15 December 2008

more odes, and my upcoming homecoming

"The Chick is on my Disk": An Ode to Kiwis. I am pretty sure that in my adult life I never had the occasion to meet any Kiwis (New Zealanders) prior to coming here. I was missing out, I have since discovered. New Zealand has a strong presence in the Emmanuel MCR, belying a population size that is microscopic in global terms (4 million). The Kiwis I have gotten to know here are incredibly fun and easy-going people, and they have one of the world's most entertaining accents. Kiwis sound a lot like Australians, except that they tend to swap around some of the vowel sounds; i's sound like e's and e's sound like i's, for instance. The president of our MCR is a Kiwi-- I call him "Mr. Prizedint"-- as is one of my co-social-secretaries. During one of our committee meetings, my co-social-sec informed our prez that "the chick is on my disk," which of course meant that the check was on his desk. You can also watch the first minute of this to get another humorous illustration courtesy of Flight of the Conchords, the Kiwi comedy duo that did that silly French video I posted a while back.

"Remorseless": An Ode to Peter Nolan. I would be remiss if I did not pay tribute to one of my favorite Cambridge characters. Peter Nolan is a professor at Cambridge's business school, a leading expert on Chinese industry, and the main lecturer for a Development Studies course I am taking on big business, globalization, and developing countries. His course is open to several different MPhils, so his lectures usually pack in a couple hundred people, but he's so good that it's well worth the lack of personal interaction.

Standing in front of a lecture hall, Professor Nolan looks less like a business expert more like a beatnik poet in a blazer, with a wild mane of silver hair, a perpetual five-o-clock shadow and a deeply corrugated brow. As he lectures he paces back in forth across the front of the room, as if he's formulating his arguments as he goes along, and occasionally gazes off somewhere far away as he's making a broad point. His most endearing feature is his wealth of Nolanisms, including his tendency to call everything a "two-edged sword" and to regularly use emphatic adjectives such as "intense," "enormous," "fantastic," and my personal favorite, "remorseless." I didn't realize I become a leading Peter Nolan impressionist until one of his later lectures this term, when he referred to "this two-edged sword of capitalist globalization" and at least a half-dozen of my classmates looked at me with smirks on their faces.

Professor Nolan is one of two people in the Development Studies faculty whom I would call "big idea people": professors who, in addition to presenting the gamut of theories in their particular field, have their own grand theory that they subtly or not-so-subtly try to inculcate into their students. Professor Nolan's basic shtick is that, for better and for worse, most of the innovation and dynamism in the global business arena comes from competition among a small number of big oligopolistic firms in each industry. The "two-edged sword" metaphor is a favorite of his because he seems to believe that globalization is both really, really good and really, really bad, and that there's no contradiction in affirming both stances. I will probably come back to this subject with my own thoughts in a later episode.

Back to the States. I am heading back to Massachusetts for Christmas on Thursday, so I don't know if I'll have a chance to post again before then. I am already trying to de-program certain bits of British vocabulary that I have picked up here that will make me sound ridiculous at home: "queue" and "keen" and "trousers" to name a few. I am looking forward to it, for all of the usual reasons, and also because I find that returning to one's home country after some time away brings many revelations.

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