Saturday, August 30, 2003

I sat in a restaurant, staring out the window, waiting for my order. At the next table, two young men flipped restlessly through movie star magazines.

In days of old, the written word conveyed vital information. Now reading is often a mind-
numbing escape to free yourself from the burdens of thought and introspection.

Very little of the information in today's print has any bearing on one's own life or decisions. Okay, so you read the paper and see that an Venezuelan politician has been murdered. What behavior of yours could have the slightest influence on this case? A singing star has shown up with a new boyfriend. What relevance does this have to your life? Many of these people are not fit to enter my home; why should I read about their private lives?

We fill our minds with stultifying mounds of useless information. How irrelevant our thoughts become to our own lives! Then who are we living for?

Consider an illiterate tracker of centuries past. At every step he took, he would be vitally aware of his surroundings, and every inch of his surroundings might contain life-and-death information. He had to be intimately aware of his surroundings, and concerned himself very little with events far away.

Today, for your own sake, you had better disregard most of the information in your surroundings. Too often this is noisy pollution, karaoke, ads, or news about politicians (as a diehard democrat ~~ the principle, not the party, I firmly believe that the people should surrender as little power as possible to the government, and none to career politicians.)

Choose carefully, then, what you absorb into your psyche.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

The West considers its two greatest truth-speakers to be Socrates and Jesus.

Both were put to death by the masses for their views.

O, democracy!

Friday, August 22, 2003

written in August, 1998

Another great day for swimming. When I want to soak, I go upstream from the waterfall. When I want diving and a vigorous swim, I go downstream to the small hydroelectric plant across from the village. This is Punko, the local swim hole. The stream is about 20 meters across here. The current in the center is swift and dangerous, taking several lives every year. On the village bank are hot spring ponds. The far bank is mountainside, with the hydroelectric plant and a huge conduit for excess water. The best rocks for diving into the stream are here, so there is usually a group of kids arrayed at various heights on the rocks, chatting, diving, or swinging on the rope. A trees grows out of the mountainside above these rocks with a conveniently located branch hanging out over a deep part of the stream. A rope hangs from this branch, and people have great fun swinging back and forth.

At irregular intervals, the power plant releases a great plume of water, at which the littler children, weaker swimmers, immediately leap into the water like so many startled frogs, and swim for the village bank with all their might. Aborigine kids are brave, but they're not dumb. The water may flow like that for an hour or more, trapping the kids on the rocks. Even at the best of times, swimming across the current is difficult.

When I dive, I fight to keep close to the mountainside and try to clamber out at another good diving platform not far from the rope. The bottom is studded with rocks that the current will smash you into, so care is required. Sometimes the current drags me away before I can get a grip on the rocks, so it's down I go to the next set of rocks.
Of course, I go swimming only during fair weather. In a typhoon, the water level goes up 3 or 4 meters as the stream fills its bed from side to side, roaring down in a deafening rush. Naturally, there was nothing like that today. The sky was blue, the clouds were white, the sun was strong, the water was cool, and I was submerged. I had dug out my old diving mask and taken it along for a clearer look at the bottom and the fish. The kids took turns with it. We chatted as we swam around. Somebody mentioned the rope. I said, "Whoever put that rope up must really be good at climbing trees."

"Oh, sure, Huiming put it up," said one of the boys, mentioning the junior high school student who happened to be using the mask just at that moment. "He's our best tree climber. That's because his father's a good hunter, and Huiming goes into the mountains with him all the time.”

"I guess so, because that's not an easy climb.”

"When he had tied the rope, he jumped off the branch into the stream.”

"He jumped?" I asked, looking at the branch, estimating the height to be about that of a four story building.

"Yeah, it was so much fun he went right back up and jumped again, too.” Just then Huiming came up for air (finally) and one of the other kids took the mask. I asked Huiming, "Was it really you who put up that rope?”


"They say you jumped down."

"That was fun!”

"I didn't think the water there was deep enough for a jump from so high up.”

"Oh, it isn't, so I waited until there was a typhoon, so there would be plenty of water for me to jump into.” With that, he headed off to the diving rocks. I was so astonished I didn't even ask him how he got across the stream in the first place.

I happened to run into Huiming on a bus a few days after that, so I checked the details of the story to make sure I hadn't gotten confused. Then I asked, “But how on earth did you ever make it across the stream during a typhoon?” He scowled, remembering carefully. Then his face brightened up and he said, “I swam hard.”

Now doesn't that answer everything?

