Episode Twenty Three

September 2014 – December 2014

I realize now that some of the dates and events may be out of chronological sequence. But this episode includes a big Halloween party thrown by my college. My students attended, all in costumes. I went as a hell demon. And we went to a local cave with monkeys. I’ll put the photos first and China Collage text after.

Every year my international college has a huge Halloween party. It is the envy of all the other colleges at thee university. And it is held in the compound where I live. They hold it here because there is a wrought iron fence all around it with a gate so they can control who gets in. Plus the girl’s dorm is behind the foreign teacher apartments and classroom. These guys above are my students.

The girls (I call them young women, but they call themselves girls) love to put on dance routines. You’ll find them practicing around campus. In one of the buildings I teach classes in there are large glass doors that are locked. So the students practice to the reflections in the door.

We went to a cave area which is in the Zhuang minority area. They have a lot of indigenous legends and crafts there.

Legendary Zhuang warrior.

Monkeys in the wild. I love the fact I live close to wild monkeys.

We live in the famous Karst topography area of southern China, so there are a lot of caves.

I fed this monkey a delicious banana from Thailand and you can see the expression on his face – he definitely knew this was a tastier nanner than he was used to (see story below).

We went to a local Zhuang holiday celebration. The local guys play a game called firecracker football. The competition is between rival Zhuang minority villages (see story below).

One of my favorite things is taking photos of KFC and American fast food knockoffs. Here is another good one DFC.

The holiday features a traditional singing competition. Every year on the third day of the third lunar month, the Zhuang have a singing holiday. The singing is a call and response style. Several of my students are Zhuang, and they explained the traditions to me. One of my favorites is the five-color sticky rice – beautiful and delicious.

The Zhuang Singing Holiday

We have an extra two days off in this province to celebrate the Zhuang Singing holiday. The Zhuang are the largest ethnic minority in China, and this is officially a Zhuang province. This is the first time the provincial government has officially made this a holiday. The Zhuang singing contest goes back to ancient times. Call and Response type singing, to communicate across hills, tell stories, and to win a lover. I recorded some of the singers; because it seems mostly older people do anything cultural here. The younger generation is more interested in their smartphones and online shopping.

Hong and I went to their celebration nearby, and it was very interesting. The local villages get together and play what they call “catch the firecracker” but I renamed “firecracker football”. They shoot a small ball out of a Roman candle and all the shirtless guys scramble and tussle for the ball, fake-outs get the ball moved downfield and then it’s basically wrestling. There weren’t any forearm smashes or flying tackles, but it looked like they were exerting themselves more than most sports I have seen here – mostly badminton and ping pong.

Traditional holidays in China are mostly based on the Lunar Calendar. And Mid-Autumn Day is known as the Moon Festival in China. There is a fairy story of Chang’e a woman who disobeyed her husband and drank a magic potion of immortality and was subsequently transported to the moon where she lives with the rabbit in his mansion. Chinese see a rabbit when they look at the moon, not a man in the moon. And to celebrate families get together for a meal (as they do with every holiday), share mooncakes (not the traditional sort of cake you imagine when you hear the word cake); and stare at the moon while having a late night BBQ on little grills.

Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.

Omar Khayyam

Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.

Albert Schweitzer

Spinning clockwise ‘round the Axis Mundi

One of the devils I worked with actually said the following to me, ad he knows I am married to a wonderful Chinese lady, “Yeah, sometimes I hide in my apartment for several days on the holidays when I get all ‘CHINKED-OUT’”. What the hell? In what world did he think we are white-brothers and I would appreciate his rednecky expression – stopped talking to him after that. Reminded me of the time in break room at the Department when one of the old school racists told me, after I said I had visited China, “Man, I hear those Asian gals really like to F**K”. With great restraint, and crimson face, I walked away.

From the far side of homeworld,



I had to take a half day for stress relief the other day, and we went to local mountain to see some wild monkeys. The monkeys were far away until all the other visitors left. Then two old monkey-men snuck down and begged some nanners off me – I brought them just for that reason. The one old monkey sat there and raised his eyebrows up and down several times, as if to say “How about a banana, huh, huh?” These were imported bananas from Thailand, and when he first tasted it, his expression changed to that of a connoisseur of fine bananas and he immediately jammed it into his mouth and hopped down wanting another. Monkeys and I have always understood one another.

From further afar than many dare venture,

from the morass

Sometimes when I look at my university students, 18, 19 years old, my thoughts drift back to my own time at the start of college life. I was not very sure of myself, not having a lot of guidance on what to study, etc., but the exploration is what attracted me. I wanted to explore the edges of what I thought I knew, and found that the world outside the limits of my mental campfire was so vast and open. Of course money was a limiting factor always, but back then we had the Basic Grant and state scholarships – the cost was less and the opportunity greater.

My kids entered college after the great intellectual drought of Reagan/Bush – republicrat Congress pissing on the little guy so regularly it became a constant as certain as the speed of light. Soon my daughter will graduate, bless her. My youngest daughter will continue her education although job potential in weak economy is worrying. My son’s Comp Sci training has found little outlet for employment, but he is good with money and makes do on underemployment wages. It was very disheartening for him to lose his job to a merger, with nothing more than lack of seniority to generate his pink slip.

There is a Gaelic belief in something called “thin places”. In these thin places the division between this world and the spiritual realm is thin, easier to penetrate, and in these

thin places people can feel the potency of spiritual energy. For instance in an old church where for decades people of true faith prayed and celebrated their faith there would be a sort of buildup of positive forces that you could sense. I like that thought very much.

The Chinese have a fairy tale of a woman – Meng Po, who stands between this world and the afterlife. When a soul is to be reborn, she gives them Five Flavored Tea of Forgetfulness – waters of oblivion. I am not sure if I believe in a reincarnation of souls per se, but I think there is a connection between us and our ancestors, our family, those

who impact us, and this connection is a kind of love, a sort of enchantment, perhaps this is all part of the great tapestry in which all our lives are interwoven and it is one of the subtle guises of the Creator. Right now, I am only following shadows, but somewhere out

there in the profound darkness, there will be a revelation – I sense it in the same way I can still feel the hug of my mother, the laughter of my kids, and the touch of departed friends.

Today is a day for wrestling with the divine angels of my deeper mind. These are the days when the grief of work-a-day world is laid on the ground and I linger in the shade of the great tree of knowledge.

From the counterclockwise rotating sweat log of my cerebral cloister

Friendship and kindred spirits

Although I have spent most of my life valuing words, the emotions I want to convey are perhaps too complex for words, or maybe the feeling is so deep down basic it is like the unclassified certainty we are mortal the surety of which thrums in our marrow each day we wake and every night we dream. To me friends are the rarest of life’s essentials. We are born into a family, our common ancestral bloodlines bind us together, but our lives are lived separately, individual paths walked through the rolling landscape of life lead us off in different directions. Along the way we meet thousands of people, some at work, school, or social occasions, and we share a certain level of familiarity determined by our likes, dislikes and opinions. Rarely do we discover true friends. Friends, who connect with us on a broader scale than other acquaintances, cast a glance or shout encouragement in our direction even at great distances. The sky seems brighter, the depth of darkness less formidable because we know out there beyond the horizon a friend thinks about us for unselfish reasons. We are mortal and the chasms we must conquer seem shallower because of the simple light cast by friendship.

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