We’ve moved!

A key teaching of Buddhism is that of impermanence, and I’m trying out something new with Planet Dorje – I’ve moved it to Substack! Hopefully, this will make it easier for me to post more often and easier for you to keep up to date on what happens on Planet Dorje.

This website will still be up for the next few months or so, but I’m not planning on renewing the domain once my yearly subscription is expired. All content from this website has been transferred to Planet Dorje 2.0 and new content is already underway.

Thank you for reading my articles and I hope you’ll sign up for the new Planet Dorje substack!

Media of the Week – Mar 19, 2023

Article: Why “No 5-7-5”?

For the past few months, I’ve been on-and-off self-studying Japanese. I only know a few phrases and Japanese is still really hard for me to read. But, on my way to rekindle my interest in Japan, I came across this article. I didn’t know that haiku is actually based on the number of characters (technically moras) not necessarily the syllables like I learned when I was young. And the emphasis on juxtaposition and evoking feeling was also really interesting! Haikus are cool, but I don’t think they hold a candle to Tibetan grid poems:

One of Gendun Chopel’s famous poems in the classic grid pattern. Words are arranged so that there is a syllable in each square and lines can be read in multiple directions. Credit: Tibetan History in Pictures

Article: Rewilding Your Attention

What makes something interesting? It’s a question I ask myself a lot. For me, a part of it is finding something different or unique. This article points out that it’s been increasing harder to find the off-beat and weird in an internet powered by algorithms. It promotes the idea of going against the grain of the normal internet and looking for things off the beaten path of the web – and I’m inclined to agree! That’s kind of the whole point of the Media of the Week series. I recommend checking out the suggested Marginalia Search Engine and the Weird Old Book Finder!

Movie: Osmosis Jones

The early 2000s were a weird time for movies and TV shows. I remember being really into Ozzy and Drix, the cartoon series that spawned from this movie. I watched it last week – weird, but entertaining. I really like the creative world-building.

Wikipedia: Flags of Japanese Prefectures

The emblem of Kaminokuni, Hokkaido is a stylized version of 上国. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In my quest to become more creative, I’ve discovered a new avenue through which I can channel my artistic energies: fonts. Specifically of languages that don’t use the Latin alphabet. It’s a natural progression of my journey of creativity really – an amalgam of my love for language learning with a resolve to be a better artist. The ways Tibetan can be written – Kyug-yig, Phagpa (which is script the Planet Dorje logo is in), and Lantsa to name a few – are fascinating. My fantasy language is a Tibetan that uses Chinese characters like Japanese – བོད語 if you will. This article gives some ideas for what logos could look. For more, check out the lists of Japanese municipalities.

Media of the Week – Feb 5, 2023

Podcast: Scaling Green Hydrogen for a Global Market

After learning about Japan’s obsession with hydrogen fuel and taking an energy class this semester, I’ve been taking a deep dive into learning more about hydrogen as an alternative fuel. Theoretically, it’s a great stepping stone for the energy transition away from fossil fuels because it resembles traditional fossil fuels and it’s showing great potential. I learned a lot from this podcast (I’ve been listening to a lot of it recently); I thought the part about setting up hydrogen production in coastal desert areas to be particularly fascinating.

Article: We’re Not Who You Think We Are

This is a question I find myself grappling a lot when I enter Buddhist spaces: where are all the Asian faces? There is a huge lack of representation for Asian Americans generally but surely that shouldn’t be the case for an Asian religion? Personally, the attribution to white people crowding out the American Buddhist zeitgeist is only part of the issue. I think another equally pressing issue is the fact that Asian Americans occupy a space between being neither Asian nor American and tend to forsake Asian religion. If they do follow Buddhism, it is mostly cultural without deeper learning of the philosophies behind it. As an Asian American Buddhist myself, I have quite a few thoughts on this that might turn into a blog post in itself.

Wikipedia: Chiyou

No, this isn’t the goldfish that was dominating the Scarlet and Violet OU metagame. Chiyou is a legendary Hmong warrior-king who is honoured as a god of war. This page is rather sparse so I’ll have to do some more reading about him. I do think it’s interesting to learn how Chinese history is rife with warfare.

Movie: Moshari

I heard Bangladeshi cinema is still in its growing phase but this short film was really good. It isn’t terribly scary and I think the themes of family and protection are memorable. Great idea too. Moshari is the word for mosquito net in Bengali; who doesn’t like mosquitos?! It’s about time there was a mosquito themed(-ish) horror movie.

