Brusa Family Union

January 20, 2014

I arrived home early Friday morning from a ten-day trip to Israel on the Taglit-Birthright program. I went because I could, because the nation of Israel wants every young Jew in the world to have the opportunity to see their country, because I want to take every opportunity to see any country in the world. I hoped for good travel and perhaps a few likespirited friends from my group who would share it with me. I even hoped some of those friends would be Brazilian, as this was to be the first dual-nationality trip in the history of the program. Beyond all my attempts thus far to explain away the why, what I’ve come home with is a whole new branch of family; and all I find myself wanting to do is introduce everybody to them. Nobody exchanged last names on the trip, but we came to know ourselves as Brusa.

Ariel was the patriarch of the group. He was the oldest and had the fullest beard. If our guides wouldn’t tell us where a bar was, he would disappear for an hour and come back with directions. If people were in a quiet mood, he would convince the proprietor to turn the music down and throw out the cover charge. He was the first person to ask the hardest questions in the room, and it was his unquenchable opinionation that gave me the courage to have as rich and difficult of moral-political discussions as became common by the end of our trip.

If there was a trickster in the group, it was Adam. He made a point of telling humorous lies about himself whenever faced with an icebreaker activity. Whether intended or not, he did a brilliant job of disrupting all character radar: by turns a grouch and a clown, a boxer and a busdriver, a writer of musicals, and a secret speaker of Portuguese, erstwhile eavesdropping.

Half the trip went by before I got to know Alessandra, but we made up for it by diving straight into the richest of conversations. She was the person who sat cliffside with me, meditating over the massive and enigmatic landscape of Mizpeh Ramon, passing back and forth our favorite and most potentially embarrassing conceptions of reality, always met by the other with enthusiasm and warmth.

There was a Ben from Milwaukee whose misinterpreted zodiac sign provided the most bombastic of so many groupblast laughterbouts on the trip. He and I walked together through the art markets of Tel Aviv, nerding out a tune for two of history, myth, literature, and gaming.

Ben the Jew was one of my constant companions on the trip. We hiked the Galilee, rode the bus, picked tomatoes, sang songs, and failed to design a t-shirt together, rarely going ten seconds at a time without finding something worth laughing about.

As did Ben and I on the t-shirt design, so too did Carol and I fail to write our grandiose 39-verse rap saga about every member of the group. We blame every possible detail of circumstance.

It was with another Carol that I was able to explore some of the most frustrating thoughts sparked by the trip. After listening to two Arab speakers one morning, Carol and I talked at length about our political upbringings, her always hearing the Zionist end of things while I heard mostly Palestinian voices. It was a truly fine thing to come to the conversation on each the other’s terms and try to understand rather than correct the situation. Our conversations even inspired me to draw a picture that she now carries with her.

Catherine was quiet and I did not find the chance to know her very well, but in our last couple days she made a habit of tugging at my beard and speaking lengths of Portuguese at me. In time, I learned that she was calling me a cute little beaver, saying that she would like to put me in a little pot on her desk at home. What greater compliment does a person hope to get?

Among many other roles, Clara played the snakecharmer to my inner entertainer. We were taken, on our second evening, to an Ethiopian Community Center in Beit Shan, where we learned about the overnight rescue of thousands of threatened Jews in that country and the difficulties they’ve faced and overcome in their new home in the two decades since. One of the women there taught us the art of dancing out scenes with just our necks and shoulders. Clara and I were asked to dance out a scene where she attempted to seduce me and I played hard-to-get. Our performance was so celebrated that I felt at full ease to dance my limbs out at freak force that night and to my mounting surprise, my flailabout goof stylings became one of the most celebrated motifs of the trip. I’ll have it engraved in cloudstone that I owe my fame to Clara’s napely inducements.

My clearest memories of Daniel spring from the meandering art streets of Tzfat. We walked from vendor to vendor, through a candleshop, and around a synagogue in the course of getting to know each other. He could seem stoic at times, and I find him difficult to put into few enough words here.

Daniel, on the other hand, was perhaps the rambunctiousest fellow on the trip. He had the impeccable talent of saying exactly whatever he wanted in whatever situation did or didn’t call for it and I trace much of the group’s rapid course to intimacy on Daniel’s own precedent. It was nice to have someone else around who was more familiar with Asian religions than our own Jewish tradition and to try and navigate a few comparisons together. He also gave me the immense compliment of being the shaman of the group.

On the original grounds of Kibbutz Gvulot, some of us were separated out to perform scenes from the community’s history. With the help of the siblings Holway, Deborah and I re-enacted the day that a stranger showed up in the communal baths.

Eduardo was ever my compatriot in cross-cultural dialogue. He loved nothing more than picking at the norms and taboos, assumptions and limitations between one culture and another. Alright, one thing he loved more was when the trajectory of such a conversation led to the very natural conclusion that, arbitrary socialized habits aside, there was no reason a given girl shouldn’t hook up with him. That being said, he gave me the coat off his back on a very windy walk through mid-night Jerusalem. That being said, it made an excellent excuse to snuggle up with others for warmth.

Fernanda was quiet and we didn’t get to know each other especially well. She was, however, a fun dancing companion and a fine smiler, which can make you feel close to someone all the same.

