Episode Six

January 2009

I was blessed to spend a great three weeks with my daughter visiting over her winter break. It was wonderful. She is such a sweet, smart young woman and I think she had a full spectrum look at Chinese society. There are many things here that take a lot of adjustment.

While she was here we went to Hengdian – China’s largest movie studio – it is said to be the largest in the world. Because I was the top lecturer and had done several favors for our foreign affairs office, they arranged for a friend to give us a full tour of the entire gigantic place. The guy was very nice and a partner of the Hengdian Developers Group. He drove us all over the place, including spots not open to tourists. They have a full scale replica of the Forbidden City.

We got to see the filming of China’s most famous television show – Journey to the West (legend of the Monkey King) the star of the show chatted with me for a bit. He spoke English very well. The TV director made us promise not to show this clip until after the show aired 🙂

We went to Huangshan Mountain, which has been the inspiration for so many artists and poets. The name translates to Huang “August One” Mountain. The bus drive there was surreal to say the least. We took a cable car up the mountain and stayed on the top of the mountain. The view was actually breathtaking. When you walk around the first corner and see the cloud see the mystical feeling stuns you. It was incredible.

The greatest scenic view out a public toilet window – ever.

My wife, daughter and I were sitting in a teahouse. It sounds like the set-up for a joke. In a way it was. Two guys walked over and asked my wife if I wanted to be in a commercial. I asked what would I be selling wallpaper adhesives. I said heck yes! And thus I began my odd acting career in China. It was a strange experience. I was supposed to be a scientist. I had to wear a suit and a lab coat, which made me look even more gigantic. I kept cracking jokes with the assistant and the boss, my fellow “actors”, telling them it was peppermint flavored paste. My daughter and Hong had a lot of fun watching me cavort on the set. I got 600 RMB (about $100) for two hours work. Visions of starring roles did not dance through my head.


Here on the other side of the world I watched our new president’s speech live via CNN’s website. I was feeling damn proud of our country. With misty eyes I went to sleep, and dreamed of the new days that will dawn – the potency we American’s will forever summon up to lead the way into the bright and sunny future. I think of my own dear mom who taught me to measure an individual by their heart and their deeds.
I put an American flag flying in my window – proud to be American.
God Bless America – the words ring tonight in my ears across the oceans.

It is strange, at times, being so far from my home. I feel as if I am balancing on the edge of a canyon – gripping the ether tightly with all my might. I was reminded of the time in just after college when I was horseback riding in the Rockies outside Aspen, my horse Everett tried to eat some grass on the side of a cliff. I felt, for a moment as if I moved even an inch, the weight would shift, and I would slide right off into the empty air and plunge. I am here for many reasons – some seem so small though, late at night- when the shadows seems so unfamiliar. I am however writing again – with great potency.

I am so proud. We have the greatest country, I believe, in world history. Our ancestors have been the people who got things done – who create – shape the world with their bare hands. Here in this ancient land, with dust older than America, I walk taller these days – certain of our destiny. The paths of China and America intersect in so many spots. I have gained a deep understanding of society – more so than I can write.

January 27, 2009
Just got back from a trip to Hong’s hometown (not where she grew up) – (no mom or dad or elder brother – they were out), and Hong Kong. The prices are dirt cheap – because of recession, and I already paid for trip so away we went. And the price included a 5-star hotel for around 55 bucks a night. Flights are very cheap, because the government is trying to prop up the economy – take a plane to border city (kind of like Tijuana), and then cross over and take bus into Hong Kong. Hong Kong is actually an island chain. Being there, somewhat strangely, reminded me of America. I suppose it was mostly due to everyone following the rules (more or less) – traffic was more orderly- and they had Cap’n Crunch on sale for about 2 bucks.

We took Hong’s son and he was delightful. One time he rolled over and watched me as he fell asleep. He told his mom in the morning that he felt safe seeing me. On the waterfront on Kowloon (end of peninsula) they have a walk of stars – Hong Kong action stars, and there is a statue of Bruce Lee. Jackie Chan even has a gift shop there – Hong Kong has an Ocean World, which features the largest aquarium in Asia. It is cool because they do a lot of environmental education there, but also more like 6 Flags. The dolphin shows opening act was a Latin band, featuring a Mexican singing trumpet player.

