Sadie

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Sadie, fourteen years old

Sadie and Gidget, mom and daughter

Sadie and Gidget, mom and daughter

Sadie was Gidget’s mom. She lived for fourteen years and gave Pam and Russ (and me) a lot of happiness. A lot of happiness. She had a regal disposition and I think I can safely say we all felt privileged to know her. She was the boss of the house pushing aside the younger dogs and chastising them when they needed it (which was not infrequent). She was not a sweet little princess, but rather a gruff independent and occasionally ill-tempered matron. Just what you’d expect from a Queen. If Gidgie was a princess, it follows that Sadie was a queen. And a brave queen she was.

Any creature that dared to set paw or claw or scale or feather in her yard was given a guttural warning followed by an aggressive chase. God forbid she caught any of the perpetrators because they’d get a thrashing, a shaking, and a mauling that might very well end their lives. Luckily most denizens that creeped or crawled around the house popped over the fence, dived into a hole, or flew away to safety. Those bastard squirrel gangstas loved to prance on the telephone wires tantalizingly out of reach. She had her watchful eye on those untrustworthy balls of grey fur.

And since Sadie was royalty and having an outsized brave heart, she sometimes got into a fight she could not win. The other dogs, not possessing her Amazonian warrior spirit might circle and cry for help, but Sadie was usually left to tackle opossums and large rats on her own. Nor did she come out unscathed, but her head was always held high. I admired her courage.

Every evening she’d circle the living room and pick her bed to rest, nudging Gidgie, her daughter, or Foxy or Jack (two immigrant upstart Papillons) out of the way. Her spot was any damned place she wanted it to be. That could also be on your lap. That was the order of the universe and that was how it should be. The humans in the house refused her request at their own peril. We acquiesced and allowed her to slumber in our arms dreaming canine dreams (breaking canine wind), allowing us to love her as best as we could for the time God gave us.

Now she rests elsewhere, in a paradise that most assuredly contains her daughter who preceded her, chasing those squirrels, guarding her square of heaven, sleeping wherever she desires, dreaming sweet canine dreams, and waiting for us patiently until she can again rest in our laps, take her ease, and rest in our abiding love.

Good night my Queen.

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The Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage

This blog pretty much states how I feel about same-sex marriage. I am proud to be an American today. I am so happy for all of my LGBT friends. 美国加油!

In My Not So Humble Opinion

“Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.” – James Madison (1789)

The United States Supreme Court issued two major decisions this week.  The first of these once again upheld the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare.  I previously wrote about the ACA three years ago and my feelings remain pretty much the same.  So feel free to go to that blog post for my opinions concerning that issue.

The other decision arrived at by the Supreme Court, via a 5 to 4 vote, was to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.  The four liberal and four conservative justices all voted as expected, with the…

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June 7, 2015: things get worse

Days stretched into weeks. The weeks into months. Zen found himself eating alone every meal.

The young pretty waitresses at the Little Tree Korean restaurant thought he was single since he always ate alone. And he wore no gold wedding band as foreigners were wont to do. He cut such a pathetic figure, older but still handsome, well-dressed, educated, coming in alone at all hours of the day and night, and staying longer than most customers usually did. He was so polite and spoke such elegant Chinese, which was so unusual for a foreigner. Most foreigners could not even say hello properly much less carry on a conversation and make jokes. He was good at making people laugh. The owner always stopped by his table and chatted with him. He put the owner in a good mood, who laughed loudly and clapped his hand on the foreigner’s shoulder. And when the foreigner thought no one was looking, always a wistful, slightly forlorn smile on his lips. The waitresses felt he was pitiable and in need of succor and comfort.

Zen was not in need of either. He just couldn’t stand being in the same apartment with Hobbit. She was driving him nuts.

Hobbit was busy-beside-herself: preparing to go abroad for the Visiting Scholar program and helping her son study for the rigorous high school entrance exam at the end of June. She had no time to spend with Zen. When they were together, bitter arguments invariably broke out. Zen felt shoved to one side and left out of all the family decisions.

