Monthly Archives: November 2009

One Child’s Language: at 30 months (and abroad)

Social notes: Rachel is a full member of the family now. She has her own independent moods, desires, habits, hobbies, and insights. Her many observations intrigue and delight us and her usually buoyant mood lifts us when we are feeling cold and discouraged. She is more and more articulate about the specialness of our family relationship. She likes to repeat “Mama, Daddy, Rachel” as she points to each of us, sometimes misnaming us for our collective amusement. She often calls Daddy “Mama” and vice versa. When she does, she just smiles and repeats her error to reaffirm it. She has also discovered our given names and sometimes uses them to amuse us. She likes to sit us all next to each other and often calls for three-person hugs. She gives nice strong hugs now. She likes to refer to us as “this baby’s Mama” and the like. When we were travelling, she once said, “If Rachel goes to Guangzhou by Rachel’s self, Rachel will cry.”

She continues to feel more comfortable with familiar people. She warms up to students and people we visit much quicker than she used to, and is willing to show off a bit for them when she’s in the mood. She readily waves goodbye to everyone and anyone—even the most obnoxious of the “hello, hello” types. She really likes her teachers at school and knows them all by name. They really like her too, and spend a lot of time teaching her Chinese and eliciting English words from her. Rachel recognizes her classmates when we run into them around town, and knows many of their names. She has also become much more attached to and affectionate toward her stuffed animals, and likes to arrange them around her when she’s sitting on her potty chair or lying down to sleep.

Intellectual notes: Rachel’s compulsion about arranging things has reached the stage where she will take every loose object in the house and make long lines across the floor. When she finishes a line she calls us to come look, and then spends some time sucking her thumb, rubbing her belly button, and surveying her work with an artist’s eye.

She also likes her routines to be just so. When Daddy doesn’t do exactly what Mama did the day before, she will object. One day, Daddy sang Old King Cole as he stirred Rachel’s milk into her oatmeal, inadvertently establishing a ritual. Only the living room will serve for the nighttime milk-drinking and teeth-brushing routine.

Right before we took our winter trip, Rachel started to ask WHY everything. “Oh, that boy has no shoes on! Why?” “Oh, that’s a steam locomotive! Why?” Now, about three weeks later, she is trying out “that’s why” constructions: “Rachel’s cold, that’s why Rachel has no pants on.” (She still gets it backwards sometimes.)

She has begun to exercise her imagination and sense of humor a lot. She will turn herself into a roaring lion, an old lady with a walking stick, a vendor and shopper at the market, or a train passenger with bags and ticket. One night, she said “Rachel is sleeping with Rachel’s eyes open because Rachel doesn’t have eyelids.” She laughs “Rachel made a moo-take!” when she slips up, and likes to deliberately set out to make us laugh with funny faces, words, or movements.

Language notes: Rachel makes a clear distinction between occasions to use Chinese and English. Sometimes when we use Chinese, she will protest, “But Daddy’s an English speaker!” She is still not very talkative at school, but gets chatty in English as soon as we show up. She frequently asks “How Rachel say X in Chinese?” Sometimes she gets confused: “How Rachel say China in English?” She has learned to read a few more characters: 中国 (Zhongguo, China), 美国 (Meiguo, the US), 中山大学 (Zhongshan Daxue, Zhongshan Univ.), and 园林管理处 (Yuanlin Guanlichu, Forest Park Management). [Well, the last only in the context of the sign in the photo that we passed on the way to her school and back everyday.] She sat up in bed one night and said “Apple is pingguo” and then lay back down to sleep.

Reading park rules, Shiqi, Zhongshan City, Guangdong, China

Her teachers were astounded to find that she knew all the letters of the English alphabet. (They seem rather easily astounded.) She knows how to spell her own name, and can say the 7 syllables of her full name pretty fluently. Her grammar is coming along nicely: “Rachel thought this walrus had a blue shirt on.” “If Rachel runs down this ramp slowly, Rachel won’t fall down.”

NAME BO LIQIU, WEIGHT 29 lbs. HEIGHT 89 cm. (35 inches)
Able to adapt very quickly to kindergarten life. Comes to school on time everyday. Asks for leave when needed. Able to play together with her little playmates. Likes to listen to stories. Can chant simple nursery songs. Can do morning exercise and play games. With teacher’s guidance, can do drawing exercises. Ability to get along independently has improved. Regularly washes her hands before eating and wipes her mouth afterwards. Can eat by herself. Noon nap normal. But usually drinks little water. Hope next semester to strive for even greater improvement.

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston’s Chinatown.

