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

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Inventing Japan, by Ian Buruma (incomplete)

An excellent book of Japanese history written in an accessible novelistic style, offering distilled concepts, facts that stick to your ribs, and stimulating word pictures that bring the old days back to life.

The prologue closes with: "Overconfidence, fanaticism, a shrill sense of inferiority, and a sometimes obsessive preoccupation with national status - these have all played their parts in the history of modern Japan... but one quality has stood out to serve Japan better than any other: the grace to make the best of defeat." (Page 7)

He doesn’t write this but to me the arrival of Perry's Black ships in 1853 was not just the forcing open of Japan's economic doors but the kick-starting of free trade. In other words, not a nasty imperial incursion but instead a liberation of the marketplace which benefited everyone (by which I mean the average man on the street) but the authoritarian regime which, like all authoritarian regimes, preferred monopolies and big trusts. Like China’s Opium War, this was the beginning of the end for the bad old days of feudalism, caste, and summary capital punishment and the first baby step towards democracy, egalitarianism, and rule by law.

During the glory days of racialism "Once a year Dutch merchants were summoned to Edo, where the Shogun and his entourage would pump them with questions and, for their amusement, ask them to sing songs, dance, kiss one another, and generally perform like circus animals." (Page 16) "The popular image of the Dutch was that of exotic beasts, who lifted their legs, like dogs, when they relieve themselves. Their hair was red and their eyes a devilish blue." (Page 15) "... a faint suspicion of treachery hung over those who show too keen interest in foreign matters. The authorities - and most scholars, too - took the line that although Western science might be a useful tool to rule Japan more effectively, foreign thinking should be kept far from common minds, lest the people get "confused" and forget to obey their rulers." (Page 17)

All of the former sounds much like contemporary China. So does the following: "Von Siebold received a map of Japan, and Globius (a Japanese scholar of Dutch learning) was given a naval map of the world. As soon as news of this exchange leaked out, von Siebold was arrested for spying and later expelled, while Globius died in prison three years later, possibly by his own hand.
Another unfortunate scholar was young man named Yoshida Shoin, who was so desperate to learn more about the Western world that he begged Commodore Perry to take him back to America on his ship. Perry refused. Yoshida was arrested for embarking on this adventure and locked up in a cage. His teacher, Sakuma Shozan, who had developed theories, based on his Western knowledge, on the best ways to defend Japan against foreign incursions, was imprisoned for encouraging his people to study overseas. He wrote a famous treatise, entitled Reflection on My Errors. After his release, he was murdered by anti-Western fanatics for riding his horse on the European-style saddle." (Page 18)

"A popular saying in the late 19th century was "Chinese learning for the essential principles, Western learning for the practical applications." In fact, it never really worked in China. Western learning couldn't be reduced to mere technology without gross distortion, and the old Sino-centric principles were hard to reconcile with scientific inquiry. This is why Chinese thinkers since the 19th century have tended to lurch from selling conservatism to violent iconoclast. Either the Chinese tradition, whatever it was supposed to be, had to be defended against the merest speck of foreign pollution or every vestige of it had to be smashed in the name of science. The history of Communist China is an illustration of both." (Page 20)

An excellent example of a description masquerading as an explanation. What better explains the swing to me is that the Chinese worldview was never underpinned by much logic. Given the lack of free speech and free debate, research was near non-existent, talking points few, and critical thinking skills very poor. There was no broad and deep body of empirical findings underpinning the conclusions that scholars arrived at. Thus, it became easy to swing from one school of thought to the next.

Take racism Chinese-style. The strong prejudice against blacks can be overcome with a smile and a few words of Chinese. I've seen it happen again and again. A western racist would have a logical framework underpinned by evolutionary theory and a myriad of talking points and counterpoints to fend off arguments for equality. He would have scientific literature dating from the antebellum south on to the Bell Curve of the 1990’s at his disposal to quote from and make his case. Such a person would take time to persuade, if they could be persuaded. The average Chinese racist on the other hand if asked why they don’t like black people will tell you that it’s because they’re black. You say, “What?” They say, “Because they’re so dark.” If you probe further, you find peer-pressure. That’s it. No science to debunk. No urban legends to refute. No conspiracies to explode. That person can be persuaded or dissuaded of racism rapidly. And not just racism.

