Archive for Hong Kong

Workout Log 16 August 2012: retail therapy, Sarastro, Isis undt Osiris and whatever the hell else I think of at this time

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on August 16, 2012 by spinoza1111

30 minute free dance with weights first thing. Feels good but I need to swim more since a bit of pain persists between the sciatic notches. The freedance has superseded my former DVD workouts since the DVD workouts force me to make unsafe moves whereas I can adapt the freedance to my feelings.

On Celebrex which seems to work ok.

A Bus to “Hell”

The 69X express bus from Tin Shui to Mong Kok is a spiritual experience. It leaves the flat district of Tin Shui Wai (the City of Sadness to some) and then passes through a sort of wilderness area for Hong Kong has a surprising amount of unusable, mountain land, and then descends into the container port, with huge warehouses of the sort where I audition for roles in films and TVCs, massive, Star Wars style loaders, many container boxes neatly stacked. A place of things and not people, a world with its own laws.

The container port is a tribute to Mr McLean…the man who noticed what a waste it was, at least from management’s point of view, to pay great big strong men to load rice or bananas all day long. I can see McLean’s point but a man needs money. Mclean arranged it so that the stevedores were retired in comfort to his credit and today, automated monsters handle our Stuff from Hong Kong to Long Beach to the THames.

An enormous faded Kent cigarette sign from the Sixties when cigarette advertisements were legal, on the side of a warehouse. Then you transition into Sham Shui Po, a poor district where the people struggle for existence. They look at you with wonder, it seems, for what’s that Westerner doing here in Asia Hell when he could live in the USA? Did he not know how good he had it back in Chicago where the park is empty?

[An ad for US schools contrasts a Hong Kong guy kicking it in California with the same guy sitting in a tiny flat in Mong Kong.]

Indeed, what am I doing here? Good question. I am suffering in the old sense when “suffering” meant “experience” for like Spinoza I discovered that seeking pleasure is a dead end that leads to fear of eternal punishment. Suffering is knowledge. We are made to know as a form of love.

Besides, the bus was comfortable; anything to get away from those hellish metal flat seats of the West Rail on my bony ass. I got off at Mong Kok and found an electronics mall, and replaced a misplaced cable, and found a little soup restaurant…where the owner steered me away from the Szechuan and into satay. Wisely perhaps.

Nobody making way for an old guy who looked less Chinese and more like my father because old people of different ethnicities look like each other.

HAMLET
Thrift, thrift, Horatio! the funeral baked meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.
Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven
Or ever I had seen that day, Horatio!
My father!–methinks I see my father.
HORATIO
Where, my lord?
HAMLET
In my mind’s eye, Horatio.

See Andre Eichmann’s work; he photographs Hong Kong with a perceptive eye that sees past the duty free tourist BS. Like my sister’s work, Andre’s work captures…something post-millennial, end of the worldish, where meaning appears as signs and wonders, Euclidean shapes in the sky. This is the Hong Kong I experienced yesterday and of my dream last May when, after the Debacle, I dreamed I’d been beaten in a Kung Fu Fight and had to go to the Queen Alexandra Hospital for Losers of Kung Fu Fights.

The sky bluer than usual as some sort of approaching typhoon pumps away the pollution.

I suck at photography. When I saw the enormous Kent cigarette sign I fumbled for my crappy camera and could not find it. In 2008, I tried to take a photo of a cool train in Paris’ Gare du Nord, but there were some undocumented Somalis on the platform who got real mad at me since they thought I was a cop. Whereas I can sit in a cafe and make someone’s portrait and they are never the wiser, especially in Paris.

I just tried the cable I bought in Mong Kok to hook up my crappy camera. Doesn’t work. I shall now buy ANOTHER crappy camera since the dripping forest in which I live is quite beautiful and I am also going to Thailand next week, God willing, after my cancer followup. I’d like to document it better.

OK, maybe I won’t. Maybe I will go BACK to Mong Kok today and get the guy who sold me the cable to help me link the computer and the camera. It should work, after all. But if it doesn’t I shall track down a nice simple idiot proof camera.

