|Outside the humble Beijing Capital Library|
Previous AWW tours have focused on Beijing and other Chinese cities, but this year's itinerary was enlarged: I jetted to Taiwan and South Korea alongside China. We stuffed a great deal into the little meat sack of Damon.
|With Cathy Raper|
I met with the Australian Representative in Taiwan, Cathy Raper, and had a short chat about the island's history and politics.
Then I was off to the National University of Taiwan, to give a workshop and lecture on philosophy. The chief point of my talk and questions was to get students thinking about the relationships between scholarship and everyday life; how each informs the other (or doesn't). I used examples from authors including Seneca and Nietzsche. (I wanted to introduce them to the poetry of Alison Croggon, but language made it awkward.)
One of the discussions, nudged along by Professor JJ Yuann, concerned the verbosity of the safe: how freedom often encourages a certain bellicose chatter, as opposed to the stoic quiet of those struggling with empire.
|With Professor JJ Yuann and students, Taiwan National University|
|Sweating at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial|
My next gig was at Woolloomooloo: a reading of My Nanna is a Ninja, plus some games. My host was children's book guru and local author Charlene Lai.
After this, but not before an sumptuous Taiwanese lunch (highlight: mullet roe with gourd and radish slices) with Jimmy Yang and Charlene, was another My Nanna is a Ninja reading: at the Taipei Public Library. Then it was time to leave this intriguing Chinese island...
|Lightning moves at Taipei Public Library|
...for the Chinese mainland. And not just China: Beijing, the enormous capital. I say 'enormous', though of course I saw chiefly the Opposite House hotel, taxis, shops and the festival rooms. But what Henry James wrote of London seems apt for Beijing:
Practically, of course, one lives in a quarter, in a plot; but in imagination, and by a constant mental act of reference the sympathizing resident inhabits the whole--and it is only of him that I deem it worth while to speak. He fancies himself, as they say, for being a particle in so unequalled an aggregation; and its immeasurable circumference, even though unvisited and lost in smoke, gives him the sense of a social, an intellectual margin.My first events were two more readings of My Nanna is a Ninja, for the Bookworm literary festival. One at iQiyi cafe, then another at the huge Beijing Capital Library.
The former was relatively quiet; the second, a riot. Their discipline seemingly undone by my games, the children took to the stage--quite literally. My translator, Christine, worked tirelessly to explain the ideas and words, and control the crowd.
|When 'an intimate reading' means toddlers on your knees: Beijing Capital Library|
|Portable magic: keeping oxygen in |
From this quite privileged institution, I was off to Mingyuan: one of Beijing's migrant schools. These were the children of rural parents who had moved to Beijing looking for work, forfeiting medical and educational access. The Migrant Children's Foundation, a charity, provides schooling, basic equipment and uniforms.
I arrived while the younger grades were napping, but my class were year fives--and they were awesome. After the quiz and games, they were quick to identify English words, and answer questions about the characters and story of My Nanna is a Ninja. Their questions, like their drawing and colouring, were careful but fun. After a sneak preview of My Pop is a Pirate, we ended with a quick photo outside, alongside the whitewashed buildings and hard playground.
|With the kids from Mingyuan migrant school, Bejing|
|Reading from Voltaire's Vine, with|
DV, XNE, CA and MC
I can't convey the variety and nuance of each, but all were marked by a masterful brevity; the willingness to let the audience work, instead of condescending with detail.
Discussion turned to gender in the Q and A afterwards, and it was intriguing to hear the debates cross several continents.
The next morning I took myself off for a jog: just a few kilometres to a local park. But what was green on the map was actually concrete: an artificial lake (with real ducks). It was nice to actually get a brief feel for the neighbourhood, as well as testing my mask.
|Jogging in Beijing on an officially 'Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups' morning |
(the highest level isapparently 'Crazy Bad')
There was a strong note of grief and horror to the stories, which gave a depth to laughter when it happened (and, with AJ and Brooke's well-balanced novels, it wasn't long coming).
|At Renmin University with AJ Betts, Brooke Davis, staff and students|
|At the soirée, doing soirée things|
My final evening in Bejing, after the soirée, was a poetry reading by poet, translator and raconteur Willis Barnstone. Having just devoted weeks to Borges, it was a nice surprise to meet someone who knew the Argentine author well--who lived across the road, in fact.
|Busy stillness: Yeonhui art space,|
view from the stage
A combination of writers' residence, library and school, Yeonhui is a perfect retreat: close to amenities, but quiet and cultivated. (There is a photo of Nic Low, who interviewed me for The Monthly, on the window of the foreign writers' building.)
The next tour was Nami Island, which is ludicrous: a resort isle, artificially divided from the coast, about an hour's drive from Seoul. It has everything. A museum of ancient and international musical instruments, a pop music museum, several performance stages, public artworks, restaurants, wild animals (including emus), galleries, pottery kiln, gardens a massive children's library, and more.
|The children's library, Nami island|
The next day I had two more My Nanna is a Ninja gigs: at Kimpo and Incheon kindergartens. Hosted partly by Awesome World, who've published the Korean translation, these events were hugely entertaining. The children and teachers of Kimpo kindergarten had clearly devoted many days to the visit, and I was gobsmacked by their letters, drawings, buntings and written questions. I had discovered the world of the ninja nanna--ten thousand kilometres from home. It was a blast to hear my story in Korean, and the children reading along in parts.
|Reading "Ninja Halmeoni" (Ninja Grandmother) to the Kimpo kindergarten kids|
|Drawings, letters to the ninja nanna, and questions for the author, Kimpo kindergarten|
Which brings me to today: grateful for the chance to enjoy so many impressions, curious to know more, and sharply aware of my own position as one of Henry James's 'particles' in a much larger collection.