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jueves, 27 de octubre de 2011

Some Thoughts on Bullfighting

The topic of bullfighting has always greatly irritated me, having always considered a disgusting tradition.

Not that I don´t think that way nowadays, but I definitely see this tradition from a different perspective.  Why so? Last weekend I finished reading The Sun Also Rises, from Ernest Hemingway. It was an entertaining reading that made me think a great deal about this topic. Also, the fact that I have read about the perspective of an expatriate group of American and English (I am an expatriate myself, by the way) made it very interesting. Besides that book, I came across a documentary called FIESTA: to fight or not to fight, which was shown in the last Spanish Documentary Festival of Beijing organized by my old friend Ramón Herrero.

Getting to the point, how have exactly changed my views on bullfighting?

It´s funny, it´s been many years since I last watched bullfighting. The fact that I found it so utterly unacceptable and barbarian made me take my eyes away everything I came across it. But I can actually understand that. I still can´t accept that an animal has to be killed little by little for the sake of an entertainment. I just can´t stand seeing an animal suffering like that. Maybe the fact that I have always had pets (two cats and two dogs, my current one being Dante, who is definitely one of my best friends ever and a fully recognized member of my family) makes my feel that way. However, I have just been watching some scenes of bullfighting and I have found it fascinating. The way a skinny guy (the bullfighter) dances with such a huge and powerful animal in that elegant way deserves my praising.

So far I think my point is very straightforward: while finding bullfighting unacceptable due to my empathy with the bull but I can still appreciate the skill of the bullfighter and thus understand why people feel like watching it.

I could end my entry here, but I would like to go a bit further: should bullfighting be forbidden?

I think it should, and even when admitting the terrible consequences it would have on the already weak Spanish economy (among other things) our society should not allowed an animal to suffer that way, beautiful show as it may be.

I think my opinion on this is entirely correct. However, I have found a very interesting argument by those supporters of bullfighting. I eat meat, and I enjoy eating it a lot (going to Burger King to have a Whopper has made me the happiest guy in the world since I can remember). So, what do we know about the meat industry? Aren´t the animal conditions bad enough so that I should give up my habit of eating meat? The analogy is not entirely valid, since it would be much harder for me to stop eating meat (since it would affect very much my daily life) than for a bullfighting fan to stop attending bullfights. Plus, the eating of meat should not be synonymous of animal suffering, although I admit probably most times is.

Another argument often used by the bullfight supporters is that bullfighting is an essential part of Spanish and European culture, and in order to preserve our traditions we should not get rid of it.

About this I have a stronger opinion. Traditions should be recorded, but not always preserved. There are some good and some terrible traditions, and the fact that both are an important part of our culture doesn´t mean we have to go on with them. Rather, they should be banished and recorded so that future generations should know about them. Just like Nazism: it should be always taught in school as an important part of European culture, but that doesn´t mean we should encourage the Nazi ideology to be part of our daily lives. Just like we shouldn´t allow the celebration of a tradition that implies torturing an animal to death.

I know, some people will probably think the death of human beings can´t be compared with the death of animals. Well, as I said before I consider my dog, Dante, one of my very best friends, and there are very few dogs I dislike, whereas I can´t say the same about people, so I don´t think I agree with that statement, J

martes, 23 de agosto de 2011

Beijing Out of Control? (1)

My first impression of Beijing the first time I visited it in 2006 was its incredibly cheap prices, especially the food. Back in Spain I told everyone how you could enjoy some delicious noodles for as little as 4 kuai (40 cents), or go to an all-you-can-drink bar for only 40 yuan (four euros).

Well, Beijing is changing. Things in this city are getting more and more expensive, but it seems that this is only the beginning. Last night I ordered the same dumplings I have been ordering for the past months. You could get 20 of these Chinese ravioli for only ten yuan (one euro). Well, not yesterday night. All of a sudden twenty of these dumplings cost 16 yuan. Well, still cheap, some of you might think. Well, cheap for us lucky Westerners, but it is a 60% increase in a city where most people earn around 300 euros a month.

