Saturday, 30 April 2016

My old China: I was twenty years too late for Peking

Ironically, North Korea in the 1960s and 1970s had far higher living standards than China and North Koreans would frequently congratulate themselves on not having fallen into the chaos and backwardness of their giant neighbour. It was only in the early nineties, with the end of Russian and Chinese subsidies, that the North Korean economy collapsed. 
James Palmer, Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao's China (2012)
Many years ago a young Romanian friend, Alexandra, was about to go to China and asked me for advice. I gave her three pieces of advice: to observe, not judge and to eat dog. She told me she did all three. I have just come back from China and only followed the first of these. 

Tourism in Peking leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Literally. The taste of Starbucks coffee and Starbucks baguettes.  

A shiny, very modern mega-city has been created by order of the Party in a place which

South Korea is a triumph of the human spirit

I was in South Korea for less than three days, as a holiday within my holiday in China. Since I was a little boy I have wanted to see Portuguese churches under a Chinese sun in Macao but am told it is like Las Vegas now. Instead of Macao it therefore seemed a good idea to get out of China and the flight to Seoul took only ninety minutes, though the queue at passport control took slightly longer. 

South Korea is not my kind of place but I liked it. It is a great triumph of the human spirit.

Utterly ruined and impoverished in 1953 it is now one of the richest countries in the world, not because of mineral resources but because of human resources.

The Gyeongbokgung palace
Seoul is a wonderful argument for capitalism, especially useful against people who worry that the state has too little power and multinational companies too much. South Korea has very little welfare safety net and not too many poets or painters, but there are more and

Friday, 29 April 2016

Back home after not going to North Korea

I got back to Bucharest last night after two weeks not visiting North Korea. Today I feel bliss that thanks to the rain I can have a long weekend at home with books, rather than go to the seaside. One more outing for this thought from Logan Pearsall Smith
'Thank heavens, the sun has gone in and I don't have to go out and enjoy it.'
I had been supposed to go to North Korea with four pals, but the political situation in North Korea became a little too exciting. I felt the time was not right. But I had bought a ticket to Peking via Istanbul and Kiev, so I spent some days in Peking and flew to South Korea for three days. A good decision, because I would never have chosen to go to China, a place I once glimpsed, and disliked, in a stopover. I still don't like it very much but it is very important indeed. And I met two very interesting and civilised foreigners, both historians, who live there, speak Chinese and explained the country.

I had dinner last night with Marc, one of the four who was just back from North Korea. I was disappointed that I did not get to that room on the border where a North and South Korean soldier eyeball each other. He said he was too.  

A lot in North Korea was as I guessed it would be. It has all been written about by bloggers, but nothing compares with seeing for oneself, which Marc has done and I have not. Pyongyang was impressive and in many ways normal, although the roads were almost empty of traffic. He could talk to people freely, except almost none spoke English. The beer was good. He only saw two old tractors in the countryside. I pointed out that from 1996 to about 2004 I never saw a single tractor in Romania, only ploughs.

He was not afraid while in North Korea, but knew he had to be always on guard. The beautiful and charming twenty-four year old girl who was his guide would, he knew, have killed him without a moment's compunction if ordered to do so. He was in a bubble, but nevertheless found the place fascinating. He warmly recommended that I go and I may well. 

What was the best moment? Oddly, visiting the very odd mausolea of the two deceased Kims. He made it sound like Evelyn Waugh's satire about American funeral directors, The Loved One.
Ian Coles took this shot

We can live with President Trump or President Hillary - but President Trump would dent the politically correct orthodoxy

“Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she's got going is the women's card. And the beautiful thing is, women don't like her." Donald Trump on Tuesday night
I have suddenly changed my mind about the American election. I no longer think that Messrs. Trump, Cruz and Sanders and Mrs Clinton are four terrible candidates. Trump is going to be huge fun and do a huge amount of damage to political correctness whether he wins or loses. On the other hand Mrs Clinton, ghastly and talentless though she is, is pretty moderate and offers a continuation of Obama's reasonable though uninspired foreign policy. And she would mean Bill as co-President and he was a fairly good president. 

