Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Atmosphere of Levity

Dreaming in the morning.  Half asleep, half awake.  Trying to read a Chinese article.  No, it really was fascinating. Dreaming, my mind conjured an old black and white movie set in an apartment that looked like something the Honeymooners, or Lucy and Ricky, might have resided in.  There was a woman in a dress, with a big hat on, singing a song by the fire escape.  It was oddly a-contextual as it seemed she was singing the national anthem, but in a comic fashion.   

Then on the third line of the song, through the window by the fire escape in came Frank Sinatra and he sang this line and it was ironic and funny and if I recall correctly there was canned laughter at this.  And my dreaming mind hadn’t had much time to plan all of this:  To make the third line funny.  It just, seemingly worked that way. 

Later, going in the laundry room to grab a tee-shirt, I marveled at how my sleeping mind had done that and it was then that I thought to write about this incident and capture that epiphany.  But now, thirty minutes later, recalling the anthem to illustrate the point none of the lines of song work to illustrate much of anything.  “What so proudly we hailed” has no ironic poignancy.  Maybe a smidgin?  Neither would “And the rockets red glare.”  Perhaps the song wasn’t the national anthem at all.  Or conversely maybe my mind was queued up to consider this absurd entrance through the window as funny and assigned “proudly we hailed” as a knee-slapper.  Whereas,  regarded with a conscious mind, it isn’t very funny at all.  Somnambulant, perhaps I just needed the atmosphere of levity. 

Read, once again, in the Chinese press about Meng Wanzhou and Huawei.  A Canadian ambassador to China had tried to critique the arrest of Ms. Meng and then later was forced to retract his statement.  Within this article they mention of the U.S. Colombia professor Jeffery Sachs, whom I’ve seen speak before and whose books I’ve read, and his article criticizing Meng’s treatment and illustrating the hypocrisy of the U.S. position.  He points out that numerous U.S. and E.U. institutions like J.P. Morgan were also caught up in violations of U.S. trade restrictions with regards to Iran.  They paid heavy fines.  But no one is pulling Jaimie Daimon off a plane.  He lists two dozen such institutions.  This is the first of any such company where corporate leadership has been imprisoned.  Why begin that practice with China and not with a domestic company?

Apparently he got so much criticism for the article he closed out his Twitter account and was accused of being a shill. The China article I was reading rightly, if hypocritically, question if this is was differing views and free speech look like.  The other point Sachs makes is that, while Meng was on a flight to Canada, and changing flights to Mexico, she was held, extraterritorially at the request of the U.S. as if China should have such a right to arrest Americans on Thai soil with regards to its' domestic laws.  Odd, that I had to learn about this article, reading about it in the Chinese press.  My niece is studying there at Colombia.  I must remind her to take one of Jeffery Sachs courses.   I did and she is considering it.

I also sent her a link to Joe Wong on the Late Show with Steve Colbert:  We caught him last night here in Beijing.  We don’t usually get out too much of anything as a family in this city, as I’ve previously lamented, but my chum who was hosting it graciously invited us and in as much as my son and his wife had already bought tickets I rallied the family.  At the last moment my wife bailed.  My older one then complained: “nobody told me.”  My son and I agreed that the older one and her mother are alike.  Once they say “no,” the position isn’t likely to change.

But I'm set in my ways as well and I don’t give up easily at all.  Thwarted through the front door I returned to suggest that she invite a friend since her mom wasn’t coming.  A crack had been opened, clearly.  And in the end we invited two of her friends and the little one.  The material was gentle enough that I didn’t have any regrets brining my fourteen year-old.  I looked over more than once to find them all laughing.  I guess I liked my chum’s MC-ing as much as anything.  Wong was disarmingly endearing and I found his material funny if not uproariously so.  He touched upon matters of race, and trade, though gingerly.  Throughout I appreciated the difficulty of timing and double-entendres in a foreign language.  Humor is always the final frontier in foreign language acquisition.  I wondered to myself if he was also funny in Chinese or whether or not I'd have what it takes to discern this.

Sunday, 01/27/19

Ahead Of Us In Line

There’s an old Cui Jian song from the eighties where he makes fun of all the fat-cats who are living the high life on other people’s money and who have “hot pot” all the time.  Most people didn’t regularly head out and have plate after plate of ingredients to toss into boiling cauldrons of spicy, boiling water and oil.  Times, as we all know, have changed. 

I waited till the last minute to prepare the dinner last night.  When my little one returned she was aghast that dinner wasn’t already on the table as she’d been promised.  “Going now to get some ingredients.”  “That’s gonna take an hour.  I’m starving.  Let’s go out!”  I resisted but my wife began to think the same way and soon I caved.  "Let’s go to the Shabu Shabu place in Shine City," the little one insisted. 

I have been once or twice before to the place she had in mind on the corner of one of the make-believe streets in the make believe community.  We walk inside from the cold. It doesn't look good.  Many, many people are sitting on little Japanese-style waiting chairs.  And indeed, fourteen families are ahead of us in line.  We'll be finding another place. 

No one wants Indian food.  We just had Italian.  There’s a Korean BBQ.  What's this place?  Ahh, Qi Lu: Shandong white table cloth and ambiance, amusingly fancy and not at all like the Shandong I knew.  Chatting with the hostess they also have a twenty-minute wait on this Friday evening.  No one's inclined to make that kind of investment for an experiment.  Out back in the freezing night air we consider the Korean place again .  How do you get up there to the second floor?  Before we can find an entrance we pass a hot pot place, which is basically the same concept as Shabu Shabu, with peppercorns. 

Inside it’s packed.  The second floor greets us brusquely.  Speaking loudly into a walkie talkie she the reply is deafening.  We sit by the window in the back.  I pick up a bench myself from a neighboring table and place it down for myself.  Settling in I look around to consider all the many, many young Chinese people who are out on a Friday to have hot pot.  There's a family with young toddlers and big plates of frozen lamb being served to another posse of twenty-somethings.  I wonder if the Cui Jian song every strikes anyone else as an anachronism these days.  Sure, half the country, another six-hundred million people, still can’t afford to go out for hot pot.  But six-hundred million can. 

Saturday, 01/26/19