7 Days of Silence — India

Its strange when there is so much to say and so little to say at the same time. The most valuable things I do not think I could put into words, and if I was able to, I doubt they would be understood in the way they were felt. And then there is the additional element of recognizing how early I am in the journey of that kind of discovery, so wondering if anything I have to say at this point would be worth much anyway.

Still, I’ve created this short video of my experience at least, — and for anyone interested in perhaps engaging in a length of silence – I would highly recommend it.

I like the quote at the end of the video — which was sent by my friend Joey:

“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
~ Carl Jung

Does anyone else have any experiences with Silence or self-discovery they would like to share?
Any ideas why lengths of Silence can be such a powerful and poignant experience?

Contagious Laughter

Although I was later corrected, I originally heard this quote attributed to the Holy Koran:
“He deserves paradise who makes his companions laugh.”

Regardless of where it came from originally, it still seems like it would be great scripture to me.

Speaking of laughter, as a gift to anyone who reads or stumbles across this blog — enjoy this clip of my friend Joey, whose laughter is contagious…

What is it about laughter that is so healthy?

The power of “this moment”: …and questioning how to deal with soul pain?

The power of “this moment”: …and questioning how to deal with soul pain?

Several times in my life I’ve heard a saying that goes

“The past is history; The future is a mystery. This moment is a gift — that’s why it is called the present.”

To be honest, previously I just saw it as a clever little saying and then didn’t think much more about it.

It has only been in the last year that I have really been struck with the idea of how powerful it is to live in the moment. (Appreciating the idea, however, is very different from actually living the application of it, which is still difficult for me). Peaceful WarriorI watched a movie called “The Peaceful Warrior” (that I would highly recommend) which helped me see the importance of letting go of some control (or illusion of control) and the value of living in this moment, right now. Most of the time our minds are worried about something in the future which we can’t control or contemplating something in the past, for better or worse – but rarely do we stop and enjoy or even just experience right now, which is really the only thing we have.

I’ve now talked to 4 friends (two from the US – one of which was in India, one from Germany living in Finland, and one from France living in China) who have attended a Vipassana meditation course (absolutely free of charge) where you try to apply this principle through 10 days of total silence and Buddhist meditation – just trying to focus your mind on the experience of now. Each has said that for most people the first days are way more difficult than they would imagine, and even painful (being left with nothing but your thoughts, fears, doubts, regrets, uncertainties and trying to focus on the moment, without talking for the entire time – one of my friends could only last a few days). The three that were able to make it all 10 days said that by the end of the experience their life was changed – one of the most powerful experiences they have ever had.

It is more personal than I usually get on my blog, but over the last two weeks I’ve been experiencing some pretty intense “soul pain” (the kind of emotional grief which can seem at times worse than physical pain). I read some scriptures in The Book of Mormon which talk about the value of “today”, and I thought about my friends who have attended this Vipassana course. While feeling a deep sadness, I started to ask the questions:
How is it possible to value this moment when I am in pain now?
How can I focus on now and not think of past joy and/or hope somehow for a better future than the present moment?
What is there to see of value in this very moment, even when the moment is one filled with pain, sadness, and/or uncertainty?

I had a few experiences (which I might or might not share later) where I came to understand some of the answers to these questions for my situation, helping to provide meaning for being in the moment, even if it was hard and regardless of what happened in the past or what the future held.

One friend of mine shared with me some stories of others in her life who are going through some pretty severe trials, and it reminded me of hearing a poignant thing from President Henry B. Eyring when he indicated that you could go up to almost anyone and instead of asking “How are you doing?” – you could ask “Where does it hurt?”
So that makes me curious for anyone reading this:
How would you answer those questions (e.g. for the hard times you have gone through)?
Do you think it is possible to treasure (or at least value) a moment even when that moment is filled with sadness, pain, and uncertainty? Why and How?
Even when unpleasant, how can you want to experience and be in this moment, as opposed to any other ones that you could imagine?

Joey Lundgreen – One of the funniest people that I know!

Joey Lundgreen – One of the funniest people that I know!

First of all, forget whatever you think you know about funny. OK, now remember it again.
That was just for practice.
Ok – now forget what you know about funny again, and then remember it again, but this time when you remember it, instead of the word “funny” think “Joey”.Snowboarding with Joey

For a while on the signature of my emails I have had a quote that says: “He deserves paradise who makes his companions laugh” – Quran (c. 651 ad)
If that is true, then Joey should already be sainted!

