Friday, December 30, 2005

:-( Not what I wanted to wake up to see ...

Independence Bowl, final score: Missouri 38 - USC 31.

Dagnabit! Well, goes to show. I should have been part of that 8000 strong "rabid" crowd in Shreveport. Maybe things would have been different? [No, I don't have an ego.]

T, thanks for the updates on email! I actually did think for a fleeting second about staying up till 2:00 a.m. and finding a webcast, but I was in bed by midnight. :)

The Age of Perfection?

Well, according to medieval philosophers, I'm now at the age where we are all supposed to be in heaven (See here, #26. I always thought it was Origen who first said this, but I don't have time right now to Google this.) - the age of Christ's earthly maturity, thirty three.

Guess I should have some weightly reflection on this. I'm just happy to be here with the folks (and extend clanspeople) to celebrate.

Though, maybe it's apposite that this be the age I enter the religious life?

Y'all's prayers and support are, as always, most gratefully received!

[PS: Happy Feast of the Holy Family. This Christmas on Sunday thing moves this and the Baptism of the Lord away from Sunday. Oh well. :)]

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

+Aamchi Mumbai

I've never encountered such air-traffic in Bombay. The plane circled twice (great view of the island) before landing, and at one point I saw five other aircraft in holding patterns behind and above, while another lined up onto final for runway 27. And a little hot-and-heavy landing too. Speed brakes used at such low altitudes, with flaps out at 20 degrees? And huge amounts of braking after touchdown (and no thrust-reversers?). Hmm. Anyhoo. I am now officially a fan of Thai Airways. US airlines might learn something!

It's about 80 degrees. Welcome to winter in Bombay! I have one day in the city tomorrow (Thursday) before heading to the folks' place in Baroda (~250 miles to the north) on the Friday morning flight. Well, I'll be back here in the summer for longer. When it will be even warmer. :-D

PS: As you can see, the timestamp is now set to IST [UTC +0530, EST +1030]

Mi piace ...

... questo Papa ... :)

A quiet but unambiguous instruction to the Neocatechumenal Way to stop their liturgical innovations. (Sandro Magister, via Open Book).

[Also check out Amy's post on the latest articles in Slate, especially the one responding to the Episcopal priest who doesn't believe in the Virginal Conception. (Like this is news. John Shelby Spong is hardly unique). Another sign of just how corrosive some aspects of modern critical scholarship is. Especially since I've been reading the text-book for my bible-as-literature course at Tech. Arrgh! The smug certitude of the way the "assured results of scholarship" are bandied about rankles just too much. Pretty decent otherwise. Though. Anyway, too bad there isn't a printer at this Internet cafe ... would make for good reading on the flight. Oy, let me get to the gate! :)]

Krung Thep

Greetings from Bangkok (Krung Thep in Thai) International Airport. I left China a few hours ago, and spent my last few yuan on the most expensive sandwich I've had in China -- 63 yuan! Will update the travelogue for the last two days in Guangzhou soon.

It's so nice to be able to actually see my blog again! :-D

Thai Airways is absolutely fantastic. Warm, courteous service. The most legroom I've ever encountered in coach class. Seriously. I can actually stretch my legs! And they just keep plying you with food and drink, on a three hour flight. I'm looking forward to the next leg.

Humorous note: on the safety video, the final warning is: "No sleeping on floor." Hmm. That's a first! (Also forgot to note, on Hainan Airlines, PEK-CAN, the emergency safety card is called "Just In Case." Guess they're being honest ... :))

The flight to Bombay leaves at 7:40 p.m. It's 6:20 p.m. now (7:20 p.m. in Beijing and 6:20 a.m. in the US). Yes yes, I enjoy all these travel things.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

If you can't read it the right way ...

... maybe using a mirror might help?

Indian Hindu creates "mirror" Bible for the Pope.

Hong Kong: New York on Steroids

It's a really crazy city! Crowded, glitzy and glamorous, fast-paced. Did I say crowded? (And this coming from someone who, back in the day, would jump on a Virar fast from Churchgate at rush-hour without blinking. Not anymore, alas. Too many years in the US) At one point, as we were returning, we were on a closed off sidewalk with a proper human traffic jam. It took 15 minutes to go one block. Aargh!

Won't be doing the normal diary style travelogue. Just a few paragraphs. Got to Hong Kong around 1 pm, having slept in the morning in Macau. Took the fast hydrofoil (190 HKD one-way), which sped across the mouth of the Pear River in an hour. The morning was a little grey, but still, one's first view of the Hong Kong skyline is quite impressive. The harbor was full of a variety of craft, from tiny tugs to large barges and cruise ships. Didn't see a single junk. Guess they're not really used anymore.

We did get to do the two main Hong Kong musts: take the Star Ferry across the harbor (at 2.2 HKD a ticket a real steal) and go up to the Peak. The line for the Peak Tram was unbelievable -- this being Christmas day, there were tons of tourists, local and foreign. The 10 minute ride up the Peak is definitely worth it though. Especially the central part, when it feels like one is at a 45 degree incline!

The view from the top is definitely worth it, though the Peak Galleria is a schmaltzy tourist trap.

Nathan Road, the shopping drag is, well, LOUD. Lights! Shops! Crowds! Z spent an hour and a half in an Espirit Outlet getting some outfits, most of it waiting in line to use the fitting room!

Hong Kong! Not sure that I'd have stayed here too long. One really needs to have lots of moolah to enjoy what it has to offer. We returned to China the next morning.

The MTR: Hong Kong's clean and efficient subway.

On the Star Ferry.

View of the South China sea, south of Hong Kong Island, from the Peak.

Hong Kong: Christmas Day 2005

Skyline of Hong Kong Island from Kowloon near the Star Ferry Terminal.

At the Sheung Wan MTR stop. Self-portrait. Of sorts
(And Kem, you've been whining about not having a pic on my blog. Here you go :))

Hong Kong's definitely not the place for you if you don't like crowds.

Skyline from the Star Ferry crossing over from Kowloon.

Double-decker tram! Near Central.

Kowloon Skyline from Victoria Peak.

Since coming to power?

So I'm back at Kem's house after a long day of sight-seeing and shopping in Guangzhou (yes, the blog will be updated later on tonight). BBC World is on TV, and just heard a spot for World Review 2005, with the usual round-up of year-in-review stories. Including this one, "So what impact has the new Pope had since coming to power eight months ago?"

Coming to power? Let's see, after a long, hard, multi-million dollar campaign maybe? Or after inheriting the throne after his father's death? Is it really correct to call the election of the successor to St. Peter as his "coming to power?" As if the Pope were merely a new CEO or President or King of the Catholic Church Inc., or the Republic of the Catholic Church or the Kingdom of the Catholic Church? (The same kind of language that wonders whether the new Pope will change the "policies" of the previous one. This might be correct of some things -- say, such as the make up and governance of the Curia or the workings of the Synod of Bishops. But that's not the sense in which it's being meant. What's referred to is doctrine. You know, that medieval, hidebound stuff. As if that were mere policy.)

Yes, the Pope has power in the juridical sense of the word. But that is hardly the entire nature of the papacy (despite the perspective of many, including many Catholics, that would like to reduce everything to politics). In the Kingdom, the one who leads must serve. Hence that ancient title of the Bishop of Rome: the Servant of the Servants of God.

[/end rant] :)

Monday, December 26, 2005

Midnight Mass in Macau

We got to Midnight Mass a little late, at about 11:35 pm. The church was overflowing, with a crowd crammed in the back. I spotted a space near the rear left of the nave, next to a side altar (with a host of unapologetically Eurpoean-looking saints surrounding an altar with an image of Divine Mercy. By midnight, there was barely any room to stand.

The congregation was largely Chinese, with a smattering of foreigners (several Indians), dressed to the hilt. Several had cameras and were taking pictures as Mass started (but thankfully, stopped after it started). The most annoying thing was (and hardly surprising given their ubiquity in China) the more than occasional cell-phone going off. A lady near us received at least half a dozen text messages during Mass, completely unfazed.

About half-way down the nave on either side, large platforms had been set up with TV cameras, and the whole church was floodlit. Apparently, the Mass is televised.

Mass was celebrated by the Bishop, with several concelebrants, in Cantonese. I peeked over the shoulder of the guy in the pew next to me, to follow along in the trilingual booklet (Cantonese, Portuguese, English) that were in very short supply. The first reading was in Cantonese, the second in Portuguese. The Bishop's homily was in Cantonese, Portuguese and English, relatively short (given the repetition, no doubt): the child that is born brings peace, justice, obedience and truth to a world that sorely needs it.

During the Gloria, a priest processed with altar servers to the creche towards the back of the nave to blace the infant Jesus in it. (Just the recessional, the Bishop processed back there and incensed the creche. The infant was carried out in procession.)

