Sunday, November 26, 2017

Just Head Out That Direction

I was at Baidu today.  My computer was on the screen.  I wanted to show them something from the web.  I used a Google browser.  They kindly asked me why I hadn’t used a Baidu browser.  I demurred from saying the results would not have been so efficaciously realized and I would have had to needlessly sift through results that had paid for placement. 

Rather, I told them of a time I was at Xiaomi.  I had recently sold them software they were going to use in an application.  In the elevator Lei Jun, the CEO stepped in beside me.  I thought to show him his application that his company was going to use.  I fuddled around with my iPhone, trying to show him but couldn’t bring it up and realized I was standing there flashing a competitive iPhone in his face.

It’s lovely out today.  In the distance are the northern Beijing mountains.  I’d like to continue on this highway now and just head out that direction.  The last time I did that with not intention of stopping was my last birthday when we went to Heng Shan.  It was fabulous to drive up over the mountains and into the Chinese heartland of Shanxi.  But today, I can’t do that.  I need to go home.  Perhaps we can plan a fall trip to do such a thing.  An autumn ride?  A winter ski run perhaps?  We’re not going anywhere far for Christmas nor Chinese New Year this year. 

The next two months are the darkest two months.  Perhaps the next three months.  We still have six weeks to go till the autumn equinox.  I need to go and have a cup of coffee.  I was typing in wechat and nodded off once, and then twice and then again.  This is very dangerous because you can easily type and send immediate nonsense to people.  As soon as I was done, I kicked back my had and tried to properly sleep and found that I couldn’t not  Once I concentrated on sleeping it was illusive.  What is the sleep-inducing power of reading that settles the mind to switch off? 

I’ve missed writing.  I have a bunch of writing to catch up on and it has me down.  SO many entries haven’t properly been written.  There are just notes to edit.  I have been on a mad dash to catch up.  I’ll write soon, once I’ve caught up on everything. A bit too much activity, just now.  Not sure how much longer I want to keep this all up for.  The blanketing of poplar leaves on the ground off below feels like it belongs there.  I need to go out biking in this place before they’re all gone. 

Tuesday, 11/07/17

Avoiding the Worst May Be

Riding along the airport expressway one's feelings are conflicted, noticing the line of American flags set next to those of China.  Proud certainly of where I am from but cramped to know they announce the visit of our present commander and chief.  How dreadful. 

The SCMP had a trenchant article by my former mentor Michael David Lampton about the mismatch between Xi Jin Ping and Donald Trump.  The expectations, inches above embarrassment: “avoiding the worst may be the best we can hope for.”   Lampton reminds of Jiang Kai Shek’s approach to Wendle Wilkie’s visit, to keep him fed and flattered so that he went home dazzled and tired (and nearly bedded with the Generalissimo’s wife.)

Our system is mediocre at picking winners.  That’s not necessarily what it was designed to do.  Donald Trump is only the most glaring manifestation of this manufacturing of mediocrity.  The Chinese system is comparatively strong at training bureaucrats at the county level, before maturing to the city level, and on to the provincial level, before they earn a chance to run the country.  All we have to hold on to, in this trying period is the reminder that our system is excellent and getting rid of losers.   In three years, or God-help-us, seven years, this man and his “administration” will be relegated to history.  The American institutionalized revolution, forces opposition to refine and reshape itself for the next battle, in perpetuity.  China has threadbare means to dispose of its technocrats. 

So, I find myself hoping our President fails during this visit.   This is a position that is at odds with all that my life stands for.  But Donald Trump is also at odds with what most of my life stands for.  I presume that, as Professor Lampton suggests, our man will be flattered and feted and sent on his way thinking that the Chinese really love him.  Perhaps we need to suffer this indignity before we can have a collective awakening that we need to artfully accommodate another civilizational power. 

What a shame it is to have a buffoon as a leader.  It is the wisdom of our founding fathers to allow for the absorption of this level of degradation.   It was planned to be able endure this sort of menacing body blow.  It was designed this way to absorb and then pass away poor leadership.  

