A brief break in the silence

I’m not the only blogger who’s tuned out recently. My friend Orcinus seems to have also put his blogging on hold, which is probably best for him but certainly a loss to all of his readers, like me. Be sure to check out his philosophical ruminations on the recent death of his uncle Billl, whose passing surely influenced Dave’s current state of mind. I can definitely relate.

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Tough decision

I have decided to stop my blogging, at least temporarily.

Since I left China, I have simply not felt the burning inspiration, the passionate need to write. And the last thing I want to do is present uninspired drivel to readers who expect and deserve something better.

Right now I need to focus on study (Chinese), self-improvement (physical and spiritual) , and excellence in my new job. That will leave me very little time for what in China was an all-consuming passion (i.e., obsession). Back then, when I felt a lot of despair, the blog was actually my healing mechanism. But here, where SARS is fast disappearing and life is a relative picnic, I feel no urge to get up on the soapbox. At least not now.

A lot of what I wrote about — the evils of the Communist government, the agonies of China’s gays, the cover-ups of the SARS and AIDS scandals, the laughable antics of the Chinese state-run media — all of these things were reflections of my outrage, my fury at what I saw (and see) as criminal behaviour from a government many in America wrongfully believe has reformed and repented. I just don’t feel that outrage now. My heart’s not in it.

So this is intended to be my last post for a long while, maybe weeks or months, while I settle down and come to terms with my new environment. (If I know myself, I will probably come across stuff on Andrew Sullivan’s site or The Gweilo’s that will impel me to comment. But, based on how I’m feeling now, I’d say that should be a rarity.)

So thanks a lot for visiting, and please check in now and then. I don’t know when exactly it will be, but there is no doubt I’ll be back.

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The world is really a

The world is really a much better place with Josh Marshall in it. Being so far from home, I don’t know if this topic has attained the status of a true national scandal and disgrace — but it should.

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Check out Andrew Sullivan’s lead

Check out Andrew Sullivan’s lead post about the Bush administration and deficits. No matter how much my liberal friends/readers chide me for it, I still admire Sullivan, quite deeply in fact, when he looks at things objectively, without wearing his I Luv GWB sunglasses. I am really happy to see him coming back to reality.

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May 22nd

Every year, as May 22nd approaches, I give the day some special thought. It is a mystical day for me, the birthday of the composer who, more than any other person living or dead, inspired me and shaped me into the person I am today (for better or worse).

The very name Richard Wagner tends to arouse strong emotions in people. Some equate him and his creations with Nazism (which is unfair) and with anti-Semitism (which is, to a large extent, fair). Others complain that his music is boring, over-long, over-wrought and “heavy.” On the opposite end, his works have inspired a fanatical loyalty that is literally unprecedented in all of art.

There are few if any other classical composers or artists to have entire cultural movements bearing their names. The word “Wagnerian” is applied to theater, music, paintings, literature, poetry, philosophy and even behaviour. Most major cities have Wagner Societies, groups of unashamed fanatics who meet monthly to hear lectures on their hero and exchange opinions. Infinite numbers of books have been written about him, and every year there are more and more. And fanatics like me snap them up with an unquenchable curiosity. No, there is truly nothing else quite like it.

So why all this fuss, all this controversy and emotional outpouring over a long-dead composer? The answer lies, of course, in his music. As Nietzsche sarcastically, yet not mistakenly, remarked, “There is nobody else but Wagner — everything else is mere music.”

Wagner’s music isn’t like that of other composers, and that is no exaggeration. It probes and explores areas of the psyche — “invades” is perhaps a better word — that were hitherto considered taboo to the artist. His music, for example, recreates the sexual act in all of its white-hot passion, while at other times it evinces feelings of awful pain, unbearable sorrow and pure ecstasy. Not everyone is comfortable with art that sneaks into such private realmss; many flee in near-horror. But once the effort is made and you understand what this art is all about, there is no turning back — Wagnerianism is for life.

Normally I would expound on this, my very favorite of all topics, for hours on end. But May 22nd this year was not only Wagner’s birthday, but also my first day at a new job in a new nation, so I’m a bit too worn out to go on about it. (You should probably be very grateful.) Let me just add that Wagner had the misfortune of being Hitler’s favorite artist and, perhaps unfairly, their names will forever and inextricably be intertwined. It’s a true shame, for without the Nazi nimbus, Wagner would be far more approachable than he is today. In order to join the fraternity, one must first overcome the historical association, and then the many challenges posed by the music itself — it is long, it does have boring moments (though not many), and it does require a good deal of concentration and effort.

