And on the other hand...

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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

May Day, M'aider?

Perhaps it is the holiday of May Day that has caused a delay in in my China visa arrival. I will grant government workers, mine and theirs, a little slack. Or maybe it's not a delay, I am just impatient. Last year, coincident with the kolea's departure, my visa arrived April 27 for the same time frame of travel. But my beloved migratory birds seem to have left last Tuesday evening, their cosmic visas approved. I won't feel like I'm leaving until my passport is in hand. Birds don't carry passports.

Why do our Chinese visas have to go to Los Angeles? There are enough Chinese people here in Hawaii, enough travel to and from the Middle Kingdom, a desire to increase it, that there should be a consulate. I think we should be able to get Chinese visas at Wal-Mart.

Monday's New Moon seems auspicious. I hope my travel agent calls me. "Come pick up your passport. And bring $150 for the processing fee."

A week to go before I pack. Next weekend, a haircut and last minute shopping for anything I might need. (Lomotil, Band-aids, batteries.) This is beginning to feel routine. I love traveling, paring down my baggage to bare essentials (and I don't mean that complicated cosmetic that is touted as simple). On the road, you simplify, you live in the moment. When that plane lifts off, I leave all my cares behind. "Will you be accessible?" someone in my office asked. I hope not. The point is not to be. And I can use the Great Firewall as an excuse. Some years ago, when the Wizard was in Hong Kong regularly, he said the pleasure was the difficulty of communication. Now, with email, internet, and Facebook, the getting away is the difficulty. I want to vanish for a while. M'aider? Let me alone.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Still Here, But Itchin' to Go

Those of us who monitor the kolea share gossip. "I saw one this morning in my yard." "There was one still in my area when I came home last night," and so on.

And there was one still, all dressed up and ready to go, in my neighborhood tonight. Perhaps waiting patiently for his visa for his annual trip to Alaska. Just like me. I called my faithful Chinese travel agent today. "Should I be nervous about my visa application?" I leave for China in less than two weeks. Mr. Lee assured me that he had checked. "It's on the way." I don't like that my passport is in the hands of the Chinese Embassy, in Los Angeles no less. But I do trust Mr. Lee, who is also the travel agent of choice of my Chinese painting teacher.

But all we can do is wait. When the kolea are finally gone, surely in the next few days, perhaps my visa will arrive. Funny that I should attach my own cycles to a migratory bird's. To say nothing of seasonal allergies. The albizia off my lanai, the one that was so drastically trimmed a couple years ago after a branch fell off and blocked egress on the bridge across the stream from my parking lot, is blooming. All of the scarred trimmed areas have sprouted new green branches. It's fragrant, attracts bees, but I think it's why I wake up in the morning coughing and struggling to breathe through some major congestion in my upper skull. Not everyone likes them.

Today I bought some feng shui charms, a lapis elephant and a jade rhinoceros, to protect me and keep me safe while traveling. "These only work if you believe they do," Lillian Hong, the feng shui shopkeeper told me. "They are to remind you of positive energy." (And I took advantage of her buy-one-get-one-free offer.) This reminded me of a line in the wonderful old King Hu film, A Touch of Zen. The protagonists are in a very spooky place. One asks, "Is this place haunted?" His companion responds, "It depends on whether you believe in ghosts or not."

Ghosts? Tao? Whatever it is that moves the kolea, draws me back to Wudang. When the time is right, I'll board the plane, all documents (and charms) in order, ready for another experiment in spontaneity.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Digging Up Treasure

On a day when, in the Christian tradition, focus is on the interment of something precious, I am intrigued to find a story about buried treasure. Some guy in Austria discovered a big cache of centuries-old jewelry in his backyard. There's not much in the story about the actual provenance of the stuff, ornate rings and brooches and belt buckles. The "who" and the "why" are TBD, but the historical antiquities people are all excited about the "what." How the stuff got there is a mystery.

The story triggered a memory. When my son was about eight years old, I gave him stash of old costume jewelry (I hope), that was my late mother's and my somewhat Victorian aunts', and broken stuff I never wore any longer. I put it in a small chest so he could play pirate games with his plastic sword and spade (but no rum). He took it quite seriously. After unstringing all the beads, faux (I hope) pearls and gems and filigree findings, he buried the chest somewhere in the vast wild backyard, never to be found again.

Now, I sometimes wish I had some of those old pieces for projects, but alas, they are gone forever. That backyard, decades and a continent away, has long since been turned into a parking lot. I've often wondered if some backhoe operator turned up a chest of odd beads and things and wondered, "What the...?" Did he take them to his girlfriend? Did he put them in the trash? Did they just get plowed under and paved over? And now I wonder, was that find in Austria just some little kid's pirate game? Was his mom pissed at the loss of the family jewels?

