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Podcast 2019
Middle Kingdom Podcasts (2005-2017)

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Entries in flight (8)



There is a Native American legend that says, " If you have a secret wish, capture a butterfly and whisper your wish to it. Since butterflies cannot speak, your secret is ever safe in their keeping.

"Release the butterfly, and it will carry your wish to the Great Spirit, who alone knows the thoughts of butterflies. By setting the butterfly free, you are helping to restore the balance of nature, and your wish will surely be granted." 


empty ears


A Spanish kid said, “I’m setting the scene where place is a developing character and enhancing the tone of the tale. Anyway, while he was enjoying fresh mountain air so inherently peaceful, calm and a blessing, he noticed, way up in the high sky multiple black specks.

"He immediately recognized a family of Egyptian vultures and eagles who lived in the national park. They were practicing early morning flight on excellent thermal drafts.

"One of the largest nesting colonies of tawny vultures in Europe. While living and hiking in the region he’d seen several species: the golden eagle, Hieraetus fasciatus, Aquila heliaca, Hieratus pennatus, and Circaetus gallicus. Goshawk and the Egyptian vulture also inhabited the Sierras.

“What did he do? How did he see them clearly?”

“He got his 7x20 binoculars and focused on the predators. Amazing. There were six mature ones and young ones slowly circling on drafts.”

“Were they rough drafts?”

“Probably,” said the kid, laughing, "It got them started. Cutting creates real honest and true writing.”

“So, I’ve heard. But you can’t believe everything you hear.”

“Easy to say and hard to do as they say in China.”

“Speaking of China in Mandarin, you can get your ears cleaned there.”

“What did you say?"

“Now it happened that at that moment in the empty Chinese opera one afternoon in Chengdu, you sit down in a wicker chair and give the girl in a blue uniform 10Y or slightly more than a buck. A group of Chinese men in wicker chairs drinking tea stare and laugh at you. Everyone stares at you in China because it's a human zoo and you are an exotic humanoid species of endless speculation.

“Look at the funny foreigner! He’s going to get his ears cleaned. Boy is he in for a surprise!”

“You sit back and close your eyes. She has all the tools; long steel wires, cotton swabs, some ointment, a microscopic spoon on a post and a pair of stainless steel tongs.

“She probes your right ear with the spoon and digs out hard brown wax. She flicks it on the ground where it becomes part of Ear Wax Mountain, a new wonder of the World. She swabs and cleans out your ear with a small cotton ball on a thin wire. While this is buried in your ear she taps the tongs creating a vibrating frequency.

"She touches the steel rod in your ear and you hear the WHIRLING! BUZZ! BUZZ! as 1,000 bees and cicadas invade your consciousness with a deafening crescendo. She has opened your aural chambers big time! taps the tongs again, you receive the echo chamber canyon of sound, the WHIRLING BUZZ like sandpaper being rasped against old fibers of skin or yes, the fast centrifugal centrifuge of heartbeat nuclear reactors, roaring rivers inside a galaxy of weightless streams. BUZZ!

“She eases it out, massages your temples, your eyes are closed, dreaming you are in a Chinese opera playing the role of an old dramatic hero dying at his post after proclaiming his undying love for family and harmonious social order and stability in the country.

“She attacks and cleans the other ear and the vibrations take you away. BUZZ, BUZZ, BUZZ! She caresses your ears, massages your temples and scalp and when she finishes you no longer have a hearing problem. It’s all in the listening. You’ve been buzzed back to clarity.”

“Everything that goes in the ear comes out as language. It becomes a tool for emotion and expression.”







A man waits with a weight scale. A bag of potatoes. Cool shade. Dawn the down against red bricks.
He shines his black dress shoes with a newspaper. 
A woman in a turquoise shawl decorates stone with her whisk broom. 
A woman unfolds green stalk onions on a white plastic bag. 
Boys slap Tantric wooden masks removing yesterday. 
A light rain falls.
Sparrow wings flutter in your face. Directly. 
Their air currents support six prop jets as curious enthralled tourists press their faces against plastic glimpsing Himalayan mystery and beauty.



Polyommatus Blue Butterflies


In a series of evolutionary waves over millions of years, Nabokov theorized they started in Asia, flew over the warm Bering Strait and down to Chile. It wasn't chilly in Chile. It was warm swarming with butterflies. 

His passion as a self-taught lepidopterist into their 10 million years flight has been vindicated by gene-sequencing scientists headed by Dr. Naomi Pierce, curator of lepidoptera at Harvard. She was captivated by his idea of butterflies coming from Asia. “It was an amazing, bold hypothesis,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Oh, my God, we could test this.’ ”

NYT,




A memory travel story


A Cambodian orphan said the NYT was looking for stories from readers about their worst travel experience in 2010. The kid suggested I send them a memory. Here it is.

This year was all about first class travel. While climbing into a volcano in Iceland it blew up.

I was blasted into the stratosphere where, fortunately, my cargo pants offered me ballast. The jet stream meandered over Europe in incredibly clear skies because there were no planes. Then, south of Yemen, the air pressure dropped and I drifted toward the Mediterranean. Using my polarity navigation device I located a highjacked Russian cargo ship loaded with weapons and landed among Somali pirates. They were very cordial.

We sailed the seven seas. Eventually they transferred me to a Turkish boat heading for Israel. We were forced to divert to an unnamed northern port where I hitched a ride with a camel caravan going to China. We visited markets in Bukhara, Samerkand and eventually reached Kashgar on the Silk Road where we traded with local merchants.

Over butter tea and tsampa (a hard rock cheese) Tibetan traders invited me to Lhasa, so we drove yaks to Shigatse, and then Lhasa.

From there I walked to Yunnan before crossing into North Vietnam to help Black H'mong friends in Sapa harvest rice. Laos was next door and the northern rivers connected with the Mekong, so I sailed south into Cambodia where I volunteered at an orphanage.

I told the kids this story and they were amazed to learn about volcanic activity.