He’s not a professional comedian, he actually works in real estate and on the side fulfills some of his other hobbies and passions (e.g. snowboarding, bug control, teaching people “the nose flute”, hugging anyone who will let him, trying to join sororities, attending the meetings of random spiritual movements, etc…). But something about this guy just inspires hilarious moments and the funniest memories.
Jeremy Joey and Clint in Mexico Clint Joey and Jeremy in Mexico with wrestling masks Joey and friends in Turkey, after a Turkish bath Joey hugging Snowboarding with Joey Joey climbing a light pole in Mexico Snowboarding with Joey 2

If you know Joey at all, and have a favorite “Joey story” – please share it with all of us. For those of you who don’t know him, maybe I will just share a couple (although it really is hard to pick which ones to share).

Wow – where to even start?…

Joey Story 1: Free t-shirt goal
One day I was on a university campus in the student center when I saw Joey. I said, “I thought you were in class, aren’t you going today?”
He replied, “Nope, I just want to walk around instead.”
So naturally I asked if I could join him, and he agreed. For some random reason we decided to make it our goal to get a free t-shirt within an hour.
After our first couple ideas failed, we kept walking around until we saw a crowd gathered to watch an outdoor performance. It seemed like the volunteers had matching t-shirts, so I suggested that if we asked to be volunteers then maybe they would give us a free t-shirt and we could accomplish our goal.
Through a series of events (maybe too long to tell), they wouldn’t let us be volunteers, so Joey had the ideaJoey with an idea to tell them we actually wanted to be performers and sing a song that supposedly we had written for that specific event. At first it looked as if there was no way it was going to happen, and so I played along. Only when the head guy of the event found out about our “song” and loved the idea – he indicated that we could sing it right then before they took down the microphones and speakers.
That is when I felt some panic, starting to regret our goal, and I tried to get out of it by saying we would really like sing it but that we somehow forgot to bring a guitar. Well, Joey saw a girl walking past with a guitar and asked her if she could help us. The only thing is she couldn’t play …and neither could we.
“Oh well,” I said, indicating my disappointment while trying to conceal my relief, “I guess we can’t sing it now after all – not without the guitar part.”
Well, by then Joey was at the microphone and asking if anyone in the audience could play the guitar. One guy raised his hand and so Joey invited him up to the stage. The guy asked what he should play, and Joey just told him to just start playing something. When the guy started to strum something, Joey said with surprise,
“That is it! That is our song”
A few seconds later I found myself with him on-stage, tightly griping a microphone, staring at the crowd, my heart beating fast (when he seemed so at ease), and then singing an improvisational song – which ended up even including some hand actions, as I remember!

To be honest, the look on people’s faces at the beginning of our performance seemed to be a cross between confusion and disgust, but by the end – and I don’t really know how – everyone was laughing and clapping. The guy in charge the whole event came up to us and he loved our song too – telling us it was one of the best performances, inviting us to sing it more places, and asking us what our motivation was behind writing it.
And, thanks to Joey, we got our t-shirts.

Joey Story 2: Text messages and an unforgettable laugh
Every once in a while I will get an email or a text message from Joey where he shares some funny or strange quote – sometimes even quoting himself (for example: “When you find something it’s always in the last place you look, unless you continue to look for the thing you’ve already found”- Joey)

I was in Hawaii a couple years ago and I got a text message from Joey that said: “I’ve been awake all night thinking about you.”
This text message was just weird enough that I called him and asked him if he sent it out to everyone that was in his phone book, which he did, and something about the timing of it – immediately we both started laughing. cute nephew laughing

Joey has this unforgettable whooping laugh, which often ignites laughter in whoever else is in the room. Hearing other people laugh makes him laugh more and harder, which then makes you laugh more, and it turns into this cyclical laughing effect until everyone is in tears and their sides are hurting from laughing too long and too hard! He inspires the kind of laughter that seems easier for kids, before we get too worried about all of the things that worry us in life.

