Monday, November 06, 2006
NOTES FROM A LONG ABSENCE
The Friendly Files
I was in mainland China recently. The stay was short and sweet and heady as anticipated, composed largely of glad hours spent with good friend Sze Ping, a perpetually busy man with an expansive intellect, who is also a foodie and music connoisseur, talking about everything from puttering around, diapers and baby baths, Isaac Babel, Tariq Ali and imperialism.
I missed his company and our exchanges lasted from nighttime till the period when one nurses the headaches and tries to brush away the fog from the eyes.
I've bumped into SP twice or thrice since 2004 in other places and we've had nice exchanges during those few times, but I really haven't laughed the thousand laughs with him in Beijing for over two years. Understandably, we picked up where I think we last left off -- with gallons of Chinese beer and Beijing fare, the first round going to shrimp, frog, lamb and rabbit. A gazillion peppercorns, chilies, greens and tofu preparations later, consumed with heaps of indelible and inedible stories, we staggered back to his lofty apartment, swaying the dance of the happily inebriated, hiccups punctuating the silent early morning cold. Nine degrees centigrade is nothing with fiery food and hazy, lolling thoughts.
It's always a delight to spend free time with SP, especially when there's a stereo around. He always walks me through the most fascinating of genres, from minimalism to post-rock to Japanese chill, from Chinese bossa nova to agit-pop and to country music. One night we went to see the live performance of Dirty Three, one of the leading exponents of post-rock (critics gave the tag, not the musicians). The band had just arrived in Beijing after a one-night show in Shanghai, where they said the audience was wild, with a woman during one intense song climbing the curtains. The Beijing theater the band played at had a capacity of around 800, and it was almost packed with young Chinese new music aficionados and some expats. The instrumental music of Dirty Three can immediately blow you away but sometimes it can take about an hour to grow on you so that you reach a point of comprehension where a bell in your head goes "ding!" and you notice yourself exclaiming quietly to no one in particular, "whoa." Superb drums, electric guitar and electric violin mshed at times with the growl of feedback -- the music was indeed as Paul Pennay wrote in the October issue of the cultural mag That's Beijing: transcendent, chaotic, heart-wrenching and hysterical. It was mesmerizing.
We managed to go one late night to the Hou Hai Jazz Club but there was little time to browse bookstores or the nice Chinese music shops. In any case, I was just happy to have brought back with me iPod versions of SP's library, such as the Aguas de Amazonia (Uakti) album of Philip Glass, Cello Submarine by the Berlin Philharmonic (a good take on songs by the Beatles), new albums by Thievery Corporation and Cowboy Junkies, and a spellbinding tribute by a group of Egyptian musicians to Mozart. These will be great companions -- tomorrow I will be in Nairobi, Kenya where negotiations to the global climate treaty called the Kyoto Protocol will be held. As with many UN-led processes dictated upon by sustained displays of acute self-interest among negotiators and within the institutions facilitating such events, the negotiations will be tough and frequently frustrating. But there are great reasons for hope -- so far still greater than reasons for cynicism -- and I hope to write from Nairobi about these things in small doses in the coming days.
Everywhere, evidence of increasingly severe impacts brought about by climate change is surfacing. What were before small and potential sources of strife are now being amplified as a consequence of the impacts of rising global temperatures. The big conflicts still unfolding are bound to worsen due to global warming. Rapidly retreating glaciers, looming massive water shortages, rising seas, more extreme weather events -- these are other impacts. And the saddest, most painful irony of it all is that solutions that will help to stop the climate crisis from entering a more dangerous and, possibly, irreversible, phase -- solutions that are widely available and readily deployable -- are not being used because governments are largely hesitant and still looking out for Number One -- short-term economic gain -- rather make decisions for the long haul urgently required today.
Thankfully, everywhere also we can find displays of people or groups resisting business-as-usual outcomes. Citizens are taking action; more and more local governments are demonstrating resolve; almost everyday now -- unlike just a few years ago -- we can read, hear or watch news about the impacts of climate change, which means more and more people are likely becoming increasingly aware of the consequences of their indifference.
Imperfect it may be but the Kyoto climate treaty is still the only global environmental accord at present that legally obligates dramatic reductions of climate-harmful emissions, based on common but differentiated responsibilities. We are at present only at the first period of commitments. Based on the architecture of Kyoto, there will be subsequent commitment periods where deeper cuts in emissions will be required of the industrialized world and which will soon cover emissions reductions among developing nations as well. Governments, especially those roosting over the largest polluting countries -- they won't make voluntary moves. Neither, of course, will profiteering global energy and pulp and paper-related conglomerates take action. We will have to do things the old-fashioned way -- take the initiative with creative common action, using the thousands of new means available to us today, to make our voices heard, to press for solutions, to pressure decision makers to make the necessary far-reaching decisions on behalf of the many instead of the few.
No one can predict the future, but we -- each of us -- can certainly take control of the present.
From tomorrow till the end of November, I will be blogging at the Cool My Planet blog site, where I hope to join a small global community sharing thoughts and engaging in frank, happy, angry, funny, serious conversation about all the things that have to do with the climate -- which means everything under the sky, from music to beer to books to fashion to movies to sunsets to storms and hotnesses and coolnesses and sex and drinks and passion and politics and so on and on. You are most certainly invited to come and join the fray...
Thanks again for dropping by. #
Photos by Redster, Beijing 2006