Goals, Chinese, and Me


In my previous posts I talked about good and bad choices as a matter of politics.  My next few posts will talk about choices on a personal level.

I make my best choices when I focus on goals.  To me, the key to both success and happiness is setting and achieving goals.  When I don’t have goals, I lose focus, my life drifts, and I am not a happy person.

My wife and I took a vacation to China in September.  We visited Shanghai, Xian, Beijing, and we took a cruise on the Yangtze River.  I have always been fascinated by China and particularly by the Chinese language.  I knew it was totally different from anything I had encountered before.

To set my languages background in perspective, I went to Hebrew School as a kid and got my Bar Mitzvah.   I can still read the letters but other than a very few words, I don’t have the faintest idea of what any of the words mean.  I also had four years of Spanish in high school and got A’s all the way through.  I was able to understand the Spanish teacher in class very well.  She spoke clearly and distinctly.  I never could understand anybody else.  Basically, my Spanish was next to worthless to me.  I also never liked studying it.  I studied it because it was there, but I never enjoyed it.  I don’t know if it was because of the language itself or because it was the wrong time of life for me.  In short, while I consider myself as intelligent in most areas, foreign languages was not one of them.

I decided it would enhance my trip to China if I learned something of the language before then.  I got Rosetta Stone and was very surprised to find that I actually enjoyed it.  While several of my attempts to speak Chinese drew only blank stares, I did have some successes.  On a gondola ride, several of my fellow tourists were wondering if the the gondolier would sing.  I was able to ask him and he then serenaded us.  I was able to ask when a store opened and learned the magic words to keep over-eager sales people away (Kan Kan which means just looking).  I was also happy when after several failed attempts and some pronunciation assistance from our tour guide Yuan, I was able to get proper directions when I asked where the bathroom was.  I also really had fun trying to read the characters.  I was able to read about 25% of the characters I saw, mostly the common characters but also things like bank and “Don’t feed the animals” at the zoo.

I was surprised at how if I did not use the right tones the native speakers had no idea what I was saying.  I was thinking they would think I talk funny and wrong but they would be able to understand.  I did get a bit of appreciation for for what I must sound like when at a buffet I saw a dish I did not recognize.  I said Zhe shi shen me (What is this?).  The response I got back sounded like Weggee-table, Weggee-table.  I had the blank stare on my face till Sue figured out he was saying vegetable.

I decided to continue my Chinese after I got back.  At Sue’s suggestion, I joined a Chinese  language meetup group off the internet.  The organizer of the group offered tutoring services.  I had looked at tutoring earlier but had not found anything I liked at a reasonable price.  I have now been taking from lessons from her for the last two months and I think it really helps.

I have no expectations of having any major practical use for my Chinese.  I am past the stage in my career where I think it might help me professionally.  I am doing this because it is interesting to me and a challenge.  My goal is to one day be able to converse and read Chinese passably well.   I am not sure if I will ever be capable of fluency, but who knows, maybe.

Now why should anybody other than me care about this?  My studying Chinese led me to a major discovery that has greatly improved my life and I think could help others as well.  I will talk about this next time.

Authors Who Have Greatly Influenced Me

As I am still at the stage of this blog where absolutely nobody is reading it, I am laying a foundation before I actually say anything interesting (assuming I ever say anything interesting).

There are three authors who have profoundly influenced my thinking.  In future blogs I may not adequately give them credit.  Sometimes I am not sure where their thoughts stop and my thoughts begin.

The first author is Dale Carnegie.  Dale Carnegie wrote the most insightful book ever on human relations, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.  There is not a  day where my interactions with others are not affected by what I read in this book, although sometimes I will confess they are not affected enough.  Right after college when I moved to St. Louis I was pleased to drive by a Dale Carnegie Institute.  I took the base course and then I was a graduate assistant for another instance.  I had been incredibly shy.  This course brought me out of my shell and gave me the confidence to talk to people.  I will forever be grateful to Dale Carnegie.

The second author is Thomas Sowell.  Dr. Sowell is an economist and a columnist.  His book “Basic Economics” is a masterpiece in defining economics in plain text without supply and demand charts, etc., so the lay person can understand the key principles.  He then looks at different issues using these basic principles of economics to show the hidden as well as the obvious consequences of different policies.  He then uses these principles as the basis for analyzing issues in his other books.  In short, he trains you on how to think about issues.

The third author is Ayn Rand.  Rand, in both in her non-fiction books on philosophy and her fiction such as “Atlas Shrugged”, starts from the very beginning and logically builds the philosophy she calls Objectivism.  I can’t count the number of times I have heard her name trashed by people saying how horrible she is, but I have yet to ever see anybody rebut her logic.  I would actually welcome an attack on her logic, and I have searched for one, but have yet to find it.  I have always been pro-capitalist but I thought that while socialism just didn’t work in real life, it was morally superior.  Rand taught me that capitalism is morally superior as well as pragmatically superior.

Additionally, I’d like to give an honorable mention to Malcolm Gladwell.  At the suggestion of my cousin Bob Kaiser, I have just started reading his books.  Gladwell gets you to think about issues as you have never thought of them before.