Listening to difference

On the long long way home … the time difference is twelve hours. The plane from Beijing to Boston flew over the Arctic – at least according to the flight map it did as it was impossible to see anything – and it appeared to me that it went the wrong way.



Well, I mean I expected it to go west – sort of via europe and UK only further up – but it went East, over eastern Siberia, the Bering Strait and Alaska crossing the date line (backwards?) and over arctic Canada to reach Boston. So you see my state of mind, not only twelve hours sleeplessly out of kilter but feeling that nothing is as I thought.

And I have been awake so had time to catch up with various blogs I have been missing. I saw Speccy’s post on being interviewed on local TV about rare disease. The interviewers asked different questions from those that had been previously suggested would be put. While away (with few english books except for the hard-to-read Kindle and no english speaking TV except for the constantly buffered VPN internet i-players) I have been reading Ann Tickner’s “Feminist Voyage Through International Relations”. Not really my thing, neither feminism as a discipline nor international relations as an understood body of knowledge.

But – I end up thinking about how those who have their own perspective, often those who hold the ‘educated’ powerful positions simply cannot hear the perspective from OTHER. And simply cannot find questions to let themselves hear. It seems the viewpoint is closed off. There is no room for the anomaly, or interested regard. No room for the query: How on earth is it that someone quite sensible and living their life can actually be saying THIS – WHATEVER IT IS – THIS MATTERS? Instead the sensible person is downgraded – they are silly, they are flapping about, they are … [e.g. read your history about what europeans called indigenous peoples in other places, never mind how present differences are regarded].

This is greater than culture difference. Listen for the not known, the silence, the thing that does not fit the way whatever it is looks to be. There will be something there to see.

Obviously time I either slept of woke up properly. I will be in Block Island by this afternoon if all goes as planned.

Life in China (forget GDP)

On the ground, life in China is never like the tourist trade implies and nothing like any of the various academic, newspaper or other media portrayals of the developing economy with £$£$£$£$$$$$ £££ GDP etc.

Another culture, yes definitely, I feel odd and out of place nearly all the time even though lots is by now familiar to me, I have visited at least ten times in the past ten years, sometimes for several months at a time. My stories are not of the Great Wall but more of the sitting on the wall with the other grannies at the bottom of the tower block. Not this time, the boys are now 7 years old and don’t go in for sitting much unless there is an i-pad or laptop in front of them, and that would occupy them all day if they were allowed to stay glued to the screen. Childhood is another culture now too.

We all know China is full of people  – millions of them. Try traveling in to Guangzhou center by bus and metro and you will become pretty closely acquainted with more than you wished for. Just like the London tube in rush hour, or any other city, people smell, smile, frown, chatter, talk to their phones etc etc. as they stand crowded together. Here I am better off than in other places as I am obviously Western, greyhaired and OLD. Some young guy always offers me a seat, in China chivalry, or politeness to strangers, is alive and well.

GDP means nothing of importance, no matter how much economists or politicians think it does, until it starts measuring the ordinariness of just getting on with life. As feminists have been saying for a long time, getting the dinner ready, doing the laundry, is not counted as paid work in GDP. Neither is offering a seat to an older person on your way to your paid work. But all these things matter to the way an ordinary life is lived, just as much if not more than GDP. The life of most is invisible.

I can write…

I can write… politics, war, poverty, injustice… can some better way forward be made simple or not?

The Conservative Party Conference, UK, is on at the moment. 2015 will be an election year.

My disgust of glib promises inspired me, if that is the right word, to write a letter to my own representative member of UK Parliament, who is Ian Murray, Labour MP for Edinburgh South. This is what I wrote:

Dear Ian Murray
Economy – but what kind?
Please work with Milliband and others in your party to create an economic view that people can see is healthy. [Try socialism that is co-operative, local, etc all helped by the social model of intervention and regulation, not the top-down 'medical/we know best' model and definitely not any of the neo-liberal market based theory that has been in place since Reagan/Thatcher times. If people scream communism say Cuba, not Russia China, or say people led socialism not party led.]

Put production and service first, money / finance a long way behind.
People, especially those hard working class who tend to support conservatism as the thing they ‘trust’ can understand this.

