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The Problem With Organic Food

March 14, 2013

In the world of marketing, the organic industry has done a marvelous job in classically conditioning us into believing that their products are better, tastier, and healthier than conventional produce.  The moment we hear the word “organic,” our minds instantaneously associates it with superiority.  The American consumer reinforces their campaign by increasing buying their products, thus creating an industry that now yields over $35 billion dollars in annual sales (Organic Trade Association, 2014).  This is rather unfortunate, because spending more money on organic food will only provide you with a sense of elitism and not much else.

The biggest problem with the current organic revolution is that it goes against the carrying capacity of the earth.  According to the greatest agricultural scientist of all time and Nobel Prize laureate, Dr. Norman Borlaug, the earth only has enough soil and nitrate to feed a population of 4 billion people if traditional forms of agriculture were implemented on a global scale.  As we know, there are approximately 7 billion people alive today, and demographers predict that another 5 billion will be added before we reach population saturation.  So how will we feed that surplus of 8 billion people?  To further perpetuate the problem, much of the earth’s fertile regions are now being destroyed to make way for industrialization and sprawl, especially in large states like Brazil, China, and India.  The only reason why mankind has been able to prolong its Malthusian Catastrophe is because of science, but even science can barely keep up with the rising population and declining soil, and organic farming is contributing to the problem.

Much of today’s food ideology is rooted in hysteria and scare tactics, with very little evidence to support it.  Recently, Stanford University conducted a 40 year study that incorporated data from 38 other college researches, and they found that organic foods, on average, were no more nutritious or safer than conventional foods.  Some opponents of this study will argue that the use of pesticides is a big reason why they choose not to consume conventional produce.  But what most consumers don’t know is that all farmers use pesticide, regardless of agricultural preference.  The difference is that most modern synthetic pesticides have been introduced after the ban on DDT in the 1970s.  They’ve been tested meticulously for over 40 years and are deemed safe by nearly every health organization in America.  In contrast, although most organic pesticides are more “natural,” they have not experienced nearly as much experimentation and their affects on the human body remains mostly a mystery.  “Natural” is another one of those buzzwords that is so often used by the industry, but natural doesn’t always mean better.  Uranium-235 is natural, would you consume that?  Besides, what is pesticide, anyway?  It’s poison.  So then, what is the difference between natural poison and synthetic poison?  It’s still poison.  In fact, Copper Sulfate, the most popular organic pesticide is highly toxic, and according to research published in the Journal of Economic Entomology, they are a threat to non-sting bees.  Many companies within the organic industry will use this misconception to turn a profit.  Recently, there was a marketing video produced by Coop, an Swedish organic grocer that has since gone viral that trouts the lack of pesticides found in a family’s body after they switched over to a full organic diet.  That company is now being sued for misleading consumers.  The problem is that the video only measured synesthetic pesticide residue in the body, so of course you won’t find any in an organic diet.  It would be great, however, to see what the copper sulfate levels are in that little boy’s system.

When it comes to fertilizers, one could also argue that organic fertilizers could potentially be more dangerous than chemical fertilizers, since it is primarily manure-based, and manure is a host for the E-Coli virus and salmonella.  The restaurant, Chipotle, who prides itself on being organic and GMO free, has had a string of E-coli outbreaks this year. If you go through Whole Food’s list of recalls, you will find many items contaminated with E-coli and salmonella.  It is one thing to cook the bacteria away, it is another when you’re serving raw, cold lettuce and tomatoes that has been sprayed with compost

In today’s society, people seem to have a partisan belief system.  They only believe what they want, regardless of facts or rationality.  The American Cancer Society, FDA, United Nations World Health Organization, and the APHA have all endorsed the safety of conventional and GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) foods, and yet, people refuse to accept them, because they don’t trust “the government” or “science.”  Hypocritically enough, when stricken with diabetes, cancer, or some other affliction, these people are far too eager to accept medical science.  What’s the difference?  Why should we fear science?  Science is the reason why western societies now have life expectancies that borders or exceeds 80 years on average.

What scares the organic consumer about GMOs is that they’re “genetically modified,” but all foods are genetically modified through years of selective breeding.  If those organic corns you’re consuming taste sweet, then you’re eating a genetically modified product.  That organic turkey you’re having for Thanksgiving?  Well, that’s been ultra modified.  Did you know God didn’t create the Welsh Corgi?  We did, and we messed that creature up for the sake of owning something adorable.  Yes, GMOs are created in laboratories but they’re not much different from selective modification.  Moreover, GMOs are heavily monitored by American health agencies, and they set some of the highest safety standards in the world.  As of today, after thousands of research trials (read the actual research, not just conclusion) conducted throughout the world and funded by universities, for-profit and non-profit agencies, there is still absolutely zero indication that GMO causes any negative health effects.  It is completely safe.

