Briefly: This is an ongoing experiment with how linking conventions can be altered in regards to poetry – it started with burdens then anvils then translating silence and finally watching the weather in the company of stars and I think this one may achieve a happy medium of garden variety links sprinkled throughout and linked numbers explicated at the end of the poem for the Chinesey stuff.
Also this is a spoken word piece primarily, if you dig it, try messing around with the speed as you're reading
The room erupts in laughter with cocktails and bombshells
and our ESL tall tales about the three T’s we leave out of the classroom,
or bicycle crashes, or how a missed 4th tone got a bank teller angry,
how the phrase collateral damage describes errant snot rockets from janitors
in two dollar pinstripe suits, and that white guy whose sarcasm falls on deaf ears
to the big black linebacker who can’t buy Chinese clothes
At the far wall a Filipino sits in repose, caught between black and white
piano keys that fly out into the space where words vanish
and jazz notes slice through chatter
about the ones left behind, and remember that time
when our friends became facebooks and our arms didn’t hug
but collapsed around chests as we said all those parting goodbyes.
But the notes filled the caverns between the memories and present,
and our drunk lamentations slowly turned into lyrics
while the emotional levees broke and retreated.
Smiles linger almost long enough to be real, to forget
for a moment that we’re foreign and afraid,
or excited to put off real jobs one more day.
While a four walled space slowly becomes a living room
and we sing shout outs to the motherland or fatherland
or any land where our mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers
can’t understand why we chose to hang our hats in Shanghai
That we are the new generation,
the wandering generation
we don’t need acid to trip,
but it still helps,
our peace and love are cloud bursts
from the double paned glass
And an expat on the plane sits in repose, caught between east and west
coasting on jack and cokes at 30,000 footsteps
from those California sunsets
where toes curled in the sand which is pounded by waves,
by winds slamming against the bulkhead,
flying 500 miles an hour away from the suburbs,
to the new world or the old world made newer
with every skyscraper rising faster
than those lego timeshares where our imaginations whirled
under Christmas trees and birthday hats, among chartered accountants
and Sunday school dropouts, dollar chasing and ride pimping
and scoring dimes from the community college kids with rice rockets
How can they understand that Xinjiang uighurs with their little white hats
and their foil wrapped hash stoking coals above D-grade lamp kebobs
will always lead to a better high than those hydroponics in Billy’s garage
As the horizon hides I sit in repose, the cherry caught between fire
and smoke stacks fill the skylines like bamboo tiger traps
for the gods are held back by a little red book
by the outlines of faith in progress,
in the parables of steel and psalms of concrete
that hem in my thoughts about these people I meet,
and this culture, this fusion and patchworks
of confusion and growth and retrenchment,
five year plans with no ending
As I walk past a blind Erhu scraping dimes
from the bottom of tailored coat pockets
And three year old beggars, who scream
money please stare up with smiles
and black hole irises
Because everything we taste is infused
with unspoken questions,
our why’s and our how’s
become the cock of an eyebrow,
because squinting’s reserved for those afraid
of the sun which struggles to break through
a carpet a smog that we breath in
through filters of cigarette smoke,
wafting through every crevice and door,
and the warnings on the package
say only buy more.
And I still go to restaurants because they have picture menus,
And I find my finger hovering in repose, caught between jiga and niga
And wo ai zhongguo, when the cab driver greets with a sneer
Because he can’t say in English that you don’t belong here
In this city or this country, I don’t want your smiles but I will take your money
My cultural immersion is saying ni hao to a ten year old kid pulling blocks into noodles
Where for five kwai they’ll fry up a duck or a poodle.
Because in a year in this city we know we’ve learned everything
And three years later know we haven’t learned anything
They pile centuries here like we pile newspapers, to toss out every second Wednesday
From the two car garage with 2.2 kids and 1.5 dogs and two miserable jobs
If there’s a ladder to climb I don’t see the rungs, and I’ve always thought glass ceilings
were just mirrors for some. When the future seemed bleak and the past had turned black
we gave our dreams to our children with surgical grafts. But some, we escaped
to rat racing streets with an ipod held high,
And nicknames blasting from the bindings of year books,
I almost get clipped by a suit on a moped
who took the turn blind with three propane tanks strapped on behind
It occurs that maybe the simple life
with an hour commute and a safe 9 to 5
Just doesn’t cut it if we’re more dead than alive.
Wishing Monday through Thursday would just
disappear from our cubicle coffins, in this life we have named,
from birth until death it’s the great waiting game.
And I’ll take one day in Shanghai, or Tokyo or Paris
and if the next flight goes down, as I fall through the sky,
I’ve heard someone say it will all flash before my eyes,
and if we all meet our lives in that three second glance,
I know most of my pictures have been ruled by chance,
and I’ll take my short years, with their bulk of confusion
over all the placid days rolling out like a legion
of sighs, and a trail of remorse, I could have lived a life
of quiet screams until my brain became hoarse
writing a story of what ifs that’ll never get read
I’m here now, a foreigner, and often alone,
and if I don’t understand most of what’s going on
I do know one thing, like a song through my bones
Though I may not belong here, I still call it home
1 - There are times in China when you really feel like you are living under big brother, and often the Chinese people are unwittingly doing his bidding. This is far from the normal day to day, and George Orwell would not have a field day here. It is to say there are certain moments when the collective pride of a nation feel stealing the sting from being made second class citizens in their own country comes through. Three of these subjects should come up often in the class room, but it is our job to make sure we avoid them. They are Tibet, Taiwan, and Tienanmen Square.
