Zheng He

Zheng He;  eunuch, admiral, explorer – was one of the most remarkable figures of the Ming Dynasty. Sometimes when I look at ancient history I can’t shake the question “what if”. What if Zheng He had been allowed to continue his voyages, what if Zheng He had found the Americas?

Zheng He wasn’t even Chinese; born a Muslim Mongol in a remote province of central Asia; Ma He was captured by the Chinese in 1382. His name changed to Zheng He when he was castrated at the age of ten and sent as a eunuch to the court of Zhu Di. For the next 20 years Zheng served Zhu Di, eventually becoming his strategist in battles with the Mongols. In 1402 Zhu Di became Emperor – the greatest age in Chinese history unfolded. Zhu Di built the Forbidden City,widened the “grand canal” to accommodate well over a thousand ships a day, and constructed China’s “treasure fleet”. Under the direction of Zheng He the first voyage sailed in 1405. Almost a century before Columbus stumbled upon America, Zheng He and his treasure fleet had sailed to Arabia, Africa, and India.


Fate has a way of shaping history – in 1424 Zhu Di died. China that followed didn’t see the world as  Zhu Di and Zheng He did; by 1433 the treasure fleet had been destroyed – every last ship burned, along with a law that forbade construction of ships with more than one mast.


I can’t help but ponder what might have been if Zheng He had been left to his own devices. It makes me ask – what might historians say about us a thousand years from now. Fate has a way of shaping history.

Turtle Ships

In 1592 Japan invaded Korea, managing to take control of the Korean Peninsula. Undaunted, Korean admiral Yi Sun-sin got busy, building a tiny fleet of “Turtle ships” to defeat the Japanese. Completely enclosed with a reinforced “shell” of iron and thick timbers, turtle ships were studded with sharp iron spikes to prevent the enemy from jumping aboard. With rowers, sailors, and cannons safe beneath an impenetrable shell – Korea sent Japan packing; in one battle alone, 12 turtles said goodnight to over 125 Japanese ships. Like the “Little Engine That Could” , perseverance and ingenuity prevailed against all odds.


History is littered with accounts of great battles; from the Battle of Marathon between the Greeks and Persians in 490 BC, to Waterloo, and Stalingrad – battles have shaped history. Battles were won or lost based on strategy, cunning, and leadership.

Great generals, military strategists, and good old fashioned ingenuity have been replaced by computer models;  followed by “shock and awe”, black ops, drones, and sniper fire. I don’t advocate war,  but do ponder the outcome of conflict if left in the hands, good or bad, of the Pattons, MacArthurs, and Norman Schwartzkopfs of this world?

I admit to having some difficulty properly expressing this ponder. With zero experience, and little military knowledge to back this up – a thought crossed my mind and I’m going with it. In no way intending to offend or make light of heroic contributions by our soldiers, my observation rests instead on the manner in which war is approached. It seems to me that plans are made inside high tech towers, thousands of miles from the battlefront. In decades past Generals on the front lines would have been household names. Today, I honestly can’t recall the name of a single Canadian or American commander on any battlefront; I can however say that more American soldiers have committed suicide on American soil after returning from war in the Gulf and Afghanistan conflicts, than were killed in action. I know Canada has dubbed the 401 in Ontario the “Highway of Heroes” to honour soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

I wouldn’t wish the horror of ancient battles, the first, second, Korean, Vietnam, or Gulf wars on any soldier; I simply ponder how technology has altered the playing field. Once upon a time there was a leader on the ground who cared about his men, using ingenuity and bravado – whatever it took to get the job done. Those men still exist, yet we hear nothing about what they’re up against. Instead it’s all about the “air strike”, missile fire, and drone attacks.

Pardon me but if I were in the thick of it, it would really piss me off.

Another Crisis

I was three years old at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. With no memory of events in October of 1962, all I can go on is   what my mother told me. She remembers going into our orchard,searching for my father to tell him they had to go into town and buy canned milk for the children. She was terrified, fully expecting the world as she knew it to end.Throughout the sixties threat of nuclear annihilation weighed heavily on my mind. Straining to catch snippets of adult conversation, listening to news reports I didn’t fully understand, my only solace the root cellar. Convincing myself our root cellar was safe haven, allowed me to keep dread at bay.

Dread faded over the years; the cold war becoming a chapter in history rather than an ever present threat. Shocked, saddened, outraged, horrified, and speechless describe emotions related to events since then. But no dread, at least not until now.

That dreadful feeling is stirring again. The situation in North Korea has rekindled fears long ago dismissed as childish anxiety. Dread has taken it’s time germinating, the seed was planted four or five years ago when I watched a clip of the North Korean army marching in perfect unison. I told my husband that it scared the pants off me. Dread can be tricky, it’s hard to pinpoint, creeping about just out of reach as it grows stronger. I haven’t felt it in years and wish I had a root cellar to push it away.

1.6 million

1.6 million

Tell me how this makes any sense. This home on the block next to my house sold in under two weeks; above asking price  – for 1.6 million dollars. The buyer was purchasing the lot -without a doubt, it will be demolished over the summer. In it’s place will stand another generic monstrosity pushing the boundaries of allowable footage on our standard 33 x 100 foot lot.

Vancouver has been my home for the past 35 years. Understanding why one of the most beautiful cities in the world also boasts the most expensive real estate in North America isn’t rocket science. When Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997,  enough money jumped ship to fund a new nation. Rather ironic that the only city in the world with richer real estate than Vancouver is Hong Kong. I’m no economist; my simplistic reasoning falls short of painting a full picture. None the less, our ridiculous real estate market is driven by foreign dollars.

It would be un- Canadian of me to complain or cause a ruckus. Instead I’ll ponder spending 1.6 million on this little fixer upper.