And on the other hand...

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

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Floor Scrubbing/Smooth Sailing

Not one to really get into floor scrubbing, being the world's most indifferent housekeeper (in my house, floor-scrubbing is on a par with remodeling), I finally succumbed to the really necessary task. The floor was sticky. I highly recommend the made for TV scrubbie especially since I could not find a proper rag mop or even a sponge. Actually there was a sponge mop in the closet, but so old it bio-degraded just as I put it into the Spic and Span solution.

I could do better...there are a few spots that could use a down and dirty massage with a Brillo pad, but I'm not a down-on-my-knees kind of girl, especially when it comes to housekeeping. I throw a few bowls of hot soapy water around the floor, and with the efficient TV-scrubbie/squeegie...eventually, everything comes clean...enough. Gou le. Ca suffit. A few final swish/swashes with the TV mop/squeegie and a half roll of paper towels to sop up all the muddy water...not perfect, but not too bad.

As Guan Yin advised me, smooth sailing!

Caught in a Web of Strategy Studies

Watched the final battle in Sunzi Bingfa and the 36 Strategies of Sun Bin (right) last night, a long and fascinating, if a little slow, Chinese TV series about The Art of War. I feel like I've just spent time in a strategy think tank, or a semester at West Point.

Last night, I was having difficulty concentrating on the action; I was wary because a VERY large spider, one of Hawaii's less promoted natural phenomena, had taken up residence in a space between a screen and some closed louvered windows in my bedroom, and it made me uneasy. Not very Taoist of me, I am not fond of this particular one of the five noxious creatures (wu du, sounds like voo doo). Which, now that I do research to provide you a link, I realize is NOT one of them; in Chinese symbology, the spider (zhi zhu) is actually considered a good omen, but you couldn't tell it by me. I will trade the spider for the gecko in my personal pantheon of wu du. I wonder if the Wizard had conjured it after finding on the web, so to speak, a picture of a similar spider that we saw while hiking in Hong Kong, a huge nightmarish thing that would throw silk from treetop to treetop, making a bug-catching canopy over trails. Not one of my favorite memories of life in Hong Kong. (Needless to say, I have to cover my eyes when Frodo is fighting Shelob in Lord of the Rings.)

The cane spider (you can Google it, I can't bring myself to do it for you), palm-sized and leggy, is harmless (I think), but unpleasant to encounter. We all have stories about our experiences with them--there was a season when a colony was living in my car. One might turn up on my windshield, suddenly at night, right in front of me. Or creep out of the defroster vent and work its way across the dashboard.

Yesterday, I noticed the spider on the smooth side of the inwardly folding louvers, staying there all day, moving maybe a half-inch downward to where the louvers were open to the outside. I suspect it is nocturnal and was confused; it had climbed up the glass, but couldn't figure out how to get back down. (Though, I'm sure it did; it was just terrorizing me.) Much as I didn't like to see it, as long as I could, I knew it was there and not somewhere else waiting to surprise me when I put on a shoe or pulled a book from my shelf.

It was still there when I turned out the lights for sleep, but I was just a little tense all night wondering if I would wake up to find it caressing my face at 3 a.m. For once I was happy to have the Yellow Emperor taking up more than his share of space on the bed; the cats are very good at arachnid search-and-destroy. I don't even have to tell them, "Sha!" I have sometimes found what looks like the remains of crab feasts on the floor. Good kitties! Hao mao!

The spider is gone this morning; I hope it found its way back outside. But I'm staying close to the Yellow Emperor. Not one of the Bingfa strategies, just common sense.

Which most of the Sunzi Bingfa is. The TV series featured colorful historically based examples. In the concluding battle, while employing a strategy called "The Tactic of Missing Stoves," (not making this up) Sun Bin causes his one-time classmate's downfall by writing some characters on a tree (essentially, "You will die here."). Pang Juan realizes he is trapped, defeated once again by the superior, even though crippled, Sun Bin and, with several arrows piercing his armor, Pang Juan falls intentionally on his own sword.

Earlier in their history together, Pang Juan accused Sun Bin of treason; he branded his face and "picked his patella," that is, removed his kneecaps. Sun Bin could never ride a horse very well after that and always walked with a cane. He never forgave Pang Juan. This is recorded in real historical records. This series does not include the face branding, a punishment that is illustrated in The Emperor and the Assassin, and Emperor of the Sea (at 3:23 in the clip, sorry more shameless promotion!)

Heroic suicide occurs a lot in this drama, usually self-inflicted sword impalements, but once by someone throwing himself against a pillar and cracking his own skull open. More of an Asian tradition perhaps, this is not so well thought of in Western military strategy, as we see practically every day in accounts of offensive activities in Pakistan, etc., although in those cases, taking innocent people along for the ride. Suicide bombing was not included in the Bingfa.

Sun Bin and his rival, Pang Juan, were both "cadets" studying with Guiguzi, a hermit and possibly a Taoist immortal. The series -- not as dramatic and over-the-top in terms of production as a sa geuk, like Emperor of the Sea, was probably more faithful to the history and traditional legend of the story of Sun Tzu, Sun Bin, Pang Juan and others of the Warring States Period. There was a little romance provided by a woman with extraordinary sword skills who was deeply in love with and in awe of Sun Bin, but who eventually became Queen of Qi. There's a great emphasis on Confucian duty and loyalty in the story, as well as traditional wisdom. Guiguzi is as stereotypical as a Taoist hermit can be, and both Sun Bin and Pang Juan are seen consulting yarrow stalk hexagrams. Pang Juan should have taken his final divination seriously.

I can't decide whether to re-shelve this set with my Chinese/Korean drama collection, or with Teaching Company history courses. I may actually refer to this later.

On Fortune Telling and Divination
It interested me to see the Sunzi Bingfa characters seeking advice (or therapy) from the Zhouyi/I Ching (and a fortune teller who employed the cup o' sticks technique.) I am concurrently reading Deng Ming-dao's excellent recent volume The Living I Ching: Using Ancient Chinese Wisdom for Shaping your Life. Despite its new-agey self-help title, it presents the I Ching in a remarkably accessible format, with explanation of its history and with nine illuminating appendixes. One point Deng makes, like one of my linked bloggers, is that the value of the I Ching is appreciated fully only after many years, decades even, of study and practice. Like many of us d'un certain age, I have fooled around with the old yellow-bound Wilhelm-Baynes translation since 1967, so in a way I do have decades of experience. But I never really appreciated the mechanics of the thing until it was explained by my Chinese Tao teacher, even though I had tossed many coins, and, a few years ago, read the somewhat abstruse Numerology of the I Ching by Alfred Huang.

Deng and W/B
Anyone who is interested in Chinese history, philosophy and culture, and in particular, Taoism (religious or not), would do well to delve into Deng's book. The Zhouyi/I Ching is another piece of the Chinese puzzle, and continues to be of value and interest.

I had a hexagram cast and interpreted in the Man Mo Temple in Hong Kong a couple years ago. I do not remember which it was, but the reader, also considering my birthday, advised me I should take care of my health and that I should not retire until 2012. (Which is pretty much what I expected and planned anyway.) It was a fun sort of experience but I think I might recast a hexagram to update the advice.

Less profound is the Chinese fortune stick method: I did this once in a temple in Wudang where the expected payment was to be based on the kind of fortune you got. I had a mid-range fortune. (Yi kuai? Gou le ma?) An English-speaking tourist couple from Taiwan translated it for me. It was a lot like the advice I got from a doctor when I had a recent colonoscopy/endoscopy: just keep on doing what you're doing.

