Friday, September 24, 2010

The Brabançonne- English Version

The Brabançonne (Song of Brabant) is the national anthem of Belgium. The anthem has a French, a Dutch and a German version, for the three official languages of the country.

According to legend, the Belgian national anthem was written in September 1830, during the Belgian Revolution, by a young revolutionary called Jenneval, who read the lyrics during a meeting at the Aigle d'Or café.

Jenneval, a Frenchman whose real name was Alexandre Dechet (sometimes known as Louis-Alexandre Dechet), did in fact write the Brabançonne. At the time, he was an actor at the theatre where, in August 1830, the revolution started which led to independence from the Netherlands. Jenneval died in the war of independence. François Van Campenhout composed the accompanying score and it was first performed in September 1830.

In 1860, Belgium formally adopted the song and music as its national anthem, although the then prime minister edited lyrics attacking the Dutch Prince of Orange. The Brabançonne is also a monument (1930) by the sculptor Charles Samuël on the Surlet de Chokier square in Brussels. The monument contains partial lyrics of both the French and Dutch versions of the anthem. As many elements in Belgian folklore, this is mainly based on the French "La Marseillaise" which is also an anthem and the name of a monument in Paris.

The ending, pledging loyalty to "Le Roi, la Loi, la Liberté !" ("The King, the Law, Liberty!") is an obvious parallel to the French "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" - with the republican sentiment of the original replaced in the Belgian version by the promotion of constitutional monarchy (the combination of "The King" and "The Law" is what produces "Liberty"). Actually, a slogan similar to the Belgian one - "la Nation, la Loi, le Roi" ("The Nation, The Law, The King") - had been used in the early days of the French Revolution, when that revolution was still considered to be aimed at Constitutional Monarchy rather than a Republic.

The postal card above features The Brabançonne translated in English.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Great Charlemagne

The national anthem of Andorra "El Gran Carelmany" (The Great Charlemagne) presents the nation's history in a first-person narrative. Charlemagne, King of the Franks and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, 742 - 814, was born on April 2, 742 in Northern Europe. Charles was the eldest son of Pippin III and Bertrada of Laon. ‘By the sword and the cross,’ Charlemagne became master of Western Europe.

In 768, when Charlemagne was 26, he and his younger brother Carloman inherited the kingdom of the Franks. In 771 Carloman died, and Charlemagne became sole ruler of the kingdom. At that time the Franks were falling back into barbarian ways, neglecting their education and religion. The Saxons of northern Europe were still pagans. In the south, the Roman Catholic church was asserting its power to recover land confiscated by the Lombard kingdom of Italy. Europe was in turmoil.

Charlemagne was determined to strengthen his realm and to bring order to Europe. In 772 he launched a 30-year military campaign to accomplish this objective. By 800 Charlemagne was the undisputed ruler of Western Europe. His vast realm encompassed what are now France, Switzerland, Belgium, and The Netherlands. It included half of present-day Italy and Germany, and parts of Austria and Spain. By establishing a central government over Western Europe, Charlemagne restored much of the unity of the old Roman Empire and paved the way for the development of modern Europe.

On Christmas Day in 800, while Charlemagne knelt in prayer in Saint Peter’s in Rome, Pope Leo III placed a golden crown on the bowed head of the king. Charlemagne is said to have been surprised by the coronation, declaring that he would not have come into the church had he known the pope’s plan. However, some historians say the pope would not have dared to act without Charlemagne's knowledge.

Charlemagne learned to read Latin and some Greek but apparently did not master writing. At meals, instead of having jesters perform, he listened to visiting scholars read from learned works. Charlemagne believed that government should be for the benefit of the governed. He was a reformer who tried to improve his subject’s lives. He set up money standards to encourage commerce and urged better farming methods. ‘By the sword and the cross,’ Charlemagne became master of Western Europe.

As is often the case, people considered great by historians are great killers as well. Throughout his conquests, Charlemagne was responsible for the death of masses of people who refused to accept Christianity, or their new king. Choosing to keep faith with their old gods and leaders, many thousands were slaughtered.

Above is a postcard from Andorra with the lyrics of the national anthem beside the Great Charlemagne.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Computers on Stamps and my Love Affair with the Machine

A few months ago, I visited a link in Delcampe, a stamp auction site, about "Cyber Philately: Computer Stamps- from Abacus to Internet", and a I was transported back in time to my love affair with the "ultimate machine".

Pocket computer- desktop- laptop- notebook- netbook- tablet PC. In a nutshell, that's the evolution of my computers.