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One Child’s Language: at 27 months (and abroad)

Rachel’s command of Chinese is growing. She still doesn’t volunteer to speak any, but she understands simple Mandarin and Cantonese at school. Her teachers teach her Chinese and she teaches them English, correcting them if they make mistakes. In Chinese, she can count quickly to ten, and knows basic body parts, items of clothing, and animals. At home she rehearses songs from school. In fact, she is now able to carry a tune (as well as her parents at least) and is sensitive to rhythm and rhyme. She frequently wanders around singing songs and rhymes to herself.

She loves to recite the Mother Goose rhymes we read her. She knows Pease Porridge Hot and Eeny Meeny Miny Moe by heart, and objects if we don’t stop to let her fill in the rhyming words in many others that we read her. The Grand Old Duke of York is one of those she loves to help recite. One time her Daddy said “Eeny Meeny Miny Yes” and she responded by trying to make all the lines rhyme with yes. She goes crazy saying Goosey Goosey Gander. When Daddy recited a nursery rhyme destroying the rhyme and using Rachel’s worst pronunciation, she said, “No, that not right.” Then she recited the rhyme and declared, “That’s right.”

We have worried that her English pronunciation won’t improve quickly, since we are the only native speakers of English that she talks to, and we already understand her idiosyncracies. But lately she has begun to mind her /p/ and /b/ and /m/ sounds. One day she managed to put /b/ in bubble bath. Since then, she has been changing a few of her all-purpose /d/ and /t/ to /b/ and /p/ when they should be. The /g/ and /k/ sounds may not be far behind. Any sounds that Chinese and English share should get double reinforcement. But old pronunciation habits die hard. She still has to stop and think before saying her name with an initial /r/ rather than /d/.

She is still eager to read. She pretends to read things sometimes, moving her head as if she’s scanning the lines. She has also started to read Chinese, starting with the characters for Zhongshan City (中山市). She spots them on signs or city vehicles all over the place. We’re helping her with some basic ones like Fire (火), Woods (林), Person (人), Water (水), and the like. But right now she is more eager to sing and recite rhymes than to read letters. She recites rather than reads many of her favorite passages in books.

She knows clearly now that she is dealing with two separate languages, and she doesn’t object any more if we English speakers use Chinese with her. She elicits the names of the languages by counting in one language and then the other, asking “What Rachel saying?” after each series of numbers. She also knows how to ask “What that mean?” if she doesn’t know the English equivalent of a Chinese word. Her nose, which is often runny these days, she calls bizi as often as she calls it her nose.

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston’s Chinatown.

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At the Fruit Bat Market in Manado

From The Spice Islands Voyage: The Quest for Alfred Wallace, the Man Who Shared Darwin’s Discovery of Evolution, by Tim Severin (Carroll & Graf, 1997), p. 230:

Wallace had also eaten fricassee of bat in Minahasa. Today bat is still a popular local dish, and the President of Indonesia himself is said to enjoy a meal of bat. At our request Saskar took us to the street market in Manado city where, on most mornings, a bat-seller arrived with his box of bats for sale. He brought them in a closely slatted wooden box, with a little trap-door in the top. Inside the box the bright pinpoints of bat eyes stared out of the gloom, and it was just possible to distinguish the sharp, foxy faces of the creatures themselves. From time to time a black claw worked its way through a gap in the box slats to grasp and scrabble in the daylight. The shoppers strolled up and down checking the street market’s vegetables and other foodstuffs, and a housewife stopped to ask the bat-seller if she could see his wares. He flung open the trap-door on his box, reached inside and pulled out a furiously scrabbling bat. The creature tried to grab the sides of the box with the desperation of kitten being pulled from a bag. The bat-seller then displayed the animal and spread it out, a wing in each hand, to show off the chubby body. The shopper, after poking and prodding the bat, liked the purchase, and the seller swung the bat through the air and brought the animal’s head down on the pavement with a sharp smack. Then he tossed the still fluttering corpse to his assistant for the fur to be frizzled off with a blowtorch.

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Disasters for Ottoman “Soft Power” in 1579

From the luridly titled “Global Politics in the 1580s: One Canal, Twenty Thousand Cannibals, and an Ottoman Plot to Rule the World” by Giancarlo Casale in Journal of World History 18(2007):277-281 (on Project MUSE):

During the lengthy grand vizierate of Sokollu Mehmed Pasha in the 1560s and 1570s—the Ottomans had pursued what we might define today as a policy of “soft empire” in the Indian Ocean. Under Sokollu Mehmed’s direction, this involved a strategy to expand Ottoman influence not through direct military intervention, but rather through the development of ideological, commercial, and diplomatic ties with the various Muslim communities of the region. Only in a few instances (most notably in the case of the Muslim principality of Aceh in western Indonesia) did Istanbul provide direct military assistance in exchange for a formal recognition of Ottoman suzerainty. Elsewhere, a much more informal relationship was the rule, even in places like Gujarat and Calicut where elites enjoyed extremely close commercial, professional, and sometimes familial relations with Istanbul. Despite this high level of contact, tributary relationships or other direct political ties between local states and the Ottoman empire were not normally encouraged.