I have a stick-set of my own that I use with the Guan Yin poems; when I bought the sticks, the Honolulu Chinatown vendor asked, "Do you want real or party favor kind?" There is a 78-stick set which is employed as a game for parties; the "real" set, used in temples, has 100 sticks and is linked to I Ching-like oracular statements. I knew the 78-stick set was just a novelty, I had gotten one in Hong Kong. I wanted the real thing. On the vendor's direction, I went to the local Guan Yin Temple to buy the accompanying book of divination, oddly, a little more kitchy than Martin Palmer's.

A hexagram takes time to create and interpret; the sticks are fast-fortunes. Guess which one gives the better advice.
Don't Gamble Today

Smooth Sailing for Floor Scrubbing

Just for fun, I used both stick methods while I was taking these photos. My party game reading was #26, which basically said I shouldn't gamble today. I was actually asking if I should scrub the kitchen floor.

The "real" one, #50, was much more interesting. It was about smooth sailing.

I'm off to scrub the floor.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Purging so hard. Because you want to hold on to the stuff, like a potentially good hand of cards. And you just never know. And also hard because it's dealing with sheer bulk. LPs, video tapes, boxes of board games. And no attic to put them in.

I'm moving some old LPs (some of which were left to me by my father, his recordings of Bunny Berrigan, Perez Prado, and other big band/swing trumpeters) to a space previously occupied by a collection of board games we never play anymore. The nostalgia factor is preventing me from being efficient. What to do with the board games?

I haven't played a board game in years. It's what you do when you have kids at home, (or maybe not, WII and Nintendo may have replaced this charming custom), but how do I discard the really old, depression-era version of Monopoly I remember using as a child? It's like a first edition with wooden houses and money printed on fragile delicate stock. (Never mind that I detest Monopoly; I always sell out early and consent to be an absentee banker.) On my set's instructions, there is a "Copyright 1936" notation. It is probably really valuable, even more than Park Place with hotels.

I don't know what happened to the Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, and Uncle Wiggly games , but I find stored Parcheesi...Sorry!...Boggle...Clue...Scrabble...Yahztee...Uno...Milles Bornes.** Several Trivial Pursuit boxes of questions. And especially peculiar, a board game developed by the Credit Union National Associaton (CUNA), called Managing Your Money, a weird synthesis of Monopoly and Life. (My mother managed a credit union -- she should have been in much higher finance, she was really good, but there it is, some weird promotional item, but my son loved it when he was five years old. Buying insurance policies and calculating interest on loans. He did not absorb its lesson.)

I remember playing all these games with friends, young and older. I think of the closet full of board games in The Royal Tenenbaums, (which only just occurs to me is a prequel to The Darjeeling Limited. That board game of associations, the mind.)

Two cribbage boards, a nice box of "ivory" dominoes and a mahjong set. I never ever played cribbage. Dominoes bored me, but I might like to learn mahjong. (I play computerized solitaire versions; I can recognize the pieces.) I think I'll keep that. One of my Chinese painting classmates can teach me; when she's not painting, she's playing. With great enthusiasm.

I played board games and dominoes at my paternal grandmother's house, at her kitchen table, with cousins, and later, gin rummy with my grandmother alone. I always had the seat with its back to the heat vent, so hot, which tended to bubble the paint on the chair. I liked to finger the squishy blisters of paint while waiting for my cousins' moves.

It's the bulk of stuff that is overwhelming. On the shelf above the board games are a lot of video tapes. (To say nothing of a lot of audio-book tapes about which I will say nothing.) Many self-made copies of MST3K from Comedy Central and lots of movies I don't want to get rid of (but probably available to stream on Netflix) and, some very weird "how-to" stuff:
  • Home Haircutting with Wahl
  • Lauren Hutton's Good Stuff: A Makeup Application Video
  • Drywall
  • Inside Disk Drives
  • NordicTrack (we got rid of this noisy evil thing several years ago)
  • How To Video: Cuisinart Food Processors (but where is the inspiring one about the more dangerous mandolin?)
  • A personalized promotional video: the "virtual experience animation and composite," with my name on it...what the ??
The internet (and personal mastery) has--I hope--made all this pretty much obsolete so I intend to chuck all these into the trash. There was a time I would keep the tapes for recording over, but no more.

I am ready to offer to anyone who wants it, the Trivial Pursuit Canon, as well as all these classic literary knowledge games, but then, I look in the Scrabble box and discover the strangest thing: a rolled piece of Chinese calligraphy, what could it be? Where did it come from? I want to say it's beautiful but I'm not sure, I think it is not very well done, but I will leave it to my Chinese painting teacher to assess the quality and meaning. Some sort of Chinese Scrabble?

**Actually, I have played Milles Bornes fairly recently, not just because it has a French ambience. One of the most fun games to play with a few close, slightly drunk adult friends. A crazy road trip with cards.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Let It Lain, Let It Lain, Let It Lain

Apologies to the ultra-suave Mr. Song for promoting him in such shameless and callous fashion, (go to 1:47 in the clip), but we have no choice but to let it lain...and with thunder and lightning too; it has been pouring for the past several days, replenishing our aquifer (more likely encouraging mudslides), but also turning everything into a damp humid asthmatic mess. My closet smells of moldy leather. My antique kitchen knives have mold on their wooden handles. My hands ache. Typical Hawaii Christmas weather. But no tire chains, snow tires, engine heaters, windshield ice scrapers, things I remember, and not so fondly, from winter in more wintery climes.

Still, the lain has been good for one of my Chinese painting exercises.
Although not good for precise landscape work, the humidity does facilitate the blot-style which makes for quickly rendered cute animals. My ink doesn't dry out in its inkstone, and the paper is just damp enough for interesting spreading. I painted 14 rabbits to perfect a motif I might use
in a Chinese New Year message; rabbits just proliferate, they are all so cute. (Actually this design is from a book my teacher says is for children.) Next on the agenda, a style of camels which I learned recently is just a series of blots accompanying a stylistically drawn face.

Why is there no year of the camel?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Taoist and a Confucian...

walk into a bar and review their 42 years of marriage.

The Taoist is lighthearted because of an enforced (but not unwelcome) vacation from the office until the (Gregorian) new year. The Confucian is relieved because the various seasonal tasks of propriety (gifts for his office staff, many bottles of champagne distributed) have been completed.

Dinner is ordered after the usual martinis (the Taoist has taught the Confucian to appreciate what you can do with gin); the Confucian compliments the waitstaff for being the most attentive on the island. The ultra-attractive young Chinese server (at an Italian restaurant) says they try very hard because the owner yells at them a lot if they don't perform well. Later the owner reveals that the server is his son and in line to run the place.

The Confucian and the Taoist start serious reminiscing after putting a dent in a fine bottle of pinot grigio, recalling past dinners and bars in Vermont, Honolulu, Pittsburgh, Hong Kong, agreeing that the Hong Kong pubs were the best, with crazy characters and despite occasional rats and cockroaches, at least "back then."

The reminiscing moves on to, what else, Woodstock. The pair were "at" Woodstock, the same way Bob Dylan was: "in the vicinity," having turned it down "because of disgust of the hippies hanging around his house," probably very muddy. Married just a few months, the Taoist and the Confucian were driving (for a reason they can no longer remember) with the paternal parents through upstate New York to Vermont, observing all kinds of freaks on the road, picking up flyers and broadsheets advertising the Great Event of 1969.