If you do not trust the U.S. government, then you will be glad to know that much of your organic produce is actually regulated by the Chinese and is imported into the states. A recent investigation conducted by WJLA found that Whole Foods, America’s top organic grocery chain, sell hundreds of products from China, including spinach, sugar snap peas, carrots, cauliflower, and ironically a “California Blend” of broccoli.  According to the Seattle Times, in 2008, China exported $800 million dollars worth of organic produce, with much of it sent to Europe and the United States.  Although the United States Food and Drug Administration regulate imports, it is nearly impossible for them to monitor every piece of fruit and vegetable that enters the country.  Therefore, the discretion of safety falls on a country that is notorious for corruption.  Remember the 2007 pet food scandal and the 2008 melamine tainted baby food?  Which government would you rather trust?

Lastly, what most people fail to realize is that the more organic food they buy, the more expensive food in general, becomes.  It is a simple matter of supply and demand.  Organic methods produce far fewer yields per acre of land compared to conventional methods.  If organic agriculture spreads to a global scale, the total world production would plummet, thus driving up prices.  How are poor laborers in Peru going to be able to afford food?  How are we going to afford it?  So the next time you’re in the supermarket on top of an Ivory Tower, ask yourself this:  Is spending more money on this organic fruit, which offers no health or safety advantages, really worth the potential cost of global starvation? – Ping Zhou

Recommended TED Talk:  https://www.ted.com/talks/pamela_ronald_the_case_for_engineering_our_food?language=en

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The Charm of San Ignacio

January 17, 2013

One of the most appealing things about traveling is its unpredictability.  It is easy to research and imagine, but until people actually immerse themselves in a place, they won’t ever truly understand it.  Recently, when my friends and I planned a trip to the Central American country of Belize, we thought we knew where the geography of bliss was.  Home to the world’s second largest barrier reef, Belize’s Amerbergris Caye was going to serve us well.  With its white sand beaches, emerald waves, diverse marine life, and coconut palms, we pictured ourselves relaxing the days away in whimsical comfort.  But the island gave us no such euphoria.  Unexpectedly, we instead found enchantment in an small interior town called San Ignacio.

Tucked away in a valley between two rivers, San Ignacio is a quaint little town filled with culture and beauty. It is surrounded by rolling hills and jungle vegetation.  There is a soft stream that runs through downtown, connected by an emblematic old yellow steel bridge.  The central business district consists of small alleyways that showcases its vernacular colonial heritage.  The town is populated by a mosaic of ethnicities that includes Mestizos, Kriols, Lebanese, Chinese, and Amerindian.

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Everything in San Ignacio is calmer.  No one is in a hurry and you shouldn’t be either.  The traffic is mild and cars roll gently through the streets.  You rarely feel rushed to cross an intersection and walking is the preferred mode of transportation when in the city center.  The atmosphere here is tranquil and the air feels clean (most of the time).  If you want food, expect to sit and wait for hours.  But that’s ok, because you’ll adapt and maybe even learn to enjoy it.  Supper in San Ignacio seems less about the act of eating and more about enjoying the company you are with and the people that surrounds you.

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The town is a haven for backpackers.  It is an environment that encourages social interaction.  “Where are you from?  What are you doing in San Ignacio?  Where have you been?”  Everyone is curious and everyone wants to converse.  Companionship seems natural in San Ignacio.  We even had breakfast next to Grant Imahara of Mythbusters.  The locals here are welcoming and warm, always greeting you with a smile.  Perhaps it is the abundance of sunshine, or maybe it’s because San Ignacio feels more like a community rather than a town.

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The food here is wonderful.  Meats, fruits, and dairy are all raised, grown, and produced locally.  There is minimal processing, with a direct farm-to-table approach.  There is no corn hidden in your dinner, just real food.  One of the days while we were having breakfast, a local farmer personally dropped off his eggs for our restaurant’s morning service.  It doesn’t get much fresher than that.  On Saturdays, there is a local fruit and vegetable market that opens to the public.  Nothing is heavily preserved and everything is cheap.  Just outside of town, I found personal solace upon seeing cattle grazing openly in their natural environment, surrounded by acres of sprawling green grass.  Yes, they will still be slaughtered, but at least their days won’t be subjected to the harsh confines and diets of our American-style CAFOs.  I have always said that I am willing to pay more for meat that comes from an animal that was taken care of.  Here in San Ignacio, I received ethical meals without intensive capital expenditure.

