First Encounters

<div>This was my very first contact with zazen. Or at least what would eventually set me on the path to finding zazen. It was one of my father’s books, although I don’t recall precisely what it was that compelled me to pick it off the shelf and read it. Had I read something in a fantasy novel? Seen something on television? The memory is lost to me. I don’t remember if it was fourth or fifth grade either. I do remember holding it in my room in our Tacoma house. Second floor, I always remember my room as being shadier, cooler, and therefore slightly bluer than my sister’s room right across the hall. So the orange book stood out in my hands.

I don’t remember meditating, although I’m sure I tried it. And I don’t remember what I thought of the exercise, or however intermittently I’d tried it for the next few years. I don’t even remember much about what the book said! Although I do remember a sense to reacting to some of the mystical elements in it (the author practices in the Tibetan tradition), although I don’t know if I’d attached any negative emphasis on it at that point.</div><div>
</div><div>It sure is difficult, trying to understand who you were so many years ago without tripping over any hindsight bias. You start out searching for someone, and end up with a vague and ambiguous figure who leaves more questions than answers.</div><div>
</div><div>I also read Siddhartha, at some point. And I know my dad had the Tao of Pooh, although I don’t think I ever finished that, I don’t think it grabbed my interest at all. I think I would like to look through this book again, though.</div>

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I can rearrange the stars in the sky because I have statistics.

China’s growth figures fail to add up

Here’s a Financial Times article about the recent release of the newest GDP figures by the PRC’s National Bureau of Statistics. All in all, there has been a lot of grumbling about provincial and local governments over-reporting earnings (not that that’s ever had horrific consequences before!) and whether or not the national statistics themselves can be trusted.

Even the state media has been reporting that Chinese citizens are frustrated about it, and in response the NBS has started a PR campaign:

<blockquote>“Statistical Feelings: We have walked together – Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of New China,” to boost confidence among statisticians.

The campaign has already produced works such as: “I’m proud to be a brick in the statistical building of the republic.” In another poem, a contributor writes: “I can rearrange the stars in the sky because I have statistics.”

I was intrigued, to say the least, so I’ve taken some time out of patent bar studying to exercise my poor artistic translation skills.

Here’s a poem called “Numbers” by Yu Bo (余波) of the Fujian Statistics Bureau.

The Original:

清贫 无辜
为人民 报表路
真实可信 事才不误
求来源清楚 向假数说不
举国事业大进 各族人民有福
甲子春秋统计吟 中华民族根基固

My translation, which is forced to miss out on some cultural references, sorry:

Poor but honest , and Innocent
For the people , The road of statistical forms
Is genuine and believable , Handling all without mistake
Seeking only the clearest springs , Never speaking to false sums*
Lifting the nation's undertakings far overhead , bringing fortune to every ethnicity
With statistics humming through all the years so long , the foundation of the Chinese people will be ever strong.

*假数 can also mean mantissa, a part of a logarithm (see Wikipedia), which might have been what the guy was going for, but I don’t appreciate the concept’s mathematical significance enough to use it comfortably.

And because it’s always fun, Google Translator’s enigmatic translation:

Poor innocent
Statements of the road for the people
True not only wrong thing
Clearly seeking to leave the number of sources say
The whole nation the cause of people of all ethnic groups Blessed Dajin
Spring and Autumn Annals and Statistics of the Chinese nation Jiazi Yin solid foundation

I’ll save the rest for another time, it looks like there are even better ones. But they’re all long as hell, and even this one took way too much time. Some of them look impressive, one statistician-cum-poet even did his in classical form, with 对联 (antithetical couplets) and everything.

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Summer Over Shanghai Over

Well, my post-1L Shanghai Summer is winding down. I’ve finished a month long crash course in Chinese Law at the East China University of Politics and Law (imagine Civpro, Conlaw, Crim, Crimpro, IP, etc. crunched down into five hours each, haha), and I’m in the final stretch of an in-house corporate counsel internship at Owens Corning (China) (yay corporate America?).