Hong Kong Disney was fantastic. It is smallest of all Disney Parks. It was so clean (living in China, filth of all varieties is ever-present). The rides were fun and the show was, well Yin/Yang – the balance of the universe, Mickey Mouse and Goofy in Chinese New Year suits.

Speaking of suits. Thanks to Hong I now have a tailor. A lady custom fitted, a suit, of my own design, for around 35 bucks – including fabric, etc. Damn, I have never had any clothes that fit so well in my life, and thanks to the ingenuity of the southern Chinese – it was cheaper than one shirt in US.

Also thanks to Hong’s family, and their peculiar tastes in food, I had an incredible unusual meal – they took me to a local alleyway restaurant beside a train track. The most unusual dish – stir-fried mountain goat, Cantonese style with medicinal herbs and mushrooms – and it was quite tasty. The frequent rumble of the trains, just 30 yards away, only added to the ambience. All the locals enjoyed seeing the foreign devil bent over a rickety card table chowing down on Cantonese surprise.


Your representative in the foreign-devil office
Sometimes I pinch myself when I wake up look out the window and focus on where I am, and other times I kick myself for being so far from kids and my home turf. As you said, China is on center stage. I came here for so many reasons: the future generations of my family, for Hong, for my own sense of worth, inspiration, curiosity, heard a whisper in my ear…

The gurus teach us to abandon our hangups about the material world, but that economically anchored world is the dominant obsession here. I hold a two edge sword and feel the cold tap of the razor’s edge on my shoulder – the fine line between need and desire, when silent prayers are offered to stem the flow quickly if the bloodletting must begin. Crossing back across from the border into China – I felt like a deep sea diver climbing back into the ocean. Adrenalin whistling in my ears, parched throat, eyes opened wider, leaning forward to try and drink in the sensory input – like an interloper passing through wildebeest. Nostrils flared to sample the air, instantly tighten against the all-too-familiar stench. Ride like a thirsty beast towards a murky dampness up ahead.
The hyper-consumption days lumber off into the sunset like some great paleolithic furry rhinos we stare at with bleary curiosity.


My Funny Valentine

Valentines Day is just another day. It was made up to sell cards and candy, and if both people see it as a way to demonstrate their love, then it is wonderful. As for me, this is my second Valentines Day in China, and my second one alone – not my choice. I will spend the day by myself, haven’t slept much and Hangzhou’s weather is very gray today.
Our trip to Hong Kong was a mixed bag because we seemed to have opposing views on several things, but relationship issues aside – travel is meant to expand your horizons and I think we did do that. For me, Hong Kong reminded me of home, the developed world, and international nature – people from all over the world, where I am not spoken of as the Laowai (foreigner) as each day I am here in China. For Hong and her son, it was a tantalizing look over the wall at what life can be. People follow rules, are cleaner and more caring for others. I hope with all my heart that the impression lasts. We will not be traveling again anytime soon – shifts in relationship are coming, as yet unexplained.

I had about 10 days when Hong is back home with family – she is returning with her brother – they are driving back. She is buying his car from him, even though I advised against it – she needs more experience driving – they are maniacal drivers here – maybe too much. Hong mentioned, without discussing it with me, that she is planning to move when her brother comes. He is going to stay here a while or something – no discussion about that either. She said she should not live with me before marriage, buuuttttt…. she moved in when I moved here, so I am not sure what’s going on. And she said she would find an apartment with her brother, for her tutoring and living.
She just mentioned it on the train leaving Hong Kong and did not want to discuss it any further – so it has been on my mind these days – since I have not seen her since the next day after that. Now I just wish she would talk to me about something this important – as it is obvious she has talked it with her family. Family bonds are so much stronger than the bonds between our two hearts. This is a hard lesson I have learned. For now, I stay optimistic about the future, because things change rapidly out here on the flip side of the planet.

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