Thursday, September 13, 2007


What's on my mind:


A 1981 science-fiction novel by Robert Holdstock, picked up by me for about forty cents at a used-bookstore here in Baguio. The story centres around a group of cosmic explorers in the far future (is there any other kind?) on a distant planet (is there any other kind?) who regularly and routinely find themselves evading giant, hurricane-like windstorms that just happen to leave debris, artifacts, dead aliens, etc., from either the past or the future. Time winds, in other words.

Kind of a cool idea. Things from the past pop up in the present. Or stuff from the future has been blown back. And there's an old man who is routinely seen popping in and out of time at the edges of this cosmic desert, and he may (or may not be) the future self of one of the novel's protagonists.

Good fun. I love time-travel stories, and this one has a fresh take on a tired genre. (Even though the book was published when I was in Grade 2, I'm still considering it 'fresh', because I'm reading it for the first time.)

I have my own ideas about a time-travel type story that I'm considering writing, which may dovetail nicely with a ghost-story type story that I've had rattling around inside of my head for a good five years. I like the leeway fantasty and sf gives your imagination. Anything goes, as long as it's halfway plausible and completely entertaining.


This Stephen King thriller just left the theatres here, and I found it a nice, nifty throwback to THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Somebody described it as 'the mini-bar version of THE SHINING', which is as good a description as any, given that John Cusack spends most of the movie holed up in a single hotel room, fighting off ghosts and insanity and his own dark demons.

It's been awhile since I've seen a genuinely creepy movie, and this was it. With an ending that lingers.


He's the former president of the Philippines who was finally sentenced to life in prison yesterday, after six years of court delays. A former famous B-movie star, he was elected president and then promptly proceeded to plunder the national banks for all they were worth.

A lot of the public, mostly the poor, seem to love him, mostly because he was an action star who promoted himself as a 'man of the people', but plunder's plunder, me thinks. He remids me of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin of Thailand -- loved by the poor because he throws them scraps every now and then, but disdained by the urban elite, who know corruption when they see it.


Back to Japan next Wednesday. (I'll take the night bus from Baguio to Manila on Tuesday around 11:50 p.m.) Once safely nestled in Nippon, I'll be living in a city whose exact name I forget -- never a good sign. But I think I'm pretty sure which train line it's on -- always a good sign. I'll be working as a 'cover instructor', filling in for teachers who get sick, or observing other teachers teach and giving them advice. Or replacing teachers who get fired (like I did last semester). So I could end up teaching at one university for three months, or bopping between schools and spying on other teachers anywhere and everywhere for three months. Time will tell.


Second opinions being sought on the latest MRI. Another round of chemo possibly in the near future -- or possibly not. Being an observer, a spectator to the whole thing is frustrating beyond measure, but so it goes. Almost two years (and counting), so every day is something to be celebrated. Still. Let's just hope our genius medical minds come up with a cure pretty damn soon for this dreadful disease, right?


I thought about it yesterday for no reason whatsoever: How often am I aware of my left-handedness? And I realized: Not very often. Once, twice a month? Usually when I spot an actor holding a gun with their left hand (Bruce Willis, in every action movie he's ever made), or I catch an actress unconvincingly attempt to portray a right-hander (the only example being Julia Roberts -- a famous lefty -- in Erin Brockovich signing a form on a clipboard handed to her by the delivery man, and she signs the sheet with her right hand, because I'm assuming the real-life Brockovich was a righty, but she holds the clipboard in such a way that she's shielding us from seeing her hand signing the paper, because it probably looked all awkward on her first two or three attempts, so the director, Steven Soderbergh, probably asked her to tilt the clipboard in such a way so that the audience wouldn't see her hand too much, and I'm such a loser with so much time on my hands that I spotted her deception right away and screamed: "Bullshit! You're a lefty trying to be a righty!" Okay, I didn't scream it, but I thought it...)


There's a thirteen year old in the house, so I'm reminded of how far I've come and how soon it's all passed. A good age, thirteen is. Still a little bit of the kid left in you. Adolescence not completely coming down on you. Things are fresh. Still okay to sing goofy songs at the top of your lungs, and nobody's going to call you on it.


There's an old and dirty and poor little man who sits on the sidewalk outside of this internet cafe, day after day, month after month year after year. His arm extends upwards in a creaky position, his fingers gnarled, his palm open. He might not be blind, actually, but his eyes are always closed, and his face is often grimaced, and he's been there for as long as I've been here, and, I'm told, for the twenty years before that, too.