The choir was fantastic: several familiar carols (all in Cantonese), with a Gregorian Kyrie, a really beautiful Alleluia, and Adeste Fideles (in Latin) as the recessional. I didn't recognize the rest of the music.

This is the first time I've been somewhere where the GIRM's suggestion, that the Creed be learnt and prayed in Latin, in a slightly complicated Gregorian melody. It didn't seem like anyone really participated, and I wonder whether this is the best text to start congregational Latin participation.

During the Prayers of the Faithful (and given their strong connection to Macau, and with St. Francis Xavier, one of the patrons of my native land), I prayed especially for the Society of Jesus and all the Jesuits I know.

生 诞 快 乐 Shèng dàn kuài lè! Merry Christmas!

Tsunami: One Year On

It's Boxing Day, and the Feast of the Protomartyr, St. Stephen.

And one year ago, horror hit the countries surrounding the Indian Ocean.

CNN's special.

The U.N. Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery (William Jefferson Clinton) in the International Herald Tribune.

(BBC just had a special report on TV. Of course, I can't access their website from here in China ...)

Macanese food

Baked potatoes with rice in pineapple
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Christmas Eve in Macau

We decided to spend Christmas Eve in Macau. In the end, this turned out to be better than going to Hong Kong first – Hong Kongers famously go nuts over Christmas, in an exuberant display of public revelry (and incredibly crowded public spaces) that one associates with New Year’s Eve at Times Square.

Here’s Lonely Planet on Macau:

“Lying 65km west of Hong Kong, on the opposite side of the mouth of the Pearl River, tiny Macau, measuring just 27.3 sq. km, was the oldest European settlement in Asia when it reverted to Chinese sovereignty in December 1999. With about 2% of its residents Portuguese, some 95% of them Chinese and the rest Macanese (people with mixed Portuguese Chinese and/or African blood) Macau is a fascinating fusion of Mediterranean and Asian peoples, lifestyles, temperaments, architecture and food.”
At 9:00 am we board a bus from the Clifford Estates bus-stop to the border city of Zhulai. I doze during the nearly 2 hour bus-ride, periodically interrupted by a blast from the horn, and cell-phones going-off followed by staccato gun-fire-like bursts of Cantonese, strangely soporific. Zhulai seems like any other newly-prosperous coastal Chinese city: concrete buildings, wide, clean, open roads, construction everywhere. The border crossing hall at Gombei is massive, and filled with tons of travelers going to spend Christmas Eve in Macau (apart from its churches and Mediterranean charm, it’s known as the Las Vegas of China, with casinos galore).

We join the only lane for foreigners, and it takes nearly an hour to inch up to the counter to have a blank-faced official stamp our passports. We’ve not technically left the People’s Republic, but are leaving to enter one of two Special Administrative Regions of China, with a high degree of political and economic autonomy, and its own currency. Apparently, not every Chinese citizen can visit Macau or Hong Kong – they need to apply for visas! (And, for foreigners, leaving mainland does count as leaving China as far as visas go. One needs to have a dual-entry or multiple-entry Chinese visa to re-enter the mainland. Citizens of most countries don’t require visas to visit either of the two SARs)

There is a short walk from the mainland side to a smaller, quieter arrival hall on the Macau side. The official here barely glances at our passports and stamps them. Round the corner a large sign welcomes us to Macau in three languages: Cantonese, Portuguese (still one of the official languages) and English. We pick up some maps from the helpful information counter, and get directions to the hotel, and board a black-and-white Toyota Corolla cab to head to Hotel Man Yu, on the Rua de Felecidades. Macau (like Hong Kong) maintains colonial driving habits: cars are right-hand drive, and they drive on the left. So, for almost all practical purposes, we’re in a different country.

The area around the border crossing has tall, drab concrete buildings, with none of the flash of the newer areas of Guangzhou. The streets are narrower, reflecting the planning of an era before heavy vehicular traffic. As we come closer the historic center of Macau (the whole city center has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO), the buildings become more colonial and European. All the signs are in Cantonese and Portuguese. For a second I feel we’re in Goa. Except that Goa is always a lot more humid and never this cool (it’s about 60F outside).

The cab drops us off on the Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro, one of the main roads of the city center, from where it’s a short walk across a cobble-stoned alley to the narrow Rua de Felecidades. Hotel Man Yu turns out to be a small, clean, comfortable and efficient concrete building. We haggle a bit over the price (on the phone yesterday they’d quoted 450 HKD. We end up paying 500 CNY, about 480 HKD, or 62 USD. The local currency is the Macau Pataca, abbreviated MOP. Hong Kong dollars are freely accepted, Renminbi [the official name for the currency of the mainland] only in hotels and bigger establishments.) The room is just being cleaned as we take the elevator up, and is quite comfortable.

Having dumped our bags, we walk down the narrow street towards Senado Plaza, one of the central squares. A host of aromas emanates from the various pastry and meat shops lining the street. Cured meats, such as jerked beef, veal, etc., laid out for display in thin sheets, seem to be popular fare, and pretty much every street we saw was lined with several such “Macearias” (similar to Italian macelleria, butcher, or meat-shop, I’m guessing). Lunch was at a Portuguese place, near Senado Plaza, where we tried out the local Macanese cuisine.

Senado Plaza itself is jam-packed with tourists, milling around the large Christmas tree in the middle. A stage had been set up for a concert, and Christmas lights were strung from every conceivable edifice and protrusion. Opposite the ochre-colored Leal Senado building (the seat of municipal government) is the Casa da Santa Misercordia, the House of Mercy, one of the first western-style medical clinic and social service charity in Asia. Around the corner is St. Dominic’s church, one of the oldest on the island, dating back to 1587. In the narthex we find an affable and loquacious Singaporean Chinese nun of the Daughters of St. Paul, Sr. Rose Lee, who informs us that there is indeed a midnight Mass at the Cathedral, a little further uphill. Sr. Rose, apparently, had spent several years in Bombay, so we end up chatting about that beloved city a bit, before heading into the beautiful church itself for some moments of prayer.

The Cathedral turns out to be a more somber building with a plaster façade. It seems like it dates from the 1950s, but this particular structure goes back to the mid 18th century. We stop for a break in front of a shady little square to the side of the Cathedral, with a quiet fountain bubbling away, and several people out for a stroll. On the opposite side of the Cathedral, some students are rehearsing for what appears to be a Christmas play, and three Chinese Wise Men are practicing their lines.

We then follow the Rua do S. Paolo up to one of the most famous landmark of Macau, the ruins of St. Paul’s. Here’s the Macau World Heritage guide’s description:

The Ruins of St. Paul’s refer to the façade of what was originally the Church of Mater Dei built in 1602-1640 and destroyed by fire in 1835, and the ruins of St. Paul’s College, which stood adjacent to the Church. As a whole, the old Churcho f Mater Dei, St. Paul’s College and Mount Fortress were all Jesuit constructions and formed what can be perceived as the “Acropolis” of Macau. Close by, the archaeological remains of the old College of St. Paul stand witness to what was the first western-style university in the far East, with an elaborate academic programme [sic]. Nowadays, the façade of the Ruins of St. Paul’s functions symbolically as an altar to the city.
The ruins stand atop the side of the hill next to Mount Fortress (one of the highest points on the island), and the steps leading up to it are somewhat reminiscent of the Spanish Steps of Rome, and definitely as heavily populated with locals and tourists hanging out. At the foot of the steps there a stage has been set up, and some local church choirs are belting out Christmas carols (some familiar) in Cantonese. Near the entrance, several people (Chinese as well as American) are handing out red Chinese Bibles to passers-by. I strike up a conversation with one of the ladies. Turns out she’s from Tyler, TX. Her uncle is a missionary with the Medical Missionaries (St. Liz, isn’t this the group you went to Haiti with?), and her family is visiting him for Christmas. We take several Bibles: Kem wants to distribute them to friends and co-workers back in China. Can’t take too many, else the Chinese customs will go nuts!

There is nothing left of the church (except a few foundational stones, visible through proctective glass covers). Steps lead up to a ledge perched half-way up the interior side of the facade. I notice, cheek-by-jowl with the ruins, on the other side of the wall of the compound is a tiny Taoist shrine, sharing its back wall with the outside wall of the ruins. A lone worshipper approaches, lights incense, bows and enters. What a snapshot that captures the history and significance of Macau!

Next to the ruins is the Monte Fortaleza, the Jesuit-built fortress (quite militant, those SJs, eh? :-)), and we climb up to the top for some decent views over the city as the sun goes down over the horizon, before stopping for some Cokes and Fantas on the way down. We retrace our steps back to Senado Square, and a few twists-and-turns down narrow cobble-stoned paths later we’re in St. Augustine Square, with the St. Joseph Seminary on one side, and the Church of St. Augustine (under renovation) on the other. This area is away from the Christmas revelers, and we sit down to enjoy the peace and quiet, disturbed only by the occasional passing car or scooter.

