I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book on creativity where she talks about fear, courage and their relationship to creativity.
It got me to thinking about fear and courage in my own life.
The most fearful – and the most courageous – step I think I’ve ever taken is when I quit the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) in 1996. I had been a member for eighteen years and Vice-Chair for eight years. I knew when I quit that I would lose the respect and friendship of people I valued. I knew people in the Party would consider I’d stepped onto the bourgeois path and been infected with bourgeois ideology, and I would be an outcast.
I also knew that I had a drinking problem, due to the stress of the pressures I was putting on myself as well as trying to live up to expectations in the Party, and also knew that one person who was aware of this would use that to denigrate me and trash my name.
I still went ahead and quit.
I felt a huge surge of relief – that I’d finally had the courage to be me, and not the political activist straitjacket I’d forced myself into because it was the only way I could see to express my deeply held social justice beliefs.
I stepped right out of the comfort zone communism had occupied in my life but it took a lot of courage to take the path less travelled than stay on the path of least resistance. I’m proud of my decision and actions which led, eventually, to a far richer, creative and inspired life.
Of course, the next scariest thing is to admit that you were once a communist – a real party pooper. Some people may leave my life, I hope they don’t, but I need to be true to myself, not cower behind cold war poison. And what can I say? I quit the party for a number of reasons: because I’m an individualist, not a team player; because I didn’t like the games people play in politics, even in the Communist Party; I’m an idealist; because I believe – from personal experience – in life after death; because I wasn’t a practical person and trying to pretend to be one was – literally – driving me to drink; and because basically I will not allow my ideas and thoughts to be dictated to by any organisation or political party.
In fact, it was the role of alcohol in my life which started opening doors to a spiritual life and a creative life for someone who had never seen herself as creative in the slightest.
I had to quit my union job in the mid-’80s due to repetitive strain injury and was flailing around a bit trying to decide what direction to take. I came across astrology quite by chance and was drawn to get a reading. I’ve mentioned it previously but the first comment from the astrologer was: “Please don’t get upset, but do you do drugs?”. I was quite taken aback by this insight from a complete stranger, and said no, I did alcohol!
It sparked an interest in astrology and metaphysical beliefs which, I think, had been quietly brewing and, finally, in 1996 burst through the mental and very logical blocks I’d put up to anything but scientific thinking. In February that year I did a mandala workshop where suddenly my artistic skills emerged, I saw myself as a creative, artistic being and I realised my artistic forte is symbols rather than real life images. Then I connected with the Tarot and crystals.
You would say it was 360 deg. turnaround in my life. But in many senses it wasn’t. I was always interested in people, individuals rather than mass movements. I loved listening to people’s stories and experiences. In art, Tarot and crystals I was able to expand that interest into service through mandala art – by creating healing art for people and teaching mandala art to people, through advising people with Tarot readings, and teaching people how to tune into crystals and work with their healing energies.
I am quite sure that many would expect me to denounce the Communist party and beat my chest in attrition at my life as a commo. But sorry, that’s no going to happen. I learned a lot of skills and developed self-confidence. I met terrific (and yes, less than terrific people) in the Party for whom I have utmost respect. They see a life of service through political activism which is entirely right for them because each of us, as I’ve come to realise over the years, is an individual with personal beliefs unique to each person. It was I who changed direction, who understood – finally – that I am too anarchist, individual and eccentric to fit into an organisation with a structured framework, a scientific approach to society, and a belief that the minority is bound by the majority view.
I don’t see myself as a Pied Piper for the world and it’s a huge relief to dump this self-imposed responsibility. I believe in magic, happenstance, synchronicity and a mystical life. I am more often than not off with the fairies although my husband kindly catches my feet as I waft away and brings me back down to earth. I’m happy now to occupy my niche which is to create art and writing which, I hope, helps lift people’s spirits, inspires their creativity and makes the world a better place in some small way.
I still believe in social justice, in equality of all people, in redistribution of wealth to ensure that billionaire corporations don’t behave with complete immorality in gorging on wealth why they screw good, honest working people into the ground. I do my bit with support for social action groups, donating to activist organisations but knowing that they are the practical people and I’m not. Such a relief!
Returning to astrology: it not only tripped my inner lights, it also offered to me an insight into how we, as creative human beings, live on earth. In Australia, I came across the Aboriginal concept of songlines. For European people, this idea is quite puzzling, out of our comfort zone but nevertheless it resonates for me in a quite different way.
Aboriginal people can track Country through songlines – relating earth maps, if you like, through the form of song. I once watched an elderly Aboriginal artist, in the series “art & soul” by Hetti Perkins, an art curator, writer and activist, look at a painting by another artist and start singing the songlines of the art. It was quite extraordinary and, of course, quite outside the norms of Western culture.
But it struck me, watching this programme and reading about songlines, that we human beings have astral songlines – soul songlines, if you wish. We incarnate here on earth, but resonate with the starstuff of the Universe and, by understanding our individual make-up, our heritage, our DNA, we can get a good idea of what our heart and soul yearns for in this life on earth of ours.
One thing I’ve realised is that, by learning to understand my own natal chart, my calling is to explain my beliefs to people through my own personal experiences and to show how you can track your own soul songlines. So in the next few posts I’m going to explain how astrology works, in fairly simple terms, through the main aspects of my own astrological chart and that of my husband, and how that’s worked out in my life until now.
In 1993, Bryan went to Queensland on a company excursion. He phoned me to rave about how beautiful it was and, although we didn’t realise it at the time, it was as if this visit was a flag for changes which would come to us in the following year.
But while I was on my own that weekend, I came a hell of a cropper on our front porch which was made of raw bricks. I managed to smash my new glasses and the force of the fall left me with slight concussion for the rest of the weekend. Although I thought I’d recovered okay, I started having severe headaches again, not migraines but intense pain on the right side of my head. This led me to another alternative therapy, interestingly via some other treatment I was getting at the time for a painful back which had also got worse after the fall.
I had come across the homeopathic practitioner quite by chance when I was walking through Fremantle and came across a heap of people sitting on the stairs of the Mall and chattering among each other. “What’s going on here”, I asked, out of curiosity. “We’re waiting to see the homeopath who works in this office”, a young woman replied. “He does give us appointment times but he never sticks to them, so we just queue until we see him. He reckons the inter-action out here is part of the healing process.”
