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Podcast 2019
Middle Kingdom Podcasts (2005-2017)

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The Language Company
Timothy M. Leonard's books on Goodreads
A Century Is Nothing A Century Is Nothing
ratings: 4 (avg rating 4.50)

The Language Company The Language Company
ratings: 2 (avg rating 5.00)

Subject to Change Subject to Change
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Ice girl in Banlung Ice girl in Banlung
ratings: 2 (avg rating 4.50)

Finch's Cage Finch's Cage
ratings: 2 (avg rating 3.50)

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The Language Company (Survivors talk)

More Cambodians own a cell phone than have a toilet, said Rita. There are eleven million Khmer people with twenty million SIM cards.

Ha, ha, ha. Priorities sing quality of life. Playing with a small toy prolonging adolescence our young generation talks yaks, chats, and texts enjoying cheap thrills. My condolences.

Goodbye and good luck to you and your family are our famous LAST words.

I am sorry.

Yeah. Yeah. The science of imaginary solutions regulates exceptions.

The beauty of travel, Lucky said to Zeynep, is my anonymous sensation in a crowd like you feel as a street photographer. Invisible. An outsider. After Vietnam flying from S.F. to Denver to see family before finishing my military time in Germany I became a ghost-self. Other. Passengers stared and averted their eyes. Guilt.

If you’re not living on the edge you’re taking up too much space.

I share field notes from Battenbang, Cambodia where I evolved for three months.

Men gather at 0615 for coffee, companionship, tea, lies and stories.

A fire roars inside the cement stove in the local java/tea shack along a muddy road. Orange and bright red flames heating water consume kindling. Stacked kindling stands like 12,000 orphans in 269 safe places exonerating memories of loss and abandonment.

Words crackle, spit, and dance with laughter's sensation of heat.

Survivors stare at a ghost-self writing/drawing in a notebook.

Khmer Rouge, The Organization, murdered everyone my age.

They are over forty and survivors of The Dark Years. They wear fresh pressed short-sleeved white cotton shirts and black pants. They talk about money, business, jobs, kids, wives, girlfriends, weather, facts, opinions, plans, construction projects, rice harvests, myths and fear of ghosts. Eating fried bread they drink brown tea and thick java. Spoons create music with glass class and style.

1.7+ million ghosts dance through silent conversations whispering, What if I die here? Who will be my role model? All my role models are gone. Feed me, feed me, cries a ghost to their family burning sandalwood incense.

No one talks about the past. Silence is golden noise. Men talk about the long now.

Some focus on another’s face hearing words discovering kindness intention and meaning. Others study cell phones or watch a Thai music video on a plaza scream at full volume. One hears an abstract conversation disguised as a peddler pulling his trash cart down the red muddy road squeezing air out of a worn plastic bottle summoning attention deficit disordered sellers waiting to hear wheezing AIR knowing they can pawn junk, an old family heirloom or a traditional wooden loom with or without cotton or silk threads where women wove white cremation shroud clothing for relatives long gone.

Living in the past is time consuming, said Memory. Keep me alive.

 Ghosts live in the past, present and future. Leave it there, said one. Half our population is under thirty. They have no memory of the past. Education is the key. We missed our chance. The only chance I had was to run and hide in the jungle. My education was nature. Look at my hands. I know two things. Now I spend my life in an office rewriting our sanitized history. A tedious thankless job I'll have you know. And one more thing, I'd rather be writing than eating incense, if you get my meaning. We do, we do, said his friends cupping hot java jive sakes alive. History is time and geography is space, said a survivor. I disappeared by hiding where space folded, you don't say, Oh I do.

I realized my dream to be a gardener at a meditation retreat, said a thin 60-year old genocide survivor. White t-shirt, blue shorts and black flip-flops. His silent black eyes contained secrets.

How did you survive, asked Lucky. I ran away. First I hid in the jungle then I ran into mountains, deep, very deep, deeper than unconscious memories of life’s transient nature. I ran from the shadows of Death. I became a living ghost, a stranger to myself. Other. I survived hearing screams 24/7 from room 101 as generations slaved starved and died, hearing, witnessing brainwashed peasant soldiers murder everyone kids like you fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents all disappeared gone erased finished evaporated exterminated dead.

Yes, agreed Death. Everyone comes to me.

Khmer Rouge reign of terror: three years, eight months and twenty days.

I lived every one.    

When I thought it was safe I crawled out of slime crossing landmine paddies into a Brave New World. I stumbled over 1.7+ million bodies and bones, smelling, tasting, hearing seeing Death. Death bones in my dreams rattle freedom, food and family. My family is gone. I never sleep. Death sees me. Here, now. I feel it. I feel it closer than skin on bones, closer than white on rice.

