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Z- Xu Zhimo, On Leaving Cambridge:#AtoZchallenge

Taking Leave of Cambridge Again

Softly I am leaving,
Just as softly as I came;
I softly wave goodbye
To the clouds in the western sky.

The golden willows by the riverside
Are young brides in the setting sun;
Their glittering reflections on the shimmering river
Keep undulating in my heart.

The green tape grass rooted in the soft mud
Sways leisurely in the water;
I am willing to be such a waterweed
In the gentle flow of the River Cam.

That pool in the shade of elm trees
Holds not clear spring water, but a rainbow
Crumpled in the midst of duckweeds,
Where rainbow-like dreams settle.

To seek a dream? Go punting with a long pole,
Upstream to where green grass is greener,
With the punt laden with starlight,
And sing out loud in its radiance.

Yet now I cannot sing out loud,
Peace is my farewell music;
Even crickets are now silent for me,
For Cambridge this evening is silent.

Quietly I am leaving,
Just as quietly as I came;
Gently waving my sleeve,
I am not taking away a single cloud.

Xu Zhimo

(6 November 1928) See Note.

Xu_Zhimo

 

Dear Mr Xu,

For the last month, I have been writing Letters To Dead Poets.  At last, I have finally reached “Z” and in a sense, my journey is over. You are: “The End”.

This means that I am also doing my own leaving. At least, that was the plan. However, this has become the first step of a much longer journey, which has unceremoniously been labelled: DRAFT.

Of course, “DRAFT” in no way reflects this gruelling, personal odyssey. Indeed, rather than “DRAFT”, it should be stamped “VICTORY” instead. After all, I’ve been working on numerous incarnations of The Book Project for 9 years and now I’m finally on my way.

Moreover, “DRAFT” fails to reflect how much I’ve grown and changed in the last month. Indeed, I’ve left a flat, hollow version of myself back at the start and at least now, I’m more aware of my ignorance. I don’t know whether my writing has improved from all of this reading and research but I have. You could say that I am the New Improved Version or in modern lingo I’ve been relaunched as Rowena 2.0.

This journey has been superfood for my soul!

However, as much as I would like to believe you could write a life-changing book in 30 days, I know it’s been rushed. Unfortunately, this is but the tip of the proverbial ice berg of what lies ahead and much of this work will also be going on underground, which is neither glamorous or exciting.

Anyway, this letter is not about me. It’s about you.

I’m here to ask about how you become a poet. Do you feel there was something inside you, some kind of “poet seed”, just waiting for the right time and that mix of sun and rain to germinate and grow? Or, were you made? If we took a humble lump of clay and processed it through a poet-making factory, could we pump out: “The Poet” where you turn the handle and poetry flows out, like an electric mincer?

Given that so many poets seem to go through the proverbial mincer themselves, I also have to wonder whether we should be watering poet seeds or manufacturing “The Poet” anyway.

I don’t know whether it was just bad luck that you died in a plane crash when you were 30 and Shelley drowned in a yacht at much the same age and Sylvia Plath also took her own life at 30.

Being a poet, really does seem to turn you into an endangered species. Wouldn’t we be better off in a much safer line of work such as becoming a stunt person? I think even they outlive us poets.

Cambridge_-_Punting_in_Cambridge_-_1690.jpg

Anyway, for those of us too far down the poet path to turn back, it’s 1928 and we’re returning with you on a brief tour to Kings College, Cambridge. You were there as a literary researcher 1922-1923. Hungrily devouring a rich poet soup blended with Shelley, Keats, Hardy, Tagore and the French romantics and symbolists, must have nourished you like a super food. You translated poems into Chinese. In 1922, you returned to China and became a leader in the Modern Poetry Movement. In 1923, you founded the Crescent Moon Society, named after an anthology of poetry by Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore and in 1924, you worked as a translator on Tagore’s controversial tour of China. In 1928, you briefly returned to Cambridge on a tour. That’s when you wrote: On Leaving Cambridge, which is now learned by children throughout China.

Reflecting back to Virginia Woolf’s investigations into what it takes to be a woman writer, did you have a room of your own and independent means? Is that what allowed you to flourish? Or, was it something else?

Anyway, what Woolf forgot to mention, was that you also need to survive. Being a poet almost seems synonymous with tragedy. Even when such tragedy seems accidental, random, pure chance, that there’s no chance about it. Of all the millions of people living on this planet, once again the lightning bolt has stuck the poet…not someone else!