"We'll drop you off if you want," the father said. The Taoist was intrigued, but the Confucian, proper even then, (not yet having replaced his Buddy Holly black frames with John Lennon granny glasses) said, observing the weather conditions, "I bet it will be really muddy."

"But," he recalls 41 years and four months later, "There are two guys I would like to have seen."

"Jimi Hendrix!" the Taoist says.

"Yes, and that white guy."

"That white guy? What white guy?"

It had been an evening of "that place, you know," and "those guys, you know," the old folks' shared ESP usually leading to an answer but then not quite sure in the end why it was being sought.

The Taoist, in a fit of eternal youth, whipped out her iPad. "Have you got yours working yet?"


A search on "white guy at woodstock" reveals some interesting links but no definitive answer. "Woodstock performers" does.

"Was it...Country Joe McDonald ...John Sebastian ...Tim Hardin ...Ravi Shankar (maybe not a white guy) ...Arlo Guthrie ...Joan Baez (definitely not a white guy)...Cleedence Crearwater (the Taoist is a little tipsy now) ...Janis Joplin ...Johnny Winter (a really white guy) ...The Who (who the Confucian and the Taoist had actually seen some time before)."

AHA! Joe Cocker; Day 3. "That's it!"

We, I mean the Taoist and the Confucian, would have had to be there for Day 3 and Day 4, to see Joe and Jimi, getting really muddy.

Leaving the restaurant, the Taoist pointed out the astonishing breathtaking full solstice sacred (to her, anyway) moon in the sky. Some passing Rasta guy, looking a little like Jimi, seemed to like the observation. The Confucian went to Safeway to pick up some things; the Taoist drove home listening to Bruce Springsteen singing "Glory Days," randomly shuffled, like an I Ching divination, on her iPod. (Bruce was not at Woodstock either; he was still in New Jersey, pretty much unheard of.)

On rising earlier this morning, the Taoist had actually cast an I Ching divination, first in many months, yielding hexagram 53, which is, uncannily, about marriage. It is called "Gradual Progress," and uses the image of a tree on a mountain.

The Taoist believes that the Glory Days are great to remember, but the tree is still growing. It's not over yet. The Confucian agrees, but doesn't really like to talk about it.

Weirdly, in the mailbox at home, the Taoist's free Rolling Stone magazine, which makes her feel old and young at the same time, has a photo of John Lennon on the cover. Old trees on mountains.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Ho Chih Minh!

Wasn't he just adorable in 1961, in the picture on the previous post? Part of my collection of interesting looking Asian Communists, which also includes a couple of images of Zhou Enlai, who had an equally intriguing charisma to his look in the early days.

Zhou Enlai, film star bearing

Zhou and Mao in Shensi in 1937***

I don't know what Ho, at a sprightly 71, and his buddies were doing at night in the Liang River in China, just before the Vietnam War started to heat up with our involvement, but if he was looking for a politically meaningful eclipse, perhaps he had better luck than with the one supposedly occurring right now above me. My eclipse is eclipsed by dense cloud cover, part of some serious rainy stormy weather pushed to the islands by some cyclone 1500 miles off to the west.

I hope I do better with tomorrow's Solstice full moon, which will mark our 42nd wedding anniversary. There's a lot of odd yin/yang stuff going in the heavens right now.

***I saw an exhibit once with this photo, reprinted huge, like 4 feet wide, which also includes a couple of other of the Red geezers like Zhu De and oddly, one of the Western hangers-on, I believe it was Owen Lattimore, I can't remember. Most images I see crop the Westerner out. But in poking around for information about these guys, and the Eighth Route Army I also learn that George Hogg, "English adventurer and local Chinese folkhero...stayed in the Shanxi 8th Route army for a time and also befriended general Nie Rongzhen." How curious this history is. George Hogg is the subject of the movie The Children of Huang Shi, about which I recently commented.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


One of the things about blogging is you develop a little community that opens you up to a lot of things you didn't know, but should have. For instance, another blogger more or less led me to this absolutely wonderful image, and I throw out a challenge to any of my readers to tell me who it is. ( I know, but it's too weirdly charmingly cool to reveal.) Tsui Hark? Ho Chih Minh? Gia-Fu Feng? Who do you think?
I don't have a prize to offer, but maybe a link to your blog?

Just In Time

Like clockwork, the red Christmas cactus is blooming, actually a little early, if not as exuberantly as I hoped, though there's still time. (It has been known to blossom again at Easter.) I think it is still confused by a repotting. But still, there it is.

I thought nothing was happening with the undisturbed, healthier white one; it usually blooms later, but I looked closer and am assured of its promise: one tiny bud beginning to form. There will be more.

We have been having Hawaii Christmas weather. Rainy, cool nights. I woke up around 2:30 a.m. recently, shivering. It never occurred to me to turn off the fan and close the windows.

The rain obscures the usually vivid Waianae Range, so the horizon is pretty much limited to a stone's throw from my balcony/lanai.

This is the kind of day, if I was going to work, I would say I just want to stay home. And today I can, enjoying the steady rainfall, the sound of the stream below, the apartment warmed by some holiday fairy lights (a tropical corollary to a fire in a Franklin stove).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tree Progress

I put an ornament on it now and then as I walk by. I should be done by Christmas Eve, and it will be fine for the 12 days of Christmas after which I will remove an ornament now and then as I walk by, hopefully undone by Chinese New Year. But tonight, something special. A dear departing co-worker passed his farewell ginger-ti lei to me (he was allergic to it) so I strung it on the tree like a garland of snow. The combined fragrance notes of white ginger and fir are quite intriguing. And real, not something concocted in a perfume laboratory. Yes, that is a gecko in a Santa hat peeking out from the branches.

Earlier, I had thrown a nut/shell/ti leaf lei into a fall/Thanksgiving arrangement that seemed aesthetically pleasing, if not completely traditional.
The custom of lei-giving in Hawaii is something really special. I wore a lei presented to the Wizard a few days ago, a beautiful complex green and purple orchid thing, here a little wilted, but when it was fresh, I dressed to the lei: green pants, a burgundy top. Everyone commented on it.
"Is it your birthday?"

"No, that was last week."

"Well, I love it when folks wear lei for no particular reason."

Which made me think of a comment I made to a blog-o-pal about the curious integration of pagan traditions like Santa (the Wild Man) and amanita mushrooms and bunny rabbits and chicks with the Christian icons of the creche and crucifix. Like language, our traditions evolve and conflate, to the point where no one really knows what anything really means. But they are all quite delicious, hinting at secrets of love and lust and spiritual longing, expressed in these tangible ways. Very natural things, flowers and fecund rabbits point to immortality, the promise (fulfilled or not) of spiritual aspiration.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Tree 2010

The tree has been sitting naked in the living room for a week. Every morning I comb through its branches with my arms to relax it, unfurl it. It's beautiful. It smells divine. I wonder if it really needs ornamentation. The cats love it. Fifi, la plus belle chatte de la maison, lurks under it, I'm sure feeling like she is outside.

We missed getting a live tree last year, and I wasn't sure we would do it this time, but we did. This year, a trip to our favorite tree vendor, who sends us a discount coupon every year, was fruitful. We were greeted in the lot by a guy who was clearly a casual hire, probably from the Salvation Army, toothless, but full of energy and more customer service-oriented than anyone in Bangalore.

"What are you looking for?"

"A six-foot Noble." (Like Song Il-Guk as Jumong, Muhyul or Yum Moon.)

"Follow me. ... here's one," he said, stripping off the plastic net, propping up the heavy tree for our consideration.

"Beautiful, we'll take it."

