Monday, August 31, 2009

Self portrait (two views after the last photo)

Image of the author.Dear Gentle Reader,

Apsu and Tiamat were the primordial (Babylonian) progenitors of the universe.

As Apsu said to his wife, Tiamat, in the Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma elish--when speaking of their children, the first pantheon of gods:
"Their ways are verily loathsome unto me. By day I find no relief, nor repose by night..."
And, therefore, the two progenitors set about to annihilate their progeny.

Genocide, which I have previously recounted the etymology of, is an old concept for mankind, even if it is a young word.

But, the twentieth century saw more than its fair share of genocides, such as the Cambodian genocide of the 1975-1979.

I did not intend to be gratuitous with my usage of the images of skulls and bound bones in last Friday's post.

I stand by that image; I do not believe it was gratuitous.

As individuals, and as members of various communities, we all have many perceptions of ourselves.

While we likely recognize some aspects of ourselves accurately, we do not always acknowledge other aspects.

In order to grow and to overcome various pasts, as people, as communities, as nations, and as world citizens, we need to embrace these pasts and not try to eradicate memory or awareness of them.

I am a firm believer that wishing things away does not make it so. However, the closing image of Friday's post was an ugly image for which I gave no warning.

Today, in response, one slice of a self-image:


(the one who can take pictures of loathsome things, I suppose...)
(...which would imply a potentially monstrous, post-Jekyllandhydian duality as both subject and photographer...)

Image of a slice of the author's brain, this section shows fangs rather than teeth, due to the angle of the image 'slice'.


Friday, August 28, 2009

No remembrance = No memory = No life

Image of two child Khmer Rouge soldiers taken sometime between 1975 and 1979 in Cambodia.
Dear Gentle Reader,

Yesterday, I posed two questions based on Chairman Mao Zedong's (1893-1976) "paper tiger" bombast injected into the global cold war debate of the 1950s.

What would it look like if half a country went missing? And, who chooses which half?

Generally speaking, especially in the modern West, it is hard to imagine half a country missing.

Many parts of the developing world, unfortunately, do not have such difficulties.

They just look around them.

A case in point would be Cambodia.

One third of Cambodia's population was killed, from 1975 to 1979, by the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Pol Pot.

Why would such a thing be done?

As one of the Khmer Rouge slogans went:

"To keep you is no benefit; to destroy you is no loss."

Who was killed?

Only the government workers.
And the religious people.
And the professionals.
And the tradespeople.
And the intellectuals--such as anyone who had had any schooling. Or wore glasses. Or lived in a city. Or used any post-industrial revolution tools.

Or anyone else who didn't toil in the fields and live in a village.


When you don't meet the people, it is hard to fathom their losses.

Especially as most people try to minimize it and forget about it. After all, with survivors, a difficult thing to bear in mind, sometimes, is "How did this person survive?"...

Nonetheless, there are many survivors who were victims.

Remember the boat people? Those refugees who flooded to our shores three decades ago, desperate for hope and sanctuary?

This is why they fled and what they fled...

The New Regime
by Sarith Pou from the book "Corpse Watching"

No religious rituals.
No religious symbols.
No fortune tellers.
No traditional healers.
No paying respect to elders.
No social status. No titles.

No education. No training.
No school. No learning.
No books. No library.
No science. No technology.
No pens. No paper.

No currency. No bartering.
No buying. No selling.
No begging. No giving.
No purses. No wallets.

No human rights. No liberty.
No courts. No judges.
No laws. No attorneys.

No communications.
No public transportation.
No private transportation.
No traveling. No mailing.
No inviting. No visiting.
No faxes. No telephones.

No social gatherings.
No chitchatting.
No jokes. No laughter.
No music. No dancing.

No romance. No flirting.
No fornication. No dating.
No wet dreaming.
No masturbating.
No naked sleepers.
No bathers.
No nakedness in showers.
No love songs. No love letters.
No affection.

No marrying. No divorcing.
No marital conflicts. No fighting.
No profanity. No cursing.

