Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Other Jerusalem: Hiruharama

Writing this from the dusty floor of Samuel's spare room in Madrid, it seems like the drive I took from Dunedin to Auckland with Chris was a very long time ago. Actually, it was early December. In any case, it was one for the books and I've put off blogging about our blissful trip up the mighty Whanganui river because I didn't know what to say about it. I still don't, but here are some pictures. 

We had extremely little money and were looking for a place to set up our tent, so the sisters offered to let us camp on the lawn for a donation of our choosing ($20). When we gave the donation the next morning, the sister took the note in both hands and looked into my face, asking "are you sure you can afford it?" I said yes, of course, thanked her profusely and went on my way bathed in light. 

Continuing towards Raetihi, we saw a turn-off advertising a 'Vintage Car Museum.' This seemed incongruous on the edges of a national park, so we turned off the motorway to see. 

After a soak in the natural hot stream and a swim in the freezing river in Taupo, we continued on the 'thermal drive' to Rotorua; somewhere I hadn't been since I was in the womb. Chris took me on a walk through the Redwoods, to his favourite look-out and through that luminous wetland three pictures down. The earth around there really does feel rumbly and like it is groaning. The myths I had heard since childhood about mountains who got into passionate romantic fights and upped and moved seemed a lot more believable here than in the cold stillness of the South. 

In Auckland I surprised my long-suffering friend Jenna and her man Stuart on a busy Friday night by asking to camp in their yard. Being angels, they offered us the sleepout instead and left us to our own devices to make friends with Herbie Flowers, pictured below. He has no teeth and is an adorable busy-body (if I type on the computer he helps me by sitting on my lap and typing along with me). 

THIS guy!
After our short flight back the entire length from Auckland to Dunedin, some new guests had moved in at my mom's house. A spider who built the piece of modern art below and four baby chickens, hiding in the bush.  

Pseudosoph PONPONPON

So I'm in Madrid waiting for 2:30pm to roll around when the art gallery around the corner is free. I am a shit traveller, and I feel bad about it, really. I spend most of my time, wherever I happen to be, online. The real world is like a backdrop to my mac screen (ok, not that bad, but close).

Today I procrastinated by: booking a flight to Nepal, booking my guest house in Nepal, reading about the bus system in Nepal. Fascinating stuff. Then I read about the 'meaning' of one of my favourite songs/ videos/ phenomenons of the last few years : the much re-posted ponponpon. I stumbled across this adorable article by a music snob admitting the limits of his understanding. This got me to thinking two things: 1. Isn't it cute how people from one culture LOVE media from another without even knowing why? 2. Aren't we all just exotic birds to each other? (I thought this in the Prado gallery the other day, when I was like 'blah blah hundreds of Italian paintings of Jesus and Mary ... boring' and then I noticed the incredibly high numbers of east Asian students walking around in blissed-out awe - comparable to my behaviour at an exhibit on art of the Mughal empire a few days previous in London). I think it's pretty natural/ cool to find stuff from cultures other than your own a bit more seductive. And I don't think there's enough talk about the positive side of this creation of the 'exotic other' or fetishization of it - a behaviour not, as white male philosophers seem to suppose, limited to European cultures. The philosophers I've seen most eye-to-eye with on this issue have largely been 'subaltern' voices, like Gaayatri Spivak and Homi Bhabha.

Anyway blah blah indeed. While reading the cute article above, I came across the below comment from a reader and nearly cried with happiness. I wish I could put it in my thesis. I wish I could put it on page 1, in bold, in my thesis. Well anyway, at least I can put it on my blog:

"I write about Japanese culture and design. The most important thing to remember, and the thing most Westerners get wrong, is that logic and linearity are mundane (in the sense of being bound to the worldly and material), and are therefore gross and inferior. Logic is avoided. It is considered the language of deception and antisocial behavior. Sociable beings rely not upon logic and reason but mutually consensual feelings. (The very term “nee” is a non-meaningful, non-verbal indication of assent or mutual agreement). Absurdity, imprecision, and contradiction put you closer to the divine and non-transitory. It is very difficult for Western people to abandon linearity, which makes its appearance in minuscule and subtle ways that are mostly invisible to them but that are immediately recognizable by Japanese people, and thereby often rejected as “non-Japanese”. This rejection may be seen by Westerners as mysterious and arbitrary.
In short, don’t look so hard for meaning and you’ll have it in your pocket."

- 'DGI' 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"When a man is tired of London...

He is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." - Samuel Johnson.