Swimming to Nonself

Swimmer in space

Change is an axiom of life. The Buddha extends this concept to say the “I” doesn’t exist because the self is constantly changing and doesn’t have any inherent characteristics of its own. This is what the Buddhist concept of emptiness refers to. I thought I understood nonself until my swimming career, something I was passionate about and proud of, ended due to the pandemic.

I shouldn’t have liked swimming as much as I did. When I dove in for my first race, my goggles fell off and I got dead last in my heat. But the electricity of competition and the fire to improve kept me in the sport. As my swimming times got faster and the years went by, three times a week practices became six times a week and one hour practices became three. Before I knew it, swimming took over my life. And it was hard not to have life revolve around it. From the people I met to the opportunities I got to the lessons I learned, the sport shaped me into who I am today.

The greatest privilege from my talent and hard work has been swimming in college. If “who you are is what you do” is true, I was a swimmer. Everything I did revolved around training and meets. I fit classes around my practice schedule. I forwent late night suite hangouts because of morning practice. There wasn’t much to my extracurricular life because swimming dominated so much of it. That was until the pandemic.

Quarantine was a weird time for everyone, but I was still training out of the pool hopeful for some semblance of an athletic season. Then, in November 2020, news headlines flashed: Winter Sports Canceled due to Coronavirus Pandemic. My athletic career was done. At first, not being a swimmer anymore was fine – I still had my fitness. And I could maintain and improve it by running and going to the gym.

More than two years later, due to travel, work, and now a grad student schedule, even my fitness is slowly going away. My arms aren’t as muscular, running is harder, and my fitness isn’t as infallible as it used to be. As my name in the swimming world fades to a memory and my body loses its tone, the “proof” I was a swimmer is disappearing. It’s at this time that I’m reminded of the Buddha’s teachings about impermanence and non-self. Just as starting swimming was a turning point in my life, the end of it has marked another one.

In my meditations, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I cling so much to swimming and fitness. As a Buddhist and minimalist, I never thought of material attachment as all that hard to let go of. But in a world where your achievements and the answer to “what do you do?” come to define you, I’ve found it’s been much harder to shake attachment to the self. Slowly, I’ve been learning not to cling to someone I once was, or something I once did. I may not be a swimmer anymore, but nowadays I swim on occasion and it doesn’t frustrate me that I’ll never be as fast as I used to be. Ideally, I wouldn’t need to attribute anything to my identity, but I haven’t gotten to the point where I can completely accept nonself. For now, my weekend swims in the pool serve as a reminder of the impermanence of all things and an admonition to practice nonattachment.

Rabbits of Pop Culture

Happy Chinese New Year! 新年快乐! This year is the Water Rabbit year according to the Chinese zodiac. In many horoscopes, those born in rabbit years are described as affectionate, shy, modest and conflict-avoidant. Growing up, I always thought the rabbit got the short end of the stick. Why couldn’t the Chinese be like the Vietnamese or Malays and choose a cooler animal as the fourth creature in the zodiac? And I know horoscopes are bogus but why is the rabbit description so lame?

Today I want to change that. There are dozens of famous rabbits from pop culture. I want to rate rabbits from my childhood and beyond based on their fighting ability to see if they really are as weak and helpless as the horoscopes suggest.

Energizer Bunny

Credit: Energizer

This lagomorph is easily recognizable from its pink fur and cool guy sunglasses. Known for its infinite stamina, the Energizer Bunny could easily tire out any opponent. Having fought against Darth Vader, the Energizer Bunny has experience against powerful foes. Also, war drums are popular instruments to intimidate enemies. However, with only drum mallets for weapons, it doesn’t have much offensive potential. The open batteries on its legs and back could also be exploited as weak spots. 2/5

Judy Hopps from Zootopia

Credit: Disney Wiki

As the first rabbit police officer, Judy Hopps clearly would make a good fighter. She has the skills and tenacity to take on opponents several times her size. Her persistence to achieve her dream of being a police officer are indicative of her toughness. 4/5

Trix Rabbit

Credit: General Mills

This guy is just a sucker for fruity flavours. The Trix Rabbit’s only real strength is his ability to dress up and fool anybody with his costume. Aside from his expert camouflage, I guess he has long arms? 1/5

Killer Bunny from Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Credit: EMI Films via Time

This rabid rabbit is the ultimate killing machine. Its diminutive size and appearance as a generic, harmless bunny mean it’s frequently underestimated. This rabbit clearly knows how to quickly and efficiently kill its opponents by the way it attacks the jugular. It murdered three knights in mere seconds. As Tim the Enchanter said, “That’s no ordinary rabbit; that’s the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on!” 5/5

