“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
From an African proverb. Seen on an Ajiri tea bag: Kenyan Black Tea with Ginger.
“Ajiri means “to employ” in Swahili. Women in western Kenya design and handcraft each and every label using dried banana bark. <www.ajiritea.com> & <www.ajirifoundation.org>.
Beautiful messages. Wonderful tea. Excellent source. Enjoy.
“Trust that still, small voice that says, ‘This might work and I’ll try it,'” notes Diane Mariechild (author of Mother Wit).
Aboriginal art – Sydney, Australia
“Surround yourself with people who respect and treat you well” — says Claudia Black (Australian actress)
Painting – Kulyu – from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
At a Salt Lake City museum in March, we saw a moving exhibit. Lynn Blodgett, the photographer, explains,
“I offer Finding Grace in the hope that we can develop the desire and courage to see beyond the myths that all homeless people are lazy, addicted or crazy. Perhaps we can begin to see people in need and acknowledge our own darkest fears. I believe that if we look into these eyes, we will recognize our mothers, brothers, and daughters, and we will discover talented musicians, bricklayers, stockbrokers, business women and poets.”
These photos are only part of Lynn Blodgett’s fantastic and insightful exhibition.
What can we do in our own communities to shelter those in need?
Barry and I were in Ubud again – because we love it there.
One of the great pleasures of being in Bali is the fresh coconuts – everywhere! For a little more than $1.00 U.S., you can enjoy this mineral-rich, hydrating treat.
Art is everywhere in Bali. Some of the streets in Ubud have patterned pavement.
Walking down an Ubud street, you will have visual treats everywhere you look.
Eating is a treat in Ubud.
Food choices – from street cart venders to top five-star chefs – are part of the Ubud scene. We often just stopped in at Umah Pizza for a huge green salad – and yes, pizza; it was down the street from our home stay.
Usually we make friends as we hang out at Nick’s pool. This year, two Mainland friends came to visit us: Gail from near Seattle and Chris from Chicago.
Enticing walks lured us through the rice fields and all around Ubud.
A big hotel is in the background, and tourists throng through the Ubud Palace, but you don’t have to go far to be away from the crowds.
Flowers are spectacular.
We love the Balinese.
Spas are abundant in Ubud and nearby.
Everything has a reason in Balinese homes. The guards at the gates symbolize the positive and negative aspects of everything. In order for the head of the household to make wise decisions, the guards share both perspectives.
For the first time, we saw a cremation, an important rite of passage for the Balinese Hindus who believe in reincarnation.
We went out almost every night for dinner, music, shows . . . Ubud has a range of entertainments within walking distance of our great home stay, Vera Accommodation <http://www.balicheapaccommodation.com/en/Cheap-accommodations/Indonesia/Ubud-Bali/Studio/Vera-Accommodation/1542>.
When we were there, for the Sunday fundraising buffet, Villa Kitty had 140 rescue cats of all ages and conditions and about 20 dogs. Elizabeth and her staff do wonderful work of rescuing animals as well as educating Bali residents.
We enjoy being in Bali – especially in Ubud, a town rich in Balinese culture and religion. I also love all the yoga from very well-trained teachers offered in Ubud. My choice is The Yoga Barn almost every day! http://www.theyogabarn.com 🙂 . The Balinese and the visitors we meet there are wonderful, interesting people. Barry and I are sure to return.
Aloha & Sanpai jumpa, Renée
The late afternoon before Nyepi Day, March 31 this year, is very important in ridding the community of evil. K.C. and Dawn, new Big Island friends Barry had met at Nick’s Pension pool, and I went to see the local Ubud banjar Ogoh-Ogoh’s, the huge demonic statues figures symbolizing negative elements or malevolent spirits.
K.C. and Dawn:
Most of the Ogoh-ogohs had bodies of witches with heavy, powerful heads, hands, feet, and limbs. Loud gongs and cymbals, yells from the carriers, and torches when it got dark accompanied the fantastic effigies in the parade.
Even the littlest boys were involved in carrying the smaller monsters to the parade ground.
A little girl was tied to the leg of a huge blue monster. At night by yourself, you wouldn’t want to see any of those monsters, some with decapitated heads, some with forked tongues of snakes, huge clawed hands and feet, monstrous bodies, glowing eyes.
However as part of a group with the mission of ridding Bali of evil and fear, the event seemed fun for everyone.
Vendors sold drinks, noodles, and our choice – grilled sweet corn dipped in a chili/salt sauce – yummy. Dawn, KC, and I watched for about three hours the arrival of the monsters, the judging (we think), and then the parade back toward their respective banjars, local areas.
After the floats had left, the three of us found one of the few restaurants still open and had a good dinner at Wayan Café – that also offered precooked meals for the next day when no one was to cook. Then on our way back home, we passed the soccer field banjar temple and saw the hacking to pieces of the demons there. Traditionally the images have been burned, but now instead of just using bamboo and wood for their monsters, much of the body is of foam that would become toxic fumes if burned. Instead, the ones we saw were smashed, which is also effective! Firecrackers also helped get rid of those evil spirits.
K.C. on top of a felled monster:
Then Nyepi Day was from 6 a.m. March 31 to 6 a.m. on April 1. The Bali airport shut down for 24 hours as did the radio and T.V. stations, the ATMs, and all businesses. No one was to go in the streets; even hotel guests were to stay in their rooms. Vera House provided simple meals for us, but for the Balinese, the day is to be one of silence, fasting, and reflection.
I too tried being silent for the day and did pretty well except for a few slips of saying “uhh-hu” to Barry. I didn’t really miss talking and seemed to listen better than usual. On the morning of Nyepi Day, I woke to the chirps of cicadas and heard them at night too with the stars shining overhead. I could hear the occasional plop of a fish in Vera’s fishpond. No one at Nick’s seemed to have on electric lights. My day was peaceful. It seems that taking yourself away from the world diminishes your chances of being exposed to troubling things.
