Archive for August, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (TheByteScene Review)

3 terrible-parenting-techniques out of 4

Despite my opinion of Amy Chua (the essay can be found here), I cannot deny that I love her book (hereby shortened to BHOTTM). No, seriously, while I couldn’t possibly disagree with her message more than I do now, I think that the pseudo memoirs she has written are direct, straightforward, thought provoking, and perhaps the most interesting, most likely entirely true. The book is written from the perspective of Chua (the John M. Duff Jr. professor of law at Yale) during her first 15 or 16 years as a mother and it details her point of view regarding the Chinese mother model and the Western parent model. She argues that the Chinese model works far better and generates far more successes than it’s western counterpart and, while I disagree with the message that the book provides, one can’t help but wonder if that’s really the main point.

I used the phrase “Thought provoking” earlier, and the book makes it startling evident from the onset that the writing is meant to make people think. Discussing the advantages and disadvantages of both models (while criticizing the Western model for being lax and leading to childish insubordination), the memoirs use Chua’s own experiences to showcase her point of view and reasoning in choosing to parent according to the guidelines and doctrine set up by the Chinese model. Suffice it to say, it is evident from the onset that Chua has several issues with her own upbringing, however (most likely due to it) she never really confronts those demons. Her only fear throughout the novel is that her children won’t grow up like she did and will end up being two more “Western” children to add to a growing number of conditional failures.

Therein lies the novel’s main purpose for existing; Chua begins writing these memoirs after an incident with her youngest child in a restaurant in the Russian capital of Moscow, where the child expresses outright disgust with her mother for her forced upbringing. Despite the book’s message, however, there are certain aspects of it that I find cliché and written in a manner only to provide entertainment. The character of Chua is constantly written as a demonic figure (one that the essay critiques at great length), while the youngest child is portrayed as a powerful rebel, going against the tyrannical rule of her dictatorial mother. Simply put, it’s an underdog story for either the mother or the daughter, and (depending on how one was raised, in addition to their own opinions) readers will either root for Chua to enforce discipline, or for Lulu to reject these concepts and form her own opinions.

Additionally, I found that the memoirs also moonlight as a how-to guide for parenting, which took away from the narrative. For example, with each personal moment comes an aside where Chua will detail the importance of such an action in Chinese culture. This is acceptable, and would have been, only if Chua hadn’t written it to seem like propaganda or, perhaps worse, a guide to follow. Chua’s writing style is also relatively simplistic, and not in a minimalist way either. Though, in all fairness, the book is a one time read. For the purposes of this review, I read the book two more times and found that no new information had been presented and nothing else could have be gained from that first, initial reading; Chua writes herself as a tyrant, her youngest daughter as a rebel, and everyone else as nothing more than bystanders caught between the angel and demon figures.

That being said, however, I also noticed that despite the weakness of the writing, and despite the very Western cliche’s that Chua uses (once again proving her hypocrisy), the novel’s main point is to showcase the Chinese mother model and allow the reader to form their own opinions. Though, how Chua reasoned that would happen is beyond me as anyone would view her treatment of her children as reason enough to call social services, though that may be a very Western way of thinking; then again, even most Eastern parents are smart enough to tell their children that life is hard and that one needs to be prepared for those hardships during their upbringing, in a better and more reasonable fashion than Chua did.

The point is, the novel asks the reader to think about the two models and to choose between them, though that leads to another question: the novel asks the reader to choose, but why must we choose between one or the other when it would be far more logical to incorporate both standards? This is the one point that Chua fails to grasp throughout her writing: there is a middle ground; though that is a minor digression. In essence, the novel is a simple way of looking at the Chinese mother model and does more than a fine job of posing very real and very thought provoking questions to the reader. Despite my criticism of her and her novel, Chua is without a doubt, a very brave individual not only for releasing her own story, but for also attempting to change and challenge strongly ingrained Western views in an increasingly modernizing world. I would strongly recommend the novel to anyone with half a mind though I must make one final point before I continue: under any circumstance, whether you choose East, West or both, do not raise your children like Amy Chua has; you will find that doing so will lead to more heartbreak and turmoil than is healthy in any human relationship.

As always, this has been your Admin; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

War Cry of the Critical Writer; An Essay About Amy Chua

Amy Chua is an intellectual; of this there is no doubt, though, as one continues to read her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, they also learn that she is a moron and, perhaps the most interesting of all, a hypocrite. Beginning with her blatant and casual racism, to her absolute and utter misunderstanding of the subject that she herself discusses at length, concluding with her hypocritical views cultures and the one she denounces, she is, for all intents and purposes, inadequate. Yet, despite these shortcomings, Amy Chua is a law professor at Yale, a graduate of Harvard College, in addition to being a graduate of Harvard Law School. Chua is also the published author of two other books, one a novel on market dominance and its link to racial treatment and the other a discussion of seven major empires and their failures, due to their mistreatment of their own minorities. Further more, Chua is happily married and is loved, more or less, by her two daughters and her two dogs, in addition to her wide extended family. Without a doubt, she is a gifted and lucky individual, however, when it comes to releasing and accepting the individuality of others, she is harsh toned, picky, crude, simpleminded and selfish. Moreover, her single minded focus on the failures of the West and the successes of the East are more than a little biased and, more often than naught, shockingly outdated in both tone and sentiment.

Logically, it is unfair to launch these accusations without first providing detailed justification; the readers of her novel are lucky as she provides evidence of her shortcomings at almost every point, discussing her actions with both a sense of pride and a little remorse, though not because she feels guilt, but because of her upset at the failures she herself has had to endure at the hands of her youngest daughter, Louisa “Lulu” Rubenfeld. Her third novel, released in January 2011 is a pseudo memoir of the first 15 or 16 years of her life as a mother, discussing how she chose to parent using the “Chinese mother” point of view; in stark comparison to the “Western parent” model. She argues that the Chinese approach to parenting is better and works far more efficiently than its Western counterpart as it allows the child to blossom to the full extent of their ability, providing a closer relationship with their parents, in addition to having more confidence and a greater sense of self. The Western parent model, she argues, focuses more on the child’s individuality and sense of choice which, when compared to the results that are produced by the Chinese mother model, are inconsequential to the point of appearing negligible. It is more logical to raise a child by using the Chinese mother model, she states, rather than the Western parent one, as it leads the child through a path of greater success.

At this point, one must ask: to what end? It must be agreed upon that the Chinese mother model leads to a greater number of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and so forth, and it must be agreed upon that this model leads to more conditional success. This has been more than proven by the rise of China and the quality of the students and workers it has produced, yet the fact remains that the model only works when both teacher and student accept it as their sole doctrine. Should a child reject the concepts of the model, it falls apart immediately, as it becomes nothing more than a teacher expecting far too much from a student who is not interested in being taught. The fact remains that once a student rejects the model, it becomes nothing more than a screaming match between two figures; teacher and student. On one hand, an immovable object refuses to learn, while on the other, an unstoppable force constantly berates the individual for every so-called failure and lack of conditional success.

Chua herself proved this with her second child: in comparison to the elder child, Sophia, Lulu maintains her sense of self; choosing to reject the harsh tone of the Chinese mother model in favour of a more lighthearted approach, one where she is able to make her own decisions and accepts them as reasonable thoughts created by her own mind, rather than rules forced onto her by an unstable tyrant. Furthermore, during the conclusion of the novel, it is revealed that while Lulu chose to divulge from the Chinese mother teachers, her elder sister Sophia accepted the doctrine and its shortcomings in a modern Western world. Sophia details that during her youth she had no choice but to go along with her mother’s actions, however, during her adolescent and teenage years, she accepted her mother’s tyrannical behaviour because she found a sense of enjoyment in what she was accomplishing (despite the inhumane treatment inflected upon her by her own mother) and a sense of pride in being able to please her family, in addition to those around her.