Thumper from Bambi

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Did you know that rabbits stamp their feet in real life? They do it when they’re scared. So really, Thumper is just a normal rabbit. I suppose he’s more courageous than his kin but a huge weakness is that Thumper will be smitten to paralysis upon seeing a pretty bunny friend. 1/5

Were-Rabbit from Wallace and Gromit

Credit: Wallace and Gromit Wiki

Although the were-rabbit is Wallace, it deserves its own entry on this list. This midnight monster absolutely ravaged the town. Not only is the were-rabbit immensely strong, but extremely fast – its burrowing can keep up with a driving car. I can’t think of any weaknesses except for the fact that the were-rabbit is solely driven by its appetite for vegetables. 5/5

Lola Bunny from Space Jam

Credit: Looney Tunes Wiki

Lola Bunny is the iconic female bunny and Bugs’s love interest in Space Jam. She’s tough and athletic which are good traits to have as a fighter. Plus, if things don’t go her way, she can use her flirting to stun her opponents. But basketball isn’t fighting – 3/5

ChatGPT writes about itself

ChatGPT told me that I should include a close-up of a person’s hands typing on a keyboard to accompany the post. Credit: Christin Hume / Unsplash

One of the most impressive and advanced AI models for generating human-like text is ChatGPT, developed by OpenAI. This model has been trained on a vast dataset of texts and uses machine learning algorithms to understand and generate text that resembles human writing.

But how does ChatGPT go about writing a blog article? When given a topic or prompt, it uses its knowledge of language patterns and meanings to generate relevant and coherent text. The output may not be perfect, but it can still produce high-quality content that is on par with human writing in terms of coherence and relevance.

One potential benefit of using ChatGPT to write blog articles is the speed and efficiency it offers. It can potentially produce an article much faster than a human, allowing for a greater volume of content to be produced in a shorter amount of time. This could be especially useful for publishers or content creators who need to produce a large amount of content on a tight deadline.

However, it’s important to note that ChatGPT, like all AI models, has limitations. While it may be able to produce text that is coherent and relevant to a given topic, it may lack the creativity and nuance of human-written content. Additionally, there may be concerns about the ethical implications of using AI to write articles, such as the potential for biased or misleading content.

Overall, ChatGPT represents a major advancement in the field of artificial intelligence and has the potential to revolutionize the way content is created and distributed. While there are still limitations to be considered, the potential benefits make it an exciting prospect for the future of content creation.

10 Ancient animals I want to see as Pokemon

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet released a few weeks ago and the newest cohort of Pocket Monsters have some great additions to the franchise. Aside from the fact we finally got a dolphin Pokemon and I was proven wrong, I particularly like Tatsugiri, Glimmora, and Lokix. Still, with the number of Pokemon finally cracking 1,000, I’m dissatisfied that some of my favourite inspirations from the natural world haven’t been made into Pokemon.

1. Gorgonopsid

Gorgonopsid. Credit: Dmitry Bogdanov
Credit: Dmitry Bogdanov, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Time range: Middle to Upper Permian (265-252mya)
  • Clade: Theraspid
  • Closest living relatives: Modern mammals

I’ve always been more of a fan of the neither fish nor fowl Pokemon designs. Think Nidoking, Breloom, and Shiftry. They aren’t immediately associated with a certain animal. Gorgonopsids are the real-life equivalent; they’re somewhere in between reptiles and mammals. I could see Game Freak incorporating this animal with themes from Chinese pig-dragon artifacts, the Indian makara, or the Tibetan snow lion into a cool dark- or fire-type Pokemon.

2. Chalicothere

Chalicothere. Credit: DiBgd
Credit: DiBgd, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Time range: Middle Eocene to early Pleistocene (48.6-1.8mya)
  • Clade: Perissodactyla
  • Closest living relatives: Horses, tapirs, rhinos

Chalicotheres are like horses that walk like gorillas. They probably used their huge front claws to grab tree branches into their mouths. They look kind of goofy but they’re one of my favourite prehistoric creatures. Still, combined with motifs from the yeti or qilin, the chalicothere could make for a well-designed Pokemon.