This also helps explain the success of fascist dictators in Italy, Germany, Japan, Russia (Stalin) and China (Mao). Illiterate ignorant mass populations lacking liberty and freedom of speech, and thus lacking the ability to form intelligent decisions on their own were naturally susceptible to conspiracy theories (racism, xenophobia, and religion being just three of a large and fertile population) and used to turning over decision-making to Great Man frauds, in part given that they formerly were habituated to turning decision-making over to sundry Great Mojos in the sky and their temporal agents, the various priesthoods.

Another historical parallel with China is on page 70: "The Japanese rioters [of 1905 protesting the Portsmouth Treaty which concluded the Russo-Japanese war and which gave various concessions to the Russians at the behest of the European powers], in fact, behaved very much like their Chinese counterparts in 1919, who protested against their government for letting Japan take over the German concessions. When governments rule without popular representation or even consent, one form of rebellion is to be more nationalistic than the rulers. If the rulers are traitors to the nation, they should be overthrown. It is a pattern that has occurred over and over again in East Asia, and it is not very conducive to liberal democracy. It also shows that demands for political rights at home can exist quite happily with imperialist demands abroad. But this is a game that both sides can play; the authorities can turn nationalistic sentiments against the Liberals, too, and frequently did."

From page 74: "One of the worst instances of Japanese brutality toward Koreans came in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated Tokyo and Yokohama in 1923. The whole city began to lurch violently around lunchtime. Within hours, much of Tokyo was burning. Wild rumors spread as swiftly as the fires: foreigners had attacked Japan with an earthquake machine; Koreans had gone around poisoning the wells. There was nothing much people could do against "foreigners," since they were comparatively few, but mobs did go around killing Koreans, drowning them in the Sumida River or beating and trampling them to death amid the smoldering ruins. One person who tried to protect them was Yoshino Sakuzo. He also did his best to revise the low official estimates of the Korean death toll and arrived at a figure near 2000."

Amazing the power of primeval conspiracy theories in Japan as late as the 1920’s, which helps explain the primitive savagery of the Japanese Army in China and WWII. And of course the 'poisoning the wells' business is right out of the European Middle Ages and the Black Death when some populations blamed Jews for doing the same. Reinventing the wheel historically speaking. Another spin on Santayana’s ‘those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it’.

C-SPAN recently aired a special on U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq and the treatment that they're getting for their injuries. You can access the video for the full show on our Iraq page. And each night this week, we're airing the full interviews we taped with each of these soldiers - one each night through Friday night. (Biff: Worth checking out here)

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Shitbird (another practice session in third person narrative)

Verne Wedeatter looked around his room, wondering if things had improved with the move. He was all set, but lonesome.

The pad they’d given him was three floors, fully furnished. But it was cheap-jack playschool furnishings in mini-sizes most of it. He’d already replaced the day-glo banana vinyl sofa that stuck to a sweaty back like a leech and made a sucking slurpy noise as you got to get up. It had had these acrylic tables that looked alien, outer space, like the Jetsons or Captain Kirk. And the concrete wept in the top floor when it rained, the paint peeled in the stairwell, rebar was bloating like a rust sponge and pushing out of all the walls like tree roots. Darg Yotsfah, his construction engineer buddy blamed it on salt in the concrete. “Like dressing salt into a wet wound, ain’t going to come to no good.” He’d said.

At times like these, a-wondering and a-whimpering to himself, he farted in defense. Something to build his confidence. To set him right again and put his old world back in order. A gush of greasy gastric essence was getting pumped into the cushions of his new cloth and cushion love seat to mingle and ferment with the clusterfuck of flatulence he’d injected into all the seated furniture around the room. An inoculation of sorts was how he thought of it, one that kept ratbags and uppity vermin at bay. And if a man had gas, well he might as well put a talent like that to good use.

He picked up the phone and hit a button, angling with his thumb to get it right. Boink!

“Yar?” someone drawled lazily. “That you Bass?”

“Don’t call me that no more. Shit dude!” in his best attempt to be firm.

