At The Speed of Light

So you may have noticed that my blog looks different now! I’ve changed the blog skin to a simpler style — felt in the minimalist mood today — and I must say I like the notebook feel of it. It feels like writing a journal with pencil and paper. And speaking of writing, the Prologue 55-word competition just ended last Friday. What 55-word competition? Well, it basically asked participants to submit a story of precisely 55 words, no more and no less. I submitted mine a while back, and no doubt it’s been buried under a huge pile of Facebook submissions by now.

By the way, the number of submissions were pretty staggering. It was clocking up an average of 5 submissions per day, starting a month before the deadline. Such flash fiction is popular among the public of casual authors. 55 words is not time-consuming, doesn’t require much prior planning or extensive plot and character development, and is so sparse with words that any amateur can do it, right? Well, it’s precisely because anybody can do it that it becomes hard to stand out. Without long flowing descriptions or gripping characters to exhibit your individuality, how do you forge a connection with your readers with just a paragraph? How do you let readers resonate emotionally with what you’re writing, or admire the depth of your thought? And that is the true challenge of flash fiction. The challenge of expressing yourself in so few words. It’s just like being in a business presentation and given only 5 minutes to make your sales pitch. You must make everything count.

Saturating words is traditionally the job of poetry. Poems follow no grammatical structure and can in essence be said to capture the poet’s voice. Prose is much harder, because thoughts have to be coherent and rules have to be followed. Missing out an “and” or a “the” somewhere can feel strange and alter the mood of the story. And with all the grammar words pruned out, there’s a whole lot less to play around with.

Generally for me, when it comes to flash fiction, I like to imagine a context where such a short tale could exist. Is it a monologue, something that someone thinks about in a particular time? Is it a brief note to somebody else? A shopping list, perhaps? Thinking of settings where such brevity can naturally occur will enable you to think beyond a short story and enter into a world, a life of somebody. That this short story is just a peek into a particular time and space in the continuing timeline of a person, that there was a story before and will be a story after, but you’re not allowed to know anymore of it and can only guess. It’s like a momentary intrusion, and probably feels even more intrusive than a full-length novel about a person, because it’s so realistic and down-to-earth, and the person feels like anybody you would imagine existing in this world. Of course, the genre doesn’t necessarily need to be down-to-earth. A story about a vampire wandering in the night is just as valid as any other, but the thing about flash fiction is that it’s got to be accessible. You don’t have a lot of space to introduce wildly new concepts. And this boosts the familiarity of the whole event you are describing.

If you haven’t before, try writing your own 55-word prose! Or if you find that too short for you, something of 250 to 300 words is generally a good standard of what constitutes flash fiction. It’s a riveting new experience and you can probably finish it in one day!

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The Psychology of Love

Hi there! In the last weekend before we officially bid farewell to Valentine’s Day and the trappings of love, I thought readers would want to know more about how our brains process romance. Many couples will presumably be thinking about tying the knot this week, but before you do that, did you know that studies on the brain show that our biological make-up may not be wired for lasting marriages? There are 4 inevitable stages that marriages go through, and it is extremely likely that, if not properly negotiated and managed, they may lead to an unpleasant end.

1. Romance

This is naturally the start of any relationship. Lovers fall in love — or rather, their brains do. The couple’s pheromones run wild, so when they smell each other or look into each other’s eyes, their minds become like one due to the work of oxytocin, a bonding hormone. When bonding hormones increase, couples seem to overlook each other’s irritating behaviours and lead a life of sweet romantic bliss. However, this is the worst time to marry.

2. Disillusionment

Disillusionment will always set in. It may take a few months or a year, but the cerebral cortex — or the thinking part of our brains — will begin noticing the flaws in our partners. Harsh reality sets in when the cloudy romantic picture fades, and people start to feel that their partners don’t quite seem to be like the people they were before. Negative emotions may come in and confusion results as they realise they don’t quite understand their partners’ behaviours anymore.

