Sunday, February 7, 2016

Japanese Literature Challenge No 9

 This is a late entry to Dolce Belezza’s Japanese Literature ChallengeNo 9 (JLC9).

The aim of JLC is to read at least one book (or movie etc) with a Japanese Author, Topic, Setting... The JLC runs over several months – I think from June – January. This year, there were more than 30 participants, some read & reviewed multitudes of books, others only one. Me – I’m reviewing three. 

 South of the Border, West of the Sun – Murakami

“growing up in the suburbs in post-war Japan, it seemed to Hajime that everyone but him had brothers and sisters. His sole companion was Shimamoto, also an only child. Together they spent long afternoons listening to her father’s record collection. But when his family moved away, the two lost touch. ... Now Hijime is in his thirties. After a decade of drifting he has found happiness with his loving wife and two daughters, and success running a jazz bar. Then Shimamoto reappears. She is beautiful, intense, enveloped in mystery....”

This book has many of the Murakami symbols that we’re familiar with – Jazz, small  families, intriguing and reappearing personal characteristics, separation from society.. But it also differs from other Murakami novels in that it’s more of a self discovery and questioning journey for the lead character. There’s an overlay of morals and ethics in his questioning. 

Personally, I found the central theme of the book – Marriage and Personal happiness – to be it’s draw card. I enjoyed the lead characters tussle with his desire for the beautiful and yet his desire for the consistent and culturally significant. I think many of don’t realise just how powerful the contradiction of marriage and personal desire can be. 

I devoured this book while I was holidaying in Vietnam last year. I note that it cost me 260 Dong (AUD $16.50) so I was keen to have it. I recall one day, someone on the bus noted what I was reading, he commented that Murakami was a world reknown author and wasn’t it good that even in other countries we can find our favourite authors. 

 The Elephant Vanishes – Murakami

A collection of short stories – New York Times said “All the stories take place in parallel worlds not so much remote from ordinary life as hidden within it’s surfaces; secret alleys that afford unexpected – and unsettling – views”. 

The back cover says ‘In every one of these stories Murakami makes a determined assault on the normal’.  I agree – these short stories are so very Murakami! I always enjoy those twists, escapes from reality (when you can see that), and alternative realms. 

I have to say, I got a bit lost with the TV People, but I quite liked the way the women and the green monster related to each other. The story about Insomnia was sort of disturbing, but so close to reality it concerned me. How many people get through parts of life with little or no deep sleep, then make decisions... The story about the brother and sister, and her fiancé – well that was just annoying! All families have someone others don’t like or who are just insipid! 

Still – for a book of short stories – I enjoyed it. I liked that I could pace myself by the stories, that I could move on from one wierd thing and start another.... I do love trying to find Murakami’s signatures – Jazz, Trains and Stations, reference to pasta or cooking, telephone calls.... 

Some Prefer Nettles -  Jun'ichirō Tanizaki

This was my challenge for JLC9 – Murakami is my main squeeze for JLC’s, so I try and get outside my comfort zone with something. I choose this because it was a study of marriage and divorce in the Japanese Culture. 

‘The marriage of Kaname and Misako is disintegrating: whilst seeking passion and fulfilment in the arms of others, they contemplate the humiliation of divorce. Misako's father believes their relationship has been damaged by the influence of a new and alien culture, and so attempts to heal the breach by educating his son-in-law in the time-honoured Japanese traditions of aesthetic and sensual pleasure. The result is an absorbing, chilling conflict between ancient and modern, young and old.’[Goodreads description]

Written in 1929, it was apparently first published as a newspaper serial, but has since been translated in many languages and published all over the world. The author, Tanizaki, was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature and is considered one of the leading modern Japanese authors of the early 20th Century. According to Wikipedia, his stories were frequently narrated in a context of a search for cultural identity in which constructions of the ‘west’ and Japanese tradition are juxtaposed. 

What I enjoyed was that ‘holding back’ to see if the Japanese tradition would win out, but in the end, the ‘western’ ways seemed to drag both characters into the 20th C. There was a lot of description given to the significance of the Puppet Show in Japanese Culture. This was one of the links to the past that Kaname really wanted to hold on to. The author also paid attention to small details of Japanese culture – such as the role of the wife in seeing to the beauty in the house. 

 “The bamboo summer mats, reflecting the green of the June foliage up from the floor, were cool against their stockinged feet. There was a faint smell of incense – a grass seed, they would have guessed – through the house’.

This quote captured the themes and characters of the book perfectly for me....

‘For all the excitement of her love-affair, Misako still changed the decorations in the Japanese rooms now and then, the hangings and the flowers to harmonize with the changing of the seasons.... still when Kaname thought of the day when the flowers would disappear, he knew that even this lifeless marriage, like the woodwork seen and remembered morning and evening and morning again, was something so near and familiar that it would continue to pull him even after it was gone.”  (ch 13). 


Another  exciting JLC for me. i posted earlier about how I went to the Singapore Writers Festival and participated in some forums on Japanese Literature and Murakami. I'll try and post some memories of those discussions later this week..

