News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

2005-01-11 Extra Stuff to be inserted into Chapter 4.
In need of serious finessing. Biff Cappuccino ...
We walked up past a number of stalls, past the mom and pop shoppers in their button-up cardigans and loafers; the darlings in hose and heels; the motley crazy-haired baggy-pants losers - the nose pluckers, the ear plungers, the bum scratchers - out here looking for a second chance at love, a fresh opportunity.

Always curious about new books and magazines, I lingered at one vendor in particular. In addition to handsomely bound editions of the works of Wang Shuo, Xu Chou-Yu, and other favored writers, plus the standard bright array of flashy glossy tabloid magazines, my eye wandered over to several books: China Can Say No!, China Can Still Say No!, and China Won't Be Bullied. My first thought was of the irony of these patriotic works in a temple designed by those traitors and splittists, the Taiwanese. But I genuinely admired the evidence these publications provided for a growing national self-respect, a willingness to go one's own way, the emergence of a gratifyingly pigheaded entrepreneurial spirit in the literary garden which would ensure future generations of writers would flower and give fruit to an increasingly fertile canon of their own ideas. In turn, this encouraged Zhoe Sixpack to be more audacious, independent thinking, critical, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, self-actuated. I was positively charmed as I picked up a magazine with the faces of American and Chinese politicians lined up on opposite sides of the cover. Pensively, I said, "Hey, Bunny, look."

She walked over. "Hmm... What?”

“Well, check it out.” I was beaming.

“Huh? Just more patriotic nonsense. This stuff’s for suckers.” And per corollary, suckers like me. “What’s the big deal, hon?"

I stammered, "Huh? But…"

"C’mon. You know. Right?” She looked at me expectantly, waiting for what I couldn’t give her, and then said, “Jeez hon. I mean, in Mandarin, if you say a girl has the face of a patriot, it means she’s a wallflower, right?” She exhaled, world-wearily, “Patriotism’s for people who are challenged. Special people. You know that. C’mon hon, put it back and let’s get going."

Like one of those flighty ideologues I was often carping at, I’d failed to see what was right in front of my nose. I harrumphed and pointed to: China has five thousand years of civilized culture whereas the US has only two hundred years of history since its founding. “I see what you mean now, Bunny. And don’t you know it, I just hate this crap. The way everything is spun. The bonehead logic, the rhetoric which safely presumes reader ignorance, the comparing of apples and oranges. It’s so dishonest.” Aside from my transparent attempt to regain face, this sort of thing really did get my goat.

Knowing that the patriotic itch might bring all manner of worms out of the woodwork, I moved into English. “You know, the nation that's today called China wasn’t founded until 1949. Before that it was warring states all the way back to the Manchus.”

She looked at me and shrugged. History was all these terminally unhip events.

I blundered on, “Did you know Mao Tse-tung originally supported his home province becoming an independent nation? Yeah. It was already half way there in those early days. These monkeys don't point out that, do they?”

‘Monkeys’ made her wince.

“Sorry Bunny. Slip of the tongue. Morons. I meant morons.” She rolled her eyes. “Look, all I mean is that China has less than sixty years of history since its founding. Ergo, the weasels contrast five thousand years of civilized culture with the number of years since the US was founded. Apples and oranges. What a scam! Who falls for this stuff?”

“Nobody." Bunny said sharply.

"Nobody?" I mocked.

"All right. Everybody." Whatever it took to get me moving again up the path to the temple. Exasperated, "You'd believe it too if you lived here. C'mon Charlie. It’s nobody’s fault these magazines are full of propaganda. And don’t…”

“It’s nobody’s fault?”

In Chinese she said, “Caught in the stream of life, one can’t choose who one is.” And then in English, “You’re accusing people who don’t have choices of making bad decisions. Those are Western values.”

“Yeah but honey…”

“When we have democracy, we’ll do things the democratic way.”

