Pavle Radonic ~ Letter from the East

Quelle Horreur

After years and decades of hor­ror sto­ries, movies, TV shows, graph­ics & adver­tis­ing the actu­al does not, can­not pos­si­bly, pen­e­trate. Not when it comes from the same screens and talk­ing heads. Unreal. All vast­ly unre­al. Especially so to the young no doubt, there­fore the scenes at Bondi Beach and reports of bars and clubs buzzing in Australia. A Chinese del­e­gate recent­ly in Italy offer­ing exper­tise com­ment­ed on the con­cern­ing “par­ty­ing” he had wit­nessed. Again here last night at Al Azhar, where it is a case of the tra­di­tion­al, kam­pung peo­ple dis­be­liev­ing, three or four hand­shakes had need­ed to be rebuffed. One old chap who always sports beau­ti­ful batik shirts that a tai­lor in Batam made for him sug­gest­ed the thing was “all non­sense.” The old dodger Latif with his recent­ly grown mous­tache brushed off sim­i­lar­ly when his hand was left hang­ing. Many of the old­er fel­lows con­tin­ued to believe this was a Chinese prob­lem, their own diets and ablu­tions pre­serv­ing them from harm. As usu­al, a good many stop­ping at the table for the famil­iar for­eign­er. One uncle who pre­vi­ous­ly nev­er approached unex­pect­ed­ly did so last night, enquir­ing about the pret­ty com­pan­ion of the night before. This man’s shake was like­wise gra­cious­ly declined and the heart-felt palm­ing sub­sti­tut­ed. To not much avail as it turned out, with the fel­low clap­ping the shoul­der and giv­ing a hug at the assump­tion of well done with the girl. In the house one real­ly does want to take the handy­man by the leg like a horse and remove the tap­pers on his san­dals. (Does his wife actu­al­ly get reas­sur­ance from that clat­ter?) The ris­ing irri­ta­tion from tourist guide Richard’s bang­ing of pots and pans in the kitchen like­wise needs care. A morgue silence would not be any good either, per­haps. Sabar, sabar the Indo domes­tic helpers exchanged between them­selves at their week­end debriefs at the tables. Patience, patience. They, the sweeps, the ill and wheel­chair-bound (and their car­ers), the tall dark garbage truck jock­ey this morn­ing, all teach the les­son. (How did the lat­ter keep his Panama so spot­less? The lad will have no trou­ble keep­ing his hands off his face.)

In the States the gun Scottie ordered in SOCAL has not arrived:

Been 2 days online, impos­si­ble any CA gun­store, try­ing to find a 45 cal, CA legal (10 round max mag) gun. 2 weeks ago so easy—now NONE any­where. Must buy ammo at store in CA and they’re all closed now. Can’t imag­ine how many more guns on the street after this. I’ll nev­er get caught with­out fire­pow­er again.

23 March



Practical Ethics & Profound Emptiness might just about be the way to go from here on. In the Buddhist shop win­dow at Bras Basah Complex after the air­line wild goose chase. On the Cathedral cor­ner one stop back from the library an uncon­nect­ed pair had gone in through the gates and one after the oth­er up the stairs into the house of wor­ship. Chinese and Indian. Passing the tem­per­a­ture test at the entry to the air­line offices on Magazine Road was some­thing per­haps. (Reminder: most cities and all major colo­nial out­posts had old armouries sit­ed by the riv­er.) On the 7th floor no per­son­al con­tact was under­stand­able; the num­bers tried by the door on the inter­com found peo­ple away from their desks. There had been no expec­ta­tion of any­thing bet­ter; the fray­ing was well under­way. Ghost town through­out; it had been a sim­ple mat­ter cross­ing the roads in the heart of Chinatown against the red. In an imag­i­nary street walk for a news ser­vice a queue on Havelock Road was guessed for the cam­era as toi­let paper—turned out a café with take-out cups. In Australia as well as the beach­es the liquor stores had been rushed; the more rule­ly seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion would find it hard to get by with­out the caf­feine fix. (To say noth­ing of sub­stances that can­not be men­tioned here, which might per­haps in fact remain unaf­fect­ed, if not actu­al­ly trad­ing more smooth­ly.) On the air­line site that had final­ly been restored after days of blanks only the next 48 hour sched­ules showed. Understandably. Who at present was plan­ning much longer than a cou­ple of day ahead, seri­ous hoard­ers aside. The library café peo­pled and the tables upstairs too, judg­ing by the 1.5m sep­a­rat­ed queue at the doors. Registration and tem­per­a­ture test­ing could be man­aged at all civic hubs across a city-state of this kind. Was there a bet­ter haven in our con­tem­po­rary moment than the library? You would bet sheep sta­tions it would get as much patron­age as any of the oth­er notable faiths. How rapid­ly it had all col­lapsed? An earth­quake in Zagreb to add woe in that cor­ner. Refugees, the poor and home­less might become more of a con­cern now because of the dan­gers to the rest of us; pris­ons had already come into cal­cu­la­tions. Across the library fore­court sleek, slen­der legs briefly worked their old mag­ic again, giv­ing a lit­tle reminder at least of care­free days. The day before Ni had need­ed to be rebuffed. Through the morn­ing it had been touch-and-go with the arrange­ments for meet­ing, the gal prov­ing dif­fi­cult to deny. For younger lovers desire was no doubt unaf­fect­ed by a virus. Apart from food and water sup­plies this place was well posi­tioned; for a for­eign­er with­out health insur­ance and on a lim­it­ed visa not so much. In the time ahead of course med­ical treat­ment any­where out­side China would be problematic—a deposit sys­tem for a non-cit. one would guess in this par­tic­u­lar mar­ket­place, say $5–10k. One need­ed to pri­ori­tise one’s own, naturally.

