Among my better photos — 15

From 10 best nature shots from 2008. Surry Hills, and Sydney’s Chinese Garden.

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Looking back 20 years: the Japanese surfer

Back in 1998 I became a student again, part-time, at the University of Technology in Sydney.  A one-year course gave me lots of letters after my name: Grad Cert TESOL (UTS)! While I had been among other things ESL teacher at Sydney Boys High from 1996, I actually had no formal qualification in that field, other than the in-house training — and it was good too! — that I received at Wessex College of English in 1990.

One thing I haven’t mentioned publicly before is that Michael was so pissed off at my attracting a HECS debt that he insisted on paying the fees for me upfront — neither the first nor the last example of his generosity. He’s travelling in Vietnam right now, by the way, but you may recall we had lunch together in Surry Hills on just about the hottest day on record for Sydney.

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One highlight (of many) in that 1998 UTS course was a learning journal: My year with a Japanese Backpacker. You can read the whole thing there. Here is part:

19 August, 1998

I first met ‘Hiro’ a month ago at the Flinders Hotel. He had just finished an eight week English course and had to move out of his home-stay accommodation the following Saturday, or so I gathered after a very tortuous conversation. A few days later he rang to let me know he had found a place in an Eastern suburb near the Harbour. I did not hear from him again until the night before last when he rang to arrange a meeting. After sorting out that Neil was my name and not the name of the hotel, we managed to make an appointment for Tuesday at 6 at the Flinders Hotel. Our communication obviously succeeded as he turned up at the appointed time.

His English pronunciation is clear. The text of his talk is heavily reliant on content words (in the right order) but very weak on inflections and grammatical words. His strategic competence is highly developed. Conversation required intense concentration on both sides with (at stages) frequent recourse to body language, paraphrase, repetition and a Japanese-English dictionary. The month spent living with an English speaker, looking for work, and generally going about town has led to some advance in his spoken English.

He had mentioned at our earlier meeting that he would like to practise his English with me. Since he is a very handsome young man, and since I had met him in a gay bar after all, there were dimensions to this situation. I determined to explore the situation tactfully, but I have not seen any analysis of the appropriate registers and genres for dealing with such a cross-cultural situation with someone of very limited English.

His family grows flowers, he told me, and he himself wanted work in photography, art or floristry. In the context of Australian culture one might by now have been drawing probably false conclusions about his being in a gay bar. (It proved to be a false deduction: he was unaware he was in a gay bar. The delicate matter of sexuality was successfully negotiated at our second meeting.)

From the age of six he had wanted to go overseas; an uncle had been living in America at that time, and it was to America he first wanted to go, but the pictures in an Australian travel brochure persuaded him to come here. He was drawn by Australia’s natural beauty and the surfing. So he sold his car (a Subaru) and came last May.

He said he wanted to experience all things. He wanted to meet Australian men. He wanted to learn English. Most interestingly, he wanted ‘a big heart’; eventually I worked out he meant an open mind–he found Japan too narrow.

Our conversation turned to religion. Having heard a sermon at a funeral he began practising Zen meditation. Asked what he got from it, he said ‘Nothing. Nothing is good.’ In the context this made perfect sense. We looked up dharma and Tao in his dictionary and discussed them wordlessly, as is appropriate.

At the end of the evening he proposed we meet again in a month or so, hesitant to be too demanding as I had been telling him how busy I was. In parting, we thanked each other for a very pleasant evening, and the best English lesson he could have had.

His real name was Kyohiko, from Sendai, a place much affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Yes, I have wondered, but I don’t know.

Sequel: 23 March 2000

“Hiro” returned to Japan at the end of May 1999. In the last six months of our friendship we met monthly to go to a jazz bar near my home. My Shanghainese flatmate was a bit dubious about “Hiro” at first, but towards the end, as he was planning his own 12 months overseas “pilgrimage”, he and “Hiro” found they had a lot in common! The other nice thing about “Hiro” was that, while straight, he did not have a homophobic bone in his body! Makes you feel hopeful about the world

Looking back at 2017 — 12

Continuing the 2017 series with December.

But before my selection, this post today from Surry Hills has shocked me! Surry Hills Mall (aka Redfern Mall) closing! Redeveloped, it will look like this.

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I’m in shock!

Now for last December:

The real story on China: Linda Jaivin

There is an absolute MUST READ on The Monthly right now! I have long admired Linda Jaivin’s reportage/analysis on China. See most recently Death of a hero: Liu Xiaobo 1955-2017.

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A sample from the new Monthly article.

One of the earliest slogans of the post-Mao reform years that began with Deng Xiaoping’s ascension to power in 1978 was “Look to the future.” The CCP began scrubbing its history of the awkward bits: the horror of the anti-rightist campaign that condemned hundreds of thousands to labour camps, the three-year famine that killed tens of millions, and the decade-long Cultural Revolution that began with an orgy of violence and ended with China’s society in trauma and its cultural heritage in tatters. As a result, the nearly 53% of the Chinese population (731 million people) that was born after 1976 know little of these things or even about the events of 1989, when the People’s Liberation Army crushed the massive student-led, pro-democracy protests in Beijing and elsewhere with extreme violence. They are a fortunate generation that has grown up amid a constant rise in living standards, social freedoms and economic opportunity….

The Chinese-language China Daily is a state-run English-language newspaper that
answers to the CCP. In 2016, with China’s propaganda chief and Politburo member Liu Qibao present to witness the ceremony, China Daily signed a deal with Fairfax papers to distribute China Watch, a supplement sprinkling hard nuggets of Party line through a fairy floss of panda news, upbeat economic stories and features like ‘Why I Moved to Beijing for a Comfortable Life’.

Here’s a fun translation fact: official Chinese media translated the word xuanchuan, which can mean propaganda, promotion or publicity, as “propaganda” for the first 40 years or so of the PRC – as in “Ministry of Propaganda”. By the ’90s, however, the CCP had come to realise that “propaganda” had a certain “dictatorship”-like odour in the West, and changed the official English name of its Propaganda Department to “Publicity Department”.

China Watch appears in the Washington Post and London’s Daily Telegraph

Not uncritical, as you can see, and very well-informed. Do read it all. It is essential if you are truly to make sense of the Sam Dastayari affair, much of the commentary on which has been more than tinged with hyperbole, in my opinion. Here is an outrageous example from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton:  ‘Labor can’t have a foreign spy sitting in the senate’.