I’m planning a trip to Burma. I recently had to decide whether staying at a hotel owned by a government official clashed with my personal ethics and politics. Would you?
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, The Lime challenged me with “Like whatever happened yesterday” and I challenged R.L.W. with “Look up your Chinese zodiac animal. Write as though you are someone or something about to consume that animal.”
The God Thing, Hashed out over Brunch:
I’m a Miranda. That is, in the “Sex and the City” spectrum of sexual proclivities as it relates to the spiritual experiences of four 20-something American women living in Beijing in the year 2012 — as discussed over brunch. So much cliche mixed up in the same burrito, I can’t tell whether we’re unique new concoctions or just a shitty amalgam of two things, like a sushiritto.
But back to the Miranda thing. Her sex life is good, but she’s always so fucking cynical until the happy accidents of fate force her to chill out and accept the good things that were always right under her nose. Just swap out the life-changing orgasms for encounters with the divine, and that’s me all over.
I was such a happy atheist. I had found a way to be a good, moral person without needing this extra “GOD THING” in there. Religion was my major in college, for Christsake, and this was never a problem. I relished in the cliche of the atheist studying religion. Isn’t that cute? Wouldn’t that sound good on a first date? God knows no cute. He kills puppies and muddies banter.
One of the main reasons I started this new Seeking phase of my life is the Samantha in this whole “Sex and the City” example. She’s a raging God slut. Everyday she’s worshipping. Early mornings, all weekend — can’t get enough. He fills her in new ways. (Sorry.) But her enthusiasm, which she shares only with a discreet few, brunch-time company included, is intense, infectious, delirious. Her smile says she knows something you don’t about this God guy. On the outside, she looks like a typical quirky girl with fun colored tights raving about the sweet potato latte this Korean coffee shop is serving. Inside, her thoughts are primarily about love. Loving others, loving God in new more profound ways. “Walking toward love” is her m.o.
Carrie’s the main character because she has the most saga-like storyline going on. Our Carrie, a Buddhist from North Carolina, was newest to the table, so we point-blank asked her to, “Tell us about your life,” and wound up with a yarn worth six seasons and two movies if those movies had been good. Her path to enlightenment included abusive relationships, a Russian literature phase, and a born-again moment to rival any of her fellow Southerners: she was at a house party, just talking in one of the bedrooms with a few friends, when her heart began to race. The manic pounding consumed her and she figured she was dying. She told those around her she was dying as the room dulled to a Beijing sky gray. As she lay there dying, her vision cleared to a negative image of a dragon fly. It thwip-thwipped its wings twice, and she was reset. For the next two days, she says she walked around her job at Outback in a daze of enlightened bliss and realized that life wasn’t about baby back ribs or bills or possessions, but love. All the other junk simply wasn’t worth your time.
Our little Charlotte remained quiet through most of these revelations and retelling of past revelations. That might say what it needs to, though. She is traditional, and so far, happy with her Catholic, church-going self. I just can’t believe she’s here, in Beijing, far away from family, friends and the familiar, and her faith still hasn’t been shaken. Just the process of going to church here draws big red flags for me, as established churches are “Foreigner-only” and require a passport swipe to keep curious Chinese citizens out. If that were part of your Sunday ritual, wouldn’t you start to question God’s plan? But even while I question her moral compass, my heart pings with envy at the inner stability this could be hinting at. She knows her God.
Hashing out our takes on transcendency, I become convinced that our conflicting cliches do not roll up into a sushiritto abomination. They’re a sweet potato latte. Found only in Korean brunch places, it’s not the color (purple) or texture (thick with a hint of grainy) you’d expect, but once the sweet stuff hits your tongue, you’re raving. Can’t wait to try them again next Saturday. Just, you know, four girls brunching.
I thought I’d missed the timeliness boat for posting this video since Chinese New Year is supposedly over, but since the fireworks keep raging — even at 11:30 a.m. on a Saturday — I feel quite within the bounds of seasonal commentary.
The Chinese people love their fireworks. The government severely restricts internet usage and child births, yet during Chinese New Year, all rules are tossed into the blaze for a weeklong pyro-orgy.
How bad can a few firecrackers be? Well, a major skyline-defining building may burn down from time to time. For me, the sound is the worst part. The sporadic bursts boom like what I imagine a warzone to be like, while long strings of explosives sound like rain. The prolonged assault on the ears wears down natural flinch reflexes, leaving me with feelings somewhere between dazed, frightened and enraged.
It’s not just the frisky young kids who get in on this. It’s the old people, too. The old people who have been put through the Cultural Revolution, who have seen the air turn a pallid grey in their lifespan, who have survived the lead-tainted products, undrinkable water and unbreathable air. It is they who light the firecrackers long into the night, laughing as they watch them burn.
A hotel in Saigon.
The Great Wall of China at Badaling.
I gave a hat like this to my dad for Christmas. Today’s his birthday so I rang to see if he’d gotten any wear out of it in Florida. My father — a white, middle-class engineer in Florida — now keeps his head toasty the same way the poor, working-class street cleaners of Beijing do. I like to imagine them laughing together, in their hats, over shots of baijiu.
Had to do it. I present to you: a jig on the Great Wall of China.
… goes to 11. Does yours?
One of the common consensus among expats in Beijing is that the Chinese are a very rude people, yelling and spitting all over town.
I offer this portrait from a morning commute: a woman standing on a bus opens the window. The man sitting by the window leans over as she sticks her head out to cough out a wad. She pops back in, closes the window, and the man returns to his sitting posture without the slightest trace of resentment on his face.
That, my friends, is courteous behavior.
Finding a new outfit at a cheap retail store, buying sheets for a new apartment, grabbing a bottle of water on the run: all typical white girl activities, now elevated and satirized by the hashtage #whitegirlproblems, or more inclusive #firstworldproblems. They’re usually hilarious and sometimes even enlightening, encouraging me to look at my immediate problem with new, humbler eyes.
Being in China has changed this.
Buying a new, cheaply made outfit, sheets or bottle of water has real ramifications, and now they happen in the country I live in. Living in China has entirely changed the books and news stories I seek, and what I’m reading terrifies me. Cheap clothes are the product of poisoned rivers. Plastic water bottles pollute China at both ends of their life cycle: production and recycling. Sure, it’s not in my neighborhood, not in my current city.
I catch glimpses of it — the sickening, synthetic smell that hits you and leaves you with the strange, distinct feeling that these odors cause cancer and tumors. I see deformities in open view — from the hopelessly disfigured beggars to a misshapen ear on a policeman. As anecdotal as my personal evidence is, it’s too many examples for me to push the idea out of my mind.
I type this in the dark of my bedroom, far past my bedtime, because I can’t sleep. I moved into this room yesterday. I haven’t bought proper sheets yet, because I feel paralized. Why do I need to consume new things when I’m quite certain there are plenty of sheets in the world already?
This is changing my opinions, from recycling to adoption….
The next evening, I break down and go to IKEA, but I can’t shake these feelings of helplessness. I know there’s no answer, but I feel that in my struggle, something good may arise.