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Overheard at UCLA:
A: "I've got to get my feet up on my back."
B: ".... uh... huh?"

(both A and B appeared to be native speakers of English)

Monday, August 18, 2003

from the summer of 1997

With difficulty, I am recovering from a harrowing experience.

Huicheng has a hut in the mountains north of Taipei. Sometimes Tantric Buddhists (that's the Tibetan school) borrow his place for ceremonies. A rinpoche (three syllables) is a holy man, a lama (one l; Tantric monk, usually Tibetan) who chooses to be reincarnated at a certain place and time, and remembers his past life. Any candidate to be a rinpoche is thoroughly tested about his past life, usually at age 3 or 4, and then rigorously educated if authentic.

A few weeks ago, Huicheng told us that a rinpoche, the secretary to the Teacher of the King of Bhutan, was holding ceremonies at the hut, so we rushed up. (The Teacher himself is indisposed to attend, being between lives at the moment.)

The rinpoche was there with three lamas. All four were Tibetans, two from Bhutan, one from Tibet, and one from Nepal. We had a pleasant chat, bouncing between English, Chinese, and Tibetan. Anything that works.

As they were leaving, the lama from Bhutan asked my name. “Tai Loc,” I said, “and yours?” His answer flattened me: “Sam.”

Oh my shoes and socks! Can you imagine that?! A Tibetan lama from Bhutan named Sam! I almost asked, “And the rinpoche's name is Michael?”

In The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain describes how disappointed he was to discover that the elegant gentleman he engaged as a guide to Paris was named not Armand de la Chartreuse, but A. Billfinger. I commiserate.

I was only slightly mollified to find out that it's actually short for Samtsoung.

Sam indeed!

Sunday, August 17, 2003

I wrote this in August, 1999. Now I have a place to post it. Thank you,!

You know who I really feel sorry for? Laura. Which Laura? Laura of the stock car race. Don't you remember that old song from about 1960? Laura and her boyfriend were in love, so to get money for the wedding ring, her boyfriend rode in a stock car race, crash and burn, and as they dragged him out of the burning wreck they heard him say, Tell Laura I love her, tell Laura not to cry, my love for her, will never die. That Laura.

So there goes the guy, off to the Great Stock Car Race in the Sky, he's all set. But what about Laura? She has to keep living, day after day, month after month. It's been forty years now. She's about sixty. What kind of life has she had?

Of course there's the possibility that her attitude was, “Tough luck, loser,” and she was off on some other fellow's arm before the car had cooled off enough to tow away. But I don't think so. Not Laura. The idea just crossed my mind that she may have emigrated to Russia, there to love again. I recall that several years after the stock car race, we were inundated with Laura's Theme.

There's Laura, bravely not crying, with the love that never dies. Along come the 60s, let it all hang out. Did Laura cry then? Maybe she figured she had mourned long enough, and by the 70s decided it was her right as a free, liberated woman to look after Number One. I bet she's still in therapy.

Maybe Laura is a grandmother by now, with faded memories that come back during the long autumn evenings, a bit dimmer every year, but carrying the bittersweet images of what might have been.

Or maybe Laura stayed with him. Every evening, back to an empty home, night after night, until it seems the years will never pass. But they do pass, and although her heart aches, Laura becomes stronger and stronger. She doesn't know that, she just feels the pain, and doesn't know what a beautiful person she has become, an awe-inspiring beauty that only those close to her feel. Her cold house has become warm, with a love that will never die.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Even if you ever heard of it, you probably don't remember Cowboy Alley. Cowboy was what people in Saigon called the desperate young robbers on motorcycles, and the little street where they congregated most frequently was called Cowboy Alley. The whole area was so dangerous that the US military authorities declared it all Off Limits. Perhaps my uncle set up his bakery operation there to take advantage of cheap rent. Be that as it may, I lived a few steps from the dreaded Cowboy Alley. Most Westerners who had to pass rode in taxis and jeeps, but never exposed themselves to the vulnerability of walking.

Somewhere in the area lived an anomalous American. Call him Paul. Paul and I were probably the only two Western males in Saigon who did not carry guns. In the super-macho world of Saigon at war, Paul stood out because, with his sandals, blue jeans, long hair, and beard, he looked like a hippie (regardless of the Viet Namese use of ‘hippie’ to denote a thug). I have no idea how he ended up in Saigon, or how he swung a visa; there was, after all, a war going on, so visas were extremely hard to come by.

