Japan, China, and the mind of earlj
- Submitted by: earlj
- Submission Date: 04th Feb 2005
Date: 15 May 92 12:08:42 GMT
Organization: M&E (Division of EDS), Cypress CA
Author's note: Several have email'd their interest in my series of For_Travel_Only NOTES. Thank you. :-) I hope to fulfil my promise. In late June of 1989, I traveled through parts of Asia alone. These are the chronicles of that adventure. And so it begins... earlj
Eleven hours out of LAX and the big 747 landed at Narita airport. Narita is a city about 70 miles outside of Tokyo, Japan and I was finally in Asia. After a cursory visit with Customs and a rubber stamping at Immigration, I began my 'typhoon tour' of another land as 'A Stranger in a Strange Land'. Armed with a gym bag and a frameless backpacker's sack, my passport, two guidebooks, a scant wad of Traveler's Checks, and a used copy of Taipan, I immediately lost myself on buses and trains trying to end up in Tokyo. After five hours, this lonely forlorn adventurer needed a local friend and a drink. But that's what you'd expect if you don't read, write or speak the native tongue and refuse to join a tour. By the time I found the hotel, the thought of another sixteen days of the same made me ambivalent. Would I survive ?
This begins another of those long-winded travel logs. I'll keep them shorter and more objective this time. And I hope you'll enjoy reading these as much as I experienced them. Fasten your armchair's seatbelt and get ready for a typhoon travel-log of recklessness, wonder, violence, passion, misery, and self-discovery. earlj
author's aside: The original&intended readership of this series invariably knew me personally. We work in the same office building. This accounts for my presumptive tone throughout the series. Thus I must grant this for background: my parents are chinese and immigrated here from their birthplace, Guangzhou, China (aka Canton). I was born&raised in Los Angeles, the first american-born child of either side -- so my cultural roots are fresh, and I've a slight affinity for cantonese (vs. mandarin, the other spoken language of China). -- earlj 3/31/92
Japan is a jumble of fresh impressions and observations. Let me describe them; they may be interesting. I managed to visit during the monsoon raining season. The weather's warm, humid, and wet and everything's lushly green. On Mr. Toad's wild ride from Narita to Tokyo, I saw the 'Japan' outside of Tokyo.
Moderate populations were stuffed into lack-luster multi-unit concrete buildings amidst dense bamboo clumps, broadleaf forests, rolling hills and rice paddies. Small Buddhist shrines with glazed tile roofs were often seen. Many traditionally built homes/buildings were preserved uncharacteristically surrounded by spacious tailored gardens. Adjacent to these were grey, dull, but clean cement apartments jammed tightly together. They all looked alike. The colors of nature contrasted drearily against the black&white of civilization.
The moisture on the land kept everything looking fresh. The landscape seems to balance and compensate for their high population density. Thinking about the numbers living so closely and being so homogeneously cultivated left me in awe. But then again, think of the power this nation has as a result. Uniformity and conformity seem to be this society's theme.
When I finally arrived in Tokyo, my asianess allowed me to blend and become invisible. But the culture shock continued in spasms; it was the people, they were so different. I knew I was learning what books, films, and meeting visitors couldn't teach. And this'll be described in the next note about my visit to Asia.
For centuries, the people of Japan have managed to isolate themselves from the world, and recent generations are still infused with this tendency. Historically, they have successfully deterred marauders from invading their islands, and thus since the beginning of Japan's occupancy, the people have evolved untainted in genetic and cultural isolation.
Anthropologists theorize that if conditions such as these persist for long enough, a sub-species of man begins to evolve and adapt specifically for their circumstances. On a grander geographic and chronologic scale, physical isolation led to the evolution of races among Homo sapiens sapiens. Luckily, nomadic emmigration allowed inter-breeding and halted this part of Evolution. In the latter stages of human evolution though, culture and technology (C&T) began to determine what physical evolutionary changes became adaptive !!