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San Ignacio’s surrounding area is rich in history.  There are two ancient Mayan sites that are nearly within walking distance.  Cahal Pech, which dates backs to 1200 B.C.E, was a former hilltop palace home for the Mayan elites.  The site is partially secluded and we were the only travelers present during our visit.  In contrast to the typical overcrowded tourist attractions, Cahal Pech ended up being our own personal playground, making us feel like it was someplace only we knew.  Then there is Xunantunich.  Located less than one mile from the Guatemala border, Xunantunich is a former ceremonial site for the archaic civilization.  Here, you can freely climb to the top of the largest pyramid and enjoy a splendor view of the land.  Also just south of town is the Mountain Pine Ridge, a place of waterfalls, caves, and wildlife.  We drove about two miles directly into it and although it was the most treacherous ride we have ever experienced, it generated a memory that will stay with us for a lifetime.

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Life is simpler in Western Belize.  It is a portrait of society before globalization.  There are no McDonald’s or Taco Bell here; no Wal-Mart or Belle Tire; just small mom-and-pop shops trying to sustain themselves in this capitalistic world.  Many people in San Ignacio live in poverty.  Seeing homes built from straw and planks of wood, and families bathing and washing their clothes in creeks is a humbling experience.  It disciplines us into appreciating what we have and encourages us not to waste our gifted opportunities back home.

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A primary reason why we disliked Amerbergris Caye is because it is too developed, loud, and artificial.  San Ignacio is peaceful, authentic, and charming.  The most popular destinations aren’t always the most glorious.  The road less traveled is sometimes the most scenic.  During my stay in San Ignacio, I learned a lot about myself and what I value in life.  I felt comfort and peace.  I have missed it ever since I left, but I am confident this town will find a way to charm me back again, someday.  – Ping Zhou

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Review of John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars”

December 27, 2012

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John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” is a triumph in young-adult writing.   It is a story that explores the meaning of human existence through the eyes of a teenage couple living with cancer.  Without avoiding the painful realities of the disease- chest tubes, regurgitation, bodily fluids, oxygen tanks, blindness- Green was able to create a tender, humorous, and romantic tale that is less about the tragedy of our destined oblivion and more about the living of our own personal infinity.

“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set.” 

A far cry from some of the over-commercialized, poorly composed, and thoughtless novels of its genre (Twilight), “The Fault in Our Stars” is a philosophical mosaic hidden beneath the veneer of the category.  Showing respect to all demographic of readers, Green was able to successfully integrate the language of our youth with the sophistication of cultivated thought, creating a novel that permits the coexistence between words like “douchepants” and “sobriquet.”   The narrative in “Fault in Our Stars” is intellectually written, with philosophy grounded in realism that satisfies both the divine and the secular.

“There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.”

“The Fault in Our Stars” is a beautiful book.  It is an inspirational tale of love and lost in the face of adversity.  The novel reminds us of our frailty, but it also galvanizes our will.  It gives us characters worthy of admiration and a story that is pure joy to read.  Subjectively, the best novels are those that can make you think and feel.  With “The Fault in Our Stars”, you will be pondering its significance long after the last page is turned.  –Ping Zhou

 “Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

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Manhattan’s Shangri-La: The Columbus Park Pavilion

July 17, 2012

“Haven’t you ever dreamed of a place where there was peace and security? Where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight?” -Frank Capra

As the world’s most influential city, New York City has become an epicenter for global tourism.  Every year, over 50 million foreign and domestic visitors venture here for an opportunity to stare into the eyes of Lady Liberty, scale to the top of the great Empire State Building, and wander the effervescent streets of Time Square.  The city has no shortage of monumental landmarks, but sometimes the most popular sites aren’t always the most incredible.  Shrouded by the chaotic skyscraping jungle of lower Manhattan, the Columbus Park Pavilion might just be this metropolis’ hidden gem.

Situated at the intersection of Mulberry and Bayard St., Columbus Park Pavilion is a recently renovated community space located at the edge of Manhattan’s Chinatown.  Demographically, it is populated by seniors and young children of Chinese decent.  The area has a large fenced soccer field and basketball court.  There are tables scattered throughout, often occupied by locals playing checkers, cards, and other forms of recreation.  The landscape is dotted with soaring trees, large boulders, and benches, providing travelers with a place to escape the hustle-bustle environment of New York City.  A moderate sized social pavilion overlooks a square that is anchored by a twelve-foot bronze statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a revolutionary leader who helped establish the Republic of China proceeding the fall of the Qing Dynasty.