April 1, 2014, became the first day of the New Year in Bali’s lunar calendar. In Bali, it is now 1936! Nyepi is a chance to rebalance ourselves and a reminder that reflection and silence can be good for all of us.
Happy New Year.
Aloha and sampai jumpa (“see you soon”), Renée
P.S. Photos by RR
Feeling as though we were visiting India, China, and a big modern Asian city all in one, Barry and I recently flew to Kuala Lumpur (KL), so we could renew our tourist visas for Bali. We love the variety and energy of this Malaysian capital. A city of many peoples and religions, Kuala Lumpur has beautiful mosques, many Christian Methodist and Lutheran churches and schools, Chinese temples, Buddhist monasteries, ashrams, Hindu temples, and more.
Mosques – some big, some small – are scattered throughout the city. Islam is the national Malaysian religion, but the city accommodates other religions too. Streets pulsate with life and variety. Stalls along Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, sell almost everything. As in Lin’an, Shanghai, and other Chinese cities, the KL Chinatown market offers much variety – including roasted chestnuts – see the bin on the right. Bargains are to be had in the KL Chinatown.
Tall turbaned Sikhs, Muslim women, with their scarves, smiling uniformed school children, sari clad women, dark Africans, young Chinese tourists, and Western business people in suits all mix on the KL streets and in the markets.
We also loved KL’s “Little India,” especial the tasty (and cheap) food we could find there. This delicious dinner included two Indian thali plates, a big bottle of water, and bananas for dessert; the cost = $4.00 for two. 🙂
The Chapatti House, a favorite, was near our Hotel Sentral, nice and conveniently located in “Little India, it serves buffet breakfasts on the rooftop. We ate well.
“Little India” also had beautiful saris, gold jewelry, and fragrant spices for sale. Modern buildings of interesting designs line some streets. Malaysians line up in a proper queue as they wait for the monorail – most text as they wait. 🙂 KL is modern in many ways: the water from the tap is safe to drink; the toilets can take tissue; the stop lights have ticking noises and ribbed center tiles on the sidewalks, so the blind can cross the streets safely; the one-way roads are respected—you don’t have to look behind you to cross a street. The city emphasizes education with many schools and universities, medical centers, and health clubs.
Highlights of our intense few days as tourists include:
– A night in the Bukit Bintang area of bright lights, modern high-end shops and restaurants. I felt as though were in a Shanghai high-rise modern mall with its Cartier watches, Louis Vuitton luggage, $500.00 (U.S.) Furla handbags, and other expensive brands.
A memorable Furla handbag on display –
Barry with his smoothie, a young conservative Muslim couple, and hip youth amble along the Bukit Bintang streets.
In this modern city, we occasionally saw a woman in a burqa, a full-body cloak worn in some Muslim traditions. The young woman above (we could tell by the way she walked) was completely enclosed in black except for the thin strip for her eyes. The KL temperatures in March when we were there range from 82-93 degrees F (28-34 degrees C) although it felt much hotter since the humidity is around 84%! How could she keep from fainting?
We did see a “Ladies Only” car on a train, but on the monorail and other places men and women seem to mingle freely.
A recent New Yorker article report from Saudi Arabia tells about women now being allowed to work in some shops there. These women must wear the full-body cloak, but most, although they don’t have to, choose also to wear the niqab, the face cloth that covers all but the eyes: “Various sales women told me that they wear it to protect themselves from harassment” (Zoepf, K. “Shopgirls” p. 63, 12/23 & 30/13). I was told that the “Ladies Only” car is a preference for some women traveling without a man in Malaysia; it’s not mandatory.
At the top floors of the KL mall, as in China, we could choose from Japanese seafood and noodles, Korean BBQ, Western steaks, Vietnamese pho, or fresh juiced wheat grass and mango smoothies.
High-end goods fill the mall.
Another highlight, found in the The Lake Garden area that includes the largest enclosed aviary, “best in the world” butterfly park, and National Mosque, is the Museum of Islamic Arts. It has the largest and finest collection of Indian, Chinese, Malay, and SE Asia Muslim calligraphy, textiles, jewelry, silver, and paintings. We spent much of one day there. Religion permeates much of what we saw.
This calligraphy piece by artist Gholamreza Rahpeyma (born 1959) honors the “Holy Qur’an, the Names of Allah and Prophet Muhammad.” Chinese Islamic art is represented too. Of his piece, Haji Noor Deen Mi Guang Jiang (born 1963) says, “As a Chinese Muslim calligrapher, I have a deep sense of responsibility in promoting, propagating and carrying forward this intricate art form and precious cultural heritage.”
A few women had pieces in this notable Islamic Arts Museum. Magic Carpet #3 is such an example by a Muslim woman. The painter, Ola Hejaziow, now lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She says, “The inspiration for my work comes from many years of travelling over the world, everyday life, and from some of my favourite artists.”
Among many other examples of beautifully illustrated Qur’ans is the Dala’il al-Khayrat. The museum describes it as the most celebrated prayer book. Written by Muhammad Ibn Sulayman al-Jazuli (d. 1465 AD/869 AH in Morocco), it has been copied throughout the Islamic world from North Africa to the Malay Archipelago, Turkey, and China. While most Islamic prayer books have illustrations of the holy mosques of Mecca and Medina, this copy illustrates the minbar (a pulpit) and tombs of the Prophet and his companion. A guilded leaf reveals beautiful intricacy. Such guilded and pierced leaves reached the peak of their popularity during the 19th century AD in Ottoman Turkey. To create this piece, “the leaf was completely dried and flaked leaving only the web of vein-like, skeletal membrane of the leaf to support the calligraphic composition. . . . ‘He is the most Merciful of the Merciful,'” says the script. The museum also includes other wonderful exhibits. When you go to KL, be sure to visit The Museum of Islamic Arts.
