China Chinwag [Tianjin Travelogue, by the Infected One]


 

The stalls seem to never end. But the Infected One adds nothing to his inner list, afraid that he will open some flood gate of consumerist desire he might not be able to close again. In this variety of mall, a maxi-micro-mall if you will, nobody will shadow one. [Maximum number of stalls, micro size of each]. Instead the vendors step out of their space and try their Chinglish best to cajole one into their little nooks to at least take a gander. The Infected One has moved into a mental space of his own where he has no difficulty turning down or simply ignoring these supplications, however heart-felt they are made to appear. 1st floor, 2nd floor, 3rd floor, 4th floor, forwards slowly, circling the goods, looking but not touching, glancing left, “couldn’t that? No, no”, walking past the fragrant toilet stalls towards the escalator, 5th floor, same story, walking, looking, goods he has never seen and wonders what purpose they might serve other than accumulating dust and, in the end, getting tossed out, real attic material here. One stall, the next, then another, a beautiful sales woman “why is she doing this, why is she not on the catwalk, in the magazines?”, walking to the next stall, seeing something potentially worthy of money being spent on but not spending it, staying in visual shopping mode, grinding it out, walking, inspecting, taking it all in, not even thinking about buying any more. Just swimming it out with the flow, abiding in a disconnected space of fluxus, the zen of non-shopping shopping. The Infected One is in a zone he doesn’t know, a zone beyond the zones he associates with shopping centers or malls or venues of massive, grosse-domestic-product type consumption. A zone, a space, a bubble, floating along the unfamiliar sights and sounds and smells, not even in danger of bursting.
Back on the ground floor where they sell the sneakers from the future and there is this tiny store with fist-sized, neat robots and miniature marble rollercoasters and truly outlandish, asymmetrical versions of Rubik’s cube and ALSO the P.S.P.I.T.W (prettiest sales person in the world)….thus far.  The Infected One is feeling slightly feverish, not in terms of body temperature but as concerns possibilities: they stretch out endlessly before him. He is in China now, in the Tianjin matrix of surplus acquisition, though he only knows three words of Mandarin, the language of buying and selling is truely universal. The real language problem however is always a depressing thought, the Infected One understands the need not to obsess about it too much but it’s not that easy.
Within the next few steps he is back out on the sidewalk, moving along to the next mall: how grand a feeling to be just one human being in a vast stream of humanity. Whatever guilty feelings he used to associate with being present in shopping palaces has been defenstrated out of the windows of his conscience. He moves lightly, perhaps the soul left behind in trans-continental flight has caught back up with him, giving new life.
But the sidewalk is a harsh reality. Not the overflow of people, not the occasional glances of passers-by at the huge death cap of curled hair that distinguishes the Infected One very saliently from the others [not to mention his height] but the figures of hard-living that come into view. One is a woman of forty on her knees, wailing and keening and clawing her hands at the air as she bows unendingly before the people that pass by. Her clothes are not looking all that bad and she is in possession of all her limbs but stretched out beside her, on her back, eyes closed, lies another woman, perhaps in her 80s.

 

The Infected One stops, takes a closer look: he wishes to know if the old woman is dead or in some incurable medical condition. This remains unclear. The air-clawing woman beside her who is her speculative daughter suggests that the elderly lady can only be brought back among the hale and healthy by the mercy of the pedestrians and their small-change-packed wallets. The Infected One studies the passers-by and gets an unexpected surprise: many of them look either shocked or appalled, not that much of the indifferent “I-could-give-a-shit” lassitude he is used to from other metropoles. Notably more westerly ones. At the same time this does not automatically translate into brisk small-change disgorgement either…. Hmmmmm.

 

The Infected One thinks this is a bona-fide head-scratcher and wonders if he could find out what is going on if he were to stay years and years in Tianjing, talking to people about the two women on the sidewalk, one in desperation, the other still as a grave. Probably not, too complex. But what is it anyway? The sort of difference that one reasonably attributes to culture (“this is the way they do things over here”) or something to do with the diversity of human nature (one person does this, the next does that, good luck trying to figure it out). The Infected One scratches the scalp beneath his curls slowly, not feeling closer to anything at all other than his own incompetence. Too bad Mr.Motivado is not here, he would be interested in his reaction, his very pragmatic take on such things. Some other time.

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About tmabona

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