In the absence of a formal imperial infrastructure, however, Sokollu Mehmed took steps to align the interests of these disparate Muslim communities with those of the Ottoman state in other ways. Evidence suggests, for example, that he established a network of imperial commercial factors throughout the region who bought and sold merchandise for the sultan’s treasury. And at the same time, the grand vizier also began financing pro-Ottoman religious organizations overseas, especially those in predominantly non-Muslim states with influential Muslim trading elites, such as Calicut and Ceylon. In exchange for annual shipments of gold currency from the Ottoman treasury, local preachers in such overseas mosques agreed to read the Friday call to prayer in the name of the Ottoman sultan, and in so doing acknowledged him, if not as their immediate overlord, as a kind of religiously sanctioned “meta-sovereign” over the entire Indian Ocean trading sphere. As “Caliph” and “Protector of the Holy Cities,” the Ottoman sultan thus acted as guarantor of the safety and security of the maritime trade and pilgrimage routes to and from Mecca and Medina, and in exchange could demand a certain measure of allegiance from Muslims throughout the region.

As long as it lasted, this strategy of “soft empire” seems to have worked remarkably well. During Sokollu Mehmed’s term in office (1565–1579), trade through the Red Sea and Persian Gulf flourished as never before, until by the 1570s the Portuguese gave up their efforts to maintain a naval blockade between the Indian Ocean and the markets of the Ottoman Empire. Additionally, the concept of the Ottoman sultan as “universal sovereign” became ever more widely recognized, such that the Sultan’s name was read in the Friday call to prayer of mosques from the Maldives to Ceylon, and from Calicut to Sumatra. Even in the powerful and rapidly expanding Mughal empire, whose Sunni Muslim dynasty was the only one that could legitimately compete with the Ottomans in terms of imperial grandeur, a certain amount of deference toward Istanbul appears to have been the rule.

But then, in 1579—perhaps the single most pivotal year in the political history of the early modern world—a series of cataclysmic and nearly simultaneous international events conspired to undermine this carefully constructed system from almost every conceivable direction. Most obviously, Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, the grand architect of the Ottomans’ “soft empire,” was unexpectedly struck down by an assassin’s blade while receiving petitions at his private court in Istanbul. At almost exactly the same time, in distant Sumatra, the Acehnese sultan ‘Ala ad-Din Ri’ayat Syah also died, ushering in an extended period of political and social turmoil that would deprive the Ottomans of their closest ally in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, in Iberia, the Ottoman sultan’s archrival King Philip II of Spain was preparing to annex Portugal and all of her overseas possessions, following the sudden death of the heirless Dom Sebastião on the Moroccan battlefield of al-Kasr al-Kabir. And in the highlands of Abyssinia, again at almost exactly the same time, Christian forces handed the Ottomans a crushing and unexpected defeat at the battle of Addi Qarro, after which they captured the strategic port of Arkiko, re-established direct contact with the Portuguese, and threatened Ottoman control of the Red Sea for the first time in more than two decades.

All of these events, despite the vast physical distances that separated them, impinged directly on the Ottomans’ ability to maintain “soft power” in the Indian Ocean. Even more ominously, they all took place alongside yet another emerging menace from Mughal India, where the young and ambitious Emperor Akbar had begun to openly challenge the very basis of Ottoman “soft power” by advancing his own rival claim to universal sovereignty over the Islamic world.

Of all these newly emerging threats, the Mughal challenge was in many ways the most potentially disturbing. Unlike the others, it was also a challenge mounted incrementally, and as a result became gradually apparent only over the course of several years. In fact, it may have begun as early as 1573, the year Akbar seized the Gujarati port of Surat and thus gained control of a major outlet onto the Indian Ocean for the first time. Less than two years later, he sent several ladies of his court, including his wife and his paternal aunt, on an extended pilgrimage to Mecca, where they settled and began to distribute alms regularly in the emperor’s name. Concurrently, Akbar became involved in organizing and financing the hajj for Muslim travelers of more modest means as well: appointing an imperial official in charge of the pilgrimage, setting aside funds to pay the travel expenses of all pilgrims from India wishing to make the trip, and arranging for a special royal ship to sail to Jiddah every year for their passage. Moreover, by means of this ship Akbar began sending enormous quantities of gold to be distributed in alms for the poor of Mecca and Medina, along with sumptuous gifts and honorary vestments for the important dignitaries of the holy cities. In the first year alone, these gifts and donations amounted to more than 600,000 rupees and 12,000 robes of honor; in the next year, they included an additional 100,000 rupees as a personal gift for the Sharif of Mecca. Similar shipments continued annually until the early 1580s.

