May 2012 – October 2012
In this episode take a long road trip as we move across country. I finish my job in Hangzhou and take a job in Hong’s home province. Her mother had a major health scare, and Hong wanted to be closer to her family. We visit an ancient water town made famous by Tom Cruise. I’ll put the photos first and China Collage text after.
We shipped a lot of our stuff and packed the rest into our tiny GM Spark.
When I first started teaching at the university five years ago, the farmers across the street plowed the fields with a buffalo – ancient method. I watched them out my window. The area rapidly developed, and dozens of these large apartments were being built on the former farm fields once plowed by a buffalo.
Bus Stop statue of the famous literati Shaoxing native Lu Xun. The last photo I took at my campus. I was #1 foreign teacher for four years in a row.
We took a farewell trip around the Suzhou, Xitang area near Shanghai. We stayed in an old Qing Dynasty home with old-style bed. I met a famous artist and visited the only sex museum in the country (see story below).
Xitang ancient water town. Made famous by Tom Cruise and Mission Impossible 3.
Washing clothes in same water as washed dishes, and plucked chickens.
Delivery of bags of freshly killed chickens and more, rear door of restaurant.
Famous artist, who was the last person to produce prints in this unique style. I read about him and hoped to find him. He was very gracious (see below).
Sex Museum (they had signs everywhere to not take photos – I wish I had taken more :-). This place was not easy to find, but well worth it.
One of many KFC knockoffs.
World’s Scariest Cough Drop
Narrow street in family’s neighborhood.
Road Trip across China. Zhangjiajie National Park. One of the inspirations for Avatar.
The first time I ever saw a monkey in the wild.
Hunan province bamboo rats outside restaurant. We had beef and chicken 🙂
Big shows are popular with tourists.
My new home province of Guangxi.
We went far into countryside to cave in a Mulao minority area. (See story below).
More photos of the countryside later
May 2012 – October 2012
My son had a birthday this month, and I am far away casting my mind towards the horizon while I rail on against the languid forces of horseshit and scorn. I was reminded of lines
from William Butler Yeats’ poem – The Second Coming.
“…The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
The middling thoughts of the masses have become clouded with conservative myopia wherein we all constrict ourselves like sowbugs into little self-protecting pills easily scooped up and regulated, our ideals and autonomy slowly eroded by the scornful grit of divisiveness. The insatiable forces of greed ride forth upon the backs of the downtrodden and the cowed to further fill their oily pockets with silver and gold.
I am convinced more and more that the market forces of THE economy – meaning the global exchange, the global marketplace, the moneylenders etc. have chewed the binding off the moral restraints that once held us (re: humanity) back from sacrificing one another – toss your fellowman into the cauldron before he does the same to you.
The wealth creation is held by the oh so precious few and doled out in stale crumbs dropped to the richly carpeted floor where they are snatched at by the self-indulgent in order to satisfy their various sensual wants – leaving behind further dissected and desiccated stale bits for the so-called rest of us – we the unwashed, the unfulfilled, the scrappy swarm that are left swirling with doubts and apprehension for the future.
The high and the mighty might read this screed and snicker, the forlorn know in their bones of the truth that need not be told. The tired and the achy who pull their weight each and every day so that the taskmaster’s lash will sail over their head and strike the back of another.
We who only pause for ever-so sweet moments of release whether it be the relishing of a child’s accomplishments, or a temporary respite gained from setting down the pack of burdens from our stooped backs.
The rich triumphed long ago and now conceal themselves within our most prized ideals of self-expression and freedom of choice. Their reversible partisan cloaks just two aspects of the same ideology. But we who allow ourselves to be swayed by the carefully chosen words also allow ourselves to be ruled over in exchange for those very same crumbs fallen from the crisp linen cloth of the privileged and prominent. We must not for a minute forget where we came from. We are the everyman for whom the day holds the promised fruits of honest labor. We the bearers of sincere dreams and straightforward wishes must go forever forward. These are our birthright. We must strain against the restraints placed upon our emancipation – together.
