Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Urban Archeologist Retires

Late yesterday afternoon, I handed in the keys to my friend's Toronto apartment. A neighbour of his had agreed to remove the few pieces of heavy furniture that remained. The neighbour had a small moving dolly which was helpful, because each piece had to be taken from the top floor apartment to the elevator, then carried up the stairs from the basement level to the street and then towed along the street to the garbage disposal area. The process was time consuming and grit producing, but fortunately, the neighbour didn't complain and of course I paid him for his help. The bear's fairly-new and expensive aeropaedic double bed is now stashed in the hallway but the neighbour has agreed that if one of the elderly people on the same floor does not want it (the solution I'd prefer), then he and a friend will make sure it goes to the garbage disposal area. They may sell it instead of giving it away, but if there is nothing I can do to prevent that scenario.

Locking the door of my friend's apartment for the last time was a relief, but it was also a time of sorrow because my friend, the bear, will never see the place again and because, long ago, we enjoyed many happy hours there.

Something had to be done to commemorate the end of an era and so last night, after a long hot shower, I had some chocolate and a glass of wine. Slainte!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Reflections on Myanmar/Burma, China - and Tide Free

The events of the last few days have been extraordinary or, perhaps overwhelming would be a better word choice. A major typhoon struck Myanmar/Burma and a huge earthquake devastated parts of China.

It's difficult to comprehend. The number of lives lost boggles the imagination and the amount that I can give to help out is minuscule. Though I can't avoid the thought that if everyone responded much could be done.

I recall how the whole world pitched in after the tsunami hit Asia and wonder why these disasters have not yet received the same kind of response. Much is written about compassion fatigue, but is that really what's happening? Or, is the response less because the people affected live in countries whose governments we Westerners are less than pleased with?

For example: News coverage of the Myanmar/Burma disaster makes much mention of the regime's bad policies and yes, the facts should be reported, but I notice that media reports have suddenly began referring to the country as Burma again and I wonder who started that? It will not help improve relations with the junta and may make the rulers even more intractable. Isn't getting help to the people the most important thing? Oh, silly me, of course not. If the United States was not already over committed militarily and broke, and if Bush was not a lame duck president, the Americans could decide to help 'make' Myanmar a democracy.

Then there's China. Many parts of the disaster area are only now becoming accessible and the true extent of the devastation won't be known for quite some time. It looks like the government (such as it is) is doing the best it can and China has asked for help. Parts of China are controlled by war lords and not the central government. Regulations for building construction are few and likely were not enforced; and corruption is endemic. The Chinese government has persecuted people in Tibet. All these things are true. It's also true that China wields huge economic influence, unlike Myanmar, and whatever Western government's reservations are, they will no doubt pitch in with significant amounts of material aid.

A comment on nitty-gritty personal stuff before I return to the main subject, I have nearly reached the end of cleaning out the Bear's apartment. While I had promised myself and my daughter that I would not do any major cleaning, on every visit some clean-up was unavoidable because I couldn't move a step without being covered in dirt from the floor, from the furniture, from every object in the place (especially all the papers). There was a huge supply of paper towels, some half empty bottles of Lysol spray cleaner and a very dusty can of Endust which was unusable. There were also several pairs of rubber gloves and many J cloths and sponges. However; there were no other cleaning agents and I thought I'd have to buy something, until I discovered a half empty box of Tide Free laundry soap powder in one of the kitchen cupboards, along with about 30 light bulbs and 20 tins of salmon and some other unmentionable things. So, since it was available, I decided to use it on the tile wall and the cupboards in the kitchen and in the bathroom. It removed the heavy greasy dirt and left the tiles shining. Probably it's a mix of environmentally unfriendly chemicals. Mea culpa

I'll end this comment by returning to my concern for the people of Myanmar/ Burma and China and referring you to an excellent article in this month's Harper's magazine: Turning Away from Jesus: Gay Rights and the War for the Episcopal Church by Garret Keizer. It is connected because it is about how we see and respond to other people ; though the last words in the article are not his; they sum up my thoughts and they are the most important. "Feed my sheep."