To be sure, none of this ostensibly pious activity was threatening to the Ottomans in and of itself. Under different circumstances, the Ottoman authorities may even have viewed largesse of this kind as a sign of loyalty, or as a normal and innocuous component of the public religious obligations of a ruler of Akbar’s stature. But in 1579, in the midst of the complex interplay of other world events already described above, it acquired a dangerous and overtly political significance—particularly because it coincided with Akbar’s promulgation of the so-called “infallibility decree” in September of that year. In the months that followed, Akbar’s courtiers began, at his urging, to experiment with an increasingly syncretic, messianic, and Akbar-centric interpretation of Islam known as the din-i ilahi. And Akbar himself, buttressed by this new theology of his own creation, soon began to openly mimic the Ottoman sultans’ posturing as universal sovereigns, by assuming titles such as Bādishāh-i Islām and Imām-i ‘Ādil that paralleled almost exactly the Ottomans’ own dynastic claims.

Against this incendiary backdrop, Akbar’s endowments in Mecca and his generous support for the hajj thus became potent ideological weapons rather than simple markers of piety—weapons that threatened to destabilize Ottoman leadership of the Islamic world by allowing Akbar to usurp the sultan’s prestigious role as “Protector of the Holy Cities.” Justifiably alarmed, the Porte responded by forbidding the distribution of alms in Akbar’s name in Mecca (it was nevertheless continued in secret for several more years), and by ordering the entourage of ladies from Akbar’s court to return to India with the next sailing season. These, however, were stopgap measures at best. In the longer term, it was clear that a more serious reorientation of Ottoman policy was in order if the empire was to effectively respond to Akbar’s gambit.

Thus, by the end of 1579, a perfect storm of political events in Istanbul, the Western Mediterranean, Ethiopia, Southeast Asia, and Mughal India had all conspired to bring an end to the existing Ottoman system of “soft empire” in the Indian Ocean. As a result, the Ottoman leadership was faced with a stark choice: to do nothing, and allow its prestige and influence in the region to fade into irrelevance; or instead, through aggressive military expansion, to attempt to convert this soft empire into a more concrete system of direct imperial rule. Because of an ongoing war with Iran, and because the 1580s were in general a period of political retrenchment and economic crisis in the Empire, many in Istanbul seem to have resigned themselves to the former option as the only feasible alternative.

Exactly 400 years later, Saudi “soft power” in the Islamic world would be similarly undermined by the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and it would respond similarly by sponsoring “hard” (violent) countermeasures.

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Earl M. Finch Tribute to Windward Oahu KIAs in World War II

War memorial plaque, Castle Junction, Kaneohe, OahuBack in February 2009, on a sightseeing trip with my mother-in-law, I stopped at Castle Junction in Kane‘ohe, Hawai‘i, to photograph the Kane‘ohe Ranch Building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Nearby was a small monument I had seen many times without stopping to examine it. I was curious about the relationship between one Earl M. Finch of Hattiesburg, Miss., and the AJA soldiers named on the stone, but I never followed up to find out more about him until this Veterans Day. Here are the words carved into the memorial when it was originally erected.

In Memoriam to the men of this community killed in action in World War II

Teruo Fujioka, Kahuku, Oct 26, 1944, France
Stanley K Funai, Waimanalo, Feb 8, 1944, France
Takemitsu Higa, Kahaluu, Dec 1, 1943, Italy
Genichi Hiraoka, Kaneohe, Jul 11, 1944, Italy
Edward Y Ide, Kaneohe, Nov 6, 1943, Italy
Haruo Kawamoto, Kailua, Feb 6, 1944, Italy
Sadao Matsumoto, Waimanalo, Jun 4, 1944, Italy
Kaoru Moriwake, Waikane, Nov 5, 1943, Italy
Shigenori Nakama, Kahuku, Apr 6, 1945, Italy
Yutaka Nezu, Waimanalo, Jan 10, 1944, Italy
Chuji Saito, Waimanalo, Apr 19, 1944, Italy
Takeo Shintani, Kahuku, Jul 6, 1944, Italy
Douglas Tamanaha, Waiahole, Nov 13, 1944, France
Shiro Togo, Kahuku, Oct 24, 1944, France

Presented to the Windward Oahu Community
by Earl M. Finch, Hattiesburg, Miss., March 28, 1946

June Watanabe tells more about Earl M. Finch in a Honolulu Star-Bulletin Kokua Line feature dated 17 March 2001, headlined ‘Patron saint’ of nisei soldiers became outcast.

Question: What happened to Earl Finch of Hattiesburg, Miss., who befriended the Japanese-American soldiers who were stationed in Hattiesburg during World War II? He made the soldiers feel at home when other Americans were turning their backs on them.

Answer: Finch died in his adopted home of Honolulu in 1965 at age 49.