The incomprehensible chasm has widened between the haves and the have-nots. The golden domed dwelling places of the influential cast a distant glow against the open skies above our heads, we who stare up into the starry night and dare to dream of a better life for our progeny we must measure each day our tolerance for the backwash of the self-chosen privileged few. I believe the level, for too many, has risen to shoulder deep, and in so doing further throttles the ability to innovate and create causing in return a slipping back towards the shadowy deepwater.
I close with words from Bobby Kennedy.
The problem of power is how to achieve its responsible use rather than
its irresponsible and indulgent use – of how to get men of power to
live for the public rather than off the public.
On Earth Day weekend I taught 70 kids (nine groups) about clean water and environment. I told them they have to protect mother earth and help her out. At first, they were as fidgety as usual until I showed them an illustration of all the earth’s salt water collected into big ball and all the fresh water into a small ball, and told them that small ball is all the water we have to drink- that made them think.
It is true globally that the self-entitled have stood on the back of the struggling for so long, they no longer can step down – they have evolved beyond we mere working folks and possess a crazy quilted mindset of buzzwords, aphorisms, half-myths, quasi-truths,
pseudo-thoughts and proto-morals. We the unwashed are not rich because we are lazy, dumb and unambitious – oh yeah and the doors are barred against the hordes.
I sit on the burbling acidic edge of the industrialized future – and the smells are incredible – physical stinks, emotional and otherwise. I will do my best to keep the positive lamp lit, but the light it is casting at the moment is being diffused by the big glowing orb of inequalities, immoralities and dumfounded-ness.
Clutching the rim of the swirling global bowl,
I had my last class of the semester, my last class at this university after five years of lecturing – or professoring, whatever it is I do. I will slip away into the noonday sun as I came – quiet and unassuming.
As an omen, it was the last time for over 100 years that Venus transited the sun – a rare occurrence. Although my photos didn’t turn out, I tried. I calculated the conversion from GMT and timed it just right. The transit started before my commute and ended just after arriving at the university. The sky is always very hazy out there, and this morning was no different. So I peered up into the hazy sky waiting for the sun to appear briefly and
lo and behold there it was a small black dot on the surface of the sun. It tells you something about the air quality here if I can stare at the sun for over 15 seconds and barely have any afterglow. A new adventure is about to begin. It is also our second anniversary so we are gong to take a trip
transiting the surface
head in the stormclouds
I have gained a softer side as my friend said I am more like water. I conform to the
perturbations of the world around me, joining in the ever-arcing fluctuating grace of the universe. Today Hong and I have packed our things for a move across southern
China – to our new home base. We have a long trip ahead which should be filled with interesting sights. Today Hong went to the car company – they only sell one type of car – ours, which is made in the province where we will be moving. The mechanics tighten the belt for free, gave her a gift and asked her to have lunch 🙂 They know she is a teacher, and she is always nice to them. They respect her. So it should be road ready now. Three cylinder GM Spark – which we nicknamed the Little White Horse.
Last week we took a tour of some ancient towns nearby. It was meant to be a sort of farewell to Eastern China. Water towns are one type of old towns in this region. Unfortunately the people still wash clothes, kill chickens and wash out their chamber pots in the same water – nasty. In Xitang, I met a master woodblock printer, who through research I knew to be famous – one of the last of his kind. I bought four prints from him for 25 RMB each – about $4 each. He also signed the backs of each and wrote me a nice brief poem. It was wonderful. The town is also famous because some scenes from Mission Impossible were filmed there, and it is disconcerting to see Tom Cruise’s face plastered on local advertising.
Buying a season ticket and still taking the ride,
We have arrived in the bosom of the family. We are staying for a few days in Hong’s older brother’s apartment. Tomorrow is Dragon Boat Day – a traditional holiday so we will all gather around the family table at mom and dads. I have signed with university and had a health check – part of the signing process. Everything is good on the health front – nice to get a checkup -although Chinese procedures are a bit unusual.
on the good foot
It seems to me from afar that the 1%, and more so the 01% have grabbed all the gravy boats, choice cuts, comfy seats, and left the crap for the rest of us, expecting us to grin, bow and scrape and ask for permission to wipe and kiss their rears.