We return to the hotel to rest our weary limbs. I channel-surf – almost all Chinese channels (both Cantonese [Guangdonghua] and Mandarin [Putonghua]; I can almost make out the difference. Cantonese is more musical [seven tones versus four], with more rounded and long-drawn out vowels, and hardly any of the aspirated gutturals and retroflexives of Mandarin). One is showing Cantonese opera – the elaborated painted faces, complicated facial movements and stylized steps remind me, of all things, of Kathakkali! The music is high-pitched, though melodious. There is one Hong Kong channel in English, full of coverage of Christmas Eve celebrations, crowd control measures and traffic closings. The Pope does make it to the news, for having worn his famous “Santa Hat” (camauro) earlier this week.

[Argh! I hate the Great Firewall of the People's Republic! So many of the sites that I googled for the link to the Pope-Camauro story were blocked! As is Wikipedia. Sheesh!]

Dinner is at a Thai restaurant, a little disappointing. A Christmas play and concert are in progress at Senado Square (we spot the three Chinese Wise Men on the stage), and the crowds are even bigger and louder, with flashbulbs going-off everywhere as if this were a catwalk. We return to the hotel for a little bit, before getting ready to head out to Midnight Mass at the Cathedral. (Which deservers its own, separate blog-entry! :)). Posted by Picasa

Macau Pictures

Ruins of St. Paul's Church

St. Augustine Square at dusk

St. Dominic's Church

St. Dominic's: interior

Ruins of St. Paul's at night

Senado Square filled with Christmas revelers

Sunday, December 25, 2005

For your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ


Greetings y'all --- got into Hong Kong earlier today. Spent Christmas Eve in Macau, and went to Midnight Mass at the Macau Cathedral. Detailed travelogue will follow tomorrow.

For now, here's Pope Leo the great's Christmas Sermon (from today's Office of Readings).

Hodie Christus natus est! Gaudent angeli, exsultant archangeli, dicentes, "Gloria in excelsis Deo!"

Christmas Sermon:
Dearly beloved, today our Saviour is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.
No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.
In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind.
And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to men of good will as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvellous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?
Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh.
Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom.
Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Guangzhou Pictures: 3

Giordano lanterns, Beijing Lu, Guangzhou
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Guangzhou Pictures: 2

Shamian Island street, Guangzhou
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Guangzhou Pictures: 1

Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Shamian Island, Guangzhou
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Mountains near Beijing from HU7803, PEK-CAN
[Blogger's image upload is being very iffy, so there'll be a few separate posts with today's pictures.]
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Glad tidings of great joy?

.... not just that ....

A sword will pierce your heart. (Amy Welborn's column at NRO) (Why she rocks.)

Guangzhou: Toxic spill?

Got an email about it. From the US. Nothing about this in the local news. Such things don't make the news within the PRC, apparently. Or they're censored.

Anyway, let's see how this develops. We'll be in Macau and Hong Kong over the weekend.

Guangzhou 1

I leave R’s apartment at 6:45 a.m. for the airport. The first cabbie that I hail, in a burgundy Citroën (no bigger than an Indian Maruti Esteem) flings a stream of Chinese at me, gesticulating wildly at the trunk. Apparently it’s too small for my luggage. A larger Hyundai follows, and I ask, “Feiji chang?” He nods and flings another stream of putonghua at me. Hmm. Maybe he there’s two airports? “Beijing de feiji chang?” I respond, and put my arms out to simulate a plane. More streams of rapid-fire putonghua. “Ting bu dong!” “I don’t understand.” He then reaches in his wallet and flashes a 100 yuan bill. “Aha! He wants a hundred yuan for a fifty yuan ride!” I nod, give him the thumbs up, and we’re off! Traffic is light on the Airport Expressway, but things slow to a crawl as we get close to the airport. As I anticipated, the cabbie takes me to International departures. “Wo yao qu Guangzhou” – luckily, he understands. “Ah! Guangzhou!” and we crawl on towards domestic departures.

Inside, it’s a zoo. Beijing airport is quite busy at this hour. I stand in a long check-in line for Hainan Airlines flight HU7803. Another long line at security. I’m at my gate within 30 minutes, however, and the flight boards at 830 am precisely. We’re all crammed into a bus and whisked off to the apron where the 767-300 is waiting. A 767! I was expecting something smaller. There’s some interesting planes on the tarmac – apart from numerous Air China Boeings and Airbuses, a French registered Airbus A310 with “Sibir’” (Siberia) in Cyrillic on the tail. A green and white prop that is some kind of Soviet-era Antonov (an An-24 maybe?) HU7803 fills up fast. The interior is clean, calm, and at 9:05 am we’re hurtling down runway 36L. The view of the mountains north of Beijing is spectacular as we bank to the southwest, for the 1300+ mile, 2h50m flight down to Guangzhou (one is reminded that China is the third largest country in the world by landmass).

Guangzhou’s (Canton) new Baiyun airport is huge: slick, professional, could easily be anywhere in the West. Apparently, it’s the busiest airport in China. I’ve collected my bag by 12:15 pm, and give Kem a big hug outside. The airport is about 30km north of downtown. The city itself is huge, however, spread out over 40km. We’re soon on a comfortable bus to the suburb of Pinyou (incidentally, an older name for Guangzhou). A few sugarcane and paddy fields, lots of palm trees, rounded tree-covered hills in the distance. It’s much warmer (60F), a relief after Beijing. Soon, however, the concrete jungle takes over. The metropolitan area is huge. Apartment buildings, ritzy shopping malls and bazaars hurtle by. A huge bridge spans the Pearl River, with the new convention center on the other side. An hour later we’re in downtown Pinyou, where Kem’s wife is waiting with the company van. We drive a few blocks for a nice lunch, and then onto Kem’s office, a jewelry design plant on the edge of town. He gives me a tour of the facility (their firm does design work and supplies such well known names as Zales and … well, Wal-Mart!).

At 4:00 pm the van drops us off to their apartment, in the huge gated community of Clifford Estates in the neighboring town of Sichou. We drop off my bags, have a cup of chai and take another bus to downtown Guangzhou, another hour away (at least these long bus rides give us time to catch up!). The traffic and hustle bustle is unbelievable! It could almost be rush hour at Bombay (except that the traffic is actually moving!). As twilight settles in, we reach leafy Shamian Island, a reclaimed sandbar in the Pearl River, an oasis of quiet from the rest of the city. Large bungalows with colonial architecture line shady boulevards. The area is home to many expats (including those waiting to adopt Chinese babies. The US consulate is on the island as well). We walk up to the beautiful Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel (built by the French in 1892) just as the caretaker is closing it for the day. She lets us step in for a few minutes of prayer, and I manage to get a few shots of the exterior before it’s too dark. A newly-wed couple is getting their photographs taken outside the church (a very common practice here, especially, it seems, among non-Christians!).

We wander around the promenade on the Pearl River for a while. Everything around is lit up for Christmas, and a tall skyscraper in the distance has a large Santa on the side, with “Merry Christmas” glittering above. (Hey, didn’t they get the memo? Happy Holidays is the in-thing this year! Merry Christmas is exclusionary and offensive! Oh, but this is an atheist state, what do they know, eh?). Though, at one level, this is an even more secular celebration of Christmas than is sometimes lamented to be in the US. The majority of folks have no connection whatsoever with the religious significance of the holiday – it’s another excuse to party.

Another cab ride later, we’re in the heart of Guangzhou’s shopping district, the pedestrian thoroughfare of Beijing Lu. Glitzy shops galore, neon lights all around, tons of red lanterns with the fashion label “Giordano” emblazoned on them in English and Chinese, vast crowds surging about, China’s new confident middle class, a sign of the thriving, vibrant economy about to post another year of 9% GDP growth. I’ve obviously got “tourist” stamped on my forehead (Backpack. Camera. Yep.) A few beggars come up (the classless Communist state exists only in name), and at every turn, “Hello! Almani shu! This way! Lolex watch!” It’s amusing at first, and soon becomes intensely irritating.

In the middle of this temple to Mammon, there’s a glass pavement that exposes archeological digs below. In 2002, they discovered some ruins from the 9th century – old roads, gates, from the original city of Pinyou. A large plaque gives details in Chinese and English. It’s a surreal contrast, and the crowds swirl past, oblivious.

Guangzhou, of course, has thrived on trade forever, and had a pivotal part in the Opium Wars (British greed triumphed, and led to the birth of nearby commercial marvel, Hong Kong). So, in a sense, the city is just continuing in that tradition. There is a sense of a frontier town about it though – nouveau riche, brash, gaudy, shallow, artificial (Where else would you see apartment complexes with Roman columns and a Roman triumphal arch in front?) There is a materialist spirit (if that’s not an oxymoron) in the air, as intense as it is disquieting.