I thought you might appreciate this verse from Yeats and you can just substitute “lad” with “poet”…

“A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him up for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.”
― W.B. Yeats

Anyway, I should be safe. I’m working undercover driving Mum’s Taxi and posing as a suburban “housewife” (not my words, I can assure you!! Actually, our poor house has been orphaned…especially through the last 6 weeks!)

I am truly sorry that you life was cut so tragically short and you journey came to such a sudden, horrific end. It doesn’t seem fair that you didn’t get to finish your story.

Well, speaking of journeys drawing to a close, my trains due to depart, heading back to the shed. Indeed, the train whistle’s blowing right now.

Yours sincerely,

Rowena

Note

This translation is taken from Peter Pagnamenta (ed.) “The University of Cambridge: an 800th Anniversary Portrait”, (London: Third Millenium Publishing, 2008), page 29.

The featured image shows a memorial stone at Cambridge featuring the first and last lines of Xu’s poem.

 

Dong! Dong! Dong! We’re back to the real world.

Getting the kids off to school for the start of another year, is tricky at the best of times. However, when your life is complicated for whatever reason, trying to get your little peoples to school on time with all their paraphernalia on the first day becomes, or at least appears to be, Mt Everest…particularly if “catastrophise” is your middle name.

Of course, to make matters worse there’s always that parent who has literally licked ever hair on their preciously child’s perfect little head in place just to ensure your child looks completely and utterly neglected like some raggamuffin orphan out of Oliver or Annie.

At times like this it’s easy to feel that no one understands that your children, your family and even your precious dogs have indeed been through the spin cycle and haven’t exactly emerged with all the right bits in all the right places and that you’re just thanking your lucky stars that they even got there at all.

Well, actually, things went a lot better than that but that was my concern. After all, this house is where Murphy’s Law, Mrs Murphy’s Law and Rafferty’s Rules all fight it out to the death.

However, it could be worse.

This time last year, I was undergoing chemotherapy to treat my auto-immune disease, dermatomyositis. I can’t even remember how the kids went to and from school on their first day last year but I do know that they soon found their way into before and after school car, which later cut back to after school care and when funding magically cut out after 3 months because, as we all know, parents only get sick for 3 months and then magically resurrect from near-death. Well, that’s how it is in Australia anyway.

Thank goodness for friends because a friend was giving my kids lifts at least two mornings a week all of last year.

Even though the broken foot is still healing and I’m only just back to driving locally, I’ve decided to tackle the new school year head on like a bull charging at a gate and have decided to take responsibility for getting our kids to and from school even though my mobility is far from ideal. I’m walking with my foot in a boot and my mobility is problematic anyway due to muscle weakness. While I am perfectly justified in getting assistance, I wanted to get involved with school again so we can stay with the program.

The kids all dressed and ready for school. It was raining outside so we didn't get our usual shot at the front door.

The kids all dressed and ready for school. It was raining outside so we didn’t get our usual shot at the front door.

The other problem I have when it comes to getting out the door is that the kids almost always ignore me. LIke so many kids, for some reason they completely ignore Mum and resolutely do their own thing, which makes getting them anywhere on time difficult. While you might say that I need to take control and be the parent, I often have trouble with my voice so it can be a struggle to speak. I struggle to move and so it doesn’t take much for the kids to completely out manoevre me and get away with blue murder. This was where having my friend taking them to school was particularly handy because they didn’t want their friends seeing them in their PJs. The Deputy Principal has also told me that she is quite happy to accept the kids in PJs and they know that. They may think they can run rings around me but they know they don’t stand a chance with her and they quickly shape up.

While it is one thing to make all these decisions, which really do fall under the same heading as New Year’s resolutions. They are doomed to fail without any corresponding plan of action and a fairly detailed one at that. The irony with most of these supposedly difficult changes which we struggle to make is that we already know what we need to do. We probably also know how to do it. We just lack the discipline and commitment to see it through. Stick with it. I understand that it takes 6 weeks to change a habit but day one or at least the start of day 1 has exceeded all my expectations.

I have drawn up a daily check list for the kids which is laminated. Every day, they tick off their jobs as they do them and only once they’ve done everything on the last, will they get access to electronic devices. Devices go off at 8.20 and we are in the car and driving off at 8.30 AM. School starts at 8.55AM and school is only a five minute drive and so they get in plenty of play time with their friends before school.