There was another Fernanda who was not quiet at all. We walked up and down the trails of the Yizrael Valley, the streets of Jerusalem, and the banks of Jaffa talking about art, nature, her adopted home in New York, her forsaken home in Brazil, my home in Minnesota and any possible reason a person might want to visit me there. She also gave me a thorough list of Brazilian films to watch, which is good because I’m already missing dearly the sound of Portuguese in my daily ears.

It took all of one moment to realize I’d adore Flavio. At the end of our first day, everybody unkempt and underslept and airsore, we were brought at sunset to Beit Alfa where a couple kibbutzim immediately set to entangling us in a series of highly energetic nonsense games. Flavio perked right up with me and set about matching their spirited silliness, everybody else taking some while or longer to rise to the childishness of the occasion. From then on, I knew I could turn to Flavio for all matters in which spirits needed lifting.

Gal was not a member of the group, per se, but our Israeli bodyguard and medic. In immediate terms, he was a tall, muscular man with short-cropped hair and a gun on his hip, setting off pretty much all of my leftover phobias from high school. It was as much a de-conditioning experience, then, as it was a joyous one getting to become so jauntingly, jokingly, embracingly close of friends with him. Most of my favorite Gal stories might not be prudently published here, but I hope there are others who know why I’ll always remember the way he watched out for us while we rode camels around the Negev.

The de facto master of celebrations on our trip was Ian, a DJ from Los Angeles, but I think I’ll remember him best for an uncharacteristic sentimental moment. On the hinge of our trip, we took a day away from travel to observe Shabbat on a verdant kibbutz in the north of the Negev desert. After lighting the candles at sundown, people took turns sharing stories and traditions from their own lives. It was Ian who connected the holy day specifically to family, telling us about the relationship he’s been able to hold with his grandfather in recent years. As he spoke, I found myself crying and uncertain why. I’ve just learned that my own grandfather had passed away earlier that same day, and I thank Ian, in whatever manner, for bringing us together in that slow and peaceful evening.

Jaimee had the uncanny superpower of seeming to take seriously and kindly everything anyone said. Traveling with forty-some travel-high strangers and one younger brother, I think that’s as dear an accomplishment as anything.

The award for biggest laugh elicited on the trip goes to Jessica. During my brief stint as a lost person in Jerusalem, she posted a dashingly aloof picture of me on facebook with the caption “Last seen at the Western Wall.” There’s something very cinematic about the whole thing that I can’t quite place but keeps making me laugh. It’s really great.

I can’t express powerfully enough how drawn-in, celebrated and adored this whole group made me feel. This was especially the case with Joe. Our last night in-country, we all went out to a club together. Joe found me dancing wildlike in a far nook of the room and asked why I wasn’t where the dancing was. I complained that there was never any room to dance in dance clubs. Not two minutes later, I found Joe pulling me across the room and hurling me into a space he’d cleared. As far as I can tell, he went to that much trouble just to see me mirthing.

Katie and I were partners in sinister manifestation. Sitting in a cold white room, waiting for everyone to show so we could do our seventh icebreaker activity, Katie and I started waxing on about how great it would be if instead of a fun fact or a special talent, we were all prompted to share our most embarrassing experience from the last year or else our worst childhood fear. Just seconds into the circle, Ariel shared that he hadn’t been to the bathroom since Sao Paolo. The room rapidly degenerated into outlandishly overpersonal admissions, bawdy tales, and tumbling hysterics. When it got to Katie, she shared a secret she’d been keeping for 16 years. As the circle was completed and Katie and I started congratulating each other, all historical precedent was broken and people started going around again, actually enjoying themselves and loathing that the icebreakers might end.

Kelly was the first person I met at the airport and he first friend I made. Going all the way back in history to a time when I was still just hoping for a couple of decent traveling companions, I already knew that the trip would be a hit with Kelly along. Over the next ten days, we drew in her Ryan Gosling coloring book, wandered the edges of the Jaffa Port, sampled all manner of foreign fruit, and sang songs around a Bedouin fire.

My lasting memory of Kyle is a very simple one. While placed as roommates together in Jerusalem, we went up in between events to take an honest hour’s nap, then proceeded to make each other laugh right through to the alarm.

When I came up with this very novel blog structure, I thought it would be easy to tell the events of the trip by simply sharing what I did with whom, and why that person made it special. As I write I realize just how hard it is to pull the events out of the relationships, its like taffy from too much hair. Anyway, Leo made me laugh a lot; like, in every corner of the country. Marilia never acted out or said anything that didn’t matter, so I always looked to her when I needed a contemplative comrade. Masha kept me in good conversation on the way home, when my mind might rather have been moping. Max and I did our best to work out every possible position and motion one could maintain in the surreal buoyancy of the Dead Lake (I refuse to call it a Sea). Monica argued historicism with me in the serene dank of a 2,000-year-old Masada cistern. Nicole bought me the wonderful tea that I sip on right presently, reminding me all the more vividly of the experimental desert greenhouse where it was grown and all the fine faces that roved there with me. Olivia was my steadfast partner in marathon dancing, boisterous enthusiasms and general wanton foolishness. Paula was a devoted friend from the moment she decided she was anyone’s friend; she was also the only person who actually got up at 5 in the morning to say goodbye to the first few of us who had to leave. Rachel was a cohort in some of the best conversations I shared about race, nationality, gender, and feminism.

