Sunday, January 15, 2006

From the Cave: February 9th

It has come to my attention that speaking English is what is killing us, according to the French. All of our Japanese, and French friends seem to outlive us, regardless of whether they drink wine everyday or not, or eat a lot of fat. But are we still allowed to write English?

Do any of us still really know how? Is the language in fact, if not in fiction, illusionary at the best of times? How the message is not what kills us, maybe it is the messenger after all? Is the clattering typewriter that big of a nuisance? Or are now mere keys considered to be too loud? Did I mention I sometimes think we are all a little too loud? But never the French.

The French are just too popular with the colonials. They mix about with them. They learn about them. They share cupfuls of Napoleon brandy along the shores. They mingle and entertain, intermarry. These are not world dominators. These people seem to love their way in. It cannot be permitted.

If it is necessary that they outlive us, so be it, said the English. In such a sense it proves out right of entry to heaven first for all English. Their heaven is a world without us, and ours is more wine, and more fat.

Putting some serious practice into the hand drum.

Did you know I was in a fire in First Class once? I had taken a two week holiday to hike around Cheju Island. It is pretty volcanic, off the South of Korea. Full of old crater domes, some nice sunrise peaks type stuff. The coastlines were littered with some of the most beautiful shells, like white glazed porcelain with light camel brown rim. Saw my first Preying Mantis.

The boat itself was called The Cheju II or III. It was about seventy-five metres deep, almost a barge at twenty five or thirty. The main interior being a raised heated floor, where families could camp there way to the island. An eighteen hour sailing. Why did I choose first class? Because it was only twenty dollars more?

It was a cabin in the bow of the boat, an odd place for first class. There was an iron pillar, nearly Byzantine, in the centre of the bed. Interesting. I was bored. So I went looking to make new friends. A couple of businessmen taking the trip joined me for drinks, and a little shredded cuttlefish. I had my little radio tuned to AFKN, they play a lot of old fifties tunes.

But by about 10:30 there was an odour of burning plastics, and smoke came pouring out of the ventilation heating duct. An alarm came on, the main electrical system shut down, and red alarm lights came on, like a central command post meltdown.

My new Korean friends were frantic…we were in the middle five metre swells. A small portable aircon heater had malfunctioned. A little smaller than a refrigerator. The duct tapes around the joinery had smouldered. The thing had been fire extinguished, and shorted out in the panic to quell the blaze. Therefore, no more heat, for ten hours. Thank God I had my duck-down sleeping bag. If not for that, every time I rolled into that iron pipe I might have stuck to it. At the time the Koreans were worrying about having to swim, the fact that many of them did not know how, or how we would lower the boats in such surge. I said unplug the machine. I pulled the plug. The electrical generator fired, did not short out, or return to safety. Our momentum had already carried us over two swells. Then ignition fired and the helm powered. My reward was an extra super-thin blanket.

The villages of the island are built mostly out of volcanic rocks. Many still with thatched roofs. There are women divers, who collect seaweeds for sale in Japan. Their villages are the coolest places, the lowest prices, the most comfortable. The cows still freely roam, there is a majestic pinnacle cliff face of volcanic lava, proof that where sea and lava meet, God gets to be the greatest of artists. The niche eddy cavernas, the coral braken, the beautiful shells.

Even a light house, and at night the beautiful displays of the squid fishing boats, their patient wait, a competition of lights, the surface of the sea darkened in the reflected glass bottoms of the volcanic cliffs. One could almost see the shelves and coastlines deep beneath the surface. It was a beautiful sight to see. I’d go back there, they grow lots of mandarins, like tangerines, but much more delicate. The soil there is amazing, rich in all minerals.
I was surprised to meet someone who could not read the alphabet. Pretty much like me, I guess as far as my written Korean. It was not a barrier, it was just a bridge never crossed, there did not seem to be time for it in my schedule. It was more important to be able to read it a little bit. It is a very visual language. Perhaps the woman was blind. But she did not look it.

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