If You Need Inspiration…

From the joints where leaves broke or froze, new vines are emerging ALREADY. I love these beans.

~~~

MOON, RAIN, RIVERBANK
Tu Fu

Rain road through, now the autumn night is clear
The water wears a patina of gold
and carries a bright jade star.
Heavenly River runs clear and pure,
as gently as before.

Sunset buries the mountains in shadow.
A mirror floats in the deep green void,
its light reflecting the cold, wet dusk,
dew glistening,
freezing on the flowers.

FALL RIVER SONG
Li Bai

On Old River Mountain
A huge boulder swept clean
by the blue winds of Heaven

where they have written
in an alphabet of moss
an ancient song.

NIGHT SNOW
Bai Juyi

I was surprised my quilt and pillow were cold,
I see that now the window’s bright again.
Deep in the night, I know the snow is thick,
I sometimes hear the sound as bamboo snaps.

WALKING THROUGH SOUTH MOUNTAIN FIELDS
Li Ho

The autumn wilds bright,
Autumn wind white.
Pool-water deep and clear,
Insects whining,
Clouds rise from rocks,
On moss-grown mountains.
cold reds weeping dew,
Colour of graceful crying.

Wilderness fields in October — 
Forks of rice.
Torpid fireflies, flying low,
Start across dike-paths.
Water flows from veins of rocks,
Springs drip on sand.
Ghost-lanterns like lacquer lamps
Lighting up pine-flowers.

“That’s a lot of money, Martha Ann.”

Thanks to the miracle of the inter webs, I listen to a Chicago radio station. Through the winter they play REAL albums on Fridays which is great. They also introduced me to my second favorite song , “Home of the Brave” by the Nails.

Today?

“It’s 1983 on XRT Saturday morning flashbacks.”

The song comes up. Ouch. Sometimes Mohammed’s Radio hits a nerve.

In my list of worst years of my life, 1983 is right up there. I came back from a year teaching in China late that August — about now (yeah yeah I know it’s September. Split hairs will you…) and tried to negotiate a place for myself in the Great American West which I had left in the first place because I hadn’t found a place for myself in the aforementioned Great American West. Whether or not you can go home again remains an open question, but I know for sure you can absolutely return to alienation.

I loved China and didn’t want to come back, but my marriage seemed important. It wasn’t. It wasn’t working, remained not working for the ensuing decade, and staying in China would have been an easier way out than the one that happened ten years later. My brother’s life went rapidly south soon after we returned to Colorado (no cause and effect there). It was a real nightmare and even my little niece was in danger. I came back to that. The ONLY good thing about that winter was Denver got an absurd amount of snow. The next summer saw us moving to California. Serenity remained elusive. I continued yearning for China for a long long long long time, I think until a few years ago I googled my Chinese home town and saw that it was gone and there was no way to go back.

So here I am in Monte Vista, Colorado, YEARS later. A few of my heart and brain cells are still missing China, but a whole lifetime has filled the interval. I’m sitting at my table finishing my coffee. Bear’s chewing a rawhide pencil. I give Teddy my empty coffee cup to clean. I’m trying to write this blog post and feeling intimidated at the reality that I’ve paid $100 to write this blog every day. Tracy (Untidy Mind) suggested I think of it as $2/day and that’s a good idea, but seriously, I’m not saying much here. I have 1900 blog posts up. I’ve deleted hundreds. How am I NOT saying the same thing over and over????

The last two posts I wrote, I deleted. They didn’t seem worth $100/year.

I guess I’ll see how it goes until next year…

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/09/05/rdp-saturday-serenity/

Making my Smoothie…

This morning as I put together my smoothie I wondered to myself how is it I have everything I need all the time, especially in THESE times?

