Saturday, March 15, 2008

Okinawan Gift

I received a nice surprise yesterday. The guest visiting from Okinawa gave me a hand carved plaque that her father made. Last week she had told her father about my home dojo, so he made a custom plaque for me and shipped it via priority mail.

Here's what it looks like hanging in my dojo:

It says "Okinawa Karate-Do". (沖縄 = Okinawa. 空手= Kara te. 道 = Do.) And that's not the English word "do". It's pronounced "doe", and it is Japanese for "way".

In this close-up, you can see the signature stamps (in red) for the person who made the plaque. The lower red square is the man's name. I'm not sure what the smaller circle means.

Interestingly, there is also some Japanese writing on the back.

While the front of the plaque has the lettering carved into the wood, this side has a coating of what appears to be shredded tissue paper (kind of like paper-mache') and the Japanese writing is painted on that surface.

The large writing means "indomitable" and the smaller writing along the left edge in the above picture is the date.

I was also told that this last kanji character means "peace".

I'm not sure what the smaller writing to the left of the "peace" character means.

In any event, I was quite happy to have received such a nice thoughtful gift.

Wind-Tunnel Sky Diving

As I mentioned in passing a few weeks ago, a friend of mine is hosting a guest from Okinawa, Japan. The guest, a young woman, is visiting for 6 weeks. I've been trying to help out with playing the role of host, when I have the free time. Tonight, we took the guest to a vertical wind-tunnel in New Hampshire. It's where you can experience sky diving without having to jump out of an airplane. It was very cool!

The place is called Sky Venture and if you are ever in Nashua, New Hampshire and you have $50 to spare, give it a try! You only get two 1 minute sessions at that price, but it's a lot more tiring than it looks, so 2 minutes is probably a good amount to start with. I was surprised at how tired my shoulder muscles were when I finished. Watching from the outside, it looks like the people are just easily floating in place, but rather than giving the sensation of flying, I thought it felt more like body surfing in the ocean. The air is blowing by so fast it feels more like a liquid - similar to the sensation of sticking your hand out the car window when on the highway.

You had to constantly pay attention to small body movements as they would have a big effect on what direction you drifted. For example, the simple act of lifting your chin would cause you to float higher, straightening your legs would cause you to float forward and slightly bending them would act as a break.

If you are interested in some good pictures of the group session I was in, you can see them here. Unfortunately, I don't have any good pictures of my own to post but I'll post a few of my dull views. It was a bit dark, making a flash necessary, so all the pictures taken by spectators have a terrible glare due to the thick glass viewing window. The nice pictures on that web site I linked to were taken by the staff photographer who was in the wind tunnel with us.

Here are the best pictures that came from my camera.

First, I'm being launched into the wind tunnel. We were told to keep our chin up and our arms in front of our chest until we went horizontal.

This next one shows me drifting slightly above the "floor". The floor was actually a wire mesh to allow the wind from the turbines or fans below.

In this final picture, I give the thumbs up of approval. Definitely a fun time!

I also have a video of the experience. When I have some spare time, I'll post that as well.

Monday, March 10, 2008


A couple friends of mine started an organization for connecting "creative professional" volunteers with animal welfare organizations. It's called creativePAW. Here's the quick blurb from their web site:

We're talented, we're creative, and we love animals! creativePAW is a network of creative professionals who are willing to work pro bono for animal welfare organizations and causes.

Every day, thousands of healthy cats and dogs are killed because no one wants them; in fact, a homeless dog or cat is euthanized every eight seconds in the U.S. Our mission is to use our creative gifts to stop the killing and to promote the kind treatment of animals. Animal welfare organizations always need help with marketing, publicity, education, and fundraising — and that’s where we come in.

So what does this mean? If you are an artist, web designer, musician, photographer, writer, editor, etc. and would like to do some volunteer work for an animal welfare organization, you can register your skills on this web site. Then, the animal welfare organizations will be able to search the database to find appropriately skilled people for projects. Often these animal welfare organizations have small budgets, so they can't afford to pay for the creative professionals for their web sites or advertising projects.

If you have the skills and are interested in doing some volunteer work in your spare time (perhaps to build up your resume or portfolio or just to do a good deed for animal welfare), check out the site. There's no obligation to say yes to any request.

Last I heard, the network has over 300 creative professional members and already has some success stories.

Having 2nd, 3rd, and 4th thoughts

This whole Peace Corps thing is making me think. This past weekend I was reading a small paperback book the Peace Corps office gave to me after my interview. It's called "A Life Inspired" and is a collection of about 30 first hand accounts of volunteers' experiences in the Peace Corps. Based on the title, I assume it's supposed to be inspirational, to get one motivated to sign-up and go overseas, but I found it's having the opposite effect on me.

Not meaning to offend the authors, but I found a lot of the stories surprisingly simple in their stated accomplishments and lessons learned. Maybe I'm just in a cynical mood lately and I'm being overly critical. But reading how someone found their Peace Corps service made them more patient, less vane, and helped them discover the joys of eating with their hands and bathing under the stars is not what I'd call "a life inspired." After reading about a dozen of these first hand accounts, I was getting more and more discouraged. Many of the accounts seemed to carry a tone of self-importance - like here was this superior American going to the aid of the helpless lowly foreigner. And each carried trite examples of how it was so touching to finally connect with the native people and realize that they are just like "us". Of course they're just like us! They're human beings! They just live in a different part of the world. Sheesh!

And this chain of thought then got me thinking about my own motivations for doing this. My main motivation is I want to help people in the best way I can. But am I expressing some arrogance by thinking I have to go to a developing country to help people? Why not help people in my local community? Do I have some inherent bias or prejudice such that I think people in a developing nation need my help more? Or is it a reality that there is a definite shortage of people in these developing nations with the skills to teach what I know? Or is it just a fact that since I would be "free" labor, it's more economical to have me as a resource rather than hire someone local who might have the skills? And if that is the case, am I then displacing someone in that country who would otherwise be earning some money doing the same job?

I'm not really sure what the answers to these questions are, but it's something I must think about.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

More on the White People Blog

I came across this article from the LA Times where the guy who is the author for the Stuff White People Like blog gives his reasons for doing it. Here's a snippet from the story:

By "white people," Lander doesn't actually mean the more than 221 million Americans who check that box on the decennial census. But that's part of the fun. Lander is doing to whites what scores of journalists and politicians do to non-white minorities every day, "essentializing" complex identities -- that is, stripping away all variety and reducing them to their presumed authentic essences.

One irony-deficient reader complained that the blog was less about white people than it was about yuppies. And without knowing it, she was cutting to the heart of the joke. Lander is gently making fun of the many progressive, educated, upper-middle-class whites who think they are beyond ethnicity or collectively shared tastes, styles or outlook. He's essentially reminding them that they too are part of a group.

So, yes, it's intentionally racist. But it's also meant to be satire. And based on all the comments and visits he's getting on his web site, I would say he is achieving his goal. He's gotten a lot of people to think and talk about the issues of racial stereotypes.