Another Sunday conversation with an old friend (Or “Catch-up”, “Me in your eyes”, “The World that We live in”)

Last Sunday, I met an old friend of mine from high school who I have not met for more than six years. We were not so close when we were still at high school and we randomly chatted with each other on Facebook. And it was more than three years since I had a conversation on Facebook with her. Therefore, it came to me as a surprise when I received her message via Facebook for a catch-up session. I want to go astray a bit here by talking more about the phrase “catch-up”. It was not until a year ago when such phrase started to come up frequently in my life. Perhaps as a part of the growing process, where the young adults after few years of focusing too much on their work life and realizing how long they have not had a talk with their old friends, the desire of catching up with what the others are doing becomes a necessary part of our life. Admittedly, sometimes I really wanted to send a message to friends who I was not so close when I was at the university/English Club but we did work together in some assignments/ projects and I am really interested in knowing about how they have been. However, I always find it a little bit confused and find it easy to have an excuse for not messaging them for asking simple questions like “Hey, how have you been so far?”. And admittedly, “how have you been so far?” is one of the most difficult questions to me. “How have you been so far?” “Well, not much different. I am still working at … I do something recently, I learn something recently but I feel that almost everything remains unchanged…” Therefore, I find it quite difficult to ask a friend out for a catch-up session and find it difficult to set a date for ones who want to catch up with me. Sorry for getting astray a little bit. Let’s come back to the story of my old friend at high school.

I was a little bit surprised when receiving her message but then I decided to meet her immediately for she used to be among an adorable friend of mine at high school and it would be a nice experience to meet an old friend after all the years indeed. After a few minutes of “catching up” in its literal meaning, I mean asking questions like “where are you working?”, “how about your current workplace?”, “have you met someone in our class recently?”, etc., I suddenly asked her about the reasons for asking me out for dinner today. Some may feel it awkward to ask a friend about the reason for hanging out like that but it came as natural to me (even by now) for asking such question. Unexpectedly, my friend was not surprised at my questions but she sincerely said that she would like to seek for some pieces of advice in reading books and she thought that I might have read lots of books. I always find it interesting when listening to others talking about me, what I might do a lot and how I would behave. Sorry for going astray a bit for the second time. Two weeks ago, when my company organized a team building day and we were divided into several teams for some games. As part of team organizing, the team leader was required to categorize the team members into several sub-groups based on the team members’ characteristics or ability. I feel a little bit weird and vain (so sad to admit that I am so vain about myself) when my team leader categorized me into the group of “smart girl” (the other groups were “strong man” and “strong girl”). I have never expected others to tell me that I am smart because I get used to hearing people comment about me as a hardworking one. An old friend of mine even said to me that I needed to learn how to work smart, not work hard (and it means to me that I am not so smart). Come back to the story of the old friend of mine, I was surprised when that old friend wanted to seek for some pieces of advice from me in relation to books. The conversation then turned to economics, education, language study, work, and of course, books. My friend was a student of the faculty of Japanese language at my university and she spent a year going on an exchange to Japan. She is now working as the assistant to Japanese experts in several projects on development sponsored by JICA. After a couple of years working, she realizes that she wants to obtain a foundation in economics, studying more about the development economics and “catching up” with recent changes in Vietnam’s economy. It is interesting that the word “catching up” comes into place again. My friend’s sharing about her embarrassing moments when finding that her Japanese boss even understands more about Vietnam than her made me realize that how I have been ignorant of what’s going on with my country so far. I received a large amount of information every day and found it hard to process it. And if a foreign friend asks me about “How has your country been so far?”, I will also find it of the same difficulty as the question about “How have you been so far?” as aforementioned. I think that it is quite common for almost every young people in Vietnam now. We all know about TPP but we are not interested in getting down to understand about it in detail. We are all interested in the case of environment pollution in Ha Tinh but we find it difficult to choose for us our own stand point. We are aware that the election for the representatives of the National Assembly and various levels of People’s Committee is about to take place but we are not really curious about who are running for the election and some even felt that the whole election does not make sense. Some friends of mine complain that the candidates do not have any speech for election as what happened in the West while in fact, there are lots of candidates publicizing their own opinions and what they will do should they be elected. I suddenly realized that how I am too ignorant all the times and found it such a dangerous habit. Thanks for this conversation with this friend; I felt an urge for escaping from such state of ignorance and becoming more aware about what’s going on with things that surround. My friend said that she would try her best to read more news in relation to Vietnam’s economy every day, listening more to news on television and finding more books of this topic. It may be difficult to start a new habit at the first place but she believed that she would find herself come to terms with these topics soon. And I felt an urge of doing the same thing.

