Marnova – of and from a wandering mind…

Marnova's musings on life, media and Mongolia


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…out of my shell. So I’ve been silent a little while. A little distant from those virtual and physical. Sorry about that folks.

I will admit that Twitter has been taking up some of my time (catch me over there – Marnova, you got it in one) and also my photography (check out link to the right, it needs updating but it’s a start!)

I received a card that made me smile today.  An Edward Monkton card about my inner pasta and the various types.  My friend wrote that she didn’t think I could ever be categorized and also indicated the route to go and visit her before signing off with a drawing of a birthday chair.  Whatever one of those is.

Thanks Moosie, I won’t be such a stranger!

In the meantime, check out this ‘Hammers and Strings’ project by Clayton Austin  He is dragging a piano around the United States and doing different photoshoots with him (for anyone looking historically, check out Sep/Oct 2010)


Now, the images are stunning – I love the locations.  Pianos are beautiful, romantic and majestic objects, but in these photos, the piano seems incidental to this photoset, there is no sense of any relationship between the people in the pictures and the piano – they lounge across it indifferently as if could be a chaise lounge or stand by it as if it were not there.  This piano has been through stones, high water, fire and there is something very sad about sacrificing a piano in the name of art.

In days bygone, the piano was the life and soul of the fortunate establishment/household that had one.  It had the power to bring strangers and family together, gathering around it, uniting in revelry. In the right hands, it brings joy to the player and the listener.  These days, space is at a premium and pianos are falling out of vogue. They have become little more than redundant pieces of furniture.  And that is a crying shame indeed.  They are precious gifts – during Communism, most musical instruments were banned, considered frivolous.  Instruments are made to be played and with only a little TLC, life can be breathed back into one creaking at the joints.  My own piano I saved from a scrapheap fate. It only takes for someone to play it now and again to keep it conditioned and alive and in return it enriches our lives.  I love my piano very much and would keep it over my television.  Is that a more controversial statement than it seems to be to me?

I would rather see a series like this that honours the handsome and noble character of this fine piano. OK, so I am a piano geek.  I didn’t realise that until today.  So, check out Clayton’s beautiful images, perhaps it is testament to their power that they made me realise this about myself

Requiem for a piano


Written by marnova

October 25, 2010 at 4:34 pm


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In this age of  communication,  I find myself bombarded with shocking images that I am becoming increasingly desensitised to.  I frequently recall some lines our poet laureate once wrote about in her poem about a war photographer:

“A hundred agonies in black-and-white
from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday’s supplement. The reader’s eyeballs prick
with tears between bath and pre-lunch beers.
From aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns a living and they do not care.”

– The War Photographer, Carol Ann Duffy

There are few images that shock and startle  me these days.  And yet this one did.  And it is good to know that I am not numb.  Really good.

Thich Quang Duc, Vietnamese Monk

Thích Quảng Đức protested against the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam's administration by setting himself alight. Credit: Malcolm Browne

At a busy downtown intersection in Saigon, on 11 June 1963, seventy-three-year-old Thich Quang Duc, sat at a busy downtown intersection and had gasoline poured over him by two fellow monks. As a large crowd of Buddhists and reporters watched, he lit a match and, over the course of a few moments, burned to death while he remained seated in the lotus position.  His heart did not burn and is now a Buddhist relic.

“I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think…. As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him. (1965: 211)”
-David Halberstam, New York Times (who declined to publish the image)

And the full poem, which I have never forgotten since I first read it.  There is something very real, immediate and pertinent about it.  And Carol Ann Duffy has deserved her ascendancy to poet laureate, there is something about her ability to weave strong imagery, metaphors and wry comedy into her topical poetry that makes kids and adults sit up and take notice. She was one poet that my students didn’t mind studying:

War Photographer

In his darkroom he is finally alone
with spools of suffering set out in ordered rows.
The only light is red and softly glows,
as though this were a church and he
a priest preparing to intone a Mass.
Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh. All flesh is grass.

He has a job to do. Solutions slop in trays
beneath his hands which did not tremble then
though seem to now. Rural England. Home again
to ordinary pain which simple weather can dispel,
to fields which don’t explode beneath the feet
of running children in a nightmare heat.

Something is happening. A stranger’s features
faintly start to twist before his eyes,
a half-formed ghost. He remembers the cries
of this man’s wife, how he sought approval
without words to do what someone must
and how the blood stained into foreign dust.

A hundred agonies in black-and-white
from which his editor will pick out five or six
for Sunday’s supplement. The reader’s eyeballs prick
with tears between bath and pre-lunch beers.
From aeroplane he stares impassively at where
he earns a living and they do not care.

