Sunday, May 27, 2007

Please read: Moving to a new address

Hi everyone,

I'm moving to a new address. You will be able to find my blog at

so please update your bookmarks/site links. The new site is better organised and I love it because I made it purple! It takes so little...Anyway, this is my last post here but I will continue my literary explorations at my new address.

See you over there!

The Traveller

Thursday, May 24, 2007

8 Random Things

I've been tagged by this meme by Bibli0addict.

The rules -1: Each player starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.
2: People who are tagged, write a blog post about their own 8 random things, and post these rules.
3: At the end of your post you need to tag 8 people and include their names.
4: Don't forget to leave them a comment and tell them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

Here are my 8 random facts: (you can just read the first sentence - it is a summary)

1. I have an incredible innate ability to get very lost absolutely anywhere. My mother always marvels that not only do I have no sense of direction, but that I seem to have the opposite of a sense of direction. Case in point: I was staying in Shanghai with two friends. There was an underground stop two minutes walk from our hotel and all three of us walked there every day to use the trains and got off there again each evening to return to the hotel. As soon as I was left to my own devices however, I managed to exit the underground station through a tunnel that led me into an underground shopping city I never knew existed and eventually popped up 15 minutes walk away from my hotel. Then there was the time my travelling companion and I lost each other on while on the same platform and took over 20 minutes to find each other again…

2. I am fascinated by what I call ‘old lady magazines’. Not the ones with knitting patterns and five uses for an empty washing-up liquid bottle in, but the ones with the gruesome real life stories in – My Jealous Lover Cut Off My Nose, My Husband Wears My Underwear or My Sister Married My Son. I don’t know about other cultures, but we seem to have a proliferation of this type of magazine in the UK. Maybe it replaces Jerry Springer or something. Anyway I can’t help it, I love them!

3. I am a sucker for movies that make me cry. My favourite movies include The Land Before Time (I watched my copy so many times the video got all stretched and wouldn’t play anymore), The Notebook, The Neverending Story and Legend of The Falls. The Notebook especially has me howling every time I see it, and I’ve seen it several times. I even cry in anticipation of what I know is coming!

4. When I was a child my greatest ambition was to be a majorette. In case you don’t know, that is one of those little girls who march with a band and throw their little twirling sticks up in the air and do lots of flashy manoevers while marching along in little skirts and white socks. Every time I saw the majorettes at local carnivals and heard the drums, my heart would pound and I would long to be out there twirling a baton. For some reason, my mother hated the majorettes and never let me join.

5. I thoroughly believe in ghosts and an afterlife and desperately wish I was psychic (or at least had the ability to astral travel). I don’t know why – I’ve never seen a ghost – but I cannot accept that a person ends when they die. Something more has to happen.

6. I can sleep absolutely anywhere and can also fall asleep incredibly fast. Has to be witnessed to be believed. I can go from upright and functional to flat out and snoring in under 60 seconds.

7. I teach Chinese to Chinese kids but I’m white British. I studied Chinese at University and wanted a way to keep up my language skills after I left and teaching sounded great. I will never forget the look on those kids faces when I walked in on the first day and started talking Chinese to their Chinese teacher.

8. I am addicted to vanilla perfume and a cocktail called a Grasshopper. Grasshoppers are mint liquor, chocolate liquor and milk. They are, admittedly, a slightly suspicious shade of green and a few of my friends claim they taste like mouthwash but I love them and drink them anywhere I go. It is something of a standing joke among my friends now as a lot of bars have to make them up specially for me after I’ve explained what is in them. I'll still be sitting in coktail bars with a glass of green minty stuff in front of me in 60 years time.

I'm a bit late with this one, so I'm not tagging anyone specifically. If you read this and have not done it, consider yourself tagged!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Books from another continent

I just finished two Asian novels – one from Japan and one from Vietnam. I can’t recall who recommended Shipwrecks, but I reserved it from the library the day I read the recommendation and I was not disappointed. Shipwrecks (by Akira Yoshimura) is absolutely spellbinding. Somewhere on the Japanese coast, a small village of fishing families try to eke out a living from the sea. The village is virtually untouched by modern civilisation and society is deeply rooted in traditional practices. The lives of the villagers revolve solely around food and meals are dictated by the seasons; jellyfish in the spring, fish in the summer, whatever they have managed to store in the winter. Each winter, the village lights fires on the beach to attract O-fune-sama, the merchant ships that carry cargo, onto the rocks where they founder. The villagers murder surviving crew members and take whatever the ship is carrying and either use it to live on or sell it to buy food. If no O-fune-sama come for a few years, family members are sold into bondage for periods of up to ten years so their families can survive. The book focuses on 14 year old Isaku who is the man of his household following his father’s departure on a three year bondage contract. In his father’s absence, Isaku, his family and the entire village are changed by the devastating consequences of a wrecked ship. Besides being a refreshing change from the usual setting of civilisation and material concerns, this novel was free from stereotypical characters and clich├ęd expressions. As far as I can remember, this is the first non-happy ending I have savoured in a while; the whole things was so simple, so subtle, so poignant.

