Posted in Simple Pleasures of Life

Simple Pleasures of Life #22

Being proud of and propagating your cultural heritage.

First of all apologies for not keeping to the “post every day” rule. I had short cases on Tuesday and was up till 4am the night before prepping for it : Was pretty shattered last night so instead of studying I chose to play Magic with a friend for hours, get Nandos for dinner, and watch TV shows until I went to bed early. Recovered since but study is boooring.

Anyway, today was Hangul Day (한글날), yay!!! Hangul is the Korean alphabet and was invented by King Sejong the Great (세종대왕) 567 years ago. It is a beautiful written language that was designed scientifically and logically to better represent sounds, making it easier for common people to learn. To celebrate it, I made a small event on Facebook where I wrote my friends’ names in Korean haha. One friend jokingly said “Arnold Schwarzenegger”, so I happily obliged… along with a sketch 😛

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Posted in History & Literature

Merlion

It is common to see creatures in mythology that are a combination of different animals. The unicorn, griffin, chimera, basilisk, hippocampus… The list goes on and on. But perhaps the more interesting combinations are those between humans and animals. Centaurs are a cross between man and horse, harpies are a cross between woman and bird while mermaids and mermen are half-human, half-fish. Although these examples are all from ancient mythologies, there are more recent examples such as the merlion.

The merlion – top-half lion, bottom-half fish – is the national symbol of Singapore. This symbol was designed by Alec Fraser-Brunner in 1964 to promote the name of Singapore. Since then, the merlion has been used frequently in Singaporean art such as in statues and souvenirs. Although the concept of merlions have been found in certain ancient Indian and Hellenistic cultures (not to mention the “sea lion” which is an actual animal), it is almost synonymous with Singapore in modern times.

How did this bizarre combination of a lion and fish come to be? The union of the lion and fish is a symbol for Singapore’s history. Singapore originates from a small fishing village called Temasek – which means sea town in Javanese. This is symbolised by the fish tail, which forms the “root” of the icon. The lion symbolises modern Singapore, which gains its name from Singapura, which means lion city. Furthermore, Singapore is an island nation – a combination of land and water. The core culture of Singapore is descended from Asia via the land mass of South-East Asia, while its affluence and modernisation came from the sea via trade routes. Singapore is one of the most famous and important trade ports in modern history as it controls the passage from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. This allowed the country to thrive economically from the flourishing trade, being dubbed one of the Four Asian Tigers (along with South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan – all four countries achieved exceptionally high growth rates from the 1960s to the 1990s).

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Posted in History & Literature

Surgeon

In many cultures (especially in Asian countries), the public conception of doctors has changed where surgeons are considered the “real doctors”. This is particularly evident in Asian dramas where main characters tend to be surgeons, saving the patient’s life with dramatic operations and charisma. The idea that surgeons are superior to physicians may go as far as some adults advising medical students to become surgeons for a higher status (again, more evident in Asia). However, as the root of surgery is completely different from that of medicine, technically it is a misnomer to call a surgeon a “doctor”.

This is reflected in the relatively unknown fact that a fully-trained surgeon is referred to as “mister”, not “doctor”. To understand why surgeons call themselves Mr., we must look into the origin of the surgical discipline.

In ancient times, surgery was limited to treating flesh wounds and setting bones (with some exceptions such as trepanation), such as those sustained during battles. Other than the odd few cases of specialised surgeons such as Galen of ancient Greece and Hua Tuo of ancient China, it is hard to find records of doctors employing surgery as a form of treatment. This was mainly due to two reasons: that surgery was considered a “dirty, unrefined” form of treatment, and that surgery was too risky.

For a long time, especially in the Western world, surgery was considered to be of a lower status compared to medicine. It was considered more of a craft tradition – something which physicians believed was beneath them. Because of this, surgeries were mainly performed by barbers in medieval Europe. One can still find evidence of a barber’s alternative historical role on the barber’s pole, which has white, red and blue stripes. The white stripe symbolises bandages, the red symbolises arterial blood and the blue symbolises venous blood. This originates from the practice of bloodletting, where white bandages wrapped around a pole would get dyed red from the blood, giving the appearance of the barber’s pole. The profession of “surgeon” did not formally appear until around the 18th century when a Guild of Surgeons was formed in England. However, physicians refused to accept surgeons as equals for a further century. When they did come to accept that surgery was a legitimate form of medical treatment, the surgeons decided that they did not want to be assimilated as doctors, so they chose to keep their title of “mister” to distinguish themselves from physicians.