Ever curious, I decided to join the waiting queue and see what homeopathy was about as I’d vaguely read about it in one of the growing number of books I was accumulating on alternative health practices. I do have to say that the homeopath seemed pretty whacko to my still conservative outlook. He came from a very traditional medical background, but he was definitely very eccentric. He had quit the teaching hospital he’d worked at in the UK when he wasn’t allowed to practise homeopathy. He’d check your tongue, pulse and skin colour, then prescribe some homeopathic drops, make up a bottle of the drops, bang it a number of times against a Bible, then send you on your way. Interestingly, though, over a few weeks my spinal pain improved and I began to feel a whole heap better.
But after the fall in front of our home, I felt I needed something else to deal with the headaches. As I was seated in the waiting room, I noticed a sign advertising cranial-osteopathy and decided to give it a go.
I met an amazing woman who eased the headaches in the first session. It was quite extraordinary. She tuned into my body and made what felt like incredibly minute adjustments. I got up off the massage table and felt lighter, a bit dizzy and in far less pain. This was my introduction to cranio-sacral therapy.
Shortly after my first couple of treatments, I was eating in a restaurant and a friend commented that I didn’t eat a lot, and I realised he was watching what I ate as a commentary on my weight. He also let slip that a couple of other people had made similar observations (she doesn’t eat a lot, how come she’s overweight) and I was absolutely furious. If there’s one thing that really gets to me, it’s knowing people have talked about me behind my back. It goes back to my childhood when I felt on the outer in my family, and on the outer at both primary and grammar schools.
When I went back for another cranio-sacral massage, Gilda touched me then said: “What on earth has happened? All my work feels completely undone.” I told her what had happened and the anger I felt. She said she could feel it raging in my body, so with a sigh, went to work to release all the tight feelings. It took a few more treatments but my headaches were gone and I felt heaps lighter. My body loved it then and still loves it. As I now have fibromyalgia, I can’t tolerate deep massage but somehow this therapy brings me back to centre in my body and relieves a lot of pain.
I do believe that healing isn’t an instant process. It can involve lots of therapies or just one, but it’s a matter of trial and error, tuning in to what happens for you, what works or what doesn’t, and trusting your intuitive response. No one therapeutic path is correct for everyone or will work for everyone. It’s the beauty of this world that there are so many alternative therapies, which offer a rich smorgasbord for a person to experiment with and work towards the best possible healing results.
Each time I’ve worked with a cranio-sacral therapist, the approach has been different. Gilda, in Perth, worked with past lives as she gently adjusted my body. In Ipswich, Queensland, I worked with a lady who asked me tentatively if I’d ever been exposed to extra-terrestrial energies. I guess she asked tentatively because you never know how people are going to react. But I knew what she was talking about.
I’d been in a psychic development group and, during one guided visualisation session, I’d suddenly had an out-of-body experience. I found myself floating in the air and facing Mt Barney, a huge, magical mountain in the Border Ranges mountain range south of Boonah. As I hung there, suspended in the clear, cool air, the mountain broke open and a being came out and hurtled towards me. We both screamed “Oh, no!” seconds before we collided. And then I found myself back in my body feeling utterly drained.
The therapist’s words brought it all back and she looked very relieved when I didn’t scream and bolt out of her treatment room, but nodded. “You are completely dried up”, she said, “As if you’ve had a bolt of electricity go through you and fry everything in your body.” On this occasion, it took a few treatments but I felt heaps better than when I’d first stretched out on the massage table.
I also came across Ka Huna massage when I was living in Boonah, Queensland. Again, I love this massage as all the practitioners I’ve encountered seem to sense just how much pressure I can take on my body – with fibromyalgia you get really sensitive to pain. I can’t bear the slightest pressure on my bones and I certainly can’t tolerate deep tissue massage any more.
I’ve worked with my herbalist friend to support my body nutritionally and with the support of herbs and vitamins. She is brilliant and has given me very kind, loving support which has helped no end in handling fibromyalgia and its various manifestations in a more holistic way than the medical profession. Even though medicos do their best, there are limitations in conventional medicines which can often be addressed by alternative practices.
In 2009 I experienced incredibly high temperatures in Traralgon, Victoria, when bushfires killed nearly 200 people. On the Saturday we reached 47C and it was if I became sensitised to the heat. When we moved to Bowraville, on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, I got heatstroke the first day we moved in, with a blood pressure reading of 220/165 and a pulse of 40. The ambulance officers thought I was going to have a major stroke and die, but somehow I survived. It left me with high blood pressure though: 165/105. I didn’t want to take blood pressure tablets so went to see an acupuncturist who had trained in China. Within a couple of months my blood pressure stabilised at 135/75.
In the UK, I was doing Tarot readings in a New Age tent at a community fair. The day before, I suddenly got a voice in my head telling me to charge only £5. I listen to these little cosmic hints so, with an eye to Feng Shui principles, on the first day I set up facing the entrance with a big sign saying; “10 minute Tarot readings – £5”. It was on for one and old. I never stopped and, as it turned out, no-one had more than £5, because they hadn’t realised the New Age tent was in operation. I thoroughly enjoyed myself as everyone I saw needed a reading and everything went like clockwork.
For me, it was a lesson in listening to that inner voice, which can be whatever it means to you. It’s like a whisper from the spirit world. But you can call it god, spirit, the light, your inner wisdom, your higher self, your goddess or whatever has resonance for you. It seems to me there are no fixed ways to approach the matter of spiritual guidance and you need to go with whatever flows for you, not just adopt one particular approach because someone else uses it.
As it happened, another Tarot reader there had a sign for readings at £25 a pop, and had no business at all. She maintained a fixed position of being a “professional tarot reader” and was quite inflexible on price. She was also incredibly ratty that I was “undercutting” her price. It was all well and good to insist on her professional credentials, but the rigid adherence to this was absolutely useless in the real world where no-one had £25 for a reading. Every person I spoke to mentioned they had just £5 spare and, to be very truthful, I really didn’t stick to the 10-minute sign. I enjoy Tarot reading and I keep going until I feel I’ve provided, as far as possible, the information and advice a person needs. As it happened, I know that I was able to offer support to a few people in real need who found what I had to very useful, and really that’s the purpose of spiritual work.
The experience at that New Age fair taught me the important of listening to those “off-world” voices and to be flexible in my approach. I’m very glad I followed the cosmic advice, because I had a wonderful time and met some gutsy, warm, fantastic people.
On the Sunday, though, I was very tired as I’d done heaps of readings the previous day. Early on a man walked in and set up a massage table. He had a lovely energy around him and I wandered over to see what he did. Cranio-sacral therapy! Wooo-hooo. I was up on that table like greased lightning, no-one else got a look in! The therapist held my feet and immediately tuned in to the grief I was experiencing in leaving my father behind in Australia. In that, and subsequent sessions, he restored my body to balance, and further cemented cranio-sacral therapy as my favourite form of body treatment.
