Tag Archives: Rabbit in the Moon

Chinese New Year 2013

Year of the Snake

Year of the Snake

Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year!

Today (Sunday, February 10, 2013) is the first day of this important annual celebration marking the start of the new year according to the Chinese lunisolar calendar. The holiday is also known as the Spring Festival because in pre-modern times it was the seasonal sign that farmers in China had to start sowing their fields.

The date usually falls in the months of January or February and each new year is represented by one of the twelve creatures of the Chinese Zodiac. 2013 is the year of the Snake, also called the Junior Dragon. According to ancient Chinese wisdom, a Snake in the house is a good omen because it means that the family will not starve.

People born under the sign of the snake (1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013) share certain personality characteristics. They are said to be cunning, thoughtful and wise. They are also great mediators and good at doing business.

The characteristics of the Snake are tempered by one of the 5 Chinese elements of Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth overlaying a 5-year cycle of characteristics on the original 12-year cycle.

In 2013, that element is water. Water Snakes are influential and insightful. They are good at managing others, are motivated, intellectual, determined and resolute about being successful at whatever they do. Although they are affectionate with family and friends, they tend to hide this side of their personality from colleagues or business partners.

More than a billion people around the world will be ushering in the Year of the Snake with festivities that last for a few weeks after new year’s day.

Not only is holiday celebrated in China, but also in countries and territories with significant Chinese populations, including Taiwan, Macau, Mauritius, Philippines,Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, as well as in Chinatowns  everywhere from Canada to the US to Africa to Australia.

Within China, regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the Chinese new year vary widely. People will pour out their money to buy presents, decoration, material, food, and clothing. It is also traditional for every family to thoroughly cleanse the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good incoming luck. Windows and doors will be decorated with red color paper cutouts and Chinese poetry about good fortune, happiness, wealth and longevity.

Typically on New Year’s eve, Chinese families gather for the annual reunion dinner which is a big feast. Dishes include pork, duck, chicken, sweet delicacies as well as fish. The tradition is that the fish is not finished during the meal, so that it can be stored overnight – a belief that the years will be blessed and profitable. Families end the night with firecrackers. Early the next morning, children greet their parents by wishing them a healthy and happy new year, and receive money in red paper envelopes. The Chinese New Year tradition is to reconcile, forget all grudges and sincerely wish peace and happiness for everyone.

Celebrations traditionally run from Chinese New Year’s Day itself to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese calendar.

We wish a happy, healthy, prosperous and peaceful year to all!

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Filed under China, Chinese New Year 2013, Chinese Zodiac, Rabbit in the Moon by Deborah and Joel Shlian, Year of the Snake

Do you want to live forever?

One of the primary themes in our novel, “Rabbit in the Moon” is finding the secret of longevity. We started with the premise: what if someone in 1989 had succeeded in extending man’s lifespan well beyond that normal limits? Then we asked: who would want such a discovery and what might they do to get their hands on it? 

At the time we wrote the book, we assumed most people would want to live to be at least 150 – as long as could live a quality life. But interestingly, as we’ve gone around the country speaking to book clubs and library groups, not everyone agrees. Many of the reasons they give us are those that make our fictional character Dr. Ni-Fu Cheng ultimately decide not to give mankind his secret.

In this essay by David Ewing Duncan a contributor to Science Times, Duncan says that he has polled audiences as we have and come up with many of the same responses. Read it here and let us know your thoughts: 

How Long Do You Want to Live?

By DAVID EWING DUNCAN

SINCE 1900, the life expectancy of Americans has jumped to just shy of 80 from 47 years. This surge comes mostly from improved hygiene and nutrition, but also from new discoveries and interventions: everything from antibiotics and heart bypass surgery to cancer drugs that target and neutralize the impact of specific genetic mutations.

Now scientists studying the intricacies of DNA and other molecular bio-dynamics may be poised to offer even more dramatic boosts to longevity. This comes not from setting out explicitly to conquer aging, which remains controversial in mainstream science, but from researchers developing new drugs and therapies for such maladies of growing old as heart disease and diabetes.

“Aging is the major risk factor for most diseases,” says Felipe Sierra, director of the Division of Aging Biology at the National Institute on Aging. “The National Institutes of Health fund research into understanding the diseases of aging, not life extension, though this could be a side effect.”

How many years might be added to a life? A few longevity enthusiasts suggest a possible increase of decades. Most others believe in more modest gains. And when will they come? Are we a decade away? Twenty years? Fifty years?

Even without a new high-tech “fix” for aging, the United Nations estimates that life expectancy over the next century will approach 100 years for women in the developed world and over 90 years for women in the developing world. (Men lag behind by three or four years.)

Whatever actually happens, this seems like a good time to ask a very basic question: How long do you want to live?

Over the past three years I have posed this query to nearly 30,000 people at the start of talks and lectures on future trends in bioscience, taking an informal poll as a show of hands. To make it easier to tabulate responses I provided four possible answers: 80 years, currently the average life span in the West; 120 years, close to the maximum anyone has lived; 150 years, which would require a biotech breakthrough; and forever, which rejects the idea that life span has to have any limit at all.

