Sunday, September 17, 2017

From ‘Cycling home from Siberia’ by Rob Lilwall

If you were to die right now, how would you feel about your life?
-          Brad Pitt, Fight Club

Even before the communist era, Siberia had a considerable history as the place where dissidents and criminals were sent…..Under Stalin, the steady flow of prisoners increased to a torrent. …..Hard-labour sentences were given not only for open criticism of the government, but also for even making a joke about it. Records show that men were sent to the camps for being late for work and women were sentenced for picking up grains from an already harvested field. The whole country became covered with a dark shadow of mutual suspicion, fear and complicity. …..The camps were spread across the whole of Siberia and the conditions were atrocious. But it was the Gulags in the hinterland of Magadan that were the most feared. Until the twentieth century, Magadan had been a small fishing-village outpost, but with the discovery of inland uranium, nickel and gold deposits… developed rapidly into a large port. Cargo ships fed the growing town with thousands of prisoners. In the worst places, life expectancy was less than a month and every kilogram mined was said to cost a life. There was a saying that ‘if you are sent to Magadan, you will never come home.’ …….at its height there were probably seven million people in the camps, about 10 per cent of whom died each year. Estimates of overall deaths mostly range between 10 and 60 million.

What I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think that there are no little things
-          Bruce Barton

It’s the job that never gets started that takes longest to finish
-          Samwise Gamgee

Be still and know that I am God
-          Psalm 46

I laugh in the face of danger. I drop ice cubes down the vest of fear
-          Edmund Blackadder

I alternate between thinking of the planet as home – dear and familiar stone hearth and garden – and as a hard land of exile in which we are all sojourners
-          Annie Dillard

The Russians love a man who suffers
-          Russian saying

Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive
-          C. S. Lewis

In the world to come, I shall not be asked, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ I shall be asked, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’

Like many Russian men we met, he had a firm handshake and a welcoming smile…..

We walk away from our dreams afraid that we may fail, Or worse yet, afraid we may succeed
-          Sean Connery, Finding Forester

One kind word can warm three winter months
-          Japanese proverb

In contrast to the drivers in Russia, who stared, stopped and offered us vodka, the drivers in Japan looked straight ahead and pretended not to notice us.

In Siberia, our lavatory experiences had been bottom-numbing; in Japan, our lavatory experiences were to be relished. Inside the spacious cubicle, the toilet resembled a small spaceship.

…Japan….The towns then became ever more regular and it started to feel as though we were riding through a continuous corridor of convenience stores and vending machines. …….this group of islands flung out on the eastern edge off Asia, of which only 20 per cent of the land area is habitable, which had virtually no natural resources and plenty of natural disasters and which had been totally devastated in a war less than 60 years beforehand, should have been able to recover and become the world’s second-largest economy in just a couple of decades?

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community …let him who cannot be in community beware of being alone
-          Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The nationalistic writer Yukio Mishima described the Sea of Japan as ‘the source of all my unhappiness, of all my gloomy thoughts, the origin of all my ugliness and all my strength ….a wild sea’. Riding alongside it for two days, with angry waves lashing the cliffs, and hailstones, rain and bitter winds beating my face, I begin to understand what he meant.

Tokyo …..Men in business suits burst in and out of tall buildings. At night, I sometimes see them getting so drunk that they fall down in the street, still wearing their suits and ties.

Once, as I was pedaling nowhere on a computerized bicycle, I thought of Kierkegaard’s comment that the knowledge of one’s own death is the essential fact that distinguishes us from animals. I looked around the exercise room wondering just how distinguished from the animals we modern humans are. The frenzied activity I was participating in at that moment – was it merely one more way of denying or postponing death?
-          Philip Yancey

Japan was far removed from anywhere I had been before but despite all these experiences I felt I was only skimming the surface. I joined the ranks of foreign visitors who have found the Japanese culture somewhat inscrutable. Perhaps, one person told me, this was because of the Japanese distinction between honne (one’s personal views) and tatemae (the opinions demanded by your position within the group or society).