It will take another generation before we adjust to breathing. Laughter is rare. My people have suffered hopelessness and passiveness for twenty years. That’s a humbling life changing experience, said Lucky, yes I discovered life in a desperate situation.

They met every afternoon in fading light after torrid heat. Gardener waters red roses, flame orange bougainvillea, green ferns, purple orchids, hanging planters. Water rainbows cascade through white light coating green, sliding down stems, meeting petals. He smiles. Water disappears toward roots below the surface of appearances.

He sat curled up on a brown chair calm and silent watching Lucky mine an unexploded episode from a notebook. The gardener realizes a notebook, once used by Authority to write down names of the dead or soon to be, is now a potential source of liberation and memory.

I don’t know this tool, this machine, he said pointing at a plastic screen and floating artificial letters as Lucky played with twenty-six letters. I can’t read, no chance, it was all about surviving, labor, nature, planting, harvesting, scheming and deceiving, running, hiding, blending in, keeping your mouth shut. We work, breed and get slaughtered. Such is our fate.

A screaming voice from a nearby classroom wafted through orchids.

Quest-ions are forbidden!

Overworked, underpaid and undersexed teachers named Authority and Social Control said, Ask at your peril. Anyone with courage raising their hand to ask a quest-ion is shamed or silently beaten into silence. Fear and ignorance are great motivators, forever and a day. Conformity breeds conformity. Conditioning.

Curiosity is fatal, said Rita. Curiosity kills more humans than war, disease, lack of medicine and starvation. Humor, curiosity and courage are basic elements of intelligence.

Conversation’s silence attracted flies.

A gaunt man who survived The Dark Years from 1975-1979 wearing a dirty white hat ringing a hollow brass bell pushed his orange ice cream trolley through red dirt. He passed a woman unloading kindling. Men stared. Trembling eyes pursued life’s endless stream.

After Conversation died someone picked up a cell phone and called another living, breathing conversation. Hello, are you alive? Yes? Just checking. Have you eaten yet? No? I had rice and eggs. Tomorrow it’s lobster. Ha, ha, ha. Good luck to you and your family. Bye-bye.

Listening is a lost art, said Conversation. I don’t have a hearing problem. I have a listening problem. Most people don’t listen to understand. They listen to reply. Sullen suffering is a pervasive conversation.

People without love die from neglect.

You can say that again, said Silence.

People without love die from neglect.



Democracy & Happy Meals

Immediately after 9/11 Spanish children scrambled through dust pawing soil looking for energy cells. Emergency air raid sirens exploded. Everyone scrambled into bombed out buildings.

"Hey, check this out," said a hungry refugee, "I found a case of Democracy. The Republican label says it spreads easily."

"Is it crunchy or plain?"

"How do I know? It’s just plain old Democracy."

"I hope it’s better than that old rancid Freedom Sauce. Let’s give it a go. Democracy is a good idea, in theory."

They opened the box, took out a jar, unscrewed the top, grabbed sharp knives, broke bread and slathered on Democracy.

"Wow! This is yummy."

"Yeah, well I got some stuck in my throat. It tastes like sand."

"It’s protein."

World tribes collected their Democracy.

"We need more energy," someone said. "We need music, news, a weather forecast. We need to know what’s happened."

"Need a clue? Take a look around you," said an illiterate person. Twin Towers, Iraqi and Syrian villages, and Afghan mountains smoldered on the immediate horizon.

"It looks desperate," said one.

"Eye, it does," said another. "It’s always darker before the dawn."

Sirens stopped and they emerged from darkness.

"We need shelter," said a family gathering rushes from the World Bank. Third world immigrants and internally displaced people pounded rocks and carried them on their backs toward unknown futures. They sang, “Give me shelter. Shelter from the storm.”

"Beware those who live on dreams," said a rationalist.

"We need a committee," said a company man. "We need order."

"May I take your order?" requested a disembodied voice from a black box in a drive-thru combat zone.

"One happy meal to go," cried a distraught family trapped in a massive traffic jam. It was bumper to bumper on the highway of death between the airport and Baghdad. Where the rubber met the road. Their digestive systems were backed up for miles with sugar, fat, grease and carbohydrates.

"Consider the essentials will you," pleaded a small voice from the back seat trying to get a dial tone, trying to get through, trying to find a rhythm inside swirling chaos. It threatened to swallow everyone and spit humans into a black hole sucking everything into a parallel universe. 

A Century is Nothing


TLC - what is life?

Two Ankara university girls fantasying about sex bought Zippo lighters.

An engraved lighter in a dusty Saigon display case read:

         Once people were born alive and slowly died.

         Now some people are born dead and slowly come to life.