– Another good stop is The National Textile Museum in a marvelous heritage building. Inside, dioramas depict various textiles and how to make them. – Throughout the city, the many buildings under construction contrast with the old KL shops: The ethnic Chinese who live in Malaysia have a reputation of being good business people. Here in a laundry, for example, where besides getting your clothes clean, you can buy clean water and use the massage chair, the sign welcomes customers in three languages:
In KL, the main ethnic makeup is 43% Malay, 42% Chinese, and 10% Indian (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuala_Lumpur). Although the motto for Malaysia is “Unity is strength,” there is racial tension I was told by a Westerner who has lived in KL; however, Barry and I didn’t see it. In 1965, however, because of racial tensions and violence, Singapore was thrown out of The Federation of Malaysia in part because the KL government was worried about the economic strength of Singapore and its ethnic Chinese majority.
KL too had race riots in 1969. Estimates between 150 to 600 people, mostly ethnic Chinese, died in those KL riots. Since then, many efforts including teaching the Malay language in all schools and promoting the Malay economy help unify this diverse population. Malay’s are given preference in jobs and education (which can’t make the Chinese or Indians who live there happy). The Chinese are good business people, but so too are the Indians, but they usually don’t get the concessions in the modern buildings. For instance, in the Bukit Bintang mega-mall, we could choose from Western, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and other restaurants, but we didn’t see any Indian restaurants.
Also influenced by U.S. news, Barry and I were a bit nervous about Syariah law, the Islamic religious rules. The KL news told of a 30-year-old divorced woman politician who was caught by the religious police in a raid of a hotel at 1:30 a.m. The woman was fully clothed, but the man with her was married and had on only a t-shirt and a towel. The two were charged with “khalwat” (close proximity) with a married man. They face a huge fine, up to three years in prison, or both if found guilty. The story did not give names and was on page five of the newspaper,”The Star.” In the U.S., no arrests would be made, but if something similar were to happen, it would be a front-page story with names and photos in “The National Enquirer.”
Although Barry and I have been married for 26 years, we do have different last names. Would they believe us? And although gambling is not allowed for Muslim citizens, KL has casinos, and we saw a very crowded lottery shop: “Dreams Come True.” Also Barry took a can of beer with us to the airport where alcohol isn’t offered in the restaurants. As we waited for our flight and ate lunch in the KL food court, Barry held his open beer under the table and took quick sips surreptitiously. A neighboring table was full of Chinese men playing cards, so if the religious police had come, they might have been busy with all of us. Of course, alcohol, gambling, drugs, . . . such habits are not good for individuals or society overall, but we are used to making our own decisions (and suffering our own personal consequences). Actually, neither Barry nor I saw religious police. I’ve been told that the Malaysian religious police, unlike those in Saudi Arabia, don’t concern themselves with non-Muslims. And the Muslim woman politician caught in the hotel room was probably set up.
There is much more I need to learn about this diverse, interesting city–and the country.
Overall, we had a wonderful time and will certainly go back. We haven’t seen some of the most famous KL sites like Petronas Twin Towers, and the beaches and towns outside KL are supposed to be wonderful. Come visit too.
Aloha and sampai jumpa (“see you soon”), Renée
In Bali, a country of artists and spirits, the entrances are considered very important. Dewa, our local friend, explains Balinese design, “We want to treat our eyes.”
The entrance gate is a very important part of the Balinese house because this is where evil influence from the outside can enter says J. Stephen Lansing in The Balinese, p. 26. So not only should the entrance be beautiful, it should be useful as well.
“The main entrance to the house should be a gate in the kelod-kauh corner” of each property p. 25. “Kelod” means “downstream” or “towards the sea.”
The Balinese often have a half wall or a statue within the entrance. “Since minor demons are stupid and only travel only in straight lines, the wall can help prevent them from entering,” says Lansing p. 36.
Come visit Bali. You are sure to notice all the art–even in the entrances to homes, temples, and businesses.
Aloha and sampai jumpa, Renée
Ganesha, the god of opportunity – a remover of obstacles – is important for Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. He is considered the god of new beginnings, a patron of the arts and science, and in Bali, his image is everywhere. He’s the stocky god with an elephant head and two to sixteen arms (which may help explain why he can remove obstacles). Each hand holds something of use or significance. He can be sitting in a meditation pose, dancing, or reclining.
We could learn from Ganesha: His big head means think big; his big ears mean listen; small mouth means talk less . . .
Just by looking at Ganesha, you know he must have an interesting past.
Recently in a Yoga Barn class with Noah Muse here in Ubud, Bali, I’ve learned more about Ganesha.
In one of his hands, Ganesha usually holds out a tray of sweets. As you can tell by his big belly, Ganesha loves life.
A story goes that one day long ago, Ganesha managed to eat allllll the sweets he was holding. He couldn’t believe it, and the big, round moon, who had seen him do it, laughed and made fun of Ganesha, which, of course, angered him. Ganesha grabbed his broken tusk that he had been holding in another hand and threw it at the moon– shattering the moon into 18 pieces–giving us the many phases of the moon. Before that, time was linear. Ganesha gave us cyclical time.
Another story is about Ganesha’s sidekick: Musica, the mouse. Most gods and heroes have sidekicks: the Lone Ranger and Tanto, Spiderman and Robin, and Ganesha and Musica, who serves as Ganesha’s mount, his vehicle. Normally, elephants are afraid of mice. And mice can cause a lot of damage to farms, be carriers of disease, and generally are not wanted by anyone. But in choosing Musica, Ganesha brings out his weakness and uses it. Ganesha doesn’t hide his fear or avoid it; he gives it a big job and thus empowers himself (and the mouse) in positive ways. Because Musica has such a challenging job in transporting Ganesha he is unlikely to be causing any trouble. So symbolically, Ganesha is a good model for us not to hide our fears or weaknesses but to make good use of them- put them to work for us.