It is true that maybe at times his humor does get to the point where peopleRandom girl kissing Joey just cause people love him might feel awkward and could misunderstand his heart and his intentions, but a huge majority of the time it endears people to him – recognizing their lives are better with him as a part of it. (He is so humble and unassuming though, that I bet he will be really embarrassed if he finds out that I even wrote this blog entry about him.)

Joey Story 3: His niece Liberty (“Libby”)
I also think Joey’s funny-bug is a bit contagious, just being around him somehow brings it out of others. For instance, his 6 year old niece Liberty heard her mom on the phone with Joey and told her to tell Joey that she wished him luck on this upcoming Tuesday. Both her mom and Joey were confused, so her mom asked what was happening on Tuesday. This cute little girl said that she was wishing him luck because she knew Tuesday was either going to be a good day for him or a bad one, and she was betting it was going to be a bad one. She then said, “just kidding” and burst into laughter.
Any kid who meets him loves him almost instantly.

Without a doubt, Joey is the kind of person that just makes life better. This world is so much of a happier, more colorful place because of him!

Questions
There are so many more stories I could share, but if you are lucky enough to know Joey – what are some of your favorite stories about him?

If you don’t know Joey, who is the funniest person that you know; and how do they make you laugh?

Bribing the Police – a first time for everything

Bribing the Police – a first time for everything

I’m the kind of person who usually likes to barter with people in the markets. It was a totally unique experience for me a couple of days ago, however, when the person we were bartering with was a policeman – who was expecting us to settle the issue “as friends” so that my friend did not need to formally get a ticket or pay a fine.

So – here is the story…
My friend was driving me somewhere when she evidently violated some obscure Ugandan Uganda Police Dudetraffic law because she was signaled to pull over by the policeofficer standing in the middle of the street. With theatrical flare the police officer told her what she had done, that the excuse of not knowing the rule was no good in Ugandan courts, that she would owe 300,000 Ugandan Shillings (about $188 USD) and get 30 demerit points on her license, and that we needed to now leave the vehicle and go to the court – only to return to the vehicle sometime the next day.
Having lived in Uganda for a while, she offered him 20,000 to settle it “as friends.” His demeanor then kind of changed and his counter offer “as friends” was 100,000.
Since our normal appeals didn’t work (didn’t know this law, the fine was too expensive, etc…), I started to try a new approach. Once I got past the initial gut reaction of thinking using police authority for personal bribes was sick and wrong, I kind of got into the action too and imagined myself in a street market with a vendor.
I had some left-over pizza in a bag, and I told him that we would offer him the very nice pizza and 15,000. He didn’t look too interested in that, so I pulled the pizza out, had him smell its appealing aroma, examine the slices individually, and tried to convince him of the superior nature of this pizza – it was such a tasty treat we should probably only have given him 5,000 or 10,000 and the pizza. Then since perhaps we were going down in our offer instead of up, he went over to discuss the issue with his colleague who was on the police motorbike watching. I’m pretty sure that broke the ice enough, because he came back and settled with my friend at 30,000 USH (about $18 US), since we were “friends”, after all.

As we drove away, the bizarre nature of that experience for me just made me want to “laugh and cry at the same time” (so to speak).

My only regret was that since we were friends and left on such good terms, I wish I would have asked to have my picture taken with him. The next day I saw a police officer and asked him if I could get my picture taken with him (so you could see what they look like), and he asked why. I told him “for fun” and he said something like– “That is not fun. Why would you want to have fun?”
A few minutes later, I saw another officer, so I took a picture of him as I was walking past. I didn’t think he noticed, until he kind of shouted at me –
“You! Come here.”
“Yeah?” (thinking to myself – ‘uh-oh, here we go again’)
“What did you just take? Can you show me the picture you just took?”
So I showed him, and he was not happy about it. He walked me to his colleague on a bike to discuss the matter. They asked me a lot of harsh and pointed questions about why I was in Local trying to take a pictureUganda, and looked through all my bags. I had just bought some books, and the policeman on the bike really liked one of them and asked if he could have it. I told him, “no way, I just bought that” – and he seemed to understand. Somehow through the conversation, we laughed a couple of times, and then everyone felt a little more at ease. I offered to delete the picture so we could all leave as friends, and they agreed to that. I then thanked them for their time and kindness in wanting to meet me, and told them I needed to go because I was late for something.

