Saturday, May 31, 2014

Manipulation's Residue

Film affects the mind differently than prose or fiction.  You carve out two and a half hours of time and spend it visually and aurally with the arc of a motion picture.  Even if it is awful, the residue lingers around in a way differently then a two and a half hour read of nearly anything before bed.  I much prefer to read.  And perhaps film’s impact is stronger because I watch cinema much more rarely. 

Here I am sitting early in the early day, having watched a film with my kids last night.  We watched “The Secret Life of Walter Mittty” a film directed by and staring Ben Stiller, based off the original novel by James Thurber from 1939.  It was an imperfect film.  The corporate minions who take over Life magazine aren’t plausible.  The search for Sean Penn becomes one extreme too many.  The resolution with the girl, predictable.  And yet the setting and the 'watch as we': 成方破浪[1] narrative, wherein he escapes from his corporate routine in Manhattan to do remarkable things, in remarkable places, is swirling around my mind regardless.

I also read some Tacitus before I went to bed.  To be fair I only made it a few pages before conking out.  But even when I’m in it, I confess, what I’m doing is referring back to the Tiberius and the Livia I know from the BBC’s “I Claudius”, lodged there in my mind.  I also finished Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” last night for my younger one.  I’ve never seen any depiction of that, so the “Long John Silver” in my mind can only be the one my mind has created.  And again, maybe it's a matter of time and concentration; it was only the last six pages or so, but it doesn’t float around the next day the same way.  It’s there, but I need to draw on it wilfully.

In as much as I rarely see film, I even more rarely read film reviews, but I do tend to enjoy the New York Times, A. O. Scott.  His references from his youth seem to cast a certain subtle affinity and he’s funny when he’s scathing.  I was surprised how gentle he was with “Mitty.”  I expected him to tear it apart.  We wait two hours to watch the everyman build up the courage to tell the young upstart corporate titan to shove it and all he can say is “don’t be such a dick.”  But the many narrative imperfections, which can just be categorically dismissed by calling something “Hollywood” didn’t register as meriting specific critique.  What did was the corporate placement. Here again, I note my naïveté, as I wasn’t able to note, in the moment, that I was being bombarded with advertisements.  

And try though I may, reading a story aloud to one or my other daughter, can never be the same as sitting down as a group and watching a film.  There is a neutrality to the viewing experience.  No one is reading, or “driving”, we’re all just passengers.  And some of this powerful American normalization:  here is yet another movie set in Manhattan, here is a lonely guy, watch him hate his corporate job, watch him spy a girl he fancies, watch him develop courage and fight the system only to be embraced by it.  I think, perhaps that my kids have to know it, before they can critique it, or dismiss it.

And what music to speak of?  Well, I haven’t had David Bowie on DustyBrine before.  His song “Major Tom” features prominently in this film and it is part of the residue, swirling about my mind this morning.  Written in 1969, and appearing on the album “Space Oddity,” I suppose its one of his songs I’ve always enjoyed, despite its ubiquity.  Beyond a few other requisite hits, I was never a fan in my day.  Too late and melodic for my early classic rock fascination and definitely to soft and early for my days as a punk, by which time he was singing things like “Let’s Dance” on MTV, for which I had absolutely no time or patience. 

And with distance, he has a body of work I’ve selectively and slowly come to appreciate.  And the fantastic appearance of the song, consciously chosen,  (and paid for) like the title, to evoke something older and deeper than this mere film sung by the girl, jettisoning Walter into something like self-actualization felt intrusive, like someone with big hands manipulating my heart’s accordion.  But there I was singing the words out loud, because it was important, I think that my daughters were aware that I knew these words.  An oddity, indeed.

[1] chéngfēngpòlàngto brave the wind and the billows (idiom); to have high ambitions

Friday, May 30, 2014

Wretched, Xenophobic, Compromise

Today’s paper has an article about Abe down in Singapore at an international security meeting, suggesting that Japan will take a larger role in regional security. He would like to lift the ban on export of military hardware and be able to provide ships to, for example the Philippines and Vietnam.  Obviously this is an anathema to Beijing and Seoul, but it has been comparatively better received among ASEAN nations.

