Beijing Tour

We just spent the week in Beijing.

We returned home last night by high-speed train (6:14 to 22:30 pm).IMG20180713194952.jpg

Emily and Wyatt had to renew their Indonesian passports so we had to make the trip to Beijing. Unfortunately, there is no online option. We took the hard-sleeper to get to Beijing. Three berths stacked on either side of a small compartment, Emily in the bottom bunk, Wyatt in the second bunk, and me kissing the ceiling. All good so far … then the family shows up.

IMG20180709194655

Two little boys, their mom, and their grandparents. Luggage is strewn on the floor. The noise level escalates. Grandma immediately lays down. The kids take the middle and top bunk. It’s about 8:30 pm. We are finishing our takeaway meal and hoping to sleep the hours away. Hope and sleep are both fleeting on this journey northward.

Now, what is happening with grandpa and Mom? Surely they don’t intend to sit outside the room all night? Surely not. At 10:00 pm the lights go off and they snuggle into the middle and top berths, thankfully they choose the correct ones.

The noise dies down except for sneezing, coughing, and intermittent conversations.

Now in the hallway, we’ve got a steady procession of old-smokers making their way to the bathroom, their passage heralded by hacking, throat-clearing and the uncertain shuffling of feet – following by the gentle horking and spitting for which older Chinese seem to have a knack.

I sleep for a few hours, and the kids start up. Then the two grandmothers begin to talk, as we discover there is no mother in the equation. She may have wisely jumped from the train. 2:30 seems an ideal time to have a conversation. This goes on until one of them nods off and then the kids wake up. This is followed by climbing, almost falling. Oh why did I feel the need to interrupt the plummeting children?

At about 4:00 am one of the Grandmothers decides it’s a good time to catch up on some family photo-taking and begins snapping pictures with the flash. I showed her my own phone for a time-check and she seemed to get the point.

We arrived in Beijing a bit before 7:00 am and the tour had sent a driver for us. Beijing has changed considerably since my last visit in 2004. Some amazing new buildings, lots of plants and trees. enough shrubbery to keep the Knights of Ni happy.

IMG20180712153136.jpg

More Later
Banners for  Expat Blogs Award 2018

Advertisements

Solo

‘Alone again, naturally’ … great lyric that has almost nothing to do with the subject at hand, and yet is somewhat appropriate.

For the last couple of months, and perhaps longer, various experts, fans and assorted pundits, purists and punks have written and talked trash about a movie based largely on their opinion and feeding negativity to a collection of unwashed trolls who generally eat up their caustic commentary with a side-order of self-important virtual-swagger.

As to the aforementioned lyric, I’m not alone and I wasn’t when I saw Solo. The group I was with and the crowd we sat behind agree … Solo is a good movie. Solo is entertaining, involving, well-crafted and delivers on its promise and its premise.

The promise was to deliver a good movie that was worth the price of admission, done and dusted.

The premise was to tell the back story of Han Solo … ‘Cut the cheque’ as a certain actor has voiced after flying high as a falcon.

A friend mentioned here that Solo was worth seeing, and as I value Matt’s opinion I thought I would check it out. My wife and son joined me, so admittedly they are a somewhat biased demographic on which to justify a positive review. Our guest was a young woman I work with, who is not, by her own admission, a Star Wars Fan. I think her words were ‘saw it, turned it off’.  She loved this movie and was actively watching and enjoying, except for one moment of robot dialogue that elicited a ‘Oh no she didn’t,’ response … which I felt was justified and I won’t try to ‘fansplain’ it away.

I am a Star Wars fan since taking my younger brother to see Star Wars in 1977.  This is not that movie. This is an adventure story, a coming of age, a science-fiction tale of wonder. thrills and daring escapes. It does seem that it’s a bit like that movie.

Alden Ehrenreich, the actor  who plays Han Solo, captures the energy, enthusiasm and intensity that Harrison Ford brought to the character and there is a hint of the self-assured swagger. He lacks the later cool confidence but that suits this stage of Han’s life. Woody Harrelson as the edgy and likable scoundrel, Thandie Newton as an equally adept but less accepting scoundrel, Donald Glover as the suave gambler Lando Calrissian, and there’s a whole collection of Imperial troopers, thieves, and various locals who give this movie a nuanced reality.

This is a Star Wars story that will add more depth to the stories and characters you know, and it is a good movie that will entertain and involve you. You will care what happens to these people and you will be invested in their adventures, struggles and relationships.

Back to that lyric for a moment. This movie is not doing as well as it could be doing, largely because the press and the more rabid individuals among the Star Wars fan-base have decided that Solo is not their Star Wars. Solo is not Jar Jar Binks, nor is it The Force Awakens. Solo is a good movie that can be judged solely on that basis. It can stand on its own.

 

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.

Conspiracy Theories: Our Quest for ‘Truth’.

