Time Keeper

Indecisiveness is the thief of time. I came across this scribbling in one of my exercise books. I did not insert a date, I must have written that a long time ago. Often I scribble a passing thought, when I come across the words again, it is a timely reminder. Yes I am inclined to be indecisive and I have wasted far too much valuable time.

We are already at the end of the second week of the year. Will you keep an eye on the time please? This is definitely something I need to work on, managing my time so I do not feel that another year has passed and I have not made any progress in the writings that I want to work on.

The Judge gave me a tough time early this week, it was a dreadful experience. A colleague called and said, the Judge had been unkind to you, a little bird tells me. I told him what the issues were and did not feel better. I tried to re-track how it had gone so awry and decided it was a matter of differing standpoints. Can anyone think well with masks on? I often find that I cannot process my thoughts with a mask on . They not only affect your thinking skills, they affect your psyche. Anyway I have to move on. Mulling about what could have been is certainly a waste of time.

Last Saturday I was anxious to get on with my weekend but I could not relax until I completed some work stuff. The task was not supposed to take up time but somehow it had taken far more time than necessary. Perhaps I’m inclined to resist when come to doing something terribly pedantic.

A friend in the neighbourhood sent a picture of tearful goodbye with her daughter who left on Sunday morning. Another friend’s children were back during Christmas and have since gone back to where they are carrying on their lives as grown-ups. Where they are is a long way from home. My elder daughter was back home for Christmas and New Year. All our children have returned to their lives elsewhere. Staying or going, is always the question. Parting is hard in these challenging times, but these days we could easily see and speak with one another over Skype or video or FaceTime. It is as if the Universe had been mapped and planned ahead and the Internet came in in anticipation of the future which is now the present. How receiving a letter in the postbox was a joy. Oh yeah Mister Postman is there a letter in your bag for me.- article please-mr-postman- I imagine my parents must have been counting on my letters when I was away from home in Sydney studying at the time . What if I could just walk through time and experience that timeline again. But we cannot be going back and forth we can only move forward.

So indecisiveness is a thief of time, procrastination is the other thief of time and to top that reminiscing about lost time is definitely a waste of time. Ultimately it is about being present and aware of the matrix of our own mind. When situation becomes unfavourable, we wonder if we are at the right place. We chart our own paths so do we stay or do we go? Wherever we live, what matters is our beliefs and core values. It does not matter where we are, what really matters is how we spend our time and make the best of our time while we can.

The Boat Rocker written by Ha Jin is a story about totalitarian government, corruption and the power of the pen and the media.

It is New York, 2005. Fang Danlin is a fiercely principled reporter at a small news agency that produces a website read by the Chinese diaspora around the world assigned to investigate into his ex-wife, Yan Haili’s novel that has been cracked up to be the next biggest thing in the literary world. Danlin knows that his ex-wife dreams of literary stardom but she cannot write. He has been asked to devote one of his columns to the clamour surrounding Love and Death in September, purportedly a transnational love story based on true events. He contacts Haili and tells her that he needs to see her to hear her side of the story and that she shows him the manuscript so he can report on it accurately. He tells Haili to think about the consequences of publishing the book that she claims to be a personal story and an account of her true love when the story is wholly untrue , it is also outrageous to claim that George W. Bush has agreed to endorse a book by her and that there is a movie deal based on the book. He finds out that her publisher has powerful political allies.

Danlin certainly has personal issues with Haili with whom he was married for several years. He may be still hurting from the divorce. He knows better than anyone else how pretty and charming Haili is as she is a beauty who would make people break off mid-conversation as she enters the room. But Danlin knows that she is far from being gifted as a writer though she harbours a poetic dream of becoming a published novelist. In college back in Changchun, Haili worked hard on her English, longed to see the world and dreamt of serving as a diplomat. Her aspirations and wild spirit fascinated Danlin and he was blown away, ‘ never having even thought of stepping foot out of our native Jilin province.’The story is narrated in Danlin’s voice.

