Thursday, February 25, 2010

Was poking around in my little library of weird spritual books and tracts and came across something by one Ilchi Lee, lurking up there beside an old first edition from 1968 by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (aka Sexy Sadie) and a recent compilation by Osho, who is the reincarnated, or re-packaged, so to speak, Baghwan Rajneesh. Gurus who attract expensive cars, property and celebrities seem to congregate, at least on my bookshelf. (Missing from the guru region was the little red-leather-bound "Gospel of Ramakrishna" which I had stolen borrowed-without-checking-out for a long time, but later returned to my college library about 15 years "overdue." I kinda wish I'd kept that one; I think he was more or less legitimate, probably why I was compelled to return the book to its rightful shelf.)

I thought the Ilchi Lee volume was weird, especially given the new age angely-unicornish cover illustration and the frequent use of the third-person singular possessive as its', but it may have been sort of prescient that I glommed onto it, because in the first delivery of my new free subscription to Rolling Stone (something I didn't even read when the Maharishi was scamming the Beatles) there appeared an article called "The Yoga Cult," about Ilchi Lee, who is being sued (and possibly defamed) by some of his disenchanted former followers. 

So I decided to read Mago's Dream, which someone had given to me when I was working at an environmental education non-profit, not long after 9/11.  Perhaps I actually paid money for it: there is a $14.95 price imprinted on it. (I see on Amazon there are 22 copies available for 29 cents, and one collectible--not mine--for $14.95. Or you can just review it here.) I do remember that some ethereal middle-aged woman had arrived in my office, talked to me about the environment, and insisted that I read Mago's Dream.

Which I never did, until I opened it yesterday after reading the Rolling Stone story.  Standard stuff, a Korean version of Taoist meditation practice (where qi is ki and the dantian is the dahnjon); heavily into Mother Earth ("Mago," which term you are supposed to repeat as a breathing mantra--conveniently, "go" is the out breath). Some not unwise observations about how our actions are often misinformed by all the "information" (beliefs, ideas, advertising) our brains have absorbed.

But then it starts to get weird.  We "Earth-Humans" are supposed to replace the "bad" information with "good" information, which of course is Mr. Lee's "information," through a process of "brain respiration."  This sounds a little like "The Prisoner."  IN-FOR-MA-TION. You are Number 6; I am Number 2.  

I think it is probably a sign that, though the new information may be in fact be "good", when people start to pay --and try to attract-- a LOT of money (way more than $14.95 for a poorly written, edited and illustrated tract) for seminars, rigorous and dangerous training, and high holy retreats to exotic proprietary gardens, there is something wrong, contrary in fact to Mr. Lee's own advice: "Do not let any information rule your soul. ... Don't let your brain be a slave to information manufactured by others and distributed under such brand names as tradition, religion, politics, philosophy and so forth."

Unless it is the system of "Dahnak" and "Brain Respiration" as promoted by Ilchi Lee and his rather large organization of followers. "There's a seeker born every minute," they say, and for every seeker, there's someone offering something to be found--usually for a price. (And it's pretty easy to find more than you're looking for about this on Google.)  Maybe the Rolling Stone article has it all wrong; maybe he's just a Korean Mantak Chia with a spiritual-spa-garden in Sedona instead of Thailand, and lots of devoted followers and franchised operations. Perhaps someone can enlighten me. I missed the first news of this to break on CNN; tell me it isn't weird; tell me it isn't true. Was that woman who visited me in 2002 just trying to make her quota of converts?

Funny isn't it...all the really old information and techniques-- e.g., through Lao Tzu, Jesus, Buddha, meditation, yoga, prayer-- have been there all along. Is it that people need the old information dressed up as something new? (And it appears that Ilchi's strange Korean mythology is all made up anyway, like Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon.) Our modern economic society needs to buy it as a commodity, and sell it pyramid style to someone else, for it to make any sense or difference? No wonder governments get funny about it: the Chinese government fears Falun Gong (an oddball qigong gang), we fear "cults" (though you could call almost anything a cult -- the Olympics, dog breeding, the Super Bowl, American Idol).  Although, some of our own government representatives including Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Al Gore have been pretty close to Ilchi Lee, who apparently shares their vision of the world as a nicely functioning ecologically healthy village. And some adoring Lee fans have even cited such literary giants as Dan Brown, guru of the divine feminine (Mago), among their wisdom sources.