China’s pushing is intended find out the limits of American willingness to shore up alliances and arbitrate the peace.  Will America become tired of this?  Xi Jinping may be pushing to see what precisely our limits are.  One area where this will certainly pressure the fault lines of the alliance are with South Korea.  Japan has little choice but to step up to China’s assertiveness, unilaterally declaring rights over disputed airspace.  And now flying patrol planes dangerously close to those of Japan.  Why does China think this strategy will be successful?

This article by Hugh White, offers an interest analysis as to why China would risk war and risk alienating all of its neighbors.  China is pushing its own version of great state relations, trying to foster a new dynamic for regional relations wherein China would have considerably more regional power and this is a zero sum accumulation, away from U.S. power.  Weaken our alliances, by showing that the U.S. is not really committed to defending anyone.  Beijing’s assumption is that there is a weakness of resolve on the part of the U.S. that is not matched by China’s will to change regional power relations.  His worry is that both sides misunderstand the other, because each one assumes the other would back down rather than risk a fight and neither assumption may be true.

In the comments that follow that article there is lots of interesting debate.   Talk about kids playing with scissors, talk about miscalculations and what happens when certain lines are crossed.  Talk about limited engagements from U.S. attack submarines on Guangzhou.  Sitting in Washington people may think this way.  All I know is, that’s the end of the world I know.  What an extraordinarily dark, new divided world it would if we were able to squeeze through with only “limited” skirmishes.  It needn’t necessarily be 烽烟四起[1], but even a limited exchange between the two countries, will take another generation at least to rectify. 

Russia and China will form a block.  South Korea will have an excruciating choice between their hatred for Japan and their distrust of China and their international integration.  The U.S. will have a war footing economy and struggle to adjust to a trade war with the world’s second largest economy.  The region will have a wild arms race and the U.S. will presumably begin a much more overt effort to foment discord domestically in hopes of toppling the CCP.  And the latter will resort to whatever is necessary to return the favor.   Wretched, xenophobic compromise. 

DJ Vadim, born in St. Petersburg, living now, in NYC and Berlin is an alternative hip hop producer who a friend just hipped me to.  The album is boldly titled “USSR: Life from the Other Side.”  The song, even more ominous “Kill, Kill, Kill” from 1999.  Strange cuts, old school rhyming, and disarming messages woven in.  And I’m laughing and I’m tapping the table.

And that is what the world had been like for the first twenty years or so of my consciousness.  Perhaps it will divide up again.  New ideology will have to be shaped to explain it.  Perhaps it will be authoritarian vs. representative democracies, but that won’t be enough.  Something more forced and tortured will have to be fashioned to cut the world apart again between people who used to get along fine. 

[1] fēngyānsìqǐ:  lit. fire beacons in all four directions (idiom); the confusion of war

To Connaught With the Madcap

 I’m sitting looking out over the harbor.  A harbor filled with working boats, ferries, excavation vessels, small tankers, or to put it slightly differently; there are no pleasure craft, which is the only craft you see these days in the Hudson from Riverside Drive or in the SF Bay from Telegraph Hill.  Hong Kong Harbor is shrinking, certainly.  Perhaps the distance has been halved in the days since Jardine first started unloading his chests.  But with no bridge to span Central and Kowloon the water itself can’t be ignored, the way, perhaps the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan can be.  

There’s a fact to confirm: From memory I’d say this distance the Star Ferry now has to traverse from Central to Tsimshattsui, is still wider than the East River, which say, the Williamsburg Bridge must span.  It is definitely narrower though, than the Hudson is over on the west side.  I will consult maps when next on line.

Hong Kong has arguably advanced the mall to its furthest point.  And this point, jutting ever further out into the harbor is the IFC, which, for now is the SAR’s final word on mall.  It is predetermined that every time I visit Hong Kong, I will buy things here.  I bought things here today. 

I have in front of me, an unobstructed view sitting at this lunch counter out over to Kowloon.  There is, of course, the man with the water bottle and cigarette sitting across from me on the ebony bench.  The abandoned can standing there, with a yellow wrapper, off to the man’s right.  Regardless, I can see for miles.  Below me, before I sat down, I spied an ominous site.  What had been park space has been turned into a construction site.  That’s now between this view and the harbor.  For a brief moment I felt sorry for all the establishments here and what might befall their tailor-made view.  But in this town, I don’t think even Li Kashing could defend a view.  New things go up.  Period.  To 登高望远 [1] is temporal and indefensible.