Here'a a theoretical example. When hominids (early two-legged primates) were entirely vegetarian, their huge jaws were used for grinding raw plant nutrition. As time went on, tools were used to gather food, and then to kill other animals for food. When fire was used to cook the food, it became easier to eat. Their mouths and teeth did not need to be so powerful. As early man began to hunt together, communication among them became key.
Speech evolved from mouths that became more delicate; massive jaws made speech impossible. Speech communication allowed tool-making technologies to be passed-on, and further improved. And man began to live in larger groups until division of labor within a tribe created skilled specialists. Etc., etc. this is the theory of physical evolution in a grain of rice. Culture and technology began to determine physical evolution; C&T eventually advanced quicker than evolution, and we have today's civilization as the destiny of Man.
What does this have to do with Japan ? Isolation began to evolve a different breed and culture of man. Breed is in the genes, while culture is the environment. These are linked. Modern medical electroencephalographic studies comparing racial cultures have shown that the Japanese are the most unique and very different. One surprising study found that Japanese subjects derive much greater pleasure from being alone among lush and spacious gardens and the sounds of running water than any other racial culture.
Interesting, huh ? It's true.
Because of jet lag, I became a Tokyo night-owl. I wandered about the Shinjuku-wu section of the city, and absorbed the sights, sounds, and activities of an early morning weekend. This is what I noticed. They drive on the wrong side of the road, like the British. You must be very careful crossing streets, because by habit you look the wrong way for point scoring drivers. At stop signals, all drivers turn their headlights off until the signals turn green. And they happily steer from the starboard end of the front seat (American cars have steering wheels on the port side). Next, everything is smaller: the restaurants, restrooms, vending machines, cars and trucks, streets, residences, furniture, hotel rooms, and the people (sic).
There are unvandalized, lightly armored vending machines everywhere selling soda, cold coffee, beer, yogurt drinks, tea, mineral water, and fruit juices. Crime is not a problem; police on patrol were next to never seen. As I stroll by drinking establishments, many are full of men singing together or performing solo to background music. Most bar patrons work together and their company often covers the expenses. There are no raunchy and rowdy, scum-of-the-earth watering holes in Tokyo, and everyone's well-behaved.
Back to the people again. Anyone you see walking about is usually younger than 40, conservatively dressed alike, rarely solitary, and purposefully on-the-go. Obesity is never seen, and the level of health and cleanliness is superior to domestic America. Everyone appears to be middle-middle to upper-middle class socioeconomically. Was this really a caste society at one time, or is this just 'Tokyo' ? Eye-contact between passing strangers is nil, but I kept trying anyhow. A few young women would notice my smiling attention, and timidly return the favor. What a thrill ! Only an American male...
The people I meet are unerringly stereotypical: generally shy, soft-spoken, extremely cordial and patient, formal yet sincere, and refreshingly trustworthy and honest. Sadly, I did not find this again anywhere in Asia.
I began to panic the day before I would leave Japan. I wanted to see more of Tokyo without going crazy. When you can't speak or read japanese, going somewhere means getting lost and trying to get back. Total anxiety !! So early Sunday morning, I squashed my ego and signed up for two tours. Starving as usual, I stumbled into a traditional Japanese restaurant. With attentive charm and sensuous grace, the hostess greeted me in japanese with a smile and a bow; I silently did the same and caught myself on weakening knees. My dark-side suggested she was likewise thrilled at meeting me; reality told me it was her job.
I was led to a hard black lacquered table with two chairs and flowers. The decor was organic, spacious, and spiced with artifacts of feudal Japan; panels of rough-sawn cedar lined each scented wall. They only offered one breakfast combination so I didn't need to fuss over a japanese-only menu. Briefly, the service began. The tea and then the food was presented in several 'ceremonies' as it appeared to me.
