Friday, May 29, 2009

Fight for the light... the fearsome foe, convolvulus

Image of a photograph of the leaves of an unidentified Morning glory. The leaves are likely from a Ipomoea purpurea. Camera and Exposure Details: Camera: Nikon Coolpix 8700 Lens: Nikon Zoom Nikkor ED 8.9-71.2mm 1:2.8-4.2 Exposure: 34.7mm (136.5mm in 35mm equivalent) f/4.3 @ 5/466 s. (50 ISO). Photo taken by and (c)2006 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) on Saturday, August 26, 2006. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons and used under Permission. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 only as published by the Free Software Foundation.Dear Gentle Reader,

On Wednesday, I stumbled over to Dominic Rivron's e-allotment and found him talking about an old, bitter enemy of mine.


Lovely name.

Fearsome beast.

It has an instinctive intellect that only the unwise laugh off as vegetative.

This thing has only one thought.


And success, for convolvulus, means domination.

Convolvulus has one aim; to swallow the light in your life. This is a creature of nightmares.

I think I ought to warn you about convolvulus. So, today, a warning, some history, some myth, and a cautionary tale. Not necessarily in that order.

Gentle Reader, I take this foe seriously, and I think you should, too.

So, we'll go to the beginning to properly understand it.

In times of trouble, for most of the history of the Western world, men and women have looked to the learned ones, the literate ones, for help in understanding threats.

Then folks go to the powerful ones to protect them.

In the West, the literate ones, for most of our history, have been the priestly caste of the Christian faith.

Christians turn to one book for guidance, when all is dark.

"Fiat lux!", that book proclaims; right in the first chapter.

Right in the beginning those seekers found light.

Our genesis, metaphysically and physically, is a journey to light.

"Fiat lux" proclaims The Book.

Let there be light.

Of course, this is the short form.

It comes from "dixitque Deus fiat lux et facta est lux" (Gen. 1:3) in the vulgate Latin, or, "And God said let there be light, and there was light".

And that is what convolvulus is after...


We appear to be in conflict with convolvulus from the moment we are born.

From the dark floor of the forest, convolvulus rises and shoots up, like a snake, wanting to seize the light. And it stops at nothing to get it, to get that precious light.

Convolvulus lurks in forests and fields and gardens and ditches.

It lurks by trees and by shrubs, by stumps and by fences, by walls and by sheds.

Convolvulus lurks, hoping to snag unwary interlopers in its domain...

Coming across an interloper, convolvulus reaches out and embraces the outsider in a tight grip. But, mark my words, Gentle Reader, its embrace is not a loving grip.

Convolvulus will strangle, if it can, and march up the corpse, going ever higher, seeking light.


The name rolls and writhes around in the mouth.

And the soil.

Like a fearsome serpent.

Convolvulus roils and coils around fence posts and drainpipes and chairs and even Granddads who spend too long in the field, I am told.

In North America some jokester thought he (or she) would call this stuff Morning Glory.

Presumably because, as the morning is the glory of the day with the rising sun, so convolvulus greets the morning as the victor on the field of battle, having overwhelmed and strangled its competitors in its photosynthetic search for light and canopy dominance.

The English call convolvulus bindweed. Far more appropriate than morning glory.

I call it "Bloody Hell. Not again. I cleared that patch yesterday!" or "Aieeeeee".

Which brings me to the memory that Dominic's post unveiled.

And my warning tale.

This was a few years ago.

In my less astute days.

Your Hero, Pommes, still roamed the fields looking for hapless birds and mice and deer and bear to devour.

Your Heroine was desirous of a garden, despite the close proximity of lovely farmer's markets.

"How wonderful if we could grow our own food..." she exclaimed one day.

And passed your humble scribe the shovel.

After seeking permission from the landlord, approval was received to convert sod and turf to a small garden.

Your humble scribe ventured into the Canadian wilderness of Vancouver and proceeded to cleave the sod into strips and roll it up and off the underlying soil.

Your humble scribe had also rented a roto-tiller, which is a mechanised, dual-purpose, soil and body breaker.