And of the third side note (or the third times I go astray in this post), I really feel blessed for the world that I live in now. Such third note may not be as relevant as the first two notes but as it came across my mind than I find it hard to resist writing about it, about the world that I live in. The idea was borrowed from the title of the drama I have seen recently “Worlds within” or “The world that they live in”. Our world, your world, and my world are not perfect. I have to cope with unexpectedly disappointing stories every day. But we do have good moment like this too. Such conversation with this old friend of mine is really meaningful to me and it inspired me a lot indeed. Sometimes, “catching up” with old friends not only helps remind you of the old good times together but also brings about really brilliant new ideas. Such moment like this really makes me feel blessed for having a chance to live in this world. How lovely it was when one friend took credit for me when it came to books and study (though I am not quite an expert in such field). How lovely it was when my friends shared with me about her thoughts about these seemingly academic stuffs without fear of being teased or laughed at. And how intimidating it was when I realized how I have been ignorant of the world that I live in. It is just like the idea of “I think, therefore I am”, it is just like the moments when I do feel that I am living, thinking and feeling about this world, which is really beautiful and meaningful to me.

“Wisest is she who knows she does not know”

“Is there such a thing as natural modesty?

Wisest is she who knows she does not know…

True insight comes from within.

He who knows what is right will do right.”

― Jostein Gaarder, Sophie’s World

It was two years ago when I first thought that I should try reading something about philosophy. Years ago, when I have just graduated from university, a friend of mine shared Facebook post in which she recommended a book named “Sophie’s World”. I searched for the book title out of curious and found out that it was a book about philosophy. Then after the talk with my serendipitous friend of mine (you should get acquainted with her if you are an active reader of my blog) and getting impressed by her broad knowledge inclusive of philosophy, I decided to read something about philosophy. First, I attempted to take the course of “Introduction to Philosophy” on Coursera as a start. The course is offered by University of Edinburg and you could find the link here for your ease of reference. Specifically, the course was designed to lead the students through the very basic definitions that lay the foundation for the study of philosophy, i.e. the definition of philosophy itself, knowledge and then have students discover more about different schools of philosophy by addressing several popular topics of Philosophy like the Philosophy of Mind, the Moral Philosophy, Epistemology or the Philosophy of Knowledge, Philosophy of Science, and finally a brief introduction about the Philosophy of Time travel. As usual, my effort of keeping up with a course on Coursera is not always successful. Hardly could I find time to finish a course on Coursera. I always had difficulties in concentrating on watching the videos or finishing the assignments and then gave up following the course right after the second week. While writing this post, I have to re-visit the home page of the course to understand what they are teaching about and surprisingly find myself somehow understand why the course was designed this way. Many thanks, of course, should come to the two books I am about to talk about hereunder: “Sophie’s World” by Jostein Gaarder and “From Socrates to Sartre: The Philosophic Quest” by T.Z. Lavine.