Who knows? In the end it doesn't matter. But, in my case, I do hope all the stuff was faux. Or, in 650 years, someone is delighted over a strange archaeological find in suburban Pittsburgh.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Day 108...Again

In its constant return year after year, today always seems like just yesterday. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

I observe this morning it is again Day 108. I quote from Deng Ming-dao's 365 Tao below. Some of my numerologically inclined readers may find this interesting.


One gives birth to two, two gives birth to three,
Three gives birth to the ten thousand.
One hundred and eight counts make one cycle,
Constant turning creates all things.

Today is the one hundred and eighth day. Why are numbers so important to those who follow Tao? Even today, when numbers are more commonly yoked to the service of finance and engineering, there are those who revere numbers with the cheap version of mysticism -- superstition. Numbers form a closed world with mysteries to explore and exploit if our understanding is deep enough.

Followers of Tao emphasize certain numbers : One is the unity of Tao. Two is duality. Three is the unevenness that will generate movement. Four is the seasons. Five elements generate the world. Six parts of the body are the arms, legs, head, and trunk. Seven is the day of the waxing moon by the lunar calendar. Eight is the number of divination. Nine is the number of life. Ten is heaven's cycles.

There are twenty-four periods in a year, each with its own characteristics. Thirty-six is six squared. One hundred and eight is three cycles of thirty-six and represents a greater cycle, although there are even more esoteric connotations attached to it.

Numbers are only symbols, a way for human beings to project order upon the universe. They are a language more precise than words. But does Tao talk? Numbers are important to master, but take care to look beyond language and numbers to the true reality that they foreshadow.

And, oh yeah, just in case you didn't notice, last night the moon was full. This has been a year of interesting congrurences in the cosmic cycles of yin and yang.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What the Hell, Life Goes On, and Then You Die

I went to the mailbox on my way back from visiting my poor soggy car.

Yesterday TAO 61 got drenched, flooded really, because I neglected to put the top up in a parking lot, foolishly not paying attention to the clear signs that it was going to rain...hard. Nothing that won't dry out, though the ever-cryptic radio is having a moisture-related problem. Last night it didn't seem to actually turn off; I wanted to make sure the battery was still live today. It was. But I still need the humidity (and foul sour stench) to dissipate before I reprogram the settings...assuming I can.

But to the mailbox where I retrieved the usual bills, charity solicitations and catalogs, and a couple of magazines: Shambhala Sun with the ubiquitous smiley face of the Dalai Lama on the cover, and Time, with its standard pre-Easter cover feature, this year, "What If There's No Hell?" Not only that, but a sub-feature called "Living Younger Longer." Could this be the year for Taoism?

Let me say I love magazines, the real kind on paper that come in the mailbox or are discovered at newsstands (brick-and-mortar phenomena that seem as doomed as Blockbuster and Borders stores). The current Time issue flashed me back to maybe 1966, when my college mailbox was the receptor of Time and Reader's Digest, both subscriptions subsidized by the parents who wanted to make sure I was current with the mainstream culture. I recall the Time issue, probably also a pre-Easter feature, (on searching I find it was indeed April 8, 1966, my memory does not fail me) that proclaimed on the cover, in big white Helvetica type on a black background, "God is Dead!" ** Although Nietzsche had made that suggestion 80 years earlier, for some reason in 1966 it was news. (I had a professor in the religion department of my church-related college who was widely assumed to be a death-of-god theologian, purveying the pernicious concept that the Time article was about. It was a big deal then, someone had written a book.)

Reader's Digest was a counter to that, I guess, but really the only things I remember about that little journal were the jokes (like the cartoons in The New Yorker), the"notable quotes" and one article about "Red China" that described torture: "Then they plunged chopsticks in his ears!" (Which I have no doubt "they" did.) Reader's Digest summarized and packaged a particular American cultural vision; today I get Utne Reader, which does something of the same, although I am sometimes as sceptical of it as I am of Reader's Digest.

So what if there's no hell? The actual article in fact is titled "Is Hell Dead?" (Ah, the deja vu!) "Rogue pastor Rob Bell's argument about salvation and judgment has Evangelicals in a fury --and a younger generation rethinking Jesus," the subhead relates. I haven't read the article yet, but it looks interesting.

Curiously, the article that precedes it is a profile of Ai Weiwei, "The Activist Artist of China," (as subversive and pesky as the Dalai Lama), whose works include the "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium and a piece of pottery I would really like to own, a Han Dynasty-style urn emblazoned with the Coca Cola logo.

And following the article about hell, "Amortality: Why acting your age is a thing of the past." Taoists call it longevity or immortality, but some of the "sages" cited seem far from Taoists:
Hugh Hefner (about to begin creepy dual cultivation with a woman 60 years -- that Chinese life cycle --younger than him; Joan Rivers, jewelry and cosmetic surgery queen and comedian I always confuse with Joan Collins (another amortal); and Mick Jagger. A "Sympathy for the Devil" reference is probably too obvious for this post.