By the end of the morning I had lost the capacity for sensation in my upper torso.

Then, I regained sensation through the wonders of bursitis.

With the garden-to-be only half churned over, but my joints fully churned, help was needed.

I called my Dad.

He heard my plea and came and finished the remainder of the garden-to-be.

Now, to be fair on your Heroine, she had already helped me clear the morning glory from the back of the garage, the fence, the trees, the side of the house, the grass, and the two shovels, the stump, the bits of a bike, and other odds and sods that we hadn't known were there, lost in the blackness under the foliage of the convolvulus.

Morning glory, or convolvulus, is tough.

But, we were tougher.

We ripped this stuff out by the roots.

Its high-pitched keening wail was above our auditory threshold, but the Hero, a younger Pommes, clearly heard it.

Pommes was all over the stuff, racing through the dark passageways not yet cleared and engaged in mortal kitten combat with the writhing tendrils.

The turf was too tough to break through, but we ripped what we could out of the ground.

We did not know then what we discovered later...

Dominic Rivron, in his response to a comment on his site, called convolvulus hydra-rooted rather than hydra-headed.

This is because, like the Lernaean Hydra of Greek myth, for each head Heracles sliced off, two more heads would appear.

Dominic refers to the fact that as the roots of convolvulus are sliced off, new roots, and, worse, new vegetative bodies appear.

With respect, Dominic, I also think that there is more than a touch of the Gorgon, that breed that numbered the mortal Medusa in its ranks, within convolvulus.

Besides the fearsome, violent nature of the Gorgons, which Gorgons share with convolvulus, I recall that each spilled drop of Gorgon blood that fell to the earth, myth tells us, transformed into a snake.

Back to our field and the rototiller...

Each drop of convolvulus/morning glory root and stalk, left behind after our clearing and bagging of the bodies, was ground into ichor, pulp, paste, and shards by the harsh actions of the rototiller.

And for three days the blood of the downed convolvulus churned in the soil.

For three days your humble scribe laboured to add nutrients and peat and loam and natural fertilizers and air and love into that clay, to make it soil and ripe for growth.

And all that time, the soil roiled with the convulsions of thousands and thousands of vegetative snakes.

Each drop of morning glory blood seized upon that soil's goodness, goodness that we had worked into that soil. Those drops became green tendrils that transmuted our efforts and additions into their growing, snake-like, convolvulus bodies.

Then, one morning, we looked out the window.

It was as if Jack had strewn magic beans, beans picked from the fields of Chernobyl, in our back yard.

A legion of green warriors had sprung up, brandishing their bugles.

Image of a photograph of the side of an unidentified partially curled up Morning glory in the early afternoon. The flower is likely from a Ipomoea purpurea. Camera and Exposure Details: Camera: Nikon D50 Lens: Nikon Nikkor ED AF-S DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G Exposure: 52mm (78mm in 35mm equivalent) f/6.3 @ 1/100 s. Photo taken by and (c)2006 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) on Saturday, August 26, 2006. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons and used under Permission. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 only as published by the Free Software Foundation.

I had not intentionally sown dragon's teeth, but the rototiller had torn up the roots that remained... and now you know the result.

Further, unlike Jason, as recounted to us by Appollonius of Rhodes in his Argonauticus, I was not successful at turning these green fiends upon each other.

Jason, myth tells us, flung a stone into the ranks of warriors, grown overnight from sown dragon's teeth. That stone hit the warriors and they quarrelled, fell into disarray, and fought, to the death, amongst and with each other.

But, these vegetative serpents of the earth in our garden had not enough mind to stop and argue.

The stone I cast fell in their midst. But, the legions of convolvulus used it merely to reach higher, and higher, and higher in their quest for light.

We fought them for a week.

We lost.

After a week we gave up and watched the inexorable progress of the Green Man's legions across the lawn. And the house.

The garden-to-be never was, for us.

We eventually had to flee.

First Europe, now Hong Kong.

You do the math...

And be very, very wary of that fearsome foe, convolvulus.

There is no glory in this story.

Morning glory leads only to darkness and woe.

Take care.