We can live with either the Donald or Hillary in the White House but judging by the sensible remarks I quote above, Trump is going to be rather wonderful. (For some odd reason the Washington Post thinks they are sexist.) Ted Cruz is very creepy indeed, I'm sick of Kasich's reasonableness and Bernie is of course much the craziest and most dangerous.

The Republicans - meaning the establishment and the primary voters - have no real choice but to back Trump. Hillary may be very lucky to be up against candidates as weak and extreme as Bernie and Trump  - or maybe she will be destroyed by Trump. The people who say he has no chance said he had no chance of winning even a single primary and have predicted his inevitable demise since early last summer.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Hurray for Seoul

Despite my Cambridge educated disdain for Americana and money-making, Seoul is unexpectedly a great relief. It is paradise after all I read about North Korea, where I until recently planned to go, but also wonderful after Communist/nouveau riche/crooked Peking. Even compared with the corrupt ex-Communist country where I live and with a Muslim country like Turkey, where I was last week, it feels normal.

James Palmer, the writer, whom I had dinner with in Peking, used to live here and won a literary prize for saying how much he hated the place. He said three days would be quite enough. I am not sure why I am here but so far I like it.

The Far East is America's Raj, which is why Americans love coming here. Despite the absolute vulgarity of Seoul they can be very proud of it. People can live their lives here fairly free of interference by the police. Which is the main thing (thinks: is this still possible in England or Western Europe?)

I haven't been to America (except Buffalo for four hours) but now I don't need to. I have just been to a pancake parlour and eaten the most extraordinarily heart attack inducing

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

An email from Joe

UK involvement in Syria has been a shambles and has helped create the current situation, yes now the main opposition is Jihadi partly because the FSA which is now a footnote was not supported, lots of FSA members have defected to Jihadi groups for various reasons least of all ideological-the reason so many your men of conscription age are heading to Europe is they are not prepared to fight for a dictator or for Jihad-honestly when you look at who is fighting,

Trevor Philips says he got it badly wrong about Muslims in England

Flickr - boellstiftung - Trevor Phillips.jpg
Trevor Philips 

Trevor Philips former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (dread words, my alter ego Wallace Arnold would say) has decided that Muslim immigrants are a state within a state in the UK.

Writing in the Times he admits:

Liberal opinion in Britain has, for more than two decades, maintained that most Muslims are just like everyone else… Britain desperately wants to think of its Muslims as versions of the Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain, or the cheeky-chappie athlete Mo Farah. But thanks to the most detailed and comprehensive survey of British Muslim opinion yet conducted, we now know that just isn’t how it is.
He is finally discovering the pitfalls of the term he helped popularise, ‘Islamophobia'. This baleful word invented after I left the UK has done enormous harm. We should abandon it but cannot. A word once uttered cannot be recalled.

He was commenting on an ICM survey for Channel 4, which surveyed 1,000 Muslims and

Trump as America's De Gaulle

Quite a few very clever British and American friends are telling me they want Donald Trump to be US President. A British friend said to me that he would be America's De Gaulle.

How clear it was to me as a politically very precocious boy that Great Britain needed a De Gaulle. And yet when she came along in the shape of Mrs. Thatcher I wholly failed to recognise her.

South-Eastern Europe has always defended Europe from Asian invaders, without Western Europe feeling gratitude.

I first wrote and published this in July 2010.

I picked up a couple of years ago in a second hand bookshop an essay by Mircea Eliade and idly opening it I had an odd experience. As I read Eliade say the historical destiny of Romanians, Serbs and Bulgarians was to spill their blood to protect an ignorant and ungrateful Europe from the danger of Muslims I recognised that I had heard similar ideas many times in guide books and inscriptions in places as far apart as Poland and Greece. They were the kind of local patriotic white noise one shut out but now the words had a chilling clarity.... 