“Yeah, but…”

“So don’t blame the poor people for believing what they read. And don’t blame the magazine writers. They're just doing what they’re told." With an impatience verging on mockery, she lowered her forehead staring at me like a bull ready to charge, "Did you really think they had a choice in the matter?" Tugging at my arm and looking at the watchful vendor, a matron snug in a tartan jacket and a Mao cap, "C’mon. People are staring. Let’s go.”

I shook my head and resisted her tugging. “And the first three thousand years of civilized culture in China featured ritual human sacrifice. The last two thousand years of civilized culture featured cannibalism with human meat markets, restaurants, and apothecaries selling medicines using human organs."

"Charlie! Nobody does that anymore. It's just legends. It never happened. Do you believe everything you read in books? Just because something is written down, does that make it true?"

I chuckled sourly, "That's the spirit Bunny. Maybe you should get a job writing for one of these magazines. You seem to have the game down."

She shook her head. "Why do you have to be mean just because you don't get what you want?"

"I'm not trying to be mean. Look. I'm sorry. I apologize. Really. But, look, I'm not pretending that European traditional culture isn't full of barbarism as well. We have witch burnings, human sacrifice, inquisitions, state sanctioned torture, etc. It’s an only an accident of fate that our ancestors didn’t chow down on each other too." I sighed and squeezed her hand. "But what bugs me is that they can't admit their ancestors, everybody's ancestors, were lunatics at times. No. They have to be special. Only barbarians have lunatics for ancestors. This racist double-standard annoys the hell out of me.”

“But it has nothing to do with you. Why can’t you just ignore it?”

“Easy. Because it guarantees that every time I get into a conversation that involves politics, I have to first slash through all this ridiculous rumor mongering, sophistry, double talk, doublethink, and doublespeak. It means you can hardly talk to anyone about politics at all."

"Well now, silly. Don't you think that's probably the point?"

Not wanting to go there, I retorted, "You mean I should be impressed that this bullshit is effective?"

She lifted her chin proudly, "I don't know. You figure it out." Winking, "You're the Great Thinker, right?"

"Oh, ho! Such sarcasm. Don't you love me anymore baby?" and I laughingly patted her bum.

But the wife was right. We were vulnerable.

It had every appearance of the perfect setup. From the outside looking in, some people saw a foreigner with his girlfriend. Others saw a prostitute: some bitches can't be trusted to do what's right for the motherland. Either way, the female was vulnerable: it was still illicit to consort with a foreigner. If a patriot was aggressive with me, the woman would panic and flee. As to me, I wouldn't speak Chinese. After all, I was a foreigner. No Chinese blood. Ergo, no Chinese fluency. A patriot speaking foreigner's English would be in the top dog position of accuser and translator. The audience would eat out of his hand. He could have his cake and scarf on it too. I would be helpless, the perfect victim, the ultimate scapegoat for a cross-cultural opportunist.

He shouted, “You Americans have no right to bully China!”

“Huh?” and I pulled Bunny to me instinctively.

My accuser was a tall, lean tatterdemalion student with a cruel mask and hard eyes glittering with hatred. He approached predator-like, stealthily, confidently, stereopathic vision locking on to his target.

I didn’t want to start an incident so I just pulled Bunny and started backing away slowly, the way you deal with an aggressive black bear in the woods.

My first instinct was to be frightened silly. This is a lawless land still for those without connections. But I had my sense of entitlement. Being meek and apologetic doesn’t come easy to someone used to being on a pedestal.

When I’d first arrived in this town, a kid in a night market had teased. “Big nose. Big nose... Big nose. Big Nose...” I looked over annoyed to see a pair of bratty twelve or thirteen year olds, one impressing the other with his dare. I immediately sized them up as two local kids dwarfed by low nutrition in their earlier years but who were now living large and moving in the direction of obese. In their crew-cuts, Nikes and flapping Hong Kong T-shirts, they were clearly from a family with money which had put their children in English school, thus giving the kids bragging rights and fixing their eyes ambitiously on the top of the food chain. Two merry casualties of MTV and co-profiteers of globalization were denouncing me for being a Big Nose. But I was either an obstacle to be hurdled or an opponent to be crushed: either way, I was fair game. And I was an outsider bereft of connections, no crowd of relatives to call upon for help, a culturally disadvantaged evolutionary runt, a jumped-up weakling from beyond the pale, an inferior residing in China and living on borrowed time.