No shoes. No sandals.
No toothbrushes. No razors.
No combs. No mirrors.
No lotion. No make up.
No long hair. No braids.
No jewelry.
No soap. No detergent. No shampoo.
No knitting. No embroidering.
No colored clothes, except black.
No styles, except pajamas.
No wine. No palm sap hooch.
No lighters. No cigarettes.
No morning coffee. No afternoon tea.
No snacks. No desserts.
No breakfast [sometimes no dinner].

No mercy. No forgiveness.
No regret. No remorse.
No second chances. No excuses.
No complaints. No grievances.
No help. No favors.
No eyeglasses. No dental treatment.
No vaccines. No medicines.
No disabilities. No social diseases.
No tuberculosis. No leprosy.

No kites. No marbles. No rubber bands.
No cookies. No popsicle. No candy.
No playing. No toys.
No lullabies.
No rest. No vacations.
No holidays. No weekends.
No games. No sports.
No staying up late.
No newspapers.

No radio. No TV.
No drawing. No painting.
No pets. No pictures.
No electricity. No lamp oil.
No clocks. No watches.

No hope. No life.
A third of the people didn’t survive.
The regime died.


And, if they didn't flee, or were not fast enough, or lucky enough...

Image of bound bones and skulls with the blindfolds still fastened around them, from the genocide in Cambodia.


Thursday, August 27, 2009


Blurred image of an Ambassador taxi, in India, taken during a bouncy ride...Dear Gentle Reader,

It's 3WW time, again.

And I've been AWOL, or MIA, for a while.

This week (CLII) the words are fracture, noise, and vanish.

Further, each haiku gets its very own American sentence title.

8:16 am, 6/16/1945, Hiroshima.

Fractured atoms sear
shadows still. Noise vanishes.
Then the wails begin.

To Arne, my favourite CERN Doctor/Physicist/Computer Guy.

Death(f?) metal--wild noise--
rejoices, fractures fear, but...
tympani vanish.

Quand la facture arrive et je ne trouve pas ma portefeuille... Merde! Putain!

The bill comes, but, (noise!)
my wallet has vanished! (sob)
Fractured, I wash plates.


Not what you want to read or hear; Who chooses which half?

Image of a man sitting outside, reading the paper, with a child peering down and over his shoulder, from a perch on a rock, taken in Pingyao, Shanxi Province, China.Dear Gentle Reader,

"Even if China lost half its population, the country would suffer no great loss. We could produce more people."

Speech given by Chairman Mao at the Moscow Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties (18 November 1957)

What would it look like if a country lost half of its population?

Who chooses which half?


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A light on the future? Or the past? a.k.a. The atom bomb is nothing to be afraid of...

Image of an illuminated highway underpass in Pingyao, Shanxi Province, China.
Dear Gentle Reader,

"The atom bomb is nothing to be afraid of. China has many people. They cannot be bombed out of existence. If someone else can drop an atomic bomb, I can too. The deaths of ten or twenty million people is nothing to be afraid of."

Reported Minutes of a Conversation between Chairman Mao, of China, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, of India, during Prime Minister Nehru's visit to Beijing (23 October 1954)

...The power of scale...

...and a callous heart...

I would hope that things have changed...


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Signs of the times a.k.a. Order in China

Image of a roadside sign, in China, with a massive white square inside another white square, superimposed upon a green background.Dear Gentle Reader,

What does this sign mean?

Was it an order?
A suggestion?
A warning?

I have no idea.

Caution... teleological enlightenment ahead?
White hole approaching?
Oncoming anti-tunnel?
Highly reflective surface coming up?

This way to Nirvana?

Beware the big chunk of concrete on the road?

I have no idea.

But, it threw my imagination into rambunctious overdrive.

The next two photos, both from the same sign post, were much easier for your humble scribe to decipher.

The first series reads, from left to right...

Image of three road signs in China.
1. Pedestrians are permitted to cross here, but they should be careful (they give drivers a target to aim for and, simultaneously, a reason for drivers to stay awake and focused when driving).

