Waving to Death (an incomplete thought).

i like the duality of humans and the cosmos. both consisting of immeasurable amounts of fragments. both capable of being seen as infinite and infinitesimal.

 

suppose all matter generates gravitational waves. an exertion of energy that ripples across space-time from the point of matter ‘being’, to the point where it ceases to be.

an infinite wave that passes through all other waves, always connected. always existing.

 

suppose the matter in question is you, person forged from the depths of dying stars. person with an immeasurable amount of atoms, a small universe in itself.

 

suppose the universe began condensed, and exploded to an infinite stretch, breaking apart in all directions. filling the nothing with everything. radiating onwards.

 

suppose we are born with a small singular point inside us.  a concentrated sense of ‘energy’ that starts to stretch out to our skin borders as we age. a wave that nears its physical manifestation through the passage of time, the shrinking of morality. the aging of you. this wave we have called ‘life’. this wave we think simply disappears when our bodies reach their boundary.

 

suppose it is death that breaks the boundary.

 

suppose it is this ceasing to exist as a singularity that instead allows this wave inside us to continue out in all directions, forever crossing over the waves of past, present, and future.

 

suppose we never really disappear, but become at once infinite and infinitesimal.

 

 

 

 

E.

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Tragedy plus time equals comedy: Benjamin Law and ‘Gaysia’.

Sunday afternoon I went to Capital M’s Literary Festival (where on multiple posters had been corrected to LiteraCy festival, and I’m still unsure if someone royally F’d up or if it’s just a big marketing ploy) and listened to a discussion from Australian writer Benjamin Law, a well known writer for popular magazine Frankie, among countless other publications, and author of two books one of which was the hot topic for the afternoon and was titled Gaysia (of course, more info below).

 

Starting a wee bit late into the regular scheduling Benjamin opened with a brief family history timeline for us to understand his angles of approach in regards to writing and subject matter, and to also receive a wonderfully insightful look into the world of an immigrant family (Hong Kong to Sydney) who then became a family with a solo parent (his Mum sounds like a champion). His first book is about these family affairs (The Family Law) and was said as being his first big project in personal reflection.

 

His second book to be published was the focus for the rest of the discussion, and was surmised as being a humorous travel book with a heavily aligned infusion of essays involving unique perspectives into the gay culture in various Asian countries. Focussing a lot towards countries in the South East Asian quadrant, with trips to northern China and Japan also noted, various tales of lady-boys in Thailand, yoga in India designed for ‘curing’ homosexuality, and the rampant AIDS virus causing destruction in Myanmar were brought to light in his book.

 

What I enjoyed most from this discussion was this phrase Benjamin said: tragedy plus time equals comedy. Benjamin Law often writes and projects himself with a comedic tone, a way of making anything and everything less harmful to the point where it can be considered funny. This is a delicate process to apply to writing (or indeed anything) when discussing such topics like homosexuality, which are still seeking a crucial global shift in serious understanding and acceptance. I asked him in a badly worded question (I should have written it down) to explain how he approaches the balance between using his comedic voice to allow such topics a broader platform, without misrepresenting the people already at the platform. He told me that during his research in (I believe) Burma, a place that was devastated by a natural cyclone/tsunami-esque disaster, that even though they were surrounded by such catastrophic destruction, they still found the time to joke about it. And that he felt he had to put these conversations in his book to reaffirm to people that comedy is not evil, it just takes some time to permit yourself to laugh at circumstances. I like how his answer aligned with the ideas of previous comedy writers I had listened too, and I hope to produce more works that are in this style of writing. I enjoy comedy a lot, and converse and joke about things that perhaps border the line of acceptability, but I feel that without people doing this we would lose all sense of hope and humour. He also acknowledged that writing is a very modest legacy to leave this world with, the mere act of spreading awareness will never be enough without the result of action being the follow-up. It was heartbreaking to hear of an interviewee asking at the end what he can do to help get antiretroviral medicine delivered, and Benjamin being too stunned and saddened by the negative answer he left them with.

 

Something else I noticed from the discussion was the constant technicality the effects of labels within the LGBTQIA (even the acronym supports my ensuing comment). Frequently there would be a re-affirmation of each subset of labels when discussing broadly applied issues, as if to think that the absence of a label would warrant the people to become somewhat lesser in value in the community. I fear that this constant focus towards the encyclopaedic volume of subset labels, and the fear of forgetting every single detail of every single person is going to be damaging if people don’t accept that sometimes labels are wrong simply because there are too many nuances and personalities inside a single person.

 

Anyway I have derailed my train of thought. Onward with comedy!

