Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Feeling the deciduous vibe of late

The Green Oranges of Vietnam

Not having much experience with living in a place with actual seasons, I really can't get over all the transitions that trees go through during the course of a year.

When I was in Vietnam last winter there were a lot of green oranges being sold in the markets and on roadsides that were actually incredibly ripe beneath the surface. I didn't know why until recently, but apparently citrus fruits contain many of the same chemicals that cause deciduous leaves to become nuclear and piercing and explode in a spectrum of brilliant death colors in autumn (Their colors become most deep and beautiful right before their fall). So the citrus fruits, a late autumn and winter ripening fruit, respond to the lengthening of nights and chilling of the air by slowly cutting off the chlorophyll I.V. drip to their extremities (to shrivel and cringe away from the chill and protect themselves from freezing), allowing for the sugars and chemicals in the plant to crystallize and the dyes in certain chemicals to finally express themselves in a magnitude of reds, oranges, yellows, and browns.

Going back to the green oranges of Vietnam, the tropical areas closer to the equator don't have a strong change of seasons, the nights don't shorten as much and the days don't become chill. So many species of citrus plants don't ever receive the signals from nature to necessitate cutting off the chlorophyll drip, and they stay green throughout the year, even as its fruit becomes ripe and delicious.

Also: a volleyball game over the unfinished wall across the U.S.-Mexico border.

The idea of an expensive and tall-walled, exorbitantly maintained land border stocked with searchlights and helicopters and weapons is so jenkem, and a game of volleyball being played across it just tips the scales. It says in the video that the dangers involved in hiking through the sometimes harsh wilderness to illegally cross into the U.S. illegally has been compared with scaling Mt. Everest.

There's a new special education teacher at my school who just finished his military service in town. He's pretty cool and was telling about the trekking he did in the Himalayas and the 5 months of backpacking he did across India, and how his dream is to work for an NGO, probably in Africa. He just walked into the staff room, though, and said "Shiksa ha say yo?" to whoever might be listening, which means "Did you eat a meal?" But if you don't raise your intonation at the end the words change into a demand: "Eat a meal!" I never thought about it before, but the formal polite verb-ending for a question (ν•˜μ„Έμš”, ha say yo) is identical to the imperative verb-ending for a polite demand. That means that polite questions in Korean are just a subtle intonation away from becoming a demand. Maybe this helps explain the underlying urgency that seems to permeate daily activities in this culture.

And in a Korean workplace, or just being in the presence of older Koreans, I will hear them ask each other or myself about whether meals have been eaten or not at least 6 to 10 times a day. It seems like eating food is what Koreans are most preoccupied with, almost all the time. My kind of culture, really. I had to actually stop eating dinner with Elvis' family after I finish the evening class I do there, primarily because his wife would just shove so much food in front of my face I didn't know what to do with it all, and I felt bad wasting any of it because of the thick and deep guilt she would lay on me. Both her son and daughter are pretty chubby for their age, and every dinner she would snap at them to eat their food, and whenever there was a lull in the pace of their consumption she would ask them why they weren't eating. Whenever I finished the rice in my bowl, her unease was tangible in the air, and without a doubt she would eventually either ask me if I wanted more rice or just scoop more food into my bowl against my will, as if her actions were entirely out of her control. And even now, before I leave her home, she always asks me worriedly if I plan to eat dinner after I finish teaching. And I don't mean that she asks me if I will eat there, she asks me as if she's nervous I'm just not planning on eating dinner at all, or if I will go hungry. I think it's basically confirmed at this point that her inescapable goal in life is to be surrounded by fat faces, preferably ones that are stuffing themselves. And if they're not fat faces, she'll see to it that they stuff themselves until they get that way. That's all she wants to see around her are fat faces.

Even when Lindsey arrived in town, I remember her telling me that the nice woman in charge of her apartment would always ask her about food and whether or not Lindsey was eating enough of it. And even once told Lindsey genuinely: "I worry you starve."

Speaking of verbs in foreign languages and also the Himalayas, Lindsey found this post on a forum she reads about the verb "to be" in the Tibetan language. I can't exactly vouch for the truth or correctness of this because the linguist studies student who wrote it exhibited that horrendous and stupefying false sense of expertness and authority that is no where more ridiculously displayed than in what people write in internet forums. Nonetheless, the idea here is fascinating.

Tibetan has six verbs 'to be' -
one, if you're equating something with something else and you're not involved.
two, if you are directly and/or heavily invested in something,
three, if something's surprising or you've just realised it,
four, if you're stating that something exists in a specific manner or place and it's a general fact,
five, if you've witnessed it, and
six, if you're personally invested in the existence of something.

I don't quite understand the distinction between number two and number six, but it's fascinating to me that Tibetans have to be continuously aware of how personally involved they are with anything they talk about, and how this degree of personal involvement will always be reflected by their verb choice.

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