Despite this rejection, however, Chua does not change her attitude regarding the model; she maintains that when it works, it truly works, though when it doesn’t, it produces failures, more often than naught. An interesting point to raise is not that her father rejected the Chinese mother model and became a successful man in his own right, but the fact continues to remain that the Chinese mother model truly only works when one has no other option; examples such as intense poverty immediately come to mind, where the entire family works as a single unit to overcome it’s difficult situations. In a stable Western world, where the family unit is capable of maintaining itself financially and is not constantly at the immediate risk of being forced into starvation or being devoid of medical care, the Chinese mother model fails almost entirely, as the child has no reason to go along with parent-inflicted hardships. The problem, once again is that in the poverty example detailed above, the child wants to help its family overcome hardship, therefore it tries its hardest to work for a better life with the greatest possible reward as the outcome. In the counter example, the child has no reason to experience unnecessary hardships as the child is not working towards a general and all encompassing familiar success. Simply put, in one example, the child must become a doctor to lead a better life and to support it’s family; on the other, the child is comfortable enough, socially, to make their own decisions and not worry about the implications of not supporting its family. Furthermore, in the counter example, the child is comfortable enough to not have to worry about the ramifications of not being successful and living up to inflated expectations.

Chua is blatantly incapable of understanding that while success and happiness is a dream for everyone, the concept of success is not the same quantifiable figure for each individual. She fails to see the pointlessness of forcing a person to practice the piano and violin for hours on end if the only desirable outcome is to have a “Respectable” hobby. Likewise, not every individual wants to be rich and bask in the glory provided to them by vast recognition. Some are content to “Squander” their talents in a way that allows them to feel self actualized. Furthermore, Chua never takes her children’s considerations to heart, until it is too late. Her eldest Sophia continues to play the piano (though by choice, later and only because her mother feels unnecessary), while her youngest outright rejects the violin for a practice that she finds more pleasurable, playing tennis for fun. This, additionally, is an added misgiving to the Chinese mother model; there is no middle ground to any particular action. Anything attempted is only done so if being number one is the outcome; playing the piano, violin, tennis, rugby, and so forth is only done to be the best, not in one area, but in the entire world. Therein lies an additional dilemma posed by the model: the teacher excepts the student to be a master of their task. Under no circumstance is the child expected, or even allowed to not be perfect; an illogical concept that becomes even more clear once one understands that attaining perfection and becoming an expert at anything is impossible, especially in a competitive field. It is physically and psychologically impossible to always be number one, and it is even more difficult to do so when the only pleasure one derives from an action is not for legacy or for divinity, but from the simple feat of being good at something; piano, violin, tennis, competitive essay writing, or otherwise. Unless, of course, a person dies as number one; a feat that many who follow the Chinese mother model would consider reasonable, as once one has became the best in the world, what more is there to live for?

This, however, leads to another of Chua’s inadequacies: due to her misunderstanding of the model, she constantly forces her own will upon her children, not out of hate or a sense of lost chances, but because she loves her two girls. This is evident from the first few pages of the novel, as she describes her relationship with her children; the reader can see that her feelings are nothing more than true and genuine love. The problem lies within that love: like a battered spouse, her children are constantly tormented by the tyrannical views of their mother, but are always reassured that they are loved and respected regardless, almost immediately afterward in most cases. Though, Chua doesn’t show that she loves her children in the way that a child would expect, not unless she has first screamed at them to be better and to live up to her own inflated expectations. An example that readily comes to mind is the story of “The Little White Donkey,” a piece that Lulu is forced to learn by her mother; one that she fails repeatedly and one that her mother threatens her into learning. The fact remains that Lulu learns the piece, and despite her mother’s rash behaviour, the child is overjoyed and hugs and cuddles with her mother afterward, due to her success. Chua reasons that despite her own behaviour, the model worked because it achieved the desired result in addition to not affecting the strong bond between her and her child, as evidenced by their shared affection following the incident.

Here, however, Chua stunningly misunderstands the dynamic between a child and parent, let alone the dynamic between mother and child. Regardless of whether the child is forced to succeed or if they succeed on their own, when they are young, they will be proud of themselves and will seek a similar reaction from those around them. Put simply, children, not unlike emotionally competent adults, desire praise when they accomplish a task or perform a good deed. Therefore, despite Chua’s intense reaction, it is only logical, and to be expected, that the young Lulu will be happy once she has learned how to play the piece. While Chua argues that the model did not damage the relationship between her and her child in the example detailed above, she fails to understand that at such a young age, it is to be expected that Lulu will not hold her mother in contempt, despite her mother’s actions. Furthermore, while she argues that no damage has been dealt, she fails to understand an added concept: in a Western world, screaming at a child needlessly does more irrevocable damage than good.

Chua’s views on the West also influence her views on parenting far more than her own traditional Chinese upbringing does. Though, that being said, if one were to outright describe her as a cultural hypocrite, she would be quick to point out the importance of understanding other cultures and respecting their differences; for example, she snaps at her children for making fun of a foreign student’s near unpronounceable name as an act of showing them the importance of accepting those from different cultural backgrounds. The irony in this statement is the fact that despite her claims of cultural sensitivity, she constantly ridicules the various cultural notions of the West and even goes as far as outright dismissing Western parents, claiming that, of those she has been privy to, what she has seen has proved to be inferior. Furthermore, near the end of the novel, she discusses the “Disney world” view of life with her children, stating that growing up along such media distorts the views of children and warps their notions of reality. While the real world is a complex and difficult place, children’s programming presents an almost perverted view of the world; providing children with perfect situations that almost never occur in real life.

She continues on to say that Western children, being raised alongside such media, find it harder to accept the harsh realities of the world and often find themselves in situations that a hardened child, parented alongside the Chinese mother model, would be able to easily overcome. Disregarding the obvious falsities behind this statement and disregarding Chua’s extremism, one must immediately be allowed to point out the truth behind her beliefs regarding the “Disney world” concept. Yes, Disney, and other children’s programming creators, produce content designed to entertain a child and keep them smiling, though under any circumstance, what other expectations would one have from the producers of a children’s entertainment division? Cartoons, and the like, are not designed to inflict an almost irrational fear of the world into a child; they are designed to tap into a child’s sense of creativity and acceptance, allowing them to not be scared of stepping outside their front door and encountering others. Even Chinese children’s programs, though near incomprehensible to a Westerner, are designed to do the same thing. It is illogical to believe that a child is bound to fail at anything because they, as children, were engaged in cartoons and so forth; just as it is illogical to believe that an adult will regress into a child like state of euphoria and innocence after being subject to a violent movie or the daily news.

Ironically, her views on Western media is not the issue to which one must take heed of; Chua favours minorities far more than she does majorities. This is reasonable and acceptable and is even fair and judicious; though it is hypocritical to claim cultural sensitivity and then proceed to ridicule the majority. One becomes culturally sensitive not by rejecting the views of the many, but by understanding and accepting all points of view, regardless of the noticeable difference.

However, it is unsurprising that Chua would resort to such extremes, as her methods and beliefs are as outdated as one would expect. The reasons listed above should provide more than enough evidence of this, though her racism and hypocrisy do also come to mind. Suffice it to say, Amy Chua is a very human individual with many flaws to her character; chief of which being the belief that outdated Eastern doctrine can survive in a modernizing world where the concepts detailed by the West are becoming more and more prominent. Perhaps, however, these are Chua’s true fears; she is afraid that her own past and ancestry will become outdated and useless and she forces her beliefs into the minds of whomever will listen, as an act of insuring her history will live on. In this case, the very children she raised are the very victims or her own fears and insecurities.

Amy Chua loves her family; she loves her husband, her parents, her siblings and, most importantly, she loves her children. That being said, there are other, far more healthy, alternatives to the Chinese mother model to show this love and if one were to raise children in such a manner in the current world, they would not be unwise to expect difficulties and a major case of culture shock. Suffice it to say, if given the choice between East and West, the logical decision, as always, would be a mix of the two. Provide spacious perimeters, be loving and disciplined, and, under any circumstance, give the child a chance to voice their opinions. On a final note, there is no expectation that Chua will ever come across this article. If she ever does, to her, this will merely be one more review of her book, criticizing her person; nothing more than one more opinion floating in a sea of many other. Ironically, this is the most important concept that Chua has failed to grasp, which becomes even more strange once one considers that she is a teacher: opinions do matter. Though, perhaps she views her students as adults and her daughters as nothing more than children. Vessels just waiting to be filled with her views, her insecurities, her opinions, and her beliefs; a very unhealthy way of viewing children from any part of this vast universe.

