Silent Sunday

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silent sunday

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In a Sunburned Country

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I just finished listening to Bill Bryson narrating his book In a Sunburned Country. This tale of traveling around Australia made me want to return to see the Devil’s Marbles, Ayer’s Rock, Shark Bay, Bondi Bay and even the Telegraph Station museum in Alice Springs, a town Lonely Planet proclaims, “won’t win any beauty contests.” Bryson includes lots of background information on nature and history and its all flavored with his dry wit.

Even when things go wrong and he and his old friend arrive late, have to pay too much or can’t get a hotel room, the story entertains. I learned so much about the origins of the aborigines, how many extraordinarily poisonous creatures populate Australia and how incredibly diverse the flora and fauna are — and I knew there was a lot of natural diversity. I hadn’t known that a 19th century explorer discovered the only species that gave birth through its mouth and then soon ate the only two specimens or that there are so many animals, insects and plants that haven’t been discovered in Australian and that many are few in number and have or will go extinct before they’re discovered and catalogued. I was amazed to learn the theory that because of the extreme climates and conditions in Australian, it’s hard for plants to survive. The earth in a particular place may contain and extraordinary amount of nickel or copper and thus a plant that can thrive in such a spot has taken root there. Then the unique plant life was most fitting for exotic animals to thrive.

I learned what stromatolites are and how they seem dull and inconsequential but were instrumental in increasing the oxygen on earth and hence should not be scoffed at.

The human history and anthropology was as fascinating as the natural history. It’s believed that humans have lived in Australia as far back as 65,000 years ago with some experts putting the date back 100,000 years. The history has its share of tragedy and exploitation, but there’s also plenty of courage and exploration. I learned that the first European explorers to go to Australia were the Dutch and that Napoleon had sent an explorer to claim Australia for the French but he arrived just a couple weeks after the British.

In a Sunburned Country was a joy to listen to (or read) and I didn’t want it to end. While Bryson wanted to stay on to see the mountains of Bungle Bungle, obligations back home made him put off that desire. All detours seem to be long in Australia and alas, Bryson couldn’t make time for the bee hive-like mountains of Bungle Bungle.

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Bungle Bungle

Some favorite quotes:

“Australians are very unfair in this way. They spend half of any conversation insisting that the country’s dangers are vastly overrated and that there’s nothing to worry about, and the other half telling you how six months ago their Uncle Bob was driving to Mudgee when a tiger snake slid out from under the dashboard and bit him on the groin, but that it’s okay now because he’s off the life support machine and they’ve discovered he can communicate with eye blinks.”

“It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect. …It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as the players-more if they are moderately restless.”

“In the morning a new man was behind the front desk. “And how did you enjoy your stay, Sir?” he asked smoothly.
“It was singularly execrable,” I replied.
“Oh, excellent,” he purred, taking my card.
“In fact, I would go so far as to say that the principal value of a stay in this establishment is that it is bound to make all subsequent service-related experiences seem, in comparison, refreshing.”
He made a deeply appreciative expression as if to say, “Praise indeed,” and presnted my bill for signature. “Well, we hope you’ll come again.”
“I would sooner have bowel surgery in the woods with a a stick.”
His expression wavered, then held there for a long moment. “Excellent,” he said again, but without a great show of conviction.

“Australia is mostly empty and a long way away. Its population is small and its role in the world consequently peripheral. It doesn’t have coups, recklessly overfish, arm disagreeable despots, grow coca in provocative quantities, or throw its weight around in a brash and unseemly manner. It is stable and peaceful and good. It doesn’t need watching, and so we don’t. But I will tell you this: the loss is entirely ours.”

Which Way Challenge

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Pingyao, restaurant entrance

The Which Way Challenge, that Cee began, has been picked up by the Sonofthebeach69 blogger.  The beauty of it is that it’s free form. You can include images of doors, gates, roads, streets, exits, signs, paths, waterways, you name it.

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Direction in Zhujiayu, China

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Path to a Restaurant in Kyoto, Japan

See more Which Way photos by clicking here.