3. Power Struggle

This is the time when couples decide to actively do something about their disillusionment. They try to “change” each other back to whom they were before. This is the time when a couple may quarrel. Men may want to spend more time on independent activities while women want more contact, whether with the family or with her friends.

4. Awakening and marital bliss

Maybe when you see couples who are currently in the Power Struggle stage, you may feel sorry for them. You may think that alas, they used to be such a close couple, always being seen together and doing stuff together. And really, when they argue, many outsiders agree that both parties usually have a point, but they just can’t find a way to reconcile both opinions. In this stage, the couple themselves realise that perfection is unattainable in the long run. Certain behaviours have to be tolerated, and most importantly, they have to understand that they are individual beings, not the same entity, as romantic as that sounds. They have to live lives of their own and enjoy their own personal space. Men and women are governed by different hormones and neural structures, so it is unlikely that they will ever think alike on many things.

And this is really the path towards a long-term union. The couple may have lost the passion of the old days, but long-term companionship values stability and comfort with each other over heated romance. Humans are indecisive, fussy creatures, especially when it comes to romance. We tend to like people who are like us (but immunologically opposite so as to create well-balanced healthy offspring) and yet we still manage to find fault with anyone we’re paired with. Love is a complex formula that has many variants and mixtures of ingredients. For example, Robert Sternberg came up with the triangular theory of love to categorise the different kinds of love and the components in each of them.

Love has 3 basic elements: intimacy, commitment and passion. Intimacy is when people share details of their private lives with each other, their hopes, dreams and fears. Commitment is the expectation that the relationship will be permanent. Passion is sexual attraction and infatuation. The following are the chemical equations that join these components together.

Intimacy = liking

Passion = infatuated love

Commitment = empty love

Intimacy + passion = romantic love

Intimacy + commitment = companionate love

Passion + commitment = fatuous love

Intimacy + commitment + passion = consummate love

So chew on these bite-sized love tidbits (be careful not to leave love bites behind!) and have a happy Valentine’s weekend!

Crossing Borders

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, and for some of us who haven’t quite gotten over the mood for love, it’s never too late to continue doing nice stuff for your precious one. And for participants in transnational romances, here’re some tips I find useful to rekindle your passion even while on different timezones. And most of these activities can be done anytime of the year!

1. Watch stuff together

Even while you’re apart, the internet has made it easy to synchronise your activities online, and doing something simultaneously while apart is a thrilling experience, especially for a couple that doesn’t get to enjoy the luxury of breathing the same air. You can watch a movie together on YouTube, or listen to the same music, and I heard Netflix allows on-demand streaming, though it isn’t available in Singapore so I’m unsure how it works. Perhaps you Americans will know what it’s like to watch movies on your PS3 and other consoles. But really, just clicking Play at the same time on your video streaming sites can be interesting, and you can have much fun discussing the show or song afterwards.

2. Conjure up adventures

Maybe it has something to do with my being a roleplayer, but I do love taking part in visual novels, and what better adventure than one personalised to your tastes? If you’re feeling creative, make a story or a game for your partner, or both of you, to take part in! Roleplays can be done over instant messaging, and you can make the wildest stuff happen. The sky’s the limit and after all, you’re the only ones knowing about your partner’s hidden fetishes.

3. Play games together

I love playing Magic: The Gathering on Octgn, and there’s also a great multiplayer game website named OMGPOP.com that allows a large number of people to play some pretty fun games together. Remember there was a recent craze on handphones about an app named Draw Something? Well, it was derived from Draw My Thing, a popular game on Omgpop. If you’re really bored, you can spend hours getting through the games there.

4. Have things to call your own!

The thing about long-distance relationships is that you seldom have stuff that belong to the both of you, or that both of you possess at the same time. But I think it is important to create a collection of stuff that both of you can identify with. One of them is a blog, like this one, which the both of you keep updated about your lives or whatever it is the theme of the blog is. Another thing is to share a bulletin board, such as the one on Listhings.com. You can tack notes, photographs and checklists, and it’ll be like a virtual fridge note.