Verne wasn’t a fun name, so his friends did the next best thing and started calling him Weed Eater or W E and still did when he got something right. The rest of the time it was Big Ass Shit Sucker, a walking-talking four on the floor verbal testimonial to his God-given endowment. It was Bass for short. Weed Eater thought they were dissing him, but actually they were hiding their envy behind mockery. W E (pronounced ‘Double E’) didn’t go for low-class stuff like firing up butt-farts with a lighter. He had discipline. Timing. Panache. He was a class act and they knew it. Double E was lonesome and jonesing for pals today so he went back to whimpering, “So what up? You boys doing what for this afternoon?”

“Bass, yo, like I don’t know. Whatever. Like, I’m still on the job. Got some slopes out on the wire, hooking up some high tension cable. They’re up in the basket. I got no time to think. I got jaundiced baboons making my life a mother, you know what I’m saying? I got my hands full as it is. I’m too tired to think about what to do when I get off.”

“Your brain’s tired? It sure don’t take much.”

“Yeah.” He wheezed. “How about you, Bass? You sound like your hair’s gone and git tired again. Or what can I do for you boy?”

“I don’t know. I don’t got me no more teaching for today. Just bored I guess.”

“You need a woman. You know that?”

“You ain’t saying nothing that I don’t already know.”

“Yeah, alright. Well, you still teaching at that cow town college? What kind of shit for brains is they hiring that they take you under their wing? Sympathy for the devil.”

“The foreign devil. Yeah you said it. But I don’t mind. Money’s good. Easy.”

“They even speak English there?”

“Yeah. Not bad. I was worried they might even learn me a few things and get wise. But so far so good. Riding the China gravy train baby.”



Later that afternoon, having whacked off to what pitiable soft porn he could find this side of the Great Firewall of China he found himself exhausted. Pin-ups needed imagining to work and imagining wasn’t one of his strengths, not part of his job requirement. He was five-finger shagged and fagged and not getting no satisfaction.

He wiped himself up, the smell of yellow-bean oil making him nauseous. There was something wrong about the smell of fried food dripping off your pecker and trying to get off. Couldn’t figure that one out.

He meandered in the direction of the shower, cold feet on colder tiles, naked and trying not to drip nor put his polluted hands on anything. The moist air of this crazy place wrapped him like a blanket, like one of them punky diseased blankets they gave the injuns to wipe ‘em out. Sympathy made him think he could use some firewater himself right about now, but first he had a damn itch to scratch. Dang it all! But if he didn’t break out in the itchy-scratchies when he went and whacked a good one. A good one being a couple of hours searching around for today’s just-right hottie with a familiar sort of face, down on her knees looking at a loving meat machine with shock and awe. He peered south and saw that he had hives around the base of his tool, but he could feel his butt-crack going for broke too, and the skin between his baby toe and the camper next door was just ripe with heat. He pulled them apart and looked closer and beside the skin peeling like surgical gloves he saw a welt rising out like a red flower, round like a Mickey Mao good luck coin and the color of one of his momma’s Christmas poinsettias. Shoot dog! Not again! “I gotta give this shit up,” he muttered as he turned the hot water on and reached for the carbolic soap. “Owe!” he whined as he rubbed it in.

When he came out he fired up a smoke. He liked his air filtered. The doorbell rang. He opened it to find Darg and Buddy Dorckbagg. Happy and Happier. He beckoned them in and walked back to his couch flatfooted. He dropped his towel to dry himself and said, “You two faggots aren’t going to get excited are you, or do I got to call the pole-lease.” He farted a tight one, squeezing it slowly to make it last, to make a good impression.

His two guests frowned, trying not to smile. Impressed yet again with Bass’s natural gift.

“Yeah like them crazed gorillas is going to do nothing.” said Buddy, swaggering with a sharp eye to make sure it was approved. “You remember what happened last time? Shit that was something.”

“Well yeah a-hole, it was something. ‘Cept you wuzn’t neven there.” He stared hard at Buddy from across the room. “You been telling my story ain’t you and lying to say it was yours, ain’t that right?”

“That aint true! You cain’t prove it! And even if you could, well…”

“Well what Dork?” asked Darg, getting a rise out of Buddy’s dumb-assed try at defending his-self. Dumb Ass.

“Well, a feller might as well get some extra mileage out of it. I’d share stories with you if I had any. Aint’ nothing wrong with that.” He was sheepish but friendly. Like a cuddly house pet he won them over. Just like he always did.

“So what was this story anyways?” asked Darg.

