All that ping pong and only one scar to show for it. On my elbow from a diving roll. When we left James walked with us, lots of Chinese chatting going on until he wanted to buy a drink and we left him behind. I felt like I’d been a bad student, using him for his expertise and then not sticking with him. He caught up, though and I had a chance to say thanks.
Next day I just stayed home most of the gray cold day. I read a bit and slept a bit. Oh wait, I also wandered out into Xin Jie Kou a bit too. Just cruising through department stores never stopping too long so as not to bring in the predators, those ever present shop-clerks. One every two shelves to help you find the appropriate purchase. I’m less harried by it than I used to be since I’ve realized they’re almost more scared of me than I am of them. “What if he comes over and tries to speak English? What will I do?” they think in much the way I worry over Chinese.
Chinese department stores are more like malls than Sears, at least that’s how it seems to me. The huge open centres are what do it. And the signage denoting brand territory. Even in those stores that are more cramped like a K-mart with low ceilings, the Jack Jones is clearly set off from Samuel & Kevin from Superman from Fubu from Crocs. I saw my first furry crocs here. Not on anyone’s feet, thankfully. Maybe this is how Canadian department stores are too. I haven’t been in one in detail in years, just walking through while waiting for a bus. My main problem with these stores is the lack of knockoff Lego in the toy sections. They have some real Lego at real prices but nothing Only In China-ish. Oh how fondly I remember the Beijing Toy Market behind the pearl Market. Wandering through for video games and Lego, all I need to stay entertained for a long time. Entertained and without purpose yes, but I’d be having fun.
But the sun this morning is bright. Less cloud cover. I’m writing in short sleeves without a hint of a shiver. Tonight we’ll be boarding a train to Jiangyou. Now that Tibet is closed off Chengdu has to be the gateway to somewhere else; why not Jiangyou with its “fields of canola and skies of coal” as William put it in his email to the Chinadex group. I hope it’s warm like this out in Sichuan. I don’t want to return to all my layers at once.
Yesterday because it was cold and crappy out (though when Holly and I left in the morning for our Skypechat with Phil she thought it would be a really good day) I spent more time inside reading. I finished the Gao Xingjian book of short stories Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather and marvelled at how good he is. One story, The Accident, is just a description of a traffic accident and the aftermath and cleanup. Holly feels like she was actually there, a witness herself in her memory, though it was all made up. Kate sent me his novel Lingshan (Soul Mountain) the last time I was here and it’s just so good. The blurred poetry prosody line and there isn’t a lot that happens but it doesn’t happen in a more ethereal way than the Cuban novel I read about the Mambo King. Although in that book he was writing about a man’s life. In the afterword it talked about how the concept for the book was a building super who’d once been a musician, but it never felt like that. It was all about a musician and then it circled around that for the rest. Which was the point and all, reliving past glories, but it made for tedious reading. Once he stopped being interesting I stopped being interested. Just like a happy blog gets shitty ratings I guess. But it was the unhappy stuff when his life fell apart I didn’t care about. Sorry fictional character. I want a tighter view.
The other source of reading material yesterday were Holly’s Geez magazines, which maybe I shouldn’t have read. They remind me of all my failure as a journalist. That I got one of the facts wrong in my lone article I wrote for them, so it required a correction, that I’ve only written one article for them, that I don’t have any journalistic ideas, that I can’t impress anyone who doesn’t know me and hold the idea in their heads already that I’m something worthwhile. That there are so many goddamned writers out there you need to be better than good you need to have something to say and an audience for it. I wish I could be one of those writers whose stuff appears regularly somewhere, that I could build a name, a reputation that someone besides the people I know would know who I am. And then I feel bad for these unworthy thoughts. None of that is what it should be about but tell that to my brain. And the inadequacy of all this bullshit leaves me flaky and unreliable in anything I’d really want to do letting me get in tonnes of library shifts whoopee! But I need those to eat so I should be grateful. More and more I feel like I should be escaping. Running away and filling notebooks that’s it. Kafka was an office clerk not a published writer. All I want are those tiny ego boosts. My ego never used to need that but now… now it does. Does that make me a worse Buddhist (which I’m not anyway) or a better humanist?
In any case, I was in a fairly fragile state when I left to meet Holly at the office. And then getting porridge with the counsellors before the meeting just about crumbled me right on down. Holly stayed at the counter and I had to go sit with three Chinese speakers who I don’t know. Would it have been better or worse if they’d tried to keep me included? At that point probably worse. As it was I could direct my attention down at my bowl of Cai Rou Zhang and its pleasant saltiness (instead of Holly’s Red Bean porridge with its gumm fruit sugars in gelatin that gag me right up) until she arrived. I ate a little of the shared food (jiaozi baozi and some little bread things) but didn’t want to take too much, feel like I was imposing. That’s already how it felt I shouldn’t be here. I should stay far away where I won’t draw attention to myself. What’s that song? The Running Kind? “Every front door found me hopin’/I’d find the back door open/Always has to be an exit for the runnin’ kind”
And that goes back to the Geez thing where I’m not at all an activist or a world changer or even really interested in that kind of thing. I feel like I should be but I’m not. They talk so much about the importance of being marginal but I feel like I’m not even marginal enough to fit there. I have my friends and that’s all society’s ever going to be for me. And I can’t even lose myself in them. I’m leaving again as soon as I can. To be away from what I have. To have and be absent. There’s the ghost for that story. Absentia. In absentia. Tried.
Walking back to the office from porridge there was a river of shit on the sidewalk. It was there when we went too but we hit the street in the motorcycle lane to get by. This time the five of us had to duck under some hedges that were crowding the walkway. Up until then Wang Yi was haranguing Zhang Guo Xian about how he should open up a healthy porridge shop since he’s all about what you should do with your body to be healthy. “There is not one person in China who doesn’t like porridge” she said, which if true does mean he’d have a decent sized market. “You can deliver it to their homes. Yes, this is what you should be doing.” Zhang Guo Xian is a volunteer/”research assistant” sort of like Holly (except he’s a Beijing University grad instead of being foreign) so it’s not expected by anyone (maybe Wang Xuefu) that he stay on and make Zhi Mian his life. He’s a young man in the church which makes him very important Holly says, laughing.
Anyway. The river of shit. The balding counsellor who’s very tall (Mao Feng, who I just learned is also Holly’s Chinese teacher) slipped when he tried to make the last hop and fell, dropping the bag with the two sealed porridges inside. He didn’t roll in the shit, but his hands hit the ground and he left tracks behind him. Other counsellors caught up with us and he held his hands out gingerly, not wanting to touch anything, though in the elevator he was by the buttons looking awkward. Thinking her reeked of shit while the others laughed and joked. Didn’t help that red bean porridge looks like shit too.