Real state also shows the exponential growth of prices in Beijing. Renting an apartment in one of the fancy places (fancy because it is near downtown, not because the quality is up to European standards) is already more expensive than Córdoba, my home city. But, as it happens with food, what worries me most is not its current price, but the speed it is getting more and more expensive. Every year rent owners all around Beijing fear the moment where the one year contract ends and they have to face ruthless negotiations with the landlords…well, actually these negotiations are oftentimes not so ruthless, since the money landlords ask is so ridiculous that many people just change apartment every year. I can remember when, only three years ago, I boasted that I was only paying 1700 yuan a month (remember, 1 euro=around 9 yuan) for a huge room downtown with my own bathroom. “Still, pretty expensive for China”, some of my friends told me. Well, surely that room won’t be cheaper than 2500 RMB now…barely three years later.

What bothers me is, prices are getting close to those of Europe, but the quality is still very far behind. The surroundings of my apartment smell some times like someone who has been long dead, due to the bad sewer system, and my shower is not hot enough during the winter and it burns during the summer, just to mention a couple of examples.

The Chinese government has sets its eyes into stopping inflation, but prices continue to rise all the same. And the most obvious problem is that salaries are by no means growing at the same rate. In big cities like Beijing there are people who are making an immoral amount of money, while the biggest part of the population struggles to make ends meet. Chinese market is booming, and big corporations (Chinese and foreign) are willing to pay more and more money to its executives. At the same time, millions of Chinese graduate every year and are willing to get paid 2000 yuan or less and share a badly ventilated room with many other people in the same situation. And thus the gap between rich and poor continues to grow bigger and bigger.

At the same time, some companies are moving its manufacturing sites from China to other countries in South East Asia, like Vietnam, since labor costs are not that cheap in China anymore. That seems to be within the plans of the Chinese Communist Party, who wants to transform China into a developed country whose economy has a deeper rote on services. However, is China, a country with still hundreds of millions of people living in the countryside ready for such a change? How longer will the laobaixing (Chinese for “ordinary people”) tolerate the increasingly difference between rich and poor in this “socialist” country? Will Beijing be as expensive as Madrid in a couple of years? Should we get ready for an economic crash in the following years? Maybe a revolution of the masses?

martes, 24 de mayo de 2011

Chinese adventures (1): Looking for a job

It's been more than two years living in China, and I think it is about time to write down some of the stories that have happened to me in this complex country.

The stories that I am going to tell won't follow any chronological order, so today I will start by last year, when I decided to look for a job in Beijing.

Things in China seldom go smooth, and my story is no exception. Last November I visited a Chinese wine-importing company for a job interview. They were looking for a foreigner who spoke Chinese and, preferably, a bit of French. The interview went very well and they told me right away that they wanted me. The only problem was the salary, but I didn't ask for too much, and so we reached an agreement. I was flying to Japan in a week before flying to Spain for Christmas, with a 3 days period in Beijing in the middle, so the boss (young Chinese guy, about 28) told me to that all the documents for the visa would be ready after my trip to Kurosawa's homeland.
While in Japan I wrote an email to this person to make sure that the visa procedures were going well. He assured me that everything would be ready in time. Yeah, sure, a Chinese promise is worth oftentimes as much as Chinese products, and so after I was back in Beijing the boss told me that he had been too busy to arrange the visa. Apparently he was also too busy to meet me, and so I met his secretary, who told me there was nothing to worry about, since they would send all the necessary documents to Spain.

I guess most of you have already guessed this story doesn't have a happy ending.

While in Spain I had some hope, since quite soon the secretary sent me some of the documents needed to apply for the visa. Meanwhile I tried to contact the Chinese embassy in Madrid, but they didn't seem to answer any e-mails, and every time I tried reaching them over the phone the line was busy.