Bass had been drinking and driving, common enough and on a bicycle he wasn’t going to kill nothing more than time. But there he was and there they was, on the street corner waving him over with a beating wand, the pole-lease. Snatched him down rough and fetched him over rough to the station without so much as a please and thank you. The chief came to the door to see him in person, smiled sweetly and said “Hello American.” And then whipped out a pig sticker and whacked him a good one on the Thai kick boxer’s sweet spot, that nerve running down the outside of the thigh, dropping him faster than a cow-tipper dropping Holsteins on Halloween. Bass was begging for mercy and caterwauling for Jesus while the chief was hee-hawing to the high heavens. The chief put his mean stick back on his belt and pointed to a couple of his men to haul the fat foreigner inside.

But Bass got up on his own and released a foul burst, a gusher, silent but deadly. He felt better already. The cops had gripped him warmly but then getting a whiff thought better of it and pulled out their sticks and prodded him like a ripe bull into the chief’s office. There were the usual utility bureau and leather chairs, the cork-stoppered hot water bottles and jam jars with floating tea-leaves like trapped kelp, but there was also a ledge of sports trophies and a couple of American university pennants.

The chief spoke, “So my friend. My American friend. This illegal in America no?” His English was shockingly good for Guanxi, provincial backwater of the Chinese boondocks.

“Sorry?” Bass was standing.

“You beg my pardon?”

Cold-cocked by the question, he didn’t know what to do but agree with whatever the chief said, “Yes” he said, and bowed and flatulated a squeak.

The chief glanced in the direction of the lobby. Seeing nothing, he began again, “Okay. I tell you. Drunk driving is criminal offense. You no drunk drive in America. Why you drunk drive in China?”

“But I was on a bicycle,” he stammered

“You have no respect for China law! Behave! Insult China and we give you buggar all! You want buggar all?” asked the chief, coming closer and looking up into Bass’s eyes and screwing up his scariest smile.

Bass was about to wet himself when instead he parted with another blast of methane. The chief sniffed and asked, “You shit your pants, mister?” But this West wind seemed to knock the East wind out of the chief’s sails and he said, “American! My friend! You wait a minute.”

One of his compatriots said to the chief in Chinese, “I heard Westerners smell like shaggy dogs, but now I know it’s not true. He’s fat and white like a harvest pig but smells like a water buffalo.”

“This one is particularly foul. Too much red meat. Milk products. Freedom fries.”

“Didn’t the Japanese dwarves eat Western prisoners of war in the Great War for Emancipation? How did they stomach the rough smell?”

“Japs are a coarse crew of mad monkeys.” Patting his tummy, “Everyone knows that Chinese liver is the best. It’s written by the ancestors. In the old days, the cannibals hated the whites and blacks and loved the Chinese.”

Darg frowned, “You’re putting me on. They didn’t really say that?”

Pointing just his middle finger at his temple, Bass said, “Scouts honor. They didn’t know I speak the Chinese.”

“How good?”

“Near good as my English.”


“Hey! You got any beers around here?”


He met her teaching English, spelling out words on the blackboard that he’d just been practicing himself right before class started. He was up mashing a black ink marker against a white plastic board and she was seated in the back by her lonesome, an empty ring of seats about her like a wooden garden around a bronze statue. She was pretty, long dark tresses, clear skin, shapely, all packaged in a white outfit like a nurse’s uniform. She was a noisy one, kept asking questions, making him nervous.

Why couldn’t they just be like kindergartners, not asking no nosy-parker questions except ‘can I go to the bathroom mister?’ Childrens learned fast. He taught them ‘mister’. He learned them ‘kids’, saying it ‘keeyids’ to make it down home and authentic. And when they came at him, squealing with feral joy and running headers at his balls, he was ready for them with a perfume that kept the little grifters at bay.

So he was surprised when she stayed behind after class to ask a few questions and in between his stammering discovered that she had an eau de toilette of her own. He felt safe now. He cut the cheese with a buzzing wheeze that fluttered his pants and she snapped out a hanky for him fast and proper, figuring he was suffering a nasal malfunction of some kind. It was a tender moment, one preserved in mental amber for the rest of their natural born lives. She said her name was Little Plum. He said his name was Weed Eater. Verne Weed Eater.