Back in 1983, when I was in second year high school, my dad brought me from Japan, my first computer- the Casio PB-300 (picture below), a pocket computer with a built in thermal printer. To my knowledge, it was first the first computer with a built-in thermal printer but had only 2KB of RAM compared to mammoth 4GB of today. There were no elaborate graphics and software programs then. You can only see 12 characters in a line on a monochrome LCD for simple games and computation of algebraic formulas which was very helpful in my elective Calculus subject in high school.

I remember programming a basic shooting game and did some print outs of the program. Years later I saw the prints fade to oblivion. As far as I can remember, there were only two of us who had a pocket computer then-his name is Gene Cagas, now a pastor based in Cambodia. We had weekly competitions of creating the best programs. One time, he conceded defeat when he saw me making a simple shooting program (how complex can a program be, given only a line). In this program random alphanumeric characters would show up and when you press a button, the duration should be right enough to cause an arrow to hit it. If you press to short or too long it would undershoot or overshoot the target. Anyway, I had a really memorable time with my friend Gene. We always reminisce about it during our reunions. Unfortunately, this computer is now forever lost- I never knew if it was stolen or a relative of mine got it (most likely the latter).

During college in the 90's, I had several desktop computers, mostly cloned. I would just choose the sound card, video card, disk drive and all other parts and have them assembled by the supplier. Mostly, these desktops were optimized for gaming, an aspect of computer which I love until now. It was during this time that the internet became popular but dial-ups were sluggish. There was no broadband or WiFi then. I had these desktops during my medical technology years until medical school and residency.

During my fellowship years in 2002, I got myself my first laptop-the HP Compaq Presario. It was in vogue then and very expensive at 90 thousand pesos. It was impressive during its time- with 512 gigs of RAM, 60 GB of memory and Invidia video card capable of handling 3D games and graphics effortlessly. It had no Bluetooth and WiFI. I mastered Counterstrike and Unreal with this laptop and finished Half-Life- a science fiction, first person shooting game and my all-time favorite computer game. My weekly presentation of cases, journals and studies where done with this laptop. During my various symposium and seminars, it traveled with me.

After I finished fellowship and became a consultant with an aching back, the laptop became too heavy for me, so I switched to a notebook- the Acer Travelmate. This was definitely much lighter and smaller but less powerful. I don't really need the extra power because I rarely play graphic intensive video games, with its decent ATI Radeon video card, during these years. This time though, it already had a bluetooth and LAN. It was during this time, that I was into music composition and home recording using software synths like Rob Papen's Blue, Albino, Moog, Vanguard, etc. using the MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) keyboard. I had to get myself a Creative Audigy soundcard which fits snugly into the PCI port to play MIDI and sound intensive programs requiring ASIO like Ableton Live and FL Studio. I did my first home studio recording using this computer- mostly Electronica and Trance music.

When WiFI became ubiquitous, I shifted to a netbook- the Asus 1000HE. I got this because it is very light at two pounds and excellent for surfing. I got a Buffalo wireless router so I can surf anywhere at our home- which led to its eventual demise after using it for less than two years. While surfing at our comfort room, it slipped and broke the plastic edge. Although still functional, it was now cosmetically challenged. I gave it to my wife and got myself a new computer- the Tablet PC.

I was not really impressed with iPad. I mean why buy something expensive just to read and surf? I did some research on this, because I wanted a gadget that works like an iPad but had strong computational skills. These qualities I found in my new tablet PC- The Asus T101 MT.

It's lighter than a notebook but has multitouch features. I had problems with the netbook at night and during traveling when it's very difficult to use the keyboard. With the touch feature, this problem is eliminated. Play Chess, Scrabble or Plants and Zombies on the plane--no problem-- you just touch the screen to move or control the pieces. The websites are a pleasure to surf- you just touch and drag up or down, right or left or flick to scan or change pages. It has an Expressgate feature, a separate OS (operating system) with allows it to boot the system in 5 seconds so you can quickly connect to the internet, view your pictures, listen to internet radio or use Skype. You cannot, however save files in this OS, you have to shift to the Windows 7 OS. by just pressing a button. As of now, I'm very satisfied with this computer. With its handwriting recognition software, I wish I had this during my student days to take notes during lectures. Now, I give lectures, so I just use it for presentations.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Scaling the Great Wall of China

While the Great Wall of China is not one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it is typically included in the Seven Wonders of the Medieval World. In 1987, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) placed the Great Wall on its list of the world’s great national and historical sites. That the Great Wall is a single, continuous wall built all at once is a myth. In reality, the wall is a discontinuous network of wall segments built by various dynasties to protect China’s northern boundary.

