend (when Little Guy was ill) we watched Star Trek II through IV. She is probably one of the few 9 year old girls who knows the “KKKHHHAANNN” reference, and even knows what Klingons are.

Qap’la!

P.S.  Double-post today.

 

Another Great Quote from the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra

While reading the 8,000-line Perfection of Wisdom Sutra (mentioned here and here), I found another quote I wanted to share from Chapter X, highlighting added:

Shakyamuni Buddha: And when I had surveyed their thought with my thought, I rejoiced in those sons and daughters of good family who belong to the vehicle of the Bodhisattvas and who had made this vow [to uphold the Perfection of Wisdom, and teach others].  In consequence they will become so much confirmed in their faith [in the Perfection of Wisdom] that they will seek rebirth in other Buddha-fields, and also there will come face to face with the Tathagatas there, who demonstrate dharma, and from home they will hear in detail just this deep perfection of wisdom.  In those Buddha-fields also they will set countless living beings going on their way to supreme enlightenment, and will help them in their quest for full enlightenment.

(pg. 160, Professor Edward Conze trans.)

What’s interesting about this quote is the emphasis on the relationship between seeking the Perfection of Wisdom in Buddhism, and with rebirth in a “Buddha field” or buddhakṣetra in Sanskrit.  Elsewhere, this is better known as a Pure Land.

Interestingly, the 8,000-line Perfection of Wisdom Sutra only mentions Akshobhya Buddha by name, and his buddha field, rather than more well-known Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha.  However, the point of this quote I believe is the awakening the aspiration to seek rebirth in any buddha field because one can further one’s Buddhist practice and attain the perfection of wisdom there.  In the Pure Land Buddhist tradition, the Pure Land of Amitabha is seen as the most accessible of the buddha fields, and therefore the most suitable in this era of Buddhism far removed from a living, historical Buddha.

Anyhow, cool stuff.

Great Quote from the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras

Since my recent purchase of a Buddhist text called the 8,000-line Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, I’ve been reading bits here and there, and found a great quote I wanted to share from chapter XI:

Because the Lord [Buddha] has said: “I do not praise any kind of rebirth in becoming, because it lasts no longer than a finger-snap.  For everything that is conditioned¹ is impermanent.  Anything that may cause fear is ill.  All that is in the triple world² is empty.  All dharmas are without self.  When the wise have understood that all this is thus devoid of eternity, impermanent, ill, doomed to reversal, then just here they should attain the fruits of the holy life, from the fruit of a Streamliner to Arhatship.

(pg. 168, Professor Edward Conze)

I think this is a very articulate expression of Buddhist impermanence.  :)

P.S.  Been really busy with on call from work plus sick child, so been falling behind on blog posting.  More posts to come soon.

¹ Here “conditioned” means it was created through external causes and conditions.  Basically, all phenomena both physical and abstract (thoughts, feelings, etc).

² The Triple World is a common Buddhist phrase meaning the “world of sense desire”, the “world of form” and “the formless world”.  Basically reality in all its permutations.

Earthquakes and Wifi

After the recent earthquake in Kumamoto, Japan a former coworker posted this article in Facebook:

http://www.wlan-business.org/customer/introduction/feature/00000japan

Japan is implementing a system whereby all public wifi networks switch to open access for all customers after a natural disaster. The link above has an English translation explaining the background, but in summary after the Great Tohoku Earthquake in 2011, it became clear that people were cut off from information, rescue services and family during natural disasters. So, the idea was create a unified wireless network that people could use after a disaster, regardless of the network carrier, to access the Internet and such.

As of 2015, the service was still under trial, and does not fully work because of the challenges of getting a single wireless network to work across all carriers and users, but they were still continuing with the project.1

Anyhow, the way it works is that in the event of a major disaster, all network carriers will broadcast a single network SSID 00000JAPAN. Any phone or wireless computer should be able to see this network and join it, thus connecting to the Internet. With it they can call for help, or get in touch with family.

I think it’s a great idea, and though I hope never to experience a natural disaster, I wish they would implement something here before the next big earthquake.