The Chinese secretary also told me that in order to get some of the needed documents they had to wait for some time, although they couldn't tell me how long. Visa procedures in China are indeed a pain in the ass, so at that point I wasn't 100% sure they would not be able (or willing) to manage. But days turned into weeks, and my stay in Spain reached a month. In the meantime a previous university teacher and good friend of mine introduced me to some of his Chinese students. We got along pretty well, and I told them about my issue with the Chinese company. They listed carefully, and one of them told me he would ask his father in Beijing, who had some guanxi (Chinese word for "having contacts", something of a tremendous importance in China). After few days he got in touch with me, and he had no good news. His father had found out that some times working visas for foreigners were not granted to small-middle sized Chinese companies (or the documents necessary to apply for one). The thing was, companies could apply for them, and depending on their size and guanxi this process could take days, weeks, months or never happen at all. His father advised me to start looking for another job.

So there I was, having waited for nothing, pissed with the fact that the company didn't have the decency of telling me what was actually happening (all they said was one of the most used expressions in China: bie zhaoji-be patient). But still I had one last bullet, and although I had no hopes to succeed I still have to try. I wrote an email to both my boss and his secretary telling them about what my friend's father had found out, and I proposed them to pay the 4500 RMB necessary (almost 500 euros) to pay for a 6 months business visa through a Chinese agency (a very common thing for foreigners to do in order to extend their stay in China). The fuckers didn't even bother to reply the email.

Some weeks later I am working at a Taiwanese recruiting firm. My visa is about to expire, and after some inquires the company told me they couldn't provide me with the working visa, since for that foreigners needs to have at least two years working experience, which I obviously don't have. It's interesting how no one seems to know about these things in China, neither Chinese nor foreigners. It is a good indicative of the little transparency of this country.

So after they told me this I proposed to apply for the business visa, easier to get, although only valid for a period up to 6 months. I went to the Beijing Public Bureau (government building to apply for visas) to make inquiries about the business visa. When I asked the lady in the front desk about how to apply for a business visa she just told me I could not do it in China. After realizing that she was not going to add any more information I asked her: "Can I do it in Hong Kong?" "Maybe", she said. "What do you mean by maybe, I asked". "We don't know about that, we can only tell you that you can't do it in China. You can go to Hong Kong, and if that doesn't work you can try somewhere else". I couldn't believe it, the lady in the front desk was telling me to try different countries to "see" if they could provide me with a visa to work in THEIR country! They "lady" didn't add anything else, so I asked her for official information about the process. Her answer was epic: "We don't have it, but you can google it".

Fortunately, my boss (Taiwanese, not Chinese) decided that "googling it" might not be the most trustworthy method, and he agreed to pay the fee necessary to get the visa through a Chinese agency. God bless the Republic of China.

miércoles, 30 de marzo de 2011

The Catcher in the Rye: a controversial and wonderful book

I am very happy that I am writing this entry. This book used to be my favorite when I was a teenager. It was given to me as a present (by my sister or my mother, can't remember), and I just loved it. I first read it in Spanish, then bought it in English and read it two more times. That was many years ago. Recently, a good friend of mine, Alberto, told me that he had read it and asked me what I thought of it. What do I think of it? Damn, I can't remember! Given that I have an awful memory and that I read so long ago, I just remembered that I liked it. Alberto also asked me that he didn't understand why the book was so controversial (John Lennon's murderer had a worn copy of the book on him when he was arrested after the murder). So in order to find out what made this book so controversial I decided to read it again.

You know, I was a bit afraid of reading the book one more time. If often happens to me that, when rereading a book I haven't read in a long time, I find it much duller than the first time. Although I guess that's normal. When we are young we are easily impressed, and the older we get, the more we have read and so we get picky. But I didn't want to find The Catcher in the Rye a dull book. Although not remembering the contents so well, I did remember how much I enjoyed the book as a kid. Back then I didn't like reading much. I remember my father making all possible efforts so that I would start reading. My father read a lot, and wanted me to share his passion. At the beginning he wasn't successful, so he bribed me. He promised that one day we would travel to New York (which we actually ended doing), and told me that he would give me one American dollar for each book I read. So I had to do a summary of the book I read before getting those dollars that made me feel rich and also made me dream of the day we would travel to New York. Anyway, what I am trying to say is, in a time when I didn't enjoy reading that much, The Catcher in the Rye was one of those books that made me feel the way I do now about literature (I endep up studying literature at college). So you can imagine what a terrible disappointment it would be to find out some years later that the book was actually a piece of crap.

