Tag Archives: japan

forty days till i’m gone over the ocean

Today, after an entertaining couple of hours at the Writers Festival listening to David Mitchell and Katherine Govier talk about their historical novels set in Japan I went looking for shoes and then came home to pretend to work for several hours (and actually work for a couple).

The talk itself was great. Both of them read interesting bits of their novels, and David Mitchell found a continuity error in his. He was funny and halting and tossing in digressionary asides and was generally awesome. He seemed like he was genuinely thinking about the questions being asked, though he had a few funny bits that he’d brought out a few times. Katherine Govier was also interesting, and I think her book The Ghost Brush sounds really good.

I got David Mitchell to sign my copy of number9dream, and told him I felt bad for the copy being so new, since I’d read it as a library book then gone out to buy this one. So it didn’t have the feeling that I’d already read and loved it. He sort of missed the point but I didn’t want to be the fanboy overexplaining myself in the line. Though I was the youngest person in that line by a good 20 years so I was probably the only fanboy regardless.

Some days I don’t know about this whole library thing. Really, all I want to do is read books and tell Holly stories (and if both those things happened in far off lands I would not complain). I mean, seriously, filled with professional ambition I am not. And going to these events and listening to writers talk about their craft, I get very frustrated at myself for going to school to knock over the domino that allows me to maybe get a job some day. But whatever. I like the things I’m learning too. It’s not bad being back in school. It just seems so backwards somehow.

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book review: sanshiro

I will admit I knew nothing about Natsume Soseki’s classic Sanshiro when I bought it. I’d seen Soseki’s name at the library, but that’s about it. I bought this book, which is an early 20th century Japanese coming-of-age story, and read it because Haruki Murakami did the new introduction for the Penguin edition. It’s been a while since I’ve read a new Murakami book and I missed him. 1Q84 is probably going to take a long time to translate so I have to settle for introductions and essays and things. Or learn to read Japanese (a project which is proceeding slowly if at all).

Murakami’s draw to this book was more than just his name though. See, he has this history of preferring Western literature. In the books/essays about him that I’ve read he talked about not really caring about Japanese literature. So this introduction of a Japanese literary classic meant it must be something special. Or he’s changed his opinion in his old age. Whatever.

The book is about a young man, Sanshiro, who comes from the country to go to university in Tokyo. It’s Meiji-era Tokyo so there are streetcars and such, but people are still wearing kimonos and the trains are far from bullet-like. Sanshiro basically wanders around to his classes and falls in love with a woman and gets embroiled in his friend’s schemes. The floatingness of the protagonist did remind me of Norwegian Wood, and would have even if the comparison hadn’t been made in the introduction, I think.

It’s a good book. I enjoyed it, but it’s not the kind of thing I’m rushing off to press into everyone’s hands. Just a quiet sitting under an elm tree watching a pond kind of book.

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book review: facing the bridge

I enjoy the length of Yoko Tawada’s stories. Like the other books of hers I’ve read, Facing the Bridge is a collection of three longish short stories, like 60 pages each. It’s an oddish length, which works because they’re oddish stories. The perfect kinds of things to sit down with on an afternoon and read.

In this book the three stories are about a Japanese exchange student in Germany and the first African to get a PhD in philosophy (back in the 1700s). The two parts to the story blurred into each other at the edges. There were no breaks between talking about Amo (the Ghanian) and Tamao (the Japanese student). The second story is about a Japanese tourist who goes to Vietnam. This was my favourite in the book because of her talking about what a tourist’s role is as she buys coconuts and goes to see temples. And there are these wonderful non sequiturs about fearing becoming pregnant. The last story is about translating and living in the Canary Islands. It was the weirdest of the three (though all were plenty odd).

There’s just so much in Tawada’s odd characters and their not entirely rational decisions they make that I find very attractive, in an intriguing kind of way.

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book review: number9dream

I picked up David Mitchell’s number9dream from the library last week, solely because we didn’t have The Cloud Atlas in. “Japan?” I said upon picking this one up, “Sure I’ll give it a shot.”