They wined and dined. He took her home.

She was a nurse after all. Working in the geriatric ward. That explained the ripe aroma. Bed pans and 24/7 rip-roaring wind gusting out of human pipes. Oily Chinese stir fry made flatulence stick like crazy glue to anything with pores in it. She couldn’t scrub it out her skin in less than 24 hours. Couldn’t rinse it out of her hair in less than three days. Clothes were best burned. He’d traveled twelve time zones and found someone else that smelled like shit. It was a miracle, a great day.

They moved in together. They made plans for the wedding. He invited the boys over.

He opened the door for Dork and Darg. Happiness and Ha-Penis. Dork asked, “So where’s the pretty lady?”

“Yeah. Where you hiding her, you devil dog?” followed Darg.

Bass motioned for them to sit down while he fell back into his loveseat. He said, “She’s getting dressed for work, boys. In a bit of a rush. My fiancé is a working woman, don’t cha know.”

Dork nodded and said, “Well them Chinee is that way.” He was being respectful now. He’d arrived shaven, was sitting upright, on his best behavior.

She rushed out of the bedroom, saw the boys. She pulled, looking concerned. She said, “Hi. Heard lots about you.” She gave a little nod, a smidgen of a bow.

“Howdy m’ am,” Dork tipped a non-existent hat. Darg nodded at her and then cuffed him.

“Your friends are here early. I got to go soon.” She looked hesitant, needy.

“Sure honey.” Bass was wondering what was up and smiled blandly, getting comfy, pulling his newspaper off the table and to himself like a security blanket.

She looked at them and then dived under his newspaper and pulled it down behind her. She started snuffling about his private parts. She sucked and sucked, pulled and squeezed, coaxing his seed out of him. He gave it up willingly, huffing and puffing behind his newspaper, the boys across on the sofa, eyes popping, trying to keep still, to keep the evaporating sofa aromas, somewhere between raw liver and road kill, in their place.

Little Plum looked out from the bottom of the newspaper, like checking that the coast was clear. She came out fully now, wiping the back of her hand across her mouth. She went to kiss Bass, red and splotchy porky in the face. He met her with a peck on the cheek, the touch football of love. She grinned. He didn’t want the boys to think he was queer.

“See you later. Got to go. Nice to meet you.” And she was off, the Florence Nightingale of the crypt ward, the dead beat, the geriatric sayonara.

She skittered out the door, giving it an earthy slam that left their ears ringing.

Bass squinted and said, “I’m training her about that. She’s learning not to slam stuff.”

Darg barked, “What the hell else you been training her?”

Dork was incredulous, awed, “What in the great jeewillikers was that which I just seen?”

Bass patted his forehead with the newspaper, leaving a grey patch behind, but what he felt he really needed was a great body wipe in the shower. He said, “You know how the locals want jet black hair. Auburn means you is tainted. Maybe not pure blooded. I told her for her personal information that hair was mostly protein. A protein injection regular would give her the coal color she wanted.” He was nodding trying to get a nod reaction out of them.

Dork said while frowning, “You didn’t?”

Bass batted an eye and looked down modestly and put his hand up making the injun sign of How! and said “Don’t tell me I’m sly, ‘cause I did it out of the pure goodness of my heart. Just being helpful.”

“Landsakes alive! Hoodoggy! You devil you!” Darg burst out laughing. “This calls for a beer to celebrate. You got any beers? It’s damn drier than a West Texas Sunday.”

Bass got up and walked slowly, shaking the stickiness out of his butt cheeks, and the sound of a balloon maker swiveling high tension skinny rubber against itself came from somewhere in there. He was home. He had it made. And not lonesome no more.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Tentative Study Plan proposal for grad school :

I grew up in the United Kingdom, West and Central Africa, the United States and Canada. After earning a bachelor's degree in history from the University of XX, I came to Taiwan in 1987. In 1990 I began to teach myself Chinese and have worked as a translator since 1993. Over the years I have been employed primarily by XX but have also performed translations on behalf of The Golden Horse Awards, The Taipei Film Festival, and The Ministry of Education. Over the past four years I have vigorously pursued an amateur interest in writing and completed a memoir, two novels, numerous essays and book reviews. Two years ago I operated an amateur East Asian news web site (, now defunct) for one full year, updating online news six days a week. During the summer of 2004, I served briefly as a volunteer assistant to Democratic Progressive Party Legislator, the honorable XX. In the autumn of 2004 I married R.O.C. citizen XX.

