Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Thursday, 27 March 2008
Friday, 28 March 2008 03:10

Mind your manners

In a previous essay called The Anatomy of Communication I wrote about the elements that go into the communication process. It was concerned with the composition and delivery of the content of a message. But that is not the only way one person communicates with another. Your very presence, gestures, behavior and appearance also deliver messages that may or may not be intended. The very fact that you approach in person may say a lot about the importance of the contact or the importance of the person contacted. The way you dress, your facial expression, style of speech, the way you stand or sit or eat all convey information about yourself and your attitude and your respect or lack of it toward the one contacted.

This article is about the ways we behave that might please or displease, attract or repel the people around us. In this regard there are three terms commonly used: manners, etiquette, and politeness.

Manners or more properly good manners are sort of unwritten norms of behavior that are intended to put people at ease and smooth social relations. How often I heard my mother saying to me as I went off to a party or some other social function “mind your manners.” She meant “don’t be impolite”, “behave yourself”, “don’t forget all the proper etiquette we taught you for eating at table”, “know your place and act like a little gentleman”.

The social norms for interpersonal behavior are different from place to place and usually in a state of flux. It is still good manners to say “excuse me” if you interrupt someone or bump into them or just want to pass by causing them a little inconvenience. It used to be good manners for someone young to stand up and yield his/her seat to an elder. Nowadays it is considered more and more impolite to smoke in the presence of nonsmokers. There seems to be a growing number of people who consider it bad manners to speak on a cell phone in a crowded place or even to let it ring in a church or meeting. These norms usually arise through gradual consensus as some form of expression or behavior is accepted as pleasing and respectful and its negation or opposite seems impolite or offensive. A stranger’s ignorance of these norms or deliberate violation of them can be taken as rude, disrespectful or hostile.

Etiquette refers to issues connected with social decorum, such as proper ways to speak or act in public. Etiquette embraces sets of accepted and expected behaviors, many of which have been inscribed in printed rules of etiquette. There are etiquette rules for eating and drinking, for dealing with officials, for how to act in public places; there is office etiquette, business etiquette, internet etiquette (netiquette), etc.; etiquette can govern when and how to speak, what to wear, what is considered rude or inappropriate. The so-called rules of etiquette can be quite arbitrary, are seldom universal or applicable all around the world or in every cultural or social group. They develop and become codes of conduct gradually through common acceptance and expectation.

Persons are not born with the rules of etiquette instinctively embedded in their personalities. What they do hopefully possess is an instinct to please others and be accepted by others, so they absorb through observation and instruction the proper ways to speak and act according to their station in life and social class. Thus, as they grow up they learn what is expected of them and how to deal appropriately with others in order to please them and get from them what they desire for themselves in return.

There is a time and a place for everything and if you don’t know what these are you might get into trouble. When is it acceptable to use slang or swear? When is it right or wrong to wear shoes or remove your shoes when you enter a church or a mosque or enter a Japanese or Chinese friend’s house? Don’t go to a formal American banquet without coat or tie unless you are a Filipino wearing a barong tagalog or an African wearing a traditional robe, but even then you might get into trouble if the host is a prejudiced or insensible ass. When and where is it appropriate to eat with your fingers? What places require coat and tie or refuse entrance to those in shorts or barefoot or sleeveless or shirtless? When and how soon afterwards might you be expected to acknowledge a gift or write a thank you note? When and where might arriving late for an engagement or appointment be considered impolite? Is it good manners or bad manners to telephone someone very late at night or very early in the morning or to arrive unannounced at a person’s doorstep?

Politeness is the practical application of good manners and etiquette. Its expression depends upon the social status, cultural values and practices and the choice of vocabulary and expectations of the one addressed. Politeness is a sign of respect, face-saving, and shows the polite person is aware of his/her station and wishes to conform to the expectations of the person addressed. Any speech or behavior, intended or not, that violates what the person approached considers polite behavior will be taken as impolite or at least inappropriate. In some places, like in Japan, the very vocabulary of politeness is different for different levels of social class and position; in some places as in France it is impolite to use the singular form of “you” to others than family, close friends or peers; in some cultural groups to look into a person’s eyes is impolite, while in some others it is impolite not to look at another’s face; in some places politeness requires standing in the presence of another or removing one’s hat or bowing, shaking hands or avoiding physical contact, etc. Thus any time you need to approach someone of another culture or nationality, it is a very good idea to find out first how you should act and what to say, so you don’t commit any faux pas or cause embarrassment.

Sometimes, however, there are persons who are deliberately impolite and use bad manners to make a statement. There are those who consider it demeaning or hypocritical to have to conform to another’s pretensions. It is a way of saying “I despise you”, “I don’t like what you stand for”, “I spit in your face”, “I don’t need you to tell me what to say or how to act”, “I’m just being myself and if you don’t like it, that just too bad”, etc. Well, it’s a free world. If that is what you think and how you want to act, it’s your call, but don’t expect to make many friends or gain any respect or acceptance or cooperation from those who don’t speak and act as you do.

