Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Love and Garbage

Love and Garbage by Ivan Klima. A writer living under the communist regime finds himself collecting garbage and sweeping the streets because that's the only job he can find. He sometimes works in the hospital to clean the medical waste.

His past came to his mind, that he spent a year as a visiting professor in the United States. The president of Ford invited him for tea and the writer, a professor in American literature then, asked the president how they dealt with the deserted cars. Where did they go? The president found the question amusing and assured the Czech writer that the used cars would be recycled, no fuss and no worries. The writer now realize that it was not true. All cherished goods become garbage and wait for people to collect; things do not vanish, they degrade and become garbage. That is what he is now, the writer conveys it subtly, that he is garbage too. Disposable.The writing is melancholy with acceptance. Knowing that everything ends up become garbage, he pursues love nonetheless. He hurts people, his wife and his mistress, and they hurt him too, in a quiet, inevitable way. It is inevitable, yes, inevitable, that is the source of his acceptance of his situation. You can not stop milk going sour. Everything is garbage.

Notes from the book:

I think of her only as "she". In my mind I mostly do not give her a name. Names get fingered and worn just like tender words.

Do you think every love indulges in false hopes? she asked.
I realized that she was asking about us, and I dared not say yes, even though I could see no reason why we should be exceptions.

I wanted to fall asleep but I could feel the night creeping around me softly, like a cat out hunting, nothing mattering to it except its intended prey.

Listening to other people's tales, I sometimes feel like a debtor, like an eternal dinner guest who never offer any invitations himself, but usually I can not bring myself to demand the attention of others.

I'm having every sentence I utter examined by a guard dog. I've accommodated a whole pack of them within me. I pick my way between them, their barking at times deafens me and their their soundless footfalls frightens me in my dreams.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Hu Huishan's Memorial

This is a story about an ordinary Chinese girl HU, Huishan. (The picture is from this blog and there are more photos and a bi-lingual account of the memorial.)

HU died at the age of 15 in the earthquake last year in Si-Chuan, China. There were numerous students died when the buildings collapsed instantly in the earthquake due to lousy structure or compromised materials. It is called "the Tofu construction" and it is to blame, at least partly, for the large number of casualties, which somehow becomes a taboo in China. A writer was arrested and put on trial for an attempt to collect the names of kids died in the earthquake; and an activist artist was detained in a hotel room on the way to testify for the case. The government refuses to give the number of the victims of the earthquake even till today.

That is not our story here of HU, but a background of a supposedly non-political event. An architect Liu met HU's mother by chance and was moved by the meticulous collection the mother made for her daughter. HU's baby teeth. The umbilical cord. HU's family has a humble wish that Liu can help: a modest place as the young girl's memorial.

Liu designs the memorial as a small and cozy place for the ordinary people. He wants it to embody simplicity and purity that captures the short life of HU. It is all pink inside the memorial, for HU loved pink; on the walls there are her pictures, notebooks, backpack, the usual stuff a young school girl would have. It is small for HU didn't live long enough to leave a lot for exhibition. The exterior of the memorial is inspired by the rescue tents seen everywhere after the disaster. The memorial is standing quietly in the woods, there is nothing fancy about it, the name is straightforward "HU Huishan's Memorial".

It is not allow to open and rumor has it that it will soon be torn down by the government. HU's parents are sad, "we don't understand why the government is afraid of the name of a girl."

No one understands. Chinese government behaves like it ordered the earthquake to kill its people and that's why they have a lot to hide. No one understands.

Story retold from the report.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Nothing About Luke

The opening of Cool Hand Luke is astonishing. “Violation”, “violation”, “violation”, then the shot zoomed out a little, and we saw that it was a parking meter, and the villain was decapitating it. I thought he did it for money but no, he cut it one by one and left the heads on the ground. The police came near and I thought he’d run or come up with a brilliant excuse to get away, but no, he offered his charming Paul Newman smile and admitted his crime.