Retail Therapy

We do retail therapy here. With all my problems I’ve had some real good days especially the last couple of weeks owing to endorphin buildup from faithful workouts. Shopping for the things I actually need gives me good feelings as long as it has a spiritual basis and makes sense. Food tastes better now that I’ve quit that stupid Nicotine gum.

As an example of retail therapy, I have been wearing the same pair of oversized size 34 jeans unthinkingly, and I was transferring from the Red Line to the West Rail yesterday at Mei Foo, which has a minimall. So I was walking by Giordano’s and they sell cheap and flimsy jeans that are nonetheless OK, and I went in and bought two extremely hot size 31s for my new extremely hot body, wearing one pair out the store and feeling quite pleased with myself.

Later in the day I had to check myself, for I went into Aldo’s in IFC mall. Aldo’s is serious money: Italian shoes at 1750 a pop. No way. I went in mostly because some cute girls were trying on women’s shoes and I was ogling them like a scumbag, but did find much to admire in their men’s shoes, made, in the Italian style, of thin, supple and sweet-smelling leather.

But…my animal rights friends won’t wear leather shoes and I really have no business buying such shoes unless I have a job at HSBC requiring business attire, and I neither have nor want such a job any more, as in this clerihew:

HSBC
Can do without me
They will I am certain survive
And, absent my services, even thrive

Nope, my dream was always to be, like Neil Diamond, forever in blue jeans, and not have to work too much to survive. And here it is…along with a piano in my flat and an incurable disease which is fatal but not serious, or perhaps vice-versa. Deo gratias nun danke and fiat voluntas Tua, thy will be done.

Across the way from Aldo’s is a grocery store, City Super, reputed believably to be the most expensive in the world. I don’t shop there for my own needs, for on Lamma Island there are several inexpensive family owned shops and Just Green the health food shop, but it’s fun to shop for gifts for friends at City Super.

They have waaaaay overpriced stuff from all over the world for the refined palate of the super-rich who live in Central and Discovery Bay. French and British cheeses, strange bread, soda pop from Japan! Chocolate from Denmark! Seaweed! Kimchi! Booze, from Budweiser to rarefied potations with eels in them!

It’s strictly for presents and not often. I bought an enormous Diamond Jubillee tin of choco biscuits for my British Mem Sahib neighbor who’d helped me out in June being a nice lady, at City Super but anyone who shops there regular needs her head examined. I ate quite a number of the cookies in the tin with her encouragement last Sunday as we shared tea for I need to get back to normal weight but left the tin with her for her kids to demolish. Then it shall be a family heirloom, worth significant money in 2100 AD, being a Diamond Jubilee tin, decorated with the profile of a young Elizabeth from the coin.

Young men think it’s hip to make fun of the Royals and the Royals are rather amusing. However, we do not understand the message of Royalty. The Royals mean…we are getting old and all-devouring Time shall take us even as Time knocks on Prince Phillip’s door as I write.

I was born when Harry Truman was President and George VI was king. George VI was about to hear some very, very bad news about cancer in consequence of his smoking habit…which he may have adopted because of shyness if that recent film, The King’s Speech, is to be believed. Poor chap did look like John o’ Gaunt long before the diagnosis and back then there was nothing to be done. Of course, this is still rather true for lung cancer which is why I count myself lucky that despite my own smoking I have prostate and not lung cancer so far.

But back to the mall…there’s a Dymock’s and it sucks since people just don’t read here. I got lucky recently at this limited Dymock’s, finding Jennifer Homan’s Apollo’s Angels, an interesting if untheorized history of ballet, and Dr Siddhartha Mukerjhee’s excellent book, The Emperor of all Maladies, a summa of what we know now about Cancer.

Zara’s in the same mall is more my speed as opposed to Aldo’s shoes, for Zara’s an international budget clothier that isn’t in the USA. They have socks, underwear but I do not like their jeans. They are big in Spain.

Retail therapy, then. Cash and carry. You can come as you are but pay as you go, as Laurie Anderson puts it. CheerYouUp.

Sarastro, undt Isis und Osiris: Meditation on Shamanism and Self-Healing

What I found so moving starting at 41:00 at this YouTube is that Branagh’s imaginary Sarastro, the leader of the Red troops in Branagh’s boy’s dream, is a healer, whom Prince Tamino first encounters taking care of the wounded in the war between him and the Queen of the Night.