As always, this has been your Admin; comment, subcribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Electric Noise and Madonna on the Rocks; Diving In Nha Trang, Vietnam (TheByteWeek Issue 4)

Today I went diving. To be fair, just reading that sentence brings a smile to my face because I love SCUBA diving; my first dive was in the Maldives in 2006 and since then I’ve SCUBA dived whenever I’ve been physically able to and whenever I’ve actually been capable of doing so. I should begin with a little bit of background history: during my time in the Maldives I volunteered at a SCUBA diving center and I continued to do so for the subsequent two years. I spent my summers there and the rest of my year back home and it was an insane amount of fun. I must mention that, while under any normal circumstance saying that you want to strap a heavy metal tank to your back filled with air so you can dive underwater and experience 1-2, if not more, extra atmospheres to enjoy yourself might get you institutionalized, it’s something I do not because I’m insane, but because it’s relaxing, calming, fun, and, most importantly, really one of the only ways I perform modern athletics. Though, that’s a bit of a digression I suppose.

Following the Maldives, I didn’t go SCUBA diving for another two or three years until I was convinced, quite fluidly I might add, to do so. Suffice it to say, when you’re underwater, absolutely nothing compares to warm temperatures because (and I’m talking about Lake Ontario as I continue) the freezing cold is not a pleasant dive site (no matter how beautiful the water may look; again though, Lake Ontario. Nuff said) and the worst part is going from wearing nothing more than a short wetsuit to having to wear a long jump suit, in addition to a jacket, gloves, and a hood. Don’t get me wrong, after you get past the cold and the fact that you still can’t feel your fingers despite your armor, SCUBA diving in cold water is just as much fun as SCUBA diving in warm water (if not more so, because now you’ve got adrenaline pumping through your body to make sure you don’t freeze, or worse: fall asleep). However, my reason for writing today isn’t to complain about cold water (but not cold weather) and praise warm water (but not warm weather, not entirely anyway), it’s to talk about the half day trip I took today in the nice warm waters of lovely Nha Trang, Vietnam.

The morning, for me, was excruciating because I had to wake up at 6:30 AM to catch the bus that came to the hotel, almost daily, at 7:00 AM to pick up the SCUBA diving guests. Luckily for me, however, not only did my alarm work, but I also got the wake up call I needed and, after literally forcing my body to move out of bed, I brushed my teeth (to be generous. Nothing is worse than using a regulator used by someone else who didn’t brush their teeth. Trust me when I say that no matter how much you clean the mouthpiece, you can still taste the lack of fluorine), got dressed, waited in the lobby for five minutes until I was greeted by one of the divemasters from the company I arranged to go diving with (a fantastic enterprise known as Amigos Divers; this is going to sound like a plug, but I’m not kidding when I say that their staff is excellent, their equipment clean, and their dive sites beautiful). Skipping past all of the uninteresting parts, we got to the dive site at about 8:00 AM and after a briefing (not to mention the buddy check where I learned a new acronym for BCD, Weights, Releases, Air Supply, and Final Ok: Bruce Willis Ruins All Films. It’s interesting because it’s so true: now, Bruce Willis does ruin all films) of the site, we dove. At this point I must mention a few things; to begin with, the name of the first site was Electric Noise (named because of the noise heard when the wind blows through the two rock formations that constitute the location). Next, we entered the water without inflating our BCD’s (buoyancy control devices) meaning that instead of hanging around the surface before giving the final ok and deflating (so we sink), on this dive, we sank like rocks. In case anyone’s wondering how fast a person sinks, 9.8 m/s/s doesn’t even come close to describing the feeling of sonic booming down realizing, within seconds, that you’ve hit 30 meters deep. That’s the other thing about not inflating your BCD when you enter the water: you don’t have any air in the device, meaning you don’t achieve neutral buoyancy (the point where you float in the water; moving neither up nor down) until you’ve actually stopped and tried to do so; again, we sonic boomed down.

The last thing I need to say about this certain dive site was the fact that it was beautiful. I mean, I’ve seen fantastic sites before (diving in the Maldives does that to you), but I’ve never seen a site like this before (quick point before we continue: I only have 17 dives on log; any half decent diver will tell you that for the total years I’ve spent diving, I should have far, far more. My only excuse is this: diving in Lake Ontario isn’t fun, no matter how much I love the sport, though I do digress), especially for a deep dive (30 or so meters deep constitutes a deep dive under most diving associations’s set of considerations and teachings; PADI, for example, counts 18 meters as the highest possible depth before a normal dive becomes a deep dive). The point of Electric Noise (as far as I could tell) was to start near the bottom (we didn’t reach the exact bottom of 45 meters) and then spiral for the duration of the dive to the top. Doing so meant that we could see almost every part of the rock formations, and get a good look at the coral and other marine life; it’s actually due to this reason that Electric Noise was my favourite of the two dive sites, despite a few problems I encountered.

First of all, I hadn’t gone diving for well over 4 months, meaning my lungs weren’t used to the experience of more than one atmosphere. This meant that I consumed an unfathomable amount of air in a very short time to compensate (I’d like to point out that the deeper you go, the more air you consume. Considering all the time spent away from depth, starting the dive at 30 meters was a definite jolt to my system), which reduced the overall time of the dive significantly. A dive that normally takes 40-45 minutes (on average; optimistically, the dive should have taken 45-50 minutes) ended in 32 minutes. The second problem I encountered was buddy contact. Having been taught to stay close to my diving buddy for safety reasons, I can safely say that I clung to my fellow diver on the first dive; this isn’t good because, in tight spaces (like Electric Noise is capable of providing), it means that anyone clinging will get hit by fins and so forth (which I did; I learned that lesson quickly). The final problem I encountered was my inability to sit still; under normal circumstances (these dives today were normal circumstances), a diver only uses their legs to move. The feet have fins and the fins are far more powerful and produce a far greater applied force than the arms and hands do, meaning that during diving, using the arms and hands wastes energy, (subsequently) the air supply, and (finally) the dive time. As such, divers usually cross their arms and train themselves to maneuver using (mostly) their legs and feet. Doing so also allows a diver to monitor anything on their arms (like dive computers and compasses) with far greater ease. Suffice it to say, I was flailing my arms (not literally of course; there’s far too much resistance in water to be able to do so properly) during the first half of the first dive and this also contributed to my reduced time. The fact of the matter is that the first dive was to get reacquainted with the experience; the second dive, however, was meant (for me) to fix my mistakes, extend the dive time, and (for everyone around me, and myself of course) have fun.

Having fun is incredibly important in SCUBA diving not because of the psychological ramifications of the event, but also to insure that the divers aren’t stressed and (potentially) harming themselves and those around them. The thing is, if you’re not relaxed and are tense throughout the dive, more oxygen will be used up and (more importantly) mistakes can be made and life threatening medical conditions can stop being text book scenarios and can become very real, very fast. It was important (in my opinion) to be confident in my ability to dive and not get killed, so this next dive was very important. Here, instead of one fellow diver, we got an extra divemaster (not because I was so bad that I needed more help, but because it was more or less an empty boat, and the point of diving is to enjoy one’s self. Besides, it was a fun dive; the more the merrier, simply put) and so instead of two, three divers entered the Madonna on the Rocks divesite. Luckily for me, this time we entered the water with preinflated BCD’s (again, not because of me, but because the divesite required this specific entry) and after reducing the total air in the devices, we dove. The first thing that I must mention about Madonna on the Rocks is the fact that, due to the lack of overall depth, the water is warmer than Electric Noise. The next point I must make about Madonna on the Rocks is the fact that it’s very spacious, meaning (for someone like me) it’s easy to branch out, but also stick to the group, so during this dive, it was easy for me to apply the necessary corrections to my prior mistakes. For this reason, I found that Madonna on the Rocks was the easier of the two sites; I was able to maintain a safe distance from my buddies (yet not get lost), I didn’t flail about like a mad man (and let my legs do most of the work), and (due to the previous reason in addition to the depth) it was the longer of the two dives (the computers clocked in at 63 minutes when we surfaced; this included the 3-5 minute safety stop that is done on most, if not all, dives).