I should add that, from the time I first learned Reiki in 1994 and went on to Reiki Master level, this form of energy healing has also contributed to the healing I’ve received over the years. It is also a therapy which, because it is so gentle, is one which my body can handle with ease.
I still work with various therapies such as crystal healing, Reiki, massage, cranio-sacral healing, reflexology as and when I feel they’re appropriate. As I said in an earlier post, I work with conventional medicine too, as and when that is appropriate. Each person’s path to healing is like a smorgasbord – you need to have tasters and sort out what sorts you.
Of course, some might comment that I still have fibromyalgia and I do get the occasional intense headache, but nowhere near as bad as the migraines I used to get. When I first started working with alternative healing therapies, I used to believe that the goal was to cure the illness. I’ve since come to realise that healing relates to something much deeper – coming into alignment with our inner self, our souls, our divine journey, our relationships with others, a profound sense of the spiritual bringing us peace of mind, if not peace of body.
One of the reasons I came to wonder about what lies behind illness and how people cope was a book I read of a lady who became ill with multiple sclerosis. She had the means to travel and experience many therapies, but never recovered from the MS. She then realised that her skills could be put to use to work with MS organisations in fund-raising and structural development, something which never would have crossed her mind had she not got MS. And in the process she was of enormous help to other MS sufferers.
Fibromyalgia has taught me to slow down, take life more easily and to understand that it has given me a profound gift: having time to smell the roses, lean against beautiful trees and feel their energy, looking closely at autumn leaves and seeing their beauty, taking time to sit with our dogs and feel their warmth and love, to hug my husband and enjoy cuddles with him, to value my friends, to realise that life isn’t about doing big things (although that’s possible) but to realise that life is a gift. Don’t waste it – joy and beauty are all around you if you take the time to stop looking elsewhere and look at where you are right now.
I’d written some notes when the man sitting beside me picked up my journal and told me he was into graphology or the science of analysing handwriting.
“You’re not happy where you are and you’ll be leaving in a few weeks”, he said.
“I love my work,” I said vehemently, thinking he was real fraud.
And on the surface, it was true. I felt responsible in my position at the office and, although I didn’t realise it at the time, I got my self-worth from being in paid work. I was only working part-time but, trust me, in that time I was a workaholic, always wanting to be the best I could.
Unfortunately, while my head told me one thing, my body told me another. Although I returned to work, things didn’t improve. As I was the only person in the office, I’d have to catch up with all the word that hadn’t been done. The pain in my shoulders and arms would return, and so did the excruciating headaches. At the same time, I created a crisis at work. I got bored doing the same old work. Story of my life, I’m afraid. Once I master something and know how things work, I lose interest. On to the next project.
At my office, however, I started angling to become a union organiser. I thought I enjoyed working with people, which is true in one sense, but what I ignored (or tried to stuff into the closet) was that every time I went out to talk to union members, I had to gear myself up to plaster a confident smile on my face and really steel myself to sally forth and spruik about union matters. What I also never realised until much later was that I subconsciously created conflict with the union president precisely because he was a man who, to my senses, was large and overbearing. Actually, he was quite pleasant. My response was because he brought up stuff to do with my father, something I never realised at the time.
And looking back, I can see that this is how I reacted to every male boss I worked under. Since it involves others, I won’t go into detail except to say that I did not take any criticism well, I was impatient with being told what to do, and really resented the fact that so many male bosses seemed to undervalue the work of their women employees.
Headaches – Behaviour Modification
I did come across a tremendously helpful course which was run by the Psychology Department of the University of Western Australia, aimed at helping people with chronic headaches learn behaviour modification to bring their headaches until control. It was an eye-opener to me. We were all quite driven people, over-achievers, and – to my amusement – I found the dentistry profession was well represented at this course as people were so uptight and nervous around dentists that dentists got uptight and deeply stressed themselves.
It was also another eye-opener in how hard it is for people to change their ways. We had to fill in cards which showed the level of headaches each day and what painkillers we had taken. I remember the course co-ordinator being quite taken aback at the number of pills I was chucking down my throat, mainly because I was self-medicating to get through each day. One of the exercises we had to do was treat ourselves to something special that week and I had decided to get my first ever massage. I had booked with a male therapist and I was very nervous about the whole procedure. He told me to undress to a level comfortable for me and I made it to bra, knickers and petticoat. These days I’m happy to strip right off, especially if I’m having a wonderful Ka Huna massage!
The massage was blissful and I continued having them, with this therapist and then another one later on. I did find that the day after the massage I’d wake with a humdinger of a headache, a truly horrendous migraine which would lay me out for half the night and half the day. I came to realise, however, that it was all the tension I was releasing with each massage. As I started working with the behaviour management techniques we were shown at the course, the headaches gradually abated, for which – even today – I remain truly grateful.
However, and again I’m not going into details to preserve the privacy of those participating in the course with me, I did notice how people simply weren’t willing to change their lives in fundamental ways to relieve the headache problem they were suffering. I was so desperate, I was willing to take on board whatever was suggested. But others made all sorts of excuses. I remember one guy boasting that he’d had lunch, as if this was an amazing occurrence. We all leaned forward to hear the delicious details, only to find him saying he’d had a ham sandwich at his office desk. Our co-ordinator looked at him, then said: “Do you service your car?” He looked puzzled but said yes. Then she asked him if he gave it petrol and oil regularly. Again he looked puzzled and said yes, but we knew where Diana was heading. She said sweetly: “Then you treat your car better than you treat yourself!”
I think it was at this time that I decided I’d throw myself into any course I was taking, regardless of how I felt about it, with the intention of working with whatever I could pick up which worked for me. When I was taking part later in an Inner Child workshop, I’d notice that when a particularly challenging session was coming up, people would fudge it and not turn up.
At this stage, I’d like to say that, if you’re attending a course and you suddenly find you are making excuses to pack it in or skip a particular section, it’s a sure sign that it’s the very thing coming up that you’re trying to avoid which you need to face up to and attend. Because sure as eggs, it’ll be challenging for you but it is likely to lead to insights or changes which are fundamental to your well-being. It may be hard, it may be challenging, but I do feel the end result is really worth-while if you’re truly committed to growing your life.
The massages and treatments I received when the RSI was first diagnosed were, now I look back, the first cracks in the ice castle I’d built up around my family history. I used to get a massage with a therapist who’d comment on the anger he felt in me. So I would simply respond: “Who me?” I never showed anger. It was never allowed in our family. Emotional outbursts were simply forbidden, one of those unwritten rules in our family life. I simply never saw myself as an angry person. Now I look back and see those awful migraine headaches as the tool my body used to try to release the anger and pain I had locked in my body.