I thought of that while riding a bicycle
-          Albert Einstein (on the theory of relativity)

South Korea felt instantly different from Japan. Even before the ferry docked I observed a middle-aged man talking loudly and jovially to his wife. Then, to my astonishment, at the culmination of their conversation he slapped her cheerfully on the bottom and they both burst out laughing. This, I thought to myself, was a seriously un-Japanese way to behave in public.…..The roads were not as smooth as in Japan. There were sizzling, greasy food stands and gritty street stalls, mixed in among the glass-fronted shops and restaurants. When I asked for directions, the people were more boisterous and less formal. …..Korean drivers were not as careful as the Japanese.

When whales fight, shrimp get hurt
-          Korean proverb

….the Yoido Full Gospel Church. With more than 700,000 official members, it was the largest church in the world. We were sitting in an auditorium, packed with 16,000 people, and every seat was occupied. ….Eleven of the 12 largest congregations in the world were in Seoul. ….the most notable features of the otherwise bland skyline were the dozens of red neon crosses emblazoned across it.
I later read that nobody really knows why Christianity has thrived there. Missionaries did not arrive until the 1780s and by the start of the twentieth century Christians still made up less than 1 per cent of the population. But in the 1950s, the trickle of growth turned into a flood. By 1960 the Protestants alone had grown to over 100,000. By 1990 they were over ten million. In attempting to explain the growth, sociologists have suggested that similarities between Christianity and some of the traditional Korean beliefs gave a natural point of contact on which to build. They also highlight the significance of the Christian relief agencies that provided essential help, both during and after the war. Perhaps most important…..was that, unlike in other Asian countries where Christianity was seen as the religion of the imperial Western oppressors, in Korea Christianity became associated with the causes of liberation and freedom. Traditionally the greatest enemies of the Koreans were not the Europeans but the Japanese, and it was often the Christians who showed most courage in resisting them. ……..There is undoubtedly some merit in these theories

…..the most heavily militarized border in the world. North Korea begins less than 40 miles north of Seoul.

Mandarin is a tonal language, with four distinct tones. The meaning or comprehensibility of every word is dependent upon using the right tone

…..He warned me that the drivers in China were crazy….Chinese driving is among the worst I have ever seen……Everyone is in a hurry, and there is no such thing as cruising – everyone swerves, brakes, accelerates and honks continuously.

….the Yellow River. It was dark brown and churning. In centuries past, the river had been known as ‘the sorrowful river’ because so many people drowned in its annual floods.

It is an unnatural business to find yourself in a strange place with an underutilized brain and no particular reason for being there and eventually it makes you go a little crazy
-          Bill Bryson.

……people under 18 were not allowed to go to church in China……worship was permitted only in the state-sanctioned (and thus state-monitored and state-controlled) churches. Prior to communism, China had been a popular place for Western missionaries. The growth of the church had been slow but steady, until Mao came to power and all missionaries were forced to leave.

God made man because He loves stories
-          Elie Wiesel

…..Philippines….the car pulls up outside a cemetery….street children…. ‘They’re  inhaling glue,’ Craig says, looking at them sadly. ‘Its cheaper than food and suppresses their appetite. It is a way for them to escape their pain, but over time it will destroy their immune system and give them brain damage. Drugs, crime and violence are daily experiences for these children.’………Rounding a corner of tombstones we see many more children, though these seem to be too drugged-up to notice us. Some of them are young, maybe five years old. Several are asleep, lying on top of the gravestones in the burning morning sun. A young teenage girl shares one slab with a pale, feverish-looking baby. …….in the cemetery they are usually undisturbed. He says that some are from very poor families whose parents have thrown them out, some are orphans and many have been so badly abused at home that they ran away.
Behind the graves, I see a ten-year-old girl sitting alone in the shade. Her elbows are rested on her knees, and she is staring forward into space. Her eyes are empty. Something about her gaze makes me think, not of a child, but of an 80-year-old who is tired of life. ……..There were over 50,000 street children in Manila …..

