Friday, August 13, 2010

IPad moves us forward

I was skeptical, at the beginning, whether I could adapt and actually enjoy reading on a touch screen tablet...until the iPad officially hit the Mexican market. My family and I turned out to be among the first to check it out at Reforma 222's iShop. The main reason for scuttling across the city to hunt for and happily dishing out 8,000 pesos for the smallest 16G-wifi iPad, which was selling like hot cakes that first week, was justified with the thought of all the savings I would receive from not having to pay the average 20 dollars for shipping that always topped each order of books I made with Amazon. (English language bookshops being a rarity in Mexico.) The various Mexican stores that were carrying the iPads all offered the increased incentive of long-term payments, interest free, from 6-18 months. 

It's been about three weeks now and I'm still being surprised on a daily basis, by how I can adapt the iPad to helping me better enjoy the things I like.  Primarily, the adjustment to reading ebooks came pretty easily. Not only do I agree with a Macworld's writer account of "How the IPad changed my reading habits": yes, to the liberating experience of being able to control font size; yes, to the mobility of carrying several 'books' with you in one package; YES, to going back to reading comics again, and finally-yes, to a totally new way of reading magazines and news. I managed to read a novel more leisurely with the bookmark function, and the temptation to look at the final pages is somehow removed by this less physcial format. While reading Chris Kuzneki's The Lost Throne, his descriptions of fabulous places like   Meteora and Mt. Athos, had me checking them out immediately online, just a click away on the iPad.

I also discovered the pleasures of being rewarded by the creative powers of application makers. By asking google to deliver the lastest news related to the iPad, I caught Flipboard on its launching day. What a novel way of experiencing Facebook and Twitter it was! I'm actually using my Twitter account more because of Flipboard. I even like the way Wired is presented on Flipboard more than on its original, too fancy, Wired app. It's a genius of having many options put into one place. I deleted some newspaper apps that I felt were cluttering my opening screen and opted for Flipnews instead. The coolest is being able to use the iPad as a really expensive photo frame that I can switch on as I listen to music from iTunes (which never really caught up with me until now). Apart from the app Photo Frame Lite which delivers me interesting and recently loaded photos from Flickr, I can watch stream of photos shared by my social groups from Facebook, Twitter, and other Flip items I've chosen on Flipboard in its 'unopened' flip screen. Just these photo streams alone make me feel more connected with the world, and with absolutely no regrets that I didn't hesitate to buy this new tech gadget. I am offered glimpses into the beautiful lives, the so talented eyes of a larger bit of humanity than I could possibly experience personally.

The iPad is much more than an oversized iPod, and much more than a common e-reader. The apps Virtuoso, Note Goal Lite, and Etude is encouraging me to try learning how to play the piano again. I doodle on Draw Free when I'm bored. I'm expecting the acquisition of my Spanish vocabulary to speed up with Spanish Dict's word game, my grammar to improve with free spanish lessons podcasts, my ability to manage the complexity of the language by internalizing the downloaded audiobook, Don Quixote.

All in all, I can't help sympathizing with the angst of the publishing industry in their scramble to figure out how to keep in the game in a digitized world. However, at the same time, I can't help cheering all these new game changing paradigm, when I read articles about learning disabled kids and old people coming out enchanted and having a richer learning experience, all thanks to the iPad, ....and all the industrious people creating fabulous apps!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mor Lam and Monks

Mor lam, is a northeastern Thai tradition that is slowly dying due to the influence of pop music. It would be wonderful if a new generation of Isaan youngster with talent could revive this lyrical art.

An unforgetable talent that had helped keep this artform current was Pumpuang Duangjan, R.I.P. While there are current artists like Jintara Poonlarp, Siriporn Ampaipong, and even a Dutch singer Christy Gibson, these studio-produced mor lam pales in comparison to the excitement and appreciation of a spontaneous talent shown in the live sparing of a mor lam contest or performance among the Isaan people.

I was fortunate enough to witness one such performance at a young age.  Maybe multimillion Thai pop music studio businessmen can be tipped to fund these contests in the Isaan country side, in the way that Nelson Mandela did for South African rugby, as shown in the movie, Invictusnot only to promote the goodwill of Luk Tung, a local musical genre not imported from abroad, but to give a sense of pride in cultural identity of the young, as well as to discover new natural talent.

I had always thought that this musical form is in some ways similar to modern rap, only much more traditional. It challenges its performers to dig up the best use of language and rythm on the spot. The best perform from a memory or repertoire of word play, rythm, rhyme and metaphors. It's what I would call a neobaroque form of entertainment because the musical accompaniment is simple and repetitive yet intuitive and spontaneous. It's a whole performance that engages and pulls in its viewers or in this case audience and listeners.

So what does mor lam performances have to do with monks?

I just recently read the history of Phra Ajaan Mun Bhuridatta Thera (1870-1949), the most venerable founder of Thailand's famous forest monk tradition. Here's what says,
The unusual style of Phra Ajaan Mun's sermons may be explained in part by the fact that in the days before his ordination he was skilled in a popular form of informal village entertainment called maw lam. Maw lam is a contest in extemporaneous rhyming, usually reproducing the war between the sexes, in which the battle of wits can become quite fierce. Much use is made of word play: riddles, puns, innuendoes, metaphors, and simple playing with the sounds of words. The sense of language that Ajaan Mun developed in maw lam he carried over into his teachings after becoming a monk. Often he would teach his students in extemporaneous puns and rhymes. This sort of word play he even applied to the Pali language, ...

The best of buddhist teachings comes from oral traditions, in the forms of rhetorics, whether in the Tibetan debating or in this case the teachings of humble monks of Isaan origins, that towers above the more conventional Thervada style of Thailand's center. The language of mor lam and the language of forest monk tradition is Lao, which is (central Thais would probably love to deny) the true origin of the Thai language. Acharn Mun and other forest tradition monks had so internalized the teaching of the Buddha, which they had learnt in Pali, but it was practice and practice (of meditation) that allowed them to master the knowledge and thereby able to transmit in simple yet enlightening forms (in Lao) to their students and the common people. 

An interesting note to leave, pondering on oral tradition, links to languages, and preservations of cultures.

Acharn Mun passed away in 1940 at Wat Pa Suthawat, Sakon Nakhon. A small museum was built in his honor where there is an exhibit of his personal belongings and a brief account of his life.

Wax image of Pra Acharn Mun Bhuridatto, 
at Wat Pa Suthawat, Sakon Nakhon

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Noteworthy places to visit recommended by a noteworthy blog

To take note of some places I would like to visit in Thailand.  Musuem Siam, and BMA Local Museum of Yannawa District, both have special memories for me, both recommended by a blog I like, My Unseen Thailand.