Alright, wait. I need to slow down a little at the end here, vowed as I am to finish writing this before work. Rebeca needs her own paragraph for sure. She was one of my constant companions, whatever the terrain, and the giver of some of the best smiles I’ve ever met. At the apex of the only bad mood I got into on the trip, Rebeca sat with me and we started making a list of things that made us happy. Soon enough there was a whole crowd sitting with us, calm in the center of a convention floor, all together raising the ghosts of joys passed. It was a little bit magic; incant the right words and the rest simply comes to be sort of thing.

I sat with Roland on the airplane to Israel. We didn’t talk the full ten hours there, but his companionship did a lot to prepare for the flurry of thoughtful histories and fast-grown friendships that were in store.

It was with Sarah that I shared my finest misadventure of the trip. You see, all we did was overestimate the logic of our ancestors and assume Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter was built on a gridwork. That one tiny, really very insignificant, understandable miscalculation launched us all over every bend and bound of the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, the golden dinge of the whole Old City, and an hour late to our rendezvous. Thanks to our shared capacity for the uncertain, we managed never to panic, rather basking in our ever whereverward rushing. We got to see a whole lot of what we didn’t think we’d have the chance to and it ended up as one of the most remarkable experiences I had.

The clock is ticking silently on and I’ve still three beloved friends to go! Here’s an expedient for you: Tali and Tamar were sisters, seasoned revelers, and invaluable colleagues in the Anti-Complaint League, which the three of us developed with Ariel lest we even for a moment lapse into human habits and forget what amazing luck and privilege had brought us on our trip.

During our stay in the Bedouin settlement, our guide took us out for some empty desert stargazing. Slow and wonderstruck, Thiago and I walked back together and talked about how very long we seemed to have been traveling together. I told him how funny it felt, but also how true, that I should think of him as one of my oldest friends, someone I could go to if I really needed someone to understand me, after having met only six days prior. He nodded in agreement and we walked on a while longer together. Nothing needed to be said for us both to know how good it felt.

Bringin’ Most of it Back Home

June 3, 2012

So I figure that none but a couple confidants knows anything about my last few months here. I’ve been busy and blissful and enjoying things unwritable, which is an excuse. Rather than try to catch up on my second semester at UIC, I’m going to skip right ahead and tell you all about the future (I figure I have a few insights, since I’ve been experiencing my days about thirteen hours ahead of most of you for some time now).
-I have less than two weeks left in Zhuhai. That’s that.
-I finish work (such as it is, we’re basically on summer holiday now) on June 15th.
-On Bloomsday, I will head out to Hong Kong and spend a week, once again on Lamma Island, with my dear friends Ryan and Cindy.
-On June 22 I will fly to Cebu, Philippines for a friend’s sister’s wedding. A couple birthdays and a few beaches later, I will leave my friends and go to San Juan, Southern Leyte to visit my brother’s host family from his time in the Peace Corp.
-On July 7, I will fly to Shanghai, spend the next couple weeks bumping around central Eastern China, and then jump over the water and land in Korea, where I will spend equal parts of a week with my pal Sunny (and meet his new daughter!) and my Sean.
-On July 31st, at 4:46pm, I will arrive at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. I would like somebody to organize a task force to have a puddle of loved ones waiting who may take me to their bosoms and carry me to Hard Times to watch me eat, drink, and smile like an idiot for a few hours.
-I will stay in Minneapolis for two days, going back to St. Joseph on the evening of the 2nd to see my moms and catsit for them while they voyage the Yukon. Anybody who cares to come by the St. Joe homestead for a visit between August 4th and 18th will be met with hugs and hot chocolates.
-From the 19th to the 26th, I will head North with Sam to counsel at Camp Warren.
After August 26th, there are no explicit expectations of me for the rest of my life.

I will not be taking my computer with me while I travel this summer. If you want to get in contact before I come home, please try to get ahold of me as soon as possible and we’ll skype (or something).
Much excitement.
More love.
Colin.

Tim and I Went to Yangshuo.

April 24, 2012

Yes, indeed. I’d meant to write about that while the experience was still fresh and sticky on my fingers.

Yangshuo, along with neighboring Guilin, is centered in what is often thought of as the classic Chinese landscape, with the classic Chinese mountains. Referred to as “karsts” in our Lonely Planet, they are not proper mountains – masses of rock forced outward by tectonic movements – but rather the results of constant erosion. What look like jutting, bulbous mountaintop towertops everywhere indicate where the ground once was, and what feels like lowest valley floor is actually the lowest level to which it’s eroded.

Tim and I arrived by train around 7am (let’s say). The sky was dense with mist, accentuating the intense visual awareness of depth of field already created by the karst-struck landscape around whose forms the city is arranged. Once we got outside of town, Tim and I put words to what felt so different: not only were we surrounded by immeasurable greenness but the air itself tasted green. We hadn’t tasted unpolluted air in nearly 8 months.

After stumbling upon and quickly signing into Fun Sam’s (American-style) Bed & Breakfast, well outside of town, Tim and I went wandering Northward with an almost entirely detailless tourist map, a pocket phrasebook, and a couple raincoats. We quickly ditched the roads, passing over a lake, through a narrow pass, down into a village that felt as if it could have been nestled there between three karsts’ slopes for centuries. We took our time, getting to know our world.

