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April 27, 2011


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some places call to soul what we are, compliment, reflect and harmonize

I have dreamed of Kashmir for countless years

I don't think I make it there this time as me,
but I will be there
under the moon the next time I play my time.

all our lives echo in who we are

dreams are lush valleys
hearing our own echos
sound across the nights.

I think we're largely in agreement, although with certain minor differnces. Perhaps it's my rather nomadic heritage- great grandfather born in Scotland, grandfather born in Australia, father born in northeastern New Zealand, myself born in central New Zealand at the southern tip of the North Island, and my mother's family is only marginally more sedentary, and now, of course, I live in Beijing. I have trouble imagining Ithaca/Turangawaewae as a destination, but that's just me. I certainly can see and understand how for many people Ithaca/Turangawaewae is a physical location or a spiritual destination.

And I have to say that each and every place I have visited, and a good many I have only sped through in a car, bus, train or boat (planes are convenient, but always felt like "fake travelling" to me- you step in a tin can, and a few hours later you step out, but your surroundings have changed. What happened to the getting there?) have all left a deep and indelible impression on me. Probably in most cases those impressions are too deeply buried for me to be consciously aware of them, but I have such strong memories of places I've only whizzed past that I'm sure they are there. And each and every one of those impressions has become an integral part of me. There's something about Palmerston North bus station, or that pub in Steinkjer that had that party- or the petrol station somewhere between Steinkjer and Verdal where we stopped for much-needed sobering-up hotdogs (hence 'that pub', 'that party'), or Zhengzhou where I spent 12 hours resting up between trains, or the transit lounge of Bangkok's old airport where three of us spent our last baht on two cups of instant coffee which we shared among us (talk about travelling on a shoestring!- one of the thoughts going through my head that time was "Do I have enough money to make it all the way to Taiyuan?! And if I'm denied a Mainland visa in Hong Kong, WHAT?!!")

It took me some time- indeed, I've spent most of my life feeling somewhat displaced- but I slowly came to that point where my Turangawaewae was that spiritual grounding. In Dunedin and Changsha I felt the beginnings of that grounding, and those places, I will admit, have a very special position in my heart. Taiyuan knocked me off centre, but it didn't take long before I was keen to head back out to my old stomping grounds. Tianjin was the last place I felt that 'displacement', but there are special circumstances there. These days, whether I'm in my wife's village in Yanqing County, downtown Beijing, or Linfen on a short 'business' trip, I feel centred and placed. A large part of that comes from the feeling of culture shock and foreignness in my own hometown- that happened after I returned after 3 years overseas, and the result... well, I'm in Beijing now and haven't been 'home' for 6 years.

So I guess for me, yes, physical locations do have a huge amount of importance, but I have no particular mountain or river or island or village to call my Ithaca or Turangawaewae.

Ah, Peony, that Margarita video is beautiful! Half the trouble with evil is it's so damned delicious! Unfortunately the Road to Shambala video won't show for me. Judging by the kanji that show up it's not allowed in China.

Isn't the video beautiful? I knew you would love it!

In retrospect, this is the video I should have attached. Definitely more appropriate, don't you think?

Evil as delicious? hmmm..... Margarita is so beautiful, though-- delicious in her crown! -- I cannot wait to re-read the book-- maybe next month?

And have you really not been "home" six years??

How can I get this video to you??? You have just gotta see these people from your "homeland"!!

(You know I am going to torture you with images of New Zealand forever, right?)

Well, Chris, I think you are really impressive just to be able to say that wherever you are, you are home. This is really the goal, isn't it? And, for me too, I think, Ithaka and Kashmir-- even Tochigi and 西湖村--these are all places where I have traveled imaginatively. But, no, not all places affect me-- just like all people do not move me... And like I said, some places where I have never even been (except in my imagination) are most significant to me yet.

And finally one more for you...

Dreaming of brandy? No, whisky, vodka, quality but cheap baijiu's, and the occasional sake or soju are the spirits that work for me. But I am drinking beer.

Oh, those video's are awesome! Except for that one I can't get, but I can't even see what it is, unfortunately.

And yes, I left Wellington on December 23, 2002, stopped off briefly in New Plymouth and then Auckland, then boarded a flight from Singapore. Since 7 am, December 24, 2002, I have not once stepped outside the People's Republic- unless you count trips to the New Zealand embassy in Beijing. Y'know, I can't help but think back to China hands of a bygone era, people for whom a trip whom meant months on a boat just to get home, people for whom a transfer (if they were the diplomatic or business sort) or move (for those freelancer types) to China meant by default a career and a lifetime here. I think the jet age has made us modern types a bit soft.

And most people don't move me at all, but I put that down to my nomadic heritage.

What I forgot, but fully intended to say, was that I too have places I've never visited outside my imagination that have a certain hold on me. My academic background explains my fascination with Paris, Lyon, Berlin, Vienna, Moscow and St Petersburg. Ancestry explains Scotland and Ireland. Gallipolli, is an obvious one for Kiwis and Aussies, a place that's been painfully dear to us since April 25, 1915, but in addition Istanbul has always had a particular hold on my imagination. I've been to Linfen, but didn't get a chance to visit my wife's "ancestral tree", the Great Scholar Tree of Hongtong County, and it's not just my wife, but the fact that seven great waves of migration were ordered from the shade of that tree from out of southern Shanxi to a wide variety of places around China in the early years of the Ming. I don't know why, but Alaska, Siberia- especially Irkutsk and Lake Baikal, Myanmar and Morocco are other places with that certain pull. Lebanon, too.