The first Chinese emperors were doctors and farmers and not just rulers. Lao T’se’s ideal ruler emptied the heads of people, and strengthened their bones.

That’s what I must do for myself as my own Sovereign, take care of my wounded and sick in the hospital, like Omar Sharif and Julie Andrews in the frontline hospital in Dr Zhivago.

The actor/singer who plays Sarastro is a German bass, Rene Pape. He seems perfect for the role. His voice is perfect, round and comforting.

PET scan: “you will fight without fear, passion, or hatred”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 29, 2012 by spinoza1111

Listen! I think Le Roi Danse teaches us what Adam West tried to teach us in his redoubtable one man show of Vincent: that our contempt for artistic creation is a bad mistake. Van Gogh took the pain of life and in one year ripped Western Art a new asshole. Lully took the pain of Louis’ rejection and created rock and roll several hundred years before Elvis…for that’s what his rhythm was…something ultimately from Africa by way of Turkey.

[Hmm, maybe I’m getting ripped a new asshole in punishment for my bad language and prideful desire to rip art a new asshole, with this sciatica.]

A lot like the Bone Scan at the beginning of June: the eye of God as you try to meditate and be still. A combination of David Bowie, Jane Fonda in Barbarella in the special machine, and James Bond in the hand of sinister, lovely and efficient Oriental women.

This is an adventure and is best treated as such, using what I’ve learned in Outward Bound; the difference is that this is for keeps. I have no regrets about Italy for it is clear that I was destined for this adventure and not, this year, for an artistic jaunt. After all, I had a wonderful time in Paris in 2008 and though Poussin’s ghost still is pissed that I have not escaped to Rome, I try to make him understand that medicine has more tricks up its sleeve than it did in the 17th century…when Poussin had to grab the first oxcart out of Paris to avoid wasting his life and spirit as did Vouet on decoration.

Pain medication back up to prescribed levels including one codeine bomb, not good because at these levels, with the new prep medicine, nausea and irritability kick in.

For nausea an especial danger is the mandatory 30 min ferry ride and mal de mer. What I thought I remembered they told me in Outward Bound, as we crossed the (very distinct and clear) boundary between the Caribbean and Atlantic in the Keys of Florida, “look at one stationary spot on the boat” seemed to work, but then I remembered it was “look at different spots” and that worked better.

It would be crazy nuts to take anti-nausea medication like the Dramamine of my childhood. The last time I took that was after a a storm off the Farallones in San Francisco and on top of Anchor Steam it was great back in SF. But if I take it now I might as well get drunk again on top of that, and that’s not on the agenda for today.

Yesterday, staying on the island, I was able to halve the pain medication and not take the codeine bomb. The pain was higher but it is a teacher. I am learning to pop a variety of moves to walk and work with the sciatic pain. One is a hesitation step as seen in London in Trooping the Colour. Another is a plie accentuating the thigh. A third seeks merely to fly.

If I could fly, just hover above the ground, that would solve my problems as in a dream. Hmm…maybe a low-tech anti-gravity device creating just enough thrust to raise me a foot off the ground that would not explode if I farted? No, too much high tech. The way to fly is to swim and water-dance. Perhaps our dreams of flying are deep inter-species memory from when we were dinosaur birds or some sort of extinct flying mammal.

The problem is my dreams of flight always get outa hand. I start flying fast and high without having filed a flight plan with HKIA or O’Hare.

Dang…just heard on RTHK that there may be a level 8 which will kill the swim workout. We’ll have to see. I do find pleasure even in foul weather in changing light patterns, something that is new. Unlike the irritability, these “highs” are not associated with prescription drug levels, any more than my runner’s high was associated with the iPod. The simple pleasure I get from accomplishing a difficult, scary or painful task at Queen Mary’s, and taking the cab down the mountain in that beautiful spot, is always there.

The Crazy Nuts Minibus is cheaper but at my height with the back situation it can be wearisome, although it takes a more local route and is for that reason a fascinating tour of Kennedy Town and Sheung Wan, so I’ve budgeted for a taxi which is about seven dollars US each way. Not much compared to Chicago and New York.