24 March



Queues at both the rice counter & also the lak­sa. There had been a mid­dle-aged woman down on her knees in front of one of the gold paint­ed altars among the plumb­ing and paint shops. Usually those places appeared like any oth­er retail out­let fac­ing the street—mannequin Buddhas in res­i­dence and almost no show of wor­ship. The under­ly­ing anx­i­ety was mount­ing. Tables very much over-pop­u­lat­ed, how­ev­er, so much so that a share was need­ed for a seat. Being 1.5m diam­e­ter there was no dif­fi­cul­ty with the chap oppo­site. Masks nowhere to be seen, under­stand­ably at lunch, but nei­ther were there any on the table-tops. Stuffed in the bags—or per­haps the Buddhists eschewed. The pari­ahs were lords of the manor now, hav­ing a head start with all the dodg­ing and avoid­ance. It was dif­fi­cult to dis­lodge the image of the tall, dark garbage truck jock­ey from yes­ter­day in the resplen­dent pana­ma. The fact that the lat­ter was one’s own sig­na­ture motif (for­mer­ly) only part of it. Young and reed-thin, the lad strong­ly flashed Southern Serbia, won­der­ful Nis in par­tic­u­lar. O‑rig-inal Cigo, Gypsy, the arro­gant fair­er-skinned would have com­ment­ed. There seemed to be some odd kind of radi­ance like a pro­tec­tive halo emit­ted from the hat. Had the lad giv­en it a coat­ing with some­thing from the kam­pung, per­chance, aloe vera say? People mes­sag­ing and for­ward­ing all kinds of items, reme­dies, warn­ings, news pieces; one had fall­en into the same prac­tice. The hot cit­rus drink was for­ward­ed ten times on Whatsapp; then sim­ple tea for its imput­ed ben­e­fits, as sup­pos­ed­ly dis­cov­ered by the Wuhan doc who had first giv­en warn­ing of the virus and sub­se­quent­ly suc­cumbed. The Texas Lt. Gov. fea­tured on a talk show essen­tial­ly advo­cat­ing  a sac­ri­fice of the old­er population—the over sev­en­ties such as himself—in order that the America he had enjoyed could be bequeathed to his six grand­chil­dren and their descen­dants. Get the coun­try back to work; save the busi­ness­es. In Spain elder­ly in the nurs­ing homes were being aban­doned by staff; Polish author­i­ties had refused air­space to a Ruski mis­sion car­ry­ing aid to Italy, because of the poten­tial under­min­ing of NATO sol­i­dar­i­ty. Pressure points giv­ing way on every side. The while the queues length­en­ing here, all the meat-eaters leap­ing to veg­eta­bles for the tout­ed immu­ni­ty. Stranded in BKK with his dial­y­sis while wife Madeleine was here, Mike Tong for­ward­ed warn­ing to spray cloth­ing with vine­gar or anti­sep­tic on returns home. Landlord Tan pro­vid­ed his usu­al porn, in this case home-made from the Mainland—rather unusu­al for that old play­er who had long ago exhaust­ed his inter­est in Asian flesh. In Malaysia Doria was ail­ing with Stage 4 bone can­cer. Memory now returned of ear­ly or mid-teens it may have been in the last peri­od of reli­gious faith, wear­ing one­self out bed­side recall­ing all those who need­ed men­tion in prayers. Double the usu­al cus­tom with­out any doubt. Lockdown here would be near impos­si­ble. Some coped immured with­in four walls; not com­mu­nal kam­pung folk, not those beyond their for­ties. Factor the heat and humid­i­ty in addi­tion. Only a priv­i­leged minor­i­ty, the thor­ough­bred win­ners in the mer­i­to­crat­ic stakes, could afford air­con. Still the Mainland wait­ress can­not get used to the White return­ing to the trol­ley and scrap­ing his own plate. All the pro­to­cols were over­turned by the woman’s appre­cia­tive touch of the hand giv­ing her thanks. Adding You’re wel­come in her own lan­guage raised one heck of a smile.