The Wizard went off with the coupon to pay for it, leaving me with the casual hire to bounce it free of needles (with a curious vibrator that shook all the loose shit out...I wanted to sit on it, that six-foot Noble) and package it up to take to the roof of our car. He looked at me, "Are you sure this is the one?"

This very hard-working guy then told me he just had a woman come in who made him take 18
(eighteen) trees out of the Matson** container, unwrap them, display them...and she didn't like any of them. And then she left.

"We like this one, it's just fine. I hope this makes up for that," I
said. He took it to the car, the Wizard tipped him well (fresh trees are really heavy) and now we have a truly lovely tree, still waiting for decor, but perfect.

All of which made me recall tree selections of the past:

---going to a "lot" at night near my grandmother's house, strung with lights (kinda like a used car lot) with my father, who in my memory resembles Gregory Peck in "To Kill A Mockingbird," (at right) when I was as tall as maybe his mid-thigh, stomping around in the snow. The tree had to be short enough to fit on the "platform" (wrapped in brick-printed crepe paper) for the American Flyer train and village under it (wish I still had that).

---finding a little tree on December 23, just after our Solstice wedding, also from a snowy lot, decorated with tacky glass ball ornaments from Woolworth's that I still use, (they are on their way to becoming antiques) and a paper-cut snowflake made by my aesthetics professor who said at our wedding that I looked like a snowflake; the tree sat on top of a blond '50s era B&W TV-set, a hand-me-down from the in-laws.

---cutting our own tree on a snowy Pennsylvania hillside, celebrating with champagne many things, particularly 100K miles on the Honda station wagon, a recent birthday, an upcoming anniversary, and the fact that we didn't get caught because we cut down someone else's tree, marked with a tag earlier in the season. My perpetual apologies, we never saw the tag until the tree was felled.

--driving around in the Idaho wilderness with a permit to cut anything we could find. Mulled wine and friendship and a poorly wildly shaped but very fresh tree made that holiday memorable.

--waiting for an hour or so with a few other desperate last minute folks like us, for a tree to be trucked in from Makaha: "They didn't sell well out there."

The Christmas tree is indeed a sacrificial thing. I get very upset with indiscriminate tree slaughter. I have ambivalent feelings about the Christmas tree industry. But at the same time, I remember all those trees of the past, their aroma, the bedecked glory, it's time to put on the lights.

**I am not an employee of Matson, but I love the company's logotype. I don't know if it is intentional, but the "T" looks like an anchor. Perfect for a marine shipping company.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I'm not sure what to say about this. But the events are SO Chinese. A Confucius Peace Prize? An alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize. (The Chinese invented peace. And the Sunzi Bingfa.) Regarding the 21st Century Confucius Peace Prize:
The first honoree is Lien Chan, Taiwan's former vice president and the honorary chairman of its Nationalist Party, for having "built a bridge of peace between the mainland and Taiwan." A staffer in his Taipei office said she could not comment Tuesday because she knew nothing about the prize.
Which is all really really weird.

I was intrigued by this not only because one of my blog-o-pals is publishing The Art of War, line-by-line, oddly with no commentary, but also because I just discovered in my DVD collection a set I bought couple of years ago in Hong Kong, something about the 36 stratagems (or as the DVD says "six times six equals to thirty-six number goes with art," whatever that means). It is a Chinese-produced "TV-play," about the Sunzi Bingfa (albeit pathetic by Korean-drama standards). I bought it thinking it was an academic documentary about Sun Tzu, but I discover it's an interesting drama, (recalling the production values of late '50s television's Hallmark Hall of Fame or Alcoa Presents dramas of my childhood) with very attractive Chinese men in topknots. (Having just finished Muhyul, this may be the next stimulation I need. )

The real point of my post here is that a reading of The Art of War may be helpful in understanding just what the hell the Chinese are really doing with their Confucius prize.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Nothing like a birthday to make you review your year. Did I make progress? (What is progress?) Did I just keep my head above water? (What is survival?) I review this year, the first half of which was spent planning a trip to China, and the last half, recovering from it, and not much else. Well, actually, lots more, documented in both Tao 61s. (And a lot of undocumented shit.) But during this period of dark and new moons, I make a personal internal commitment to plan another trip.

I did observe this morning something that ordinarily would have outraged me, but today just made me sigh. I had been watching the blooming of a huge clump of aloe where I park my car over the past couple weeks. I watched the tall coral-colored blossoms (above) develop daily. I thought I had photographed it, but not. I regret that.

Today, a DoT worker was digging the entire clump out of the ground, to make room for some other "more attractive" plantings the building management wants to install.

I sighed. I may have been the only person who was watching the blossoming in the parking lot.

The deed is done. I can do nothing about it. I can only sigh. An in breath, an out breath.

But at the same time I had an interesting conversation with the DoT worker, a woman who seems attached to me, who is kind and open. She offered me a clump of the dug-out aloe, telling me how to process the plant for its juice. She had no choice but to dig it up. We both agreed that the building manager is a bitch.

I am thinking of equanimity. The aloe comes and goes. People do what they have to do. Friends arrive and disappear. There is no progress. Only survival.

I think I must focus my practice on achieving equanimity. I may be making progress.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Children of Huang Shi

So how did I miss this one? I usually talk about movies over on the Yin Side for reasons that are inexplicable, even to myself, but how did I miss The Children of Huang Shi, with Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh and a couple of western actors I never heard of. Part of the recent preoccupation of Chinese films and dramas with the Japanese occupation in the late '30s, (think Rape of Nanjing and John Rabe), this film is about one of the old China Hands I am so drawn to, though I must say until now I never heard of George Hogg, a friend of Rewi Alley's.

Hogg was a British journalist in China in 1938 who wound up supporting and escorting a bunch of young orphaned Chinese boys from Huang Shi to Shandan (somewhere out west beyond Lanzhou) in a mini-Long March to prevent their conscription by either of the armies. (Don't even ask why it was a bunch of boys.) It's an emotional story that had me weeping like a Korean drama actress.

But I was puzzled why I never heard of this guy. I've explored these Old China Hand stories a lot; I am intrigued by the biographies of Graham Peck, Christopher Rand, David Kidd, John Blofeld...all those guys whose varied paths seemed to cross in some salon or other in late '30s China. But George Hogg? I can find no reference in Christopher Rand's son Peter's "China Hands" book, and I don't recall Graham Peck, a friend of Rewi Alley, making any reference to him. (But maybe I wasn't paying attention.) But there he is, with a grand story, made into a film in 2008.

In the movie, all connections to Rewi Alley are ignored (perhaps because Alley was a gay New Zealand Communist).

But what a film! Apart from a performance by a woman who was only slightly less annoying than Ally (not Rewi) Sheedy in "Short Circuit," the movie was enthralling, capturing the horrors of the Japanese occupation of China. (Perhaps we are interested in this now because tales of the Holocaust have gotten a little stale. But fascist brutality is fascist brutality in any hemisphere.) This history is poignant, perhaps ironic, in light of current bizarre Chinese posturing -- denying Nobel peace prizes and imprisoning people because they protest the handling of the baby milk scandal.

Politics aside, the movie has some spectacular scenes in the Chinese countryside, the most fabulous camel caravan I've even seen in film --dozens of Bactrian extras-- and a death scene in an abandoned Buddhist monastery that rivals anything in the longer Chinese dramas I have become addicted to. Which reminds me to remind you -- keep up with your tetanus shots! Not a nice way to go, even with a Buddha watching over you.