After my mother died of lung cancer in 1987, I found I couldn’t talk to anyone about the grief and anger I felt. People were embarrassed about a close family member dying, and shied away from any talk about losing my mum. I guess to I’d had so much experience of bottling up emotions, that I had no idea how to handle this loss. So I decided to go and get some counselling. I found a psychologist in Fremantle, went along for my first session, and I can truly say that my exchanges with this very kind, sympathetic woman were life-changing.
Lucy gave me permission to be angry about my family. It was a quite new concept to me, and I was quite overcome with guilt and shame the first time I talked about my childhood and the anger I felt about my father and the bullying and control I experienced throughout my childhood and into my ‘teens until I escaped to university.
Alongside this counselling, I was also pursuing other alternative therapies, as I was find out that each seemed to peel another layer from me, like peeling an onion. I was getting a better understanding of my body but, best of all, the RSI was less intense, although it hadn’t gone completely. And the migraines had abated considerably as a result of learning to modify my Type A behaviour and take a more relaxed attitude to life.
Actually, I look at all the various healing modalities I’ve followed and think I must sound incredibly neurotic. But when I look at the illnesses I’ve dealt with, overwhelmingly they seem to be structural and psychological. I think this probably reflects the years I’d spent locked down in loneliness, guilt and fear, and the way in which I tip-toed through the healing process in order to cope with what came tumbling out of the cellar where I’d, sub-consciously, locked all my pain and feeling of being so unloved.
Hah! Until I got repetitive strain injury in the early 1980s.
RSI started me off on the road less travelled health-wise as I turned to complementary therapies when the medical profession was unable to provide answers to my health problems.
Don’t get me wrong: I have respect for medicos and the huge advances in medical care. I appreciated hospitals when I broke my leg and ankle in 1996. I have appreciated the power of antibiotics when I’ve had a severe sinus infection, bronchitis and kidney infection. Blood tests, x-rays and so on are a boon.
And just as the general community are incredibly varied, so there are good, bad, indifferent and very conscientious doctors.
I don’t throw the baby out with the just because conventional medical care can’t provide all the answers. But also, when conventional medicine lead me to a dead-end in recovering from RSI, it also led me to query the power of Big Pharma and the industrialisation of medical care which reduces people to dollar figures and profits for the huge pharmaceutical corporations. I also see doctors too often reduced to pen pushers, overloaded with paperwork, bureaucracy and unrealistic demands on what they are able to offer the general public.
I found myself looking for non-medical treatment in the mid-1980s when I got repetitive strain injury. Ironically, at the time I was working in the office of a small union and had been organising publicity about a new work injury, RSI, which was affecting a lot of women working in call centres as, with new computer technology, they could key in input very fast and overuse arm and shoulder muscles.
I simply never believed it could happen to me. I used to keep going on the typewriter long after I felt a pain in my shoulder. I kept expecting the pain to go away but it got worse. It was agonising to move my right shoulder and arm. Then I started getting pins and needles in my left arm and a feeling which I can only describe as rats gnawing away inside me.
At the time my husband, Bryan, was working away from home in Bunbury, south of Perth, and most evenings I would just rest on the sofa and hope the pain would go away. If I tried to do a simple task like washing up, my whole shoulder would seize up and I’d have to stand stock still until the intense pain abated. But as it got worse, so I started getting severe migraines. I’d wake up around 2am with a violent pain starting at the back of my head, working towards the front at the back of my forehead, and for all the world like it was a brass band pounding around at full volume. I’d take headache pills which got stronger and stronger in order to cope. If I was lucky the headache might fade a bit and I could get to work and cope okay. If I was unlucky, I’d wake up vomiting and it was like a vicious cycle – vomiting exacerbated the headache which me throw up more which intensified the headache, and so on.
I had, of course, read all the literature about repetitive strain injury but tried to ignore the fact that it seemed to be happening to me. That was, until one day and I got into the office with my head pounding from another headache and I just sat there crying my eyes out. The union secretary came into the office, took one look at me, and thankfully for me, took charge. I wasn’t capable of thinking straight or taking action of any kind. She made an appointment for me at her doctor’s, got me in early and off I went to see a doctor who not only was incredibly kind, but also very helpful in supporting me through what felt like a nightmare.
She arranged physiotherapy for me but as this was something new on the medical scene, no-one quite knew how to deal with it. By rights – I found out later – I should have seen a rheumatologist, but I was sent to see an orthopaedic surgeon who was a butcher. He wrenched my head back and forward and side to side with the result that the pain got even worse. He told me he could operate and cut a nerve which might help. That sounded very dodgy to me and even more so when I saw a programme on the ABC about a pain centre in Adelaide dealing with patients, many of whom had had the type of operation the orthopaedic surgeon wanted to carry out on me. And as any small step forward I’d made with physiotherapy was wiped out by his lousy treatment and I ended up worse than when I’d first started treatment, I declined surgery.
I clearly remember sitting in my doctor’s surgery, tanked to the gills with anti-inflammatory medication and a soft collar around my neck. I hardly dared to move because the pain would flare up and feel like a knife being driven into my shoulder. My left arm felt as if rats were gnawing it inside. My doctor asked: “Are you feeling any better?” And I had to say no. She looked at me and said somewhat reluctantly; “Well, I don’t think there’s anything more we can do for you.”
Which is a bit depressing, folks. I’d always been on the go, active, restless, eager to get on to my next project. And suddenly I was sitting on a sofa all day, frightened to move, terrified about what the future held for me and very lonely because Bryan was still working down south during the week and home only on the weekends. I knew an older lady who said very kindly (but not very helpfully, to be truthful): “You young folk always think that life is a straight line that you can set out in front of you without any deviations. Life isn’t like that. All sorts of side paths, obstacles and cul-de-sacs happen. It’s life.”
But in a nice little piece of synchronicity (although I’d never heard of synchronicity at the time), I happened to see an advertisement for a reflexology course at the local community centre. I will be very honest and say that the first time I’d ever heard of reflexology was when a friend said she was going to get a treatment with this alternative therapy. I asked them what it was as I’d never heard of it before, and was quite revolted when they told me it involved foot massage. Errr, yuk, fancy getting your smelly old feet massaged! But, as the old saying goes, never say never.
Years ago I read a post on a Yahoo group site asking why people were grieving at the loss of a loved one when they believed in the after-life. I remember thinking that the writer had not yet experienced grief because, if they had, they would never have asked that question.
