My homeland has been on my mind recently, so this seemed apposite:

By the cold lamp of an inn, alone and sleepless,
Why does this traveler’s heart feel sad?
Tonight my native land beckons me from a thousand miles away;
Tomorrow my frosty temples will start to age another year.

Tzu-Chen Kung


England Visit

Unbelievable as it may seem, I wrote this on a visit to England in what must have been late 2006 I think. I was on my way from Japan to Canada, and England seemed like such a contrast to me after the interminable, compressed Japanese summer. The picture below is one that I took during this visit I think. It’s appropriate for me to publish this now as I’m currently in England again, this time visiting friends and family.

the English transit system
my grandmother’s
tiny frame
and incurable lateness,
the cities like mouths
crammed with roundabout teeth
the invisible distance of mountains
the visible proximity of family
and those friends who never grow up,
the dancefloors that never change
are never cleaned
and tiny packages of pre-made food,
the rolling boredom of country life,
how we plunge in perfect silence
across the etymology of villages
the old stores are swept up like leaves
and the pavements are polished and picked clean,
for the first time,
there is something like home in this place,
in the bubbling rush of streaming fields.

Words from my travels

with slight elements of fiction added by the dancing mouse.

C is attempting to create a song at 40bpm…

M: This isn’t 40bpm, you’re hearing it at double speed. It’s 80. 40 is way too slow. 

C: There is nothing wrong with 40!

M: Nothing wrong except that’s where listeners start to shut their ears or risk falling into a coma.

C: [happily inserts another slow synth whale sound]

M: I would come to see you perform just for the expressions…even if you do make old people music.

C: I bring the old people out on the dance floor!

Totally in context talking about flying fish…

M: I can see you using that for an excuse on arriving late at a party: I was talking to a flying fish on the bus and it flew off with my purse.


The 5 year old’s take on evolution

Alice: Humans are not animals. We are not monkeys [gestures at her arm lacking in fur] and we are not flamingos [gestures her arm upward in a wild, birdish motion to demonstrate a lack of wings].

M: She’s right. Humans are definitely not flamingos.

C: It is a persuasive argument…

Alice: And what is a monkey? It is not a human and it is not an elephant. Everyone each has to eat every kind of food [takes a conclusive bite of her broccoli].


She always wants to win at everything…

Alice: Whoever is closest to the cucumber is the winner and I am holding the cucumber so I win.

C demonstrates the principle of false syllogism

C: My only romantic skill is to be very nice to people.

M: That’s an oblique way of going about things for most people.

C: [blinks] What does oblique mean?

M: At an odd angle. That’s like trying to buy an umbrella by going to the golf course in the rain. Sure there will be people with umbrellas …

C: So where should I buy my umbrella?

M: At MEC.

C: Okay. I’ll go meet people at MEC.


It’s really a sort of grey not ugly green!

Alice: I spy with my little eye something that is purple and white and ugly green.

M: Ugly green?! … My shirt?

Alice: Daddy got it right!


Speculating that the cartoon character’s first aid kit can heal everyone because it contains ‘liquid love’. For some reasons the characters sneak into a walrus colony disguised as a walrus, with the little penguin character at the back.

C: What is my bag of liquid love doing doing in the walrus colony?

M: The lady walruses took it for themselves. ‘Look!’ they said, ‘here’s a pamphlet.’ …

I hope the walruses don’t drink the liquid love first. Otherwise that attempt might go very badly for the penguin.

On Bangkok

The place is Thailand. Bangkok to be specific. Probably the most hateful place I have ever visited. And I have been to Swindon, so I know what I’m talking about. I believe, if memory serves, that Darwin called Corby ‘The most dull and stupid place on the face of the earth’; and I apologize if he was talking about somewhere else. [edit: apparently it was Chelmsford]. With that in mind, I would call Bangkok the most dirty, sweaty, overcrowded, exploitative city I have ever had the great misfortune to visit.

Firstly, let us mention the tourists. They deserve first mention, if for no other reason than that there are seemingly inexhaustible supplies of them. During the day, they sweat red-faced through the streets, attempting to haggle with the natives over sums of money that insult both parties. They loudly speak English, a method for translation that is both ineffective and unnecessary: in Bangkok almost everyone speaks English. The streets fill up with their discarded food, somehow more offensive than all the other litter that crowds the streets. They pervade and pollute everything, there is no corner that they will not infest.

The natives are no better. I don’t mean this in any racist way, I merely critique them as citizens, as denizens of this place. Admittedly, it’s probably exacerbated by the tourists. They stand on street corners and yell and push their wares into the faces of passers-by. They overcharge the tourists because they can, and short-change whenever they feel that they can get away with it. One can’t really hold this against them, but they aren’t really doing much to keep up the name of their city.

Perhaps the uncredited native inhabitants of the city are the cockroaches and rats. While native north American cockroaches are fairly small, the cockroaches in Thailand are the size of slugs, with the temperament of hyperactive teenagers. They run everywhere, eating everything that they can and despoiling everything that they can’t eat. I remember particularly getting up to brush my teeth one morning and seeing a huge one perched on the washbasin. And then one night feeling one run, or scuttle, across my foot. My sandalled foot. Not a pleasant experience.

Ah yes, the nights. Bangkok nights: it sounds like a 70s movie, or possibly a porno. Both comparisons are probably justified. If you thought the streets were full of tourists during the day, it is as nothing compared to the night. They run, stagger, sway and trip through the streets, yelling in the Esperanto of the intoxicated at locals, smashing bottles and reeking of cheap beer. The beer is indeed cheap, and the tourists are mostly young, which is a recipe for rowdiness. Not to say that I don’t approve of fun, but this doesn’t seem too far removed from fun that could be had in or around any pub or bar in the world. The noise of the clubs and bars fills the city until it is impossible to sleep anywhere except in the best (and most soundproof) hotels.

The ladies come out at night as well. The Bangkok ladies. You’ve probably heard of them, and you heard right. All the stories are true. They are outstandingly attractive, in a rather overly-perfect kind of way. And they stand on the street, some offering massages to anyone who comes past. I don’t know what the police presence in Bangkok is like, but a woman (transgender or otherwise) standing on a street corner at midnight in a pink vinyl dress offering massages means only one thing in my mental lexicon. No, not colour blindness.

In short then, Bangkok has everything for the lobotomized, the nasally challenged, the deaf, the large insect collector and those who yearn for the slightly sticky embrace of transgender prostitutes. Truly a traveller’s paradise.