Buzzword Books - unusual, intriguing, intelligent, perceptive

Here, you'll find musings from our authors and staff. We don't promise daily updates. Just posts worth your time.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Bikes in China

Itinerant bard and cyclist, David Farnsworth, is back in China, a country he loves, sampling the food, sights and riding the bikes. Some jottings from his diary follow, plus a couple of recent poems.

Yesterday attended a private school for the mentally impaired. The treatment of mental illness in China is, I think, fairly recent - and went to a primary school where the children mobbed me. I'd forgotten how much fun Chinese children could be. I showed them a hairy arm. The Chinese do not have hair on their arms!

Rode the bike 5 k. into CBD to access a flexiteller. The local ones will not accept my card. (They require 6 digits. Mine has four.)  The joys of travel. The keypads have a metal screen over them (for privacy) but in my case, I can't see the digits.  I managed. So much traffic... motor scooters and bicycles.  Very hairy. Still I'm a tough old bird.

People are so kind to me with banquets and restaurant meals. Large clamp down on corruption here. Maybe even bigger than in NSW! 

Prawns seem to be off the menu. There is a glut of abalone (twice the size of a 50 c coin, which are selling for 50 c. Of course, in Ballarat, you can't buy abalone.

Strangely, I noticed that in the cornucopia, which is supermarkets here, they don't have avocados.

 Of course I can do anything. Catch 68 bus. Someone gives me a seat.  90  minute journey for less than a dollar. oh yes. 

The public bicycles. Racks of 50 or so about every 400  meters. (Blue, pink, red green pastel blue) $40.00 deposit and show a local identity card to get a key card. 

Free access. Ride free. Return bike before 60 minutes expires. Friend estimates there are 50,000 bicycles in this city

For each hour over, 20 cents charge. .  so popular now. They had just been introduced on my last trip here  and seemed to not take off. Now they are everywhere. Number of bicycles on the streets has doubled.

Men in a truck pick and drop bikes where needed, and take broken bikes away for repair. People who  probably haven't ridden bicycles for 20 years are taking up the challenge, albeit hesitantly.

The business  executive with satchel, riding 'no hands'.

At Wedding Reception

I’m overwhelmed by the pipe
smoke. Watson has ordered
me a Vegetarian Salad.
Is he mad? The patrons
are out of control. They are
looking at a small screen
watching a ball pass from
one end of a field to another.
Some of the patrons are in
their cups – half their
luck! I can’t wait to
get home and indulge in
a drug of real seriousness.

At Xia Shan ReservoirXia

(Shan means Big Hill? ‘Xia’ is pronounced ‘shea’?)

At Xia Shan Reservoir the birds
are having a lovely time. Cherry
blossoms are fading and falling
covering the trimmed bushes.
How like flowering azaleas they look!

A light wind whipping the chill
from the waters. small children call.
All is order. Nothing is out of place.
Most people wear red for luck.
Volunteers pluck imaginary rubbish
with elongated tongs. Everybody
is happy, especially the happiness bird.

Peter Verkhovensky is Busy

It’s recess time at the Primary School.
The children improvise their games in the wide corridor. Most involve physical contact with a favoured other.

Here in the fish restaurant, the three
youngsters in the foursome indulge
in a cigarette. There’s so much smoke
I may as well be smoking myself.

At the autistic school severely disabled students roar like wild animals from neighbouring rooms. When viewed up close, they’re quite docile.

In the pursuit of happiness, money
changes hands everywhere, In an
earlier restaurant, a waitress chases
a fly with a fly-swat.

Chenlong Hotel  Weifang  24/ 04/ 14

A couple of 'fun' poems inspired by things seen on the bike ride to Anqiou:.

Three truck-loads of pigs, all heading
in the same direction. Obviously a
conference in some convention centre.
From the first big truck, I heard a
honk, not sure whether from the truck or the pigs.
No smell. Obviously, all have been shampooed for the occasion and no – there’s no way they can avoid putting their snouts in the trough over the coming week.

30th April, 2014-05-04

Chenlong Hotel, Weifang.

Two men and a goat on a motorized tricycle all wearing sun-hats.
The goat was not driving.
Obviously off on a picnic, the
goat grinning from horn to horn.
A picnic umbrella, an esky
and some old clothes ...
as a special treat
got the goat to eat.

30th April, 2014

Chenlong International Hotel, Weifang

Farnsworth's travel poem anthology Middle Kingdom is on Buzzword - $3.95.

Monday, 21 April 2014


(*See end note on who/whom.) We asked Gina Stoner to expound a little more on her philosophy. Gina is the author of the profoundly simple and ostensibly 'young adult' novel, TALKS WITH AL, now available on Buzzword.