In this respect, in 2002 I attended a croning ceremony – a recognition that when you have gone through the menopause you have entered your Elder years, you have moved into the wisdom part of your life, as the original meaning of “crone” was “crown” – operating from your crown chakra or energy centre with the accumulated wisdom of your life experiences.
We each gave other participants a gift – one in particular which sticks in my memory was small heart with a tear on it which had been stitched up. I still have it and it’s intended to remind us of the grief and hard times we may experience in our life from which we recover but which leaves our hearts in a new place, deposits us in a different part of our lives and churns us out as different people.
I remembered this recently as I’ve been dealing with a huge dose of what I call “The Glums” – the black depression I get with fibromyalgia which takes me into some pretty grim places and from which I am still climbing towards the light and sanity again. If you can not overdo things with fibro and maintain balance, you can manage fairly well with the pain and fatigue. But when I tripped over an electrical lead and went flat on my face, my body went into shock and I also did some damage to my spine which has led to even less mobility than usual.
It was my husband who really made me face the truth as I tend to be a bit of a blue sky gal apart from the odd descent into the Glums. He went to the local markets today, a stall-holder asked after me and he told her that I couldn’t walk too far at all now. He’s quite right but it brought me face to face with my limited mobility and with the reality that my husband is now a carer for me, even cooking is now quite painful and he’s taken on that task as well as all the other support he gives me.
So I’m dealing with the grief of acknowledging my mobility of yesteryears is long past and I’m in another part of my life. Added to this, I’ve been dealing with the grief of losing our young dog, Ziggy. He got sick and despite tests and treatment and our vet’s optimism about his recovery, just after lunch one day a couple of weeks ago he climbed down from the sofa, laid down, put his head on my husband’s feet and quietly passed away. You don’t expect a pet to die so young and it’s been gut-wrenching – not just the grief but also the guilt that perhaps we didn’t get the right treatment, or we should have got him treated earlier or whatever. I guess everyone has so many “what ifs” when loss of life is involved – whether human or a beloved pet.
On the day he died I asked him if he could provide proof he was okay – as I’ve said elsewhere, it was pretty much a way of coping with the loss of a wonderful, cheery, vagabond of a dog than really expecting an answer. But after a sleepless night I went to bed for a nap the next afternoon only to be waken by loud scratching filling the room. I drifted back to sleep and when I got up, asked my husband which of our three remaining dogs had been scratching. He said none of them. And then I realised: at night Ziggy would like at the bottom of our bed and scratch. He was allergic to fleas and however much we tried to keep him flea-free, it was a losing battle. I realised that the loud scratching noise was his way of sending a unique signal from the Hereafter that he was okay and had taken the time to reassure me of this. When I was thinking about what colour rose to plant in honour of Ziggy, a yellow rose filled my vision and we found one in the nursery closest to where we live: thanks, Ziggy!
Yet despite all this, I have still experienced grief at Ziggy’s loss. We all experience grief when we lose a loved one – whether it be a parent, friend, child, fur friend, or whatever. Grief is part of life on earth. Life is not always full of sun and bubbles and all good things. To pretend it is, is to undervalue life on earth. Here we experience a range of emotions – love, hate, anger, rage, happiness, disappointment, sadness, the highs and the lows. And as my friend wrote so truly: “It is a sneaky, rolling thing, grief. You think you are on top of things and then get punched in the heart with the most ridiculous of reminders.”
I remember a recent discussion where people found difficulty in handling anger. Anger, to me, is another emotion which is a natural experience. To deny its existence or pretend it’s awful or it’s wrong or beating yourself up because you get angry is to deny what is human in us and why we incarnate on this planet – we experience a range of emotions, they help shape and create our humanity but the crucial point is how we handle these emotions.
If, for example, in the recent shootings at the Charleston Church, South Caroline, the response is to demand the death of the perpetrator, then really not much has been achieved except to behave like the murderer. It may satisfy the need for revenge but events like this give us the opportunity to develop a more considered approach – to take action against the terrorist racism which underpins this event, to ensure the perpetrator remains behind bars with – perhaps – the possibility of redemption, to consider the matter of forgiveness, as many of the victims’ families have done, even though that may seem a step too far for many right at this moment. I think also it’s okay to spare some grief for the young man who deprived nine people of their lives and left nine families bereft. How awful to live your young life in such hatred, with such racists thoughts and with a negative energy which corrodes your heart and soul.
I called this post “Life After Life” because my dear little Ziggy reassured me he was okay in life over the Rainbow Bridge. But also because it’s a reminder that we do continue to live after experiencing grief, even if it continues to clutch at our heart at unexpected times or punches us in the gut when we remember times spent with loved ones who no longer are with us in the material world.
I rather like this poem which was read at my father-in-law’s funeral and which, on re-reading, has once again left me with tears streaming down my face:
Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!
Mary Frye (1932)
In 1995 I had the opportunity to go on a short tour of Beijing and Xi’an. I looked forward very much to seeing the differences between then and my earlier visit in early 1978.
I had an interesting start to my visit when we took off in a quite small China Airlines 747 airliner from Sydney. As soon as the plane had taken off and seat belt signs were off, heaps of Chinese people on board quit their seats, squatted or sat on the floor and started gambling. It was quite chaotic but the flight staff handled the various groups on the floor with aplomb while the gamblers had the time of their lives.
The real drawback was the smoking which wasn’t then banned. The Chinese on the plane were great smokers as well as gamblers and the cabin was soon thick with cigarette smoke which – as a non-smoker – I found very hard to handle. I was feeling quite under the weather by the time we landed in Beijing and, as with my previous visit, the city still looked grey and cold in the mid-winter weather – quite a contrast from the hot weather I’d left behind in Sydney.
I did wonder how commercialised China had become and soon found the answer in the lobby of the hotel our group was staying in. I’m not a fan of Christmas and all the shlock surrounding it – too commercialised, too money-grabbing, too cynical, too many buying too much and getting in debt, and so many people looking unhappy and desperate in the last-minute rush. So I’d boasted to my husband that I’d be leaving the Christmas “festivities” behind, in a rather gloating manner. Silly me. Our tour walked into the hotel to find a dirty great big Christmas tree and the soft, dirge-like sounds of Christmas carols, quite a difference from the last time I’d been in the city when there was no sign of Western Christmas bling at all!
Being realistic, tourism had grown tremendously since my first visit in early 1978 and the Chinese obviously have to cater for visitors and their tastes. Plus the Chinese need the currency exchange tourism brings, so I’m hardly in a position to criticise from the sidelines!