I made it clear that participants should not assume that science will come up with dramatic new anti-aging technologies, though people were free to imagine that breakthroughs might occur — or not.

The results: some 60 percent opted for a life span of 80 years. Another 30 percent chose 120 years, and almost 10 percent chose 150 years. Less than 1 percent embraced the idea that people might avoid death altogether.

These percentages have held up as I’ve spoken to people from many walks of life in libraries and bookstores; teenagers in high schools; physicians in medical centers; and investors and entrepreneurs at business conferences. I’ve popped the question at meetings of futurists and techno-optimists and gotten perhaps a doubling of people who want to live to 150 — less than I would have thought for these groups.

Rarely, however, does anyone want to live forever, although abolishing disease and death from biological causes is a fervent hope for a small scattering of would-be immortals.

In my talks, I go on to describe some highlights of cutting-edge biomedical research that might influence human life span.

For instance, right now drug companies are running clinical trials on new compounds that may have the “side effect” of extending life span. These include a drug at Sirtris, part of GlaxoSmithKline, that is being developed to treat inflammation and other diseases of aging. Called SRT-2104, this compound works on an enzyme called SIRT1 that, when activated, seems to slow aging in mice and other animals. It may do the same thing in humans, though this remains to be proven.

“Many serious attempts are being made to come up with a pill for aging,” said Dr. Sierra, though he suspects that there will not be a single anti-aging pill, if these compounds end up working at all. “It will be a combination of things.”

For over a decade, scientists also have experimented with using stem cells — master cells that can grow into different specialized cells — to replace and repair tissue in the heart, liver and other organs in animals. Some researchers have succeeded in also using them in people. The researchers include the urologist Anthony Atala of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, who has grown human bladders and urethras from stem cells that have been successfully transplanted into patients.

But another stem cell pioneer, James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, believes that stem cell solutions will be a long time coming for more complex organs. “We’re a long way from transplanting cells into a human brain or nervous system,” he said.

ANOTHER intervention that might thwart the impact of aging is bionics: the augmentation or replacement of biological functions with machines. For years cardiac pacemakers have saved and extended the lives of millions of people. More recent devices and machine-tooled solutions have restored hearing to thousands who are deaf and replaced damaged knees and hips. Physicians use brain implants to help control tremors brought on by Parkinson’s disease. Researchers also are working on a wide range of other machine fixes, from exoskeletons that protect joints to experimental devices that tap into the brain activity of paralyzed patients, allowing them to operate computers using thought.

Curiously, after learning about these possibilities, few people wanted to change their votes. Even if I asked them to imagine that a pill had been invented to slow aging down by one-half, allowing a person who is, say, 60 years old to have the body of a 30-year-old, only about 10 percent of audiences switched to favoring a life span of 150 years.

Overwhelmingly the reason given was that people didn’t want to be old and infirm any longer than they had to be, even if a pill allowed them to delay this inevitability.

Others were concerned about a range of issues both personal and societal that might result from extending the life spans of millions of people in a short time. These included everything from boredom and the cost of paying for a longer life to the impact of so many extra people on planetary resources and on the environment. Some worried that millions of healthy centenarians still working and calling the shots in society would leave our grandchildren and great-grandchildren without the jobs and opportunities that have traditionally come about with the passing of generations.

Long-lifers countered that extending healthy lives would delay suffering, possibly for a very long time. This would allow people to accomplish more in life and to try new things. It would also mean that geniuses like Steve Jobs or Albert Einstein might still be alive. Einstein, were he alive today, would be 133 years old.

That’s assuming that he would want to live that long. As he lay dying of an abdominal aortic aneurysm in 1955, he refused surgery, saying: “It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.”

David Ewing Duncan is a contributor to Science Times. This essay is adapted from his most recent e-book, “When I’m 164: The New Science of Radical Life Extension and What Happens If It Succeeds.”

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23rd anniversary of Tiananmen

Hard to believe 23 years have gone by since the Tiananmen massacre of June 4, 1989. Despite the distance of time, any official discussion of the event the Chinese government still refers to as merely the “June 4th incident” is taboo. While Hong Kong remains surprisingly open in terms of freedom to assemble and protest about that night (there are yearly candlelight vigils on the anniversary of Tiananmen), there were no demonstrations reported across Mainland China where the events of June 4th are still considered “counter-revolutionary”.

Tank Man

“Tank Man”

When the Shanghai Composite Index opened today at 2,246.98, several bloggers within China interpreted this as the 23rd anniversary of the June 4, 1989 crackdown when read from right to left. Their blogs were immediately shut down by censors. The Chinese have a long tradition of being superstitious- especially about numbers. There has been some speculation as to whether the fall in the index represented the work of hackers, but many believe that to be highly unlikely.

In the meantime, a spokesman for the US State Department encouraged the Chinese government to  “release everyone still serving sentences for their participation in the 1989 demonstrations; to provide a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing; and to end the continued harassment of demonstration participants and their families.”