We have an exquisitely delicious Thai dinner (tom yum, red curry) nearby, and walk back to the bus stand. A street vendor in a white skull cap selling hot kebabs eyes me for a second and proffers “Asalaam aleikum!” “The peace of the Lord be with you!” “Waleikum asalaam” I return, a little surprised to hear Arabic here. He’s most likely an Uighur from the western province of Xinjiang. Unfortunately, I don’t trust the hygiene of his wares, so we walk on.

It is the last day of Advent here as I type this. May the peace of the Lord be upon all of y’all indeed.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Fr. Augustinus Thevarparmpil

An Indian priest slated for beatification.

I was going to link the Asianews article, but, guess what? It's blocked! Ha!

So, here' a link to the story at Open Book.

A note on blogging ...

I've had good (ADSL) connectivity in Beijing at R's apartment. Not sure what the deal will be in Guangzhou, so there might be an interruption in blogging! :)

The Great Wall of China

Beijing: 3 - The Great Wall

Well, it's pretty impressive.

Andrew was waiting for me at 9:00 am and we launched into the crazy Beijing traffic for the 90km (58mile) drive to the 2+km restored section of the Wall at Mutianyu. [Apparently, large sections of the wall lie in ruins. The areas frequented by tourists have been restored by the Chinese government.] "Mutianyu is much better than Badaling." [the closest section of the Wall from Beijing] "Fewer tourists and no pollution." Well, no pollution is great. The city in the morning is draped in a layer of brown-grey. Beijing has the unpleasant distinction of being the most polluted capital on the world.

The countryside around Beijing is flat and brown, dotted with concrete-filled towns, and leafless trees. Traffic culture is most decidedly not like India. People actually observe lane discipline, though overtaking from the shoulder on the right is quite acceptable. There is less vehicular diversity -- tons of cars and trucks and buses, bicycles, rickshaws, large three-wheeled behemoths (akin to north-Indian "tempos") belching noxious fumes galore. No cows, or ox-carts. I did see a few mule-carts though. The roads are in excellent shape and quite clean. And most distinct: no sign of the abject poverty that is so glaringly visible on India's roadsides -- shanties, dwellings propped up by wire and corrugated cardboard and plastic, and mounds of trash everywhere.

If the number of cars is any indication, then, all that talk about China being a huge gas guzzler is quite true. Gas is relatively cheap, 4.26 yuan per litre, which comes to about $2/gallon, and Sinopec gas stations are strung out at practically every kilometer.

An hour and a half later we're going through downtown Huairou, a miniature version of Beijing -- crowded streets, busy store-fronts, a large electronic store with a huge iPod billboard, large high-rises (with many more under construction. "It cost 4800 yuan/sq.m to buy an apartment here!"), a McDonalds, a KFC. Busy, consumerist, modern China.

A little out of town, and suddenly the mountains appear, rounded limestone formations, with granite peaks behind them. The road rises and starts winding, and a few villages fly by, and then, round a curve, up on the range, you see it, like a snake perched on the ridge. Soon we're at the parking lot at the foot of the range. A few buses and cars are disgorging the "few tourists" ("Oh, in peak season there would be 3000-5000/day!"). One has a choice of walking up to the wall, taking a "closed cable car" or a "toboggan slide." Not really sure what the last was, and not wanting to find out, I shelled out 50 yuan for the cable car ride up to the Wall.

The cable car station is a steep hike up from the parking lot, the path lined with souvenir shops peddling kitsch. An intriguing sign warns "Department of Propaganda: Please no start fire" and up ahead there is a large two-humped dromedary ambling up the hillside. It gives me a baleful look as I take a couple of pictures.

The ride up is spectacular, with the valley below shrouded in haze, and the sections of the Wall stretching out on either side. And on the Wall itself, the first thing one notices is how quiet it is. Barely a whisper of a wind (a huge relief from yesterday. It's definitely warmer, a high of 4C today. Compared to yesterday, that's a heat wave. Yes, Papa, I'm adequately bundled up! :)), and the occasional chatter of tourists. But, at points, one could stand there and imagine being completely alone, not a soul in sight, not a sound to disturb the tranquility, apart from one's own breathing.

The scenery is spectacular, of course. Apparently the time to be here is autumn, when the trees lining the wall glow orange and yellow. Still, it's quite beautiful as it is. I spend an hour and a half just wandering around, taking it all in.

What on earth would prompt a civilization to build this? What were they guarding against? As a defense mechanism, historically, the Wall was apparently a failure. Gengis Khan is reported to have said that a wall is only as good as its sentries. One can only imagine something resembling the Siege of Helms-Deep (Lord of the Rings for the clueless) happening here. Regardless, the whole thing is quite breathtaking, and deserves its status as one of the wonders of the world.

Though, my Lonely Planet guide bluntly says so, it's a myth that it's visible from space. Not that any of us is likely to be able to verify that ... :)

On the way down, I'm assaulted by the proprietors of souvenir stalls (Bill, not quite as aggressive as in Agra, but close!). "T-shirt! One dolla! Three for one dolla!" they cry. I try not to laugh, because all I can think of is that episode of South Park where Cartman thinks he's a Vietnamese prostitute named Ming-Lee and does the rounds going "5 dolla, 5 dolla!" :)
I astutely ignore them, and instead, pick up some souvenirs at a fixed-price shop near the parking lot. I absolutely loathe bargaining!

Lunch was at a little restaurant in Huairou, a pork and beans dish in a delicious sauce, with rice and soup. [Note to self: Trying to meat off the bone with chopsticks is mighty tricky!]Andrew thumbs through my phrase book and points to "gongbao jiding" (diced chicken with hot peppers) - "very popular dish. No one eats now, because chicken has flu!" Indeed! I've avoided ordering chicken so far. Rather irrational, for sure, but, hey.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Beijing Pictures: 2

Coke can: the three belles are apparently "superstars" of a group/show called "SHE" (Selena, Hebe and Ellis)!

Inside the Lama Temple, Beijing

St. Joseph Church on Wangfujing Dajie.

Beijing: 2

[Thanks for the comments below: can't respond in the comboxes. Dogwood -- I do have a pair of binoculars with me. Trust me, you wouldn't be able to take them in either. And I'm not of the mind to cross the People's Liberation Army! :-) As to cloud-cover --- I want clear views at the Wall! :)]

"So, you want noodles or dumplings for lunch" asks Andrew, after I've regained some feeling in the extremeties inside the car. "Dumplings, sure!" We head off to a little restaurant, in a narrow alley not too far from the Forbidden City. A small establishment, steel chairs and tables, pretty spartan. Feels like a dhabha in India, or a simple roadside diner in the US. The clientele is entirely Chinese, as is the menu. Andrew sits down with me. "Please, just order for me! I'll be adventurous!" So, we get three kinds of dumplings - lamb, pork, and shrimp/mushroom, and a "hot plate" of pork in garlic sauce with vegetable garnish. This comes with a plate of what looks like tiny paper napkins, but turn out to be squares of bean-curd (tofu). One lifts a square off, puts some pork and vegetable on it, rolls it up and then eats it. The food was more than filling and quite delicious. For some reason, they were out of tea, so they served a kettle of hot water instead! I opted for a Coke. Total bill: 44 yuan (a little over 5 bucks, for the both of us!).

Later, I also noted how in India, any driver or guide I'd have hired would never sit down with me for a meal. The bade log and chhote log (big and small folks) don't mix, especially not at a meal. This is a classless society, after all. And that's quite a good thing, as far as I'm concerned!

Turns out that Andrew is from a small village, some 100km from Beijing, the younger of two sons. "In Beijing only one child, however" he reminds me. "So, didn't you go to college?" "No, very poor village. Not everyone finishes school. We had seven students in school, and one teacher!" (For a village of about 300!). Just a glimpse into the growing social inequalities between urban and rural China. Earlier, R was mentioning how the social support network is under great strain, the publich health care system has broken down, and how rural poverty is skyrocketing.

After lunch, we head to the Tibetan Lama temple, a gorgeous complex of Tibetan buildings, each with shrines to the bewildering variety of Tibetan deities and bodhisattvas. At pretty much every shrine, there were worshippers offering three incense sticks, and bowing deeply, or offering prostrations, three times, while in a corner, a monk, clad in brown robes with a red or orange cord, chanted hymns slowly.

The clouds of billowing incense, the worshipper's breath condensing in front of their faces, the deep chanting, made for quite a peaceful and otherworldly feeling in the lowering afternoon sun.

The palaces themselves date from the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Qing emperor started this lamastery. One contained an exhibition of exquisite Tibetan sculptures and statues of the Tibetan pantheon. (Including one that was quite familiar, Yamantaka, an angel of death, thanks to a college friend who was obsessed with Tibetan Buddhism).