The reason why surgery was considered an unrefined art in the past mainly focuses on three issues: bleeding, pain and infections. Before modern surgical developments, uncontrolled bleeding was a real issue in surgery. This not only made surgeries extremely messy, but it was also dangerous for the patient as patients would often die from shock (dangerously low blood pressure). On top of this, anaesthetics was only introduced in the late 19th century, meaning before that, patients had to suffer the pain of their flesh being cut and stitched with no relief. Of course, this meant that surgeries were almost always a brutal scene, with the agonising screams of the patients filling the room, while they sprayed blood everywhere. Lastly, even if the patient somehow survived the surgery without bleeding out or dying from the stress and pain, there still remained a high risk of post-operative infection. Thus, surgeries were most often unsuccessful and were considered a barbaric form of treatment with no promise.

Thanks to medical advancements, surgery has become an important aspect of medicine, where one cannot live without the other. However, the tension still remains between physicians and surgeons, with each profession jokingly mocking the other whenever a chance arises.

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Posted in History & Literature

Week

In Genesis from the Old Testament of the Bible, it is said that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. But the system of a seven-day week can be found in many other cultures and religions. The origin of the seven-day week system is ancient Babylonia. The Babylonians believed that every seventh day was one of misfortune, with 7 having the significance that it is the largest single-digit prime number and the number of heavenly bodies known at the time (sun, moon, five planets). This was passed on to the Jewish people who made the seventh day the Sabbath. This was then adopted by Catholics in Rome and in 325AD, it was officially decided at the Concilium Nicaenum (official council that was held to vote for the official religion of Rome) that every week would be seven days long.

There is also a reason for assigning a heavenly body to each day (Monday = Moon, Tuesday = Mars, Wednesday = Mercury, Thursday = Jupiter, Friday = Venus, Saturday = Saturn, Sunday = Sun). At first, the order of the days was the same as the order of heavenly bodies by their distance from the Earth: “Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, Moon”. This was then cross-referenced with the astrological 24-hour system of planetary hours, resulting in a new order of “Saturn, Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus”. Because of this, the week started on Saturday in ancient times. It was only during Roman times when the week was changed to start on the Sunday, with Sunday becoming an official day of rest.

The Romans named the days after the heavenly body assigned to that day. For example, “Sunday” obviously comes from “Sun”, with the same applying to Monday and Saturday. This system is used in Korea and China, where each day is labelled according to the assigned planet. For example, Thursday is 목요일(mok yo il) in Korean, where 목 means wood, with 목성(mok sung) meaning Jupiter.

In English, the names of each day are mixed. Some are based on planets like the Korean system (Saturday, Sunday, Monday), while others inherit their name from the Germanic people. The Germanic people assigned one of their gods (from Norse mythology) to each day (except Sunday and Monday, which are related to the Sun and the Moon, while Saturday had a completely different name). Tuesday stands for “Tyr’s day”, Wednesday stands for “Wodan’s(or Odin’s) day”, Thursday stands for “Thor’s day” and Friday stands for “Frigg’s day”.

Interestingly, the Norse god assigned to each day correlates with the Greek/Roman god assigned to it. For example, Thursday is “Thor’s day” and also “the day of Jupiter”. Jupiter is the Roman king of gods (same as Zeus from Greek mythology) who uses lightning, while Thor is the Norse god of thunder.

Not every country calls each day a meaningful name. In China, Monday is simply 星期一(xing qi yi), or “first star period”, with each day after that being one number higher (Sunday is specially called 星期日(xing qi ri), where the number is replaced by the character for “Sun”). Although China used the same system as Korea and Japan based on 음양오행설(eum yang oh hang sul, system of Five Elements and Yin Yang), the days were renamed with the simplification of the language.

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Posted in Philosophy

Bittersweet Dream

One still autumn night, a student woke up in tears. A teacher who found this peculiar asked the student:

“Did you dream a scary dream?”

“No sir.”

“Did you dream a sad dream?”

“No sir. I dreamed a sweet dream.”

“Then why are you crying so?”

As she wiped away her tears, the student said:

Because that dream will never come true.”

(from Bittersweet Life)

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Posted in History & Literature

Han Suk-Bong

Han Suk-Bong is a famous writer from the Joseon Dynasty (Korea during 14th to 19th century), who was praised as “the master writer of the East” even in the Ming Dynasty (China during 14th to 17th century). His writing and calligraphy were partly thanks to his inborn talent, but also because of his intense training and practise throughout his life. There is a famous story regarding his training.