Monday, 11/06/17

Yup. Pay Now.

The tone has shifted.  I’m now in ascendency and I don’t really want to be.  I’ve won some ground in an argument, but the larger need to set something up for myself has failed.  There are many times in China when having to rely on a local person to do something is infantilizing.  One decides to take something on by oneself and the effort fails.  To get whatever it is done that needs to be one, a person must ask for help.  This process over years, engenders a sense disconnectedness with the society one lives in. 

“What do you want to eat?”  She asks.  I’m not really hungry.  I consider pouting but it is more practical to eat.  She is trying to reach out and suggest an apology.  It won’t last long if I mishandle it.  I’ll justify a new anger that will leave me wishing this moment right now, could be recovered, by that time it will be too late.  Old couples understand all this. 

“I don’t want to go to Kung Fu.”  “Neither do I””, she responds, on the edge of fatigue.  “Let’s just get noodles”, I offer.  I know she will jump at this.  I have no interest in noodles, which sounds like an unnecessary starch load, but we head into the noodle place regardless. 

The picture of the cold noodles does looks good.  It’s draped in shredded chicken.   I order one.  My wife orders a big bowl of steaming hot lamian.  We revisit the topic that had lead us to this mall, but the waitress interrupts us:  “That’s one hundred and thirty renminbi.”  “Now? “  “Yup.  Pay now.”  She takes the money and goes off to get change.

Neither her noodles nor mine, taste as good as the picture.  I complain about feeling like an non-adult in China.

Sunday, 11/05/17

Emotional Spectrum Limited

Oddly, but perhaps understandably one of the reasons I like to go to either of the Indian restaurants in our neighborhood is because there will necessarily be a large screen TV broadcasting some Bollywood epic.  One doesn’t need dialogue or subtitles to understand the songs.  The rich guy thinks one of the girls in the dancing troupe is attractive.  His friends joke with him about this.  The girl hints at flirtation, but is also simply doing her part as a member of the dance troupe.  The sets are gaudy and implausible, and the emotional spectrum limited, binary, excited-ashamed, angry-sad, campy-pouty, and the music is almost always the irresistible bangra beat. 

Tonight it’s my older one, the Mrs. and I as the younger one is at theatre practice.  I recognize the star on the T.V.  He’s one of the two most famous Bollywood stars.  I ask the waiter who looks to be from India: “That is Khan . . . ?  What’s his full name again?  “Him?  Sure.  That’s Shah Rukh Khan.”  “Right.”  I remember trying to learn about the genre and it was Amitabh Bachchan and then this gentleman, Shah Rukh Khan who appeared to be the summit of the seventies and then eighties respectively.   I tried to explain that Khan had trouble with immigration in the U.S. recently, which had caused a kerfuffle but no one is particularly interested. 

We’ve got garlic naan and saag paneer, some dhal and an eggplant dish as well now all out to the table in quick succession.  No shortage of good vegie options here, for my older one.  We’re talking about her younger sister, and my older daughter wants to make that point that self-perception is formed by the opinions of those around you.  If you think you’re one thing or another about yourself, you are just reacting to the impressions of others.   I argue that some things come from within.  If you are going to make a change in behavior you need to be able to steel yourself to it and do it.  The world may feed you back information, you can filter it or reject or learn from it, but regardless some change must ultimately come because someone decides it is what needs to be done.


She argues her position stronger and I am both exited and annoyed.  I appreciate the spirit and don’t agree with the logic.  It reminds me of me at that age, which I once again love for the nobility of conviction and disregard for the simplicity of my zealotry.  I press back and try to get her to discuss the concepts from her psychology class that inform this line of thinking.  My wife is concerned that we’re “arguing” but I appreciate the intellectual disagreement.  The topic shifts naturally, bore much longer, as there is no correct answer. 

There is a close up now on Shah Rukh Khan and he is pouting.  But wait, he’s smiled a rakish smile.  Everything is OK.

Saturday, 11/04/17