The Beginning of the Rainbow

My son Eli and I met up in Taiwan last week.  He was eager to visit The Rainbow Village while we were in Taichung.  Several reviews suggested it was too far off the beaten path to be worth the trip, but most people were highly enthusiastic.

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I did a little research; sometimes the story of a place or object can imbue it with meaning.  This story goes way back, and knowing the story made a difference to me.  Huang Yung-Fu was born in 1924.  During the Chinese Civil War he fought for Chiang Kai-shek, and in 1949, he followed their defeated leader to Taiwan.
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Hundreds of villages sprang up throughout Taiwan, providing temporary military housing for the veterans like Huang Yung-Fu and their families.  Some of the military villages had a thousand units or more. The temporary concrete houses became permanent homes for many. 

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They were small and drab and time took its toll on the buildings.  Cities grew up around them, and the property became more valuable than the dwellings.  Developers started buying up the land. Residents were offered compensation and relocation if they would agree to vacate.

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 Most veterans submitted, but Huang Yung-Fu resisted; he would not leave his home.

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The old veterans’ community was gradually reduced to only 11 residences.

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They wanted to tear down Huang Yung-Fu’s home too.  So he picked up a paintbrush and began to paint…

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…and paint…

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…and paint.

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Bit by bit, wall by wall, his colorful murals expanded to beautify all the remaining residences.  

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Local university students discovered Huang’s work and campaigned to save the village. What was left of the place became known as The Rainbow Village.  Authorities eventually agreed that it should be preserved, and it has since become a designated cultural area.

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Mr. Huang, referred to by many simply as Grandpa, is now 94 years old. At a little table you can purchase post cards, magnets, and other products based on his work, the proceeds of which must surely provide a good living.

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Grandpa was napping when we got there, but we’re told he often touches up his work, keeping it fresh and bright.

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I am in awe. With the help from local students, through his art, a fragile old man rescued his home from destruction and urban decay.  He transformed his home into a vibrant tourist hotspot that also provides a good living.

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Huang Yung-Fu has worked a kind of magic, real and powerful.  He has turned this…

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…into this.

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As surely as Huang Yung-Fu was going to lose his home, we are going to lose ours.  Imagine what would happen if writers and storytellers, visual and performing artists everywhere were to unleash their passion, channel their creative talents, and fearlessly use their superpowers to advocate action for environmental protection, humanitarian aid, civil rights and social justice.  Artist Favianna Rodriguez says, “Change the culture, change the world.” She quotes Abraham Lincoln, who said, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed.”   It has happened before.  Sinclair Lewis, Pete Seeger, Miriam Makeba, Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank, Diego Rivera, just for starters.  It can happen again.  And it’s now or never time.

All images and words ©2016 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Magic.

Resistance is NOT Futile

 

All the stars and planets were aligned…Just after the election I had a birthday, which I share with my binary brother, Lewis.  In sixty years, we’ve never spent a birthday apart.  Like so many of us, he was shocked, saddened, crushed by the election results.  There was only one thing to do.  We played space age hooky, beamed him out of the office and transported ourselves to the Seattle Center.

Specifically, to the EMP, which is celebrating 50 years of Star Trek.

I hardly remember life before Star Trek. And talk about The Next Generation! My children absorbed Star Trek by osmosis in utero. As I ascended the stairs to the EMP tribute, the Star Trek theme song elicited a visceral response that only gets stronger as I get older.  I’ve lived long enough now to see many of these stories played out on my planet in real time.


The Star Trek universe was built upon a future where poverty was eliminated, equality and diversity went hand in hand, and the good of the many took precedence over the few.  Humans had learned to cooperate, and put an end to war.  All of Earth and the Federation of Planets collaborated on peaceful missions of exploration.  What a concept!  A bit rosy, but a vision worth striving for.

My brother and I arrived early and shared the floor with only a few others, including a very cute couple in Star Fleet uniforms.

We had shared a womb for nine months, and managed to both fit into a Borg Regeneration Chamber too.

Star Trek had action and adventure, but was also thoughtful and intelligent.  Writers could get away with astute critical social commentary, because it was all happening in another universe. Thinly veiled stories posed tough questions about civil rights, social disparity and racism in our own society.

Martin Luther King was marching for basic civil rights and a place at the lunch counter for African Americans when Classic Trek was filmed, featuring a black woman as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, fourth in command on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.  Her surname means ‘freedom’ in Swahili.

It wasn’t long before a woman would captain the Federation Starship Voyager.

A black man was in command of the space station, Deep Space Nine.

Julian Bashir, whose Arabic name means “bringer of good news,” was the doctor on DS9.

In the original series Lt. Hikaru Sulu was played by George Takei, who is gay.  Fifty years later, in the most recent Star Trek movie, writers gave Sulu a child and a husband, a powerful tribute to the actor who first brought Sulu to life. More importantly, it was an unwavering moral and political statement of inclusiveness that brought tears to my eyes.

