17 October, 2017

Obscenity, Profanity, Epithets, And Great Novels

By Jagath Asoka

Dr. Jagath Asoka

Dr. Jagath Asoka

Our diction—the words that we choose to communicate with others—say a lot about our attitude towards others, our state of mind, and our depth of spirituality.

When I was a student in Ukraine, I realized that every male in the former USSR used the Russian word “blayath” (whore) so often; they are still using the word “blayath” as if it were a punctuation mark—comma or period—in every phrase or sentence that they utter. We all know that the racial slur “nigger” is the nuclear bomb of racial epithets, and the expressions, such as “I will F*** your mother,” or “Mother F*****,” are the nuclear options of insults. Sri Lankans have their own version or a modification of “blayath.” Most Sri Lankans use the word “Hu**hi,” one of the worst insults that I have heard used by Sri Lankan men against their wives, girl friends, or other females. These words denigrate and lacerate the souls of the recipients. Obscenity, profanity, and racial epithets are ubiquitous; is it necessary, effective, and useful to use obscenity, profanity, and racial epithets? Do you think we must use obscenity, profanity, and epithets as often as we feel, or is it an indication of our level of erudition, education, spirituality, and compassion?

I know a plethora of Buddhist monks who use obscenity, profanity, and epithets as if they were some Buddhist sutras. I bet there are Hindu and Christian priests, rabbis, and imams who use obscenity, profanity, and epithets just like the Buddhist monks that I know of. Our politicians, even our current president, use obscenity, profanity, and epithets in certain occasions as if they were some Buddhist sutras; sometimes even on TV, Radio, or over the phone. Why do these people use vulgar language? Did they inherit this behavior from their parents?

When my son was eight years old, I gave him Walter Dean Myers’ Fallen Angels, a coming-of-age tale for young adults: the story of seventeen-year-old Richie Perry: just out of his Harlem high school, Richie volunteers for the service and spends a devastating year on active duty, because he could not go to college. This story is full of profanity because Richie and his friends—they believe that black troops are given the most dangerous assignments—come face-to-face with the Vietcong; amidst violence and death, Richie struggles to find virtue in himself and his friends. Of course, when a teenager is in a scary situation like this, he or she is going to curse a lot and that is the norm. My son read this book so many times with cheerful enthusiasm. I know that most parents would not have given a book like this to their teenage children, let alone to an eight-year-old son. My attitude is totally different. My only condition was that he could not talk about this book with his grandma, which he would not have done anyway. But recently while having a very lengthy conversation with his maternal grandmother, a Catholic of an American-Italian descent, I told her everything that I had not told her about my son, particularly his wide interest in reading and writing, which includes books with a plethora of profanity; my son is allowed to write anything that he desires, with no restrictions at all. He is allowed to read any book he desires, with no restrictions at all. After reading this book, my son has lost his interest in profanity, and he never asked me to buy a similar book. He keeps reading things that I have never heard of. It was part of my plan.

I do not usually use obscenity, profanity, and epithets; so, I firmly believe that I have created an environment where using obscenity, profanity, and epithets is not the norm, but I have a story to tell.

When my son was around two years old, one day, he was at home with me, while his mother had gone shopping. I rarely watch TV, but on that particular day, I was watching TV because George Bush was having a news conference about the war in Iraq. I got so agitated and used the “F word” to express my dissatisfaction and frustration. Since my son was less than two years, I did not think anything about my spontaneous verbal reaction to Bush. A few minutes later, my son kept repeating the “F word” like a mantra of some yogi from the Himalayas. Well, I thought the best approach was to ignore him because he was like a parrot; he just kept repeating what he had heard. When his mother came home, she was furious. I explained it to her: It was my stupid behavior; our son was just repeating what I had said. It did not matter to her; she washed his mouth with soap; my helplessness was indescribable; I said that I would take his punishment vicariously, but she did not budge and continued with her punishment; so, I took some soap and put in my mouth; well, it was not that bad. But I still do not think that was necessary; however, our son stopped using that word. Later, I found out, my son’s mother had the same punishment when she was little; her mother had given the same punishment to her when she had used the “F word” when she was a child. Since that day, I have not used any profane or obscene language in front of my son; I have never used any racial epithets, ever.