Also, most HK taxi drivers (especially drivers from the Mainland) don’t expect tips…in particular, the Mainland’s Communist culture discourages tipping (but has no problem with just lying about the fare…I was almost charged 100 yuan from Lo Wu to Bai Sheng Zhi Zhou in 2005.)

I didn’t ask for a copy of the PET scan. I don’t want to freak out trying to interpret random splotches or coffee stains. This I leave to the oncology team, with whom I meet next week.

Mission accomplished, sans peur et sans haine, one day at a time. Listen!

A note on social vulnerability

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 21, 2012 by spinoza1111

The reality for me is a sudden onset of old age and its vulnerability. Nurse Mike at Queen Mary gave it to me straight. My secondary problem of sciatica is degenerative and progressive although it can be delayed by reasonable activity. I may never run again.

Cancer per se is not curable because the ultimate cause is not known beyond the fact that errors occur in DNA/RNA transcription: but we have no hard scientific theory as to why the errors occur, only statistical associations that only prove soft statements such as “smoking hmm seems to make errors occur”. We know pragmatically that “smoking causes cancer” and can explain this by way of the fact that smoking uses combustion which concentrates carcinogens in floating microballs of “tar” gunk but even today there’s apparently no grand unified theory as to the link between what’s in the tar and the transcription errors. A known cause would imply the design of nano-biological technology which would “always” correct errors (where “always” could be a number, such as the “six sigma” of industrial engineering, close to unity).

As the doctor said, what I have is incurable owing to metastasis (assuming we find the source in the PET scan I shall now pay the private price for, previous scans yielding no evidence of tumors so far as they are studied). My favorite theory is mere wishful thinking, that somehow a tumor developed, released cells gathered in the lymph nodes and then was destroyed by my immune system somehow; but I dare not trust this. My search for the source alongside the doctors (where the Patient is a Subject as well as an Object) has to be thorough, and include the expensive Pet scan.

So I am “feblit with infirmitie” and I read history in a different light: from the standpoint of a patient in a city that’s been invaded. From the standpoint of the newly vulnerable.

In Hong Kong after the Japanese invasion, there were deliberate assaults on medical staff and patients, on the vulnerable at hospitals by the Japanese. This rather resembles the Republican assault on public and private health in the USA, for the Japanese “frightfulness”, manifest in so many ways throughout Asia, was an overcompensating, post-Enlightenment reaction to specific historical events as is Republican “frightfulness”: the Republican assaults on women, on teachers, on women teachers, on health, on women’s health, on gay people, on the health of gay people in an ever widening gyre, almost mathematical in character are, like the Japanese atrocities, the result of fear of inner weakness.

According to the BBC documentary “Horror in the East”, Japan, which had had a period of rapid westernization and genuine enlightenment (not so much western as Japan’s own version) during the Meijii period of the 19th century but this was sharply reversed using mass media in the 1920s.

When Japan’s lack of raw materials exposed Japanese to the brute facts of international rivalry, and when the United States idiotically forced Britain to abandon its naval alliance with the Japanese in 1924, Japanese men were told by media that Western civilization, especially the changing role of women, was unmanning them.

Horror in the East includes a Japanese film of the 1920s in which a woman dressed in Western fashions is scolded on the tram.

The result was a complete change in Japanese military training and behavior: the Japanese soldiers of WWI who’d mainly fought the Germans in Tientsin and the South Pacific treated POWs well, to the extent that many German POWs decided to stay in Japan. Whereas the Japanese atrocities of WWII towards POWs alone (Bataan “death march”, Hong Kong) and towards civilians (Hong Kong and most tragically, Nanking in the 1930s) were close to the Nazis’ atrocities.

This was caused by military training that emphasized the abuse of recruits such that once released from restraints and his own abuse by officers and non-coms, the Japanese ranker had a tendency to go wild. This was controlled and massacres thereby prevented by good generals like Yamashita, “The Tiger of Malaysia”: POWs in Yamashita’s conquest of Singapore were well-treated inside Singapore itself but mistreated in prison camps which obviously, in wartime, would be commanded by fourth rate men, Tough Babies.

The reaction is one of a false strength to weakness such as a patient in hospital: if he’s of military age, the war criminal thinks he’s a malingerer or a terrorist. This is post-Meijii for part of the pre-Meijii Samurai code was the separation of society into combatants and non-combatants (including combatants hors de combat), whereas Klaus Theweilt’s “soldier male” (cf. that author’s book Male Fantasies) is post-enlightenment the only “real” man.

