The Ninjas of Haze

I’m a tropical girl. I can deal with the cold – I’ve lived in the northern hemisphere for long enough – but by March, it should be getting warm-ish. April it’s definitely spring. I recall a few years back at Spring Festival, walking around in teeshirts for a few days, delighting in the warmth, until the cold kicked in again, for a while.

This year, it’s nearly May. I’m sitting on my verandah with a small view of the Golden Chicken Lake ( don’t ask me, have never been able to find out), obscured by dust , grime and small particulate matter that gets abbreviated to PM levels and sticks with the determination invisibility gives – just call them the Ninja of Haze – particles so small you cant see them until they group together in flash-mobs and paint the sky grey. And yellow. A haze of mustard and distaster on the horizon, ever present.

There’s a lake in there…. really…. just look through the haze…..


Mix that with winter, and you have serious problems. Add an exceptionally long winter, days and weeks of drizzle and overcast skies, greyness embedded into the psyche, and a tropical girl has got serious problems.

Today is the second day of sun, the second day of teeshirts. I’ve been wearing sandals and only one layer of trousers for weeks now. Hell, once I even wore shorts – dressy ones – to work.

“Why are you wearing so little?”

“Why don’t you have proper shoes on, you will catch a cold through your feet.”

“It’s not spring yet, you need to keep warm” ….

…. the never-ending series of concerned comments.

“It’s April. It should be warm by now.”

That’s my only answer, and I stick to it like a cat that wont give up on that pseudo-mice toy. I say pseudo toy because I’m phobic about such matters, and I wont even allude to the potential of real live little rodents. No way.

I’m sitting on my verandah glancing up through the particulate-mattered windows to see the – what should be blue, lets just say – well, grey – waters of the Lake, reading Patti Smith’s book MTrain.


“High winds, cold rain, or the threat of rain; a looming continuum of calamitous skies that subtly permeate my entire being. Without noticing, I slip into a light yet malingering malaise. Not a depression, more like a fascination with melancholia, which I turn in my hand as if it were a small planet, streaked in shadow, impossibly blue.”
So that’s whats up, I think!   A fascination with a small blue planet called Melancholia sounds much nicer than SAD, or Seasonally Affected Disorder.

As soon as the suns out I’m up, chucking off my shoes and dancing around in barefoot on the grass, ignoring the strange looks of colleagues, cleaning ladies, and the ever present guards that hang out in the front of any Chinese workplace.

I got the book back in Byron.

Now there’s a consolation for the Blues, if ever there was. Byron Bay, Australia’s most easterly point. Home to the Bungjalung Arakwal people and an eclectic assortment of characters and visitors drawn to the magnetism of its high-energy fields.

I’m sitting chatting to my friend’s son, and we are talking about the emerging punk music scene in Brisbane in the late 70s. For a child of the 90s, he sure knows a lot about that time.

“Mum’s talked to me about the band you guys were in, I feel like I was there.”

“They were the good times,” I say.

“Do you ever feel life is just a circle? What Mum and you guys did back then, I’m doing now –“ and he talks about his band in Sydney, a few mates he is jamming with in Bryon, and then we go back to the Brisbane music scene of the late 70s and 80s.

“ I think I was born in the wrong time. I feel like I should have been born at that time,” Danny says, and I say

“Maybe you were there. Maybe you were with us and you died, and got reincarnated now.”

I don’t say, there sure were enough people who did just that back then, died early in the traffic of life. Who wants to think about that.

Sometimes when conversations are synched, minds racing down the same racetrack like horses trying to reach some insubstantial yet certain treat at the end of the line, answers can come before the questions are asked. Replies to statements that were never uttered.

“He died with a falafel in his hand.”

I laugh out loud. “Yeah, that book just about described our lives back then. Shared houses in Brisbane.”

Danny finds a youtube about the Brisbane music scene but we don’t watch it all through, I’m busy jumping up excitedly pointing to faces I remember, funny stories to share. Danny gets it, totally. It’s truly like he was there.

He shows me another youtube from a song some of his mates in yet another band have made.

“We watch the lightening, crash over cane fields –“ it begins then lurches into something else entirely.

“We watch the lightening, crash over cane fields – GANGAJANG! That line’s from an old GANGAJANG song –“

I’m amazed. Did they rip it off? Were they mysteriously musically and lyrically in synch across the timelines? I’m always ready to believe a completely other-worldly and seemingly ridiculous reason for everything until proved otherwise.

The fireworks are going off  outside this fine sunny morning.

鞭炮 Bianpao – the kind of firecrackers that punctuate the air regularly, to celebrate a wedding, the finishing of a building, the finishing of a particular stage in a building, success in examinations, a baby’s birth – the list is endless. With buildings going up like a virus around my workplace, the auditory bursts are like your favourite soundtracks on a loop. Comforting, and only a touch annoying.

