Episode Eighteen

April 2013 – September 2013

During this time, I was dealing with a lot of grief and overworked. The university had me teaching eight completely different subjects. Each class was a different subject. I think I hold the record for that. Once again, photos first, text after.

Hey I know that clown, and that young woman ducking my camera is my daughter 🙂

We wandered through an ancient village off the beaten path outside Yangshuo – the famous area with the karst hills. This little old lady asked us to her home, and asked for a donation to see her “old partner” who was 95. The sign with the large letters shows that a member of her family passed the imperial exams at the highest level. I the past, this changed the fortune of families for generations. There was no young people in this little village, just a lot of elderly folks. They were so sweet.

We took the growing boy with us to northern Guangxi. It is nice for Hong to get to see him. The area known as “The Dragon’s Backbone” is home to Yao and Zhuang minority people. We stayed in a great BnB, along with my only non-family visitors – my old boss/friend and his wife.

The view outside our BnB / hostel gave a nice snapshot of local village life.

Hong negotiating with a Yao woman, who had staked out a placed outside the toilet 🙂 She was very friendly and gave Hong a good deal.

The area is home to the famous long-hair Yao ladies. They only cut their hair twice in their life. This lady asked for a donation to show us her hair – they weave the old hair into the hairdo. She was very friendly.

I always try to buy traditional handmade handicrafts from the local people. This incredible old lady was one of the last remaining people who knew how to weave shoes from local grasses. She looked at my big feet and said she didn’t have any to fit my size, but if I came back tomorrow she would have them ready – I did. And I treasure this pair.

A local clinic. People get an IV almost as soon as the paperwork is done. These folks are waiting outside with kids who have the IV inserted in their foreheads.

You never know what you’ll find when you go on a roadtrip in China. A prosperous city to the north of us is a center for automobile manufacturing in the region. This guy needs to go back to driver’s school though.

There was too much work and sadness to get through for the first parts of this episode.


Back from a road trip to the northern parts of Guangxi. We are in the tropics (south of Tropic of Cancer about 100 miles). We visited the rice terraces of the Yao and Zhuang minority. They call it the Dragon’s Backbone. There are supposed to be nine dragons and a half dozen tigers protecting the area – the shapes of the landscape resembling the two beasts. The minority people are far and away some of the most interesting people in China. This area was constructed between 800 years ago to around 400 years ago. The minority people manage water in very ingenious ways. They irrigate the fields with bamboo water conduits, and punch holes in the dikes to flood lower fields, using field stones to divert the water in the desired direction – all very low tech in the materials area, but suiting the land very well.

The area is a national scenic area and this offers some protection. The local government controls the entrances, but the minority people control the two villages at the top of the mountain. It was peaceful, and the minority folks really are easy to get along with.

My old boss, good friend, and his wife were our guests. They were on the tail end of their three week Orient Express excursion across eastern Europe, Russia – Lake Baikal, into Mongolia and on into China – Beijing and Xian. They then came to visit with us. They held up pretty well considering the heat and the topography. We did our best to make them comfortable and show them the truer view of China. We stayed in the mountains one night and traveled to some nearby spots. I had one of those only in China moments with Hong and our guests when we sat and watched a recap of the highlights of the opening ceremony of the Olympics, sipping a Chinese beer at the top of national park – it felt like truly a small world after all.

When our first non-family visitors were here we wanted them to try some Chinese fruits – Lychee and mango in particular. We waited in the car while Hong was shopping and looked across the street at an elderly umbrella repair man. These guys move from place to place repairing umbrellas – amazing how they do this. (there are also people who fix shoes, sharpen knives, make popcorn, cotton candy, sell balloons, bamboo leaf animals…). Next to him in the middle of the scene there is a clinic. Almost veryone gets an IV when then go to clinics. So these kids are hooked up to IV and sitting outside on sidewalk waiting for doctor to come and check on them. And on the left of the scene you can see the meat selling lady. Who is using a rather nasty looking rag on a stick to shoe away the flies. So, I think this is a tableau that captures a few essential aspects of part of society here.

From the balmy south,


Twice this week, I have had to walk through torrential rains which cause the sewage to flow out and down the roads like a stanky mocha java. So I have been soaking my tootsies in alkaline and soap – maybe formaldehyde would work. In the tropics massive rain is not a surprise – the lack of drainage is certainly stupefying. Last month there was a horrendous flood in the capital and untold number of rural people died when landslides swept away villages.