WORK is what is done, to produce and serve, and get an OK life from it for ourselves and our dependents and our communities and wider society. Just reward is NOT the same as financial profit. Yes those who invest need reward too, but it can be clear that investment is linked to the production or the service (private and public investment should show the same link). Use a word like investment – that can be time and effort as well as money – people understand this.

Work is investment of time effort money skill care attention to SOMETHING produced or given in service. No more separation of ‘capital’ and ‘working class’ whether the people live in UK or in Bangladesh/China etc where profit making corporations have outsourced to cheapest suppliers.

In other words – say clearly what all know – neo-liberalism and the market theory of economy has failed. Money makes money makes money exploits and abuses someone somewhere who does the work, who invests their time and energy, their hopes for life.

Try to convey a socialism that is co-operative, local, etc all helped by the social model of intervention and regulation, not the top-down ‘medical/we know best’ model and definitely not any of the neo-liberal market based theory that has been in place since Reagan/Thatcher times.

If people scream communism say Cuba, not Russia China, or say people led socialism not party led. Strengthen local unions, co-operatives, put a cap or a tax on top wages. if they say they are leaving, let them leave.

I am very tired of seeing how often “Labour” forgets what labour is, and how essential it is to any economy that works. I can’t be the only one surely!!!
your constituent, Elspeth Crawford

Let me know if you have read this – a simple answer will do as I can watch your blog and efforts through the upcoming year.

A Hilltop Garden Walk

This morning I thought I would explore the local area – and found the hilltop garden walk.

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Steps and stairs and trees and shade and openings into grassy areas and more formal spaces… without realising it I climbed high – at one point I heard the traffic and discovered the road far below. At another, the mysterious quite empty “Book Club”.

I also saw a small green lizard who is in one of the photos, but impossible to spot! magpierobinI saw many butterflies, dragonflies and birds, whose singing and chattering kept me entertained all the way. I once thought that there were very few birds in China, but obviously I was just in the wrong part of China. I have managed to identify the “magpie robin”, saw many but couldn’t catch them on the i-phone, so this is a borrowed picture. I have not yet identified any of the others seen – will keep trying!



Learning Life in Guangzhou

Son and grandsons are at school all day, so now it is time to learn – all over again – what it is like to live in Guangzhou. My last time in China was in Shanghai – a very different city – and I have not been in GZ since the boys were babies, or, when there were no boys, just newly married Donal and Xin Yan. On one visit, I went to a chinese school here in the city centre.

Memories – I have not liked GZ – hot and dirty or cooler and dirtier – cement, highways choked with traffic. We used to live sort of east central [Tian He and Dong Pu if anyone wants to know].

NO COFFEE … [really hard to find Starbucks or McCafe and often reduced to that, post from last visit here]

aaie aagh – – aaie aagh -[chinese expression for OMG]

Now we are on the north east, just below the Bai Yun mountain. White cloud mountain is a much admired tour destination, apart from the Pearl River almost the only tour destination in this huge sprawl of a city.

STILL NO COFFEE aaie aagh aaie aagh aaie aagh and I have not found Starbucks yet either.

There certainly isn’t one where we are living in a garden compound, gated community, 40 tower blocks of 15 – 20 floors in each about 4 apartments to each floor. (Is that maybe 5-10 thousand people??) Almost no shops, just a small terrace with pharmacy, fruit shop and grocery. Think concentric circles built up the side of a tree shaded hill where fresh breeze blows.

Yes ! fresh breeze in GZ! I am told I am lucky that September weather this year is as usual 90F but nothing like as humid as it could be.  + + +

Each circle of blocks has outer circles for cars, inner for walking and leisure. We are in the first circle after the main gate, so easy to access the few shops and the main road outside. It is ten minutes walk from the gate to the school – over the main road by the traffic lights and an Amusement Park. This makes it very easy to identify the location, so I won’t get lost. + + +]

And – apart from the birdsong – IT IS QUIET

Not like GZ memories at all

So this morning I stepped out in suitable shoes. After taking the boys across the road from the Amusement Park and into their school, I took a bus a few stops to Dong Fang – still nowhere near into the middle of the city.

Did you spot the Walmart in the last photo? I regret to say that was why I went to Dong Fang – to shop at their supermarket.

aaie aagh …    aaie aagh …   Only instant coffee !