If the above mentioned course offered by Coursera provides the learners with lectures by theme, the two aforementioned books, however, gave us an overview of philosophy by chronological order. “Sophie’s World”, written by Jostein Gaarder in 1991, is a novel about a fifteen-year-old girl named Sophie Amundsen getting introduced to philosophical thinking and the history of philosophy by an old philosopher named Alberto Knox. I suppose the author intended to make philosophy much more comprehensible to teenagers by translating all the history of philosophy into a fiction with plots and twists and actually, I was not so impressed by such conversion. I prefer listening to the thoughtful conversations between Alberto and Sophie to understanding all the plots and twists of the novel, some of which are quite unnatural to me. The book has made a very comprehensive summary of Western thoughts from the time in which Greek Mythology were written to the time of modern philosophers like Sartre. Though it was said that the book is highly recommended for the fifteen-year-old, as a 24-year-old I felt it a little bit not easy to comprehend at all right all the thoughts written in this novel. Perhaps it was due to my limited English level that prevents me from understanding all the thoughts shared in the novel thoroughly, but on the second thought I do not think a Vietnamese book may not be better. Perhaps it was due to the large amount of information conveyed by the author and it would be better to have the book re-read for several times. Forgoing the unnecessary complication created by the plot of the novel, I do love the writing of Jostein when it comes to reciting the history of philosophy or explaining the philosophic thoughts in some parts of the novel, wherein he merely wrote about philosophy, philosophic thoughts or stories about the philosophers. My favorite parts in “Sophie’s World” were the chapters of “The Renaissance”, “The Baroque”, “Hume”, and “Our Own Time”. I was thrilled at the beautiful philosophic thoughts as well as the enthralling writing by the author in these chapters. I have been taught of the idea of individualism of the Renaissance before when I was a student at secondary school. I was energized by the idea of “carpe diem” or “seize the day” introduced in the chapter of Baroque. I was surprised to realize that I somehow share the same questions of “How do you know?” and “Will the sun rise tomorrow?” with Hume. And I was absolutely thrilled at the interpretation of Sartre’s ideas by Jostein. By saying it a mere interpretation, I mean I have not read the original thoughts of Sartre and hence, what I read there may be the interpretation of Jostein only.  Specifically, Satre once said “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.  It is up to you to give [life] a meaning”, “Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless at liberty, and from the moment that he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything he does.”  You remember the post of mine back in 2014 named “I hate when people say “I am obliged to do something even when I don’t want…”, don’t you? I hate when people say they have no choice to disclaim themselves from their cowardice for not doing something. And when I skimmed through the following passage, I just wanted to read this passage out loud to everybody in the “I-told-you-so” manner. The following passage was the explanation of Alberto to Sophie about the statement made by Sartre: “That was precisely Sartre’s point. Nevertheless we are free individuals, and this freedom condemns us to make choices throughout our lives. There are no eternal values or norms we can adhere to, which makes our choices even more significant. Because we are totally responsible for everything we do. Sartre emphasized that man must never disclaim the responsibility for his actions. Nor can we avoid the responsibility of making our own choices on the grounds that we ‘must’ go to work, or we ‘must’ live up to certain middle-class expectations regarding how we should live. Those who thus slip into the anonymous masses will never be other than members of the impersonal flock, having fled from themselves into self-deception. On the other hand our freedom obliges us to make something of ourselves, to live ‘authentically’ or ‘truly.’ “

After finishing “Sophie’s World”, I started reading “From Socrates to Sartre: the Philosophic Quest” (“FSTS”) written by T.Z. Lavine immediately. Normally, I often avoid reading books of the same genre/ the same author consecutively like that. If the first book is a fiction, I will switch to a non-fiction then. If the first one was written by Jane Austen, I will surely avoid picking another piece written by Austen for the next reading. But I challenged myself reading another book about philosophy after reading “Sophie’s World”. FSTS also presents the philosophic thoughts in a chronological order as “Sophie’s world”. However, it is blessed that FSTS focused on philosophy only (It was blessed that no plot was involved) and the chapters were named after the typical philosophers, namely, Plato, Descartes, Hume, Hegel, Marx, and Sartre. The final chapter is spared for the brief introduction about the contemporary philosophy. The book was first published in 1984, prior to the date of release of “Sophie’s World”. No matter how long it was written before, the book is still listed among the must-read philosophy books for college students. After reading “Sophie’s world”, coming to terms with philosophic terminology and having general ideas about Western philosophy, I feel much more comfortable on reading FSTS. In FSTS, Lavine detailed the main sets of belief of each philosopher and usually made her own comments by the end of each chapter. I was still a fan of Hume after reading FSTS, becoming interested in Hegel, wondering if I have misinterpreted Sartre’s existentialism and totally bewildered at Descartes’ ideology.

