And on the other hand...

Click here for The Yin Side where the other half of me holds forth!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Where It All Started

It was an Austin Healy belonging to Earl, husband of Kitty, one of whom was my mother's cousin, but I'm not sure which. I must have been 7 or 8. Earl took me for a spin, the best fun I'd had all summer, possibly in my whole life up to then. We wouldn't allow that now, a rakish guy who looked exactly like Errol Flynn taking the tender child virgin for a ride in his fancy roadster, would we? But nothing untoward happened, except I acquired a taste for little white convertibles that seemed awfully fun to drive.

A decade later, when I got a driver's license, my father, who liked to tinker with cars, wanted to buy me an Austin Healy Sprite for $200 (about what TAO 61 is worth now in the dollars of that time. I suspect a functioning Sprite is worth far more in today's dollars.) My mother, a bit of a safety freak, said, "Absolutely not." I'm not sure which of us was more disappointed, Dad or me. We ended up with a hideous and dreadful Ford Falcon with which I later killed a deer in a place I wasn't supposed to be. My mother thought the Falcon was a safer car. Didn't stop me from driving it at 70 mph in zones rated for half that speed.

A few weeks ago a big Samoan guy commented on TAO 61, which may have been a mid-life crisis acquisition, although women don't generally buy cars at that juncture. "If I was young like you," he said, "I'd have a car like that."

"I'm not that young," I said. "The car just makes me seem that way." Like 7 or 8, driving around with Earl, who may have been a cousin of my mother.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

One Hump or Two?

Quick, how many movies can you think of that feature camels in major roles?

I can name two: " The Story of the Weeping Camel" and "The Big Animal". Maybe three if you include "Lawrence of Arabia", but they were Arabian dromedaries and had the same supporting roles, so to speak, as the horses. And four if you include "The Ten Commandments", but it's not really historically accurate that the Jews took camels out of Egypt when they left anyway. And five, the camels in "Kingdom of Heaven", Arabians.

For me, as screen stars, it's those big Bactrians, the shaggy two-humpers, that deserve the Oscars, in the "Weeping Camel" and "The Big Animal."

For a long time, I thought the only movie with a camel as a central character was "The Weeping Camel", a National Geographic documentary about Mongolian nomads who are dependent on their herds. It's a fabulous tale of magic and the clash of modernization against the old ways.

But then along comes "The Big Animal", a Polish film about individuality and eccentricity and its clash with a rigid society that can't tolerate anything that hasn't been properly assigned a taxable category. Not that far from "The Weeping Camel."

I wonder if there is a camel's actor's guild?

I don't know why I didn't publish this post earlier; ( wrote it some weeks ago, but this Google posting seems to limit me to the day I started my of the problems of blogging...I can't ruminate and edit a post over time). I'm too lazy/busy right now to create links to those films. Just go to IMDB and you'll find all the details. I love these movies.

My pathetic painting above is inspired by a B&W image in John Blofeld's "City of Lingering Splendour-A Frank Account of Old Peking's Exotic Pleasures." A good read. Google that too.

And if you really care about camels, read "The Lost Camels of Tartary," by John Hare. When it comes to endangered or fragile species, some people like pandas. Some people like Florida panthers. Some people like wolves (not that they are fragile or endangered, really.) I like Bactrian camels.

Virtual Vacation

As my reader doubtless knows, I am a little disappointed at not having plans to return to China this fall. But a little virtual vacation perked me up yesterday.

After overcoming a stomach bug early in the week, and with the new moon (and eclipse) on Wednesday, by Friday I was feeling a little more energetic. I sought out a co-worker for a noon stroll to stretch my desk-bound legs. We walked to the airport, Honolulu International, which is right next to our office, and took advantage of the cool baggage claim area outbound, the ticket-counter floor returning, for a pleasant hour of walking and chatting. For a while I had a sense that a TSA agent was following us, but it was not the case. She ducked through the security perimeter, back to the area where you can actually see airplanes, where I really would like to be. Still, I absorbed the airport energy of coming and going, envying and comiserating with the folks in the security lines and at the baggage carrels.

So energized, at the end of the workday I went to a reception in Chinatown hosted by my Chinese painting teacher. She said some of her works and others' would be on display at 5, so I left the office a little early to get to the Chinese Cultural Plaza on time; but alas I could find no reception, no paintings, just closing shops and an empty stage. Then I recalled she had said the Chinese Culture Center -- I didn't know there was a difference. I asked a guard at the Plaza who told me, indeed the Culture Center was on the second floor of the Cultural Plaza. But when I got up there, the doors were locked. I was feeling a little like I was in the Middle Kingdom by then, and taking that forthright attitude you learn in China, I assumed the hand-made sign in Chinese characters next to a not very inviting staircase might lead to the reception. It did, and suddenly I emerged into an exhibit hall full of calligraphy, needlework, photos (with a nice photo of Hong Kong Harbor, very nostalgic), paintings, and my teacher.

