Monday afternoon and evening:
Yeats said, “In dreams begin responsibilities.”
In Haruki Murakami’s book, Kafka on the Shore, he says that If our responsibility begins with the power to imagine, then, a man like Adolf Eichmann, who appeared to have no such ability, is not guilty. He was just doing his job efficiently, the destruction of and disposing of a group of people, of millions of human beings.
Hannah Arendt pointed out something similar about Eichmann in The Banality of Evil.
It seems the point is to teach our children to imagine, to empathize, to see and live in their imagination as the “other,” and, in that, perhaps less harm will come.
Art allows us to see and feel in new ways, so art is not something we want eliminated from our schools in order to spend valuable time teaching children to pass tests.
Nothing matters more than our children. They are entrusted. I am very aware of children here, and at home, too, and I feel protective of their care.
Ambrose Bierce wrote that “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” How sad is that?
I see the moon for a moment tonight, a crescent and then it is gone. I’m glad to see where it is in its cycle. Next Thursday night will be the full moon and there is quite an Autumn Full Moon festival with an abundance of celebratory moon cakes. The big discussion now is which varieties of moon cakes contain trans fats. Holiday enjoyment is placed on a diet here too.
Though the people seem slim to an American-trained eye, it seems the long work hours and abundance of junk foods are leading to hyper-tension and diabetes in younger and younger people each year. Health is a concern here, as at home.
We have a new ship anchored out in the harbor, and it is strung with white lights that shine in the night and indicate the passing tides. The boat turns one way and another.
Rick Steves in Rick Steves’ Postcards from Europe has this to say:
“When you let your time become money you cheapen your life. One measure of a culture is its treatment of time. In the United States time is money: we save it, spend it, invest it, and waste it. Not so in traditional Italy. Here life is rich and savored slowly. In Italy – like in India – time is more like chewing gum. You much on it and play with it … as if it will be there forever.”
I read those words in Hong Kong. After enjoying dinner out with three natives of Hong Kong, again, I see why there are no benches. They work six to seven days a week. It is expensive to live here and it is quite something to have the time to meet and get to know someone, and then, to have the money to marry in the way it is done here, which is quite expensive with many requirements.
The one child policy in China means there are more men than women and so finding a wife is not so easy for the outnumbered males. They say now more daughters are being born so things may change for the next generation.
I am told we in the West are idolized. They believe anyone who wants to can go to University, and that we have health care. Of course, they also think that California is sunny all the time. I suppose liberal scholarship possibilities do open University to those who are inspired to attend, and most of us have health insurance. Still, they imagine an idealized world, and yet, that idealization motivates them to achieve what they perceive we have. Inspiration mobilizes.
Learning English is a key to advancement. One man told me his sister spent $50,000 HK on a program for her young child to learn English. That’s over $6000 U.S. and no small sum. Many pay on an installment plan for this program created by Disney. I am reminded now of how people used to pay monthly for their set of encyclopedias. He said many start teaching English to their child when the baby is still in the womb. They are told speaking English to the fetus is the way to begin. My niece Katy is learning Mandarin, which is what they speak in Beijing. Here, they speak Cantonese. I am grateful she will better know the Asian way of thinking and the beauty of their language, history, and poetry, and I wonder how much opportunity she will have to speak it. They want to practice their English with us, and feel it is easier for them to learn English with our alphabet than for us to learn Chinese.
It is still hazy, but the hills of Kowloon are once again in view. I am feeling a need for poetry, Haiku. I cannot find the books I need. Even the museum gift shop does not understand marketing as we know it. There are all these shops, markets and malls, and yet I cannot find books, other than one chain of stores which I peruse again and again, and then, walk out with nothing. I suppose I thought I would find a little treasure of a poetry book, in English, and, as I say, haiku. Haiku fits the landscape for me, short poems of the life and seasons, seventeen syllables more than enough to encompass and convey life’s seed.
I debate today whether to tour Lantau Island or the New Territories or just settle in a park with a piece of paper and pen, or maybe just settle. I watch the boats and feel no need for movement in myself other than the beauty of breath. I am enough and can perhaps absorb no more stimulation.
Even our hotel lobby is usually a zoo of noise and commotion. Steve and I reach more and more into the silence of our own pockets and revel in the peace found there.
There is a website called www.ethicaltraveler.com. It was created by Jeff Greenwald. He says that: “We’re trying to create a worldwide community of politically aware travelers who support human rights and environmental protection. We also believe that travel is a tremendously effective form of diplomacy, and that all travelers are de facto ambassadors.”
