June 21, information pills 2016
At the airport in Istanbul listening to a player piano. Some passersby are intrigued by it and taking pictures. Many folk in white robes and head covering, shop perhaps heading t o Mecca. Many tired and trying to sleep by the gates. Many children. It is almost 11 at night here, while we are on British time so it is only 9:00 pm. Carl off wandering around. The feel is so different than anything we’ve experienced. Many arches and lattice work. Large circular mirrors on the ceilings around us. No question is it hot outside, as it is sticky here in the air-conditioning. I’m very conscious of the heat as I am carrying a winter coat which I will need in two days from now when we arrive in Australia. But first two nights in Singapore with a lot of missing hours on the plane as we cross a multitude of time zones.
There are spots, such as the heart of the duty free shopping where you could be anywhere in the world, then places that are so definitely Arabic or Turkish. Few women in short sleeves even, although one, apparently Turkish woman sitting near us on the plane wore super short shorts and a halter – and climbed up to get something from her baggage in the midst of take-off. A fair number of apparently well-to-do younger women who have on very tight pants and high heels. Also clear that a number of the women on the plane had been to London for a shopping spree. Many beautiful head scarves. Definitely aware of being a minority here.
Turkish Airlines has been heavily advertising and expanding, similar to the way Icelandic Air has been. A goodly array of flights at decent prices. And little touches, such as the two “chefs” Turkish Air had on board – young women with big chef’s hats who helped with serving the meals. The dinner, followed by watching soccer matches got us much of the way here. The next leg is something like 11 hours in the air, so I really, really hope I can sleep. This is what I got some sleeping pills for since I’ll have minimal time to adjust once we arrive on the other side of the world.
An Australian and a Brit at Woodbrooke exchanged stories of childhood discovering that they had each dug in the sand hoping to reach the other’s country.
Several of us at Woodbrooke had a long enough history there to share stories of the times when students came for 3 months at a time or often a full year and much of the staff lived on campus and were integral to the community. Very different now with all the non-Quaker community groups who use the place—green activists, social workers, Muslim organizations, and many others, often coming just for day meetings. But without those groups the place could not exist. Sandra is looking for more ways to attract those folk who pay so much of the bill for keeping the place operating, yet seeking to keep the Quaker flavor. The Friends-in-Residence are critical to that dimension and not only welcome newcomers, but are the anchors for daily worship and epilogue each evening.
Starting to refocus on what I might say in the evening sessions. Expect to do something on clearness and care committee in Perth unless they push me otherwise. Have the shortened power point I can use for notes for myself or for the entire group. Discernment needs more internal organizing sometime in the next few days and I’d like to print out a bit if I can, although I might have a copy of what I need.
It took a few days to feel like I was fully present at Woodbrooke. Have no idea how long it
will take to arrive body mind and soul in Australia. I can imagine there would be real advantages to being there a couple month. Carl is staring at the departures board which is blinking red for a lot of flights. Probably notices to get on board the plane before it leaves. About time to head to our gate. Things are thinning out as it approaches 1 am, but there are still a lot of planes up on the board. Not clear this place eve shuts down. We arrive in Singapore about dinner time tomorrow! Lots of reminders at Woodbrooke about the importance of personal spiritual practices. Lots of opportunities to walk in the gardens – which locals admitted they forget to do. Yesterday (Monday. I guess it is actually Wed now) we took the bus in to New Street and then walked the five miles plus back along the canals as far as Bourneville. A lovely walk with a big chunk of it thru the university which has huge grounds just north of Selly Oak.
June 24, 2016
Just got on Scoot Airlines a discount service which flies around SE Asia, Australia and China, based in Singapore. Lots of bright yellow and black on uniforms and the plane as well as cartoon drawings in several of its routine handouts and rock music over the loudspeakers. Raining this morning as we prepare to leave. We were fortunate to have good weather yesterday which even got a bit cooler later in the day.
Singapore is a child’s delight of tall buildings with overhangs, trees in the middle and on the roof and all kinds of crazy designs. The award for the silliest goes to the trio of 50 plus story buildings linked together on top by a structure that, depending on your angle, could be seen as an airplane, a UFO or a giant eel. An array of trees and vegetation topped this eel which has the mandatory observation deck and bar, both of which can be accessed by all if you are willing to foot the bill. In the shadow of this contraption, which is built on newly reclaimed land along the harbor, is the Science Museum, part of which looked like a half-peeled orange—the major competitor for the silliness award.