When you come to Bali, expect to see Ganesha everywhere.
Aloha and sampai jumpa, Renée
I’m alone here in Shanghai. Well, I’m not really alone since 24,000,000 other people live in this vibrant city, but Barry isn’t here yet. So I was particularly pleased that my arrival on March 2, coincided with the annual Shanghai Literary Festival that features, from March 1-17 this year, 70 authors from 21 countries! I love it; that’s where I’ve been. Of course, I didn’t see all the authors, but I’ll share my experience, and you too are likely to add to your must-read list of books.
On Sunday, March 3, I attended my first session at the upscale M restaurant and Glamour Bar at #5 on the Bund to see Ryan Pyle, a photographer & T.V. producer, who traveled the border edges of China—18,000 km in 65 days—with his brother Colin on BMW F800G5 sports motorcycles! For those who care about such things, BMW R800G5’s power is 63.5 kW (85.2 hp) @ 8,000 rpm. These bikes took the extreme abuse, but the occasional need to get parts was an issue.
Before the Ryan and Colin started on their saga, they got off-road training at the BMW motorcycle factory in Germany.
Ryan shared photos and video clips and has written a book, The Middle Kingdom Ride, and produced a T.V. show as a result.
The G219 highway was the toughest stretch. According to Wikipedia, at 1,296 miles (2,086 kilometers) in length, G219 runs along China’s southwestern border from Yecheng in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to Lhatse in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Started in 1951, the road passes through the disputed area of Aksai Chin, which is administered by the People’s Republic of China but also claimed by India. The road’s construction was one of the triggers for the 1962 Sino-Indian War (from: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_National_Highway_219>).
I don’t want to do such a trip by motorcycle, but it was fun for us to see Ryan and his brother mired in mud and other such adventures. His brother, Colin, had given up a good bank job and had never ridden a motorcycle before this feat–and he survived. Colin even joined for Ryan’s following challenge: riding the border of India. However, that experience was even worse, so Colin is back at a desk job.
One memorable detail from the Chinese border, Ryan said was when he was in Ji’an, a middle-size Chinese city with all its high rises and lights and fierce traffic, he could see across the border into North Korea. At night, Ryan could see no building lights, no smoke of rising heat, no headlights of vehicles–just darkness in North Korea.
Amazon gives The Middle Kingdom Ride 5 stars: <http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Ryan+Pyle>
I’m interested in his India adventure too and will watch for its publication.
The next session I attended was for a poet from Texas; Shelly Bryant has lived in Shanghai and Singapore for 20 years! She plays with ideas and forms such as poems in three columns that read across or down or one that takes a word like “monster” and develops the poem from the synonyms. Very interesting—and good. Because the talk was held at 3pm on Wednesday, only 10 of us attended including three people from Shelly’s writing group and her Chinese translator, plus a newly retired Canadian who was a waste water engineer in Malaysia and the Philippines, a student from New Zealand who wants to connect me with her just arrived mother, and the girl’s Chinese friend. We had coffee/tea and desserts as we sat around a table with the sun pouring in the windows of this high-end restaurant on the Bund: delightful!
You can reach poet Shelly Bryant to get her books and translations at www.shellybryant.com.
Next, I saw A.D. Miller author of Snowdrops: “a chilling story of love and moral decay.” Set in Moscow, it’s about how an ordinary person, in this case an ex-pat (and some of them do things in foreign countries that they would never do at home), can easily slide into darkness. The title refers to the all too common practice in Moscow of the Mafia dropping bodies into the winter snow; those bodies then don’t show up until spring as the snow melts.
A.D. talked about contradictions and the dark side of Moscow; he says corruption in Russia and Ukraine is pervasive. For the government there, “T.V. is the neuralgic point”; they don’t want the extent of the corruption known. Now in the Russian state of Georgia, however, people cannot bribe traffic police. Miller thinks the long-term outlook for Russia and Ukraine is good.
Amazon gives four stars to Snowdrops, shortlisted for a Man Booker Prize and several other awards and noted as one of the best debut books of 2011: <http://www.amazon.com/Snowdrops-A-D-Miller/dp/0307739473/ref=sr_1_1?>ie=UTF8&qid=1363839929&sr=8-1&keywords=A.D.+Miller>
Miller was stationed in Moscow as the correspondent for The Economist.
Another author, Michael Vatikiotis spoke on Indonesia and the Far East; he has lived in Asia for almost 30 years, much of that time as a journalist in Thailand and Hong Kong. He has many insights into the changes of Asia; he witnessed the end of the 1990’s, a time of clashes of values and of traditions.
Vatikiotis talked about how it’s generally ignored that in 1965-1966 a million or million-and-a-half people were massacred in Indonesia because they were Communists or thought to be Communist sympathizers. Just published in February 2013, Vitikiotis’ newest novel, Painter of Lost Souls, set in central Java, his favorite part of Indonesia, explores the religious and political tensions that have resulted in modern Indonesian society where Communism is still illegal and now 90% of Indonesia’s businesses (although only 10% of the population) are of Chinese ancestry and targets of violence. These Indonesian Chinese are sending their children to schools in China so they will learn their “mother” tongue. Several of the students I’ve met in my guesthouse are just such ethnic Chinese Indonesians.
Vitikiotis also talked about his transition from a journalist, when the magazine closed in 2004, to a fiction writer. He joined an on-line group Dim Sum, where people post short stories and members comment. He got encouragement to continue–and he has.
