Saturday, January 21, 2017

Not Well Received by the Heavens

Dutifully, regretfully, we tuned in last night.  It’s been pending for months now, approaching like a scene that never gets any closer until it overwhelms you.  It is no longer a dreadful inevitability.  The Trump Presidency is now in the present tense.  I made myself watch the Inauguration.  The wife and the younger one joined.  What a somber thing to witness. 

America never waxes noble without an ugly, selfish reflection to fertilize it.  Soil-turning time.   Cheapness, mendacity, course mediocrity waxed across the capital yesterday, like a Titan Arun in full, corpse bloom.  The crowds that couldn’t manage to fill the plaza booed for what was good and cheered for what was foul.  The team that shouldn’t have won but did paraded through the remarkable ritual like a stream of hoods.

The CNN spokespeople, grasping for straws kept repeating how this was testimony to the durability of our system and the sanctity of the peaceful transfer of power.  Certainly, that is true.  Certainly that we have transferred power once again, peacefully, for the forty-fifth time, is an affirmation of the flexibility and adaptability of our Constitutional document.  China, which considers itself an ancient civilization is a toddler of a polity, having managed the peaceful transfer of power twice since the founding of the People’s Republic.  But that’s about all we could point to, it seemed.  Befuddled the CNN team kept coming back to it again and again.  The presidential invocation was “carnage” and “America First;” bald self-aggrandizement by one whose mastered the art.

Magically, it began to rain the moment Trump began to speak.  China would have seen this for the dismal auger it was: this man does not deserve the mandate of heaven.  A reverend that spoke, a magician, tried to suggest that it was a positive symbol of nourishment.  Certainly rain is our critical sustainer.  But this rain was not rejuventive.  It was clear.  This was celestial urine, with no metaphoric cloud clearing to neither punctuate it nor define it.  His message was not well received by the heavens.  A wet, cold rain merely, to wash upon the stain that this man has brought to the office.  Nature wouldn’t bend to his will, any more than it did during the deluge of W’s first inauguration.

So, let it rain on this self-proclaimed “heart of stone.”  Let it lubricate our country and soften it for all that is about to befall it.  Soil turning time once again.  Appreciate the barest rudiments:  this is temporal.  It isn’t permanent. 

Saturday, 01/21/17

The Memory of Compromise

We’re at a loss for restaurants of distinction here in our little corner of Beijing.  On a Friday night when no one wanted to cook my wife suggested we head out for a meal.  “Sure.  Where would you like to go?”  “Any place.”  And so it went between her, my younger one and I, with no one taking responsibility and suggesting that anything would suit.  The staple family-style place we default to we’d visited only just recently.  All the other places at the two closest compounds loomed mediocre.  My younger one, I think it was her, suggested: “Vietnamese.”  There is a place nearby called Mint.  Why is the memory of compromise so much weaker than it should be?

Mint has a long row of windows to sit along, that are ‘high-tone’ in the summer months but we quickly found do little to protect one from the cold in the winter.  We sat next to two wall heaters with our coats on.  I removed my hoodie once and felt a chill on my neck.  I tugged it back up on my head.  My wife commented on how ridiculous I looked with this Gandalf cone rising above my noggin and I’m sure this was true.  I removed it again.  But put it back on again shortly after my neck began to crawl once again.  Comfort over style; I’m OK with that.

The mind settles into the memory of tasty Vietnamese meals.  Goi Cuon where the skin is thin and the shrimp are fresh and the peanut sauce beckons.  A steamy bowl of Pho will warm me up.  And the young kids who are manning the joint are well intentioned.   But there will be no tip and so there is no real leverage other than good will.  The Goi Cuon arrives late and is flavorless; the accompanying vegetables inside are think and abrasive.  There is no peanut sauce.  They bring us two bowls of Pho but we ordered three.   Mine comes much later but I must ask three times for the accompanying plate of lime, spice and crudité.  One sip and it is clear that the broth is pitifully over-salted.   The young man and the young woman who serve us sense how frustrated we are with it all and try their best. 

Leaving the heat, such as it was, creates a suction that makes departing through the exit door difficult.  We push hard and the door pops open with a sound.  I fear that memory’s unreliability may make returning easier than it should be.  I hope we remember next time that this is not an especially pleasant place to celebrate the wonders of Vietnamese food.  I suspect we’ll forget though and be lured back by some other memory that supersedes the actual tastes that Mint has available. 

Friday, 01/20/17

Concerns Levels of Civilizational Sophistication

I got in to my cab.  My driver yelled at me.  “WHERE?”  “Airport” I replied, adding that there was no need to yell.  He asked his next clarifying question with another shout.  This time I shouted at the top of my lungs back before I knew what I was doing: “YES THAT’S CORRECT.  WHY DO YOU FIND IT NECESSARY TO SHOUT?  I AM ONLY TWO FEET FROM YOUR FACE.  SHOUTING IS A COMPROMISE AS IT CONCERNS LEVELS OF CIVILIZATIONAL SOPHISTICATION.  DON’T YOU AGREE?”  He considered this.  Laughed nervously and asked the next question at a more modest volume.  But he couldn’t help himself.  Within twenty seconds he asked again with a yell to clarify if I were heading to the airport.  “YES.  AS EXPLAINED I AM HEADING TO THE AIRPORT. SHALL WE TAKE THE HIGHWAY?“  He kept quiet.  I kept quite.  By now my head hurt and I wondered if I was coming down with a cold. 