2. Horse-drawn carriages (possibly hearses for the pedestrians) are allowed on this street.

3. The third sign allows both heavily-laden trucks and tractors to use this road.

Presumably, the third sign on the post, because of its vertical juxtaposition of two massive vehicles, also indicates permission for the citizenry to hold monster truck rallies on this street (vehicular altercations where one vehicle attempts to crush and drive over other vehicles for non-North American readers).

Three rules were evident, here. Maybe four.

And, everyone seemed to follow them, but this proves very little about order in China.

After all, people, if given permission to do something, may do that thing. However, not doing something that you have been given permission to do is proof of neither order or disorder.

That said, many pedestrians seemed a bit shy about using the crosswalk, or even attempting to cross the street...

The second series of signs, on the same pole, was more useful from an order/disorder perspective.

The second series of signs reads, from top to bottom...

1. Exploding trucks are not permitted on this street.

2. You may not use your horn.

Image of two more road signs, on the same pole, in China. One sign is of an exploding truck.

It is true that we saw no exploding trucks on this street.

If that is proof of order, then so be it.

We did, however, see a truck filled with dozens of rusty propane tanks, the squat barbecue types, stacked four or five levels high in the back of a truck...

We also heard horns, which was useful, as we were (foolishly) trying to use the crosswalk...

Some rules are, apparently, more honoured in their breach than in their observance.

And enforcement appeared to be non-existent, even though police were around.

(It's China. Police are always around.)

Over two thousand years ago, during China's second imperial dynasty, the Han Dynasty (206B.C.-220A.D.), there was a Chinese Emperor named Wu the Martial (漢武帝).

Wu the Martial reigned from 141 B.C. to 87 B.C.

Emperor Wu the Martial is well remembered in China for both the physical growth of the Han Empire, what we now think of as China, under his leadership, and for his skill at governance and administration.

Emperor Wu also had great bureaucrats and policy analysts; Mandarins, if you will, to help him govern well. They determined what laws would be effective, and then the armies, omnipresent police (this is China), and magistrates both imposed and maintained laws and order to govern wisely and well.

But, sometimes, needs change.

Within three years of Wu the Martial's death the situation in the Han Empire had changed significantly. The civil service continued to draft laws, but they were not always enforced, or enforced evenly.

In 84 B.C., state policy regarding state monopolies over iron and salt was discussed and written down by Huan Kuan (桓寬), one of Emperor Wu the Martial's Mandarins, in "Discussions about Salt and Iron" (Yuantielun, or 鹽鐵論).

Huan Kuan observed that society never suffers from a scarcity of laws, but, rather, it suffers from a lack of political will to enforce those laws which it does possess.

I completely agree with Huan Kuan.

Huan Kuan further suggested that it was fatal to a nation to pass laws and then to not implement those laws.

I agree, again.

China, today, has more laws and orders than it has ever had in my memory as a businessman, international mediator and arbitrator, lawyer, traveller, and observer.

But, I am not sure how the law and order front is doing.

It certainly cannot be easy for truck drivers, horse drivers, pedestrians, and, especially, drivers whose trucks are about to explode, to determine where certain actions can and cannot occur.

[Even if it is reasonable to regulate exploding truck areas and non-exploding truck areas which I am not conceding, at this point in time.]

When a reasonably intelligent traveller standing at the side of the road, scratching his head, with all the time in the day at his disposal, cannot figure out what some of the signs, visual indicators of laws, might mean, how can a poorly-paid, underfed, overworked, minimally educated worker be expected to perform better? Especially while that worker is driving a truck or a tractor or a horse or an explosion waiting to happen?

Further, the situation worsens when one considers that, despite the growing repleteness and completeness of the available laws in China, few are ever enforced. Unless someone has an axe to grind with you. Or the state apparatus, or an apparatchik, want something of yours...

Laws and orders do not equate to law and order.

With that, and with no other conclusion, I sign off for today.