I have long overcome xenophobia, but I was a little taken aback to realize I was the only haole (Caucasian) among the maybe 150 people there. Not only that, but dressed a la Chinois; that morning I had with no particular intention donned one of my Wudang-acquired tai chi suits as I sometimes do for casual Friday. At the reception I felt simultaneously out of place and a perfect fit.

My teacher showed me her paintings, and a couple of her more advanced students'. "You exhibit next year!" she said. I just might. Some of the work was way beyond my ability but some was below. Perhaps the work of children.

I recently read a charming little book, Painting Chinese-A Lifelong Teacher Gains the Wisdom of Youth by Herbert Kohl, a well-known progressive educator who at a crucial moment in his career (unplanned retirement) decided on a whim to take a course in Chinese brush painting. Only at the first class the 69-year-old discovered that the other students were 5- to 7-year-old Chinese kids. It was a revelation to him to be with children and unable to teach them. Indeed he learned from them. I was particularly taken with the passage, "Old age is a time to contemplate and understand the contradictions [of life], and find a way to live in harmony with one's spirit and conscience. have a second childhood and grow up again on a more conscious level, and being able to put it into paint, music, words, and gestures seems to be the art of aging. There is no need to resolve everything. Death will take care of that." How very Taoist.

I left the exhibit reluctantly, declining the reception's dim sum because the Wizard and TAO 61's mechanic were waiting for me at one of Honolulu's two Irish pubs (across the street from each other, the Irish neighborhood I guess, which abuts Chinatown). But I hadn't really left China yet. I walked out of the CCC/CCP past the bronze statue of Sun Yat Sen.

Like any proper Chinese city, Honolulu has a memorial to the good doctor, especially because he went to Punahou School (same as President Obama) and a good portion of Hawaii's Chinese have their roots in Guangzhou and Taiwan, old Nationalists and KMT supporters. I'd never given the statue close attention before; it stands just outside the Legend Chinese Restaurant, perhaps named in recognition of the man, or the statue. I took photos like a tourist, noting the gilded wisdom carved into the marble pedestal. Then I realized that for the tourist from Iowa or Maine, gawking at our very authentic Chinatown, this was another country.

Quotation from Dr. Sun Yat Sen

Three Bombay martinis and a Shepherd's pie later, I was back home from my mini virtual Chinese vacation. But I realized I could go again any time. And I did in a way: Chinese painting class this morning, where I am one of two haoles in a class of 20 that pretty accurately reflects Hawaii's ethnic distribution of Chinese and Japanese. But not a tourist, really.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

22,222 Miles to Twoness

At about 9:10 this morning, on the way to my Chinese painting class, the 200K milestone was reached. I missed recording the first major odometer rollover, to 100K, but I did catch 111,111, when a friend observed that TAO 61 (my beloved 1990 Mazda Miata) had achieved oneness. So next is twoness (222,222) , an achievable goal according to my spectacular mechanic who has kept me on schedule with oil changes and preventive maintenance and held my hand through a restoration after the car was totaled about 5 years ago; a blown head gasket somewhere around 50,000 miles; a clutch replacement at 125K, a new radiator (maybe two), and the usual perplexing but inconsequential problems that take it out of commission for a few hours now and then...not so often really. I must commend the Mazda establishment for a remarkable vehicle; I should run so well for my age. I reckon the car is about 91 in car years. It's officially a 1990, but it really rolled off the line in 1989; it is 20, it is vintage. I still get the occasional admiring compliment, "What a cool cute little car!"

And it is. After all these miles, I still get the same pleasure I did when I test drove it on Lagoon Drive, a long straight stretch behind the airport, running it through five gears trying to redline it. When the weather isn't rainy, I drive with the tonneau (cockpit cover) so I don't have to worry about putting a top up or down, and even when it's moderately rainy, the windscreen is so well designed that as long as I maintain at least 20 mph, I don't get wet. People ask me why I don't get a new one. And I ask, why should I? This car is a PET, like a faithful reliable pony; I couldn't put it down. Someday maybe, when my mechanic says it's hopeless, when it breaks a leg and needs shooting. Then I might consider a well-depreciated Jaguar XK-8, the only other car on the road I have ever lusted after. (The Miata all grown up, in evening clothes.)