When he was sent to jail we learned that he was a war hero. He’d be treated differently then? He’d so some heroic things? No. He offended the old inmate Dragline and got himself a boxing challenge. He’d win magically although Dragline was twice his size? No, he lost miserably. Dragline even picked him up and he couldn’t resist. When his feet touched the ground again he could barely stand but he hit Dragline. Ignoring everyone’s advice to stay down, he stood up again and again making it clear to Dragline: “You’ll have to kill me to keep me down.” In the poker game that night he won money, a buddy who used to be his major foe, and a nickname, “Cool hand Luke”.

Luke had nothing but that was how he charmed Dragline and others. “Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand”, says Luke. When his mother came to visit him we realized how Luke became Luke, and where his reckless smile came from. Luke’s mom smoked and laughed knowing that she was dying and this was her last chance with her son. She laughed some more and coughed, choked, then back to laughing and smoking. She was the last one Luke got, the only obstacle between Luke and nothing.

Luke ran away. I thought he’d make it. When Dragline received a magazine, I knew it right away, and I was as satisfied as other prisoners when I saw the picture with Newman in fancy suit surrounded by beautiful women in the magazine. But he got caught. How disappointing. I thought he was smart but all he did so far was some meaningless acts—eating 50 eggs and urging his colleagues work fast to get two hours free time doing nothing—how disappointing.

He ran again. This time he spread pepper behind him to confuse the dogs, good work. Got caught again. How disappointing. "Are you a cool hand or are you simply nothing, Luke?" I thought. This time he was targeted to set an example: after working all day he was asked to do extra work until he begged them not to hit him. He was allowed back to the dorm and he lost the followers’ support. He kept losing even when he had nothing. Cool hand Luke became the busboy for the jailors. They broke him. I had no expectation any more; I pretty much wanted him to die. Please just die. They broke me too.

He ran away. This time he did it by car and Dragline got a ride at the last minute. In the chapel he revealed his weakness, “it’s beginning to get to me. When does it end?” He was tired; so was I. When he was last seen in the vehicle smiling he looked relieved, contented, proud. I was relieved too. Thank God it ended.

Starting from zero, Luke went to a minus and we all know that the way leads to infinity. A stop at any point is a mercy of God. That’s how I felt after watching Cool Hand Luke. I can’t say that I like the movie but it stays with me, the way Luke cried: “Stop hitting me, boss, I’ll do whatever you say, just don’t hit me again please...”

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Another Suitcase in Another Hall

More packing and more moving; three months here and two months on the road then back for another couple of months which no one knows when it will end.

Again, I left without keys but the tiny keys of my suitcases. The means of transportation progresses so much but my psychological ability doesn't keep up with it. Part of me still couldn't believe that I went to Denmark and stayed for the gloomy winter, had a real snow in Amsterdam and stayed until the spring came, then found a wonderful digs in Hamburg to fulfill my dream of a slanted roof. Part of me couldn't figure how all these happened.

The other part of me, the most part, tells myself to pack and hit the road. I need a base to feel centered and I need to end the drifting journey but, not yet, not yet. I pack the question mark in my luggage and set out for an exclamation mark.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Notes of Great Jones Street

Simply clips from Great Jones Street that I admire a lot. Couldn't think of any remark other than "wow".

I knew Azarian would assume leadership of the band, his body being prettiest.

There was soup to eat when the old stove worked. Things functioned sporadically; other things functioned all the time but never to full effect.

The little radio made its noises, fierce as a baby, never listening to itself.

An infinite number of monkeys is put to work at an infinite number of typewriters and eventually one of them reproduces a great work of literature. In what language
I don’t know. But what about an infinite number of writers in an infinite number of cages? Would they make one monkey sound? One genuine chimp noise? Would they eventually swing by their toes from an infinite number of monkey bars? Would they shit monkey shit?

