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Egad, a meme!

The old “Five things you don’t know about me” meme is going around again, and I’ve been tagged by the China Blog Mafia’s representative in Taiwan Province. Normally I wouldn’t deign to post something like this, but hey, it’s a meme. I’m powerless to resist. Five things that you probably don’t know about me:

1. I’ve been blogging for a bit over six years now.

I’ve had a personal website in some form or another since like 1996, and started playing with Blogger in fall 2000, back when it was actually cool. Various changes of format, platform, design, and server later, I’m still here, though I’ve gone from multiple updates per day to updating once or twice a month. The old posts aren’t online, partly because the earliest versions of my blog were based on a home-rolled CMS and I don’t feel like converting over all of the old data, but mostly because they just weren’t very good.

2. If I hadn’t been such a fuck-up in high school, I might never have gotten so into Chinese.

I was always the kind of student that drove teachers crazy — smart, able to turn in good work when I wanted to, and arrogant enough to think that I could tune out and study what I wanted to without consequences. This had predictable results, and I was rejected from all of the universities that I applied to – at some of which, like UPenn and UChicago, I had done coursework and maintained a 4.0 GPA while in high school, not that I am bitter about not getting in or anything.
I was bitter about this for a while — particuarly when I saw high school classmates who were (for want of a better word) dumber than I was getting admitted to these same schools — but time has a way of providing perspective: around the same time I was receiving thin envelope after thin envelope from my schools of choice, I also got a thick envelope from Stanford, whose summer Chinese program at Beijing University I’d applied to and then basically forgotten about.

Not getting accepted to university meant that there was money for me to do this program, and so three days after I graduated high school, I was on a plane over to California, where my classmates and I did four weeks of intensive second-year Chinese in preparation for a five-week stint at Beida. After the program ended, I went back to Philadelphia, where a heroic high school guidance couselor had wrangled me a position in Temple University’s Honors program, and promptly set about finding ways to get back to China. I’d been taking night classes in Chinese for a couple of years (initially because I was bored in high school Spanish), but this was really the clincher, and if it hadn’t been for that, I might well have ended up doing something else entirely.

3. My first name isn’t really Brendan.

It’s Michael. Michael Brendan Barry O’Kane: Barry for my mother’s surname, Michael for my father’s brother who died in infancy, and Brendan, which they apparently decided that they liked more. I’ve never been called Michael, except by DMV staff and airport check-in attendants. A couple of years ago, I almost got into trouble at Philadelphia Airport when a check-in clerk saw that my ticket said “Brendan” and my passport said “Michael Brendan,” and then informed me that now that 9/11 had changed everything, she was going to have to charge me $150 for a change-of-name fee.
That wasn’t the trouble; the trouble was with what I said to her after that.

4. I can’t tie my shoes properly.

Seriously; it looks like I’m doing it with goddamned hooks or something. I’m just poorly coordinated all around. This despite having done 12 years of Shotokan karate, which I wasn’t very good at either.

5. I have my parents’ taste in music.

More or less. Fortunately my parents have really good taste in music. I grew up on Irish music, blues, The Who, Talking Heads, and all kinds of stuff, and although we’ve got our differences of opinion — I listen to speed metal when I’m pissed off or in need of a quick burst of productivity; my parents do not — it’s usually a pretty safe bet that if I like something, my folks will like it too, and vice versa. My mom just sent me the MP3 below of St. Swithin’s Day by Billy Bragg — I hadn’t heard the song in years, and had forgotten how good it was. (Apologies to Chinesepod, whose Flash sound player I’ve stolen.)

Now for the tagging:

1. John Pasden. He’s way too nice, so you just know there’s going to be some far-out shit about him that nobody knows.
2. David Lancashire. Canadian, so ditto.
3. Chris. I know you don’t have a blog yet, but post in the comments. Answers don’t have to be factual.
4. Joel. Ditto. (Unless you want to post on Danwei.)
5. My amazing, talented, totally foxy girlfriend. Is there anything I should know?

This is a meme. You can’t resist memes!

16 Comments

  1. Prince Roy wrote:

    your compliance with the Will of the Meme is hereby and duly noted.

    that’s a beautiful song. I’d never heard of this guy until now. Please send the mp3 of this and any others you may have.

    Sunday, December 31, 2006 at 2:57 pm | Permalink
  2. Guess I was wrong when I said I was the “first” to tag John.. haha. Now I have to go see if he’s responded to your request. :-)

    Sunday, December 31, 2006 at 4:00 pm | Permalink
  3. Prince Roy wrote:

    don’t know why my comment never took the first time, but that is a beautiful song. Thank you…

    Monday, January 1, 2007 at 1:09 am | Permalink
  4. zhwj wrote:

    Behold, the power of the meme! It commands respect, it resurrects long-dead blogs!

    Monday, January 1, 2007 at 8:57 am | Permalink
  5. John wrote:

    Dammit! What the hell?! This is not cool!

    Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 2:08 am | Permalink
  6. Nobody’s saying memes are cool, John. They’re just elemental forces that we mortals are unable to escape. Do the meme.

    Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 2:15 am | Permalink
  7. juhuacha wrote:

    Wow, definitely never knew that your real first name was Michael. Weird.

    Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 10:17 am | Permalink
  8. John wrote:

    Brendan,

    I’ve taken a vow not to do these memey chain-blogging games anymore.