The funny thing about the check list is that the same kids who were protesting to do the dishwasher, never make their beds and forget to brush their teeth in the mornings did all of these tasks without nagging or complaint. It’s a miracle worker and I’ve known the check list is a miracle worker and yet I keep forgetting to update it. This means it’s been about 2 years since we last used it and believe me, there has been a lot of angst and heartache in between.

Quite simply, I do a list up of everything the kids need to do before school and their afternoon/evening routines and then have a tick column for each day of the week. In the past, I’ve printed a list our for each week and pasted it in a book but laminating the list means they can tick it with a whiteboard marker and you can wipe it clean each week and start over. I have used a bit of colour, highlighting important times like leaving for school and I have also included a row for after school activities so they know what they have on as well. They are about to turn 11 and 9 so should be fairly self-reliant and not be needing constant reminders from Mum and Dad anymore.I am particularly conscious that our son starts high school next year and really needs to get organised now in advance.

Just because Mum's the papparazzi, that's no reason the kids have to pose like supermodels. I was very lucky to squeeze a second shot out of my son and they refused to interact, relax and insisted on this kangaroo stunned by the headlights look.

Just because Mum’s the papparazzi, that’s no reason the kids have to pose like supermodels. I was very lucky to squeeze a second shot out of my son and they refused to interact, relax and insisted on this kangaroo stunned by the headlights look.

I am quite thrilled that everything went almost too smoothly and that we pulled out of the driveway right on 8.30 as planned and I was back here sitting at my desk at by 9.00 AM armed with my special cup of tea and home made Banana Macadamia & Blueberry Muffin.

A relaxing cup of tea and home-made banana muffin after dropping the kids at school early.

A relaxing cup of tea and home-made banana muffin after dropping the kids at school early.

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me”.

-C.S. Lewis

However, to be perfectly honest, the early morning start has been a bit of a doozy so I think I might just nip back to bed for a little Nanna Nap. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned before that I’ve somehow ended up on Western Australian time, which is 3 hours behind Sydney and what with the holidays and all, have been staying up way too late and sleeping in and I’m pretty sure Geoff has been hanging out for this morning when the night owl was needing to surface at 6.30AM and get back to the human race.

Dogs sleeping under my desk. While the rest of us have had to get back to the real world, the dogs are on a perpetual holiday.

Dogs sleeping under my desk. While the rest of us have had to get back to the real world, the dogs are on a perpetual holiday.

As we all know, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Please wish us luck and for anybody experiencing the terrible snow storms, we are thinking of you and praying that you are safe and sound.

xx Rowena

 

Yoda: A Food Journey to SE Asia in Sydney.

For something like the last 3 months, I’ve been trying to write a post about our favourite restaurant, Yoda. Yoda is located in Avalon, just south of Palm Beach in Sydney’s Northern Beaches and specialises in South-East Asian street food.

I was quite excited when I stumbled across Yoda. It has been a long time since I’ve been able to visit SE Asia and when I was there last, I had the sort of lurid gastro that could’ve scored me a certain role in Monty Python’s movie The Meaning of Life. Therefore, I was looking forward to going into Yoda and having the whole Eat, Pray Love experience, close to home without getting sick.

Yoda is owned and operated by couple Michelle and Brendan. Brendan runs the kitchen. I don’t know what his official classification is whether he is a chef, a cook or just a brilliant actor but the food is sumptuously good. Michelle is the beaming smile who greets you on arrival and it doesn’t take long for you to feel right at home. Actually, when you dine at Yoda, you feel like you’re in their lounge room at a big dinner party. Of course, everybody sticks to their own table but being on the insular peninsula, everyone doesn’t quite know each other but there’s often a flash of recognition. We’re from out of town and even we knew someone. Of course, if you’re there for a romantic meal and just wanting to stare into each others’ eyes, you can also do that, although Yoda also home-delivers.

Yoda has what’s known as an open kitchen, which is located at the heart of the restaurant. This means diners can watch Brendan and his team at work, which certainly creates a bit of theatre. At the same time, I admire Michelle and Brendan’s courage. How many couples can work successfully together at all, let alone in the public pressure cooker environment of a hot, super busy, open restaurant kitchen? There’s no room for anyone to chuck a “Gordon Ramsay” let alone have a domestic. Yet, of course, Michelle and Brendan are all genuine smiles.