I’m the one who works. I want my money to sit quietly. That’s my idea of the value of money. While I work and sweat, I want to think of my money resting in a cool steel-paneled room. It’s stacked in green stacks, very placid and cool, resting up.

People who travel a great deal lose their souls at some point. All these lost souls are up there in the ozone. They get emitted from jet aircraft along with the well-known noxious chemicals. There’s a soul belt up there.

This professorship deals with events that almost took place, events that definitely took place but remained unseen and unremarked on, like the action of bacteria or the rising and falling of mountain ranges, and events that probably took place but were definitely not chronicled.

I thought of all the inner organs in the room, considered apart from the people they belonged to. For the moment of thought we seemed a convocation of martyrs, visible behind our skin. The room was a cell in a mystical painting, full of divine kidneys, lungs aloft in smoke, entrails gleaming, bladders simmering in painless fire. This was a madman’s truth, to paint us as sacs and flaming lariats, nearly godly in out light, perishable but never ending.

Live strawberries instead of strawberries on tape.

Suicide was nearer to me than my own big toe.

I’m luggage. By choice, inclination and occupation. What am I if I’m not luggage? I open myself up, insert some very costly items and then close up again and get transported to a timeless land.

Let the stress of trying to live determine how you die.

I’d be happy to consume the dregs from an old cup that’s just lying around unwashed.

I began to feel that the bed was having a dream and that the dream was me.

Stand there and move your lips. Don’t think of it as a performance. Think of it as an appearance.

You betray a friend and then you brag about it. That’s star quality. That gives you stature.

The perfect suicide is when people know you’re dead on one level but refuse to accept it on a deeper level.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Taiwan Police Violates Civil Rights When Maintaining Order During the Meeting of Taiwan’s and China’s Top Negotiators

The statement is written by Taiwan Sovereignty Watch and was taken from their website. It's a rough week here. :-(

Chen Yunlin, the chief of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, landed at Taiwan on November 3rd. He signed agreements on passenger-cargo flight, maritime shipping, mail service and food safety related issues with Chiang Pin-kung, the chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation. These agreements made Taiwan and China enter an age of three direct links. He would also meet President Ma Ying-Jeou of Taiwan.

For a long time, China has repressed any opportunities of Taiwan to participate international events. China neither recognizes Taiwan as a sovereign nation nor gives up its plan of making martial intrusion into Taiwan. Many Taiwanese people, including Taiwan’s biggest opposition party, Democratic Progressive Party, were worried that Kuomintang government would not be able to defend for Taiwan’s sovereignty during the negotiation. They also questioned that this meeting was not put under public examination. They are holding protests throughout Chen Yunlin’s visit to Taiwan, expressing their claims, such as “One Taiwan, One China”. Those people against China’s forceful repression of Tibet’s independence activities also joined the protests, holding “Free Tibet” slogan.

For Chen Yunlin’s Taiwan visit, the Kuomingtang administration has specifically deployed some seven thousand policemen and special agents to cordon off the venues where Chen would appear in an attempt to prevent the public from raising protests. Measures employed by the police to guard Chen these days have, however, gone beyond the bounds of the law and the Constitution and seriously infringed on citizens’ personal liberties and civil rights. Following are some instances:

1. The policy confiscated and damaged personal belongings of flags and balloons held by people at protest venues.

2. In the evening of November 2, four Taichung City Councilors, Chen Shu-hua (陳淑華), Chiu Su-chen (邱素貞), Chi Li-yu (紀麗玉) and Lai Chia-wei (賴佳微), checked in the Grand Hotel where Chen Yulin would stay during his visit. The next morning, they displayed protest banners from the balcony of their room. Within one minute, special agents broke in the balcony and entered their room, without their consent, to remove banners and restrain their actions.

3. Three bloggers with national flags of Taiwan and Tibet in hand were forcefully taken away by the police when walking southbound along Chung Shan North Rd and passing by the Taiwan Cement Building, where Chen Yunlin visited Cecilia Koo Yen, widow of the former chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation. The arrest caused the dislocation of fingers of one of the bloggers, but police refused to send her for medical treatment until she provided personal information.