But in the Dialectic of Enlightenment as it applied to Japan post-Meijii, the Samurai distinction is lost for anyone might be an enemy in an aura of universal knowledge and universal suspicion.

Adorno’s “Tough Baby”, unlike the Samurai, needs to win at any costs because Job One is not showing weakness which validates attacks on women, from the vicious name-calling that goes on in American state legislatures when reproductive choice is on the agenda, to attacking a fashionable woman on a tram in Tokyo.

Feminism helps the process along in some ways by refusing to admit that women’s job in reproduction is more complicated than that of men resulting in a male instinct to protect women in reproduction. To some feminisms, “chivalry” was merely a tool of oppression, which of course ignores the fact that enough men believed in it to save some women’s lives during the general mayhem of the Middle Ages.

Foullis d’arcs en ciel pour la Ange qui annonce La Fin du Temps

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 21, 2012 by spinoza1111

Listen! To the movement “Cluster of Rainbows for the Angel Who Announces the End of Time” from Olivier Messaien’s Quartet for the End of Time.

The very, very kind neighbor lady who visited me in hospital told me that Tuesday afternoon, apparently at the same time my sorry ass was drug in to QMH, a perfectly formed rainbow appeared spanning the harbor, from Kowloon to precisely at Queen Mary Hospital. Signs and wonders? Naw. Just a phenomenon from which we take courage.

I mean, do not gild the lily. In a world where cancer is epidemic and the environment is under assault by greed-heads, the miracle is that the light and water cycle of which the Rainbow is a part hasn’t just shut down.

Queen Mary Outpatient Colonoscopy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 12, 2012 by spinoza1111

I fasted, drinking broth only, no solid food, for 24 hours and followed the purgative EZ-Klean procedure which I shall not discuss here: suffice to say I did it right and got the results Doctor needs.

But when I arrived at Queen Mary I felt rather slightly like a British POW at Stanley (not to discount their suffering: rather to honour it and learn manly fortitude from it). I’d taken Ibuprofen and the Cosalgesic top-up allowed, which masked the pain and cheated me of my natural endorphin “high” that I get the Sciatica pain goes away of its own, like a tiger.

But I gradually let go of my possessions which need to be locked up because you’re normally sedated or anesthetized for this procedure. Glasses and shoes were all I had, for the rather interesting McPuke tartan and this time a “johnny” were my raiment.

I was given the usual waiting time to ponder on a gurney. I’d signed a release stating that these procedures have a very small risk.

And when my lung had collapsed in 1978 (a natural occurrence in thin and tall men), this “pneumothorax” had occurred twice (which is normally what it will do). The first tube insertion was done by a handless intern at Evanston Hospital and I thought I’d been impaled and howled in pain.

The second was performed by a colleague of my father, a Macanese physician, at Swedish Covenant, and this physician inserted the tube with no pain at all, knowing his business.

So I was uncertain as to what I’d feel. But Dr Lau knew his business as had Dr DaSilva.

I was looking at the video monitors that were to show my insides in some fear, in no mood for a jolly sight-seeing cruise up my arse, when in went the “sedation” and I could feel the probe at the same time.

But the next thing I knew I was being wheeled out feeling no pain anywhere, and fed a glorious meal of a sandwich and milk. I paid $150.00 HKD and was released.

These procedures are so like religious and monkish practices. In fact that is what they are if you treat them like that. You learn something from them.

Ask for me tomorrow and you may find me a graver man
But as of today, I am on the “one day at a time” plan
For Wellington pardoned a soldier on Waterloo eve
For stealing a pig without any leave:
And then said, if I remember all right,
“Dirty night”
And concluded showing no foreboding or sorrow,
Hard morrow.

Copyright (C) Edward G. Nilges. Moral rights asserted.

Taking care of business

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 9, 2012 by spinoza1111

Listen!

A meeting with my landlord reminiscent of a diplomatic bun-fight between the British and Chinese over the status of the New Territories circa 1890.

