And on the other hand...

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

Monday, May 31, 2010

Firecracks and Shiny Days

Our adorable, chic in a very original way, energetic, extremely knowledgeable and competent Chinese guide, a 35-year-old young woman from Hangzhou,  with a three-year-old son and husband, who detested the country food in Wudang, preferring "delicate" food from her delicate hometown, had the most entertaining ways of describing things. 

Her interpretations, audio versions of the Chinglish signs and menu items tourists find deeply amusing, were uncannily accurate.

The exit of a wedding party at the Hangzhou Holiday Inn Express, which had the best beds of our tour, was punctuated in the parking lot, loud and long, as she said, by "firecracks on a shiny day."
 Nuptial Firecracks
There is an effort underway, I learn from my now routine visits to China Daily dot com, I hope not to be fully realized, to eradicate Chinglish. Nothing amuses Western tourists more than twisted and bizarre signage, T-shirts and menu offerings ("arrogant chicken" is REALLY good). I've always thought it was done on purpose. **
I really liked this guy, whose gaudy T-shirt said, "Sparkly Active." I think he was carrying his girlfriend's bag. But my memory is not serving me well. He was very pretty. I would like to have seen him wielding a sword instead of a digital camera.

**I am still trying to figure out a laundry list item from my Beijing hotel: "The horse is gripped."  An item on the "gentleman's" list, I thought at first it might be a jock-strap that you could have washed for 10 kuai.  But it was a dry cleaning item.  Bob, our group engineer asked, "Who would dry clean a jock strap?"  After much consultation with a pinyin dictionary, I can only conclude that  it might be a cummerbund.  But who ever dry cleans such a thing in a hotel?  To say nothing of yet another item, a gentleman's "courtepy," which costs 20 kuai to dry clean.

All Systems Reset

The actual
Is only actual
In one place
And one time.
Today's reading from Deng Ming Dao's 365 Tao was, as is so often, perfectly synchronous with my experience of the moment, like an I Ching hexagram.

Having reset all my various timepieces and electronic devices to Honolulu time, my body slightly lagging still, I was struck by Deng's comment that "When one listens to a barking dog...actually there is nothing there--just sound from a long and deep corridor, channeled out of nothingness and fading into nothingness again. ... Like that dog, we may all strive, but there is truly nothing to be done.  If we look deeply into our lives, there is only a thin veneer of self-generated meaning over an immense ocean of nothingness."

My philosophic mentor of the Tao, right, in Wudangshan would agree, I think; his interpretations of the magic show of life, the mysteries of time and space, were a little surprising to some of my traveling companions (e.g., the butterfly and Chuang Tzu are BOTH dreaming), but they have always echoed my own dog-like attitude toward life (despite my triple fire-pig nature). On my first trip to Wudang, someone remarked that I WAS like a dog...head out the car window, ears flapping in the breeze, eating whatever someone put in my bowl, gamely following the leader on whatever stairs we were climbing, patiently waiting for the schedule to unfold. I was actually flattered. This is a good attitude to cultivate for traveling, especially in a place so challenging to ordinary Western sensibilities as China. And the attitude gives perspective to that "thin veneer of self-generated meaning," otherwise known as this blog.

One of two Western passengers on the touri$t-packed 747 (the IBM Selectric of the air) returning me home from Narita, I was  amused by JAL's offering of a small bottle of Hawaii ALOHA Harmony, 100% Pure Deep Sea Water from Kona, a clever idea to make money out of an immense ocean of nothingness. What can be more universally harmonic than water?

Bottled water is a mainstay in China, a country where even the natives boil the water.  In the mountains, a big sturdy classic Chinese thermos was welcome in the room, keeping water steaming for over 24 hours, ready for tea and toothbrushing. Regrettably, it was replaced after Day 2 with an electric kettle, one of many works-of-improvement in progress in the transforming renovation of the Wudang Kung Fu Ranch and Lychee Nut Farm (where the Wizard told people I was ensconced).  I personally preferred the thermos, filled from a central boiling station, to the annoyance of having to tend a small kettle when I wanted to replenish my green tea jar.

I once again did not hesitate to enjoy a cup of cool natural spring water from the "Thunder God Hole," a little cave up high where Guan Yin presides over the water, supposedly drunk by Lao Tze or Zhang San Feng (Wudangshan's legendary creator of tai chi chuan).