Opportunity just knocks for these latter day gurus: global warming, 9/11--time to breathe!  No wonder they get rich, just like the new "prosperity gospel" folks get pretty prosperous.  (I was watching one of those guys on TV last summer with my surgically compromised friend on Maui when she strained her stitches laughing at the guy who confessed that once he found Jesus, he suddenly had a closet full of Armani suits. People just kept bringing him suits.) Which reminds me...we're coming up on the Passover celebration of Jesus disrupting the temple moneychangers!  Prosperity gospel indeed.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tigers, tigers, burning bright?
Something in the eyes?
Lao Hu (Pretend Yellow Emperor)

Gao Hu (Pretend Ming Emperor)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I learned some intriguing history by spending all that time with Sword Stained with Royal Blood, a tale centered on the collapse of the Ming Dynasty (although magic snake swords and ice toads probably did not figure in the real events). The Jianghu part was literary fantasy, but the political underpinings of the plot were not fiction.  An entertaining way to absorb some history...and make it feel like I am not wasting my time watching romantic soap operas of imperial China.

I was however a little puzzled by the Emperor's character: he seemed so young, but well played, by Gao Hu, a Shanghainese Tiger a couple months younger than my son.  But then I looked at the history which revealed  that  after Beijing was invaded by rebels the Ming Emperor hung himself at the age of 33!  (Younger than my son even...that means I could be an Empress Dowager.) Chongzhen became emperor at 17, inheriting a pack of troubles from his more incompetent brother. The Ming was destined to fail, but not helped because Chongzhen was too young and had advisors who maybe had interests other than his success in mind. So Gao Hu, (an actor/singer, whose name when Googled also yields a musical instrument rather like an er hu) despite his youthful demeanor, was actually even a little old for the part. Interesting too, Gao Hu's birthday is the same date Chongzhen died, April 25.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Not a bad way to bring in the Year of the Tiger, spending a few hours with another pretty boy with a sword.  Up to episode ershi san (23, of sanshi, 30) in "Sword Stained with Royal Blood," my current epic wuxia series,  based on a novel by Louis Cha, the Louis L'Amour of China. This one is an end-of-Ming story starring the charming, pouty-mouthed Bobby Dou Zhi Kong, right, a young Taiwanese actor, who has four sword-wielding women in love with him in a formulaic story about his little band of kung fu experts, including a monk, a reformed bandit, some mysterious uncles and one of the adoring women.  They are out to kill the last corrupt and stupid Ming king (whose daughter is one of the lovestruck maidens) and save the country in the face of Qing attacks. (There is real history here.) Bobby plays a moral and very agile character, although I keep thinking the role calls for Vincent Zhao, supported by Power Chan as the reformed bandit. (But that's just me. I think maybe Bobby is channeling Vincent a little.) Original language here is Mandarin, so I've been training my ear and learning some useful phrases.

A surprise element in this story (to me, maybe it's a well known Chinese thing) was the magical "ice toad," which looks like a marzipan amphibian that sucks poison (a common wuxia element) out of anyone so afflicted; the opposite, really, of the tropical bufo.  Googling "ice toad" I find that, apart from its appearance in some fantasy games, there actually are toads in Alaska that freeze and thaw; they create their own antifreeze.  Sounds like Chinese medicine; I've seen those geckos on a dipstick!  Click here for some fascinating toad-related stuff.
Taoist Immortals Dancing with Toad

Friday, February 12, 2010


I thought it would be weird, but it wasn't really.  The English version of White Snake, a classic Peking opera, produced here by some UH students after six months' tutelage by Chinese opera masters turned out to be quite entertaining, rousing many shouts of "Hao, hao!" from the audience at moments of particular grace, comedy, or drama.

English lyrics with the traditional Chinese melodies did give it a kind of playful Mr. Rogers quality, but the production nontheless captured the energy of the spectacle--dramatic gestures and posing, martial acrobatics, colorful glittering costumes, all in the sparse sets Peking opera is known for.  Because the opera is broken up into many small scenes, I can understand why bits of them would become popular as spontaneous street entertainment, like YouTube clips.