His stepson was acting quite the fool in his opinion. He was constantly disrespectful with his mother and grandparents since the boy saw that his mother and grandmother would coddle him. The women would not let Zen institute a behavior modification program—whatever the hell that was—in order to curtail the stepson’s rebellious behavior. Zen promised them that the boy would get much worse before he got better and that they would “rue the day they let this little emperor run roughshod over the family!” Whenever Zen waxed grandiloquent, Hobbit and her mother thought he was speaking Russian, so they ignored him. On the other hand, Hobbit’s father agreed with Zen, and the two older men bowed their heads together and commiserated with each other over how “the women” spoiled children and how “the women” should let “the men” handle discipline, especially the discipline of a male child, something which “the women” knew nothing of. “The women” shoved the two men into the spare bedroom and closed the door.

Although macho and paternalistic and though this was a blow to feminism everywhere, Zen was sadly correct, even if he wasn’t right. The soft approach had no positive result in the short term. The stepson was a prototypical teenage rebel and only time and life would smooth out his rough edges, but by then it would be almost too late to repair his relationship with his mother; too late to have any kind of meaningful relationship beyond hello-goodbye with his stepfather; and far too late to make up with his grandparents who would both pass away with withered moribund hopes for reconciliation in their hearts while their grandson whiled away precious years singing bad rap songs in New York City subway stations. So much for mollycoddling children.

Hobbit bought her son new clothes and new shoes and patted his head and told him he was a good boy and that Mama loved him, and then the boy would find new ways to lie and cheat and break his mother’s heart. It was an endless bathetic family trauma. Zen would try to console Hobbit, but of course he could not contain himself and he would speak frankly about her son (“I don’t wanna say I toldja so, but I did!”), and then they would fight.

Hobbit accused Zen of hating her son. Zen defending himself that there was indeed not much to love (an inappropriate if honest comment he realized with regret afterward). Consequently, Hobbit was always in a bad mood and Zen was a convenient but unwilling scapegoat. He was not accustomed to not being the center of attention in a relationship, something most men struggle with in “instant family” situations. Zen knew this from a previous relationship. Accordingly, he chose to absent himself rather than constantly being drawn into battle. It was not a recipe for building an intimate healthy matrimony.brady_grid

So, Zen ate alone. Peaceful solitude was preferable to bellicose companionship.

He thought with irony that in a country of one point five billion, in a country where he was constantly jostled in the street, bumped as he got into cabs, pushed as he tried to find a table, he was always alone. He laughed to himself: he traveled over 6000 miles to finally find solitude amidst an ocean of humanity, in a fog of Chinese language. His status as a foreigner afforded him an excellent shield.

He began to feel disconnected from humanity, isolated and estranged. He had more contact with the complete strangers he had met online scattered across the globe. But those people didn’t know him. They could not be expected to care about him. If he were hit by a bus (a distinct possibility in this crazy ass town), they could not help. They might notice he had not shown up in the chat rooms.

Zen asked himself: What am I looking for? Then he thought reluctantly, not what. Whom. Whom am I looking for?

A woman. Women. Women things. The better looking aliens on this backwards planet. He hungered for soft sweet female companionship. How was that possible when he was married? Shouldn’t marriage cause a sea change in a man? Some kind of mental **klik** that freed him from petty desire and lust. He did feel love for Hobbit though; he had felt this inexpressible union with the sweet Hobbit. Ephemeral, tragically ephemeral. Sweet-pretty-gentle Hobbit had metamorphosed into bitter-ugly-acerbic Hobbit, as surely and as grotesquely as Doc Banner transforming into the raging Hulk. That feeling of oceanic communion evaporated like dew under a searing sun. Ephemeral.

Bruce Banner transforms into the Rampaging Hulk! Bill and Lou are still classic.

Bruce Banner transforms into the Rampaging Hulk! Bill and Lou are still classic.

Zen spent many nights awake. Heartsick form hearing Hobbit sobbing in her bedroom after another bitter fight and impotent to put an end to it, Zen jacked in his earphones and lost himself online. He watched hockey highlight reels on YouTube, read comics on Comixology, listened to podcasts about Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy on iTunes, and lost himself in a marathon viewing of Dexter on Netflix.dexter