Seemingly, each waitress spoke and moved with eloquent, orchestrated precision. Each japanese word, each savory dish, had its proper time and place. I couldn't remember when tea, miso soup, and rice ever tasted this good. Or was it being so well served that heightened their flavors ? The small servings of fish, chicken, and pickled vegetables were tidbits of edible art, perfectly composed. The sights, scents, sounds, tastes and other sensations brought me to a new awareness, a presence of mind unrealized in America. This was a different kind of enjoyment, a different way of life.
Minutes after most of the service, a waitress started using english. My heart stopped; I was discovered. Pretending to be 'Japanese' eventually gives me away. Recovering, I asked her 'How did you know I was an American ?' She almost giggled, bowed and left. How did she know ?
From my broken reverie, I began to observe the other patrons. A large table with a dozen Japanese businessmen (wearing ties on Sunday) were openly oblivious of the service as they ate. Beside them, six young women in matching blouses and skirts did the same, though one noticed me watching them and mumbled something. In unison, all six glanced my way and giggled as I forced an embarassed smile. Crap !! Discovered again ? I wanted to die.
I ate while pitying myself in disgust, then fixedly wrote in my Daytimer. When I asked for the check, she told me it had been paid. What ?! The six women upon leaving also paid for mine !! I was shocked; it was very un-Japanese. Thanking each waitress in english, I rushed out to find the Generous 6.
I soon spied them waiting at a bus stop. When they saw me coming you would think I was Godzilla, they nearly died. In my finest english, I announced 'Thank you for paying for my breakfast. It was very good and very special. Is there anything I can do for any of you ?' The silence among the smiling stares lasted forever. My knees rebuckled as my dark-side suggested obscene possibilities. In meek and broken english, the boldest of them complimented me on my perfect use of english. I couldn't understand the rest in japanese, but their actions decisively urged my autograph.
My laughter was impulsive; I stopped when I noticed how it hurt them. Who did they think I was ? Wordlessly, I pulled six MDC business cards from my Daytimer. Signing the back, I presented a card to each deluded 'StarGazer'. Then I smiled and walked away. I hope I resembled some actor or rock musician, and not their version of Charles Manson. By now they know that I'm just an American imposter.
The tours were wonderful, informative, time-efficient, and a real bargain. Don't pass up these deals unless you have a personal guide. Without anxiety, I saw many places and cherished the tour guide's english. I now have well founded respect for the Japanese culture. The next day, I concluded my three days in Japan. Fourteen more days of foot-loose and fancy-free madness to go. Next stop, Hong Kong by way of Seoul and Taipei.
I didn't tell you about the Emperor's Palace, Tokyo Tower, the trains and buses, the nightclubs, television shows, shopping districts and other such tourist attractions. Maybe they're best left unsaid. You can learn all about these when you get there, or from reading glossy publications. In a way, this series isn't a 'travel log'. What would you call it, earlj's ramblings ?
What interests me is the people's subsistence: their culture, their roles, their food, how they live, what they think, their motivations, and life's adaptations. These are insights that one must see for themselves, and learn to observe. The Japanese are a unique and distinctive people, but their modern society is more closely aligned with ours. Thus, we have a natural backdrop for reference. Where I had no footing is the rest of Asia. Much of what I discovered is too far removed for me to convey with 'vision'. Recklessly, I explored my paradigm of The Twilight Zone.
Realize you're reading this while safely sheltered on American soil. Don't assume our 'world' is also their 'world', it isn't. Acknowledge that there are 'concepts of existence' totally unknowable to us. Where we have education, others may have only tradition and superstition. And know that you would be a different person in such a place. I was.
[Evening of June 26th, 1989]
The island swallowed me as I flopped off the 747. Finally, this was Hong Kong airport after stops at Seoul and Taipei. With the stagnant air hot and thick with humidity, it felt oppressively alive. As the airport processed me through Immigration, luggage, and Customs, I pictured a stomach churning its victims. Everywhere bustling, it was crowded with chinese and the steady sing-song of Cantonese drummed on like a heartbeat.