Paul was about 24, some seven years older than me. Like me, he loved Saigon. Also like me, he dreamed of learning how to write Chinese. I picked up some Viet Namese while I was there, and deferred learning Chinese until I came to Taiwan, but Paul got a book and started learning right there. He showed me his notebook, in which he meticulously practiced writing the characters he was learning, along with their Cantonese pronunciation.

I have not idea how Paul supported himself, but one day, a rumor floated about that he was getting involved in a drug deal to improve his finances. I thought that was a rotten way to make money, but kept my opinions to myself.

I never saw Paul again. The word was that they found his body with 7x7=49 bullet holes, a very clear warning for all busybodies not to impinge on Chinese drug profits.

I can still see Paul, slim, with his light brown hair, short beard, and soft brown eyes, strolling calmly down Cowboy Alley. An idea haunts me -- I may be the only person on earth to remember him, certainly the only person to remember the Paul in Saigon learning how to write Chinese. But for the life of me, even with my good memory, I cannot remember his name. I said, “Call him Paul,” but I am pretty sure that was not his name.

Sometimes when I see a group of teenagers, I would like to tell them about Paul, to pass the memory on a few decades after my death, but I'm afraid what I left would be an impression of some nut rambling on about some incomprehensible tale. Dear reader, I am entrusting this story to you. Please make a little space in your memory for Paul, because I cannot bear for him to fade into oblivion forgotten by all humanity.

壬午八XV 0230

Monday, August 11, 2003

Tallis Scholars
written in August, 2000

For various reasons, I went for a good twenty years without music. I sang and chanted in Buddhist dharma meetings, music that is quintessentially Chinese: just keep the rhythm, and sing in any key you see fit. At times it can sound like monkeys and squirrels squabbling over a tangerine orchard, but when everything meshes, the music is sublime. Towards the end of the period I went to a few superb concerts by talented students, but at home no music was played. My ex-wife had an incredible voice, as resonant as a fine cello, a capello. She sang only Buddhist melodies.

When I got a computer that could handle CD-ROM, Fengchin gave me my first CD, Allegri's Miserere sung by the Tallis Scholars. I have never cared for choir music, but this opened my eyes. If the universe sings, it must sound very much like the Tallis Scholars singing Miserere.

When Allegri composed the Miserere, the Pope declared the Sistine Chapel the only earthly site worthy of such ethereal beauty; taking the score out of the Vatican would be punished by excommunication. At the age of 14, Mozart heard the piece, and wrote the score out from memory.

To understand how technically difficult the work is, you have to hear it sung by someone other than the Tallis Scholars. They perform the piece as easily as an angel floats among the stars; looks easy, but you try it. Other groups sound like the cow trying to jump over the moon.

Strange: sometimes when you don't think of something, it just never enters your mind. Several weeks ago, talking with Wen, I realized that I watched them build the National Concert Hall, ten minutes' walk from my old place, and when it was opened, I never set foot inside. Those were my busy years, anyway.

But now I live in the mountains, half a county away from the Concert Hall. It might be time to venture in.

In the city for class several days later, as I rushed to the subway entrance two words on a poster caught my eye:
Tallis Scholars. Coming to Taipei! My god. Two tickets, center of the third row.

I told Ms Yang not to give me any classes on the 31st.

"What's up?"

"I'm going to a concert.”

"You? A concert? Since when have you gotten cultured?”

On July 31, the appointed day, I headed down the mountain. I was picked up by Abus, being driven by a Han taxi driver.

"Abus! Where's your taxi? What are you doing sitting on the right side?”

"Don't you know that Chen borrowed it? He drove it head on into some other car, and totaled it. I don't have the money to pay for repairs, and he is dodging me. I am on my way to Newstore to talk to the garage.”

"Can you give me a ride to the subway?”


On the way down, I benefited from their refined conversation. "Chen may think he can trick me, just because he's Han Chinese and I'm an aborigine. I'll show him what's what. If he doesn't pay up by the third, like he said he would, I'm going to get some brothers from the tribe and beat him into gravy. Then he'll know that human life is a sea of bitterness.”

"Yeah, but how'll he pay if he's in the hospital?”

"That's his problem.”

"It'd be better to take his taxi. Then if he doesn't pay by the third, you can still drive that to make some money.”

"Three kids, wife, mother, relatives. I'd better do something!” (note: on the third, I saw Abus riding happily along in his newly fixed taxi. I guess Chen did not need to be reminded about the bitterness of human life.)

