Sunday, November 09, 2008

Counter-Culture Shock

Pleurer d’horreur parce que tellement de gens ici, gâtés (avec une belle marmaille d’enfants en santé, une grosse maison avec du terrain, une voiture ou deux dans l’entrée de garage, pis une vie heureuse en perspective ben non…) se prennent la tête dans leurs misères (de dettes).
Moi, j’accroche mon sourire avec des pinces à linge. Une chance que j’ai de l’imagination (et de bons amis, et du tango, et mon chien Pirelli, et une famille pas achalée, avec mes projets d’écritures et ma manie de cuisiner) parce que sinon je croirais que ma déchéance de retour dans mon pays natal est dû au fait que je ne sois pas miséreuse.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Culture clash: lesson 01

It’s like balsamic vinegar and olive oil

To do list (abridged)
-send Bennett email to Virginie
-write to Mei for txs
-write to mom for village’s name
-write to Isa for HK trip
-send email to Joanna and Michelle the blog from this young intern Chinese in Germany

I slept 3 hours this noon. I don’t work much (teaching ESL) these days so I can finish this issue of homônumos (no.04). Still, after the morning ESL class I was exhausted.

My fault. The word “clash” came for a visit in today’s class. We were talking about different lifestyles, and how even if we love our parents (for example) we might run into divergence of opinion. That’s a clash. I mention to reinforce the usefulness of “clash” that we also talk about “culture clash”…

A week not even after the Tibetan riots…

So here goes. A few of my (adult) girls are hitched with a foreigner. Incidentally this year they will marry and move abroad. Some are excited; some are freaked out at leaving home behind and facing a new (hostile) world. A few other students will go study in Los Angeles. Every day they ask me to reassure them as to the safety of the campus environment. They heard Chinese students get slaughtered. I had to teach them the world “loaded”. As in: high, or ready to shoot, or their uncle who’s bringing them over is loaded with cash. Another student was confused that her French (good boy) friend would want to leave his wife (her best friend, an American white girl) for a Chinese woman (his assistant) who is already married. I’ve enough material on the topic for a whole book on relationship dynamic differences. Anyways, those students are in for a major culture clash when they move abroad.

2 weeks ago I was teaching words like “tolerance”, “diplomacy”, “win-win”, and the art of discussion. We played real cases where even with extreme divergent opinions, a conversation can be enlightening, constructive, positive, violence free. But it’s an art.

It’s an art to be able to navigate in clashing cultures.
It’s an art to deflect narrow minded attacks
It’s an art to trace back 5000 years of history
It’s an art discoursing international trade.


Be tolerant towards my students. The world has never been in peace when there was only one winner. It’s like balsamic vinegar and olive oil. They don’t mix well in the glass jar. But on the salad, it taste divine.
Note: find the salad.

April 08 08, Beijing. Written from a swank little bistro in the maze of meishuguan hutongs. Caribou, held by a Chinese guy, serves healthy fusion infusion and mouth watering homemade duck liver pate.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Movimento IV-Immobilità

Overstimulation = No-stimulation
When it comes to creatività, overstimulation is probably more dangerous and negative than its opposite: no stimulation at all. Actually in our late society, overstimulation is entitled to produce even worse results than lack of creativity in human beings. So let’s treat it “in general”, pretending (I’m convinced of this, but I don’t want to impose it) that developing creatività would also correspond to developing awareness, independence of thought and decision-making capacity. This would mean that exploring this realm would eventually help to understand one’s self and everything else around, which is a lot more interesting than art or creativity in themselves.

Pretentious…..but possible….so maybe not so pretentious.

I’ve seen teen-ager art students going through surprising transformations (actually just got a bit more in tune with their lives) only because they found a way to paint, or to simply say something through creative solutions. When it comes to keeping our creative potential awake in a global connected world, the task becomes extremely difficult. On the contrary of what it may seem, excess of information, and especially aggressive advertising, definitely shuts the mind and the senses out, overcharging them until they reach an unstable critical mass. Also in terms of maturity, development and awareness an overload of information slows down all of them. The enormous effort necessary to filtrate, select and digest every input, in order to be able to really feed on it, is exhausting and unuseful. The possibility of having access to information is now granted and unlimited….

