Cool Greetings from California,
Boy was it hot in Shanghai! Perspiration soaked shirts, the death of my little camera and worries about problems back home, finally convinced me to cut the Asian Odyssey short and rush back to familiar and cooler climes. Anyone reading my last 29 July posting from Shanghai would be justified in thinking I did not handle the heat too well.
Looking back on my time in the far west of China [the Xinjiang Uygur/Uighur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China] I am surprised how little turmoil I saw. Research after the fact reveals this to be one of the most troublesome regions in that vast country. The central government considers it a hotbed of Uighur separatist rebellion and terrorist activities. Western analysts claim that is an exaggeration. My personal observations revealed plenty of discontent among the indigenous minority people, especially students and younger adults... not unlike the current widespread discontent with the central government here in this country. But, I saw no actual organized violence anywhere, though several people told me of recent incidents reported in the local newspapers. While I explored the Silk Road coming east, Rob Gifford moving along the same route in the opposite direction chronicled his experiences for NPR. His perceptive seven part report confirm all that I learned.
Back on this side of the big pond and suffering through six full days-nights of jet lag, my biorhythms finally resynchronized to California time. Piles of mail screaming for attention littered the mountain cave. The most urgent stuff got immediate attention and bits of the rest found their way off the floor in following days. Before long I could actually walk from the kitchen to the bed without danger of slipping on the slick covers of scattered magazines.
It has been blessedly cool up here in the mountains. In fact, as I write this there are predictions of snow. Like all previous returns to civilization, it took some time to get re-acclimated. Sharp time zone dislocations, shifting social paradigms and numerous tedious deferred details all demanding immediate attention conspired to keep me out of the fast lane. Friends continue writing to learn of my latest exploits and my Yahoo in-box grows fatter and fatter. It is embarrassing. I love hearing from people and always answer letters while I’m still in exotic places. As soon as I get back to civilization though, I seem to collapse into a catatonic state of oblivion. It has happened at the end of every trip and I’m no closer to understanding the phenomenon now than a decade ago. It seems to be like the good night’s rest one demands after a hard day's labor… except on a grander scale.
Wandering through India and China for eight months I lost 20 pounds! Some of those pounds have already crept back, no doubt due to all the time I spend hunched over a keyboard, neglecting opportunities for exercise. Only days after my return a neighbor dropped by with a big plate of "Welcome Back" brownies and two of the Big Bear Lake Writers Group members used my return as an excuse for a party. A quick trip to visit old friends in Santa Barbara provided the excuse for yet another "welcome home" party with hiking buddies in my old home town.
In addition to attending to myriad neglected details, I’ve been working during the hiatus rewriting “postcards” and developing my massive website.
Shortly after my return, with preparations underway for an elaborate public funeral for poor dead Philips, a miracle occurred. Looking into his tiny brain we discovered signs of life and once appropriate therapy had been administered, long dead Philips sprang back to life. Following his near death experience I've renamed him Lazarus. His skin is scratched from months of faithful service and he looks tired, but that remarkable little camera is once again happily snapping away at any special sight I show him. During the period of mourning however, research revealed a successor to the KEY007. With remarkably enhanced features, the $250 KEY019 Philips Wearable Camcorder (photo at right above the KEY007) is an extraordinary piece of modern technology. Available only recently in North America, I bought mine online from J&R for $200. I can't wait to see if it is practical to capture and share short videos complete with sound (like the 30 second test clip at left) in future "postcards." The higher resolution will make wily candid photos more practical: no need to attract attention with precise aiming, just point a steady hand in the general direction of the subject, shoot and crop. The enhanced dynamic range means I can now take photos inside without a flash. The black body of the new camera is slightly larger than the old orange and white 007.
Loosing the use of that camera was only one of the reasons I cut short my travels through China. Another concerns the decision made while traveling to sell the Santa Barbara real estate I’ve owned since 1971. Selling a house is stressful and takes a lot of time. If all goes as planned, I hope to enjoy the Winter months in my old hometown while watching over the house sale. Then it will be back up to the mountain cave to finish a pile of writing before finalizing plans for a next adventure, probably to the frontiers of South America. Serendipity can be complex as well as exhilarating.
Life on the road is simple by comparison: find a place to sleep, some food to eat and avoid being eaten. Long experience has given me faith that I can survive the most inhospitable circumstances among other people anywhere on earth. Faith is the secret. Every religion teaches it one way or another.
As I approach my years of wisdom it is clear that faith is more than wishful thinking. Evolution clearly selected for it! Early homosapians who had no fear got eaten more often than individuals who were naturally wary of predators. Those surviving long enough to produce children must have been a bit more jumpy than their ancestors, something still clearly seen in the behavior of lower species. However, while fear no doubt kept those who had it alive longer, it also produced a race of the chronically anxious. Today we know that habitually anxious people are more prone to illness. Stress is a killer and dead parents cannot nurture and protect there offspring. So, a balance between fear and calm must have given early families a slight survival advantage.
The 25 October 2004 issue of Time Magazine featured an article entitled: "The God Gene." In it molecular biologists and behavioral geneticists hypothesize a different mechanism for the evolutionary selection of faith. Few in the scientific community doubt natural selection played some central role in the universal tendency of people everywhere to seek a spiritual dimension to their lives. In primitive times as today, children naturally have blind faith in their care givers and gradually transfer that trust to other authority figures as they grow older. Some researchers speculate the earliest religious ideas owe their origins to our natural human dependency at birth. Evolution magnified the benefits of faith. The naturally wary with strong faith had the survival advantage.
I have been voting almost fifty years. This is the first time I have felt motivated to become really politically active. For the past two decades I have traveled widely around the world… and witnessed changes in attitudes towards Americans and America by ordinary people along the way. Attitudes have deteriorated dramatically since just before the 11 September 2000 terrorist attacks. The hard line, "America First" behavior of our government in the aftermath of the attacks has been a disaster. On several continents I spoke to people who insisted they still "love Americans and admire American accomplishments," but now fear the American government, usually mentioning "Bush" in the same breath. I am saddened by the new bellicose posture our government has assumed in the name of protecting "vital American interests." We were far safer with large numbers of allies by our side working to face down the world's few renegades.
America is seen as
selfish, greedy and dangerous by ordinary people I met
traveling. In our country, this is a non-partisan issue demonstrated by the
number of conservative leaders who cite our failed foreign policies as the
reason they must regrettably break ranks in this election. Take a look at
the article entitled: "Kerry’s the One" By Scott McConnell in the November 8
(pre-election) issue of
Conservative. This ultra-conservative magazine presents an
uncharacteristic series of anti-republican presidential endorsements with
the following preface:
Listening to the campaign rhetoric, it is hard to separate truth from propaganda. Both candidates tell their audiences what they think they want to hear. An easy-to-use objective summary of presidential candidate positions on major issues is available at HowStuffWorks.com. For a place to dig deeper, link to the highly respected League of Women Voters DemocracyNet. Both are useful time savers for busy people... and the confused. It is interesting to read why the nation's newspapers have chosen to endorse either Kerry or Bush. Read both lists! To see where the next president will likely be chosen, track the USA Today Battleground States and if you live in one of them, be especially careful to choose wisely.
Above all, make sure your friends are well informed in these distressingly troubled times. We cannot afford to act like sheep with so many wolves around.
PS: Here is a charming nostalgia catalyst for older Americans; take a break and enjoy a reminder of the "Good Old Days." (big file, but worth the wait for anyone over fifty)