798.

I’ll start with an apology. Nothing I say after this is going to come close to how I felt today. Today was a day where footsteps were drumbeats, sunlight was stardust, and everybody I saw was happiness incarnate. However, words can go quite far, and I will try to sum up as best I can, but be wary and know these next few lines are not comparable.

 

 

 

Today I ventured out to the 798 District alone. This is quite an achievement for me, as I do hate travelling alone at the best of times (I know, I know, it’s weak minded but I’m getting there). After a considerable amount of travelling/morphing into a sardine at times on the subway, I arrived to an unremarkable entrance proclaiming ‘798’ in bold 1.5m red metal lettering.

 

I should have learnt by now that in China, you never judge an alleyway by its entrance.

 

Wandering down, the atmosphere starts to peel the China you know away from you. Gone is the Communism, the fakery, the incessant staring, the traffic noises, the unmentionable smells. What replaces this distant China are sculptures of red dinosaurs, stalls selling adorable plush animals in retro coloured fabrics, and entrance upon entrance of every shape of art imaginable.

 

Highlights of my day are as follows –

 

Discovering a wonderful genealogy inspired photographic exhibition with layout inspiration for possible personal projects.

 

A blacked out sensory chamber filled with an unknown amount of people within, each vocalizing their own tribal-esque hip-hop beat box, the culmination of sound designed to disorient you amidst the darkness. Once I calmed the f down and appreciated the nuances of human sound, I started to dance, which in turn increased everyone’s tempo and volume and transformed the darkness into one of the coolest dance parties I have had the opportunity to participate in.

 

An interactive space titled ‘Progress’ which started with a young boy approaching me in a maze configured gallery space, and asking to define what progress is. I said people are progress. His eyes widened at this, and I felt I had said something wrong. Turns out I hit the nail on the head. The entire performance progressed into meeting a teen aged girl, who discussed the progress of people, which then turned to a young twenty-something male who talked about the 1% v 99% and worker/farmer/intellect debate in Chinese political culture. It finished with a 66 year old man giving me his personal account of the Cultural Revolution, albeit with a positive note which could have lead to a massive debate but I hushed. It felt like I was going along a walk with history itself, the past, present, and future all preaching some infinite wisdom, and allowing me to leave with it.

 

 

I’m going to stop here. I have no more words worthy of summarizing my day.

 

 

 

 

E.

 

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How much is that doggie in the window?

If you’re a fan of all things furry, scaly, toothy, fluffy, and just plain adorable, stop reading.

A lot of people in China own a pet. Though the people live in apartments mirroring the dimensions of a cell in prison, most will happily buy/adopt a furry or scaly critter off the street.

What I have seen on the street –

Goldfish in heat sealed bags for keychains.
Fighting fish in 5x5x5cm tanks isolated amongst cacti.
Rabbits in cages no bigger than they are.
Puppies stacked three deep to protect against the winter wind in steel barred cages (no adequate floor for them to stand on means poor lil twisted ankles incoming).
A turtle in a ceramic bowl under a glass table trying to scratch its way out.
Puppies chained up outside for eight hours a day, with no playtime.
Kittens let loose to turn feral and scour the food vendor streets at night.

Most of the time you won’t see any food or water next to these animals either.

I’m still not quite iron-hearted as to walk past any of them without a twinge. But coming to China means turning your personal feel dial down to ‘almost heartless’, if you are going to survive. I think I only have one existential crisis a week now. There are no animal protection laws (nor are there any child protection laws) in China; they are still in draft form to be approved by the National People’s Congress.

The chances of those bills passing in the next five years? Don’t get your hopes up.

And here is an account of what happens when somebody thinks they have ‘rescued’ an animal –

A co-worker of mine knocked on my door yesterday. I opened up to this adorable white and black fluffball of a puppy thrust into my face with the words ‘this is Baosi, can he come play?’ chasing its wiggly tail. After letting both of them in I found out that a student on campus had purchased Baosi from a pet shop.

Now pets are banned on campus, and the director found out pretty quickly. So my co-worker took Baosi from her student, and the plan she concocted was to rotate ownership of him between her, myself, and the other two foreign teachers. As foreigners we can get away with a lot of things here, but keeping a puppy? I don’t think so.