The social repercussions of bad manners and impropriety underline the importance of etiquette and politeness for maintaining understanding and peace in the world.

Unless you are about to encounter a different unknown culture, you probably don’t need to buy a special book of etiquette or rush to the internet for particulars. Anyone with good will and common sense and powers of observation should have a fairly good idea of what is appropriate and acceptable behavior in his/her own environment.

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Friday, 28 March 2008 03:05

Postmodern civility

There are rules of civility for every time, every place and every culture… Politeness is to be reinterpreted, reinvented and lived in new fashions according to technological and social evolutions… How can we all behave with more civility in the public spaces that we are passing by in today’s world? Let me just list a few issues for the sake of our common self-examination….

Airport civility: Nowadays, once you are stuck in an airport you generally wish you never went there… Congestion, shortage of security personnel, annoying boarding procedures, stress all around you… all of this makes airports a kind of portable hell…Hard not to get angry or frustrated… And yet, airport drama is not to be blamed on airlines or airport operators but rather on clueless passengers. Some people are just infuriating travel companions, because they never thought about how to manage their travel and the one of the people they will meet with. For instance, we now all know when we are going to be asked to remove belt or shoes, so it’s best to plan ahead. Do we need to travel with all these laces or belts with metal buckles? Cannot we make sure in advance that our pockets are free of change? Do children really need their own suitcase? Also, do so many people need to check their Blackberries while waiting in line?... Airports are truly the place where efficiency and good behavior become one and the same thing. I do not need smiling travel companions, I need efficient and quick-minded ones. Of course, if she or he can also offer a smile, suddenly the airport hall does not look so awful after all… Hell is sometimes closer from paradise than we would think.

Emailing etiquette: Emailing is far too easy…Mass email’s first problem is that information spread that way is often not accurate and can create a big problem for people whose name has been associated with the massively-spread rumor, even when the sender’s intention was not malignant. So, don’t hit "forward" to everyone in your address book before you check out the veracity of mass e-mails. A strange development of the plague of mass emails is that it hits the working place in a most dramatic way: people are inclined to send every bit of information to all their colleagues, and we are often immersed in a mass of irrelevant bits of news that do not help in the least the efficiency of our common work. Information used to be a rare commodity. Information and spam are now closely related commodities. So, it is not the abundance of information that makes us work in an efficient way, it is rather the care with which we check and distribute information. Talkative people can become awful bore. The same applies to abundant, mass emailers.

Phones and planes. Now, this one is a tricky one… Even when they hide for doing so, some plane passengers are now sending text messages and e-mails. A few companies are preparing to go one step further and break the taboo: once a plane has reached its cruising altitude, passengers will be able to switch on their cell phones and make and receive calls. On some companies, the new system is already on trial… Actually, surveys have found that many passengers are very much against the idea, but others have said that they would very much like to text, access the internet or make calls. We are still in the testing stage. Some low-cost carriers are now allowing limited Wi-Fi service on board, but not voice calls, while Air France is already starting to test voice service. Technology is not a problem any more, but the rules governing its use will have to be decided by passengers and airlines. Will there be a new battle on civility raging on the air? The question is especially tricky as airports and planes bring together people from different cultures and nations. One more reason for treating this possible change in rules and etiquette with as much caution as possible…

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Friday, 28 March 2008 03:04

A Noxious Weed

I came over here to Taiwan on the far side of the world and found the pantropical weed Bidens pilosa, a species that in years past I had stumbled across in South Florida, the Caribbean, and Central America. In South Florida it’s called “beggar’s tick” because each of the small thin seeds it produces in startling abundance has two clasps at the end that enable it to attach velcro-like to pant-legs, socks, and shoe-strings. The seeds have to be picked laboriously off when one comes indoors, otherwise they get all over everything. The plant invades lawns and sends down deep roots. It resists being pulled up by a strength in the roots and a weakness at the base of the stem. When someone tries to uproot one of these plants from a lawn, the base of the stem is apt to break off, leaving the roots firmly planted in the ground. In a surprisingly short time the weed grows right back again, as big as ever.

Here in Taiwan, I went out of my way one day to pull up by the root a huge unsightly clump of the plant despoiling the lawn out front of the public library across the street from where I lived at the time. The window of the room where I wrote looked out on that lawn and I felt that to get rid of the big weed would be an improvement. It took all my strength and tact to get the thing up by its deepest roots. After a long struggle, I rose from my knees in victory, with soiled hands and sore fingers. I tossed the big ungainly weed on the pavement to die in the hot sun. Just at that moment, a small Taiwanese girl scampered across the lawn in glee to another smaller clump nearby that I hadn’t noticed. With joyous delight she set about picking the white and yellow daisy-like flower clusters one by one.