File:Vlad Tepes 002.jpg

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Paul French in Bucharest: No one wants the North Korean regime to collapse

Paul French, who has written two books about North Korea, spoke tonight to the Frontline Club, which holds its meetings at the Czech Institute, close to where I live. I was asked in London about the Frontline Club and had to admit ignorance. it sounds a fascinating club of journalists, political analysts and adventurers, something from an Edwardian thriller.

Mr. French was paying his first visit to Bucharest but said he had a tremendous sense of déjà vu, because the Bucharest architecture of the 1980s closely resembles buildings he knows well in Pyongyang. The House of the People, in particular, is very similar to a

Stanley Baldwin said 'Freedom is England's secret'

Think before you post or you may receive a visit from us this weekend. Use the internet safely.

An El Greco sky, captured by Octav Dragan

And this:

Monday, 11 April 2016

Migrants try to force their way across the Macedonan border, throwing stones at the police

It has always been the job of South-Eastern Europe to defend Europe from Asian invaders without Western Europe feeling gratitude. This time the semi-Communist Greek government is not helping, though.

This morning's big story: migrants try to force their way across the Macedonan border, throwing stones at the police. Do we, do you, want people like this to to settle in Europe?

The police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to stop them, which is shocking, so the BBC wants you to think. I start each morning listening to pro-migrant propaganda on the BBC World Service. The Daily Mail covers the story well here.

Meanwhile 800,000 potential migrants wait in Libya, waiting to break for Europe.

Oh for a De Gaulle, a Churchill, a Margaret Thatcher.

Romanians mention in this context King Stephen the Great, who spent his reign fighting Muslim invaders. 

Sunday, 10 April 2016

I'm afraid Trump just won't do

I am starting to come round to Mr. Cruz even though he wants to tear up the Iran deal, which I approve of, on Day One. So, he now says, does 
Mr. Trump and (though it no longer matters) so does Mr. Rubio. 

And yet - and yet - Cruz?

I don't quite know why I so much dislike Hillary - I think Bill Clinton was a good president, I was neutral in 2000 and, of course, I backed John Kerry in 2004 wholeheartedly. 

I backed Mr Obama, largely because of his colour, in 2008, though with many grave doubts. He has been a pretty mediocre president, but better than John McCain would have been. Less good, probably, than Mitt. 

How very odd to think that Robert Dole was the best Republican candidate in the last

Another masterpiece by Octav Dragan

Quotations I found recently

The ugly can be beautiful. The pretty, never. 

Oscar Wilde 
(Sexy moves me more than either. Pretty is meaningless, but beauty, in a woman or a painting, seems to explain the universe.)

I have often been called a Nazi, and, although it is unfair, I don't let it bother me. I don't let it bother me for one simple reason. No one has ever had a fantasy about being tied to a bed and sexually ravished by someone dressed as a liberal.
P.J. O' Rourke

I am, by calling, a dealer in words; and words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.
Rudyard Kipling
(This explains why blogging and Facebook are addictive.)

All food is the gift of the gods and has something of the miraculous, the egg no less than the truffle.
Sybille Bedford

Autopsy on Lenin

Ukrainian scene

I don't know who the photographer is. Can someone tell me?

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Languages and traditions

English as a foreign language is the dissolvent of tradition. Languages are such a useful barrier against communication.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

An arresting thought

Islam has actually conquered every single other major civilization it’s ever gone up against, from the Buddhists to the Byzantines to the Middle East Christians to the Middle East Jews to the Hindus to the Persians, conquered every last one of them, some of them might, sophisticated civilizations at their peak, conquered them all. There are only two left standing: the Han Chinese and whatever’s left of Western civilization. That is a sobering reality.

Clare Lopez, ex-CIA operative, vice president of the Center for Security Policy and a national security adviser to Ted Cruz.

But actually there is no alternative to Western (what used to be called Christian) civilisation, even in Syria or China - it is the West that conquered every other civilisation.