In terms of aquatic life, Electric Noise had more to offer, but in terms of sheer relaxation, Madonna on the Rocks offered far more. However, despite the fact that I fixed most of my prior errors at Madonna on the Rocks, Electric Noise still remains my favourite of the two sites. Additionally, I must mention that despite my best efforts, during the end of the dive I still moved my arms more than I should have and I also bumped into my original buddy 4 times in total. The bumps were minor, but next time I’ll focus on distance; though, it would be unfair if I didn’t say that I did get carried away in the breathtaking beauty of it all. For example, I was lucky enough to see an Ornate Ghost Pipefish (a species that isn’t normally native to the site we were at, if to Nha Trang at all) and I was also lucky to finally see a frog fish disguising itself from predators.

I suppose I could talk about the beauty that underwater nature offers, or how amazing the world we live in really is, but I’ve noticed that when I go diving, I very rarely think about the overall picture and I spend more time taking it all in. Perhaps it’s due to my diving youth, or perhaps it’s because I’m easily overcome, but the fact still remains that SCUBA diving today was (as it has always been; cold water or not) incredible. It was relaxing, educational and, perhaps most importantly to anyone including myself: it was fun. I really can’t stress that enough; SCUBA diving is, above all else, fun and enjoyable. Frankly, not very many things are when you break it down to it’s core pieces; that’s a luxury that SCUBA diving is afforded, more so than most things in this universe.

As always, this has been your Admin; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Doing Good Things Because We Want to Do Good Things; Help From A Hotel and Alfred Pennyworth (TheByteWeek Issue 3)

I recently finished watching The Dark Knight, for about the 15th time, and, as always, I loved it. Though, interestingly enough, of all the imagery and symbolism the movie throws around, in addition to the various possible inferences and deductions one can make about the movie’s intentions and parables (Bruce Wayne being a Geroge Dubya Bush allegory, for example), the one thing that really stuck with me during this particular viewing was the character of Alfred Pennyworth. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Christopher Nolan’s version of Alfred and I absolutely love that he decided to expand the character and not just make Alfred the genius butler, but that he did also decide to keep his military roots (like in Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One or Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, by an absolutely inane number of writers, artists, and editors). However, the character of Alfred notwithstanding, a certain piece of dialogue that really stuck with me this time around was his fanatically named “Tangerine speech” where Alfred discusses his time spent in Burma, trying to buy the favour of tribal lords with jewels. Here, he explains that a bandit had managed to steal the jewels and, over a period of six months, had also released them into the river merely because he could, “…for sport.” “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money…Some men just want to watch the world burn,” Alfred tells Wayne (or is it Batman at this point? I can’t keep track of who’s wearing the mask anymore, really) all of this to provide insight into the character of The Joker, reasoning that perhaps The Clown Prince of Crime isn’t launching a terror spree on Gotham City because he wants something out of it (not something physical or something that can be quantified anyway), but because he can and simply wants to (for kills and giggles, we’ll say). Frankly though, I don’t see anything wrong with that train of thought.

However, allow me to explain what I mean; I don’t condone conducting a psychological experiment by using boats filled with criminals and non-criminals to see who blows whom up first, and I definitely don’t suggest robbing banks filled with Mafia money. Frankly, I don’t know how an individual would even start doing such a thing. I mean that quite literally, how does a person even get other people interested in robbing and destroying a bank and how do you even find Mob banks to begin with? I can’t imagine there’s a 1-800 number people can dial that links them to the Mafia; do I go through the Yellow Pages to find a “Plumber,”“Mechanic,” or a “Transporter” or should I just go to my local family eatery/ diner and wait for Jason Statham to crash his car and then ask? Though I do digress because what I’m trying to say is that while I don’t condone the “Watch the world burn” way of thinking when it applies to literally setting the world on fire and fiddling in the background, I really don’t see why people shouldn’t do socially, or culturally good things just because they can or because they want to. Take, for example, a dinner I had a few days ago with the managers of the hotel I’m staying in (and will be doing so until I’m back home; everyone should know which country I’m referring to when I say “Home” by now) which is, for the most part anyway, quite odd. Certainly, a single manager, such as the General Manager, might invite a guest to dinner, but to spend an entire evening at a table filled with the people who literally run the hotel (staff notwithstanding) is certainly an invitation odd enough that, when offered, it is very difficult to turn down.

These are the people who run the hotel, they make sure that all the pieces of the puzzle fit together and they insure that everything just works, for the most part anyway; so obviously I wanted to see what they were like when they weren’t working, which is why, when invited, I said yes immediately. I cleansed myself of all kinds of environmental dirt, changed into something casual (yet formal enough) hopped onto a taxi, and went to the restaurant where I met the managers (from Food and beverage all the way to the Security all the way to HR and, hilariously enough, all the way back since it was a round table). Suffice it to say, I had a fantastic time and everyone made it a point to do likewise; I’m not joking when I say that, somehow (not to mention, once again), I was treated as part of a family (that I’m not even a part of) by people who I’ve never met before (I mean, sure I’ve seen them around the hotel, obviously, but I’ve never really stopped and had a conversation with them talking about their work, their family, or anything of the sort. For all intents and purposes, I knew nothing about them). I’d also like to make it a point that while I was, and still am, the guest in their hotel, they didn’t try to treat me as such and they all thoroughly enjoyed themselves anyway. It really was quite a sight; we all ate, joked, laughed and so forth, and the next day everything was essentially back to normal. Mind you, I ended the night with a splendid headache (from the heat; no assumptions here because I still don’t drink), but everyone else seemed relatively fine and that was that.

However, the important part isn’t how much we ate, or even how welcome I was by everyone else, or even the fact that I now know how to curse in Vietnamese; the interesting bit is knowing just why I was invited: why not? No, seriously; when I asked why I was invited, I got a resounding shoulder shrug followed by a “Why not?” That, specifically, is what my point is; Alfred was, in every sense of the word, right when he said that some men just want to watch the world burn. Some people just do things because they can, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to set a mountain of money on fire or chase a billionaire dressed as a giant bat around a city that’s an amalgamation of New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok. Some people, like those who invited me, will just do nice (and amazing) things because they feel like it. They won’t do it for money, or recognition, or even because the kindness is a good business move (seriously, if I could tell you where I’m staying, I would, but I’m still here so I can’t; take my word for it when I say I’ll be coming back as soon as it’s humanly possible); there are some people who do nice things just because they feel like doing nice things. Of course, a person’s mood must be taken into account and how you treat them is also a major factor (though I have come across some individuals who do practice a form of absolute acceptance, regardless of the misgivings of others), but even then, the answer is still a why not? The only difference is that we’re in a good mood, but apart from that factor, why not help someone out? The fact of the matter is that sometimes, people do things because they can, sometimes people do things because they want to (and for no other reason) and sometimes people do things to see if they can.

It really isn’t an astounding revelation, but I find that, for the most part, we often make it a habit to underestimate the motivation of others and, when taking the various actions one can make on a daily basis, this is perfectly sound and reasonable. However, sometimes a pipe really is nothing more than a pipe and, while trying to find the motivation behind the action can be fun and challenging, we should leave it as such. I, for example, am a person who is a firm believer that everything has a reason, though I don’t mean this from a strictly spiritual standpoint. Every action that an individual makes has some motivation, whether positive or negative; this is irrefutable and is, therefore, a fact. However, in the past few years, I’ve come to learn that, while every action has motivation behind it, sometimes the question to the very deep and complex “Why?” amounts to nothing more than a simple and annoying “Why not?” I say this is annoying because, quite frankly, a person like me loves having an answer, though, that being said, it is never too late to learn that sometimes, the answer we think we deserve (a completely comprehensive one) is not the same answer we need (nothing more than a shrug and knowing smile).