It’s hot here though.  The aircon is blasting but the doors are open to the balcony so there is humidity regardless.  Putting big fat speaker cushions on your ears or hot brick cell phones up to you fleshy cheeks is not a good way to cool off either. Syd Barrett has come on.  There’s a friend.  “Octopus.” 1969.  Well.  I can remember figuring this song out when I was twenty or so.  It’s like a circus act that spins and spins ever more dangerously at a tilt but still, never falls over.  Till he does.

Perhaps you can discern.  It isn’t half the fun without his delivery:

Trip to heave and ho, up down, to and fro', you have no word
Trip, trip to a dream dragon, hide your wings in a ghost tower
Sails cackling at every plate we break
Cracked by scattered needles the little minute gong coughs and clears his throat
Madam you see before you stand, hey ho, never be still
The old original favorite grand, grasshoppers green Herbarian band
And the tune they play is "In Us Confide"
So trip to heave and ho, up down, to and fro', you have no word
Please leave us here, close our eyes to the octopus ride!

Isn't it good to be lost in the wood
Isn't it bad so quiet there, in the wood
Meant even less to me than I thought
With a honey plough of yellow prickly seeds
Clover honey pots and mystic shining feed

Well, the madcap laughed at the man on the border, hey ho, huff the Talbot
"Cheat" he cried shouting kangaroo, it's true in their tree they cried
Please leave us here, close our eyes to the octopus ride!
Please leave us here, close our eyes to the octopus ride!

The madcap laughed at the man on the border, hey ho, huff the Talbot
The winds they blew and the leaves did wag
They'll never put me in their bag, the seas will reach and always seep
So high you go, so low you creep, the wind it blows in tropical heat
The drones they throng on mossy seats, the squeaking door will always squeak
Two up, two down we'll never meet, so merrily trip forgo my side
Please leave us here, close our eyes to the octopus ride!

Connaught Road here, leaving the IFC.  That’s a tough name for a road in a British colony wouldn’t you say?  Why name it after one of the four regions of Ireland?  Why are there Connaught Roads all over the former Empire?  Isn’t there a Connaught Circle in New Delhi?  But you never run into roads or circles called Leinster or Munster much, do you? Of the four sections of Erie why is this one prefaced so?  Oliver Cromwell of course damned the Irish to piss off to “Hell or Connaught” and this is what comes to mind when I drive down Connaught Road in Hong Kong.  What did it mean in 1870 or so when it was probably first Christened as such?  Just another part of Her Majesty’s dominions?  I suspect its referencing more than just the territory itself and perhaps I’m wrong. 

This was a rapid in and out of town.  Now I’m to close the loop on this newfound means of traveling from the Shenzhen airport to Hong Kong.  In an hour or so I need to head to the Shun Tak building and go find “bus to Shenzhen Airport”.  (I’ll let you know now, later, that one shouldn’t trust the estimated time of 90 minutes for the ride back to catch a plane.  Immigration was a mess, and I’ll definitely need to change to a later flight . . . Later still, the flight was delayed! )

Hong Kong cabs, Cantonese default.  Hong Kong forces a different sort of timid politeness from me.  I always need to ask if someone’s Mandarin or their English are better.  I ask it in Mandarin.  One of two responses:  “What?” or “Guo yu keyi.” Then, if the latter and I continue in Mandarin and I muse about whether they see me somehow as mainlander-associated, a representative of all the changes that have come over the Hong Kong people and their perception of the nation over the last twenty years.  However if they speak English, my thoughts usually go to just what a Cantonese mother tongue does to the way you shape English words.  It is a stereotypical archetype that kind of always sounds funny. 

I was marveling this morning at my engagement with a front page article in the New York Times on the destruction of a state sanctioned church in the prosperous, trading powerhouse of Wenzhou, in southern, coastal, Zhejiang.  That’s one place I’ve never been that I’d like to experience.   At first read, I thought, this is an area where the CCP may have really overstepped themselves.  This because while their aversion to Christianity may be understandable, they have not reclaimed the ground necessary to explain to 1/6 of the world the question of eternity.  The Party is about this life.  Tread lightly trying to reckon with the rest.  The Party can only rather imperfectly claim a fullness of moral certitude.   The CCP is a “party” that can only really claim one of the two “C”s,. Something has to replace the second C. And Confucio-Daoist,Budhist, I-Ching=Chinese Faith’s a tricky business to properly claim.  And international faith, which isn’t in any way “Chinese”, is even trickier.