I think my favorite scene is when the little long march arrives in Lanzhou and is met by the local magistrate. Bear in mind this is a period of warlords and Communists and Nationalists and Japanese and who knows who. The exhausted Hogg explains that after having marched the boys for two months from Huang Shi, he will push on to Shandan. The inscrutable magistrate says, "I cannot let you do this." It's a heart stopping moment.

Until the magistrate says, "I have four Dodge trucks. You can borrow them." And off they go in those sturdy truck-tanks to safety. (I once owned, in 1972, a 1950 Dodge truck that I wish I still had. It was built like a tank, but had a really bad carburetor. I would love to have driven it across the Gobi. With a lot of cute young Chinese men. With good mechanical skills.)

I give this movie maybe an 88 on the Tao 61 scale. I stumbled onto it at the Blockbuster next door to my hairdresser. I chalk it up to some kind of synchronistic karma that I found it right before I got my haircut, an element that turns up in the film, but there, to rid the boys of lice.
Here's an excellent summary of the real story of George Hogg, with photos. If you watch the movie, you'll want to read this. If you read this you'll want to watch the movie.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Still Hateful, Still Hopeful

Finished two courses-on-the-road, 48 lectures of The Teaching Company's "Comparative Religion" and "Buddhism" CDs. And I didn't even have to write a paper or take a final exam! (I learned about the "Big Vehicle" -- Mahayana -- while driving my little vehicle.)

But at semester's end, so to speak, I was at a loss as to what to feed my CD player. Aha, the Dylan "Witmark Demos" that arrived a couple weeks ago but I hadn't really listened to yet-- I know all those songs --most all of them -- anyway.

Well, this is major nostalgia and confirmation that Dylan was a genius from Day 1. And these raw versions remind me of what my mother said when I made her listen to them when they were first released.

"Why, he sounds just like Robert Frost reading his own poetry," she said. Pretty astute. My mom would have been 87 today, had she lived past 1970. Alas, she (and JFK) never got to get old, like me and both Bob's.

But today I enjoyed howling along in the car, to the other side of the valley like a coyote (not that kind, the doggy wolfish kind), to "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall". Then the next track, "The Death of Emmett Till," kinda somber and not so sing-along-able, made me recall the brief news item I heard on CNN while I was flossing my teeth this morning.

Hate crimes continue, the news reported, with very unattractive statistics. In light of this, some of the old stuff on the Dylan discs sounds as fresh and timely as it did nearly 50 years ago (OMG!) when my mother was only 40.

"This song is just a reminder to remind your fellow man...That this kind of thing
still lives today...But if all us folks that thinks alike, if we gave all we
could give...We could make this great land of ours a greater place to live
. --Death of Emmett Till, Bob Dylan

Hope continues too.

I mean to say Happy Thanksgiving, but I'll save that until Thursday.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

And just why did I feel so good yesterday? The refreshing haircut, yes, but perhaps an auspicious moment to do it. The sun enters Sagittarrius today, my birth sign, and with a full moon no less. A few days ago I felt like a slug; today I feel like a tigress. The past month I have been broody and gloomy and sluggish...that pre-birthday month of introspection which I neglected to recognize. That that lunar month is actually Scorpio probably makes it even worse.

A few days ago, this news would probably have depressed me even more than it does. The story points out that by the next return of the Year of the Tiger, these big cats could actually be extinct in the wild. (Why couldn't it be rats?)

Let's join my muse Vincent to rally around whatever it takes to keep tigers on the planet.

I love how he says, "When the buying stops, the killing can too." You should hear him say it in Chinese.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Haircut Moon

Cleared two complete lunar cycles of karma with a purifying haircut, to discover I did it on the verge of an interesting full moon. Some people think that cutting hair at the full moon makes it grow faster, so my hairdresser may promote that time for standing appointments. Accustomed to my request for serious pruning (please remove the Barbara Bush), she raves over my color (or lack of it). "I could use you for a model for grey-haired women," she says, "except I didn't do that color. It's so beautiful." So she says. And she likes the shape of my head, which is just as well when trimming it to less than two inches at the longest, at the crown, gradating to 3/8th-inch at the nape.

I observe other patrons in the salon. An old woman (older than me, I think) with obviously dyed hair sitting in curlers under the dryer. I abandoned curlers 30 years ago. And blowdryers five years later. A young local Asian girl with the most beautiful long black silky tresses contemplating a layered look in a magazine. ("No, don't do it," I think.) A poster on the wall for "lowlights...they may be your highlights."

"Didn't we used to call that 'streaking' ?" I asked my hairdresser, who is a year older than me and eligible for social security. "Yes," she said, and then proceeded to describe how she is going to deep-fry four (4) turkeys on Thanksgiving for a big family dinner. She got the turkeys for $2.99 apiece.

"But I had to buy $34 worth of peanut oil for the deep fryer," she added. I guess turkeys are the loss leader for peanut oil sales. Does anybody make money on raising turkeys? The economics of this is really a more interesting topic than hair.

Still, I feel better, the shearing truly does clear the mind, and the day seemed brighter and full of good will afterward. This cut should get me through the solstice, the next full moon, and well into the new year. One less thing to fuss over during this busy season.

Now to find a bargain turkey!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Freedom from Fear

A few days ago as I was enjoying Teaching Company CDs on my car radio during my commute to work, 24 lectures on Buddhism (having already finished a course on Comparative Religion), I was taken by the lecturer's reference to Aung San Suu Kyi as an example of the connection between religious (particularly Theravada Buddhist) and political values. There was talk in the media just that day about her possible release after so long from detention in her home in Yangon, Myanmar (or Rangoon, Burma, if you are an old fart, wherever, it is the same place no matter what we call it). So it happened today, but I doubt it is permanent and wonder if it will matter in the long run. (And I suspect not a lot of people care, as her name is not among those "Trending" in Yahoo searches. "Trending Now" are Pat Sajak, Katy Perry, Hulk Hogan, Eating Disorders and Type 2 Diabetes. Which says something. Disturbing. Who is Katy Perry?)

I'm not much interested in or involved with politics in my own local world...condo associations, neighborhood boards, the strange redundant tensions among the governor, mayors and congressional delegations in Hawaii (home state, more or less, like Indonesia, of the president). Like so many of us, I tend to take my freedom for granted, and its exercise in the voting booth sometimes seems like a futile silly thing. On the larger scale, freedom isn't much of an issue, unless we are trying to justify our war efforts and defense budgets. Or civil rights. Or free enterprise. Well, I guess freedom IS a big deal. I just don't think of it much in my day-to-day activities. Because we have it. Well, except for freedom to do what I want in the face of oppression of employers. We are all wage slaves.

Back to the righteous Buddhist democrat Aung San Suu Kyi, (the lectures taught me to pronounce her name with grace) who I first heard about in Amnesty International pleas in maybe 1990. The TC lecturer points out that she is a classic Buddhist example of the values of a righteous leader, like King Asoka and King Mongkut. What lineage! (If you don't think Buddhism is politically activist, remember those self-immolated Vietnamese monks, the Dalai Lama, and ...I was going to say Gandhi, but of course he was Hindu. Like the Abrahamic traditions in their pot, Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism all are ingredients in a unified simmering soup.) The point in the lecture was that fearlessness, along with other traditional Buddhist values of courage, patience, tolerance and nonviolence, is what the world needs to be released from suffering.

The lecturer cited Aung San Suu Kyi's famous speech which perhaps we all might do well to read, if we haven't already. (Who IS Katy Perry?) "It is not power that corrupts, but fear," she says. Ripping off FDR just a little?