You are in some terrible gulag. You are nineteen. With you is a supreme artist who has not yet filled his potential. And you know his potential because you are aware of the possible future and have an adult mind. Your companion - depending on your personal passion for art - is the young Bach, Mozart, Rembrandt or Van Gogh.

And the guards at this gulag are determined to shoot one of you. They will either shoot you and spare the other. Or shoot the other and spare you. It's your choice.

The firing squad is there and waiting on your decision.

What will you do? Will you die so that The Art of The Fugue, The Magic Flute or Starry Night will not be lost to the world? Or will you destroy your companion and live?

Now forget this question for a moment and read on.


A fundamental concept of self-transformation is the notion of two worlds.

All of us are obliged to live in physical surroundings. We know the taste, weight, resistance of things and the need to struggle against the entropy that will eventually destroy us. We are threatened forms—soft creatures in a hard world. And we know the outcome of our brief time here. Suffering, decay and death.

So we defend ourselves at all costs—and this makes us reactive. Not that instinctive reactions are foolish. (We need to pull our hands away from a flame or step back from a cliff.) But psychological reactions plague us and destroy whatever latent possibilities we possess.

This inner world of personal psychology includes our emotions, thoughts, and physical tensions. It includes our greed, envy, stupidity, dreams, opinions, regrets, ambitions, fixations, ignorance and all our self-defending strategies. This vastly over-elaborated territory is a morass of inter-reactions. Our thoughts drive our emotions. Our emotions drive our thoughts. And our body suffers from tension which, in turn, reduces its immunity to disease.

So we have an inner world and an outer—neither under our control. Because where is the 'our' in this? 'We' exist as automatonsa—functions of physical and psychological drives.


But, as we prefer not to see ourselves as functions, we develop a touchy ego. This hoary self-defence, common to humanity for thousands of years, has become both blessing and curse. It's a cumbersome shell for those wishing to shield themselves and a barrier for those intent on self-enquiry.

The aim of religions everywhere is to reconcile the opposites - to 'justify the ways of God to man'. In this beautiful, callous universe, we exist as an aberration—unsure of our role, importance and function like cosmic orphans without a map. Religions claim to fill this gap. Unfortunately, their dogmas have degraded into forms so antiquated, illogical and self-serving that they increasingly appeal to credulous self-calmers and fanatics.

The problem for people intent on self-transformation is that both processes are automatic. If even our most prized emotions and thoughts are reactive, what is there left to call ourselves?

Tuesday, 15 April 2014


South East Asia travel writer and academic, Pam Scott, muses on a life change and the trials of being a quirky Aquarian and lunar Monkey. Take it away, Pam:

I was born on the 22nd January. Now, if I’d come into the world just hours earlier, I’d have been a steadfast, sensible Capricorn instead of a quirky Aquarian who marches to the beat of a different drum according to Western astrologers.

On the other hand, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, had I been born just hours later, I’d have been a Rooster pecking at the ground in the chicken coop instead of a mischievous Monkey swinging up in the trees. How about that? Two cusps, east and west.

Then there is the issue of the year of my birth – 1945.  Technically I’m not a Baby Boomer since World War II was still in progress in January 1945. But I can usually sneak into that group. Again, I’m on the cusp.

It was much the same with the Swinging Sixties and the early Feminist Movement.  Those revolutions came along just a fraction too late to make a difference at the critical time and so I found myself married and heading for a life modelled on my mother’s era before I had a chance to absorb the new role models and follow a different path. Luckily, after a decade of marriage, no-fault divorce reforms came along, giving me another chance for a new way of being.

Although more women were studying at university in the early 1960s, it was still unusual.  I was the first female in my large extended family to attend university and I remember hearing my mother volleying comments such as, ‘Why would you want to educate a girl? She’ll just go off and get married!’  

However, the courses women studied in those days tended to cluster in the ‘caring’ professions traditionally allocated to women. I was encouraged to study pharmacy when I showed an interest in science – ‘A nice place for a girl to work,’ opined the neighbours –‘all those cosmetics and perfumes!’ 

When I floated the idea that I might like to study veterinary science the horrified response was swift and firm: ‘What if you had to look after a sick horse,’ the neighbours asked.  ‘Did they think I’d have to lift a horse onto an operating table,’ I laughed with my friends. But it sowed enough doubt to send me back to the prescriptions and perfumes.

Despite this false start with my career, a decade later I was ready to take advantage of the Whitlam Government education reforms. For once I wasn’t too late or too early and I managed to fit in three degrees between 1975 and 1986 while being a sole parent to my two sons at the same time. Thanks Gough, you changed my life! 