I’ve lived in a time and place where having everything you need all the time was no certainty. The largest single feature of my Chinese kitchen was an immense cistern (featured photo) so that when there WAS water, whoever lived in the apartment could stock up for the future. Most people cooked with charcoal or wood. I had propane, and I had a refrigerator. Most people didn’t have those conveniences. Vegetables and fruit were 100% seasonal. Bread was available twice a week from the university bakery. Meat was so scarce that when it was available it was a big deal. Canned food was available in the Friendship Store only and we sometimes went to Hong Kong to get provisions — cheese, tuna, peanut butter, flour, cocoa, coffee, mayonnaise. Who would ever think that stuff would inspire a journey that involved government permission, visas, a three hour trip on the hovercraft, four hours on the train, or overnight on a riverboat? We were allowed because it was a well-known (Chinese fact) that white foreigners needed more protein to maintain their larger bodies than did lithe and slender Chinese. Chinese also hold the belief that food is medicine, and my school did not want their foreigners to become ill.

I didn’t even mind the comparative scarcity of things. It was liberating to have what I had and that was it. It was through this that I came to understand materialism.

So there I was this morning, breaking a banana into my blender connecting that moment to China somehow. There was no blender in China. There was a two burner stove (all I use now, as it happens), my toaster oven that I brought with me (and left behind for the next foreign expert), a wok hanging on the wall (like all good Chinese cooks). An aluminum tea pot I used to make coffee. Pretty much all I need now except for a coffee grinder and a blender.

I thought about the markets in Guangdong at the time. Very very very very few were state run markets. Most were independent vendors. If prices were controlled by any outside power (and I doubt they were) it wasn’t obvious. In the vegetable market vendors openly competed for customers, and it was part of the bargaining process. “What! You want fifty mao for a li of green beans? Old Ma over there only wants thirty mao!”

“Old Ma’s beans were picked yesterday! I picked my beans this morning! Old Ma cheat you!”

If a vendor KNEW the customer LOVED a particular thing (as I loved hot chilis) they’d raise their price and THEN fight over who got my money partly because they’d get a lot and partly because doing business with the foreigner was fun. It broke the monotony, it was a show, and they liked me. Most foreigners never ventured into these markets. At that time, when China was hesitantly opening to the United States, most foreigners were visitors, and their comings and goings closely controlled by China Travel Service. Shi Pai, my village, was rich in foreigners (7!) because there were three colleges and each had foreign experts.

The thing is that when my university realized that I did not have to shop in the Friendship Store or have fancy things, they started paying me mostly in Renminbi, people’s money instead of Wai Wei Jen, foreign exchange money. I was a bargain to them. I got 100 yuan in Wai Wei Jen to send home every month and the rest in Ren Min Bi so I could live in Guangzhou like a Chinese.

That was part of my life under Communism. Communism did not create China’s poverty. Poverty was part of China for thousands of years, the result of periodic famine (climate related), overpopulation, dishonest politicians, foreign imperialism and war. Communism was an attempt to equalize the distribution of wealth in that immense and immensely populated country. How well did it work? Well, Chairman Mao was a great leader in war and a lousy leader in peace, in my opinion, anyway. He constantly strove to keep things stirred up. Chaos is the enemy of prosperity, but a bad leader can benefit from it (for a while), and Mao did by painting himself as the savior of the Chinese people. Two generations into his dominion, there were people in China who had never known any other leadership, and it was easy for them to believe him. But, by the 1970s, even Maoist Chinese leadership had copped to the reality that major players in Mao’s government were corrupt. When Mao died, it wasn’t long before they were thrown out and China — still communist — began to go in a new direction.

We know how well that worked. 🙂

I’m not an expert on Chinese history by any means, and I’m not Chinese. These are just the wandering thoughts of me making breakfast which I’d probably better eat (drink?) before lunch.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/08/27/ragtag-daily-prompt-thursday-connection/

“It’s Heaven, Aunt Martha Ann!”

It’s worn and tired. The fringe was chewed away long ago by dogs and vacuum cleaners, but when it was new? My 3 year old niece came into my apartment, saw it, immediately sat in the middle medallion where the two blue dragons fight and said, “This is HEAVEN!” as if she knew Chinese mythology. She’s 41 this year.

I bought it at the Friendship Store — the store where export goods were sold — in Guangzhou a few months after I arrived in China.

