Visiting Chinatown, Botswana and Cuba

Many of us here in the Townships are focussing on Christmas. But not so everywhere, nor for everyone. Buddhism is the most popular religion in China. According to Wikipedia, “the largest group of religious traditions is however that of Shenism (commonly known as Chinese folk religion….), which comprehends Taoism, and the worship of the shens, a collection of various local ethnic deities, heroes and ancestors, and figures from Chinese mythology, among which the most popular ones in recent years have been Mazu (goddess of the seas, patron of Southern China), Huangdi (divine patriarch of all the Chinese….), the Black Dragon, Caishen (god of prosperity and richness), and other ones.”

And of course, the ruling Communist Party of China formally encourages atheism (with Christianity in particular seen as “the tool of Western colonialism”). Nonetheless, since 1980, the government has relaxed some of its prohibitions on religious practices.

All this is good to know when reading the gritty suspense thriller Chinatown Beat (2006) by Henry Chang. Chang profiles a community of immigrants trying to make it in America while holding on to their cultural identity.

At the same time, they want their kids to have a better life.

Detective Jack Yu is an immigrant’s son. He’s only five-ten, but height requirements have changed, and so he managed to get into the New York police force, the lucky 88th cop of Chinese-American heritage to make the grade.

Yu works Chinatown, in a precinct where 99 per cent of the officers are white. They all run away at the end of their shifts.

His dad has just died, and Yu is the jook sing, the American born, “the empty piece of bamboo” who always dismayed his father by striving to fit into the mainstream American culture and leave his heritage behind.

In fact, Yu is filled with the traditions and language of his heritage (and readers will learn a bit of Chinese in this book!).

Yet Yu’s world is filled with violence and deception. In New York, the bad guys are racist murderers and rapists. The good guys are merely racists.

Back to religion for a moment. Botswana is a majority Christian country (with Muslim, Hindu, and Bah’ai minorities). The indigenous religion is Badimo, which literally means “ancestor.” “In the traditional African worldview, deceased ancestors continue to be present and are actively included in the daily life of individuals and tribes,” explains Wikipedia.

It’s summer in December in Botswana, but the rains are beginning and will keep things in the mid-20 degrees Celsius, though it gets much hotter come January.

And it is here that Mma Ramotswe solves small mysteries and oddities, which have huge repercussions on people’s lives. Author Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is a popular series — the thoughtful Mma Ramotswe (mma means madam) is a less snoopy Miss Marple, who nonetheless uses her knowledge of human nature to crack her cases.

“And of course it was difficult for Mma Ramotswe not to feel sympathy for another, however objectionable his conduct might be, however flawed his character, simply because she understood, at the most intuitive, profound level what it was to be a human being, which is not easy. Everybody, she felt, could do evil, so easily; could be weak, so easily; could be selfish, so easily. This meant that she could understand — and did — which was not the same thing as condoning — which she did not — or taking the view — which she did not — that one should not judge others.”

You’ll find Blue Shoes and Happiness (2006) and The Good Husband of Zebra Drive (2007) combined in a double-sized book in the Large Print section. Check the Adult Fiction shelves for more.

Good Reads takes you on one last trip this week. Cuba is a favoured spot for Quebecers seeking a few days of warmth. Follow Canadian David W. McFadden as he becomes An Innocent in Cuba: Further Curious Rambles and Singular Encounters (2005), filed in New Arrivals.

McFadden has written “a book of poetic impressions.” He is a collector of anecdotes, a travel writer offering one chapter for each of 33 days he spends in Cuba, visiting museums, bars, and at times following Ernest Hemingway’s old journeys. There’s racism, beatniks and con men. And also jazz, sun, cigars, history and an endless collection of charming Cubans the extroverted McFadden always manages to turn into pals.

The chaste McFadden also notes that a large number of women in Cuba make money as hookers, and also truly seems to believe that all almost all females in the service industry love to flirt with him. (It’s always possible they do.)

Despite governmental disapproval, Cuba’s religious makeup is largely Christian with some followers of Santeria and other West African religions; McFadden says many of the dissidents are particularly moralistic Christians attempting to impose their values.

McFadden is a fan of Castro of the late Che Guevera, and gives short shrift to Amnesty International. He notes that painters may criticize Fidel Castro without repercussion. Castro gave his people literacy (but happily jailed poets and journalists). This book was published before Castro stepped aside in favour of his brother, whose reforms still don’t help democrats, who remain political targets. Indeed, a recent Wikileaks upload lays bare US annoyance with Canada, which “does not do enough to denounce human rights abuses in Cuba in the eyes of the American government.”

Yet Castro also gave his people good health, doctors, and socialized medicine, though food is tougher (its lack blamed on the US embargo). “How can I stuff myself with expensive dinners when people everywhere are on extremely strict rations?” writes McFadden. “I can’t and I won’t. A family of four, so I’m told, must make do with 200 grams of coffee a month, and even then it’s not the same coffee the tourist is so smugly and self-congratulatorially accustomed to. One hears that it gets cut with ground peas.”

– Eleanor Brown, December 24, 2010

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About BiblioLennLibrary

The Lennoxville Library, in Quebec's Eastern Townships, offers free memberships to all residents of Sherbrooke. We have a great selection of books in French and English, plus books on tape and CD, too! Check out our large-print section, our graphic novels... La Biblio Lennoxville se situe dans les Cantons-de-l'Est du Quebec. Les residents de Sherbrooke peuvent devenir membre gratuitement. Nous avons une grande selection de livres en francais et en anglais. Venez donc nous voir! Hours/Heures d'ouverture: Mardi-Tuesday, 10am to 5pm -- 10h a 17h Mercredi et Jeudi -Wednesday and Thursday, 10am to 6pm -- 10h a 18h Vendredi-Friday, 10am to 5pm -- 10h a 17h Samedi-Saturday, 11am to 4pm -- 11h a 16h Pour plus d'info, vous pouvez nous trouver au http://www.bibliolennoxvillelibrary.ca/ Click on the above to get to our website!
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