There are two things that I learned from my fourth-year of university that will be permanently engrained in my mind. The first is the Japanese word for no and the second is the day the Chinese Communist Party took power.

I remember the first because of an amusing anecdote my Japanese Buddism professor shared several times. He was at a temple and monks were in the process of answering koan (a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment). To do this they lined up in single file and went in one at a time. The koan in question was does a cat have Buddha nature, the answer to which is technically yes, but the correct answer is no (hence paradoxical). Monks must embody and fully ponder the answer to the question in order to get it right and move onto the next koan. The monk yelled mew (the Japanese word for no) at the top of his lungs. He passed. Me and my friends plotted to go into the final exam and yell mew at the top of our lungs and walk out but thought passing was more important.

The second is the infamous date that my Chinese politics prof was very fond of saying. It reached the point where he would say it at least twenty times per 75 minute class regardless of where we were in the history of Chinese politics, so we did what any university students would, we made up a drinking game. It was a 10 a.m. class so we never actually played it but laughed hysterically every single time he said October 1, 1949 from that point onwards. He would look over confused at what the gaggle of giggling girls were on about.

There were lots of other things we covered in those classes but I don’t remember most of them. I don’t remember most of what was covered in the classes I took that ended in December. It is a pretty sad statement on our education system. We are trained to memorize things for a test, then they disappear forever only preserved in my beautiful colour coded study flow charts—yes all things in life should be colour coded. People keep asking me about things that I knew six months ago. Subtle differences between schools of zen thought for example. I spent a month learning that and it was all gone when my paper was put down.

In its place are two things: October 1, 1949 and mew. They will be there forever. After I forget my current address they will still be there. After I forget the names of my high school teachers they will be there. It says something about the way we learn and about the importance of not just covering the material but making it stick. I wish our universities cared more about that, maybe then I would feel like I learned more from my degree.


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