I'm not too promiscuous when it comes to cars. Sure, there have been the occasional rentals. My Dad, who philandered his way through cars, would always ask about whatever economy rental I drove up to Ocala from Orlando, "So what do you think of that miscellaneous late model Dodge/Ford/Chrysler/Chevy/Toyota?" I didn't think anything of it. I didn't even know what it was (usually a two-door compact with unnecessary features I couldn't figure out.) Whatever it was, was just a car. Anyway, I wish he were still alive so I could tell him about my Taoist immortal, achieving oneness, aspiring to twoness, and with only one clutch replacement! He taught me how to drive a standard transmission; riding a clutch was a SIN! See, Dad, I did good!

In honor of the milestone, it seems the police decided to give me a card. Two miles into the new order of magnitude, I got a parking ticket, despite the SHOPO sticker on the windshield; there's a myth that won't die. A sign that you give money to the fraternal police organization buys you no indulgence.

I haven't acquired too many tickets with TAO 61. Three speeding violations...and never for going REALLY fast. They were insults, really. A couple of other parking citations. Amortized over 200,000 miles it is hardly significant, and the total would make only a moderate contribution to the SHOPO fund.

And in yet another instance of synchronicity, in the mail when I arrived back home was the request to renew my registration. $162.36 for a registration that carries the notation"Insurance salvaged rebuilt vehicle," which pretty much guarantees that no one would ever buy it, not that it is or ever will be for sale. If the car required a visa, it would be time to renew that as well!

When TAO 61 was new (and truth be told, I got it at 30,000 miles, but now that sounds barely broken in) I could usually fill it up for about $14. The mileage has remained pretty constant since 1994, but the price has not. Earlier this year I was delighted to pay only $25. But recently the price has gone up again for the Aloha spirit, though not (yet) as bad as it was this time last year. But in my little roadster, it's still inexpensive. My usual fill-up, 9.5-10 gallons, is running up to thirty bucks, more than double when I started. I know because I'm one of those people who compulsively records every fill-up in a little book. I could calculate the lifetime mileage if I wanted to average 15 years of notations.

Ah yes, about that time it was totaled. Someone turned left into an intersection as I was entering it to go straight through. I saw her coming in that slowed down way you realize a disaster is about to happen. A collision. Then it seemed the car was on fire; I severely dislocated my left pinky finger when I struggled out of the seat belt, diving out the door onto the street. The airbag had deployed. In addition to the permanently damaged little finger (which now has a mind of its own, often hitting the caps lock key against my will, but it looks good and proper when I drink English-style tea) , I acquired chemical burns and bruises from the airbag. I was in moderate shock, but I remember some very quick and expert first aid. Turned out an off-duty ultra-attractive fireman from Molokai (how lucky can you get) witnessed the accident, treated me (kindly) and testified that it was not my fault.

Two days later, my mechanic and I went to the pound to check it out. It looked so sad, but we determined that it was still structurally sound, a conclusion with which the insurance company did not concur. So I took the money, bought it back, threw in another grand, and had it redone: the hood, left front fender, the rack and pinion, a new paint job, and of course, the airbag--the biggest expense of the job. (It was like breaking your nose and getting a facelift.) I guess some people would have had it put down. But there was clearly life left...that was about 50,000 miles ago. Another 22,222 doesn't seem out of the question. And in fact, the next goal after twoness, 286,000 -- the distance to the moon -- is something I've been thinking about in the midst of all the Apollo 11 hoopla. We got a man to the moon, why shouldn't TAO 61 go the distance?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Bad Day Gone Good

You never how the day's gonna go. After starting out the work day in one of those rock-and-hard place political situations where you later are ashamed to have actually blown up at someone, things just kept getting better! After helping the consultant to do his job, feeling a smug little triumph, I came home to find in the mail: 1) a letter urging me to claim some stocks that my father left me which I thought had melted down with the rest of the economy; 2) some tickets to Honolulu's Phoenix Dance Chamber's August performance, Legacy of the Phoenix, a celebration of 20 years of Chinese Dance in Hawaii, and 3) a kind referral on Hong Kong Blogs Review of --my blog! Well,the last wasn't really in the mail, but it felt like special delivery. I appreciate any visits generated by this referral and in some way of thanks I humbly post one of my recent Chinese paintings. Finally a bamboo that my teacher said was acceptable.

Proof of Life After Pruning

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Oh Me of Little Faith!