Now, why am I thinking this way?  Well, the NY Times has older Zhejiang ladies in earnest prayer on the cover.  It obviously feels like they are defenseless and it is unfair.  Perhaps they are, perhaps it is.  And they make the point that the reporters uncovered that despite what has been said officially, a classified document obtained, suggested the authorities intention was to cut back on the public expression of Christianity in particular. This was the only faith being persecuted this way.  Guidance was to remove all visible sights of religious expression from the highways, which would be understandable, if you wanted to hedge back on all faiths equally, as say Mao did, but the only symbols they wanted removed from site were crosses. 

And with a step back you wonder, to what extent have I been manipulated into thinking this is a fundamental schism between religious freedom and state authority, or is this a local matter, wherein an official took a bribe and let local residents build something rather large and then, when told to reign it in, it becomes an internationals incident?  Simple fact is, the Party does see Christianity, in almost any form, as a unique challenge to its authority in a way no other religion registers.  China worked at accommodating Buddhism for roughly two millennium and reckoned with Islam for nearly three quarters that time.  Is the particular quality of the Christian faith, the teachings themselves, somehow more subversive than say Islam?  Is it just a legacy matter of imperialism that gives Christianity a unique volatility?  Or is it just good copy for half the U.S. population?  One wonders where the first significant pushback to Xi’s muscular agenda will come from.

[1] dēnggāowàngyuǎn:  to stand tall and see far (idiom); taking the long and broad view / acute foresight

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Everything Remains Moist

Sailing down the Eastern Coast of China today.  The ticket fare down to Shenzhen was, this time, half the price of the ticket to Hong Kong, my ultimate destination.  Now generally this would mean heading to the boarder and dealing with the potentially wretched cattle crossing overland into the SAR, then a long, local MTR ride downtown.  Someone mentioned though last time and I checked this morning as to an alluring alternative.  The brand spankin’ new Shenzhen Airport has a new service with direct bus transportation from the airport straight to Sheung Wan.  That sounds dramatically better than the DIY version.  I’ll certainly let you know if it proves a compromise.  (It wasn't!)

Tonight, I’ll sleep by the ocean.  You get to miss the ocean in Beijing in a way that belies its relative proximity to the sea.  The ocean “feels” closer where my home in New York is, even though the drive is no further.  The ocean on, say, Fire Island is a significantly more welcoming stretch of beach than anything I know about that abuts the Bohai Sea.  I would however, love to be surprised and proven wrong.  The New York in my mind is the Hudson Valley, which does have fjord running through it. Everyone knows that 海纳百川[1]. The deep vein, briny for its first hundred miles or so, reminds you of the ocean’s proximity.  Everything remains moist. 

I followed Hank Jones over to a contemporary pianist of his this morning.  “Foggy Day” about that other city never too far from the sea, from Billy Taylor’s 1954 live album “Billy Taylor Trio At Town Hall” sounded light and confident as I scrambled to prepare a proposal before the flight.  Apparently Billy Taylor filled out a role brilliantly as preeminent spokesman for jazz, in his day, during the 80s and from his perch on air with CBS Sunday Morning News.  Harder to imagine say Sun Ra occupying that role, weekly.

It occurs to me that I probably channel surfed by that program more than once at that time.  I haven’t watched TV in years but in the 80s I would have been consuming hours daily and invariably I must have seen this man speak about jazz.  What a pity that I can place the visage for a dozen other talking heads, but not his.  What a shame that when I did land on CBS News Sunday Morning I probably saw they were talking about jazz and quickly passed on, or ignored whatever was being said.  Perhaps I’ll find a clip or two on line and see if I can jog my memory.

Russia and China may have conducted the biggest deal in the history of deal making. Russia will provide gas to China and will provide a minimum base rate on the pricing.  This then is Vladimir Putin’s interesting pivot to China.  $600B worth of resources to Russia for their raw materials.  Certainly this kind of money is better for Russia than nothing.  China undeniably benefits as China must have access to reliable energy sources to grow.  You have to ask yourself though, is this the best that Russia can hope for?  When will Russia escape this trap of being consigned to best-in-class provider of raw materials casting them only distinguished from Saudi Arabia on account of an ageing nuclear arsenal?  Australia does all right carving out its continent and shipping it to China.  But no one doubts that Australia punches way above its weight in terms of technological innovation given its modest population.  Few would doubt Russia’s potential for innovation but most would look in askance for the contemporary evidence of any.  