For just a little while, it felt good to be in a place of Equal Opportunity bridges, and not walls.  Right now we are in the middle of our own episode, so scary it seems like science fiction, with the world we’ve worked so hard to build spinning out of control.  The incidence of hate crimes is rising dramatically.  Social security is threatened.  Fifty years of social progress is at risk as minorities, immigrants, women, LGBTQ, those with disabilities, and the poor are in danger of being disenfranchised.  The environment is on the brink of ruin beyond recovery because in this episode The Almighty Dollar is worshipped at all costs. In this story, we don’t have other worlds to relocate to after we’ve ruined this planet. Too many episodes begin with civilizations that have self-destructed, or are ruled by uncaring masters who live in the clouds in their own decadent paradise, while the workers they exploit to maintain their carefree lifestyle live in a harsh ugly world. You probably saw “Patterns of Force,” the episode pictured below; there are people old enough to have lived through that reality, and who recognize the signs in our country today.

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If we wait until the 24th century to be rescued, or for ‘enlightenment’ to kick in, we’re going to find ourselves back in the Dark Ages wondering what happened.  Anyone who has watched Star Trek knows how difficult it is to travel back in time to change the future.   Star Trek’s writers say,  “…start by picking a resolution…then plan each step so it drives the story toward the ending you want…”

Every episode needs conflict to give a story purpose and move the plot forward.  Star Trek writers created a terrifying foe called The Borg...”individuals who have been captured and assimilated…and transformed into mindless worker drones…What’s frightening about the Borg is not their violence…They are unhampered by empathy for other beings, believing their way is perfection…The Borg are, in essence, a virus that uses civilizations as its hosts.”

Can you see where our country is headed? We will NOT be assimilated. Our story must end with a world where people of every race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation live and work together as equals, without fear of banishment, punishment or judgement simply for being who they are.  This episode must end with respect, inclusivity, and compassion for all. We must do whatever it takes to make it so. The reason Star Trek has become such a lasting legacy is because it is hopeful and empowering and delivers a message we need to hear.  The captain’s chair is ready. Let’s take our tall ship, keep an eye on that star to steer her by, and go full speed ahead, warp factor 10. Whatever happens, please remember…Resistance is NOT futile.  It is the only way we ever have or ever will make any headway, and it will be a crucial message to the next generation.

©2016 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme.

The Many Degrees of Spooky

Something to think about this scary time of year, and I’m not talking about Halloween.

Writing Between the Lines

Okay, guys.  There are so many degrees of spooky.  There is silly spooky fun, much of it tasteless.

Well, actually this one tasted pretty darn good!

So did these guys, but you know what I mean.

In the real world, mildly spooky is a vicious ATM that eats your cash card five minutes after landing in a foreign land, and then being forced to use your rusty high school Spanish to try to get it back over the phone from a bank where no one speaks English.  To no avail.  The machine can smell your fear, and the voice on the other end of the line really doesn’t care.  But you know you’ll survive.

Or how about when your staircase remodel is taking far too long, and every night you build a barricade of chairs and boxes around the gaping opening, and you realize you’re telling your children, “Don’t fall…

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A Guid Crack

I’ve been out in the world again, this time with my friends Meg and Shirley, at the Scottish International Storytelling festival.

It happens each October in the ancient and storied city of Edinburgh.

The Storytelling Center is in a house built in 1490, the last residence of Protestant reformer John Knox.

The festival opened with Scottish stories, although this year’s focus was on South and Central America.

Two doors down from the center was our flat, with a splendid view.

What a treat to arrive at the height of the autumn color!

Every day we filled up our story banks. In Scotland a guid crack is lively conversation, the sharing of gossip, news, stories. Over lunch, Meg’s brother Jim told ghost stories, personal stories, and history fun facts.  The storytelling gene clearly runs strong in their family.

We picked up stories and histories from the castles, and a few from Holyrood Palace…

…where Mary, Queen of Scots, once lived (in the older wing).

We visited The National Portrait Gallery, The Edinburgh Museum, The Museum of Childhood, and the photography exhibit in the Parliament Building.  The People’s Story was a museum highlighting the changing conditions and the continuing pursuit of social justice for the people of Edinburgh, including women and the LGBTQ community.

I was intrigued by a painting hanging on the wall of The National Gallery.  It depicted the very room it was displayed in as it had appeared when painted over a century before.  Not much had changed.

We popped into Jenner’s, an elegant department store built in 1895, where they weren’t allowed to remodel, because it was a ‘listed’ historic building.  Meg grew up in a nearby village and would ride the train to town with her mother to shop, but they went to the C&A down the street. Meg remembers window shopping at Jenner’s as a college student.

Mostly we just did window shopping.

But you know…

…in Edinburgh even window shopping is quite special.

I’d heard of haggis as a delicacy unique to Scotland, but nobody ever said anything about macaroni pie.

I loved the Tartans.

And there’s nothing like a kilt to make a man look his best.

But even in Scotland accessories can make–or break–the outfit.

Everywhere we went, we were just steps away from natural beauty.

There were ancient churches and cathedrals around every corner.

Steep narrow passages called ‘closes’ spread like ribs from the spine formed by The Royal Mile.

Edinburgh looked like a city on tiptoe…

 

…with so many layers of mystery and history just waiting to be discovered.

Meg had to translate the words on this sign for me.  It says, “Long may your chimney smoke,” but it means, “May you always have fuel for your fire,” which is a cozy way of wishing someone a long and healthy life.

I never did discover the answer to the vital question most visitors wonder about when they come to Scotland, but are too polite to ask.  

Which is probably all for the best.

All words and images ©2016 Naomi Baltuck.

Click to visit Meg’s blog, Story Twigs the Imagination, and her post about our trip.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Transmogrify.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Hills.