I met Zoephie, the art historian, for an excellent dinner at Huiliu, one of Taipei's better vegetarian restaurants. We strolled through the grounds of the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial to the Concert Hall, filed in, and took our seats.

Soon the lights dimmed and the stage started filling up with a group dressed in formal black uniforms. Funny, the Tallis Scholars are supposed to be from England, and these people coming in didn't look very English. The program informed us that we would be warmed up by the National Experimental Chorus singing Taiwanese folk songs. Folk songs dressed up for a full chorus is something I dislike: putting makeup, heels, and an evening gown on a country lass. However, I have never liked choral music anyway, and in Taiwan today, this sort of thing is very, very politically correct, so we must forbear. The Chorus really threw themselves into their singing, and they sang very well.

They took their bow and left the stage. The long-awaited Tallis Scholars came in, seven, eight, nine, ten, only ten of them, not including the conductor, Mr Peter Phillips. Unlike the Experimental Chorus, the Scholars were not uniformed. The men wore evening dress, and the five women wore black clothes of their own choosing. They are so good they don't need uniforms, and they are so good they hold their scores, instead of relying on memory. When you are as good as the Tallis Scholars, you do not have to show your competence through side effects.

In about three seconds after they started, the Experimental Chorus was long out of mind, and we all drifted into the Renaissance harmonies of Palestrina's Surge illuminare. Seeing the singers on stage, I realized the obvious. I had spent hours and hours listening to their music on CDs. The sound is so rich and so complete that until you actually see them, you would never think that this is the singing of less than a dozen people. But then it seems obvious.

Imagine glorious palaces built of song. Solid, dependable foundations built on bedrock, to last forever. Intricate design intrigues but never confuses. Lofty spires reach to heaven. This is the singing of the Tallis Scholars.

We had a complaint about the program, which did not give us our performers' names (maybe they travel with backup Scholars, and do not necessarily perform with precisely the same line-up at each concert.) But it seems we came to know them very quickly, from the bass over on the right, total concentration visible on his face, to the lithe lady (lots of blondes on stage) with the astonishing voice probing the stratosphere. One movement began with a male Gloria in excelsis deo that was sung so simply and so eloquently that the one line could stand by itself.

A singer with her hair covering her forehead sang with the imperturbable calm of a pond of deep water. Her right wrist was decorated with the Buddhist rosary that is so common in Taiwan. During intermission, I heard several people commenting affectionately on that rosary.

We loved the Scholars, and tried our best to let them know it. The audience insisted on applauding between movements, which we all know is not done. But how often do we get to applaud performances of the caliber of the Tallis Scholars? I clapped as loud and as long as anybody else. Let the conductor wait. Frankly, I did not observe that the singers were offended. We noted them smiling and laughing among themselves between numbers.

For me, the high point of the evening was Miserere, which, dream come true, I got to hear sung live by the Tallis Scholars. Let Zoephie's comment suffice: “That was so good I have no words to describe it.”

The final piece on the program was Byrd's Tribue Domine, a work of great elegance. When they finished, the house erupted. We clapped until our palms were sore, trying to express our gratitude for the beauty the Scholars had brought into our lives this evening. Chinese people are not particularly expressive. Public displays of emotion are not frowned upon, because frowning would be displaying emotion. (I went to see George of the Jungle because the preview was so hysterically funny that the crowd gathered around the outdoor screen was actually smiling.)

Finally, the Scholars came back on stage and sang an encore, took several more bows, and were called back for a second encore. Just as they took their places, somebody from the peanut gallery shouted something (could have been "encore") that startled smiles from the singers. Then it was their turn: the audience chuckled when we realized they were singing a Chinese folk song, in Mandarin! Well done, very well done, especially when you consider it was probably sight-reading.

But it was getting late, and the singers were probably getting tired, if not from singing then from bowing so many times, so with considerable reluctance we let them go. The audience was uplifted. Smiles were on all faces.

* * * * *

Subway to the end of the line, pick up the bus, to the second stop from the end, Wulai Bridge. I crossed the deserted bridge in silence and headed up the mountain, my ears ringing. Halfway up, the outer silence was broken. A motorcycle pulled up out of the darkness of the mountain road.

"Silan," I climbed onto the pillion, "It's almost midnight. What are you doing out so late?”

"I'm going off to Agiq to hunt flying squirrels.”

"Aren't you heading in the wrong direction? Where's your gun?”

"I came back to borrow Bayes's crossbow. Are you coming back from teaching?”

"No, I've been to a concert.”

Thursday, August 07, 2003

I wrote this about ten years ago.