Such pretty words. Who among us puts them into action? I know this is a Buddhist reference, and I'm more intrigued by Taoism, but really, sometimes, it is hard to tease these things apart. The Tao Te Ching has much to say about leadership. Although my Tao teacher said it is 90 percent meditation manual (in the same curious way Chinese say Mao was 70 percent right, 30 percent wrong, or my Chinese painting teacher will tell us to do something when the ink is 80 percent dry) , the TTC also promotes the righteous leader. You can argue over what "righteous" means, but ultimately those same values that Aung San Suu Kyi talks about are Taoist as well.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


The plastic jug I was using to water my lanai plants chose an inopportune moment to biodegrade, that is to say, burst, and the less-than-a-gallon of water dripped down on my neighbor's lanai, staining their screens with...water. I endured a loud Russian curse, (I don't know what they do when it actually rains with a westerly wind) and, I apologized in a way BP didn't for a similar, if more consequential spill.

I wrote a note of apology, envelope personally decorated with some quick bamboo shui-mo art, and stuck it in their door. What can I say, really? Sorry, sorry.

I've been practicing bamboo today , the fundamental Chinese painting equivalent of the martial arts horse stance (mabu), looks so simple, but is so hard. My envelope of apology was kind of pretty, really, but I doubt it will be appreciated. I do this motif, and some people say, "so nice," but I know I have not achieved the grace and effortlessness associated with the design.

So, water with ink, a controlled but surprising, random, manifestation on paper. In proper study and practice, I try to copy the images in my books, some pressed on me by my teacher, others acquired here and there. She really didn't approve of my interest in Qi Baishi, the Picasso of China. "He makes a lot of mistakes." I bought a big reference portfolio of his works in China Books in Wanfujing in Beijing last May. But only a master can make such grand "mistakes." Can we learn something from copying the mistakes of the masters?

Painting By the Book


Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Couple Mornings After

In response to the question I put at the end of the previous post about masters: probably forever.

There is a curious passive-agressive pleasure in in voting for the losing candidate. I have done my sacred duty, but it really didn't make any difference I have to feel responsible for.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


I was just rudely awakened from my delightful Sunday afternoon nap, which began while reading of someone's troubles during the Cultural Revolution in Urumchi, by a (recorded) phone call from Charles Djou's wife, presumably a member of Team Djou, trying to refute terrible things people have been saying about her husband. The least of which are references to his weird name, which in old-hundred-names Pinyin should be Zhou.

This weekend the land-line has been ringing every half-hour with annoying calls from political vote-seekers, like Hawaii is really important. Well, actually it is. At least to itself. Mr. Zhou has been promised a seat on the House Appropriations Committee should he win the seat vacated by Neil Abercrombie, former Congressman and Faculty Senate member at University of Hawaii (where he was a sociologist earning a degree in American Studies), to run for governor against "Duke" Aiona, the current lieutenant governor, who has assured us he is half-Chinese. Which may mean something to the Chinese, sinophiles and, possibly, Republicans of the island, not necessarily a majority. The ultra-essential seat in Congress is still held in the Senate by our version of Strom Thurmond or Robert Byrd, the very cool Daniel K. Inouye, first and most important Japanese-American in the Congress, our one-armed Robin Hood, who has been chairman of the senate appropriations committee like forever. The one-armed swordsman theme turns up in both Chinese and Japanese martial arts tales; Abercrombie was the heir-apparent to this sensei until recently. We'll see how Mr. Zhou does in the swordplay appropriations, which are very important to Hawaii.

Politics bore me, and I generally vote for the good-looking guy, in this election, the ones with Chinese genes.

I intended to attend the China Splendor extravaganza today, but I'm too pleasantly housebound to drive in to town to the exhibition center, where I suspect the Zhou/Aiona (the good-looking party) forces are out in full force, begging the votes of the Chinese base. Instead, I have been working on my homework for my recently resumed Chinese brush painting class. After some warm-up bamboo exercise -- painting bamboo (and the rest of the Four Gentlemen) is like doing Eight Brocades -- I decided to attempt an homage to Qi Baishi. It felt like copying Van Gogh's "Starry Night." Looks so easy, but it is impossible to capture the qi...Vincent Van Gogh...Vincent Zhao. How long must one imitate the masters to become one?
Painting Again

Here's to Qi Baishi

How long will it take for Charles Djou/Zhou to become Daniel Inouye?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Railroad Comin' Through...

...right now.

Last May, less than 6 months ago, as we lumbered by bus from Shanghai to Hangzhou (via Suzhou) our witty and competent tour guide pointed out a big engineering project underway.

Pointing to an elevated railway that, like most projects in China, was either falling down or going up, hard to tell, she said people would use this new line to work in Shanghai and live in Hangzhou, her beloved hometown. Shanghai and Hangzhou are about 125 miles apart.

In Chinese time, six months must be nothing; the high speed railway has begun service today, and spurs and connecting lines are probably sprouting as I type.

In Hawaii, we have been talking about rail alternatives for as long as I can remember. If we had started construction ten years ago--if we were China --we would probably have a functioning rail transit system now and I could walk a block to a bus link and catch a train to work instead of driving. And now, even with Federal funds promised for the project, people still are fighting it. I expect this initiative to go the way of the Superferry, an inter-island alternative to flying that died an unfortunate political death.

There are many things to criticize about China's ability to get things done, and fast, particularly cheap labor, disregard for property rights and probably safety. (Don't know if the construction contracts for the trains have anything in common with those for schools and mines.) High construction costs and "human rights" concerns may actually hamper development in Hawaii. But there is one thing that China seems to have in spades: commitment. (The same article about the train also notes that the Three Gorges Dam is now producing electricity at maximum output. I've not been a fan of this engineering project, but before you complain, you should know that the idea for this big hydroelectric dam was planted in Mao Zedong's mind in our era of big dam building by...Franklin Roosevelt. Kind of the engineering equivalent of taking over Tibet. "Prease to not talk to us about Tibet or dams. We will remind your treatment of Native Americans and the TVA.")

China's current development miracles are partly due to today's leadership being civil engineers by trade, and not political demagogues interested in social engineering. By no means am I saying I wish engineers ran my state or nation, but I do wish we had leaders who could actually get something done.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Mouse With Nine Lives

Another dead battery morning. A call to my mechanic and a review of his extensive records and every receipt since 1994 indicated that the current genuine Mazda battery had been installed in June 2001. Nine years on one battery. True, the car has no power windows or air conditioning or anything (not even a radio for the past two) that puts a strain on the electrical system, but still, that must be some kind of record.

With a new energy source and a tweak to tighten the alternator belt and she started up with a happy roar. My mechanic, who would have been a great dentist or doctor (always wears rubber gloves when he's under the hood) chastised my ongoing failure to check the oil weekly. (I do floss regularly although probably haven't been watching cholesterol diligently.) It was down two quarts. It only holds three and a half. Some Mystery Oil to calm ticking valves, a check on fluids and voltage, and I'm back on the road again.
More committed to follow-up than my doctor, he called back later to ask about the valve noise. (I knew it was him; I have assigned "Start Me Up" as his personalized ringtone on my phone).

"Sounds great!" I assured him.

"Good, because as I was reviewing the records, I see it's timing belt replacement time. Do you want to budget that soon?"

Well, not really. At least my dentist, with whom I have been spending some serious restorative time recently (it would be much worse if I didn't floss) considers my dental insurance before proceeding. (Apparently I have sufficient benefits from three plans to restore two fillings, way more than nine years old, and possibly a crown, before the end of the year.)