Insidiously as if possessed, fragments of random thoughts seeped into my conciousness. Never having used such words or such sounds, how could I understand them ? In a schizophrenic stupor, I fearfully shut off my senses and found my inner peace intact. I was not mad, it was just the ambient conversations in the local tongue. My childhood with Guangzhou (Canton, China) born parents impressed an instinctive ear for Cantonese. But I can't speak Cantonese !!
As I lugged along outside, I found a waiting line for TaxiCabs (alas, my pyloric salvation from churning walls). Handing the driver a bilingual businesscard of my hotel destination, I grunted comprehension of his 'yes-or-no' Cantonese questions and smiled. My 'small-colon' Taxi ride took me through the tight bowels of Kowloon (a mainland district of Hong Kong). When I arrived, the monsoon rain fell in buckets.
Nodding to 'Mr. Appendix', he opened the big hotel door to the front desk lobby. The 'large colon' storage and dessication ended with me signing Traveler's Checks at the Cashier's Counter. I was certainly sucked dry; Hong Kong is quite expensive today. In anxious anticipation of an 'anal escape' from Hong Kong, I glided towards my room in a packed elevator. We all smelled badly (of course). Running for cover, fighting for air, I fumbled with the key.
As I passed through the 'final challenge', I felt the push-and-squeeze of my digestive transition to another tao. Secure and undistracted, I felt the glimmers of belonging and melding in the land of my roots. This alien world has its language and history etched in my heritage. On this continent of my forebears, would I be welcome ? Could I handle what I find ? Would it make me proud ?
I slept that night blissfully innocent of what laid before me.
[ A bit about earlj: I own a wooden sailboat named Eventyr; this boat means everything to me. I have also earned a USCoast Guard Merchant Marine Masters license. Or rather, I'm a professional Captain certified by the USCG to command vessels carrying paying passengers. I consider myself more a Man-of-the-Sea than a world traveler. Unfortunately, I'm employed as a systems programmer. ]
After last night's transforming rebirth, I watched Kowloon from my 16th floor hotel window. It was 5:30am and the sun dimly lit the city's cloudless skyline. The monsoon rains had washed the dreariness of the night and exposed a horrendous jumble of colorful shop signs and ads. Forcing a steady calmness against my fear, I knew I would go that afternoon. But for now, I dressed in running shorts and prepared to descend upon an awakening city... Kowloon (the nine dragons).
Hong Kong is a major port of trade for the world, but it is the key threshold of exchange for the People's Republic of China (PRC). Hong Kong consists of several islands and some territory on the continental mainland. One of the larger islands is called Hong Kong, this British colony's namesake. Hills and small mountains dominate the landscape; there's little ground for agriculture. And it's very densely populated with almost 6 million people; 98% are cantonese-speaking chinese. The colony's economic subsistence is wholely dependent upon trade for food, labor, durables, etc. The climate is sub-tropical: hot, humid, rainy, clear and cloudy, and then stifling-still during summer. With a greater shortage of land, buildings and people are packed together tighter than in Japan. Hong Kong has a parliament-like government.
The architecture is sophisticated and substantial; the buildings have small footprints but reach for the heavens. I saw mostly concrete, steel, glass, and plaster with an occasional facade of marble or masonry. It's sometimes difficult to distinguish residential apartments from commercial offices because they appear to be combined. Often apartments are retro-constructed atop reinforced office structures. Bamboo is used in lieu of wood for construction scaffolding. It's amazing what can be done using bamboo, (bamboo may be stronger and tougher than most woods).
An outstanding feature is Hong Kong's harbor. Only vessels of trade and commerce ply these waters. I saw nothing military and nothing recreational save a few harbor touring boats for sight-seers. Steel hulled cargo ships move tons of raw materials from the Pearl River of China. Junks lumber along while Sampans scurry in-and-out of everywhere. Fishing boats dock to unload their fresh catches. And the mainland-to-Hong Kong island ferries transport thousands to and from their jobs and home. Someday, Eventyr will be an out-of-character Norwegian double-ended cutter exploring this harbor with a chinese-american skipper.