Our family at Yoda celebrating my birthday in July.

Our family at Yoda celebrating my birthday in July.

Even though we have been to Yoda quite a few times, I found writing about experiences proved so much harder than I’d thought. I wasn’t setting out to be a food or restaurant critic. I simply wanted to share a sensational experience. After all, vicarious experience is one of the beauties about blogging on the world wide web.

Not having written a restaurant review before, I wasn’t quite sure what to address and as I started thinking about the decor, my mind went blank. I just remembered Michelle’s beaming smile and the sumptuous flavours of the food and in particular the magnificent mango with sticky rice for dessert. I asked Geoff if he knew what colour the walls were and he replied very matter-of-factly: “How should I know? I don’t go to a restaurant based on the colour of the walls.”

Good point.

Of course, when we had been out to Yoda for dinner, I wasn’t in food critic mode and hadn’t taken along a note book, camera or even my phone. We were there to eat, chat and absorb the lively ambience. Anyway, I decided to cheat and we went back on Sunday afternoon with the kids and the dog in tow to do the required research. I know this might also sound funny but I also wanted to introduce Michelle to our dog Bilbo as she had been minding a friend’s Border Collie recently. Perhaps, you don’t know what it’s like but when you own or are even associated with the same breed of dog, you are virtually family. Moreover, that’s what Yoda is all about…warm, friendly and community-minded. It is also personal and of course, we’re all on a first name basis.

When we turned up unannounced, Brendan was more than happy for me to photograph the cooking in action and while looking at the kitchen through the focused gaze of my SLR, I appreciated the organisation that goes on behind a busy kitchen. There’s no time to pull the kitchen cupboard apart searching for that missing, essential ingredient or dash to the supermarket either. Behind all that friendly, casual dining is a lot of tight planning and organisation just like the duck who seemingly glides so effortlessly over the water while madly paddling its feet underwater.

Behind the relaxed, casual Yoda experience is detailed preparation and organisation.

Behind the relaxed, casual Yoda experience is detailed preparation and organisation.

I made a mental note. Perhaps, I, too, could become an oasis of calm organisation cooking at home.

I can also confirm that the walls were actually red, not orange.

However, I haven’t discussed the name.

Now, just in case you watch Big Bang Theory and you are thinking Yoda is just the place to take Sheldon out for dinner, it doesn’t have a Star Wars theme although there is a small statue of Yoda. However, all is not lost. On the 4th May each year, they have a Star Wars night to celebrate International Star Wars Day. (May the Fourth Be With You!)

Last, but certainly by no means least, there’s the food itself. The food has an exotic blend of Asian flavours which really tickled our taste buds. That’s my way of saying that I loved the food but am too unsophisticated to break it down into its individual components. My justification is that too much analysis can ruin a great meal!

The menu itself has been very carefully prepared and you’ll notice various symbols throughout as meals are marked child-friendly gluten-free and I believe the chilli is kept fairly mild because the menu asks you to tell them if you want it spicy.

Mister and I enjoying the Mussels steamed with coconut & ginger broth. The sauce was divine.

Mister and I enjoying the Mussels steamed with coconut & ginger broth. The sauce was divine.

We haven’t tried everything on the menu but my favourite main would be Vietnamese chicken cabbage salad with peanuts, roast garlic & house dressing for $18.00, although the Tea smoked duck with freshly spiced orange sauce & coriander salad at $20.00 is a close second. The whole family also enjoyed the Mussels steamed with coconut & ginger broth served with roti for $20.00…especially our ten year old son. We can’t go past the warm sticky rice, mango & coconut sauce for dessert although on our last visit we finally ventured out and ordered the Pandan creme brulee which is a traditional creme brulee infused with pandan.

Miss enjoys a non-alcoholic pina colada

Miss enjoys a non-alcoholic pina colada

We are regulars at Yoda and have been there for more intimate nights as a couple, as a family with the kids and also with my parents. Probably the best reference for the place comes from our kids who love the restaurant, love the food and actually eat. Michelle has actually been impressed at how they try new foods and flavours and are more adventurous than most kids. What she doesn’t realise is that our kids are both fairly light, picky eaters so it is a real testimony to the food.

Wally sought help from the Force and consulted Yoda.

Wally sought help from the Force and consulted Yoda.

So if you feel like paying Yoda a visit, here is their website which includes menus:http://www.yodafood.com.au/index.php

Enjoy!

xx Rowena