Tim said, “Of course people who lived here would believe in taoism.” He’d just started one of my recent favorite books, Alan Watts’s The Way of Zen.

I said, “Living here, nobody would ever come up with linear perspective.”

Only perspective I can gain is

that perspective is

a verb rather than a noun,

And that its motion

is whimsical, rather than undular.

We walked through woods and fields, over irrigation to the river, crossed the river on a bamboo boat, and walked along the river side of the river where very many graves and shrines were being visited for the ancestor-honoring Qingming Festival.

Fireworks in the mist.

We crossed the river by bridge, drank tea and ate lunch by the water, and walked through the most rural landscape either of us had ever seen, on increasingly wet and winding, and eventually absent, paths. We walked for hours and ended up in a somewhat remote town northwest of Yangshuo. I believe we paid somebody to drive us to town in her family car.

On our first day we walked something like 12 kilometers north of town. On our second, we biked more than 15 southward. As much as there was to feel, there is little to say. It was perfect. We went to an enormous ancient banyan tree. We went to Moon Hill, where I rested in the cafe and finished reading RAW’s Prometheus Rising after five intense months. We went to a cave, explored the innards of a karst, and let moisture drip on our heads and hands. I am become stalagmite. We biked home, on what really looked like it would be a shortcut which eventually put us in utter, natural, moonless darkness with several kilometers to go and hearing the most overwhelming and uncanny orchestracophany of what we might as well call insects.

We made it back safely; and on our last day in town, we rested. We sat around at our B& B, at the Twin Peaks Cafe, at another cafe, in a park, on the river.

Dreaming to the sounds of the Li River,
I startle awake to a blaring horn,
that I hear 1 second later.
Ripple preceding current.

At 8pm on the third day, we caught our bus home, which dropped us off on the edge of a desolate Guangzhou at 3am, from whence we had to take a 45-minute cab, a 2-hour rest in a lobby for a 1-hour train ride homein time to shower, drink two pots of coffee, and read about James Joyce’s process of formulating Finnegans Wake before a full day of work, at some late point in which I wrote down that

I feel all the harmony
of a madman’s eyes
and wisdom’s chortle.
Or perhaps in unverse:
Retuning:
I am blissdom,
hear me secret

and then

Who me?
I’m a hypedelic hepcat
Cavorting through time travels and dime novels,
I escaped from the future
To put the pasts to peace,
the right to laughing,
and the left to rights.

I have slept about 14 times since then, but I have felt largely the same. I am really just very well these days. The weather’s changed rapidly and I have yet another new relationship building with the mountains around my school. I spent the next week incapable of doing anything other than read. I read the last 250-some enormous pages and 20 or so years of James Joyce’s biography in 5 days. I spent the weekend getting sick and using the opportunity of sitting inside nursing myself to catch up on a lot of backed-up business, personal work and homework. The next week largely went to drawing a mural on blank papers that now take up a whole wall of my living room.This weekend I celebrated a fabulous Erismas with my friends, a bacchanalia lasting from the Friday night sabbath on Thursday to sunrise Saturday morning.

I’ve been spending as much time as possible outdoors, celebrating storm season. I’ve also a nefound awareness of the left nape of my neck, thanks to my first ever dangly earring. I’ve been continuing to challenge my small, mechanical prejudices by enjoying sport, wearing flip-flops, and listening to screamo with my friend Hugh, who is an enthusiast.

Meaningful things I’ve done in school include teaching William Butler Yeats and Margaret Atwood to my literature class and screening three of my favorite French movies to my film class (Zazie on the Metro, Stolen Kisses, Amelie).

- – - – - – -

Having finished James Joyce and Prometheus Rising as well as my mural, I feel a new lease on reading. In the last 2 days, I have finished a book on Chinese history that I started in January and Emerson’s Nature, which I started 2 years ago, and read the first quarter of E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. I am including a fragment I jotted down as a tangent to the latter book, since I think a few people who read this will be interested.

Spirituality, and what I think of as its necessity, are based in any understanding of self as exhaulted, exhaultible, infinite in potential as much as in mystery; as marvelous. And in this recognition is carried the same recognition of value, and equally importantly of indefinability in all others.

This type of thought has been fostered by atheist and agnostic and christian humanism, by ecology, by quantum mechanics, by radical impetus of surrealism, through microcosmic study of impressionism, by communty-based and voice-respecting impulses in feminism, by oral history, by pure psychology, even by exploring the malleability of human identity/consciousness on the non-material plane of the internet.

Neither religion nor atheism is a problem. Those brands of either which relegate the self (and, in tow, all others) to mechanical simplicity, to statistical definability, to material appeasement, to cynical entrapment, or to any other manner of seeing the self as subject to anything so impersonal – Grand Abstractions – as a state, church, corporation or ideology before being subject to itself and its direct corrolaries – Grand Presences like community, environment, behavior, bliss, output (creative output, functional output, violent output, pleasurable output, spectacular ouput, pollutant output, and its accompanying effects).

Without wonder, and thus without uncertainty, we cannot feel what Schumacher calls “the stillness of liberation” from “that soul-destroying meaningless, mechanical, monotonous, moronic work [which] is an insult to human nature [and] which must necessarily and inevitably produce either escapism or aggession” (39). Something which spirituality makes essential – in taoist acting non-action and in post-structuralist self-determinism – is the recognition that everything we do can be remarkable, and likewise that the grandiloquence of modern material living is much more laughable than are the paultry efforts of a woman to make a clay cup or a child to climb a tree.