Some weeks ago I was annoyed and grumbling because in the wake of extensive tree removal and pruning, the groundskeepers seemed to have gone a little overboard with their chainsaws, whacking off all the best parts of the ornamental shrubbery that keeps our place from looking like a low-cost housing project in Chicago. These are the kind of plants I used to have as botanical house pets on the mainland; little did I know then that I was really torturing them, keeping them stunted in pots and living on artificial fertilizer and limited sunshine in Appalachia, far from their tropical roots, so to speak.

Truth be told, the greenery around the building had gotten a bit rangy, although I enjoy that overgrown jungle mess, keeping in mind my previous prisoners of horticulture. And in fact in Hawaii, unless you lop off an offending plant pretty much right at ground level, it will be back, and sooner than you expect. (And that may not even be enough; you may have to dig it out, or burn it, or poison it.)

So today I am delighted to see and report the life force bursting forth from the cut branches, promising an even lusher display of tropical foliage in the very near future. I need to
 overcome my reluctance to intervene in the management of my own plants (I still keep some prisoners) beyond providing water and food; there is a big fig tree on my lanai suffering from neglect and entropy, not in the best of health, anticipating stress fractures in its pot, even the table it sits on is in danger of imminent collapse. I must get a good sharp saw (and buy it a new cage) to bring it back under control before it gives up its ghost just because I refused to cut it back. It's too late to make a bonsai; anyway, as beautiful as that can be, that seems like real torture.

And since Kim Jong Il seems not to have made good on his pompous threats to blow the Hawaiian Islands into oblivion in observance of Independence Day, (not that I was really worried, but if you are at ground zero, there's not much point in thinking too much about such things) my 10th floor fig tree certainly deserves a chance, like its cousins on the ground below and all of us, to continue to enjoy soaking up the sun and the moonlight that streams to my lanai for as long as possible.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Day 183

Where did a month go? I note this morning that it is the 183rd day of the calendar year, precisely the center of the 365-day cycle, as many days behind us as ahead. Today we are balancing on a fulcrum; tomorrow is like a half-new year's day. (I guess there is no such balance in leap years.)

It doesn't really matter anyway, because the real pivot was a couple weeks ago at the Summer Solstice which I marked by attending a low church Episcopal mass on Maui at David Malo's Church in Kihei. It is a Stonehenge-like outdoor ruin, a Christian heiau really, claimed by an Episcopal parish (Trinity by the Sea) which has a proper church office and activity center and a congregation of largely haole eminences gris, but no real church. The altar is outside, and I must say it was a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning. I was late for the service, arriving during the last breaths of the Fathers' Day homily; I didn't expect any ruminations on the solstice, although it seemed like there should have been, at the altar there among the lava rocks and palm trees, birds flying about, the atmosphere all sunny and shady and breezy. It was very earthy, connected to nature. I avoided the post-Eucharist punch and cookies, humbly and efficiently excusing myself by noting that I was really just visiting while caring for my friend across the street who had just had surgery and I really shouldn't leave her alone for too long.

That Sunday was the mirror opposite of the winter solstice, and was followed, as Christmas follows the winter one, by the Feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24). When someone asks me if I believe in God, I have taken to saying I belong to the Church of St. Yin-Yang. It's a sort of Anglo-Chinese parish.

I did in fact manage to neglect my surgically compromised friend inadvertently a couple days before. She'd retired for a mid-day nap while I took the opportunity to make a chicken soup. I was taking out the garbage and when I came back to her door, it was locked! I could smell the broth simmering and wasn't too concerned. I settled onto the lanai to rest, only to discover the only area of her book-filled home where there was absolutely nothing to read except the label on a pesticide container. Knowing that her SO would be back in an hour or two, I decided to meditate despite being interrupted by someone moving things in and out of a truck, cars and kids in the street. I was doing pretty well until her next door neighbor came out with a cigarette. "Hot today, isn't it," I said. He agreed, "I'm gonna have a smoke and go back in and turn up the aircon."

"Lucky you," I said, "I've locked myself out and have nothing to read."

"Well, I'll get you something," he said.

He returned with three books, saying, "Sorry, I only have 'informational' books." He offered me Who Moved My Cheese, Success Through Powerpoint, and Rich Woman--A Woman's Guide to Investing. My meditation foiled, I groaned to myself and picked Rich Woman, thinking investing might be more profitable than meditating.

I read the foreword, by the author's husband, who observed of his clever partner that she was the "ideal woman --fun, loving, kind, beautiful, independent, smart, and--rich."

About that point my friend's partner returned, with a key, and we retreated inside. My friend later said I was lucky...the neighbors were evangelicals and pizza franchise operators. "I'm surprised he didn't bring you a Bible."

I think I would have preferred that. (And maybe a pepperoni slice with olives and mushrooms...and extra cheese, if it hadn't been moved.)