Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Bad beats

Despite many of my good friends being longtime hardcore poker players, I have avoided getting into the game primarily for one reason: the unappealing prospect of playing a hand correctly (statistically speaking) and yet still losing — a semi-regular occurrence known as a bad beat.

But I wasn't thinking about poker as I walked barefoot along the shore of Oahu's breathtaking Kailua beach at six in the morning. I was mostly thinking about the Portuguese man o' war, because dozens of them littered the shoreline like translucent blue landmines, their long, thin tentacles still capable of injecting painful venom even after the man o' war dies. In the dim light just before dawn, I vigilantly scanned for and weaved around landmines large and small while staking out a spot for my amateur photo shoot.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Needless Worry

At the age of nineteen, I embarked as an uncultured ignoramus on my first of many travels abroad, and while in Thailand I found myself dining with a friend at a gourmet all-you-can-eat buffet that included filet mignon, top-shelf sushi, and other such delicacies that ordinarily would have far exceeded my college-student budget. Thailand's cheap cost of living, however, allowed an hourly wage earning teenage grunt like myself to indulge in such a feast, for only a fraction of what it would cost back home.

During that phase of my life I essentially ate like a carnivore, and a frugal one at that, so throughout the meal I focused on stuffing my face primarily with filet mignon. Uninterested in trying to enjoy a well balanced meal with a variety of foods that complimented each other, I simply aimed to maximize my meal's cost per bite, and to cram into my belly as many food-dollars as I could. After two or three rounds I'd had my fill, at which point I picked up my unused lap napkin from the table, wiped my chops, then crumpled the napkin into a haphazard mound on the table, like a dilapidated shrine to my blatant lack of culture and etiquette.

My friend, still chewing at a leisurely pace, raised his eyes to meet mine and then glanced at my empty plate, my crumpled napkin, and my idle hands.

"Done already?"

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Book Review: Limited Wants, Unlimited Means

Modern civilization has a tendency to congratulate itself as it exhales a heavy and self-aggrandizing sigh of relief that we are so blessed to live in this wonderful day in age, rejoicing, "No more are the brutish days of 'survival of the fittest' and the never-ending toils of struggling to find food, battling disease, and fending off invaders and predators!" But as John Gowdy clearly demonstrates in Limited Wants, Unlimited Means: A Reader On Hunter-Gatherer Economics And The Environment, the pre-agricultural lives of our ancestors were comprised mostly of leisure time, because food was generally plentiful, requiring only a few hours of "work" per day. People were generally healthy and happy, largely in part because their only "work" was enjoyable communal activities that strengthened social bonds and strengthened one's connection to nature. And while there certainly were occasional famines and other hardships, this book paints a pretty clear picture that, for all our "progress" over the last few millennia, in many (or most?) regards we are worse off now than when we started.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Living and Dying

Almost three years ago I made a major life decision which, to an outside observer, might appear quite foolish. I was on an extremely promising career path, quickly moving up in a multinational and highly reputable company that had not only relocated me to Japan per my request, but also graciously provided a real sweetheart deal to boot. My minimalist lifestyle allowed me to save more money than I knew what to do with, and staying on that career path essentially meant being set for life. I wasn't even working much overtime, which is nigh unfathomable in Japan's workaholic society, and which garnered extreme envy from many a flabbergasted Japanese cohort.

My position came with a lot of responsibility, and an equal amount of stress, which eventually manifested in a multitude of minor maladies such as mild vertigo, a semi-regular twitching beneath my right eye, chronic fatigue, disturbed sleep including nightmares about work, and what felt like early onset carpal tunnel syndrome. But a bigger problem soon eclipsed all of those maladies combined, and it terrified me: the cancerous emptiness inside of me, slowly hollowed out over the years by the corrosive and insidious monotony of work that I wasn't passionate about.

The Fabled Difficulty of the Japanese Language

Somewhere along the line in Japan's thousands of years of history, a curious fable emerged: the Japanese language is exceedingly difficult.

If I had to guess at the origins of this fable, perhaps it is simply mirroring the fact that up until very recently, foreigners fluent in Japanese were exceedingly rare. After all, in addition to its natural geographic isolation, for some two hundred years Japan instituted a sakoku (鎖国, "locked country") policy whereby no foreigners could enter and no Japanese could leave, under penalty of death. Even to this day, Japan's homogeneous population holds steady at 98.5% Japanese, and so it's not surprising that such a fable would thrive in modern day Japan, where citizens are sometimes shocked to the point of irrepressible bewilderment upon encountering a foreigner fluent in Japanese.

Certainly the written language is difficult, but in my early years of studying the spoken language, time and time again I thought to myself, "Wow, this is so much simpler than English." And to this day, the Japanese language as a whole strikes me as exceptionally logical and consistent, as if a group of no-nonsense linguists had sat down together and planned out the entire language in advance.