5. Exchange belongings

Postage can be expensive, but for an occasion as vital as Valentine’s Day, it’s worth it to send something to your partner that doesn’t cost a cent. You could write a letter so they can keep a copy of your handwriting, or even send them things you own. If you have a pair of earrings that you don’t wear anymore, send one of them to your partner. You can even cut off locks of your hair, or your old shirt. It sounds creepy but you’ll really appreciate having something that used to be with your partner.

So here’re some of the ideas I had to offer. You can think of much more romantic ones, and I do recommend the website lovingfromadistance.com to get inspiration for your virtual romance. To all couples out there who are forcibly parted by geography, I wish you all the best in your love lives!

Glocalisation?

Just last Thursday, I talked about China’s possible emergence as a global power, and following through on the theme of a global village, I shall talk today about globalisation and its lesser-known variant, glocalisation.

Globalisation is the main talk of the town when it comes to world issues. Nearly everything that occurs has some impact on globalisation, from environmental issues to entertainment to terrorism. Most people think of McDonald’s when they think globalisation, and about pop culture, loan words from the English Language. They think of the erosion of local culture, tourism’s unexpectedly negative impact on the preservation of cultural values, youths following the American lifestyle and ditching their own. But is globalisation really happening, or is there a more muted, more colourful version of it going on? It could just be glocalisation.

Glocalisation, if you haven’t already deduced, is globalisation + local. A global take on local practices, but it doesn’t mean that local practices are gone entirely. For example, Japan has seen a fad in “fusion” food with restaurants such as Pasta de Waraku, which basically serves pasta, but cooked in the Japanese style. Even in McDonald’s itself you don’t see American food culture sweeping every semblance of local differences. McDonald’s launches Lunar New Year special burgers, something you do not see in the West. Recipes are also slightly different to suit each country’s palate. We think of the internet as bridging gaps among people all over the world, but what about a project group in university which uses Facebook IM to discuss their project? While we look at the macro scale of globalisation, there is also a micro level that is busy and buzzing under the radar of academicians and scholars. The mass media may be bringing locals together more than foreigners.

I must say I can’t say too much about glocalisation, because globalisation as a concept is confusing in itself and this variant sounds even moreso, and I bet the more I say the more mistakes I will be making. But I suppose the world is indeed not yet at the stage where cultures are lost entirely. Singapore still has its Singaporean culture. Latin America is still vastly different from the United States, even if Latin Americans are sipping Pepsis and wearing Nike shoes. You wouldn’t go to Spain and think you were in Canada.

I believe I have over-simplified this conception of glocalisation. Wikipedia has a long wordy article about how it affects domains such as social welfare and business, and there is much academic research on the topic. I won’t go into too much detail since it is not my area of expertise, and you can find out more on your own, but it is an interesting thought, isn’t it, that even globalisation is not a phenomenon set in stone? What with threats like global warming and an ageing population being challenged, you would think that globalisation is something confirmed to happen. But no, globalisation has its own opponent theory in glocalisation. With all this arguing over specifics going on, I do wonder if anything is going to be solved in the world.

Singaporean Stars

While I was doing my radio broadcast today, I was tasked to do a promo for MediaCorp’s The Final One singing competition. It is the brain child of Ken Lim, who is basically some guy with a grumpy face who was the judge for Singapore Idol and basically enjoys being the Singaporean version of Simon Cowell. And anyway he created the “interactive” singing competition The Final One, which is currently accepting applications. And he shares his rationale for doing so.

http://stcommunities.straitstimes.com/music/2013/02/01/our-local-music-industry-verge-extinction-ken-lim

I don’t know, though. Somehow it seems to me that the Final One (or 1, if he likes numbers so much) sounds like any normal singing competition, and it’s unlikely that it will produce a star different from what other singing competitions before it has done. And of course, there are some local artistes and groups who disagree with his assertion that local music is dying and that it is up to him to revive it. It sounds a little lofty, and I do wonder what he can do that others haven’t tried before.

