Howard’s Blog

From Miao to Mao to Nie Er!

  • May 7, 2012

Last week I was so overcome by our excursion to the Miao village (the alert proof readers among you may have noticed the typo "Maio" in the title of last week's post. Big mea culpa!) that I completely neglected to tell you about our experience the day before, a fabulous, fascinating day trip to the Western Hills, on the outskirts of Kunming I'll get to that shortly, But first, a few post-scripts re our Miao friends. First, these remarkable singing mountain farmers are devout Christians. I haven't been able to determine what denomination they seem closest to; they themselves (i.e. their pastor)...

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A Maio Messiah!

  • April 30, 2012

The experiences of yesterday are indelibly etched in my memory. Our journey into the mountains north of Kunming to visit a Miao village was an excursion we had anticipated for a long time, and so I must tell you all about it. For this account, permit me to give you some background. Of China's 1.3 billion people, roughly 92% belong to the Han ethnic group. The remaining 8% consist of 55 much smaller minorities, many of whom live in southern China, especially Yunnan province. The Miao, who can trace their history back to approximately 1600 BC, number about 9.6 million (that's considered small in China)....

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Western Pacifist Meets Eastern Warriors!

  • April 18, 2012

There are two reasons for the deafening silence from this quarter of late. First, my shiny new MacBook Pro developed a temperamental streak about a week ago, and second, I've just been so busy there's been no time to write. Let me begin with how my techno-savvy grandson Justin solved the computer woes. Not wanting to  burden you with too many details, let me just say that Justin needed to see my screen. So, first he called my cell phone to give me a short primer on how to work the Skype on Maggie's iPad. Then I was able to train the iPad camera onto the MacBook screen, and Justin was able quite...

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Airport coffee shop hostage, university meeting, Buddhist Temple!

  • April 11, 2012

I keep thinking that maybe once a week would be often enough for these reports, but it seems every few days there's more to talk about, so today I just have to pester you again. First, being a Canadian, I have to tell you about the weather. This is truly the "city of eternal spring". We had a couple of days of rain Friday and Saturday...very welcome in this part of the world which has been particularly dry for a couple of years. Since Monday we've had brilliant sunshine again, with highs in the mid 20s, cool nights...absolutely perfect weather. On Friday I received an email from Olivia, my trusty...

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An Eastern Easter!

  • April 8, 2012

It's Easter Sunday evening in Kunming. I look back over the past 7 days and conclude that Holy Week, always an important time for me, was especially meaningful this year. Indeed, my dear friends Marcus and the late lamented Glenn, were always of the opinion that Advent and Lent are really so much more compelling than Christmas and Easter. Of course, it's true that the culmination of Advent and Lent in Christmas and Easter is essential for those two beautiful seasons of waiting and meditation to have their desired effect. Here in Kunming there is absolutely no awareness of Lent and Easter. And there's...

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Sino-stats, geological excursion, more music: The Kunming grid begins to fill in!

  • April 4, 2012

First of all, a brief insincere apology to the grammarians among my readers who resent my ending today's title with a preposition. (I think it was Winston Churchill who, having being criticized for the same offence, replied, "This is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put!") There, now that we've settled that, we can proceed. Let me begin with a couple of statistics. These are Chinese statistics, so you can expect a lot of zeros. For example, I had heard some time ago that the number of Chinese piano students is roughly equivalent to the population of Canada (33m). When I proffered...

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Mozart – Ever LARGER! Verdi – Ever BETTER! Kunming – Ever AMAZING!

  • March 28, 2012
Mozart – Ever LARGER! Verdi – Ever BETTER! Kunming – Ever AMAZING!

So where was I when we last talked? I think I was raving about the La Traviata rehearsal with the chorus. What fun that was! But much, very much has happened since then. Saturday morning Maggie and I were invited to attend a rehearsal of the Higher Vocational College, another adjunct school of Yunnan Arts University. The singers (average age 18-20) in this choir on the old campus are all aspiring music teachers, and they are serious about what they do. They rehearse every Saturday from 8:30am to 12 noon, and then again from 2:30 to 6pm, a total of 7 hours! And I understand they rehearse Thursday...

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Fallen Woman; Lethal Silence; Malodorous Neighbourliness; Living with a Star

  • March 23, 2012

In the existential hothouse that is Kunming in March, 2012, one's experiential quiver fills to overflowing very quickly. So, let me open a few windows for you to see what life has been like here for us these last several days. You're way too polite to ask, but I know, you really want to know about the fallen woman, right? Relax, I'm referring to Violetta, the tragic courtesan heroine in Verdi's splendid opera La Traviata. Traviata is often translated as "fallen woman" or, more accurately, "the woman who strayed". As I mentioned last time, I have been invited to "coach" (read conduct) rehearsals...

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A Kunming Photo Gallery

  • March 21, 2012

Today, just a few photos which summarize, at least to some extent, the limitless contrasts of this part of the world. And then, there's this... But there's also this... And, lest you believe everything you read about environmental carnage in China, this is one of thousands of light standards along both sides of the multi-lane highway connecting Kunming and Chenggong, where the new university campus is located. Each standard is equipped with 2 solar panels and a wind turbine. And, at the market, there are always some helpful hints as to what kind of critter you might be thinking of roasting...

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Succulent Serpent, Canine Birth Control, Singing in the Sun, Technological Breakthrough!!

  • March 18, 2012

It's Sunday, and we are enjoying another glorious day of brilliant sunshine and temperatures in the mid 20s. We just spent a couple of delightful hours sitting on the tiny outdoor patio of the French Cafe, which has become one of our favorite spots (the lattes and the pastries are nonpareil). Yesterday as we were heading out, it suddenly occurred to me that, as much as I'm relishing this whole experience, I am now at the point where I think I'm actually going to miss this place when we take our leave on July 1. Mind you, that's many unanticipated pleasures and challenges in the future. There may yet be times...

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