That show was a revelation. The protagonist really struck a chord in Zen. At first he was repulsed at how alike he and Dexter seemed to be. How could he and a serial killer be so alike in their personality? Zen saw in himself the same wounded loner trying to fit in, the same aggrieved outcast struggling to create a family, and the same misunderstood anti-hero forced to act like a violent villain that he saw in Dexter. In addition, and not insignificantly, Zen saw they shared the same penchant for rationalizations. Zen was not obsessed with murder however. He considered serial killers and films about them disgusting (while he admitted that the film Se7en was well done, the murders were repugnant); despite that, he marveled at the brilliant idea of creating an anti-hero serial killer. It was genius. A murderer who murdered other murderers. It was an ethical slight of hand. This wasn’t bubblegum popcorn Manichean tragedy like Frank Castle seeking commonplace revenge and reliving it on a nightly basis. This was a deeper darkness in the dark. The creators of the show had had a stroke of genius! Sadly, the show would not come through on its premises and after the fourth season, the show suffered a steady marked decline in quality. When it finally ended, Zen felt cheated. The show had turned into absolute garbage and wasted the talents of the group of gifted actors and actresses. In the finale, Zen expected retribution. Dexter should have received his just deserts not just for all of the gruesome killings, but for the ruination and misery he brought his innocent friends and family members.

Seriously...WTF?

Seriously…WTF?

In his heart he expected it for himself as well.

Wasn’t he killing his own family? Dragging them through the muck and misery of perpetual bickering? No, Zen was not a serial killer, but he thought himself something unclean. Or as if sometimes an unclean spirit inhabited his body and took it out for a joyride now and then.

For example, whenever he saw a pretty girl walk by, he felt like a vampire in a blood bank. Zen tried to articulate the ache: it was as painful as if his skin had been peeled off, leaving the nerve endings raw and exposed for any random chick to walk by and jab ‘em with a red-hot poker. He knew he was exaggerating. But, by God, it felt like that! Maybe just a little. In summation, this internecine war between Hobbit and him had got to come to an end.

He was sick of sleeping in the damn dog-bed. His back was killing him. Every morning he had trouble standing up straight, bent over like a fucking Quasimodo. “Do you find me repulsive?” Or was that the Elephant Man? The pain dulled his memory.

The immortal Charles Laughton as The Hunchback

The immortal Charles Laughton as The Hunchback

And then the stench. Jeez. The mattress (if you could call it a mattress) was fetid; he had to scrub his flesh red to rid himself of the stink.

This is not what families are supposed to be like.

Once upon a time Hobbit and I were in love.

Zen thought they had been at any rate.

He came to the honest realization that he might not know what love really was. In fact, he was almost sure that he didn’t know. Whatever pictures and concepts he had bouncing around in his head did not jibe with what Hobbit had in her head. Maybe with any woman on the planet.

Maybe I need a woman not from this planet. An extraterrestrial. An alien woman for an alien man.

This "alien" woman wallpaper looks suspiciously Asian. Image lifted from: http://hdw.eweb4.com/out/1241307.html

This “alien” woman wallpaper looks suspiciously Asian. Image lifted from: http://hdw.eweb4.com/out/1241307.html

How did things get so bad so fast? He had no idea.

I’m a FREAK. A misfit? A missed fit? Misanthrope? Miserable Misanthrope?

He felt totally alienated from her, from her son, her parents, from everyone. Every time they fought he felt the entire weight of the community pressing down on him, judging him, reviling him because he didn’t live up to their expectations. As if he had been exposed as a fraud. Instead of some nice cultured English professor, he was really a misanthropic violent monster. It didn’t help that the father took his side when there was a blowout. After all, Hobbit told him how abusive he had been to her all her life. Now Hobbit had Zen. He heard somewhere that men and women unconsciously seek out archetypes derived from their parents in their spouses in order to heal past traumas. Was there any truth to that? No. No! Psychobabble! He felt he had gotten sucked into Hobbit’s family drama, a vicious cycle, a vicious pattern. But it wasn’t his destiny. It couldn’t be. He had never been this horrible. Fist fights. Yes. But with rednecks. Skinheads. Anarchists. Frat boys. Not. Not…not small weak. Frail. Hobbitses.gollum hobbitses

He had to think of something else and divert his attention or the guilt, the shame, the pain threatened to overwhelm him. Wasn’t he at an age where he could manage all of these raw feelings? Hadn’t he had enough life experiences whereby he could control and administer and delegate the psychical forces into appropriate and fruitful channels? Wasn’t this angst what teenagers felt?