But I can’t say Singapore has been entirely a flop in the global music industry. Admittedly you don’t see many English performers coming from Singapore, or Asia for that matter, but we do have people like Corrinne May who wins awards overseas. But yeah, maybe not quite a commercial celebrity. But it’s hard for Asians to break into an English music market. They just bring with them an exotic flavour that’s difficult to shrug off and accept as mainstream. There are so many Caucasian Anglophone countries (and even French or Belgians look more suited to singing English songs than we do, even if their first language isn’t English) that anyone looking Asian will have a stereotype attached to them, inevitably. On the other hand, the Chinese music industry has been seeing great success. We have lots of super-famous Singaporeans who have made it big in Taiwan and China, even moreso than in Singapore itself. Maybe appearance really does play a part, and if it does, what can Ken Lim do about it?

But no, that can’t be right, you argue. What about those Korean and Japanese superstars? They play in England, France, etcetera and reap great profits too. K-pop is a thing in Europe and America, so whaddya mean Asians can’t make it big? But of course you must remember that those Koreans and Japanese are singing Korean and Japanese songs. If a Korean sang only in English he would have a harder time making it to the top of the charts.

But of course it is not very nice to judge people’s prospects by race, and although I say Asians will have a comparatively harder time getting famous I haven’t done extensive research on that so I may be wrong. Singing competitions are always fun to watch on TV, though I wonder if it’s impartial to solely let the audience vote which contestants are in and which are out. After all, this implies that anyone with enough cash and connections will win, without singing merit. Then again, singing ability can be trained later, I guess. And the judges will surely try hard to sift out only worthwhile contestants during the early stages.

But well, let’s all pay more attention to our local singers (and I don’t just mean to Singaporeans alone), for if they aren’t appreciated by their own countrymen, who would?

Shipping Inc

Oh no, we’re not talking about ports and transportation by sea today. For people well-versed in the world of fandom, you’d know that shipping means pairing together 2 characters in a show that aren’t explicitly paired by the story itself (so this excludes canon couples like Edward Cullen and Bella Swan in Twilight). For those who aren’t so well-versed, well, you know now.

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and we anime freaks are no strangers to love, in this case love between 2 anime characters. I shall spend today ruminating about my favourite anime couples. Now in no particular order except the  order which I remember them…

1. Lenalee x Lavi

Ah, D.Gray-Man! The hotbed of shipping, where bishounen abound and there is this female character everyone loves and she’s friendly with all the guys and is practically crying out, “ship me!” Lenalee Lee of D.Gray-Man has a strange charm that many female leads in other anime simply lack. Nobody can vocalise precisely what is so likeable about her, but maybe she’s just normal. And normal is a strength in an anime industry that cannot resist adding lustrous boobs, tsundere or over-excitable personalities, and a “is so weak she needs a man to save her everytime” trait. Nope, Lenalee has perfectly normal breasts (and she wears an acceptably conservative uniform… until Season 3), a perfectly normal personality and she can totally hold her own in battles. In fact, I love how she kicks ass literally with those boots.

She’s like Asuna, except cooler somehow. Maybe because she wasn’t raped.

Okay okay, maybe you can see her thighs and part of her butt a lot. But compare her to people like Meer in Gundam Seed Destiny!

ANYWAY, the show remotely hints at several pairings but doesn’t go explicit with any one, so we get Allen x Lenalee, Kanda x Lenalee and Lavi x Lenalee. I support Lavi x Lenalee! Allen should totally go be with Kanda, or Road, or something.

I love Lavi! This picture doesn’t do him enough justice but yes he should totally be with Lenalee. Before I dissolve into fangirl ravings, Lavi is this stereotypical happy-go-lucky guy with a dark secret, but stereotypes don’t matter when he has an awesome hammer. I don’t know, D.Gray-Man has like the best weapons in Lenalee’s boots and Lavi’s hammer. And no one plays a hotter happy-go-lucky guy than Suzumura Kenichi.