It’s been both an eventful and uneventful summer, as I’ve been studying and working, but nearly all my downtime is spent preparing for the patent bar or brooding about wasting time not studying for it. However, I’ve still had plenty of time to ruminate on Shanghai, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

Thoughts on Shanghai and China:

1. The first metropolis to become a megalopolis is going to be Shanghai. New York City’s skyscrapers are largely confined to Manhattan, and many other large cities feel hemmed in by their surroundings, but looking westward from Pudong, Shanghai’s skyscrapers already go on and on and on way out to the horizon. (Granted, there’s not much of a horizon to see.) And the city is just going to get taller and wider.

2. Shanghai’s subway system is awesome and efficient, not much else to say there. And the metropass integrated into the taxicabs is great, although that’s not really revolutionary. I just keep thinking about Beijing’s pre-Olympics paper subway tickets and human ticket-takers, haha.

3. Shanghai’s mosquitoes suck, and walking around Shanghai in the summer sucks. I can’t walk the 20 minutes from my apartment to work without arriving at the office drenched head to toe in sweat. This summer has made me realize I can’t live any closer to the equator than 35 north latitude or so. Any time spent below the northern temperate zones would just be time spent bearing the weather, rather than enjoying it. I guess I was just born a Northerner.

4. A while ago I joked with a Japanese friend about how Chinese people are a 盖楼族 (“a race of builders” more or less). That hasn’t changed. People complain about the annoyances of street noise in Manhattan, but until you can open your 56th floor window at ANYTIME during the day and still hear construction going on loud and clear, you’ve got nothing to complain about.

5. I can’t wait until mainland society recovers all the kindness-to-strangers manners that were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. Every time I come to China I have to relearn the “breathe-down-the-neck-of-the-person-in-front-of-you” method of standing in line, lest I get cut.

Thoughts About Cities and Me in General:

1. I am definitely a city-dweller at heart. Mass transportation, the crush of people, the keep-it-up pace of life, all of it. I find a good city skyline as aesthetically pleasing as some of the views that nature can dish out. Although, I will admit that cities are definitely a lot less pretty down on the human level. But I also think living in cities makes it easier for us to change who we are, not only as individuals, but as a species. It forces us to challenge our in-borne expectations and become something other than what we would be otherwise. It’s an exercise in contradiction. And at the very least it helps keep more nature pristine by keeping us out of it.

2. Skyscrapers will be the legacy of modern man. Back in college my friends and I would sometimes lament the lack of monuments that go up nowadays. Where are our Pyramids, our Angkor Wats, and our Great Walls? But now I am much more appreciative of the fact that if civilization comes crashing down around us, our skyscrapers are what our tribal descendants will be in awe of for a long time to come. Flying back from HK to NY once back before 2001, my plane flew past a fog-shrouded Manhattan where the only thing to be seen for miles around were the few top floors of the WTC 1 and 2 sticking out of the clouds. I still consider that one of the most breath-taking sights I’ve ever seen. It’s also why I think the people in charge of rebuilding WTC1 are crazy. 1,776 ft? What a silly, symbolic thing to do. It doesn’t even make sense in meters, and it’s such an artificial limitation. I would have built the two towers up again, and built them taller. I do miss that skyline.

3. I think living in Bloomington is messing with my perceptions, because I actually got people vertigo at the start of the summer. I was standing in the middle of a crosswalk surrounded by dozens upon dozens upon dozens of people, and suddenly felt claustrophobic and had to get out of there. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like that before. Part of that might have been the standard second-week’s traveler’s diarrhea, yes, but still.

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Summer in Shanghai

After the semester is over I will be spending at least a month in Shanghai, at the East China University of Politics and Law. I’m attending a study abroad program run by the Willamette University College of Law. It runs for a month, and it will be a neat six-seven hours of class a day, five days a week. Ouch. But I did that in high-school, so maybe I can do it again for four weeks. The curriculum covers various aspects of Chinese law, probably an equivalent to any Intro to American Law that foreign LLMs are required to take in law schools here in the States. It’s in English, but I’m sure there will still be plenty of opportunities to practice Chinese. During and afterwards, I’ll probably be networking and begging for some unpaid position. Yay?