So, first of all, why being sucked up by contemporary obsession with speed and round-the-clock activity ? Whenever information is really needed, then let’s use technology and get it, otherwise, why doing something all the time? Why give in to the urge of “doing something” ? Personally, creatively and even politically speaking, nothing would be more appropriate right now. Stop, stand back, take enough distance.

This is not about “slow living” or any other pseudo-ecological-healthy-life-style ideological package…..absolutely not. This is about taking some distance from life-rhythm, to be able to observe calmly what’s happening around. Today this will imply an immediate growing anxiety to be alone, cut off from the world, left out. If it’s possible to resist to it, a new possibility may appear. Focusing on small details, listening to the hidden currents underneath every movement or in reaction to minimum environmental modification, alone, in a place where naturally it feels comfortable just being there and listen.

A surprising simple stimulation of creativity may be to try and reach enough detachment from our daily life to be able to observe it, note it down with few scribbled lines and see how we interact with our closet environment. Describing our automatic gestures, seeing them from outside, from above,..will be the first step. Once acknowledged, this simple picture, it might be interesting to choose some of these gestures or habits and explore its complexity, its meaning and its effect on our body and on our mind day by day. The range of discoveries during this process is wide and coloured, and generally vivid and intense. A growing perception of what is true and spontaneous in a gesture, compared to what instead is fake, cultural or habit induced, represents the very first enlightenment on the path of a creative life.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Keep Smiling

Two mornings ago I dreamed I was flying over the snow mountains of Tibet. I could feel the lamaseries (the holiness) but I did not see any. I just flew and looked at all the snow mountain peaks in the bright blue sky. The air was fresh and crisp. I woke up, rolled over, and went on flying.

The whole day I was super hyper active and happy. Super great is coming up! Or else I feel great, nothing more to it. Two days later and I finally managed to calm down somewhat so I don’t need to burn up twice and day take naps to refuel. It looks like I’ll make it though the day without a wink. I’ve had two nights of confused nightmares. It’s hard to keep up with Lhasa.

I suppose I’ve taken some bad decisions. And the dreams are telling me to backtrack, find my sunshine again (could be. I met this guy with pretty brown eyes…nothing more to it.). While I talked to myself looking through changes and resolutions and looking at wrong turns I ride my bicycle past an old old man on the cycling path of Chaoyang park. He’s smiling like he’s not alive anymore. I’m looking around for his cage of pigeon, his dog, no. He’s alone. Smiling. He made eye contact with me. He definitively looks fit and my guess is he’s one of the tai chi grand fathers of the park. The just of it is: he smiled like an angel, like a baby, like a real good feeling smile.
So, I smiled.

Smiling feels good. So good. Everything is so much easier. Damn it, whatever it is, smiling just feels so much better than not. Smile. My snow peak mountains blue sky sunshine return ☺

(If I can smile in Beijing, I can’t imagine what smile I’m going to crack when I retire to the Caribbean…)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Ma jeunesse fout le camp

How come I got from 22 to 40 without warning? There was a time where I was planning to enjoy life as if it would never end – that is if accident, overdose, or cancer would not take me that young. Now I plan my life for another 20 years of healthy mobility and then dubious patches. According to Chinese physiognomy and my long chin I should live old albeit enduring difficult times. I will no doubt end up like my aunty: smart like Einstein but unable to tie my own shoe or eat using a fork.

So this is just to say, happy Chinese New Year. They say it’ll be an impatient year for me, with financial challenges. I’m putting it this way. I’ll be moving to Buenos Aires where hot glistering passion won’t leave me alone to take a cool shower, and money well, damn I’ve never been rich but I always had enough. Apartments in B. A. are bigger than in Beijing. Maybe I can rent half of my flat to an immigrant Chinese family and make a buck out of it. (What!! They make a buck out of me here!)