I followed up Shipwrecks with another novel ending in ruined lives. The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh is a novel about a soldier’s participation in the Vietnamese-American war and the profound effect it had on everything in his life that followed. I don’t usually like what I call ‘gritty realism’, preferring novels that end optimistically with promise for future happiness, but these two have caused me to rethink. Prior to reading The Sorrow of War, I never really thought much about war; I associate it with history, and history for me has strong connotations of boredom (and my history teacher who never shaved her legs). War is one of those things you can’t comprehend properly unless you have directly experienced it or been affected by it somehow. This novel succeeds in bringing home what war can do to a person and contains some horrifying accounts I assume are drawn from the author’s own experiences. Definitely difficult to read but compelling at the same time. I would never have picked it up if I hadn’t seen it and realised I hadn’t read anything from Vietnam yet – once again I am left wondering at the things I manage to read. What would I be reading if I wasn’t looking for books from a range of countries and cultures? The best thing about these two is that they fulfil something I had hoped to get out of reading literature from around the world – new cultures, new perspectives on life and what it means, a different outlook on the world.
Like all exceptional books they made me question how I live, how I think, what I prioritise.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

I cannot imagine what possessed me, when I was still a student, to think that what I told myself was full time study would be anything like full time work. From my new vantage point, I can see that I was even lazier than I admitted to myself previously (and I was quite frank with myself over the actual amount of work I did as opposed to the amount I should have been doing). In comparison to students on other courses perhaps, I did work hard, but in relation to those on my own course I certainly did not. I've always done the absolute minimum work possible to acheive the grades I wanted to acheive and have ended up cutting it pretty close at times. I don't think I especially regret not working harder at university, but I do sometimes wish a couple of my marks had been higher! Then again, I did pass a paper that I had neglected to attend any classes for, ever.

This has turned into a slightly nostalgic recollection of lazy Sundays and miscellaneous afternoons devoted to reading for pleasure when I should really have been writing essays in any one of three languages, which it was not supposed to be. I had intended to briefly complain about how little time I have at the moment, but while I get annoyed at my lack of reading time I know I had better get used to it. It isn't likely to improve much in the near future.

I haven't blogged for about a fortnight (where did the time go?) but I have at least managed to get some reading done in that time; Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura (Japan) and The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh (Vietnam) and am close to completing The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa (Angola). I've discovered a new website, Poetry International Web and been impressed by David Cameron's plans to create more interest in reading for leisure among boys in their early teens. It distresses me to think it, but he got one over on Labout there. I've also been 'detoxing' which in my case really just means eating more fresh fruit and veg and scoffing less chocolate and nutty popcorn. I now have a new-found mania for noodles in spiced coconut milk - sounds dubious I know, but I am addicted. And it is good for me!

I promise I'll post more reading-relevant things later in the week; I'm looking forward to doing the 8 random things meme among other things, and I found some new poems (new to me) I'm going to post because I love them so much.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Culture Clash

The two books I read over the weekend both deal with clashing cultures - basically, racism (and England is the bad guy in both cases). Nehanda by Yvonne Vera (Zimbabwe) is about the white invasion of Africa, and The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon (Trinidad) is the story ofWest Indian immigrants in the 1950s. I hadn't intended on reading these two together, by good chance they just happened to come off my library pile that way.

While searching for an image of the novel Nehanda, I accidentally discovered Nehanda herself was a real woman and is still revered as the most important person in Zimbabwe's history. During her lifetime (c1840-1898) she was a spirit medium of the Shona people. As one of the spiritual leaders of the Shona, she provided inspiration for their revolt against the Rhodesian colonization of Zimbabwe. The British spent some time hunting her down and when they eventually captured her they executed her as a warning to all those who refused to accept and embrace the supposedly superior English culture and religion.

Sam Selvon's novel is also a history of experience and Selvon himself was also a leader of a kind. Before he died, he was already being hailed as the 'father of black writing in Britain'. Although Selvon's situation is the inverse of Nehanda's - he chose to come and make a life in Britain - he didn't have an easy time in London. Londoners were racist and expected the West Indians to behave as though they were British while still assuming an inferior status. There was no mass persecution or executions, but it is still not exactly a comfortable read. Selvon's writing is incredibly atmospheric; he is one of those authors who can put you inside a character's head so that you absorb their feelings or personality traits while you are reading and it only occurs to you to think objectively about what just happened when you put the book down for a break and realise your feelings are something quite different to the main character's.

The themes of these two novels are themes that will never get tired and will never be resolved. Culture and society are like religion; almost everyone thinks theirs is best.