They have them here in the Philippines, too --not the geeky people like me, no, but those tiny, fruity candies we used to gobble as kids. Haven't tried any yet, though I'm tempted. I'm worried that the inevitable sugar rush would send me skyrocketing back to the past in a flash.

A time wind would pick me up and hurl me back and I might never be able to find my way back here, to this moment in time, to this place. I'd be lost in the past, wondering if everything after thirteen was nothing more than a sugar-fuelled dream, sweet and tangy, but distant, in a haze.

Monday, September 10, 2007


I recently read of a fifty or sixty year old Japanese woman who, fearing that her brain was getting a little lazy, her outlook on life a trifle static, decided to throw caution to the wind and move to Moscow. She's been there for over ten years now, teaching ikebana -- the art of Japanese flower arranging -- to eager, energetic Russians. (Or cold and frigid Muscovites, looking for a place to come out of the cold. One of the two, at any rate.)

Part of the reason why I keep studying Japanese, no matter what country I'm in, not matter how meager my progress, is that I, too, worry about my brain becoming dull. Ineffective. Like a razor that has long lost its sharp and ragged lustre. They say that writing and reading are great for the mind, and reading and writing in a foreign language is even better, especially when that language is Japanese, composed of odd and engimatic picture-shaped symbols that appear more artistic than linguistic. If I keep studying, poking away, plodding along, eventually comprehension will follow. Not complete, no, but my comprehension of English is not complete, either. (Having Japanese students ask me the meaning of certain English medical words only confirms this.) The best I can hope to do is refine my English ability by reading and writing in my native tongue, and hope to harness a teensy weensy bit of Japanese, because the more I learn, the more I comprehend, and the more I comprehend, the better I feel. The larger I feel.

The irony, of course, is that part of the reason why I meander my through the endless intricacies of the Nihongo language is that I feel myself becoming too self-satisfied with English itself. Having been a fairly steady readyer for almost twenty years now, a certain, well, smugness has settled in. Almost arrogance, you could say. I know the authors I like; I know the styles I like. I choose my books accordingly. Which, in and of itself, reveals a certain presumptuousness: How can I, just past thirty, assume to know what is and what isn't pristine and refined in the written word of the English world?

And that's the thing: The older we get, the more self-satisfied we become. I'm more and more amazed at people (myself absolutely included) who are convinced about the rightness, the goodness, the overall completeness of whatever it is that they believe. Whether it comes to art or sports or politics or science, there is something within each and every one of us that affirms the validity of each of our individual opinions. We all see the word through different eyes, and usually assume that our eyes are the most perceptive eyes.

Yet there's a double irony involved, I think, in that the older we get the more static and certain our viewpoints become, and yet at the same time, deep down, deep inside, we realize that we don't know much at all. If anything. So we have to overcompensate by recklessly and ruthlessly defending that which we do believe in, whether it's the potency of a particular political candidate or which burger chain produces the best hamburgers. (I vote for Harvey's, a Canadian original.)

So by studying Japanese, I admit, daily, that I don't, know, shit. And by admitting that, I'm allowing myself to learn a little bit more, for a little while longer. Something has been gained; something has been added.

Being a perpetual beginner, an unapolegetic amateur, ensures that I will always have something to shoot for. And being clumsy but curious is surely the most we can hope for out of life.

And, given that Blogger tells me that this is my 500th clumsy but curious blog entry, many thanks to those desperate souls who have read all (or one!) of them.

I don't know if I have another 500 in me, but I'm fairly certain I have at least another, and yet another, and perhaps, for the moment, that's enough.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


Here's what I don't get about George W. Bush's current rationale for the ongoing carnage in Iraq.

Essentially, Dubya is arguing that if we don't stop them over there (meaning Iraq), the terrorists will continue the fight over here (meaning America.)

Sounds good, right? We kill each and every terrorist in Iraq, not to mention Afghanistan (which is an unlikely, almost ludicrous prospect in the first place), and then they won't be able to blow us up in our own homeland.

Fine. But this is the thing. The terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan don't have passports.

I may sound flippant, but I'm serious.

Who bombed the World Trade Center? Sixteen middle-class dudes from Saudi Arabia. How were they able to travel around Europe and end up in America in the first place? Because they had passports.

The terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan are not middle-class. They are not doctors. They are not lawyers. They are not even teachers. They are desperately poor and hiding in the hills. I'm not saying that to justify their actions; I'm saying that to point out the fact that they don't have passports, and they won't be able to get passports, ever, and so they won't be able to get on the planes that would take them to the United States to continue the carnage.