I definitely see the ambassador part. I am amazed at the misconceptions about Americans. Last night a well-educated young man said to me that since I am an American, I must be a Christian, as he has been trained to be in his Hong Kong schooling, and the voice of Christianity as taught to him here is that of the Old Testament and a jealous God. I said I embrace what Jesus is said to have taught, but I am not a Christian as represented by the fundamentalists and George Bush. He agreed that the lying of Bush that led to the war in Iraq and the killing of innocent people is immoral.
I spoke to him of Buddhism, and wonder again at the generosity of interpretation created where I live. He said his grandmother was Buddhist and asked if I burned incense and believed in reincarnation. I said perhaps I am more of a Zen Buddhist. I am grateful to Green Gulch and Spirit Rock, Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Norman Fischer, Sylvia Boorstenin, Sogyal Rinpoche and Pema Chodrun for the type of Buddhism they have brought to me. I am an American Buddhist I see, and perhaps a naturalist too. My family spent our weekends outside in nature. We worshipped there. Perhaps that is always my first choice, nature, poetry, music, art. I believe we reincarnate over and over again in nature and art.
I feel so clear in what I believe, but verbal explanation does not come easily to me. How does one verbalize what one feels? Ah, therein, is the trick of art.
In this moment, I sit like a bird on the green bough of a tree and smile. I cannot represent China by one young man, and I do not represent American as one mature woman, and yet, we definitely meet in love and honoring of family and the desire for world peace.
Here is a poem by Franz Wright.
A Happy Thought
- Franz Wright
Assuming this is the last day of my life
(which might mean it is almost the first),
I’m struck blind but my blindness is bright.
Prepare for what’s known here as death;
have no fear of that strange word forever.
Even I can see there’s nothing there
to be afraid of: having already been
to forever I’m unable to recall
anything that scared me, there, or hurt.
What frightened me, apparently, and hurt
was being born. But I got over that
with no hard feelings. Dying, I imagine,
it will be the same deal, lonesomer maybe,
but surely no more shocking or prolonged –
It’s dark as I recall, then, bright, so bright.
I come across a piece of paper from when we first arrived. What is my quest? If my quest is acceptance, how do I mobilize change? How does one balance quest and presence? How is one present in each moment of their quest? Perhaps it is about alignment of past and present, East and West, North and South. When I pause, give myself permission to pause, I mobilize.
We go down to breakfast and read the International Herald Tribune, always a treat here. One thing Felix said to me last night is how much he admires America because we value the individual. He said that is not true in China.
I read an article by Nina Bernstein titled “Banned from the U.S. and No Reason Why.” Without explanation, a scholar’s visa was revoked after a ten-year stay. “Nalini Ghuman, an up-and-coming musicologist and expert on the British composer Edward Elgar, was stopped at the San Francisco airport in August of last year and without explanation, told that she was no longer allowed to enter the United States.” She was an assistant professor at Mills College in Oakland, is an Oxford graduate and earned her Ph.D from the University of California, Berkeley. She is 34, and in this thirteen months has heard no explanation or lifting of the ban. She says, “There’s no opportunity to defend myself. One is just completely powerless.” She was to have participated in the Bard Music Festival. Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, who wrote to Condoleeza Rice, in the hope of having the visa problem resolved before the music festival, said,
“This is an example of the xenophobia, incompetence, stupidity and then bureaucratic intransigence that we are up against. What is at stake is American’s pre-eminence as a place of scholarship.” He cited the case of a teacher of Arabic who missed the first weeks of spring semester because of visa problems.
The article continues:
“A pending lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union contends that the Bush administration is using heightened security measures to keep foreign scholars out on ideological grounds in violation of the First Amendment rights of American scholars to hear them.”
Nalini Ghuman’s case fits no pattern. There is nothing to raise a red flag here. Her book in progress is “India in the English Musical Imagination, 1890-1940.” Her work on Elgar, best known for “Pomp and Circumstance,” seems innocent enough.
Perhaps it is even more heart-breaking for me after speaking with a Hong Kong man yesterday who still sees American as it was and idolizes us. The Bush Administration has done unaccountable damage, and they don’t even seem to realize. They don’t have the imagination for it.
The person in charge of security on 9/11 was Condoleeza Rice, who essentially said to Congress, “Who could have imagined?” Well, let’s imagine now, and fix the damage that the lack of imagination, integrity, and creativity, has brought. Let’s take the U.S. back to what many in the world still believe it to be, a country of individuals and liberty, open and welcoming to all.
The haze has returned. The hills of Hong Kong disappear and it is cooler today, a lovely relief.