But when all was said and done, it was really nothing of course. Just the idle mockery of a teenage boy, the universal insensitive dim-bulb human predator, with not enough knowledge or know-how between his ears to do something more useful and too much time and ambition on his itchy hands. But I was a virgin when it came to being mocked. They followed me wherever I went. Hovering. Circling. Impeding. Threatening. Beavis & Butthead, two fatty fast-food jokers like laughing hyenas, nipping at my ankles. The public humiliation seemed dangerous, an ominous precedent. Twenty minutes of this and I was beside myself with an insane rage that was completely out of character for me. The instigator sidled up to me now, up close, and tried to get me to look into his eyes while muttering “Big nose. Big nose.” I knew better, but still I glanced at him. His fat dirty mouth and chubby laughing eyes told me that the Untouchables and Brahmins had exchanged castes, the wheel had come full circle. My caste status threatened, I did the most natural thing. I lost it. I grabbed him by the neck and squeezed hard. He went limp and I shook him like a red-eyed demon with a rubber chicken. I was at the point of choking the life out of him when I recovered my senses. I walked away quickly, trying not to sprint, leaving him gasping for breath and in tears sprawled on the night market floor, his chum silent and staring, the crowd of half a dozen gabbling voyeurs explaining to late arrivals what the circus was all about.

I’d bumped into Frank the other day. We hit it off again, like in the early days, but better, more relaxed. I'd been rehearsing events of yesteryear when I brought up the night market incident with him. He applauded me. “You can’t let things get out of hand. But most people around here are pretty friendly. To be fair, you just got to admit that.”

“Friendly?” wasn't what I expected.

“Yeah. Friendly.” He impatiently wiped his mouth to get a film of the day's airborne crud off his lips before sucking on his bottle of White Cloud brew. He belched behind his hand and pronounced, “Once you get to know them you can hit ‘em up with a sob story and they’ll float you some bucks, get you a job when you’re down on your luck, introduce you to the rest of the family when you’re in need of a little loving.”


“I’m married now. And I got a life outside the bar you know. The family can be a very cool operation.”


“Whatever. Anyways, you can’t let things get out of hand outdoors though. That’s out of bounds. When people get uppity you got to shove ‘em back down where they belong.”

“Hmm…” I deadpanned. “Sounds doable.”

“Things get out of hand and you’re going to have another Cultural Revolution. What do they say? Em… Civilization is the…umm…vinyl” He scratched his head, “…vinyl?”

I helped out. “Yeah, civilization is the vinyl siding on society. I know the expression." He was shaking his head, but still unsure. "No really." I said, "I got it. In other words, if things get too hot, it blisters and peels and all hell breaks loose because civilization catches on fire.”

“Yeah? Sort of…” He made various expressions as the concept rattled around like a pinball between the bumpers, jams, whistles and bells that ran his brain. His face twitched and moved hesitatingly half-way into several expressions. His skin was wholly alive, writhing rubber. Usually the only moving parts were his blue electronic eyes and mechanical jaw. Then he blurted into the din of the bar, “No! That ain’t it. But I still don’t remember how it goes.” He took another suck of beer and suddenly stared at me. Guessing that I might be mocking him, he said, “See that’s your problem. You’re not helping. You’re sometimes just as bad as those kids that hounded you. It’s going to catch up with you, mark my words.”

Frank on the other hand was insistent that I had committed a grand faux pas, that I was setting a dreadful example that threatened to sink all foreigners by association. Being dark-skinned and aware that he would be the first of the foreign guests shoved off the welcome mat, he was right to be apprehensive. I was immediately apologetic, but his panicky fear revealed a resentment plus an accent I'd heretofore never seen. “There’s scads of these picaninnies around making a freakin’ racket. Don’t you understand resentment? Class resentment, race resentment.” He looked at me angrily, as if speaking to a deliberate moron, an imbecile by choice, someone who’d made a lifestyle out of being a goofball.