At his funeral service at Central Union Church, then-Gov. John A. Burns delivered the eulogy before hundreds of mourners, including many veterans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Battalion.

Finch was a rancher and businessman in Mississippi who became an outcast when he went out of his way to befriend the nisei soldiers in 1943.

He became known as a “one-man USO” (United Service Organization), “the Patron Saint of the Japanese-American GI” and “a citizen of the world.”

“Unpopular though it may have been with his neighbors, Earl recognized that those who were willing to make sacrifices in the face of adversity deserved no less than the hand of friendship,” Burns eulogized.

In 1946, after the war, many of the soldiers he befriended chipped in to pay his way to Hawaii, where he was given a hero’s welcome. At the time of his death, the Star-Bulletin noted that Finch’s arrival in Honolulu 55 years ago was “the biggest reception ever accorded a visiting private citizen.”

Among Japanese Americans, Finch was so beloved that many parents named their sons after him. Finch eventually made Hawaii his home, running a small trading company and acting as a talent broker.

Seiji Finch Naya, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, was an orphaned college student in Japan who met Finch when the college’s boxing team traveled to Hawaii in 1951.

Finch was so impressed with the young man, he sponsored a four-year scholarship to the University of Hawaii for Naya and eventually adopted him.

Finch also adopted another young man from Japan, Hideo Sakamoto.

Windward motorists may be familiar with the huge boulder, with a plaque, sitting on the makai side of Castle Junction.

Finch and Windward Oahu groups erected the memorial in honor of those who died fighting in World War II and, later, the Korean War.

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Anti-Greek Backlash in Salonica, 1821

From Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950, by Mark Mazower (Vintage, 2006), pp. 126-129:

The Greeks in the city rang their church bells, rode through the streets on horseback, wore fine clothes and did not step down from the pavement when they passed a Muslim. To us this indicates the extent of non-Muslim influence there; to [mollah] Haïroullah it was shockingly bold behaviour which would not have been tolerated in Istanbul; prohibited by imperial decree, it was explicable only in terms of the corruption of local police officials.

Despite his dismay, however, at the arrogance of the infidels, Haïroullah did not regard himself as “a fighter of unbelievers”; this was a term he reserved for the high-spending deputy pasha, the notorious Yusuf Bey, whom he also described as “rough and tyrannical,” a man who so intimidated the mufti and the janissary agha that they sat quietly with crossed hands in his presence. Yusuf Bey’s father, Ismail Bey of Serres, had been described by Leake as “one of the richest and most powerful of the subjects of the sultan, if he can be called a subject who is absolute here, and obeys only such of the sultan’s orders as he sees fit, always with a great show of submission.” With wealth based on the booming cotton trade, Ismail Bey was enjoying a quiet retirement while his son exerted an almost unchecked mastery over the city. Haïroullah—according to his own account—dared to challenge him at their first meeting. When Yusuf Bey warned that the Greeks were preparing to rise up and would have to be struck a brutal blow, Haïroullah protested: “My God! Who would dare to revolt against Your just power and strength? Rather than tyrannize them better let us behave towards them as friends, so that they will feel gratitude towards us and will not complain.”

Haïroullah clearly saw storm clouds ahead. After consulting the Qur’an, he met with the Greek archbishop and advised him to keep his flock in check, “to be more faithful to the laws of the shari’a and to obey the orders of the governor.” The two men sat and drank coffee together “like old friends,” a fact which spies reported to Yusuf Bey. His suspicions about the mollah’s sentiments were strengthened on learning too that one day, sitting at a large cafe outside the Kazantzilar mosque, Haïroullah had been upset by the sight of the body of a dead Christian being carried past, and had exclaimed, “May God forgive them!” Yusuf Bey accused him of having become a giaour—only a Christian, he insisted, would thus have sympathized with the suffering of other Christians—and on 27 February 1821, just as the Greek revolt was about to begin, Haïroullah Effendi was imprisoned in the White Tower. It was from that strategic if unpleasant vantage point—life there was frightening, he wrote, “if one is not accompanied by the thought of all-powerful God”—that he watched the terrifying events of the next months unfold in Salonica.

His fellow prisoners were Christians whose only crime had been to fail to salute Yusuf Bey in the street, or to meet in the cathedral to talk about the Patriarchate, or merely to be a prominent notable in the community. Many were suffering from starvation and thirst. An emissary of the revolutionaries, Aristeidis Pappas, was brought in, badly beaten before he was handed over to the janissary agha to be executed. “Before he left,” writes Haïroullah, “forgive me for this, Your Majesty I embraced him and kissed him, because in truth, he was an honourable man and if he was to blame it was out of the goodness of his heart.