If we don’t offer ourselves to the unknown, our senses dull… we wake up one day and find that we have lost our dreams in order to protect our days
-          Kent Nerbur

I always felt anxious when crossing borders that were off the tourist routes. The less significant the border, the more likely the immigration officials were to have delusions of grandeur

…Papua New Guinea….five of the world’s top 20 most poisonous snakes lived there ….malaria….The disease was endemic ….deadly. Research in 2003 showed that 30 per cent of the population had come down with the illness that year, and hundreds had died from it…..most people had no protection at all………a French Malaria researcher…..told me that the Papua New Guinean people…..did have something in their immune system that made them suffer far less than people elsewhere in the world, even Africans…..English is widely spoken, owing to its legacy as a British colony… famous for its linguistic diversity. Although its population is six million, there are over 800 distinct languages spoken. ….The most common language used to communicate… therefore a kind of combined, multi-sourced pidgin language…..Although much of Papua New Guinea is mountaineous and difficult for crops, here on the coast it is extremely fertile…. ‘If you stick something in the ground here, it grows.’

Papua New Guinea is a land of misfits, mercenaries and missionaries
-          A saying about Papua New Guinea

Out of 130 cities surveyed, Port Moresby was found to be the least liveable in the world
-          The Economist, 2006

Work as if it all depends on you, and pray as if it all depends on God
-          St Augustine

…Port Moresby combined a reputation for danger akin to Johannesburg with a setting almost as stunning as Cape Town.

To get back my youth, I would do anything in the world except take exercise, get up early or be respectable
-          Oscar Wilde

…..a remote-control-sized gadget called a Dazer II. When you press the button, it emits a high-pitched noise. This noise is inaudible to human ears, but unbearable to dogs, and thus it is a brilliant way to prevent dog attacks. I would later use it to good effect against the big, angry dogs of Tibet.

The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind
-          G. K. Chesterton

A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ship are built for.
-          Grace Murray Cooper

Two years previously, 40 per cent of global pirate attacks had occurred in Indonesian waters, sometimes resulting in the kidnapping or murder of the crew.

…I was nearing Tibet, as well as famously colossal mountains and notoriously ferocious dogs….

Man’s greatest step is between the warm bed and the cold floor.
-          Anonymous

In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher
-          The Dalai Lama

People don’t take trips…trips take people
-          John Steinbeck

Live to the point of tears
-          Albert Camus

Do one thing everyday that scares you
-          Eleanor Roosevelt

Outside there was no sound but the scraping of the pine trees in the wind. Danger was cumulative, of course, it crept up step by step, half-noticed as your journey took you deeper. Until you woke up at night in a place beyond help
-          Colin Thubron

…..Balkh……the circle of massive mud buttresses around us. It was impressive, even today. Thirty-five centuries ago, Balkh had been known as ‘mother of all cities’. Twenty-six centuries ago, according to many historians, it was the birthplace of Zarathustra, founder of Zoroastrianism. ….The beginning of the end for Balkh, like so many other great cities of the Islamic world, had been the passing hurricane of Genghis Khan. In 1220 he had destroyed every building of note and butchered its thousands of inhabitants. Timur had sacked it again about a century later. But in the end it was malaria and water-supply problems that sealed its abandonment and led to Mazar-e-Sharif becoming the new capital.

A country with more portraits of the President than road signs has surely taken a wrong turn somewhere
-          A. J. Humphreys

For centuries Turkmenistan had not been such a safe place. Bandits had hidden in hollows beside the road and attacked the Silk Road caravans as they passed. It was eventually the Russians who had tamed the land and suppressed the people in the late nineteenth century.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is facing a great battle
-          Philo of Alexandria

…..the Caspian Sea, the largest completely inland sea in the world…..

….Philip Yancey’s analysis of the complex issues of Islam-West relations ……:
In determining morality, American society tends to apply the bottom-line principle, ‘does it hurt anyone else?’ Thus pornography is legal, but not if it involves explicitly violence or child molestation. You can get legally drunk as long as you do not break a neighbour’s window or drive a car, endangering others. Violence on television is okay, because everyone knows the characters are just acting. Whereas we define ‘hurt’ in the most physical terms, Islamic societies see it in more spiritual terms. In that deeper sense, what could be more harmful than divorce, say, or pornography, or violence-as-entertainment, or even the cynical depiction of banal evil on television soap operas? It is from this vantage point that the US has gained its reputation as ‘the Great Satan.’

We both enjoyed the zesty charm of the Italian people, though their casual approach to driving felt almost as dangerous as the mad-cap drivers of India and Iran.