As always, this has been your Admin; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

The Important Things In Life; A Sympathetic Discussion of Empathy

When I find it difficult it to sleep, I often resort to the colloquial method of counting sheep and, suffice it to say, that almost never works (and when it does, it’s only because I get annoyed with the sheep and stop trying). Luckily for me (and unluckily for my already eccentric bout of insomnia) I think up more strategies to enter the state of blissful slumber that many constantly yearn for and, again, once these new attempts fail, I resort to a last ditch effort (something of a “Born to Run”-esque plan) where I try to come with article ideas. Over the past few days, or rather, over the past few weeks, one thought has always been at the forefront of my backlogged mind: the important things. Or, better yet, the important of discussing and analyzing the important things, and, most importantly, writing about them to bring them to the attention of myself and others. Well, I can certainly say I’ve tried, and the universe knows I want to, but the fact of the matter is that, no matter how hard I may try and no matter how long I spend looking at a blank OpenOffice.org Writer document, I can’t talk about the important things. In fact, over the course of 3 or so months (I’m sure the dates don’t seem to add up, but it’s only been a recent thought to really give it my all; though I do digress), I’ve tried to talk about the important things over 37 times and each time I’ve failed, choosing to write a new article over trying to figure out a clever way to discuss them.

The thing is, however, that no matter how much time and effort I give up trying to talk about the important things, I will continue to fail. First of all, the “Important” things are very fluid; talk to a university student cramming for a final exam and then talk to a parent struggling to put food on the table and then talk to a five year old and you’ll see that each of them has a different set of priorities and list of responsibilities to cater to. Suffice it to say, each of them has a different set of important things and, more often than naught, these priorities to do not coexist. The university student is focusing on their future while the parent is struggling with the future of another human being while the five year old is trying to take in everything around them; their priorities very rarely coexist or intermingle which is why it’s so difficult to even begin discussing the “Important” things. However, varying priorities and differing responsibilities only do so much to divide a consensus, which leads to the next, and perhaps most important, fact when it comes to the “Important” things: sympathy and empathy are two very different things.

Obviously, and logically speaking, dictionaries, encyclopaedias and humans all have different definitions of the words, and I’m sure mine will differ from another’s but, for the intents and purposes of this article, sympathy is the understanding of another human being and their scenario while empathy is the deconstruction and reconstruction of one’s emotions to become closer to another human being and their place in the universe. Put simply, I sympathize with a hungry human when I can understand their hunger by comparing my experiences to theirs. However, I empathize with the hungry human when I am able to, quite often literally, imagine myself in their place; I empathize with a starving human when I am able to pinpoint an exact moment in my life when I have been in their shoes (hungry and wanting food) and am able to describe it in vivid detail and, most importantly, come (even if it’s a minute distance) closer to being that hungry human. Which is, interestingly enough, why empathy and sympathy impede and stop us from being able to talk about “Important” things.

We often sympathize, but very rarely do we empathize, and the reason is actually quite simple: it’s far easier to imagine what it’s like to be set on fire than it is to set yourself on fire to understand the pain. Actually, that example is a bit too extreme; what, I suppose, is a better thing to say is this: it’s easier to show sympathy then it is to give empathy because, once again, empathy requires something to be given, instead of just displayed. Sympathy, annoyingly, is the point in our lives when we stop and look at someone in a bad situation and state that “If we were in their shoes, we’d do something differently.” Empathy, however, is when we realize “No, if we were in their shoes, we wouldn’t do anything differently because we wouldn’t be able to.” Empathy is realizing that no matter what we think we might be able to do in someone else’s shoes, and no matter what we think is a better option (or the right thing to do), the truth is that under the exact same circumstances, we’d be able to change nothing. Empathy is realizing that there really are no other options; empathy is a difficult thing to give because it means having to stop believing that there is another, more accurate route, and start accepting that the only remaining path is the one straight ahead.

Which is why the “Important” things are so difficult to get in touch with and even more difficult to discuss. However, the point is this: different people have different priorities, but once we are able to empathize with them, we get just that one step closer to really understanding them, and their motives (whether positive or negative) and that, quite frankly, is a lot more than anyone can hope for. Honestly, I don’t have an answer to the question “How can we empathize more” and I, quite genuinely, can’t give any solutions to that problem. However, I will conclude by stating this: the important things in life are very rarely as such. The important things, whether they be work, or money, or politics, or religion, or medicine, or family, or friends, or fame, notoriety, or infamy, or anything in between, only really serve to push us apart. The important things cause us to sympathize with other humans and that is all.

The really important things are the things we take for granted on a daily basis; the things that bring us together as a species, or as members of a vast and lonely universe. The things like being able to wake up to another day (no matter how desolate or destitute) and being able to breathe in air, all the while being thankful (to a god, or to another human being; take your pick at this point) for having another day of life (and being grateful for it); these are the things that bring us together and these are the things that allow us to empathize. The small things, the little things and the ordinary things are the really important things and, quite frankly, that’s why the “Important” things are so difficult to discuss. It’s not that they’re not there, it’s just that we can never seem to focus on the stuff that really matters: each other.

As always, this has been your Admin; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

An Evening With A Southern Gentleman (Alternate Title: An Extremely Fascinating and Interesting Life; TheByteWeek Issue 2)

Last night I attended the farewell party of a man from Texas; a restaurant owner living in Vietnam with his wife who will be leaving the country to travel abroad to undergo a Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery. Despite the fact that such an operation has become almost common place, both the man and his wife are rather emotional and as such, I’ve decided to shed some light on this individual’s life. Before I begin, please note that this isn’t a biography and it certainly isn’t a eulogy, it’s merely an article written from the perspective of an outsider looking in. Additionally, do take notice that in the interest of doing things my way, I won’t be using this man’s real name, instead I’ll be using a slight variation of the colloquial John Smith; read on for my observations of a Southern Gentleman: Mr. John Wayne (no relation).

Before I begin, however, I suppose I should give a little background information on Wayne’s childhood; he loved his grandmother dearly and had trouble with his own mother and, at the age of 16, he was kicked out of the house and forced to find his own way in life. Just in case that wasn’t enough, allow me to mention that he also dropped out of high school some time later, as if to add an extra challenge to overcome; one more to a long list. Suffice it to say, he made something of himself and while the dates are muddled up in my own mind, and the numbers flow from every direction at an almost constant rate, at the time of this writing he is (for the most part) content with having lived his life the way that he has. The one thing I must mention is that last night was not my first experience with Wayne, quite the contrary, I had spent another night with him and his wife, and the first time I met him was in his restaurant, as I was leaving after a fantastic dinner. It’s interesting to note that the first time we met, he seemed very uptight and rigid, to the point that I had to ask a fellow patron (who had met Wayne previously) if he was always like this. I got a resounding “Oh yeah,” just to put thing into perspective and to give me an idea of the kind of man Wayne was and is.

To tell the truth though, I didn’t really change my opinion of him until the second time I met him. The problem was that I didn’t know what to make of him; on one hand, his stories and conversational topics seemed to rather proud and self centered and, on the other, he truly had lived an extremely fascinating life, so I couldn’t help but feel that everything he told me was true. If not, then there was a deeply rooted truth that could be found by looking and asking a bit more. Though, an even more troublesome subject to point out is that, whether one believes him or not, Wayne’s life was and still is a success story; he had started out on the path of life with nothing and he had spent his entire life building himself something of a personal empire. He has succeeded at almost any business he has set his mind to and when it comes to cultivating personal relationships, he is a charmer first and foremost. Even I, with all my skepticism, couldn’t help but feel overcome with his presence; not because it was overpowering, quite the contrary because his presence is actually very warm and welcoming, when you spend some more time with him, of course.

