Jun 30, 2013

Less than an hour ago, I returned from Beijing. Yet was I there at all? I have no proof. I may have been. But don't ask me true or false questions.  One day let's say I may have gone to the 18th floor of a building in downtown.  In the middle of the day, you could barely make out buildings a few blocks away; buildings that are home to all the world's greatest corporations.

If I was there I had no sense of the city whatsoever. The sun was no more than a yellow peephole in the gloom.

"It's complicated," someone said. Referring not merely to the city, referring to everything Chinese. To simplest thing, to the tiniest detail. Such is the refrain in China these days. Or has it always been. But perhaps especially a refrain among Chinese-Americans, caught by the endless paradoxes, the discrepancies; above all, the desire to go home and yet once there the longing to get away; the strangeness of the place even to those who know it. The forbidding quality... And all the while life underground, a Blade Runner's world of modernity and small comfort.

"It's complicated", she was saying one evening, just the two of us in a restaurant a thousand miles west of Beijing.  She was about to say something personal, as though to a friend, which she reminded me I was not. But then she held up. It's complicated, she said again.

If that's true it is because you can never let your guard down China (I say that, having never been). Even for a moment, even though you would like nothing better. Betrayal is on every corner, on the tip of your tongue. And so you have no choice. Otherwise, you will be compromised. Someone will have an edge over you.  Or else you will have to go back to the beginning. Or worse they will leave you and your anonymity will be all the greater.

Such is the rhythm in Beijing. But I was never there. I intended to go; I was all set, I had my ticket, I had planned and gathered expectations, but I was never there. Such is the rhythm of thinking you were in Beijing — although not in Ningxia Province, 13 hours by fast, overnight train to the west, and then a bus riding north to where the Hui farmers live. They have little or nothing to hide, and so their dramas are huge: rain, good health, enough food to get through winter.  Forget the corruption, the government reservoir never finished. I was there in spirit certainly, but I can tell you honestly I have never been to China.