Sunday 17 August 2008

Reactions to the Beijing Olympics

I love the Olympics. I have a simple child-like joy about the wonder of people who have trained for years gathering together to represent their countries in their chosen sports. I stay up late for the Opening Ceremonies and get teary-eyed when anyone wins a medal. I am, in short, a massive softy.

This year, however, this joy has been somewhat mitigated by the looming issue of China's human rights issues and people's reaction to this issue. I am not about to deny that there are things that have gone on in China that aren't acceptable. However, I am going to point out that China is a large and populous country with a very long history, and, like any other country with a lot of people and any sort of history, atrocious things have happened.

There have been some people who have told me that they are refusing to watch the Olympics because of China's oppression government and the awful things they have done. Which is all par for the course, so long as they also plan to skip the London Olympics (the atrocities carried out under the auspices of the British Empire should not be forgotten). Not to mention Olympics past, like the Sydney Olympics (Australia's treatment of the Aboriginal Peoples), plus others that I could mention, but won't as I am sure that my point is clear.

My suggestion is this. If you have a knee jerk reaction to China's government, just take a moment to think. Is there an element of fear of the different in it? Is there an element of fear about the size and power of China and their potential future global influence? Perhaps there isn't. But I have detected a definite undercurrent of what I could only describe as racist sentiment in some of the reactions to the Beijing Olympics from some sections of NZ. Take, for example, the reactions to the revelation that (shock horror) the little girl in the Opening Ceremony was lip-syncing. Sure, the fact that at the last minute, the little girl who actually was singing was replaced for ostensibly aesthetic reasons is harsh and privileges appearance over talent. But has this not happened in many other countries on many other occasions? The Opening Ceremony is a production. It's a show. And the whole world is watching. Perfection is key and in pursuit of perfection sometimes decisions that aren't very nice are made. But overall, don't you think that this doesn't really detract from the fact that it was a damn good show that had us all picking our jaws up from the floor?

A lot of the sentiment expressed in the comments section of the article about this on Stuff news website was blatantly racist and made me feel very sad that this sort of narrow-minded thinking is still so apparently wide-spread. Some of the comments included:

"What do you expect - fake Gucci handbags, fake eggs - sure, why not fake fireworks and singers....makes sense!"

"Maybe it was CHEAPER to have this other girl sing..........."

"It's quite sad really. However I can't say I ever had any respect for China, I've never being impressed with anything a communist state does, and I am yet do be impressed."

"So the host nation are cheats......."

"I feel sorry for the poor girl. China is full of fakes!!!!"
"With everything else being fake, mabye all those gold medals China have won are fake too.
I wouldn't put it past them."

Luckily, the comments were not entirely populated by bigots, which is something to be grateful for.

In any case, my point is ultimately this: China is not perfect. Nowhere is perfect, even New Zealand. I think this was most elegantly summed up in the below comment, also from the comments section of the aforementioned article, with:
"As for China being a 'bad' country - yes they have a very different political structure to most countries and it appears most find this hard to accept. It is also true China have committed atrocities and that is unacceptable but most countries live in that same glass house so no one should be throwing stones at China."

The sooner we start looking for the commonalities and way to work things out and stop trying to find fault and divides, the sooner this world will be a better place. The very basis for the Olympics is peace, unity and harmony, despite difference. And I'm all for it.

Thursday 14 August 2008

Lunching with Michele

[Photo taken by Gregory Wood]

"I hear you've done an assignment on one of my poems?"
Here I am. I am face to face with my favourite poet and one of my literary idols, Michele Leggott. And she's talking to me. Me! So, of course, my mind goes blank at the all crucial moment, robbing me of anything even mildly intelligent to say. Of all the times my mind chooses to stop working (and it does it with alarming regularity), why now!!

Bumbling idiot act aside, this experience of meeting Michele was one of the most outstanding and inspirational experiences of my entire life. For those of you who are not familiar with contemporary NZ poetry, Michele Leggott is our current Poet Laureate, a massively accomplished and brilliant poet. Her poetry publications include:

Like This? Poems. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1988.
Swimmers, Dancers. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1991.
DIA. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1994.
As Far As I Can See. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1999.
Milk & Honey. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2005; Cambridge: Salt, 2006.
Journey to Portugal. Collages by Gretchen Albrecht. Auckland: Holloway Press, 2007.

She came to Massey's Albany campus to give a lecture in the Chancellor's Series and what a treat it was. She read us five of her poems which are all the more beautiful when read out by their author; showed us her tokotoko (the ceremonial stick each Poet Laureate is given, each personally designed for them by Jacob Scott) and then spoke about her writing and its current connection to journeys.

If this was the closest I got to Michele Leggott ever again, I would die a very happy woman. However, our wonderful lecturers Mary and Jack arranged for us to have lunch with her afterwards. Which was where I found myself, directly opposite one of the women I admire most, barely able to remember my own name, let alone the poem of hers I had written about. It was of course, a woman, a rose and what has it have to do with her or they with one another, a poem I have read many times and love dearly. My most sincere apologies to Michele for my appalling memory.

Over lunch, our group had the opportunity to discuss her work, her teaching, her Laureateship and inspiration with her. I think the two things that stood out for me the most of all of the things she said were that she takes her inspiration from her journey through life (including trips to the shops as well as Portugal) and that, when I answered her question "Are any of you here writers?" with "I try to be" she said, "No, you say, YES, I am a writer."

So, YES. I am a writer. And I have Michele Leggott to thank for a boost of creative confidence. It doesn't get much better than that!

Poet Laureate Blog
Michele Leggott Author Page at NZEPC
Michele Leggott NZ Book Council Page

Sunday 3 August 2008

Work in progress...

The novel that I have been promising myself that I will write "one day" has finally kicked off. It started life as a short story but quickly grew legs and has definitely become a longer piece of fiction. I'm using a significant event in my life (the how I came to leave home story that some of you will know) as a jump off point but then going down a fictional pathway.

I'm quite excited - I'm about 5000 words into it and have had some good feedback so far plus I am enjoying writing it, which is always a good sign for the progression of something beyond the point of being an idea. So watch this space!