Wish I had similar benefits for mouse car maintenance.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Energy Boost

She just needed a jump start, although I was concerned that TAO 61 (at 211,00o+ miles) had a different, more serious problem. I know her alternator belt should be replaced soon, it squeals in damp weather. But I think the battery just went dead when I left on the wipers or parking lights or something while getting the new radio on-line a couple of days ago.

While I waited for the Wizard to back up his big old pussycat XJ6 into position to give my little mouse car a jump -- the way a martial arts hero activates the energy channels of a not-breathing companion -- I read an article in our local business newspaper about the 20th anniversary of the Miata (or MX5, as it is now known--why abandon the lovely Italian-esque name?). My vintage (1990) roadster is not as beefy as a 2010 model and has identifications that are as clear, though perhaps more subtle, to afficionados as those that distinguish a 1940s MG TC fr0m an MG Midget. Still she seems new and vital to me. And she roared like a mouse as the Jag's battery brought her quickly back to life; I imagined CGI waves of energy all around as the little hero's channels opened. I should say heroine; she has been dauntless, overcoming a great deal, like an attack by a bigger boring Nissan Sentra.

To boost the charge, I drove to Safeway for wine, chicken, and chocolate chip cookies. (It is a holiday, after all.) I discovered the radio has acquired a surprising life of its own. In addition to being able to access the CD player, it actually displays the name of the song playing on my iPod. Oddly, I didn't know some of them. I've got so much music on the iPod, I have forgotten where it all came from. But set to shuffle, it all sounds like a station I personally programmed. Hmmm...I like that, it's... "White As Snow?" ...Bono?...a version of "Take a Load Off Annie" that I know isn't The Band, but... Taj Mahal doing "Corrina." I thought I'd lost that somewhere along the way. Ah, Tony Bennett crooning, "I've Got the World on a String."

In a euphoric mood enhanced by the music, I noticed a white cattle egret (the closest Hawaii comes to having a crane, it's like the Egyptian ibis) flying through the intersection, off through the trees toward the post office. Then another perched on a car roof as I drove into my parking lot. (It had been there when I left a half-hour earlier, meditating?) A pair of kolea in the street -- you NEVER see them together. As I approached they both lifted, wingspans reminiscent of C-130s, into the air. A friendly neighbor in his coke-bottle glasses walking his charming pound dog with the big ears. All very Penny Lane. (Yes, yes, we all miss you John, even if you were a little sanctimonious.)

Tony nailed it. He sings about love, we assume it's romantic love, but I think it's something bigger. Sittin' on a rainbow. What a world, what a life. I'm in love. Ai xin.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chinese Mooning Over Hawaii

I couldn't get anyone, even my Chinese friends, at the last minute, to go with me to the Hawaii Chinese Culture Center's Moon Festival Celebration 2010, which is perhaps just as well. While I loved every minute of this entertaining spectacle, I'm not sure I would have felt right inflicting it on someone who hadn't already intended to go. The Wizard was wise to stay home and nurse his wisdom tooth extraction; the drums from the lion dancing might have been aggravating, especially during the chaotic seating which delayed the start of the show by half an hour and preempted the intermission in the two-hour performance.

As strange as the moon festival I celebrated in Wudang in 2008 (which featured karaoke,
Tibetan dancing and tai chi chuan demos and some very scary street food, (at right) and as flashy as the 5000-years-of-Chinese- history extravaganza in Hangzhou this spring, this Moon Festival had something for everyone, a Chinese Ed Sullivan Show celebrating not only the astronomical but the political as well. First, there was a nod to the 61st anniversary of the PRC (TAO 61 was there!), with cultural attaches from the Chinese Embassy in Los Angeles who process all of our Chinese visas, and emissaries representing the All China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese (ACFROC, which provided most of entertainment program). Next, not exactly as a conciliation to the PRC, a representative from the campaign of our recent replacement Republican congressman, Charles Djou, (one of the strangest Romanizations of a Chinese name ever), winking to the Chinese, and later, our ultra-attractive Republican Lt. Gov. and candidate for the real thing, "Duke" Aiona, who explained at length his half-Hawaiian-half-Chinese heritage and provided a rather lovely discussion of the meaning of aloha (the giving and receiving aspects of the breath --the "ha" part-- of life, very Taoist really, and not just hi, bye-bye). It's notable that our ranking influential and essential U.S. Senator is Japanese and a Democrat.

After the opening Lion Dance, everyone finally sat down somewhere and the show began...with narration by a strange trio comprising a short personable Chinese pop singer, like a Chinese Buddy Hackett; a striking black woman whose Chinese was actually quite good, if halting, and a very tall blonde in an evening dress which changed from red to yellow midway in the show.

Opening act was a nice tai chi demo with someone playing a guqin over recorded music. Some of the demonstrators had some balance issues, but I really liked the women who did a tai chi sword routine. Got to learn that!

This was followed by a dance routine to "America the Beautiful," which featured, simultaneously, classical Western ballet, a modern dancer, a modern hula, and an ancient hula. All against a huge photographic backdrop of Diamond Head.

After the East-meets-West of tai chi and ballet and hula, ACFROC provided a number of vaguely Las Vegas-styled Chinese dances and vocal perfomances. Yong Liang (Buddy Hackett) did some pop-style Chinese songs which got the audience clapping and singing along. There was a pair of vaudeville-like guys who did ventriloquist routines, a magic act and a shadow play (which included silhouettes of people with background music by Michael Jackson). There was an incredible "rolling lamp" acrobatic performance, a mini-version of something I saw in Shanghai where an impossibly lithe person balances little candelabra on feet, head, hands, and moves around, from stomach, to back, to all sorts of balancing postures. People shouldn't be able to move and twist that way. I should note that in Shanghai the candelabra were actually lit. (Thinking about the contortions makes me want to dip into the Wizard's supply of wisdom tooth pain killers.) There were Mongolian dances and Tibetan dances, although the performers looked all Han Chinese to me. A woman in a Tibetan costume sang two very beautiful songs against a background of mountains...she may indeed have been Tibetan, but I'm not sure. (I'm not convinced the people who presented the elders of our Wudang 2008 tour with white scarves--khatas--at that moon festival were Tibetan either.) The audience at the Hawaii festival was too polite to shout something like "Free Tibet!", if they cared, although everyone was chatting among themselves most of the time, mostly in Cantonese. And my guess is that most of the Mandarin speakers in attendance hail from Taiwan.

This little dose of China (first authentic hit since May), where tonight I was, according to my own estimate, one of four white people in attendance, not counting the two non-Chinese narrators--will get me through to the next cultural event, the expo that kicks off the Hawaii Narcissus Festival set for Oct. 30-31. Last year it was earlier, closer to the Culture Center's Moon Festival. I look forward to another Lion Dance, (check out this "pole dancing") but will try to avoid the demonstrations of "penis qigong," one of the stranger attractions on last year's program. Ed Sullivan would never have scheduled that!

Monday, September 27, 2010

New Way of Reading

I'm not generally an early adopter of technology-- still don't have wireless in my house, have an analog landline I still use, not being phone- oriented enough to keep my cell fully charged, to say nothing of findable -- but I have become quite attached to my relatively new iPad. In five months, it has made my beloved MacBook Pro more or less obsolete for most of my purposes. Lonely laptop gets used mainly for watching DVDs, and managing my music and email. For the iPad, I have acquired lots of interesting apps, particularly several useful for Chinese language study. (I highly recommend the "train Chinese" apps and a searchable Chinese dictionary called Pleco. )

What I didn't expect to do was ever read a book on it. I never thought the Kindle was all that hot (being kind of Mac-prejudiced) and besides I have a love for ink, print and paper. And I live with a librarian; our home decor consists mainly of bookcases...lining the walls of every room of the apartment, including the bathrooms.

