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One shouldn't joke, ever, it seems. As we drove towards Calvia last night to see the first of the newly established Arts Society of Mallorca's talks on art, it was raining lightly. The people who kindly gave me a lift wanted to get an early start because "the rain had made everything slow down" and there appeared to have been some chaos in Llucmajor where they had come from. "Oh, these people don't know what rain is," I remarked. In much the same way as I had often told Hong Kong people that they didn't know what cold is. (They don't.)

Yes. That night, at least eight people died on the island; washed away inside their cars, drowning in their basements or just crushed or pummelled to death by water and objects after a river burst its banks in the torrential downpour. Roads are cut off, people have no power and many have had to flee their homes.  It is a terrible tragedy which unfortunately takes away the joy of the Arts Society's meeting. I suppose it's in bad taste to even write about it now. But the Arts Society deserves huge praise for pulling off this thing to a packed room last night after only 10 months in existence. 

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They had managed to snag famous Antiques Roadshow host Eric Knowles to talk about The Genius of René Lalique, and what an evening it was. The man was so ridiculously knowledgable and the topic so interesting, nay, riveting - well, I had of course expected that. But I hadn't expected to laugh and laugh! It was Art Nouveau slash extreme beauty and skill meets stand-up comedy, old-school style. With voices! He did Yorkshire, American south and mid-west, Scotland and France. 

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We were roaring with laughter and he played us like so many mouth organs, in his unpretentious way that seemed so natural it must have taken thousands of hours of work to perfect it. 

Meanwhile, that natural disaster was going on just a few kilometres away but we didn't have a clue. Oh! I wish that evening could have lasted and lasted. 

Still, I'm glad i got a full year's membership of the Arts Society so I'm sure to get a seat at next month's event. 

 

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The legendary Izzy Newman singing in El Terreno Country Club!

We celebrated my friend's birthday and I thought I would make it extra memorable. And then I thought, hey! This party was pretty damned good. Perhaps other people would like to use my table and cooking for their own celebration? 

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Last time I was at Mallorca's airport whose name I can't remember now, I saw this, what my late aunt Bette would have called "unfathomable tragedy": Someone had dropped a bottle of red wine. (Or had an open brain haemorrhage while carrying a box of wine.) Some people thought it was me who had done it, but of course not! 1. I would never drop wine and 2. I only like white wine. 

I was thinking about that the other day when about 10 Norwegian friends came to Palma. One of them is something of a musical genius, and he became very interested in my two banjos rotting away in the corner with no one to teach me. He kindly offered to change the strings for me (not as easy as it looks, hello!) and I accepted with joy! This could be the push I needed to start playing again. 

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I finally managed to locate the packets of strings, some of which I had been given by former banjo tutor Adam Petrashune,

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some bought on the website Elderly Instruments and some thrown in with my purchase of a light, easy-to-handle banjo in Sydney in 2014. I had so many strings, I could have opened a string quartet boutique! 

Except, by an unfathomable tragedy the strings, so carefully stored and lovingly shipped from Hong Kong to Palma, had lived through three Hong Kong summers.  They had all rusted right through. 

 

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Today is China's National Day, and also 30 years to the day plus one, since I arrived in China for the first time. It was a beautiful sunny morning when I hopped off the Trans-Siberian Train in Beijing 12 days after leaving Oslo. And just like that, China became my life. 

That day, Tiananmen Square was festooned with pictures of Lenin, Mao, Marx and Stalin. Now only the teachers' rooms at state schools sport the visages of these luminaries, plus Deng Xiaoping of course. But Mao is on all the nominations of the Renminbi (The People's Currency) and his photo is used to ward off bad luck in taxis. 

That year, very few people had even a landline in their house. Then they jumped straight to iPhones without even going via pagers. 

That year, owning a bicycle was still something of a status symbol. Now everyone has a car. 

I'm sure the average person in China is much better off now than on October 1st, 1988; economically at least. But me, I miss the days without cars, without high-rises and without constant coughing. It's selfish, I know. Maybe I just miss my youth with constant excitement and adventure. Anyway, I'll just celebrate this quite momentous day with some of my photos from China.

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Ah-On contemplating the intense cold of Guiyang, Christmas Day 2013. That was the week after which I never smoked again. 

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Jiayuguan Fort, Gansu provimce, at sunset, August 2008. 

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Geezers playing traditional Chinese music on saxophone and electric guitar  - and erhu. With artwork above them featuring drunk scribbles by an avant-garde art group. Yeung Gong, Guangdong province

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Coal workers taking a rest. 

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Phoenix Town in Hunan. 

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Uncle enjoying his daily visit to the main park in Seun Dak, Guangdong Province 

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Aunties getting ready for yam cha, Sei Wui, Guangdong province 

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Abandoned house, Guangdong province

 

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Monastery and Tibetan town, Xiahe, Gansu province 

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Ellen in Guangdong province

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Curious but a little worried ("why is your hair yellow?") Xinjiang province

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Grapevines near Urumqi, Xinjiang province

Sigh. I miss China. But only the China of YORE. Not the China of Social Credit (google it. Unless you live in China of course - they can't access Google. or Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp...). 

 

 

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Is this a salsa course? I had the feeling that the black guy was the instructor and the other people passing drop-in learners. A bunch of other people were sitting down nearby. Were they waiting for their turn or just taking a rest from a day's hard touristing? Or were they just exuberant young people of today spontaneously breaking out in dance? 

This and many other things will be made clear when I can speak Spanish fluently. 

"Everybody", for example people who don't speak a word of Spanish, keep telling me how easy Spanish is. This is like learning Cantonese but in reverse! When I lived in Hong Kong, few days went by without someone, Cantonese speaker or not, telling me "Cantonese is very difficult", with I don't know how many hong Kong people helpfully adding "... it's too difficult for you." 

This they would often tell me after or in the middle of a long conversation - in Cantonese. It was just something they did, because I'm white and everybody knows it's impossible for us to learn Cantonese. Other Asians or Asian-looking people, on the other hand, should be fluent pretty much by the time they touch down in Hong Kong for the first time. 

I've asked countless Hong Kong people (in Cantonese) why this would be so, and most of them looked at me as if I was an idiot. "Because you don't have Chinese blood - hello?"

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Right. But now I feel this strange pressure to be fluent in Spanish already, because "it's so easy". Well, I don't think so! It's got verb declensions! Plural! Past participles! Genders, and genders in adjectives! The opposite of easy, paint-by-numbers Cantonese. 

Actually, I don't think any languages are difficult OR easy. It's all about expectations. Here, locals expect foreigners to learn the language fast, and so they do.  

In Hong Kong, no one expected me to speak the language and kept insisting I couldn't learn it for genetic reasons, even after I had clearly learnt it. 

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But of course I don't want to be the only foreign idiot in town who can't ask people why they are doing salsa in the shadow of the cathedral and what I'll have to do to join, so I've found a new language exchange guy by the name of Rafael Angel (!). I'm damned if I'm paying for lessons for something that is as natural as breathing. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Meanwhile: Learn Cantonese the Natural Way - from a Norwegian! It's only a Skype-click away. 

0的語言好容易學 - di yu yin hou yongyi hok - languages are easy to learn