I really noticed the difference when I went for a walk in Beijing. There were far less bikes – they’d crowded the streets in 1978 – and a heck of a lot more cars. In 1978 most cars were for official business but now the streets were choked with all sorts of vehicles – cars, trucks, bikes, motor bikes – it was chaotic and road rules seemed completely non-existent although people seemed to somehow cope with the bikes and cars creating a sort of mad kaleidoscope of movement.
Gone too was the ubiquitous grey and camouflage green clothing that predominated the last time I was there. Now most people were dressed in bright colours, good quality clothing and lots of swish accessories. Young people particularly looked confident, well dressed and bright. The country had obviously made great strides since I’d first visited and it was good to see.
A lot of people would like China to have stayed in the relatively backward state it was in the 1970s as people were less hurried, less sophisticated and, I guess, a bit naive. But that’s like saying our Western civilisation should have stayed stuck in the 1970s too. Change happens and I really don’t have too much patience for those who say how wonderful life was “back then”.
We did go to see the Summer Palace in Beijing and that really was quite amazing. What really takes me aback when I’m in Beijing is the obscene wealth flaunted by the rulers in olden times compared with the poverty and hardship of the great majority of the population. The Summer Palace is composed of lakes, palaces and gardens and is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Here’s a link to Wikipedia’s coverage of the Summer Palace which gives some idea of the size, beauty and history Summer Palace, Beijing. We also admired the Marble Boat, Summer Palace, Beijing, a quite extraordinary construction which really embodies the excesses of the Chinese ruling class.
The Summer Palace was pretty much destroyed twice by Western powers, as explained in Wikipedia:
“In 1860 the British and French burned the palace down at the end of the Second Opium War (the Old Summer Palace also ransacked at the same time). The punitive action was undertaken in response to the torture and killing of a European peace delegation that included Thomas William Bowlby. The destruction of large parts of the palace complex still evokes strong emotions among some in China……
The Summer Palace was slighted a second time in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion when it was seized by the eight allied powers. The garden were burned and mostly destroyed. Many of the Palace’s artifacts were divided among the eight allied nations. These are still retained by various countries – such as France and United Kingdom – much to the annoyance of the modern Chinese government.”
I have referred to this in detail because we in the West like to pontificate on how China should organise itself and what it should do and how it should behave. This completely fails to take into account the way in which foreign, mainly Western, powers have historically interfered in China and caused immense hardship to the Chinese people. Westerners need to study Chinese history in order to understand what goes on in China today and why lectures from Western governments get up the noses of leading officials and the Chinese people.
A bit of modesty and self-restraint wouldn’t go amiss and this was re-affirmed to me when we were in Xi’an. Thankfully, when we took off from Beijing Airport for Xi’an, the fighter pilots who had flow the aircraft when I first visited in 1978 had now been replaced by modern-trained pilots, so we took off at a normal speed instead of rocketing up into what felt like space when we flew in China in 1978!
We visited a museum in Xi’an which hadn’t been open long when I visited the city with its draw card, the Terra Cotta warriors and horses. It had a reconstructed version of a 5,000-year-old village which had been excavated in Shaanxi Province and our tour guides were very proud to inform us that this had a matriarchal social structure.
We looked at the most beautiful artifacts over the 5,000 year old history portrayed in this museum and it reminded me that China had a flourishing culture and creative outlets when nothing like this existed in early Europe or Britain. American Western culture which US leaders are proud to boast about only started up at a comparatively recent past, in 1776. And saying this does not include the extensive history of Native American/First Nations cultures which was ignored for so long and subjected to many attempts to destroy it completely.
Visiting the Terra Cotta warriors and horses is really a quite humbling experience. Here were ranks upon ranks of warriors, each one crafted individually, and designed to protect the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. They were buried with him in 210-209 BCE, with the aim of protecting him in his after life.
The existence of this army was forgotten until 1974 when a peasant digging a well during a time of drought hit one on the head while excavating. It is a quite extraordinary experience when you walk into the great hall housing these terra cotta figures as each one is crafted individually. In the slight haze of dust in the air, you can almost imagine them moving and coming alive. It’s estimated that more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses were buried in the area, with some still being excavated.
As you drive around Xian you see mounds all over the place which denote the burial places of ruling figures including relatives. We asked our guides why they hadn’t been excavated and they told us that, while they knew which figures were interred where, they were in no hurry to open up tombs until they had the expertise and knowledge to do the excavation work properly and efficiently. This went particularly for the tomb of the Emperor Qin which still hasn’t been opened up. They were adamant that Chinese specialists would be in charge of any excavations and it was clear that there is still a great sensitivity to the actions of foreign countries in the past as well as the plunder of Chinese artifacts which are displayed in Western museums, an affront to the dignity and self-respect of the Chinese people.
I left China on my last visit with a profound respect at what had been achieved since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. People who criticise the country forget the devastated country that existed after the end of World War 2 and the way in which the nation has pulled itself up by its bootstraps. We’re fed a diet of constant criticism in the Western media when a bit of self-examination of what’s happening in Western nations wouldn’t go amiss – particularly the huge and growing gap between the super-rich and the rest of the people.
Do I think everything’s hunky-dory in China? No, of course not. I don’t look at the country through rose-coloured glasses. But I do look with respect at what has been achieved and the great strides forward in the well-being of the people. I watch Western governments like the US and UK bang on about human rights in China but, to me, it’s simply an attempt to interfere in China’s affairs. If Western leaders were so concerned about human rights, they could look in their own backyard, take responsibility for the awful carnage that has erupted in the Middle East after the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, criticise the perfectly dreadful human rights situation in Saudi Arabia (but hey, they’ve got oil) or stand up for Palestinian rights to self-determination.
And with that final little rant under my belt, I’ll wind up my series of posts on my visits to China. I still have very good memories of the goodwill of the people I met, the wonderful sense of raucous humour and the patience with curious tourists who really must drive those in the tourist industry right around the twist on many occasions. So I will finish with a toast of “Ganbei” to the achievements of the Chinese people and memories of skulling the Chinese liqueur mao-tai which, quite rightly, was described by CBS’s anchor, Dan Rather, as “liquid razor blades”. He could also have mentioned the smell of burnt rubber!
Apologies for a long absence and difficulties in accessing this website. For some reason my domain name vanished with the explanation that it had elapsed, but it was still up and running on WordPress. I have no idea what is going on as it’s a bit beyond my techie abilities, so I’ve registered another domain name to get on with writing, while I try to sort out what’s happening with my original domain name.