Granted, they may have powerful friends who do have passports, but I don't think anybody from the Iraqi National Congress is willing to blow themselves up on the streets of downtown Baltimore. They've got enough problems in their own country without wanting to seek vengeance on grocers in Vermont. (Or wherever.)

Who was behind the recent, attempted attacks in Scotland and England? Middle-class doctors from India with a distorted theological rationale for their own violent, destructive actions. All of whom, it goes without saying, had passports.

What's amazing to me is that this fact hasn't been remarked upon more often (if at all) in what passes for the mainstream media. From Bush's words, you would think that the only thing that's stopping these terrorists from hopping on the first flight to Hartford is the price of a plane ticket. They ain't going anywhere, these terrorists, the one in Iraq. I have no doubt that there will be more terror attacks attempted in Europe and the United States, but they will only be done by middle-class folks with a twisted ideology and an axe to grind and, you guessed it, a passport.

One more thing: Besides Bush's absolute inane comparison of Iraq to Vietnam in the past few weeks, arguing that the States should stay until forever and a day and win this war that will most likely be generational, if not multi-generational, the other thing I can't get my head around is the fact that the American government and American media are somewhat naive about the fact that they just want to leave now, while the getting's good, and that the Iraqis will somehow be able to handle things on their own.

Now, I don't think it's good to stay, and I don't think it's good to leave; I think the U.S. is screwed four ways from Friday either way, frankly. (And yes, I don't quite know what that last phrase means either, but it sounds kind of neat.) I don't what the fuck to do there.

But it seems to me a lot of American poliicians' arguments boil down to: "Look, we invaded your country and started a war that you didn't want and didn't ask for, with no plan for what we would do once we were actually in control, and we have been killing you and your people for the past, what, four or five years, with our motives changing like clockwork every year-and-a-half or so from 'disable the weapons of mass destruction' to 'spread democracy in the Middle East' to 'stop them over here before they come back home'. We have the most powerful, advanced, high-tech army in the history of the planet, and yet we are getting are our asses completely wiped by a bunch of medieval religious nuts, poorer than dirt, who totally tear down our choppers and tanks using home-made bombs the size of a six-pack. We've fought for a few years, and we can't beat them, just like we couldn't defeat dirt-poor Vietnamese peasants a quarter of a century ago, so what are we going to do? We're going to pull out completely, and let you, the Iraqi army, take care of it, even though you are completely incompetent, corrupt, understaffed, underfunded, and devoid of adequate weapons. As I said, we are the most powerful country in the world, but we couldn't make much headway here, but you guys, you guys with your six-shooters and twenty-dollar-a-month wages will, I'm sure, be able to defeat the insurgents. After all, Allah is on your side. Good luck!"

An oversimplification, but I think the reality is that the United States is going to have to somehow figure out a way to stay for a little while longer (meaning years, not months), or else Iraq itself will collapse in on itself in the very near future with one gigantic whoosh of dust and air and blood and bones.

What I think will most likely happen is that Bush, with only one year and change left in his mandate, will keep most of the troops there, hand it all over to his successor, and then, five, ten years from now, when the troop pull out actually happens, and Iraq remains a devastated, distorted mess, will be able to point out comfortably from his couch at Kennebunkport that things would have been just hunk-dory if everybody had just stayed a little bit longer, and not been so wussy about the whole thing. (The scary thing is that I'm actually kind of agreeing with Bush about staying, but disagreeing with how he handled the whole thing to begin with, and how he will justify it to historians later. Either way, I seem to be siding ideologically on the outcome with Bush. Hmmm. Don't tell anyone.)

The circumstances are completely different, but after living in Cambodia for years, and seeing what a mess that country still is (though getting better -- anything after genocide is a step or a staircase or an elevator up, obviously) I think it's fair to say that Iraq will still be a poor, fragile, massively fucked-up nation when I hit the big 5-0. The best we can hope for, as in Cambodia, is that the war will have stopped, peace will have come, the schools will have lighting, and books, and desks, and democracy, corrupt and misshapen, but democracy nevertheless, will have a solid grounding. There will still be disease and unemployment and dirty water and dirty politicians, but people will be able to stroll the streets of Baghdad without the fear of bombs blowing them out of the markets. That's what the aim should be.


That's my two cents, for what it's worth.

(And that's two Canadian cents, so my intellectual value has just really depreciated...)