Paradoxically, the result of such small-scale aggrandisement is cosmic humility.

A day or so in lives

April 4, 2012

I’m just now home from a day’s passing. Before taking the 3A bus home, I sat a teapot’s length at a small pub on Oxford Street in Zhuhai, reading in my Oxford edition of Richard Ellmann’s biography about James Joyce drinking and reading in a small Italian pub in Paris as Ulysses was published. Two of my dearest friends (O Daley O Fred) are presently or just recently in Oxford proper and I want them to read this and call me so we may yak incessantly.

I ate dinner in Little Saigon, at a table on the side of a second-story bridge over Oxford Street, in Zhuhai, China. I had a sour beef soup that was complemented by mint rather than sweet, spice or salt. I ate, watching from my perch as the only other white person in the neighborhood attempted to keep a small crowd of Chinese teenagers in thrall.

Before then and after my first encounter with Oxford Street, I walked a few stretches of residential back road and side street, observing a few thanked details of what is the miracle of other people’s lives. It was remarkable and I have nothing to say about it. I was brought, at windings, to a paradisiacal and underpopulated public park. I sat at a low stone table and saw something marvelous and surprising in each of the five directions around me. Teal apartments sprouting from a billowing silver-green treetop. A raw and sinuous tree that reached at an angle, becoming parallel to the ground, like an arm with three elbows. Two children in a little park whose slide was a stone elephant. An inexplicable rock. A bright distant tree framed by two near ones, darkly, that could have passed, given harsher perspective, for an orange dandelion puff. I sat also by a fountain, sketching with my left hand a tree whose growth pattern seemed entirely novel.

I got in a fair share of floral prose.

On a bus, I wrote: “Not knowing the language around me makes it so easy for every handsome person’s words to be crisp and clever, every one yelling into a phone righteous in anger.”

Standing on a rock over the sea, I wrote: “When reality looks like sea, its nuances and forms the rippling of infinite interacting uniquities springing into impossible momentary selfhoods. Continuously, All a pool of form springing newly forth, whole and divisible, I want to be of the surf – the outstretched frothings that finger up the sand, splutter on rock, vacation in tidepools, and return with new forms for home.”

At peace in another park, remembering the revelation I had in Decorah last summer that the ground is actually a ceiling holding me suspended over an enormous vastness that is not even properly below as it is just utterly out, I wrote: “A piper on the dizi [a dizi is a Chinese instrument that reminds me of wooden flutes] playing chipper airs that remind me of Chinas and Irelands both I’ve never been to. Water beyond flowers and rocks and there’s one man rowing, taut sinew overcoming a chaos of waves. I lie back, undreaming in sharp grass. A poke and tuft of gold shrub are all that I see hanging with me over the vast grey belowround.”

All day long I was rapt in my gold hue shirt.

 

I have not written in a couple weeks, so you should know that Hong Kong was as peaceful and recharging and full of natural beauty as you wouldn’t expect a trip to Hong Kong to be. Sam and Tim and I swam in the ocean, we laid on beaches and watched birds of prey at either mating or play.

The next week became Chinese movie week. I watched five Chinese films in as many days and two of them (Chen Kaige’s “Farewell, My Concubine” and Zhang Yimou’s “Ju Dou”) I liked as much as anything I’ve seen in a long time. Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” and Tsai Ming-Liang’s “What Time Is It There?” were also quite good. “A Chinese Ghost Story” was not. All of them suffered the arbitrary wrath of poor subtitling.

Last weekend was a happy jumble. I arranged my schedule so as not to work on Friday. Thursday night was unexpectedly spent enjoying things I have historically avoided. I danced to 80s pop at length with Rhian, Kate, Jess, and Sam, came home, and watched internet videos of police chases and motorcycle gangs and Arnold Schwarzenegger and a skateboarder on crutches with Tim, Hugh, Ben, and Chue. Off as I had it, I somehow can’t remember a single thing that happened on Friday. Neither can the friends who are in my apartment right now. On Saturday, Sam and I went for a meandering bikeride and delta-side picnic of kippers and crackers before biking home to grade papers. I biked home and vegged out with Hugh all evening. On Sunday, I went to Guangzhou with my friend Bobby for his birthday. We spent the evening in a Middle Eastern neighborhood, eating a Turkish feast and smoking
large hookahs outdoors.

This week has been screenless week (e-mails and blogs aside). I have spent my time on reading and drawing and remembering how to sit without doing anything at all. Given the four day weekend that begins tomorrow night, Tim and I will be traveling to Yangshuo.

Wish us luck.

Make It New!

March 20, 2012

It’s mid-term week. I’m trying to be okay with finishing the third quarter of my stay here (give or take – give, actually – a few weeks for travel at the end). Looking the other direction, I’m wondering how I got halfway through the semester without any substantial blog updates.

I’ve been changing my behavior a lot lately, at least in terms of how I spend my time. The announcement that I would have to schedule mid-term grading into my week was an impetus. For most of the last six months (I’ve been here nearly seven), I’ve spent my evenings with roughly the same group of friends doing roughly the same things. I like these people and I enjoy the time we’ve spent together, but I also know that there’s more I’ll like to have done here than eat, drink, be merry, and give my friends grief.