Well. Maybe this was true of an Anglican, committed tory in the 1700s*, but in my experience London has 'afforded' me much less of all that than other cities. I hadn't spent enough time in the city to deem myself 'tired' of it really, and in any case being 'tired of' something implies having liked it at some stage, but London did not have it's grey, expensive tendrils in my heart. I had spent a grand total of approximately six weeks in London - once in winter, once in summer. In winter I had found it grey, miserable, expensive, boring and moist. By contrast, in summer I found it oppressively stuffy, packed full of people, expensive, stressful and exhausting. And this coming from a person who adores the likes of Bangkok, Ha Noi, Los Angeles and Paris, so the usual "well, if you're not a city person" defence doesn't stick. To repeat, I actively enjoy spending time in Bangkok and seek it out, and found London too sticky, full and generally oppressive.

* And for many of my modern day friends, to be fair. 

My mother says that snow makes a place basically new; that it covers all the dirt and brings out a new colour in a city. Arriving to a snowed out London late on a Saturday night and heading straight to a party in Ealing Broadway certainly made me feel like I was  in a city I had never been in before. People were laughing in the streets, and yelled out the windows of their warm houses: "nice night for a walk!" before falling about laughing. I must have looked quite comical trudging through the snowed-up, icy streets at 11:30pm with my massive pack and a confused expression. 

The party was a rag-tag team of hilarious, boozy expats in full body animal costumes, and I was greeted to a cup of hot mulled wine and several hugs - and a place to pass out. 

The next day, I ventured into the snowscape to attend the best exhibition of my life. I looked up something vague like "Islamic miniature art London" on google to see where was best, and stumbled across this exhibition: an incredible collection of paintings, architectural drafts and original poetry books from the Mughal empire.  

I jumbled myself into the British Library, had a coffee under the impressive wall of books and headed into the exhibition, where I actually felt like I was getting faintly nauseous from Stendhal syndrome. I've wanted to see these paintings in real life, my whole life. Finally, to make me audibly gasp, there were transcriptions of Hafiz's poetry from the 1400s, with accompanying miniature paintings. I've posted one of my favourite 'Hafiz' poems, translated/ interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky after the jump. 

p.s. I like London now. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Malaysia: Truuuly Asia? Shut up.

Before I launch into my usual inane "I Love This Place" rant, I thought I'd have a complain. This has bugged me for some time and I feel the need to get it off my chest in a (semi) public forum: what the hell is with Malaysia's tourism slogan? "Malaysia: Truly Asia..."

Being a child who grew up with an atlas/ a reasonably educated member of society, I have been well aware of Malaysia's place in the Asian area of the world for some time and never stopped to doubt that it was "truly" Asia. However, much like when someone complains about how nice they are, when a country repeats over and over again how truly Asian they are, it gets me to thinking: well, what alternative viewpoint are they fighting so strongly against? Is there a group of people out there who argue that Malaysia is not authentically Asian enough? Not like Those Other Asian Countries on the mainland where their connection to Asia, that mythological place, cannot be thrown under scrutiny. In any case, this brand of thinking only annoys me more since I passionately detest claims for/ against some puritanical notion of 'authenticity.' Like those 'farang khi nok' who haughtily proclaim to hate Bangkok, as they prefer the 'real' (/true) Asia* and shuffle off in their fishermen-pants to Laos, where they watch Friend's re-runs and drink from 10am. 

* Ignoring the ten million plus Thai people who are obviously living tragically inauthentic lives in Bangkok/ the rich history of Asian megacities (Angkor had a population of one million when London only had 100,000). 

So, Malaysia, your tourism campaign sets us off on very much the wrong foot. But luckily for me, and the world at large, PR marketeers don't actually constitute a large majority of the human population. And on my first afternoon in adorable Melaka, this is what I found: 

Jonker 88 - Famous eatery in Melaka 
Chicken curry and rice (5 ringgits) and fresh orange juice
Day 2 I woke up as refreshed as is possible in the tropics and spent the good part of four hours biking up and down the river. The architecture kills my heart. 

One side of the river
And the other... 

Some eatery somewhere
Hey! My bestie (the bike)
Menu at eatery above
Nasi Goreng (5 ringgit)

Dream houses

These funny little cats live with their owner in a glorious second-hand book shop. I swapped my copy of "The New Republic" by Lionel Shriver (fun read, but not mind-blowing) for a copy of "Our Man in Havana" by Graham Greene, which I am very excited about. 

The owner said "yeah, I do have some good books in there" to me, in response to my compliments, and I told him I'd worked in a bookshop for a years and understood the need to stock some nonsense. He said "well yeah, mostly it's given to me by backpackers" and I sighed with agreement.*

*I know I'm a backpacker too, but really you guys. 

Then the sun scared me into submission and I biked home. This is the street next to mine and I like to bike around the block the long way home, just to go past it again.