The thing I’ve been telling everyone about it is how British it feels, despite being about a young Japanese man from the countryside going to Tokyo to find the father he never met. It’s mostly just the turns of phrase Eiji (the main character and narrator) uses to describe things. The occasional word from the English countryside is a little jarring. At first I thought this was going to annoy me to no end, but as it went on it became kind of a translation artifact. It almost made it feel more Japanese because of the obviousness of the filter. I wonder how it is when translated into Japanese?

The thing that really made the book for me was the shifting styles in each part. There’s the story of Eiji Miyake trying to find his father, but each section has different sort of dreams. Panopticon is filled with wish-fulfillment action movie daydreams (and are perfect for making the book grab you and knock you a little off-kilter). Lost Property is all flashbacks and remembering. Video Games is mediated escape from reality. Et cetera. So structurally/stylistically: great.

The story itself works, though the quest itself isn’t the main thing. At least not for me. There are unrealistic things that happen. There are Yakuza; I won’t deny that. There is a bit of a sense of the writer stringing the protagonist along in service of the structure of the book. But whatever. I was happy to take the ride. It took me through some of the same headspace that a Haruki Murakami novel does (there is a discarded Murakami novel as a tiny bit of set-dressing in one of the chapters and I am sure Mitchell was conscious of the comparison) which is a place I like to be.

I don’t know if it’s a really good book or not. Maybe it’s culturally imperialistic or ethnocentric or one of those other very bad things of me to think that some young white guy can write a good novel about Japan. Maybe I only like it because it’s the kind of Murakami pastiche my China book might turn into. I know I liked it though.

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the best of my generation abandon their dreams

The other day I had a short interview with a company about going off to teach in Japan. Just a preliminary thing before they finalize my application. And it actually freaked me out. Not on the phone, on the phone I was all laughs and amiability. But afterwards all the lying I had just done made me want to vomit. The woman asked if I’d be comfortable teaching kids and I said yes. Little kids. As young as three. I remember Mel and Margaret having to teach little Chinese kids and Caroline talking about the Korean kids and the hellishness of it. And I remember thanking all that was good in the world I didn’t have to do that. And she asked about my energy levels in the class, how I’d feel being all bouncing around silly and shit. “Oh that sounds fun!” Would I be okay with being clean shaven and wearing a suit? “You bet!” Because swearing off ties 5.5 years ago doesn’t mean anything.

Why do I have to lie? Because I know if I tell the truth no one will pay me to go anywhere. And I’ll be stuck here in this place I don’t like. But it’s not like I actively hate anything I do here. Maybe I shouldn’t sell myself off like this. Maybe I should remember how much I didn’t like teaching. Maybe I should go to Japan on my own terms, in a way I don’t have to lie and hate myself for doing all that. Do this the hard way. Like the writing.

I worry though that if I do that I’m falling into the “once in a lifetime” trap. That then going off somewhere on the other side of the world becomes something strange and exciting instead of just part of my life. But if part of my life involves that much deception and self loathing, ech. I don’t want to feel trapped here, that Winnipeg is all I’ll ever know. I need to be different places. Being in China this last time made me feel content, and I’ve been wanting to push on to work in Japan because of that contentment. But I was in China as a travelling layabout. A person without work or schedule. That’s not what teaching would be, no matter how many weeks of vacation I got.

I don’t know. I’m not withdrawing my application but I don’t know if I can go lie my face off as a fake-smiling teacher just to be somewhere else. I already feel like I’m hiding all the time. We’ll see what happens.

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34 end times

The wind feigned apocalypse, knocking down rows of bikes so if your field of vision was exceedingly narrow it would look like the city had been long abandoned. We needed a good thick layer of that Gobi Desert dust that covers this part of the world every once in a while swirling across to Korea to age everything that’s outside immensely.

I ducked into a courtyard for shelter, grey brick, very neat, only to be accosted for money. “Ticket! Ticket! Ten kuai!” The man wasn’t young and when I nodded my consent he shufflingly beckoned me into the guardhouse. The sign listed the variety of prices one could pay for the privilege of this courtyard (and house, I learned) from Free for retired cadres to 10RMB for me. He tore the end off the ticket himself. It was a pretty, quiet place, very clean. Obviously I’d be hard to lose while the wind pushed through beyond the walls.

