Not Too Difficult… Scanning China

The slide scanner arrived and I set it up within a few minutes. I bought a cheap one because I’ve never been very motivated to do this little task and would rather buy something fun. I spent an hour or so working on scanning slides this afternoon. I started with my most precious slides, then went to the box that became my “traveling this is China” show. The machine is primitive and effective and easy to use. I recommend it. The photo fixing software on my Mac does what the little machine can’t. All is well.

I did not take most of the slides I have of China. My Ex did. He is a good photographer with a sensitive eye. He also used the camera as a way to distance himself from China which was dirty, inconvenient, uncomfortable and ugly in ways that bothered him. His health suffered while we were there. He was teaching, which is not the best job for a very very very shy guy to do, especially one who is not a teacher. It’s a really stupid idea to get married to someone you’ve only know four months (stupid in any case) and then take them to the third world to fulfill YOUR dream when they hardly know you and don’t share it.

Years later, he said China was the greatest experience of his life, but during the reality of it, it wasn’t. I can’t say I liked it all the time, either. The roaches were as big as Bear. I was sick with vertigo the first few weeks. It was challenging teaching students from such a different learning tradition — Confucianism and Communism formed a good partnership. We also happened to be there during an intense El Niño year — my hometown of Denver had record snows (I learned later) and we had four solid months of rain with TWO days of sunshine that winter. Still, once I was physically accustomed and made friends, I loved China.

Communism is not easy to live with. While there I learned it is NOT a political system but more like a religion. People spoke of it in the way Christians speak of Heaven, “When we reach Communism one day.” They spoke of that moment as “Ming Tien” or bright future.

Students at the time in China, I don’t know about now, were TOLD what they would study. They had no choice. I’m sure there was an exam that indicated what they might be good at. My students had all been compelled to study English. Until Nixon’s visit, the required language was Russian. My students would all become English teachers and their great fear was that they would be sent to the countryside to teach English to peasants, though, of course, most of them had “good backgrounds” and were peasants themselves. My students were constantly being sent to “political study” to “struggle” with the corruption of anything they might learn from their American teachers (we were the second ones the college had ever had) and from American literature (which I taught).

Anyway, here are some of the first photos I’ve scanned of Guangzhou and Hainan Island in 1982/1983.

The featured image is Guang Xiao Temple — Bright Smile Temple. It was the home of the Buddhist Saint, Hui-Neng. His famous poem (sutra) is inscribed on a slate tablet on a wall of this temple. Looking at these photos really brings it home to me. As I remember it from the wall:

Bo tree is not a tree
Gleaming mirror is not mirror, either.
Stained with dust
How could they be?

There are 10,000 commentaries on this poem that you can read. It is a poem about the non-being of things, the transience of life and phenomena. It almost can’t be put into words. In a sense, it’s a kind of Buddhist Platonism.

10 thoughts on “Not Too Difficult… Scanning China

  1. They are wonderful photos, Martha. I bet Guangzhou has changed a lot. More bicycles. More cars. It is a mega city now. The scale of industrialisation must have been massive in the 1980s and 1990s.

    It is interesting to think that you were there before the Berlin Wall came down and only 10 years after Australia formally recognised PRC in 1972. I’m not sure when America did that.

    I think your ex’s photos were taken at a very unusual time in China’s history, when it first opened itself to the West and before it was a great industrial and military superpower. It is a good thing your ex found comfort in the camera because otherwise we might not have seen this slice of history. Don’t you think?

  2. Everything in those pictures must have a different perspective now – like reading a piece of writing you haven’t seen in years. I imagine it’s a very distracting way to lose hours of your day.

    • Considering that it’s snowing like a bitch today, I’m glad I got this thing. I will probably finish today and make them all into a feature film and distribute it internationally by 3 pm. (Ha ha). It’s been kind of surreal, though, mostly because of the marriage. That’s something I didn’t expect to affect me.

  3. Fascinating look of a somewhat hidden world. I can’t even imagine what it was like—except I did a short visit to Taipei, Taiwan and got to see rather a lot of Chinese art as much of it was “re-located” there. I can’t recall whether it was considered stolen art or a move made by a leader of the time. But it was a pretty impressive collection, from what I recall. I hope it gives you good memories as well as mixed ones.

    • My memories of China are all good, not that everything that happened there was good. I learned what it is to live in a very different world and I think that was the most important thing.

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