3. Dunkleosteus

Dukleosteus fossil. Credit: Zachi Evenor
Credit: Zachi Evenor, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Time range: Devonian (382-358mya)
  • Clade: Placoderms
  • Closest living relatives: Modern fish

Yes, technically we already have Pokemon inspired by dunkleosteus – Dracovish and Arctovish. But until we get the proper full forms of all the Galarian fossil Pokemon, I will keep advocating for a dunkleosteus Pokemon. This shark-like placoderm fish had a mouth made of plate-like teeth and is calculated to have one of the strongest bite forces in the animal kingdom. To make it less like Dracovish and Arctovish, I could see inspiration from the Japanese isonade, a sea monster based on thresher sharks. Covered in plates of spiky armour, dunkleosteus would make a cool water/steel Pokemon.

4. Eurypterid

Eurypterid fossil. Credit: H Zell
Credit: H. Zell, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Time range: Middle Ordivician to Late Permian (467.3 to 251.9mya)
  • Clade: Chelicerata
  • Closest living relatives: Arachnids, horseshoe crabs

Consisting of some of the largest arthropods to ever exist, eurypterids were probably one of the top predators of their time. I have a very specific idea of how I’d want a eurypterid Pokemon. Inspired by heikegani, crabs with samurai faces on their carapaces, I could see the eurypterid being a fighting-type Pokemon with the paddles turned into boxing gloves.

Examples of heikegani. Credit: Tali Landsman
Credit: Tali Landsman

5. Basilosaurus

Basilosaurus. Credit: Carl Buell
Credit: Carl Buell via NYIT
  • Time range: Eocene (41.3-33.9mya)
  • Clade: Cetaceans
  • Closest living relatives: Whales

Despite its name meaning “king lizard”, basilosaurus is one of the earliest whales. I think it has that nondescript monster-like quality that would make for a good Pokemon. I couldn’t think of a particularly good theme to base a Pokemon on. Since the basilosaurus is very serpentine, nagas wouldn’t be a bad idea. Since we have a nigiri Pokemon now, having a maki roll basilosaurus evolution could be fun too.

6. Livyatan

Credit: Ghedoghedo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Time range: Miocene (9.9-8.9mya)
  • Clade: Cetaceans
  • Closest living relatives: Sperm whales

Known colloquially as the killer sperm whale, this cetacean was contemporaneous with the infamous megalodon and probably fought for the same food source. As a Pokemon, I imagine a livyatan to take inspiration from torpedos and the Yamal icebreaker ship. As a steel type, I think this could be a really cool looking Pokemon.

The Yamal icebreaker. Credit: Pink floyd88 a
The Yamal. Credit: Pink floyd88 a, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

7. Terror Bird

Credit: Lucas Lima via Earth Archives
  • Time range: Paleocene to late Pleistocene (62-0.1mya)
  • Clade: Cariamiformes
  • Closest living relatives: Seriemas

Terror birds were some of the coolest extinct birds – right up there with moas and pelagornis. Terror birds would make for a cool Pokemon as is but maybe Game Freak could add a Baba Yaga hut motif to make it a bit more interesting?

8. Pliosaur

Credit: dmitrchel, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Time range: Late Jurassic (155.7-147mya)
  • Clade: Plesiosauria
  • Closest living relatives: Modern reptiles

We’ve had a plesiosaur Pokemon in Lapras since generation 1; it’s about time for the pleseiosaur’s cousin, the pliosaur! Although Walking with the Dinosaurs’s rendition of Liopleurodon is considered exaggerated now, I remember being awed by the beast while watching the documentary. To subvert the expectation that a pliosaur pokemon would be a water type, it’d be interesting to see it take parts from space ships like Star Wars’s X-Wing.

9. Therizinosaur

Credit: PaleoNeolitic, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Time range: Late Cretaceous (70mya)
  • Clade: Theropods
  • Closest living relatives: Modern birds

Imagine a dinosaur with Freddy Kreuger claws that that’s pretty much therizinosaurs. If the long claws remind you of those of chalicotheres, that’s because they probably served the same purpose in grabbing vegetation. A therizinosaur Pokemon would be a ghost type and really fall into the Freddy Kreuger likeness. I can see it coloured as if it’s dressed as a skeleton a la Halloween or Dia de los Muertos.

10. Glyptodont

Glyptodonts. Credit: Robert Bruce Horsfall
Credit: Robert Bruce Horsfall via Wikimedia Commons
  • Time range: Eocene to late Pleistocene (48-0.01mya)
  • Clade: Cingulata
  • Closest living relatives: Armadillos

Given Japan’s obsession with baseball, it’s a wonder we still haven’t had a Pokemon inspired by the sport. A glyptodont would be the perfect for a baseball Pocket Monster. Bat-like tail? Check. Shell that looks like a batting helmet? Check. Then, make it crouching like a catcher and have it have baseball mitt like hands. All it needs is an armadillo-like pre-evolution that rolls up like a baseball and the the idea makes itself. Game Freak, make it happen.