Here are my questions to you: Would you give books such as Fallen Angles or Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to your teenage sons and daughters? Why and Why not? Do you use derogatory, denigrating language at home? Do you use the word “Hu**hi,” or “F****** bitch” or any other obscene words or phrases to insult your wife? If you do, how are you going to teach your children that using obscenity, profanity, and epithets are not acceptable in a civilized society? Do you call your husband an as**ole or use any other obscene phrases or words when you argue with him? I know that when it comes to using obscenity, profanity, and epithets some women surpass men. Did your parents use obscenity, profanity, and epithets? Is it the reason that you are using obscenity, profanity, and epithets as adults? If your parents had used it, can you put an end to this perpetuating vicious cycle of obscenity, profanity, and epithets? If you use obscenity, profanity, and epithets at home, do you think that one day your children, when they grow up, would use the same words that you had used to insult your spouses, neighbors, and others, against you? Does the frequency of using obscenity, profanity, and epithets indicate the collective attitude towards others, collective state of mind, and the collective depth of spirituality of each person, family, or nation? Please let me know; I am just curious.

Even though I have dedicated the books that I have written to children of my friends,  I have stopped giving books to my friends’ children because children must live by the rules that are dictated by their own parents, not their uncles, aunts, friends, and neighbors. I will not question parents’ decisions and judgments because only they know about their children’s precociousness and maturity, and I do not. By giving books that my son reads at home to other children would be throwing a monkey wrench.  I know that some parents even do not allow their sons and daughters to read Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which both my son and I have read, at least, twice. It is banned in certain schools because of its frequent use of the racial slur “nigger,” but the protagonist and the tenor of the book is anti-racist. As I have mentioned before, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird and H.G Wells’ War of the Worlds are among my favorite books.

I think each person should read, at least, one hundred novels during his or her life span, because great novels are wonderfully pedagogical and instructive. How many novels have you read? If you do not read even when it rains or snows, why do you expect your children to read voraciously? If you are in your twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, or even if you are an octogenarian, read James Joyce and Thomas Mann; read everything that they have written in terms of what is called mythological traditions. Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kröger along with Death in Venice describes Mann’s views on art and the artist as an individual.

In Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kröger, Tonio’s father was a good father, a responsible father, a family man, a rich merchant, and an important citizen in his hometown; but Tonio’s father never did the thing he wanted to in all his life. Young Tonio was not interested in mere money making and raising a family like his father; Tonio had an artistic temperament, so he moved to Munich and joined a group of people who shared his views. Tonio and his group felt that they were above the mere money earners and family men, but Tonio was between two poles: his father, the businessman, and his newfound group, who felt that they were above the mere money earners and family men. But Tonio found that, although he thought himself a little superior in an intellectual way to them and could describe them with cutting words, he really loved his hometown people; his heart was nevertheless with them. When Tonio lived with the bohemians, he couldn’t live with them, either, because Tonio found that they were so disdainful of life. So, Tonio left them; he wrote a letter back to a person in the group, saying, “I admire the proud and cold who go adventuring on the paths of great and demoniac beauty and scorn ‘man’; but I do not envy them. For if anything is capable of making a poet out of a man of letters, it is this plebeian love of mine for the human, living, and commonplace. All warmth, all goodness, all humor is born of it, and it almost seems to me as if it were that love itself, of which it is written that a man and of angels, and yet without it be no more sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.

When I read the words of Thomas Mann, I felt that Mann was talking about me: All great novels have that effect on its readers. Like Tonio,  when I was a teenager, I lived in the former USSR, where the attitude was—at least, outwardly—there is more to life than mere money making; in my late-twenties, I moved to the USA, where I felt that some people were bohemians: they live and act free of regard for conventional rules and practices.

I get agitated when I see the destruction of our values and corruption of our country and culture, all in the name of development and progress; most people are blind, and they do not see it because those who support politicians are the beneficiaries of corruption and financial skullduggery; others are mere asinine and naive, and they are a dime a dozen in Sri Lanka; they are a dime a dozen even among my Sri Lankan colleagues and friends, even among those who have PhDs. To me it does not matter whether you have a PhD or whether you never went to school; what you do for living and how you treat others and yourself matter to me. If you are living a blissful life, doing what you love, then you have a life, a life worth living.

As far as criticizing Sri Lankans, with my cutting words, it is simply obvious: My heart is always with them.

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Latest comments

  • 4
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    Quote; “It was my stupid behavior; our son was just repeating what I had said”

    Of course the Politicians are bunch of stupids. If not our country would not be in the current state. It can not be helped as it is the Democratic system

    However, The State of the Country would not have been in such a state today if our Clergy, be they Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, Christian and Islamist had not behaved in a stupid manner like Jagath Asoka (JA).

    At least JA had the presence of mind to realise his stupid behavior but our to our Clergy, it appears this fact has not dawned.