Poor Baosi hadn’t eaten anything in about five days, because his first owner was an absolute idiot and decided against buying real animal food, settling for animal substitute nutrient bricks of shit instead. As soon as my co-worker acquired Baosi she promptly……sprayed Chanel perfume on the pup. Apparently he smelled. What the hell co-worker, I can feel the dog’s ribs and you think Chanel is going to fix that? I gave him some random meat I had bought from the supermarket solely for the name (beer ham) it smelt horrible, tasted okay, Baosi was just happy it was edible I think.

The lack of logic, as far as the value of life in China, is infuriating some days.

Now in a final plot-twist It appears my co-worker is allergic to the dog, and the choices available in this saga are either all us foreign teachers adopt him at risk of worm/flea infestation/rabies/threat of work termination, or the dog goes back to die.

Oh, and Baosi entered into my PLECO dictionary gives me the definition of: die of a sudden illness. Unsure if premonition.

All aboard the feeltrain, destination Lie-in-a-ball-and-cry-ville.

E.

Important work meeting.

Generally speaking, meetings at work are a good time to discuss the various issues different departments are having. They come to a conclusion when all issues have been rectified, or at least have a plan towards finding a solution, and everyone goes home happy.

 

Not in China.

 

First, we start with a welcoming that names every man/woman/child/dog/radiator/plant/water jug/ridiculous phone cover/molecule of air, present. We clap at every name. Then we mumble ridiculous Aesop fable inspired crap about turning students into pools of water and providing them with the stream. Why we want to sodden students is beyond me. But we clap to this as well. Then around the table each department leader whines about typical university student discipline and how nobody is working hard or doing their job or how the sky is falling down. Every subsequent leader who is demanded asked to speak increases the amount of time they spend talking by another 5021%, measured against those who have finished, so by the time Mr. President has his say at the end, I’ve aged three decades and my ass has molded itself so far into the chair that there is no hope of me standing ever again.

 

Goodbye ass, though you were no Beyonce, I still shook you like a Polaroid picture on the dance-floor.

 

Never mind the fact that absolutely no one gives a damn what you are saying at these meetings. We had one girl taking photographs at every angle known (and unknown) to physics of her face, and the group around the table. We had one girl watching a Chinese soap drama on her Galaxy S4 with the sound up loud enough to annoy you, but not distinguish any words. We had my interpreter co-worker giving me a verbal shitstorm talking about spilling Chanel perfume and the diarrhoea epidemic of 2012 that went through her friends. We had the leaders playing footsies, well, I imagine they were, they kept smiling all the fucking time.

 

At the closing of the meeting we had one big dysfunctional family portrait photograph, which is basically a ‘spot the two foreigners in our group’ game disguised an as official record keeping document. We then all went out to lunch in the countryside and I became intoxicated with the leaders on Baijiu, which for those who are new to this liquid, if you think of a hybrid devil child between paint thinner and battery acid, you’re getting close.

 

For those who know me, I am obsessed with time. I do not enjoy being late, and I do not enjoy it being wasted on tedious bullshit face-making spectacle circuses like Chinese meetings.

 

Next time, I’m calling in sick.

 

 

 

 

E.

 

 

 

 

Fired up.

An old story I remember reading about the very first gun invented goes something like this –

 

A Chinese monk, after mixing various powders and igniting their explosive properties in his bathroom turned laboratory, decided to fill a small tube with said powder, place a ball bearing near the opening, ignite, and promptly blow out a wall in his bathroom.

 

This is most definitely historically inaccurate, but a little humour is always good, no?

 

A gun is solely designed to kill. There is no other purpose for its invention. To suggest that a guns purpose is for fun (to me) sounds very absurd. Where is fun in putting little (and sometimes big) holes into inanimate objects?

 

That is not fun, that is a sense of great power. A very addictive sense of power.

 

To buy a gun you must acknowledge this unspoken agreement that, in purchasing it, you are saying yes you could kill. In practicing at target ranges (or other such areas that I hope are legal) you are tuning yourself as an adept killing machine.

 

Of course it’s not the tool that ultimately kills, but the operator. However, to own a gun and not respect its sole function is rather scary and very childish.  I would love to see on gun licence registration forms (which should be a global requirement) the question ‘do you feel you have the cognitive capacity to kill with this?’ I think the discussions about gun safety, and necessity of owning one, would increase significantly.

 

Guns are not bad. No object is bad. The properties and qualities placed upon it by us are what determine the bad from the good.