 

Superficially, the Columbus Park Pavilion appears as just another inner-city recreational area, but when inquired beyond its facade, visitors realize there is something deeper here, something serene.  Much like the seductive music of the Greek mythological Sirens, a peaceful serenade surrounds the air here, slowly luring visitors inward.  As travelers curiously investigate the violin-like symphony produced by the Chinese erhu instrument, they will unknowingly wander into a land of vintage life.

We are often told that vitality is reserved for the young, but that notion only seems to be myth in Columbus Park.  Despite being dominantly occupied by seniors, the place is glaring with life.  People gather around crowded poker tables, shouting, laughing, and heckling as if they didn’t have a care in the world.  Children everywhere are joyfully frolicking about as they are chased by their ever-smiling grandparents.  Around the bend, a group of seniors sings karaoke and cracking jokes about their “American Idol-worthy performances.”  Up on the pavilion, a tai chi master instructs a new generation of practitioners, while a nearby admirer observes in near trance.  Looking over the fence, a father purposely plays clumsy goaltender as his two young sons fire soccer balls in his direction.  Over on the rocks, a man naps blissfully, enjoying what seems to be a warm summer afternoon dream.  As if lost in a dream ourselves, all the tourists here are evidently enchanted by the milieu.  As a comforting soft wind blows through, we suddenly realize, we’ve been here for hours, just staring, listening, and feeling, as if caught in an optical meditation.

To visit the Columbus Park Pavilion is to experience true community.  It is an avenue for travelers to learn, appreciate, and feel connected with Eastern society, outside of the capitalistic orientation of New York’s famous ethnic enclave.  Just being here promotes self-reflection, a measure of the true worth behind living and aging.  Tourism isn’t just about seeing sights, it’s about physical and personal discovery.  You won’t see any big skyscrapers or famous television personalities here, but you will see friendship, love, family, and happiness.  And aren’t those the things we yearn for most in life?  So the next time you’re in lower Manhattan, throw away that Lonely Planet guide book and just follow the music.  Perhaps it will lead you to Shangri-La.  –Ping Zhou

Understanding The American Debt Crisis

June 4, 2012

The current U.S. national debt now exceeds $15.7 trillion dollars (06/12).  That amounts to a personal $50,000 bill for each American citizen (national debt divided by current population), which exceeds our annual per capita GDP by more than $3,000.  Although debt is not an uncommon phenomenon in this country, we haven’t had a deficit of this magnitude since the end of World War II, based on percentage of GDP (Congressional Budget Office).  Unfortunately, unlike the post-war recovery period, things are a bit harsher this time around.

The biggest difference between the U.S. financial burden of the 1950’s to 1990’s compared to today and onward is the diminishing funds of social security and Medicare.  Despite the costs of Vietnam, Korea, Space Race, and other expenditures, the national debt back then was essentially contained due to the baby boom generation’s massive tax surplus.  Today, that surplus has been depleted, tax revenues are decreasing due to the exodus of boomers from the workforce, and domestic population growth rate is extremely low (Demographic Transition). To make matters worse, the retiring boomers are now expecting returns on their lifelong investments, money that the government has completely spent.  Fundamentally, the only way the government can deal with this current burden is to borrow more money, done through interest paying bonds.  Majority of the bonds are owned domestically, but according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, more than $5 trillion dollars worth is owned by foreign investors, with the largest being China and Japan, holding over $1 trillion each.

There are other elements that contribute to the country’s financial crisis besides social security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  The most obvious of which are the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Regardless of your opinion on the necessity of these conflicts, no one can argue the financial cost of warfare.  According to Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, the current bill for the wars exceeds $3.7 trillion dollars, or approximately 23.56% of the current debt.

Then there is the 2008 financial crisis, in which sub-prime lending and financial leveraging by banks led to a global recession, destroying the market and costing many people their livelihoods.  This further burdened the system with another decrease in tax revenues and an increase in unemployment payouts.

This country is also experiencing a health crisis.  According to literally every scientific source on the matter, America is the fattest nation on the planet (I blame corn).  Obesity isn’t just an aesthetic issue, it’s also a financial one, as the cost to manage and treat conditions such as diabetes and heart disease is unreasonably expensive (Januvia pills, currently under patent, cost nearly $300 a month).  America’s healthcare coverage also plays a role in our debt, but this controversial issue should be discussed independently.

