China Chinwag [anti-confluential Tianjin travelogue, part1]


[how the hell did I miss this? damn, gotta go back then]

This last trip I engaged in is something many people in the West, especially younger ones often feel they have an almost sacred obligation to fulfill, namely to make a pilgrimage to the far East. And given how the countries there have been developing economically and which of them have been garnering media attention most prominently, one of the nations making a particularly good case to be visited is The People’s Republic of China or Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó, a name that seems slightly anachronistic until you’ve spent a minute or two in the actual place and realize that “The People” is the surging, uncountable, omnipresent life-blood of the place like nowhere else, ever, on this planet.

I’ve known that I want to go to the place sooner or later ever since I kept reading “Made in China” on the underside of my most choice plastic toys and imagined some incredibly splendid place choq-a-bloc with toys… so full in fact that they had to keep exporting them to far-away countries so they wouldn’t simply drown in them. Which in a way is not all that far off the mark… at least when you’re in some of the shopping centers where you are sure that the multi-billions of commodities, alienated or not, form an astounding tidal wave slushing through the nation, across its borders and around the world, inundating every consumer in its way in a big crush of prolific industrial production: cellphones from the year 2031, suitcases sized for human trafficking, traditional theatre mask bottle openers, micro chinese chess sets, animatronic plastic toy pets, the #1 produce of bootleg DVDs… and on and on and on, inexhaustibly. Never has shopping till dropping been made so easy for the average consumer.
At any rate, for me it is not so much a pilgrimage rather than  a personal exploration trip. I have to analyze with my own stunted antennae of eyes, ears, nose and mouth what the hype is all about, that is, if I find the superlatives to be applicable and whether or not I can possibly manage to transcend them. By this I mean that the travelogue should reflect more than just an encounter with a “complete other” but start to make things understandable, establish some common ground, peel out the differences where necessary… make sense beyond a pure revelling in adjectives. Which I always find very difficult to resist.  The least I can do is set myself an impossible task or then be truthful and acknowledge that I have no ambitions whatsoever. However, sweet self-delusion is a skill I have become rather masterful in 😉
And more than even an exploration trip, a coming-to-grips-with, it is following an invitation extended by my friend Sam I.  Who has been telling for years to come visit. But this early fall, suddenly, seeing new professional obligations looming on the horizon largely, I decided that it was enough with the empty excuses for not booking a ticket at the paltry price of 1k bucks. After all I could crash at S.I’s place and the Chinese prices, so the scuttlebutt had it and it turned out to be true, are relatively low as compared to the C.Helvetica. We kept rearranging the dates until they finally aligned like some random constellation of stars in the sky that seems to make a lot of sense if you look at them long and hard enough, lying on your back, perhaps having consumed certain substances. Indeed, I was lucky and it has turned out to be the national holiday season in combination with clement, rain-free weather conditions….a nice coincidence deserving of the expression “a true blessing”. Again, that celestial point of reference, as is only right for the lands of first true astronomy.

Be that as it may, an invitation cordially extended time and time again must not be rejected for all too long and so I did the right thing like I was playing my part in a Spike Lee joint and followed the simple logic of friendship. Moreover there was and is my constant nomadic itch to be appeased, the sensation that wherever one arrives after a couple of weeks or months it is somehow not the right place after all, something slightly off, not even a matter of “greener pastures on the other side” but just a deep peripatetic craving…gotta move on….gotta keep on moving….can’t stand still….can’t loose my nomadic mojo…. I refer to this in some of my other writing and I do believe Badiou captured it best with his idea of “Anabasis” to which I might or might not return later.
Another significant point I should briefly touch on is that just two or three weeks earlier I had been in Berlin, a magnificent city with its sky for pensive angels. There I had gone without preparation the way one will strike out from one’s sleeping room towards the living room without a map at the ready. I also wrote fragments of travelogue about that experience simply because it was so  inspirational. These all sprung more or less immediately from my experience and imagination without any real, solid, factual knowledge to back them up. Contrary to this, at least one week ahead of my departure for the C.P.R., roaming through my second home, bookstores [this one coincidentally in lucerne], I decided that the same approach would not do for the Est Loin the same way it would not bode well to enter a humungous forrest without either map or compass: I needed something to slightly guide myself by, certain points of reference in a place where I was sure not to comprehend 99% of the symbolic cosmos that would cross my eyes. I say symbolic cosmos because it is more than just a matter of talking, listening, reading and writing. But also hand-signals, facial expressions, social etiquette, expand on this list if you please, etc. Thus I bought as any person who pathetically self-consciously tries to designate themselves at a slight angle to “tourist proper” will, the lonely planet for beijing and a book called “Manual for China”. This is an obnoxiously utilitarian title for a book that is in fact witty, self-deprecating, knowledgeable and useful to the degree of being cool. Sam was pretty clear about this point, as in “why the f^$k would you get a ‘manual’ if you can have a perfectly seasoned guide?”, which of course I had no sensible answer to or at least not one I wanted to tell him for the risk of beginning to paint the wrong picture of what kind of a guy I am (e.g. “I have bouts of nerdish bookratism, please forgive”). In the beginning I was thinking we are good buddies but then the way it turned out is that we passed those 10days hanging out like friends since kindergarten, separated by the whims of the world, now reunited for this brief interval of FUNFUNFUN.

Bear with me, the moniker “The Great Digressor” would not be so in-apposite for me; I truely believe in the spiralling, tangential approach to all topics that, if well-performed, makes the gem at the center weirdly luminous.


About tmabona

writer, reader [bolano, DW, bellow, deLillo], runner, badmintoneer
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2 Responses to China Chinwag [anti-confluential Tianjin travelogue, part1]

  1. michelle says:

    enjoying the reading- looking forward to more!

  2. tmabona says:

    Very happy to hear this Michelle, seriously. These are the words that keep me motivated when it feels like I’m just typing away to nobody in particular, the big anonymous internet…. not so!
    THANK YOU! Hope there’s still some o.k. stuff in there for you 😉

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