I finished reading the two aforementioned books by the end of 2015. Perhaps, I will make time to re-read these two books in the future to gain further understanding in this field.  I intended to create a mind map to summarize the philosophic thoughts written in these two books but failed to do so due to limited time. I feel grateful for myself having spent sometimes on such seemingly boring subject. While it may be too soon to realize the benefits of philosophy reading, at least to my brain capacity, I had been given with the chance of reveling into the thoughts of the old men, realizing the linkage between philosophy and politics as well as other scientific subjects, being thrilled at the philosophic thoughts that underlie the political movements in the history and associating some philosophic thoughts with my daily life. Given my limited knowledge about books in relation to philosophy, for an amateur like me, these two books were fine for a start in philosophy.

For your ease of reference, please find the link of these two books on Goodreads embedded in the two following images:

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“Sophie’s World” by Jostein Gaarder
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“From Socrates to Sartre: The Philosophic Quest” by T. Z. Lavine

May Day. Random thoughts

Recently, I had two weird dreams. A couple of weeks ago, I dreamt myself walking through forests, through villages, crossing rivers and paddy fields. I even can feel myself like a curious and adventurous traveler, attempting to get in every place that captures my attention. While crossing a primary school (why primary school?), I suddenly stopped and looked around if I had lost my wallet. The curious and adventurous girl then disappeared, the insecure girl came in and replaced. And as a habit of mine when having a nightmare; I woke up immediately to make sure that it was just a dream.

Few days ago, when I was buried with workload from 9 to 9 for more than a couple of weeks and brought work home to work until midnight, I dreamt myself changing job, working in a bank where my job is something like processing the data or recording the transactions into a kind of ledgers or the likes. I remembered how my mind was messed up during the whole dream, how I kept wondering why I changed the job at the first place, wondering if I could come back to KPMG now, wondering if I stayed there one year and came back to KPMG. When I was awake in the morning, I was surprised to get into such a dream. Previously, whenever getting buried under such heavy workload, I only get caught in dreams of incomplete tasks, of my boss, or of my clients. The dream I got into this time is totally weird and it would be a reflection of all the alternatives I have thought of before.

Recently, I also participated in two groups of hobbies. The first one is the group of K-drama fans, constituted by three members, one of which was me; the other two were my friends in English Club at the university. We were both interested in “Descendants of the Sun”, and then we decided to create a group to have discussion about the drama. It sounds childish, doesn’t it? Actually, I joined fan club of Zhou Xun years ago and was an active member of Chinese area of Dienanh.net years ago but I usually thought that offline meeting would be always not my stuff. I used to be a crazy fan of Manchester United but the idea of joining a fan club and meeting the other fans in the real life for the sake of having discussion only about the red devils is something unimaginable to me. I am a fan of Tanya Chua now but I care more about her music and I would love to have a discussion about her music but I felt not so interested in chitchatting about her daily life or her hobby or her favorite dishes.  But what happened? I joined a group of three fans of “Descendants of the Sun”, which came as a surprise to most of the friends who know me. Perhaps, people often see me as a book worm who would rather read books than watch Korean movies. Other people may think that as a Chinese learner, I would be more interested in Chinese movies and Chinese love stories. It was so interesting to see the portrait of yours in the eyes of the surrounding people when you took such a random action like that. Korean movies, why not? As long as the movie is good, I am interested in watching it. I also feel uncomfortable when people said that Korean movie is not serious enough for me to see. I think if Korean movie were a living creature, it would feel uncomfortable as well. Who am I so as not to see Korean movie and what was Korean movie so as not to be seen by me? I never want myself to be defined by watching a certain genre of movie or listening to a certain genre of music and I am sure that Korean movie would not want it to be categorized as some types of movies which are not worth watching by people who accidentally have interests in reading books or doing things that sound serious like me.

