Summer holiday 2023

I finally had a chance to go back to my hometown in this summer after more than three years of the pandemic. After attending one international conference on Statistical Mechanics, I flew back to Shanghai on 18 August. I spent the weekend meeting my friends in Tongji University, and then went back to my hometown on 21 August. I stayed in my parents’ home for about three weeks and returned Tokyo on 10 September.

A weekend in Shanghai

It was good to be back in this familar city I had been living from 2013 to 2019. I lived in a Youth Hotel near Tongji Unveristy, sharing a room with three people. This reminded me of my undergraduate time.

Most of my friends are working in civil engineering related industries, including designing and house selling. I had a good time having all kinds of my favorite Chinese food with them. Sadly, they are not as energetic and full of liveliness as the undergraduate time. The life feels mundane and people do things routinely. Something is terribly wrong but I don’t know what it is.  Isn’t it a tragedy that people lose all their liveliness as they grow up? Interestingly, the most lively and energetic friend I met is my deskmate in high school first year. He has been my best friend since then, although he isn’t the “most successful” student by the standard point of view, which means a top-rank university. But he is the only one with shining eyes.

Does it take one’s life energy to getting into a top education instutition? Does it worth it? Or is it just one cannot handle this situation and ends up selling one’s soul to the devil like Faust sold his to Mephistopheles? It’s very tricky.

Three weeks in my hometown

During my three weeks in my hometown, I met and had meals with my relatives about once or twice a week, which is the regular activity for our family gathering. Older generations have pretty much settled lives so nothing new quite happened. The only thing that is like a shining star at a night sky is my oldest cousin’s daughter. She is about 3 or 4 years old and is so energetic and lovely that nobody can resist the charm! She is super extravert and would ask everyone to play with her. She mumbles in a special baby language; but if you asked her to reply more than two times, she would be annoyed and roll her eyes at you.

I did have lots of amazing experience to share about my 3 years’s abroad PhD life. However, my gut feeling was that the time had not come yet and people in my hometown had not been ready for it. The old cyclic life and mundane routine provide a comfortable zone that makes people reluctant to explore the new possibilties of life experience. This comfortable zone is further enhanced by a group of people in the same family sharing the same experience so an individual might want to be tightly bounded to such a group. There is no point to break such a “peace”. What’s more, I believe I haven’t be ready to articulate the experience well enough to get people really involved into it.

Besides these family gathering activities, I finished reading two books, watched one movie and one india epic TV drama. I will talk about them separately. These were what make my summer holiday unique and deeply meaningful.

Death: An Inside Story (A book for all those who shall die)

(From Wikipedia) The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David

It is the time for me to return to the big question of understanding death. I first realized this question when I was in elementary school. I asked my parents whether death is just like sleep, but clearly they don’t have an answer. However, they did tell me many mind-bogging facts about how people deal with dealth. For example, in Chinese death ritual, we treat marriage as “red happy event” and death as “white happy event”. I just couldn’t understand at that time how can a person being dead be regarded as a happy event?

I said it is time for me to return to this question because I saw many deaths happened this year around me, which is like an alarm bell telling me that I have put aside something very important for too long.

About a year ago, I was astonished by Socrates last speech before his death called I Go To Die. In this 8-minute speech, he explained why he thought taking the death is a good thing instead of evil. A similar exmple is in the story called Passion of Jesus, who, again, chooses to die, insteading of taking it passively. These two stories give some hints about death in a very very implicit way, but never discuss what is death head-on.

Intuitively, I clear know modern science at this point is too young and immature for tackling such a foundamental problem of life. But, I really want some insights from somewhere. One natural place to look at is the lost ancient wisdom. Some knowledge must be buried inside the death ritual passing down to our generations. The death ritual in China is not a good place to look at since I tried asking people all around me and nobody has any clue. What’s more, people in China are almost 100% focused on materialistic side of the world so I suspect there would be high quality books on this topic. Therefore, I turned to one of the big influencer of Chinese culture and tradition, India.

A picture for the Death book

In July, I found a book called Death: An Inside Story by a yogi (a master of yoga; yoga has one literal meaning as union). Early this year, I knew from this yogi a fast and nuturious breakfast recipe for people use brain heavily like me. It only takes 2 minutes to make and 3 minutes to drink. It can keeps me energetic for the whore morning, somethings even the whole day when I skip the lunch. It is so useful that I keep going to his Youtube channel and check whether there are more such life hacks. So, when I knew he had written a book about death, I bought it immediately.

Unlike the opaque and mysterious stories like Scrates and Jesus’s death, this book is amazingly down-to-earth and joyful to read. I started reading it from the end of July and finished at the end of August. The yogi gives a thorough explanation of death from the yogic culture perspective. Amazingly, even without any evidence, you will feel there are something deep and fundamental in his explanation. I’m amazed to know that we can talk about dealth in such a graceful and decent manner, without being boring or grave. I’m very satisfied after reading this book and getting more curious about how yogis get to know all these fundamental truth about life and death. Is it like how Ramanujan sees mathematical formulus in his dream (This movie portrays the life of this genius mathematician)? I will definitely explore this curious question.

Xinliang (Bruce) Lyu

Working on my way to become a theoretical physicist!

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