Archive for September, 2009


Chinese construction and manufacturing quality is so bad that I have to plunge through a gaping hole in my doorway to leave my room. I head to breakfast, standing in line with the pensioners at the street market. I’m convinced that most people left standing in China after the ’60’s didn’t live through them, they lived around them. I have to teach class tomorrow, and I can’t take the silence of my students, because the one person in the room speaking becomes the dictator, willing or not. Even the skyscrapers follow the ideal of that totalitarian Plato: simple squares and circles, living close to heaven.

I’m so happy that Chinese names are common words, including mine. I never thought I’d see my name in print, but suddenly I’m everywhere, in every book, the texts are practically crawling with me like aphids. Now, reading in the morning, the banality of order swamps me: of course the transitions are going to be a little rough for writers that don’t herd through the hallways and courtyards but instead jump between the rooftops. We scorn the trees because they have no language, but why assume it’s not principle? If you were a tree, would words not be your arch-nemesis?

As the sun starts to set, the Chinese flag suddenly changes from abstract to representational art, and the sun’s rays do their best to blind me. What I say may be falsehoods, but I see them as lampshades for the truth.

The croaking at the dawn

Since every written Chinese word is a picture, everything I see around me now looks like a word. Creation used to appear a tangle of mystery and chaos, but now but now it just seems like it’s belligerently refusing to translate its meaning. On the other hand, flowers communicate an invitation out into the world, whereas the down-turned leaves on the trees tell you to go back inside yourself. Ordinarily I can boil almost any conversation or text down to the sounds of my name, like dissolving a mountain with cyanide to get at a few ounces of gold. Everywhere around me cars: driving is perfect for enthusiasts of transporting themselves while experiencing the feeling of being an internal parasite. I’m convinced Chinese culture is an intermediate historical stage between our human past and robot future. Based on the way fashionable girls in China dress, speak and act, it must be that the overriding fantasy of men here is to rape a five-year-old. But I try to avoid the mentality of Henry James, whose nationality was his hobby. I’ve never heard of a disease being transmitted visually, but in the bar I went to last night I was a little nervous that the light photons entering my eyes had rubbed against the visible surfaces of the counters and walls.


Running on the highway I’m menaced by flatbed trucks with their militant three-pointed emblem (third row down, third one over) which looks like the Mercedes logo translated into Klingon. The trolleycars whoosh by, the straight-and-narrow living denizens of the road. I have a run-up of 24 hours and 20 miles in the enormous arc to intersect precisely with and bump gently against somebody on the bus on Monday morning. On Friday and Saturday nights I like to practice trying to become a quintaped, but somehow I never quite make it. I once saw a biographical note in a book which went something like: “So-and-so is currently standing behind a clock.” I’m not sure if I’ve ever stood behind a clock, so if I used this I would no doubt be publicly humiliated and reprimanded by Oprah, but I have frequently hid behind time. In the midst of my orderly society I feel like some kind of messy, disorganized Mediterranean culture that brags about having poets rather than jobs and is only intermittently pulled together by the spasm of some internal fascist regime.