2. Okabe x Ruka

Frankly I couldn’t think of any other pairing offhand aside from the Lenalee and Lavi one, mainly because I’m not a hobby shipper, but my yaoi instincts kicked in then and I couldn’t resist adding the Okabe x Ruka pairing from Steins;Gate. Okabe Rintarou is the male lead of Steins;Gate, who does eventually quite clearly end up with Makise Kurisu in the end, and Ruka is the transsexual of the anime, who is a guy who looks like a girl. By the way, Ruka is a lot better than that weird transsexual in Cuticle Detective Inaba. That weird transsexual was just weird, but Ruka shows that everybody has feelings, regardless of how different they are from societal norms. And Ruka’s sweet affection for Okabe is just too touching.

And Ruka is just way cuter anyway.

There’re a few more great couples I’d love to include, but I think you guys are already eager to start your own anime shipping activity. As otakus with no life, I’m sure we have plenty of time to analyse the relationships of every anime we watch, so let’s get cracking!

When In Rome, Do As The Romantics Do

It is Valentine’s Day in 4 days, and no doubt social institutions like schools and workplaces are prepping you up to find the love of your life. That’s all easily said and done to outgoing people and partygoers, who are probably taking this time to find their eleventh lover in some nightclub or having a romantic candlelit dinner with their future spouse. But alas, for introverts like us, perhaps the only romantic solace we can find is in our books, as we curl up on a particularly nice night on our armchairs at home. And of course, to experience sweet sweet love, we turn to romances.

Ask any self-respecting literature fan on the street and they will vehemently deny that any romance book falls on their top ten list of favourites. Romances are for bimbos, or middle-aged spinsters who are excellent career women but crave for intense passionate love. We read things that are intelligent, like Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, or John Dies At the End by Jason Pargin (under the pseudonym of David Wong). Books that just about make it to the bestseller list but are overshadowed by the “too commercial” offerings of Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. And yet these books have to be modern and popular enough to be trendy reads for the intellectuals like them. Best if these books became hit movies (but not too hit like Twilight, so they attract just enough of the correct crowd). By the way, Jonathan Safran Foer did have a movie adaptation of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close which everyone says was great stuff, and John Dies At The End spawned a movie and a sequel.

Yes, the art of making a top ten list requires finesse and skill.

But everyone has a secret favourite romance, be it a romantic book or simply a romantic scene in a non-romantic book. It doesn’t need to be sexual (though I guess it can) in nature, but it is a scene that constantly invades the reader’s mind and sends waves of pleasant nostalgia through their system, causing them to blush and sigh and be grateful nobody has invented mind reading technology on a grand scale yet. Personally, my favourite romances come from Anne Tyler, who writes realistic slice-of-life books that are sorta like romances except these romances are portrayed very realistically, which may detract from the fairytale fantasy some people like (and I don’t mean just the ladies; we’re getting more and more gentlemen who love sweet saccharine romances too).

But for the ladies who love sizzling flings and completely impossible romantic escapades, I recommend novels published by Mills & Boon. They are definitely the sort of books you want to keep hidden in a secret compartment of your bookshelves, because they contain the 1970’s or 1980’s romance formula. Meet really rich man in exotic country, really rich man falls in love with woman, really rich man has some weird personality like Beast from Beauty & The Beast, woman is somehow intrigued, love happens, sex happens, happily ever after.

The website looks like a travel package where you can choose what kind of romantic adventure you want to embark on.

http://www.millsandboon.co.uk/

Even if we scowl and make faces at such silly foolish fantasies, people are still engulfing them, and we all know that the ones snapping up these volumes are not necessarily the uneducated dreamers. There is always someone in us who longs to fall into the trap of dangerous, dream-like love, the kind that we regret once we wake up from our dream. But to have dreamed before is an experience all of its own. So why don’t we unabashedly pick up our guilty pleasure this Valentine’s (whether Anne Tyler, Mills & Boon, Twilight or anything else) and allow ourselves to be safely sucked into a romance that leaves no scars or bitter memories afterwards?