Gong xi fa cai (all fortune to you)
Hong Bao na lai (give me my money: my red envelope)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Wild Panda Captive Panda

I hopped on the train from Beijing to Hong Kong with a bag full of corn chips, cheese, yogurt, bread, I forgot chocolate, and pocket money for Carlsberg beer. I packed L’idiot (Dostoyevsky) , and a manifesto on theater from Grotowski. I was set for a full lonely leisurely ride of 25 hours, being rocked into a trance. My only responsibilities pertained to emptying my bladder regularly, washing my face and hands, brushing my teeth (hair optional).

I do not go out of China often enough. I stay in my bubble world in Beijing, like a panda in captivity. I am no longer an extraordinarily sighting though I get a trustworthy stream of “hellooooooooo” (crescendo) and occasional “I love you!” People around me consist of other pandas in captivity. Beijing in itself, even for the nationals, is one big zoo. Certainly we live in an artificial setting.

I climbed aboard train, a reserved multilingual panda, finding my cot. Within minutes, wild pandas came pouring in.

I’ve seen a wild panda freshly arrived in a zoo. We captive pandas like to take a piss out of them. What with their vegetarian habits of eating, their revulsion to harking and spitting (us too, though we play the “you’ll get used to it” card as if...), their devotion to Buddhism and martial art, and their outrage and social conscious over the inequality of wealth. Otherwise, the wild panda who comes in disguise is easily unmasked when he’s all smiles to Chinese ladies who seek him out for money and a passport, himself thinking he is the king pin, the shit, Casanova. (We laugh then cry, and sometimes bite.)

Though I’ve traveled outside of my zoo, I managed to keep my zoo habits safe. I even get to hang out with other zoo-mates half way across the world.

So I was taken aback when I realized I was in for a train ride with a cart full of pandas from the wild, and a handful of locals (pick your choice: Beijingers or Cantonese). I immediately took hold of my smug-gun, loaded it ready to shoot. But I’ve never had to shoot 46 of them. The game started with a panda in the wild asking to go pee. A local kindly offered information regarding schedules of WC opening. The wild panda thereafter assumed the local was a train clerk and acted as such. I loaded my gun and apologized to the kind local remarking he didn’t look one bit like a train clerk.

A wild panda came into my cube. She was a cute cuddly wild panda. But a wild panda she was. For all her traveling in the world visiting post card dioramas she couldn’t shed a tear being reunited with her panda kinship. Not while she had her tribe of 46 panda mates keeping the bars of her cage safely in place. (She’s outside of the cage).

The oddest feeling came over me. I wanted to grunt with this wild panda. Suddenly feeling outnumbered, realizing the fabric of my zoo world had been ripped and I was sitting in the wild stew, I was reaching out to be recognized and not left out.

Suddenly, I was a captive panda in the wild.

Last week I read a news about what what giant panda who had been found dead somewhere in Sichuan. It turns out he was a captive panda having been released in the wild. And his panda brothers (wild) had beaten him up to death. To prevent this sort of sad situation ever happening again, officials and etc... decided to hire police dogs to teach the captive pandas to fight, and are now showing them on top of this self defend Bruce Lee type classes, videos of how to fend for yourself in the wild.

Crazy hey!

So the first thing I did when I felt I didn’t have enough charges in my smug-gun was to send text messages to my captive mates back in Beijing, telling them of the society. The first answer coming back was whether a potential mate attracted my attention and I have to say no. But indeed the wild is where one can find fresh blood. And then just ha-ha’s and ho-ho’s. (The smug-gun).

For the first time ever while riding the Beijing-Hong Kong train, I am standing beside my cot, looking dreamily out the window, listening to the sound of the wild.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Myope: Short sighted

“But of course it’s a shitty world out there when your eyes are turned inwards.”

This is a fragment of the monologue Mark, the main character of my Process Cheese trilogy (play/novel).

Tonight as I was cycling past Jenny Lou’s – it’s a wonderfully peaceful and introspective bike ride the path from sihue to chaoyang park ximenr – it dawn on me that I keep muling over anger issues because I kept my eyes inward.

I have issues not worse or less than anyone else. In French we say I have to fight my demons. Things happened and I am so ok with it all. But my Freudian hiccup fights to keep in when I want it out. E.g. I go over facts that make me angry so I can keep angry as if anger was the fuel of my life/my purpose. I guess it’s like some kind of curse or ghost or residual memory that just don’t want to die.