2022 in Music

Music can be powerful in triggering memories. This is especially the case for me in 2022 because an important part of my journey to be more creative this year was to gain a better appreciation for music. This year, I especially wanted to expand my music tastes in foreign songs. In this post, I want to sum up this year by taking a trip down memory lane and review the 50 most influential songs I discovered in 2022 in chronological order.

Here’s the playlist if you want to listen to it while reading my post:

1: We Don’t Talk About Bruno

I watched Encanto last year on Christmas Day. I thought the movie was alright (would’ve liked it to be a bit longer but it’s Disney) but, like everyone else, I was hooked on We Don’t Talk About Bruno. With its catchy tune, different styles, and beautiful musical medley at the end, it’s hard not to like it (except for the fact that Luisa doesn’t get to sing!). Also, this edit of the song is perfection.

2: Deja Vu

I’ve been told my music taste is obscure Asian music and the most basic American pop with zero in-between the two. I guess this is part of the latter group. I don’t really have much to say about this song other than it’s my favourite Olivia Rodrigo song and I’m a fan of the music video.

3-7: Country Songs

I started listening to the country music radio station while driving this year. I don’t understand the hate to country music; there’s so much to like about it! There’s the emotion and sing-a-long quality to country music. The cowboy aesthetic really hits at my interest in Central Asian cultures. The lyrics about living a simple life appeal to my minimalist sensibilities.

I can’t end a section about country music without sharing my favourite meme about country songs:

Female Country Singers: My husband cheated on me so I stabbed him. Male country singers: BEER

8 & 9: Numb Little Bug & Bad Habits

More generic, basic pop music. Not much to say other than these songs played all the time at the gym. I don’t relate to the lyrics – I just think the songs are such earworms.

10 & 11: Fire in the Sky & Every Summertime

I was not a fan of Shang Chi but the soundtrack was definitely one of its redeeming qualities. Although I thought it was out of place in a martial arts Marvel movie, I really like the theme of love in these songs. These two are just great songs to play on repeat and feel good about life and living.

12: Sukiyaki

Can we have a moment to realize how weird it is that this song is called Sukiyaki in English? In Japanese, song is I Look Up As I Walk (Ue No Muite Arukou, 上を向いて歩こう) which captures the real sadness of the song. It’d be like if an American love song was called BLT in Japan. I actually prefer the English version by Nishida Hikaru over Sakamoto Kyu’s original but it isn’t available on Spotify. Regardless, this song is an all-time classic.

13: Wellerman

Just another catchy song; it’s hard not to sing along when you hear this song. Apparently, this song was popularized from TikTok but I found out about this song from this Chinese propaganda parody.

14: The Weather

You might remember I featured this song in one of my Media of the Weeks. This song is so good; I love the bittersweetness of the lyrics and the catchy tune. The gospel version just elevates that.

15: Sweetest Pie

l am such a big fan of Dua Lipa. She’s just so talented, beautiful, and thoughtful. I’ve listened to a few episodes of her podcast which has unlocked a new side of her that I didn’t know before. Although I didn’t initially like this song, it quickly grew on me. The more and more I listen this song, the more I appreciate Megan Thee Stallion’s rapping prowess.

16: Maitighar

I’m really surprised I never featured this song in my Media of the Week posts. Earlier this year in the spring, I had the opportunity to volunteer for an event at the Nepalese embassy in DC. I heard some great folk music and had to get recommendations. This was one of them.

17: Arirang

In my March 18th Media of the Week, I talked about the UNESCO Intangible Heritage List. One of the cultural elements I didn’t mention in my post was the Korean folk song Arirang. There’s something beautiful about the fact it’s sung in both North and South Korea and represents unity across the peninsula.

18: 一秒钟而已 (Yi Miao Zhong Er Yi)

It took me a really long to find this song and it’s still not quite the right version. The one I’m trying to find is more blues-y. Regardless, the title translates to something like “just a second” and it’s a song about missing your lover. There’s something about Chinese love songs that hits me harder. Maybe it’s like that quote:

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

Nelson Mandela

19: Sweet Dreams

If I had a go-to karaoke song that it palatable to a wide audience, this would be it. I sing this song to myself all the time. I’m a big fan of the 80s and that includes its music.