But this has not been the case. One more time, I have really enjoyed the book. I am a very slow reader, but I was through with it in a couple of days. And whereas the plot is not much (some thoughts and events spread out in a few days that happened to a confused teenager), I found the book outstanding in its purpose: describing the essence of adolescence.

Now I will focus on analyzing shortly why the book has been such a controversial one and a source of inspiration for people such as Mark David Chapman, John Lennon's murderer.

Someone has to be very pissed at the world to ruin his life by killing someone. Just like the protagonist of the book, Holden Caulfield. It has not been difficult for me to feel myself identified with him, and the book was published more than fifty years ago! Part of the success of this book lies in the fact that it is very easy for the reader to understand everything Holden is going through, all his contempt for the superficial and hypocrite society he lives in:

(talking about girls he is looking at while waiting for a date sitting on a couch):

You  figured most of them would probably marry dopey guys. Guys that always talk about how many miles they get to a gallon in their goddam cars. Guys that get sore and childish as hell if you beat them at golf, or in just some stupid game like ping-pong. Guys that are very mean. Guys that never read books. Guys that are very boring.

But while Holden is continuously complaining about pretty much everyone he comes across, he does also acknowledge his own faults, and that makes him a credible character (unlike those in Norwegian Wood, by Murakami, which I analysed earlier in this blog) , a character his readers can easily feel identified with:

The funny part is, I felt like marrying her the minute I saw her. I'm crazy. I didn't even like her much, and yet all of a sudden I felt like I was in love with her and wanted to marry her. I swear to God I'm crazy. I admit it.

The more we read the more we like Holden. It's so easy for us to notice how confused he is. We feel sympathy for him. He is honest and doesn't hesitate in telling us everything that crosses his mind:

In my mind, I'm probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw. I swear to God I'm a madman

This book has created a lot of controversy, and I think most of it is unjustified. For sure the book is full bad words, but I know very few teenagers who don't use them, especially when they have just been expelled from school and are going through a very difficult moment. With this entry I just wanted to prove how there is nothing evil, not even out of ordinary in this wonderful book. The fact that some murderers have been attracted to it doesn't mean that this book has made them so. It is just a book where someone who is confused and lost and angry can find someone who, although fictional, can understand him probably much better than anyone alive.

And to finish this entry, two more citations from the booked that I liked:

I figured I could get a job at a filling station somewhere, putting gas and oil in people's cars. I didn't care what kind of job it was, though. Just so people didn't know me and I didn’t know anybody. I thought what I'd do was, I’d pretend I was one of those deaf/mutes. That way I wouldn’t have to have any goddam stupid useless conversation with anybody.
The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one

domingo, 13 de febrero de 2011

Why is learning Chinese so damn hard? A practical, cultural and linguistic approach

Most times I tell someone that I study Chinese he or she goes: "Wow, that must hard!". Indeed it is, but, why?  Is it really more difficult than Spanish or, even, German? Does it apply only to writing, due to all its complicated symbols, or is it speaking also hard to master? Isn't there a linguistic universal that says that there is by definition no language harder to master than others? If you want to know the solution to all these questions, keep reading.

Yes, Chinese is really hard to master, both in speaking and in writing (especially this one). And I would go as far as saying that writing Chinese is also difficult for Chinese people themselves. If you don't believe me, try looking for some diffucult to write Chinese characters and ask a Chinese friend to write them. More often than not he or she won't be able to handwrite some of them. Young Chinese are too used to typing in the computer or cell phones, and so they often forget how to handwrite many characters.