Otherwise in China, I always had a bottle of water attached to my person with a clever carabiner clip, which I highly recommend for such excursions.

One excursion was embarrassing.  When visiting the popular Bee Taoist "hermit," not so hard to find and not so eremitic really, our little group gathered to hear his wisdom translated, which can largely be summed up as "meditate always" and "maintain a loving heart" (ai xin).  As he was patiently responding to some metaphysical question from the group, I had a sinking feeling--literally--the little stool he brought out of his cave for me to sit on collapsed, transforming itself, with the assistance of my big Western butt, into firewood.
Ai Xin
Meditate Always
"Mei wenti (no problem)," he replied merrily to my apologies.  How terrible to break the hermit's chair! Like a flustered Tao-dog, I shook myself and refocused my attention on his wisdom, delivered with a calendar and an old clock in the background.  Later I again informally apologized as we left, "Bu hao yi si." I made some bows at his little altar, and he gave me a warm hug, assuring me once more, "mei wenti."
Mei Wenti
I have a feeling he may have appreciated the wu wei appearance of a bit of kindling to boil his own Thunder God water.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Butterfly Dream

Back from three weeks in the Middle Kingdom, completely vague about what day it is. I left Beijing on Saturday and passed through Gate 61 at Narita, and as I write this, it is still Saturday.
Liushiyi men, (Gate 61) how cool is that?
My hotel (the Hong Run Business Hotel in SE Beijing) thoughtfully changed a little rug in the elevator every day, like a calendar (or those little-girl underpants I never had but actually would be useful for traveling).  Now back in the Islands, it is still Saturday, although the Saturday I left seems like a lifetime ago, a dream. And it was, really.
Xingqiliu (Saturday)
Dear reader, I would have posted, but the intermittent wifi access with the VERY COOL 3G iPad was not the real problem.  My blog, along with my YouTube account, was blocked by the Great Firewall.  Highly privileged persons (the Wizard, my son and my office) did get some email updates, but broadcasting my musings was not possible.  And I was unable to download my photos daily, but I blame Apple for that--I was not able to get a camera connector for the VERY COOL iPad before I left.  Attempted USB workarounds failed (the proprietary connector apparently triggers the application). On the other hand, it gave me the opportunity to buy two (cheap) 2G memory cards for my faithful Casio EXILIM in Chinese department stores and geek shops.  I was able to do it speaking Mandarin.

So, now home, after a glorious nap in the soft Hawaii breeze on my heavenly Tempur-pedic (why the Chinese make these wonderful fluffy quilts only to sleep on rock-hard mattresses I will never understand), I have downloaded nearly 2,000 photos through which I must sift to correlate with my various notes (recorded both on the VERY COOL iPad and in a little Moleskine notebook).  Categories are organizing themselves: Chinese old and new contrasts, ubiquitous doting grandparents and indulged grandchildren, a theme of China then and now. Food. Kung fu. Televison (I LOVED watching TV in Beijing: CCTV has whole channels devoted to Chinese opera, martial arts dramas, and cultural studies).  Confucius, politics and image. Taoism and Buddhism. Food. Cute Chinese men and annoying young Chinese teens, Little Emperors at puberty. Air and water. Living Chinese painting scenery. Did I mention food?

My last night in Beijing, where I magically connected for a few precious hours with a friend from Scotland on her way to Wudangshan, (a sort of Taoist yin/yang arrival and departure moment) we dined in a lovely little restaurant, well away from but near Wanfujing, distinguished mostly by being next to a public toilet, catching up over many pots of jasmine tea, laughing hysterically over a menu (with photos) that included:
  • Trepangs with elbows
  • XO sauce explodes squid
  • Pineapple money cattle
  • The young acupuncture needle of boiler fertilizes a cattle
  • Pig hands with chili
  • Stir fry a rape completely
  • The egg stir fries a garlic bolt
  • The shelled fresh shrimp fried the Chinese yam
Or perhaps this was the plot of a Peking opera. (These dishes were even more extreme than the "arrogant chicken" on offer in a restaurant in Hangzhou.  Dish made from very elegant cocks only, I guess. Perhaps there is a Chinese government bureau which names dishes to entertain, or mock, Westerners.)  Still we lingered over our truly wonderful slow meal of Mongolian leg of lamb, a garlic eggplant better than any I have ever tasted, a meat thing in wrappers, rice, the endlessly delicate jasmine cha, and all conveniently next to the public toilet. For 140 kuai, about 10 USD apiece.  I can easily spend that on mediocre plate lunches in Honolulu, without the tea, the charm and the toilet accessibility.  It was so good, my friend has already advised me that before her overnight train to Wudang, she went back for lunch.  She did not tell me what she ordered.  (Not likely a completely stir-fried rape.)