The second group of hobby that I participated in is the Xiangqi club at my Company. The group is comprised of six or seven male colleagues of mine. In a lunch with several members of this club, I was so curious about the way of Xiangqi they are playing, which is not the same as the way I used to play. I used to play Xiangqi when I was a school girl but I gave up playing since 2005. It came to me as a surprise when I knew all members of that club, some of whom I have never thought that they may be interested in playing Xiangqi. Well, prejudice came on its way again. It was so fun to have something to relax at lunchtime, instead of gossiping and it was much more fun to have my own prejudice about the male colleagues to be swept. I realized that I knew too little about them as well as they knew too little about me. I must admit that I keep a lot of prejudice about them, which prevented me from cooperating with them. It cannot be denied that my relationship with the male colleagues in my Company has been improved a lot after such incidence (Previously, my relationship with the male colleagues in my Company is not so good/ comfortable). It is just like when you try seeing things from a different lens, relaxing your embedded prejudice and then you realize that things are not always what they seem.

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So I force myself to write something. Here I am, between a mess called “peak season” again, exhausted, bored, and stupefied. Nothing is inspiring enough to write. I thought of the On this day app on Facebook, which keep reminding me about how I was so hyper four years ago, which is of course totally contrast to how I am today. Last night when I came back from the office at 10pm, I saw a high school girl carrying a backpack, the side pocket of which contained a shuttle cock. I was strongly struck at such a simple image cause it made me remember the 14-year-old girl who liked playing shuttle cock much enough to bring a shuttle cock along with her all the time.

I decided to reschedule my GMAT exam until the mid-week of June instead of sitting for it at the end of April as planned. I prepared the application package to courses I am interested in within my limited budget of time. I have got hooked with “Descendants of the sun”. Spending time for a TV series is always a guilty pleasure to me, something I know I should not be involved but I break my own rule sometimes eventually. It was the second drama of Song Hye Kyo (surprise) and the first drama of Song Joong Ki that I see. The movie has been a hit in Asia and it is not difficult to find someone at our ages talking about it. While the beautiful cast was the first thing that impressed me, the movie has more to offer. You can find not only the usual love lines as seen on other Korean dramas but also the beautiful idealism shared about the main characters about their professions and their missions. I was also impressed the way the screenwriter develops the story without focusing too much on the main character but exploiting more from the relationship of the other characters in the movie.

It’s time for bed now. Good night. Tan Kyeol.

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The first post of 2016

It is unusual for me to start writing the first post of the year that late. Normally, I will kick off writing for right at the first week of the year, not waiting until the last week of January. Actually, I do attempt to write a post about my 8-day trip around three provinces in the South Central Vietnam and the Highlands of Vietnam. These 8 days without bearing any sight of working papers or reports somehow did a good therapy to my stressful body. During that 8-day trip, accompanied by a friend of mine, I did have some moments on my own to think. I thought about my future, thought about saving for the next trip, thought about how it is like to live in other places than the places I live now. I think a lot to an extent that I supposed I would write a short novel after the trip. I managed to ramble some lines in relation to the trip but felt bored immediately and decided to have it suspended for an indefinite “while”. After the trip, I came back to my daily busy schedule. I tried my best to study for GMAT but still found myself in the middle of nowhere. I realized how time has passed since I received my result for the first level of CFA and felt a little bit moody for not taking the examination for Level 2 this June. Looking back at 2015, I realized I have accomplished a few goals: Pass the first level of CFA, get promoted to senior, travel to three new places, one of which is located abroad and start my reading habit in a more serious manner. I, however, failed twice at TOCFL; IELTS result is not exceptionally good; I had fewer time for friends and I found it more difficult to be energized at work or to feel gratified at work as I used to be one year ago. Some of my favorite colleagues left the firm, I found it more difficult to communicate at work and I often found myself keeping silent during almost every event, either formal or informal, of the Company. And I do feel scared at the idea of being spiritually dead at the age of 25 in the office, which may be the main cause to such uneasy state of mine.