 

 

 

 

E.

The intern who snuck into the hottest dining event in Beijing.

Disclaimer: Okay, you caught me, I was invited (but I totally would have tried to sneak in.)

Monday afternoon I attended the Eleventh Readers Restaurant Awards, hosted by the Beijinger aka the place where I have been interning for the past two-three months on a weekly basis.

They were held at the Conrad Beijing hotel, owned by Hilton, in one of the third floor meeting rooms. According to the well printed invitations (seriously there were probably three trees used per invite what with the amount they weighed) it was a formal function, so I donned a dress shirt and black pants (not jeans, Mum) and made my way into the city for it after my morning classes.

Arriving to a largely empty room I sat and waited for my boss. In recent news I am sad to say that she has handed her resignation in and will be leaving at the end of April. She has stated that my internship shouldn’t be affected, however we are yet to discuss in person this forthcoming issue. I wish I could say that this is a prime career opportunity for me (not to cash in on her resignation so quickly), but China law states that foreigners who wish to work at a foreign-owned company based in China must be at least 25 years of age.

Well, stink.

Attendees suddenly flooded the area, which ironically also meant the floodgates to the array of beverage products provided by sponsors opened as well. The great thing about big cities is the big names are guaranteed to want in on sponsoring major events, especially those of the beverage or dining nature. Since the Beijinger is widely known for its dining coverage, we were treated to some very odd Christmas bauble styled cocktails from Grand Marnier, and hor d’oeuvres that can only be described as a combination of latex covered radishes and grass jelly. However it was free and fanciful so I carried on my merry way and chatted to a few co-workers, including one who had his friend from Chicago in attendance for most of the night.

The event itself was pleasant enough. There were a few technical difficulties in syncing the iPad to the projector, and the crowd were a little rambunctious (well you would be as well with only a liquid diet on hand (where was the pizza?!?)), but I am definitely glad for this internship perk. If you want to see what people are eating in Beijing (or at least the fancy restaurant names) you can click here.

Now to patiently wait for the Bar Awards coming later. Apparently that’s where you can really shake things up. Yeah I said that.

E.

Ta meiyou piao.

First, a game –

 

You are packing your suitcase. Tell me, which of these things that you pack is not like the other ones?

 

Socks

T-shirt

Pants

Toaster oven

Shoes

Make-up

 

Becoming an expat has opened my eyes to the simple life. If, like me, you are uncertain about your long-term living solutions, you learn how to distinguish what you need from what you want very quickly. While having nice things is great, when it comes time to relocating it becomes hard to justify why you simply had to have a wooden owl carving, or fifteen different types of socks, or three Tupperware containers come with you.

 

Learning how to have less is a big advantage, and what you cannot take with you is then offered up to the remaining expat community for them to scavenge.

 

My dear friend Lisa is departing China soon after a successful two (I think) years of successfully making the Chinese language her bitch a valuable skill to have in her asset collection.  As she is leaving, the past few weeks have been a sort of garage sale, where bits and pieces of Lisa’s China life are becoming a part of someone else’s life. Because she is someone who has always enjoyed cooking at home (her homemade pizza will make grown men weep with joy) she invested in a reasonable sized toaster oven of which (obviously) she cannot take with her on her next journey.

 

Another friend and co-worker, Sarah, pounced at this opportunity to become the next owner of the toaster oven. Because we were going to see Lisa for her birthday this weekend, it was decided that the toaster oven would have to make the trip back with us. The ‘how’ in ‘how are we getting a toaster oven from Shijiazhuang to Beijing?’ remained a thing I like to call the ‘later problem’ and was left unresolved.

 

The weekend then quickly rolled around and Sarah and I make our individual ways down to Shijiazhuang. I arrived at Lisa’s to a large black suitcase at the door that Sarah had brought with her. Instead of using the gargantuan box the toaster oven came in when it was new, Sarah had eye-balled the size of the oven on a previous visit and decided that sticking it in her suitcase would make for easier transportation.

 

It then comes time to leave Lisa’s place this morning, and Sarah sat on the ground to pack her suitcase. First in went her clothes, then makeup and toiletries, a pair of shoes, and then a large 60cmx40cmx40cm (ish) toaster oven.

 

Well I’ll hand it to her, it fitted…kinda.

 

After zipping the suitcase lid to the point where it could zip no more we tied a thick band around the unzipped part of the suitcase lid and prayed that a slow and steady journey would halt the zip from falling down, or breaking.

