Monday, July 31, 2006

Insta-member


My aunt just sent me pictures of my newborn baby cousin. That's boy number two. Congratulations! (He's the one plopped over like an anemic Eskimo rapper.)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Pink Curtains

The best thing to do right now is to suck. it. up. I don't want to turn into a post-modern hack with the sole gift of criticism. I guess I expect a relatively high level of courtesy because, being from the West, the closest we come to "poverty" is when we sprout body hair. I suppose in a country of over a billion, where most live in abject conditions, there is little room for bourgeois rituals. So suck it up, Lily ... and keep countin' down the days ...

***

A co-worker of mine invited me out to Beijing's club district tonight to attend three parties. Attendees are all American expats, I'm told. Like an '80s Coyote Ugly.

MArt told me to enjoy myself. I asked him if that included using "I'm single" in my evening repertoire.

His answer more or less confirmed that neither of us is going anywhere, long-distance be damned.

These two months have been hell because such an arrangement is so unnatural. Feelings logically grow by proximity of contact, not in void of it. I exert and get no instant response. Like heat, it simply vanishes into the atmosphere with no sign of return, and consequently, validation. What's the point? I ask. He says he loves me, but what is there to keep him from relinquishing this obligation? I'm gone, he's free, there really isn't any expectations on my part. This, we both acknowledge, is a lie; my nonchalance a hurtful dagger. Of course I want him to be there when I get back. I want to, once again, see him fold the laundry and pull me into his lap. He and I have the luxury of consistency at least. I give him frequent updates of my time spent on this side of the Pacific and he, the same. His boss is over-working him; 12-hour shifts up the ying-yang. "How else can I support my girlfriend's shopping sprees?" he teased. He knows I'm not the type, though it's nice to know he's thinking of the future. (We might take a trip to NYC this fall.) With all this talk of committment-phobic men in our society, what sort of factors convince a man to want to settle down? It feels timely to ask why he feels so confident that I will be in his future. Is it hubris or bad logic? Why don't more women have such blind faith? In a small way, I envy his power to choose.

I've been reading The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir. One of the themes in the book is the balancing act between independence and fidelity. Maybe I will learn a thing or eight by the time I finish.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Apple-stained mug

Last night, I cried and cried until my cells exerted all their reserves. It was caused by a meaningless comment my mom made on the phone about how my uncle called to tell her I was making my grandma work like a maid.

I flipped.

Not because it was absolutely untrue. What he did was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Did he expect them to fly over here and beat me? I haven't lived under their roof in almost three years. Two weeks worth of unverbalized angst spewed out of me. I aggressively brushed my teeth and slammed the toilet stalls. And then, when my grandmother was out of earshot, I cried into my bed.

I've always said I enjoy the menial tasks I'm given at work. My enjoyment, however, doesn't stem from the job itself, but in the temporary contact I have with the culture I am most familiar with. I'm not even referring to something as simple as the "West." Having visited Beijing intermittently since I was seven or eight, it's not the city that makes me feel isolated. No, this recent bout of loneliness comes mostly from my ignorance of the culture. Sure, I might know the significance of national symbols and other odds and ends about China, but how I am to conduct myself and receive others is as alien to me as the nape of my neck. For someone used to direct communication, I am living in a city of vague proclamations. It is like a cornucopia of passive-aggressives all vying for the job of top mute. (The round-a-bout way people speak can be likened to the hutongs that ubiquitously populate the city.) Furthermore, Mandarin is my second-language. It is a language of much complexity, certainly made more complicated by its euphemistic nature. So here is my dilemma: I am a 20-year-old child-idiot in a foreign city, speaking in a foreign tongue, where the discussion of sensitive subjects is taboo, and etiquette is everything.

I discussed this with my grandma over breakfast this morning. She says perhaps I call MArt as often as I do because we share a common language. And she's right. Only she's not talking about linguistic structure, but the conditions of social integration. I might feel different in Canada as much as I do here, but in Canada, there is at least a niche for alternative expression. But so far, I have not encountered as many options here. (To be sure, I have not really searched.) Even so, maybe this is what immigrants feel after setting foot on a new continent: that assimilation is a necessity rather than a choice.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Chinese Idol ... straight from the military

MArt recently got a job as a cook. And thus, he's required (by default of being one's boyfriend) to foot the long-distance charges we've been racking up since I flew to Beijing two weeks ago. Calling cards are a joke here. They're like trips to Costco: a never-ending cycle of unfinished business. Just as you remember something important to say, the line beeps that maddening beep and cuts you off like an AIDS epidemic. He says he loves receiving updates from me; I just think he wants to masturbate. I mean, who knows? Maybe he really does enjoy listening to me whine about the domestically-centered plotlines of Korean soaps.

"Man, why she gotta be so obedient? And her hair: it's just so ... shiny."

I also developed an addiction to informercials. My favourite one -- so far -- is the one shilling for weightloss shoes. Apparently, walking will help you shed the pounds to a slimmer, newer you. It's in the technology of the insoles, you see. These insoles tone you up and tighten sagging buns, and all you have to do is walk. No sweat! because running is for losers.

Another says fat can be jiggled away. Yeah, it's supposed to be absorbed into your digestive tract and shat out your anus. The damn thing looks like a gigantic vibrator to me: One too big for your va-jay-jay, and too small to come with a free TV offer.

Speaking of, the most grating thing about this city is the stuff they have on the tube. Everything's dubbed here. (Just last night, I watched Terminator III. ... And now I wonder when I'd sunk so low.) Well, almost everything. Maybe it's just the shit ma grand-mere has on hers, but most of the 60 channels are like one long Ben Stiller joke. The chick who does the Korean wife also does the Indian girlfriend, and I suspect she might also triple as the Russian femme fatale (with the heart of gold and the steroid bosom of a lactating Barry Bonds).