Psssst, know any good conspiracy theories?
Do people disagree or agree with conspiracy theories on principle? Do people have a knee-jerk reaction to deny or accept them? We are human, to the best of our current knowledge. As humans, we need to understand tragedy. We are hard-wired to look for answers. The search for truth is both our blessing and a curse of our biology. Looking for answers has helped us to achieve, to reach, to overreach and to build at an almost equal rate to what we destroy. When we marvel at the pyramids, we see history and we see questions. Who, what, when and why are powerful drivers in our psyche? If we’re asking where, we may have a few gaps in our general knowledge. Unfortunately, we have been conditioned by ceaseless propaganda to react with Pavlovian-like predictability to the utterances of media pundits and political talking heads. Right, left and center of the political spectrum, across ethnic, racial and gender divides we are equal in our willingness to bark and slobber as the bells of propaganda are rung.
What really gets us salivating? What makes us bark and yap on Social media? Gossip.
We like mysteries. We love hidden cities, secret rooms, alternative endings. With equal fervor, we love and despise the idea that someone is hiding things. It’s why we love to gossip. People can’t keep secrets. How many family secrets get blurted out over BBQ, or posted on social media? How long can a public official keep anything private? Can the military actually plan, execute and wrap up an operation in a completely clandestine-manner? From ancient Babylon and Sparta, and through the ages up to the modern Persian Gulf, spies have changed history. The intrigues, plots, thefts and lies existed in Greece, Rome and China and up to the fall of the Russia-led soviet state. Secrets have been hidden, lost, stolen and revealed. The fortunes and misfortunes of war have been influenced by the information gathered by espionage. In the modern era, everyone is a potential spy. Potential motivation: money, power, disruption, relief of boredom.
It may be that we have always had this need to share, publicize and record events in minute detail. If phone-cameras had existed 1,000 years ago, the Doomsday book would have included selfies of the invading and defending leaders and the latest Norman fashions.
Our culture is built on ideas and on dirty secrets, or perhaps the idea that there must be dirty secrets. From stains on blue dresses to secret apartments, and then to weapon sales. From who the Queen slept with, to whom the King killed to gain power. From secret deliveries to rebel armies. From political struggles to attempted coups. From assassinations to false flags. From cocaine-funded insurrections to poison cigars. From second-shooters to hidden explosives, to ‘gilding the lily’ before a congressional committee. From a secret desire to meet people in cubicles, and sharing genitalia images, with or without permission. It’s about arms-sales, about having a secret, sharing a secret, uncovering a secret, and being privy to the dirt.
We love discovery, almost as much as we hunger for secrets. We are awed by the Pyramids, Stonehenge, Easter Island, the Great Wall of China, and even by the construction of majestic cathedrals that took the efforts of generations. Were there hidden secrets in the construction of these marvels of antiquity? We will probably never know. Do the Dead Sea Scrolls offer more insight, are there undiscovered drafts of the Koran, or the Torah? Did L Ron Hubbard get miles to the gallon, or lightyears? In our modern age, could our most wonderous achievements be fiction?
Are there lies behind some of our greatest tragedies? Did we travel to the moon? Did Roosevelt know before Pearl Harbor? Did military aircraft shoot down a plane on 9/11?
It seems likely that FDR and his staff had some inkling of Japanese military plans or at least the possibility of a pre-emptive strike on Hawaii. As for the Apollo mission of 1969, and the subsequent missions; could hundreds of support personnel, families, and outside contractors have faked a series of moon landings and then kept it secret? Someone would have shared it just because they had the secret. During a game of golf, a beer, and as pillow-talk. Some scraps of film, some pictures of the soundstages would have been discovered by now. Our inability to keep secrets makes modern conspiracies less likely. Not that people are less motivated to lie, to be corrupt or to cheat, just that it’s easier to discover. The larger the group keeping the secret, the more likely someone will share. In the age of Anonymous and WikiLeaks secrets are fleeting. Keeping secrets may have become an act of hubris.
People will work to undermine the goals of a group, or even their own interests. We have been conditioned to overshare, even if it makes us look bad. Just ask Anthony Weiner, Donald Trump, and OJ Simpson. For some it may be that the world is flat, that we never landed on the moon, that secret technology is being withheld, that aliens built mostly everything, and that John F. Kennedy was shot by two people, the CIA, the Mafia, the FBI, the Boy Scouts, and three aliens who worked for Lyndon Baines Johnson.
We love secrets and gossip so much that we will create events, and the ‘facts’ to support them.
Sometimes facts are massaged, and sometimes they’re twisted. Sometimes they’re created from shoes, and ships, and ceiling wax. There will always be someone who wants us to walk along as they share tales of deceit, treachery and the perverse pleasures of perfect strangers.
Private emails, secret memos, plans for Jet fighters, the formula for fried chicken and soft drinks, and private pictures have all found their way to the public-form. There are organizations and individuals who make it their business to find, steal, duplicate and sell those closely-guarded secrets. The loss of this information could seriously damage, or even destroy, a company, a brand or a carefully crafted reputation. The loss of large companies means the loss of jobs and has wide-spread repercussions in the national and global market. It should be acknowledged that some of these leaks are for publicity and some are fictions. Hitler’s diary and fake celebrity nudes are publicity-engines. Click-bait headlines and breaking news banners can turn slow news days into profitable cycles, but carefully crafted BS can be monetized and used to drive other agendas.
For now, let’s leave the possible hidden agendas and ulterior motives to your fertile and endlessly fermenting imaginations.

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

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.