April 6, 2004
is China, too (look fast)
many a Romantic Fool, I came here to see "the Real China."
You know, a willow tree overhanging a canal crossed by a half-moon
bridge. People drifting in swan boats on a lake, reciting
poetry. The full moon glinting off of temple roofs, as the sound
of chanting monks fills the air. That China.
I live in Shenzhen. You don't go to the concrete canyons of Wall
Street to find colonial America, nor to the center of Tokyo to find
"the real Japan." King Arthur's Britain is not to be
seen in Picadilly, nor Zorro's Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard.
sometimes a trick of light, caught in the corner of the eye, that
allows one to see the essence of a place. The "Real"
place is not out there; it's in there.
so, last Friday night, I sat on the patio of a cool, Tokyo-style jazz
bar, drinking with Chinese friends. One of them had driven us
there in his ultra-elegant BMW, a car with an interior like a Lear
Jet. But hanging from the rearview mirror was a Mao amulet.
As we drank, I asked him about it. He produced a laminated
picture of Mao from his wallet, a kind of holy card, and announced
quite solemnly: "He is a god."
much for those who say devotion is dead, or that there's no such thing
as "Mao worship." (The irony that the God of Chinese
Communism should be hanging in an imported German luxury car needs no
shops have small shrines to Kuan Ti (also called Chien
Lun), sometimes styled "God of War," or Kuan
Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. At the least,
this is charming. At the most, it reminds me that the desire for
connection to "the Other" is alive and well, at least
outside of the Apollonian, post-Enlightenment West.
corner-of-the-eye experience happened Sunday night. I was leaving
Hailan's apartment when I saw people with small bonfires on the
sidewalk. One woman was methodically stuffing pieces of paper into
hers. Out of the bus window on the way home, I noticed a few
Monday, Hailan mentioned that she was having trouble reaching some
offices in Hong Kong because they were closed as a result of "the
holiday." She said it was a kind of day to remember the
ancestors. I looked it up: Qingming Festival is indeed such a
day, also called "Grave Sweeping Day." This
article tells more about it, as well as the (gruesome)
legend of the Hanshi or "Cold Food" Day that
precedes it. The sidewalk fires were built to ferry offerings to
"This is China"--meaning the modern country, with all its
ebullient confusion--can be seen in this
article. It seems that hordes of people return to
Shenzhen to clean their ancestors' graves that day, and the government
runs sting operations on taxi drivers at the train station and airport
to ensure that they don't turn down fares who are only going a short
distance. Yes, This is China.
the glimmer of the Real China is still there.
is a busy place on Shennan Dadao, Shenzhen's "main drag."
It's near the western end, by Window of the World. In the
daytime you would pass it without notice. But after 10 p.m. or
so, it's a major connecting point for outbound commuters. Herds
of buses converge there, disgorging their loads; and the mini-buses
swarm around, their conductors leaning out the window shouting
destinations, and waving new fares into the bus.
the midst of the hubbub last night, I saw a most amazing thing out of
the window of my mini. It was so fast that I'm now not sure if I
imagined it. A man was seated on a stool, playing the erhu,
an eerie, almost-human-sounding two stringed instrument. Next to
him stood another man, dressed in a yellow costume, with a long (fake)
beard, make-up, and a high collar. To my untrained eye, he
looked a little like Cai Shen, the God of Wealth. This character
was doing a sort of stylized dance, reminiscent of Noh or Kabuki, and
wailing in a waivering, high-pitched voice.
sure this was something out of Chinese opera. I nearly jumped
out of my mini-bus to see more, but "common sense"
prevailed. Besides, the flash that I saw remains on the retina
of my mind, like a bolt of lightening--or a particularly wonderful
dream. Perhaps, if I had gotten out, I would have seen how
threadbare the costume was, or seen one or the other of the two
"artists" groveling for alms after the performance.
Better to keep it unsullied.
That China, the Real China, is here. We just have to be
ready for it to materialize at any moment, and to recognize it and
cherish it when it does. Check your peripheral vision, and look
Posted 4/6/2004 at 11:30 AM
Sunday, April 4, 2004
I'm closing in on finishing my article, with several good drafts
finished. Now I just have to cut it down to size.
Meanwhile, I had mentioned under "Separated at Birth"
that I had seen student "Chalk Art" of Lei Feng. Here
are three examples.
Posted 4/4/04 at 1:00 PM
Thursday, April 1, 2004
on yesterday's entry
First: I feel stupid.
One of my students had suggested that the sound I heard--I thought
it was cows--was actually made by "florgs." He even
wrote it down. After some questioning, I realized he meant
Oh, no, I insisted, I know a cow from a frog when I hear it.
Well, there's a reason they call them BULLfrogs. Dictionary
dot com says that the bullfrog is "so named from its loud
bellowing in spring." (It also says they are found in North
America...well, They're here.) You'd think that first
hearing them right after a big rain would have been a clue.
The first night I heard them, there were only two or three, and I
was listening with the doors and windows closed. Last night, it
sounded like hundreds. And when I opened the door, I could hear
clearly: it was florgs.
Yup, I feel stupid.
Second: the image in the entry--of Lei Feng and my cousin
Mark--sometimes comes up looking like a squashed postage stamp.
I don't know why. I have tweaked it, deleted it and
reloaded it--everything I can think of. And yet, 25-50% of the
time, it loads fubar.
If it happens to you, try this: click something on my
navigation bar, like "A Fool's Life," and then click your
back button. That has worked every time for me.
Sorry for the trouble; but I think the image is worth it. If
all else fails, copy it and paste it into your favorite photo-editing
Posted 4/1/2004 at 1:45 PM