Vatikiotis’ The Spice Garden gets 4 1/2 stars from Amazon and is only $4.99 for the Kindle edition. <http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Michael+Vatikiotis>
The next session featured author Tom Rachman. His novel The Imperfectionists spent 28 weeks on the NY Times best sellers list! Rachman talked about his writing path and process. He earned a Masters in Journalism at Columbia, but as he reached 30, he knew he wanted to be a fiction writer, not a journalist. So he quit his job and moved to Paris. He had enough money to write for a year. What he produced was a bomb–not even his mother liked it.
But now, he says that year of writing was a valuable tool. He learned that he wasn’t a naturally gifted writer, but that he could work, work, and revise, revise. He says that 90% of what he does is revision.
The Imperfectionists, Amazon says, is “One of most acclaimed books of the year. Tom Rachman’s debut novel follows the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters and editors of an English-language newspaper in Rome.” Festival attendees commented on the novel’s tight construction and true-to-life characters.
Rahul Bhattacharaua was next. He started his career as a cricket player, a journalist who followed cricket games, and then when Cricket, the magazine where he worked folded, he went to Guyana for a year–just because he had liked it when he had been there for cricket matches. He wrote The Sly Company of People Who Care, a winner of the Hindu Literary Prize for Best Fiction in 2011 and other awards.
Rahul loves the music of the Guyana streets and the complex interaction of peoples whose ancestors arrived through forced immigration from China, India, and Africa. Now the Guyanan population is 43.5% Indian, 30.2% African, 16% Portuguese, .o2% White, and .019 Chinese. Catching all the flavor of the people he met and the pidgin languages there, Bhattacharaua wrote this book six months after he left Guyana.
A reviewer on Amazon says, The Sly Company of People Who Care is “a unique travel book of great originality, chock full of outlandish characters, trips to places the reader will not even have imagined, and risky adventures to the interior. Not a ‘novel’ by any definition that I have ever read, the resulting book offers new glimpses into a lesser known part of the world, vibrantly described by a narrator who is obviously a stand-in for the author” (from <http://www.amazon.com/review/R2L9P3O0CHIBHO/ref=cm_cr_pr_viewpnt#R2L9P3O0CHIBHO>).
Bhattacharaua’s next book Mirror of Beauty will be out in June.
Then I saw one of the most interesting of the festival speakers, James Fallows, a writer for The Atlantic magazine since the late 1970’s. He’s lived in Asia many of those years and has great insights. He contributes regularly to NPR, was a speech writer for Jimmy Carter, has earned many awards, and has written 10 books including Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China; Breaking the News: How the Media undermine American Democracy; and Blind into Baghdad: America’s War in Iraq. His newest book is China Airborne.
Fallows covered four topics: the stated topic: Can China Make It?”; plus The Current State of China in the World; the State of the U.S. ; and the Evolution of U.S. Views on China.
A quick Fallows’ summary: compared to Japan, many of the investments in China are open, not the head-to-head competition as in Japan, and it’s much easier to make Chinese friends than Japanese friends. China is a gigantic, unknowable in many ways, conflicting country. However, while China’s rise is notable, it is not reason for threat.
Fallows says to immerse yourself in China because it’s important and fun. The economic relationship is more complimentary than you might think, and the biggest threat of China to the world is environmental. Fallows says, “It is definitely worthwhile to work in China.”
As for the question, “Can China make it?” Fallows says that in the last 30 years, China has done something miraculous in bringing millions of people up. But the move from the Keynesian work of factories to that of creating their own areodynamic industry is a “marsh test.” The path ahead will be harder the next 20-30 years.
China does not have the advanced liberal society that encourages creativity. For instance, the Internet censorship makes being on-line much slower than necessary and is not a marker for the most talented people. Fallows thinks the effect is bigger than you might think. He says it’s a “Dick Cheney effect”–knock things down before a possible problem. In addition, the Chinese universities are not considered world-class and are not attracting global students. Chinese parents seek to send their children abroad.
Little is reported about China in the U.S. mainstream press. China wasn’t really an issue in the U.S. presidential race. Fallows said that even though Mitt included dealing with China in the first 20 things he would do, he didn’t mean it.
To the question, “Is America going to hell?” Fallows says that every stage of our country’s development there have been two thoughts: 1) We’re great, and 2)We’re falling a part. But he sees our university system as strong and immigration reform should happen soon. Plus everyone else’s problems are worse than ours. The tax rates and health care can be worked out.
However, the U.S. government has a losing ability to reform; it’s too rigid. The institutions of self-government are a problem because they can’t police themselves and evolve. Fallows says, however, the governance of the U.S. problem is “more interesting than horrible.”
In China, the environmental pollution is a big problem and the government is trying, but really China in a lot of ways is still a poor country. The reason international flights into the Pudong Airport near Shanghai are always a half hour late is because the Chinese military is in control of the airspace. They make the planes take circuitous routes. He said it’s like flying between Washington D.C. and N.Y. City but having to go by way of St. Louis.
If the Chinese government follows the Dick Cheney role of quashing potential problems before they could happen, China and the U.S. will lose. A China of Dick Cheneys will be a factory power but not a creative power. Fallows sees China as making uneven progress and that most U.S. politicians are not worried about China.
China Airborne: The Test of China’s Future, the paperback is on sale now for only $9.61. Go to <http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=James+Fallows>
Chinese born Da Chen was the next speaker: “From Fujian to Wall Street to Random House: Journey of a Chinese American.” At 9, he saw his neighbors string up his landowning father by his thumbs. His father survived, but Da Chen knew he wanted to get out of China. In 1985, at the age of 23, Da came America.
A memorist, Da Chen wants to share what people still suffer. He says “Life is srtonger than anything coming our way.”
When he first came to the U.S. to go to school, Da had his flute, which he played for us, and the equivalent of $30.00, the limit the Chinese government at the time would allow to be taken out. A customer, a lawyer, at the Chinese restaurant where he worked in Nebraska encouraged Da to go to law school. Da applied and was accepted to Columbia University School of Law. On Da’s last day of work in the restaurant, the lawyer left a $40 tip, which was enough to pay for half of his airfare to the East Coast. Da says America is full of good people. After graduating, Da worked many years for Rothschilds, a Wall Street investment banking firm.