Popped open my second can of Watson’s soda water, here at the Shenzhen Airlines lounge in the Shenzhen Airport.  I feel a better but still a bit wheezy after my spirited shouting match.  I had a large and reasonably tasty lunch at place that served Sichuanese food.  An aspirational, upscale, chain restaurant, adorned with rustic wood and fake daub and wattle walls that made me think of the real ones I know in the dwellings of my extended family in Shandong.  For now I’m still full, so I passed on all the compromise snacks they make available here in the lounge.  Though I did take banana.   

I got on line and noticed that the departure time was bolded red in the updated email with my ticket receipt.  The plane was delayed.  Of course it’s delayed.  I looked more closely.  The plane would be delayed by three hours.  The 7:00PM flight would be departing at 10:00PM.  I wouldn’t get to see my kids tonight.  Checking with the desk at the Shenzhen Airline Lounge they intimated that the flight might simply be cancelled all together.  Planes were not leaving Beijing.  I considered having to kill three more hours in this lounge.  I considered having to ride back into the city and spend another night in Shenzhen.  I considered hotels and considered the inevitable return to this lounge, once again in the morning.  I felt numb. 

The ladies at the desk were very professional and asked me if I wanted to switch flights to something earlier.  I hadn’t even thought to bother.  We went through the exercise of checking on the three flights before me, which were all delayed as well.  They dutifully made a few calls.  My hope rose slightly.  Then I could over hear her confirming that there was no room on any of the flights.  Now I know how to say “stand-by” in Chinese. 

Food was served.  I had a bowl of their complementary gongbao jiding.  Pinching from the bowl of fresh parsley I did what I could to garnish it up.  Presently, about thirty minutes later, with the bowl of food digesting in my belly I am very tired.  It is difficult to finish this sentence without nodding off, my thumb pressed on the space bar.  Perhaps I’ll try for a simple nap.   I’ve many, many hours to go. 

Thursday, 01/19/17                                                                                                                                  


Ruined by Two or Three

Growing old isn’t a battle.  It’s a slaughter.”  So says Philip Roth in the 2006 novel “Everyman.”  Flying down over China’s eastern seaboard I’ve just finished up the work.  I was looking back over the text when the Air China recording, which I’d been waiting for now, for some tim, announced that our plane would be landing in thirty minutes.  The son of watch-shop owner, the son of a jeweler, with a life of compromises and regrets, which ends, before the protagonist expects it to.  Well, it is certainly nice to spend time with someone who is in their seventies longing for the time I now occupy.  “Fifty” isn’t old at all, I learned.  It’s the time when everything, for this protagonist at least, was still possible.  As a fifty year-old he committed his pivotal mistake.  This “now”-time will be looked back on fondly, before long.  Certainly.  I know how fast twenty years can pass.  Not yet.  But soon.

I’ll have to shed this sweater and maybe even my coat.  The Shenzhen airport is approaching.  It will be full of young ladies springing about in spring outfits, not a winter coat in sight. The dread winter of Beijing I’ll leave behind now for twenty-eight hours or so.  I’m anxious as I’ve finished my book and don’t have another handy to begin.  Typing is now prohibited.  Two stewardesses have looked me over sternly.  I’ve ignored them both but it’s clear that my time with electric devices is up now.  We’ll pick it up later after we’ve long left the airport. 

Later is now.  We’re on the ninety-sixth floor to check in.  Every other Starwood property here in town was sold out.  Apparently Volkswagen has some kind of event that’s required a thousand rooms.  It must be a global blowout that brings them here, because the other hotel chains, my friend informs me, are all sold out as well.  This morning there were rooms that remained at the Four Points, which is less expensive and feels that way.   They play very bad music very loudly in all the public spaces, among other crimes.  But I’d have taken it.  It too waxed ‘sold out’ though when I returned a few hours later to secure it.

And so we have checked into the St. Regis, which has secured the top-most floors of this astoundingly tall building.  I remember being a kid and visiting the Twin Towers.  It was, as I recall, quite something to race up an elevator that high.  Now it seems commonplace.  It’s cloudy outside and the view isn’t much to consider.  The room itself has a pair of super binocular telescopes, tantalizing me to stare off into the clouds.  We head to the lounge, which is opulent and utterly ruined by two or three enormous television screens.  Someone has decided that it would be ever so classy to run an interminable loop of a Victoria Secret event with Lady Gaga prancing about among a score of models with breasts and butterfly wings.  I consider strongly asking them to turn it off.  I’m your preferred guest after all.  Wouldn’t everyone else simply prefer the quite and the view outside, which that army of people worked so hard to provide us with?  I note that many other preferred guests are gaping at the screens.

As we head down stairs I tell my colleague:  “May your morning view be worthy of your binoculars.” 

Wednesday, 01/18/17