2010-12-31

Intellectual "Savings"

As I get older, the list of areas of knowledge that interest me and the list of books I want to read get longer and longer, and the free time at my disposal gets shorter and shorter. When I was still a graduate student, I felt I did not have enough time for reading, but in retrospect, I had far more free time back then, compared to what I have now.

There is another fundamental difference between these two periods of my academic life. As I did not have to teach back then, my intellectual "savings" account saw only inflow of knowledge but little outflow. But since I started teaching in the university, outflow of knowledge seems to be exceeding its inflow more and more. These days I feel as if I were living largely on the intellectual "savings" I had made as a graduate student. And my "savings" account is not inexhaustible.

Our brain is like our body in that both need constant nutrition just to keep their status quo. But the former never gets "fat" unlike the former. Overeating is harmful to our body, but it is a must for our brain if we are to achieve something intellectually outstanding.

At this age of mine I already know my own intellectual (and other) limitations, but I would like to do whatever I can within these limits. For this purpose I must see to it that inflow of knowledge into my intellectual "savings" account exceeds its outflow. The only possibility for this change of "balance" in my account on the horizon seems to be a sabbatical, in which we are not expected to make any "expenditure". I only hope that there will remain enough "balance" in my "savings" account until I get my first sabbatical, hopefully in the academic year 2012/2013.

2010-12-24

When to Sever Relationship with (Those Who Once Were/Those Who I Thought Were) Friends

We are sometimes forced to make a painful but inevitable decision to sever relationship with those who once were friends or those who we thought were friends. I have done so several times so far. There have been several reasons for this difficult decision.

The first reason is that they could not appreciate the differences between me and themselves in very essential things in life, criticized me according to their one-sided viewpoints and even tried to force what they believed was right. I and they may have made friends earlier in life when we had many essential things in common, but we are liable to change and have changed, with an ever increasing unbridgeable gap between us. We do not have to agree with every one about everything. But we can at least agree not to agree. With people who cannot do so there is no other way but to sever relationship.

Another is that the relationship became too one-sided. They contacted me only when they needed me, often making rather egocentric and insolent requests, but when I contacted them asking for help, they simply ignored me. When I realized that this was not friendship but unilateral exploitation, I simply ignored them.

I also had to sever relationship with those who broke a promise or promises that were very important for me, and worse still, did not even apologize for this. Friendship is and must be based not only on mutual respect but also on mutual trust. Once we lose trust in someone, our relationship with him or her cannot be the same.

No less unbearable were those who simply did not know how to behave not only toward me as a friend of theirs but only toward everyone. It is true that there are cultural differences, but there are things that seem unacceptable anywhere beyond cultural differences. It is not enough that they are intelligent and inspiring, unless they know how to behave as human beings.

Fortunately, I have not had to sever relationship but with only several people for one or more of these reasons, and I do maintain long-time relationship with many people. But once I see that someone who I thought was a friend puts the last straw, I do not hesitate to stop remaining in contact with him or her, ignoring him or her in the future. Inertia and positive memories shared in the past are not enough to maintain relationship.

2010-12-10

Israeli Sense of Hygiene

I have long noticed that my sense of hygiene is fundamentally different from that of so many people in Israel. I would rather not make any value judgement and say which is superior. But the fact is that I am the one who suffers from this difference, and not they, as they constitute the majority in Israeli society.

One of the most disgusting things for me here in terms of sense of hygiene is how people treat (freshly baked) bread. First of all, it is never wrapped here, which I can accept, but what disgusts me is that both sellers and buyers touch it with their bare hands, and some customers even examine it this way and decide not to buy it. In short, they treat bread as if it were a vegetable. This is the main reason why I stopped buying bread excepot for Sabbaths and holidays, but even then I buy wrapped bread, which, generally speaking, is not fresh, as I would prefer bread which may be less fresh but has not been touched by a number of people with their presumably dirty bare hands. Personally, I still fail to understand why they do not care about this custom.

The term "restroom" probably explains the essense of this facility where we spend a substantial amount of time in our live more clearly than any of its synonyms. Unfortunately, many public restrooms in Israel are not where you can have rest but where you feel like escaping from as soon as possible, at least if you share the same sense of hygiene as mine, because of their dirty condition. I still do not understand the strange (and disgusting) custom of discarding the used poilet paper in the waste basket inside a restroom instead of flushing it in the toilet. Anyway, a dirty public restroom is the default condition in Israel, and is also a "show window" of the sense of hygiene of so many people here. In a private house the restrooms tells about its dwellers more eloquently than anything else. And this seems to be the case at the national level.

2010-12-03

Planning the Next Annual Trip to Japan

I have just finished making a rather detailed plan of my next annual three-week trip to Japan in one month and a half during our winter vacation. Planning a trip is no less pleasurable than making a trip itself! Since I started living in Israel and lost my Japanese citizenship, I have come to care less and less about various sociocultural issues in Japan that used to bother me when I still lived there. Instead, I can now enjoy what Japan has to offer to tourists from abroad, and much at that. I had to leave the country and lose its citizenship to start appreciating it, but on the other hand, I am glad that I live in Israel, though I am bothered by more and more sociocultural issues here. Anyway, this trip will be a good opportunity to refresh myself away from a rather monotonous life and reappreciate Israel afterwards.

The official purpose of the trip is to give three lectures in Kyoto and Tokyo. These three invited lectures will also give me a chance to hopefully meet some of those old colleagues of mine I have not seen since I left Japan six years ago. I am also happy that I will be able to share with them some of the academic outputs which Israel, especially Bar-Ilan University, has helped me to make; I may not have been able to make them in Japan.

Other things I am looking forward to during my forthcoming trip are foods there as I suffer from culinary boredom here. Because of kashrut there are not many things I can eat there, but what few vegetarian, mostly traditional Japanese, foods I can eat there are enough. Israel and the United States, for example, pale in comparison with Japan in terms of the quantity and quality of (reasonably priced) restaurants, especially vegetarian ones, where I can eat outside Israel. I also hope to finally take private lessons in Total Immersion Swimming in Kobe and Tokyo. Actually, I was supposed to take one in Jerusalem, but unfortunately, they canceled it.

Anyway, this planned trip gives me something to wait for in my otherwise monotonous life. But there is one thing I am sorry for about this trip, which is that I have to make it alone again. I wonder if there will come a time when I can make it with my life companion-to-be...