“Yeah it was a direct acknowledgement,” says Danny. “Those guys were inspired by the 70s and 80s music scene like me, and they wanted to acknowledge Gangajang’s lyrics.”

“You cant beat it for a description of Brisbane and the coastal hinterland – “

“we watch the lightening, flash over canefields ._ we sing it again…

You can sing it too.

Laugh and think, this is Australia. Check it out.

We get talking to other musical icons of the 70s and Patti Smith’s name comes up. It’s nearing midnight – its been a tough few days and we have both just achieved something we needed to do together – after all he is family to my friend, and I can’t make a decision about the gift I’m buying for her without his consultation . It’s that sort of a gift. A family decision. So we relax, have a beer or two, and talk about music he’s too young to remember, but is obsessed by.

I guess cause it was, and is, unbelievably good music. Not your smultchy stuff, certainly not every body’s taste. I bought Patti Smith’s first album, Horses, and played it over and over again. Our band did a passable cover of her version of Gloria.

How can you go past a first line that goes

Jesus died for somebody’s sins ………

But not mine….

And her name was –

I’ve never read any of Smith’s writings before – but her music is sheer poetry mixed with a chaotic, driving, pulsating, hypnotic beat – but I discover she is obsessed with Jean Genet and the stones of a prison he never got to, and coffee. And cafes.

Her writing, like you’ve seen in the excerpt above, is lyrical and mesmerizing, more ordered and structured than the grand chaos of the best of her eclectic music. She has another side to her songs  too,  without the pulsating beat. Rolling lyrics, sounding sweet of your tongue, but venture into their depth and you’ll find  hard dark stuff sidling into a cute melody – just listen to Rendono Beach.

Back in Byron I go looking for presents for my daughter whose home in China, and a Lonely Planet for our next adventure. Mtrain is staring at me as I enter the bookshops just off Johnson street, in snuggled between a surf shop and an icecream shop.

Patti Smith! What a coincidence! We were just talking about her last night. I buy the book. The Lonely Planet guide to Italy comes along for the ride.

The next morning, Danny goes for a surf while his Mum and I chat about old times, she’s reminiscing about the Bowie concert she saw and we chat about old friends, Byron and the beautiful Tweed River.

As blue as sapphire, as soon as you cross the border. Queensland rivers are brown with sludge, pass Coolongatta and into the Tweed and you’ll see the most sparkling, irridiscent, diamond-shining waters you’ll ever hope to see.

Beautiful blue waters of the Tweed River

Barb and I sing the song a Canadian friend visiting had taught us, substituting the lyrics for local places, like this:

Your sweet and shining eyes, are like the stars above Cabarita…

the stars above Cabarita -photo taken from the Sydney Observatory , showing a typical starstudded Australian night sky, with the Southern Cross in prominent position

We crossed the New South Wales Border as the sun was going down…

And happened to walk into

The Tumblegum hotel.

It’s a real place, shining with the natural beauty of the Northern Rivers region, and the old pub is still there, only gone upmarket.

Tumblegum, Northern Rivers New South Wales. photograph kindly borrowed from

( to find out more about Tumblegum, check out this admirable post from Pommepal at )

I’m only there for a week, it’s a short, quick trip of necessity, cause sometimes you just gotta book that ticket on line, drive to the airport, and get on that plane and go.

Cause that’s what friendship is. Turns out that the strength, courage and sheer tenancity of my friend, Danny’s Mum, is becoming legendary, and that it really is true that

the ocean waters of Byron Bay are healing.


How can you not admire that?

Back here, the day is unfolding with a quietude that speaks of how the traffic and occasional fireworks has become just a background soundtrack. It’s a lazy Saturday morning. Sooner or later we will get to the Classical Chinese Gardens Suzhou is so famous for. Or maybe just Starbucks for tea and lunch overlooking that lake.


The Gardens  are something else exceedingly admirable.

Who could not admire a Garden, a traditional mansion really, where all the halls and rooms  and pavillions are named after poems, and the whole layout and structure is a dance of water, wood, and intricate carvings that are the essence of poetry, where every view is a harmony of nature and elegant words…

I open Mtrain at a random page. Patti Smith is talking about meeting a complete stranger from whom she buys a lottery ticket at a large price. She doesn’t feel like it’s a winning number.

“The way I look at it is that fate touches me and some rumpled straggler has a repast of meatballs and warm beer, He is happy – and I feel at one with the world – a good trade.”

In the morning, the lottery results are in the paper. She doesn’t win. “Do you think you paid too much for that ticket?” someone asks Patty.

“You can never pay too much for peace of mind,” she answers.