Lunar New Year’s Eve is around the corner, which means that I have another 10 days off work to get my body and mind relaxed for a while. Tet is not my favorite holiday caused I do not really like all the preparation for Tet Holiday (I prefer to do thing on a frequent basis rather than to be rushed to prepare for a holiday in such an exhaustive manner). But Tet is really a special time in the year. It is special for that it takes place on an annual basis, it is accompanied by routinely traditional procedure and it is long enough to leave you with strong impression that you are getting older and older by each Tet holiday passing by. Hardly could I believe that it has been 10 years since 2006. Hardly could I believe that 10 years ago I was still a secondary schoolgirl who fought for her examination into her dream high school. Why 2006? 2006 was the year when I started high school. It was also the year when I really had some ideas about what to do with my own life. I started to have my own bucket list, dreaming about my dream high school, my dream university, my dream country to study abroad, my dream relationship and some ideas about the ideal career path. After 10 years, I figured out that I have not crossed out lots of items in my bucket list. I have not realized my desire of studying abroad, have not set my foot on Ukraine, and have not got any boyfriend (What the heck I was thinking about at that time). However, I passed the entrance examination to one of my favorite high schools, passed the entrance examination to university, and got a stable job. But unlike that 14-year-old girl dreaming of a settled life with good salary and decent husband, the 24-year-old girl of mine is scared of being settled before other dreams realized. I feel uncomfortable when my acquaintances said something like you graduated from university, you got a good job already and now it is time to be settled. And I do feel disappointed when people who know me very well start to say that it is time for me to be settled. I hate that everything to be clearly figured out at such young an age. The uncertain future may be annoying sometimes but the certain one is definitely more frightening.

I watched this TedX video on YouTube and found the speaker’s ideas striking a chord with mine. It is about the quarter-life crisis and how the speaker resists settling at 28 years old. It may sound a self-help but for the ones who are about to enter their 24 or 25, it is worth listening once.

Another year of blogging has already on the way and I already start off working on some plans of mine. Hope this year will be another good year of mine.

Book-related post: “Miss Lonelyhearts” and “A Cool Million” by Nathanael West

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This post is not about to review a book for I am not that confident to possess such an ability to make a nice-wrought review. Neither nor it be a reflection as I myself do not have any reflection linked to the current state of my life from these two captioned book titles. Then there comes the reason while I named the post as a book-related post or a post that relates two novels I have read recently.

I picked up “The Collected Works of Nathanael West” randomly a month ago on the occasion of the last “feel good” Friday of my Company (My Company has recently set up a policy named “Feel good Friday”, taking place in November and May every year from November 2015, which will permit its employees to work remotely from office. Generally, almost everybody would consider it a silent rule, committing to employing that afternoon as an opportunity to get out of the office for non-business related purposes.) After reading Mark Twain, I start to grow an interest in reading modern works by the American writers for its literature style seems to be more dynamic and realistic than that of the classic ones from the Old Continent. No offense here, I still admire the classic works from the Old Continent but I just decided to find some modern classics, of which the literature style is much more familiar. Then, on knowing Nathanael West was among the prominent figures of the early 20th century of the American literature by scanning the very first few pages of introduction, I was eager to pick up and pay for the books.

Here comes some information about Nathanael West. In short, West was born in 1903 as the first descendant of a German immigrant family. He was entitled to the very good schooling, from DeWitt Clinton High School to Tufts University and then “managed” to study in Brown University. The reason why the verb “managed” is put between double quotation marks is that West performed very poorly at Tufts and it was told that he obtained the transcript of another Nathan Weinstein (Nathan Weinstein is West’s real name) also studying Tufts and with a significantly better academic record than that of West to seek for admission to Brown University. We may temporarily forgive his dishonest education record for the sake of his works by skipping to the information in relation to his works. So far as I am concerned, he is generally known for his four novels, namely  “The Dream Life of Balso Snell” (1931), “Miss Lonelyhearts” (1933) , “A Cool Million” (1934), and “The Day of the Locust” (1939). These aforementioned novels are also the works that are included in the book I bought last month. I have already finished my reading with “Miss Lonelyhearts” and “A Cool Million” so far and I decided to suspend my reading with the remaining two works. The reason is that I cannot stand the tragedies depicted in the two novels by means of black comedy and I expect that the remaining two novels are by no means brighter. For ones curious about the story, as a piece of advice you might have been given from your literature classes dated back at secondary school, it is recommended to take a look at the published date of these four novels, identifying the history background wherein these novels were born. As you may aware, these four novels were written during the Great Depression of the US, one of the darkest periods in the US history that almost everyone does not attempt to recall. For the Vietnamese ones who cannot imagine the plight dooming the US in such period, the works of Nguyen Cong Hoan and Vu Trong Phung may be great cases in points for their styles resemble to that of the works of Nathanael West to a certain extent.