Addendum: I forgot I also read Audition. This was ok in the first 2/3 of the book but it got too gross to finish. Probably why I forgot to mention it. For the original review that inspired me to look it up... go here

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Focus Words for 2016

This sculpture is in a park on the southern tip of Vietnam in the city of Vung Tau (I think). For me, visiting this place was really significant. In the late 70's and early 80's many Vietnamese Refugees came to Australia by boat, most left from this port. My broader family, under the watchful eye of my grandmother, adopted a Vietnamese family and assisted them as they settled in South Australia. I learnt alot from this family about cultural differences and respect of different religions, and also about gardening. My husbands family also adopted a Vietnamese family who also had a impact on his values in life too.

I share this story by way of saying I am hopeful that I will be able to live by the values I hold close, those that I have adopted from some wiser than me, and those I've come to hold dear just because of my own journey.

This image will remind me to focus on these principles/values as I embark on 2016, a potentially busy year. Last year my words were influencial and remain meaniingful to me.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Pause.... Breathe.... Focus

Loving Summer
Spending time with Friends (who keep me honest!)
Enjoying Traditions
In Awe of amazing women who find their own focus and stay true....

Following a kind a busy Christmas Break, I returned to work for two weeks knowing I would be having this  little break now. I'm in South Australia for a week to enjoy, watch and take in the Cycling at Tour Down Under. This is a tradition for my partner and I. We catch up with friends, have belated Christmas gatherings with family, and lap up the festivities. 

But this is also a wonderful opportunity, while I'm away from my own chores and tasks, to reflect on the year to come and the year I want. I've been following my blogging friends as they launch into the new year, and I'm in awe of some amazing blogging women who have set their focus and started on their actions. Kate at Fox's Lane set her goal to post every day in January - she's amazing. She writes about life on the farm and their gardening, parenting, family fun and other wholesome things. I've been in awe of her daily commitment - and how she doesn't bore us. Brydie at CityHippyFarmGirl has launched her new focused website Brydie Piaf - her photographic stories are inspirational. Ellie at An Emergent Life has been sharing her journey and inspiring me to think about mine.

So, I'm cleaning up my blog as a symbolic step to cleaning up generally. I'm looking for a new focus in almost every aspect of my life... I'm trying to be honest to myself about whats really important. I'm keen to focus on some of Ellies advice from An Emergent Life and be Mindful.

I'll be back soon... with some focus :)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Under Construction

Here we go again.... It's time for a change.
 I feel the need for a refresh. 
Please be patient with me, and offer me your suggestions... 
I welcome any comments. I'm looking for clean, uncluttered, and navigable. 

I want to create a place that's welcoming, homely but yet unique and interesting.
I should be settled on a new place by the end of the month.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Loving the Spanish!

Isn't this just amazing!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Years Eve 2015

Strawberries at a French marketplace!

Happy New Year to my blogging friends around the world!

 May 2016 bring you joy and happiness, experiences that leave you with special memories, and may you be happy.

At this time of year, I am reflective - someone who likes to look back on the achievements, struggles, challenges, and hopes of the past, and then use the lessons learnt to think about what's next for me. I like to set  my goals, and work towards them. I love that sense of completing something I want to do. I love ticking the list. I haven't done too bad this past year.
One of my goals this past year was to improve the productivity of my garden. With help from a blogging friend, I changed a few gardening habits this year, and I can proudly say I've made some success. I now have at least 7 productive rhubarb plants, well on their way to supplying this happy householder with regular yummy desserts. I also have some pretty awesome eggplant bushes, producing almost all year round. Among other successes, these two were on my wish list and are signs that the garden is producing things we like.
Another of 2015's great successes was the Paris in July event, hosted here at Thyme-for-Tea. It was a big year with some fabulous participants and some great variety of contributions. Thank you all for playing with us this year. Lets see what 2016 brings? 
One of my major disappointments from 2015 was not getting to India to visit the school and girls hostel I love. I made the most of the difficult situation with a wonderful trip to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and enjoyed spending time with a close friend, and meeting new friends.

Now I'm about to embark on some major study, so I'm conscious not to set too may high and lofty goals for 2016 - but one I'm sure I have support for - is to keep Thyme-for-Tea alive as a spot for me to return to when the going gets tough. This is a space for me to remember those elements of life that sustain - connection to community, reflection on simplicity and generosity, and a reminder that reading opens the mind to other worlds and other experiences. Now with that in mind, I will be trying to post some more book and movie reviews in the new year. Coming soon - some Japanese Lit Challenge reviews.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Markets in Vietnam & Cambodia

Water Markets 
There's something really fresh and delightful about food markets. 
Visiting the supermarket just isn't the same experience. 
Delighting in the smells, sounds and sights,
I loved visiting the different markets 
and bargaining
and trying new foods
and maing the locals laugh as I did.

The market stall holders were fun and gentle on strangers.

Dragon Fruit - became one of my favourite foods - had to have it every day!
This is Lucky! He was my cooking school teacher in Phnom Penh.

Market lady keeping fish alive 

All sorts of dried fish
and more dried fish
While Farmers Markets are growing in popularity in my part of the world, they aren't quite as exciting as the markets in South East Asia. I think the key differences are that the food available is different, the way  people use food (lots of dried fish) is different, and the community only has one place to get their food - while we have multiple choices, some of which are available 24hrs a day.

I appreciated the market experiences I had on my recent holiday - but on reflection - I think I appreciate them just as much as I appreciate the French markets - perhaps the French learnt their market skills from Vietnam or visa versa?

Where are your favourite markets?