Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Eliot Pattison: Prayer of the Dragon

As you can see, I am into some serious reading. Not heavy reading, but books like carrots – I am the donkey, plodding way, packing my boxes, sorting, weeding, throwing out – it is time consuming, and it is pitiless work. I need the promise of a great excape at the end of my day to keep me going.

Prayer of the Dragon was a GREAT carrot. I like all of Eliot Pattison’s Inspector Shan Tao Yun series, set in Tibet. In his very first book, we meet Shan as he is still in the Tibetan prison camp, imprisoned for exposing corrupt officials in China. He learns a huge appreciation, in prison, for a different way of thinking, and his treasured companions become the Bhuddist monks with whom he is imprisoned. If you want to read this series, you can read any book as a stand-alone, but it helps to read them in order, starting with The Skull Mantra. The Chinese eventually free Shan; they find him useful – as long as he is not exposing corruption in the Chinese bureaucracy. He is free on parole; he lives with the sword over his head. At any time, if he crosses an important person, he can be sent back to the merciless gulag.

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In The Prayer of the Dragon Inspector Shan finds himself involved in a series of murders on the mountainside, in a small mining village. The village headman has a great scam going, skimming the miners take, charging passage on the mountain trails, and keeping his village hidden from the Chinese bureaucracy.

Here is what I learned that surprised me. There appears to be a connection between the American Navaho nation and the native Tibetans. They share some body-prototype similarities, and they share many symbols and earliest legends. An first-nation Navaho and his niece are exploring similarities, and commonalities, when two members of their party are murdered while sleeping. The Navaho is charged, by the headman, with the death, because he survived although he is covered in blood. It doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t have to. The headman needs a scapegoat, and he chooses the Navaho.

It is a fascinating read. Here is an excerpt from a conversation Inspector Shan has with the local director of Public Security:

“I know your type so well, Shan, ” Bing said. “God, how well I know you. I was responsible for ten barracks of prisoners, like you – pathetic, morose creatures with no vision, only bitterness about the past. They would sit in reeducation classes and copy out slogans from the little red books like robots, praising the Chairman, reading aloud apologies printed in other books, using someone else’s words. Never a one among them with the balls to stand up and say Fuck the Chairman, screw the Party secretaries, and screw the limo drivers who brought them to town.”

“I tried at first,” Shan replied in a weary voice. “They sent me to a special hospital for the criminally insane.”

“Unfortunately,” Bing said soberly, “you are the sanest person I have ever met.”

AdventureMan knows I love these books. “Do you want to go to Tibet?” he asks me, and I say “No, if I went I would want to hang around with Inspector Shan and his gang of monks, not do tourist things allowed by the Chinese.” These are great reads, Pattison is doing a great job of bringing the plight of the Tibetans to the conscience of his readers, depicting, in graphic, horrorific detail how the Chinese are systematically crushing and obliterating every shred of Tibetan culture, while claiming they are not. I think one of the very worst things they have done is taking over the Tibetan monastery system and corrupting it into something it was never meant to be, a cruel, ugly deformity.

I can hardly wait for the next book to come out. I am on the waiting list for The Lord of Death, yet another book about Chinese bureaucratic corruption and the adventures Inspector Shan has in Tibet confronting and evading all its manifestations.

May 15, 2009 Posted by | Adventure, Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Crime, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, ExPat Life, Fiction, Interconnected, Law and Order, Leadership, Lies, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Social Issues | | 3 Comments

Eliot Pattison: Beautiful Ghosts

It almost always takes me a little while to get into Eliot Pattison’s books, and I can figure out why. He sets you down right in the middle of something going on, so you start off a little confused. You can read each of his Inspector Shan Tao Yun books as a stand-alone, but it helps to have read them in order – as I have.

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Even though I have read them in order, I still find myself disoriented each time I start a new book. New names, a new situation, and it takes a few pages to get back in the rhythm of thinking about things in a new way. Within thirty pages, I am in a new world, and I am totally addicted. When I am reading one of the Inspector Shan Tao Yun books, I can hardly wait to get back to the book. My household chores suffer, my projects suffer – even AdventureMan suffers, as I seek to return to Tibet, the Tibetan Monks and the world of Chinese bureaucracy.