If Miss Lonelyhearts’s background is confined to very few settings of the anonymous columnist named “Miss Lonelyhearts”, the background of “A Cool Million” was extended significantly to depict a wider picture of America. If Miss Lonelyhearts’s tragedy may be partly blamed to Miss Lonelyhearts himself, the tragedy of Lemuel Pitkin could be blamed to different stakeholders of that society. In “Miss Lonelyhearts”, we find a young man, working as a columnist of a newspaper in which his task is to give pieces of advice to the heartbreak audiences who get stuck in their miseries, struggled to find the way to escape his own misery as well. There were few moments that he did find some purposes in his job and take pride in his mission of helping the others. However, I found him generally in the state of boredom, stuck in his circling thoughts and lacking a determination to escape. He then turned out to be “a rock”, getting used to the life boredom, taking the miseries described in the letters for granted and gradually becoming of ignorance to the real-life misery. “A Cool Million”, as its subtitle “The Dismantling of Lemuel Pitkin” may suggest, brought us to the dark period of the Great Depression where people get impoverished and victimized in both physical and mental ways. Lemuel Pitkin, a 17-year-old boy from a small town of Vermont, instilled with the idealism of the American Dream represented to him by the eloquent politician Mr Whipple, found his way to New York with a view to “making a fortune” to help his family out of the dire straits. It seems to me that he was harmed and abused by the whole society, namely the phony politician Whipple, the callous policemen who cared nothing but money, the lawyers, the merchants, the irrational crowd. He was deprived of his eye, his teeth, his thumb, his scalp then his leg. He was employed to be a clown to get money, a cheater in the merchant’s conspiracy against its competitor and even after his death, he was exploited as a martyr by the National Revolutionary Party’, a political organization led by Whipple. Pitkin’s birthday becomes a national holiday and American youths march down the streets singing songs in his honor. What makes me feel uneasy while reading “A Cool Million” is the optimistic atmosphere brought about by the phony politician every time when Lemuel was brutally struck by life events. But who or what should be the ultimate cause to be blamed in this novel? I have not much clue about it. Should it be the capitalism to be blamed? Should the plight depicted in the novel be caused by the dismantling of the American dream where people trampled each other and distorted the American values for ones’ own good sake? If ones read it without any reference to another source, the capitalism should be condemned right at the first place for capitalism is more than often associated with money mania, which equates money with power. As Marx once claimed, “Money, then, appears as this distorting power both against the individual and against the bonds of society, etc., which claim to be entities in themselves. It transforms fidelity into infidelity, love into hate, hate into love, virtue into vice, vice into virtue, servant into master, master into servant, idiocy into intelligence, and intelligence into idiocy.” Further, the resentment towards Marxism presented by one of the villains, Whipple may also strengthen our hatred towards capitalism. However, I decided not to give such a hurried judgment on the capitalism due to a small note at the end of the novel: “West has some involvement with the American Communist Party in the mid-1930s.” Then, should the involvement of West with the American Communist Party have anything to do with his depiction of the dilapidated capitalism society or his novel is contrived to downplay the capitalism society and promote the communism? For I even do not know exactly West’s political tendency, I then decided not to comment further in this regard. The only thing that I am certain is that it will take me a long time to visit the two remaining novels of West in the aforesaid book. However, I still recommend this book to ones who may tempt to know more about America during the Great Depression or get acquaintance to another prominent figure of America literature.