I’m starting to realize that I would most like to end up practicing patent law. It simply intersects with what I’m interested in (life sciences, biotech, etc.) and will also allow me to spend a significant amount of time doing non-law reading and study. At the moment this is especially exciting because I’ve been going on a binge of technology and H+ reading lately. Which I can afford to do, since it’s spring break this week. Another habit I’ve picked up is downing one TED talk after another. And these are so good that I thought I’d write up reactions to some of them over the next couple days. They’re on the whole very moving and thought-provoking, but some just moreso than the others.

First up is a TED talk by Juan Enriquez, “Beyond the crisis, mindboggling science and the arrival of Homo evolutis”:

Mr. Enriquez sounds like quite a guy, with some very interesting ideas, and according to the Biotechonomy website (he’s the CEO of that company, an investment firm which funds new genomics companies) he “is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on the economic and political impacts of life sciences.”

This particular talk focuses on two “waves” facing America, which he visualizes with Hokusai’s the Great Wave.

He describes the smaller capswell at the bottom of the picture as the current financial crisis, and the giant looming wave as the upcoming technological developments that we have in store.

He begins with a discussion of the economy, and finishes by describing how advancements in cellular, tissue, and robotic engineering will converge and prove a larger problem (or opportunity) in the long term, despite the financial crisis.

On the Economy:

Basically, the story goes: speculative leveraging by banks is followed by government bailouts. Mandatory spending by the government (e.g. entitlements for the American people, interest on the national debt, and so forth) increases every year, and because of additional spending now, it is projected that mandatory spending will take up 100% of our budget in 2017, many years earlier than predicted. He brings up the ominous points of several key Chinese figures who have recently expressed worry about the stability of their investment in the US, and emphasizes that if the deficit isn’t taken care of the dollar will become worthless.

He goes through various budget options that could save the country money. Pushing social security benefits back. Capping medical spending. Lowering military spending. He brings up the example of what happened to Japan, whose companies are now worth one quarter of what they were worth 18 years ago, when they went through a similar financial crisis and did not address the problem adequately.

On Technology:

He segues into technology, saying that while some things must be cut, others must be allowed to grow. For instance, small technology start up companies. He provides an astounding statistic, that such companies receive 0.02% of the investment in the US yet account for 17.8% of output. His pitch is that these companies are the future of our economy.

He goes through recent advances in microbe engineering, advances in tissue engineering, and in robotics. Then he describes applications of these advances to humans, for example the improvements in the field of hearing implants, which will eventually allow for better than normal hearing. He finishes up with a discussion of human-centrism, which he dismisses as a “mildly arrogant viewpoint,” and believes we are already seeing the emergence of homo evolutis, a hominid which takes direct and deliberate control over the evolution of the species. Something that will be even more clear for the next generations.

Now, he’s not the first to talk about this future, but it was nice seeing recent developments across the sciences put together. The average person often doesn’t dwell on how fast technology advances, and how it will change societies. They can accept the astounding advances of the last half-century, but think that the next half-century and onwards will be only a souped up version of faster, stronger, smaller, when it really has the potential to far outstrip our imaginations. Mr. Enriquez, I think, does a good job of making that vision of the future more accessible to the layperson.

One of the nice things about studying patent law, or at least this is what I imagine will be nice about it (I’ll have to get some verification of this), is that I’ll be able to keep abreast of technological developments in whatever field I’m focusing on.

So that’s Juan Enriquez. He has another interesting talk that I’ll review next, mostly about a book he’s written called the “Untied States of America.” It concerns the possibility of the break-up of the United States. Not in any doomsaying sense, he just compares trends that have occurred in other countries and trends that are present in this country now, and talks about how they should be addressed. He also tries to disabuse us of the notion that America will last forever simply because it’s America. Right up my alley, in any case, because I can’t stand assumptions about historical entitlements.

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