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

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Starting to Rework those six meandering plot-less chapters into a viable novel.

Chapter 1: The Learning Curve

Mistakes come in many forms and I guess you could say I’m sort of an international expert, cross-cultural connoisseur and serial recidivist in that field of accomplishment known as the ‘fuckup’. One type of mistake is choosing the wrong people, the wrong friends. You ought to choose them, not let them choose you. Common sense right?

Well, one man’s common sense is another’s lunacy, another’s prejudice, and yet another’s lack of imagination. There’s a time and place for everything they say and, uh, well hopefully it’s here and now. Now that the whirlwind of my disastrous adventures in China has passed, the mantra of Go East young man! has been exploded, and I’m lying here on my butt, down and out at Chung King Mansions in Kowloon Hong Kong, having slapped my last few Honks down on a curry and a sleazy berth in Pakistani hostel, hoping I don’t wake up in the middle of the night to find my shorts parted and some swarthy stranger’s member aimed at my butt-crack, a knife athwart my neck. It wouldn’t be the first time.

You can smell the damp from today’s rain in the air even through the fake aerosol that comes wheezing out of this demented clanging aircon unit. It’s still drizzly. Night. I got nothing to do but wait. Wait and think. Think about the humidity fermenting the shirt I’ve got hanging up on the roof and the mold spores getting a greedy purchase on my towel, beginning their dirty work and blackening the tips of the fibers poking into the smog and then working their way down to the roots at which time the rag will be as solid as a Kleenex and just as useful for drying down after a shower. The itchy lint on my stubble is care of the last disintegrating towel I threw out this morning.

But Hong Kong is a great place. Cheap shit, fine food, real architecture, cops that do their job. Law and order is something you take for granted until you don’t have it. And need it.

When the weather gets sunny and hot again, the clouds part and the floating restaurants honk, and the hawkers chase the wage-slaves, the prostitutes the sailors, the pickpockets the tourists, and every other sort of local food chain is in lavender bloom, I’ll be freebooting and doing my solo thing at the peak: Victoria Peak, sleeping outdoors in the park up there. There’s stairs up to a weather station or observatory or whatnot that do good service under the high altitude woods, plus a clean public bathroom to wash up in the morning. Sounds like a rough sort of vagabonding, but under the summer stars and a soft breeze, it’s actually pretty nice. No mozzies in your ear at that elevation. Not to bad. Really. And it’s liberating to find you really don’t need all that much, all those toys, knickknacks and other impedimenta of civilized living, to survive comfortably. It’s a cliché until you do it once and then it’s real and talk ain’t so cheap any more.

Besides, turn a john or two and you’re flush for a week or more. Even Hong Kong has its female sex tourists. You didn’t think I was turning fags? In this day and age of acquired immune deficiency? Nah, I’m just waiting for the wife to get in from Szechuan. Then we’re out of here to Free China: Taiwan. Teaching English, milk run smuggling, shoplifting at 7-11’s. Hoodaddy!

I’m just kidding. Those innocent care-free days are long gone.

Hope they let her out. The wife I mean. She’s Chinese. My nearest and dearest.

And I departed. Nope. I Fled. No choice. Shed a tear. No joke. Who knows what the local cops will do to one of their own. Frankly, it upsets me to think about it. I’d rather talk about something else: my daydreams keep coming back to this horror.

Anyway, at least I’m an optimist by nature. Or maybe that’s one of my cardinal failings. Long story. But an interesting one I think.

Okay. Goodbye depression! I need a change of subjects. A fresh genre. Something stimulating. Comedy! That’s easy…um…back to the making of mistakes: my favorite avocation, my principle calling in life you might say.

Errors of judgment come from what? Fucked up departure points, you say? I’ve got fucked up rhythms on tap, anytime and anywhere. You want ‘em? I got ‘em. Laziness, indifference, cynicism, snobbery, thumb in the butt. Or just plain attention-deficit deficit jonesing for gratuitous pleasure and putting off hard decisions for later. Hard? Later? Hah! Yeah. That’s a good one. Or Two. Or whatever.

Sorry. I better slow down.

The gift of gab is a double edged sword: another cliché that hard experience has turned into a homely truth for Yours Truly. Talk long enough and I’m the greatest believer in my own gibberish and self-serving memories and lapdog desire to please. You spend so much time selling yourself to your audience of customers that you sell out without even noticing and become a wholly owned subsidiary of spin, spam, and flim-flam.

Did that make any sense? Nope. But it sounds good, right? Passes muster in conversation, even if it doesn’t hold water on the page. In print it’s liable to be caught by the naturalist of philology cause it’s planted, stuck like a bug ready to be anatomized.

That’s been my problem. Not serious. No discipline. Quick, sharp, but too impatient to learn. Result: Slow learner. I might as well be an imbecile for all the good that curiosity and a nimble mind have done me.

Spin, spam, and flim-flam. The perfect mistake for me. Cheap words for a cheap whore. Tailored piss-perfect for my psychic needs. Goes down smooth like candy but comes out roaring like a laxative.

Alright. Enough fucking around. No time like the present to start with this story, to get it off my chest.

Pull it together, son… Okay. Three years ago I was green as a fresh mowed lawn and just as wet behind the ears.

Cheesy? Haha… Yeah, well I’m still catching my stride. Okay. Let me try another approach.

Okay. Check it out. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all this, it’s to dodge whackjobs, give them a wide berth. It’s a hard monkey to beat though because I’m drawn like moth to a flame to these types. I just get bored too damn easy.

When people say, "This guy's a real character!" "You're going to get a kick out of this fella!" "They broke the mold after this dude!" I still get excited for a minute. I'm a sucker for eccentrics. But now I think back to a couple years ago in redneck China, to when our town’s bus station still had pigs rooting around in the muck, to the days when Michael Ferguson was the only self-conflicted foreign freak for a country mile and then some, and I remember that strong medicine should be taken in small doses.

Michael was a furious blabbermouth with a beaky nose, a weak jaw, a shock of red hair, and intense Celtic blue eyes set too close together. He was tall and lean. He had a style of his own. Most importantly, he exuded confidence and self-assurance at a time when I was still new to China and humbled by my need to learn the ropes. He was so very different, larger than life, glamorous even. He stuck out like the first neon billboard in a candlelit Tibetan hamlet.

In those dusty days of coal-smoke and animal dung, the town was just getting into the modern swing of things. It was chock full of fly-by-night Hong Kong and Taiwanese businessmen with fresh snappy bills and can-do handshakes, leathery faces and overworked hard-ons, eyes bloodshot from eighty hour workweeks, bad food and unfiltered beer, both of which gave them the trots regularly. Almost as soon as they settled in and got comfortable, local wages took a jump and they got orders from head office to pick up again and move to newer dirtier towns providing a fresh-batch of hard-up country cousins for their cheap-labor operations. It was a tough life, but well-paid. They flew into our Szechuan town in suits they couldn't be bothered to press, shoes they couldn't be bothered to polish, and five o'clock shadow they couldn't be bothered to trim: they didn't need to. They still became local heroes via their business expertise and informed chatter about international widget prices, foreign exchange trends, investment tips. Knowledge was power, money, prestige. They arrived, got set up, were busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest, and before you'd seen them around town half a dozen times, they were gone for good.

Biff Cappuccino