My flight continues.  This is a Shenzhen Airlines co-share.  Fortunately I do not have mature opinions about various Chinese airlines.  I’ve always taken Air China to maximize points with Star Alliance, avant garde though that may sound.  Occasionally I’ll wind up on China Eastern or China Southern.  I’ve done a Shandong Airlines flight or two in my day.  There are little beyond logos and uniforms to distinguish any of this in my memory.  But this flight on Shenzhen Airlines, is the third in a few months.  Yes, China now has two Star Alliance member airlines.  I just experienced a modest form of “innovation” which I’ll share with you.  Mind you, innovation is rare and needs to be nurtured, wherever it is sniffed out.  After the “chicken with rice or beef noodle” is served. They follow along behind with an open jar of goopy hot sauce and a spoon.  It’s not the massage bar provided in First on a Virgin Air flight, we're in agreement on that.  It’s folksy and rustic, but it works.  Good for them.  I enjoyed my glop.  Differentiation needn’t be costly. 

The in-flight entertainment however standard issue, and extremely annoying.  Perhaps surveys show that most Chinese passengers think it is funny and helpful in the middle of turb-u-lance to watch foreigners be tricked by their own kind.  Who am I to question the remarkable focus on the theme?  Whoever is the producer behind the latter-day, shanzhai, Candid Camera show we have to watch must have the second largest deal in history with the China Aviation Ministry. 

I am listening to loud music and am trying my best to write, but screens are everywhere.  I’ve an uninterrupted to view down in front of me.  Six receding screens simultaneously flash in unison, as they do down the adjoining aisle.  Thoughts turn to Winston.  More important than the imposition is the notable lack of willpower.  I truly cannot help but cock my neck every ninety seconds or so to consider what I know before the cocking that I do not care about.   Oh look, they have rigged a turkey at a buffet dinner so that when people try to cut a piece it drives off like an electric car.  Look.  The people were surprised.  One man was even angry for a moment.  Now he’s laughing.  Ha ha. 

[1] hǎinàbǎichuān: all rivers run into the sea / use different means to obtain the same result (idiom)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bitter, Drunken, Mirth

Feeling a bit righted, this morning after yesterdays common cold compromise. I just finished up my third Kingsley Amis novel.  “The Old Devils” published in 1986, is lauded to no end.  It won the Booker Prize, the BBC adapted it for television and his son Martin suggests that it was his “masterpiece.”  And while I appreciated the writing and laughed out loud at certain points, one of which I’ll quote below, I can’t really say I enjoyed spending three hundred pages in Wales, drunk with the aged set who are drinking themselves to death.

"Alun came hurrying back as the drinks were being handed round by a wine-waiter who came out of the same sort of drawer as the barman and was got up in a fancy jacket with clusters of grapes depicted on the lapels.  The cheese was there.  Charlie took a bight of the Cheddar. "What is the vintage port?" asked Alun.  "Port is a fortified wine from Portugal" said the waiter having perhaps misheard slightly, 'and vintage port is made from - ' 'I didn't ask for a bloody lecture on vinification, you horrible little man', - Alun laughed a certain amount as he spoke.  'Tell me the shipper and the year and then go back to your hole and pull the lid over it.'  The lad seemed more or less unabashed by this, 'Graham, 1975 sir.' he said in his Ruritanian accent and withdrew.  "It's no use just relying on respect to get good service in a restaurant,' Alun explained, still grinning, 'There has to be fear, too."

Reading his first novel, “Lucky Jim”, (1954) which catapulted him to fame, we get to spend time with an angry, young protagonist Dixon, who is also drinking himself to death, which is rather more fun, perhaps because young pain is sharper:

"Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth has been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by a secret police. He felt bad.

In “One Fat Englishman” from 1963, the only other book of his I’ve read, we spend time with a drunken, bitter middle aged Englishman, on sabbatical in the greater New York area.  Roger is on a desperate, drunken search for Helene and her decidedly Jewish writer beaux, Macher. 