The level of affluence is quite high. There is alot of money in Hong Kong, and the capitalistic way of life can be felt in every breathing soul. This is not inconsistent with the independent, work-and-prosper mentality of the Cantonese chinese. The root of this culture is just up the Pearl River within a hundred miles; this is the city of Guangzhou, PRC (or formerly Canton). Guangzhou is the center hub of my father and mother's lineage. And being the first American-born child of either side, the old ways are still tangible, but vanishing fast.
When I returned from that morning's trek through Kowloon, I stowed half of my luggage preparing for a two day sortie. The time was not right, but 'the Sleeping Giant' was too near to be ignored. I had to rally my wits, ingenuity, and lust for life against caution and fear.
Within two hours, I found myself on a 'luxury class' train bound for the border of the PRC with my stop at Guangzhou's train station. June 27th, just 23 days after the Tian-An-Men Square massacre, I entered the massive nation of the People's Republic of China.
The train from Kowloon to Guangzhou was a quick leap backwards through two generations. Safely nestled in a vintage 1940s passenger car, I sensed a time warp through stars and aeons nearby. When the crowded busy streets between the towering concrete apartments of Hong Kong's freedom suddenly vanished at the People's Republic of China's (PRC) border, I knew I fell through into the space-time of my grandfather.
From this frontier border to Guangdong province's capital city of Guangzhou, I glimpsed the rural life of China. Miles of fertile collective and family farms filled my view to the horizon. Nothing was wasted; everything was utilized, particularly the land. They labored to feed themselves in many clever ways. Only centuries of toil could have evolved such ingenuity. Literally every square foot served to feed, to shelter, or to provide passage.
Caught in wonder, my mind registered random impressions like a slide show: a ragged populace gazing as we speed by, their life's will sapped by the heat and humidity... thunderheads threatening an already flooded terrain... rich red alluvial soil supporting well-attended vegetables as nearby ponds raised ducks, turtles, catfish, and snails... emaciated chickens dashing amuck as a funky chinese built tractor crept along a muddy road... concrete poles jutting from verdant rice paddies holding up power and telephone lines... hovels of block and plaster, aged and crumbling, housing hoards of sweating peasants... wild birds, stray dogs, and herds of domestic animals being totally non-existent... muddy irrigation water slowly sluicing along earth-bound troughs with siphon hoses feeding groves or filling paddies... retaining walls of quarried sandstone and a railway system both engineered by foreigners before World War II... glancing into village homes and rarely finding children... a huge black water buffalo lurking half submerged in an empty paddy... creeping squash vines sporting large results on bare hillocks beside the tracks... raindrops sending concentric ripples across a placid green pond...
These visions will always be with me; they are the passive pleasant memories (yin). In the city of Guangzhou though, my memories are considerably different. I struggle to keep images of what happened from being erased, and try to understand myself in another time and place.
[while on-board a train enroute to Guangzhou, China (PRC) from Hong Kong.] My eyes lost its color vision surveying rural China from the train. It was like watching a black&white movie. So I escaped reality by reading Taipan. As I read, a tall figure sauntered by and quipped 'that's a good book, just finished mine in Hong Kong !' I met John Bronman, a 26 year old Canadian on a solo tramp round half the globe. At 6'1', he was an imposing 'bok-gwai' (cantonese words for 'white devil'). But otherwise, we shared a common plight: fear and uncertainty.
As we approached Guangzhou station, we viewed the city outskirts and then downtown itself. I had been astounded by very dense populations (ie. Toyko), but this time there were many more crammed together over much more land. My Western conditioning saw poverty unlike any US urban ghetto -- it was worse and more pervasive. The living conditions were primitive. The buildings were poorly kept, dingy, crowded, and mostly of pre-1940s multi-story construction. The color of the city was a lifeless drab-gray.