A few days later another Greek, Nikola Effendi, was brought in. He had shocking news: the Morea was in revolt, and there was intelligence that the Greeks in and around Salonica were planning to do the same. Yusuf Bey had demanded hostages, and more than four hundred Christians—of whom one hundred were monks from Athos—were under guard in his palace. All these, naturally, were being beaten and mistreated; some had been already killed.

Shortly after this the order came through from the Porte for Haïroullah’s release. Yusuf Bey’s attitude towards him now changed entirely, and he was sweetness itself; nevertheless, he would not allow him to leave the city immediately: the countryside was not safe and villagers ready to revolt. To Haïroullah’s horror, he learned that Yusuf Bey intended to put the hostages to death and was unable to dissuade him: “The same evening half of the hostages were slaughtered before the eyes of the uncouth moutesselim. I closed myself in my room and prayed for the safety of their souls.”

“And from that night began the evil. Salonica, that beautiful city, which shines like an emerald in Your honoured crown, was turned into a boundless slaughter-house.” Yusuf Bey ordered his men to kill any Christians they found in the streets and for days and nights the air was filled with “shouts, wails, screams.” They had all gone mad, killing even children and pregnant women. “What have my eyes not seen, Most Powerful Shah of Shahs?” The metropolitan himself was brought in chains, together with other leading notables, and they were tortured and executed in the square of the flour market. Some were hanged from the plane trees around the Rotonda. Others were killed in the cathedral where they had fled for refuge, and their heads were gathered together as a present for Yusuf Bey. Only the dervish tekkes—whose adepts traditionally retained close ties with Greek monks—provided sanctuary for Christians. “These things and many more, which I cannot describe because the memory alone makes me shudder, took place in the city of Salonica in May of 1821.”

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Watershed Face-off: 1979 vs. 1989

While Europeans and Americans are remembering the major transformation of international relations in 1989, economic historian Niall Ferguson argues that 1979 marked a much greater watershed.

The real question about Russian policy today is not whether Russia will invade Ukraine, but whether Gazprom’s strategy of investing in new pipelines and gas fields will pay off. Should Gazprom focus on developing its dominant position in the European natural-gas market? Or should the vast gas fields of Russia east of the Urals (Yamal, Arctic, Far East) be given precedence with a view to capturing market share in China? Could Russia one day establish an Organization of Gas Exporting Countries, modeled on the Saudi-dominated oil cartel? Or is the simpler strategy simply to stoke trouble in the Middle East, covertly encouraging the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions until the Israelis finally unleash airstrikes, and then reaping the rewards of a new energy price spike?

These questions themselves indicate the limited long-term significance of the Soviet collapse of two decades ago. By comparison, the events of 10 years earlier—in 1979—surely have a better claim to being truly historic. Just think what was happening in the world 30 years ago. The Soviets began their policy of self-destruction by invading Afghanistan. The British started the revival of free-market economics in the West by electing Margaret Thatcher. Deng Xiaoping set China on a new economic course by visiting the United States and seeing for himself what the free market can achieve. And, of course, the Iranians ushered in the new era of clashing civilizations by overthrowing the shah and proclaiming an Islamic Republic.

Thirty years later, each of these four events has had far more profound consequences for the United States and the world than the events of 1989. Today it is the Americans who now find themselves in Afghanistan, fighting the sons of the people they once armed. It is the free-market model of Thatcher and Reagan that seems to lie in ruins, in the wake of the biggest financial crisis since the Depression. Meanwhile, Deng’s heirs are rapidly gaining on a sluggish American hyperpower, with Goldman Sachs forecasting that China’s GDP could be the biggest in the world by 2027. Finally, the most terrifying legacy of 1979 remains the radical Islamism that inspires not only Iran’s leaders, but also a complex and only partly visible network of terrorists and terrorist sympathizers around the world.

In short, 1989 was less of a watershed year than 1979. The reverberations of the fall of the Berlin Wall turned out to be much smaller than we had expected at the time. In essence, what happened was that we belatedly saw through the gigantic fraud of Soviet superpower. But the real trends of our time—the rise of China, the radicalization of Islam, and the rise and fall of market fundamentalism—had already been launched a decade earlier. Thirty years on, we are still being swept along by the historic waves of 1979. The Berlin Wall is only one of many relics of the Cold War to have been submerged by them.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Britain, China, economics, energy, Iran, Islam, Middle East, Russia, U.S., USSR, war

One Child’s Language: at 24 months (and abroad)

Rachel celebrated her birthday in China this year. We used the occasion to invite all of our sophomore class students over to our apartment for tea and snacks. Rachel was overwhelmed. But two people brought cakes (most of which we prevented ourselves and Rachel from eating) and she got to blow out two candles. Shortly after her birthday, she started going to the Number 2 Kindergarten in Shiqi town, Zhongshan City, Guangdong Province. It is about a 10-minutes walk from home, but Rachel can stretch it into 30 or more minutes when she walks home. She examines puddles, ramps, steps, curbs, passing vehicles (especially walking tractors), the chickens in one front yard, and the regulars who wave at her or come out to touch her.

