And on the other hand...

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

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pivotal Return

I could have chosen even more simplicity, and in some ways it was chosen for me. My dithering about what camera to take, what device to encumber myself with, worked itself out when I dropped my faithful five-year-old Casio XILIM on a concrete patio step in Hangzhou. The backup, the Wizard's old one, failed to launch as well (some persistent lens error) so I have no photos from Hangzhou forward and there was no opportunity to buy a camera until I got back to Beijing. (Not that I don't already have hundreds of images of Wudang and Beijing from previous trips.) By that time I had freed myself from the photo compulsion. (Still I am hoping to receive some images of pivotal moments from my traveling companions.)

It was a liberating exercise in simplicity, being mindful of what was happening in the moment, rather than snapping photos every time I saw a beautiful cloud in a valley or a handsome guy on the street, a traffic jam on a mountain road or incomprehensible Chinglish signage. Moments are etched more firmly in my memory, more in my feeling, than any array of pixels on a screen can capture.

As I revisit this trip, contemplating observations and conclusions, it will have to be through words, and maybe ink and brushstrokes. If the ancient Chinese had had digital cameras, what a lack of poetry and painting we would suffer.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Xuanzi Jiandan

That may be bad Mandarin, 选择简单, but I think it means "choose simplicity," which I have. The smaller bag is packed, and a rucksack for carry-on is loaded with my iPad, two pocket point-and-shoot Casios (forget the Nikon SLR with extra long lens and the Sony videocam), my phone, an extra iPod and a couple of phrase books, including Outrageous Chinese--A Guide to Chinese Street Language. While it's fun to know how to talk like a sailor, it's wise to know how not to, as well. (In Chinese you can make some bizarre mistakes. For all I know, the title of this post is "choose sodomy.")

I would like to carry Peter Hessler's Country Driving, which I haven't finished yet, but it's a heavy hardback. I am taking Terry Pratchett with me to the Counterweight Continent (Interesting Times) and I have lots of reading material on the iPad. I packed my brushes, ink and some paper (as if I can't get them in China). I am not taking any tea.

I do not anticipate blogging on the road, behind the Great Firewall, but one never knows. It may be a useful exercise in simplicity to make my observations in my little Moleskine notebook with my favorite 0.07 mechanical pencil.

I do know that, even in the mountains, anything I think I might need or have forgotten can be easily obtained. There's not much to need really.

So, see you all in June!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Shit Keeps Happening

Very early in the morning the day before I go to pick up my passport stamped with a visa to visit China, ($195!), I am pensive about taking a trip that feels a little like watching a favorite movie I have seen many times before, knowing the ending, but having forgotten choice bits of dialogue or screen angles. The way you remember the events that were going on outside the theater when you went to see that movie the first time. Which is more real? (A somewhat troubled little girl once asked me about something, "Was that on TV or was that in real?")

This moment of personal planning is colored by the reactions of the world around me to the "end" of the Osama drama--jubilation on the one hand, and a sceptical wary disbelief on the other, the mixed emotions of the public to events they have no ability to influence. ("Was that on TV or in real?") I lie awake pondering this decade of global rubbernecking, ten years of natural and economic and political disasters and debacles...curiously taking place on a screen projected for entertainment and edification. No wonder I stopped watching news and listening to radio several years ago. (It's been more than a little coincident with my deepening involvement with Taoism, these trips to Wudang. This upcoming trip feels like a senior seminar, the fourth-year summarization of independent study and practice. Graduation? A degree? Immortality?)

It was just a few days after I returned from a trip to Hong Kong in 2001, one of the last in a series of fairly frequent regular visits since the mid-'80s, that I was awakened at 4 a.m. by a friend who phoned. Pre-dawn phone calls are never good things, at best wrong numbers, but in this case, "Turn on your TV! We're being attacked." (Never mind that the attack was in New York City and we live in Honolulu, as if there were something we could do by turning on the TV).

The Wizard, not completely diplomatic when he's awakened just a little too early, sarcastically responded, "I'll be sure to let the President know." Then, of course, we turned on the TV to watch in sad shocked disbelief the images which are now etched in my memory as vividly as mushroom clouds, a slain president in a convertible, a guy standing in front of a tank with flowers (was that 1989 or 1968?). Movies that rerun in memory, as vivid as Gone with the Wind or It's a Wonderful Life.

The same friend who made that early morning panic call sent me a text a couple days ago that I didn't see until 24 hours later. (Texting is not my preferred method of communication. I get texts, but rarely initiate them. Like I get a lot of lunch invites, but rarely suggest them.)

"R U watching news?"

The next day I replied, "No, but I see Osama is dead." Who could miss it? (To say nothing of the Royal Wedding, which people who had stayed up late to attend kept telling me about, somewhat against my wishes. I wasn't invited, I didn't care. But which reminded me that Diana was killed just days after I returned from a different trip to Kong Kong, 1997, during the Handover. I also remember I didn't pay much attention to that early '80s wedding either, except to think that she was all wrong for Charles. Why are all these events linked in my mind with travel?)

"Yay 4 our troops and intel folks" my friend instantly replied to my very late text-back.

Despite not watching a bit of this on the TV, I am bombarded by internet discussion -- hard to avoid when you're on line a lot. And it got me to thinking about all the decade's events to which I have been a witness, if not exactly a participant. Hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, corrupt elections, financial meltdowns, escalating wars in hopeless regions of the world, disease and starvation (why would anyone put melamine in milk, anyway?). Ten years used to seem like a long time, now it seems just a long tedious movie, one I really don't want to watch again. And the trivial markers in my own life...I come across a bottle of nail enamel I first used on that trip in 2001...I thought it was new; it's ten years old. (But remarkably still fluid.) I've changed jobs three times in the decade, moved on, and on, from endless daily invented office crises (all of which had to do with the bottom lines of money or politics or both) that in time are as fleeting as the rain that fell and has since recycled into the atmosphere. As the rain that is falling right now as I write this. The shit that just keeps happening, all while I keep on moving on.

Beyond the mild anxiety about my visa (the true meaning of anxious), the rest of my trip planning is as routine as going to the office. I have become that seasoned. My list making consists of about six tasks which I didn't really need to write down anyway. It's just nice to monitor the progress. (The only things left are "pack" and "get a haircut.") Some people seem awed when I tell them I'm going to China on my own for three weeks. "Oh I would love to do that, but..." All you have to do is do it. Leave behind the obligations, the fears, the daily news, and just go. Live your own life, the shit will keep happening whether you know about it or not.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Just Trust the Cycles

As I predicted, today, the day of the new moon, my reliable Chinese travel agent called to tell me my passport with essential visa had made it back from the Chinese Embassy. The one hurdle that causes the most anxiety is negotiated. Now it's all administrative and insurance, register with Department of State (a good idea for travelers should one require assistance from one's own embassy abroad), collect travelling cash, get a haircut, shop for necessities, pack.

Decisions. The big bag or the small one? The digital SLR with two lenses or the pocket Casio? Video camera or just a notebook? I lean to small and I have never regretted it. (The opposite of buying memory for devices: no one ever complains of having too much memory.)

Again I envy the kolea...they just take off and arrive. They must be settling into their nesting areas now, have overcome jet stream lag, are engaged in family planning activities. I am not the only one who wonders about these birds and their mysterious magnificent migrations.