My problem with success stories, however, is the same problem that people have with movies like Rocky or The Karate Kid; one moment you’ve got nothing. You’re at the bottom, trying your hardest just to survive, and the next minute you’re literally on top of the world and all there is to show for your improvement is a quick montage. It’s too obvious and straightforward and, when you’ve heard enough of them, you know how they’ll end making them even less interesting. The fact is that I (and we, of course) don’t spend enough time fully appreciating how hard a person has to work to overcome their own demons. We don’t appreciate the sacrifices that a person has to make to insure that their future (not to mention their family’s future) is secure and is not going to burn up in a spectacular fashion and, luckily for everyone involved, meeting people like Wayne helps fix this problem. The thing about Wayne is that, yes, he is a little rough around the edges and, yes, he is proud and, yes, he is definitely rigid; the fact is, however, that he had to spend years conditioning and adapting himself to compensate for the hardships he’s faced and, more importantly, he has earned the right to be those things. Any human being that has lived a life like Wayne has the right to be proud of their accomplishments, and that’s exactly what he is.

I must mention that this is TheByteWeek, meaning that there really is no moral to the story; not for anyone reading anyway. I spent an evening attending a Southern Gentleman’s farewell party, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Spending time in Wayne’s company, tonight, helped round everything together; all of his stories came together in a rather cathartic way and, tonight, I came to a very simple conclusion: John Wayne has lived an extremely fascinating life, and I hope that he will be able to share his experiences with others in the future; not only as a method of learning, but also because it really doesn’t hurt to have another success story in this world (assuming that people actually listen and pay attention, that is) which is, quite frankly another very positive point of view to recognize. That being said, I wish him a quick and smooth recovery, and I hope that he continues on living a fascinating and interesting life, keeping his positive outlook on life, and, most importantly, I hope he keeps his “Try-everything-and-don’t-complain-about-not-if-you-haven’t” attitude.

As always, this has been your Admin; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Welcome to TheByteWeek (TheByteWeek Issue 1)

It’s been a while since the last post and because of that, I’ve decided to reformat the blog. I’ve eliminated TheWeeklyReview from TheByteDaily (after 8 weeks of writing) because it’s become a bit troublesome to single out stories and events that really matter. Instead, however, TheByteWeek will feature these stories in an expanded form; trips, holidays, people I meet, and so on and so forth will be featured here (not unlike TheWeeklyReview). The only reason I’m doing this is because TheWeeklyReview has become incredibly difficult to write for, not to mention it’s almost constantly late (which is another downside), in addition to the fact that it’s only written for once a week. With TheByteWeek, any personal story will be articled, expanded, and discussed further.

Frankly, I think this is going to be a lot easier to do and while the possibility exists that this page won’t be updated for months on end, the fact remains that it’s not a mandatory commitment, meaning I can write if I want to and I don’t have to write if I can’t think of anything to talk about. On a side note, the possibility does exist that TheByteWeek will act like TheWeeklyReview; slow weeks might do that, however, until such a condition arises, TheByteWeek (hereby abbreviated to TBW) will function like an actual blog might. It will be a discussion of what happens to me on a day to day basis. Assuming, of course, that the day in question has anything interesting happen (not every day is action packed and filled with surprise weddings, after all).

As always, this has been your Admin; comment, subscribe and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Nice Day For A Vietnamese Wedding (Alternate Title: Strangers In The Wedding)

Today I had the honour of being invited to a Vietnamese wedding. Well, technically speaking, we weren’t really invited to the wedding, in fact, we weren’t even invited to the reception either; we were told to come to the house for a special gathering with a little surprise. Assuming, of course, that the surprise was a special dish, or an individual of honour, we went without extreme preparation. Suffice it to say, I was wearing jeans, a tshirt and sneakers to a wedding where most people were in business casual attire (though, the concept of dress codes is a topic for another day). I suppose the one thing to take away from everything isn’t so much that we were unprepared, but the fact that we were told to come to a family gathering, without any major details. I can understand why that last sentence may sound like a complaint, but I must be allowed to explain that it’s not; far from it actually.

Though, before I elaborate on that aspect, allow me to elaborate on the evening. After driving for about half an hour to the country side, we arrived at the home of the family, situated in a small, town-like compound build (though I might be wrong) around the main house itself. The home is large enough to house a family of about 20 or so, fit with enough rooms and villas (so to speak) to comfortably fit the parents and their children (in addition to their own families), which makes it all the more reasonable to hold a wedding ceremony for over 40 or 50 people there. The house was recently built, though it was structured on top of the grounds of the family’s original home and (now that the children are all grown up and with families of their own, they come to visit whenever they’re in Nha Trang. Assuming that they haven’t left, every Sunday they have a traditional family meal) If they’re visiting, their rooms are villas scattered around the central structure. Suffice it to say, the grounds were more than large enough to comfortably fit the family, and all of their guests (including us).

Moving on from the architecture (as I’m prone to begin with), the evening moved on towards the meal (following the speeches and photos, of course). Luckily for me and the other invitees (who were not familiar), not only did our host sit at our table (to make sure we were comfortable) but her son (when she needed to perform her familiar duties) was also there, to act as our personal Vietnamese Cultural Database, more so than a translator (though, it would be unfair to say that he didn’t help us out with some of the speeches). Thanks to these factors, we were all able to completely enjoy the meal, understanding what to do, how to act and so on and so forth. For example, the Vietnamese equivalent of the colloquial “Cheers” is the phrase of “Yo,” which is accompanied by the same gusto as it’s western counterpart; during the evening, the bride and groom are expected to go from table to table and share a drink with each of their guests. Additionally, thanks to the hearty nature of the affair (it is a wedding, after all), throughout the night all (alright, most) of the other guests came and yo’d with us as well (both a gesture of culinary good will, and a sort of welcome to the clear outsiders, again, us).

The actual food, of course, came in three (expected) parts: appetizers, the main course, and desert, though, technically speaking, each course came with it’s own subdivisions (which were, oddly enough, divided into three). Appetizers began with a sea cucumber soup, that I found to be a bit bland, followed by a plate of deep fried breaded sweet potatoes, shrimp spring rolls (I realize the oxymoronic nature of that last statement), and deep fried squid (I’d like to take some time to mention that I aided in absolutely devouring the aforementioned appetizers; excluding the soup, of course). Finally, to conclude the appetizers, a plate of grilled shrimp in some sort of delicious sauce was served (my Database couldn’t figure out the sauce either, though I was happily stumped).

Following the first round of culinary deliciousness, the main course began with a plate of beef (again, the sauce was unknown, if not a little spicy; I happily swallowed the fire though) with a side of seaweed salad (not just seaweed, obviously, because bacon, and various vegetables were also present on the plate). The next dish consisted of chicken surrounded by a cocoon of sticky rice surrounded by yet another cocoon, though this time it was the fried skin of the chicken. It’s unfair to call the plate delicious, and it’s even more unfair to try to describe the dish because it was just so different. Actually, that’s what I’m leaving it at: the plate was amazing, brilliant, fantastic, and, most importantly, absolutely and completely different. The main course concluded with the serving of a Vietnamese hot pot (which is a staple when it comes to large gatherings; familiar or otherwise). The pot consisted of little more than tendon, ribs, and the subsequent broth, but an additional two plates were provided to the table: one consisting of nothing but vegetables and mushrooms (you can get picky in the comments sections, until then shush) and another consisting of rice noodles. Obviously, to fully enjoy the pot, one must eat everything together and mustn’t leave out any part (meaning that, yes, it all tastes better when it’s combined; very cliché, but then again, I couldn’t complain and I still can’t).

Finally, dinner concluded with the serving of dessert; a plate of fruits, and two plates of sweets wrapped in banana leaf. I honestly couldn’t say what the sweets were, only that, though tasty, I wasn’t particularly fond of them. Though, that’s not fair at all because when it comes to sweets and sweet things, my pallet is a picky and fussy as is humanly possible. Suffice it to say, while I didn’t freak out over dessert, everyone else did.