Culture shock: For a long time Rachel would just stick her thumb in her mouth and and ask us to pick her up when anyone else wanted to talk to her or pick her up. She has been subjected to a lot of physical and vocal attention here; we had expected as much. But she has gradually begun to deal with the attention a bit more confidently. After our students assault her, she will ask us “They just want to be Rachel’s friends?” She dodges or brushes aside most passing maulers now, and lets one or two of the more familiar people pick her up. But for the first two months or so, she was in deep culture shock and very fussy and clingy. She still won’t say “thank you” or “good-bye” to anyone in either Chinese or English.

It was as hard for us as it was for her the first day we dropped her off at kindergarten. It was really sink or swim. She had had some setbacks in her toilet-training because of all the travel and stress she went through just before her second birthday. The first week of kindergarten, she wet her pants at least once a day, she wasn’t napping the required three hours [!] each day, and she was clinging pretty close to the principal all day. But now, she talks happily about “Rachel’s new aunties” and “Rachel’s school” (it helps that Mama and Daddy also have a school), rarely comes home with wet clothes, and is almost always in a pleasant, curious, and talkative mood all the way home and into the evening. She enjoys us a lot more when she isn’t with us all day long. She’s had a rough time but she’s grown up a lot in the last two months. She won’t even suck her thumb (considered a vile habit in this dirty environment) while she’s at school anymore. It may get worse, but the terrible twos don’t seem so terrible now that she’s actually two.

Physical development: She is increasingly confident—even reckless—on her feet: running, climbing, jumping, sliding down long slides. She almost has a swagger when she walks by herself. She loves to swim. We’ve been several times to hotel pools and she’s enjoyed leaping or falling off the side into our arms. She has very good control in her hands now. She can put up one finger or two fingers easily, and just recently managed to put up three fingers (the last 3) on the first try. We were all quite proud.

Intellectual notes: She is delightfully curious about all the new things around us, and wants to “see” every noise she hears. She loves to stop and inspect the snails, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and butterflies we encounter in our walks. She has an amazing memory. She can remember exactly where she put something hours ago, can remember what she saw where on a previous walk, and can remember who gave her things. We’ll say “Do you want to walk on the sand?” And she’ll say “Rachel want to walk on sand with Rachel’s new pink shoes from Rachel’s Grandma Grandpa.” She often asks “What’s that from?”—even about the toothpaste.

One of her games is to tell you one thing (“That Winnie Pooh”), then tell you something contradictory (“That not Winnie Pooh”). If you react with appropriate surprise, she will exclaim delightedly, “Rachel tricking Mama!” She can keep it up until you have trouble feigning surprise. Daddy said to her one day, “Rachel’s a talking trickster and a walking tractor.” She adapted that to “Rachel trickster, Rachel tractor, Rachel walking tractor.”

Language notes: Over the past two months, Rachel has been filling in a lot of the unstressed words she hears between the major words: prepositions, pronouns, adverbs, and conjunctions. One week it would be from, the next week with, the next w’out. She hasn’t got the and a figured out, and still uses Rachel instead of I, me, my but her English is more and more grammatical. She has now got the /s/ sound under control, so she distinguishes Rachel and Rachel’s, but she still has trouble with /p, b/ and /k, g/. She also just recently managed to make her Dayto sound a little more like Rayto, but the old habit of saying Dayto will take a while to break. Recently she has been playing with doubling words: “This Rachel Rachel; that Daddy Daddy.” [In retrospect, I think this may have been prompted by Chinese usage in her kindergarten, where she was called Qiuqiu, from her Chinese name Liqiu ‘beautiful autumn’. She was greeted every day like a visiting celebrity, with shouts of Qiuqiu lai le ‘Qiuqiu has come!’—J.] Not much progress in Chinese yet, but she can count from 1 to 5 (sometimes 10) in Chinese, and can follow simple directions at school.

We are amazed by her eagerness to read. She knows all the letters of the alphabet by name. We bought her a little magnetic board with all 26 letters and she plays with it each time she sits on the potty. It makes for some long potty sessions. She’ll keep playing with the letters long after she has done her business. Her demand as soon as she sits down is, “Rachel want to play with these letters,” followed shortly now with “Spell something, spell something.”

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in Boston’s Chinatown.

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One Child’s Language: at 22 months

For several weeks, durai (dry) was Rachel’s antonym for we’, diti, ‘ow (wet, dirty, ouch). She would talk about dirty and dry hands, or ouch (sore) and dry knees. Lately, she has started to use deen (clean) sometimes. Di and dido (big, little) sometimes occur instead of her old favorites wow, wee. She is beginning to use location words hia, dea, roro dea (here, there, over there), and when she bruises herself, she lets us know where to kiss by pointing and saying rai dea (right there), usually several times. Just today she started tagging otay?, dat rait? onto sentences to make them questions.