Even so, to say that the rewards far outweigh the challenges does not say nearly enough. Wagner’s music has the power to move the loyal listener literally to previously unexplored emotional states. It is like nothing else, no other opiate or confection or what-have-you can even begin to compare….

A moment ago I apologized for not having the stamina to expound on this topic, and now I see I’ve expounded quite a bit. Let me end it here, and anyone who wants to know how to begin the journey toward becoming The Perfect Wagnerite can send me an email. Best.

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It’s wonderful to see just

It’s wonderful to see just how far out on a limb the marketers here in Asia are willing to go when it comes to exploiting SARS for a fast buck. Walking through one of the countless Singapore malls today I noticed a huge sign across the front window of Osim, a Japanese firm that makes massage chairs that rock you and pound you and knead you, all at prices utterly dreadful to contemplate.

The city-block-sized sign boasts something along the lines that research shows massage chairs are good for your immune system and, as we all know, having a strong immune system will keep you free of Asia’s latest plague. Of course, many of SARS’ victims have been young and strong, and in all probability their immune systems were just fine. They simply had the back luck to come into intimate contact with the virus. To instill such blatantly false hopes into customers — buy our massage chair and avoid SARS — is hubris at its most ugly.

Ads like these abound here, and frankly I am rather amazed, considering Singapore’s reputation as the world’s most no-nonsense place. Well, I have only been here about 48 hours, and it looks as though I still have a lot to learn.

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SARS, Hygiene, Singapore, China….

Today, the leading front-page headline in Singapore’s Straits Times announces that 11 Singaporean men have been brought before a judge and heavily fined for spitting in public.

Normally this wouldn’t be a big story, but these aren’t normal times in Asia. Spitting may be a factor in spreading SARS, and the government obviously wanted to use these men to set an example. The full name and full-color photograph of each spitter was plastered across the front page.

(If the Chinese government were to launch a similar campaign and print the names and photos of spitters in the newspaper, the papers would be thicker than the Manhattan Yellow Pages. Spitting is pretty universal in the PRC and a major contributor to Westerners’ culture shock.)

It doesn’t take the newcomer long to see that SARS is taken very seriously here in my new country. At the big shopping malls there are medical stands where you can go to have your temperature taken and learn more about SARS. Immune-enhancing products are touted everywhere. Television stations are jammed with public service announcements of all kinds about the virus. One even offers detailed descriptions of how to properly blow your nose and then dispose of the tissue.

[Update: At this point, I had written a long discourse on hygiene in China, then I decided it was too harsh so I deleted it. Sorry; I got a little carried away.It's true I had issues with this topic, and I feel it will be healthier for me to let these issues go and not let them dominate my memories of the PRC.]

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I removed some of my

I removed some of my Thailand photos, as they were making my site impossibly slow. I have been unable to post recently due to technical difficulties that I’m hoping will be resolved today. Singapore is absolutely gorgeous.

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The Peking Duck Flies South

Tomorrow morning at 5 a.m. (groan) I head to the airport to fly to my new home. Yes, I’m nervous and excited as hell, but mostly excited.

I’ve been travelling with JC, my best friend, for more than three weeks now and saying goodbye tomorrow morning will not be easy. That’s something I definitely do not look forward to. I’m trying to convince him to work in Asia, but am not overly optimistic that he’ll go for that. We are true opposites in this way: I love uprooting every now and then and experiencing new cultures, new jobs, new everything. JC thrives on stability and continuity. Maybe we balance one another; all I know is that after three weeks I don’t want to say goodbye.

After a full month of only sporadic and rushed attention to my blog, I intend once again to get real serious about it next week. Thanks to those of you who’ve kept visiting despite the slowdown of the past few weeks.

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We travelled all day today

We travelled all day today through the gorgeous Golden Triangle region, where Laos, Myanmar and Thailand come together (and where much of the world’s opium and other drugs come into being). Breathtaking scenery, boat trips up the river, great food, and as usual, we are almost all alone. Thailand just announced tourism is down more than 40 percent in the wake of SARS, even though the country has apparently beaten the virus. The vendors and taxi drivers now appear utterly resigned, even philosophicall it’s a situation they have no control over, so why bother donning long faces and looking miserable?

I’ll try to upload more pictures of the trip, but if the connection is slow I may have to put it off another few days. Within a week I’ll be in my new home and will get back to real blogging once more.

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