Having learned long ago how aggressive a weed the species is around the world in tropical places, I’d completely forgotten until that instant that when I was that little girl’s age, I too had thought this plant special and felt its flowers to be so pretty. Seeing the way the little girl lovingly fashioning a pretty bouquet of the flowers made me unexpectedly remember.

I stood there and watched, as her father took her by the hand and led her away down the street, the way the child so lovingly clutched her precious posy in her other hand. The two of them walked right past the big sprawling plant I’d tossed in the street. A car had already run it over and crushed it.

William R. Stimson is an American writer who lives in Taiwan. His other published writings are posted at

Friday, 28 March 2008 03:00

After Taiwan's Elections

Ma Ying-jeou has received a strong mandate. On May 20, when he officially becomes Taiwan’s President, he will be able to rely on the tow-third and plus KMT majority at the Legislative Yuan and the support of a vast majority of local governments. What is his strength might also become his weakness.

Taiwan’s citizens have elected him for giving a new impulse to economic and social policies. They hope that better relationships with the Mainland will translate into economic benefits. At the same time, their vote can in no way be understood as a wish to alienate the political status-quo or a return to old-style KMT policies. The centrist image on which Ma Ying-jeou has been elected will have to pass the test of time and events, sometimes against the party on which he relies. This will prove to be a perilous exercise in equilibrium.

Ma Ying-jeou will have to come up with a government of young, moderate and capable people, signaling the entry into a new era. The government will have to be a factor of reconciliation, building on some of the cultural policies conducted by the former coalition while going beyond ethnic rivalries and gathering energies around a renewed economic and social model.

Such model cannot be solely directed towards economic growth. It has to include the building-up of real local democracy (the weak point in Taiwan’s present political system), sustainability and social cohesiveness. The campaign has been poor in content on these issues, and it is to be hoped that they will not be overlooked.

In other words, Ma Ying-jeou’s challenges go beyond the way he will deal with China. His capacity to renew and consolidate Taiwan’s self perception of its society, culture and cohesion might be the real test of its leadership ability.

Friday, 28 March 2008 00:00

A Matter of Poetry

Bob Ronald rhymes and Benoit Vermander's poems

A rhymer like myself finds beauty and harmony in the sounds and rhythms of words which he or she crafts into written melodies ready for recitation and enjoyment. There is a message hidden in the rhyme, but it was born giving life and purpose to the composition and versification.

A poet like Benoit Vermander, on the other hand, sees first the beauty and harmony in some insight and transforms it into a moving, stimulating expression of truth that we ordinary mortals have probably overlooked or did not appreciate. An eye on the world has been offered us without which we would go through life oblivious of the realms and the meanings deep down things. Sometimes the poet also instills the composition with rhythm and rhyme, making it even more striking.

Here are some examples. First some rhymes of my own.

The Way To Bounce

The adage is that
When falling, a cat
Will land on its feet.
No way that I can.
I’m only a man.
I’d land on my seat.

It’s the way that you bounce
Not the landing that counts.
If still you can stand
Right after you fall,
Not hurting at all,
Then the landing was grand.

Sky’s Secret

I look at sky
And wonder why
It doesn’t fall.
I know a lot,
But God I’m not.
My mind is small.
I know a bit
How some things fit.
I don’t know all.

I wish I knew
What makes sky blue.
I don’t know yet.
So much to know
Where does time go?
I mustn’t fret.

It’s not God’s plan
That people can
Become so wise
That they can find
What’s on His mind
Or in his eyes.

There’ll be no quiz
About what is
Or how or when.
But when I rest
From all my quest,
I’ll know all then.

Do what I ought.
It’s not my thought
That makes me true.
Just do my best,
I’ll pass the test
When life is through.

Every Second Needs A First

No fruit at the top
Is found on a crop
With nothing below.
Before that, indeed,
There must be good seed
To make it all grow.

The way to be bolder
Is stand on the shoulder
Of someone who’s already bold.
You’ll only be taller,
If once you were smaller.
For only the golden are gold.

No letter, no mail.
There’s only a sale
If something is sold.
No moisture, no hail.
There’s only a tale
If a story is told.


Two plus two
Is quite a few.
Four plus four
Is twice as more.
Six plus six,
You’re in a fix,
For two hands then
Make only ten.
The proper sum
From toes must come.

The range of numbers has no end,
What each one means you cannot bend.
And then to add to all your cares,
There’s plus and minus, roots and squares.
How much nicer would it be
If there were only one, two, three.

Those are my rhymes. Here are Benoit’s poems.

