One thing that makes me sad about the prospect of one day not living in China: nothing will ever seem weird again. I’ve spent so many of my favorite Sundays walking about, having dispensed to me, by my companions of necessity, such Midwestern subsidized corn kernels of observation as “holy shit-troopers!” upon the sight of a Chinese abortion ad that describes the process as, ‘seven minutes in a dream,’ or the strange pronunciation of, “Look at them’ens!” when the rare and lone Shantou punk rocker presents himself, or even just hearing it stated plainly, “That’s weird, like R. Simmons weird!” when the old man makes the finger of one hand in the hole of the other gesture everytime we pass. I’m not sure who he’s trying to sell us, though I’m hopeful it is not himself.
I am all but certain that China has been the apex of my favorite pastime: walking around and listening to the loosely tethered ramblings of the hungover and displaced that spring up in the tired and unguarded mind of the expat suffering from his or her own self-inflicted wounds. One day I will miss my Sundays in Shantou.
The veneer of caution, regulation, accuracy and concern for health and safety, that covers up the utter disreguard for the individual in the face of profit, makes the United States not only a hypocritical country, but more importantly, a decidedly less exciting place to take a foggy Sunday stroll. The raw honesty of Shantou, a city with little veneer, sets an apt stage for the wonderings of a mind stripped to its most basic function: noticing stuff.
For instance, to find Nazi themed porn in America, one may have to do an internet search, or go to a specialty store, where one would suffer embarrassment upon making such a request. And seeing as one’s desire for such a product (if such a desire exists) is mostly based on the shock arising from the arbitrary discovery that such a medium exists, seeking it out would diminish the thrill. In China, these things find you.
I didn’t even know Grand Theft Auto 12 existed, or Rambo 5 starring Kevin Kostner, and though I saw them both on my Sunday stroll, I’m still almost 100 % certain that they do not exist. China poses these sorts of challenges to phenomenolgy on a daily basis. Does the experience of a thing make it real? If so, Kevin Kostner is owed some serious royalties, and our current generation of delinquents should be about 7 editions better educated in car thievery.
In the US, no one ever insists upon making me a suit, especially not one with my name sewed neatly on the breast pocket combining jet set style with just a touch of grease monkey down-to-earthiness, and even if they did I wouldn’t be able to afford it. No such problems in these parts. I have two such suits and I didn’t even skip a meal.
In the US, no one ever asks me if I can use a fork, especially not while I’m using one. And if they did ask, they wouldn’t laugh hysterically for a minimum of twenty uninterrupted seconds upon hearing the answer, yes. Yet, in China, on a weekly basis I am confronted with the Chopstick conundrum: You are in front of me and eating with chopsticks, yet you’re white so that fact is impossible. These are the sources of the tares in the space time continuum Doc Brown warned us about.
Creative evasion of copyright infringement that may or may not just be bad translating provides a constant source of amusement. Watch the digression of this Chinese wine brand into the lesser form of its imitators: Great Wall, Grape Wall, Great Will, Greet well, Greek Welts, Grit Wilp… all fine products might I add.
Or the wonderful tobacco shop across the street: Pipesmoker.
Or the Jazz Classical Steak Museum, which is of course, a sushi restaurant.
Or the regular sight of a family of five, from infant daughter to grandpa, travelling on one motor-scooter.
There’s the constant joy of poor translation, but I don’t want to sink into that territory in written form. I do chuckle, but I feel guilty about it, plus there are whole websites dedicated to the perils of Chinglish, so I’ll leave you to seek elsewhere.
I’m talking about the mind boggling visions that you bring home from walking about the streets, and I’ll leave you with two that I saw today.
First, I saw a man trying to push a wheel barrow brimming with bricks onto the back of a semi, using a 2X4 as a ramp. He took a running start. There was a crowd of onlookers including myself, but nobody said, “Excuse me, sir, have you taken the laws of physics, or even those of Murphey, into consideration during the planning phase of this operation?” The result was as expected, but it was followed with laughter and a defeated cigarette break rather than anything somber or angry.
Second, a man in a business suit (without embroidered name) but no shoes, was holding three strings in his hand. Naturally, my eyes followed the strings to their ends, where they were tied to the fangs of three rats in such a way that forced them to appear as though they were smiling like fat little kites that would never become airborne.
I asked if I could take his picture, but was heartily denied.
All of this can be taken to signify the craziness of China, but I rather take it to signify the caution gone awry of the US. Who’s afraid of a little competition? Why not let MecDoneld’s enter the market? Or Nake? Or Adedas? Or Koppa? Why not save a little money on these fancy ramps, seat belts, accurate translations? Why not let Kevin Kostner be Rambo for a change? All this brand loyalty and perceived caution is allowing us to live in a fantasy, while in reality we are being recklessly hurled towards a cliff by the profiteers of our loyalty and the writers of the tenants of our false caution (a hardy yarl for all the pirates about us).
Ultimately, and most importantly, China is just way more fun to walk around on a Sunday afternoon. Who wants to live in a land where everything is spelled right, and people wouldn’t dream of tying strings to the teeth of a rat? On the off chance rats do well on leashes, who will find out first, the person who tied the string to his fangs, or the person who shut down the best burrito restaurant in the neighborhood because one was spotted?