 

At this point I am rolling on the ground laughing the hardest I have laughed in a long time. I’m talking on the verge of tears laughing, and for a brief moment I forgot all about the horrific hangover I was suffering. I can honestly say I never thought I’d be helping to pack a toaster oven in a suitcase to trek cross-country with via train, subway, and bus. Only in China.

 

We make our way to the train station and through security. I do wonder if they questioned the fact that we had a massive toaster oven inside a suitcase, or whether that just plain isn’t weird enough for China’s standards. After settling down I recharged (napped) the hour and ten minutes it takes to get to the Beijing station, and subway connection.

 

We eventually get to the bus stop needed to complete our journey in an all right fashion, though the subway did stop at random for a few minutes in the middle of the tunnel. I want to know, one: how do you muck up a subway schedule, and two: how do you fix it? But that’s for another post. We made it from Shijiazhuang to our bus stop in a timely three-hour span, and waited for the final movement of our journey to come.

 

The first bus for our destination was pretty sardine-esque, and with a massive toaster oven to take care of we decided to wait out for the next one. Luckily we needn’t wait long as the second bus rounded the corner after a brief five minute extended wait.

 

Sarah lifted the toaster oven into the back of the bus, scanned her metro card, and sat down. I followed her with the rest of our bags, scanned my own card, and sat down.

 

Now on every Beijing bus there is always one attendant to check who pays their bus fee (or doesn’t) and to yell out the name of every upcoming stop. The attendant on our bus turns to face us, points and says –

 

‘Ta meiyou piao’.

 

Now I’m not fluent in Mandarin, but I have learnt enough to recognise these words.

Ta – common pronoun for he/she

Meiyou – have not/do not possess

Piao – ticket

 

We flicked our metro cards out to her to show that yes, we scanned our cards and have rightly paid for our ride home. This seems to annoy her some more and she gesticulates wildly in our direction all the while repeating ‘ta meiyou piao’. Her pointing becomes more focussed as we pay closer attention, and while previously we thought she was pointing at us, it becomes clearer that she is pointing at the suitcase with the toaster oven.

 

And that’s when we remember; the word ‘ta’ can also mean the third person pronoun ‘it’.

 

The toaster oven did not have a bus ticket.

 

The fear of being kicked off the bus and having to wait for another was more than enough for us to hand over (albeit a little begrudgingly) the six kuai fee needed to keep our seats, and our oven, on board.

 

 

 

What did I learn from all of this? If I ever hold the idea of a toaster oven, I’m buying online.

 

 

 

E.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Countless first times.

I don’t often pay attention to the outside world when I’m on the subway. I still love the convenience of it, and I don’t think the novelty of such a cheap yet efficient method of transport is going to wear itself thin on me quickly, but for the most part my modus operandi is headphones in and the rest of the world out when I’m on my weekly commute to my internship.

 

Today however I’ve been rocking my head cold, which makes for the general level of discomfort to be rather…discomforting. Discarding the idea of music I tried to read my borrowed ’50 Great Short Stories’ book my co-worker loaned me, but after re-reading the same page four times and still not understanding ‘Brooksmith’ I gave up on that and resigned myself to listening and noticing the other commuters – a non-contact sport that can be quite entertaining. After a few minutes of playing that I zoned out and stared at the cream white plastic interior while above the green dots turned to red dots after each subway stop.

 

But then you stepped on board my carriage.

 

I didn’t notice you enter exactly. It took a few seconds after the subway began to pull ahead to its next stop that I noticed you there. Well, the two of you. You were crouched down in a darkened navy blue coat jacket and pants, while who I can only presume is your son sat down on the floor next to you. He wore a red jacket, black pants, one glove, and a bucket with a bent-up note attached to the front.

 

You were counting notes you’d pulled from the bucket. Most of them were green which meant they were a one yuan note. Occasionally you’d tuck a purple note, a fiver, at the back of the pile. You finished counting pretty quickly and tucked the money away inside your jacket. Your son (I’m going to refer to him as son) sat and watched for a little while, then upon noticing the bucket strung around him with a wide black piece of fabric, he picked up the black fabric and let it go, watching the bucket swing back to his chest every time.

 

I imagine he’s done this act countless times, but his eyes shone like it was the first time.

 

You both leaned back against the seat behind you, taking a break from the unremitting begging that is your livelihood. I sat there for a bit, just watching. Your son never lingered his attention on anything for a length of time, I’m uncertain if he could, really.

 

You were just regaining some reserves of strength to start moving again when it happened.

 

The stench of human excrement is something with the uncanny ability to permeate the air very quickly.