His psychology is that for him it is a major pain in the ass to have to pay for his investment by renting to Westerners, most of whom are damned odd birds and some of whom are lunatics. I am in the former category but what I have learned is that, contrary to my expectation that he’d grow more trusty and fond over time, familiarity breeds contempt as was generally the case over the history of Hong Kong.

I got no brownie points in 2010 for shown’ up six days a week for five years. Employers are just scared that you’ll get additional rights under the law. I get no brownie points here for paying the rent on time for seven years.

They want the colonialists out and I am a colonialist (odd bird category).

Also, I didn’t know even after seven years that while in America, there’s a problem, you call the super, in China, the landlord wants you to fix the problem. There’s a clause in my lease that the responsibility for plumbing is mine. Same as in colonial Hong Kong: the water came from Guang-Zhou, but the British maintain the pipes at Lo-Wu.

Americans abroad expect too much and think they know it all.

A Note on Writing Like a Man

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 2, 2012 by spinoza1111

Both men and women artists and writers must, in my opinion, sort out motivations.

On the one hand, there is the sheer pleasure of making something from a well constructed and bigod, grammatically correct sentence above a low upper bound of complexity, to a limning on a gesso ground of “the nimbus of the baptized God” in tempera, to a musical improvisation of serenity power.

And then there’s the thought of Recognition which sounds cool unless you happen to talk to a real “celebrity” or a therapist who specializes in their care. Ponder upon Lindsay Lohan.

There is in other words a tension in Hegel’s chapter on “Lordship and Bondage” in his rib-tickling and almost, but not quite, incomprehensible Whopper, The Phenomenology of Mind.

The chapter as expertly boiled down by Alexander Kojeve is nothing more than a story about a boxing match, a Thrillah in Manila, at the dawn of history. The Master and the Slave fight for mutual recognition but fighting is not, as Mom would know, a way to get it. So the Master puts the Slave to work, and history starts.

The slave, however, gets the last laugh because like me, like my brothers or my Dad he learns the anhedonic yet real satisfaction of working his ass off, and seeing his Humanity reflected in a well-wrought computer program, a brain free of cancer, or cars delivered without a scratch (harder than you might think) in a blizzard.

The Slave makes the World while the Master is kickin’ it.

So…as an artist or writer or musician, ask yourself. Do you seek Recognition or Work?

OK, now, as to writing.

I discovered that my writing when I was 13 got Recognition, a scarce good in my family of origin, from Mom and Dad. But I also discovered what most poets know.

You can’t sit down and say, time to write a poem. Yes sir, let’s get to work.

You need a Form, a daemon. And that can be anything from Alexander Pope’s bright idea of completely transforming Homer’s sea-washed, wine-dark Greek to trumpet and drum 12-syllable rhyming couplets, to a sudden association of words, like the French word for bread, and the English word for pain.

Or some irony, such as the Brits meekly sailing away from Hong Kong after having left a pearl of great price in the form of the rule of law, dammit.

It can also be a sudden need for spare cash and a demand from a Shickander for a low entertainment involving a Magic Flute.

Now, my own daemon was I only wanted, after my early experience, to write ABOUT something. I found it uniquely hard to read most quality fiction because in my imagination, the authors of quality fiction were creating worlds ex nihilo, worlds of feelings and I couldn’t connect, I wouldn’t give myself the time.

A work of fiction had to reach out and grab me in the manner of Pop fiction. In my twenties, I encountered Frederick Exley, a drunk who was too, well, drunk to write more than one good book, A Fan’s Notes, and I connected with his half in the bag celebration of drunk-assed Chicago and the Near North side of the 1950s for I drank in its ruins.

Or George MacDonald Fraser who failed, just barely, to be Pop. He was too smart and his books never made it to films, there being only one bomb made with Malcolm MacDowell as Flashman at the Charge. And there is addition to great scholarship a darkness in Flashman which makes it hard for Pop audiences, who want clear cut good and evil.

Writing made no sense to me unless it was about something outside writing. I could write huge reference manuals for the software I created, and beautiful comments inside source code.

But my book, “Build Your Own .Net Language and Compiler” (Apress-Springer 2004) hasn’t been commercially successful, and there were times when my ability to write good manuals got me in actual trouble.

Back in the 1970s, software and hardware came with great whacking books. I found it amusing to study the book before taking the machine out of the box or installing the software.

