Archive for April, 2011

Three Blind Mice

Around the corner from our apartment is a massage parlor which is staffed by blind people. Several times now I have seen two or more of the blind masseurs walking the streets in a line, each of them with their hands placed on the shoulders of whomever is in front of them. Leading the train is friend of theirs who is able to see, but suffers some kind of condition with his legs that makes his gait seem awkward and constantly on the verge of tumbling over. This strikes me as beautiful symbiosis, the blind men gain sight and the disabled man gains stability. I am amazed that I have never seen this before.

The lunatic is on the grass

I just walked past an elderly gentleman wandering through the car park in his pajamas. His wife was bent over happily feeding the local stray cats something that looked like sauerkraut. I suspect that some levels of our building are being used as a home for the mentally ill. This could explain why the security guards seem more concerned with who comes out of the building than who is going in. Although, I still can’t fathom how it is that they couldn’t tell me where the local police station was, I guess their uniforms are authoritative enough to ward off any serious crime.

If the building doesn’t offer respite to the mentally challenged, then I must be an unwitting participant in a secret psychological experiment being conducted on foreigners. This would explain the statistically improbable number of random things that have broken or disappeared in the last two weeks, and the feeling that whenever I look out the window the security guards are looking straight at me. I just can’t find the hidden cameras.

Yáng Guǐzi

This afternoon as I walked home from the subway station I was called yáng guǐzi (洋鬼子 “Foreign devil”) for the first time, at least for the first time since I learnt the meaning of the term. My verbal assailant was a middle aged man riding a very old bicycle while balancing a cage containing small yellow birds on the handlebars. As he rode away and glared backwards at me from his wobbling bicycle I repeated the term to myself several times, trying to find the expletive frisson that it must contain. Slurs in foreign languages always sound so innocent, which makes them too easy to wield ineffectively.

The wild, wild inscrutable north

I have been in China only one week, and I already feel like I have been transported somewhere that is always oscillating between seeming just upside down, to being downright inscrutable. I have eaten green pea flavored ice cream, drunk black bean flavored milk and watched the staff of a beauty spa perform military drills in their parking lot. I have abandoned the conviction that traffic lights have any meaning whatsoever, and likewise said Zaijian to my sense of personal space.

I arrived here by train from Hong Kong. We traveled overnight through the south of the country, by the time I awoke the landscape was flat and barren. It reminded me of parts of Mexico: flat, bare and dusty. In the towns, the small roads between the humble houses were occupied by an occasional bicycle or pedestrian, between the towns there were endless plains and occasional fields with neat rows of cultivated crops. I arrived in Beijing in the afternoon, having endured the incessant chatter of an aging American ex-pat who thought I needed to hear his somewhat jaded opinions on the country, twenty times over. He had worked as an aircraft engineer in China for five years, and seemed to have nothing good to say. No matter how often I derailed the conversation toward other topics, he would bring it back to things he didn’t like about the place. In the end I just escaped by claiming I needed more sleep.

Beijing was still enduring the tail end of the dust storms that arrive at the start of spring. I am told it was mild this year, nevertheless the air contained a noticeable orange dust that obscured the more distant parts of the city. The effect was more pronounced at dusk because the neon lights would glimmer through the orange fog and give a vague outline to buildings that could not quite be seen. As I walked through the wide city streets and stared into the windows of shops I struggled to find the right imagery I might use to describe the city to others. The best I have been able to do is that it is like a futuristic steampunk western. So much that I would not be surprised to see tumbleweeds come rolling through the city, followed by a cowboy in a leather chairman Mao suit riding a robotic horse. I realize that seems far-fetched, but the city writhes with the feeling that future and past, native and foreign all coexist here, perhaps not harmoniously, but they are all jammed into the same subway carriage watching the same cartoons on the glitchy television.

Business in Hong Kong Airport

A woman dressed in an elaborate red coat with an old white hat covered in pink flowers gave me a 20 hong kong dollars and a sheet of paper with a Chinese business letter. She then proceeded to give me a spiel about how I could teach in her school for boys. Also, that her company would sell containers for me, or buy milk and eggs. I told her I was not going to be in hong kong very long, she said that is ok, take the money and buy a drink. She gave me a phone number scribbled on a piece of paper and once again let me know that she can buy and sell containers of goods or get milk and eggs. Then she wandered away.

[update]
She came wandering back ten minutes later and sat down at the next table. She watched the TV for a while and turned to me. She informed that if I came with another tall handsome white man (her words, not mine), then I could earn double money for my performances. This was apparently due to easter demand. She stated that I could make one thousand Hong Kong dollars a day performing with another tall handsome white man. I am not sure what this performance would involve, but I suspect that a thousand dollars is below my usual rate. But who knows, if you are in Hong Kong over Easter look out for my debut performance.