Life in GZ … to be continued. I am going for a swim in our beautiful swimming pool. But, it only opens at 2.30 pm. Why? Don’t know. Life in GZ is just different. Memo to self: Adapt, Enjoy, Do without coffee.

Sunday Lunch – Guangzhou Style

Sunday visitors – my son’s sister-in-law, Xin Yun, and mother-in-law, Mei Zhou [other granny or Nai Nai] arrived with the cousins Dou Dou and Du Du. Sunday Lunch – Guangzhou style.

A World of Difference

Early September passed by in a blur and suddenly I am halfway across the world, in Guangzhou, China. I have to remember to phone at  different times, I am now hours  ahead of all of them, not behind them. I left Block Island, as always, beautiful.

The evening before I left

The evening before I left

As I traveled, Scotland decided to remain part of UK. When I renew my passport, get yet another visa, etc. it will just be the ordinary sort of forms to fill, not some nightmare continue on the back of the page, I think I am British though I am Irish and I live in Scotland, even registered voter there, and oh yes I do not actually live in Scotland much as most of the time I am in USA or New Zealand or China. And, I go there to see and stay in touch with family, I have not yet started on the bucket list …..where would I like to visit, what wonderful places would I like to see..

What I really want, for all, is a world citizenship, that acknowledges we are all interdependent. Still, the scottish debate raised a lot of questions of considerable substance, better politics than that to which we have sadly become more accustomed.

Now, I am in Guangzhou. The flight, the delay, the 4 hours in a hotel in Beijing, the return to airport, arrival in Guangzhou, over 90F, hot sticky, forget it! I got here. Note to self: remember to remember – chinese culture does not allow young people tasked to manage something, to actually say they have no clue what is going on either – they always nod and smile as if they have understood the query – airport people, the bus driver to hotel, the 3 receptionists – all masters of misinformation pretence – thank you thank you to two chinese women fellow travellers who were just as bewildered and tired but helpfully translated my queries and joined me in laughing helplessly to maintain sanity.

Grandsons have grown. They are very different. Concentration and co-operation, showing me their toys. Today, Sunday, the chinese cousins come to visit – Dou dou and Erdou (Or Jason and Happy in english names) are now 6 and 4 years old. Donal helps them with English and Aunty Yun helps Louis and Ali to read and write Mandarin. [I will rest.] My daughter-in-law, Xin Yan (Cindy) has returned to New Zealand.


Maya and Joya, Simply Phenomenal Women

Yesterday evening was a looked forward to occasion, a tribute to Maya Angelou from Mixed Magic Theater and the Block Island Poetry Project. What a wonderful evening to share.

But, just a week ago, our own phenomenal Joya Verde died. Maya Angelou was not the name Maya was born with, Joya Verde also gave herself this name by which I knew her since the first Poetry project session eleven years ago. Words written for Maya tender, witty, warm, resilient … words sparkled with humor and affirmation could be written for my friend. Joya’s partner Virginia and her family have been with her, and those, like myself, less near, can only say I suffer this much, this loss, I imagine yours, I am inadequate now. I was fortunate enough to live near enough to meet Joya. She is/was truly quite phenomenal, when she came into a room or joined us on a walk, all of us were gladdened: Joya is here. [I hope much of her writing might be collected as some of her short stories have been- she enriched so many days of listening.]

Joya felt present as we listened to the songs and words in celebration of Maya. You tube has many poems, this is Maya Angelou performing “And Still I Rise”.


Joya Verde – taken from a facebook photo by Michele Solomon with thanks and sympathy

And this is me – inadequate but trying…

Summers end
And so the summer goes by like the swallow
darting and flitting
Memory flashes clarity tail forked wings slanted
Truth a confusion of other summers other times
This summer ends with loss.

Some days the waves rode high eight feet
measured by bikinied bodies
stretched out outlined in clear green
joyously crucified out of element
before the beach bound began counting bobbing heads
In the confusion of white water

Thought flits
She was sometimes crucified
by element incapable of holding
so grand a surge to life.
Swallow. Loss hits. No confusion now.
Life is, was, includes, remembers haikued time.

Remember Joya.





delight, excitement, exhaustion, confusion… what next?

Days of delight and excitement and exhaustion and confusion … a round-up post, just a stream of consciousness.