She does constant pattern drills, making the same sentence using Rachel one time, Mama the next, and Daddy the next—a standard substitution drill. She does endless repetition drills. We don’t drill her, she drills herself. She also does expansion drills: we say “Let’s brush our teeth” and she says Daydo dah Daydo dee’, Daddy dah Daddy dee’, Mama dah Mama dee’. If we tell her we’re going home, she’ll expand it to dodi Daydo ‘ous, Mama ‘ous, Daddy ‘ous (going to Rachel’s house, Mama’s house, Daddy’s house). And then, of course, she also does negation drills: we say “Not that!” and she says yes, dat; we say “Rachel drink water?” and she says Not Daydo dwin’ wawa; we say “Don’t throw your noodles” and she says yes, dwow noonoh. She never uses yes to answer simple questions, only to contradict a no. She’s definitely showing signs of nearing the Twos.

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in the Boston Public Schools.

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Among the Spice Island Sago-eaters

From The Spice Islands Voyage: The Quest for Alfred Wallace, the Man Who Shared Darwin’s Discovery of Evolution, by Tim Severin (Carroll & Graf, 1997), pp. 142-144:

More than a century before Wallace‘s visit, the people of Gorong were still habitual sago-eaters. Toman upon toman of sago flour was stacked up in the little shops of Kataloko. The tomans were the shape of small solid drums wrapped in green palm leaves, or you could buy the sago flour already baked into biscuits and neatly tied with string into bundles of ten. Then they looked exactly like small, hard, light brown floor-tiles. When we asked where all this sago came from, we were told it came from the island opposite, from Pasang where the sago palms [Metroxlon sagu] still grew.

Pasang had a deceptive approach. From the direction we arrived with [our boat] Alfred Wallace, it looked as if the usual fringing coral reef protected a broad lagoon with deeper water; if we could cross the reef and enter the lagoon we would be safe. At least, that is how it appeared, because the water was much darker on the landward side of the reef. In fact, when we crossed the reef we found that we were wrong. The lagoon was dark not because it was deep, but because it was carpeted with brown sea grass. In fact it was barely 50 centimetres deep and studded with rocks. A normal vessel would have been stuck fast, but again Alfred Wallace needed so little water to float that we could pole our way through the shallows for a kilometre or more until we were able to anchor off the main village of the island. From there a guide took us into the sago swamps.

The sago palms appeared to be wild, but were in fact planted as seedlings in the muck and stagnant pools of the swamp. For 12–15 years the palm tree grew until its trunk was approximately one metre thick. Then, quite suddenly, the tree flowered and was ready to harvest. The owner felled the tree, peeled off the skin and chopped his way into the thick white soft trunk. We found a sago harvester at work, sitting inside the tree-trunk as if in a large dugout canoe. In front of him was the unworked face of white sago pith, and he was steadily hacking at it with a long handle which had a tiny sharp metal blade set at right-angles in the end. As he struck, the blade sliced away a sliver of sago pith which fell inside the hollow trunk and on to his feet. The blade also came alarmingly close to his feet with each blow, and it seemed he risked chopping off his toes. Occasionally he wriggled his feet and toes, pushing the growing pile of the sago shavings back down the hollow tree-trunk. When he was tired of chopping, he climbed out of the tree-trunk, filled a sack with sago shavings and carried them off through the squelching mud to a trough which he had set up beside a pool of stagnant swamp water. He dumped the shavings into the upper end of the trough, poured water over them from a bucket, and squeezed the wet pith against a cloth strainer. The water ran out of the sago pith as white as milk, carrying sago flour with it, and drained away into another trough where it was allowed to settle. Within an hour, a thick deposit of pure white edible sago flour had settled in the trough and could be scooped out with the hands. It was ready to bake and eat.

The sago gatherer claimed that in just two days’ work he could produce enough food to feed his family for a month. As for the sago palm, he said, once you had planted the seedling there was no more work involved. You merely had to let it grow. Apart from Joe, who rather liked the taste of sago biscuit, the rest of us wondered if it was even worth that much effort. We compared eating sago with buying a packet of breakfast cereal, throwing away the contents and eating the cardboard packet.

I got to help process a sago palm into starch during my fieldwork in Papua New Guinea in 1976. As unskilled labor, my job was to pound the pith of the felled sago palm trunk into smithereens, using an adze handle with an artillery shell casing on the end. Others carried the pith to the washing chutes near the river where the starch was strained out of the pulp, then drained and formed into large blocks, which were allotted among the households whose members helped with the work. I had never heard the term toman used to name such blocks until I read this book.

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