4. Chen Yu-ching (陳育青), a photographer who visited friends near the Grand Hotel, was arrested and sent to the police station for interrogation for shooting the video of the banned area with hand-held camera.

5. Hung Chien-yi (洪建益), a Taipei councilman, entered the Ambassador Hotel, where Chen Yunlin’s dinner reception was held, in the afternoon. When leaving by himself in the evening, he was dragged away on the ground for tens of yards by several police officers at the front gate of the hotel. He did not shout derogatory slogans or carry any dangerous items but only wore a T-shirt with the mark of “No Conspiracy with China” on it.

6. On November 4th, while Chen Yunlin was at the dinner reception hosted by KMT leaders at the Ambassador Hotel, a nearby record store was playing some Taiwanese song out loud. The police thought the song would stir up the feelings of the protesters on the scene, so they, in uniform or plainclothes, led by Beitou Police District Chief Lee Han Ching, broke into that record store, asked the store owner to stop the music, and shut the door.

7. On November 3rd, the Association of Taiwan Journalist issued that Cheng Chieh-wen (鄭傑文), a photojournalist from the Central News Agency, was dragged by the security police for 10 meters while he was doing his job at the Grand Hotel, and that an inappropriate press coverage area plan had caused quarrels between the press and the officials. ATJ declared that press freedom was under severe attack in Taiwan. Meanwhile, the government imposed such strict control over press coverage for this event that several reporters from Hong Kong said they failed to get press passes and had limited rights for coverage.

Protests are continuing, so are actions that invade human rights, actions that do harm to freedom of speech and personal liberty. These actions not only violated both Taiwan’s criminal and civil laws but also contradicted the Constitution that should have protected the rights of people. We will be watching these events, and we want to raise our severe objections to the police in Taiwan.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Turtle Diary

In the beginning, Turtle Diary is like a disoriented murmur from under the sea. Russell Hoban writes about turtles, water-beetles, oyster-catchers, whales, and throws irrelevant knowledge about them at his readers. Surviving the first 50 pages, the reader will find a structure that emerges as two loners hold the same thought of rescuing sea turtles from the zoo. Since they are one man and one woman, a romantic encounter is expected given the prevalence of heterosexual presumption.

I enjoyed the narration when I waited for the two loners to meet. Their minds cross each other’s in the indifferent, anti-social thoughts, featuring self doubt and confusion. That is not the best formula for a romance.

I slowly got to understand the meaning of freeing the turtles when I waited for the romantic action to be taken or whatever plot it might be to bring the two loners closer. Putting turtles back to the sea is an attempt of the loners to free themselves from their dull life. They feel like a loser in their middle age and they need a drastic change desperately which preferably does not really change anything. A gesture would be just fine.

But they are difficult people. It is too simple and too easy. Before actually doing it they hesitated and soon they revealed their awareness of the hypocritical nature of such a self-righteous move.

It turned out that it is not about the turtles. It is not a romance of two like-minded loners either. It is dialectics of going back and forth between possessing something to reassure one’s existence and releasing one’s grip of something to achieve one’s own freedom. It is unlikely to be answered by either this or that. Like most questions of life, it is possibly a matter of a combination of this and that. And a perfect life is to go back and forth to find a balance.

Quotes I like:

“Polperro seems to me like a street-walker asking for money to maintain her virginity.”

“The ends of things are always present in their beginnings.”

“When a ewe licks a new-born lamb all over I believe that’s called owning it but the ewe never really owns the lamb.”

“I looked at the telephone after I’d put it down. Sly thing, getting words out of me I’d no intention of saying.”

“I’ll never cease to be amazed by the fact that people uncomfortable in themselves can give comfort to other people.”

“She looked heavily understanding, which irritated me. I felt there wasn’t anything to be understood.”

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