Cultural Learners

In most of my entries, I tend to have a basis for making assertions. I often have an article to go upon, or some examples or observations of my own. This time, however, I honestly say that I have found nothing that is related to my point, and today’s entry is really more questions than arguments. Sincere questions that I don’t know the answer to. So maybe my readers can help!

Since tomorrow is the first day of the Lunar New Year (which means most Chinese families will now be enjoying their reunion dinners, which I have already partaken of and returned in one piece), I was thinking along the Chinese theme, and this made me wonder if perhaps our brains function differently according to culture. Like biology has settled with a middle point in the nature/nurture debate, that both biology and culture play a part in shaping a person’s capabilities. In that case, do cognitive functions also fall along this spectrum? Does culture affect the way we process information?

I guess in some way they do, in that people perceive the same things differently if they’re influenced by different cultures. For instance, some Asians and some Americans were shown two cartoon pictures. Both pictures had the same guy in the foreground, who was smiling. However, in one picture, there were people behind him who were smiling. In the other picture, there were the same people behind him, but they were frowning. The participants were asked to describe what the man was feeling. Most of the Asians said the man was happy in the first picture but perhaps snide or victorious in the second picture. On the other hand, most of the Americans just said the man was happy in both pictures. This is supposed to prove that Asians think in a more context-dependent manner whereas Americans are a lot more direct. That much I can accept, but the question I want to ask is whether cultural factors affect learning as well.

Is it really the case that Asians are better at maths and science whereas Americans are naturally better at speaking up in class? I haven’t really found any research supporting the notion that Hispanic brains are different from African brains, for example, so perhaps the response is no. People are different only because of social norms and expectations. For example, the link between gender and mathematical ability has been found to be closely related to personal and social expectations. Women do worse than men in maths mainly because society has decreed that they do. If you believe that you’re naturally poorer in maths, and even teachers indirectly think that boys are better than girls at maths, then you instinctively decide not to work as hard because it’s “useless”. You can never be good enough. Studies have shown that girls perform just as well or even better than guys at maths once they think that they’re not being compared with any male subjects, or when “maths” is replaced by the term “problem-solving”.

So perhaps culture works in the same way. Perhaps Asians do better at maths and science because they think that they can’t beat the Caucasians in English Language (which isn’t true, by the way, because I have met a number of Caucasians who are just as bad at their spelling and grammar, or maybe even worse) and so they put more effort into maths and science. Or Caucasians simply think they cannot beat the Asians in maths and science. Or maybe the educational system is simply different.

The Language of Codes

I heard from somewhere (I’ve since forgotten precisely where) that the ability to code and do programming is going to be just as important as the ability to read and write, and that computer literacy is going to be the new literacy with which to define someone’s intellect and educational level. I find it quite true to some extent nowadays that knowing how to work a computer to do various functions for you is becoming crucial at work. People with no expertise in computer technology are finding it difficult to do even the most basic tasks. Business presentations now take Powerpoint skills for granted. Microsoft Excel has been found to be capable of so much that even I cannot keep track of its many abilities. I discover new capabilities of Microsoft Office everyday, let alone any other software in the world.

For people who are as techno-idiotic as I am, looking at the video games out in the market today is like looking at nature’s miracles. How do those game companies ever do all these things? How is it even conceivable to make games like Skyrim, where the sky literally looks like the limit? How can the computer predict all our responses and make the world so immersive for us?