Now, if anyone’s really been paying attention to the writing style instead of the words, they’ll notice that (for this article) it’s been very touristy and the reason for that is because, quite literally, today is the first day that I really felt like an outsider. Well, at least I did for five minutes before the entire family welcomed me (and everyone else at my table) as their own. We weren’t told that it was a wedding, meaning that (even though we did take something for our hosts) we weren’t expected to bring something flashy or expensive, and certainly nothing for the bride and groom. More importantly, we weren’t expected to overdress for the occasion and, most importantly, we therefore weren’t expected to be on our absolute best behaviour. We were expected to come to the house and take part in the family’s affair as one of their own (well, you know what I mean); not as the foreigners or the outsiders, but as their friends and (for the most part anyway) their family. I mean yes, I’ve been calling the Database the “Database” but he became more than that. He became a close friend and someone to share and spend the festivities with; someone to celebrate with. In fact, it wasn’t just him; for the duration of the evening, everyone at our table and at all of the tables were a family.

However, I’m not saying this because it was a wedding; fun as they may be, I’ve been to weddings where everyone fussed and fretted over tiny details and while people were smiling, laughing, drinking, and dancing, we weren’t really doing it together as a single entity. Instead, we were more like islands, part of a large nation, feeling happy for the Capital’s celebrations while merely being invited to take part (and that was among people who I had known for most of my life). Here, in Vietnam, people that I had only known for two months (and even less when you really think about it) became like family (even if for a few hours) and that’s a type of connection that is very difficult to forge. Sure, you could say that Vietnamese people are warm and welcoming (which they are) and you can argue that their hardships and lifestyles have been forged to accommodate and be happy (again, true on most counts) and you can say that the people we were with were rare exceptions in a cold, bitter world (though that one’s obvious), but frankly, it was a special feeling.

I suppose there’s no real moral to this article and there’s nothing really to take home; there’s no point to get to and there’s no real reason for writing it. Today I had the honour of being invited to a Vietnamese wedding without being told that it was a wedding, a ceremony, reception, or family dinner. I was lucky; I was invited to a home for a close family affair and I was treated as one of their own. I smiled, I laughed, I ate (a lot) and, most important I felt welcome. That’s a feeling, and a memory, that will last a lifetime, and that I will treasure (and contemplate) for a long time.

As always, this has been your Admin; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Hey, Listen.

There are many, many ideas that can arise after experiencing American Psycho (whether through the novel, or the 2000 so called cult film) and just for good measure (and because I want anyone reading this article to get through half the book or film, at least) I’m going to list off the ones that are most prevalent: the insane can have casual desires, a sharp dressed individual does not necessarily have a sharp mind or emotional scale, the wealthy and powerful will remain wealthy and powerful no matter what they do, and, of course, when wearing grey pants never wear grey socks because it’ll look like you’re trying too hard. Though, frankly, that last one is debatable. I digress of course, because the most important idea (and this is, in fact, the most important) is none other than the timeless classic: Listen. Now, obviously, we, as a species are instructed from birth to listen to our elders, listen to our teachers and parents, listen to our bosses, listen to our friends, listen, listen, listen. The main point is that we should listen to those who are wiser (because they’ve experienced more than us and are therefore a source of enlightenment) and to others (because it’s a form of respect; they listen to us speak, and we listen to them speak), but, sadly, we don’t, not always anyway.

Though, I say this like it’s a deep revelation, but it’s not and it’s never been. We don’t listen to others as much as we should and, in all fairness, why should we? The great comedian George Carlin had a routine where he’d talk about having to listen to people rant on and on about their vacations and how he would, usually, have to restrain himself from shouting at them to stop because he didn’t care. That, unto itself, is exactly why we stop listening: because we don’t care. It’s the exact reason why we stop listening to a conversation about art, or sports, or clothes, or school, or anything like that; we don’t care about the topic and so we assume that, so long as we at least pretend to listen to the other person (like our parents and guardians constantly tell us to) it’ll be alright, because it’s not an interesting or important topic to you (and I) anyway. Who cares about your neighbour’s vacation in the Caribbean? Who cares about your boss’s dog? Who even cares about your cousin’s or sister’s or brother’s or aunt’s or uncle’s or whomever’s spinal injury, or trip to to the country, or graduation, or retirement? Well, the sad fact of the matter, believe it or not, is that they do. They care and if they’re telling you or I, then they clearly care about it a lot more than you think, because that’s what happens when we care about other people, we share our experiences with them and we hope that they do the same to us.

Well, at least we would if everyone else had the decency to close their mouths and listen to us. Which brings me to my next thought; another reason why we just suddenly stop listening to others: when it’s our turn to speak, they won’t stop rattling on about whatever (because I wasn’t even paying attention anyway) it is they ‘re talking and listen to us. So, logically speaking, because they ignore us (or rather, because they stop listening to us) we ignore (or stop listening) to them. It’s equivalent exchange, it’s fair trade (so to speak), it’s an equal distribution of time; one second for us one second for them, two minutes for us and two minutes for them, and so on and so forth (though, more on the whole equivalent exchange thing in a second) The fact of the matter is that yes, they weren’t listening to you and it was, in fact, extremely rude of them to not do so. It would be even more rude if, while you’re speaking, they pulled out their phone and started texting their best friend Patrick or Timorthy or Evelyn (who’s probably cheating on Patrick, her boyfriend, with Timothy, Patrick’s only interesting friend), and they begin to ignore you on every possible level. I couldn’t possibly agree anymore with anyone when they say that the advent of technology (computerized, hand held, portable technology; notice the distinction) has made it extremely easy to stop listening to people to start ignoring them, but honestly, it has never been easy to get people to listen to you and, frankly, it never will be.

Which is why I’m making an appeal; a personal, and heart felt request to anyone who’s reading this: please, under any circumstance available, no matter how hard it may seem and no matter how upset you are that the person you’re speaking to has a better suit, nicer shoes, prettier earrings, better apartment, or even a nicer business card, listen to them. Listen to them with both ears open, with both eyes meeting theirs, and your entire body facing them. Listen to them, take in what they’re saying, speak when it’s your turn to speak, offer encouragement to continue speaking, ask them questions about the things that peak your interest in the discussion and if they’re ranting towards you (like I’m doing right now) well that’s all and good, because when it’s your turn to speak (and I guarantee you, it’ll be your turn to speak soon), they’ll probably do the same. If they don’t, then that’s a shame indeed, and you tried your best anyway; sure, it’ll hurt and sting for a while, but at least you showed them the respect that you’d like to get back yourself. Though, most times out of ten, it won’t matter how hard you try because they (despite their interest and the fact that they are listening) might never be equally fair to you. You could spend hours listening to them, and they could just spend ten minutes before they begin to tune you out and, in that case, exercise reasonable action; don’t be equally rude to them, but just say no, and move on.

We all want someone to listen to us, that’s the bottom line. It’s why internet trolls make fun of stuff in the comments section, it’s why people start blogs (seriously though, comment people, comment), it’s why people write, or draw, or sculpt, or get a position in a high end marketing firm where they can afford anything they want to buy; because they want people to look at and pay attention to them. They want to be able to jump up on a table and scream “Hey, look at me” and have billions of heads turn towards them. Sure, they want people to pat them on the back and give them contact information, they want money, high grades in school, and people in high places telling them that they’re going to go far but, and I cannot stress this enough, the one thing everyone wants, more than anything in the world, is recognition. I mean this in every sense of the word; they want to be recognized for their achievements, for their success, for the people they’ve met, but frankly, they, I, you, we, she, and he just want to be recognized and listened to.