There were two things I wanted to buy in China; one was this carpet the other a down jacket. That sounds a little weird considering I was on the Tropic of Cancer, but Chinese down IS the best and such a jacket was very expensive and hard to find in the US at the time. I came home with a down jacket and a full-length down coat. I was glad, too, because that first winter after I returned to Colorado was one of the snowiest and coldest in Colorado history.

The Jacket and the Friendship Store (youyi bing guan)



The carpet was picked up by the college’ van at some point and brought to our apartment. I didn’t open it. I could see it would be easier to bring home if it were still rolled and wrapped. It waited in room in our apartment that housed the fridge for the whole year and I feared mold, moths or worse, that I’d bring home a cockroach.

When the time came to return to America, I had to haul the carpet to Shanghai along with many other fardles. All went well until one of the last legs of the journey — San Francisco to Billings, where my mother lived. We got on the plane. I was sitting in a seat where it happened that I could watch the bags being loaded. My carpet was on top of the baggage cart as it began to drive away.

I went ape-shit. Yes the carpet was an Albatross but it was MY albatross.

“Ma’am, it will arrive in Billings later. Don’t worry.”

“I don’t WANT it to arrive later. I want it to arrive WITH ME.”

The other passengers were thinking, “That screaming bitch is going to make our flight late!”

I cried. In frustration, exhaustion and more. I already didn’t want to be back in the US. I wanted to be in China. The stewardess called back the baggage handlers, and they loaded my carpet.

I showed the carpet to my family in Montana, then rolled it up again. It flew with us to Denver and remained rolled until we finally got our own place. It was there that my niece recognized it for what it is.

Not too many years after returning from China, the Good X and I traveled to Delaware to visit his mom. I wanted to visit Pearl S. Buck’s house in Pennsylvania. I was writing about her at the time. We drove from Wilmington up to Bucks County, PA, over these nauseating rolling hills, surrounded by obnoxious, tall, shady trees that blocked the view of the horizon (I know, I know).

Her house is a pretty two story stone structure filled with her things, but what touched me most was her office. Outside her window she had built a Chinese garden, and it looks like China. On her floor was a beautiful Chinese carpet, worn and a little tattered. I was in the depths of my yearning for China at that time, and I saw Pearl S. Buck’s own yearning in that garden and that old carpet.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/08/23/rdp-sunday-carpet/

Relationship Advice

I had a pretty incredible Christmas all in all. But last night was probably the strangest, most incredible experience of the whole season.

My ex-husband, the one with whom I went to China, called to tell me he loved the China book. We got married and went to China after only knowing each other 4 months. We agreed last night that that was crazy. We also agreed it was crazy to have taken our skis. Then he said that I’d accurately captured the fear he felt when we arrived in Guangzhou and there was no one to meet our plane. “But,” he said, “you didn’t write about the other times I was afraid.”

“What other times?” I asked him.

“Well, there was the time the giant spider came out of the bathroom drain. I was terrified.”

“What giant spider? I don’t remember that at all.”

“Yeah. You took me for a walk around the campus and when we got back it was gone. That was good. I felt better after that.”

“Wow. I don’t remember that.”

“Then there the was time, you know, we’d just gotten into our apartment and set it up. we had our beds in that big room, and you wanted to cuddle, but I was still too freaked out. I didn’t want to. I couldn’t.”

A light bulb went on. I said, “I had no idea,” I said and thought, “What if you’d TOLD me that? Why DIDN’T you tell me that?”

Jim and I were not compatible. We tried for 12 years to make something work. My mom loved him, his kids loved me. We liked (still like) each other. We had a lot going for us. We both liked to ski. We came from similar backgrounds, a lot of stuff, but…

We talked on the phone for about an hour. I heard his wife say, in the background, “Are you still on the phone?” He didn’t answer her. Inside myself I nodded and smiled at that. I believe that conversation was the longest Jim and I have ever had.

In the years since, I have quietly diagnosed Jim as being somewhere on the Asperger’s Spectrum.

When you meet someone who has Asperger’s syndrome, you might notice two things right off. He’s just as smart as other folks, but he has more trouble with social skills. He also tends to have an obsessive focus on one topic or perform the same behaviors again and again.”

