Lost in Alternate Realities

I have spent as many hours as possible sitting in darkened movie theaters lost in alternate realities, and I have loved every moment of it. For a twelve-year-old boy, there was nothing better.

There weren’t many days spent in darkened theaters when I was that age. At age 12 we were living in Pointe Au Baril Station, Ontario. Our village, Pointe Au Baril Station, sits along highway 69 between Parry Sound and Sudbury. It is a small community of 300 people.

It had, and likely still has, a couple of gas stations, a liquor store, two general stores and a few marinas and lodges scattered over the North and South shores. We also had two churches, a small school, a bank, a Royal Canadian Legion Hall, and a privately ran post office/bait shop and a community center that had a few purposes. Dance place, meeting hall, and tourist information center being a few.

For me it’s most important purpose was the Friday night movie. Not quite a darkened theater. Enter the large hall with me. Sit down on a folding chair. There are always enough chairs. The old projector comes to life. The blank wall is filled with wonder.

This is also what comics did for me. I bought my comics at Higman’s Highway Market. Kennedy’s didn’t sell comics. I made my money for comics by cashing in beer bottles. The bottles were redeemed at Wing’s Shell station. No, We didn’t drink the beer … that came later.

With a summer tourist trade estimated at about 2,000 we had a lot of empties to cash in. My brother and I also had a lucrative sideline in frogs. I delivered lunches to construction crews, cut grass, tied boats, and shoveled snow. My younger brother Troy and I sold frogs to the local pool hall owner who sold them to sport fishermen as bait.

The frogs, the bottles, the snow and such helped to fill the blank canvas of a child. A mental landscape filled with Dr. Doom, a blind attorney, a playboy millionaire, and a collection of princesses, orphans, and misunderstood do-gooders. Many of those characters, and their worlds, were given form by Gene Colan.

Gene wasn’t the first artist I admired. At first I liked the cleaner lines of Curt Swan and Dick Dillon. Kirby leaped off the page for me, and then something happened. I found art that resonated. It stayed with me. It seemed to have a depth beyond the page. It flowed. It showed me a world beyond my own, and yet was reflective of that world.

Gene’s (if I may be so familiar) art allowed me to see a bit of wonder in my own reality. I didn’t need to escape as much as search.

Thank you for that clarity.

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Images from Wuhan

On the way to Wuhan

On Tuesday we will leave for China.
We will be there for three years.
We may not be able to respond as we don’t know what apps and social media are blocked. Please understand that we don’t hate you, well …. not all of you, and we will reply … eventually.
We expect to find things clean when we get back.
See you later.

All image below from https://www.topchinatravel.com

 

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Yellow Crane Tower

 

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East Lake

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Jianghan Street

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https://www.topchinatravel.com/china-attractions/mt-wudang.htm

Are we missing something?

I miss libraries.

Here in Indonesia, libraries are as rare as safe drivers and clean water. It’s not because people don’t like to read, or because they like to live dangerously at high speeds, or because they love the idea that toxic substances are freely available at the turn of a handle.

When credence is given to the misguided notion that unrestrained capitalism is a benefit to anyone then we will see the demise of education, healthcare, and public safety. When we allow corporate interests to dictate education and to funnel public monies into programs that benefit their bottom line, we allow human decency and dignity to be kicked to the kerb. We allow our future to be stamped with best before dates, and then left to rot on the shelf.

Obviously, greed and shortsightedness are not the intellectual property of the Indonesian archipelago. We see these wonderful expressions of boneheaded stubbornness in every hovel, hamlet and high-speed hub on the planet.

Without independent sources of information, books provided and made available by libraries, we have little chance for the current or the next generation to be intellectually curious, environmentally aware, or woke in any measurable sense.

Common sense, intellectual curiosity, and basic decency may have always been rare and whimsical creatures, but perhaps we shouldn’t willingly turn away as they’re kicked to death. Please don’t take this as a pat on the back if you have libraries. If you’re not using them, if you’re not supporting them, and if everyone does not have access; then they’re no longer libraries. They’ve become warehouses, or even worse they’re mortuaries waiting for the bodies of lost knowledge and hope to be claimed by uncaring relatives.

A Library
http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca

The consequences of neglect

Trash, litter, waste, and rubbish may be our actual four horsemen. We have almost as many words for what we throw away as the Inuit supposedly have for snow. We all face the same problems of lives spent leaving an unsightly trail.

As many of us work to improve our neighbourhoods and celebrate our communities, some can’t be bothered to carry a plastic cup to a bin. Children are allowed to drop garbage as they walk. In fact, children are encouraged in the lackadaisical littering by the somnambulant slovenliness of their supposedly more mature elders. What still shocks me, and shouldn’t, is that this attitude carries over into private homes and places of worship.

As you drive through Surabaya you will see high apartment towers, shining malls, mosques and churches. You will also see quite a number of ornate neoclassical and modernist homes. Many of these enclaves of large homes are ringed by gates and staffed with private patrols.