I became an academic at Wollongong University for a number of years which then led to an opportunity to live in Vietnam at the moment in history when that country was on the cusp of its amazing economic takeoff and social change. Living in Hanoi and HoChiMinh City for more than a decade meant I had a front row seat to witness the remarkable changes that were taking place.

Now I’m retired.  But as I head into older, old age, I’m working hard to stay fit and healthy. You see, I think I’m on another cusp and I want to hang on until all those ‘real’ Baby Boomers charge into their 60s and 70s and make the next revolution that will allow us the opportunities to enjoy the old age we want - more flexible accommodation and care options, medical advances, more life choices, greater visibility and attention.

Yes, this old Monkey still hears a different drum beat off in the distance and wants to join that parade.

©Pam Scott 2014

Several of Pam's fine travel books are available in the Buzzword Travel Section.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


The most viewed post on this site was Ben Smith's introduction to the 1950s. We may post it again one day as it's now dropped off the list. So we urged Ben to write another post, this time concentrating on his experience of the first years of television in Australia when he worked at ABN Channel 2, Gore Hill, Sydney. He's obliged and here it is. (Ben Smith, by the way, is the author of the hilariously bitter sweet memoir No Time for the Smiths, now available from Buzzword.)

It's been a long journey. And most of you are too young to remember the beginning.
For me, it began in 1958 when I scored a job as a studio hand at ABN Channel 2, Gore Hill.

TV, in this country, was black and white and around two years old. We had ponderous equipment and transmitted shows live.

Yes, we had videotape, but only just. It was so old-fangled that its two-inch wide strip couldn't be edited successfully. (We'll, you could cut it on the diagonal with a knife.) It was so bizarre, even then, that I've kept one dub - still have it here on the bookcase in the study. It should be
in the Powerhouse Museum. The format was then called 'broadcast quality'.

And yes, we had telecine. But the cost of film restricted us to a ten minute insert for every one hour program. So we used it mostly for location shots.

 For instance, opening and closing credits were printed on a long strip of thin green cardboard and loaded into a machine with two rollers that scrolled it in front of the camera. While the opening scene appeared on Camera One, and Camera Two was cued for shot two, Camera Three was locked off on the titles which were then supered over the Camera One image.

Imagine. No way to rely on tape. No editing. No VCRs. No CGI. Nothing in the can. Just ominous real-time calls from the control room. 'Ready on Two. Take Two. Ready on One. Take One.'

And if you, Mr Cameraman, tangled your cable or botched your transition and weren't in position for your next shot, (written on a cue card clipped to the pedestal-based behemoth in front of you) then God help you - and the production!

A TV studio was expensive, but the ABC, of course, had the best equipment for the time. Two sixty by forty foot studios with lighting grids, elevated control rooms. An extensive props department. A contingent of carpenters and painters to make sets - which, by the way were coloured. (But those colours were chosen to transmit properly in black and white.)

It also had a presentation suite for small cooking programs and the news. The cream on the cakes was shaving cream. It was more stable under hot lights.

Oh, and there were a couple of enormous Steinways - mounted on Y shaped metal frames with castors at each end. Each time you moved one into a studio, a man had to come in and re-tune them.

At Channel 2, we had children's programs, women's programs, tilts at science, current affairs. And a whole range of BBC programs as back-up. Remember Z Cars? You do? Then happy 80th birthday.

There was Six O'clock Rock featuring the energetic Johnny O'Keefe. He was always hoarse because he yelled his voice to bits. It was considered a daring program for its time.

There was the Lorrae Desmond Show starring that always excellent and then youthful trouper and her dapper wingman, Colin Croft.

There was the inimitable puppet program, Mr Squiggle, with the delightful Pat Lovell as Miss Pat. 

The Children's program had an art section hosted by a young and serious Jeff Smart.

There was also Gaslight Music Hall. I vaguely remember the proscenium arch with the  studio audience seated in front - at small tables, I think - watching a tired list of faded tragics.

And there was the irascible Professor Julius Sumner Miller who asked 'Why is it so?' as he created vacuums in milk bottles so that peeled hard boiled eggs sitting on top of them were sucked irretrievably in and down.
Talking of tired acts, there was also Cafe Continental - a cabaret show that sometimes featured circus refugees. You never knew who or what the producers would drag in.

One act I remember with sheer joy. It involved a short, powerful, cheery man with a wooden peg-leg who dressed as a pirate. Aided by his somewhat larger, underdressed and besotted female assistant, he placed a three-pronged candlestick on a restaurant table and did a one-arm handstand on top of it - supported only by two fingers and the thumb of one hand.  That was his entire act. And memorable it was.