But let's focus on non-native speakers. The first thing that will strike them is tones. Chinese is a tonal language, and that means that two words that are apparently pronounced in the same way can mean two different things, because their intonations is different. The traditional example used to illustrate this is the word "ma", which has four different meanings depending on its intonation: interrogation mark (neutral tone), mother (first tone), leprosy (second tone), horse (third tone) and to insult (fourth tone).

This should not be entirely new for us though, since European languages also have tones. However, tones in European languages do not serve to differentiate meaning between different words, but to convey more subtle things, such as the speaker's state of mind. So, we would have different tones for the interrogative pronoun what depending on what the speaker wants to convey. It could be neutral, like when some friend casually calls for our attention (-Hey Julian) and we answer: -Sorry, what?
But compare this example, where the tone would be neutral, with the tone we would use when someone tells us something that greatly surprises as: -Hey, you know that Michael Jackson just died last night? -Whaaaat? The way we pronounce what here is radically different from the one in the first example. That is, we use different intonations. So there you go, if you can tell the difference right away in the above example you might be good at Chinese tones!

Actually, it's not that easy. Once we have mastered tones individually, we realize how difficult it is to pronounce them correctly when they are inserted in a real conversation, where we usually forget which tones is each word. But its difficulty goes even farther. The five tones I have described change when they are inside sentences. So even if you remember them perfectly one by one, that won't often be enough in a real conversation. For example, the third tone is not third tone anymore when followed by a second tone. In this case both would be pronounced as second tones. And when two third tones are together the first thrid tone changes into a much shorter third tone that could be argued to be a totally different tone (and we'd have six in total).

But don't give up yet, since even if don't pronounce the tones correctly, context will most times help the listener understand you. Most times...

If you think oral Chinese is difficult wait until you know about its writing. Unlike all European languages (that I know) which have alphabet (finite number of letters, usually some tens, used to form infinite number of words where, usually, each one of the former correspond to a certain phoneme or way to pronounce it), Chinese is written by means of characters. Each character is a word that means something on itself, although it can also be used together with other characters to form different words. There are thousands of Chinese characters, and you need to memorize a couple of thousand to be able to start reading something serious. That means hours and hours sitting at the table writing the different parts of the character (stroke) until you have memorized it. And then you need to learn how to pronounce it, since you will often find that a character gives you very little clue about its pronunciation. Let's give an example to see the difference with English, by looking at the word bank, 银行 (yínháng) . Even if you don't know the word bank in English, you can still read it if you see it written somewhere. And then once you are at home watching TV you might hear it again in the news, so you will remember about it, look it up in the dictionary and then it'll hopefully stick to your brain. But with the word 银行 you won't know how to read it in the first place if you haven't studied it before. Chances are that you know any of its characters, but even this is tricky, since the second one, 行, is often pronounced "xíng", whereas in this case is pronounced "háng". So you might very well know how to say the word bank in Chinese, but then you will see it written and have no idea what it means. That actually happens to some of my friends who have been working in China for a long time. They have high proficiency in oral Chinese, but then they will see daily used words in its written form and won't know how to read them.

And finally we find one last problem with Chinese characters. There are two different writing systems, the simplified one (used in mainland China) and the traditional one (used in Hong Kong and Taiwan). They way to write characters in these two systems varies more or less depending on the word, and native Chinese speakers usually have no problem recognizing either one of them. But things are different for a foreign student, just like me. I have been learning Chinese for many years, the last two in China completely devoted to the study of the language. And yet sometimes I buy a Chinese movie only to find that it contains traditional characters that I can't understand (maybe it is a Taiwanese or Hong Kong movie or maybe it is a Chinese movie forbidden in China that was imported outside from Taiwan or Hong Kong). In times like these I wonder why on earth I decided to start learning Chinese.

So, there are no good news?