So she would know the past, Da began writing stories for his American born daughter. He now writes full time.
Although China allowed Da Chen to come into the country to be at the literary festival, his books were stopped at customs.
Amazon gives four stars to Colors of the Mountain. Da’s most recent book is My Last Empress. Go to – <http://www.amazon.com/Colors-Mountain-Da-Chen/dp/0385720602/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364018169&sr=1-1&keywords=da+chen>
“Migration Nation” was the next panel. The focal question was how has immigration impacted these authors and their work?
At 11, Andrew Lam fled Vietnam with his family. Lam says that the Vietnamese are not an immigrant people. The Vietnamese word for “country” is water+field=rice field. Migration for him meant the English language, which changed him. Learning English gave him the way to be in the world. At home, he was required to speak Vietnamese, which does not have pronouns. When he spoke to or about his father, he needed to say, “Father,” not the equalizer “you” or “he” of English.
Amazon says about Lam’s newest book, “The thirteen stories in Birds of Paradise Lost shimmer with humor and pathos as they chronicle the anguish and joy and bravery of America’s newest Americans, the troubled lives of those who fled Vietnam and remade themselves in the San Francisco Bay Area. . . Birds of Paradise Lost is an emotional tour de force, intricately rendering the false starts and revelations in the struggle for integration, and in so doing, the human heart.” From <http://www.amazon.com/Birds-Paradise-Lost-Andrew-Lam/dp/1597092681/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364016669&sr=1-1&keywords=andrew+lam>
Lam says that now Vietnam is a different country to explore. He has no emotional ties to the new Vietnam.
For Xu Xi, Hong Kong is part of her. Although she couldn’t wait to leave and has had property in upstate N.Y. and in New Zealand, Hong Kong is her home.
Amazon describes Xu Xi’s novel Habit of a Foreign Sky: “Somewhere between Hong Kong and New York, life does an abrupt shift for Gail Szeto, when her mother, her last family member, is killed in an accident. For Gail, a mixed-race, single mother who had buried her young son less than two years prior, all she has left is a hard-won career at a global investment bank. Life rapidly goes into free fall for this woman with a complicated past, who was once so sure of her direction in life, who can now see no clear future path. Shortlisted for the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize, this novel offers a an international cast of characters in New York, Hong Kong and Shanghai.” The book gets five stars from Amazon. Go to <http://www.amazon.com/Habit-Foreign-Sky-Xu-Xi/dp/988189672X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364019599&sr=1-1&keywords=xu+xi>
In contrast HM Naqvi’s ancestors did migrate, staying no more than 300 years anywhere, and he has been on the move too.
Of his Homeboy, about three young Pakistani men in New York City, Publishers Weekly notes, “Naqvi’s fast-paced plot, foul-mouthed erudition and pitch-perfect dialogue make for a stellar debut.”
Amazon gives Homeboy, 4 1/2 stars.
Next, Charlotte Wood’s topic was “How Does Creativity Work?” A novel writer from Sydney, Wood is doing a Ph.D. with her focus on creativity. She wants to explore where writers get their ideas. The psychology of creativity has been researched for 50 years.
She got the feeling once at the end of writing her novel Animal People of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as “flow” a deep and glorious feeling of ease, unquestioning flow, an elevated state. However, you can’t make flow happen and you can’t wait. Chuck Close says, “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us show up and work.” There is no writer’s block, but writer’s laziness; the work ethic is important. “Visions come to prepared spirits.” Wood says she doesn’t leave her writing room each day until she has written 1,000 words. It’s also important for her to show up at the same time each day.
Wood notes that many creative people start writing early in the day, so the pathway from sleep is smooth since the subconscious has been working during the night. She says that every artist must dig and bring what he/she finds into the light. Getting to the heart is the challenge. If it’s easy, it’s probably not deep. Also you need to love your characters even the ones others will hate because you need to understand them. Wood has very flawed ordinary people as characters because they are interesting and bring conflict and drama to the story. Wood says writing is about investigating those parts of yourself. She often starts with a technical challenge such as in her Animal People, the story takes place in one day.
From the Allen and Dunwin homepage, “I read Charlotte Wood’s novel Animal People twice. I think it’s one of the best contemporary novels I have read. But I cannot review it. I tried a number of times and failed each time. I only recently realized why this is. I don’t want to review Animal People. I want to recommend it.”
For Wood’s books, go to <http://www.allenandunwin.com/default.aspx?page=94&book=9781742376851>.
Adventurer and photojournalist Nick Danziger’s topic “Beyond Forbidden Frontiers” gave an overview of 25 years of documenting in photos and film of the world’s most dispossessed. He’s photographed victims of war, mainly women and children like the ones in Sierra Leone who although pleading for death instead had both hands cut off by the marauding militia, of unarmed Iranian refugees fleeing war shot by Turkish soldiers, and orphaned children abandoned in a Kabul mental institution where the patients are chained to the floor.
In 1984 without visas, Danziger followed the ancient trade route by walking and local transport from Turkey to China. He set off with 800 pounds (about $1,000 U.S.), which lasted him 16 months. He passed tens of thousands of Afghans fleeing the Soviets. It took him six weeks to reach Pakistan. He crossed over a Chinese border not open since 1948 and spent eight months in remote areas of China with the Muslim Uighurs.
Of war, Danziger says 90% of the casualties are civilians. Afghanistan now has 15 centers for prosthetic devices. In 1996, the Taliban were at first welcomed, but now women and girls are not allowed to get medical attention. The men would rather allow a woman to die in childbirth than to be seen by a man. One hundred twenty-five children crowd into one classroom; chalk is rationed.
