January 27, 2013

Donkey Love

From a Chinese website encouraging the use of Donkey Carts in the city of Turpan. It made me giggle.

"When traveling in Turpan, you can take a donkey car to go around. It will make you feel another world. It will make you feel very romantic if you sit with your lover. Sitting and singing in the donkey car can make you relax yourself to the most. All the busy work and all the boring housework are went off at that moment. Moreover, the price is much lower than the taxi. And you can save your feet and directly feel the people there at the same time."

January 26, 2013

Save The Ice Berg

Yesterday I was lucky enough to listen to the 2011 CBC Massey Lecture on Winter. With Adam Gopnik. Inspiring and intensely thoughtful. Liberating even. It touched on almost every aspect of life on earth and our future ahead. I loved the reference to Elizabeth Bishop, and her poem "We'd rather have the iceberg than the ship."

It works on so many levels.


Elizabeth Bishop:

We'd rather have the iceberg than the ship,
although it meant the end of travel.
Although it stood stock-still like cloudy rock
and all the sea were moving marble.
We'd rather have the iceberg than the ship;
we'd rather own this breathing plain of snow
though the ship's sails were laid upon the sea
as the snow lies undissolved upon the water.
O solemn, floating field,
are you aware an iceberg takes repose
with you, and when it wakes may pasture on your snows?

This is a scene a sailor'd give his eyes for.
The ship's ignored. The iceberg rises
and sinks again; its glassy pinnacles
correct elliptics in the sky.
This is a scene where he who treads the boards
is artlessly rhetorical. The curtain
is light enough to rise on finest ropes
that airy twists of snow provide.
The wits of these white peaks
spar with the sun. Its weight the iceberg dares
upon a shifting stage and stands and stares.

The iceberg cuts its facets from within.
Like jewelry from a grave
it saves itself perpetually and adorns
only itself, perhaps the snows
which so surprise us lying on the sea.
Good-bye, we say, good-bye, the ship steers off
where waves give in to one another's waves
and clouds run in a warmer sky.
Icebergs behoove the soul
(both being self-made from elements least visible)
to see them so: fleshed, fair, erected indivisible.

Why Choice Matters

This personal account of why pro-choice is important, and why it is not trivial, is worth a read for anybody. Killing people to save embryos makes no sense. Abortions will exist regardless of law. The rights of the mother cannot be ignored in the debate. Choice means just that, making your decision instead of being forced to follow someone elses.

Freedom to choose is essential to women's rights. Lives are put in peril without it. Mothers have rights too.

"Abortion must remain safe and legal because abortion will never go away regardless of law."

January 22, 2013

Nobody Tweeted Anything Nice

Injustice makes me depressed. Not just sad, but it stops me from doing normal things and feeling normal feelings. Injustice comes on many forms.

A lovely lady who travelled with me last year emailed me this week to share her grief over losing her 19 year old daughter. How do you deal with that kind of loss, how do you talk about the tragedy of young hope replaced by suicide? I also found out that another colleague lost her best friend to cancer after a long battle and an emotional black hole. She died isolated from her loved ones and regretful of her marriage.

An inspiring journalist also published her deeply personal account of what it feels like to suffer a stroke. She was on a flight to Beirut one day and suddenly her world turned to chaos and confusion. I felt nausea passing in waves through by body as I read it.

I can tolerate confronting tragedy in small doses only.

Even more damaging this week has been the main stream media of Australia. As terrible and overwhelming as the other stories of personal trauma have been, having to watch the shoddy state of journalism in Australia is far more harmful to my state of mind. It's not just depressing, it's a source of anger.

Most of us who work in media related industries have an appreciation for the power of the Fourth Estate. Those who care about more than just themselves would love the opportunity to have a voice in the debates that confront our nation. We see immense responsibility to inform readers. We are humbled by such privilege.

Watching staffers in our daily papers abandon that honour is painful. Guys like Joe Hildebrand, Andrew Bolt and Paul Sheehan get paid good money to abuse a great privilege. News is traded for entertainment, facts are discarded for convenience, opinion replaces journalism.

Two things in this world get me mad. People who waste their power to do good. People who get in the way of others who are trying to do good.

Watching arrogant bullies like Peter Reith lecture decent people about the lives of refugees takes things to a whole new low. This man was caught deceiving the Australian people in order to win an election, and he got away with it. Now he gets the privilege of air time on the ABC to spout his aggression, pontificate about the motives of others and shout down more respectful panel members.

It's disgraceful and it's far from anything that qualifies as journalism. And the people of Australia are the ones who are footing the bill for this thug to enjoy "retirement" in the spotlight. He should be in jail, not on television.