I made a fish-face and said, “I’m sorry Frank. I’m Canadian. We don’t really have much of that kind of thing.”

“Well that’s too bad. Your loss. You don’t got problems? Well then it’s no wonder you don’t understand anybody else’s. I never heard nobody say Canadians don’t got but shit for brains. All those eh’s. Eh this and eh that. You so dumb every statement is a question ‘cause you ain't never got the answers. You don't know shit! Lilly white snow-bright skin, you stick out like a sort thumb right up somebody’s ass around here. Winter’s froze your brain when you wuz a kid, boy. Don’t be causin’ no more of your high-horse white-boy problems. You stir up the shit and it’s me who’s going to get stuck with it.”

But the night market incident was a long time ago. A myriad Big Nose sneers ago. I'd been younger and stupider then. I'd moved on.

Being aggressive in the right way could now be a public service. Just the other day, a loud-mouth acting like he owned the place was cutting into line at our local gas station. He'd intimidated several motorcycle jockeys, no doubt first taking into account their low-budget gear and presuming they weren't connected to anyone worth being connected to. But I had the diplomatic Teflon of a foreign passport. I stared down at him from my imported helmet and my cracked leather jacket. Everyone knew that a foreigner might be just crazy and ignorant enough to do something crazy and ignorant. He cut the loud bragging talk short and took a place behind me in line. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't being brave. I didn't have the balls to order him to the end of the line. I didn't want trouble, but I could accept it if I had to. What I really didn't want, and couldn't accept, was humiliation. After juicing up, I got off my bike to top off the gas with two-stroke lube. I glanced around and received laudatory looks from several other riders.

Bits and pieces of this were vaguely churning through my mind as the student walked closer to me, looking me in the eye. “You fucking Americans can’t bully China anymore.”

Fishing for time, I said, “Save your breath. I’m not American pal.”

"Why do you white people think you can tell us yellow people what to do? Stay out of our affairs. The Chinese people don't need your Western decadence. Asia is for the Asians. China and Taiwan is a family affair. None of your meddling. American hegemony. Your President Bush is a monkey. You white people are a stain on this planet. You white people..."

"Hey buddy, take a freakin pill. Don't be jiving me with your jive-ass routine. There ain't no call for all this attitudinizing and platitudinizing." I knew he wouldn't understand a word of my gibberish. That was the point.

"Please can you say that again."

Hearing him say 'please', this piece of unintentional comedy, as he unconsciously repeated a rote-learned sentence made me breath much easier. He was intimidating and I was quite frightened. My cool exterior was a complete fake.

These scenes always made me expect a mob pogrom which would end up with me strung up over the nearest tree, as used to be done with strangers, foreigners, crooks, blacks, Catholics, Chinese, you name it, in the merry old days of the Wild Wild West.

"Well, since you're saying please, I'd be happy to oblige."

"Fuck you, American! I know everything that you were saying. But I don't need to know." But the spell was over. That 'please' ended every chance he had had of success. He charged, "It was all lies. You white people lie like dogs."

"I think you mean the phrase, 'Lie like rugs', dude." and I gave him a Cheshire Cat grin.

"Up yours white man."

I burst out laughing, "That's much better. I'll give you an A for effort." He'd hate me for arrogating the position of teacher, when it was he who was dying to tell me how things worked.

He looked at the gathering crowd and proclaimed in Chinese, "These white people are our enemies."

This was his second mistake. Bringing in the crowd. Now they were judge and jury. A private quarrel and the crowd would have naturally supported him, the underdog, their fellow man, when push came to shove. But now I would be able to state my case to all. In his arrogance, he hadn't checked to see if I spoke Chinese.

"White people? Your highness." and his eyes went wide. Gotcha baby! I thought. "But I do believe your math is mistaken, sir. You know, I always believed Asians had the top talent in mathematics." This is a cliche in China too. "Well, if times tables are difficult for you, sir, may I suggest counting on your fingers."