I feel for the memory. She’s a trouper and she wants to live. Good for her bad for me. Anyways, I am short sighted you see, so to my disgust (in Beijing, there is so much gobs/spits/shiny horks/mucus oysters on the ground it’s best to avoid looking down) I often look down rather than up because up is one blurry horizon. I can’t be bothered to wear glasses when I ride my bicycle, and contact lenses are sand catchers. So I look down which is the most in-focus distance I can manage. And since down is a puke (see the above mention on gobs) I learned to look inwards to avoid puking myself from the sights of so many oysters.

The result is that I keep in my head – sometimes I wonder how I made it on the third ring road past 3 sets of traffic light not remembering if the light was green or red.

The physical position of the eyes, where they look to affects what we think about. I have proof on this through the many experiments I conducted with my students. Look over to the up left, is configuring a plan; algebra, calculating, forecasting, figuring out the maths. Looking over to the top right is reminiscing a memory in detail. Looking down centre is reading a memory; for example translating literally a thought into another language. And so on. Positioning the eyes full front and relaxing the actually eye/skin muscle is prone to get you inside your skull. Shutting down the world outside.

If I shut the world outside I most likely than not will be mulling over memories. I could be fantasising, and planning. I could be. But mostly, I work with the information I have. I work with the past and the present. Even when so I built up the future.

Therefore, it dawn on me that if I wanted to give myself the chance to break out of this anger, and to assume the choice of looking forward I made, I would have to look on. Look on to the 100% unknown horizon. So I lifted my eyes up. I stared at the (somewhat blurry) horizon. And all of a sudden the anger lifted. Just like that. I am not an angry person per say. I just have past issues that piss me right off the map. Grrrrrrrr. But on a usual basis I’m pretty optimistic; naturally giddy. So by lifting my eyes up to the horizon, concentrating on nothing else but on what’s coming, there was no other way but to be released of the anger. I even had a faint overall feeling of hope.

So here goes for the string of hippy thoughts. But it worked. Try it. I’m sorry about that memory who so strongly refuses to die. Are there any “we don’t eat memories” group out there who can house this trouper of mine? I’ll send her off; put it on my tab.


The positive reassertion of myself goes on. I do write best when I’m up and all smiles. I don’t understand people who love to wallow in their despair. Well, here’s to another beautiful midnight bike ride in Beijing. 08-01-08

Friday, January 11, 2008


Monica reminds me clouds in Beijing do not look like those back home. In Gatineau (Québec) clouds are round and puffy and all white. They look like lambs. “A cloudy day” in Beijing is the definition of a grey sky. The clouds here, or rather, “a cloud”, covering the whole sky. But a clear sky here is one infinite blue dome.
Chinese people say, “the sky is low” meaning cloudy.

The cloud conversation came after I had planned to write about memories, cloudy memories. I have been busy in the last half year flipping plans in front and back somersaults. The last jumping bean left my basket at last and the memory of turmoil quickly fades. [At this moment in the writing process I exhale a big one. Ah – what a wonderful relief.] I realized the memory was fading when I saw a little cloud in the back of my left brain getting tinier. On the tinning cloud was the image of those jumping turmoil beans.

This is how I later became receptive to the cloud conversation. In fact, the image I could see sat on the back left part of my brain; though the tingling feeling when the image appeared came from the back right part of my head. My exploration goes on re: this dissociation of memory recall.

My mother has this strange gift where lost souls cling to her ankles – weighing her down. She has to send them over to a “lost soul channeler” (this person sends them on their way). I only now realize when I have a problem I chew over for a time, the image of this problem floats with me, sprouting an umbilical like cord from my back right brain (see the dissociation on the previous paragraph). The image is life-size. It weighs me down horribly. This week however, was the first time I saw the image the size of a purple eggplant cut in half.

Most of the time in Beijing, the cloudy sky does not give out rain. Wind chases it away. And afterwards there is a magnificent blue sky one can see the mountains far out on the outskirt of the megapolis. Conclusion, whether the cloud is the size of the sky, or the puffy white lamb size, the way to create blue space is to blow off the white (grey). Try it. Envision a troublesome thought you have, make it into an eggplant size and shape, and blow it the hell out. Far far away beyond the mountains. Let it rain elsewhere. Giggles!