Ghosts and angels

I will not wait on the threshold.
I will wander into wet fields and ghost mountains
Until I lose my way.
I will then call for help,
Hoping for the coming of green and grey angels
Escorted by wild beasts which they tame
If no other mission requires them.

We will all stay in the incandescent shadow
That covers and burns these bounties,
Watching over the luxuriant desert
Where one’s path is found once it’s lost.

Pocket landscape

The soul - as misty
As the winter hills -
Lies down, and the breeze
Soon bares her chest.
Once clouds are gone
Where will be hiding
The soul, the soul just as misty
As are the mornings on the hills?

Moving away

Be the curve of my sight and the touch of my hand,
You, crest of the Southern mountains
That floats from one ocean to the next
With the easy melancholy only mastered
By things that don’t need to stand firm,
The things in which dwells the spirit
Who knows how to move volumes and lines
Till they picture music to the eyes and the breath
- The breath that moves along the crest
of the Southern mountains.

Not moving anymore

Trees and peaks go briskly on the road
As I stand still. The tunes they hum,
I perceive them only vaguely, such is the speed.
The birds are at pain to follow, and finally decide
To gather around the salty dream I have become.
Fruits fallen on the way nourish me, and fonts
Born in my throat flow down towards the roots
Of the ground that transfixes me.

Speak low

A night as blue as a bird’s tail
Speaks low to the ear of the leaves,
Telling of immensurable spaces that are buried
- So says the night - into the cells,
the sand and the foam.

There is a well that collects the white secrets
The night is breathing away,
A well as deep as the palm and the pupil.

Purple is the sound of the sea
When morning comes
– the sea that at dawn returns to the caves
The secrets sung low to the leaves.

The biggest difference between my verse and Benoit’s poems is that strip the rhyme and meter from mine and there is practically nothing left, whereas his thoughtful inspiration without any rhyme achieves its high level of meaning and emotion.

As rhymer, I hope the readers will get a kick out of my plays with sounds and words. As poet Benoit hopes that others will encounter the realty and feel the throbbing pulse throbbing beneath the surface trappings that camouflage what lies below.

Actually, I am more than just a rhymer. I also compose poems that I hope are more than grand sounding songs, as the following suggests:

Some are quite funny;
Some of them sad;
Some full of wonder;
Some of them glad.
Some are pretentious
And meant to impress,
In others I try
To plainly express
The feelings that I
Found deep in my heart.
And sometimes depart
From meter and rhyme
To echo and show
The ebb and the flow
Of my mood at the time.



Published in Focus: Poetry and Song
Thursday, 27 March 2008 21:59


魏明德 撰文


Thursday, 27 March 2008 21:48



沈秀臻 整理




曼德拉是南非武裝衝突的起始者與推動者司令,他是非洲民族議會(African National Congress, ANC)的靈魂人物,有一陣子他穿西裝拿手槍,並組織民族之矛。剛開始非洲民族議會走的是甘地式非武裝的路線,曼德拉將這樣的計劃改為武裝路線,他不願為了被釋放而放棄武力鬥爭。
非洲民族議會(African National Congress, ANC)在通過自由憲章之前,原先走的是激進路線,欲建立純粹黑人的南非,經過曼德拉的努力,才修改路線,走向族群和解,可見曼德拉對南非的貢獻。後來,非洲民族議會遵守和解的精神,不建立黑人政府,而建立黑人與白人都有機會當總統的政府。



Thursday, 27 March 2008 21:45



魏明德 撰文 林虹秀 翻譯 黃嘉琳 攝影

當然,這兩者本身並不相互衝突,甚至可說是相輔相成:氣候變遷引起的自然災害若發生在非洲或貧苦的亞洲沿海,貧窮根本無法消除。水和森林本為稀少資源,水耗損與森林濫伐卻削減了賴此為生的人們的可用資源。然而,國際信貸遵循的是協商法則,玩的是權力遊戲,從這些遊戲中真正得利的是那些正在崛起的開發中國家,而非赤貧之國(最新資料顯示,赤貧人口占全球總人口數約六分之一)。開發中國家過度仰賴科技,因而造成高度污染,碳排放量高:環境清理補助金主要流向這些國家。貧窮國家則指那些不排放溫室氣體的國家,這些國家可能會被排除在新的全球補助機制外。因此,全球暖化議題成為已開發國家散播、販售科技的藉口;讓開發中國家(中階國家, middle-income nations)藉此從眾多國際補助金中獲利。
最後,全球暖化對抗戰不應僅被視為一項單純的科技挑戰,而應以政治與人道主義立場來看待。單靠一個高爾(Al Gore)出面解決全球暖化議題是不夠的。我們還需要有個甘地,時時提醒世人人道、社會與心靈等岌岌可危的議題。


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