Andrew then offered to take me for a tour of Beijing's famous hutong, the warren of ancient, narrow alleyways that still survive in the heart of the modern metropolis. 150 yuan for an hour in a rickshaw-style pedicab. I declined, mainly because the thought of yet another hour exposed to the elements was simply awful! Instaed, I had him drive me to Wangfujing Dajie to St. Joseph Church (also known as East Church). The current imposing gothic structure dates from 1905, but apparently there's been a church on this spot since 1655, when the Qing emperor invited missionaries to set up a church here! The church provides an interesting contrast to the bustling Wangfujing area offices and shops, neon lights and glowing billboards and all. There is a pleasant square in front, with some beautiful flowers, and a statue of St. Joseph with the Christ Child in one corner (it's rare to see him depicted with his foster-Son!). The church itself was locked (as Andrew had warned me. Apparently, they're only open for services and on Sundays!). I walked around the side where a little panel gave a brief history of the church. As I stood there, three men appeared -- two in Army uniforms, and one in civillian clothes, chatting loudly. The civillian lead them up to a side door, unlocked it and they went into the church. What was that about? Around the corner from the sign, in a little niche against one buttress were three homeless men, bundled up against the cold, their meagre possessions stuffed into shopping bags. One appeared to be passed out on the pavement.

If they were getting some kind of refuge against the side of the church, then, I guess, the Chinese Church is doing exactly what she needs to.

It was getting quite dark as Andrew dropped me off at the huge Moma apartment complex on Wanguocheng. R's off on a business trip, but has graciously let me use his place till I leave Friday morning. I had a light dinner of fruit, and by 9 pm, was fast asleep! That jet-lag finally caught up, I guess!

Tomorrow: off to the Great Wall at Mutianyu!

Beijing Pictures: 1

Picture of Chairman Mao on the Gate of Heavenly Peace, north of Tiananmen Square.

Some sage advice from the staff at the Imperial Palace.

Close-up of roof, Qing Dynasty complex, Imperial Palace.

Cranes are ubiquitous in Beijing.

Beijing: 1

[Hmph, for some reason, blogger is not uploading images. Oh well, y'all will have to wait for pictures.]

Much to my surprise, I managed to sleep most of the night. I did dream that the driver I had hired turned out to be an enterprising Gujarati who didn't show me any sights, but tried to take me to sell me various things instead.

The real guy (from the fantastic Beijing Three Dragon Tour Company) turned out to be an amiable chap by the name of Yeng-he ("English name And-lu"), who spoke passable English. He even showed up early, with a large navy-blue mini-van (hence his seeming disappointment when it turned out to be just me!). Soon we were hurtling through Beijing's mad traffic. Much like Bombay, only much faster.

Beijing is a huge city. "We have six ring-road. Big city" says Andrew. And its growing fast -- construction everywhere, and cranes dot the skyline. There is a madness in the air as the approaching 2008 Summer Olympics dominates all urban planning.

About 30 minutes later, we turn onto the broad Xiehangan Jie, which separates the Forbidden City from Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world. And it certainly lives up to its reputation!

Andrew parks the car about half-way down the square, and we step out. And then it hits. The cold. Yes, I knew that Beijing was freezing. Today's high was 32F. But the wind! Like an icy knife, it cuts through every opening. In a few seconds my hands are numb. Looking around I see why everyone is wearing coats much burlier than mine, with layers of scarves covering their mouths. "Hen leng" I say to Andrew. "It's very cold." He laughs in agreement.

First stop is Mao's Mausoleum, a huge Communist-style structure that dominates the center of the square. I line up with some 60 visitors, almost all Chinese. I get a few curious stares, and smile back. Andrew stays back, with my camera (not allowed inside). Members of the People's Liberation Army, in their signature billowing green coats shout instructions at the line through megaphones. A loudspeaker somewhere is reciting a non-stop stream of Chinese. I imagine it's various sayings and slogans from the great leader. After some 10 minutes, the line starts moving. A few break ranks to purchase flowers (one single stem of pink or yellow roses). A hush descends on the crowd as we enter the mammoth structure. A sign asks that all hats be removed. This is, after all, a sacred spot of pilgrimage, dedicated to the cult of the founder of the Republic. In the foyer, a large, white marble statue receives scores of flowers from the pilgrims. We round a corridor into the room where the Chairman's earthly remains lie pickled, with that deathly, waxy look. The line shuffles past respectfully. All I can think of is the millions who lost their lives because of this man. There's souvenir stands on the other side, selling medals and trinkets.

The walk up to the Gate of Heavenly Peace, the southern end of the Forbidden City, requires heroic staying power. The wind is killing, and I turn around and walk backwards, dodging souvenir sellers trying to unload their Mao hats and cheap copies of the Red Book on me.

Well, that was Tiananmen Square. A few people wandering about, and the support cast of the tourist trade. It's hard to imagine what this must have been like in 1989.

I cross the frozen moat and walk under the Gate of Heavenly Peace, and thaw out a bit on the leeward side. 40 Yuan ($5) buys me an entrance ticket to the Imperial Palace grounds. Andrew leaves me here, to wander around the next hour and a half, in this gorgeous collection of bright red and ochre buildings, palaces and courtyards, the former headquarters of the Ming and Qing dynasties, whose historical function (according to one sign) was completed after the 1911 revolution that established the first Chinese Republic. After a while, and as long as one stays out of the wind, the cold recedes into the background, but is ever present. Seriously, I cannot recall being this cold ever.

Maybe it was the cold, but I found the Forbidden City, while quite beautiful, to be a bit (no pun intended) cold and impersonal. Maybe it's because I don't know much (if anything) of the details of Chinese history, or I was too busy trying to keep from getting frostbitten. By the time I reached the back gate, my thoughts tended to converge around "heat" and "food" but mainly "heat."

Chinese Catholics ...

Priest and nun beaten in Tianjin.

Chinese Catholic parish opens in Paris.

(Via Zenit.)

Merry Christmas ...

... from the Pope.

How cool would it be to receive this? (Alas, one has to be an employee of Vatican City, it seems.)

A Zenit story that gives a little more on this year's Papal Christmas Card.

And, a huge roundup of things Papala and Christmas from Open Book.

For the protection of the people ...

Well, isn't this weird. While I can access Blogger quite alright, and create posts on my blog, I cannot actually view my blog. Or any other blog hosted on blogspot.

Could this be because of the famous firewall of the People's Republic? (Just try accessing BBC's webpage from here ... ) Maybe blogspot has a more than normal complement of material detrimental to the moral well-being of the republic (items that might compromise this are prohibited from import into the country ...).

So -- keep reading, keep leaving comments. I just won't be able to reply to any comments (since that involves actually downloading the blog).

At least this doesn't affect Typepad. I can still ready Amy Welborn. Phew. :-)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Ni hao ma!

(on approach to Tokyo's Narita International)

Well folks, a loooong journey, but here I am, in the People's Republic of China.

Let me tell you, exit row seats are definitely worth it, especially for someone of my stature.

Pretty uneventful flights. I'd have posted from Tokyo, but the kiosk required a 100Y coin. Beijing's airport is pretty impressive, and it's obvious everything is gearing up for the 2008 Olympics. The city itself is huge.

Anyway, more later! It's nearly midnight, and I'm safe and sound at my friend R's place in Dongzhimen, in the northeast of the city, a 20 minute cab ride (40CNY, about 5 bucks!) from the airport (yes, they drive crazy here).

Interesting note: apparently the number 4 is an unlucky number, since sì (4) sounds like si (death). The buildings don't have a 4th floor, or anything with 4. R's apartment is on the 21st floor -- which is actually the 19th, since there is no 4, 14!

Wan an, for now!

Monday, December 19, 2005

"I'm leaving on a jet plane ..."

In the morning i.e. Time to get some shut-eye. (Hm .. or maybe, not sleep, and force the body-clock into disorientation early ... Northwest has deigned to give me an emergency exit row seat, so I will at least be able to stretch my legs on the transpacific leg.)

You will have noticed that the blog timestamp has changed to UTC+08.00, i.e. Beijing time. (I.e. 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time)

I'll post my travelogues here as I can!

Here's the outline of the trip:

Monday, Dec. 19 --- US to Beijing (arriving Tuesday)
Friday, Dec. 23 --- Beijing to Guangzhou (Canton)
Saturday, Dec. 24 --- Hong Kong
Wednesday, Dec. 28 --- Guangzhou to Bombay
Friday, Dec. 30 --- Bombay to Vadodara
Tuesday, Jan. 3 --- Vadodara to New Delhi
Thursday, Jan. 5 --- New Delhi to US (arriving Friday, Jan. 6)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

'Tis the season ...

What a silly thing to do, to end up at Harbison Blvd. the last shopping weekend before Christmas. In all my years here, I have never seen such traffic! (I'd even say it was approaching Bombay on a Sunday afternoon! :-)) Twenty minutes to get off the freeway ramp! No jokes! But, I leave on my travels on Monday, and of course, I have tons of last minute things to do.