I read a disturbing – if true economic stat – that our government spent more on energy to supply air conditioning in Afghanistan than was spent on the school lunch program – or NASA – could this be true? If so, time for a major economic rethink.

The typhoon rains rattle the window,, the street noise lessens, the neighbors drift off until soon it will be silence and soft wings of Morpheus. A chorus of daredevil frogs peeps away across the street.

From here and now


what’s in a name

Music still lifts the memory curtains and lets me peer back in time to my old self – there are certain songs that are triggers for some of my greatest memories of what I call mind-forging. I can feel the metaphysical tongs grasping the red-hot mental-metal and the awareness-hammer ringing against the immutable anvil of reality as I am drawn and shaped by my life-path the fine edge honed by experience until it gleams in the penetrating brilliance of the cosmic mirror.

As my journey here continues, I have altered how I see myself and the world around me. The following is a bit heavy handed and perhaps wordy, but here is my rough attempt at capturing this change.

Through an Opened Door

Living within another culture requires too many adaptations to list, but chief amongst them would be broadmindedness. Being identified as a representative of less than one percent of the humanity in an oceanic population sets up certain self-expectations as one feels a certain compulsion to put on display distinguishing characteristics. Puffed up and primped, the visitor slices through crowds, elbowing aside the common aspects of life in order to muscle past the locals towards the ever-receding goal of having an “authentic” experience. With the sightseer’s excitement of the newly arrived self burned away, the traveler slowly emerges, skillfully capable of navigation, and apparent deeper integration within the adopted land.

To the traveler past discomforts become small annoyances as these are the jagged edges of cultural boundaries. In fact there is often no clear boundary line between one people and another just different ways of doing the same things – shopping, cooking, cleaning and moving about are all done by everyone as are a myriad other tasks. It is just the methods, adapted to the local environs, which are different. The inescapable differences, such as language and ethnicity, from one perspective become the sticking points and cultural snags, but viewed another way these are also fine distinctions of self-identity forming an indelible route back home. But inevitably there are doorways, portals into the deeper community which remain closed; no decipherable key can gain access. These entrances into profound regions must be identified by locals. The labyrinthine path cannot be navigated with mere mental maps, but must be intuited and this intuition is fed by abandonment of affectations, dropping of one’s guard and, in a sense, becoming vulnerable. To pass through the natural margin, the door must be opened from within; one’s self-contour must be reformed. But this re-alignment of the self is not a simple physical alteration such as wearing local fashion or learning catchphrases; the character re-balancing is metaphysical in nature. Once the fresh shades of temperament appear, the door swings open and what was once a blockade becomes an entryway.

Once through the opening into the broader society, the cultural miasma lifts, ever so slightly, with each step deeper into the unknown space. Tentative steps lead to a more relaxed gait and intellectual disconnection points become simply personal characteristics. The prideful chip on the shoulder is long gone, the spine, rigidly set earlier to survive taking things head-on, loosens up and extends thus raising one’s head higher. The acceptance of so-called cultural norms becomes easier as daily life focuses less on adapting and more on living. The homeland is preserved safely within the heart as the point of origin, the center of the compass from which one navigates the greater world. There is no abandonment of individual national background; instead there is an integration of the individual with the global. There are always unfamiliar doorways and unexplored paths but the expertise gained by crossing through the initial opened door makes these unfamiliar entries less alarming and this genuine ability is the much sought after true authentic experience.


A bit of apocalyptic clouds on the horizon – in the last 30 years California has spent more on prisons than on education – the two are inverse proportional – so investing in education reduces crime – I think that can be extrapolated from this.

I have started teaching – this university is more backwards – so feel I am part of the “developing” world whereas before I felt I was in a developed area. So I bought my own projector in order to bring the One Man Chautauqua (as my friend so kindly called my teaching) to the students – speakers and all. I carry the projector and my laptop in a big backpack and the speakers in a grocery bag – quite a sight. It is the only way I know how to teach, so let the curtain go up on another, longer, semester. I have to teach for 19 weeks, which is damn annoying, and I am being fed information piecemeal.

From the festering red sore on the planet’s backside (I should put that on a T-shirt)

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