            “Is there jazz taking place in this city tonight?”
            “Yeah.  I reckon so.  Yeah, you could say that.”
            “Take me to where it’s being played”
He was driven to Broadway at great speed and set down in front of what they called in their language, a marquee.  At the entrance two Negro women behind a window told him that that would be one dollar and eighty.  He explained that he only wanted to see if some friends of his were inside and had not come to listen to the music.  They said that he was very welcome to do just as he pleased and that that would be one dollar and eighty.  He told them that that was extortion and that he was going in and be damned to them.  Two of the biggest, most muscular men he’d seen in his life, both Negroes, came over and stood and looked at him. He handed over a dollar eighty and moved towards the strange and dreadful noises coming from the interior of the establishment.  These grew sharply in volume as he entered the main auditorium and seemed to acquire a faint tactile quality, like a continuous shock wave.   

Roger Micheldene is not a bop fan.  There are steady drum of slights against Chinese, Jews, Americans, Danes, and just about anyone who isn’t Roger, and of course a steady pawing at any woman in a dress within reach.  What was Kingsley so bitter about?  Why so consistently 痛心疾首[1], whether as a handsome young, vaguely leftist outsider,  a recognized writer and newly minted Tory or plump, sexagenarian old man of letters, this general dissatisfaction with everyone is a constant.  It's funny to hate people artfully, but enervating exploring an oeuvre with so much bile for bile's sake. 

All this to say, on the balance, its good fun to spend time with a masterful British stylist, who is generally angry and drunk.  And I’m sure I’ll sit down with “the King” for a few rounds again sooner or later, but I think I prefer a bit more self-deprecation with my bitter tea, as one finds with Evelyn Waugh.  That or some more redeemable fiber to my drunken Englishness, as with Orwell or Hitchens.  Then again, it’s inane to complain that someone isn’t someone else.

Hank Jones will never be his younger brother Thad the trumpet player with a street named after him in Copenhagen, nor his other sibling Elvin the drummer who drummed on “A Love Supreme.”  Nor will he be any of the other comparatively more recognized jazz pianists who spanned the big band era to bop.  It is a gentler, less time consuming and certainly more melodic discovery spending time with him this morning than with Alun and the ‘old-devils.’

I had been enjoying the Kenny Dorham set “Jazz Contrasts” on which the elder Mr. Jones was on keys.  This led me over to see about all that he had done and that I needed to learn about.  I have on a 1958 date called “The Talented Touch” and “If I Love Again” sounds so subtle and confident it feels like it could break through even Kingsley’s sneer.

Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, grew up in Detroit, he lived until the ripe age of 91 when he passed in NYC.  He played, seemingly with everyone over his long career, spanning the classic Billy Eckstein band, seminal playing behind Ella, bop sets galore as well as a stint on the Ed Sullivan show and even the classic supporting role behind Marilyn Monroe as she sang “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy in 1962.  Later, when perhaps it mattered less, he was recognized with five successive Grammy awards.  This may be the first time though, he’s been asked to accompany three selections of Kingsley Amis.

[1] tòngxīnjíshǒu:  bitter and hateful (idiom) / to grieve and lament (over sth)

Monday, May 26, 2014

Groceries on Day of No Importance

Down with something.  Started out yesterday morning. The runs all day.  Then, towards the night, whether as a result this inability to hold things, or as a cold grew in ascendance I got weaker and weaker.  Crashed out early.  Slept late.  More than anything I notice how long it’s been since I’ve been sick.  Two hundred and forty one days running I don’t think I’ve had to write about being under the weather once, when it wasn’t self imposed. 

Sickness notwithstanding I needed to do a shop this morning.  The bright sun and ferocious fresh-off-the-Gobi-desert wind were so at odds with the murky weakness I felt inside.  Not sure why, but I reached for the gelatinous Boards of Canada album, “Geogaddi” which has the commentator saying things like “When lava flows underwater it behaves differently.”  It and the sun and wind and my haze gave the morning a strange, “high-dynamic-range” 1950s postcard look to my suburban Beijing, like it was a day of no importance or the last day of the world.

Tossed fitfully last night.  But this was not merely a function of being under the weather.  I had just finished reading the second ten pages of “1984” to my older daughter last night before I went to bed.  This has long been planned.  I couldn’t wait to finish “A Brave New World” so we could begin.  And whereas Huxley’s vision of manipulated, happy passivity, may ultimately be a more realistic pathway for long term, post modern manipulation, or at least seem a more likely American cautionary tale, Orwell writes so well and, written of course in 1948 has more too say about the nightmares that were to immediately transpire in China or were already underway in Europe.