America has a global trade deficit.  There are two subject areas to focus on.  The first has to do with our culture.  America is a consumer nation.  We love stuff and we love to buy stuff we can’t afford! That’s about as layman as it gets.  The second area has to do with what I like to call an “industrial transition.”  In-a-nutshell, as economies advance, they will naturally shift from a primary-focused industry (agriculture, mining, fishing) to a secondary industry (manufacturing, construction), to eventually a tertiary/quaternary (services) industry.  As we know, manufacturing is practically on life-support in the United States.  Although it is justifiable to blame politicians, the World Trade Organization, NAFTA, China, and/or business tycoons, the fact-of-the matter is, decline in manufacturing is part of a near-natural progression rooted in inflation, improvement in education, and overall way-of-life for industrial societies.  The real problem is that manufacturing has declined a bit too much in America.  According to the economic base model for industrial societies, for every one basic worker (mainly manufacturing worker), two non-basic workers are needed to service them.  Without any empirical data (theory), it certainly feels more like it’s two-and-a-half to three non-basic to one basic in America today.  We have become too technological and too service based.  This is a problem since most services (i.e. haircuts) can’t be traded internationally.  The U.S. basically imports significantly more than it exports.  To add insult to injury, many of those quaternary service and high-tech jobs are now being out-sourced overseas, as well.  Partially it has to do with a reduction in cost to companies, but it also involves the country’s lack of qualified workers.  Most Americans, such as me, tend to study the liberal arts and the social sciences in college, but those fields are not where jobs are.  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is where the demand is (remember: America is highly service and technologically based).  So essentially, America lacks the proper workforce to occupying all the available STEM jobs, therefore forcing companies to seek labor overseas- imagine that irony.  This situation is documented in 2008, when Microsoft CEO, Bill Gates testified in front of congress with this very concern.

Then, of course, there is everything else…

Our current financial debt crisis is dramatically direr than any previous. Changes must be made, so prepare for our standard of living to decline in the coming decades.  The rationale for this post is to hopefully get you to understand that despite our hatred for budget cuts, they are necessary.  The debate, then, is to decide what to cut and what to pardon.  Is Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s (a rather handsome fellow) proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid a good idea?  That’s up to you to decide.  Do you think Obamacare is the path to fixing our healthcare problem?  That’s also up to you.  But again, regardless where the cuts come from, we need to start supporting some monetary policies.  We cannot keep spending phantom capital.  Let’s buy less, work more, pay our taxes, and collectively solve this crisis in a civil manner.  –Ping Zhou

A Review of Jamie Zeppa’s “Beyond the Sky and the Earth”

November 11, 2011

After earning her master’s degree in English literature from York University, Toronto/Sault Ste. Marie native, Jamie Zeppa, became lost with her life’s course. Yearning for adventure, she impulsively leaves her country, fiancé, and a potential doctorate education to teach English for two years in Bhutan, an isolated Himalayan kingdom that is often referred to as the world’s last Shangri-La.

“I want to go home. I tell Sasha I am coming down with something, and lie in bed and wish for things: a Cosmopolitan magazine, a bagel and cream cheese, a grocery store, the Eaton Centre two days before Christmas.”

Due to the polarization between the industrialized society of Canada and the rural way-of-life in Bhutan, Zeppa struggled tremendously with her process of acculturation. People no longer spoke English, Buddhism became the dominant religion, urban infrastructure was practically non-existent, and all the simple pleasures of Canadian life were gone. Misery consumed her as the risk of disease and sickness was brought into focus: a house infested with rats and bugs, questionable meat at the local markets, and hospitals that were miles away. However, with the help and kindness of the Bhutanese people, her fears would progressively dissipate and Bhutan would eventually become her serenity.

“I remember my arrival in Bhutan and how miserable I was, and all the other teachers who seemed inexplicably content. They were right all along, I think. This is the most remarkable place, after all.”

Fundamentally, Beyond the Sky and the Earth is a love story. It is a memoir that recollects Zeppa’s romance with a landscape, a people, a culture, and a man. Intricately written with compassion, Zeppa’s book fashions us- the reader- into her persona, and systematically render us into her affection for a place. We will be carried along with her, as she journey through joy and heartbreak; empathize with her as she flows from triumphs to struggles and righteousness to shame. And by the end of it all, we all will be humbled by her journey.