In India, a father has to decide whether he should use his money to eat and so be able to take his HIV antidote and survive to care for his children or to feed his children that day. In Sierra Leone, 260 amputees live together. Danziger has documented these tragedies and more. But now, he says, there is no money for photojournalists. He has a website, but most people don’t want to know.
As for the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the people don’t want Westerners there, but all the women he’s met in Kabul and in the countryside say they feel deep gratitude for Western protection. They are afraid what will happen when the Westerners leave.
To see more of Nick Danziger’s photos and buy his books, go to his homepage: <http://www.nickdanziger.com/index/home>.
The next session featured Qiu Xiaolong and Howard French: “Disappearing Shanghai.” In 2004, Howard French was studying Chinese eight hours a day and would walk around with his camera to recover. Much of his career a foreign correspondent, he headed The New York Times‘ Shanghai bureau. French had read Qiu Xiaolong’s When Red is Black and loved it. When French saw the Qiu Xiaolong was speaking at the Shanghai Literary Festival, he came to the session, and the two have become good friends.
Qiu is author of eight award-winning Inspector Chen detective novels set in Shanghai. The latest is The Enigma of China. Qiu grew up in a corner of the Shanghai French Concession. French’s photos reminded Qiu of his old way of life. They formed a collaboration that resulted in Disappearing Shanghai, with photos by French and poems by Qiu.
In looking at the photos, Qiu wrote from his life, from his heart. Qiu and French talked about their wonderful collaboration. French told about the importance of their friendship and the resulting growth in his work and his own development.
Some people wonder why French doesn’t photograph the architecture, why he is showing the “bad” side of living in Shanghai. But French said his was an exploration of a particular way of life, “an intimacy, a promiscuity of close contact and fluid exchange and tasting validation.” Those close relationships of helping each other, sharing meals, and growing up surrounded by caring adults are disappearing. To meet someone now, you need to schedule a week in advance to meet at a good restaurant. But Qiu doesn’t stay in his old Shanghai apartment now: no private restroom.
French’s photos were taken over many years. He developed relationships with many of the people.
“Are the people happy their neighborhoods are gone, and they have moved to modern housing?” The answer to that question is complex. Often on short notice (like two weeks) , residents must leave the homes and friends they have had all their lives. They are moved from central Shanghai to the outskirts of the city. French says in his observation, for those people 50+ , it is a very hard move. In fact, he thinks that the mortality rate is extremely high for those people since the old neighborhood residents are scattered to various areas. They lose their homes, their friends, their way of life. But for those under 50, they are ready and eager to move and to get the compensation money. It’s not just the structure of the neighborhood that changes, it’s the change in relationships of going from where you share everything to “material improvement.” In the modern places, everyone “shuts their door”; you don’t know your neighbors. As humans, French sees, we are gaining material wealth but losing human connections. The modern world doesn’t have the concern as in Bhutan for the National Happiness Index. Not long ago, everyone in China would say as greeting, “Have you eaten?” and then invite everyone in for a meal. The language is even changing, “Come with us–next week.”
Qiu read his poem: “Dance of People Square,” inspired by a French photo.
French who teaches journalism and photography at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism was asked how he got such intimate photos. He said he had to learn: look for a potential group, then waste time, be bored until they are no longer alert to your presence. He’s good at wasting time and taking pictures of things he doesn’t want until he becomes a part of the background. It takes six or seven hours of taking photos to get three or four good photos, and he returns to the same places all the time. Have good shoes and be prepared to wait. He says it’s not the equipment or gear, good photographs require time and space. Get close–three or four feet away–anticipate and then shoot: just do it.
He says it’s not hard to romanticize these old neighborhoods. However, it comes to toilets vs. relationships. The short warning time keeps people from organizing protests. But the move creates deep depression especially among the older residents.
French’s new work is photographing Chinese who have moved to Sub-Sahara Africa. About one million Chinese have gone there permanently. Others have written about this change as though China is taking Africa from the West or as this is a win-win situation for China. But French wants to take another point of view and include voices of Africans and Chinese involved. French has lived both places and speaks Chinese. Watch for this new book.
French is worried about the more and more materialistic way of living. He thinks that maybe Churchill said, “We shape our environment and our environment shapes us.” French noted that any city benefits from variety. When it becomes all high rises, it’s not good.
This book gets five stars on Amazon. Go to: <http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=%22Disappearing+Shanghai%22>
Qiu, who earned a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Washington University, is also a translator, critic, and academic. Look for the newest of Qiu’s much-loved Mr. Chen series: The Enigma of China. Go to <http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=The+Enigma+of+China&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3AThe+Enigma+of+China>
The next session featured Jeet Thayil and his novel Narcopolis, about the 1970’s opium world of Bombay.
Thayil began by entertaining us with performance poetry from his book English: “How To Be a Toad–… a Leaf…a Horse…a Crow…and a Bandicoot, (a huge Bombay rat impossible to kill).
About Thayil’s novel, Narcopolis, HM noted that it’s full of opposites: the epigram is a verse from the Koran and the “infernal holy braid” of Muslim, Hindu, and Christian religions are a big part as well as the third gender and opiated sleep.
The book includes much violence. But if you have lived in Bombay, Thayil says, you have to develop a way to handle the horror and violence. Jeet grew up in Hong Kong, Bombay, and New York. He sees that in Shanghai “money is the river that flows through the city, and you must learn to swim.” He went to Bombay in 1978 for college. During his first week, he was introduced to opium. But opium was stopped in 1982 and most users replaced it with heroin (and most who did died in four or five years). Jeet said he could do nothing during those years because his focus was on getting money and sourcing the heroin.
He knows heroin can be stopped, but too many people make money from it. In Bangalore, after the son of a police chief died of an overdose, overnight heroin sales shut down. The Taliban stopped poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, but in the last five years, its cultivation has grown exponentially.