Thich Nu Thanh Quang

A Buddhist nun protests the government's Catholic regime in Hue, Vietnam Credit: AP, May 29, 1966

Written by marnova

May 7, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Secrets and Lies (with a nod to Mike Leigh*)

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I recently went on a trip to Malaysia.  I hadn’t been in several years and was looking forward to the heady mix of cultures, food and lively atmosphere. It was an eye opener in many senses, but particularly in one way that I hadn’t expected.  Perhaps returning as an adult made a difference;  coming of age lifts the veil on so many things, you  become less worried about what people think of you and start noticing the cracks that appear around them instead.

What it was that took me so much by surprise was the secrecy and lies that came hand-in-hand with everyday life.  This can probably said to some extent of every society – it’s important to keep up appearances.  However, it seemed extreme in Malaysia, where white lies are almost told as a matter of course or as before the expectation has even been born.  Astonishing by it’s normality.  Teenagers keeping secrets from their parents (as is their perogative anywhere),  grownups keeping petty secrets from their parents…slightly weirder, parents keeping secrets from their children (fairly normal), people keeping secrets from their colleagues (normal to an extent) and everyone telling lies including strangers to strangers.  I guess part of this whole charade was to keep ‘face’, to improve face, for an easier life, and to oil the whole darn machine.  But it is a complex, confusing mess.

I’m still not really sure why all these secrets and lies exist in such apparent multitude in this particular country, or whether I just happen to be privvy to part of the truth masked by these lies, but it’s a brittle glue to hold together a society with.   Malaysia in some ways is becoming increasingly conservative, not entirely coincidental timing with strengthening fundamentalist Islamic movements; in other ways, it is rebelling with a counter movement of Western culture.  These two forces obviously don’t sit well together, but Malaysians sure as hell try to pretend that it still does and under the same flag of One Malaysia that it used to fly.

And of course it’s unhealthy for people to live with constant lies and fake smiles.  The fear of discovery weighs each person down and heartbreakingly, when challenged they can’t tell you why they do it either.  Maybe it’s best that way, for if they stop to think a moment about it, the fragile mask cracks and they are as bairns, naked to a wind they have never felt before.   Then they can either walk into the headwind, or fall back. 

I continue to wonder and have no real answers.  I know every machine needs a little oil, and it’s not as if I haven’t smiled through gritted teeth at someone I dislike, but I would like to think that this is the last resort rather than the first.  I can guess that it is going through some teenage growing pains, trying to be something that it isn’t anymore.  It will be interesting to see what it grows up to be.

Reaching skyward

Reaching skyward

* Mike Leigh’s film of the same name…

Written by marnova

April 9, 2010 at 3:54 pm

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Deep + Meaningful = Pretension

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Monologue from the distant mind of a once-upon-a-time student film maker…
Words without images:

“Suddenly everything is empty and meaningless, surely some good must come from this.  Am I just another of the Prozac generation?  Hello, don’t cry…take a pill, wave your fears goodbye.  

I think and I philosophise deep and meaningful thoughts.  What use are they?  Another poem about suicide is all we need.  Another film about depression and death.  I hate all this darkness.  I want colour.  Light.  Fun.  Happiness…but they don’t belong to me anymore. 

Grow up?  And what will that be?  Shaking off these insecurities and being happy smiley people that say, “How are you doing?” and look scared if you say, “Not very well actually,”  or will we grow to be a nation of people making the sounds of love lost, revenge and The End?”  Will we sit here and watch the pictures pass us by.  Sigh and say, ‘Wasn’t that sad?  How very meaningful.’  And analyse the film for the next week with our friends and cyber-friends.  Will it totally change your life for a week, or will you dismiss it as another overwrought, pent-up social misfit mistakenly being allowed an expression.  

Do we really believe that we can change the world with our work.  Or is this a mistaken understanding that we ever learn?” 

Images without words:

Just one frame

Just one frame (Trish Ng as Mia)

Just another frame

Just another frame

Yet another frame

Yet another frame

Written by marnova

April 8, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Poverty kills childhood?

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Save the Children are committed to ending poverty for children.  I admire their ambitions.  Very commendable.

Their latest slogan is ‘poverty kills childhood’.   But…does it really?  I know where they are coming from – innocent children, starving, with no access to medical services, but there is a flipside – if they have enough to eat, a close family and plenty of love, then they are doing better than a lot of kids in the Western world.

Someone very close to me that I respect a lot, grew up in complete poverty in a village in Asia.  He was born in the shack they lived in.  Technically, the family had a roof over their heads, but not with enough space for him to sleep there, so he slept with the other boys in the village hall.  His family couldn’t afford for him to take lunch and a drink to school so he had to choose one or the other.  They had no money for clothes, so he had to wear clothes donated by the local temple, whether they be trousers or dresses.  He had to leave school when he was seven to work in the fields.   For years, his sole existence was to put out the fishing basket on his way to going to mind the family water buffalo (no money for fences so it had to be stopped from eating other people’s crops), then checking the fish on the way back.  Heartbreakingly, his father did not even have enough money to bury his first wife (poor health so often comes with poverty) when she died, so he took her to the mountains (good feng shui) on his bicycle and buried her himself.