(https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/mental-health-aspergers-syndrome#1)

That little Dr. Google definition of Asperger’s describes Jim. During our marriage, Jim struggled hard to improve his social skills. He really likes people. He joined and became very involved in Toastmaster’s. He knew where he had a glitch. When Jim DID express himself, it was always — to me — a little obscure. Sometimes I felt that I was just supposed to understand things without getting any information from him at all. If I confronted him, it never went well. He had problems even making eye-contact with me. I could present objective facts such as, “If you don’t get a job, we’re fucked,” that just pushed him into wherever he went in his head. He was impossible to communicate with. Impossible for ME to communicate with. I got frustrated, took things personally — but now I get that. None of the skills I had worked at all, and my skills weren’t that great.

A reminder of how Jim’s mind works came when he said he had found 20 small mistakes in the China book. He gently asked if I would like him to put them on a spreadsheet so I can correct them.

“With the page numbers?” I asked.

“Page numbers and line numbers,” he answered. I felt a little twinge of affection hearing that. It’s SO Jim. His profession — at which he succeeded incredibly so — was writing code, programming. He wrote code for the Space Shuttle simulator. Most people would just say, “There are errors on page 10, 23, 40, 100,” etc.

Last night was an epiphany for me. In China, those two times he mentioned last night, he seems to have thought I KNEW he was afraid. How many other times in the 12 years we shared did he think I KNEW what he was feeling? What would our marriage have been like if he had been able to say, in words, “I need to be alone right now,” or “I’m frightened”?

It was obvious in that phone call last night that he is proud of me, that he’s proud of having gone to China with me, that he’s proud of what I’ve accomplished and that he — NOW — feels he can open up to me. I’m not sure 20 years ago I would have understood, and maybe he couldn’t have said, “You didn’t write about the other times I was afraid.”

“I was afraid.” A very powerful admission.

I wanted to wrap my arms around him last night, but that might not have been welcome even if we’d been within 20 feet of each other instead of some 1000 miles. That would have been my instinct, my nature. Instead I said, “We did well over there, Jim. We were just two nice people.”

“That’s true. We were just there being nice to people.”

“Yep. We can be proud of that. We’ve sure lived through a lot.”

“And we’re still here,” he said.

Another Radio Spot

I just got back from the big city of Alamosa. I went to the KRZA radio station to do an interview about the China book and what I plan to read/talk about this coming Saturday. It was another interesting interview, and it was cool to meet the program director, Mike Clifford, who did this interview and the earlier one.

If you want to listen in, it will air tomorrow, December 4, at 8 am MST and again at 7:30 PM MST. I got to talk a little bit about Switzerland and Martin of Gfenn.

You can stream it here, https://www.krza.org by scrolling down to the KRZA Live Stream button and then clicking on the play arrow on the next page that opens.

Tins of New Zealand Butter

As soon as you go out into the world after a semi-sheltered life in the homeland, you’ll start seeing things you’ve never imagined.

Of course, that’s WHY you go out into the world. You expect to see different people, different buildings, different customs, different food, all the stuff in National Geographic and all that, but you don’t expect the changes in the ordinary stuff of your life. Butter for example.

Butter comes from cows, OK, we know that. But otherwise it comes from a refrigerated shelf at the supermarket. It’s wrapped in waxed paper in an 8 oz sticks marked off with 1/4 and 1/2 and 3/4 cup lines making it easy to measure. It sits next to three others of its ilk in a cardboard package until someone buys it and does something with it. Cookies, maybe or just to spread on bread and jam in the morning. Who knows?

But out there in the world you have to go questing for it. You take a train, then a subway, and find yourself in a little supermarket on a Hong Kong street where you know they have good Havarti straight from Denmark. But butter? Where is it? There must be some here. This is Hong Kong, where everything is available even mango milkshakes at McDonalds.