At Guangzhou station, we unloaded and gasped at the heat and humidity. It was a typical monsoon afternoon. Immigration and Customs was so confusing, I lost John in the crowd. What am I doing here so helpless and scared ? What do I do next ? With dread, I walked to the train station exit. The on-slaught awaiting me was so powerful, I retreated to the station. The people wanted local money, money I hadn't exchanged yet. Soon, I found John and two others at the currency exchange counter.
Two youngish asian women, wearing US-made backpacks, were traveling together. One was conversing in perfect cantonese and perfect english during her transaction. While nudging John, I continued the dropping of -eaves and learned that she also knew Guangzhou well from a previous 2 month visit. She was our salvation -- she spoke cantonese and knew how to exist in Guangzhou; I almost dropped on my knees to begin begging her for my life (or rather her guidance), but John started flirting with her with a smile. Some guys have that extra edge...
Our new heroine was MeeMee. She was raised in San Francisco by Cantonese parents and thus maintained her conversational cantonese. Her companion was Kim, a Korean-born US citizen. She couldn't speak Cantonese of course, but she could read chinese characters. Together, we became a 'Gang-of-Four', each contributing a special something as we gingerly visited a nation in crisis. International visitors were scarce, and businesses dependent upon tourism felt the pinch. And the effects of the Tien-an-Mein massacre were profoundly evident everywhere (per MeeMee's witness).
The train station was located in the heart of the city. We boarded in Hong Kong, and jumped off in downtown Guangzhou after viewing rural China in between. Beyond the station gates, the rabbling populace included the worst among the innocent with both sharing a common destitution. Some were obviously desperate and begging for a daily existence. Others gave us cold unpleasant stares. Dozens boisterously offered taxi service or they wanted to exchange renmibi for F.E.C. They were relentless, loud and demanding.
In my cordial way, I smiled and said 'no', but this only egged them on. Alert with fear, loathing and frustration, I was their focus; my new friends were left unharried. Probably mistaken for their tour guide, I must have been a profitable prospect. My anger grew as their taunts continued. These people were too different to understand. I twirled in rage and growled 'NO !' One guy fell on his ass expecting a blow. A dozen others leapt back in fearful surprise. They left me alone only under threat of force.
The plaza in the shade of the station building was crowded. Clumps of tense misery. Most were waiting to buy a train ticket. With their possessions packed in cardboard and twine, they often wait for days living in the open. Few could afford the readily-available black market tickets at 4 to 5 times the counter price. Bullies prey upon the innocent masses as a blind beggar without hands or teeth pleads for loose change...
Traditionally, the chinese culture emphasizes the old ways and does not encourage individual expression against the norm. To be chinese here universally assumes similar values and mores, yet common goodwill among countrymen is nominal (at best), and true friendship is reserved for extended family. Being neither, foreigners may be treated accordingly. Other cultures are difficult to accept, let alone understand. And in either case, outsiders are considered barbaric, but their wealth, unpredictability, physical size and violent nature is respected.
The relatively recent introduction of capitalism and other western influences though, has been part of many changes and many problems. It is cutting across the grain of a very old culture. Crime, corruption, fraud, prostitution and the black market is being driven by greed (sometimes need) and an obsessive fixation for durable luxuries, ie. refrigerators and televisions.
But there is a happier side to China too...
Getting around China is an adventure, but in Guangzhou it's a psychotic episode. There are no traffic lights, signs, crosswalks, driving regulations, or enforcement officers, but sometimes you can find a painted line dividing the road IF you're crazy enough to care. Horrified, we watched our driver playing chicken against bicyclists, pedestrians, other taxis, and an occasional bus or small truck.
The people show little regard for life including their own. Literally risking life and limb, pedestrians step in front of on-coming traffic to cross a street. This challenges a driver to stop or honk his horn warning that they're almost 'dead meat'. Likewise, thousands of cyclist caravan among foot and gas-powered traffic frequently dodging, weaving, and colliding. The chaos causes an inordinate number of street fatalities and injuries; this has been a long-standing problem in China.