It’s embarrassing to admit hippy thoughts work. But it’s fun to make it work. Gracias a Jenny Lou’s (my foreign food market) for inspiring this thought which came while I was riding my bicycle on the bicycle path across from J.L. by the Chaoyang park xi menr. Beijing Jan. 07 08.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Mother Tongue Peace

A friend tells me it is odd that I express myself fluently in Chinese – I sound the part – yet I am unable to read hanzi. I am visually analphabetical.

Babies lose the ability to distinguish sounds that aren’t in their native language somewhere between 6-12 months. This means that adults learning a new language can’t even hear the sounds that aren’t in their language.

After 18 months in China, I holiday in Canada (Toronto.) I am walking around the Kensington market with my friend Julie. It is a disturbing experience to hear everybody else’s conversation. My ears pick up any and all wisp of spoken conversation. My brain processes the information as if it were intended for me. I am bombarded with words.

Counting back a year from this experience, I was walking the busy streets of Guangzhou (China) having a perfectly coherent conversation with Julie uninterrupted by the surrounding noise. Guangzhou is deafening. Noise inferno. In Guangzhou conversation flows in Cantonese (I still do not speak more than a few words), or else in Mandarin (at that time I had a survival Mandarin vocabulary level.) A square metre can hold dozens of independent conversations, what with Guangzhou being an overpopulated city. Yet their words meant noise to me.

I now understand street Mandarin and I naturally block it out of my brain. Hearing French in the crowd I freeze and look over to where the voice comes from. If I hear French-Quebecois I almost break into a fit of laughter from sheer joy. The familiar sound rides straight home.
When I feel close to someone, like my tango dance partner for example, or my friend Tana, I tend to express myself in French-Quebecois (my mother tongue). Roger once spoke to me in German. Another friend spoke to me in Portuguese, and recently, Monica sent me a text-message in Dutch. It gets confusing because all of us communicate in English. All but one of us speaks English as a second language. (Or third).

When I get emotional I cry out in French-Quebecois. When I am pissed off and tell the hazardous drivers off, I yell out in French-Quebecois. I am writing this text in English. (My usual language of communication).

It is odd how a person attaches such emotional attraction to the mother tongue. Science says a new born recognizes his/her mother by the scent. Yet what attracts us to strangers in a crowd is the mother tongue, not the mother smell. (In all fairness, scent attracts. However in a crowd, personal odors mix as soup, yet a word in your mother tongue rings a sharp blade.) The same friend who found it odd I spoke Chinese yet could not read it suggested that scent, in regards to the infant-mother link, could be considered as a form of language. Yes Paula, scent is a form of language if by it, communication means language. And so is texture if communication includes information using sensual channels. Thus “language” ethnology meaning “the tongue” could be an extension of tasting sounds, assessing its texture which would be the equivalent of timbre in sound.

It works in French (langage=langue), it works in English (mother tongue), in Chinese we talk about “mouth voice” (kou yu). Have you ever seen a cat freaked out, with the mouth open? Cats assess danger by tasting it taking in mouthful of air.

I am here coming at the eccentric suggestion that perhaps it is not a universal language we need to all feel at peace (my respect to Esperanto, and the Babel tower), but an internationally recognizable timber. We should clip on when traveling abroad some sort of sound device akin to the mosquito-repellent-buzz except ours would emit a universal human familiar buzz.
Until the better days of Star-Trek science, I will have to content myself with getting the best bargains without bargaining, at my local wholesale market, on behalf of my local Chinese accent. While I will forever remember the day a Chinese (I live in Beijing) clerk at the bicycle parking lot greeted me with a “bonjour”. How did he know I was a francophone? But I did keep that happy grin and the peaceful feeling in my heart all 24 hours of that day.

I forgot to say this: familiar noise, aka undesrtood words, are bloked from our brain so we can focus on our own conversation and thoughts. We need not block foreign tongues becuse they are noise to us. Therefore, we block the familiar, though it is a temporary blokage. The habit can be undone. What does it mean? Where does this lead to?