This was the restored former residence of John Rabe, the Good German of Nanjing. I liked how in one of the photos that was the title of his diaries or his biography or something, but in all the rest he was the Good Man of Nanjing. And really, he was quite a man. An “unremarkable businessman he turned to heroism” or something similar is how one card put it. There were phtos of his achievements, a case for his medal (the card said it was the medal but the box was closed – I assume it wasn’t actually inside) he received from the Nationalist government for his work saving people in the International Safety Zone during the city’s rape. The house/courtyard that made up this small museum held 600 refugees, some of whom needed personal defending from charges they were de-uniformed soldiers. It was a big Western style house but not 600 people big. There were pictures of him with his Nazi flag (carefully labelled as NDSP or whatever the acronym is) that kept them from being bombed by the Japanese.

He had a rough time after the war getting de-Nazified. The museum stressed he was only a member of the part to get funding for some school or something, he wasn’t a Jew-killer or anything. There was a poem in the airraid shelter about women and kids getting the centre seats while the men should stand around them. The poem called the listener Curly in a sort of affectionate way. I don’t know what the original language of the poem was, Chinese German or English. The English had a singsongy rhyme to it so maybe that was an international concession. Is Curly a Chinese nickname?

The second floor held a shrine to Siemens (the company Rabe had worked for) and all their fine products. A strange ghostly blown up picture of Mao and his buddies from 1950 when China and Germany began official relations sat on one wall. That room had no mention of the countries being enemies in WWI (or WWII). They’ve always been One World One Dream.

I ate well yesterday. Sweet meat sacks for lunch at the place where the employees (almost) all wear their green smocks. I sat in a row of people and gobbled them down quickly, dropping only one or two into my sauce bowl. Old ladies sat to my left and then a business man with a plate of rice and vegetables. They asked how much his food cost and seemed impressed with his six kuai answer.

Out in the lane just to the north as I’d approached the restaurant were four women with identical twin baskets on shoulder poles sitting on the ground (the baskets not the women – there was a guy in Chengdu wearing an excellent fedora who sat on the wheel well on the bus without any newspaper to keep the dirt off his ass. He was part of what seemed a family group. They all carried shopping bags filled with yoghurt). The baskets were filled with mangoes. When I left 20 minutes later they were gone and only a cop car remained.

I saw more mango ladies scattered through Xin Jie Kou in the evening when we went to satisfy Holly’s dream of eating Papa John’s pizza. Some of them were on the steps leading to the underground. We’d left the apartment early after an afternoon of sitting and talking about our various cousins. Holly was wrapped in blankets after a nap but still feeling a little sick. I perched in a huddle on a chair, as is my wont. We killed some time up in the Suning looking at the cutest computer in the world plus some Apple products. The MacBook they had was running Windows XP. Oh China.

Pizza was good though low on sauce compared to my preferences. I felt bad finishing it but Holly said her dream had a lot more to do with the first bite than the last piece. She felt the employees had a good working relationship compared to many restaurants she’d seen.

And then it was off to Zhi Mian where Myrrl’s friend was giving a talk that ended up lasting two and a half hours. He discussed psychology and family run businesses I think. Hong Tao did the translating and everyone asked good questions. I guess. I hung around outside that jam-packed room with James talking cameras cats and comedy. Holly said she could hear us laughing sometimes. James is a pretty cool guy. He wants to be doing work at Chuan Da in comparative literature dealing with Sichuanhua writers and those of the American south, talking about languages of exclusion instead of just local colour. But. Chuan Da doesn’t have anyone who knows American Southern literature. So new plans are being formulated. And as always he asked what I might be doing. I did tell him about maybe going to Japan, and my theory that I’ve got a good number of characters for learning and not too many to freeze out the Japanese sounds etcetera. He didn’t laugh in my face at my naivete, so that’s a plus.

I was telling Holly my fear that going to Japan to teach in a place I’d have to shave and wear a suit and possibly even a tie might be giving up the freedom of my expectationless life in Winnipeg at the library. That somehow not wearing whatever I feel like would compromise me deeply. She doesn’t think I should worry about that. But wouldn’t she say the same thing if I were saying I was getting a PR job for some company in Canada? I hate how I feel like everyone is always lying to me, telling me only what I want to hear. This is why, I think, I hate telling anyone what I want. As soon as you make that known there’s no way you can possibly achieve/acquire it. To go back to an overused and misunderstood analogy, the cat’s both alive and dead until you check. Until you say something and let everything sort itself out into truths and lies.