Two high-heeled boys bought flaming gas to impress the girls. “Come next to my fire,” said one. Demurring she said, “I create my own fire. If you come any closer I’ll incinerate you faster than Tarek Bouazizi, a famous fruit and vegetable seller in Tunisia.” 

“Amnesia?” said one boy.

“Tunisia, you fucking idiot. Don’t you know anything about the world, geography and Arab Spring dignity, human rights and self-respect? Pay attention shit for brains. Here’s what happened.”

Tarek Bouazizi, 26, sold vegetables on the streets in the small town of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia. The unemployment rate was 30%.

He supported his mother, uncles and five brothers and sisters at home. He loved poetry.

One morning a policewoman demanded free oranges. He said no. She threatened to take everything because he didn’t have a license. He had enough of the endless cycle of poverty, bribery, threats, and corruption and complained at a local government office. They refused to see him. He bought some gasoline. He set himself on fire. He died flaming his life.

Tunisians grabbed their chance for freedom. Their dictator of twenty-three years ran away.

Middle Eastern, North African, Asian despots and autocratic international power hungry madmen went into denial mode.

Oh no, we're next. Needing to maintain power and control, dictators in Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Venezuela, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia among others, gave the military and police free BIG money with strings attached to protect and sustain their intractable insatiablegreed.

Contacts = contracts.

They decreased rice prices to appease angry hungry people.

Protect us in our castles and mansions, said dictators. Protect us from educated empowered individuals demanding human rights, social justice, equality, education, jobs, medical care and an end to the charade of our reign of economic terrorism. Protect us from desperate citizens setting themselves on fire. Protect us from the aftermath.

You have to sacrifice the peel to enjoy the fruit, said Arabic Spring. Fear sells.

Hearing this story the boy backed off. Trailing flames the girls departed.

A confidence man, 60, in a worn beige leather jacket entered with his son. A stocky bodyguard with a thick neck, alert steel pupils, and short hair followed them. He was Russian or Tartar sauce. Brown suit, black wing tips. He clasped meaty hands together. He never moved. He watched his boss negotiate with the owner. He glanced at Lucky with meticulous eyes. He swiveled his gaze back to father and son.

The confidence man purchased a lighter and pen. There was a problem with the credit card transaction. He pulled out a cell phone called his bank, slathered words and disconnected. The owner punched in numbers. The sale sailed through.

Taking his purchase he turned to Lucky, “How do you like it here?”

“Everyone is hospitable. Fresh tomatoes are delicious. Anxiety is a national problem. The drug industry is making a fortune.”

“My accountant calculates steady pharmaceutical investment growth in my diversified portfolio. What’s your job?”

“I’m a designer of mysterious linguistic projects. I freelance as a literary prostitute and ephemeral word gravedigger. Alphabets, pictograms and ideograms contain no sound.”

“So I’ve heard. What’s your name?”

“Keyser Soze.”

“Ha. One who talks too much. We have many verbal fools here. Where are you from?”

“I am from the source. We are stardust. I am a stream winner. I don’t belong anywhere.”

“Good luck.”  Clouds opened. The father, son and Holy Ghost disappeared in a flash of blinding light.

“Who do you think he was?”

“Maybe the head of a big organization, maybe a bureaucrat, maybe the Mafia.  Maybe Deep State. Well connected. I never saw him before.”

People entered his shop.

“Goodbye,” said Lucky, “thanks for the tea and hospitality. Suited me to a T. Oh, and one more thing, what is life?”

“Excellent quest-ion. There are no accidents. Everything happens for a reason. Let me guess. A bitch? A miracle? A dream? Paranoid attachment? A meaty meal with black and green olives smothered in red chili powder? Getting laid? Randomized coalescing atoms forming cytoplasmic hysteria? What you make it? How you grow? A beautiful mystery? An experiential game we get to play? Answers seeking/discovering quest-ions validating cosmological and deep philosophical significance? I give up. All I know is that you brought me good luck today. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. It’s my fate. I show up, sit a spell, strangers visit and look around. Some buy some don't. I go. The journey is the destination.”

The Language Company


The Language Company

Carpe Diem in Ankara, said a reliable narrator, Pluck the day when it is ripe.

Lucky Foot explored a gleaming upscale mercantile atrium filled with bald silver female dummies fronted by glass. Mirrors reflected screaming bored housewives paroled for good behavior pushing pram infants.

He happened into a store with Roman, Ottoman, Egyptian and Middle Aged chess sets - game of Kings. Checkmate, said Mother Death, Beauty’s mother, Life is a chess game of experiences we get to play.

Black jazz statues played sax, trumpet, clarinet, keyboards, drums, and bass. Some of My Favorite Things, said John Coltrane. Blow your cool heart out.