There are! Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, with no less than more than a billion speakers in China and 20 million in Taiwan. But its influence can also be seen outside its frontiers. More than half of the 5 million inhabitants of Singapore speak Chinese. The influence of Chinese is huge all around Asia. I could confirm this in my recent trips to Thailand and Japan, where I had the most meaningful encounters with Chinese speaking people, either natives of Chinese origin, exchange students or Chinese immigrants. Its influence can easily be seen in most countries of Europe or America as well. All this makes Chinese an incredibly useful language to learn, so maybe the pains of learning it are worth it after all.

Chinese is also a language with thousands of years of history which had an outstanding influence in Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese. That means that if we want to learn any of those languages it'll be easier if you already know Chinese. For example, more than fifty percent of Korean words are of Chinese origin, and so their pronounciation is similar. Japanese has three different alphabets, one of them, the kanji, is almost 100 percent made of Chinese characters. That means that, if you know Chinese before learning Japanese, we will have very little problems at studying one of the most difficult aspects of Japanese!

The process of learning Chinese can be as hard as rewarding. Chinese characters, with more or less modifications, have been the instrument of communication for Chinese people for more than three thousand years. That also has positive and negative aspects for Chinese students. This old language has embedded elements of Chinese culture that are thousands of years old. Some idioms and the meaning of some characters might seem strange to us, since its meaning refers to the way things were done a long time ago. That might be one of the reasons why Chinese have been able to preserve its customs throughout the centuries: thanks to the language its users has access to the Chinese culture from its origins. However, it is also a reason why the language is so hard to learn. Some characters and idioms make no sense nowadays, but people use them anyways. Dead metaphors are part of this process: expressions whose use is understood nowadays although the original meaning has been lost. All languages have dead metaphors, but you can imagine how many metaphors have "died" in a language as old as Chinese.

A key to solve some of these problems is learning Ancient Chinese, which not only would help you have a deeper understanding of modern Chinese, but which would also allow you to read Ancient texts in its original language. Besides, Classic Chinese was the instrument of formal communication for Korea, Japan and Vietnam during different periods until the 20th century. So in case a time machine would be invented, you could travel hundred of centuries in the past and still be able to communicate with people from these countries. Imagine how cool it would be to have a conversation (written) with Confucius or The Art of War writer Sun Tzu in their own language!

Chinese is a terribly hard language to learn and especially to master, but it is also a very rewarding one. And by the way, I still haven't answered the question from the introduction about that linguistic universal that says that all languages have the same degree of difficulty. Well, after many years studying Chinese, let me assure you that the know-it-all linguist who said that probably knew no Chinese at all!

miércoles, 2 de febrero de 2011

Literary review: Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami

In this entry I will analyse some relevant aspects of the novel that explain why I didn't like it. Along the way I will be also commenting on other novels written by Murakami.

I feel sorry that this entry is going to be about Norweigan Wood. For two reasons. The first one is that this is the only novel by Murakami I really disliked, since I thought the other two (The Wind up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore) were pretty decent, and even Sputnik Sweetheart was at least ok. And the second reason is that I feel sorry that the first long entry of my blog will be dealing with such a bad book.

So, why I dislike this book so much? I think it's mainly about its characters. They are all plain individuals that always behave based on a fixed set of rules, so you always know what to expect. Take the protagonist Toru Watanabe, for instance. Always keeping his cool in all situations, always knowing so much about everything, making everything he does wonderfully, but never showing off, not even a tiny bit. Not a very believable character to me, I'd say. And remember what Aristotle said about literature: it's better to talk about credible situations that would never occurr (eg: someone being able to fly, like Superman) rather than talking about situations that are bound to happen but which are not credible. 

The second reason is that the characters are very similar to those of other Murakami's books I've read, and that makes the book so much more predictable (Note: after writing this I realized this book was actually written before the other two, so it should be the others I should be complaining about, :) Actually, there are scenes that seem to be the product of a copy-paste made by the author in order to save some time. For example, when Hatsuni, Watanabe's girlfriend, awakes in the middle of the night and, sleepwalking, appears in front of his boyfriend and start taking her clothes off. That scene is almost identical to the one in Kafka on the Shore. And by the way, why Murakami's obsession with girls getting naked while sleepwalking? I could venture an hypothesis and say that it might have to do with the fact that Murakami is criticizing about Japanese girls being represeed, not being able to freely express what they think and give free way to their passions. However, female characters in Murakami's novels are by no means (sexually) represessed (I wish I could live inside any of Murakami's novels!).