They told me in a strict manner not to take pictures of anyone without Me and Ugandan police “friend” dudespermission, and I agreed that was probably the polite thing to do. As I started to leave, I took a couple steps and then stopped. I turned around back to them and asked them if I could get my picture taken with them, and they said they would really like that! So here it is. ?
The first picture of us together was taken by a random Ugandan guy that was walking past. When that didn’t work as well as I hoped, I just took the next one by holding my arms out and clicking.
The picture earlier in this blog entry is of a policeman actually doing something very useful here(directing traffic). There are too many crazy traffic jams, and at those times, you are grateful to see the police try to bring some order to the choas.

Questions:
• Anyone else have any experiences while traveling where they felt like they were expected to bribe someone?
• Or, if you come from a country where bribes to government officials, teachers, police, and so on is the normal thing – what do you think about it? If you think it should be changed, any ideas on how?

One of the kids that someone I met here takes care of here said he was thinking about being a judge when he grows up. When asked why, he said, “Really good corruption money.” Kampala City Clock

And this picture of the Kampala city clock is just in case you were wondering…

Welcome to Uganda: interesting sights and funny signs in Kampala

Welcome to Uganda: interesting sights and funny signs in Kampala

I am here now getting all the last minute details organized for the upcoming On the street international conference and workshop on Technology for Innovation and Education in Developing Countries (TEDC 2008). Just for fun, here are some of the interesting images that jumped out at me today while walking the streets of Kampala, Uganda…

What if you are not the “management”? Then is it OK to put up posters?
What if you are not the management?

Aren’t you glad that some advertisements don’t come with pictures?
I guess different things are attractive in Africa?

You probably couldn’t even comprehend this hall if you saw it!
Complex Hall

Conflicting messages?
Conflicting messages?

I walked in here and asked them if they could make me beautiful. They said they had a lot of faith there, but not that much.
God is Able Beauty Salon

Don’t get your hopes up. No “slushees” inside.
Seven-Eleven, but no slurpees

And some others…
Dancing for your soul

Blessed Videos, Kampala

The bones of 5 million: the underside of Paris

The bones of 5 million: the underside of Paris

Yesterday, I met a good friend at the Eiffel Tower, Me at Eiffel Towerand we spent the day visiting some of the main attractions above ground in Paris (Notre Dame, Victory Arch, Louve, Angelina’s chocolate shop on, etc) – and enjoyed some of the vibrant life that filled the streets.

For a section of the day, however, we also took some time to see the catacombs, which quietly wind for nearly 300 kilometers beneath some of the lively streets above.
Hiking 25 meters underground, we came to an enclosure under the city of Paris that was dimly lit, moisture dripping occasionally on us Catecombs of Parisfrom the low ceiling (which I had to duck at certain points as I walked) – and along the walls it was filled with rows and rows of bones – from approximately 5 million people!

For some reason, seeing the remains of so many people who once were alive, breathing, working, playing, etc – triggered a cognitive/emotional reaction. It wasn’t spooky, but did make me pause and think deeply.

It just poignantly struck me again how short life really is. More Bones
It made me re-consider what it is that I really want to do with whatever stretch of years I have – hoping I at least do more good than harm during them.
I thought about how much of the things I worry about on a daily basis might not matter that much in the long run – and how grateful I all the good things in my life (e.g. health, friends, family, laughter, faith, opportunities to learn, chances to contribute to things that are worthwhile, etc.)

Next time you are in Paris, you should consider a visit to the Denfert-Rochereau Ossuary (“The Kingdom of the Dead”). I am informed that at least it is better than the boat ride through the sewer system below Paris (which someone told me you can also do).

Cute Kids and Funny Stories

Cute Kids and Funny Stories

Jayden and MeGrowing up in a family with 8 kids had its advantages and challenges – but one of the greatest advantages now is that I get to be an uncle to so many adorable kids! I love my nieces and nephews and they provide a never ending source of funny and meaningful memories. We had a great family reunion this last week reminding me that, although things don’t always turn out perfectly, there are also plenty of reasons to laugh and enjoy the moment.

For instance, one of my nieces was kindly brushing my leg hairCute Serena a couple days ago, which it badly needed as it hasn’t been brushed in years. Later I saw her brushing my brother’s chest hair too! I got a great picture (but don’t worry I won’t post it here unless I get enough requests for it)! I’m thinking chest-hair-brushing might catch on as a special spa treatment for men.