The conclusion I am left with from these articles is that in America, amortality has to do with never growing up, I mean, if there's no's just biological and let's have fun, eat right, exercise, and play golf or sky-dive. Or do qigong or tai chi. But I see no spiritual aspirations here. But I haven't read about Rob Bell, the rogue evangelical, yet. Hope springs from the strangest sources.

**Searching further, I discover that the magazine cover I remember actually featured big red type on black and did not proclaim, but asked, "Is God Dead?" Whatever. Close enough after all these years.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Waiting for My Turn

I'm sitting on my balcony in the moonlight (and the light of my laptop), enjoying a cool breath of air, a cool drink of water, listening to lusty frogs in the stream honking at one another, a white noise of chirping insects, and the occasional restless song bird. Someone just came running through the parking lot below. (Who runs at 2:30 in the morning? Who writes blog posts at 2:30 in the morning? I have a friend who would make a haiku out of all this.)

I'm wondering where the kolea are right now. I really don't know where they sleep, these busy bug eating birds with their long legs and strong wings. Every day they are looking plumper, more vivid in their new feathers. Usually they are diligently picking through the grass like rice farmers, or monitoring the traffic on the road, but lately they look like they are gathering in a lobby, waiting for an announcement: "Kolea Air Flight 411 to Alaska is now open for boarding." They are ready with their round-trip tickets for a four-month holiday of breeding and family fun.

By the time they actually leave, I will be just days away from my own trip, not exactly a vacation, not exactly like a return home, but like the kolea's, a sort of pilgrimage of renewal. My China plans are firm, unaffected in the end by the Japan disaster. I have no anxieties about any of it, I'm just awake in the middle of the night, roused by a peculiar dream brought on, I suppose, by an emotional movie, the weather with its haze and humidity, and a little indigestion. It's always best to just get up and let the feelings subside, not wondering too much about whether I was the Baroness dreaming I was escaping from a house in danger, or if I am dreaming now that I am the Baroness blogging on my lanai. Do the kolea dream?

The moon is flirting with me from behind fast moving clouds. The kona weather from the south has everything running a little backward. All the planes at the airport are taking off from the opposite direction on the reef runway; my new office, still annoyingly fragrant with the smell of gallons of fresh latex paint, does feature an exquisite view of the airport and the harbor area. Twelve hours ago, I watched several big-old-jet-airliners gather at the end of the runway like patient kolea, politely (safely) waiting until one of their own kind made a landing, the scene framed by two huge cargo ships lying just off the reef. Later two F-18s made sudden, shocking, nearly simultaneous takeoffs, showing off their speed and climbing capabilities in a now-you-see-us-now-you-don't exercise. Helicopters and small planes flitted about like mosquitos and flies. I could watch this activity for hours, the mountains on one horizon, the sea on the other. I wait like the kolea for my turn to take off.

Postscript: The first rooster is calling, at 3:39 a.m., to the frogs. Perhaps it's time to go back to bed! And, my laptop is at 61% of battery power. The universe is speaking to me. Good night, and good luck.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What Goes Around

...doesn't always come around. Have been distracted and exhausted as a result of various planned and unplanned demands on my time and challenges on the to-do list. I have been so busy I haven't even blogged about the beauty pageant I attended as a guest, the office move of the company I work for, the planning of a trip to China in less than 5 weeks. I identified a lot with the tire I lost on my way to work a week ago. "How could such a thing happen," I asked the Goodyear guy, who unfortunately couldn't find any of the right size on the island, a strange thing since every 10th car here seems to be a Miata. "You probably picked up a nail, the pressure was low, then at high speed the heat just blew it out," he said. There seems to be a Taoist message here, or at least a physics lesson. And I couldn't complain: it was kind of a nice location for a flat tire to occur. The last time I felt so peaceful during a flat tire event was on a freeway in Hubei Province in China. And speaking of which, I am now merely waiting for my visa, in the list-making stage, tossing things I might need or don't want to forget into a box prior to packing for another three-week journey to the Middle Kingdom: Beijing, Hangzhou, and Wudang. This time I am assured, there will be a train in the itinerary! Last year, seems like yesterday, during the flat tire moment, I summoned all my skills to buy a bottle of beer from a roadside shop (wo yao yi ping pijiu) to enjoy while the bus tire was changed. This time, I look forward to beer and peanuts in a dining car while making the same journey. And though it is pretty much the same itinerary, there are things I haven't done before, and I want to make sure I don't miss them. Like indulging my fetish for camels by setting foot in one of the Camel leather goods shops that seemed to pop up everywhere but in the mountains. Not that they were camel-leather goods (I think), but just a logo for footwear. (Nike="Just Do it"; Camel="Just Hump It".) Maybe what went around does come around again, like a plodding camel caravan, just my speed. You never have to change a camel's tire.