That’s why Patrick Bateman let his secretary go; she paid attention to him and when he asked her something, she responded with an enthusiastic “Yes sir;” partly because she was his employee, partly because she was in love with him, but entirely because she wanted to and because she knew it was the right, and logical, thing to do. Yes, most people will not be in the same position that Jean was throughout the course of both mediums (with an individual like Patrick Bateman as a boss), but I can guarantee you that everyone’s been in the same position as Bateman, utterly and completely ignored and wishing they could do anything to be heard. Though, before I do conclude, I’d like to stress again that not everyone will respond in kind. You may listen to someone and they may never bat and eyelash in your direction. You could listen to someone prattle on for what feels like decades and you may never get any closer to knowing them. This, however, is not for the broken hearted who are in love with those who will never respond in kind. This isn’t even for the people who have a terrible boss that is, quite literally insane. This is nothing more than a simple request, from a person you’ve never met before on a blog that’s just like any other: please, when someone is speaking to you, listen.

As always, this has been your Admin; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

A Better Solution; A Matter of Opinionated Expertise

It’s an absolute truth that as an individual spends more and more time on Earth, they learn to do more and more things and, most importantly, they learn different ways to accomplish different tasks. Most of which, I might add, are utterly and absolutely inconsequential; small things, like breathing, eating, sleeping; these are all things that (hopefully) most of us learn to do and we all get by rather well with the steps and methods we set up for ourselves. We don’t need to learn a different way to breathe that will increase the amount of air we intake or another way to sleep that makes use of this method, just like we don’t need to learn about a note that is significantly more secure than the one we’ve all been taught (though, that being said, we don’t have to, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to keep an open mind and a closed mouth; ironic, yes, but I digress). Luckily, we do have a habit to learn how to do other things; cooking, reading, writing, analyzing (though this is the one skill that not many make great use of), speaking and so on and so forth. Suffice it to say, even the other stuff we learn is easy to do if you just apply yourself and it’s exactly thanks to that fact that all it really takes to ruin a good time is someone who thinks they have a better solution to things. Take, for example, the simple act of sitting down and leaning on your hand. Yes, it would be a lot easier to do this without jumping up and down while running around in a circle (not to mention it’s rather strange to look at and take in) but if it’s the way you learned to do that, it’s alright and I might even join you if it didn’t look like I would break a sweat (which, all things considered I almost definitely would).

You see, depending on the discussed topic, there are, quite literally, an infinite number of ways to accomplish the task. For example, a few days ago I saw a chef using chop sticks to cook a fried egg and this intrigued me because when I cook a fried egg sunny side up, I use my spatula to sift through the yolk (to make sure that every part of the egg is cooked evenly). The problem with this method is the fact that when I do this, it disfigures the final product leaving me with a well cooked (but very ugly) breakfast, though, not that this makes any difference because fried eggs are absolutely delicious (opinion, again; a vegan wouldn’t agree. Though a vegan probably wouldn’t agree with half of my meal choices anyway. I digress, once again). Suffice it to say, after watching this diversion from my normal culinary route, I learned a new and (debatably) better way to cook my breakfast. I use the word “Debatably” because whether or not using chop sticks to cook fried eggs is a better method than merely using a spatula is up for speculation. It takes a little bit longer to carry out this method because you need to have chop sticks on hand and, if you don’t you won’t even be able to apply this procedure. Furthermore, it takes an extra bit of time to clean the chop sticks off and, most importantly if you like disfigured eggs then you wouldn’t even bother with this route anyway. These are the small things that people constantly forget when they provide their “Better solutions” to people; it’s all a matter of opinion anyway and this, partly, is the reason for today’s article: people’s opinions and how we constantly forget that opinion is opinion and that people will not necessarily agree with you just because you think you’re right and you know best.

Honestly, I wish this article was being written because of religion, or politics, or even Zac Efron’s all-over-the-map career, but it’s not. It’s really not; it’s about steak tenderness, and the right way to cook fried eggs, or the best pen to use, or the best notebook to use; it’s about the small things that people blow up to extraordinary proportions (like what I’m doing right now) for no adequate reason other than they think they’re right or they think they’re “Experts” on the matter. That, however, is the main problem with opinion: at any given time, someone will show up with a bullet-proof, water-proof, fire-proof, volcano-proof argument. They’ll present it and expect the opposite person to accept them as the superior mind. This is all well and good when your omnipotent argument actually matters (more on that in a second), but when it’s about the pen I should use or the proper tenderness of a steak, it doesn’t. At all, for the matter, because these are all subjects of pure and utter opinion; whatever reason exists for a person to do something one way, the logical train of thought is not to offer them your way of doing things and then become upset because they refuse to listen to you or accept your point of view. The logical train of thought is to enter that conversation with the state of mind where you know that for all your hassle and harangue they might just completely ignore and avoid you and your opinion because they don’t need it or (more often than naught) they don’t want it. They like doing things their way, not only because it’s how they’ve been doing things for the longest of time but because, most importantly, it works rather well. Luckily for them, you’ll try your best to convey your point of view in a steady manner without acting like an infant because they don’t agree with you and when they do completely ignore you, you walk out saying “I tried my best, oh well, that’s that, maybe I’ll try again later.” Then again, if you’re like most people, you won’t; you’ll keep on arguing your point into infinity because they like using a ball point pen when you think a fountain pen is better (word to the wise, unless you’re a top business executive or a politician, the pen doesn’t matter; the ink and what it says matters far more, however).

I digress, because it’s perfectly acceptable for you to give up trying to “Show them the light” especially if the tunnel they were in was a short one anyway; your opinion wasn’t about string theory, in fact, it wasn’t even about a good summer look, it was literally about nothing more than, oh but that’s right, the topic doesn’t matter anyway. This, incidentally, is the problem with so called “Experts:” they think they know best about a topic when they really don’t and they never will (know best), because that’s the magical thing about knowing a lot of stuff (at some point, your knowledge will be outdated and useless; like the people who thought disco would last forever; or the one programmer at Microsoft who didn’t understand the basics of business and who thought that marketing and creating an operating system that has more bugs in it than the Bolivian rainforest to be a good, and perfectly sane, idea); true knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing, not yet anyway because you can and never will be an expert in anything. You can certainly try your hardest to; you can write articles, publish books, commission works of art, and even spend an entire summer trapped in the North Pole with 3 other geniuses who think they know everything and yet you’ll still never get any closer to the truth: that you don’t know what the truth is to begin with.

Not because you can’t handle it, but because the truth is that it’s impossible to truly become an expert in any given field, because new facts and so called “Truths” are being unveiled on a near daily basis. The most any “Expert” can hope to do is understand that they need to stop calling themselves experts, not only because it’s even more patronizing and condescending than announcing that people will never be experts, but because it’s also untrue and utterly impossible. In fact, no one should ever aim to be an expert in the first place, it’s a pointless title; if you’re an expert, there’s really no need for you to move forward and learn anymore because you already know so much about the field you’re claiming expertise in. It’s like being perfect, you’ve got nowhere else to go, literally, you’ve achieved 100% of what you’re capable of.

Finally, though, we come back to the beginning, regarding opinions and so forth. Allow me to tie everything together: if you think you have a “Better” way of doing something, stop right there and rearrange your words immediately because as soon as you deluded yourself into thinking that your way is “Better” than the method or design that’s being used, you placed yourself on the same faulty pedestal as the people who think they’re intelligent enough to ever be experts. That being said, I will listen to you, and I might even try out your way to see what happens (because while I might disapprove of what you say, I will defend your right to say it; on a side note, I’ve been reading that quote by Evelyn Beatrice Hall in so many different places that it’s becoming quite terrifying, though I do digress once again), but I’ll do it begrudgingly and only because I must to make sure you stop hounding me (and also because I want to prove you wrong). In summation: stop thinking that the division is between your way and the highway, because it really isn’t. You, and I, are not experts (and we never will be) and, most importantly, the way I cook my eggs is most likely not the same way you cook your eggs, but the fact of the matter is that, in the end, we are both eating a delicious part of a healthy (and nutritious) breakfast so please don’t ruin it because you think you know; because even that much is debatable and all a matter of opinion.

As always, this has been your Admin; comment, criticize, and subscribe, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK