This was an important time around New Years. I had found my groove of working two full-time jobs, plus part-time here and there. I no longer had weekends. Any holiday days were welcomed because of the potential day off. But our private classes were gearing up at this time. We went to a very old nearby village which is famous for its pickled vegetables. I’ll put in some photos and the text will follow.
Part of the village is open for tourism, so you just wander around enjoy the ancient buildings. This is an old family home altar.
This village gate is from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
We enjoyed some local food – that’s a big reason for travel. This lady made a delicious “pancake/omelet”. Hong enjoys watching cooks, so she can learn their secrets 🙂
Homemade tangyuan (literally translates as soup ball).
A traditional Dragon Boat waiting for the Dragon Boat Festival in Spring.
Water buffalo drawn cart. You still see them in the countryside, and occasionally you might see a horse drawn cart in the city.
The home of a famous Qing Dynasty poet.
And the Pickle making process.
New Years 2014 Soul Soliloquy
On these first days of the New Year, I pause to consider the universally human inner monologue where we speak to ourselves, question and second guess ourselves, but what if this soliloquy of the soul became a dialogue with the divine soul? As we mentally rant, recant and replay what would happen if this communication became spiritual in nature? When the cosmic soul answers your sincere questioning the world in which you lived is obliterated – blown to dust with one almighty whisper. We generations of mortals share in the devout wonderment of our ancestors whenever we look up at the stars and hope we are not alone in the incredible vastness or when we look into the eyes of a newborn and glimpse the shadowy reflection of our own origin. This endlessly ricocheting echo of eternity is a pulsating drumbeat within our bodies. Mentally crossing over from the physical to metaphysical revealed subtle circuits of reality which can connect us to our past, ground us in our present and influence the future. Long ago, I took to heart the advice of a mountain sage; the human mind has the power to shape reality. This contact with the cosmic consciousness trails me as I journey through life and has manifested in many ways during my time here in China.
Recently, as I perched in my tiny apartment in glorious silence thriving on the underdeveloped fringe of an immense ancient land undergoing an unfathomable retrofitting of the crumbling socialistic facades and long neglected cultural inheritance, I recalled a hot summer day a few years ago. We were living in Hangzhou, a city famous for its long cultural history. I was feeling homesick and had hiked over to the bookstore to root around for an English language book. Bathed in sweat I stood beneath one of the few functioning air conditioning ducts in the foreign language section and discovered a treasure – Henry Miller’s Black Spring. Seeing his name amongst the mostly mainstream novels and classic literature on display brought a smile to my face and a swoon of nostalgia. Although Miller is probably most well known for his fight against pornography, he was also an immense surreal figure in my personal literary pantheon of American writers which coalesced during my years as a writing major..
After college graduation, I worked as a pizza dough roller for the Chuck E Cheese pizza chain. This was the beginning of Reaganomics and the economy was not so hot – in fact for my entire adult life my personal economy has never been too great. When I was an English major I read quite a bit of Henry Miller, after seeing him interviewed by Tom Snyder on the Tomorrow Show and finding in him the personification of some difficult to qualify admirable human characteristics. The pizza job allowed me to sock away (when I travel with cash I keep most of it in my socks) almost a thousand dollars, which back then was a princely sum, and when wanderlust called I hit the road. As a writing major, I had feasted on a wide range of delights from the Tibetan Book of the Dead to Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, from Hemingway’s Moveable Feast to Kerouac’s On the Road – : Catch 22, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Metamorphosis, Crime and Punishment – I nourished my hungry soul with all these and so many more. Tantalizing tremors from throbbing pulses of youthful imagination rippled through my subconscious and were jotted down in scribbled spurts and starts of poetry and prose like some madman’s cabalistic ravings. There was a profound stirring within the depths of my awakening spirit. Unforgettable mischief flowed like the ever present mental lubricants in which I imbibed. Throughout this bacchanalia of self-discovery I kept a dog-eared slip of paper in my second-hand wallet. On that tattered scrap I had written the name of a Henry Miller book I found on the Author’s book list – Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch I had been captivated by the title and the imagined enlightenment I could find within its pages. I chased after this minuscule white whale through many bookstores from California to Chicago, Denver to Tucson, until one endless, bright and unforgettable summer when I was living in Aspen, Colorado with some lifelong friends I found the book.
One day I was strolling past a used bookstore, which is not something you would envision when you think of 1980s playground of the rich and famous Aspen. In need of a literary booster shot I scanned the shelves, and in less than five minutes I found this illusive book. I blinked twice at the cover, and opened the pages. There was Miller, a repatriated writer returned to America, struggling against mass consumerism, pulling back the modernist curtains to reveal an authentic terrain of natural beauty and intellectual inspiration. I rushed back to the apartment, poured some whiskey, lit a smoke and slipped into the textual sea; treading water at a safe distance from the leviathan but near enough to feel the thrumming of his heartbeat and the warmth of his psyche. Life and luck achieved an equilibrium, and through my personal revelries at the time I stood at the threshold of insight mesmerized by the foxfire emanating from the decomposing folios of departed giants; inebriated in Hunter Thompson’s favorite local bar; writing my name in the July high mountain snow atop the backbone of America; barging into the Naropa Institute seeking Kerouac’s reincarnation; enlightened at the feet of Buckminster Fuller at the Aspen Institute; hot-tub, cold wine, enchanting starlight and an unbreakable oath of friendship – all swirled together along with a myriad of meaningful experiences.
Later, as I stumbled into parenting and plummeted into single-parenting, I possessed a cavalcade of grand memories which sustained me and granted me a cobbled together tranquility from which to nurture my children. In one section of Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosh, Miller wrote of cacophonous play with his children where they joyously pounded pans, piled pots and miscellanea in the middle of the room, and afterwards Miller grieved that he had to give it up in order to continue with his writing. That scene became a stepping stone for me as I chose my children’s loving embrace over the pen which I set aside. The nascent artistic energy I summoned on pages of spiral notebooks and memo pads was used instead to re-forge myself as protector, teacher – father to my vulnerable children ages seven, five and three when I had to get divorced. In the crucible of my shattered heart I melded the young writer with the responsible single dad in order to navigate the treacherous path chosen for us. The stream of imagination from which I had once drunk heartily was contained; and the harnessed waters generated the essential power which drove me inexorably towards the distant horizon over which I have now crossed.
Years later in that Chinese bookstore, beyond my native horizon, I read the following passage from Miller, and it shot through me like a singular thunderbolt. Perhaps a metaphysical index finger flipped open the page or it was just as likely dumb luck that the book opened to Chapter Eight Walking Up and Down in China.
“In Paris, out of Paris, leaving Paris or coming back to Paris, it’s always Paris and Paris is France and France is China. All that which is incomprehensible to me runs like a great wall over the hills and valleys through which I wander. Within this great wall I can live my Chinese life in peace and security.”
A nostalgic vapor filled my head after reading this passage; as my sweaty scalp slowly dried under the cold breath of AC, I stood motionless with my body unconsciously adopting a quasi-meditative stance. Scattered scenes from the past two and a half decades of my life roared through my consciousness like a derailed circus train slamming into the ramshackle station from which I had only recently emerged. A metaphysical differential gear had shifted, jolting the universe into a different orientation. Looking beyond the racially charged language, Miller spoke of his humble life living as a displaced person within his cherished native land, and the profound reverberation of these words altered my worldview. Miller’s dropping out of the stream of American life was in sync with the survival instinct that influenced my decision to cross the world in pursuit of love, longer life and knowledge.
Now my everyday life is filled to overflowing with humility and humbleness coupled with dynamic transformation. In the afternoons when my teaching schedule is empty, I sit in my 120 RMB (about twenty dollars) reclining lawn chair beside our bed. The familiar, but unidentified, birds flit about the tree outside my window. On sunny days reflections from the lotus pond shimmer through the open window and dance across my ceiling and down my wall, and I feel the heartbeats of my children and dear friends through the bedrock like minuscule tremors reverberating down golden molecular threads stitched to my heart. Although I have traveled far from my origins a part of me will always remain connected to those halcyon days when I was a young man, and the cherished moments, which too briefly flashed by, when my children were growing up and I was utterly there beside them – a tear rolls down my cheek when I picture their angelic faces even now; but in life we should pursue the dynamic actualization of our potential for happiness and gracefully live a life of generosity through which we progress towards a reunion with the celestial soul. With the spiritual rite of passage long passed I am awakening to a world reborn each day filled with confident curiosity content to join in the sacred conversation. When the immense universe whispers – you respond.
We went to a small village about 30 miles away but it took about two hours to get there because of the horrendous roads. The roads in the countryside are f*ked up. They dig up part, pile rocks in the road, and block them completely while all the while using shoddy construction methods and allowing overloaded trucks to crush the roadbed. The village is next to a wide river which has had some historic killer floods. I like poking around small towns because with a history of 1200 years there are always a few locals who
made history in one way or another. My visit shook up some old ladies, and made them laugh, as locals are always friendly and pretty much go about their own business. This place is semi-famous for its pickled vegetables. The process is not very sanitary (being kind) but it has been done this way for a very long time. The finished product is pretty tasty and not too sour – but I recommend having a strong gut biota before pounding down too many helpings.
It will be Chinese New Year January 30/31 – Spring Festival. This will be the year of the Horse. I am going to go back to Hong’s family hometown for a few days. I will finally get to pay my respects at her grandpa’s tomb. He had a powerful life spirit and I will bring him some Jack Daniels as an offering from my family, along with a billion or so in spirit money, it is also known as hell (as in afterlife) money.
From atop the primordial pecks of pickled peppers,
I have a new term for the wealthy of the world – Uber-Elite. We are being ruled over by a miniscule fraction of the global population. After reading a report (Working for the Few) from Oxfam about how, “The combined wealth of the world’s richest 85 people is now equivalent to that owned by half of the world’s population – or 3.5 billion of the poorest people. 210 people have become billionaires in the past year, joining a select group of 1,426 individuals with a combined net worth of $5.4 trillion. It added that the wealth of the richest one percent of people in the world now amounts to $110 trillion, or 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.”
Living in a country where everyday I see BMWs honking at garbage collectors on bikes and old folks rooting around each garbage can for recyclables, I cannot help but despise even further the SOBs who are profiting off the hard work of so many. What sort of world has emerged since I graduated high school? When did so many lose their souls?
The Goal is Enlightenment
The world’s religions and great schools of thought are united by one thing –man’s quest for answer to the question, Am I alone?
From the moment of birth we begin to reach out, to touch objects, and peer in wonder with fresh eyes at what we now consider the mundane aspects of life – a chair, a window, a wall, our own reflection in a mirror. The first feelings we have are dichotomies: warm/cold, light/dark, together/alone. As our minds blossom these dichotomies split further and further like nesting dolls one within the other. Light and dark split into a myriad of shades as well as become attached to emotions, expressions, linguistic tone and relationships. Each of these is ever-morphing like fractals into implied and empathic subtleties. Following this knotted labyrinthine cord round and round and round again leads us back inevitably to the original questions – who am I and what is my place in this larger space surrounding me?
People have their own original questions concerning matters spiritual, intellectual and emotional answered by authority figures: preachers/monks/priests, teachers/professors/instructors, and family /friends/physicians. The lucky ones find a good fit between their questing for answers and the authority chosen to respond. This is not always the case with complex subtle quests. Multiple authorities and trusted advisors must be consulted in order to enlighten us and quell the confusion, but this isn’t always possible.
Individuals inevitably are left to their own devices to shape a suitable path through the labyrinth. There is no one size fits all answer because we are unique; and the most frightening aspect of living we discover is each and every one of us sooner or later must face the darkness alone, and most turn back after trying a limited number of paths. Few have the inner resources to continue beyond the shadows of ignorance, doubt and fear. Few have the stamina to rise up time and again in order to conquer a formidable difficulty. These few become the beacon lights shining in the dim distance for those who search for answers. The soul-light of some burns brighter. After crossing a spiritual, intellectual or emotional wasteland many faithful will settle around a single light of belief and find comfort within its sphere of enlightenment; but scattered throughout the metaphysical landscape there are a myriad of lights shining like stars each offering the fundamental unifying comfort of togetherness.
Artists and seekers wander between these lights and discover the ecstatic radiance of creation, discovering along the way a profound truth: All of us are one with the Universe, and the separation between us and the whole is an illusion – a fundamental mental construct established when we were infants. This fundamental mental construct is what keeps us sane, for otherwise our individual nature, personality, self, soul, essence would dissolve, and we could no function within society. Dissolving of the self and merging with the creative power of the universe takes place in cloistered spaces such as monasteries and artistic creation spaces. When the question is asked where does the illumination come from? The essential answer is: everywhere. Even the briefest of contact with: the great void; the heavenly pastures; the spiritual heights; the artistic muse, sustains the artist/seeker like life-giving water pouring down into the well of the soul. These wanderers inspire us with their creations or as examples of the examined life.
We must seek the ultimate within ourselves for within us lies the universe in all its glory. All religions, philosophies, schools of thought are united by the fundamental answer to the simplest question which we are born asking: am I alone – No.
Happy New Year Part 2
Yes, it is the year of the Wood Horse. So it is New Years and I am happily home alone –YES! Not that I don’t love my wife, of course I do, but her mom made everyone go to the hometown for a week. Although this was the time I was going to visit her grandfather’s tomb, mom changed all that.
There is a new avian flu boiling up again. It has struck the east coast where I used to live. There are chickens all over the place here – several storage shed coops near the classroom we where we teach. You gotta be tough to survive, so I munch on oranges, keep healthy and avoid crowds.
From party central at the biggest family get together, feast, fireworks and cacophonous celebration on Earth
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