Building Culture

I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's; I will not reason and compare; my business is to create ~William Blake

Beautiful Productivity Tools

Minimalism and Efficiency

My search for more efficient productivity tools has become an activity in itself. At times, I think the variety of apps has taken procrastination to a new level, but some apps begin to give me some hope of actually being helpful in making my real, everyday life more efficient and fruitful. What works in a productivity app and what makes the potential of these apps so interesting is how some of these beautiful apps manage to make a connection between cyperspace (and/or least desktop space) and the real world. The “real world” is becoming an ambiguous term indeed as our activities in the cloud change how we think and, in the case of productivity tools, how we structure our day.

So up for scrutiny today are: Feedly, Springpad, and TeuxDuex. These will in no way be exhaustive reviews, just an overview.
Read the rest of this entry »

Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre 六四事件周年

June 1 was Children’s Day in China.  Children had a day off from school.  Their parents bought them presents and took them out to play.  It is one of the few days of the year they get to do what they want just for being children.

Today, June 4 is the Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989.  It has been 22 years.  There is no official remembrance of this day; It has been practically wiped from the face of history within the country.  But today I wonder how many people are remembering to themselves.  Where are all the people who were scarred in various ways by this event?  What are they doing on this day?  How many who were not physically harmed or close to someone harmed have let the memory slip away?  I try to imagine all the people I have met in my time here participating in an event such as this, and it’s very hard to imagine.  They have been subdued.

I marvel at the power of time (and propaganda) to paint over individual memories and wills.  There must be some dark place in the minds of many people in this country where memories still flicker.  It must be a very dark place in this era of shining modernism, towers of wealth, highways filled with luxury cars, and a network of censorship so insidious and thorough that many of my generation do not even know this day existed.

Watch this video and pass it on.  I want to remember for the Chinese nation, since they are prevented from remembering for themselves.

Flow

Let thoughts flow through me,

Fearless, I will let them flow away from me,

I will watch them float above me.

I am a witness.

Perchance I will capture one in earthly, static form

But let my wish be first for their freedom.

The Terrific Two’s

The Terrible Two’s?  I don’t think so.  The Wonderful Two’s.  The Terrific Two’s if you want to stick with catchy alliterations.

The Two’s are when children start asking questions.  They start asking questions in an unconscious manner: experimentation.  The seemingly fickle, irrational, willful “no!” of the two year old is at root simple experimentation.  Two Year Olds are learning that they have a will, they can say “yes” or “no,” and “no” is preferable because they want to find out: “what happens if I don’t do this thing?” and “what will Mother or Father do about it?” Read the rest of this entry »

Discovery of the MOOC

This is so cool.  Today is the first time I read about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  There have been several others to date besides the first link, often with a couple thousand registered students, such as Digital Storytelling, mobiMOOC (on mobile learning), and Personal Learning Environments (PLN), Networks, and Knowledge.  They are completely free and on the edge of the revolutionary.

The idea behind these courses, reflected in the way they are structured, is that one can learn not only the content (since there is way too much of it to memorize anyway), but the medium of the Internet itself best through practice.  These courses require students to utilize the many tools the Internet has offered us; To take the distributed content of the Internet and make sense of it, organize it, write about it, criticize it, and create something new.  And since these courses are free and open to all, one is in complete control of one’s learning.  The MOOC seems to me to be an incarnation of the Internet’s inherent power to teach, even as it provides the space for free expression.  This model is quite opposed to the traditional model that makes a chore of learning, and which I think often botches it up.

The description of How the Course Works for Connectivism and Connective Knowledge speaks to my strong desire to “tame” the Internet.  The Internet often makes me feel ADD, sometimes lost, often overwhelmed, as I click from one thing to the next, as my eyes are caught by objects on the page that are more eye catching than the text, as I run across words and concepts that I missed the birth of.  I am fascinated by this new terrain.  I can imagine what some kind of expertise of navigating and utilizing the Internet looks like from watching my husband Christopher; I see in him and others a meta perspective on content linked between different sites like a mind map;  I can see how the linking ability of the Internet mirrors the map of connections in the brain of an expert.  I see how the Internet allows anyone to become an expert on almost anything.  With little time to myself over the past couples years I have been frustrated in the difficulty of practicing this skill of connecting.

I hope to sign up for the next available MOOC.  Of course, the content from all of the previous courses is still available, but to be involved in the ongoing evolution of a course must be exciting.

The Great Factory

March 2 I took a rare solo excursion to Macau to attend a workshop organized by the Macau-Ricci Institute called China Trade 1760-1860: Merchants and Artists.  I went intending to observe the landscape of an area of scholarship that I began to study for my Division III and I have considered studying again when I go back to school.  Part of my curiosity was about the scholars themselves and I was not surprised to find that a disproportionate number of those there were old white men, many of them British, perhaps because the British East India Company was the largest company trading with China during this time.  At first, I had this stifled, intimidated feeling I sometimes receive when in contact with academia; The room seemed filled with older men who have spent their lives becoming experts in something rather specific and rather useless.  A formidable task indeed, and one I wish to avoid at all costs.  This really is a mixed feeling, because their expertise is hard earned, and on this point I admire them.  But I was disappointed that none of these experts told me why their research mattered for those living today besides mere interest.

But a window was thrown open.  I received a refreshing breeze from the two youngest presenters: two young women working on dissertations, Lisa Hellman from Stockholm University, and Winnie Wong 黄韵然 from the Harvard Society of Fellows.  Using three micro-biographies of men in the Swedish East India Company, Lisa gave a compelling picture of the social landscape of the thirteen factories area of Canton during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  Her point that good social relationships between traders and between traders and the Chinese were essential for successful trade reminded me of the central importance of guanxi in present day China as well.  Her study provides a look at how this traditional Chinese concept was not only central to foreign trade from the beginning, but effected the cultural interactions between Westerners and the Chinese in ways that still reverberate today. Read the rest of this entry »

Reflections on China: Swift Exit East

Before we leave China in about two months I want to collect my thoughts about my time here and begin some reflection in preparation for what will probably be a surreal return to the States and a new chapter of life in Boston.