 

Of course your son didn’t notice. Is it a blessing in disguise he didn’t show embarrassment? I don’t know. But everyone else noticed, including you. You checked to see if he was dressed okay to leave the carriage, pulling down his left sleeve so that it connected with his one glove and sealed in his body heat. You pulled both he and yourself to your feet, most of his bodyweight slung across your shoulders. All this time I just sat there, and watched. As you waited for the subway to stop at its next destination I dug through my bag to find my wallet. I pulled out a fiver.

 

And then I sat there, frozen by my absurd privileged thoughts about what these subway strangers would think of me abandoning my bag all of four feet, and giving up a perfectly decent seat, to hand money over to a beggar and his son.

 

My fear of giving you money, of what others would think of me, has haunted me all day.

 

At the very last second I did stand up to give you that money. Our fingertips connected as I palmed it to you. Our eyes met as you said something indecipherable. Then you turned all attention back onto your son and hauled both you and he towards the public toilet, as my subway pulled away from you.

 

What scares me is that this isn’t the first time I’ve had these thoughts, or experienced this moment. The level of poverty here is countless, and yet each time I see it it’s like the first time.

 

But I guess humans are good at forgetting the bad things. We have two world wars in our history to prove we don’t really learn from our mistakes. I know that even as I write this, I’m going to forget you, just as I have forgotten countless others.

 

But I will see you again, for the first time.

 

I just hope I act less like a human, and more like a person.

 

 

E.

Coast to comedy.

A random half-thought I’m going to leave here –

Living in land-locked Beijing I’m often reminded of the coast.

The crunch of sunflower seed shells under my feet as I walk to the supermarket.

The heckling caws of ‘dachelema?’ from the swooping blackmarket-taxi drivers

(I’m tempted to throw my yi jiao at them in mimicry of my lack of fish ‘n’ chip fries).

The whiff of that faraway smell of yonder distance, though in China that smell is often caused by the filthy wasted ends of humanity, and not the waves of the ocean.

The rocking pull of the subway cart as it swells under the weight of 5pm chaos.

Things about life so far –

On Sunday I went to a literary event run by a café/bar/library called The Bookworm. Star guests were two Australian writers Nick Earls and Jesse Brand, Jimmy Qi a Chinese turned Canadian, and the MC was a comedian who talked about ex-pat quirks called Cherry Denman. The event was a discussion by these four writers/comedians about the nature of comedy in literature, a genre they all dabble in with success.

Nick Earls was by far the most outspoken of the four and wielded his microphone like a gladiator about to do battle. Unfortunately he negated to critically answer some questions posed by Denman, and instead hid behind his battle worn shields of well-rehearsed anecdotes about the comedic instances he has experienced in his everyday life. His narcissistic displays were made comedic when he stated that it is ever so funny to attack people he knows who are narcissists in his book, as a narcissist never think it is they who are being attacked. I assume he gave this quip due to a lapse in his personality judgement/brain fart.

Jesse Brand was brash but in that way where you enjoy being rubbed the wrong way. The other two gentlemen frequently subdued him when it came time to answer questions openly. A case of minding your elders? Perhaps. But when he did have a spare moment to talk he managed to fill it with the rushed staccato voice of someone who understands the crunch time of slam poetry performances (he is the currently Australian Poetry Slam Champion).

Jimmy Qi was eccentric as anything and spoke often of his twenty two years experience (I was waiting for the exact month/week/day calendar but he refrained). He glued the discussion together by having the ability to empathise with the other speakers but also inputting some original content so as to keep himself on point.

What did I take away from this? Raise the stakes. How high can you place a character, or indeed your own writing, so that if when it falls you push it the comedic values are enhanced to their fullest potentials. I’m not really a story writer, but I enjoyed thinking about that quote in situations relating to caring for personal embarrassment or not.

I met one co-founder of Beijing’s biggest food delivery network –Jinshisong. He joined in our Rummikub card game and adapted quickly to it, this might be because he successfully used some online poker sites to make money just cause he could (software engineers, watch out for them at the table).

I have gone from days on end with nothing to do, to days on end-to-end because they are so crammed up they overflow their 24-hour boundary. The Beijinger is still an amazing internship to have in this city. I’m hoping I can approach the topic of permanent work in a few weeks. Until then it’s still that good ol’ 21st century semi-scam of great experience. If it doesn’t work out come late May I’ll most likely stay in China and hunker down with some online study for technical writing. I think it’s something I’d actually be good at and enjoy, not many people can say that about jobs these days.

I wish I could write more, but that means things worth writing about need to have happened. If I think of any more I’ll write them soon. This head-cold is clogging my mental filter. Apologies.

E.