Confusion: my tomatoes still grow, the sun still shines and the news from the rest of the world IMG_5370is still dire. See earlier post of despair. Also, see below, how this morning was spent working to improve the international student situation – here and here. Crazy world. Though I do think we do better, there is still a very long way to go.

Exhaustion: It is official – I am old, D**nit. Yesterday the family moved back from the small summer rental home to their own home (which has been rented all summer at twice the price). I offered to help pack up. I did help pack up. It was easy, all the girls were sorting their stuff into bags and boxes, I did stuff like move clothes from the closet to the bed, put towels in the washing machine, hung other stuff out to dry, not very much. Rory was brilliant, ten years old, organised, intelligent, willing and a real cheerful dynamo all day. Wendy cleaned, Callum fetched and carried from one house to the other. I got home. Utterly exhausted, could hardly move, obviously an old old woman. Dammmmmmmmmmmmmmiitttttt. No photo to express this.

Delight and Excitement: Earlier in the week went on an Ocean View Foundation bird walk on Andy’s Way with Kim, Lisa and Stephanie. Reports of a white ibis (rare this far north) ARE TRUE. We saw it fly alongside two egrets and then they all settled – rather far away. Stephanie had a long lens camera so here is her picture, thanks Stephanie and Kim, a great egret on a rock and the ibis in the foreground. This is a juvenile shown by the brown back, and will be white when it matures as in the comparison picture from wikipedia. Then, Stephanie saw something at the edge of the marsh, through the lens we saw this bird preening, quietly surveying its world from its hiding place, and she got another picture.

Identification ??? still showing the rail picture to experts but Kim thinks it is indeed a clapper rail – the book says they are shy, retiring and hide in the marshes.

I have been on a bird walk where Kim was quite wildly excited. She has wanted to see a rail. She thought this was even better than the ibis. Me – I can tell when I have seen a seagull – I love watching all the others, asking what they are, the plovers, the sanderlings, the willets and the herons and egrets and also, I love the excitement and knowledge of my friends.

Confusion again: Spent this morning working with Socha on some tasks regarding the International student workers on the island. From earlier posts regular readers know this is not a totally idyllic place – just like the rest of the world a microcosm where attitudes and actions of all kinds try to co-exist. OK so far so good, but just as we finished, working together on my computer, a macbook pro, something happened to it. I got a frozen screen, a strange black one with little bits of my happy desktop showing round the edges.

This is a cheat - I didn't even think of taking a photo

This is a cheat – I didn’t even think of taking a photo – but it is what it looked like …aaagghhh …aaagghhh

AND nothing would change it. FRUSTRATION – so said goodbye to Socha, decided to turn the Mac off. It would not turn off. It asked – as it always does – if I was sure I wanted to turn my computer off, but the Yes button could not respond. I remembered the key command for Force Quit and got a window that asked what I wanted to quit. No click to let me say anything will do. After a while, I had a desktop that was black except for all the Mac’s polite queries that I couldn’t answer as I didn’t have a working click.

Sorry to go on and on about this… I am so dependent on my computer for so much.. How did that happen?

An hour or so later, accessing mac forums on the iphone, another gadget that makes me feel old though the computer does not, I felt like shouting at it – I SAID I CAN’T CLICK. I SAID I CAN’T TURN IT OFF. I SAID I CAN’T ACCESS THE WHATEVER YOU HAVE JUST TOLD ME WORKED FOR YOU. Then as I was about to switch it off, one little line, try the trackpad three-finger swipe.

What on earth?? Three fingers on the pad – quick flick across



Thank you anonymous stranger.

Do you wonder that I am confused? What has all this to do with getting on with life – in which I am getting on a bit? Today I feel crazy.

What an amazing crazy world

Today, coincidence, my grandsons are 7 years old.

Donal Cindy, Louis and Ali

Louis with Cindy, Ali with Donal

I hope they reach a happy 70 + but I think my grandmothers – both women of intelligence, imagination and empathy – could not have envisaged what my life is like. I cannot imagine what theirs will be in another 7 years let alone when/if they reach 70, these much traveled much loved bilingual  混血 双胞胎 (hunxue shuangbao tai) – third culture twins – but I have a ticket to go to China 17 days from now. I will see them again.

More days of delight and excitement and exhaustion and confusion…