One of the things I love in this book – we saw a hint of it in the last book I reviewed, Bone Mountain – is that the worst of the bad characters can have a hint of humanity, and develop a full-blown redemption, as we are watching happen with the prison warden, Captain Tan. The process continues in Beautiful Ghosts. In this book, Pattison strikes several additional chords – he combines a good mystery with art, art thefts, public art and a little bit of history, a family reunion, father-son problems, and a lot of action. I’m a happy reader.

In Beautiful Ghosts, a murder happens, but it is hard to understand, at first, who was murdered, why the murder was committed, where the murder was committed as well as who committed the murder. One answer leads to another, and ultimately, to long buried treasures and long kept secrets.

A great tickle, for me, is that in this book Inspector Shan Tao Yun goes to my home town, Seattle, which he finds very strange, and grey and rainy. Pattison describes Chan’s bewilderment at how Americans live, and as Chan leaves Seattle, he comments on how he has not seen the sunshine in his entire time visiting there, working in co-ordination with an FBI office trying to track down some missing and stolen Tibetan art pieces, stolen from the hidden monasteries by corrupt Chinese bureaucrats.

Shan still stood, studying the strange buildings and the dozens of people who were wandering in and out of the open doorways off the huge main hall. There were shops, he realized, dozens of shops, two floors of shops. When he looked toward Corbett, the American was already ten feet in front of him. Shan followed slowly, puzzling over everything in his path. Adolescents walked by, engaged in casual conversation, seemingly relaxed despite the brass rings and balls that for some reason pierced their faces. He looked away, his face flushing, as he saw several women standing in a window clothed only in underwear. He saw more, nearly identical women, in another window adorned in sweaters and realized they were remarkably lifelike mannequins. One of the sweaters was marked at a few cents less than three hundred dollars, more than most Tibetans made in a year.

“Why did you bring me here?” Shan asked, as Crobett led him into a coffee shop and ordered drinks for both of them. “This place of merchants.”

“I thought you’d want to see America,” Corbett said with an odd, awkward grin, gesturing to a table, then sobored. “And this is where Abigail worked, before getting the governess job. People here knew her, told me stories about her, made her real for me.”

. . . .

Shan began to marvel at the rain itself. Beijing was a dry place, most of Tibet a near desert. He had not experienced so much rain since he was a boy, living near the sea. There were many qualities of American rain, and many types of rain clouds. One moment they were in a driving rain, like a storm, the next in a shower, the next in a drizzle that was little more than a thick fog. Once the water came down so violently, in such a sudden wind, that it struck at the car horizontally. . . .

You learn so much reading Eliot Pattison, more than I can absorb! There are detailed art works, there are geographic features, there are Buddhist customs, there are bureaucratic networks, there are mysteries of Chinese history and dynasties. There are tribal customs and learning to think like Tibetan monks.

Eliot Pattison is a gifted and poetic writer. If you like mysteries that turn out to be very complicated and which teach you a lot about a culture you have never experienced (or would like to learn more about) I would suggest you start at the beginning. These are the books about Inspector Chan in chronological order:

Skull Mantra
Water Touching Stone
Bone Mountain
Beautiful Ghosts

February 28, 2009 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Books, Bureaucracy, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Fiction, Financial Issues, Law and Order, Poetry/Literature, Political Issues, Public Art | , , | Leave a comment

Bone Mountain by Eliot Pattison

Several times I started Bone Mountain and couldn’t get into it. I love Pattison’s books – they are mysteries, but his mysteries are more about the process of solving the puzzle than it is about the solution. The process is indirect – we travel around Tibet with Shan Tao Yun, Chinese, but who crossed the bureaucracy in his investigation of corruption and ended up exiled in a Tibetan prison camp (Water Touching Stone) where, under the very worst circumstances, he finds a new way of looking at life, as he gets to know and respect the Tibetan monks in prison for their beliefs.