So, stay tuned and bear with me.  There's lots more to digest, so to speak.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Auspicious Post

I notice, revisiting my most recent post about packing, that it is the 108th I have made here on the Yang Side of TAO 61.  If that isn't auspicious for setting off on my China trip, I don't know what is!

Picked up some omiyage to carry with me -- some red Hawaiian salt, koa bookmarks, some charged collectible Starbuck's cards from Hawaii -- and all I have to do yet is hem a pair of pants, which I will do while watching the second part of 14 Blades,  Donnie Yen's latest movie which should put me in a mood to visit the Wudang Mountain Kung Fu Ranch and Lychee Nut Farm, where the Wizard seems to think I am going.  He's not far off.

Got a new battery for the watch I bought on the way there, two-and-half-years ago, in the Swatch store in Incheon.  I never much wore a watch before that, but it seemed like a good thing to have while traveling.  Now I feel naked without this basic analog, big-numbered, black and white dial, black leather-strapped watch, whose battery failed last week.  It's got a big vivid display I can see even without my glasses and the strap has acquired a lovely complex fragrance from the various perfumes I dab on my pulse points. New battery installed, it's ticking now, counting down the hours until I leave...and it gets reset to Beijing time...real soon now.


For me, actually achieving entry into a foreign country is far easier than deciding what to take there. Nearly packed for my early morning departure, well under the 44-pound bag limit, have remembered toothpaste this time, tucked in with various chargers and power converters, a reasonable if not extravagant assortment of clothing for any occasion, miscellaneous tools, medical supplies, entertainment items, and gifts.  Spare eyeglasses. Pared-down toiletries and cosmetics and bijouterie. Notebook, sketchbook, brushes and ink.  My nifty new iPad is carry-on, along with digital camera, phone, a backup iPod and a nice volume explaining Chinese characters.  (And I mean ideograms.)

My only dilemma (which this isn't really**), not even a weight issue: do I take a video camera?  Had it with me the last time, never used it, but there was one moment I wish I had lugged it along to record a marvelous tai chi demo by a master at Purple Heaven Palace.
Movement in Stillness (Wudang 2008)
But I also I feel video cameras move you one step away from actually participating in the present moment, making a movie of your own memories, which you didn't really see first hand because you were playing cinematographer.  The digital still camera, for me feels freer, merely like I'm underlining scenes to share and remember, making checkmarks on a document instead of photocopying the whole thing without reading it.   

My hesitance may also be because it's just one more piece of technology to master.  Right now, even though I know it's mindlessly simple, I feel like its slave. I need to read the manual. I don't think the decision to take it with me is going to happen until I actually walk out the door tomorrow morning.  It might be interesting if I could videotape my decision making.

**When I was a young girl, I was really eager to go to the circus one year because I had heard there would be "dilemmas."  This seemed exotic to me. I imagined three-ring mysteries, metaphysical high-wire acts, all accomplished by ethereal and spooky clowns. I was enchanted.  And then disappointed to discover that "the llamas" were just part of a parade of zoo animals.  

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Testing, Testing

Testing ability of new iPad for posting. Wanted to not have to carry laptop. A little slow on 3G but that probably won't work in China anyway. Keyboard not bad. But seems that I have to use HTML option to enter post text. (But the pad spell-checker is great.) And don't have--yet--a camera connector so may not be able to post photos.

We'll just have to wait and see. I wanted this thing for travel, but failed to get the first shipment, wifi-only version had sold out. Would the 3G arrive in time? It did! A short wait in a line at store opening bell, very efficient and energetic, I got satisfaction!

I have always believed, tried to act as-if, at least, if you go with the flow, without anxiety, things work out. Someone told me I might be disappointed if I could't get my new toy. I had pretty much assumed I wouldn't. But now I'll never know if my attitude was actually well adjusted.