He needed help. He scoured the Internet for free—his middle-aged angst had cash flow limitations after all—couples therapy and online counseling for anger management and depression. Free apparently had a different meaning since the advent of the World Wide Web. Some kind of administrative fee was always requested. That, or they refused to help him because he didn’t live in the USA. There were websites dedicated to counseling international couples, but these obviously catered to extremely wealthy couples whose main problems stemmed from an inability to coordinate their hectic schedules, one or both spouses absent from home since they were jetting around the globe in rabid defense of capitalism against socialism, the unwashed masses, and scum like Zen. No free lunch. His family was no help either.

His family back in the States pretty much ignored him. Red-haired stepchild slash black sheep, that’s what I am. Alive or dead, they could care less. Not that he had given them much reason to care. Leaving for China, son? GOOD RIDDANCE. His father and he had an especially contentious relationship.

Newman!

Newman!

Zen thought of comical rivals like Seinfeld and Newman, but the truth was that he and his father’s relationship was much more toxic. Stalin and Trotsky came to mind, but it was psychologically more warped than that. Karamazov? Nothing so sordid or dramatic, but it wasn’t pretty. Zen assumed his father hated him because he saw all his worst traits incarnated in his son. Zen, for his part, blamed his father for imbuing him with “slave morality”—a concept he picked up from his university days studying Nietzsche and misapprehended horribly. Zen could never clarify his perceptions concerning master-slave morality. He should have just simply let it go. He felt chained to Christianity and blamed his father for it. As if originally Zen were this wild thing that had been domesticated and had to pretend to be domesticated when all he wanted was to run and howl. Now he couldn’t get the taint of brother-love out of his system. In fact Zen was a gross sentimentalist. A characteristic he thought for sure had something to do with the breakdown of his bicameral mind. Possibly. Today he wasn’t so sure.

Trotsky and Stalin

Trotsky and Stalin

Zen’s brother, “the first son,” was the perfect son since he and the father saw eye to eye on most everything, which was the usual: politics and religion. Zen, on the other hand, was an ideological and spiritual thorn in his father’s side. Sadly, Zen would never witness how his older brother stood up for him, 6,000 miles away, at every holiday dinner, at every birthday party, at every occasion happy or sad where Zen was absent. Even when Zen found out that his brother had signed his name on every Christmas card and put gifts under the tree in his name for all the members of the family, Zen mistook this generosity as a subtle comment on Zen’s penury rather than the obvious simple explanation: his older brother was incontrovertibly fond of his younger sibling. Zen’s foolish pride blinded him to his older brother’s love and concern. All Zen could see was his father and older brother forming a solid impenetrable Republican conservative block, absorbing his once-Democrat mother and sister-in-law, leaving him always arguing alone on one side of the proverbial dinner table and the rest of the family members on the other side.

His family on two continents had failed him.

No. He had failed them.

Depression rolled over him like gloomy clouds on early summer mornings.

Close-up of angry Chihuahua growling, 2 years old, in front of w

Beware of angry chihuahua!

Worst of all, back at Christmas, he had had a fight, a real physical fight with Hobbit, a shameful and disgraceful ordeal. The two of them face-slapping, stomach-punching, cat-hissing, testicle-kicking, hair-pulling, eye-scratching, cobra-spitting, banshee-screaming, and even speaking in tongues, although neither of them realized nor would ever realize that their passionate altercation catapulted them onto a new level of reality, a different phase of the time-space continuum where the Elder Gods went for a nice cigar and grappa. Needless to say the Elder Gods were not keen on Hobbit and Zen intruding on their august personal space-time. Nor were the neighbors who realized that glossolalia was potentially apocalyptic and were frightened by it as badly as by any natural disaster. They called the police and the police came to rap politely on the door; Zen was mortified, but Hobbit yelled at the police, “dogs catching rats instead of minding their own business!” and told the neighbors they were “fifty steps laughing at one hundred steps,” essentially the pot calling the kettle black. The ensuing shouting match between the women on floors two three and four made all the men terrified. Heads turned white and one geezer even pissed himself. Zen had to use all his might to keep Hobbit from pulling out the remaining hairs of their neighbor’s head while the neighbor’s little Chihuahua nipped at Zen’s ankle. The police tried to break it up, smiling nervously because a foreigner was involved and that meant extra paperwork and can’t you just go back to bed? The husband of the neighbor was drunk and unconcerned. He belched, farted, sneezed (on Zen which freaked Zen out as he had a severe phobia of being sneezed on), scratched his ass, and went back to sleep.