    Nevertheless, our Politicians have not been when it comes to money as they know where the Govt coffers are asnd how to loot them THOUGH a political apointee Graduate Daya Sandagiri did not know when he approved $ 560m to bring down a Rice Miller to grind Phosphate.
    OMG, how does one catogorise this STUPID BEHAVIOR?? Where do you apply the soap?
    In politicians, there are hardly any place to apply the soap.

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      I wish all Sri Lankan kids who were born after the war are given a copy of “The Cage” by Gordon Weiss to read instead of teaching the stories from the Mahavamsa?

    • 1
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      Good one, Dude! Please send a short list of novels to the UNEDUCATED and UNCULTURED and CORRUPT TO THE CORE President of Sri Lanka and his equally unmeducated brothers and sons..

  • 2
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    Who went to USSR by gone days for higher studies ? Those who could not make it to Sri Lankan universities, though political push, any way Asoka is reading some books & gaining knowledge. I myself went to a SL university creating a new record in my Alma mater, first in the district & within first 10 in the Island & up until todate & forever a patriotic Lanka.

    • 0
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      Correction..patriotic Lankan..

    • 0
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      DR DR etc Jagath,
      So you were a student in Ukraine,ah?Other than reading books(hope not dirt stories)any other experiences?For instance your experiences with those long legged beauties?I am sure that those chicks would have taught you a few tricks!On the other hand they couldn’t stand your smell.Anyway that mug shot of yours means ladies will be at each others throats to get a piece of the action!

    • 0
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      Stupid [Edited out]

    • 3
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      Get your facts right, John. I also went to an interview calling for a scholarship. But I was still keeping my placement at Uni of Pera. Anyway, I could not complete my degree as thought to be.. because being caught by Uni crisis held in late 80ties. So, dont just attack your fellow lankens without focusing the facts. Just learn to respect ones like Dr. Asoka for his writings. I really like his articles posted on CT. Many of them are comprehensible to anyone, not at all comparable to those verbose repeatedly posted by self proclaimed pseudo political scientists like DAYAN JAYATHILAKA (Silva)

    • 0
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      Thanks John. I see the same point. I got a place at Colombo University back in 70s and that time students who went to Russian Universities were the ones who did not get a place here.Still people with money do that. I wonder why did not he mentioned about any Russian poet or a writer who are among the best ones in the world?(Like Tolstoy,Chekov,Gorki,Pushkin,Gogol etc.etc) True that Sri Lankans are rude in many ways but this the same with many European countries and with Asian countries too.Italians always use bad words for god and for virgin Mary when they are angry and Greeks too. People in SL need to change their attitudes which is very difficult to do. Drivers use their horns every minute deafening people because the high decibel count of their horns. Three wheelers and Motor bicycle riders with private bus drivers turned roads in to graves.No signals and abrupt turns and breaking of every possible road codes made a hell in SL. Beetle chewers spat where ever they want making the environment unhygienic at its best. All of these things can be dealt with heavy fines and that was the way how China got rid of them.Education at school as well as using media is another way.

      • 1
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        Asoka@,

        I agree with you about imposing heavy fines. Actually in a country, the rule of law has become to the levels of INDIFFERENT, how can you expect them to react against anyone who behave that way?. If anyone broke the laws in Singpore,Germany, Switzerland and several other EU countries, they would not wait to punish them accordingly but being unbiased.

        Please just listen to the following audio and feel how silly lanken authorities have been.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZZcLYKrIcQ

        If this was the on a german or swiss highway, they the drivers will have to pay a nearly 200Euro or/and with 3 months waiting times

        Btw, I thought city beautification program contained all that kind of heavy fines against those who break the laws…

    • 1
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      John,

      Steve Jobs, bill gates etc did not complete any degree, but they changed the world. So, where is here university education? it doesn’t not matter where you study! Sri Lankan university educational system is outdated only strict examination system nothing else. so who want to enter university they will do hard work on reading notes and books. but where is the knowledge?
      All the projects in Sri Lanka carried out by foreigners.

      • 0
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        You may be right or wrong but this guy Asoka has nothing to boast about with his USSR degrees , OK ?
        those were cheaper than SL degrees.

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          This is the perception that many of you guys bear while being in SL. I think this could be right for ones who obtained their degrees prior to 80 ties or so. I also have cousin that are in the same opinion as you are. But truth as it is, today MBBS and other degree holders face all kind of problems when applying for positions offered by Uk, Canada, Aus and NZ hospitals/research institutions. Practical knowledge that local graduates collected are relatively not much. That is going to be their handicap, employers to reject their applications.

          You say, USSR degrees are cheaper – I dont think so. On the west, they get more chances than lankens when applying for graduate positions.