I also have no idea if this is going to reach followers of my blog – I hope so, and I’m crossing fingers those who’ve subscribed to my previous blog domain will get updates under my new domain name – fingers crossed!
If any of you feel like letting me know you’ve renewed access to my blog, I’d appreciate a quick note of confirmation.
When I started writing this post, I was reminded of one of the simplest and tastiest dishes I had in China – stir-friend green beans with almonds. It was perfectly cooked and delicious. So was the Cantonese meals dished up on the train from Changsha to Guangzhou.
It made me think of some of the dishes I’ve enjoyed over the years which were simple yet remain in my memory: French saucisson with impeccably cooked French fries in a small bistro in Strasbourg; Currywurst in Stuttgart: white sausage sliced in a crispy roll with tomato sauce and curry powder (sounds ghastly but was quite delicious eaten in the ChristKindlMarkt in the lead-up to Christmas on a bitterly cold winter’s day); veggie curry, alfalfa sprouts and chapattis in an Ananda Marga cafe in Perth, Western Australia; and last but by no means least, a burger and chips in Burger King in Hong Kong.
The last one sounds somewhat less than gourmet but we found it after we’d flown from the UK to Hong Kong for a stopover in 1994 on the way to Australia. I was suffering a lousy bout of bronchitis and, by the time we arrived in HK in the early morning, I was pretty ill and spent the day in bed fighting for breath. In the evening we sortied out to get a meal and the Burger King offering was absolute bliss! I returned to bed, my fever broke overnight and I woke with the bed soaked in sweat but me breathing more easily and able to travel on to Perth. So much for a stopover in Hong Kong – sleeping or staring at the hotel ceiling!
Anyway, from the ridiculous to the sublime! Returning to our trip to China in 1998, soon after we arrived at the Peking Hotel and had got settled in, we were taken to the main Peking Duck Restaurant operating at the time, where we were served a full Peking Duck banquet. Every part of the duck is used in this banquet. The whacko parts first: you have never lived if you haven’t looked at the beady eye of half a duck’s head resting on your plate. And another friend got stuck with the duck’s feet! Nor have you lived if you haven’t tried one of the entrees: shredded jellyfish – it bounces back however much you chew it, until finally you wash it down in frustration with water and hope you’re not going to choke on the sticky shreds. The chap beside me gave up on manners and decorum and pulled the shreds out of his mouth as they stuck in his throat.
The other entree dish that looked decidedly dodgy was what looked like lumps of black jelly in a dark-coloured sauce. Our interpreter told us it was sea cucumber, but I hung back, it still looked pretty horrible. The same guy, however, bogged in and had a mouthful of this gunk when the interpreter suddenly said: “Oh, sorry, you call it sea slug!”. I thought my neighbour was going to throw up as his face went green, but he managed to keep eating and slumped in his seat once he’d demolished the sea slug.
But hoo boy, when we got the duck meat, with pancakes, hoisin sauce, cucumber and shredded spring onions, we were in hog heaven – it was an absolutely brilliant dish, one of the best I’ve ever eaten. The small pancakes are cooked facing each other, you peeled them apart, then stuffed them with the duck meat, hoisin sauce, cucumber and spring onions. And to wind up we were served duck soup from the bones and remaining flesh.
Going back to food use, at a banquet in a village in the countryside I saw another dish which looked seriously gristly, grey and yukky. While no-one was looking, I managed to whack the pieces I was served under some leftover prawn shells. It was donkey tendon which, as a tour member gleefully informed me later, was a euphemism for donkey penis – thank god I never ate it.
At breakfast and dinner we mainly ate on our own. At lunchtimes, however, we were served banquets wherever we happened to be visiting as we were obviously considered honoured guests, being among the first tourist contingents to visit China as it was opening to the world. The banquets we were served during our tour were really pieces of art. The vegetable carvings and the way in which everything was laid out were absolutely beautiful. The food itself was delicious and the many veggie dishes were amazingly tasty. Everything was served in a Lazy Susan in the centre of big, round tables and we were seated alternating with tour members, welcoming committee members wherever we were, and our interpreters. We could help ourselves but our Chinese friends took great pleasure in picking out food to serve us. I got very adept at waiting until people’s attention was elsewhere and then whacking suspicious-looking food under leftover bones or whatever, as I’d done with the donkey penis.
In Dalian we were shown around a fishing cooperative and then served a fish meal. Luckily for the rest of us, the tour leader had the honour of eating the fish’s eyes when a whole fish was dished up. We ate quite enormous prawns with gusto, and were tucking into the most delicious fish I’ve ever eaten with similar gusto until the head of the fishing co-operate remarked benignly: “I see you like that fish, you have to be careful in its preparation. It’s called puffer fish or fugu in Japanese.” This is the fish which can kill you rather quickly if any of its poison gets into the flesh and I can tell you, it brought us all to a rapid halt. We lowered the fish back to the plate then cast surreptitious glances around to see if anyone started looking a bit ill or complaining of tingling lips or tongue. Luckily for us, the preparation of this fish had been perfect but none of us ate any more!
When I visited China again on a shorter tour in 1995, we went to Xian, the capital of Shaanxi Province. When we arrived, our interpreter asked if there was anything we didn’t eat and I promptly said: “No dog” as I’d found out since our 1978 visit, that dog-eating was quite popular in parts of China. On the way to the hotel, the interpreter turned around to point out what I’m pretty sure was a barbecued dog on a stand at the side of the road, took one look at my face, shut up and hastily looked forward again.
The one dish I remember from Xian was a steamboat which, again, was absolutely delicious. It consisted of a centre steamboat with a broth, which was surrounded by various bits and pieces of meat and veggies – chicken, beef, pork, fish, prawns, carrots, beansprouts, greens, mushrooms and so on. You took whatever you fancied into your chopsticks, dunked it into the boiling broth until it was cooked and then tucked into the cooked food. The broth gradually got more intensely flavoured from the food cooked in it, and then at the end an egg for each person was broken into the steamboat, cooked and then the soup-like mixture wound up the meal. Absolutely luvverly.
In China you learn that nothing is wasted, because it has such a huge population and the many millions upon millions of people have to be fed. At the time we visited, the country had made great strides in development but was still a very, very poor nation, engaged in re-building after moving from a feudal to a socialist society in 1949, recovering from the ravages of British domination and Japanese occupation during World War 2.
All sorts of food were utilised to feed the billion-plus nation, which is why donkey penis ended up on the plate, along with ducks’ feet and ducks’ heads. It may not suit our Western tastes, I know I learned to check out everything dished up to us, but most of us in the West have never known the poverty and hunger which stalked China in its feudal times and in the post-war, rebuilding era.
