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Willow pollen and Llewellyn Kriel abused by SA cops

Amazing grace …

The pollen twirls around me, brightening the canal with an extra layer of sparkle. They are clots of whitish-grey and pucker against my skin. Tiny elven fingers and thumbs, they are silent, as if they are hands clasped over tiny furry mouths. If they could make a sound it would be children’s giggles, flickering touches against my back and arms in a game of touch. Try catch me, try catch me, they whisper. Remember that game?

How sweet the sound …

A very dignified bald Chinese teacher walks up to me, interested in my delight on the willow-lined canal by the school, my hands outstretched, reeling in bits of pollen with my fingers. I must look like a cross between a bald scarecrow and a crucifixion. The pollen swirls all around: hundreds of leprechauns’ handkerchiefs forgotten after some Midsummer Eve party.

“What is this? Where does it come from … which tree?” I ask him in Mandarin, holding up a clot of pollen, so like a scrap of sheep’s wool. “This is pollen” he says, in crisp Mandarin which I envy. Mine is still rather halting. “It comes off the willow trees and is particular to our spring. Does your country have this?” “Must do,” I reply, knowing SA has willow trees but you don’t see them in this abundance wherever I lived in SA, and therefore I have never seen such a fine snow of pollen.

That saved a wretch like me …

I am not a Christian. But I respect those who sincerely follow their faith, whatever that faith may be. Faiths can be authentic, well-woven garments to protect one in the cold times. And perhaps serve others with far less faith (like myself), our candles perhaps dimmed. I respect Llewellyn Kriel’s Christian faith and his forthright, responsible writings about his struggle with alcoholism. He is something of an online mate and I love his impish humour, verbally chiseled insights and am horrified to read on Thought Leader how he was recently humiliated and terrified by SA police goons. A man of nearly 60 frightened out of his wits by big young bullies who are supposed to protect and serve. Can this incident of Llewellyn’s be seen as a typical or stereotypical of daily life and encounters with authority now in SA?

I once was lost …

Back to the willow pollen: We stand there in silence, two bald men enjoying a simple moment, these crumbs of seed and sperm swept off nature’s great banquet table. I kneel and lift off the ground a few more scraps of this lovely offering, which will only last a couple of days. They look and feel like the explosion of faraway stars shimmering and cooled in ponds. But soon they will be gone. I think with wonder and sadness about the precious ephemerality of each passing moment. Spring in China is a splendour. More to the point, I contemplate the miracle of human beings being able to savour this wonder, and how that miracle of being able to see all this is blinded by so much anger in South Africa, the richly built-up gas in an ancient coal mine just waiting for that casual spark to happen.

But now I’m found, was blind …

The very next day I am back at the school and already the willow pollen seems to have gone. Mind you, I am so busy teaching the little ones, teaching them to chisel with teeth, tongues and mouths words entirely foreign to them, a lexical set of what is found in rooms in our homes: “washing machine”, “laundry”, “stove”, “basket” and so forth. Yesterday I was grateful to see them and think about Llewellyn’s story as the leprechaun handkerchiefs floated serenely past me, waving what turned out to be a final goodbye for this year as they settled in a glimmer on the deep green canal. Yesterday such marvel was a blessing to contemplate when I stepped down to the canal from my school office after reading about such myopic, goonish behaviour and contempt for fellow human beings. I needed to clear my head.

Spring: the word for spring water (or spring or fountain) in Chinese is fascinating and pertains here. It is 泉quan. It contains in the upper half the word for brightness, clarity, understanding, 白 bai.

A pictogram for the sun (little stem at top) arriving at dawn through the mist, representing freshness, new beginnings, purpose and, again, clarity. (Bai is also part of another term meaning, “I understand”.) This is combined with the word for water in the lower half, 水 shui.

You can see the splash of water in the pictogram, a visual onomatopoeia. Spring and her freshness bringing clarity, new beginnings, purity and willow pollen.

Needless to say South Africa seems to be in the broad sweep of a very long, desolate, visionless winter.

To Llewellyn and all like him who seem to live in such fear, battling with such unresolved anger and uncertainty around them and perhaps in them, I send wishes of warmth and peace from a place of spring in China. Remember, I am still country-less too. There is beauty and grace out there still, and abundance. Somewhere. Warmth and peace to you all.

… but now I see …

Follow Rod’s other column, The Mocking Truth, on NewsTime


  • Rod MacKenzie

    CRACKING CHINA was previously the title of this blog. That title was used as the name for Rod MacKenzie's second book, Cracking China: a memoir of our first three years in China. From a review in the Johannesburg Star: " Mackenzie's writing is shot through with humour and there are many laugh-out-loud scenes". Cracking China is available as an eBook on Amazon Kindle or get a hard copy from His previous book is a collection of poetry,Gathering Light. A born and bred South African, Rod now lives in Auckland, New Zealand, after a number of years working in southern mainland China and a stint in England. Under the editorship of David Bullard and Michael Trapido he had a column called "The Mocking Truth" on NewsTime until the newszine folded. He has a Master's Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Auckland. if you are a big, BIG publisher you should ask to see one of his many manuscript novels. Follow Rod on Twitter @