Last week, as an experiment, I decided not to eat any dinners with that group. I still had plenty of good time with them, but I also managed to spend more time with new projects, people and places than I have all semester so far.

This week I set new terms. I have been and will continue to be eating all my dinners alone, pursuing projects long-stalled, and doing all my writing with my left hand.

I’ve also set forth the ambition to spend every weekend, from here to semester’s end, going to new places or going to old places with new attitudes.

This last weekend was spent with the near-constant company of Tim Lovett. On Friday night, we drank until St. Patrick’s Day caught up with us and finished out the night at The Old Chinese Junk, a bar we’d long-since written off as crummy, talking to a co-worker off whom we’d done the same. It wasn’t unpleasant. On Saturday, we took the 68 bus to a corner of Zhuhai we’d never explored and proceeded to spend hours ambling through street markets, intentfully taking turns we would normally ignore, following back alleys into wildernesses, admiring Spring’s new flowers, and generally getting escorted out of under-construction parking garages. We also happened onto the very exclusive looking yet inclusively named Zhuhai Girls’ Middle School, which looked like Versailles by way of Tylenol. We spent Sunday in Guangzhou (formerly misnomed “Canton”). We dazed through the most magnificent “Orchid Garden,” which might better be named “Paradisiacal Jungle Complex with Orchids In.” We stopped for uncounted minutes to watch a snail flow like slowest-moving liquid down sheer concrete, admiring the reach and dexterity of its eyestalks. We stopped for uncounted hours at a mid-garden teahouse where we sat on the water and drank in the full tea ceremony under palm-leaf light-dapple. As far as my Lonely Planet map can tell, we walked from the near northernmost to the near southernmost parts of the city in no straight line, stopping by the fifteen-century-old Temple of Six Banyan Trees, a t-shirt shop, a Muslim noodle restaurant, a couple antique shops filled with new merchandise, and a made-over industrial dam. More memorably than anything, we spent the entire weekend talking our noggins off.

This next weekend, I’ll be in Hong Kong with Tim and Sam. Boom.

Clockenflap Pictures

February 23, 2012

Brain(s)!

February 23, 2012

Two days ago, or so, I was reading rapidlike through Macbeth‘s last two acts, catching up for a literature tutorial I am leading this semester. My officemate Aaron asked me a question and I answered, unprocessed, in rhyming iambic pentameter, without slackening my reading pace. Haha!

Hey Dave:

February 16, 2012

Here are some pictures of my hair. I showed Akira to my film class on Monday and decided to use myself as a talking point.

Feeling like a cyborg

February 5, 2012

I’m one day back from my first extended trip in China. Home, I’ve already managed to watch two movies, eat a lavish meal, start a new book (Coetzee’s Age of Iron), go on a bike ride, catch up with most of my TA friends, win a game of some impromptu sport involving a soccer ball, getting sucked into and striving at a sport for the first time I can remember (quite the peculiar thing), shoot fireworks out my window, and cut myself a new head.

After waking up in Beijing, taking a taxi to the airport, taking an airplane to Foshan, walking a while, taking a motorcycle taxi to the train station, finding out it was the wrong train station, taking a bus to Foshan’s bus terminal, taking a bus to Zhuhai, stopping in at the Aussie bar for a chance encounter with a couple long-not-seen friends, and taking a bus home, I set some Frampton tunes to thunking, went in the bathroom, and cut about half of my hair clean off. Not the half you think.

Part of the inspiration was merely momentary (momentous?): I’d spent the whole day inert, in chairs, and I wanted to stand up and do something that was doing something. Part of the inspiration was metaphysical, identity-related: I find myself living in the world of Blade Runner so I might as well enjoy playing one of the background characters. Indeed, I feel I could play a right extra in anything from Akira to Bubblegum Crisis right now, a real cyberpunk citizen I’ll get to enjoy playing at for the next while. Part of the inspiration was symbolic: I’ve decided to experiment with a fairly different lifestyle and routine this coming semester than I had last semester, a more focused one with emphases on discipline and completion of things; like my hair, the linear order of it will be a facade, and also like my newfound head, it should be a fun one to wear.

The last two weeks have been tremendous and it simply wouldn’t have made sense to come back out of them the same person. The second half of the journey had me backpacking Northward  to Xi’an and Beijing with Sean Stanhill and Sam Smith. Sean is my brother, my lifelong best bud, and in many ways and instances the inspiration for the world-traveling that I’m doing now. Sam is my erstwhile roommate, as old and close a friend as I have outside family, and one of the people with whom I’ve been sharing dreams for the last several years. For these to be my comrades on such a trip – so long waited on, so spontaneously lived – was as meaningful to my past selves looking on as it was simply an easy good time to the part of me who’s present in every moment and enjoying its good time.