Although I have never been much of a materialist, I get a sour stomach trying to extrapolate the endgame for my potential grandbabies. What is to become of our kids, your grandkids, the ones to come after? Can we invent “our” way out of this? Have the fat cats eaten far too much of the fatted calf? These are questions way above the pay grade of my lowly self.
On a less serious note, this morning I was awakened by loud-as-hell syrupy romantic pop music from thirty years ago, I rushed to my window and threw open the sash and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but two dozen old folks playing badminton and volleyball across the street. Well, I was at first aghast at the horrendous music, but
slowly the steam released and I enjoyed watching the old farts frolic in the park even if it was 6:45. Chinese people do not have a concept of noise pollution.
I think of the beauty who entrances me, who saved my life and restores my soul, also who busts my chops when necessary. The tide of creativity is swelling, or maybe it is all due to the pounds of inexpensive lychee I ate at my in-laws.
From the land of the sweating palms (coconut and otherwise)
A city near here has Piranha in the river. People buy them as pets and just dump them. The local government put out a bounty, and some enterprising souls bought more on the Internet (lower cost than the bounty) and “caught” them in the river – hope they caught them all, but nonetheless I am sure I will not be dipping so much as a toe in the river; but if for some unforeseen reason I had to swim across that river, my world traveling uncle told me about how to avoid piranha when you have to swim across the river. He said you take off all your clothes (streamlined) bundle them up and hurl them across. Then you through stones upriver to get the fish attracted to that spot, slide into the water and swim gently across so as not to attract the little razor toothed bastards.
I read that the inventor of the electric football game died. I painted my guys like the Packers and Vikings. I used the cotton from Q-tip for footballs, of course made denser by spitting on it and squeezing the cotton until it was nearly spheroid. I remember the challenges to my thinking processes trying to figure out the proper configuration of the linemen so they would form a vibrating flying wedge and let my miniature QB
break into the open. No field goals for my tiny team of tough guys.I regularly beat my little sister at this game which she played with me. We were inseparable then. I remember one Christmas we threw a birthday party for Jesus at Christmastime – we wanted to have birthday cake – ahhh so Norman Rockwellian.
From the land of an incomplete lack of misunderstanding and possible piranha for dinner,
July 22, 2012
On the death of my good friend’s mother
I signed the online guestbook – my honor. For my sweet mom I chose the music of Pete Fountain for her wake because he was one of her favorites. She was always a sweetheart – a loving, kind woman filled with the joy of living, but her body gave way -to us it was all too soon – but it was her time.
It will take time to heal and take that time. Do not only grieve for her passing, but celebrate her life. Years from now, the sweetness is all that will remain. Do not punish yourself for anything you feel you did not do, but instead remember the good times. She was indeed a wonderful woman, and yes, she lives on in all of you – feel that glorious energy.
As you asked me, yes there is a great beyond – out beyond what our minds can understand. This I do not have to be told, it is something I know. The words for this are many – heaven, the universe, the unknown. This realm is spoken of in prayers and holy books, but also in poetry and song. You know this place – it is the pulsing connection you make when you look deeply into a Monet, when you relish a line of poetry, when you feel the transcendence of Mozart. When the time comes and you have a vivid dream of your mom and dad – treasure it. The most potent force in the universe is LOVE – it is one of the few things of which I am certain.
When you go through your family home be gracious with their legacy and do not struggle with your siblings over objects. Here in China I have with me something my mom made. It is a small felt outline of the state with a little sequin sewn on to represent her home, and it holds her PTA pins. Mom was a lifetime member of the national PTA. She was eleven when her dad died and she went to work in the laundry. When she grew up she wanted to have kids and be a lifetime member of the national PTA. This was something that gave her great satisfaction. When I hold it, I smile and remember the scent of her perfume, the sound of her laughter the softness of her touch and the sweetness in her eyes.
Find this small totem that contains so much. Take this with you.
The day has begun here in the Far East. I send to you a blessing on the sunrise. Be comforted by the embrace of family and friends and feel what you feel – do not restrain it.