  • 0
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    …”.F***…M*…D***”,…. F***….Y**…S***, G**.. F*****, or even F***…O**…” would have been the reaction if this Dr told his fellow Americans to abstain….After Reading for the PhD in Ukraine and living in the US, with a nice American family. can this Dr still understand our Kuveni dialect???…to know that many Buddhist monks using swear words which seem taboo for him and his son…..Our Sinhala inhabitants may not have much of a life in comparison to these Lankan Foreigners.But they can at least live peacefully now, and earn a few crumbs to feed their kids and send them to a school to learn how to read and write, although not in the same league as Dias Jr….Getting a PhD is damn hard with most of our kids now completing year 13 and competing for Uni Places which are in limited supply….unlike in the Diaspora Lands…. Even our second G boys in the Diaspora address their girl friendss amy ‘Bitch”…. nothing rude because it is totally with affection, The exs are of course called Whores especially if the girl left…..Perhaps the Junior is too junior still…..

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    Thanks to the WWW, Facebook and Twitter we can now know what people and youth in particular are thinking and occupied with. Unlike in the past the access to knowledge, opportunity, good sense, wisdom is unlimited as is the access to filth and muck. Those who manage to maintain their morality and purity in this global environment are exceptional. ——————————————————Importantly it is necessary to read between the lines and understand the frame of mind of the writer or speaker and listen to what he says. Objectivity is required when we deal with diverse viewpoints. It is possible to meet and communicate with people from various backgrounds and thinking. This can lead to greater understanding and tolerance.—————————————————————————Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. —
    I’ll meet you there. —
    Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. —
    I’ll meet you there. —
    When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense. — Rumi
    –http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-AX6_YrsWM

  • 0
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    Just one more thing,… That word starting with “H” in our Kuveni Dialect which the good Dr has highlighted and points out as obnoxious and allege that our inhabitant males it use on our women is not really that bad in comparison to his Diaspora mates’ equivalent starting with the letter “C”….. Especially when they use it to address fellow migrant males in work places and even in public places like trains….One thigh though these Diaspora mates at least are kind on their females by referring to them as felines…..BTW…. Wonder why the good Dr hasn’t mentioned any of these rude words in our other Official Language ?????….. May be they don’t have any…….

    • 3
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      K A Sumansekera ,can you tell me the ideal word to describe you?

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        Peace Lover…… you should ask your mate Jagath to give you one in our second official language… Or if he doesn’t know any . he can give one in Ukranian….One pleasing out come from these contributions is that our Kuveni Dialect is certainly on par with you lots’ preferred one…And Jagath Jr’s generation favorite M***** F*****.. is certainly a copy right infringement….Pity our Sinhala Buddhists never thought or think like your Western mates……

      • 4
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        ” Para ballah” fits most :) Knows nothing but repeatedly trying to cover up, defend ruling thugs…

        • 0
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          Binaramali,,, so you went to Pera …Uni… What a waste !!!!….

        • 1
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          s**ane is: Just a `Sevela Slug the Rim` interested in Waste and Traps.

  • 3
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    I have always thought-and correctly I think- that use of profane words, in any language, implies lack of knowledge of that particular language. There are enough useful and descriptive words in most languages to get a point across without using profanity. SO ignorance is the cause!

  • 0
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    As you may know I don’t mind using a word here and a word there, I can easily write and talk using other descriptive words which are not classified as “obscenity, profanity”. Who says a word, such as “fuck off” is obscene. I find the “Get Lost” just as obscene.. Jaga, in your next writing can you please advise where and when certain words fell into the “do not use” category? And how you yourself use or refrain from using particular words?.. Me on the other hand love the freedom, and without it how could I have listened to ICE Ts music in the 80s… If someone can write this lyric using other descriptive words I welcome it..

    ICE T – Freedom of Speech…. CT – This is a lyric and not my words, I guess I am quoting an artist so not sure if you need to edit anything out?

    “Freedom of Speech, that’s some motherfuckin’ bullshit….
    You say the wrong thing, they’ll lock your ass up quick….
    The FCC says “Profanity – No Airplay”?….
    They can suck my dick while I take a shit all day….
    Think I give a fuck about some silly bitch named Gore?….
    Yo PMRC, here we go, raw….
    Yo Tip, what’s the matter? You ain’t gettin’ no dick?….
    You’re bitchin’ about rock’n’roll, that’s censorship, dumb bitch….
    The Constitution says we all got a right to speak….
    Say what we want Tip, your argument is weak….
    Censor records, TV, school books too….
    And who decides what’s right to hear? You?….
    Hey PMRC, you stupid fuckin’ assholes….
    The sticker on the record is what makes ’em sell gold….
    Can’t you see, you alcoholic idiots…..
    The more you try to suppress us, the larger we get”

    • 0
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      Peace Lover…… you should ask your mate Jagath to give you one in our second official language… Or if he doesn’t know any . he can give one in Ukranian….One pleasing out come from these contributions is that our Kuveni Dialect is certainly on par with you lots’ preferred one…And Jagath Jr’s generation favorite M***** F*****.. is certainly a copy right infringement….Pity our Sinhala Buddhists never thought or think like your Western mates……

    • 1
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      Year to year, there are lots of new words getting added to spoken sinhala in the country. last I paid a visit to the island december, last year.