And continuing on this topic, let's talk about sex in Murakami's novel and the fact that the novel is so not credible. If any of you have ever read a couple of novels by this author you will know that his characters find it ridiculously easy to bump into one-time sexual encounters. And this is not different in Norweigan Wood. During the day, during the night, with old women, with young students, heterosexual or homosexual, sex is everywhere in Murakami's novels. And that would be no big deal, but it is the more incredible taking into consideration that the protagonist who experiences it never seem to be looking for it, they barely try, but somehow they end up having sex in every chapter. It makes you think that Japan is the most open minded country when it comes to sexuality. Which I think it's not, but which is also why I think Murakami uses it so much, as a way to critizice this part of Japanese society. But no matter what Murakami means with it, I, as a reader, find it really boring. It's like watching any of Steven Seagals movies, in which he ends up beating up all the bad guys without even getting scratched.

Actually, one of Murakami's main concerns seem to be be to criticize the unability of Japanese to openly express their feelings, and that goes beyend sex. That deficiency affects people permanently, and lead them to a life of alienation that prevents them from ever reaching happiness. An example of this is found in Reiko Ishida, in my opinion the most unbearable characters of Norweigan Wood but a perfect example to describe Murakami's motifs. Reiko has stayed at an asylum for many years due to a mental illness difficult to diagnose. At a crucial point in her career as a piano player, she suddenly started losing all her abilities. Not many reasons are given for this, but it can be easily inferred that it is basically due to her parents obsession for her to succeed. Murakami seems to be telling us that this girl was never asked, nor did she dare expressing her own opinion, whether or not she wanted to devote all her life to the study of music, instead of leading a not so successful but much happier life as an ordinary teenager. Thus, once she loses her ability to play she realizes that she has nothing left, since all her time had always being devoted to music.

So far so good. Yet in order to develop this character, we encounter a sexual scene quite difficult to approach. In the life of this character, Reiko, and after she was sort of healed from the loss of ability to play the piano and the psychological crisis that followed this, she marries and starts giving piano lessons to a 14 year old girl. Somehow and although Reiko tries to refue, they end up having sex, which according to Reiko is the greatest sexual experience she ever had, to the point where she says that few hours after that she has sex with her husband and that was the time it felt best with him, just because she was still excited by the encounter with the 14 years old kid. I have to admit that that the description of that lesbian sexual act increased my body temperature in a few degrees, but I still can't see it in the context of the book. We are never told that Reiko felt attracted towards women, and the fact that a 14 year old girl wants so bad to have sex and is so skillful at it with her just married piano teacher is quite strange to say the least. It just seems to me like a way that Murakami uses in order to attract horny male readers and so sell more books.

In summary: a character, Watanabe, always so well read and cultured, never getting drunk no matter how much alcohol he drinks, and always honest (he literally says once "I have never lied to anyone"), the plainness of the characters, some of them almost identical to other characters in Murakami's novels and finally the overall impossible to believe atmosphere make Norweigan Wood one of the worst books I've ever read.

martes, 4 de enero de 2011


Yes, after many months I finally got it, my first blog!

I don't want this first entry to get too long, so I'll be quick. The main reason why I wanted to start this blog was to write literary reviews for my friends so that they could know my opinions on a certain book and also as a place for discussion (I am proud to say that most of my friends are great readers). Often times I feel an almost physical need to talk about something (especially when reading a bad book or a movie that is liked by many), so this blog will also serve as my way out.

The blog will mainly be written in English, since the vast majority of my Spanish friends have a very good reading comprehension of this language. Occasionally, depending on the topic, I will also be writing in Spanish and Chinese. Sorry in advance for the possible language mistakes (hopefully not too many in Spanish!).