I think I may have had half a dozen toss and turns, emerging from a “Two Minute Hate” session here, or looking around defensively as I wrote in a journal entry there.  Guilty of 执法犯法[1] writing down your thoughts freely is a crime!  My daughter is wonderfully curious.  “Why does he hate the girl?”  “How many countries are there in this world?” “Can’t you just leave?”  She’s familiar with “Animal Farm” which we read together a few years back.  So instead of Snowball, we have Emanuel Goldstein as the Trotsky fill-in, etc..  It is already such a bleak and inescapable life sentence, twenty pages in I wasn’t prepared for how effectively it would lock me in, during my dreams, as well. 

Back now from my morning shop.  It can’t be “1984” when you have bags and bags of groceries to unload.  Our local market has built out the back and introduced a new, brightly lit meat section.  There are a few more pre-cut selections of meat and yet I don’t think the sourcing, preparation or ultimately the quality of what it is you buy has changed in any way.  It just looks brighter and cleaner.  My wife, accordingly now thinks its OK to buy meat there.   How comparatively fortunate we are to have such fretful concerns like where to buy meat and cheese, and how to get over the common cold, as the vexing matters of the day. 

Listening to our man Clifford Jordan the other day I came across dozens of tracks I knew as recorded under Kenny Dorham’s name.  An archetype for all that’s underrated, he’s blowing his trumpet now, filling up this study, staring down my cold with his attack.  This is a 1957 set I hadn’t heard before called “Round About Midnight At the Café” and now, we’ve got “Autumn in New York” on.  It is such a beautiful, moody feeling that casts you somehow immediately back into the middle of the Manhattan in your memories. 

Do you remember the scene in “Casablanca” where Bogie as Rick is talking with the Nazi officer, Major Strasser about whether Rick can imagine the Nazi’s in Paris, or London or . . .
Major Strasser:  “How about New York?”
Rick:  “Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade. “

What New Yorker can watch that moment and not feel a rush?  Yeah. You got that right.  Like he said!”  It “feels” like New York City is a place that could never have been tamed by the Nazis or by soma or by Big Brother.  The swirling, expressive, greedy home to anyone is always to remain unbowed.  But there were places you wouldn’t have advised people to invade in 1930s’ Shanghai either, and they did, and, in time, it was all over.  

I fear we need new; plausible, dystopian metaphors to consider and have unsettle us when we sleep so we’re cognizant when were awake, and buying groceries on a nondescript windy day.  For now I’m content to be anachronistically shaken in the masterful hands of Mr. Blair, from Bihar. 

[1] zhīfǎfànfǎ: to know the law and break it (idiom); consciously going against the rules

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Summary 240

Selling gets a bad rap.  It’s often the thing we have to do, or ought to do, or haven’t, in spite of ourselves, ever done enough of this quarter.  But I’ll tell you I had fun selling yesterday.  This was the second time I have headed out with a friend and helped her man a booth, selling lavender pillows at one of the international school fares here in Shunyi. 

The key to selling pillows is getting them up and into the passerby’s nose.  This can involve an element of risk.  One needs to be presumptuous and assume that everyone is willing to have a whiff.  If you ask people, they will of course say “no.”  Rather, pillow-in-hand, you need to waltz up to every third person or so, and assert something with excessive confidence.  Comments are clearly filtered by age, gender and ethnicity.  Obviously western women get the, “You really shouldn’t pass by without having a smell of this.” Women who look as if Chinese is their mother tongue get the more rudimentary Chinese affront: “this is something you must smell.  Here smell, smell.” All men get the simple confrontation with guilt: “Have you got anything for the Mrs. yet?  You know she’d love this.”  And with teenagers its maximum assertive: “Hey, did you get your mom anything yet?  Why not?  Tell me she wouldn’t love this?”

It was only five hours or so, and my feet are beat.  I’m not sure I’d able to keep it up full time.  But, positioned as it is near the crossroads of oratory, acting, pedagogy and theory, not especially far removed from the hunting and surviving, it’s good to remember the art of just plain selling.   Sometimes we get far removed from the core craft itself, the power to persuade, which can be shaped, refined, modeled.   