Zen scrambled to contain this horror, apologizing, bowing to everyone, scraping the floor with his nose, begging forgiveness, seeing himself in prison and everyone pointing their collective finger, a huge finger as big as an oil tanker, neon lights framing his face with a sign under his black and blue face: Wife Beater! Bastard! Liar! Foreign Devil! Monster!

Monster.

Desperate, Zen turned to his father for advice. What to do? What to do? But Zen’s father could only feel profound disappointment and since that incident he had grown cold as ice, well colder, since he had usually been cold as ice in any event. The father’s only comment when Zen said he didn’t know what to do was one word: divorce. That was it. Zen imagined him sitting in his gorgeous mahogany-paneled office, surrounded by lavish antiques, and crystal glass, and polished steel, and buffed leather, glittering riches, mute opulence, sucking his teeth like some kind of egg-sucking cold-blooded serpent, paring his nails with a file as cool as a cucumber and concluding very succinctly: divorce.

And he was a Roman Catholic.

Anyway, Zen thought, I don’t have a soul to save, right? No harm no foul.

Between the stress at work, living like a recluse, and Hobbit flitting around him like a hungry ghost (but never engaging with him), Zen literally felt that he was cracking up, losing his mind. Outside of two colleagues (K being one of them, which was not good for him at all) and his poor overworked students, Zen had no one to turn to.

hungry ghost

hungry ghost

“I know I know. Whining like a bitch. I hate loathe myself. All this faggoty-ass angst! Grow a pair man! I have food, a roof over my head, clothes on my back, health, and money in my pocket (not a lot of money, but money nonetheless). Why, dear Lord, am I complaining? Why am I so antsy? I feel like…. What? Like something bad is gonna happen. Things are coming to a crisis point.”

Zen berated himself thusly to no benefit since he was, as usual, correct but not right. Things were coming to a crisis point, but in ways far beyond his dwarfish imagination.

Economics of Laudato Si’

This Pope may just be able to bring me back to the Catholic Church! I really this professor’s keen analysis of economic policies today. His graphs and charts (and hilarious) cartoons really sift through the misleading verbiage and cut to the chase. See you soon and thanks for reading!

occasional links & commentary

Francesco-7p

The Wall Street Journal is absolutely right: Pope Francis acknowledges the scientific consensus concerning the human/social origins of climate change and argues there is “an urgent need” for policies designed to cut carbon emissions and switch to renewable sources of energy.

But the pope goes further by weaving his signature theme of economic justice and his vehement criticism of capitalism throughout the encyclical.

What the pope does is build on the central economic themes of the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, and then extend them to the issue of the natural environment, especially the causes and consequences of climate change. The result is a radical critique of contemporary capitalism.

There are many aspects of the 183-page Laudato Si’ I simply cannot discuss here.* What I want to do in this post is highlight some of the specifically economic themes of the papal encyclical that was officially released yesterday.

Many news…

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The Brutal Reality of Life in China’s Most Polluted Cities

Food for thought: these past two years during the winter (coal-burning season in the far Northeast) we woke up coughing in the middle of the night as though we were choking to death.

Respro® Bulletin Board

IT’S ONE THING to read about air pollution contributing to more than one million deaths in China, or about how one-third of its rural residents lack access to clean water. But it doesn’t seem quite real until you see the people behind those statistics. Photographer Souvid Datta provides a glimpse of their lives in China: The Human Price of Pollution, revealing the people living in smog-choked cities and drawing water from grimy, polluted rivers.

Datta, who’s only 24, started the project partly for personal reasons. When he was 17, a Chinese friend died of lung cancer, a disease doctors said was exacerbated by the poor air quality in Beijing. The death hit Datta hard and sent him on a journey to help people understand the human cost of filthy air and water.

“Pollution is often an abstract or statistical issue, remote and unsexy for news readers and editors,” he says. “The work had to evoke a sense…

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Zhuhai and Shenzhen: Part 1 of 3

It’s April, springtime, so that means junket time. Every year twice a year we have these large-scale seminar-slash-meetings that gather all of the partner schools participating in our program here at the Horrifyingly Egregious Crimes of Inhumane Education. This year we would meet in Zhuhai and Shenzhen.

