2014: A Howdy-Do Year in Review

Last January, I didn’t get my 2013 lookback, The Great Eighteen, up until the 20th, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to call this prompt. Efficient. Timely — at least for me! Reflection on accomplishments never comes at a bad time. (Does it? Of course, you ninny! Okay, but — Which doesn’t mean it’s always foolish to look backwards, either. Alright then, so maybe — Just get to it!)

I posted to 93 times last year, which is as productive as I’ve ever been, and that with December nearly ringing up a doughnut. (That’s jock-talk for nada. Zero. Hole in the JZone layer. Nuttin’, honey. I missed that bizarro perfection by one lonely post, so the rest of the year must’ve been excellent.) Starting with my self-conscious blurts in the middle of 2005, now has an archive of 637 posts. That seems like quite a few.

So, I consulted a panel of experts. What were the most meaningful, artistically satisfying and world-changing posts of 2014 on No. I didn’t. I trawled through 2014 and asked myself, “Okay, self, what do you still like and think others might, too?” Oh, I did take my readers into account, based on what got read most, or what found life elsewhere on the ‘Net, but mainly this is me Me ME. So here is a quick skate through some of the things I wrote here last year. It gives a reasonable portrait of what gave my head a shake in 2014. It’s a quick read, and you can click on anything that appeals. Here, then, are the

Fabulous Fifteen!

1. Sequel: The (Not Quite) Christmas (Late) Show* Must Go On (Jan. 2)                 (with Chinese Characteristics)

For the last three years in China, my wife and I taught in the School of International Business, a small college within our university in Dalian. Every December, there was a spangly student SHOW. Here, I reviewed this incredible, excessive, odd, passionate, obligatory celebration of something-or-other. Warning: this is only the second half of the extravaganza, and you may not be able to resist dipping back into December 2013 for the full jaw-dropping effect. It was amazing. (And only occasionally depressing.)

2. Lost in Cambodia  (February 5)

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Suzhou 1: Tourist Trapped and Nearly Snapped

This post has been updated, mainly with photos. It is part one of two.

We went to see Suzhou, a small (only about six million humans) city in China’s Jiangsu province, a historic centre that bustles and builds ambitiously in the shadow of nearby Shanghai. I’m half a world away from my mother’s grave, so there was no visiting her on her birthday. At a certain point in the day, though, I took a moment to talk to her. It was much better than the dark muttering I’d been doing.

With a break in a busy schedule, we had come to the Venice of China — or, as one chamber of commerce-type banner had it, the “Fragrant Venus” — which has a reputation as, among other things, a city that helps ex-pats feel they’re getting away from China, just a little, you know what I’m saying, not that we always need this, but the place can wear on you, especially if, like me, a person’s prone to mentoring Chinese drivers from the side of the road, or thinking that over a decade of educational habit can be magically transformed by a semester of unconventional instruction from an idealistic white guy, so yes, “getaway” sounded good. (I get tired sometimes.) Travel Girl had made the plans, and Son the Fourth and I were relatively willing to be led to new pastures, or at least along different-coloured pavements. First impressions of Suzhou were pleasant, we arrived to the homely hospitality of a (young) old friend from Canada and his wife and even newer toddler, and what could go wrong?

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Better Read Than Never: Livingston’s Gecko Tails

I’m still thinking about Cambodia. When there, when I wasn’t reading faces, or reading between the lines of the socio-economic polka of carefree tourists and often profoundly poor locals, or skimming for the wisdom in ancient piles of stone such as Angkor Wat, I read Carol Livingston’s 1997 memoir of Cambodia. Gecko Tails sounds like a children’s book; at first I thought it must be Livingston making punning reference to the stories she heard in a Phnom Penh ex-pat bar, the Gecko. But this benign little lizard, climbing walls wherever one travels in southeast Asia, has the ability to grow a new tail after sacrificing the old one to predators. This must be symbolic of Livingston’s hope for the country. (It’s still a weak title.) The book recounts her earlier tours of love and duty, and it’s pretty average¹, though the subject is strikingly unaverage: the latter days of the bitter Cambodian civil war. It’s nearly 20 years old now, but I still found it useful in fleshing out my dim and youthful impressions of killing fields and other by-products of the bloody Vietnam War. As an introduction to Cambodia that goes beyond beaches, cheap travel and temple tourism, it works well.      

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