It was also the birthday of one of my nieces, who Eliah smilingturned 5 years old, the day before I got here. Her name is Eliah, but for some reason she has decided that for now she wants to go by Jenny. Towards the end of the birthday party she told her mom that she was sad that her uncle Clint couldn’t be there. Then she looked happy as she said, “You know what – I bet he is celebrating it wherever he is.” So when I got to the family reunion I told her that I missed her on her birthday but that I kind of celebrated it when I was in the airport in London. She smiled and said, “Just like I thought!”

My four year old nephew Jayden (who frequently tells meJayden Monkey “I’m a monkey”) tugged on my hand and said, “I have a secret. Let me whisper in your ear.” So he whispered this: “Why did the banana go to the doctor?” – “Why?” – “Because he wanted to go to the doctor.” (I think the original punch line for the joke was supposed to be “Because he wasn’t peeling well.” – but he adapted it for his own purposes. I’ve also noticed that it is not totally necessary for “knock knock” jokes to make sense for kids about that age. If you just put the word toilet in it somewhere – it is usually a hilariously funny hit!). Jayden’s mom also promised him today that he could go swimming right after he saw his sister do a dance for everyone in the living room. The instant she was done and people were clapping, he already had is pants and underwear off and gave us all a different kind of show as he streaked across the living room to go get his swim suit.Cassie and Clint

And the older ones constantly surprise me by how smart and talented they are. I thought it was funny that the teacher of my nephew Matthew made a rule on how many questions he could ask in class – he is just so curious. I read to some of the kids a book that my 11 year old nephew Brayton had written (with 6 short chapters). I kept asking them if I should stop or keep reading at the end of each chapter and all the kids yelled out, “Keep reading” – it was a page turner! He also sent me an email the other day with a picture that he recommended I use for my gmail profile Matthew, Brayton, and Jaydenpicture. It was a character he created for a game he invented called “Battlemon.” I’m so proud to have that as my profile picture!

A few days ago my 7 year old nephew Jeremiah, while riding in a car with my sister-in-law and two of my brothers, out of nowhere said, “Mom, did you know that Sparta and Athens were city-states, like Washington DC is a city-state?” When she said she didn’t know that and asked him how he did, he talked about he read it in a testing book that he selected about Greece. He then said in a matter-of-fact way, “I figured if I didn’t read it I would never know.” A couple years ago, when his parents tookRylanTJ and Alexander him to Florida and spent a lot of money visiting Disney world, the beach, and all the other attractions – he was asked what his favorite part of the trip was. He said something funny: “Hmm. I have a picture of it in my mind. Oh – I remember!” And then he said his favorite part of the whole trip was going to McDonald’s!

I love getting emails from my nieces and nephews too. Here is a recent exchange with my 11 year old nephew.

Brayton: “Guess What? You don’t have to answer that, I’ll just tell you. I made my own buissnes-like thing. I call itPsych-ix ad Psych-ix! It’s where my partner and I try to figure out mysteries of the world. But… the thing is, I don’t have a partner yet. But when I do, I’ll Be sure to send you an up-dated page. Bye!!!”

Me: “That is really cool! What are you looking for in a partner? Can I apply?”

Brayton: “I’m not sure, I guess. Okay, the most recent mysterious happenings I have noticed are some dissaperences. I had a little card-like thing with a green ferret I made on it. Here’s what happened, I was at a friend’s house we were in his room, I set the card down on a box that he had and we went outside for a while. When it was time for me to go, I went upstairs to get it, but it was GONE!! I looked around his room, but there was’nt A trace of it anywhere! Isn’t that cool!”

In addition to making me laugh, they make me feel so loved. A couple days ago I also got to meet for the first time my 5 year old nephew Blake (who was just Jayden, Blake, Ashlynadopted). Already by yesterday he decided to cuddle up to me on the couch and said, “I love you.” I said “I love you too.” Feeling warm and fuzzy, I then turned to my little niece and told her I loved her. She responded by saying, “I love juice,” and then giggling uncontrollably.