Things were weird prior to this gathering. First, I had to sweet talk the Qitaihe principal and foreign teacher and prevent them from killing each other. Just a big cultural misunderstanding. Then, the foreign teacher from Hegang had no idea that there was a huge seminar convened for teacher training. Finally, I had a bit of a misunderstanding with the nice fellow teaching at Mudanjiang. Did he flee back to the USA? Was he in MDJ or not? He was, but he would not attend, which was a pity as I quite respect and like the man. Would the other teacher at MDJ be able to make it? No. Text my Chinese contact. Do you know if the teacher from the Experimental School in Harbin will come? No, not him either. I am seeing a pattern.

It turned out that despite my director’s stipulation that the foreign teachers be invited in order to receive training from me, none except for the generous Qitaihe Experimental School invited the foreign teachers to this lovely city by the sea. I would provide teacher training for only one single teacher. All my hard preparations for one person. Well, my job would be easy then. They actually took pictures (as they always do) since this was official training at an official venue and there had to be official records that the official training took place, officially. I held a microphone and spouted streams of official-sounding nonsense as if I were addressing a crowd instead of one ill-tempered and bored young Englishwoman. K (who was directed to take the photos) laughed and that was something, given our recent history.

The flight down to Zhuhai from Harbin was eventful as can be expected when flying Chinese domestic airlines. First, we were grounded in Hefei because of storms. The storms died down and we were released after two hours of sitting on the tarmac. As we were landing in Zhuhai, the pilot for some bizarre reason pitched and rolled and yawed the damn plane right before the wheels squealed on the runway. I thought for sure this was it. A story of my being the sole survivor flashed through my mind. No shit. As if I were that character from Unbreakable. We all know that’s not how it would go down, but for some reason I flash-fantasized that I would be the chosen one to survive. Nice of me to kill off the other passengers, huh? I should have fantasized that I was the only person killed and saved myself the aggravation that was to come.

We arrived quite exhausted at the hotel around 1 AM. No one gave us directives. I told the English teacher to meet me for breakfast around nine. Of course, everyone was waiting for us by the time we made it down to the buffet. Of course. They could have called. They could have knocked on our doors. No, they sat passive-aggressively in the hotel lounge. Waiting. Not how you want to look in front of all of the leaders. Unfortunately, the young foreign teacher did not care one iota. She was fed up with the lack of organization. I could empathize, but part of my job is to contain and resolve any “issues.” I tried to hustle her along and prevent any more feathers from being ruffled. That was the trip in a nutshell. Play pseudo-tour guide and babysitter for a very unsympathetic guest.

In between, I tried to do the one valuable thing on such trips: schmooze with the leaders. It’s disgusting, but I try to use whatever charm I possess to bend the ears of the various leaders and convince them to see reason about allocating the proper resources to insure the success of the program. Then, I also get their real perspectives about the foreign teachers’ work performance, our curriculum, et al. Apparently, some of the foreign teachers are not working out so well. It’s always fun to be the receiver of bad news. More fun when you’re the last to know at this late date in the academic year. It’s funny because when I ask the teachers via email for a report, most say, it’s fine, blah blah blah. As usual when I receive such curt email replies, I know it’s smoke up my excretory system. The teachers who reply that they’re having problems are telling the truth. I know from experience. The sad fact is that all sides are at fault. No one is living up to the standards set out at the beginning. Best laid plans, etc. I feel weary.

These trips are junkets and I suppose they are a staple of modern business. But, we are an educational organ. So, there’s a disconnect for me. It’s a kind of a SOE, but not really. As I tried to explain to the foreign teacher, though it seems like a vacation trip, it isn’t. It’s work in a pretty setting. Even if we are walking about like tourists and dining at fine eateries, we are working. She wasn’t interested and being shut out from the language I couldn’t blame her. I was working double-time to keep up with the language. I noticed this time that no one bothered to translate anything. Basically fuck us. This established a very bad dynamic. Yes, my Chinese is good, but I get bogged down in details when they start rattling off numbers and after so many hours of constant input, I get fatigued and start doing what my English cohort had already done. Tune out.

I really needed those figures too because I needed to know what they were saying was happening and what other people, other foreign people, were telling me was happening. Chinese officials misreport statistics: no big surprise. But I needed to know. I feel weary.

All right, so it was a junket. There were a few highlights, silver lining and all that. I will try to focus on the good. We arrived early morning as I said and after a rapid brekkie went to visit the New Yuan Ming Palace. Apparently it’s a reproduction built in Zhuhai to memorialize the old Summer Palace in Beijing. My Chinese colleagues felt slightly embarrassed with the English foreign teacher.

“Why?”