20: Red Sun

You probably remember that I included this in my Media of the Week a while ago. As someone who is a fusion of the East and West, I’m a big fan of music that is the same. If I was somebody who listened to music while doing work, I’d probably be listening to more of this type of music.

21 & 22: Sonido Amazonico & Lobos al Escape

Another couple of songs that are just instrumental. I talked about getting into chica music in this Media of the Week. When I mention that I enjoy listening to chica music to Peruvians, they’re really surprised that I know what it is. So I feel like I need to do my part in spreading chica music to non-Peruvians.

23: Special

This song was featured in a Media of the Week and it still resonates with me. I’ve struggled with being not good enough for a long time in my childhood and I sometimes still feel like that mediocre kid with no friends. Having support is so important for living a fulfilling life; not only do I credit all my successes to people who believed in me, but friends just add so much colour to life. I’m grateful for all my friends and the people who have believed in me.

24: Songs of Disappearance

Also featured in my Media of the Week, birds are just really cool animals. I don’t think we take for granted the fact that dinosaurs just roam around us – they’re just feathery.

25: Cold Heart

Like I said, I’m such a big fan of Dua Lipa. Combine that with my love for 80s music and you have a winning combo. There were days this year that I would just play this song on repeat.

26: Lhasa

Who remembers Shapaley from back in the day? You know, the famous rap about Tibetan empanadas. Shapaley is kind of a celebrity among the Tibetan diaspora and the song is universally known. His music was even featured in the Tibet Museum in Dharamsala. When I saw it, I looked him up to see what he was up to. Turns out, he has a new song. Although the song itself is a bit too chill for me, I really like the 90s aesthetic of the music video. Shapaley has been a big advocate for the Tibetan diaspora speaking and learning Tibetan so as a Tibetan learner, I appreciate him adding the lyrics to the song in the description.

27: Dro (འགྲོ)

When I was teaching English in Dharamsala this summer, I traded Tibetan song recommendations with one of my students (of course I did གྲོང་ཁྱེར) and found out about this song. I like it not only because the lyrics are slow and easy to understand but also the singing is so powerful.

28: Let’s Fall in Love

I’ve been trying to get into actually owning my own music (as opposed to using streaming services). For me, the easiest way to get into this was to collect CDs because I already have a CD player. One of the CDs I have in my collection is a jazz one with this song. It’s the first one in the lineup so I enjoy playing this CD.

29 & 30: The Beach Boys

It’s hard not to like the Beach Boys. And they were so influential. I like 80s music which means I automatically like its progenitor. After recently acquiring a Beach Boys CD, it’s one of my go-tos when I don’t know what to play.

31: 一无所有 (Nothing to My Name)

Cui Jian is an interesting character. He’s Korean-Chinese and is the father of Chinese rock. Having grown up in a liberal China opening up to the world and inspired by Western 60s music legends like The Beatles, John Denver, and Simon and Garfunkel, Cui’s music reflects this unique period of Chinese history with its American rock music with Chinese lyrics. In fact, this song was used as an anthem during the 1989 Tiananmen Protests.

32: Amarillo by Morning

Going back to the country theme for this year, I first listened to Enkh-Erdene’s cover of this song but George Strait’s original is such a country classic. I love fantasizing about living as a minimalist traveller like a ronin or cowboy.

33-36: The Baatar

After listening to Enkh-Erdene’s Amarillo by Morning, is there any more to say other than Mongolian and country music is a winning combination? I love The Baatar’s songs even I don’t understand a lick of Mongolian. American Western and Mongolian cultures work together because they’re similar in many ways – living out in the open wilderness, a love for horse riding, and just general grittiness. According to Deezer, The Baatar is my most played artist for the year. But even if that weren’t the case, if there were an artist to sum up this entire list, it’d be him.

37 & 38: The Grassroots

I found out about the Grassroots after watching Pachinko TV series (which is great by the way); the intro song is Let’s Live for Today. It’s such a happy song about love and life that is enhanced by the actors’ lively dancing. Again, it’s hard not to love 60s songs so naturally I became a big fan of the Grassroots.

39: London Thumakda

This was one of the signature songs of the night at a wedding I went to this fall. I like Bollywood and Desi songs but I wouldn’t say I go out of my way to look for them. It’s always nice to find a catchy Bollywood song. In the way that songs can help you relive certain memories, listening to this song takes me back to that wedding night and the nonsensical, but soulful dancing that followed.