So, at one point, I parked in the Publix parking lot and decided to walk across Bowers Pkwy to Circuit City. I am certain it would have taken me longer to actually drive. And I'm sure the conserved hydrocarbons were worth it too. :)

It's really strange walking in an area that's really not designed with pedestrians in mind. In all the visits here, I'd never noticed that there's a creek between the Publix and the Circuit City parking lots. So, I cross the road (easy, it's a parking lot itself), and cut through the Boatingworld lot --- and --- realize I have to go around this creek! So I end up walking along the very edge of the road, raling

There's also a strange feeling of discomfort. Like one is doing something one shouldn't be. No one walks here! That's what cars are for! I am convinced that everyone is staring at this strange brown fellow in a needs-to-be-brushed-down peacoat in the slight winter breeze. I concentrate on the podcast I'm listening to (Have I mentioned yet that I love my new 5G iPod?). And, sacrifices to Mammon having been made at Circuit City, I walk back to my car.

And am really mad at myself that I actually feel relieved reaching it!

Twenty-five minutes to get to Piney Grove Rd. on Bowers Pkwy. And I'm still not done shopping!

.... Apostolic ....

As in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. So here's what's been going on in the world of the Successors to the Apostles.

By now it's old news. There is a new Archbishop coming to San Francisco. Msgr. George Niederauer, until now Bishop of Salt Lake City.

Recently, there was a new Bishop announced for Marquette, MI, The Rev. Alexander Sample, a priest of the same Diocese.

And now, we have a new Pro Nuncio. The Pope's representative to the government of the United States (and also his representative to the Church in the US). Archbishop Pietro Sambi, former emissary to Israel.

And speaking of the 13th century ...

a good, solid, excommunication.

[Ok. That seems to imply that I'm waiting with eager glee for the Inquisition. But then, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition .... oy ... Anyway. I'm not. Excommunication is hardly common, and hardly something to be gleeful about. This is an extremely messy and sad situation. Please do keep the Church in St. Louis in your prayers.]

[And lest anyone get snotty about this being "conservative" Burke, the last time we had a situation which led to excommunications in the US Church was in the "liberal" bishopric of Matthew Clark, over the Corpus Christi affair in Rochester.]

Rocco has some decent comments on this.

And, it seems, there's an actual heresy trial underway in San Bernandino California, against a priest who left and started his own church. Um. That is, he became a protestant? :)

Oh dear. Why can't we all just get along?

Because, boundaries are important. Because unity means something concrete, and not just a nebulous nod towards good intentions. Because some things are important enough that one has to disagree and go our separate ways. Here's a recent Christianity Today article that talks about this from an evangelical Christian perspective, that is quite applicable to the Catholic Church as well.

Of course, there has to be some kind of a balance -- one doesn't fracture based on just anything (this may be the temptation of Protestant Christianity really). But nor is unity at any cost a goal either. Especially if the cost involves being true to the Gospel. That is indeed the tragedy of the Anglican Communion right now. (And, it should be pointed out, each side feels quite strongly, of course, that it is being true to the Gospel.) And not just them. This is the tragedy of the division of the Body of Christ.

Here's a tough assignment...

... speak about chastity and abstinence (without mentioning religion) to teenagers, where some parents have objected to your presence there. In a public school.

Apparently, he passed with flying colors. (Via Open Book.)

He started with a squirming audience of restless, skeptical teens.

But when the speaker on abstinence finished Thursday at Berkley High School, there were cheers and even some tears.

The visit by Jason Evert, 29, of the Catholic Answers evangelical organization, based in El Cajon, Calif., had worried some parents, who feared he would inject religion into his talk. But Evert had said beforehand that, for public school visits, he omits any mention of God, sin, faith or religion.

[And, it seems, in my experience, to be almost dogma among some public health/education types, that abstinence education is at best a waste of time. At worst part of the diabolical campaign of this administration to return us all to the 13th century. I'm no expert as to how effective it is. But surely it must be presented. With zeal, as a reliable alternative.]

The religion of grace

Fr. Cantalamessa's third Advent sermon (Part 1. Part 2 on Sunday. If you don't know who he is, you've not been reading my blog. How's that for a conceited statement! :))... he's talking about St. Paul. How can I resist? :) (Via Zenit.)
Obedience, and in addition to that, among all the gentiles! His failure hadn't scratched in the least his certainty that the Gospel "is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). In that moment, the vast work of taking the Gospel to the ends of the world was yet to be done. Shouldn't it have seemed to be an impossible and absurd task? But Paul says: "for I know him in whom I have believed" (2 Timothy 1:12), and 2,000 years has justified his audacious faith.

I reflected over these things the first time that I visited Athens and Corinth and I told myself: "If today we had just a small grain of Paul's faith, we wouldn't let ourselves be intimidated by the fact that the world has yet to be evangelized, and even more, that it rejects, at times contemptuously, like the Areopagites, being evangelized."

Faith in Christ, for Paul, is everything. "Insofar as I now live in the flesh," he writes as a testament in the Letter to the Galatians, "I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20)
The concept of "righteousness of God" was explained in the Letter to Titus: "But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy" (Titus 3:4-5). Saying "The righteousness of God appeared," is the same as saying: The goodness of God, his love and his mercy appeared. It was not man who, all of a sudden, changed life and tradition and put himself to the task of doing good; the novelty is that God acted, he was the first to extend his hand out to sinful man, and his action fulfilled time.

Here is the novelty that distinguishes the Christian religion from any other. Any other religion draws out for man a path to salvation by means of practical observations and intellectual speculations, promising him, as a final prize, salvation and illumination, but leaving him substantially alone in achieving the task. Christianity does not begin with what man must do to save himself, but rather with what God has done to save him. The order is reversed.

It is true that to love God with all your heart is "the first and greatest of the commandments," but the commandments are not primary, they are secondary. Before the order of commandments comes the order of gift and of grace. Christianity is the religion of grace! If this is not taken into consideration in interreligious dialogue, the dialogue would be able to do no more than generate confusion and doubts in the hearts of many Christians.

Catholic schools in Hong Kong ...

might have to close because of a new law in the SAR. (Via Zenit.)

The dispute seems to be over government mandated oversight boards that are to ensure transparency and democracy. Yep. That's a huge concern of the Chinese government.

Another sign of the continued de-democratization of Hong Kong?

Friday, December 16, 2005

How to join the EU ....

Orhan Pamuk on trial. For "insulting the republic, parliament or any organs of state."

Oh lord. Imagine if we had a law that made it a crime to insult a Congressman.

(But hey, maybe if you did, Uncle Sam might have been listening.)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

More on Australia ...

From my friend down under.

First, a query from a Canadian correspondent of his:
So what the hell is going on in Sydney (and other locales)? I had initially assumed this was just the unfortunate but not entirely unexpected result of too much beer, sun and testosterone, but it's obviously blossomed into something rather more dangerous and widespread, to the extent that the Muslims are actually organizing and fighting back, according to the breathless report on CTV last night about a large group of men guarding their mosque from marauders. It's hard to tell from here if the uproar is specifically anti-Muslim or, as seems more likely, anti-brown-people.

I was just listening to an interview on CBC Radio-1 with two Aussie politicians, one a conservative from Western Australia, who predictably decried the "de-australianization" (his coinage) incumbent upon letting thousands of non-Euros in, the other a liberal from Tasmania who equally predictably laid the whole mess at the feet of GW Bush and his lackey that Howard fellow; the difference I note in political discourse between Canada and Oz is that the Aussies are much less punctilious in their observance of political correctness in terminology (if a Canadian politician said "we let all these eye-shuns in, they breed like bloody rabbits, stick to themselves, they're not real austrleyeyuns", which is my paraphrase of the chap from WA, he'd find himself in a criminal court). The radio piece went on with a discussion with some Canadian "experts" on multiculturalism
and "could it happen here" (duh).
And here's the response (written, it seems, from the heart of the Aussie summer. It was not far above thirty-five degrees here in SC today as well. Fahrenheit, i.e.):
Oh no, nothing at all like that. I wonder that they asked someone in WA and someone in Tassie about what's going on in Sydney. That would be like asking someone in Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland to explain Vancouver.

This has been brewing for a very long time actually. But it's not a matter of the Lebanese fighting back; quite the contrary. Lebanese gangs have been becoming increasingly cheeky -- harassing Anglos on trains, pack-raping Anglo girls they drag OFF trains accompanied by "How do you like it Leb-style, Aussie pig?" and then their mothers attending the trial in hijab and spitting on the rape victims, the imam of their mosque opining on the telly that any girl who goes about dressed as western women do has only herself to blame if she gets raped. And their silly Anglo lawyers attempting to raise the defence that in the Muslim world women are hidden away in purdah so the men can only be expected to go wild when they are in a free country. (Grounds, I'd have thought, for disbarment on on the grounds of incompetence.) That kind of thing.