During my three days in Guangzhou, our various taxi drivers struck three cyclists and one pedestrian among countless near-misses and foolish risks. All were hit-and-run. On the brighter-side, they don't have trial lawyers or auto insurance premiums, (just summary executions and state-sponsored healthcare).
Because of the recent political situation, there were almost no foreign visitors or tourists in China. Hotels and the tourist trade were in dire need of business, so we managed to stay at Guangzhou's finest hotel with a 45% discount. The White Swan Hotel is the finest hotel in China, and is considered among the leading hotels in the world. With its solid-wood european furniture, lovely silk wallpaper, total climate control, expansive view of the Pearl River, high-class discotheque, waterfalls, museum treasures, amazingly well-prepared western-style cuisine and 5 full-time attendants per floor, our accomodations were unpardonably luxurious, particularly given such primitive living standards just a 100 yards away.
Later that day, the Gang-of-Four gathered for supper in the lobby. I made my exotic request and MeeMee led us into the city on-foot. We were off to experience a different kind of meal. Of necessity, this population's tablefare is based upon a famine mentality; ANY edible source of protein is food. Likewise, chinese cooking assumes all ingredients are cut into bits to conserve cooking fuel. Nothing is wasted.
We walked about two miles amidst stares from those busily closing their day of labor. Entering the restaurant, I watched that night's victims slithering on display and attracting hungry customers. MeeMee showed us how to pseudo-sterilize our plate, bowl and chopsticks with steaming hot tea, and then dispensed the Kleenex she brought; the restaurants serving locals don't offer napkins. The chinese beer was only served in cold one liter bottles, so John and I began 'cooling down'; Mee Mee and Kim were shy about drinking because women don't drink in China. Maybe the beer helped John and I eat what we ordered ? The women hardly ate.
But let me describe this multi-faceted meal later...
About our first night's feast in Guangzhou, John and I tried everything available; food can be an adventure too. The night's victims slithering in the restaurant window were black snakes. Snake flesh has a unique texture and it's delicious. We also ordered chicken. The chickens of China are a sorry lot: small and scrawny with no fat nor flavor. Then came braised leg of dog and it was good, but needed tenderizing, and cat meat stewed with fresh steamed vegetables, but it was somewhat stringy, and then the boiled freshwater pond snails were black, rubbery, and tasted like mud. The ribs and chops of chinese fox had a very gamey flavor, but it was surprisingly tender. The most expensive dish though was also the most immemorably delightful, braised turtle with green vegetables -- wonderful !!
John and I ate with gusto after a liter each of cold chinese beer. Kim only ate rice, looked ill and disgusted, and finally bummed a cigarette off the waiter (much to his horror) and wobbled outside to smoke. Mee Mee tried everything, but only once. All in all, the tablefare of China is hardly edible by western standards; make sure everything is well-cooked, don't eat anything raw, drink lots of steaming hot tea or bottled booze, and 'don't drink the water'. Do this and you won't get sick.
We closed the restaurant around 11:00. Outside, there was a rejuvenating sea-breeze wafting through the streets. It was 80 degrees and nearly pitch black except for an occasional street lamp or a household's glassless window. The deeply shadowed, aged and unkempt buildings reminded me of unfriendly parts of Los Angeles. But the entire populace was out with us in the evening too. Quietly, I became aware of something different and unexpected; something that would never happen again in urban America, but still existed here.
The people were relaxed and happy and no longer venomously glaring at us, (as opposed to their daytime persona). Families strolled the streets as teenagers rode their bikes. Fathers displayed their adorable infant sons with enormous pride (never daughters), while healthy young adults conservatively courted one another at arms length. Senior citizens sat afront their modest homes, enjoying the cooler air and talking about health, family affairs, and politics. I guess the evening's sea-breeze and the surrealistic anonymity of darkness sets their souls free. No one was alone and no one was afraid of another. I felt a subtle but joyous sense of community grace, harmony and contentment, and took comfort in knowing that evenings like these have been a part of Guangzhou's history for centuries.