Yes, yes, I told her, human beings must go anywhere their hearts lead them —-our experiences must live up to the passions we are capable of sustaining.‘ Danlin told Haili then.

So Haili worked hard on her English and came out top in the subject amongst the seven- eight students of the year 1994 in the music department at the university. She said to him, “English means freedom to me. It will give me a pair of strong wings.”

But Haili does not write in English seeing that there are more opportunities and a larger readership in China.

Danli feels morally compelled to expose her about her book that is supposedly autobiographical when it is not. He knows that she has not lost a husband in the World Trade Centre in the tragedy of 9/11. He knows that she is married to Larry Clements who is an unremarkable- looking stock analyst on Wall Street, a wealthy American ‘who could give her a green card and an auspicious beginning in America‘.

Danli’s boss, Kaiming wants him to uncover the fraud. Kaiming specialises in political commentary and can often predict the developments of current events. His opinions are highly valued and believes in doing news in a peerless fashion with a vision to build GNA as an indispensable and unbiased source of news reporting for the Chinese diaspora around the globe. Kaiming wants to expand his small publishing house which brings out books on people and issues and historic events that cannot be discussed openly in China. Kaiming is ambitious and sees himself as a sort of modern-day Joseph Pulitzer and hopes to be remembered like the newspaper magnate. As Danli continues to expose the untruth about Haili’s book, he finds himself getting attacked as a bitter, misogynistic and jealous ex-husband whose own writing has not gained much attention.

Haili wants her ex-husband to stay off her plans. To her , the fruit of her labour will do good in the world as it will promote emotional exchange between the Chinese and the Americans and help readers empathize with the victims and their families. To her, she is more honest than the stockbrokers who had profited from the attacks. She informs Danli that her book is a national project, endorsed by the Chinese government. Haili’s scheme infuriates Danli morally and also personally. Danli is obstinate and uncompromising so much so that he is risking his journalistic career and life. When he was growing up, he had learnt carpentry from his dad who had earned his living as a carpenter. He feels that he will have carpentry to fall back on. He is in a relationship with Katie Torney who is known as a minor activist among Chinese scholars in America. She has written and published in Harper’s Magazine an article on China’s minority policies and the article has got her in trouble with the Chinese officials in US. She has been refused visa to enter China for her field work in Henan province. As the plot thickens, Danli realises that not only China has a vested interest in the success of his ex-wife’s book even American bureaucracy and his own employers begin colluding against him. Though by his fearless reporting, Danli has been voted as a public intellectual by the readers, he may not have a platform anymore. He decides to consider going to grad school and do a PhD.

The Boat Rocker is also about identity, nostalgia and migrants living in a foreign land. One of the characters, Niya thinks that there is a distinction between the country and the ruling power and she loves the country though she does not agree with the government. But Danli feels that the ruling party is the country and he argues that ‘ a country is not a god, it’s a historical construct. It’s foolish to imagine the country as a mystical figure, a generous mother that has raised all the Chinese, who in return must be obedient, longing for her love and nurturance. That’s a fallacy, a lie.’

The Boat Rocker by Ha Jin is a fiction about the quest for truth in the Internet age, Chinese American identity, identity and sense of opposing loyalties for any person who has left their homeland and also the value and risk of living with integrity. The story is a universal one.

Ha Jin is a poet and novelist who has won two PEN/ Faulkner Awards, the National Book Award and several other awards. He currently teaches literature and creative writing at Boston University.


2 thoughts on “Time Keeper

  1. I have been thinking about time and how I spend it. I don’t know why but I feel like I’m missing something. At the end of the day, despite being busy, I still feel as though the day’s been somewhat unproductive. Maybe I need to go back to the drawing board. Thanks for this post, as its reminded me to take time more seriously!


    1. Hi Stuart, I reckon you have been consistently productive when I read your posts. We want to be accountable for all those hours that we had so often let slip … but we also have to be kind to ourselves.


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