International relations is a prominent interest of mine given my residence in Taiwan and the constant friction between the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China. To facilitate my understanding of the causes of this friction, I have read up on the social and political history of Taiwan and of China, and also dabbled in military history, cultural anthropology, media studies, economics, and other fields. Naturally, having a working knowledge of these and other fields is critical to making informed decisions about developments in relations between the ROC and PRC.

If admitted to your program there are several fields I would like to study. For example, I would like to research the effect of information suppression, urban legends, and official propaganda upon the formation of PRC foreign-policy.

Restrictions upon freedom of expression lead to an absence of required information flowing through needed channels but also to a widespread ignorance of history, a dearth of open debate, undeveloped critical thinking skills, plus decision-making which is vitally out of touch with reality. Without free speech, urban legends continue unchecked and decisions are formed on the basis of everything from hearsay to traditional almanacs and cult worship. Official propaganda strives to propagate popular belief in imaginary enemy states such as Japan and the United States and actively cultivates popular racialism and xenophobia.

A February 8, 2005 article in The People's Daily claimed to scientifically prove aspects of Chinese racial superiority and reasserts the validity of Lamarckian genetics (a theory abandoned by most since the appearance of Darwinian genetics). One can laugh at this and other articles but many are taken quite seriously by many people, including presumably many foreign policy decision makers. Evidence of this is that Jiang Zemin and other leading officials pay big money to be the first to pray at temples during Chinese New Year.

Conspiracy theories, junk science, etc. are used to explain such events as the accidental bombing of the PRC embassy in Belgrade. The result is a profound misunderstanding of the democratic policy formation process in such entities as the Republic of China and the United States, not to mention the presumption of conspiracies controlling power and making policy decisions in both.

I would like to research PRC conspiracy theories with regard to their impact on international relations. I would also like to trace PRC conspiracy theory formation from its various roots (the most important of which I believe is animism) and then move up to the expression of conspiracy theories at the policy level and trace their impact upon PRC relations with the ROC and the US.

In short, this and related topics in international relations are fascinating and I believe that your program has much to teach me about the international relations field and about conducting related research. In turn through hard work, integrity, and innovation I can contribute to the good name of your program. I thank you for considering my application.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific, by Gavin Daws, 1994. (incomplete, but I got to get some zzz’s)

First of all, an excellent book that will be repeatedly pulled back off the shelf to do active service. Full of ideas, anecdotes, stories that get to the point and aren’t redundant. Fast-paced, gripping, intellectually stimulating, and despite the temptations attendant with the ripe subject matter, to his great credit he’s impartial. A less informed or eclectic writer, in a bona fide attempt to be impartial, would have been boring.

Page 21: “Psychological concepts such as post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor guilt were never in the heads of POWs in the camps, and were not available to them in their postwar lives. The way they saw things - the way they still see things - is this: as POWs and they did what they had to do, and afterwards they had to try to live with it or it would destroy them.”

There’s a parallel with today’s China where suppressed speech prevents the spread of, among other things, critical thinking concepts. This is one of the reasons there are so few common points of reference when speaking with the peacetime patriots. They don't understand sarcasm or wit, neither of which were encouraged during those knee-knocking times of political correctness known as the Let One Hundred Flowers Bloom, The Great Leap Forward, The Cultural Revolution, The Three Represents, etc. And patriots, already privy to the arcane truth, spend all of their time trying to win arguments not trying to learn anything through debate. Those in the know have nothing to learn.

One of the dizzying ironies confounding the present herd of Chinese patriots is that many aren’t in favor of democracy or free speech. They’re only in favor of some nebulous concept called ‘China.’ If China didn’t need free speech in the past to be great, why does it need it now? Free speech is a Western trick. Surf the forums where Chinese patriots lurk, like bridge trolls, if you think I’m making this up.

Living in a world of slogans, and not concepts, they’re inert and can only learn from the past that which they’ve already been taught. In other words, history has nothing more to teach them than the mind-bogglingly little (mostly cartoonish at that) which they’ve managed to absorb. Thus peacetime patriots don’t want free speech because it didn’t appear in Chinese history. Puts a new spin on the cliché that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.