1 The article also notes that during a disaster, physical access points for the wireless network may be severed from the Internet and not work properly anyway.

Dogen on Continuous Practice

Something cool I wanted to share with readers from Dogen (道元, 1200-1253) the founder of Soto Zen in Japan. This translation comes from the book The Essential Dogen: Writings of the Great Zen Master:

Blossoms opening and leaves falling now are the actualization of continuous practice. (Pg. 152)

But I liked the next quote even more so:

Great Teacher Shakyamuni Buddha was engaged in continuous practice in the deep mountains from the time he was nineteen years old. At age thirty, after practicing continuously, he attained the way simultaneously with all sentient beings on the great earth. Until he was in his eighties, his practice was sustained in mountains, forests, and monasteries. He did not return to the palace,¹ nor did he claim property.  He wore the same robes and held the same bowls throughout his lifetime.  From the time he began teaching, he was not alone even for a day or for an hour.  He did not reject offerings from humans and devas.  He was patient with the criticism of people outside the way.  The lifetime teaching of the Buddha, wearing the pure robes and begging for food, was nothing but continuous practice. (pg. 152-153)

For some reason, I find this quotation very inspirational.

¹ Technically he did return to the palace, but did not reclaim his birthright. Instead, he let his son, Rahula, have the inheritence. However Rahula became a monk as well and a number of sutras in the Pali Canon show conversations between father and son. 

The Price of Fame

I wanted to share a quote from the Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong, which I had talked about recently.  This is a postscript to the 1795 memoirs where she warns her younger relative about the rise and fall of the Pungsan Hong clan:

Our family has enjoyed power and fame for generations.  Father reached the highest official posts.  My two uncles and my three brothers, one after another, entered officialdom.  The power and prestige that our family enjoyed for a time was truly immense.  We did feel a certain trepidation, but, as affinal relatives, we did not think it possible to separate ourselves from the throne.  Yet because we did not reckon upon the jealousy of the world, our family fortunes reversed.1 The root of the calamity was that we were infected by power and wealth. What a fearful thing the holding of office is!

…Now none of my nephews holds even the low degree granted to successful candidates in the preliminary examinations. Living in obscurity, you are not usefully employed [in the government]. While this occasionally brings pangs of regret, I most emphatically do not wish members of our family ever to hold high office again.

In some ways, this reminds me of the infamous rise and fall of the Heike family in 12th century Japan. The Heike, under Taira no Kiyomori, let power to go their heads and brought about their own ruin when the rival Genji opposed them.

However, unlike the Heike if Lady Hyegyeong’s account is accurate and her family was indeed innocent, their fall was due more to bitter rivalries in the Joseon Court, but their fall was no less tragic.

It also kind of reminds me of a quote from the book Dune Messiah:

Here lies a toppled god.
His fall was not a small one.
We did but build his pedestal,
A narrow and a tall one.

The greater one’s rise, the greater the fall. 

1 Lady Hyegyeong’s father, Hong Ponghan, was executed after false charges were repeatedly brought to the court by rival factions over the death of Prince Sado. Her third brother, Hong Nagim, was similarly executed on separate charges of becoming a Catholic (illegal at the time in Joseon Dynasty Korea). In both cases, they were exonerated after death, but the damage had been done.

The Genroku Period in Japan

Odori Keiyō Edo-e no sakae by Toyokuni III

The Edo Period in Japanese history (1600-1868) is not widely explored or studied in the same way that earlier, more exciting periods of Japanese history are, but I’ve come to realize that it is highly influential on modern Japanese culture, especially in the Tokyo-metropolitan area. You cannot separate modern Tokyo with its robots, pop singers and cosmopolitan culture from the Tokyo of 200-300 years past.  I really appreciated this point after reading a book called Edo Culture: Daily Life and Diversions in Urban Japan a few months ago, while I sat on jury duty earlier this year.

The influence of the Edo Period on modern Tokyo and Japanese culture is especially true during the brief Genroku Period (元禄, 1688-1704). The Genroku Period was the high-water mark of pre-modern Tokyo culture and many arts from this period are now cultural treasures.