    Just for you, though, I’ll answer it here. (Unfortunately, I don’t have many juicy unknown tidbits about myself, like, say, my real first name.)

    1. I juggle. I do quite a few patterns, but I stopped working at it before I got to either Mill’s Mess or the 5-ball cascade. One day!

    2. I don’t give a damn about Chinese history. I have studied it only as much as I’ve been forced to.

    3. Sometimes I secretly wish I were a computer programmer. (If I were, I’d be doing all kinds of awesome web apps.)

    4. I don’t actually love Shanghai. (But I do like the work I find here!)

    5. I have never eaten dog.

    There ya go.

    Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 1:47 pm | Permalink
  9. trevelyan wrote:

    I’m game and will pick up this meme once my server gets its hard drive replaced. Which should be a few days but hopefully no longer.

    In the meantime, I leave you all with some interesting art I stumbled into surfing the web:

    http://www.beksinski.pl/masterlist.htm

    Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 2:25 pm | Permalink
  10. Soong Li wrote:

    It’s a bit hard to think of something you don’t know.

    Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 11:49 pm | Permalink
  11. Jeremiah wrote:

    I think we all have our odd reasons for “Why study China/Chinese?”

    I usually tell people it’s because I love history and figured the world needed another Civil War historian like a hole in the head.

    Why not China?

    Nice post.

    Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 6:08 am | Permalink
  12. Prince Roy wrote:

    off topic: I seem to remember you’ve used Classical Chinese: A Basic Reader in Three Volumes by Naiying Yuan, Haitao Tang, James Geiss.

    What did you think? I’m looking for a self-study classical Chinese course for a side project I have going on. Would appreciate your input.

    Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 4:58 pm | Permalink
  13. Man, Roy — are you filing your comments with subliminal references to Cialis or something? Don’t know why this was marked as spam —

    Anyway: I used Shaddick when I was starting out with Classical Chinese. I’m way-rusty now, so I recently acquired Creel’s Classical Chinese by the Inductive Method, which I’d heard good things about, and yesterday picked up a copy of An Introduction to Literary Chinese, by Michael Fuller. (It was $ 21 at the Columbia bookstore, and it’s got really nice grammatical explanations that the other books don’t have.)

    Sunday, January 7, 2007 at 12:27 am | Permalink
  14. Matt wrote:

    That’s funny that they carry the Fuller book at the Columbia bookstore still. I just took my first CC class there last semester and the teacher spent about half of the first class explaining why they explicitly avoid using that book. I don’t remember anything specific, just that sometimes the impressions it gives are inaccurate.

    Monday, January 8, 2007 at 2:54 am | Permalink
  15. Matt wrote:

    o and i guess you’ve already made your visa run but if you’re still in the city i would definitely be down for a cup of coffee.

    Monday, January 8, 2007 at 2:59 am | Permalink
  16. chris wrote:

    Five Things Unknown about Me:

    1. Just a few days ago, in my quaintly dilapidated Beijing courtyard, the Singularity occurred.

    Once I recognized what it was, I stepped on it, producing a moderately loud squelching sound.

    I’m sorry.

    This was a thoughtless thing to do.

    Had I appreciated the opportunity before me, I would at least have waited until the Singularity had eradicated cancer, Walmart and mortality before dispatching it out of some primal fear that ye olde humanity is now officially post-ye old humanity.

    (Also, my ayi had some questions about the dark grey ‘juice’ that got sprayed against the wall.)

    Anyhow, I promise — especially to Ray Kurzweil — that if the Singularity happens in my courtyard again, I will do my utmost to treat It harmoniously and/or with respect, whichever is currently approved by the Ministry of Harmony (MiniHarm).

    But, if the Singularity should practice any form of heretic cultism in MY courtyard, then harmony-theory would require a prompt and decisive re-squelching.

    2. I was sent to this planet to establish a super-secret fifth column-slash-recon team, in preparation for a very complicated invasion that would require huge ships full of mostly empty space and some bulky nukes. (An earlier plan had called for very cost-effective swarms of invisible nanobots, but it was decided that invisible nanobot swarms, no matter how victorious, would be difficult to commemorate with a suitable Victory Monument.)

    My home planet, which used to be about 100 million light years from Earth, was a place where we took our Victory Monuments seriously.

    3. Unfortunately, some jokester adjusted my ship’s matter-antimatter thrusters to ’11’ and, well, just a few microseconds after ignition, my home planet went, er, kabloom.

    Under any other circumstance, this would be ‘funny.’

    4. Irony is unknown where I come from, which is why — after realizing 0.5 seconds into my mission that there was no longer any point to achieving it — I chose to live out my days in China, where I could enjoy a Low-Irony Atmosphere and virtually no immigration restrictions vis-a-vis extra-terrestrials. (Hence, the ubiquity of the beloved ‘F visa, which stands for ‘fuggedaboutit.’)

    5. I belong to a secret society. Although I cannot reveal the name of the society, the time has come to reveal our secret password: with your right hand, you make an inverted “okay” sign, holding that inverted okay just over your solar plexus; simultaneously — after looking surreptitiously to left and right — you make a sotto voce bleating sound. (“baaahhh…” is preferred, since it is cross-platform, robust and works well in pinyin AND wade-giles environments). If another member is present in the room, they will respond in kind.

    If the other person is a true member of this society, they will be able to reveal to you the two missing words in the following secret mantra:

    “Only the ***** **** can save you now.”

    Friday, January 12, 2007 at 9:44 am | Permalink

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