I learned yesterday that Xiao Meng’s brother was really expecting me and her to hook up the other evening. He bought fancy 15RMB cigarettes because of it, which his sister made fun of him for. When Holly first got here she and Zhao Xing weren’t together and her other roommate tried to fix Holly up with a cousin in Beijing who “makes lots of money and speaks really good English.” Holly had to explain how things didn’t work like that.

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22 politics

At the Nanjing Massacre memorial… Well, I think I should head back there and read everything in the exhibition hall, so maybe I’ll refrain from too much commenting on that just yet [I never did get back -JJU]. But outside the hall we wandered the grounds where stones are placed for specific massacre sites and the ground is scattered with stones to represent the 300,000 dead. Cheryl says that was a number specifically and politically chosen. Because they can’t tell exactly how many people died. There’s the Grave of 10,000 Corpses but it doesn’t have that many bodies identified (all through that hall they’ve got scattered femurs and humeri broken beside the walkways). The 300,000 was chosen to be a larger number than the atomic blasts killed in Hiroshima (and Nagasaki?). To ensure that Chinese suffering could be quantitatively higher than that of their enemies. So people wouldn’t have to say “Sure fewer died but it was more horrible.” More died and it was more horrible. No wiggle room for the devils. I should be fair. I only saw the Japanese called devils outside the museum by the statues with their quotes and poems.

Cheryl talked a lot about Japan and her time at the Hiroshima memorial. She’s heard people speak on the topic of this whole ugly history. Japanese pastors saying “Our salvation lies in your (Chinese) forgiveness.” Japanese civilians saying “Yes it’s true we didn’t know what was happening but we can’t get away from our guilt that way. It’s our responsibility to know what our government is doing in our name.” (I know that one chilled me with responsibility. We live in a democracy. My government represents me far moreso than the CCP represents an ordinary Chinese person. And what are they doing in my name? Well, at least I’m not an American.) Chinese Christians saying that one of the great obstacles to faith was the idea that god even loved the Japanese. How could that be?

Later in the evening we were at Wang Xuefu’s house and were talking politics. He speaks of the Nanjing Massacre and the Cultural Revolution as psychologically traumatizing events for the nation. As a country “Chinese are very good at forgetting” he said (something I think needs a bit more explanation or at least some speculation) but that means the wounds get buried deeper. The government isn’t interested in healing. All they care for is other things: Economics. Power. And if they can harness the wounds and use them for their own purposes then that’s exactly perfect. Healing would only hurt that agenda.

We got into the story of a prof at Nan Da who is a member of a minority political party. He submitted an open letter to the CCP asking for open elections. On Xuefu’s couch we all sat back with mouths agape, laughing at the audacity. What happened? He was forced to resign from his party and is no longer allowed to teach classes.

In the last couple of weeks there’ve been protests in Lhasa. Monks and civilians in Jokhang Square marching angrily. And this has been shown on CCTV which probably means a forceful clampdown is forthcoming. But not too forceful since the eyes of the world are starting to focus on the country. There was a 19-year-old woman from Xinjiang who supposedly smuggled gasoline onto a plane to try and hijack it in an attack on Beijing. In the media reports the focus is on outside separatist forces using these Chinese people to make revolting statements. “And they’re such monsters they’d even use an innocent teenaged girl to try hurting China.” All these outsiders giving the government excuses for support from the people.

One of Xuefu’s friends is a professor and former journalist and he says that his greatest regret is being part of the propaganda machine for so many years. He’s the one who taught Xuefu about proxies and tunnelling through the Great Firewall. We talked about how there are no rules in China anymore, how classrooms are set up as dictatorships just to satisfy the teacher’s desire to feel important.

Korean respect for age and authority was held up as a kind of model for integrating Confucian values with Western freedoms. Cheryl talked about her Korean friend who won’t talk politics with his family because then his father would demand to be listened to, and “I don’t want to vote for who my father wants people to vote for.” By not discussing it the son isn’t forced to disobey when it comes to the ballot box.