MArt thinks what I'm saying is hilarious. What he doesn't find so hilarious are guys who want to pursue me. I told him he needn't worry because like all good Chinese girls raised in the West, I'm a bonafide racist. And by that, I obviously mean a yellow man makes for happy parents. And who honestly wants that?

I think my love letter to him finally arrived today. In a true testimony of my spinter beginnings, it ends:

You make me want to live the facade, and for that, I love you.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Beijing Update

I'm a news scribe. That's the job they gave me here at CCTV-9. I can't say I enjoy it so much as I can't say I much enjoy Beijing. (Even the shopping is mediocre.) This time around, playing Melanie Griffith Banderas, I am prevented -- by my own unjustifiable reluctance -- to feel a connection with my birth city. The streets are sometimes familiarly immaculate, yet they are not particularly enviable. The word "facade" bubbles up everytime I peep out the bus window. ("Half-assed" would be too honest.) Parks have admission. City grass can only be looked at. Everything within the city-limits have been haphazardly painted over; historical monuments glazed with a blinding sheen. No one says what they mean. I work at the country's propaganda mouthpiece.

It's lonely being a foreigner.

I've made a few friends at work, co-workers mostly. The Chinese pretty much baby new interns as they settle in. I don't like this Mother Hen method, too impatient to memorize my job description before laying a finger on a keyboard. I'm skeptical of my time spent here, yet overall, I am grateful for this opportunity to be doing something new.

Every few days, MArt and I talk on the phone. I've been helping out a new girl, Lindsay. China, unlike the Oprah-fied West, doesn't really contain a self-help gene. Since only crazies can lead the crazed, I'm offering what little guidance I can give. It's amazing the kind of creative advice I can dole out over buns and noodles and some sort of fermented tofu shit with beans.

Works like absinthe.

Returning home, I saw a movie poster for Mission Impossible: III in one of the subway tunnels. The guy framed in the firey background looked like Tom Cruise, but hell, even I know Tom Cruise doesn't have the body of a Russian bodybuilder and Guile's haircut from Street Fighter. Dude, I eventually realized, the Chinese photoshopped the Tom Cruise! I don't know why it felt so ridiculously weird. Maybe it was the too-tight mandex shirt (in black, natch), but seeing how my chinky hombres view white people is earth-shattering! It's like a cigar might only be a cigar, but it comes pre-lit and dipped in macho juice.

***

They've been showing my news packages on the 8 o'clock news. Hehehe, so cool!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Cuban Photos

Everytown, Cuba


The ubiquitous Che Guevara


Postcard shack


Country artery


Resort beach


Novelty ride


Cienfuegos park bench

Cuba Update

Cuba seemed more suited for partygoers too unaware of their immediate surroundings than it was for me. Needless to say, I didn't have much fun. Even looking past the terrible food (i.e. steak's approved for consumption as long as it's cooked after the point of digestion, smothered in brown sauce, and served with equally mouth-tearing rice), alternative venues of entertainment were limited to activities that needed not sobriety to apply.

You must've realized by now that I am, indeed, a travel snob. (Yes, one of those. Though to be fair, the Cuban people were very friendly and approachable - I easily got by with my preliminary Spanish.)

I suppose I should have expected this from my parents. Those lovers of Las Vegas and veterans of cheese. Resorts placate their palate for uncomplicated living. So seeing how I would've spent the week switching between oceanic baths, watching Showtime en espagnol, and following MTV's The Hills like a roach on toast (omg, like, Heidi totally dropped out of fashion school to pursue her dream as a publicist, only to, like, end up licking envelopes, and her cowboy boots were atrocious!), they decided to rent a car and take me to see the "real Cuba."

Readerdroid had warned me about what laid beyond the artifice and facade (though admittedly she didn't much care to venture outside her vacation compound when she was there last Christmas with her zygot donors). "Don't even bother, Lily," she practically yawned. "There's nothing. You can't even find food." I, of course, thought she was exaggerating, as she's wont to do.

And she was. But not by much. We drove from Varadero to Havana and then to Cienfuegos the following day. Cuba makes deterioration look like an artform. The crumbling remains of candy-coloured villas peppered the streets overrun with the poor. One wrong step, and sometimes you'd be stepping in raw sewage. Yet, around the corner, there would be stately hotels done up like Moroccan harems. (Sidenote: My family and I patronized one because it seemed like a safer bet than street vendor food. In retrospect, the hotel's menu was exquisite ... but it cost my mom around $130 CDN, and made her yearn for The Keg: she doesn't consider anything else passable Caucasian cuisine.)

The wealth discrepancy is disheartening. My parents remarked that the use of CUC versus the local peso is like China 50 years ago. (0.83 Canadian Dollar = 1 Cuban Convertible Peso = 24 Cuban Pesos.) We asked a fast-food attendant how much he earned a month, and he said somewhere between 150 to 250 pesos. And here we were, tipping at two dollars a pop, 10 dollars per maid. And there they were, making do with their shitty transportation system and hitchhiking everywhere. There were people waving bills by the side of the road in bumblefuck nowhere, expecting a ride from the next available vehicle, horse, or wagon. It's ... fascinating. And the blatant propaganda. Sure, there were the frequent La Revolucion posters featuring Che Guevara, but it was the anti-Bush sentiments plastered on most highways (*cough* dirt roads) that caught my eye. One featured Dubya's photo with Hitler's moustache and "Fascismo" written beside it. On TV, Bush is drawn as a cartoon Nero-type, bullying seniors into working the fields, enforced by a beefy sergeant. It's quite funny actually.

I'll post a selection of photos I took in my next entry. For a more authentic experience, they are best viewed with a gas canister positioned under both nostrils.