Today, we’re at the 240 mark.  This passing of twenty I noticed in time, and below is the reckoning for what we’ve covered for the last eighteen days:

1 四面楚歌sìmiàn chǔlit. on all sides, the songs of Chu (idiom) / fig. surrounded by enemies, isolated and without help
2. 井然有序jǐngrányǒuxù: everything clear and in good order (idiom); neat and tidy
3. 轻车熟路 qīngchēshúlù:  lit. to drive a lightweight chariot on a familiar road (idiom) / fig. to do sth routinely and with ease / a walk in the park
4. 雨后春笋 yǔhòuchūnsǔn:lit. after rain, the spring bamboo (idiom); fig. rapid new growth / many new things emerge in rapid succession
5. 相机而动: xiàngjī'érdòng:  to wait for the opportune moment before taking action (idiom)
6. 跌脚捶胸 diējiǎochuíxiōng:  lit. stamping and beating the chest (idiom); fig. angry or stressed about something.
7. 难兄难弟 nánxiōngnándì:  lit. hard to differentiate between elder and younger brother (idiom) / fig. one is just as bad as the other
8. 万古长新 wàngǔchángxīn:  to remain forever new (idiom)
9. 大吉大利 dàjídàlìgreat luck, great profit (idiom); everything is thriving
10. 赶尽杀绝 gǎnjìnshājué:  To kill to the last one (idiom) / to exterminate / to eradicate / ruthless
11.  因小失大: yīnxiǎoshīdà: to save a little only to lose a lot (idiom)
12. 巴山夜雨  Bāshānyèyǔ: rain on Mt Ba (idiom); lonely in a strange land / Evening Rain, 1980 movie about the Cultural revolution
13. 夫妻反目 fūqīfǎnmù:  man and wife fall out (idiom, from Book of Changes); marital strife\
14. 含宫咀征 hángōngjǔzhēng:  permeated with beautiful music (idiom)
15. 互为因果: hùwéiyīnguǒ:  mutually related karma (idiom); fates are intertwined / interdependent
16. 老当益壮 laodāngyìzhuàng:  old but vigorous (idiom); hale and hearty despite the years
17. 见仁见智 jiànrénjiànzhìopinions differ (idiom)
18.  鞭长莫及: biānchángmòjí:  lit. the whip cannot reach (idiom); beyond one's influence / too far to be able to help

Music Shared
Minor Threat, Betrayed, from the “Salad Days” album, 1985.
Prince Buster, “Judge Dread”, 1967
Buck Clayton “Squeeze Me”, 1957
Teddy Weatherford, “My Blue Heaven”, 1937
Johnny Guarnieri, “My Blue Heaven”, 1944
Donald Lambert, “Anita’s Dance”, 1951
Dick Wellstood, “Live at the Sticky Wicket”, 1986 
Pat Flowers, “But Not For Me”, 1945
Fats Waller, “I Had to Do It”, 1948
African Virtuoses, “The Classic Guinean Guitar Group”, 1983
Richard and Robert Sherman, “Fidelity, Fiduciary Bank”, from the movie “Mary Poppins”, 1964
Willie “The Lion” Smith, “Morning Air”, 1938
Lee Morgan, “Midtown Blues”, from the album “Lee Way”, 1960
Steve Hillage, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” from the album “L”, 1976
Amon Tobin, from the album “Isam,” 2011
Ken Boothe, “Live Good” 1968
Clifford Jordan, “Don’t You Know I Care?”, 1961
Alton Ellis, “Blackish White”, 1971

Media Shared
Obama in the Philippines in The Washington Post:
Iris Murdoch, “The Sovereignty of the Good” on Amazon:
People’s Park in Shanghai, on Wiki:'s_Park_(Shanghai)
China and Vietnam spat in the Paracels in the New York Times:
Kenny G’s tune “Going Home” to no longer be officially played in China in the New York Times:
James Fallows, “China Airborne”
“Fresh Off the Boat” trailer on Youtube:
“Fidelity, Fiduciary, Bank on Wiki:
Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
Willie “The Lion” Smith on Wiki:
Planet Gong web site:
Interview with Daevid Allen and Steve Hillage
Bubul feeding its young on Youtube:
Cro Mags album “Best Wishes” cover:
Soul Train dance line set to Pharrell Williams “Happy”
Cro Mags album, “Before the Quarel” on Wiki:
Amon Tobin from the album “Isam”, 2011:
Ken Boothe “Live Good” on Wiki
Ken Boothe  “Live Good” earlier version, on Wiki:
Various pundits on F.B.I. indictments on ChinaFile:
Quote of the Flagellants in London in 1349:
From Norman Cohen’s “The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (1970).”