So what if the US Post Office wants to put out a stamp commemorating the first atom bomb? Let them. They put out an Elvis stamp, didn't they? And a Nixon stamp. Who writes letters in this day and age, anyway? As an American, I have on several occasions been thanked for the atom bomb by old Chinese soldiers (none of whom thanked me for either Elvis or Nixon — especially not for Nixon), as if I personally flew the Enola Gay. Not me. Sure, my parents both served in the Army, that's how they met, serving the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon during World War II. But that was long before I was born. Me, I live in Taiwan and teach English for a living, so help me god.

That's how I met Dr Huang.

Dr Huang received his medical training during the Japanese Occupation of Taiwan, back when National Taiwan University was Taihokku Imperial University. Taihokku is the Japanese pronunciation of Taipei, and Imperial meant Hirohito. Huang was one of the few Chinese to gain entrance to the high schools the Japanese instituted here for Japanese dependents, and one of an infinitesimally smaller number of locals to win admission to medical school. About 2% of the total student body at TIU were Chinese. Huang was being schooled while Japanese armies were overrunning Asia, expelling the French colonialists, the Dutch colonialists, the English colonialists. All well and good by him, but they were also overrunning mainland China. Huang and the handful of other indigenous students were keenly aware of the gap that separated insular Japanese from insular Chinese, even those hiding under Japanese names.

Alumni, faculty, and other interested persons occasionally returned from the front and gave impromptu situation reports. “We have been instituting rigorous hygiene and disease control in Manchuria, northeastern China. What we do is this.

“When we track an outbreak of disease to a certain village, the Imperial Army moves in the middle of the night. The village is surrounded. As the unsuspecting villagers sleep, sappers enter the contaminated village, poison the wells, and withdraw. On rising at dawn, the villagers go to the well for water. The raising of the first bucket of water is the signal for our machine guns to open fire, killing all the villagers, who are now rushing back and forth. When all movement has stopped, the troops go from house to house exterminating any survivors. Then the village is set on fire. When everything has burned to the ground, the army returns to base, to await further opportunities to promote the peace and welfare of all Asia.” The speaker beamed proudly. The students clapped their approval, smiling and laughing in pride at the might and efficiency of the Land of the Rising Sun.

Huang and the other Taiwanese tried to look pleased through their anguish. He had been trained throughout his schooling that the Japanese were the most superior race. Was this where their superiority led?

An upperclassman returned and spoke in glowing terms about the wonderful opportunities the Chinese Theater gave for improving your surgical technique. If there is some sort of surgery you aren't confident about, why, you take some soldiers and grab a Chinaman off the street — any one will do, there are millions of them — tie him to the operating table, and practice to your heart's content. You don't even have to bother with anesthesia. Just have the soldiers dump the body any old place when you're finished.

More and more graduates were going to the China Theater. Then they were being yanked out of the classroom before they even graduated. And they weren't returning.

Because of his origins, Huang was not awarded the glorious chance to serve on the China Front. He stayed in Taipei, but his career almost ended when he strayed too close to the airport when the US Air Force visited.

The Japanese were working furiously to build an atom bomb to drop on the United States, but they lost the race: in the words of an old soldier from the mainland, “Our friends the Americans dropped the atom bomb on them, and that solved that.”

(Actually, it was not so simple. The second bomb was dropped three days after
the first, because the Japanese were not yet inclined to stop fighting. Then there was another whole week before Hirohito called off the game. I know several Taiwanese who were in Japan in 1945. They all say that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki blunted the Japanese fighting spirit considerably, but even then, many put aside their preparations to fight to the death only at Hirohito's broadcast. In other words, think how many American and Japanese lives were saved by preventing a land war in Japan. And remember that in Asia, nobody outside of Japan thinks the bombs were unnecessary or excessive.)

Huang continued his practice. Before the end, when the war effort was clearly doomed, the Japanese here printed and distributed enormous amounts of paper money in an attempt to wreck the economy of the island they had occupied and exploited for fifty years. Huang managed to survive superinflation, but it was tough. He would buy twelve ampoules of medicine for, say, one hundred yen. In a few days, by the time he had used them up, one hundred yen would not buy even one ampoule.

