Friday, May 30, 2014

Selective Attention Paying

If you're a feminist, you may know of Jessica Valenti. She's been in the public domain as a pioneer of feminist theory for decades, and has been extraordinarily influential. She's currently writing for my newspaper of choice, The Guardian. I read her work with interest, but with some reservation. Why? Because she invariably focuses on the backlash against feminism to a degree I find counterproductive. When writing about Monica Lewinsky's return to American public life, she highlighted misogynistic comments that had been made on the internet, instead of using the space to make a positive argument. As such, I read Jessica's work while keeping in mind that I always have a choice about what to focus on.

Many years ago, when I started out blogging, I made a misogynistic enemy. I made the mistake of adding him to my MSN Messenger list and chatting with him, in a brave attempt to find out 'what he was really about'. I should have trusted my instincts and simply ignored him, but then again that's the benefit of hindsight for you. Our interaction was mutually antagonistic and as a result of learning more about him, I cared more about his reaction to me. It's not a knowledge I can unlearn. However, I can change how I feel and think about it. Not to mention ensure that my focus remains elsewhere.

Last year I made a decision to care about the opinion of someone who clearly hated me. Not only that, I developed an attachment to his online presence and sought his attention. Fortunately I have made a decision to ignore him from now on, and my mental health has never been better. My point is that we always have the choice of what to focus on. The world could be ending - you could choose to focus on that beautiful painting you created during that time. Instead of spending your last moments panicking, you could make the choice to bask in serenity, knowing that to get caught up in the collective panic would be counterproductive to your attempts to make the most of the rest of your life.

I'll never know what it's like to be Jessica Valenti, and I admire a lot of what she does, but I'm glad that I'm getting back to my 'normal' - paying very selective attention to the world outside.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

10:44pm Sunday

I've just arrived in Sydney after almost two weeks in Taiwan, and am a bit jet lagged, mainly due to overnight flights, not time differences. To be in Asian without being expected to conform to the culture is relaxing. The psychological infrastructure is such that I always feel well-treated. The pressure to be socially lugubrious, which would probably be debilitating if I were a citizen of Taiwan, makes for a smooth ride in all daily interactions. Just don't get angry, and everyone will ensure you have a pleasant experience.

I had barely arrived in Kaohsiung when my taxi driver recommended I visit Alishan, a scenic area some hours away. I believe I only saw one other foreigner in the city, which isn't recommended by Lonely Planet, even though it has some interesting attractions. What made Kaohsiung special to me was Lora, the interpreter that I made friends with on a white bench in an exhibition in the Fine Arts museum. She has translated a couple of Jodi Picoult books into Chinese and has a refined elegance about her. Originally from Taipei, she moved to the southernmost Taiwanese city to pursue a more laidback and friendly lifestyle. The capital is just too hectic for her.

I was surprised at how many people had enough English language understanding and ability to help me get by. During my first trip to Taiwan there were a lot of phone calls made to friends and family members who could help me out, but this time around even the taxi drivers seemed to be well versed enough in "the international language".

For the first time in my life I tried cuttlefish, which was prepared outside the air conditioned restaurant in a mixture of a stall and permanent kitchen. I removed the onion piece by piece until it formed a small mountain in the centre of the table, then dug into the flavoursome soup. This was in Jiali, where I also saw a small ginger dog wearing white sunglasses.

If I had to choose between Taiwan and Thailand for 'friendliest location in Asia' I would have to do some serious consideration... perhaps it's best to call it a tie.

Where to next? I have my sights set on Ireland, Norway, Finland and Spain.