This latest arose when a gang of Lebanese thugs had increasingly been attempting to take exclusive possession of the beach in the suburb where last Sunday's infelicity had occurred -- harassing Anglo beach-goers, then the week before actually stabbing a teenage lifeguard. This was the Anglo kids' reaction: an overreaction, to be sure, but as I say, it had been building. Very silly of the Lebanese to turn around and react by rampaging down streets bashing in windshields with cricket bats, firing guns into a Catholic school and burning down a Methodist church hall: if anyone was going to be bleeding heart about it….Needless to say the Malaysians are lapping it up as a cat does cream. I do wonder what my Gulf Arab client, who emailed that he's coming to see me on Friday, might have to say about all this.

They don't have much use for Lebanese, much less Indian and Pakistani Muslims -- who not being (1) Gulf Arabs and (2) not being bleakly austere Wahabis are essentially indistinguishable from kaffirs. There was a Lebanese engineer in my law school class at UNSW who had worked for a couple of years in "Saudi" and carried on to a faretheewell about the "ragheads." I earnestly inquired whether he thought it was easier for him to deal with them being Arab himself and he turned on his heel and stomped off. Ultimately he married a Malaysian princess, hired a private passenger liner to take guests from Sydney to the wedding, and is now a property developer in North Borneo where he is the chief expulsion agent charged with getting rid of pesky indigenous landowners standing in the way of luxury resort hotels.

The news media are of course going all wet about the deep core of racism in Australian society that is revealed by such an incident -- echoing the ineffable Mahathir Mohamed of Malaysia who has gleefully come out of his retirment to say exactly that -- and getting it dead wrong. Australia's record in that department is nothing to be especially proud of, but honestly. Oh well, there'll be a great thing about how everyone's Australian and we need to learn to get on (ie not rise to provocation by Lebs) and it will blow over and return to normal (see above), no doubt. There's been some considerable urging by the Muslim women's associations – not Lebanese ones -- for Lebanese parents to take their sons' mobile phones away, which would actually doubtless be a very good thing. (They text message each other, you see, about where to congregate and bash Anglos.)

So to answer your question more specifically, no, not anti-brown or even anti-Muslim, but anti-Lebanese Muslim. The Lebanese Christians -- to the extent that there are any pur-laine ones -- being of course middle class mainstream Australians themselves, are, silly buggers, climbing onto the what-this-reveals-about-the-racist-core-of-Australian-society bandwagon and muddying the waters. Not to speak of unnecessarily identifying themselves with the original culprits to everyone else

I am indeed sweltering. Thirty-five degrees yesterday. That probably had something to do with the short tempers as well. That and the amount of beer that gets taken to beaches when it's like this.
The Australian, with a disturbing report about churches being targeted.

Cronulla surfers apologise. (Mighty decent of them. Perhaps the other side should reciprocate as well?)

We wish you a Merry Moloch ...

Well, since Merry Christmas is verboten, the Curt Jester has a suggestion, thanks to Planned Parenthood. Heh. :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Are you weak enough?

Mark links to a powerful ordination homily by a Michael Buckley, SJ.
There is a tendency among us Americans, common and obvious enough, recommended by common sense and successful practice, to estimate a person�s aptitude for a profession or for a career by listing his strengths. Jane speaks well, possesses an able mind, exhibits genuine talents for leadership and debate; she would be an excellent lawyer. John has recognizably good judgment, a scientific turn of interest, obvious manual dexterity and deep human concerns; he would make a splendid surgeon.

The tendency is to transfer this method of evaluation to the priesthood, to estimate a man by his gifts and talents, to line up his positive achievements and his capacity for more, to understand his promise for the future in terms of his accomplishments in the past, and to make the call within his life contingent on the attainments of personality or grace. Because a man is religiously serious, prayerful, socially adept, intellectually perceptive; possesses interior integrity, sound common sense, and habits of hard work--therefore he will make a fine priest.

I think that transfer is disastrous. There is a different question, one proper to the priesthood as of its very essence, if not uniquely proper to it: Is this man weak enough to be a priest? Is this man deficient enough so that he cannot ward off significant suffering from his life, so that he lives with a certain amount of failure, so that he feels what it is to be an average man? Is there any history of confusion, of self-doubt, of interior anguish? Has he had to deal with fear, come to terms with frustrations, or accept deflated expectations? These are critical questions and they probe for weakness. Why? Because, according to Hebrews, it is in this deficiency, in this interior lack, in this weakness, that the efficacy of the ministry and priesthood of Christ lies.

"For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted ... For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning ... He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward since he himself is beset with weakness." (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15; 5:2).

How critically important it is for us to enter into the seriousness of this revelation, of this conjunction between priesthood and weakness, that we dwell upon deficiency as part of our vocation! Otherwise we can secularize our lives into an amalgam of desires and talents; and we can feel our weakness as a threat to our priesthood, as indicative that we should rethink what was previously resolved, as symptomatic that we were never genuinely called, that we do not have the resources to complete what we once thought was our destiny and which once spoke to our generosity and fidelity.

Read the rest!
It is powerful stuff, and gives me much food for thought and reflection and prayer.

More on the Church in China ....

Amy links (and quotes) to a lengthy statement from the Cardinal Kung foundation.

As always, read her comboxes! Especially that wise sage, Old Zhou.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

For my makapao friends ...

[I'm afraid my non-Indian readers will simply not get this. Sorry y'all! But this is just too hilarious to pass up! And right on as well!]

You know you are a Catholic.... when?

You and your girlfriend are "friendly".

You've never had a grandmother, you've always had a Nana. The same goes for

You jive to hip-hop.

Bastard is baashturd. And baashturd is always preceeded by bleddie.

And if the DJ doesn't play the "masala" he's a bleddie baashturd and u feel
like jhaaping, clipping or tanning him.

The first thing you ask another Catholic is "which parish?" (Oh so true! I never knew what to say -- since I'm not really a mac. You know, a bleddie convert, men.)

Mazgaon is mazgon, Mahim is mayhim, borivali is brivli, bandra is banruh.
And you are a Mayhim boy or a Banruh girl.

Every sentence you say ends with "men". And most sentences you say begin
with "cheh men".

Women are "chicks" and men are "buggers". (Not at all the same connotation as in the UK!)

It's okay if you skipped your best friend's birthday, but Sunday 9 o'clock
mass, have to go men, to meet da chicks and da buggers.

You utter 9 F**ks per 3 words (oh how true this is! "Bleddie mac punctuation" I used to call it.)

You know at least one person in Vasai, Borivali I.C. colony and Orlem, each.

The old people in the family call you "puta" of sonna¨ or my girl¡¨

Portugal is your favourite European country.

You know 13 Savio's and 7 Seans. (Shawns).

You've been living in Bombay all your life, but you're actually from Goa or

You never say Mumbai.

You'll skip the world cup final but not the Christmas dance.

You love going to the local "fete" to watch the parish king and queen

Irritating person = swine.

When you disagree you say "balls".

You can't play cricket to save your life, but you rock at football (i.e. soccer).

You don't like Remo too much, but if a non-Catholic doesn't like him, you'll
kick his a** for it.

Your Hindi is a little better than Michael Jackson's (ROFLOL!)

You claim you can't speak Konkani, but in reality, you can use it to win the
Nobel Prize for literature. (Hmm, this only applies to true Makapaos, i.e. Goans.)

Christmas is not happy, it's merry.

Suits are black, dark blue and grey. Only.

On a Saturday night, you want to go out for a "cupple-a-beers" men.

Sunday is chicken curry day.

Your freezer is filled with last years Sorpotel, which if u heat and eat
with pao no, it's damn tashty men. (Sorpotel is always damn tashty!)

You prefer chicken patties to chicken lollypops. (I disagree! All the macs I know love chicken lollypops!)

When you order pav bhaji, you eat more pav than bhaji.

If you're Goan you hate Mangies (Mangaloreans) and vice-versa. Both Goans and Mangies hate East-Indians a little.

East Indians are people who've always been living in west India, and have
nothing to do with the west indies.

Your bar has an okay amount of booze. 365 days of the year. And you always
"have some wine also men" for the women who don't drink.

You didn't watch Sholay but you've seen "The Passion of the Christ". In a
theatre. Twice. You think Mel Gibson is such a nice man. (I really can't comment on the last, since "The Passion" came out long after I left the reaches of Catholic Bombay! But not having watched Sholay? Oh yeah!)

Yankee or Dixie?

Here's a survey that I got in the inbox last week. Dunno about its accuracy (We call all soft-drinks "Coke" 'round these parts?). But it's fun.

And here's my score:

74% (Dixie). That is a pretty strong Southern score!


Howd y'all!

