Friday, August 25, 2006

Snakes on a plane

Flog me for not posting more often. Blogger, since rubbing head and shoulders with Google, became predictably closed off while I was at CCTV: my only Internet-enabled computer source.

This also means I am back in Canada.

A 6-hour delay plus 12 hours on a plane, and I am clinging to this keyboard like Porgy to Bess.

***

I went salsa dancing at one of only two Latin clubs in Beijing. Mighty fun. Observed one couple in particular with affectionate glee. Middle-aged, quite overweight, and donning matching He and Her striped tees, they chugga-chugged to the beat like exorcising catepillars on a pilgrimage to Cuba. Both of them had their arms bent at 90 degree angles, jabbing the air behind them, and stalked the dance floor in a dance of Alpha-male supremacy. Looked quite serious, as if there was something to prove in their lackluster performance, even as they tired themselves out and panted from exhaustion, shoulders slouched and sloping. What a sight.

***

I am not a fan of anger. It connotes a loss of control, a mired perspective, an inability to foresee consequences. Generally-speaking, I am wholly capable of talking myself out of displaying an excess of emotion. It has been years since I've seriously became enraged, and even then, I chock it up to have been a child. Everyone around me can attest to my aversion to it. Like this year's sailor theme, it is not becoming on me. MArt says perhaps I am simply too rational to get upset over minor irritations and am too quick to mine for humour to get overwhelmed. Which is why it surprised everyone when I became furious the day before I was to catch my plane to Toronto.

My internship this summer was obtained through backdoor connections, where the explanation ostensibly begins "a friend of a friend." The middle-man was a flagrant opportunist with a penchant for kissing ass only Juan Valdez can love. The first day I met with him, he was already asking for gratuities. Fast foward two months and last minute English lessons for his daughter, I brought with me to the TV station three boxes each of ginseng and chocolates (the former fetching for thousands of dollars on the Mainland), a set for each of the three people I was to "give thanks." Middle-Man walked with me to the offices of the big honchos, and left me there to take a call on his cell. So I initiated a conversation with one chair, whom I had met once before and who had originally assigned me to my department, telling him en anglais that I hardly knew Middle-Man, so it would be inappropriate for him to speak for me when I am entirely capable of thanking him myself. Looking slightly embarrassed and much confused, he responded with a few token words, accepted what I had in the bag after much prodding, and immediately hid it underneath his desk. Suspicious, I walked away, thinking "two to go." I waited for Middle-Man by the elevators. He, with that ever present Jokester grin, asked me why I still had offerings on hand, and immediately took them from me to give to the chair's co-workers. This, of course, left nothing for my actual superiors for my months-long stay.

This is the reason I became absolutely furious when I returned home. Since ginseng is worth a lot in China, Middle-Man thought it swell to use me to make himself known to department executives outside his own, and further his professional standing without requiring actual skill. I thought it was a cultural thing, but like everyone else in the world, voluntarily buying gifts for people because you're genuinely grateful is not limited to the Chinese. "Don't worry about it, Lily," everyone around me kept insisting. "You don't understand, you're a foreigner. Let the adults handle it." So Middle-Man used my gifts to help himself get further in the business and gypped me of the things I had originally brought for my mentors. I was cheated, and I saw it coming, but I wasn't allowed -- for wont of being a troublesome child -- to change the course of action.

I, expectedly, did not receive an iota of an apology. An "oops" would have suffice. I felt betrayed and screwed over for the ignorance of these people who called themselves adults. I've always had a problem with authority because my experiences with seniority have typically been disappointing. Are they more learned? Wiser? More saintly? Less? I feel I am their equal, for better or worse, and yet I let myself be treated with contempt. Had I been more careful, more responsible, less obliging, I would have made the necessary arrangements to have avoided this whole charade. But I had put my faith in characters and ended up swallowed by the game. I guess I was just too fed up with the country, too jaded by face savers, that I thought I could out-maneuver such obvious manipulations. But I felt trapped by my obligations as a respectful guest to prevent the incident from happening. It was a lose-lose situation and I think that's what made me lash out so unreasonably.

I did discover something about myself through all this though. Apparently, if I get really, really, pissed off, my thumb swells up big and red, painful to the touch. Minutes later, after having calmed down, the swelling will cease, colour now pale, as if terrorists had attempted an unsuccessful hijacking on my hand.

My dad says it might just as likely have been "bad qi."

Monday, August 07, 2006

738 pages + one weekend

MArt finally received my letter in the mail. He had waited three weeks and loved it immensely. The vanilla-scented parchment planted him on the couch, and he told me he just sat there, with it still on the coffee table, before reading a word.

And I was wrong. The letter ended: "You make me want to live the farce, and for that, I love you." It was farce, not facade, for the prior is much more apt. Play the fool to want the fool, as I like to say.

***

Here's to a happy birthday to my mom. The family's currently cavorting gaily in Los Angeles. Pfft, like I care; I have all the pollution I can handle in Beijing.

***

Is it more dreadful to think you love someone or love them only when they are there? This is a question I've been battling with between my occasional bouts of existential-driven anxiety attacks. (While gnawing on a drumstick, sober: "I'm repeating the actions of early man ... but eating the descendent of a dinosaur! Woah!")

These past couple of months, I've experienced first-hand the accusations normally thrown at the opposite sex. When MArt said he loved me as he ran out the door one day, I pretended it was a fluke and told him to have fun on his weekend trip. Days passed, maybe weeks, when he casually reprimanded me for saying it on the phone. "Accidentally," he teased.

At first I faithfully denied it. But when he persisted, playing along soon succumbed to acceptance. Whatever, I thought. He wants to believe what he heard; it was headed that direction anyway.

Maybe it's because we haven't known each other for all that long and being away from him only accentuates my apathy towards this relationship. I still conduct myself as a single woman because nothing seems to be more important to me -- right now -- than indulgent abandon. But that's much too simple (and frankly, cliched).

Or maybe I am emphasizing too much with the female lead in de Beauvoir's roman a clef, The Mandarins. Besides the misanthropic Nadine and the pathetic Paula (two pictures of love as a martyr too disappointing to enjoy), I felt an eerie affinity with Anne (de Beauvoir's alter-ego). Only ... it's the her as she appears to Lewis Brogan (Nelson Algren), not Dubreuilh (Jean-Paul Sartre). Known as the only other significant affair de Beauvoir had in her life, her relationship with Algren is minutely detailed for the pleasure of -- one supposes -- her own sake. I absorbed those passages hungrily as if I were reading my own diary. She wrote my mind, she spoke my words, and I felt noticeably agitated when certain thoughts digressed from my own. No, no, I'd think as I got tangled in the lines. It didn't happen like that! Not that way. And he wouldn't have said what he said. Nor would have I. But it did happen like that, and I was once again parked between the pages, forced to adapt to an unknowable past.

I never considered my relationship with MArt to be especially "passionate." It is wonderful beyond description, but doubtfully passionate. (Then again, if it is strictly associated with the primordial act, then -- in his own words -- we have a-plenty.) Yet, from what I gather, the way it has matured is really an anomally: a path less taken, a hidden ditch. It is not everyday -- or so they say -- that defenses crumble and continue without assurances, and naturally take root for naught. So I'll take their word for it, and recognize that what I have is pretty darn special. Not worry so much about the present, and chuck away the plan.