40 & 41: Ana Moura

I don’t remember exactly how I found about Ana Moura but I found her somewhere when I was kind of getting into Portuguese culture this fall. Something about its loose connections to Asian culture, the unique pronunciations of the language, and relative obscurity compared to other Romance cultures appeal to me. I was even gifted an Ana Moura CD that has quickly become one of my go-tos. I don’t understand the lyrics but you don’t need to to feel the heart in her singing.

42: 孤独颂歌 (Gu Du Song Ge)

For someone who has been dedicated to learning Chinese for the past couple of years, I don’t like Chinese media. That might not be immediately evident from my discovery of artists like Cui Jian from earlier but I think there is a lot of low quality Chinese production. Every now and then though, you find a diamond in the rough like this catchy song.

43: It Wasn’t Me

Even though I don’t understand him, Shaggy is iconic. It’s hard not to sing along to this song. This song is definitely in the category of questionable lyrics made up by its super catchiness – like Pumped Up Kicks.

44: Tubthumping

Why is this song not called “I Get Knocked Down”? I rediscovered this song a few weeks ago and have been loving it. This is a song that activates you – either to dance or just make you happy. I also think the cultural mismatch in this song is interesting: in British English slang, pissing means getting drunk not urinating. But I guess after a long night of “pissing the night away” in the former sense, you’re going to have to do a lot of the latter too…

45: Wonderful Tonight

This year’s theme was creativity; I think next year’s will be love. As a human being and a Buddhist, I think I could do better in giving love to the world. Looking back, this year has had so many moments of love: receiving an extra big hug from a Buddhist monk, getting scolded that motorcycling wasn’t for me, taking classes in which the professor is passionate about teaching, motivating the next generation of swimmers, being a groomsman at my best friend’s wedding, and having a girlfriend who I really like (yay!), just to name a few. This is pretty explicitly about romantic love but I think the care and attention mentioned in the song can be applied universally to love.

46 & 47: Takanaka Masayoshi

After watching Penguin’s Memory, I was told I might like the City Pop music genre. I found out I really do – it’s like disco, but Japanese. Takanaka Masayoshi is the forerunner of City Pop – of course, he became popular in the 70s and 80s.

48: 热爱105℃的你 (Super Idol)

I was making awkward small talk with a family friend at Thanksgiving and the topic of music came up. He mentioned that he listens to this song while studying. I don’t know how you’d study to this song – I would just try to sing along and get distracted. You’ve been warned: this song is super catchy.

49: Stayin’ Alive

I watched Bullet Train recently and discovered this song. Not much to add other than the world needs more Asian covers of American music.

50: My Favourite Things

My mom is really into the Sound of Music so I’ve heard many renditions of My Favourite Things over the years. Kelly Clarkson has such a powerful voice (I didn’t know she was still doing music; good for her!) that bring its own flavour to this song.

Media of the Week – Nov 20, 2022

Movie: Penguin’s Memory

Credit: tvtropes.org

For anyone who grew up in the 2000s, you probably remember Club Penguin. I certainly remember playing Card Jitsu, taking care of my puffle, and trying to tip the iceberg. While Penguin’s Memory looks like a fan creation of the popular MMO, it was actually made more than 20 years before. The movie is really interesting; imagine a cross between Club Penguin and a Vietnam War drama and that’s pretty much this movie. It’s about a Vietnam war veteran penguin named Mike who has to deal with civilian life and PTSD after his service. The Club Penguin aesthetic is really the only fun thing about this movie but if you’re looking for something poignant with a hint of 2000s nostalgia, look no further.

Wikipedia: Kaktovik Numerals

Kaktovik Numeral System. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been into learning about different scripts and fonts lately and I came across this numeric system used by some Alaskan natives. The Inupiaq language counts in a base-20 number system making conventional Arabic numerals difficult to use. Apparently a class of middle schoolers created this number system to make it easier for Alaskan natives to learn math. It’s an ingenious system for vigesimal counting and looks really cool.

Podcast: Nury Turkel

Anyone who has been keeping up with world news has undoubtedly heard about China’s Uyghur Genocide. Regardless of whether you have, this is a good podcast episode to get a deeper understanding of what is happening and why it’s happening. What Turkel said about how hair products made from shaven Uyghur hair is sold to Black Americans is harrowing and ironic. And just how widespread forced labour supply chains are is astounding. The CCP implementation to the Xi Jinping’s Document Number 9 reminds me of when Chairman Mao told the Dalai Lama, “Religion is a poison.” I appreciate Turkel having the strength to advocate about the injustices in China. Warning: this is not a happy episode.