It didn’t happen this week but we were remembering how when my niece, Shaelyn, was about 5 years old she was watching TV with my brother. The commercial said, “Every kid thinks their dad is the greatest.” My brother asked her, “Do you think I am the greatest dad in the world?” She said, “Yeah.” He said, “Do you really mean it?” As a five year old, she said, “Well, not really, but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings dad.”

Oh man, there are so many more funny stories and memories – but I guess this entry is getting long enough already.

My dad (who I don’t have to pretend to say he is one of the greatest dads in My awesome dadthe world) went through a heart attack and emergency heart surgery only a couple of months ago. When I asked him the other day how he was doing and how he was enjoying the trip – he said he thought it was like heaven for him. He was talking not just about his cute grandkids, but also about how meaningful it was for him to notice at night when others began to go to sleep, most or all of his kids migrate towards each other just to play, talk, and laugh.

I don’t think I do a good enough job of telling each of my family how much I love them (through words and actions) but the truth is that I can’t help but feel very lucky that their lives are a part of mine, and that I now get to enjoy all of their spouses and very fun and cute kids too. 🙂

Do you have any favorite “cute kid stories” from the kids in your life? If so I would love to hear them. What is it about spending time with kids that makes life seem better?

Roman Bednarik, Ph.D.

Roman Bednarik, Ph.D.

Roman’s DefenseIt is late tonight but I simply wanted to post a note of congratulations to Roman for successfully defending his dissertation today (which contributed to improving the methodology in eye tracking studies – specifically using the domain of computer programing).

Not only was it a well-deserved Ph.D., but it also was a special pleasure to see because since I came to Joensuu, Roman has gone out of his way to be a friend to me in helping me feel welcome and informed of ways to get involved in local things, and I am continually impressed by how much he seems to reach out and help anyone who needs it.

So for these reasons and more, today I say to Dr. Bednarik, “Hyvin tehty!”

California Firestorms

California Firestorms

From my friend Sabine, near San Diego: “The sun looks quite red and foggy this morning. This is the sun at 8:30am, seen from my doorsteps. The fires continue and nobody stays outside. The dust makes the air too difficult to breathe.”

fire in CA

Over a half million people have already been evacuated from their homes.

for full coverage
http://news.yahoo.com/fc/US/Wildfires_and_Forest_Fires
and more pictures on Flickr
http://www.flickr.com/search/?s=rec&z=t&q=california+wildfire+orange+fire+smoke&m=text

For Anyone Concerned With China’s Environmental Policy – A new recycling initiative

For Anyone Concerned With China’s Environmental Policy – A new recycling initiative

It is true that with 1/5th the world’s population (1.3 billion people), an exploding industrial economy, and sketchy national restrictions – there is cause for concern over China’s environmental policy. Recently walking the streets of Shanghai, however, I came across a new experimental initiative to increase recycling (see picture).

Cash recylcing

So if you have any extra cash sitting around the house, resist the temptation to throw it away. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

And as a friendly public service announcement when you travel the subway…

Subway sign

Don’t “send money to the thief” …please recycle it instead.

Finnish University Ceremonies and PhD Swords

I went to an official Finnish university ceremony today. I found out that, first of all, there is no college graduation ceremony in Finland – you just kind of get your degree and that’s it (although every four years after that there is a “promotion” ceremony). But instead of getting a robe and a hood (like happens in the US), you get a hat (that looks like a velvety top hat – somehow it is a symbol of freedom) and at one of the promotion ceremonies you get a sword (a symbol of the sword of knowledge, I believe). Feel free to correct me, if I am wrong about any of this.

The sword part is pretty cool, huh?

Much better than New Zealand at least, where a man from there said all they get is a bright red floppy hat, that I kind of imagine looks like a wimpy pirate hat. But I guess New Zealand has so much else good going for it, that PhD apparel probably isn’t a big concern of theirs.

The ceremony today was very somber, no smiling really even, and the woman who was translating for me said she thinks the somberness comes from the Finish Lutheran tradition of putting off this life so that you could have a much better after-life. She was funny and told me that she thought most people endured the ceremony for the refreshments, but I think that is typical of most countries 🙂 I wondered if part of the somberness was because you were afraid someone was going to whip out their sword.

Actually, maybe the PhD sword is how the professors keep order in the Finnish classrooms? I should check into that…

Preparing for Finland

I love to talk about Finland!