“Good morning. Do you need something?” said the owner.

“Namaste. I salute the light within you. I seek to help others end suffering and misery.”

“Is it a way, a path?”

“It’s the nature of absolute emptiness with compassion. Ultimate truth. Reality.”

“What’s its form? Form an answer. Fill in your form. We live in a world of forms. It’s not the answers we need to know it’s the quest-ions we discover. Don’t be afraid to be confused. Remain curious. Trust authentic fragments. Follow your heart. Grow from it. Anything is possible when you risk everything. Stay open to your true nature as a lotus grows from mud. Form is emptiness and vice a verisimilitude. Would you like some tea?”

“Yes please. The quest-ion is the answer. Practice allows everything to wake you up. When you have taken the impossible into your calculations its possibilities become endless.”

“Today is good day to die. Meditate on your death. Celebrate your journey.” He pushed a buzzer. “Someone will bring tea.”

“Thanks. I like establishing impermanent relationships with compassion, trust, generosity and empathy.”

“You’re a dreamer dreaming the impossible dream. Are your needs being met? I suggest you need more direct immediate experience, observation and imagination. When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

Words escaping the tyranny of memories composed a jazz poem.

Kind of Blue, 1959 by Miles Davis. Modality.

 “Everything I do is an experiment. Traveling meets my genetic needs. I love weird. It’s a long strange beautiful trip. Life is an amazing beautiful messy test. It gives us the test first and lessons later. In my life I become we: many people. We face opportunities and challenges. We bring luck to people like you. People we meet and never see again. It’s ephemeral. We help strangers help themselves through levels of suffering, hardship, deprivation, letting go and developing courage. 


"Throw in passion desire thirst and existential bliss with humor. Humor is the key. No shame, guilt or humiliation. No regret or fear. The day after tomorrow belongs to me. I am a dreamer with controlled imagination. I see you have knives. I need one to cut through fear and ignorance.”

 “Fear is blissful ignorance. Doubt is healthy. Uncertainty is necessary to grow. Travel allows you deeper penetration. Travel makes you. There are not many things you need to remember during your visit to Earth. Please have a look-see.”

 “Our life is a work of art and life imitates art. Art is easy. Life is difficult. Clouds know me by now.”

“You don’t say.”

A cabinet displayed Swiss Army knives with cool tools for cool fools. 

The Language Company


The Girl on the Train

The Moroccan girl with wild brown hair tied back is not on the train as it leaves a white station.

Imane, - Faith - sits on her haunches. Her bare feet dig soil, grip small earth pebbles as exposed root structures dance with her toes.

Her toes are her extended connection where her shadow lies forgotten. It spreads upon vegetables. They wait below her. They prowl toward late winter light.

She is not on the red and brown train that zooms past green fields where her sheep in long woolen coats eat their way through pastures after a two year drought.

She is inside green the girl with her wild brown hair pulled tight. She is not on the train hearing music, eating dates, reading a book, talking with friends or strangers, sleeping along her passage, or dreaming of a lover.

She does not scan faces of tired, trapped people in their orange seats impatiently waiting for time to deliver them to a Red City in the desert.

Her history’s desert is full of potentates sharpening their swords, inventing icon free art, alphabets, practicing equality, creating five pillars of Islam and navigation star map tools, breaking wild stallions, building tiled adobe fortresses, selling spices, writing language.

She is not on the train drinking fresh mint tea or consulting a pocket sized edition of the Qur'an. She does not kneel on her Berber carpet five times a day facing Mecca in the east.

She does not wear stereo earphones or listen to music imported from another world, a world where people treasure their watches. Where controlling time is their passion for being prompt and responsible citizens to give their lives meaning.

She is not on the train and not in this language the girl with her wild brown hair tied back with straw or leather or stems of wild flowers surrounding her with fragrances.

She is surrounded by orange blossom perfume beyond rolling hills, cut by wet canyons along yellow and green fields, where her black eyes penetrate white clouds in her blue sky.

In her open heart she hears her breath explore her long shadow, causing it to ripple with her shift. Her toes caress soil and she is lighter than air, lighter than a feather of a wild bird in the High Atlas mountains far away.

She smells the Berber tribal fire heating tea for the festival where someone wears a goatskin cape and skull below the stars.

It is cold outside. Flames leap from branches like shooting stars into her eyes and someone plays music. It is the music of her ancestors, her nomadic people and she sways inside the gradual hypnotic rhythm of her ancestral memory.

She is not on the train. She is inside a goat skull moving her hoofs through soil. She travels through fields where she danced as a child seeing red and yellow fire calling all the stars to her dance and she is not on the train.