Beauty, Difference, and Expression

The Chinese were early technological pioneers. Their civilization invented gunpowder and fireworks, paper and movable type, the crossbow and the cannon. The Han Chinese have been a part of one of the longest-running civilizations, stretching at least 5000 years into the past.  They have a tremendous history, and an understandable pride.  That’s a beautiful thing, and both of these – the country’s history and pride – will be showcased at the upcoming Olympic games.

But other groups living within China have an equal pride, and are not nearly as excited about the Olympics coming to China.  Recent news has showcased primarily Tibetan protests and resistance, but now ‘Xinjiang rebellions‘ are coming to light.  While I trust the morals of the Chinese government about as far as I can throw them, I have no doubt that the government in this case is doing what it feels is best.  They are probably lying through their teeth to the rest of the world, but it probably seems that rounding up Muslim Turks is protecting their interests.  After all, if the leader of the US can do it with WMDs, why can’t they with terrorist attacks planned for the Games?  It doesn’t matter if there’s any real evidence or not.  If they don’t have a scapegoat, Tibet, Hong Kong, and especially the long-disputed Taiwan could all try to break free of the central government.  I do not blame them for finding that scapegoat in the rural peoples of a remote desert and mostly deserted region who have little or no defense.  While places like Taiwan and Hong Kong have close ties to the outside commercial and political world to draw upon, and Tibet has the Dalai Lama and a rising number of voices throughout the world to protect their interests, what better than a terrorist plot (and a Muslim one, at that) to secure the power, legitimacy, and absolute rule of the current government?  What better way to further reduce freedoms to all protesters, to further silence all dissenting voices?

I have never been to Xinjiang, but I have met several of its people during my stay in China.  While the average Han Chinese will tell you that people from this region are liars, thieves, murderers, and generally not to be trusted, my experience of the people I have met has been far different.  I’ve met sweet young girls with rosy red cheeks too shy, at times, too look me directly in the eye.  I’ve met little shop vendors who put an extra dumpling in my bowl just because I’m obviously not from around here.  I’ve met people who are friendly, and all too willing to talk and share.  But perhaps I’ve only met the cream of the crop that they actually allow outside Xinjiang province.

I also visited the Muslim Quarter of Xian, which was beautiful and one of my favorite parts of the city.  While this one little corner is not doubt very tourist-oriented and probably only a little like Xinjiang itself, it still served as a window into the mix of Chinese and Muslim culture that exists to the Far East.  I loved it.  I loved the decoration of the area outside a working mosque that was a subtle blend of the bright colors and elaborate detail of traditional Chinese glazing and the non-representational designs of Islamic beliefs.  I loved the flat rounds of thick wheaty bread sold in these areas, denser than the more westerly forms of flatbread such as pita or roti and so refreshing after so many sickly-sweet Chinese breads.  I loved the tourists and marketplaces and pilgrims crowding every corner of the area, pushing through dense crowds slowly, the world frantic and sprawling and yet somehow patient within this liveliness.  I loved the noise of street vendors tucked in between faceless, hidden residences and quiet sacred spaces.

It makes me so angry, with all of this rich history, beauty, and diversity, to see the evil going on in the region currently.  If you are Han Chinese, and rightly proud of your culture and heritage, why would you not be equally proud of the Hui, Tatars, Kazahks, Uyghurs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Mongols, and Manchus as well as all the other minority groups that make your country great in its diversity?  Why would you not be attempting to greet them, know them, and understand them a little better, as they could make your life so much richer? If theses people are truly a part of your nation,  rather than a different country altogether, how can you not take pride in them and their beliefs?  As Confucianism originally stated, loyalty is owed to the government that is moral and just.  What of the government that does not treat its own citizens with sympathy, or even justice?

It makes me angry, because it portrays China to the world as an abuser of power.  It makes me angry, because it’s yet another oppression to a  people who have already had more than their share of it.  It makes me angry, that despite the facts given in the article on CNN, despite the clear indication that there is absolutely no proof of a terrorist plot, many will not give it any thought.  Many will just shake their heads at the spread of terrorism to remote regions of Asia, and not realize that the whole thing is most likely political propaganda.  And if not the literate masses of the world, who else will question the manipulation of stereotypes to deflect protests on Tibet and human rights violations by a morally bankrupt government?

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As i read the news and wonder…

What’s an apparent tornado?  Don’t we have definitions for a reason?  Can’t they just say ‘strong winds’ or ‘heavy storm system’ if it’s not actually a tornado?  How can they still not know if a tornado actually developed?  Did no one see the actual funnel, amid all this destruction?  Do they just not know what a tornado looks like in Texas?  Are we no longer believing eyewitness accounts in Oklahoma (there were two of seeing a tornado there)?  Is Michigan the only place now allowed to actually report tornadoes?  Are reporters afraid someone will accuse them of misrepresenting the weather?  Sigh.

An Urban Swiss Family Robinson

If you’re like me, you probably loved the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse.  You probably thought it was the coolest part of the old movie, and even cooler in the newer TV series.  You probably were terribly disappointed in Disney’s actual live model at Disney World.  You probably wished you’d get stranded on a desert island and attacked by pirates and tried to convince your landlocked family to travel more by boat.  You probably didn’t ask to be homeless in hopes of having to live in a  treehouse, though.

David “Squirrelman” Csaky was not so lucky.  He’s been living in a treehouse for the past two years in Seattle, complete with wood stove and retractable ladders to the ground.  Evidently he’s also been a good neighbor to those around and below him in the area, as a few of them worked together to get him an RV when eviction was threatened due to the dangerous nature of his habitation.  When he found out about everybody trying to help him out and get him someplace to live, he cried.  Just think about it – living your life like a hobo, barricading yourself above the ground every night on a platform because you had a little money, but not enough for anything else.  Getting up every day to go to work and leaving this oh-so-exposed home life and just hoping it will be there still when you get back.

Evidently Squirrelman got his nickname from his ability to tame squirrels.  Personally, it’s an ability I’ve always thought I should have.  Catching bunnies and squirrels from our backyard was my only ambition when I was a kid.  I spent HOURS rigging up various traps – boxes propped up with a stick and baited with a carrot or nut, my little red sand pail tied to a string so I could scoop them up as they ran along.  Somehow, it never seemed to work though.  And my parents eventually stopped me short of digging a pit trap or sticking my hand into a squirrel or rabbit hole.  How could this man, a simple carpenter, have beaten me at my own game?  Of course, he’s an adult and I was just a kid.  He’s probably smarter and more patient.  I may be creative in my traps, but squirrels and rabbits aren’t known for their love of or attraction to creativity.  And then, he also lives with a squirrel, a ferret, and a rat that are all his pets.  So he probably smelled more animally.

And then I think, JESUS was a carpenter.  I wonder if He tamed squirrels, or smelled like animals?  What with people washing his feet and anointing him and stuff, probably only as much as any of his contemporaries.