So what became of this boy?  Did this life of poverty destroy him?  Well, he put himself through night school and did  his homework by candlelight.  When he came of age, he eventually left his village for Europe (with a passport someone had posted to him) and worked hard until he found stability and eventually had a family.  When you speak to him now, it is rare he tells his story and he never seeks pity on the occasion that he does.  Life wasn’t easy when he was younger, but he had something that a lot of adults, let alone children are now missing – a spirit for survival. 

Struggle and strife were part of his childhood, but they also shaped and defined who he became.  He worked for and achieved the things he wanted, valued the people he loved, lived with humility and didn’t take anything for granted including each meal he had.  You can imagine – that is a person with their priorities very much sorted.

And of his childhood?  Maybe it would have been different if he’d grown up in the city, but he will tell you about the fun he had with the other kids when they returned from the fields, the mischievous whisperings between the boys that shared the loft in the village hall and all the normal things that kids get up to when they’re young. 



Written by marnova

April 7, 2010 at 4:29 pm


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For International Women’s Day 2010, my mum was awarded a “Women Who Make A Difference Award” under the category of inspirational women.  She didn’t even know she’d be nominated by her friend.  I thought what had been written was quite touching.  It’s a bit shmaltzy but I would like to honour her by publishing her nomination:

“She came to the UK from Malaysia at a young age to pursue a career in nursing.  Having worked in the NHS as a nurse for a number of years she left her profession to set up a Chinese takeaway business with her husband. 

As a nurse, she had managed to attain a high level of English and together with her medical experience, she was highly sought after by other members of the Chinese community in Bristol and the surrounding area to provide language support at doctor’s surgeries and hospitals long before there were Translation and Intepreting departments.  She did this often at cost to herself and refused any payment from the client.

She also served on the Management Committee of the local Chinese women’s Group, of which I am the Director. S he was a very active member promoting the Group and participating in events until her accident.

Several years ago she suffered a fall for no apparent reason, other than probably missing her footing.  However, after falling over several more times she was eventually diagnosed with a neurological problem.  As her condition has deteriorated it has left her wheelchair bound to this day.

Despite her apparent disability, she continues to support many members of the Chinese community giving advice and counselling either face-to-face or over the phone.

Her determination to continue helping others, whilst coping with her own debilitating illness has inspired me to double my own efforts in helping the Chinese community.”

So on the eve of Mothers’ Day I salute my mum.  We have had our differences, but she has been an inspiration – always being inclusive and helping so many people and family along the way despite her own challenges.  She has changed people’s lives with her generosity.

Taking flight

Taking flight

Written by marnova

March 13, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Notions of romance

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The last day of Chinese New Year is Chinese Valentine’s Day. Drop a mandarin orange with your contact details scribed on it, into a lake and some other lonely soul will fish it out and contact you for a date.

I can imagine the hopes and dreams that someone might fling into the lake together with their orange, especially in the reserved Chinese culture where people don’t really “talk” – they chit chat but don’t really engage or get beyond that first layer as if that would be rude.  Traits of stoicism and control are admired.  How have Chinese couples even managed up until now? Let alone become the most populous nation.  How have they survived for so many centuries, placing their hopes on an orange floating away into the distance? 

Maybe that’s why the Chinese have their legendary epic tales of love replayed on many a cinema screen – they need to be able to dream that it exists.  Or maybe that’s why they are so good at making business – because they rule with their heads and not their hearts;  to show emotion is a weakness, you show too much of yourself to your opponent.  And too right, marriage was only ever intended to be for status – to build  bridges between families and dynasties.  When on earth did love come into the equation?  That is nature’s some-might-say-wonderful-some-might-say-cruel curveball.  Somewhat incompatible with our social conventions.  It must be a rare chance to find a situation where nature and manmade society can meet and walk a path together hand-in-hand.  And yet, we seem to think that it is our right for that to happen and  that it can happen time and time again – attainable for each and every one of us. 

Anyway, what’s good for our families isn’t necessarily good for our souls.  Someone I recently met had to abandon his life when he came of age and inherited the family empire.  He was philosophical and said he likes all that he has.  And he does have a world at his disposal.  And yet, when we spoke I came to understand that there is nowhere he really loves, nothing he really loves doing.  Nothing he loves about his life.  But love is one of those rogue emotions he shouldn’t show anyway.  He thinks of his youth and can’t place his finger on what it is he has lost, but he knows he misses it.  He was handed the world on a plate and is playing the role of playboy millionaire businessman in an exemplary fashion.  He knows that he should appreciate it but the reality is he is uneasy and lonely.

I wonder if next year, I should send him down to a lake with a mandarin orange in hand.

Where the sky meets the Earth

Where the sky meets the Earth

Written by marnova

February 28, 2010 at 9:53 am