He was almost killed during the February 28th Incident, a clash between local and mainland Chinese. He was living in Hsichih, on the road from Keelung port to Taipei. Locals had blockaded the road with tables, chairs, and whatever came to hand. An army column from Keelung stopped before the barricade, and their officer started to negotiate with the villagers. Local thugs demanded he turn his gun over to them, but he refused, as it was government property. They beat him savagely, but his sense of duty did not permit him to turn his gun over to or against civilians. As the young officer lay in a pool of blood, Dr Huang wanted to save the man. The thugs told him that if he gave him first aid, they would kill him (Dr Huang), so he had to keep away and watch the young man die. Decades later, he still mourned that fine young man.

The 50s and 60s were hard years. To keep himself busy and to earn more money, the doctor opened an automotive parts factory, selling mainly to Japanese manufacturers. To spend money and to entertain himself, the doctor took up English lessons and imported cars.

I taught Doctor Huang for a couple of years when he was in his late sixties, banging away on all carburetors. Once we were talking about the War. I mentioned that my mother had drafted maps for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (didn't everybody's mother have eyes-only security clearance in World War II?). I told him that her office had actually drafted the Japanese surrender documents, once Hirohito and the warlords finally got the hint. As soon as the ink was dry, the documents, in both English and Japanese, were put in a briefcase and handcuffed to an officer who was flown across the Pacific with them. But before he even got to the airport, the draftsmen were back at work on a duplicate set, just in case the first set got shot down. They didn't, and were signed in Tokyo Bay.

In recognition for her good work, my mother was given a set of photostats of the originals, which she had given to me. Would the doctor like to see them?

He would.

Reverently, he unrolled the English and Japanese documents. He showed me the correct way to read official Japanese proclamations: held with both hands, slightly above eye level, to insure a respectful attitude that would not deposit any spit on the Emperor's sacred word.

The doctor deferentially chanted out the Japanese text. He sat quietly for some minutes, contemplating.

Several months later, the Japanese car manufacturers sent four high placed managers to Huang's plant. He asked me if I would like to have dinner with them, followed by tea at my place. I accepted, and we had a very pleasant evening. They were in their forties and fifties, pleasing, proper, and well-mannered as only Japanese can be.

During the fourth pot of tea, Dr Huang announced, “My teacher has some very interesting Japanese language documents of a certain historical value. Would you gentlemen be interested in examining them?”

“Of course, it would be a great honor.” They bowed slightly in their seats.

“You know which documents I mean?” Dr Huang asked me in Chinese. “Of course,” I responded, and brought out my mother's photostats. I handed them to the senior manager, rolled up. He unrolled the first sheet. His eyes widened when he saw the Imperial Seal of the Heavenly Emperor. He automatically lifted the page above eye level and read:

HIROHITO, By the Grace of Heaven, Emperor of Japan, seated on the
Throne occupied by the same Dynasty changeless through ages

He worked his way through all of them. When he finished, a long silence followed.

“Most interesting,” said the second oldest manager.

“Of definite historical interest,” said the third, carefully.

“How did these interesting documents enter the teacher's possession?” asked the youngest.

“His mother was working in the Pentagon when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were reduced to flat earth.” The doctor explained the pedigree of my documents. His face was impassive, but his eyes were shining merrily.

Funny, our guests seemed a bit subdued after that.

At our next class, Dr Huang came in, sat down, looked at me, and burst out laughing. He laughed until he cried. He begged me, pleaded with me, “Please, please, can you make me a set of photocopies of the surrender documents?”

“Sure, no trouble, how many sets do you want?”

“One will do.”

After that, Dr Huang seemed to become especially solicitous about the entertainment of Japanese businessmen sent out from the home office. No representative was too lowly to be taken to dinner with the Doctor, followed by a visit to the Doctor's house. Then... “A set of copies of some most interesting Japanese documents of a certain historical value has come into my possession. Would my honored guest be interested in examining them?”

Who said the war ended in 1945?

Friday, August 01, 2003

Here is a story Rasheed told me many years ago. He is a Maldivian. The Maldive Islands are in the Indian Ocean, on the other side of India from Sri Lanka.

The Soviets were trying to swing a deal with the Maldives to set up a naval base there for more fun in the Indian Ocean. Soviet Navy ships would make port calls, but he said the best were the submarines. It seems the armed forces were uniformed according to the weather in Moscow, especially the submariners who may not have seen the surface for weeks. So in January, Rasheed said, you would see the Soviet sailors on shore leave, out among the populace to drum up some friendship for the USSR, dressed in their black Moscow-winter-greatcoats, heavy wool to the ankles, staggering and collapsing under the Maldives' tropical sun; they dropped like flies.

No wonder they lost the cold war.

well, don't you see it? They lost the cold war because it was so hot.