2 – In the USA we have an abundance of Chinese Dry Cleaners or Chinese Tailors and my opinion on this seems to be reinforced by observation and interaction on the ground in Shanghai. Whereas the Brooks Brothers of the world would have us think that tailoring is a skill worthy of the prices we pay for expensive duds, tailoring in China is extremely low on the hierarchy of professions. Chinese tailors for lack of a better phrase are a dime a dozen. In China there is also zero cost for clothing design because all the designs have been gathered in a parade of fashion magazines since the dawn of capitalism for them to copy. As a result of this suits are cheap. I mean really cheap. As a foreigner I can get a tailored suit of any design I choose, double stitched with silk lining and a brand logo of my design or choosing for 60 American dollars. If a Lao Wai can get if for 60 a Chinese local can probably get it for 15. Hence, even the lowest class of laborer, peasants from the countryside, even the homeless can often be seen sporting formal business attire.
3 – Ah, the XinJiang ren. These are the people living in Shanghai hailing from, or owing their lineage to the Xinjiang Semi-Autonomous region in Northwestern China. They are in the case of Shanghai very often Muslim, very often smiling, and very often operating some form of food preparation and distribution. This comes in the form of little noodle shops, or simply sidewalk kebabs of lamb, beef, chicken, and vegetables. They are often seen wearing circular white hats that cover the tops of their heads which are about an inch and a half or so tall. The typical Shanghainese moniker for these folks is “You thief.” I am generally a big fan of the entire race and I often romanticize them as the tinkers from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. They are incredibly musical – especially when compared to the Han, and seem to always inspire the worst racism in otherwise rational, welcoming people. This fantasy is of course not the case any more than the case that they are all thieves. On the periphery of populations more people often succumb to negative stereotypes. There is no doubt that Xinjiang Muslim extremists have unleashed bombs in their home territory and other parts of China. As most Xinjiang are not overtly wealthy there are no doubt thieves among the bunch. The most important stereotype of these noodle and kebob wranglers though is that they all sell hash. They all don’t but many of them do – with impunity. Often in the Western Bar districts the lone Uighur manning the grill will happily trade a nugget of what I can only assume is Afghani or Kazakh hash with a couple skewers of meat for a standard fee of 100 RMB.
4 – If you’ve watched the new film Slumdog Millionare you’ll start to get an idea of how begging works in major cities in China as well. The blinding, forced mutilation such as cutting off limbs, the kidnapping, grabbing urchins off the street etc…All of this is and has been done. These are of course the opinions held by the students and native friends and teachers I’ve discussed this with. I have no hard data. It is rare to see a beggar playing the Arhu (which I have never heard making anything resembling a pleasing sound) who isn’t blind. In the western bar districts some women will carry their (well maybe it’s actually theirs) children and try to put them into your arms as they plead for money. The children are generally taught a phrase or three of English, “money please” being the most common. The beggars are not everywhere that I can see, and most don’t even bother asking natives for money if they see a foreigner around, as soon as the white skin hits the air outside the bar or train station they make a beeline for us. Sometimes it’s harder than other to resist the urge to just throw money at them, especially the kids. But the more money those kids make, the more money goes to whoever is pulling the strings and the less likely it is that those kids are ever going to go to school, or that more trips to find new kids will be organized. The elegant solution that I’ve come up with is that whenever I have free time and I come across people using children to beg, I will grab the kid, set him down, and play with him/her for a while. It doesn’t change or solve anything, but those little buggers light up like Christmas trees. It probably does as much good as a few coins would have. Sometimes if there’s a convenience store nearby I will buy them some food and make sure they eat it. It never does stop being sad though.
5 – Smoking cigarettes is a national past time in China. At weddings they are dispensed like candy, at restaurants they are smoked before, during, and after meals, and in elevators they are smoked simply to pass the time. Kalen’s node reports all the relevant statistics, but the only thing I really have to add is the attitude toward smoking that her perpetuated. When I was teaching at a training school, the lessons were canned (or pre-written) and every level had one lesson that involved smoking and opinions about it. To my complete shock many adult students had no idea what the real negative effects of smoking were. Second-hand smoke was also a completely alien principle to them. This is not to say the majority of Chinese people I’ve encountered don’t understand the danger, but there are still intelligent adults, many of them parents who think smoking is basically harmless. They were promoted by the government for a long time, and a huge amount of taxable income reaches the party’s coffers through government monopoly of cigarette production.
6 – Jiga and Niga meaning “this” and “that” respectively often become a delicate ballet of directing taxi’s, ordering food, shopping, picking up girls, and really anything that a foreigner doesn’t have the language ability to say outright. These words also become the “ummm” of a foreigner’s communication with the natives. I love China is generally the phrase you use to help people get over the fact that you’re an unintentionally (or intentionally for some) obnoxious drunk. I love China seems to fix things, at least a little bit, it’s not quite the duct tape of international relations, but maybe some more minor adhesive.
7 – As an addendum to Xinjiang noodle shops – one of my favorite things to watch, and I see it every day is somebody take a block of dough and within a minute and a half turn it into a string of thin noodles. I imagine it’s what they did everywhere before spaghetti machines.
8 – Unfortunately there’s no node about driving in China or Shanghai. It’s fucking crazy. There are far too many pedestrians on the sidewalks, bicycles on the sidewalks, cars on the street, cars on the sidewalk. There’s mopeds, electric bikes, motorcycles, motorcycle taxis, taxis, buses, and every possible permutation of any of those things together. Nobody wears helmets, nobody stays in their lanes, or on the right side of the road, a lot of times people aren’t even going in the right direction. In this case though, the poem refers to the proclivity of Chinese people to transport dangerous things very quickly on motorcycles or mopeds, including propane tanks strapped to the back with thin string.