Their unwillingness to take free speech seriously, due to lack of Chinese precedent, prevents them from understanding the power and ramifications of free speech. They dislike western books and are thus incapable of hearing, let alone believing, that democratic armies fight better than the armies of traditional autocrats. So they pray for a war that their nation can’t win. More doomed to repeat history….

To get back on subject, what makes this book particularly good is that "when I paraphrase, when I have to compress scores of prisoners utterances on a given subject into a few lines, it is always the POWs view of the POWs life that I am trying to convey: not only what they thought of what happened to them, but their way of expressing it.... Political correctness was not in their thinking either. At the time they were taken prisoner, the Armed Forces of the United States were still segregated; African-Americans were not even blacks yet, they were coloreds, niggers. For the British, in their own famous phrase, Wogs (meaning lesser breeds with a touch of the tar brush) began at Calais.... as for the enemy, the Japanese were fucking Japs, Nips, yellow bellied bastards... crazed gorillas, jaundiced baboons, monkey men. That was the language of the racial world the POWs lived in. What was racially true for the POWs in the years of their growing up in the years of their captivity is set down here in their words, in their tone of voice.”

Both sides saw the other as uncivilized and half-human before the war began. It makes one wonder if the multicultural aspect of political correctness doesn't have its merits when dealing with people who have no first-hand experience with foreigners. It's probably better to have them mindlessly believing every culture has equal value than having them mindlessly believing all cultures are different, for the latter leads to valuating cultures and inevitably placing one’s own as most superior.

“... some of these manifestations are so clear as to register on the written page, fifty years later, as nothing but clichés. The Americans were the great individualists of the camps, the capitalists, the cowboys, the gangsters. The British hung onto their class structure like bulldogs, for grim death. The Australians kept trying to construct little male-bonded welfare states. ... I would go so far as to say that it was nationality above all that determined, for good or ill, the way POWs lived and died, often whether they lived or died.... it came as a surprise to me - indeed a shock - to find that of all nationalities who were POWs of the Japanese, only Americans killed each other in captivity.”

As to the treatment of the POWs in the camps, it was, of course, appalling. There’s plenty of gratuitous beatings, beheadings, stabbings, and shootings and so forth. The author confirms the stereotypes although he doesn’t overdo it. He’s not gunning to enrage his readers. One of the better aspects of this book is that the author’s primarily interested in concepts and cultural patterns.

For example he mentions guards took a common position such as, "You are war prisoners and should be cold, if you are sick you should die."

This is an idealistic logic that first reminded me of Confucius in its self-righteousness and blithe unawareness that there could be more than one way to do something. Outside of the Japanese warrior code, for many a Japanese officer no other existed nor could conceivably exist. Of course this is a flaw of the young everywhere and at all times. The childishness of the fundamentalist who knows that there is only The Way and all other options are heresy and a snare to be resisted. Even listening to heretics is mortally dangerous.

"You have killed many Japanese soldiers in battle. For what you have done you are now going to be killed - for revenge. You are here as representatives of American soldiers and will be killed. You can now pray to be happy in the next world - in heaven.”

Barbarism yes, but what sort of barbarism?

"The five were blindfolded and one after another they had their heads chopped off. ... when all five heads were finally chopped off, other men took their swords for the sport of trying to cut the corpses in two with a single stroke, like warriors of the old samurai times in Japan. But none of them were samurai; they were just hackers, slashing away in a welter of blood."

Clumsy feudalist barbarian wannabees. To state the obvious, it seems democracy and rule of law were not pervasive in Japanese society. Thus the reversion or perhaps continuum of old stereotypes in lieu of coming up with new mores and ethics for dealing with problems.