Image of a picture of a blue and purple Morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea). Camera and Exposure Details: Nikon Coolpix 8700 Lens: Nikon Zoom Nikkor ED 8.9-71.2mm 1:2.8-4.2 Exposure: 71.2mm (280mm in 35mm equivalent) f/4.2 @ 5/562 s. (50 ISO). Photo taken by and (c)2006 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) on Saturday, August 26, 2006. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons and used under Permission. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 only as published by the Free Software Foundation.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Image of a pile of used up, discarded bamboo steamers in the junk bin for burning, New Territories, Hong Kong.Dear Gentle Reader,

Hello again from Hong Kong.

I had work outside of this e-world and, hence, fell behind on 3WW.

...For a month...

In fact, I fell behind on e-everything, but I had automated posts of graffiti going up, well, like graffiti, on my site.

Now it's catch up time...

Six haiku in 18 minutes to make up for five weeks missed and the current week...

...the pressure is on...

Five weeks ago (CXXXIV) the words were deceit, indulge, and oath. (If this was an oral poetry slam I'd have fun substituting oaf...)

Weight gain good... sly importunations of the anti-dieter

No diet oath rules
caloric belly deceit
indulge excess now

Four weeks ago (CXXXV) the words were opportunity, quarrel, and service.

Alea jacta est: the bolt, or quarrel, is shot; advancement sought...

Change... liege lord? Terms of service?
...Feudal quarrel grows

(With an American sentence title, too!)

Three weeks ago (CXXXVI) the words were cryptic, flash, and malign.

Zombie bedtime stories

Necromancer wakes...
Malign words... Flash! Flesh sizzles--
cryptic hint... "Eat Brains..."

Two weeks ago (CXXXVII) the words were bicker, nervous, and trajectory.

Emotional geometry of a bad match

Nervous laughter breaks
trajectory of love fails
bickers to nadir

One week ago (CXXXVIII) the words were efficient, optimize, and treacherous.

Eat what you kill; annual division of income meeting of the partners

Treacherous partners
optimize their own success,
lie efficiently

This week (CXXXIX) the words are dreary, embrace, and timid.

Cleopatra. The original Power Girrrrl. Gone horribly wrong.

Dreary breakup? No.
No timid end for this girl.
Embrace my love, asp...

(Oooh. Another American Sentence title...)

And, in my last 30 seconds, I see a natural naisaiku (and I think that its constituent haiku is my clear favourite of this lot):

Nervous laughter breaks
trajectory of love fails
bickers to nadir
trajectory of love fails
Nervous laughter breaks


Monday, May 25, 2009

Back to the Heart of Darkness

Image of porters entering Chungking Mansion in Hong Kong to ferry out finished goods from grey-market factories.Dear Gentle Reader, the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. [the detestable] has a fascination, too, ... The fascination of the abomination...
Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)
The Heart of Darkness

Last week I mentioned that many things besides cockroaches and rats come out of the alley near my apartment in Hong Kong.

And I then left you hanging.

I had previously alluded to the fact that this alley, which I duck into to change worlds from glitz to grit, is, in many ways, a passageway into the heart of darkness.

Further, I love this alley; I have a fascination with abominations.

I described the dark, dank, pungent, physical nature of my alley, last week, in two postings.

I also mentioned that one side of my alley was Chungking Mansions, which houses some of the most notorious, cheapest, and nastiest of the cheap hostelries of Hong Kong.

Further, I noted that Chungking Mansions houses many grey and black market factories and that many goods pass hands in Chungking Mansions.

Waiting in the street, outside my alley, are dozens of these:

Image of porters' handcarts chained at the corner of the street by an alley, in Hong Kong, waiting for goods to ship.
And, as the morning drones on and the heat fills the street, the street also fills with smiling Indian and Pakistani men, like these, waiting to earn their money as porters or as land stevedores with their hand trolleys...

Image of porters waiting happily for work in Hong Kong.
These men dart through the alley from late morning until dusk ferrying finished goods, or raw materials, or work in progress between fleets of grey-market transport vehicles and the factories of Chungking Mansions.