Even in these fortresses, and the schools and shops that serve them, the lack of care is evident. Tables and desks left strewn with the detritus of a task or meal. Trash piled against a wall or left littering church or mosque steps.

Parents, schools, and communities need to be on board for any change to work. Imagine the reaction from Mom and dad when the satpam tells the kid, “Hey, use the trash bin!” Even if it’s phrased as “please dispose of your trash in the appropriate receptacle”. (Insert correct translation as you like) In the west and in Singapore people have been conditioned not to litter, and of course there are fines. We see it here in Surabaya, and in Bali that quite a number of North Americans, Europeans, and Singaporeans happily relax their morality and social conscience while on vacation.

This isn’t about when in Rome … the long term consequences of our actions and inactions have to be considered. The same goes for us as visitors; you don’t litter at home, don’t do it here.

Locally, people will change, even in more traditional communities. They need to see viable alternatives and workable (within their capabilities and resources) solutions.

Governments and industry are happy to tout their respect for local/traditional wisdom as long as it keeps locals traditionally ignorant. Kalimantan, Sumatra, Lapindo, Bali’s water crisis and the mess that is Kenjeran beach are not the fault of villagers and tukang parkir.

Waste and neglect are not an enviable legacy to be left by any culture.

Here There and Nowhere

He sings the body incredulous.
Existing between never was, and never will be.
Existing without substance, yet heralding shifting bedrock.
Occupying no fixed space, filling no specific need.
Both the unexpected journey and the probable consequence.
For all his banal and baleful presence, he is neither cause nor solution.

A Few Nights Later

This was originally written in 1998 … I haven’t changed much, other than punctuation.

Teachers from three of Surabaya’s largest schools met a few months ago. This wasn’t a summit on education, or on international relations, just early parole.

For many of us, it was our first night out in a week. The early part of May in Indonesia had been marred by riots, and rumours of riots. The streets were not safe. Many people had left. (A Husband’s Perspective)

We met, as we had met so many times before, in The Tavern. The Tavern is a small, fairly intimate pub in the Hyatt Hotel(Now the Hotel Bumi). At that time Thursday nights were half price, and affordable. The week before the meeting had been spent incognito and effectively isolated. Ten teachers, a visiting friend, two girlfriends and Emily, my wife. Also present, in an unsupporting role, was a motley assortment of Bules (foreigners)

In the back of the Tavern, where the more clandestine meetings usually take place, a group of young Chinese were enjoying a night of freedom. Perhaps enjoying isn’t the right word. They were almost motionless.

The Bules gained motion as soon as the next group appeared. A television crew from one of the local stations had entered the bar. Suharto had resigned the day before and they were looking for reaction shots. Pak Suharto Keluar (Suharto has left)…. Where were you?

The reaction was forthcoming. One Bule pried himself up from his barstool and stormed over to the crew. His basic problem was a belief that this was a foreigner’s bar and these guys weren’t allowed in here. Well, their presence was unusual, but the presence of a number of local ladies would seem to dispute The Tavern’s Foreigners Only status.

The ladies are a permanent fixture of the Tavern. You can’t go into any bar, disco, or nightclub without seeing a few Chickens. Locals call them Ayam Kampung, Ayam Kampus, or Ayam Malam, or village chickens, high-class chickens, and night chickens. The number of young women making themselves available has increased since the crisis.
As for the Bule’s reaction: his statements were loud, laced with profanity and mercifully brief. The television crew left, the Bule fumed for a bit then resumed his chair and his conversation. His gathering of four had increased by one. One of the previously mentioned ladies had added herself to the group.

For everyone, it was business as usual. A quiet couple of hours, a few beers, some excellent hot pretzels, and a few rounds of cards. As I am perhaps the world’s worst card player, I sat out the game. Most of the conversation was about the previous week. Who had stayed, who had left, who was about to leave – three more teachers left that weekend – and what was going to happen.

Most of the people that stayed have been here for awhile. I’ve been here for nearly two years. Geoff has been here for three years, and Chris a bit longer than that.
There are no absolutes in this situation. John Koeman, a teacher from Holland, had been in Surabaya for seven years. He decided it was time to go. He’s in Taiwan now, as are Marcus and Allison, and Jo and Paul.

Probably the main reason that teachers stay is that they become integrated into the community. Unlike the engineers and hotel managers who come here and are effectively isolated, a teacher is effectively mixed with the population. Some teachers are more mixed than others.

People react positively or negatively to the mixing. Their reaction may be based on their reason for being here. If they’ve come for the money, they’re just here to do a job – and then leave. Anything that interferes with that purpose is a nuisance.
Many teachers are here for the experience. They’re geared up to live in another country, to experience a different culture, to try new foods, or just to learn the language. They’re generally disposed to mixing.

Mixers and non-mixers alike come from every social, ethnic and geographical grouping. The experience we all shared was the temporary release from the unique blend of cabin fever and stress that is Surabaya.

For me; a good remedy for stress is stepping away, physically and mentally. When I take a few moments to relax with friends and family I can then re-enter the fray with a clearer, calmer perspective.