It is this ancient yet timeless quality of Guangzhou that is special. This culture has evolved and stabilized over millennia and rapid changes have only started during recent decades. This subtle insight into China has been invaluable; I understand my roots just alittle better for having visited Guangzhou.
I Remember When ... a most innocent child joyously demanded a glass of 'pink lemonade'.
[ author's aside -- Some may find this revived remembrance abit disconcerting, but it is true and real, if not piercingly jarring. Continue if you dare. earlj ]
During the summer of 1979, I worked weekends from 6PM Friday straight through 6PM Sunday at a special home for very special children. My companion co-worker was my girlfriend Karen (Bernoulli-the-hamster's other parent). This was how we spent our weekends together and these were intense days to test anyone's compassion.
Superficially, this home was just a large modern house in a pricey suburb of San Diego (Mira Mesa), but it was all-the-world to those inside. Its specialness was its children -- seven innocent and profoundly/severely retarded teenagers and young adults. The three girls and four boys needed a relief set of pseudo-Mom&Dads during the weekends, so their full-time pseudo-Mom&Dads could have time off. Karen and I had a weekend family to care for and love.
When I started working here though, I was not prepared. Every hour something big happened. And it was always something threatening, hilarious, disgusting, unthinkable, horribly disturbing, or deeply touching. I was continuously rocked&shocked by the crippled nature of life without a sense of self-preservation. It was tough, and we didn't last long.
But one experience remains pleasantly remembered: There was this fellow and his 'pink lemonade'. I'll call him Joe. Joe had a little plastic football that was always held in the crock of his right arm against his chest. He was obsessed with possessing it. You could never take it from him without ensuing self-abuse. He also liked 'pink lemonade' with equal passion.
When Joe lived with his mother, he became conditioned to getting his way by abusing himself, much to Mom's horror. She reinforced this behavior by quickly 'giving in' to quell further self-abuse. Joe would repeatedly and viciously pommel his face with his right fist in-order to induce his mother's compliance -- usually a demand for 'pink lemonade'. Joe's face was heavily scarred and structurally deformed, ample evidence of this behavior's severity.
The final long-sought solution was ingenious. They conditioned Joe into clutching a little plastic football (his favorite toy), in such a way that precludes self-abuse. When Joe's holding his football, he can't pound his face. How they did this, I don't know. But I'm certain it wasn't easy.
While we were Mom&Dad, Joe would come to us every-so-often, and mutter 'pink lemonade' with an enthusiastic lilt. If he was behaving, we'd pour him a glass. If he was bad, we tug-a-war'd with his football. No matter what happened though, we could never react to any self-effacing (a bad pun, I know) self-abuse. Joe will eventually forego face-pommeling, and then he'll be conditioned off his football.
To most, this isn't an amusing tale. Rather, it's a harsh story from an unknowable existence. To those with relevant experience though, this is a rare case of triumphant conquest. Their progress against disadvantage seems miniscule at our consciousness-of-reality. To them though, each pleasure is ecstasy, each desire is consuming, and there is little awareness of fear.
This thought emerged for no particular reason, and is offered for no particular benefit.
For the context of this NOTE:
defined as anything desired: ie. personal relationship(s) and/or improvements therewith, thoughts, values, traits, ideas, material goods, goals, and anything else subjectively positive.
Some 'things' are For-the-future.
Some 'things' are Just-for-today.
Other 'things' are From-yesterday-and-continued-into-today.
The purposes of 'things' we've choosen for ourselves fit into these categories and many others. We have intentions with, and effects from these 'things':
in planning for a better tomorrow (For-the-future);
in enjoying the present (Just-for-today);
in maintaining structure and continuity (From-yesterday-and- continued-into-today).
What's the worth of knowing this ?
Nothing -- this is non-sensical whimsey Just-for-today.