“They [her young students] curl up under a blanket, and I stand in the doorway, watching their small faces relax into sleep. I must squeeze my eyes tightly to stop the tears. If I feel this sad leaving Pema Gatshel after five months, I cannot imagine how I will feel leaving Bhutan after two years.”

What’s also extraordinary about Beyond the Sky and the Earth is Zeppa’s imaginative style of description. Unlike the conventional lackluster scenery narratives of most contemporary travel literatures, Zeppa’s depictions are artistic and breathe life into the mysticism and beauty of a landscape forgotten by time.

“All around, the mountains rise and rise, pale gold and brown in the February light. At one end of the valley, beyond a wall of black, broken peaks, one white summit shimmer; at the other end, the mountains grow tamer, softly rounded and turning smoky blue in the distance.”

The only flaw with Beyond the Sky and the Earth is the book’s potential to manufacture subjective non-literary criticisms.  There are certain scenarios in the story in which the author comes off rather hypocritical and selfish.  Some readers may also be distressed by Zeppa’s heightened libido towards the Bhutanese men and her shameful fornication with the college students.  But nevertheless, Beyond the Sky and the Earth is a well-written, concise, and honest piece of literature that is full of heart.  It is a philosophical, anthropological, geographical, sociological lesson all bundled together within the boundaries of an entertaining travel memoir.  This book is an experience, a pleasure to read, and similar to the country of Bhutan itself, a hidden beauty. –Ping Zhou

“I have fallen into this world the way you fall into sleep, tumbling through layers of darkness into full dream. The way you fall in love. I am in love with the landscape, the way the green mountains turn into blue shadows in the late afternoon light… I love the sunlight as it rises above the silver valley, the unbearable clarity of everything after rain, the feeling of the great dark night all round, and knowing where I am. I am in love with the simplicity of my life, the plain rooms, the shelves empty of ornaments… I don’t want to go home at Christmas. I don’t want to go home, ever.”

A brief reflection on Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”

October 30, 2011

Written as a provocative memoir on childrearing, Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother imparts on the secret behind Asian children’s academic and professional success within American society. Throughout the literature, Chua continuously criticizes American parents, labeling them as are weak, lazy, and conformists, who abide by the notion that freedom of individuality will manufacture success for their children. Chua argues that the foundation for achievement is rooted in draconian measures. By mandating an adolescent existence saturated with rigorous practice, public humiliation, respect, and diligence, individuals will flourish into societal victors. Using her daughters, Sophia and Lulu as example, Chua sets out to validate her claim.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother indeed is a controversial piece of literature. Many parents and critics have been appalled by some of Chua actions: locking her daughter outside in the cold, removing them from recreational classes to enforce additional music practice, prohibit entertainment of any sort, and scalding her youngest on a birthday card she made that- according to Chua- lacked effort. Others have judged the book largely through asking questions: How will this type of parenting affect her children’s psychic welfare? Is future success worth contemporary misery?

Regardless of opinion, it is undeniable that Chua’s methods work; both Sophia and Lulu are academic geniuses and music prodigies who have performed at concert halls all over the world. Moreover, no one can deny Chua of her workmanship in getting her daughters to reach the altitude of triumph. As Chua herself said: “it is easy to be a mother who promotes individuality and freedom. After telling her children to do as they please, they [the mom] will then head out to the gym and do yoga.” It is questionable, however, whether Chua’s exertion is genuine. It is possible that perhaps having lost objective in life from reaching the peak of personal social success -as an accomplished Yale Law Professor- Chua is now simply living vicariously through her children. Hopefully this is not the case. What is troubling- in a tangible way, anyway- is how Chua’s meticulous parenting has fundamentally confiscated her daughters of their childhoods. Childhood is something every individual should be entitled to. It is a careless time of curiosity, exploration, and adventure; a time when the demons and stress of concrete reality will not harm us. No matter how successful Sophia and Lulu may become as adults, they will never be able to succeed in recapturing that lost time.

Despite Chua’s harsh and direct opinions, she does raise a good point: Americans are starting to fall behind in the global economy and something needs to change; perhaps parenting. It is important to take her words with a grain-of-salt and an open mind. The reason why Battle Hymn of the Tiger Battle is so heavily debated is because there is no real supreme way to parent. As the book will show, childrearing methods are not static, it depends on the individual. Readers should not let their subjective ideologies direct them away from the true principles of this literature. Beneath its philosophical foundation is an entertaining story of humor, family, humility and love. Read it and judge for yourself. –Ping Zhou