This time, when I started the book, it was as if I had never picked it up before. I picked it up and couldn’t put it down. I kept finding passages I wanted to share – with you, with my other friends – this is an amazing book.

Shan and a a couple monks are on a mission to return a Tibetan relic to the valley from which the Chinese stole it, and are traveling with a group of sheep herders and salt gatherers to disguise themselves. The artifact gets stolen from them, but they continue on to the valley, discovering a hidden passage through the mountains, visiting a destroyed and partially rebuilt monastery, and learning about healing herbs and practices in Tibet, as we see medical practices in a whole new way.

One of the themes in each book has to do with the Chinese bureaucracy, harvesting Tibetan resources relentlessly, timber, minerals, etc. with no regard to the devastation their techniques leave behind, no regard for replenishment.

The other issue is the Chinese hijacking of the Bhuddist religion. The Chinese “re-educate” the monks, bringing Bhuddist thought into alignment with Chinese government goals. The new monasteries are no longer teaching true Bhuddist teachings, but are teaching corrupted and even heretical teachings. The true monks are roaming the country disguised as sheep herders, dung carriers, but are the true carriers of the teachings to the people. The bureaucracy grinds their teeth in frustration as the true monks continually slip through their fingers.

“Has this foreigner been gathering salt too?” he asked Lhandro in Tibetan.

“Just along to enjoy the fresh air,” Winslow quipped in Tibetan, and the monk stared at him, his eyes wide with wonder.

“An American who speaks Tibetan?” he exclaimed, and looked back with intense curiousity, at Lhandro and Shan, as though the news somehow changed his perspective on the party.

As you can imagine, I laughed out loud when I read that passage. We get that all the time, when my husband speaks Arabic and I can follow the conversation. We call it “the dog can talk!” look.

Avoiders. It was part of their particular gulag language, stemming from a teaching given in their barracks by an old monk, in his twenty fifth year of imprisonment, just before he died. Guns were avoiders, he said, and bombs and tanks and cannons. They allowed the users to avoid talking with their enemy, and allowed them to think they were right just because they had more powerful technology for killing. But those who could not speak with their enemies would always lose in the end, because eventually they lost not only the ability to talk with their enemy, but also with their inner deity. And losing the inner deity was the greatest sin of all, for without an inner deity, a man was an empty shell, nothing but a lower life-form.

Pattison hikes us through mountains and valleys, shows us medicinal plants, and talks about how it matters where and when and how they are mixed. We learn of the evil that exists in the best of us, and the good that exists in the worst of us. On our journey to solve a mystery, we gain a wealth of new understanding.

Available from Amazon.com for $10.17 plus shipping. (Yep, I disclose once again, I own stock in Amazon.com. 🙂 )

October 21, 2008 Posted by | Books, Bureaucracy, Cross Cultural, Spiritual | | Leave a comment

NYT: “Dynamic” Route for Olympic Torch

The New York Times.

Published: April 9, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — The Olympic torch arrived at the airport here from Paris in the wee hours Tuesday morning, exited out a side door and was escorted by motorcade to a downtown hotel. There it took a well-deserved break in a room complete with cable TV, room service and views of the city’s popular Union Square shopping district.

 

The New York Times

 

“It has very comfortable accommodations,” said Mike McCarron, an airport spokesman, who said the flame — ensconced in a handsome brass lantern and accompanied by several backup flames — was “treated similar to a head of state.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the flame will be under no such bushel as it makes its only appearance in the United States on an increasingly tense international tour en route to Beijing. It will star in a two-and-a-half-hour relay along this city’s waterfront, involving six miles of pavement, 79 runners and untold scores of law enforcement officials.

The precise route remained in flux on Tuesday as the torch extravaganza threatened to become more civic migraine than celebration in the face of potential protests by those upset with China’s human rights record and recent crackdown in Tibet. Mayor Gavin Newsom met with police and relay officials amid concerns that disruptions in London and Paris this week not be repeated here.

“I can only confirm that the route is dynamic,” said Nathan Ballard, a city spokesman.

April 9, 2008 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Entertainment, Events, News, Political Issues, Words | , | 2 Comments