P.S. I'm in China, again, for a few days, so I will not be able to respond to any comments until next week.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lost in translation...

Image of a sign in Shenzhen airport reading 'Caution, slip'Dear Gentle Reader,

That last post was meant to be shorter.

Arriving at Shenzhen airport (in Guangdong Province, just North of Hong Kong), on a recent trip, heading to Yunnan Province (far further North, but still only halfway up the country), we became worried about how long the authorities wanted us to stay, judging by the admonition to slip on the pillars around us...

Was this marketing for the local orthopaedic surgeons, or a bad translation?

Xiao xin (小心)(Careful/Be cautious), Chris... don't go there...

Much later, long after being disconcerted by the warnings, or the commands, in the airport, we would climb the belfry in Dali, Yunnan Province, to be frightened, again...

The belfry in Dali houses the Nanzhao Jianji bell, cast in 871 A.D.

First off, the belfry in Dali is not the big cultural deal in Dali, Yunnan Province.

Historically, and historically/culturally, the big deal would be the Three Pagodas of the Chongsheng Temple.

But, your humble scribe will show you those, the three pagodas, on some other day and some other posting.

And the Nanzhao Jianji bell is housed in the belfry which makes up part of the massive Three Pagodas of the Chongsheng Temple complex in Dali.

So, while the belfry is not a big deal, the Nanzhao Jianji bell in the belfry is a big deal.

The Nanzhao Jianji bell is a rather substantial Buddhist bell (its clarion call purifies the structure and the listeners, when struck, as its purity of tone allows the worshipers to purify their thoughts and therefore sanctify themselves).

The bell stands almost four metres tall, is more than two metres wide at its mouth, and weighs in at almost 16,300 kilograms (16.3 tonnes or 17.97 US short tons).

Now here is the frightful bit of information...

Despite those substantial dimensions, and its hernia-inducing mass, the Nanzhao Jianji Bell was lost.

And they don't even know when.

The loss occurred sometime between 1856-1872 A.D., it is reported.


The idea of losing 16,300 kilograms of bell is a bit terrifying from either a liturgical or an architectural inventory control perspective...

Anyway, the bell was recast in 1997. Here is a "close-up" of one of the six images (each as large as your humble scribe) cast into the bell...

Image of a casting found on the side of a giant bell in the great belfry in Dali, Yunnan Province, China.
What caught our attention, in the belfry, though, was the notice by the narrow stairs winding up and up (or down and down)...

Image of a warning on the wall in the belfry in Dali, Yunnan Province, China. It reads 'Caution' with an image of an exclamation mark in a yellow warning triangle. Underneath it is an image of a person plunging, headfirst, through the air, with the slogan 'Caution, Falling'...
Good cop, bad cop signage?

I don't know...

The final bit of translation that I liked, however was really just marketing via the mechanism of translation.

This time the object in question was a restaurant sign.

First, though, context...

Yunnan Province is located beside Szechuan Province and Yunnan's residents love their chilli peppers as much as Szechuan's residents love their chilli peppers...

(Aside. Note that while Spanish variants include chili and chile, the Aztecs used chilli and the English, as far back as the mid seventeenth century, were using chilli, also, as their spelling. So that is why I go with this spelling choice.)

Spelling be damned, dried chillis can be found in every market in Yunnan...

Image of dried chillis for sale in a market in Yunnan Province, China.

And on every street corner...

Image of dried chillis for sale in a market in Yunnan Province, China.

And in every balanced meal...

Image of your humble scribe's Dad at the dinner table in Dali, Yunnan Province, China... Sitting in front of a massive tray of dried chilli peppers...

So, I particularly enjoyed this particular restaurant sign, aimed, after questioning the proprietors, at foreigners who said that they (the foreigners) wanted plain, as opposed to spicy, food...

Image of a restaurant sign in Yunnan Province, China, advertising 'plain food' for spice-challenged foreigners... in front of a garland of drying chillis...

Nice bit of translation there... ...after all, behind the sign, you can see the red lantern and the ubiquitous garland of drying chillis...