Finally, not far from the canned tuna (which you also need) you see large, golden cans of — butter. “New Zealand?” you think, looking at mysterious can, “What about cows in New Zealand?” You know nothing about New Zealand, but you’re about to find out something rather intimate about the cattle who roam New Zealand’s pastures. You know that, whatever the fodder on which these cattle feast, French toast cooked in the resultant butter will be better than French toast cooked in peanut oil and you’ll be able to use that biscuit recipe your mom sent you. You load up your shopping basket with the necessaries — this mysterious antipodal butter, several cans of tuna, a jar of mayonnaise, five pounds of Danish Havarit, a can of cocoa.

When you’re finished you have a several pounds of food that will go into your backpack for the return trip. Two nights in Hong Kong and the main purpose is a hot shower and the grocery store. You laugh, thinking that for some this is an exotic destination and you do your share of sight-seeing, too, wandering the labyrinth of streets that circle the mountain on Hong Kong, but you stay in deep in Chinese Tsimtsatsui where hotel prices are lower. You love the Star Ferry, the sight of ocean-going junks with their butterfly sails on the bay, the enormous freight ships with their containers and the cranes lifting them so easily onto the wharf.

The next morning, you hoist up your backpack, get on the subway and head for the hovercraft landing. It’s a wondrous journey on this “boat” that floats above the Pearl River for 75 miles. Along the way — all green hills, rice fields and an occasional old pagoda, perhaps once a lighthouse — are memories, not your memories, but memories belonging to the land, memories of opium pirates and war. All this you expect but a tin of butter? That’s the big surprise.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/10/22/rdp-tuesday-butter/

The Sistine Poster Is Finished

I just have to share it. 🙂

The Thangka in the background is Palden Lhamo whom I just love. Her image shows her on her mythical mule over mountains that rise out of flames. Since I lived in mountains that were rising out of flames, that right there speaks to me. But she represents a great deal of power, the power to turn away from evil, even when it broke her heart to do so. She had to kill her own son who was the personification of evil.

I have been there, though it was not my son and it was a metaphorical rather than actual killing. When I saw “it” for what it truly was, I found the strength to take action. I learned this lesson from a Mughal painting of Krishna and Arjuna flying over the worlds. In the painting, Krishna is showing Arjuna why he must do the very thing he does not want to do.

That Christmas I was given a huge book (3 feet by 2 feet) of Tibetan Thangkas and their stories. Palden Lhamo’s image reached for me, so when I found a Thangka that represented her perfectly, I bought it.

The lesson? You just don’t fuck around with evil.

HOWEVER this is about the Sistine Poster.

“Just GO!!!”

The festivities are gearing up for next Saturday when I “launch” Baby Duck. I went to the Narrow Gauge Book Co-op in Alamosa on Wednesday to find out how the launch will work. There will be a big table dedicated to Baby Duck in the front of the store. There will be a separate table for the monitor and slide show, and room for refreshments. I got several boxes of “mochi” which is the Japanese word for a common Chinese (and Japanese) treat — soft rice flour cookies filled with something. I got lucky and found assortments that included some filled with lychee. The others are red-bean paste, peanut, taro (all common Chinese fillings) and green tea (more along the Japanese flavor preferences). They were made in Taiwan. The store will provide non-tea drinks and something else. Friends are making cookies.

The bookstore has done great PR for me. My only wish is that their communication was better. I didn’t know they would do flyers. I didn’t know they’d do a press release. I didn’t know they’d try to schedule an appearance for me at the radio station (yes, I live in a place with A radio station). I didn’t know they’d provide refreshments. A little handout with “We do this, you do this,” would be helpful.

I’ll do two short readings, and I’ve discovered that for my readings to make sense, I will need to give brief introductory talks, too. As I used to say to my writing students, “Your readers don’t live in your head.”

My audience will need context since the chapters in the book are mostly self-contained stories. As I thought about context, I thought about maps. “Maybe other people don’t have a live action map of China in their mind at all times,” I thought, “Maybe they aren’t re-visiting all the roads from South China Teachers University into Guangzhou, either.”

Hard to imagine, but very likely true.

I tried to figure out the best way to share THAT information, thinking first of handouts then thought, “No, Sweet Cheeks, you just need a poster. Put your maps on it and some pictures, the Mao buttons, something static and clear.”