We talked about how in China the people in power have no ideology any more, no ideals beyond staying in power and keeping the good life all that money affords. Supposedly people had thought maybe Hu Jintao would be someone who’d start the process toward democracy but once he got in it was all the same old thing. If a transition to a democratic society were to happen many people say it would be chaos. On these couches in the nicest Chinese living room I’ve ever been in, that chaos was limited if the transition was led from above. Sure a revolution would be chaotic but so much of that is because it would be a fight between the people and the government. If the government were to gradually institute more local-level elections and work its way up, there wouldn’t have to be blood. But how could that happen? It won’t as long as people have the feeling that things could be worse.

The top and middle these days have more and more to protect and the bottom can only steam and maybe have an occasional anti-Japanese riot/three minutes of hate. People are gradually getting better off (“Materially,” I interject. “In every way,” Holly corrects me, “There’s more free speech and better health care available and yeah.” I sit back chastened like the dumb westerner I happen to be.) and a lot of them see that as enough.

All this talking was happening out at Wang Xuefu’s house in the suburbs. Now my idea of suburbs is shaped by the small city I grew up in. Basically anything that’s not downtown is a suburb to me. Places with trees and lawns and such. This suburb is an hour and a half outside the city (by bus. Car or taxi mabe half an hour to 45 minutes) off shitty dirt roads and freeways. It’s more like living in Connecticut when you work in New York, or at least it seemed like that to me. One of the roads we got into a traffic jam on is the state road to Hangzhou. They’re building the subway out there so it’ll be more connected in a year or two.

Inside their subdivision though I thought I’d gone to hell. There are some little hills and a manmade lake his house backs (fronts?) onto. And it’s surrounded by these birthday cake tiered townhousey things just piled on each other. The definition of prefabbed nicety. White Ridge on the Pack ’em In scale. The other side of their house faces a row of identical buildings across a cement tiled lawnspace. Xuefu stressed very insistently that he wasn’t a rich man, though his house was beautifully upper middle class. Three storeys, heated floors on the main and top levels. Dark stained wood staircase and dining room table. High ceilings with recessed lighting, space for a huge entertainment unit but holding a 24″ old TV. A beautiful office with skylight attached to the master bedroom. Everything very clean and relatively elegant. Lacking in art for the space but whatever. A whiteboard hung in the dining room which was a bit tacky or something but in general it made you forget you were in a townhouse. He bought out there a few years ago when there was nothing, so it was cheap. He’d “had a feeling it would soon be developed” from what he’d seen in the US. So he got in at the base and it’s already quadrupled in value. Good for them and all that.

He also has a silver Buick parked in the driveway. And really, to live out there now you need to have a car. He learned to drive in the States I think, but this winter in a snowstorm (not the big one, a couple of weeks before it) they’d been driving home from some town where they were doing some training and it was icy and shitty and he spun out in a 360. They decided to take safety as a priority over the law and Holly took the wheel. She had greater experience and got them home safely in the end.

Earlier this year the car got keyed when they were out somewhere and Holly was impressed that he didn’t flip out (he really loves this car). He did complain about the ignorance of whoever did it though. “Why does he have to take out his aggression on his fellow man?” Maybe the term he used was “common man.” In any case, Holly thought “You aren’t the guy’s fellow man; you have a car.” And a nice house in suburban hell.

The day after all this discussion Zhang Guo Xian was asking Holly about different countries. “What is your view on…Mexico?” kind of stuff. She said she likes all countries. “Even Japan?” asked Xiao Meng. “Yup.” And then with obvious practice Xiao Meng launched into “Well if you really loved China…” and Holly stormed away. I don’t blame her one bit. I absolutely detest that kind of narrow party-line view of Xiao Meng’s. Holly says she’s a very good and loving friend but she just can’t talk to her about what China is like. I know that since I don’t see (or at least understand) her being a loving good friend I really don’t like Xiao Meng. All I get is the cartoon villain snickering and this narrow narrow view of the world and the TV watching and stuff. If my Chinese were better… but it’s not. So I’m stuck here seeing and hearing what I can and what is explained to me. This is really a very useless document when I think clearly about it. All that humble bullshit up front is really true. Don’t think there’s any insight here.