Poem of the Week

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Old Ireland

By Walt Whitman

FAR hence amid an isle of wondrous beauty,
Crouching over a grave an ancient sorrowful mother,
Once a queen, now lean and tatter’d seated on the ground,
Her old white hair drooping dishevel’d round her shoulders,
At her feet fallen an unused royal harp,
Long silent, she too long silent, mourning her shrouded hope and
heir,
Of all the earth her heart most full of sorrow because most full of
love.

Yet a word ancient mother,
You need crouch there no longer on the cold ground with fore-
head between your knees,
O you need not sit there veil’d in your old white hair so dishevel’d,
For know you the one you mourn is not in that grave,
It was an illusion, the son you love was not really dead,
The Lord is not dead, he is risen again young and strong in
another country,
Even while you wept there by your fallen harp by the grave,
What you wept for was translated, pass’d from the grave,
The winds favor’d and the sea sail’d it,
And now with rosy and new blood,
Moves to-day in a new country.

Operation Varsity Blue

Unless you’ve given up television for Lent, you’ve no doubt heard about the elite parents who allegedly conspired to get their kids into elite universities. Some schools are Ivy League, but not all were. They used a man who ran college prep center to game the college entrance tests and create fraudulent athletic histories to

This story and the one on people who allegedly got international students visas through the fraud of having imposters take the TOEFL English proficiency test. Neither story really surprises me, but nonetheless when corruption is revealed as fact, and your worst fears are exposed, I feel disgust.

When I taught in South Korea, an English professor gave his friend the questions for our school’s entrance exam. After this came to light, both men were arrested and jailed. The Ministry of Education (MOE) had contacted the university president had been told that there was cheating at our school, the president said that was impossible and didn’t help much with the investigation. Because the claim was proved, the president felt guilty for not believing the MOE and he resigned. I didn’t think the president should have resigned, but I was impressed with his sense of honor. I doubt that will happen with this case.

The stars involved are getting a lot of negative attention, which is part of the price for their crime, yet there are other millionaires who did worse. As many as 750 parents and coaches are part of this.

I hope most see the evidence and realize the right thing to do is to plead guilty and hope for mercy. It’s hard to say what a fit punishment should be, but we aspire to compete on a level playing field and these folks sought out an easier route.

It’s a shame. Some kids aren’t suited for a competitive college. If these kids needed to cheat to get in, how would they be able to stay in without cheating? College itself is stressful, so the stress of applying is no excuse to cheat. There is no excuse to cheat. There are other schools that would take these kids based on their own efforts and achievements. There’s no reason to Photoshop an applicant’s face on to the body of an athlete. How low would you go? Did the students see these fraudulent documents upload on their application? To what extent were the kids in on this?

The truth will out and it has. I hope colleges clean house now.

Operation Varsity Blue also reminded me of the discovery of rampant cheating that was reported with the English proficiency test where I worked in China. A couple of us reported the students and the agency they used to get higher scores. One girl took the TOEFL test in July and got an average of 45 (an 80 was needed). She paid a service $3000 in August and got a 98. No one’s English improves that much in a few weeks.

I reported this to the testing company and to my school, but while we were told an investigation was conducted. None of the four students suffered any consequences. We had recordings of students talking to the shady company that procured the high test scores and sent them to various agencies and newspapers. No one was interested. I submitted the information again this morning. I hope this fraudulent service is shut down.

I’m Finding this Fascinating

I think every now and then when I get captivated learning something new, or relearning something in a deeper way, I’m going to share it.

I’m in lesson 6 of Hillsdale College’s course on the US Congress and it’s enthralling. I really think this is a must-see for any US citizen and for anyone curious about how our government works.

Now I got an average or maybe above average education on US government in high school as was and still is required, but I didn’t learn about how congress changed through the centuries, about how administrative laws proliferated and how the government had to figure out, through trial and error how new regulations should be made and how the agencies should approve them. I didn’t learn about the powerful Speakers of the House Thomas Brackett Reed or his successor Joseph Gurney Cannon, of whom it could be argued was more powerful than either of the presidents he served.

The professor also shares how the U.K. Parliament’s Question Hour influenced American legislators and others who wanted this sort of give and take. I’ve seen snippets of the Prime Minister’s Questions, but now that I’ve found the Parliament’s YouTube Channel, I’m sure to watch more often.

I urge you to check out Hillsdale’s online courses. They’re free.