I want to fire a gun one day (I think). I want to know this sense of power. I doubt I will be okay with it, but for some possible future chance that I enjoy it, what would that say? 

 

 

 

 

E.

Leave your nationalism at home.

This is my second year living in China, and also my second year of living somewhere I do not traditionally call ‘home’ but still regard it as one. In these years I’ve met wonderful people from all different countries. My tongue feels well navigated in the thoughts of the North, South, East, and West of this planet’s inhabitants. But there is still one annoying attitude that keeps poisoning social interactions.

 

Nationalism.

 

Recently I was at a bar in Shijiazhuang, with many expats clustered toward the back end. The alcohol paralleled the flow of conversations. Social lubrication is necessary when you are in a foreign land, because the global platform is rough and dangerous to navigate. Generally everyone was well behaved and discussed the menial drivel of Shijiazhuang pollution and ‘hey what do you do here?’ Later in the night a giant hunt commences amongst the expats to see who is DTF (I mean, if you want it, you can’t really be too fussy in China). It’s usually all well and good fun.

 

Then the wee hours of the night beckon a darker mood. The conversation started with defining the word ‘ignorant’ and ended with the same old ‘America/England/New Zealand/insertothercountryhere is the greatest, and fuck the rest of you’ chant.

 

I have seen the same argument happen countless times. In bars, clubs, house parties, coffee dates, picnics, work, play, any time of the day. It’s the same old hash of my country is better than yours because I love it so.

 

If this is how you think, then you’re an asshat.

 

Nationalism reflects the sheer dumb luck that you were born into one ridiculously tiny part of the planet, next to people who share a similar accent as you will inherit.

 

It is the essence of geography and nothing more.

 

The winning side is not who has the bigger gun, or who has the most money, or who cares most about the environment, or who genuinely feels for humanity, or who has the better life.

 

The winning side is one who can communicate ideas and emotions without calling into question the place in which others traditionally call ‘home’.

 

We are all raised upon dirt, don’t drag the power of your words through it.

 

 

 

 

E.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Killers.

I failed seeing The Killers twice back home, and thought I’d missed the opportunity forever. About a week ago, as Lisa and I were hunting out Indian food in the maze that is Beijing City, Lisa spied a small advertisement saying The Killers were playing on National Day (October 1st).

 

Third times the charm, right?

 

Instantly we planned out how we were going to travel during what happens to be China’s busiest week of the year (whoever decided The Killers were to play on the most important day, you fool). More travel plans were added and taken away, and at one stage it looked like we might have missed our ticket purchasing chances, but with three days to go we secured some middle-class tickets and were in with a grin and off to see those magical boys. The night of the 1st we navigated the Metro and headed towards Wukesong, and the Beijing Mastercard Stadium. The Metro is always a hit-and-miss insofar as judging how busy it’s going to be. We made it out of our final destination with ten minutes to spare, and after copious ticket and bag checks we entered the stadium to the unfortunate closing bars of Mr. Brightside. China is the only country I know who start their concerts on time (this we should have realised, as everything in China is countable down to the last minute).

 

The Killers are absolutely, undeniably, beautiful. Brandon Flowers spoke some cute, yet recognisable, greetings in Mandarin to which the crowd exploded. He also mentioned their eclectic dress sense was due to a market they visited (still fabulous in your cut off freedom star shirt there Mr. Flowers). They played a full 90-minute set filled with most of their successful back catalogue top hits, and left the crowd (including myself) filled with that rare happiness you feel when you experience a band who sound exactly as they do on album.

 

Because I witnessed The Killers in China (their first China appearance no less) I feel there were some outwardly Chinese aspects to it that are worth mentioning –

 

The tickets were all seat allocated. In China it seems you sit for any and all events. This would be okay if the seats were built in a layered formation, not flat on the stadium floor, as ours happened to be. We sped past our central located seats to stand in the side aisle next to the VIP section, and promptly piss off the Chinese security to no end as more and more people had the same idea as us.

 

Crowd interaction was a little lacklustre. Brandon tried to get the crowd to sing with specific pauses thrown into many of the songs, but I think the inherent language barriers were too strong to overcome, even with a large expat presence.

 

 

Overall I still regard The Killers as one of the best bands I have seen live. Read my mind was played to perfection, and the finale song of When you were young (which I called before the concert started) was an absolute killer song to end with (nothing is ever complete without a pun).

 

 

 

 

E.