The injustice of people abusing their power really hits my raw nerves. It happens in my career that some people like to simply rip off my editorial, steal my photos or copy my design work. Some people are shameless about it, just like Peter Reith and the other white men in suits who fill the pages of our media with misinformation about refugees heading to Australia.

The media makes me angry, tragedy makes me sad. I'm incredibly lucky myself to have good fortune in my life. Some of it has come at a price. It's taken 42 years to feel like I'm getting somewhere in the world.

Little acts of bastardry make me especially angry. Stealing my pencil is the definition of being a shit head. I saw a posting on Facebook today from an independent clothing maker who buys end of stock material to hand sew dresses. Someone walked into a store and stole one of her dresses, it was on consignment. I was angry. It takes a serious loser to steal from a hard working person who has worked their way from nothing into a position of self-employment.

(And if you're that guy who keeps copying my brochure designs and stealing my editorial for your website, you are an even bigger loser than whoever stole that dress.)

Angry is one thing, depressed is another. As the tragic events of suicide, cancer and strokes have reminded me lately; life is short and I've already seen out 42 years of it. I may have to stay away from the television entirely for fear the streams of tragedy and rage will cross.

There was one silver lining to the disgraceful display of Peter Reith on the ABC tonight. His performance drew a broad and damming collection of tweets. Some were rude, some were funny and most were direct and to the point. Nobody tweeted anything nice about the guy, not a single word. His comments were indefensible apparently.

All of which begs the question, why the fuck do you need to put a nasty piece of work like him on TV in the first place?

I bet he stole my pencil.

January 09, 2013

My Myanmar Moment

Last night I ate grilled meat on a stick while a street kid begged for scraps. It was just another moment during this journey through Myanmar that has reminded me how lucky I am.

In a crowded laneway of Rangoon myself and some lovely guests feasted on soft shell crab, grilled fish and tasty bits on skewers. When the beer ran out we ordered more beer. When the sticks ran out we ordered more of them too. As usual we ordered a little too much and struggled to manage the 200 metre walk back to our bus. 


Myanmar is not a third world nation, it's just a country that has been hidden from the west and has developed more slowly under a military regime. Myanmar shares first world problems and third world problems. As we gorged on protein and alcohol a team of prostitutes walked up the laneway, heading for night clubs or bars. I wondered if the little street kid belonged to one of those women.

The contrast in fortune was powerful at that moment, the lottery of life that begins with where you were born and what your parents do in order to live. Back at the hotel a bunch of privileged white American males were screaming on CNN about their right to own an room full of automatic weapons. 

Few people ever rise above their upbringing, it's a failing of our education system in western countries.

We like to think that class mobility is the norm, but in reality the idealistic potential for mobility is offered as a smoke screen for grinding socio-economic factors that begin long before we can talk. Our lot in life is heavily loaded by pre-existing conditions. The achievement of the few to migrate to the next class is mistaken as the promise for all. 

Not everybody wants to move up a class, or even recognises they are in one. The majority of Australians are ignorant of their good fortune. Ignorance is bliss but it does little for sensible voting patterns. As a nation we have squandered our wealth and as individuals we are lazy and underachieving. Watch this space when China doesn't need our minerals any more. Ignorance is a ticking time bomb.

My parents were nut jobs, but at least I didn't have to grow up on the streets of Rangoon like a lost puppy. There was a time when I thought I had it tough. My father was deeply depressed and tried to kill himself so many times that I wished he had succeeded the first time and saved everyone else the grief. My mother made a bid for freedom from a violent marriage and ended up with a violent alcoholic.

A little childhood trauma goes a long way. I rarely feel guilty for having good fortune these days, I figure I've done my time and have earned a little good luck. That doesn't always cut it of course. Increasingly I feel my luck outweighs the hardship and anything resembling a "trickle down effect" is just a cop out when it comes to the genuine struggles of the poor majority on this planet. 

The numbers are staggering. So many human lives are intensely difficult while so few in the west enjoy massive wealth. 

Some people see this imbalance and devote their live to changing it. I have not done that, which makes me almost as bad as those gun-loving idiots on cable TV. I have an ethical awareness about my good fortune, and rejecting corporations who put profits before people, but deep down I am resigned to the fact that inequality is the human condition. I have no expectation that across the fullness of human existence on Earth that life will be any different. 

There will always be winner and losers. What matters most is learning to win gracefully and still be able to recognise your own good fortune.

For two weeks I have travelled across Myanmar with the most wonderful group of people. Some are recent "regulars" to my adventures with the camera, some are so regular I forget how many times we've had each others company. All are unique and different, all are exceptional companions on the road. The very fact that we are here means we are the fortunate ones in life. 

One is our guide, a local fellow of immense charm and kind spirit. He will be one of life's winners, he will continue to be successful and will rise above his childhood too. That little street kid was not invisible to him either.