The Edo Period overall was dominated by a military government designed to maintain stability and prevent warfare, which Japan had suffered for a hundred years prior.  Edo (江戸, modern day Tokyo) was the new capitol and all samurai warlords across Japan were required to live there every other year. The idea was to keep rival warlords constantly moving back and forth between the capitol and their home fief, and also to drain their finances on travel and leisure.

Thus, each family had a residence in Edo, no matter where they came from, and they stayed at their residence every other year. The system worked well enough that Japan remained peaceful and stable. Further, because so many powerful families lived in Edo which had good urban planning, and because so much wealth was spent in one place, a local Edo culture began to flourish. This culture originally was an imitation of the kamigata (上方) culture centered around the old capital of Kyoto but eventually surpassed Kyoto’s cultural refinements and made many innovations of its own.

Much of what we now associate with Japan and “Tokyo Culture” has its roots in the Genroku Period, for example:

  • Kabuki theater – this was once street theater, frequently banned by the government, but now is a refined national treasure.  My wife is a big fan, for example. Some Kabuki actors attract a large following and even appear in film too. 
  • Rakugo – Japanese comedic monologue (kind of like modern stand-up comedy).  This is still hugely popular as exemplified in the venerable show Shoten
  • Ukiyo-e – the famous Tokyo-style artwork that was closely associated with Kabuki, and wood-block printing. Chances are, everyone interested in Japanese culture has seen Ukiyo-e paintings at least once. 

Further, the local merchant class became known as Edokko (江戸っ子), or “Edo Children”.  Edokko are familiar even today by their fast-talking, rough urban accent,² and penchant for business.  It’s a similar image to the “street-wise New Yorker” here in American culture, in my opinion.

Anyhow, with the ending of the Genroku Period began a long, slow economic decline of Japan and the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate.  The lively popular culture at the time though persisted and grew beyond the Edo Period into popular forms of entertainment and culture that are enjoyed and revered by Japanese and non-Japanese alike.

¹ We still watch this show almost every Sunday night here on US cable TV, but were sad to see the main host Utamaru finally retire at the venerable age of 79.

² On TV the stereotypical “Edokko” accent is rough sounding with lots of rolled ‘r’ sounds.  The phrase “ore no mise” (my shop, where “ore” 俺 is already a rough “I” pronoun) sounds more like “orrre no mise”.  Hard to explain but once you hear it, it’s kind of easy to notice.

Japanese Home Cooking II: Easy, Healthy Rice

Since my wife is from Japan, we eat lots of rice at home. So much so, that I prefer it over bread these days. :-p

So we cook rice at least daily, if not more so1 which means we have a lot of experience and the way we’ve cooked has evolved over time.  Back in college, we started out with the “Yan Can Cook” brand rice-cooker which costed maybe $40 and was very basic. Later, we eventually moved up to fancier Japanese rice cookers. 

Lately, though we just cook our rice in stainless steel pots or pans from IKEA:

 

The teflon rice pot in our cooker got scratched somehow and started peeling off. We got worried about teflon leeching into our food, so on advice from a Japanese housewife friend we tried stainless steel. It was easier and faster to cook, but also came out surprisingly good. 

Just take some short-grain white rice2 and rinse it in cold water 3-4 times. Each time you do, drain the cloudy water and repeat. Once rinsed, add about 1.25 parts water to 1 part rice. Then, cook on high until it boils over, then turn off and let it steam itself for another 20 minutes or so.

Pro tip: for extra nutrition add barley, millet, black rice and/or other grains to your rice. You can even add a thin slice of dried “konbu” seaweed or a dash of tumeric for extra flavor. We get our grains as a mixed bag at the local H-Mart Korean market along with the konbu. 

Enjoy!

P.S. The previous home cooking article. 

1 Little Guy is now 2 ½ years old and eats a lot of food. He eats more than his 9-year old sister!

2 Brown rice has more arsenic in it and is harder to digest. You can get the same health benefits and more by adding other grains to white rice.