Adults in 1978 mainly wore grey or green clothing, because that was the cheapest to produce. And that bit of information was a surprise to me as I thought it was a sort of revolutionary choice in post-war China, but instead it was a simple, economic measure.
In my final post on China I’ll write more about my trip to Xian in 1995 and the massive changes I saw since the first time I’d visited this enormous nation in early 1978. Changes there were but some things remained unchanged – the welcome; the earthy sense of humour; and last but not least, the ubiquitous flasks of jasmine tea waiting for us in whichever hotel we stayed in.
I rather think our tour of China in 1978 was a bit of trial and error for the Chinese as conducting tours was a very new venture. All I can say is that we concluded back in Hong Kong, after the tour ended, that we had never worked so hard in our lives – we had breakfast at 8am, out on the road by 9am with two visits to schools/factories/handicrafts factories, back for lunch at midday, a 30 minute rest period, then off again at 1.30 for two more visits. Back for dinner at 5.30pm, and then off to see movies or an orchestra or some other aspect of culture in the evening. This went on for three weeks.
At each place we visited during the day we’d be given a tour of the school or factory or whatever we were visiting, we’d meet the people and children, if we went to schools, we’d sit down and be given a history of what we were visiting, and then we’d enjoy a cup of jasmine tea and a general chat.
The Chinese had a great cultural life which I think we found surprising as the image of this enormous nation had, up until then, always been of a rather drab and dreary culture. China had been so closed to the outside world that really we had no idea of what we’d encounter or the rich cultural life of the country.
But going into a movie was a great experience – we didn’t understand a word but the Chinese audience had the time of their life and often the movies were very gruesome which they watched without turning a hair while we Westerners flinched and shut our eyes. I mean – people getting cut in half by a sword; a concubine disappearing and re-appearing floating in a huge pot with her arms and legs removed; someone else getting beheaded in incredibly realistic battle scenes. All very colourful and also an introduction to the various ways in which people were killed in feudal China!
We were taken one evening to see a Chinese orchestra and, I have to be honest, we were pretty bored. We weren’t used to the instruments or musical sounds of Chinese music but, while we sat there quite quietly, the Chinese audience had a terrific time, applauding noisily and having the time of their lives. Nevertheless, it was a great experience to see Chinese culture at such close quarters and to see the pleasure of people in the audience. We found that film, music and other cultural events were widespread, cheap to go to, and very, very popular with Chinese people.
We visited various handicrafts factories where the work was exquisite. In one pottery factory we saw mass-produced dinnerware which was an interesting process to watch, but we also saw fine, individual pottery production which required great attention to detail and a very steady hand. In one place we saw artists painting scenes within tiny glass snuff bottles. It was quite awesome as the artists had incredibly fine brushes bent at right angles so they could get the brush inside the bottle, then paint the scene from the inside. We found out that people who did this had to retire early as the incredibly close work required ended up damaging people’s eyesight. I’ve included below photos of this painting technique – I do have a painted glass bottle in a lovely lined box but my camera’s in for service so I’ve had to use images form the internet.
We visited one diesel locomotive production factory where we were struck by the pride of workers at what they were creating. They were involved in all aspects of the locomotives’ production and design, and you could feel the satisfaction they got at being part of the whole process. We got to get into the cabin of one of the huge locos (we did this in small groups) and trundle along part of a rail section – quite extraordinary to be so high up in such a huge machine and have such a wide view around the whole area. One of our tour members when I was in the cabin was poking a button and asking what it was for, and the Chinese interpreters had great fun telling her she was the one responsible for the diesel’s hooter going off continually!
Towards the end of the tour we had the opportunity to meet a group of artists and actors which was quite an honour. Except we nearly caused a diplomatic incident! One of the artists started describing an incident with the Gang of Four, a group which had been in control of China but which had been displaced just before our tour. She told us how the Gang of Four didn’t like a painting of a single huge cock. There was silence in our group and then our tour leader leaned forward and said: “Actually, in Australia, we prefer to use the words ‘rooster’ or ‘cockerel'”. However, the artist missed this completely as she was intent on her story and continued telling us about this huge cock stretching up to the sky with its one beady eye peering upwards. We were pretty exhausted and overwrought by this time and had a hard time not laughing. One of the interpreters asked a tour member who was sitting at the back why we were all acting so strange so he drew a picture of male genitals to try to explain we used different terminology, but we all decided afterwards that the sketch was pathetic, and so it took some time to explain what was going on.
In the meantime the artist was still going on about the huge cock and how the Gang of Four didn’t like the look in its one beady eye. Finally the dam broke. We started howling with laughter and on the Chinese side there was a startled silence. Gradually we calmed down after our hysterical outburst and looked at each other appalled – we’d surely created a diplomatic incident and we’d be deported and get into all sorts of strife on our return to Australia. We were actually very over-tired and over-wrought after what had been a gruelling tour which explained our cackling away like demented kookaburras.
Our tour guide had finally realised what the problem was in terminology, walked forward and whispered into the artist’s ear why we’d been laughing our heads off. We sat there frozen – then she turned to the rest of her Chinese colleagues and told them the problem with cock/rooster/cockerel phraseology and, to our amazement, they all burst into great gales of laughter, slapping their knees and rocking back and forth with glee. We were so relieved, everyone heaved a great sigh and calmed down, but it was also a lesson to us that the Chinese have a raucous, earthy sense of humour which was totally unexpected to us.
One thing I had forgotten was the honesty: if we accidentally left stuff behind when we left hotels and moved to new cities or towns, we would – within a couple of days – find the item forwarded to us and waiting in our rooms.
What we came away with after our tour of China was an abiding sense of awe at the ingenuity of the Chinese people, pleasure in their care for their kids, and great respect for their dedication to rebuilding their country. We also ended up with an abiding respect for their ability to knock back the Chinese liqueur, Mao Tai, as I said in an earlier post like drinking rocket fuel which we drank with great caution and they swigged with apparent impunity.
We also experienced great delight at their wonderful sense of humour and ability to joke around and have a damned good time, with no sign of rigidity or stuffiness. Given how nervous we were at the start of our tour, when we left China we did so with an awareness of how lucky we were to have seen the country at its then stage of development, and also how privileged we’d been to encounter the friendliness and kindness of the Chinese people.
In my next post I’ll get to the really important part – Chinese food! And then I’ll wind up with a final blog about my return to China in 1995 when I visited the Hidden Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang at Xian and saw all the changes in China since my first visit in early 1978.