As for the promised torture, I will admit that the NZ environment, the interplay of ocean and mountain, the earthquakes and volcanoes (I'm sure you understand that!), the particular lazy lie of the land, that subtle melancholish grey tint to the bush, yeah, that's what I miss most.

I agree that there are the places imagined that are somehow a reflection of our hearts and souls. And then there are the very tangible places that reach out, seduce us, grab us, draw us in. I think of Bali and how it imperceptively envelopes you - how it then comforts, cradles, seduces, nourishes until it takes everything you have to leave - because you know that Bali is a respite, not a life lived.

And then, of course, there are the people who are also "home". The ones who help complete your world, put you at ease, and who add to your sense of yourself.

You, of course, are one of those people for me



Chris, I am coming to the conclusion that for cheap booze, we are just better off in this part of the world. Because in Japan too, even the cheap sake is very drinkable-- no headaches.... but of course Japanese beers are just the best.

I don't know if you have ever been to Bali, but like Eric, I have spent a lot of time there and agree that, rather than calling, it kind of seductively lulls you... No Russia for me-- not even to be like Margarita in a crown.

These days, I have no thoughts but Piano Island on my mind. Like you said, it could be Paradise. I cannot help but feel it is the place for me.

What if you could go back in time? I already asked this to my friend Namit and it seems he is worried about the dental care in times past! My first choice is my Lover's City, but after that, Tang Chang'an.... Baghdad at the time of the Caliph Haroun and maybe Al Anadalus.... but you know, Kashmir was very very nice in the 1990s! :)

OK... talk to you soon. And, no word on the Warlord either (I told you he wouldn't talk!)

Oh, I dunno, the beers of Ireland, England, Belgium and New Zealand are the best I've come across. Still, the Japanese brews we can get here are generally a local edition, not the real deal, so I can't really compare.

Back in time? Wow. Tang Chang'an would have to be up there near the top of the list, or perhaps any of the towns and cities along the Hexi Corridor at that time. Berlin in the 1920s, perhaps, or pre-war Paris if it meant a chance to pick Giraudoux's brain. Hong Kong in 1997 would've been interesting. At the time I was in Dunedin, and one of my flatmates was from Hong Kong, but not so keen to talk about reunification. It's a surprisingly difficult question to answer, and it's also surprising how my brain first starts scanning cities. I can tell you, though, that my hometown would absolutely not be on the list. It was only about the time I entered high school that it finally started to shake off the fusty, bureaucratic image of a civil servants' city and started developing life and culture, and that image really was accurate.

Cities-- not landscapes? Not countries or kingdoms? I am not surprised.... well, I guess for me, it is easy since I am in love with a man from the song dynasty so that would make my choice easier. But then there was the Caliph's Dream-- another great age of translators & translations.

Btw, we were in HK in 1997-- and it was an exciting time to be there.....With me, places strike me in less an intellectual experience as they do as a kind of romance; so that it isn't really cities I am drawn to but some kind of imaginative or emotional reaction to landscape-- does that make sense? So, with HK, it was without a doubt the way the light was filtered so softly through the mist and all the water and bridges. It was also the energy for which the place is so famous.. In the post talking to Beijing, I added a link to a slideshow that I wanted to show Beijing of the Sunbeam theater. For whatever reason, I loved the feelingof the entire neighborhood there.

And beer-- I guess it is personal taste, but I do love Japanese beers :)

By the way, speaking of Gansu and the Hexi Corridor, did you ever read this post I wrote on Inoue Yasushi's book Tun-Huang? I really recommend that book if you haven't read it yet.

I finally get time to come back and read! What a day! Yes, cities are what first spring to mind, which surprises me every time considering just how important landscapes are to me. One of my best memories of Changsha was standing on the last remaining section of city wall at 天心公园 looking out west across the city, the Xiang River, Orange Island, to Yuelushan rising in the distance, with the sun slowly setting over it, or the opposite view from the top of Yuelushan over the river and island to the city proper- beautiful experiences I made sure to repeat several times.

I hear what you're saying about places. HK, for example- I experience it different from you, but for me there's a certain subtle magic in taking the ferry from Tsimshatsui to Central or Wanchai, or one of the older ferries out to the islands. Maybe that speaks to my harbourtown heritage?

Hi Chris, this was really nice... we spent our last 6 months on Lantau and so used the ferries every day-- and I agree that those boats and that lifestyle is so somehow nostalgic or other-worldly (Imagine me singing: "Brandy used to watch his eyes as he told his sailor's stories") I've always wanted to see Changsha by the way. I am working on something to post about the river/lake-- maybe you can tell me more about the view when I post it-- that would be really nice.

To travel far, stay where you are. I love Cavafy's poem, the way it resonates inside me, like a giant hoop rolling over marble. That sound. For going in or going out will eventually meet, nodding in passing. And Connery's recitation rises and falls like the prow of a ship at sea. A wonderful post, again. Thank you.

You simultaneously remind the reader of two great thinkers: Joseph Campbell (Hero with 1,000 Faces) and Emily Dickinson (There is no frigate like a book). Great example of the equal importance of "either-or" and "both-and". Profound!

Thank you, Jan, for reminding me of one of my favorite poems!

Part One: Life


THERE is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take 5
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

And do all roads lead to rome? Would love to see this with my own eyes someday, truly: http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/getty-foundation-grant-allows-newly-conserved-cosmati-pavement-to-be-unveiled-at-royal-wedding/

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