Imbolc and the Ancient (77) Moon
Friday gratefuls: New theme. Korea. Fried Fish restaurants. Barbecue and hot pot. The Fish market in Seoul. Gyeongbokgung palace Seoul. Sejong the Great. Okgwa, Seoah’s home village. Gwangju. Hutongs in Beijing. Firewalking in Singapore. Chinatown in Bangkok. Scorpions at Angkor Wat. Asia. Kanji. Hangul. Ideograms.
Sparks of Joy and Awe: Asia
One brief shining: The colorful ceremony of the changing of the guards at Gyeongbokgung palace preceded my unfortunate discovery that I had spinal stenosis; walking across the cobblestones and up steps into the palace buildings, a pain began to take shape, to flare over my lower right back, becoming so fierce that I hobbled, then sat down, willing to stay in that spot except the car was not in the palace but far, far away in the parking lot.
Asia. Long now my focus. Brother and sister living in Southeast Asia for many years. Mary in Malaysia and Singapore, Mark in Bangkok. My son from the subcontinent. His wife from Korea. The Asian art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Reading Chinese, Japanese, Korean fiction. K-dramas.
Funny this Asian pivot. When I married Kate, of blessed memory, we honeymooned from Italy to Austria, Austria to France, France to England, England to Scotland. Seeing the great sites. The Colosseum. The Vatican. The Sistine Chapel. Pompeii. Venice. Florence and the Uffizi. The Vienna Opera and the Ringstrasse, Salzburg. The Louvre. Small cafes. London. Bath. Edinburgh. Inverness. All European, Britain. Not even Scandinavia.
In the thirty plus years since then, I returned only once, in 1995, to stay in the residential library of Hawarden, Wales. I did write my novels from within the Celtic mythic universe, yet I was even then beginning to spend time with the teaware and bronzes, the Song dynasty ceramics, the mandalas and Buddha’s of the MIA’s Asian collection. Well before that Mary had moved to Kuala Lumpur, then Singapore and Mark taught in Bangkok.
And that Asian kid grew up in my house, in my life and heart. He then married Seoah, a native of Korea. Kate, my son, and I flew to Beijing in 1998 or 1999. That was my first time in Asia. After Dad died, I used some of my inheritance to visit Mary in Singapore, see Bangkok, then Angkor Wat in Cambodia. In 2016 Kate and I went to Korea for my son and Seoah’s wedding, then onto Singapore where Mary graciously housed us in the largest hotel suite (the only hotel suite) in which we ever stayed. Last year I flew to Incheon, then stayed in Songtan for five weeks with my son and Seoah. Europe has faded from my awareness as a destination, a place I yearn to go.
I didn’t mention several trips with Kate to Hawai’i, then even more trips there to see my son and Seoah after Kate’s death. Hawai’i, especially Oahu, has a definite Asian inflection.
Here’s the thing. Obama declared an Asian pivot in our foreign policy and my son’s career has reflected it, but as a nation we know little of Asia. Did you have ever take a class, even have a lesson on Chinese history, Indian history? Outside of Mao and possibly Xi Jingping, maybe Kim Jong Un can you name three other significant Asian leaders. Make it even harder. Asian leaders, any nation, from history? Do you know any works of fiction written by Asian authors? Have you been in any Asian country?
I know a few of you who read this will answer yes to some or all of these questions, but you are in the minority. This glaring gap in our base knowledge is not our fault. Asia simply didn’t show up in our curriculum at the public school level. Except as exotic enemies. Anti-Asian racism began for us with the Chinese who came to build the railroads and the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Beyond that, we know little of Asians in our own history.
Why is all this important? Mostly because these cultures are so rich, have figured out ways to be human that have not occurred to us. Also, of course, because Asia especially India, China, Japan, and Korea have begun asserting themselves in contemporary geopolitics. If you haven’t, take some time to learn. You’ll find Asia fascinating.