“The English were the ones who destroyed the original Summer Palace in Beijing.”

I laughed. “Well, don’t worry. She didn’t do it I’m pretty sure.”

The foreign teacher also laughed when I explained their chagrin. This curious reaction by the Chinese and the foreigners to this “memorial” speaks volumes. We don’t feel connected to the affairs of our governments in the near or far-flung past. The Chinese people do (in varying degrees). This is something that all non-Chinese have got to keep in mind. The Chinese are a proud (and relatively homogenous) people. It stings that they were bullied by so many (barbaric) foreign powers who took scant notice of their many wondrous and artistic achievements. To these several foreign powers, China was merely something to be exploited for material gain.

What did Plato say? “Money-makers are tiresome company, as they have no standard but cash value.” Hmm.

Okay, but, then the Chinese turn many of their natural and historical heritage sites into gaudy theme parks with blaring pop music and cheap nasty fast food stalls. Incongruous. I try, I try not to make judgments and remind myself over and over: I am a guest. Observe. Keep in mind there are cultural differences. After all, you won’t catch me making apologies for Western culture, especially crazy-ass cracker gun-crazy Uh-muhrr-kan culture. Yeah, I said it. So shoot me. No wait. That was meant figuratively. (Crazy-ass gun-totin’ crackers!)

Ah, but it was nice to pretend to walk back into history. Then, the foreign teacher and I rented a paddle boat and paddled out into the middle of the manmade lake. I was surprised how winded I got and she didn’t. She never exercises and I do. She’s a virtual cream puff and I do some serious cardio and weight-lifting. Admittedly, my legs haven’t done much for the past three months as I had a knee brace on my left leg because I sprained my MCL in a hockey game, but…wait a minute.

Waitaminute. You know,…she might not have been paddling all that hard. THAT LITTLE BEE-**&%$%$!!!

Boy am I stupid. All right. Whatever.

Afterwards, on the way to lunch, we walked past a fish market and being the pathetic city boy that I am, I am always interested in such things. Later we took a nice boat tour of the Zhujiang River estuary where we looked at all of the beautiful gambling parlors along the coast. Places more than likely I will never never visit. My newest mantra when I meditate is pen-yoo-ree…pen-yoo-ree…pen-yoo-ree.

That’s enough for now. I feel weary. I hope you enjoy the photos. They are not very good.

Palace entrance

Palace entrance

Yuan Ming Palace

Yuan Ming Palace

Guess what? The Chinese invented RAP thousands of years ago. Okay, I don't when, but this type of funny humorous sing-song chanting dialog has been around for a long time. Way before the Sugar Hill Gang or whatever.

Guess what? The Chinese invented RAP thousands of years ago. Okay, I don’t know when exactly, but this type of funny humorous sing-song chanting dialog has been around for a long time. Way before the Sugar Hill Gang or whatever.

That's one big clam foot!

That’s one big clam foot!

Yeah, I don't know what that is.

Yeah, I don’t know what that is.

Abalone or 鲍鱼/鮑魚。

Abalone or 鲍鱼/鮑魚。

Octopi

Octopi

Sea thingies, Latin name = merus thingiaus

Sea thingies, Latin name = merus thingiaus

Cuttlefish

Cuttlefish

This freaked out the vegetarian, watching the fishmonger hack this huge fish into sellable parts.

This freaked out the vegetarian, watching the fishmonger hack this huge fish into sellable parts.

Skyline and casinos.

Skyline and casinos.

Casino on the shoreline.

Casino on the shoreline.

This is the stuff I like: ancient armor.

This is the stuff I like: ancient armor.

For a fee you can dress up. I really really really wanted to! But everyone gave me the STINK EYE because I was a man.

For a fee you can dress up. I really really really wanted to! But everyone gave me the STINK EYE because I was a man.

Emperor's repast.

Emperor’s repast.

The Little Emperor himself.

The Little Emperor himself.

This guy looks strangely like a Foreign Devil!

This guy looks strangely like a Foreign Devil!

Cheap looking wooden and plastic replicas. boy I wish I could get my hands on real ones.

Cheap looking wooden and plastic replicas. boy I wish I could get my hands on real ones.

Close up of the

Close up of the “armor”–nothing to make Tony Stark jealous, that’s for sure.

Gidget

She’s gone. I can’t believe it. It was sudden.

