We stepped out of the Ma La Tang joint and into the future. Not the gleaming utopia of Star Trek or the grand operatic backdrop of Star Wars (yes I realize that was trying to be the long long ago past; bear with me) but the grimy glowy rainy Blade Runner future. I always feel that on these rainy nights. It has to be the glow, the neon bouncing off the sky and the ground. The electric bicycles gliding by and cars all rounded and sealed. The brightness of the glow in the sky’s mostly mercury vapour but giant LCDs or something too. So many of the huge e-billboards are red but the blue ones (for Motorola or China Mobile or whatever) do their part to shift the spectrum. In Shanghai Holly mistook the blue glow for a clear night sky. On Nanjing Lu the signs were so bright until 10 o’clock when it all shut down. It’s hard to say what colour that shifting spectrum took But that ostentation felt like a Disneyfied parody. This is what development looks like, like Hong Kong, all bright and streaming. When the alleys feel more accurate.
We’d been at the Nanjing (or was it Jiangsu?) Museum of Art/History/Culture in the afternoon. Because it was Women’s Day? March 8? Meh. The museum resembled a museum. More than resembled. It was well done, low and sprawling not sprawling: Quadrantized. There were rooms for jade and for bronze and brocade and porcelain and ceramics and miniatures. We spoke of robots all through the miniatures room pausing only at the Gang of Four beating hell out of some intellectuals and the Mao’s Wife opera scene. And a person with her leg up over her head counterbalanced with a polearm (all of wood? I don’t know. I was trying to remember Asimov’s laws of robotics). In the bronze room was an array of scapular stone bells. There’s something unbearably beautiful to me about striking stones to make music. Wood and metal make sense but stone is so hard to shape. What kind of sound do those stone slabs make with their indelicate arches? A young man mimed playing the bronze bells below as we passed.
After the museum we took a bus back to this part of town (“this” being where I am currently on Holly’s porch on an alley off Shanghai Lu) and got very stuck in traffic. We were on a cheap bus (8mao) which didn’t have a television. I couldn’t tell on the way to the museum if the TV screens on that bus were actually receiving live signals or if it was some sort of tape loop a la Speed. It showed the correct time on screen. Though I suppose inserting a timestamp wouldn’t be too difficult a task. The main indication it wasn’t real TV was the preponderance of Tanovan (or something) ads. Real TV must advertise for more diverse products mustn’t it? The video screens on those buses (much more than the monitors on long distance buses or Air Canada flights for that matter) give me a real telescreen vibe. Transmitting both ways and such a la 1984. It’s an unfamiliarity thing I guess. Which breeds suspicion. Ubiquitous TV just seems wrong. A nigh constant distraction we don’t really need. Though we aspire to it. Getting old because we substitute voyeurism for play.
On this bus when we were jammed in traffic the driver was yelling out the window at no one in particular it seemed. We were motionless in one spot for maybe 20 minutes. Holly and I both stood and the bus wasn’t ridiculous crowded so she was messaging someone making plans to meet up with people that evening and the next day. Below me a guy was messaging with his phone (a Nokia N72, very nice) and his messages weren’t in Pinyin to turn into Hanzi. I couldn’t tell what he was actually doing but it seemed very predictive; his speed was better than I’d have expected.
Later I learned there’s a system for doing the strokes as numbers on the keypad, so it’s like you’re actually writing the characters. That intrigues me and makes me happy. I imagine modern calligraphers getting together in a kind of council to determine the best way to pixellate each stroke within the whatever by whatever grid a full character takes up. The argument’s based on the length of the third stroke in the Shui radical when part of the top half of the right hand side. Three or four pixels? And so different manufacturers have different fonts? Je ne sais pas.
In the evening a guy named James came by. Taking under consideration that Holly uses this world to describe many people, she likes him because he’s so intense. He was here to plan an English Corner with Holly. I can’t quite tell where he goes to school… no he doesn’t go to school. He’s a trader and doesn’t really like it. He knows Zhi Mian through the seminary people? All unclear.
In any case he was trying to direct these 13 English Corner sessions like a thesis discussion. (Oh, a description of James: Good strong boy with engineer glasses. He wore an Adidas Memphis Grizzlies sweater and rolled his head on his shoulders before speaking.) Moving from humanity to society and development and why do we want to develop to fight more wars over different resources? He was enamoured with Greece and Rome and historical progressions. “We all know we want tolove each other so why do we not? Why get rich? What is the point of cycling through all these repetitions? Aren’t we just stealing from someone in the end?” It all fit in well with the kinds of concerns Holly and I have been discussing.
And Holly told him about how she wants to learn Chinese and start a business with Zhao Xing. A guest house/organic farm out in Western Sichuan. And how that doesn’t fit into a career path and she told James his ideas sounded very good to her, but what about her farmer students in Sichuan who were very concerned with money because they don’t have any? Money is important. We can’t just do without it. And to make money there’s some form of development needed. It’s funny to hear Holly talk this way, all businessy but not really. Making money teaching to fund her own language learning is something she’s very interested in. As opposed to being an MCC service worker.
Theresa and she talked a lot about this stuff back in September and how there’s such a gap between service workers and the management level within MCC (the CRs and such). Theresa left MCC and worked with some other NGOs in Jilin and Beijing and now Winnipeg doing things she wanted to be doing and actually using her experiences to work up to something better and more useful, whereas if she’d stayed in MCC she’d still be an entry-level equivalent.
But anyway, that’s a different kind of future. MCC she might not see a future in. James asked Holly and me what we thought the future of the human species might be and Holly said she figured we’d eventually go extinct. I said we might exist to the end of the universe even if not in biologically recognizable forms (see Charles Stross or Rudy Rucker books for what I’m talking about) and he talked about robots who don’t need emotions that will eventually overtake us all (which I’d see as vey close to being an extension of humanity in another form but whatever). He talked about wanting to go to the seminary to learn more about god. And Holly encouraged him. “Your questions would be very good.” So maybe in three years he will.
In three years. That’s something I might be done with. I’m getting to the point where I can’t say “Three years from now I’ll do this.” I have to start doing things now. Write my book now. Move to Japan now. Goof around with Sean now. Everything around me is changing and it’s no longer enough to sit back and count down to some time I’ll be able to start again. I have to start building things now. That’s my future.1984 advertising asimov bell bus charles stross future gang of four hanzi holly mcc museum nanjing night robots rudy rucker shanghai telescreen text messaging the hangman theresa zhao xing zheng lei zhi mian