Saturday, June 25, 2005

Pork, Flowers And Jesus


When you are traveling, it is like cramming a year's worth of newness into two weeks, two months, or whatever the case may be. Each day brings new people, food, sights and introspections. You can have newness at home, but getting out into the great beyond promises to change your perspective in ways that your safety zone never can.

In Mongolia, people are very superstitious about compliments, especially those for babies. Nemo's wife Tuya brought their new baby to our ger camp and when I said she was beautiful, I was met with "No, she is ugly." Andrea quickly stepped in to explain that you are not supposed to jinx the newborn with compliments and most people offer insults. The word quickly spread among the group and there we were, standing around the baby, taking turns to see who could come up with the funnier insult. "Your baby is a hideous monster", "She is a hairy beast"....

We missed our train from GuiLin to Hong Kong but managed to make it within minutes to the last sleeper bus that could get us there. If you have ever tried to sleep on a roller coaster, you will only begin to sympathize with the challenge of getting some zzz's that night. That route boasts some of the worst roads in China.

When Russian men give flowers to their loves, they give odd numbers of flowers. I have no idea why, but even numbers of flowers are reserved for funerals.

In the LongJi rice terraces, the village homes are multi-level. The bottom/basement level is for the animals. First floor is for cooking, communal stuff and above that is sleeping quarters. For the bathroom, they essentially cut a hole in the first floor and the animals act as the sewage system. Hiking through the villages one afternoon, we got a bird's eye view of the basement floor with all the, literally, pigs in shit. That image made me appreciate Judaism and Islam's ban on eating pork. Spare me all the hoo ha about modern refrigeration, etc. That's just nasty.

At the end of the Trans-Siberian trip, my fellow passengers told me that, although they had previously not thought very highly of Americans, I had improved their opinions. "Seriously", I laughed, "if I am the goodwill ambassador for America, the country is worse off than I thought." More people of color from the United States should travel. The meaning of America and the experience of America is very different depending on your frame of reference. The monolithic intellectual void between L.A. and N.Y. does not define the rest of us.

Starting off as simple banter about television, a handful of us got into a discussion about sex and violence on television. Krista, from Canada, told us that Sex And The City re-runs play at 7:00 pm on network Canadian television, which contrasts starkly with the show's relegation to cable in the U.S. We discussed censorship in both countries and Krista posited that the Canadian censors are more sensitive to violent images on television than sexual content whereas it is vice versa in America. I agreed that was correct and pondered why that was. The hypothesis I reached is that America is religious and Canada is not. Starting from that premise, and reflecting upon thousands of years of history, one cannot escape the conclusion that religious people are comfortable with violence - they love violence - it is the story of their history. And they hate sex. Sex is bad (except when it's with the altar boys) and everything related to sexuality is bad. Shame, shame!! It is okay to bomb other countries to bits, to starve their people to death, to rob from the poor. We will glorify mafia dons in our movies and murderous drug-dealing pimps in our music. But don't you dare think, even think, of going to a Christian pharmacist for birth control or allowing gays to be married. That might cause the whole moral fabric of America to come apart.

And, while we are on the topic of religion, I went to enough churches in Russia to conclude one thing -- Jesus in Russia (as in many other places) has brown hair, brown eyes AND wooly hair. Wow!!!! Nothing like the Hitler-approved Aryan Germanic Jesus that American Christians worship. Jesus was a semite people! It made me wonder about Christiandom in the U.S. and whether white America would be comfortable submitting to a man with olive skin and dreadlocks. With the notion that God made man in his image, did an Aryan somewhere in history make the bold move of recasting Jesus as an Aryan in order to feel more Godly? To justify his racial superiority? I mean, how much more Godly can you be if you resemble God's only son? Would it affect their faith if they did not wear the skin and eyes of holiness?

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