Han Suk-Bong practised calligraphy since a young age by himself, practising every day. The villagers all praised his talent and his mother sent him to a famous temple to study. After four years of studying, Han missed his mother so much that he sneaked out during the night and returned home. When he told his mother that he there was nothing more for him to learn, she told him to turn the lights off and said: “I will slice rice cakes while you write, then we will compare our skills”. After the two silently did their best work in the darkness, they turned the light on and it was evident that Han’s letters were all crooked and unsightly while his mother’s rice cakes were perfectly sliced in even thickness. Han deeply repented his arrogance and realised there was so much more to learn. His mother told him off and told him not to set foot in the house again until he could write perfectly even with his eyes closed, just as she could slice rice cakes perfectly. Thanks to his mother’s passion for his education, Han became one of the most well-known masters of calligraphy and literature in the Far East.

The best type of parent is one who identifies a child’s natural talents early on and helps them develop those skills. If the child becomes lost, loses their way or fall into the pit of arrogance believing they are the best, it is the parent’s duty to correct them. The moment you believe that there is nothing more to learn, you become a failure.

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Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Left-handedness

Phones, golf clubs, scissors, forks and knives, the order of writing… Almost everything in this world is made for the convenience of right-handed people. Because of this, there is a hypothesis that left-handed people have a relatively shorter life expectancy compared to right-handed people.

Dr. Diane F. Halpern of California State University conducted a research comparing the life expectancy of right-handed people versus left-handed people. The results were astounding; the mean life expectancy of right-handed people was 75, while left-handed people only lived 66 years on average. Dr. Halpern posited that this was due to left-handed people becoming stressed living in a right-handed world, shortening their life expectancy. Of course, there were debates about whether the results were reliable or not and there was heavy opposition from the left-handed community. But if the left-handed people are enraged about being discriminated against by society, this would stress them out and actually shorten their life, so it might not be best not to debate about the issue.

Left-handedness has historically been associated with evil. The word right also means “good”, while left-handedness is formally known as sinistrality, which shares its etymological origin with sinister. The word for right is associated with good things throughout the world, while left is associated with bad things. In Korea, 오른 (oreun, right) has the same pronunciation as 옳은 (orlheun, true)“. The Chinese character for left (左) is also used to mean “improper”. In medieval Europe, left-handed people were thought to be associated with the devil or witches and were often executed. Left-handed people have been unjustly hated throughout time and space.

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Posted in Philosophy

Red String

During the Tang Dynasty, there was a man named Wigo. He wanted to find a partner but no suitable girl showed up, so he decided to travel instead. One day, he came across a strange old man. In fact, the old man was Wolha-noin, a man who could tie a sacred bond between a man and a woman with a red string. Wigo, already desperate, begged the old man to tell him who his future spouse was. The old man, simply pointed to the three year-old daughter of a poor vegetable store owner. Wigo was furious and he told his subordinate to kill the child, but luckily she survived with only a scar between her eyebrows.

14 years later, Wigo finally married a beautiful, nubile wife. However, Wigo’s wife never appeared to show her forehead. Wigo found this strange and asked his wife: “Dear, why do you always hide your forehead?”. His wife replied: “When I was three years old, I was hit by a knife which left a scar between my eyebrows”. Wigo realised that his wife was the child from the past and begged for her forgiveness. The two, as predicted by Wolha-noin, lived happily ever after as man and wife.

According to this legend, we are all born with a red string tied to our little finger. This red string is tied on the other end to the little finger of your true love, with every person in the world having a destined partner. It is said that if two people who are linked with the red string meet, they will fall head over heels for each other and eventually marry.

The legend of the red string is, in some ways, half mythical and half true. Of course it is impossible to follow some string to your true love (how good would that be?), but whatever people say, there is somebody out there for you to love and be loved by. However, unlike the legend of the red string, you do not have just one person you are destined to wed. If we were truly born with one destined partner, then what guarantee is there that they would be born or live in the same place as you, let alone the same time period as you? If this is true, then it would be statistically improbable for a “happy couple” to form. But look around you. Happy couples are everywhere. This tells us that we are not bound to love only one person. Yes, the “red string” is not a single predestined bond, but a symbol of someone who is just right for you. “The One” is simply someone who is right for you, someone who lives in the same time and place as you, someone that makes you happy and someone you want to make happy. Whether there is one, ten or a hundred of these people depends on your preferences and your heart. So never lose hope and believe that you will be forever alone. Somewhere, “The One” who fits the empty spots of your heart like a puzzle piece is looking for you too.

Love is not a single strand of red string, but a network of countless strings crossing each other. When the string of the person that perfectly complements you crosses your string, you must make a decision. Will you continue onwards in the same direction as before? Or will you make all the effort to bend your string so that you can travel with your true love, side-by-side? If you two are truly meant to be, only then will a real red string form between your hearts. As the two lovers get to know each other and spend time with each other, the line shortens and shortens until someday, the two become one.