I suffer from depression and have since I was thirteen. A decade ago it was really bad, a weight like an enormous red-hot iron pressing down on me with relentless increasing pain. I wasn’t drowning, although it sometimes felt like that; mostly it was pain that made me feel like ending my life. Everything just hurt and all I could feel was black dense engulfing pain.

I was walking through a two-dimensional world of other people’s fortune and happiness (in my mind); meanwhile I was stuck in a 3D world with three vectors of reality: an x-axis of pain, a y-axis of torture, and a z-axis of despair.

I would come home from work and just think about how I could get the pain to stop. I researched how to commit suicide without leaving behind a mess. Considerate me.

I was desperate. Really desperate. I was alone and felt increasingly suicidal. However, I did have one ray of light and comfort: Gidget. Sweet little Gidget.

I met Gidget in 2005 when she was in the prime of her life. I had rented out the back apartment adjacent to her home.

Gidget was not good-looking by any stretch of the imagination. She was dirty blonde and the dirt was real. She was kinda fat and had rank breath, and rarely—and I mean rarely—attended to her personal hygiene. But, whenever I came home from work she was there, waiting for me, smiling, ecstatically happy and excited just to see me. She had a weird ability to know when I was about to get home from work. And when I hugged her, she lavished me with little kisses. This, despite the fact that whenever I was in a foul mood or had something better to do, I would ignore her, even when she literally begged for my attention. I treated her poorly. I was not especially nice or attentive.

Now she’s gone. And I will never see her again. Never. Pancreatic cancer. Less than two weeks. Gone. Gone.

Maybe in photos or in my dreams we can be together in green fields under blue summer skies, but in my waking life she is gone forever. That’s what death is, the death of a beloved. A damn vacuum, a hole in your life, a massive loss insurmountable except through the excruciatingly slow, dour grace of passing time, and even then it can never completely remove the sting. It doesn’t matter if it’s a kooky grumpy grandfather who smoked that funky pipe, a dear old aunt who always cooked your favorite dish on your birthday, or that stinky-breathed Yorkshire Terrier poodle who cuddled up with you to watch the NHL playoffs. It hurts to lose a loved one, each and all.

They say you ought to remember the good times and I suppose I do and I’m trying, but I’m also nettled by regret. How many things I would have liked to do with her and now I can’t.

Just one last hug, one last caress, one last roll in the backyard.

I can almost smell her horrible breath, but it’s just a trick of the imagination.

Every day she would wake up and magically automatically reset her mind with all the compassionate and equanimous ability of a Tibetan lama monk. She looked forward to the simple things in life. A hug, a gentle massage, some simple food, someone to love her, just a little tiny bit. She didn’t need much. She was the poster child for low maintenance and unconditional love. The things she could teach a yoga master about patience and understanding would fill the Library of Alexandria.

When I was having a bad day—which was not infrequent—and that meant ranting and raving about how horrible my life was, chucking books plates shoes whatever, throwing essentially a pity party for one, she would duck and cover, but never utter one peep of complaint, and always stay within eyesight. When I finally stopped my tempest, she’d get on the couch next to me and just lay her head on my lap and say nothing. She bared her soul and expected nothing in return. Oh she did hope for a gentle caress, but if she didn’t get it, she wouldn’t kick up a fuss. She’d find something else to occupy her simple easy mind. Usually, I would comb out her tousled hair with my fingers, rub her chubby little belly, kiss her on the forehead, snuggle with her in front of the TV, holding my breath usually. Even if I did bark out loud, “God! Your breath, Gidget!” She wouldn’t react, even sometimes she’d smile like it was a secret joke.

I suppose I should be honest. Gidget did have a strong jealous streak. She hated to see me spend any time with anyone else, male or female. I guess she wanted me all to herself, but I wasn’t really built that way, and I think deep down she knew, but she accepted whatever I could give. I wish I had more love to give because Gidget deserved it. She deserved it because that’s all she ever gave to the world. She never harmed anyone in her life; she only offered joy and tenderness and unconditional love with zero expectation of return.

Where can you find that in today’s world?

Gidget, I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you. I’m sorry I couldn’t see you off into the great beyond. Sorry I’m stuck here in my own fresh hell when I probably should’ve been with you. I will miss you. I will think of you often.

Rest in peace, Gidget. I miss you. I will miss you for the rest of my days.

Good night little princess.

Gidget, 2003-2015

Gidget, 2003-2015