25 March


Further Measures

Was it wise for­ward­ing the piece of the Spanish doc­tor report­ing from the hos­pi­tal, espe­cial­ly to old­er friends? In BKK Mike respond­ed that one bet­ter get used to sawadee Thai style. Not per­fect­ly clear what he meant by that in the moment of writ­ing, even after expla­na­tion and a search. Goodbyes with the sig­na­ture Buddhist calm possibly.

In SOCAL Scottie had received his 45 colt—

I man­aged to find the last 45 cal acp round Glock semi-auto used online in a bid from a store in Texas. Now shipped to a licensed deal­er in CA for back­ground check then a 10 day wait. With enough clips, I could wage a small war, cer­tain­ly defend myself. Almost every US cop car­ries a Glock.


Notes from online:

ACP — auto­mat­ic colt pistol

….The round was devel­oped due to a lack of stop­ping pow­er expe­ri­enced in the Moro Rebellion …

[The Moro Rebellion (1899–1913) was an armed con­flict between the Moro peo­ple and the United States mil­i­tary dur­ing the Philippine–American War…. The word “Moro” is a term for Muslim peo­ple who lived in the Southern Philippines, an area that includes Mindanao, Jolo and the neigh­bor­ing Sulu Archipelago.]

This expe­ri­ence and the Thompson–LaGarde Tests of 1904, led the Army and the Cavalry to decide a min­i­mum of .45 cal­iber was required in a new handgun.

The pre­vi­ous incre­men­tal melt­ing of soap sit­ting in its dish in the heat here was worth only a pass­ing men­tal note. Still after meals wash­ing slipped some­time. Bedsheets have been left unwashed as usu­al these three weeks—how to keep up with every­thing adding chores?

 A news items for­ward­ed by George in Melbourne added flesh to the bones of the pic­ture of Modi in India, in this clip speak­ing a ver­nac­u­lar Hindi it seemed, announc­ing the nation­wide lock­down for 1.3b peo­ple. Clearly a pol­ished per­former, the fin­ger-point­ing stern­ness was unlike any­thing what­ev­er in our pol­i­tics; nev­er seen pre­vi­ous­ly in any com­pa­ra­ble form. Truly remark­able; a grand­fa­ther­ly vis­age from anoth­er place & time. From the era of the old children’s books, it came to mind, those school­room vol­umes read by teacher at the desk out front, accom­pa­ny­ing pic­tures held up for the class. Dread from the dark forests; young inno­cent chil­dren vic­timised; Hansel & Gretel &etc. Strangest of pol­i­tics. Some of the com­men­tary on ABC con­trast­ing the Indian with the US scene used the image of the half-naked, mus­cled gui­tarist on Times Square, stand­ing tri­umphant in the mid­dle of the road. Trump of course was implic­it in the DNA of that fig­ure, hid­ing with­in like in a matryosh­ka doll

We are noth­ing but ves­sels of mem­o­ry. Overnight in the usu­al sleep-split at the witch­ing hour. There had been no need to record the words at the time. Observing the long trunk of the body in the pos­ture of the corpse that Confucius had warned against, except for the cross­ing of the feet, for what that was worth. (A weak­ness in the calm of the old Master, under­stand­ably.) In that posi­tion a kind of vase was fig­ured, the mem­o­ry cours­ing down from the sat­u­rat­ed brain. Some old­er cul­ture had it that a library was lost when an old per­son passed on. And Borges wrote about the espe­cial­ly unfor­tu­nate vic­tim prone and over­loaded, unable to for­get anything.

Since the lock­down a Chinese writer in the States had begun an online group read­ing of War & Peace, unusu­al choice per­haps for the end of times. (All those drea­ry mag­a­zine pro­files that had includ­ed the ques­tion, desert island form.) The woman quot­ed Stefan Zweig for expla­na­tion: (Tolstoy is) “supreme as artist when he is indif­fer­ent, dis­pas­sion­ate, uncon­cerned, incor­rupt­ible, nei­ther con­fused nor led astray by sympathy.”

Ya, ordi­nary com­forts cer­tain­ly would prove unsat­is­fac­to­ry cur­rent­ly, you would guess. Few colour­ing book resorts, goth­ic, fan­ta­sy, kitchen real­ism &etc. But you nev­er can say maybe. Whatever gets you through the night

26 March

Singapore 2020


Australian by birth and Montenegrin ori­gin, Pavle Radonic’s eight years liv­ing and writ­ing in S‑E Asia has pro­vid­ed unex­pect­ed stim­u­lus. Previous work has appeared in a range of lit­er­ary jour­nals and mag­a­zines, most recent­ly San Antonio Review, Panoply, Modern Literature & The Blue Nib. A moun­tain­ous blog hold­ing main­ly the Asian writ­ing is here—http://axialmelbourne.