"Shut up! Shut your trap!"

I continued, for it was the crowd who decided who spoke, not him. "As everyone can plainly see, there's only one of me. Not two. Only one. So how can I be 'white people?' At best, I can only humbly assert that I am just one white person." I pursed and stuck out my lips and made the standard frown and dead eyes of a moron to the crowd.

Someone sniggered, but most of the crowd was still awe-struck that I spoke Chinese. It's not even a difficult language to learn. Just few foreigners in our neck of the woods. And the Chinese people have a special fondness for foreigners who speak the language. Checkmate. Dude was snookered.

I continued, "You're not serious about this discussion. You talk about me as if I exist in plural. Since you don't care about me as an individual, what do you really have on your mind?"

"None of your tricks. You fucking Americans are always..."

An old duffer shouted, "Stop swearing. Stop. Stop. Stop! Why are these young people so filthy-minded? No respect for learning in this ruffian."

The student barked, "You shut up, old man!"


Then he shouted at me, "Stop smiling, you American dog!" He felt trapped, surrounded. As they say in Mandarin (and English), what goes around comes around.

"I'm not American either. Or are you psychic?" More snickers. "There's 200 countries in the world. You don't know where I'm from."

"You lie!" Turning to the crowd, "He lies!"

"Do you have the authority to grant me American citizenship? If you can really make me an American, I would be indebted to you. So would many others here."

"Don't listen to the White Man's tricks." He was learning, but too far behind the curve.

I said to the assembled people, "You see how this gentleman operates?"

"Don't listen to him!" he shrieked. In return, the old man shouted at him again and several others frowned and hissed. They were there now to be entertained, not harangued.

"Thank you," I said to the crowd. "He accuses me of being something I am not. And his accusations are cliches. You see how it works? He accuses me falsely with words borrowed from somebody he has never met. He is like a puppet accusing a straw man of offenses committed in heaven. This is a farce, is it not?"


"You bastard American! Don't let him...

“I’m American?" I bellowed. "Prove it!”

“Of course you are.” His chin was up, chest swelling, new color flowing into his cheeks and lips, his words taking on an oratorical flair. “Your arrogance. Your white skin. And you’re fat like an American too. I can tell. You’re all the same.”

I bided my time, not disproving him. I wanted him to continue to overreach and commit to the point of no return. “You’re still guessing. Prove it, little man.”

“Fuck you!” More hollow confidence, safety in numbers, the reassuring warmth of the growing crowd. “I know. Oh, I know all about you barbarians…. I don’t have to prove it. You’re lying. You are an American. We all know it.”

“Really?” I brought out my ID card and Bunny pulled at my arm. She wagged her head, silently opposing this move. But face isn’t just a concept beloved of the Chinese. I stared at the student and said in a soft voice, “Hey, moron. Look.” And I made dull eyes and hung my mouth open as if innocently surprised by the discovery of my own nationality. I moved the card slowly in front of several faces in the crowd, making sure the student was unable to read it. Would he trust the crowd? Would he get impatient and make a sudden gawking gesture that would make him seem a crude harem-scarem?

Either way, I wanted the audience to see the card because I wanted the audience to be the judge. They held power, which meant the student did not. The student was beyond persuading. Or maybe I just wanted to hurt him. Not seeing the card would make him insecure and hasty and prone to error. “Sorry to disappoint you buddy but this here is a genuine certified Chinese identity card which states that this woman, my wife, is married to a Canadian.”

My wife? Stuck on Whitey! Race traitor! Miscegenation! Race Thinning! He’d go ballistic. I grew a carnivore smile. But just as quickly I swallowed it. I handed the card back to Bunny worrying that anger was a clever ruse to snatch my ID and sell it to a snakehead. Or, perhaps he would take it just for spite, to punish me. To take back charge of the situation, and in my haste not having anything smart-assed to say, I turned back to the student and simply made a clown face. The distraction worked and someone in the audience sniggered. The student’s face flushed.

Gotcha! I thought.

In a last gasp attempt to defeat the evil genetic freak, he shrieked, “It’s a fake! It’s a fake ID card!”