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12 cnxns

Over our (first?) Ma La Tang dinner I was struck by how wasted my two years in China were. Not only from a career or whatever perspective (in which case they were an active hindrance not merely a waste (also assuming we aren’t speaking of writing as a career, which I’d be loathe to do till I make some money at it)) but more importantly from a relational perspective.

I don’t have any Chinese friends. Not real friends, just a few students I never write to. Holly though, she’s really found people here to love. And not just Zhao Xing. Her roommate Xiao Meng and Charity and Johnny and more. And she loves things which I only endured, like learning the language and hotpot and the like. I envy her that. It feels (from the outside) like she’s found her place in the world. She may not be certain where exactly in China and where with her family and friends but China really is more than “that place she lived for a while.” Her life is centring on it and I wish I could find something like that. A pile of papers on bookshelves don’t feel like enough.

And though she complains about not having any friends in Nanjing, how many people have we hung out with? Yesterday was lunch with a couple of NanDa PhD students from Sichuan. We ate Sichuan food. Was it Sichuanny? There was some spice in the fish and we had okay Ma Po Dou Fu but I don’t know about authenticity in terms of chicken wings. Green vegetables with mushroom is pretty much the same anywhere so nothing muy crazy there. Jo and Wang Wei are the students’ names I think. Wang Wei is finishing her dissertation and working all the time so a Sunday out was just right.

They talked about Sichuan and Chengdu and we climbed out from great depths into the sun which you might not see every day (though Jo assured me Nanjing was less depressingly overcast than Chengdu). Jo’s (as Holly put it) disproportionately old and single but Holly quite admires how Jo seems not to care. “And she’s so Chinese. In a good way!” Jo just bought a place near the new campus of Chuan Da (I think). It was cheaper than elsewhere because that new campus hasn’t been built yet. 2000RMB/sq.m? Does that make sense? But Jo’s Chineseness comes out in her cultured civilized ways. We were walking on the city wall by Xuan Wu lake and Jo was filled with information.

The walls around Nanjing were built 600 years ago and were the longest city walls in China (which makes sense with all the winding they have to do compared with something like Xian’s). They stood so strong for so long because of the “Break Brick Break Head” doctrine put in place by the rulers at the time. Each brick that was made had the date, factory and brick maker’s name stamped into it. This was to promote accountability. Succinctly put if a brick were to break, they’d know whose head to break. And you can see those stamps on some of the bricks still today, though their descendents aren’t held accountable for any current crumblings. If I had deep roots in Nanjing, as in 600+ years (that is a ridiculous amount of time but I’m sure those people are legion), I’d completely find a brick with my name on it and brag. Or brag about how we got away with making shoddy bricks if it were broken.

We were also boaters on that afternoon, cruising Xuan Wu lake with an electric motor. I was so relieved I wouldn’t have to pedal everyone around. As it was I could just steer under bridges, get us close to wedding photographs, chase birds and attempt deciphering a statue. There were many sticks protecting the statue and surrounding fountains (many of which sprayed water in pleasing braid-like patterns) from overzealous boaters. These sticks were arrayed all through the shallower areas as well. It made sense. Cut us off from where we might end up damaging the rented equipment. There were loads of families and university students out on the water. One electric boat filled with students decided to ram us while we were drifting. I was pretty pissed off but tried not to show it. We watched that bunch of pirates cruise on looking for more hapless hictims. If they’d been able to take to the land they’d find whole tent villages to plunder and sack. People in Nanjing set their tents up in the park to hang out in for the day. Odd.

Jo and her wide round face reminded me of one of my former students. Angel! The page betrays how long it took for me to remember her name. No not betrays, belies. Angel was one of my three-year students who struggled so much but felt she would succeed. So frustrated and so dumb. That’s unneccessarily harsh, but a good student Angel was not. She sat in the front row and looked confused, a cow on an iceberg. While the rest of her classmates wrote remarkably similar (and not very good) answers to their homework questions, Angel would wander off in a state of gibbering blindly around the question she never really understood. I guess I admired her independence within a system that rewards conformity but she didn’t have any talent to carry her on her own.