Jeet started writing about 10 years after he cleaned up. But it took him 20+ attempts at quitting and rehabilitation (two quite different efforts he says). Finally, with the help of a methadone program in New York, he’s been successful. Now he feels he must write 300 words a day or he’s worthless.
A person in the audience asked, “How much do you think there is profound experience to opiates?” Jeet noted, “Morphine, opium, or heroin gives you a sense of when you were in your mother’s womb, an enveloping sense of love, of needing nothing. It kills pains and annihilates the sense of time. There is no question of happiness.” But while he was on it, he couldn’t share is insights.
He says it takes five years to recreate endorphins, so when he quit opiates, he was miserable for five years. Jeet’s poetry has been influence by opium; it slows everything down. Using rhythm and meter slows time. It messes with your ideas of linear time.
In Narcopolis, Dimple, the eunuch, is the moral center of the book. She shows that it is possible to be surrounded by squalor and horror and still be open to joy and beauty.
To have a view of life in India you may never see, go to <http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_10?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=narcopolis+by+jeet+thayil&sprefix=Narcopolis%2Caps%2C852&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Anarcopolis+by+jeet+thayil>
The 2013 Shanghai Literary Festival ended with a debate among Financial Times journalists: “Is Capitalism Broken?”
Evidence that Capitalism is broken argued by Jasper Koll and Henny Sender include:
– 60% of the recent growth in the U.S. is of massive government intervention.
– There’s an illusion of growth, not sustainable, not self- correcting growth.
-They asked, “If young Americans need 2/3 of their lifetime income to save Capitalism, who benefits?
– In Alabama at the Hyundai parts plant, they had to throw out the written manuals for the machines and replace them with ones using pictures because so many of the employees could not read. Such an example shows how the U.S. infrastructure of public schools has been undermined.
– Only 9% of students from the bottom 20% income are in U.S. universities–not a democracy. Even the old formula: go to school and you’ll get a good job is not working for many.
–Capitalism should be about opportunity.
–Capitalism as it is now working does not hold people accountable. In fact, those who seem to benefit got us into trouble in the first place.
–Before 2008, the difference in pay between the CEO and a worker was 230%; now the difference is 258%.
–28 million are unemployed in the U.S. and we have a record prison population.
–Capitalism should be about the opportunity to win — and lose–wealth. The loss isn’t being allowed. City Bank has been bailed out three times.
–In China now 10% of the people have 86.7% of all assets
-In U.S., from 2000-2007, the top 1% got 65% of the gains, but from 2009-2012, the top 1% got 93% of all gains!
Their conclusion is that Capitalism is broken.
Reasons given by John Authers and Guideon Rachman for why Capitalism is not broken include:
– Capitalism needs to be judged by results, and it does create wealth.
-The question of inequality is a red herring; Capitalism shouldn’t be judged by equality.
– Capitalism is the opportunity to gain wealth: Since 1980, the GDP has tripled; the GDP in emerging markets has quadrupled. This year the emerging markets will surpass the developed countries.
– But change is a slow and painful process with children bearing debt, but Capitalism is cyclical and will survive. It’s moving in the right direction.
– Capitalism is prone to boom and bust, but it’s superior to all the other models.
– The 2008-2012 period involved crashes, but reforms are coming out of it, and Capitalism will emerge with new strength.
Moderator David Piling summed up the view that Capitalism is not broken by saying, “The fields are full of rice and the rivers are full of pigs.”
And then the vote:
The vote at the end was that Capitalism is not broken, but neither the four panelists, the moderator, nor the audience brought up any real question of is Capitalism basically moral or is it sustainable with its use of resources, and what about Global Warming …. this was pointed out by my 38-year-old seat mate, a German guy from Homburg who lived in Berlin for several years but has now been in Shanghai teaching German. He told me about a documentary he saw recently about Lake Victoria in Tanzania that now has only one kind of fish. After it was accidentally introduced, the non-native fish has killed all the other kinds of fish. The lake has been bought up by companies that catch the fish, flash freeze them, and send them out on Russian transport planes. The people who live around the lake are not allowed to fish; they are starving and only get the offal to pick through.
Last Monday, I told my students, who are all economics majors, the fish story and then about the “Is Capitalism Broken?” debate and how no one brought up the environment, Global Warming, sustainability, the growing inequalities around the world, or what a mess things are in for many people. Then I had them debate: “Does it matter how you make money?” In the first class, four of the 24 students argued it didn’t really matter. In the second class, only one said it didn’t matter–“because you could steal from the rich and give the money to the poor.” But almost all of them brought up the need to assess the long-term consequences like the pollution in Beijing–and the pigs in the river (which one person saw as an opportunity to create a waste management business). Overall, their reactions give me hope for Capitalism.
Besides the ideas and the books another reason to attend the Shanghai Literary Festival is to meet others. I met many people including a woman from Romania has lived in Shanghai for eight years. She is a textile designer who first worked here for Victoria Secrets and now Walmart. Another woman is a hotel designer.
Lots of writers and even more readers attended. Students interested in drama, wives from Germany, U.K., India, . . . coming to Shanghai with their businessmen husbands, a psychologist from India, a German from Berlin teaching German, English teachers, factory managers, embassy personnel, and travelers of all sorts; the festival draws many interesting people.
And, I hope to be back in Shanghai next year at this time for the 2014 Shanghai Literary Festival. I hope you will come too. In the meantime, we have lots of books to read.
You can see the official biographies of all the writers who presented at the Shanghai Literary Festival by going to <http://www.m-restaurantgroup.com/mbund/writers.html>
I’m looking forward to the 2014 Shanghai Literary Festival and hope to see you’re there. Right now, I’m off to read a good book.
Zài Jiàn, Renée
-photos not attributed are by me.