31 January, 2013

An Aussie Scribbler, Anime and Marco Polo


At the Great Wall of China (click to enlarge)


Now what, I hear you say, could possibly connect those three things? And does Kevin Bacon come into this at all?

Late in 2012 I was surprised and delighted to learn that I’d be chosen for an Australia Endeavour Award, enabling me to pursue my dream of studying a whole new genre of storytelling with experts in China. A whirlpool of emotions followed: I felt deeply grateful, humbled, in another way proud, and of course, exhilarated at the prospect of new learning. On two engrossing levels.

The first, undertaking professional development in screenwriting for TV and movie animation with Crane Animation of Guilin, a dynamic young company that’s won awards, sold work to China Central TV network, earned its government’s recognition, and produced engaging work for foreign clients. As a novelist and short story writer, I’d get to be mentored by them in their genre field, plus learn techniques for adapting my existing work to this dazzling medium. What a profound gift!

Learning, extending ourselves throughout life, taking that journey of a thousand miles one step at a time, is surely not only a wonderful privilege but a great source of empowerment.

The second gift of this amazing opportunity would be living awhile in an ancient, complex, bookish culture. The Chinese developed mechanical printing long before Guttenberg. In post-Roman Europe, when my Celtic ancestors still lacked a common tongue, China’s heritage of unified language development, storytelling and poetry was already long and illustrious. In today’s China, a successful author receives the kind of appreciation the west reserves for sporting icons and actors. Why? Because literacy is seen as more valuable than naturally-occurring physical gifts like athleticism or beauty. And anyone can acquire it. It’s recognized as key to understanding life, gaining prosperity, developing true personal stature. Perhaps that’s why Asian students study so hard, perform so well.

With all this in mind, and given my notorious love of Asian history, my mind of course immediately drifts to Marco Polo, who made a far more hazardous journey than mine to China. With his great curiosity and open mind, he learned Chinese ways, served the Great Khan, and ultimately returned  to Europe with tales that educated, inspired, and built cultural bridges across the world. Explorer, warrior and author, his work remains in print in every major language. Now there’s a role model! 🙂

Such storytellers remind us that cultural immersion is a fantastic education all of its own. Potentially mind-expanding, life changing. Most of us, at some point in our lives, can find a way to experience it, even if only short term. Get out and see an ancient part of the world, I say, as a traveller and unmet friend, not just a tourist, and you’ll return richer, bigger. And if you’re genuine about wanting to learn or serve through that experience, there are sometimes ways to get assistance.

Writer-adventurers like Marco Polo, (China) Rudyard Kipling, (India) H. Rider Haggard (Africa) and Lafcardio Hearn (Japan) teach us that ironically, it’s through storytelling –fiction-  that we citizens of the world can learn to appreciate each others’ diverse realities. Good cultural interaction takes nothing away from any nation’s uniqueness, but helps spark dialogue and understanding, smash fear and prejudice born of ignorance, and make our global village, at the end of the day, more harmonious. Hmm…wonder if I could write an animation script that conveys some of this? 🙂

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