I put my tongue in my cheek, signifying blow me! and smiled, “Eh? Really? Cool. Well okay then, let’s find the police. Let’s have me arrested. What do you say?” He was worried, wondering what I was up to. And then his expression tightened up into stress lines. Now it was my turn to be slow on the uptake. But then I got it. “C’mon. Let’s go to the cop shop. You and me. One of us is going to be arrested, that’s for sure.” As he lifted his heels he turned to Bunny crying, “You sellout slut!” and then high-tailed it down the path.

I rolled my eyes, relaxed and took a deep breath. The utility of the crowd was, for me, now all utilized up. I turned my back, ignoring it, which isn't considered rude here. "Well, honey, that was an adventure. All this fun in one day, it's getting a bit much for some of my advanced years."

But Bunny just frowned and pulled on my arm. Hauling me up the road, away from the stalls, and the remnants of the scattered crowd, she remonstrated with me, "Please Charles, don't do that again. You could get us into some very serious trouble if you offend the wrong person."

While walking past a copse of papery peeling eucalyptus trees and creaking bamboo, I said, "But honey, I don't think you appreciate the fact that I was actually doing a good deed. Just don't expect a good Samaritan always to come with a smiley face. You know, the problem with a lot of these bungling patriots is that they themselves are the folks getting in the way of national development. It's their state-sanctioned school-taught terror of foreign cultures which prevents them from learning from others. If they would stop pretending that they were so special, and recognize that they're just living, breathing, farting screw-ups like the rest of the human race, we wouldn't have this problem in the first place. It's all this...this inferiority-complex driven ego stuff, you know? They're trying to overcompensate for self-doubt...or something."

But she was my wife. Ignoring your husband in this country seems to come with the territory. In a hectoring tone, "If you offend the wrong person Charlie, somebody's going wrap wire around your ears or your nuts and hook it up to a car battery. You can give your speech then and see if it works. You can sing like a swan, but nobody will be listening."

"Don't swans trumpet?"

"Chinese swans sing. Chinese dogs wang-wang-wang. Chinese ducks gua-gua-gua."

"Sounds more like a crow calling."

"Crows in English call? No they don't. Phones call. People call. Crows gua-gua-gua. English is a silly language." She stuck out her tongue.

"Alright, alright. Point taken." I wanted harmony as much as she did.

"Good. So lets move on to the next one. Please remember, Charlie. If you offend someone, they want revenge. It's very simple. Ok?" Waiting until she got my nod of acquiescence, she said, "So please, Charlie, come on, stop dreaming. You're giving me a headache."

"But honey, I care. Really! I want to make a difference in society." And I went to goose her in the ribs.

But she wasn't in the mood for facetious fatuousness. She threw up her hands and said, "Why is it that men are always dreaming? Why can't you be more down to earth? Aargghh!!" She turned around and tramped away from me saying out loud in English, "It was men who made this country communist. Women would never have been that stupid."

"Huh?" I've never heard her speak about politics before.

She turned and faced me from about ten feet away, her face rosy with the chill, her long hair falling attractively to one side in the breeze. "Think about it Charlie. How many women could you persuade to trust strangers to be fair."

"I don't know." I said lamely. "I've never thought about it. I suppose I..."

"A woman's life is about putting up with unfairness, fighting it, and defeating it. You know how I overcame unfairness in my life?"


"I kicked the other person's ass. That's how. That's how it's always done. And that's what the Party is doing now. Kicking 1.3 billion collective asses."

"Jesus!" But I was laughing at the imagery. "I didn't know you had any opinions on politics."

"I don't. Not anymore. End of subject. Come on, let's get going. Just another couple hundred meters and we'll be there." Smirking, she said "If I get there first, I'll buy you some chicken butts on a stick."

"That's what you think. I'm going to get there ahead of you and buy you some pressed asparagus juice. You're going to love it, choking on it while it goes down, my dearest." And I chased her shrieking up the walk.

Copyright Biff Cappuccino

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:47 PM

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