Liu Weimin, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the statement.

Despite its acceptance of a more Western style capitalistic approach for its economy, the Chinese government is committed to one party rule at all costs.

Liu Xiaobo, the winner of the Nobel Peace prize in 2010 and was involved in the 1989 demonstrations  is serving an 11 year sentence for his  internet proclamation “Charter ’08” urging China to end its one party rule and embrace democracy.

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Filed under Asia, Charter 08, China, Deborah Shlian, medical mystery thriller, Rabbit in the Moon, Tiananmen massacre

Guide to pronouncing Chinese names

By popular request, we are adding a pronunciation guide for those who have said that would will help them pronounce some of the difficult Chinese names in our novel, “Rabbit in the Moon”.

The official system of romanization used in China today is known as Pinyin.  It is now almost universally adopted by the Western media. Although non-Chinese may initially encounter some difficulty in pronouncing romanized Chinese words,  many of the sounds actually correspond to the usual pronunciation of the letters in English. The exceptions:

c: is like the ts  in ‘its’

q: is like the ch  in ‘cheese’

x: has no English equivalent, and can be best described as a hissing consonant that lies somewhere between sh  and s. The sound was rendered as hs under an earlier transcription system.

z: is like ds  in ‘fads’

zh: is unaspirated and sounds like the j   in ‘jug’

a: sounds like ‘ah’

e: is pronounced as in ‘her’

i: is pronounced as in ‘ski’ (written as yi  when not preceded by an initial consonant).

However, in ci, chirishizi , and zhi,  the sound represented by the  final  i  is quite different and is similar to the ir  in ‘sir’, but without much stressing of the r  syllable.

o: sounds like the aw  in ‘law’

u: sounds like the oo  in ‘ooze’

e: is pronounced as in ‘get’

u: is pronounced as the German (written as yu  when preceded by an initial consonant)

When two or more finals are combined, such as hao, jiao, and liu, each letter retains its sound value as indicated in the list above, but note the following:

ai: is like the ie  in ‘tie’

ei: is like the ay  in ‘bay’

ian: is like the ien  in ‘Vienna’

ie: is similar to ‘ear’

ou: is like the o  in ‘code’

uai: sounds like ‘why’

uan: is like the uan  in ‘iguana’

(except when preceded by j, q, x , and y; in these cases a u  following any of these four consonants is in fact u  and uan  is similar to uen)

ue: is like the ue  in ‘duet’

ui: sounds like ‘way’

Examples:

A few Chinese names are shown below with English phonetic beside them:

Beijing = Bay-jing

Guilin = Gway-lin

Xi’an = Shi-ahn

Qing Nan = Ching Nan

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Chinese music was our inspiration for “Rabbit in the Moon” thriller

We’ve been asked to think of who we’d like to see in the roles of the characters we’ve created in our novel, Rabbit in the Moon and in fact, we are working on that for a new website called My Book, The Movie. Frankly, with the exception of Lili, we didn’t focus as much on what film star should play what part.

Instead, we got our inspiration from Chinese music. As we were writing our book, we listened to Karen (Hua-Qi) Han’s gorgeous erhu (see picture above) playing

Karen happens to be a dear friend and some of the inspiration for our main character, Lili Quan, as well as the person to whom we dedicated our book. As Karen herself says, the 2000-year-old Chinese violin has a voice-like quality that evokes Eastern cultural traditions.

If a movie is made, we hope Karen will play (and perhaps compose) the music. She has been a featured musician in just about every Hollywood movie score that requires the erhu including The Joy Luck Club, The Last Emperor and Kung Fu Panda. Here’s a link to her playing the theme of that film:

It is also Karen playing on our book trailer.

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Longevity may be in the genes

Living to 100 and beyond is likely more due to genes than even lifestyle. Or so says a new study published online last week in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine compared the lifestyle habits (eating, drinking and exercise) of almost 500 Ashkenazi Jews age 95 to 112 who were living on their own with over 1300 non-Hispanic whites age 65 to 74 from the general population.

The results indicated that the long lived men were less apt to be smokers, but that was not true for the women. And as far as diet and exercise, within both groups were people who were overweight, who consumed alcohol and who exercised very little.

This is a very small study to be sure, but it suggests that some people may be born with longevity genes that somehow overcome what experts consider to be less than optimal healthy lifestyles.

The rest of us should probably not give up on good habits like regular exercise or not smoking since other studies indicate that these do contribute to a longer life.  And of course, hope that a real longevity elixir like the one found in our novel “Rabbit in the Moon” becomes available soon.

 

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WXEL July 4th and 5th REBROADCAST

WXEL’s Florida Forum radio show’s Forth of July special will re-air past interviews of local authors who have books they think will be great summer reading. Our interview will air on 90.7 FM Sunday  July 4 at 11am , and re-air Monday July 5 at 7pm.

The show streams LIVE, so anyone with access to the Internet can listen to it at the above date/times, by going to www.wxel.org and clicking on the Listen Live button .

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