After deciding to attend UCSB to earn a Masters degree in East Asian Studies, I changed my mind.  Even as I was applying to graduate programs I carried a nagging doubt about whether or not I wanted to commit any more of my life to thinking primarily about China.  What does this country really have to do with me?  And what impact do I want to make with my research here or in the States?  These questions remain unanswered as my excitement grows about leaving the country.

However, I am not planning on dropping China.  I know this place has gotten under my skin somehow, it’s just not clear to me in what way and what to do with it.  And my study of language remains unfinished; I have only begun trying my hand at translation of primary sources, and I like it.  The tedious process of looking words up and deciding which nuance of meaning fits the context speaks to the part of me that likes doing thorough, methodical work.  In putting together the puzzle of a sentence, I ponder how one character and relative silence translates to many more words in English.

And then there is the fact that there is important work to be done concerning China.  We need better understandings in the West of what’s going on in modern China and how this China is influencing the world.  We need to research this, so that we can mediate and mitigate China’s cultural, political, and economic influence.  At the moment, I see little in China’s modern culture worth propagating, and China’s role in the global economic order is problematic for everyone, including China.

What’s most interesting to me right now is revolution and dissidence in modern China.  What would revolution look like now?  How is dissidence practiced?  Some of the most interesting treasures in China’s modern culture invoke this theme or invoke values antithetical to mainstream culture and the government’s agenda.

In the coming weeks, I will work on a series Reflections on China, in which I will resurrect some unfinished blog posts and generally try to write coherently about what I have learned and observed.

Decisions

I was surprised to find that when I read I was admitted to UCSB’s East Asian Studies MA Program I suddenly felt a surge of excitement and relief like a window had been thrown open.  I was surprised to feel this way, because the whole week before I read this, my thoughts had been developing so that I felt ready to decide not to go back to school.  Now I wonder how much that thought process had been based on the idea, “I’m not going to get in, and even if I did I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

However, I gained some important insights as I was becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of being a full-time mother for years.  The vision I saw of immersing myself in homeschooling Isabelle, while pursuing my own projects and studies was a worthwhile, beautiful vision.  It was a slower life in which I was able to watch every step Isabelle takes, and focus my interests and reflections on the experience of teaching her.  I saw how my outlets for creativity, community, and growth could legitimately center around the home in a fulfilling way.

Now with a little boost in confidence and pride from receiving an acceptance letter, I am returning to the vision I had a few months ago when I was applying to schools.  At that time I narrowed my list down to three programs, because I realized I wasn’t ready for a PhD, and I wasn’t necessarily ready to juggle grad school and Isabelle.  However, the picture has filled out since then.  Christopher’s mother will be living us wherever we are, and she will provide the kind of guidance and help that I do not have here.  In addition, while I have gotten much better at managing my time here because I value all of my free time so much more, I also know that I usually still working below the activity and energy level that I am capable of.

I have realized how accustomed I have become to thinking of Isabelle as a family member, not just someone I have to take care of.  In this light, I want her to fit into my life, but I have known for a long time now, she cannot be my life.  I am committed to homeschooling her, but my radical vision of homeschooling allows for many different possibilities in how our life is set up, because life is school.  So while Isabelle will always come first for me, and I will not compromise on my standards of raising her, I am thinking now is the time for me to go down this path that I opened up for myself.  Why choose between two different paths — homeschooling Isabelle and schooling myself — when I can probably make both work well together with the help of my family?

Isabelle’s Independence

I recently posted on Facebook that Isabelle got dressed all by herself one day without our urging.  She has been able to put clothes on by herself for a while, but it was the first time that she went through the whole process on her own initiative.  For only 2 years and 1 month old, I thought that was pretty good.  Besides getting dressed, she has had several other successes recently: she can go through the process of going to the bathroom by herself, and she can wash her hands and face in the sink by herself.

Isabelle picked out this outfit by herself

Inspired by my readings on Montessori, these capabilities came about after Christopher and I changed the set up of our apartment so that she can access more things by herself and do them unaided and even unsupervised now that she’s good at them.  I have rethought many of the spaces that she regularly uses and spends time in, trying to bring more order and create processes around each activity.  I have been thinking a lot about the importance of process–teaching Isabelle an activity is about teaching her a process that has a start and a finish.  Going through the process, such as the process of washing her hands, is what interests her and engages her.  I think it will also teach her to concentrate on one task at a time and complete it before moving on to something else.

Most importantly, I have seen that beautiful look on her face of pride and confidence from completing these tasks by herself, and in general I’ve noticed a visible change in her confidence level, cheerfulness, and willingness to try other things.  She’s always had these qualities, but recently they’ve been pronounced.  It makes me feel really excited too about the possibilities ahead.

Read the rest of this entry »

My Little Light of Moon

At the risk of appearing like a flaky fool, I have yet again restyled and renamed my blog: Light of Moon: Building Culture in the Luna Family.  The major themes will be childhood education, family, parenting, and my experiences in China and with all of the above.  After a week pouring myself into research on the Montessori philosophy and activities (hereherehere and here are some good examples) and lots of reflection on how my research will re-shape our family life, the name came to me in a flash this morning.

~Isabelle Clara Luna: Pledged to God Light of the Moon~

My Light of Moon

O, how I love the intent eyes.

Read the rest of this entry »