China Chinwag [non-confluential Tianjin Travelogue, partIII]


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The first thing the Infected One does when he and his friend of long-years step outside the airport building is inhale deeply through the nose. One really smells a new place before one does anything else. But the scent is indistinct. The only thing conveyed nasally is the high humidity and a slightly increased level of pollution. The nose is slightly disappointed but well aware that this is only just the beginning, a whiff of things to come.
Within a few minutes the Infected One and Mr. S. Motivado are in the grey, small sedan and off on the road towards Tianjin. It gives the I.O. some special pleasure not to remain in the capital of Beijing but instead to be headed for Tianjin, a mega-city little known in his homeland.  This corroborates his internal claim that he is not an average sightseer but something more, subficial, deeper even, a host organism who always burrows as deeply into the flesh of its host as vice-versa. What comes into being is the pleasurable illusion of symbiosis. They are symbionts. The Infected One and Mr. S. Motivado. The Infected One and China. The I.O. and the larger world form one living organism, with which the former is infected: it causes a fever throwing up the most fervid fantasies.
Mr. Motivado informs him about certain salient infrastructural specifics of the blossoming nation. The People’s Republic of China is a geopolitical flower in bloom within which the numberless flourishing flowerbeds are only an iteration of what the nation state is all about. As a whole, coming to fruition. The highways are things to behold in terms of cleanliness and width: 4-lanes in both directions choked with cars making liberal use of them. The four strips allow the drivers to develop their very own marquee driving style of weaving, zigg-zagging, sudden stop&goes while at the same time minimizing their time of commute. It is like an intricate, improvised dance, accompanied by an unmelodious threnody of honks. The Infected One tries to adjust his anxiety level to the sudden swerves, which takes a total of approximately ten minutes.

Side strips and traffic islands planted symmetrically with colorful flowers can be recognized as magnanimous gestures of the government towards the aesthetic sensibilities of its citizenry: you deserve to see something pleasing everyday, even on something so usually soul-deadening as the commute. This makes a difference, this willingness to show the people (y’all) something of beauty, thinks the Infected One.
Next thing the two of them are zooming through downtown Beijing or what looks every bit the way the Infected One imagines downtowns to look like: the erythrocitic flow of traffic, skypiercers crawling by to the left and the right, a grey, fuzzy cupola of presumably smog. It makes the Infected One slightly unhappy or discontent to think of the low visibility in terms of smog, there is something to hackneyed about the expression, to tongue-worn to even be thought about seriously but given scientific matter of fact, he would probably sadly agree: Yes, smog, billions of particles of pollution that make the sky vanish. So then the skyscrapers might more adequately be called smograkers, an expression so dystopian it only occurs to the the Infected One at a much later point in time, when distance and mental fermentation have done their ineluctable work.
Mr. Motivado regales him to some of the quizzical episodes relating to the buildings and the cityscape. The Infected One does not bother to take notes but prefers to inundate himself in the overwhelming experience. There is that one, unfinished building, looking like perhaps a torched christmas-tree writ large. What happened was Chinese new years and uncontrolled fireworks, one of which alighted on the fabric covering the scaffolding top to bottom: it might have been humankind’s biggest bonfire ever, according to Mr. M thousands and thousand were watching, the fire folks were helpless. And now it is still here, not torn down yet like an incinerated monument to the destructive powers of fire and human spectation….the burning roman candle of the Beijing cityscape.
Then crawls into view another building, not just spectacular but seemingly impossible: at their highest point two [separate] towers are connected by a horizontal L-joint of vast proportions, hanging freely hundreds of meters above the ground without any support. But it’s not really a joint, it’s regular office spaces. To the Infected One it looks like a blatant violation of the basic laws of physics and he wonders how the public engineers knew that this type of thing could work out. Later it is described to him, the impossible building is, as walking pants but that is not quite correct: the pants are dancing through underneath an imaginary pole and are supposed to topple to the ground any second now, is how it looks like, give or take. There are other buildings but they do not manage to imprint themselves upon the neurons of memory solidly enough or those neurons upon which they imprint themselves are located in too remote an area of the Infected One’s brain to be activated other than in dreams and under hypnosis. After all, smograkers and their megalomaniac ambitions do become repetitive after a while.

Soon enough Mr. Motivato is gunning their little grey box over open country along a train line. It’s not open country actually but multi-sected by  an infinity of lines of trees. Some days later, with open windows, they will become wise to the possibility of this land being used not primarily for agriculture but for fish farming. How else to make sense of the post-sexual smell and the many large, stagnant pools? The Infected One longs for some kind of authoritative understanding of the landscape but knows that he will not be in this country long enough to get it. After all, it has taken him years to get a definitive, cognitive grip on the short distance between Luceria and Zurich…and at certain times of day and upon the completion of this or that construction project and with light of a certain mood, he again becomes sentimentally confused by the glories of the landscape outside the SBB coach. And this is one of the central point of going elsewhere, to better understand home, as parochial as that is in danger of sounding.
Something zooms by in the Infected One’s right field of vision but he is too late to catch it and only sees a red lighted white tip moving out of sight rapidly. “That was the bullet train” Mr. M informs him. It moves at 320k per hours between major cities, a constituent vessel of what is generally called the “modernization process”. The Infected One often tries to recall why a certain French philosopher claimed that “we have never been modern” but cannot but dreads the prospect of re-reading the slim volume even more. However, he knows that there is something very, very problematic about the idea of “modernity” and “modernization”, not bad or evil, just difficult. At the same time, that vanishing tip in the early dusk gave him something of a rush, as in “Perhaps things are indeed getting better?”
Yes, nighttime is speeding across the lands making visibility poorer than toxic particles ever could. After a few massive, brightly lit red toll gates Mr. Motivado steers the small car into the outskirts of the big city, Tianjin. The Infected One tries to keep cliches at bay but one of the first terms that comes to mind is “dystopian”, an impression that will be heavily revised in the following few days. But here and now during the arrival in this unknown city what meets his infected eyes are gargantuan red, yellow, green, blue and white neon signs, strobing crazily to attract people off of the sidewalks into their buzzing interiors. Neon light! He had almost forgotten how effective it can be. And on the streets? The hypothetical question of what Chinese traffic might be like if every household would have a car does not occur to him because the four-lanes, intersections, pass-overs, a.s.f . look as though that were already the case, as though the question need not be asked because this is as jampacked as it gets. The honking is a sonic barrage [a concentrated artillery bombardment over a wide area, says dictionary]: where the Infected One comes from the honks are used as though their gas were a highly precious substance which must only be used to convey one’s highest irritation, over here, on this end of the vast continental plate, it is made use of rather like the brakes, accelerator and steering wheel simply to maneuver in traffic, to assert then and again one’s existential status as a homo trafficus: “Here I am, here I am!”

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About tmabona

writer, reader [bolano, DW, bellow, deLillo], runner, badmintoneer
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