Before going to Xi’an, Sean and I took a couple days’ rest here in Zhuhai after the first leg of our journey: Hong Kong and Macau. We started joking near the end of our trip that we’d checked off the list and officially beaten the China chapter of the high school textbooks in our minds. I could put it this way:

HONG KONG

  • Visit Aberdeen junk boat city
  • Visit Central Hong Kong, where the world’s most powerful banks flourish and flaunt
  • Hang out with the Occupy Hong Kong people next to the HSBC building
  • Visit Mong Kok, the world’s most densely populated neighborhood
  • Visit Victoria Peak, the world’s most expensive
  • Eat Indian food in the downstairs market of the infamous Chungking Mansions
  • Ride the world’s longest escalator system

MACAU

  • Enjoy the views
  • Enjoy the Portuguese food
  • Gamble a smidge in the city whose revenues just passed Vegas’s

XI’AN

  • View Emperor Qin Shihuang’s terra cotta army
  • Walk the Banpo Museum, which houses a preserved village from 6,000 years ago
  • Hang out in the Muslim Quarter, marking the end of the Silk Road
  • Sit in the Big Wild Goose Pagoda where Xuanzang translated the bulk of China’s Buddhist texts after his 16-year journey to the West
  • Take in the artifacts at the Shaanxi History Museum, in the former capital that housed many of China’s greatest dynasties

BEIJING

  • Forbidden City
  • Tiananmen Square
  • Great Wall
  • scorpion on a stick

Of course, adventure being what it is, so much of the wonder of those places was far-removed from anything they’d share in a textbook, and so much of the glory of the trip had nothing to do with famous places.

The days passed slowly, thick and vivid, and to try and describe them would take as long as it took to be them. I’m already waxing windy, so I’ll keep the remainder of this post to a couple episodes.

DRAGON IN

The timing of our trip coincided perfectly with China’s biggest celebration of the year: Spring Festival. Starting with the lunar new year, Spring Festival lasts for two weeks following and is a time when everybody in China returns to home and family. It is at once the most difficult time to travel – it took me a week of efforts to buy train tickets from Zhuhai to Xi’an – yet a perfect time to be  travelers, as everybody else is spending time with family and we got to have the world to ourselves. I can’t imagine how different would have been a site like the terra cotta warriors if I’d had to battle hordes of tourists at every juncture, just to get a view in.

At any rate, Sean and I were staying with a mutual acquaintance (now wonderful mutual friend) named Ryan on Lamma Island, the least inhabited of Hong Kong’s satellites. Lamma is not only cozy and quiet (the ordinance against cars on the island suggests something about its community), its lush and sparsely populated and paradisiacal in ways I would never expect in what is still technically a part of Hong Kong. It was a fine vantage point from which to see that city, and it was where we chose to partake in the celebrations of midnight, new year’s eve.

To begin with, we had to run across a fair width of the island to get to the temple in time, due to a scrabble game that had gone on a big too vigorous and long. Hoofing and huffing and panting, we pulled in just as the lion dragon dancers were bringing their beast to slow life. Last semester, my friend Pete and I went to some sessions with the lion dragon dancing and drumming club; understanding only the basic rhythms and motions of the art, I can say that the drummers on Lamma were quite capable, and the head dancer extraordinary. Herm moved not so much in motions as in an unpunctuated stream of livelihood, in jangling constant rain of energy jolts, trickling out in sunbursts of head-tilt tossed-back abandon, tail swishing at vortices, feinting right, left, up, and under my skin. When the dancers together took their first pause and the free-wheeling colossus arched and dashed off like a flesh-and-paper lighting bolt, I hopped to toe-tip and ran in pursuit with hordes of children (most of the adults were lagging a little) to taste whatever was coming of the life-energy we’d all been pulled into. As the caravan slowed, I hung back behind the drummer, feeling the dance not just of the lion dragon but of the whole event – a many-partnered tangle tango’s grace – feeling the dance as through a prism, or as a prism, emerging from drumskin a humming human spectrum, feeding back into it a singular brilliant light. There was ritual going on that I didn’t understand, to be sure, but the event was all animal myth-force, a buzzing from gut to hairtip to neighboring reveler. Then there were fireworks, and they’ve contnued every day since.

JUNKY EL DORADO

My only priority in Hong Kong, aside from doing whatever Ryan suggested and Sean requested was to go to the Chungking Mansions. Despite the plural in its name, Chungking Mansions is a single building, an enormous backpackers’ lodge, swarthy marketplace, and general epicenter of grime. I first learned about it from one of my favorite films, Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express. I tried to keep my eyes on camera mode, shooting fast video in widescreen, taking in as many of the byzantine details as I could.

I fear trying to describe the place because it might actual take on some kind of linguistic-alchemical anomalady and drive myself and my readers a slight tilt mad. I only saw the first floor, the main market area, and it held all the promise of a concentrated enclosed space, a moment in place, where absolutely everything is available to the person looking, from unreleased movies to mystery foods and unmentionables, not to mention a person who tried to bring us back to his room to buy samosas. Chungking is also home to Hong Kong’s best Indian and African food and we indulged indeed. At some point, I asked after a bathroom and was pointed toward a dank, empty stairwell with poor lighting and no other people. I took the stairs up and asked a person on the second floor and he sent me to the same place. I suppose they meant the stairwell was the bathroom. I didn’t test out the theory, Chungking just doesn’t seem like a place to get caught with one’s pants down. I also happened into the alley behind the building, a canyon of trash bags, and it was a fine sight to find.

DUCK SUCKA

This last bit’s for my dad, but everybody else is free to read. Three days ago I ate Peking Duck. Beijing Duck, actually, as it is most sensibly called.