But in 1984, I bought an early Macintosh. I was guided not by a Book (I cannot even remember if a manual was in the box) but by simple sheets of paper and clear images on connectors that either fit or didn’t, and when they fit, they did so nicely. It was almost a religious experience.

Today and as a result, you get images and a few words (in many languages) when you buy an iPod. It can be rather frustrating to wait as most new iPods charge up and Apple, rather blithely if you ask me, expects you to have Internet access. D’oh.

Everything comes down without words from the Cloud.

This was a general tendency in software. My 1970s “vision”, if that is what it was, was more me as the Scary Guy on the Monitor in the 1984 Mac “Super Bowl” ad. I’d be the writer of the Law. But precisely as the ad came out, I myself was changing, and looked more like the girl runner in my red shorts running around what’s now Google Headquarters, and identified with her. As I learned real customer service working with Bell-Northern Research engineers, I gave up my dream that software was a form of dual writing, both code and verbose English.

The best software self-documents.

But I still like to write practically and about things, starting with things. In teaching writing I teach the five senses approach. It’s hard to teach writing in China! Students are told to suppress their voice, and then thrown into required classes in writing and many teachers want to blow their brains out after trying to teach writing here.

I have had, on the fly as it were, to create a distinction between adjectives that only seem to be sensory but have a high “judgmental polarity”. For example, “beautiful” is a word like “good” such that it’s good to be good, and almost always good to be beautiful (save in a tragic fairy tale).

But try, I say, to assign a tertiary color to morning. It’s more “evocative” (explain that word!) to speak of a BROWN morning than a PINK morning. I don’t tell the kids what’s lurking in my brain, that this has a reason in information theory, for the very good reason that I confusing enough as it is, and my reading in information theory is out of date.

The mistake most teachers of writing is, then, not finding something for each student to write with passion ABOUT, and not extracting hard information-theoretic information. What color is the morning? OK, she’s beautiful, so what? I mean, is she Alice in Wonderland beautiful or Mulan beautiful.

It is stepwise refinement whereas educational “authorities” in Hong Kong and world-wide expect us dregs to throw the whole thing out at once. This is because most ESL teachers and education majors have no mathematics.

I have just enough to irritate most mathematicians save John Nash, who was beyond being irritated by much at all, and to whom I spoke minimal words, having been admonished by my boss at Princeton to watch my ass.

Mathematics (especially in the Intuitionist tradition of Brouwer and Heyting) is about stepwise refinement to any scale including infinity. The numbers in a calculus sequence converge to something that drives you crazy because you have to understand it as “the smallest real number that is greater than zero” (don’t try this at home).

The software program is in the words of the late hero computer scientist Dijkstra “a cloud of mosquitoes buzzing in harmony”.

Likewise, you can teach kids to write like Shakespeare: have them write a thought such as “school sucks”, “Bruce Lee”, or “kill teacher”.

Then show them how to add connective, adjectives or nouns stepwise to get

My school doth suck so much that I could spew

The Dragon kicks the ass of triad guys

etc. You have to teach that a verb can be strengthened with “does”, etc.

It is stepwise, and it works better in one on one tutoring as opposed to classes, but one on one is too expensive for many parents. In a classroom I use the projector to walk the kids through the process.

But the bottom line is that writing, especially for boys, has to be about something out there.

For example, US Grant, the Union general who won the Civil War by turning it into a meat grinding prototype of WWI, was a very good writer. But the only reason Grant wrote was, during the Civil War to draft accurate instructions that he knew could get people killed, and later in life, to write his best-selling Memoirs while dying of cancer so his family would have some money after he passed.

There’s a rather touching story about this. Grant, in many ways always a holy fool, accepted Charles Scribner’s standard contract without change, doubtless to the amusement of the flash chaps at Scribner’s, for it was tacitly a baseline designed so that Scribner’s wouldn’t get screwed by greedy and less competent authors.

Mark Twain, a friend of Grant, read the contract and marched down to Scribner’s, threatening Scribner with mayhem. Twain got a much better contract for old Sam.

The result? Grant’s writing, like that of another writer for the workaday world, the holy traveling salesman John Bunyan of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is hard and solid like a rock.