The drought here is epic and I fear that the people still are clueless as to the fact THIS IS THE CHANGE – the change is upon us, and I have to say, I have a creeping feeling this will be seen as mild come a decade from now. I think there is no turning back the tide, we must instead turn the page and reap the whirlwind swirling dust devil-like blowing in huge columns of blast-furnace-air pounding down upon our skulls until our meager brains begin to steam and congeal. We cannot escape this climate change – it is a planetary shift – a global re-adjustment of old Mom Nature’s survival-of-the-fittest skirts and she is about to start the dance – perhaps it will be a long haul before the dust settles. This is the dance macabre – forcing all the environmental chickens home to roost.
I cannot imagine what to do, short of fleeing for the stars, but even then we have boxed ourselves in – and shot most of our star-ponies in favor of investment strategies. I do not see the truly visionary leadership which would lead us beyond the doldrums and existential morass.
October 05, 2012
every which way
This week was a combination of two holidays – National Day and The Mid-Autumn – Moon Festival. So I have had a week off. This is the only holiday I have this season – until the middle of December. I will be working seven days a week, not every hour but long enough each day. So we decided to take a trip. Plans were made, then plans were changed, then plans were passed off to a family member and left to others to decide, all not discussed with me. So two days before we were to leave, I was told Hong’s younger brother was coming along to drive and guide. A discussion was held. I acquiesced. The day before we were to leave I was told brother’s wife and kid were coming, so they could go to her parents house, and oh yeah sister and nephew would be coming along as well. Wanting to keep peace in the family I acquiesced.
I wanted to see a minority group called the Mulao – only 200,000 total. And a cave with paleolithic ruins. Everything else was slowly dropped from itinerary without my input.
The trip to brothers wife’s family farmhouse.
We arrived, and I thought we would drop them off and head to a hotel, nah, let’s stay in farmhouse with family, meet the extended family and be nice. So we did. Quiet evening was extended to past midnight, and finally sleep. At 4:02 rooster begins his operatic call, joined by two more at nearby farms. Just outside bedroom window. Ah, what fun, four hours of sleep.
Then off to a cave. We arrive, and I had no idea who the people were that suddenly showed up, invited him to have porridge So they decide that this guy will show us the way – no negotiating on price or anything, and no explanation at all. People often have lengthy discussion in which plans are altered and nothing is shared with me.
These guys were going to guide us through the cave. This cave does not have a name. It was a wild cave which was great. We had to wade through water to the back of the cave. Then at the back they said we would have to climb a 20 foot half sphere boulder covered in mud, no footholds or handholds. I got half way across the thing and started slipping, brother-in-law and guide grabbed me, grunting against my mass and helped me up – they said it was like hauling a dead pig – thanks dudes. So the cave was cool, and it was a great visit overall. But then right as we were leaving the small village, Hong tells me these are in fact the Mulao people. I wish I had known earlier these were the minority people I was looking forward to meeting. And it turns out one of the local girls is a student at the university where I teach.
I named the cave the Cave of Ten Thousand Hungry Ghosts – to protect it 🙂
We met a Miao minority musician who writes his own music and makes reed pipe instruments. I bought one for the equivalent of eight bucks and had him sign the bottom. This sort of thing is what I really enjoy and not the mad headlong rush to the next stop on itinerary, but with so much family around, I try my best to sit tight and smile. We had some local food including oil tea which has puffed rice in it, and the oil from the rice flavors the tea.
Next night, three roosters and two hens with babies started in at 4:05 – bad night previously when unknown Uncle, from brother-in-law’s wife’s family, joined the caravan and immediately struck a raw nerve. Next night, the rooster struck again. Uncle and brother-in-law decided to take us off to river so they could spearfish. They were using the small spears from small spear gun. That was comical. Meanwhile everyone rushed off and left the nephew in care of oddball Uncle’s wife in a swarm of people, and despite my numerous warnings he did indeed get lost. I experienced fifteen minutes of terror and a lot of ill feelings on my part towards the group of “adults”, including the immediate family, as they were responsible for the kid. I nearly smacked uncle when everyone was trying to blame the kid – so that evening ended badly to say the least, and back to rooster-house.
Our relationship went sour several times from multiple misunderstandings and miscommunication. Cultural differences aside, such as informing everyone when plans are changed, and telling everyone what plan, and listening to other’s opinions – the little niceties we enjoy back home seem to be irritating to my wife some times.
From the fuzzy end of the global eco-stick,