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.

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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.

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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.

Wyatt’s first School Trip in China

The middle school made the trip to Happy Valley today

I was asked to join, but Wyatt needs to discover things and interact with his peers.

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

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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.

Death by a thousand cuts

CEOs and boards preach fiscal responsibility and cost cutting without smelling the pungent irony.

New year, new cuts. New governments, new rationales to save money. New managers, time to trim that fat. Programs are cut, or they are reduced. Job are cut or apportioned among a smaller pool of people. People are downsized. Unlike Antman, getting downsized doesn’t make us stronger or more effective.

No one is expendable. If people are sitting at desks twiddling their thumbs then they haven’t been assigned meaningful work or given the training to see what else could be done. We have all worked in corporate cultures, both private and government, where coasting through the days is routine. This is not because the people are not needed, or that work needing to be done is not available.

Many public parks and streets could be cleaned by workers who are idle or on reduced schedules. Many actual projects could replace unnecessary road ‘repairs’. How many office tasks could be accomplished in lieu of the six-hour meetings? In fact, this isn’t the real issue. Government houses cry budget and cost cutting up until it comes time to boost their own salaries and cash their own pension checks.

CEOs and boards preach fiscal responsibility and cost cutting without smelling the pungent irony. The services that are cut. The help that is no longer available and the individuals, families, and communities that are impacted have little relevance for social and economic visionaries valiantly struggling towards the 18th hole.