[Of course, my accent is quite malleable. Around a bunch of Southerners, the twang gets more pronounced. American and Indian are my two "native," i.e. effortless/instinctive, accents. I switch over effortlessly to Indian English, the proper "convent educated" variety. And into Bombay-Catholic idiosyncracies ("Shut up or I'll give you one jhaap, men!" Upcoming post on that!) in the right company. And in Hindi, I can do Delhi-Hindi as easily and convincingly as Bambayiyya-slang (complete with "apun ko mangta" and "khalipili" and "bhandi"). My Marathi, though less fluent, is pretty convincing (except for this embarrassing moment, many years ago at a Bank of Maharashtra branch in Pune, when the rude-a** clerk turned to a colleague, as I was starting to speak in Marathi, and said "Oh these outsiders! Why do they even try to speak our language?" That, of course, was pure Pune-Brahmin snobbery. And the nationalized banks' abysmal customer service). My Spanish tends to be largely Castillan, with the zeta, without the vosotros, and never any voseo. It confuses native speakers quite a lot as they're trying to place me. I've been told my Italian has a Spanish lilt to it. Need to work on that! Guess I'm a linguistic chameleon. Or just very very confused. :-)]

No to torture

[I have to confess I am surprised by otherwise thoughtful Christians who would countenance the use of torture. I agree, one needs to define clearly what torture is. I must be missing something, for sure. Maybe I'm not pragmatic enough? Surely it cannot be simply a Machiavellian case of the ends justifying the means? I might even agree that sometimes these (the anti torture voices) are just idealistic posturing. But still. Don't have time right now to respond to Corey G's comments below. Maybe I'll get around to that at some point.]

Torture not ethical as an anti-terrorism tool: Cardinal Renato Martino (Via Zenit)

Torture is not an ethical means for fighting terrorism, says the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Cardinal Renato Martino made that assertion today at a press conference where he presented Benedict XVI's message for World Day of Peace, to be held Jan. 1. "Torture is the humiliation of a person, whoever that person is. For this reason, the Church does not accept it as valid this means to extract the truth," the cardinal said.
[I have to say though, while not really a development of doctrine, it is indeed a welcome development of practice that the Church denounces torture. Torquemada might have been surprised!]

[Oh, it should also be noted that Renato Cardinal Martino is understood to be quite anti-American. He, like the rest of the Holy See I hasten to add, was most vociferous in denouncing the Iraq War. Here's John Allen's analysis of some of his more controversial remarks.]

[More disclaimers: rereading that, I seem to imply that opposition to the Iraq war and anti-Americanism are the same thing. They're not. However, Cardinal Martino is known for both.]

And here's the immensely articulate intelligent (if often belligerently pugnacious and hysterical, especially when it comes to matters Catholic) Andrew Sullivan writing in the New Republic.

In this inevitably emotional debate, perhaps the greatest failing of those of us who have been arguing against all torture and "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" of detainees is that we have assumed the reasons why torture is always a moral evil, rather than explicating them. But, when you fully ponder them, I think it becomes clearer why, contrary to Krauthammer's argument, torture, in any form and under any circumstances, is both antithetical to the most basic principles for which the United States stands and a profound impediment to winning a wider war that we cannot afford to lose.

Torture is the polar opposite of freedom. It is the banishment of all freedom from a human body and soul, insofar as that is possible. As human beings, we all inhabit bodies and have minds, souls, and reflexes that are designed in part to protect those bodies: to resist or flinch from pain, to protect the psyche from disintegration, and to maintain a sense of selfhood that is the basis for the concept of personal liberty. What torture does is use these involuntary, self-protective, self-defining resources of human beings against the integrity of the human being himself. It takes what is most involuntary in a person and uses it to break that person's will. It takes what is animal in us and deploys it against what makes us human. As an American commander wrote in an August 2003 e-mail about his instructions to torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib, "The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees, Col. Boltz has made it clear that we want these individuals broken."

Now Australia?

(Ok -- that implies that this is just like France. Which is quite unfair.)

Armed gangs on rampage in Sydney for a second night, in apparent retaliation for racist slurs/attacks the previous day at Cronulla Beach.

Some perspective.

Tons of coverage at the Sydney Morning Herald.

A Technorati search on the story shows that the blogosphere is taking up the anti-immigrant/anti-Muslim angle again. But let's ignore the fact that the majority of the young men involved are Lebanese, and therefore, quite as likely to be Christian as well as Muslim. (Though a search with just "Sydney Riots" gives a more balanced perspective.)

These seem to be race riots. Let's not say "intifada" at the drop of every stone, now, shall we?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Battlestar Galactica

So, being home sick with the cold today, I ended up watching some episodes of Battlestar Galactica (thanks, Chris S!) -- well, the 3.5 hour series pilot anyway, and episode 1 of the first season. Wow! What fun! Cool story line, interesting characters, and not too much special effects jazz to detract from the plot. I'm hooked! (Apparently, I've been waiting to get hooked to something now that HBO's Rome has run its first season.) It's quite clever and imaginative!

[Now, I have to add this rant, that while incredibly imaginative at one level, I find most sci-fi to be rather unimaginative at other levels. Most of this is due to the fact that they must appeal to a largely American TV audience. But why does everyone speak American English? Why does a bustling marketplace look so artificial, when they could get such an authentic picture by just going to Istanbul or Bangkok or Bombay or Hong Kong? Why are all family dynamics like upper-middle-class white suburbia? Why is everything in the universe so g'darned Anglo? Even the idea of token People of Color -- blacks, East Asians, rarely anyone else -- is an Anglo idea ya know ... !]

Of course, apart from appleaing to the sci-fi geek in me, you know I'd have some commentary on the portrayal of religion in the series. Seems like the people of the Twelve Colonies follow a religion established by the Lords of Kobol (sure that's not Cobol, the ancient programming language? :)), quite polytheistic. ("Thank the gods!" is quite a common exclamation.) The new President swears an oath by raising her hand and swearing, but no book is in sight, and no mention of what she swears by, only that a priest is necessary for the ceremony. At the end of the pilot, at a kind of memorial service the priestess chants some suitably exotic sounding stuff. Except it's (badly pronounced) Sanskrit. In fact, a very famous mantra from the Brihadarnyak Upanishad. "Asatoma sadgamaya, tamaso ma jyotirgamaya, mrityorma amritam gamaya." (From untruth lead me to truth [or reality; many ways to translate sat]; from darkness lead me to light; from death lead me to immortality.) This is followed by a wish that the dead be taken to eternal life, and instead of "Amen," everyone responds, "So we all say."

So there we have it -- a suitably PC, exotic, polytheistic and decidedly non-Christian religion for the series. Seems like the kind of thing a D&D fan would come up with. And of course, this religion would have nothing at all to say about the proper exression of human sexuality. In the first 5 minutes of the pilot, it seems that everyone is having passionate sex. But more on that anon.

Oh, yes. That Earth legend. The Lords of Kobol, after establishing the 12 colonies (why 12? Was someone reading the Bible?), suggested that a 13th tribe escaped to a remote corner of the galaxy, to a legendary planet Earth.

But then, there's this fascinating dialogue between Gaius (the disturbing traitor-character), and the Cylon (machine-being) he's unwittingly helped to undermine civilization and the human race. She professes faith in God, and he mocks her. The conversation sounds like earnest scientific-type meets stereotypical fundamentalist Christian. This dynamic takes a more sinister turn in the first episode. This machine being now resides (in a way) in Gaius' psyche, and keeps up this faith-based-platitudinous-patter in a seductively sinister tone. "You know, that ship was lost because you didn't have faith in God." "You anger God by your lack of faith." "There are no coincidences, God is looking out for you." "Repent of your sins and let God love you." "God wants us to have a baby together. Procreation is God's command." He tries to fend this spiritual assault off using some stock responses. "In a vastly complex universe there are bound to be things that seem coincidental. No, in fact the design of the universe requires this." "There is only reason. " "That's not logical."

So here you have some fundamental Christian themes, twisted a bit, and presented as being part of the bad-guys' (or, in this case, bad-machine gal) armory to break down Gaius' defenses.

But perhaps the most fascinating thing is the whole treatment of sexuality. Of course, people are expressing their love sexually all over the place. Wouldn't be normal TV without that, now, would it. But the way Cylon-gal seduces Gaius (and thereby leads him to betray humanity) seems to convey the sense that sex can be sooooo evil. Sooooo dirty. And when she reappears in his imagination/psyche, she's like the constant seduction machine, this robotic Siren, forever reaching down his pants, leaving him in a sweat. One classic moment, just after she's breathed the "Repent of your sins and let God love you" line into his ear, he writhes and succumbs, "Yes, I repent!"

Of course, now that the human race has almost entirely been eliminated by the Cylons, and there's this surviving remnant (50,000 odd, slowly diminishing), the President reminds us of the importance of fertility. "We need to run away and hide. And make babies."

Perhap's there's a reason God commanded it? :-D

[Anyone remember Earth 2? Now there's a really interesting sci-fi show that, of course, being quite intelligent, got canned in the first season itself]

[Ok -- now back to BSG!]