I say grey market transport vehicles because these are regular civilian minivans, with no special licensing...

Image of a row of grey-market transport vehicles, in Hong Kong, waiting for grey-market goods to be loaded for shipments to the port.
But, these minivans are filled to the brim with goods which they transport from factory to factory and then from factory to the ports of Hong Kong.

These minivans are filled to the brim and then lace curtains are drawn across the windows to hide the goods from traffic authorities--to disguise their cargo trucks as regular minivans. ...Minivans that just happen to ride really low...

Throughout the day, these vehicles fill up and drive away, or arrive, are emptied, and wait to be filled again, by men like this...

Image of a porter carting materials, or work in progress, from a truck to a factory in Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong.
Image of a small pile of goods for shipment, created by grey-market factories in Chungking Mansions, in Hong Kong.These men create ad hoc piles on the side of the pavement, by the trucks, where bills of lading are checked or created.

This picture to the left shows what one man brings back in one load on his hand trolley and has, subsequently, placed on a pallette.

Did I mention that this ferrying is done not just through my my dark alley, but also through the stairwells of Chungking Mansions?

These loads are hoisted up and down Chungking Mansions' 17 stories, with it's stairs clad in steel, steel cladding that is routinely replaced due to wear and tear.

These loads are not transported through the aging elevators; those two elevators are too slow, even for Hong Kong, and prone to stoppages.

As the men ferry loads back and forth between their factory and the van they work for, the stack on the sidewalk grows higher and wider and longer...

Image of a larger pile of goods for shipment, created by grey-market factories in Chungking Mansions, in Hong Kong.
And it doesn't take much of a glance at the packaging to see the destination of the goods...

Image of packaging showing shipping destination of goods created by grey-market factories in Chungking Mansions, in Hong Kong.
The coastal city of Lagos, very close to the bordering state of Benin, is no longer the political capital of Nigeria.

Abuja, purpose-built from scratch in the 1980s, in the geographical centre of Nigeria, was granted that honour in 1991 in a bid to soothe regional tensions inside Nigeria.

The port city of Lagos, however, a city of almost 8 million official residents in Nigeria's 2006 census, is Africa's second biggest city.

Lagos is the financial and industrial and commercial capital of Nigeria. And, Nigeria is estimated to contain over 148 million people, which makes it the most populous country in Africa.

Nigeria's critical mass of people have long helped it have thriving markets resulting in Nigeria being an economic powerhouse in Africa--and Lagos is the port town where the commercial goods enter Nigeria to be distributed here, and elsewhere in Africa.

As an aside, Nigeria is, literally, that black area, that area surrounding the river Niger (which means black in Latin).

Nigeria is a portmanteau word stemming from the Niger Area, the area around the river Niger, which was consolidated and administered/exploited by Imperial England.

Every package your humble scribe has ever seen on the side of the road, outside the alley, has been addressed to Lagos, Nigeria.

Educated rumour, which I have not yet been able to confirm with an academic citation, has it that every mobile phone handset in Africa has passed through Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong.

Given the scale of the porters' activity, I can well believe this claim.

Your humble scribe has, on rare occasions, seen spot quality checks where packages have been split open; I have seen every conceivable consumer good packaged for shipment to Lagos, at these times, spread out on the sidewalk, outside my alley.

It is true that there is much dross in the alley that I enjoy so much.

And yet that dross is a by-product of the furious activity pounding out through walls and floors of Chungking Mansions and other neighbouring buildings.

I am drawn to the chaos, the disorder, and the rankness of my alley because it births activity and value and commerce and worth. It births; it is a site of creation.

Many people enjoy gentility and a genteel life.

But, contracts are not really written on bleached, white, twenty pound paper.

Not in the heat of the moment.

Contracts are scrawled on cartons or tablecloths or the backs of envelopes by captains of industry. And then their lieutenants, their lawyers, are told to pretty the scrawls up.

Dainty, courtly dances occur in the clean and the tidy margins of life.

Gutters teem with wriggling, striving life.

And neither commerce nor creativity is genteel.

England's Elizabethan Era (1558-1603) is, from a literary perspective, associated with William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and Sir Francis Bacon.

