Archive for November, 2013

bookmark: china: a history

China: A History – John Keay

Lately, I have been feeling my ignorance in history. Having grown up in the United States, I think I have a fairly decent grounding in our history (though I certainly can, and will, learn more). World history is another matter. I am not interested in, nor capable of, committing dates and names to memory, but I do want to have a general knowledge of the sweep of world history. To that end I read this history of China by John Keay.

I will confess that I had not heard of this author before, which is to my detriment. With an education in history, and pursuing a career in journalism, Mr. Keay has written many books, mostly about India and Asia. China: A History is actually one of his more recent books, having been published in 2008. Apparently his India: A History is considered to be an excellent history of India, a country which appears dear to his heart.

It is no small task to condense millennia of history down to a 535 pages and make it interesting and readable, but Mr. Keay has done just that. While I cannot recite the succession of all the dynasties (even though they were given), I did come away with a great appreciation of the scope of the country’s history and of its people, its geography and its political background – all necessary, I believe, to understanding China’s modern culture.

I am aware that the edition of the book I read had a few factual errors. For example, in the Epilogue reference is made to Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) announcing the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1939, when just a couple of pages earlier in the previous chapter the correct date of 1949 was given. I believe this was due to inadvertent editing errors and does not affect the value of the book. I have also read that such errors have been corrected in more recent printings, or at least in the electronic version.

I recommend this book to anyone as an excellent overall history of China. I so enjoyed this book that I have purchased India: A History to expand my knowledge of that part of the world. Mr. Keay has also written other books that look equally interesting and which I will seek out.

(Finished 11/30/13)

apologies all around

Ever feel like you owe the whole world an apology for your existence? An apology to everyone, from your parents, to your children, to your other various relatives . . . even to those in the world who, given the resources you have consumed in your lifetime, could have used them to benefit society more than you. I don’t know if the world would have been better off without me, but it certainly wouldn’t have suffered much without me. I’m no George Bailey.

To my parents, who would like to have had a responsible, “average” child, someone more like my brother (though that is not to slight my brother as “average,” for he is much better than that in many ways). A child whose education didn’t require so many teacher conferences and who knew how to handle his money well enough that they didn’t need to be involved in that later in my life. A child who appreciated hard work and commitment as much as they did. In short, a child who did not disappoint them at pretty much every turn.

To my teachers, who could never get me to fit within their molds. A constant classroom disruption, a slacker and laggard in classroom assignments, an easily distracted student. The kid who got put into the coat closet, or sat with tape on his mouth, required to see the school counselor, and well known to every school principal.

To my wife, whose life has been much improved over the last eight years of our separation. I was a terrible husband who didn’t deserve her from before we were even married. My only consolation is that I was not physically cruel to her. I was also not verbally or emotionally abusive. But not being emotionally abusive is not the same as being emotionally engaged, at least in the way that my wife needed it. I failed her in that, as I failed her sexually, financially and in faithfulness. If she had left me early in our marriage when she should have, she would have had a better, happier life, and I accept the responsibility of keeping her from that.

To my son, who was raised more by bad example than anything else. I was not prepared to be a parent and my only qualification for being one was my physical capacity to do so. I failed him financially as much as I failed my wife, though in a different way. The hope that he would learn by my bad example and do as I said, rather than as I did, is more an excuse for my failings than his failure to learn that way. In many ways he has done well in life in spite of me instead of because of me.

Even for my “girlfriend,” to whom I turned in a mutual time of crisis, I have been unable to be with or provide the physical and emotional support she needs. It seems that things will never be as we hoped they would be, or even as they were when we first met, and while there are circumstances beyond my control or responsibility, I still feel that I have not lived up to the promise of that relationship.

I know that my other relatives have been disappointed with their relationship with me and with my actions, but at this point in my life there is no requirement for them to have to deal with me, so that’s a blessing for them. I regret that my brother shouldered the greatest part of the burden when my father fell ill just prior to his death. As I have said, he was the responsible child; I was not. As that life-changing event has passed, there should be no need for him to have to assume any responsibility for me in the future, except, perhaps after I am dead, when he may have to help deal with the detritus of my life.

Oddly enough, I even feel like I need to apologize to myself. I have let myself down in so many ways, never becoming the person I would like me to be. I wish that I could have gotten outside of myself and found the means to create a meaningful life, but I have been lost and wondering in circles my entire life. In the end, that is why I need to apologize to so many others. It is impossible to be what other people need me to be when I don’t even know how to be what I need to be.

Soon, it won’t matter. My final act of irresponsibility will be to die and leave those behind with a mess to clean up. I hope they can do so with a minimum of fuss and bother and then get on with their lives.

it just doesn’t matter

really, it just doesn’t matter