So I surprised myself recently to read "Brightsided: How Positive Thinking has Undermined America," through the Kindle app for the iPad (admittedly, fortune cookie-style, in bed), and it wasn't bad. I mean, the book was very good, and the experience of reading it that way was reasonably satisfying. The book explores the history of "positive thinking" through breast cancer awareness and cancer survivor programs, corporate cheerleading, prosperity gospel televangelism, and other annoying movements in post-9/11 America, including "positive psychology", also just profiled in Harper's Magazine, the paper copy of which I read concurrently with the e-book.

I'm normally regarded as a happy person, but I don't think of myself as all that positive, in a Pollyanna way. I enjoy my share of existential despair and am a practiced cynic. I just think of myself as a realist supported by the Tao. So it is ironic that a book about the downside of positive thinking got me over my negativity to e-books. At first I expected it to seem like work--I make a living by editing documents, usually in MS Word with "track changes" turned on, nobody uses red ink or blue pencil on paper anymore. (And one of the downsides of e-reading is not being able to underline and make little comments to myself...but wait, I am assured by other avid e-readers, you can do this, and SHARE the comments. But it's not the same experience.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010


The Wizard came home this afternoon having delivered an inspiring speech to incoming potential students/customers/clients of the liberal arts university where he is an administrator. I listened to the recorded speech (I'd read it the night before) and it made me weep. I felt like House listening to Wilson (I am the Holmes to his Watson...although I suspect he would think I am the Watson to his Holmes). It was perfect, Obama-esque rhetoric about higher education, and referential to the small liberal arts college where we met many years ago.

"Did they know you were going to wear that shirt?" I asked, when he passed his lei to me. It was perfect.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Equinox and Full Moon

Even CNN has been reporting on the unusual coincidence of the autumnal equinox with a full moon, occurring more or less together at midnight, tonight. A solar balance accented by the full yang moon, about to change into yin, made me think of gourds, hu lu or wu lu, an important image in Chinese, and particularly Taoist symbolism.

It occurred to me today, in light, so to speak, of this astronomical event, how the hu lu symbolizes sun and moon, or earth and heaven in some kind of full balance. Actually, the heaven and earth unification is exactly what the bottle gourd represents in Taoist legend. When the gourd is opened, it is believed, a cloud comes out of the bottle which can trap demons.

I have always been attracted to the icons, which occur all over the place in Chinese art and architecture, long before I understood their place in the mythology. I have a warm memory of being invited into a back room of a cloisonne warehouse in Hong Kong when I asked if there were any of the gourd-shaped vases -- not the most popular tourist items --and found an attractive pair for a good price.

In 2007, just about exactly three years ago, I bought a brass one in Wudang, later to discover at home a completely preserved cicada, a classic symbol of immortality, in it. Maybe all the brass hu lu were cicada tombs, but, in any case when I got home it felt like a quasi-mystical discovery. I replaced the big bug in its urn and later added the sand from a mandala made the following spring by Bhutanese Tibetan Buddhist monks visiting in Honolulu. They had distributed packets of the sand when they ritually destroyed the intricate design. Their sharing of the sand was not a traditional disposition of the mandala material, but I think the monks might have appreciated my application.

On that same visit to Wudang, when I acquired the brass hu lu, a fellow traveler gave me a small real one that a farmer had given to her; a tiny version of the classic bottle gourd carried by drunken-master types in martial arts and wuxia movies. I still have it. The gourd is actually a symbol of Li- Tie-guai, one of the Eight Taoist Immortals.

A year or so ago, in Honolulu, at a traveling Chinese porcelain sales exhibit, there was a particularly enchanting large hu lu vase I regret having missed purchasing. The proprietors couldn't seem to figure out how much it cost: quoted prices varied from $8,995 to $250 (the good price I missed). It was classic blue and white Ming style, with designs of vines and bats -- a Chinese symbol of good luck, because the word for bat -- fu -- sounds the same as luck --fu. Knowing my disappointment, a friend gave me a similar vase for Christmas, although it had a standard chrysanthemum design, no bats. But not inappropriate for me --the chrysanthemum is the symbol of autumn, and another symbol of long life and duration.

Walking with my friend last May, in Wanfujing, major Beijing shopping district, (perhaps WanFUjing means lucky shopping) I was captivated by this billboard for some Chinese medicine:

And this design, in the sidewalk around West Lake in Hangzhou, gave me pause during my stroll.
I've always felt lucky, safe and healthy when I find these images.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Always Another Side

The other half of this perfect arc of a rainbow can be found over on the Yin Side. I actually stopped my car on the freeway Sept. 1 to take this shot, it was such a nice positive thing to see first thing in the morning. Half-and-half pictures because I don't have a wide angle lens on my little Casio Exilim, which for nearly five years has been faithfully doing duty not only for the everyday snapshots like this, but also on travel to the U.S. Mainland and China, at weddings and funerals, the ordination of an RC Bishop and the destruction of a sand mandala by Buddhist monks, recording my teacher's Chinese painting demonstrations and my own feeble efforts. The pocket digital workhorse is looking kind of beat up, but after all this time I am pretty adept with its controls. Only 5.0 megapixels, it seems obsolete, but, like my 20-year-old car, it still goes the distance. It does the one job it was designed for: no phone calls, no internet access, no calendar, just photography.

I only hope to become so adept with my new car radio...will it take four years? After I shot the rainbow, I managed to tune to the local NPR outlet to hear some news, some things to think about.

I learned from someone who runs some kind of "senior" home health care service that 7 out of 10 deaths in the growing population of folks 60+ are ultimately due to falls. I haven't been aware of being in such a demographic since the last time I was thought to be a "senior," the 45th anniversary of which condition is coming up next month. I won't make the high school reunion on the East Coast, but I have been thinking much about those of us on the leading edge of the Big Boom. I was so excited then to be a "senior," ascending the side of the rainbow leading to a wide open future; how quickly we reach the zenith and slide down the other. This melancholy thinking does remind me that I must step up my qigong exercises, one movement of which is called "past the rainbow." Qigong does promote balance, which I can always use more of, and thus, prevent falls.

Next news item was about affordable housing in Kaneohe. The state has spent $60 million on affordable studios and 2-bedroom units to rent to qualifying (poor) folks for ~$365-$865 a month. For perspective, my condo maintenance fee (which seems to be financing deforestation in my "woodland" complex) is just in the middle of that range.

As I was contemplating this, the next item had to do with affordable hotels in Makena, a Maui resort neighborhood adjacent to the ultra-pricey Wailea. The Makena development will feature rooms in the "affordable" $200-250 range, a value, I guess, if you can't pay the $400 to $500 nightly costs in Wailea. Such contrasts. I do hope that the folks in the cheap studios in Kaneohe have better manners than some of the Wailea guests. I have a friend who works in a dress shop there who has on more than one occasion found urine in the trash cans in the fitting rooms. Which just suggests that money doesn't buy decency.

After these curious news reports, I turned the radio off (having learned how to do that) to drive in silence (not counting the Miata's purr), contemplating the sun rising from behind the mauka cloud banks. Later that night, I watched the same sun set off my lanai. It gave me a sense of balance.