I am surprised by how little most people in the US know about Finland (including myself before about two years ago). It seems like the ones who do know about it love it, are passionate about it, and know quite a bit about it (I even personally know two men with Finish saunas built into their Utah houses!).

On the other end of the spectrum are people who I wonder if they can even identify their own state on a map (see Miss South Carolina try to answer a question)! One girl, upon finding out I was spending so much time in Finland, was concerned about whether I would be able to communicate, and so asked me: “Oh, do you speak European?”

I suppose I do speak at least one “dialect” of “European” – I’m pretty good at the version that they use in the England part of Europe. But even that, I’m not quite sure. 🙂

Nothing inspirational – just some funny signs

Nothing inspirational – just some funny signs

Well, I am finishing up my last night of another round-the-world tour. I ended this trip in Turkey and now China. Since I don’t seem to have anything inspirational to say, I think I’ll simply post one of the funniest signs from the trip.

It is a tough choice deciding the winner. For example, on a cable car ride in GuangZhou, there is a warning that: “People with hypertension, cardiac, psychopath or bibulosity may not be allowed to ride the ropeway.

Phew – I’m glad people “with psychopath” are banned. Any ideas what “bibulosity” means?

On that same ride there was a rule that “splitting and lettering are forbidden” – it took me about a half hour before I realized they probably meant “spitting and littering are forbidden.” 🙂

On a beach in Turkey, there is a sign that says: “Parents responsible from their children.” Perhaps it was more a statement of the state of how things are rather than a request.

My friend John got a gift from a Chinese boy named “Forrest Gump” (guess what movie he watched over and over in order to learn English?). He was actually very hospitable in showing us his university, and afterward we gave him a thank you gift. Later that night we found a gift waiting at the hotel for us. It was crickets encapsulated in a heart shaped plastic mounting that said “Congratulotion.” That might be a great new name for a Johnson & Johnson product.

But I think the winner is the sign for the toilets on the way out of the historical ruins at Ephesus. Although most likely intentionally funny, I have never seen a sign like this in the world. Some young marketing genius in Turkey not only charges for the use of toilets here at this opportune spot, but does it in an add-value way that makes it hard to pass up:

Funny Picture

A great idea – teach natural consequences

A great idea – teach natural consequences

I am currently at a conference in the Colorado mountains (preparing to give a keynote address at PIDT), and near the lodge of the place we are staying one of my colleagues (Peter Rich) pointed out this sign:

shortcutting sign

Instead of saying what we should do or should not do (e.g. “Don’t walk on grass” or “Stay on sidewalk”) the sign simply tells people the consequences for a certain choice – and then those who posted the sign must simply trust and hope people will act in a way that evokes the best natural consequences.

What a great concept: “Teach people correct principles and then let them govern themselves.” (Joseph Smith)

With most areas of our lives: work (in my case teaching, instructional design, consulting), parenting, friendships, etc… it seems that we would do well to spend more time discussing natural consequences for actions rather than dictating to others what we want them to either do or not do.

On a funny note, driving up here we also saw a sign (that I want to get a picture of) which said:

“In case of flood, climb to higher ground.”

I’m trying to think of how this sign might have been changed to warn of danger and teach consequences without dictating choices… 🙂 Any ideas?

Why the name – focal fish?

OK, so people may wonder why the name of my blog…and it is a valid wonder.

In my dissertation defense I was giving some background information regarding the way that culture impacts learning. I used as an example of differences in perception a study referenced in Nisbett (2003) where Japanese and American learners watch an aquarium scene and then report on what they saw. The Japanese referred to background objects, even inanimate objects 60% more than the Americans, and they also typical started talking about the context: “It looked like a pond.” On the other hand, the Americans usually started by talking about the focal fish in the animation: “I think it was a trout.”

Well, every defense should have some comedic relief to diffuse some of the tension. In this case, it was provided by a great mentor and friend of mine, Dr. Cliff Mayes, who was on my committee. He said he liked the sound of “Focal Fish” and recommended I start a band by that name.
Everybody laughed.
Then Jeremy Brown suggested that I start a website by that name, having quickly checked the availability right then on his wireless laptop.

I suppose I ended up compromising and at least having a blog by the name. What do you think – is it a catchy name for a blog? Or should I leave academia and follow the path of a rock star?:)