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Posted in History & Literature

Torture

Travelling is fun. But strangely, the etymology of the word travel is the Latin word tripalium, which means “torture instrument”. This is most likely because in the old days before airplanes and trains were invented, travelling was often long, arduous and painful. Travelling is probably the least terrifying form of torture. Let us explore the various methods of torture used throughout human history. There are many types of tortures, but they can be largely divided into physical and psychological torture. The main goal of torture is to induce maximum pain to extract information from, punish or to execute a person.

Physical torture is very simple: inflict as much pain as you can. For example, you can simply tie the person to a chair and beat them senselessly, or apply pressure to a wound to cause intense pain. A useful tip for beating someone is to place a phonebook on their stomach or hand and hitting the book, which transfers pains while not leaving a bruise or any marks. A simple way to cause extreme pain is the use of fingers. Finger tips are extremely sensitive and contain many nerve endings, meaning sticking needles under the nail bed or ripping the fingernails off causes extreme pain. Like this, medical knowledge has often been used to develop new ways to torture people. For instance, heating the sole of the feet with fire causes severe pain, electricity used in the right amount can keep the person alive while causing pain and seizures, and if you lie a person flat and on a slight decline (so the head is lower than the body), put a cloth over their face and pour over it, you can induce a sensation of drowning (this is called waterboarding and is used by the CIA). Another simple, effective torture method is the joori-teulgi(주리 틀기) from Korea, where a person is tied to a chair with the feet bound, with two long sticks inserted between the thighs, crossed, then pulled down to streth the thighs apart. This causes extreme pain and suffering.

As mentioned above, torture can be used to kill a person too. The famous hanged, drawn and quartered torture was used in the Middle Ages to punish treasonists. The convict was drawn behind a horse for a while and then hanged until just before death, when they were disembowelled, beheaded and quartered. Another strange, complicated method of torture can be found in China, where slow slicing was used. Slow slicing involves tying a convict to a post and cutting slices of flesh off him until he dies. Executioners often had an art of slicing in such a way to prolong the suffering for as long as possible without killing the person. Another execution method found in both Western and Eastern history is dismemberment by horses, where the person’s four limbs and head are tied to individual horses (or cows), which are then made to run in different directions to violently rip the person up.

Animals were used in various forms of torture throughout history around the world. Tying the prisoner to an elephant’s feet to crush them to death, putting a rat on the person’s stomach then putting a pot over it and heating it with fire to make the rat burrow into the person’s guts, feeding them to lions or vicious dogs, coating them in honey and leaving them in the path of fire ants to make them get slowly eaten… Out of all of these, the most bizarre method is the goat torture used in ancient Rome. This torture involved tying the prisoner to a chair and securing their feet, which were coated with salt water. Next, goats were released around the prisoner. The goats would lick the sole of the feet to cause tickling, which over a prolonged period is interpreted as pain by the body. This eventually drives the person insane from pain.

Unlike physical torture, psychological torture induces shame and fear rather than pain. Threatening, solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, rape and sexual torture, sensory deprivation, exploitation of phobias, loud noises (such as banging on a door constantly), blindfolding the person and rubbing a balloon on their cheeks, placing foreign objects or snakes in the anus or vagina, leaving them in a container full of insects… Psychological torture has just as much a variety as physical torture and can have longer lasting effects on the person. Furthermore, as it leaves no external marks, it is still frequently used in the modern day.

No matter what the method, inducing extreme pain to control people, extract information and cause suffering is an inhumane act that cannot be tolerated. If mankind had focussed their creativity and effort into more constructive and altruistic things rather than discovering various ways to cause pain, we would probably be living in a much better world.

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Posted in Life & Happiness

The Old Man And The Horse

There once lived an old man in northern China who was a great fortune teller. One day, his horse ran away to the land of the savages. The villagers all gave the old man their condolences, but the old man said without a hint of sorrow:

“Who knows? This may bring good fortune.”

A few months later, the horse came back with the fastest horse of the savages. When the villagers praised the old man, he said without a shred of joy:

“Who knows? This may bring bad fortune.”

Then one day, the old man’s son who loved horse riding fell off the savage’s horse and broke his leg. When the villagers tried to cheer him up, the old man replied in a calm manner:

“Who knows? This may bring good fortune.”

A year later, when the savages attacked the village, all of the young men had to fight them and ultimately died during battle. But the old man’s son survived as he was lame.

Nothing in life is certain. Good and bad, luck and misfortune come in random order in life and cannot be predicted. Thus, it is wiser to enjoy every day as it is, throw away all of your preconceptions of the future and dream and hope for the best.

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