And that is why coding literacy really is that important, because it is sure to impress if you do it well. Good writing grips and hooks people emotionally, but there’s nothing like great technology to bring a marketing message across. Look at all those television ads. The best ones are the ones that make people go “wow”, where they make the impossible possible, where people can even interact with it. Interactivity is the next stage of technological achievement, and computer programmers are there to make it happen. And once interactivity becomes a common way of life, once businesses are forced to adopt it, everybody has got to know how to do some of it at some point. It becomes more than just knowing how to use a blog or make a video on YouTube. It’s knowing how to make your own video sharing website, your own app (which some people are already doing), your own casual game on Facebook.

I bet you’ve never thought of being in the shoes of your grandparents today, struggling with using technology. Imagine your current level of coding knowledge, then imagine the younger generation churning out new media like you send your emails. Emails? That was so last century. I sure don’t want to feel like my grandparents do, but I think it’s inevitable unless I really actively learn, and that requires a lot of courage and determination on my part, because learning how to code is hard when I still can’t grapple with editing podcasts.

Maybe in the future, a portion of job applications will ask for coding literacy. It’ll be something like language literacy, except they ask you how much of HTML, C++ or JavaScript you know. Maybe it’s time to get cracking on those app makers. On the bright side, if everyone has got to know coding, there’ll also be more programs set up — such as Scratch and Snap by BYOB — that allow even novices to code something simple from scratch.

The Global Powerhouse

According to the Ethnologue, ever since 2009, Mandarin has been the world’s top language, having the most number of native speakers. Second is Spanish and third comes English. This has been 1 of the reasons why people have suggested that China will replace America to become the world’s global powerhouse in the near future. This means the international language of commerce will be Mandarin (with China being the centre of commerce), and aliens will choose to invade China when they come to Earth. Will this really happen?

Well, all I can say right now is that I’m really not sure. I can’t commit myself to either stand yet. It can be hard to shift a paradigm, where currently everyone’s busy learning English and picking up American influences, to one where people learn Chinese and eat Chinese food and wear Asian garb. Considering languages like Japanese have already incorporated English words into their growing list of katakana, and English is the second language of even China, it can be a startling progression to find that English becomes not as important anymore. That said, what I can definitively say about our globalising era today is that knowing more languages is always better, no matter what language. It is no longer a place for monolinguals. If one wants to get ahead in life, one needs an edge over one’s competitors, and the easiest way to have a niche is to learn a language.

Setting language aside, though, I don’t think the Chinese are ready to lead the world just yet. China grew out of nowhere in recent years, marking a kind of explosion of economic growth. Will this explosion last? Also, it has not been the most co-operative in global economics. It has irked other countries when it comes to trade and also when it comes to history, such as its conflict with Taiwan and Japan. Currently tourism industries worldwide treat the Chinese with grudging welcome. There is still a bunch of uncultured Chinese who suddenly find themselves with money to go overseas, so their mannerisms still remain loud and coarse. And yet these brash Chinese people spend lavishly. Everybody is in a panic now because prices of property and other goods are going steadily up. Why? The Chinese are sweeping them all.

“Sweeping” is really the word to describe the Chinese. There is nothing subtle about a country with a population of 1 353 821 000 at last count in 2012. Look at the traditional train crowds near the Lunar New Year period. It is also because of this size that everything can happen in China. Compare Shanghai, one of the world’s metropolitan cities, with Yunnan, home of all the minority tribes in the mountains. China has great scenery and great culture, great history and great technology. Now that it is opening its doors to the world, it will get what it wants.

If we start to lean towards China rather than the United States, it seems our entire worldview has got to change too. Business has always been done with the assumption that the Western way is best — direct, non-hierarchical, individualistic. China doesn’t work like that. China works with contacts, with a respect for the higher-ups. One sign of its economic growth is its gradual adoption of Western values of directness and equality. But if China becomes even more powerful than the West, why should it be doing things in the Western way? Westerners may have to learn how to maintain workplace harmony and give “face” in its business dealings in the future. Westerners may have to learn to have deals over dinner.

As we inch towards the Lunar New Year, I wonder, will it ever become the world’s main holiday, like Christmas is now?