YouTube: Insect Tier List

As a Pokemon fan and animal lover, I adore TierZoo. I love the combination of educational and entertaining. Despite what entomophobics will say, insects are really cool. I learned some interesting things from this video; I didn’t know that termites are more closely related to cockroaches than ants.

My Dall-E Adventure

I made this blog with the intention for this year to become more creative. I’m a big advocate of CGP Grey’s new year’s theme and mine this year is “create more than you consume”. It encapsulates my desire to be more minimalist and creative. In my effort to flex my creativity muscles, once I heard about Dall-E a few months ago I had to try it out.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Dall-E, it’s a prompt-based image generator. You give it a prompt and Dall-E will spit back a few images inspired by that prompt. For example, when I looked up “Arnold Schwarzenegger in ukiyo-e style”, I got this:

Arnold Schwarzenegger in ukiyo-e style

Pretty cool right? You can also upload images to use as inspiration to create similar images. Using previous Dall-E images in an iterative process can really help you to get exactly what you’re looking for.

As you can tell from the prompt I used to make the first monk image, it really pays to be specific when using Dall-E. There’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to crafting the right prompt and I still continue to falter when using Dall-E. There’s a balance when it comes to being specific, creative, and out of the box and understandable by the text-processing software. The corpus of Dall-E’s image inspiration also doesn’t contain everything I’d like to satisfy my artistic appetite.

One consequence of trying to craft the perfect prompt is that I’ve really had to read up on my art history to get a precise answer. It doesn’t always work but I’ve found it to be helpful at times to hone in on an aesthetic style. Rainbow blotches? Afremov. Little dot painting? Pointilist. I’ve also been looking at more art to get inspiration for more Dall-E images.

Despite how cool Dall-E is, it does have several limitations. First, I’ve found that sometimes the lines aren’t very defined; I’ve stuck with Impressionist and watercolour styles to get around this. Second, Dall-E sucks with making human faces. It can nail the general features but it can’t do the fine details. If you look closely, all the humans Dall-E makes fall deep inside the uncanny valley. Third, Dall-E can’t do text. It just puts in random gobbledygook or illegible handwriting. It’s a shame too because I’ve been also really into reading about fonts and calligraphy, especially different Asian scripts. Fourth, Dall-E’s language processing just isn’t 100% there; I don’t really expect it to know what a thangka is but I was trying to make a cartoon image of a World War II shark mouth plane and I couldn’t get it to understand I want to plane with shark art not a plane that is a shark. Finally, even though generating images through an iterative process can be helpful, it’s usually focused on the wrong aspects more often than not wasting my precious few credits I have for Dall-E.

Red Asian dragon with a cyberpunk cityscape in the background. The lines aren’t super clear.
Falconer holding eagle on the Mongolian steppe. Don’t stare at the Mongolian guy’s face or he’ll eat your soul. The eagle looks kind of funky too.
World War 2 shark plane, comic book style. Very creative, Dall-E, but not exactly what I was looking for.

Final thoughts

People worry about the rise of AI replacing everthing we do and Dall-E seems to be a step closer to the inevitable robot dystopia. Text-based image processing has had meteoric improvements in the past two years and it’s amazing that I can use Dall-E to create artwork a whole lot faster and better than anything I could make.

But I don’t see Dall-E as replacing human creativity. Instead, I see it as a complement to it. For people like me who aren’t good at art (yet), Dall-E lowers the barriers to entry and allows them to flex their atrophied creative muscles. Coming up with a cool concept is a task in itself and to have a piece of artwork generated from that idea in mere seconds is a leap in making art more accessible. I’ve learnt so much art and art history since making my account to get ideas for prompts or the language to express the aesthetic I’m looking for. I actually like art museums now because Dall-E has given me a better appreciation for art and beauty!

Even for the experienced artist, Dall-E can be helpful for inspiring artwork. You don’t have to spend hours and hours seeing if something looks good when you can input it on Dall-E and voila! I’d imagine the randomness of Dall-E image generation can help to change your perspective on a concept.

More than replacing human work, technology supplements it. I don’t think that Dall-E cheapens art but deepens it by making it more democratic to newbies and less tedious for artists. Personally, it’s absolutely turned me into a more creative person and I even want to try painting the monk meditating into the urban abyss image sometime. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend trying out Dall-E and experiencing it for yourself.

Here are some more of my favourite creations:

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