After an hour and a half ride from the central business district in Beijing, we arrived at one of the five Great Wall stations in Badaling. Upon arrival, one can immediately see the watchtowers which were built at regular intervals along the Great Wall and could be up to 40 feet tall. They were once used as lookouts and fortresses as well as for housing garrisons of troops and stockpiled supplies. They were also signal stations, where beacons, smoke, or flags were used for messages. Their architectural styles are diverse considering the several dynasties that ruled when they were built.

The Badaling station didn't have a lift or a cable car, so the only way to reach the sixth watchtower was to walk and climb the steep and perilous stairs. Due to time constraints, we were only given an hour to accomplish this task. The distance from tower to tower was around 300 steps, and I can already hear my wife breathing heavily midway into the second tower. I had to leave her behind because her legs were shaking and felt she could not reach the highest towers without having a heart attack. The view became better and better the higher you go and at the fourth tower, which was my final stop, it was spectacular. There was a feeling of awe and praise for the Chinese for building this wall, reputedly the only man made object seen from space (later proven false). I offered a small prayer to the one million laborers who died while building this magnificent wall- also the the worlds longest cemetery. Because they had no time to dig for graves, all the dead laborers were also buried here. On the way down, I dropped by the Great Wall Store at the second tower to have my name engraved on the medal- proclaiming that you have conquered the wall.

The last battle fought at the Great Wall was in 1938 during the Sino-Japanese War, which was between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan. Bullet marks can still be seen in the Wall at Gubeikou. While the Great Wall is currently a symbol of national pride, China struggles with how to manage and protect the Wall while controlling the mass-market development of it. Two organizations, the China Great Wall Society and the International Friends of the Great Wall, are dedicated to preserving it.

My Visit to the Madian Stamp Market in Beijing, China

It’s sad that Mr. Bin, the stamp seller, would not be able to read this blog and see his picture on the net because just like Twitter and Facebook, Blogger is also restricted in China. There is broadband connection is every Shangri-la hotel in China but there are so many sites you can’t visit. Our eloquent guide Jason, who majored in English and international tourism, told us that since the “Chinese workers union revolt”, early this year, most blog sites were restricted; and he lost several Facebook friends.

We went to the Madian district which was a smooth 45 minute ride from our hotel (luckily there was no traffic that morning) to look for the Stamp and Coin market which was located at No. 23, Huangsi Street, Xicheng District, (tel. number: 62040626). The staff at our hotel was kind enough to call the number to verify their address and to translate the address into Chinese. They hailed a cab and told the driver to take us there, further instructing us that the ride will cost between 30-40 yuan. It is a good idea a take pictures of your want list on your camera or camera phone so that you can show them the exact item you are looking for. Majority of the Chinese nationals doesn’t speak a word of English so common words like music and stamps are alien to them. So, I also got the Chinese for stamps (youpiao) and music (I forgot now) before we left. When they saw the picture, they immediately knew what I wanted.

In July of this year, China Post issued a set of foreign musicians in stamps- Bach, Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart, and I wanted to get these from its original country of origin. I was able to obtain all the four stamps (in strips of 4) and the first day covers. I was also able to buy the stamp of Tai Chuan-Hsien, the composer of the Banner song of Taiwan and a sheet of musicians from North Korea. I was also looking for the first day cover of the China anthem composer Nie Er, but it wasn't available, so I got a block of four instead.

The seller asked us where we were from, and after telling them we were from the Philippines, he displayed a sinister grin and pointed his fingers to his head- like a gun- and conveyed his dismay on the recent hostage taking by a disgruntled Filipino military man, killing 8 Chinese nationals. Bang bang bang…he said chuckling as he announced to the other stall vendors we were from the Philippines. He was very cordial and quick to get the items. It was a good thing that I had a picture of the stamp I wanted on my phone.

China has slowly evolved from a hard core communist to a quasi-democracy/capitalist country. Although with some restrictions, you can do whatever you want in China. Although they need to smile more, it's people are now tourist friendly. I learned many things in our short visit to China. I learned to respect their people and culture and to admire the many wonderful things they have contributed to the world. Basing on what I saw and experience, China's economy will surpass that of the United States in the next 20 years. Indeed, the dragon has awakened, and we, the rest of the world are now trembling.