I have had the utmost curiosity about the dish since I first learned about it at age ten, and one of the longest-running jokes I’ve ever kept up was requesting it each and every time my dad has ever asked what I wanted for dinner. I wasn’t lying; I really did want it every time.

Three days ago, I got it. It was perfect. The duck came to our table pre-sliced, one place each of immaculately arranged light meat, dark meat, and candied skin. The light meat was to be paced onto thin mushu-like noodle wraps with hoisin sauce, cucumber and onion. The dark meat came with a sweet and sour sauce for dipping. The skin, far away the highlight of an altogether luminous meal, simply came with a bowl of sugar for easy coating. Sean was surprised. He said he’d somehow figured it would taste like something other than duck. On the contrary, we decided, it simply tasted perfectly, wholly, exactly like all duck’s best and purest potential.

My only regret is that I had but one duck’s life to take.

Pixillationery cont.

January 7, 2012

Gumbo’s popping up everywhere and yet I’ve none of it to eat, that’s significant.

Nimble nimble,

whipoorwimple.

Much has “gone down” as somewhone or another’s said, and I wish I could share it with all of you personally. When I first blogged, I marveled at the capacity I had to send a  letter to so many at once, now I sometimes feel a modicum brought-down to address so many, see the reactions, the grins of delight and the eyes of intrigue, of so few. On which topic, I saw near dear beloved faces on New Year’s enough to face the new year a-bravened. I-miss-you being the point of the matter (duly). In the same thought I can get so tender with distance, so zipped out with joie de everyt’ing (elegiac effulgent). So goes the missing you all (soft). So goes the life trance (bloomhissening). Can I rest the onus of my current scatt’ruintion (I refuse to blame it) on the Zappa tunes blaring now askance (askance)?

I decided this morning that NUANCE is a word whose signifieds I could pay more attention to and thus entrust myself with the better parts of cosmic signifmuddies and so I wrote it on the forearch of my thumb, where I read it even now. That being a juncture. not a conclusion (conclusions the perniciousest of confidence men).

This is all to say that I have so much to share, so few ways I know to do so.

Here goe’s -parts- of it.

One place to measure the beginning of my holiday season is the English Department Christmas party which was held at Somehoteloranother on last month’s [I set this sentence up, grammatically, to place a date here, but I can't remember it, which may be for the better, and significant, but it was some significant number of days before Christmas, proper] and had me, at mid-evening’s crest, on a stage, reading rousing pulls from my recent novella and hip-cat scat-improvating blues growls over Sam’s harmonica to applause, of sorts, prompting a favorable comparison to Captain Beefheart from one of my co-workers. And, ensuing, bliss.

I’ve just flopped through my journal in a benevolent effort to lend chronology and credulity to the last month of my life, here recounted, and found very little of what could thereby be helpful. It’s been a radical time’s the message (not the point, so aggressive a thing to attach to every given thing; pbrrbht!). At some point I made eggnog with my buddy Kate, which restored spirits mightily in this otherwise nogdry region-season. I made latke’s for the Christmas feast to much of given lechiams from friends, girl and goy alike (a-kindle with season’s spirits).

I did a few days of extra work for reasons as yet unexplained in my direction. Regarding these days, the last of which (and onto New Year’s) brought Dave Madsen, an ex-compatriate from Augsburg-ways, to my door, direction, and whimsy. In our time together, two days and then some less, the juxtaposition of a person (so much more than, say, an object) from my last context with the landscape of my current one provided as much insights into either, perhaps, as did either into the other (or somewhich). It was neat.

Right now I’m listening to The Gumbo Variations by Frank Zappa, see what I mean?

This is about the fifth hour I’ve spent at home in the last fifty. Somewhat of otherwise what I’ve done is dither, frothing at whiles frisky. I left my dorm some couple days past to bus surf bop, stopping by the ferry terminal, at while, for purposes of micturation and caffeination, noticing without purpose that John Lennon continues to so rock ‘n’ rule. I found many hidden things: a demolished neighborhood/rolling brickhills in heaps (unnoticeable from roadside), a marble wall between nothing and a tree, a lovely public park, an enchanted farm, a cave, a boulder as big as your dreams that was well worth climbing, even in the rain (no broken heads), two friendly strangers, Hanukkah geld, and three teeny chocolate bottles with liqueur in. I got lost, stayed overnight at a hot spring with a friend and two strangers. So it was yesterday (though yesterday may not be at all the day I seek) that I blow-dried my beard (whose lusciousness and bellisimosity lately encroaches grandiosity’s claims) and gave it the sea-parting umph it’s been wanting to show its full voluptuity to the masses’ glasses. From Zhingshan I came home, watched A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and went out again. My buddy Kate and I watched F for Fake and talked for some many hours, some part over bowls of lovely lentil soup (so right for winter, even in the sub-tropics (but no substitute gumbo, surely)). Talking late, I satyed in her guest bed and, while she shopped for tickets out of Myanmar/Burma, I spent the morning reading nearly half of Fierce nvalids Home from Hot Climates. Now I’m back, a-brandied and bandy-legged, vigor-dancing to Adventure Time and the rumblings of friendship in my friends’ apartment of a fort-hour.

I’m headed down dinnerwise.

Cha cha cha.


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