Our hotel was in the main part of the city with a view of the eel and of the Raffles Hotel—one of the relatively few surviving buildings from the height of the British Empire. We looked down on its swimming pool, which I only saw one person use in the 48 hours we were there recovering from the 16-17 hours of actual flight and 8 time zones we passed through from London. Doing amazingly well given the stress of those flights. We’ll be picked up in Perth by some Friends and taken up into their world. Carl has put together a multipage listing of who will be hosting us and when I’m expected to lead sessions, etc.
Yesterday we walked the city, mostly down towards China town and a large outdoor –Maxwell Hawker Food Center where you could get almost any kind of Asian food it seemed—the ultimate in food carts! Four long rows separated by tables for folk to eat at. Surprisingly, no evidence of such things as paper plates of plastic glasses (although lots of cans of soda). Big fans in the open roofing that blocked the sun (essential here on the equator). In fact, the one thing that allowed us to do as much walking as we did was that the design of most buildings includes a covered way along the sidewalk. I had a laugh when it reminded me of Berne, Switzerland which has similar covered walks, but instead of the sun, they protect you from the deep snow.
The city also has lots of trees, along the streets, along the heavily vegetated parkway to the airport where stands of palms and flowering shrubs alternate with massive spreading trees whose leaves almost touch across three lanes of traffic.
The powers that be have figured out to save interesting old buildings, if for no other reason than to please the tourists – and they have spent what must be huge amounts on creating pathways along the river and the shore of their huge harbor (the cabbie thought it was now the 3rd largest port in the world) as well as creating nice streetscapes, a fine public library, etc. One of the first things the modern government did was to clean up the rivers which had been cesspools of industrial and human waste. No sign, however, that there is any focus on protecting what ever wildlife is left, be they fish or land creatures. From the plane as we took off large expanses of newly filled land was evident all along the coast, most of which I think was once marsh land.
While it was a definitely bump to the ego to have my course at Woodbrooke cancelled when no one signed up, it has been lovely to have this time of reflection, encounter with old friends and connections with my early years of teaching at Woodbrooke 20 years ago, when I was there for three months and actually got to teach a full term about liberal Quakers while attending Ben Dandelion’s class where he was developing the idea of us as “liberal liberal Friends” and the concept of the “absolute perhaps” regarding what we believe. Tim Peat is the other tutor from that time who is still teaching and I recall gratefully his course on first century Christians and his work in reinterpreting Paul’s writings.
I am sure we’ll encounter many fascinating folk and get some perspective on these two nations as we travel through Australia and New Zealand. Carl has encountered by mail someone with his love of science fiction as well as some with knowledge of city planning. Many email offering warm hospitality. The biggest challenge may well be to keep time for quiet. Have taken some pictures on my phone but have not figured out how to access them. My usual connections don’t work since we don’t have local sim cards for the phone to work in this part of the world. Very bumpy air and the seat belt sign is on, so time for a break.
It was striking me during the night what an odd spiritual practice it is for me to admit to
feeling joy in the moment. I know there are times I experience it, from that first awareness after Dad died to times in the midst of teaching and speaking when it all feels so right. Nancy Richard is so determined I know this feeling in myself and live it out. I can sense that the Backhouse, as it is written is full of joy—that is part of why it terrifies me. I have kept finding blocks to writing that and speaking it. Wonder if I might know the joy of it. Had some other thoughts in that period when I woke, but they are not coming back to me.
Also the odd feeling and recognition that I am now one of those grey-haired Quakers who
wander the land. Leaves the great need to simply be me. To live in a place of humility even as arrogance tries to jump out and over-compensate for my fears. Where is the place of certainty that is not my own, that is a place of faithfulness and obedience. Of walking where I’ve been asked to walk rather than demanding that others listen or care what I say or do. Knowing I will say some stupid things and having the presence of mind, grace and good humor to acknowledge it, laugh and go on. To see the nonsense that the human ego can devise to trip us up.