Being a wandering hobo isn’t such a great idea unless it’s a conscious choice. Writing meaningless garble isn’t something I’d suggest. Although. What exactly am I doing here? Documenting something that doesn’t need or appreciate it. China doesn’t give a shit what I write about it at all.

But this was a section on connections wasn’t it? Jo as Holly’s friend who knows so much. “The peak of the Kun Ju was 300 years ago before Beijing Opera gained in popularity.” So we went to a performance. That badly misrepresents the sequence of events. Holly’d been to the Kun Ju a few times before since it was free and you merely had to reserve a seat online ahead of time. It had been the plan to see this important cultural piece of Nanjing (more accurately: part of Jiangsu province) for a week. On our way to the performance we stopped for “sweet meat bags” a delicious Nanjing specialty. They’re basically big ol’ steamed jiaozi with a sweet broth inside. You eat them dipped in the dark vinegar and spiciness like regular jiaozi, but mixed with the sweetness it is a delightful treat. At the same place we could have had duck’s blood, which is another Nanjing specialty. We didn’t. My chopsticking goes in and out on the clumsiness scale. Since these jiaozi are big you don’t just pop them into your mouth in one bite. Wrestling the bite off the pinched dumpling resulted in a few drops (into soup and sauce so nothing was lost).

The Kun Ju was less enthralling. And here we come back to this theme of my disconnect from China, but first… The performance is in Chao Tian Palace, a fine old complex of buildings. The theatre holds 75-100 people and the stage has rich red velvet (looking) curtains, except when the lights went down giving them a pinkish hue. The performances were excerpts from three operas. The first was a martial epic. The king of somewhere is riding out with his armies when an enemy scout/champion spots them and they fight. The “fighting” was very slow and symbolic for the most part except when the king and scout duelled. They weren’t trying to make it realistic by any means but then the speed picked up and they exchanged blows well. The scout did some good flips and his balance was impeccable. I just find it boring to watch people prance on about on display while saying “I must have courage!” All that posturing to say that? Aiya.

The second and third excerpts weren’t martial at all. Sadly they also had no English translations on the projectors. The first was about an old man and a woman who eventually go to visit his little brother (used in the Chinese sense meaning Any Male Human). She whines a lot and eventually the old man leaves her there. The third one may have been a comedy. There were two fat men talking. One was the emperor. You could tell they were fat by the costumes. The fat guys had big hulahoopish belts hanging around their midsections. That and the fact that all the faces were done with makeup not masks was my favourite bit from these last two.

I know Holly was disappointed in the lack of English, because she really enjoyed the past performances. “The music is so much better than Beijing Opera, and the performances.” This is where my lack of love for this shows up but it all seemed the same to me. Screechy female voices. Some of the music was okay but nothing special. To me at least. I mostly sat there being cold without distraction. I tried not to sleep.

And I realize I’ve failed in one of my China goals. I originally wanted China to be more to me than “that country I went to once.” But really, there’s not a lot of difference between my experience here and Aileen’s or my mom’s. Sure I know a bit more, there’s a bit more depth, but still I remain a tourist. While Holly has a life here. Has friends. Has people to care about. The only people here I care about are people who aren’t from here. It’s much easier to see how Holly is fighting the “once in a lifetime” trap I detest so much. This is her life. I still feel like I don’t have a life yet. I have friends to live through but no connection to anything of my own. I guess that’s why Holly says I should make haste for Japan and learn the language so I can read Murakami for real. The more I’m here the more suitable that future seems. I always say I can write anywhere. Learning to read as well might be nice.

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a bleeding lead

This is the classic example of what constitutes news in Chinese JSkools: Man bites panda. That and Supergirl. And whatever grave offense Japan has caused by existing.

Speaking of Japan, have you ever read Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World? I loved it. It’s all about guilt for being a part of the Japanese fascist machine, but is done through the reminiscences of a deluded old painter. Great stuff.

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Okay, I have to admit that when the game started, I was cheering for Japan. Mostly out of spite. So I’d piss off my students. But how Australia pulled it out in the end? That was fucking beautiful. I muted the TV and you’d have thought our campus was in Sydney. The cheering and fireworks are going on right now.

Chinese people sure love Australia (he says assuming you’ll realize they just hate the Japanese).

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