      Followings are new to me –

      a) Kade yanawa – …. (this I heard often being used by politicians in parliament)

      b) Ela kiri, Ela kiri… ( somewhat near to fantastic)

      c) Baba hukung (has been using by both males and females in today s srilanka, but this sounded vulgar decades ago); honestly I heard this was being used one of our female friends (good educated category) during my last visit to the country, It took time me to realize .. that the language currently being used in the country is far different to my days (3 decades ago in the country)

  • 5
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    hik…hik..hik…
    We Sri Lankans talk big about Vijaya the 1st ..king of Sri Lanka…….
    who is Vijaya…? …his father was Sinhababu ..who was born of a Lion & Human…so the legend says. Sinhabahu had a Sister called Sinha Seevali…both brother & sister had sexual intercourse…result was Vijaya…Vijaya took Yaksha Tribe Kuveni….
    You see the problem of the Sri Lankans..? …Animal ..human …brother & Sister….Human & Yaksha…so we Sri Lankas have acquired all the qualities…..EXCEPT HUMAN.

  • 1
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    Profanity has its uses. It is particularly essential to publicly condemn injustice, excessive and obsessive parental or mentor control, authoritarian regimes etc. Having never been allowed to use any offensive, racial or profane words in our household and brought up to believe the mention of a low caste an insult, I am of the opinion that while children should not be encouraged to use these words they should be able to have freedom of expression in their adult years if they can convey a message.

  • 1
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    Dr Jagath Asoka
    Thank you for your essay on obscenity..etc . I find it thought provoking and useful especially dealing with young adults.
    I would ignore our sumane, because he gets offended easily without understanding what the message from the above piece of writing.
    ken

  • 2
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    “Please let me know; I am just curious.”

    Any language is a mere tool for humans or animals with monosyllabic words or sounds in their vocabs. The obscenity, profanity, dirtiness, ugliness or otherwise is only in our individual heads interpreted and paraphrased against our mimetic, mematic and cultural background and backdrops. For example the word for a pillow (Kotai) for the Singhalese speaking people is balls for the Tamil speaking. These are just mere your sounds only; without the brain interpreting it and giving meaning, imagery and imaginations with or without our so-called political, organized-religious and other sensitivities for correctness or not. Should one go of the way and look for these sound or words in other languages too, I am certain that many examples of the ugly sounds and words may well be sweet music in an another language.

    To be able to handle the practical problem of not being angered and/or humiliated but be able to cope with it we should absorb it in its totality giving it all the attention one could and it will dissipate without giving it any time for it to fortify itself is how I would paraphrase from the talks and notes of the philosopher Jidu Krishnamurthy.

    The more recent Upaluri Gopala Krishnamurti called UG by many has a far better understandings on these and many other matters. For further explorations of other curiosities please do visit.

    http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/browse?type=lcsubc&key=Krishnamurti%2C%20U.%20G.%20(Uppaluri%20Gopala).

    • 2
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      As of last Dunno Jughead wont tell me!!
      1.Fuckshit Avenue 2.Fucktown 3.Fuckville 4.Fuckempire
      5.Fucknation 6.Fuckworld 7.Fuckeverything
      ___________________________________________。◕‿◕。

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0S05pkpSHD8

  • 0
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    Javi – another great link. Thanks! Keep ’em coming…

  • 1
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    Jagath,
    Why did you leave your heart here when you migrated??
    You will never be happy that way!!!
    You must take your heart and soul with you when you migrate and try to embrace that environment and people. Otherwise you will become a sad individual.

    • 1
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      What a question ?
      I think it is common to anyone who grew up in SL and later migrated to any other country. Longer you live away from the country of origin, more inquisitive you are in terms of lanken news. This I myself noticed last time (visiting the country- Dec 2012), I was well informed about the issues. Some even wondered how I knew details of some issues than average locals.
      Fyi, every migrant has to embrace his or her new home. That is a natural process so long the met ones are healthy.

      • 0
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        Mr Samuel, you are living a double life!!

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