His dispatches during the Civil War, wrote under great pressure, are in their own way works of art. Hegel saw Napoleon at Jena, and wrote, “the world spirit on horseback”. Well, here’s the world spirit at Vicksburg:

“Sherman’s advance has reached Bridgeport. His whole force will be ready to move from there by Tuesday at farthest. If you can hold Longstreet in check until he gets up, or by skirmishing and falling back can avoid serious loss to yourself and gain time, I will be able to force the enemy back from here and place a force between Longstreet and Bragg that must inevitably make the former take to the mountain-passes by every available road, to get to his supplies. Sherman would have been here before this but for high water in Elk River driving him some thirty miles up that river to cross.”

Note that old Sam could write a conditional sentence. Here, he knew damned well that a second rate general like Ambrose Burnside might not be able to hold a first-rater like Pete Longstreet.

Perhaps, and I’m going out on a limb here. The usual military leader, such as the clowns who got men slaughtered in World War I, may not have been able to construct a sentence properly that starts with “if”, and the arcana of the subjective, of possible outcomes in the dark rain, may have given them the willies as, in the rear with the gear, they’d wrestled with the fact that you don’t use the present tense in a subjunctive, you use the infinitive.

So they write “hold the line”. Their syntax consists of sentences that start with the active verb which means that the men under them are given no choice, like the second wave at Gallipoli in Peter Weir’s film of that name.

CEOS are in my experience the same. They arrogate to themselves “simplicity” as if they are gurus who’ve learned so much that they now know It Is All So Simple. But they do not.

I teach girls as well as boys, of course, and am guilty of focusing too much on the bright and attentive girls in the front row while letting the gangstas in the back do their gangsta thing.

But. Identity politics and being of a fashionable age, race and gender takes you only so far. I love reading and teaching nonwhite non male and young authors but this is not enough, any more than being a white guy was enough in the nineteenth century. You have to write ABOUT something.

Amy Tan writes about the reality of being ABC (American Born Chinese) which is unique, of course, since the basic problem is that while you might get Chinese language lessons, there’s no opportunity to use it except to fight with your Mom. This is parallel to the problem of my students in “The City of Sadness”, Tuen Mun and Tin Shui Wai: they get English classes but no opportunity to use it.

Xialu Guo had the marvelous idea of using Chinglish, while learning English herself, to write a novel (A Chinese English Dictionary for Lovers) and make some money, for she was already a successful author in Chinese: “Immigration officer holding my passport behind his accounted, my heart hanging on high sky”. Bingo! We understand it since we’ve all had that experience as expats: your heart does hang on high sky as the plane comes down, low and slow, over increasingly lower buildings, industrial buildings, pools of green slime, and then the runway, or the immigration officer, a half hour later, holds his stamp hovering above your passport (sometimes I think they do that for fun).

A very literate and highly intelligent Chinese friend loved that book when I showed it to her for its Chinglish replicates Chinese thought and language. The way it comes together is completely different from English and its Latin based complexities. It is thought more “down to earth”, but that is wrong. In fact, it can be more subtle and refined than English because its monosyllables and ideograms are what might be called Chomsky Type Zillion, very, very sensitive to context and ever changing for that reason. As best as I can understand in my ignorance of Chinese (I really should try harder to learn it) they are like pools of water that reflect each other. Is that right? Damned if I know.

But … as a white American male I have to write as such while also being a human being (reconciliation of levels). I don’t pander to women; there’s a very amusing, and very vile article about this in Taki’s very amusing and very vile webzine: pity I was booted out after nuking John Derbyshire’s racist garbage, I’d be coming in low and slow with snake and nape on the former article. Boom. Mushroom cloud.

The article about men who pander to women say they do so in a last ditch effort to get laid which is amusing and in a way true. We do, and we need to purify our hearts as artists and do art as a final end in itself (next stop the ding an sich: next stop eternity), a Krapp’s last tape.

Note: John Derbyshire ain’t my friend. But he also has cancer. It’s not as if I should have been kinder to him; he was wrong; fathers should never counsel sons to run away from anything. But, if he ever makes it back out to Hong Kong I would be honored to buy him a beer at the Island Bar on Lamma Island. For we are all mortal and we all treasure our children’s future, as Kennedy said.