Mao the monk

Mao the monk? It may well have been the path he chose in life. Zhang Kundi, a young friend of Mao, tells of a 1917 hike in the mountains in Hunan, with regular swims in the Xiang River due to the heat. On the top of Zhaoshan (Zhao Mountain) was a monastery with two or three monks. The young friends were offered a bed for the night – one bed for all of them. But they stayed up and talked long into the night. At one point, Zhang Kundi relates:

Moved by the clear night, Mr. Peng told us about his long-cherished desire to be a monk and also said that, some years later, he would invite all of us to come and study on some famous mountain. Mr. Mao and I also have such a desire, but Mao’s desire is much stronger than mine. I, too, was moved at that time, and the lines came to me:

Wind blowing in the trees, music of the heavens

Desires and rewards cannot be perceived, and shed their forms

But I did not reveal them to my friends. It was deep night before we slept.

(Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, vol 1. pp. 138-39)


Try this for estimating your fitness

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology has come up with an easy way to measure what they call your fitness age – without having to exhaust yourself on a treadmill (with the same result). They have put the calculator here.

For me, the vital statistics are:


How often do you exercise? Almost every day.

How long is your workout each time? 30 minutes or more.

How hard do your train? I go all out

Age: 52

What does your waistline measure in cm? 80

What is your resting pulse (per minute)? 46

Estimated fitness age: under 20!

Mao on swimming in the Changjiang (Yangtze River)

Mao was in the habit of swimming across the Changjiang (or Yangtze River), especially in spring and summer. He also liked to swim across the Xiang River in his home province of Hunan. Every now and then his conversations were recorded, such as this one:

People say that the Changjiang is very big. In fact, something that is big is not formidable. You didn’t allow me to swim across, but now I have done it, haven’t I? Isn’t United States imperialism very big? But we stood up to it and so what? Therefore, some big things in the world are in fact not that formidable. (The Writings of Mao Zedong, vol 2, p. 676)

Not bad for a heavy smoker in his 60s.

Stalin at Fox Bay nudist beach, Crimea

Nudism was a particularly strong feature of the USSR, as also in East Germany. Lenin was, of course, a nudist, along with Krupskaya and many of the Bolsheviks. But what about Stalin? I have yet to find out more information on that one, but he is a long-term resident of Fox Bay nudist beach in the Crimea:

Stalin at nudist beach Crimea


More information on the range of natural places in Crimea may be found here.

(ht sk)

Why January is a great month

It takes quite something to beat January in these parts. It’s hot, the beach is irresistable, the days are long, the sun shines. But beyond that January has a distinct feel – the relaxed, mind-is-elsewhere, do-it-next-week feel. It matters little whether you are actually on holiday, having begun some time before Christmas, or whether you are back at ‘work’. For instance:

I walk into  main office and ask about something or other for which I’ve been waiting. The person behind the desk is reading a worn paperback, totally absorbed. She looks up at me blankly and takes quite a while to focus. ‘Oh, I think it’s on order but there’s a bit of a delay. Might be a couple of weeks’.

Someone calls me from Melbourne about a talk and radio stint at the end of the month. He is just back at work, has the dates wrong, forgets my name, has over 280 emails to deal with. ‘Why don’t you just hit mass delete?’ I suggest. ‘If anything is important, you’ll get another email’. ‘What a wonderful idea’, he says.

And then you have the ‘shutdown’. Many places simply shut everything down before Christmas and then open again around epiphany. Computers don’t work, doors are locked, no-one responds to anything. But is this counted as part of your holidays? Not at all all: four weeks holiday are on top of the two-week shutdown.

Smelling like the sea

One of things I love about summer is swimming in the ocean and then letting the salt water dry on my skin. In fact, with a daily swim I don’t bother with any other form of washing – at times for days, if not weeks on end. I’m like a salt shaker and what’s left of my hair gets bleached. But the best part is sniffing my armpits. Why? They smell like the deep blue sea.