I was well prepared to enjoy White Snake because I had recently watched Green Snake, Tsui Hark's movie based on the same legend, but from the other snake's perspective (and with Vincent Zhao as the troublesome monk, at right, troubled by Green Snake Maggie Cheung).

Last night's performance contrasts vividly with the Western opera season that is also upon us.  The Marriage of Figaro behind us, we will mark the actual Chinese New Year day with Wagner (Die Walkure). Chinese mythology, Norse mythology...on stage in living color. (Although Wagner always seems a little grey and somber to me.) A symphony orchestra vs. a band with Chinese instruments, clanging and twanging to fit the mood, more than a melody.

One thing both styles have in common: they seem to be particularly appealing to senior citizens.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Sometimes it sucks.  I have a new Tai Seng DVD wuxia series I am watching, but the first DVD in the set has some problems. (May be all six of them do, but don't know yet.)  A few minutes in, it completely freezes my Apple DVD player forcing me to shut down, restart, and execute a special command to eject the disc.  To return the flawed product (the receipt for which I have since discarded), I would have to go back to Wal-Mart, where I shop like twice a year (for the huge container of berry-flavored Metamucil I can only get there). When I'm in Wal-Mart I'm never quite sure where I am...they're exactly the same in Florida, Colorado, Pennsylvania, possibly even Beijing (although the cast of characters is probably different there...I'm not sure what Chinese Wal-Mart shoppers might look like). 

When last buying that Metamucil, since I was in le plus grand magasin  (a nod here to Target), I also was checking out the cheap DVDs on offer ( where I found Jeremiah Johnson, a truly great  movie, kind of Western wuxia, with Robert Redford, that I believe I saw in its premiere** in 1972 in Pocatello, Idaho, (which geologically is really part of Utah), and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I have never seen, but maybe it's time to find out what THAT is all about.) Then I discovered that our local Hawaii Wal-Mart has a respectable section of wuxia and kung fu videos. (Maybe I wouldn't have found this stuff in the Ocala, Florida, Wal-Mart. But then I wasn't looking, I was buying cheap household supplies for my aged father.)  On my Metamucil run, for a good price (the price you pay for enduring Wal-Mart) I bought Shaolin Grandma (subject for a whole 'nother blog post); a not half-bad Korean movie called Shadowless Sword, and a couple of multi-disc Tai Seng series. (I feel really guilty because for these I should have patronized my Chinatown vendor, but I will be back there soon, before Chinese New Year, and will certainly spend some bucks. Maybe I will ask her to stock Metamucil.)

Alas, Sword Stained with Royal Blood is giving me trouble. The Wizard, not a fan of the Mac DVD player, suggested I view it with VLC.  But I decided to test it first on the DVD player connected to our rarely used TV, where it plays just fine.  Except that the DVD player remote control doesn't work, so I can't select subtitles or control the DVD in any way. I asked the Wizard to investigate.  Indeed  something's wrong.  Why would anyone design a device controllable ONLY through a remote?  He can't determine if it's the remote or the IR sensor on the DVD player.

"I need a detector.  I need to order a new tool!"  Which he is enthusiastically now doing on line.

In the meantime, I have learned that the DVD DOES play on VLC on my Mac, (so I don't have to go back to Wal-Mart) although it occasionally burps and reverts to the Cantonese track from the preferred Mandarin, and loses the English subtitles. I can easily recover, but really something is wrong.  I hope it's only this first DVD.

In any case, it's a good story, from a Louis Cha wuxia novel.  They didn't have technology in that setting...except for fine sword production.

I wonder what would happen if I greeted the Wal-Mart greeter with a sword in hand?  Ideally with the receipt for the faulty (Chinese) product impaled on its tip. Prease to lefund this?

**I have the idea that I saw this movie in a theater in Pocatello with Robert Redford actually introducing it.  It was sort of a big deal.  But I could be imagining this, or conflating it with some other event. This may be why I now like to occasionally order shoes and bags from Robert Redford's Sundance catalog.