England's Elizabethan Era is also associated with dog fights to the death, bear baiting with sabres, and the Star Chamber, that judicial/political weapon of tyranny which allowed its civilian victims no redress or appeal.

There is a duality omnipresent in the world.

Sometimes beauty begets beauty. But ugliness can also birth great things.

The appalling can be as beautiful, or at least as intriguing, as the beautiful.

Hieronymus Bosch's creations stem from observations on moral decay while precious metals and stones also come from the dark heart of the Earth.

Your humble scribe readily admits his "fascination with the abomination".

I, socio-economic rubbernecker, (up and down the socio-economic ladder) hope you have enjoyed today's riverboat journey to my alley in my town, Hong Kong. This quick visit to the heart of darkness.

Oh. And Mistah Kurtz? He AIN'T dead.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Gotham City and my Hong Kong alley, part two

Image of an anti-rat poster in Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Dear Gentle Reader,

Back to the alley.

The Heroine couldn't believe that, on Monday, I didn't start by telling you how, when you enter the alley, you get doused with a fine mist from the exhaust vent of a greasy spoon Chinese kitchen.

I thought that that information was on a need to know basis.

She thought that if I was offering to take people to the places that I think are interesting, then people need to know the hazards of my company...

So... complementary hair care treatment, deep fry facial cleansers, and aromatic clothing misters are installed in the opening of the alley.

And, if you missed that complementary bit, they are free.

That refreshing scent of high calorie cooking oil might be why rats are, apparently, found here too.

Which is why, presumably, the government has this anti-rat poster up.

To make the rats feel less welcome.

If institutional xenophobia does not deter the rats, then the city uses more extreme measures...

Image of a sign in a Kowloon, Hong Kong, alley warning people not to touch the poisoned food. It's for the rats. Hopefully they cannot read. The rats, that is.

Hong Kong takes rats seriously. (Remember that Bubonic Plague outbreak?)

Of course, once you are well into the alley, it is hard to see much of anything, even rats or roaches.

The alleys are kept dim due to the height of the surrounding buildings.

If today is full disclosure day, my dank alley is not only cooled by the shade, it is also kept cool by mist.

It is misted by the hundreds of overhanging old air conditioners dropping their spray onto the men who toil and trudge in the heat.

Image of air conditioners stacked on top of each other, outside Chungking Mansion's walls, and above the people walking through my alley.

I just always make a little prayer on behalf of all the screwing that has hopefully gone on here. 

(With regard to the installation of the air conditioners, obviously.)

Porters run, or walk quickly, down the bulk of the alley, quickly carting boxed bundles from the unlicensed, gray-market factories illicitly built and run from within Chungking Mansion's groaning walls. 

Did I mention that Chungking Mansions abuts half of the alley?

Chungking Mansion's floors hold more than just notoriously cheap hostels and dormitories. It also holds numerous grey and black market factories. And, supposedly, the majority of the Nepalese community in Hong Kong.

Chungking Mansion's floors struggle to support heavy equipment stamping out things for commerce. 

These shivering floors were built to withstand the patter of feet and the blood-filled echoes of loves lost, loves found, and love made. These floors were not built to withstand the relentless pounding of metal on metal or plastic or paper. But they do.

Chungking Mansions was also not built to cope with the waste generated by all the factories and the hostels, and stores, and the restaurants, and the takeaways for the guests and the workers. So, there is a fair bit of detritus, which is quite helpful for the cockroaches and for the rats.

When the sun is directly overhead of the alley, briefly, it illuminates the alley, causing the vermin to scuttle for cover. 

This also makes it easier to see and photograph the porters carrying loads to and from the factories and businesses located inside Chungking Mansions.

Image of a porter carrying cartons from Chungking Mansions to the quasi-legal moving trucks on the back street.
These porters are not fast because they are worried about the sky falling, or an air-con unit falling, or even the rats and gigantic cockroaches of Hong Kong...

These porters move quickly because they are paid by the piece or by the pound. Whichever is less.

What are those cartons for?

Where do these cartons go?

Stay tuned, Monday...