GreatDepression

Damascus

The idea of writing something about Damascus suddenly came across my mind when I found my newsfeed filled with the Paris attacks, the media hype about the emotional distribution of the mass towards different tragedies taking place in this world on 13 November 2015. Then, there comes a debate about the refugee-related policy. First, I wondered about the heck that happens to this world. Then, I saw myself among the crowd who find themselves bewildered at the current world politic chaos, scared at the wars happening in the Mid East, and wondering if the end of our civilization world will come to the end soon. But such bewildering moments did not take long for I am soon buried under my daily workloads and forget that there is an outside world turning upside down. Hence, I will not attempt to make an in-depth review or reflection for the aforementioned events may fall beyond my own understanding. This post is written for a simple purpose of sharing some random thoughts coming across my mind.

Damascus, as you may know, is the capital and the second- largest city of Syria. However, you may not know that Damascus is generally regarded as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. As far as I am concerned, the earliest settlement in Damascus may have been dated back since 9000 BC and as stated in my favorite novel written by Mark Twain, the city dates back anterior to the days of Abraham, which was around 2000 BCE. Just imagine a city that stands such a long test of time, just imagine that thousands years ago, empires rise and fall but the city remains here. I owe Mark Twain for his nicely wrought paragraph describing about Damascus in “The Innocent Abroad”:

“As the glare of day mellowed into twilight, we looked down upon a picture which is celebrated all over the world. I think I have read about four hundred times that when Mahomet was a simple camel-driver he reached this point and looked down upon Damascus for the first time, and then made a certain renowned remark. He said man could enter only one paradise; he preferred to go to the one above. So he sat down there and feasted his eyes upon the earthly paradise of Damascus, and then went away without entering its gates. They have erected a tower on the hill to mark the spot where he stood.

Damascus is beautiful from the mountain. It is beautiful even to foreigners accustomed to luxuriant vegetation, and I can easily understand how unspeakably beautiful it must be to eyes that are only used to the God-forsaken barrenness and desolation of Syria. I should think a Syrian would go wild with ecstacy when such a picture bursts upon him for the first time.

Damascus dates back anterior to the days of Abraham, and is the oldest city in the world. It was founded by Uz, the grandson of Noah. “The early history of Damascus is shrouded in the mists of a hoary antiquity.” Leave the matters written of in the first eleven chapters of the Old Testament out, and no recorded event has occurred in the world but Damascus was in existence to receive the news of it. Go back as far as you will into the vague past, there was always a Damascus. In the writings of every century for more than four thousand years, its name has been mentioned and its praises sung. To Damascus, years are only moments, decades are only flitting trifles of time. She measures time, not by days and months and years, but by the empires she has seen rise, and prosper and crumble to ruin. She is a type of immortality. She saw the foundations of Baalbec, and Thebes, and Ephesus laid; she saw these villages grow into mighty cities, and amaze the world with their grandeur—and she has lived to see them desolate, deserted, and given over to the owls and the bats. She saw the Israelitish empire exalted, and she saw it annihilated. She saw Greece rise, and flourish two thousand years, and die. In her old age she saw Rome built; she saw it overshadow the world with its power; she saw it perish. The few hundreds of years of Genoese and Venetian might and splendor were, to grave old Damascus, only a trifling scintillation hardly worth remembering. Damascus has seen all that has ever occurred on earth, and still she lives. She has looked upon the dry bones of a thousand empires, and will see the tombs of a thousand more before she dies. Though another claims the name, old Damascus is by right the Eternal City.”

Should I replace the noun “Damascus” with blank spaces, I guess it would be difficult for you to figure out it was Damascus. You may, like me, wonder how come a beautiful place turns into a place from which ones are willing to pay all the costs to procure for an escape. Should the ones who are ruining this city on a daily basis happen to know/ remember the golden days of this city, I wonder if they will ever feel guilty of creating a bombing event at a place which used to be celebrated all over the world. Sometimes, I cannot make sense of the war, especially for wars taking place in such a modern time like the era we are living in now. I somehow can feel how it would be hurt for ones that grew up in the peaceful Damascus, then witnessed it ruined day by day and finally forced to leave this place without the slightest hope of coming back. Although the ultimate cause of any war remains a big question to the whole humankind, such obscurity cannot prevent me from feeling sorry for the places doomed with wars all over the world.

The beautiful Damascus…

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Syria February 2006 Damascus city Umayyad Mosque UNESCO World heritage site minarets rooftops

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