Thanks to my student days, posters are intimidating, AND I know that I will over-prepare because I always do AND that’s even more likely now that I’m still house-bound with the sprained foot, though it is beginning to really get better.

Day before yesterday I got a call from a young reporter on the local paper. She wanted to interview me. The interview was — well, hopefully, informative and a good article will come from it — but for me the best part was the reporter. Clearly a young woman, and as we talked, I learned it was her first job.

There’s a little piece of me that will ALWAYS be a teacher, that will ALWAYS be in love with the future and its inhabitants. Ultimately, the interview might have been more about her than me. She asked me what prompted me to go to China and I told her the truth, that I was almost sick with wanderlust and I just wanted to get out into the world. Her response? “Oh wow. That is just SO COOL.”

Maybe she got the little message hidden in there. ❤

Anyway, I have to go do a poster now…

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/10/19/rdp-saturday-festivities/

Chairman Trump

I woke up to this in my Facebook chat this morning, “I’ve just had a thought. How similar the current offal political strategy to appeal to vulnerable, uneducated, xenophobic people is to that used in that country you visited.”

The country I “visited” is China. The text message is from a reader of As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder, which is a memoir about the year I spent as a Foreign Expert in English in the PRC in 1982/83, just a few years after Mao’s death and the arrest of the Gang of Four. As I was writing that book I saw over and over the similarities between the residue of Maoist China and the US as some of the people in this nation would have it.

I’m always stunned when someone says Offal (Our Fearless Leader) is stupid. He’s not. Nor is he insane. He’s just power-hungry and ruthless. WAY more dangerous than stupid or insane. I’m convinced he knows exactly what he’s doing and that he began long ago with The Apprentice. To build a personality cult one first has to be a “Personality” (which is different from having one). He’s continued campaigning throughout his term in “office” because whipping up a crowd, being irreverent, cruel, and funny in a sinister “WE are cool, THEY aren’t” way is how to reach followers. He’s not a leader, he has never been a leader and it’s unnecessary that he be one. I’m not even convinced he’s “run” by Putin or anyone else.

The whole time this has been going on I’ve been stunned by the similarity between Offal and Chairman Mao. The difference is that Mao started out with an actual enemy (the Japanese who had invaded China) and Offal really has no enemy and has had to demonize Democrats in order to form “sides.” Mao was able to, finally, seize power because of the corrupt and fragmented nature of politics and the ineffectiveness of the “opposition” party — the Kuomintang — in China. Mao appealed to the peasants who had never, in the thousands of years of Chinese history, had a chance in hell of an education, a safe life, or even enough food. Still, once the Japanese were defeated, Mao had to manufacture enemies. Over the years of his “reign” hundreds of thousands of Chinese died as “enemies of the state,” intellectuals, those who had been educated abroad, shop-keepers — any group Mao was able to label.

Mao’s idea of revolution was (and this is his metaphor) a jar containing silt, sand, gravel, pebbles and water. The only way to maintain his version of “order” was to keep the jar shaken so that the various materials could never settle into layers. The shaken jar was the constant struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie.

Offal has managed to keep this nation in constant upheaval since he took office.

China’s history and the history of the United States have few real points of comparison that I can see. The Chinese peasants who rallied behind Mao were TRUE victims whereas the blind followers of Offal have never lived in conditions remotely similar to those of the Chinese peasant. What Offal is able to do is make his followers feel that they are victims of the evil Democrat machine and sinister immigrants who are coming to take what they have.

I think it’s human nature to want to find a villain, someone to blame. It’s a lot easier than looking straight at your problems and trying to find a way to solve them, or taking responsibility when we ourselves have done something. This is not to say we have a perfect system — I don’t think so — but things being proffered by the Democrats, such as universal health care, would improve the lives of Offal’s base. The thing about a personality cult is that reality is less important than maintaining the illusion. Scratching the surface of a follower, we find infatuation and identification with the “hero.”

Oh, wait, that’s pretty much a description of my romantic relationships… 🙂

Apologies to Andy Warhol but I think he’d have done this, too, were he here to do it.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/10/03/rdp-thursday-scratch/