And on the other hand...

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

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.