Another way to look at it is that the flip side to ultra-politeness is ultra-barbarism. When not terribly constrained by mores in their home country, the soldiers didn't know what to do overseas when they could let their hair and guard down. They did the natural thing with absolute power when they got it, they got absolutely corrupted. They returned to the untutored and quite natural human cruelty to strangers and to the generally wanton behavior of children (our most cruel stage because most ignorant and a stage in which we're still learning to view other people as people and not as objects). Ergo one scene the author mentions in which Japanese soldiers have fun throwing stones at the heads of POWs as they drove by. The best way to understand this phenomenon is to wonder in what state of mind you too would willingly engage in the same behavior. Throwing stones at people? Sounds like something from one's childhood, doesn't it? In part because as a child one doesn't realize how much potential harm there is in the throwing of the stone and also because one doesn't tend to really appreciate what it's like to be on the receiving end until one has been on the receiving end yourself. We grow up kicking animals, torturing bugs, shooting birds with sling shots and air rifles. And then you grow out of it when you gain a sense of community with the animal kingdom, after which guilt and the rest of the well-adjusted citizen’s emotional blackmail arrives. Many Japanese soldiers of this generation (as opposed to the previous one at the turn of the century which scrupulously avoided atrocities) once outside Japan didn’t grow up, but instead reverted to an earlier immature stage of social interaction. The stage when torturing and killing animals (in this case human ones) was still sport and sporting.

Japanese protocol emerged as result of traditionally ultra harsh behavior (ex: beheadings) when the upper classes dealt with the lower classes. In both traditional Japan and Korea summary capital punishment was in order for people who did not bow sufficiently low. At the time of WWII, the relatively recently emancipated lower classes (post-Meiji restoration, that is) seem to have taken their cues from the traditional mores of the upper classes when dealing with social inferiors. Now they had their first contact with a social inferior, a lower caste in fact, i.e. racially inferior arrogant Westerners, and their treatment of them makes their feudal era forbears seem enlightened by contrast. The Koreans were known for treating foreigners particularly badly, which makes sense as slavery ended in Korea only in 1910 (when the Japanese invaded and put an end to it).

Perhaps it’s a bit late to state the obvious but labeling Japanese mistreatment of POWs as immoral, is Chinese peacetime patriots like to do, only hinders getting a useful explanation. This explanation can only be acquired by pushing into other cultures, taking them seriously, and groping around for clues. For example, motorcycle gangs mauling innocents suddenly appearing on the scene is a phenomenon that has appeared in Taiwan (1990's scooter killers with watermelon knives), Japan (1970's motorcycle gangs with baseball bats), and the United States (1960's Hells Angels, etc.). All three instances were during times of rapid economic growth and when social mores were being shed and a generation was caught in a limbo between old mores and the absence of a replacement. Obviously there's a pattern here. And obviously labeling such violence immoral simply fogs the issue and makes getting a serious and useful explanation all the harder.

As to the US troops surrender, this is interesting as well, given the infamous capitulation of the French in the Second World War. "But here it was some Dutch general who did not even speak American ordering them to lay down their arms while they were still capable of fighting. The battery went through the astounding experience of having not the Japanese but the Dutch turn machine guns on them and threaten to shoot them if they did not capitulate." Needless to say, there was a lot of anti-Dutch sentiment throughout the British, Australian, and American troops for this and other related events in Indonesia.

In addition to Macarthur’s apparent nervous breakdown (when wars are proclaimed, every army has its officers who go clinically insane) and inability to make decisions and give orders there's also this: "The Philippine government had some crazed regulation about not moving rice from one province to another, and Macarthur never overrode it. Along the railroad's the Filipino workers were deserting, there were no crews left to run the trains, and the government would not let American troops take over - and so trainloads of food never got moved into Bataan. At Tarlac there were businesses owned by Japanese civilians, stores full of canned fish and corned beef ... yet permission to confiscate was never issued. In fact, when a colonel was about to do the obvious logical useful thing and take the lot, Macarthur’s headquarters threatened to have him court-martialed. So it went, all over Luzon."

A powerful government agency screws up powerfully. No news there. One of the problems with having national military is that like all government agencies it constitutes a monopoly. It's for this reason that the US military can spend $1000 for a toilet seat or $50 for a screwdriver. Because you can't fire it and no matter how much money it spends, there's always more where it came from: the taxpayer's pocket, because if you don't pay taxes you go to jail. It's also for the same reason that these national agencies perform so poorly. There is little incentive to perform well when you can't be fired.

With regard to Japanese cruelty, it's also worth pointing out that, "...Japanese enlisted men had a more rigorous time of things physically than Americans or Filipinos: routinely long marches, short rations, and rough discipline, including corporal punishment. In the Japanese Armed Forces, the senior officer could slap a junior officer, a lieutenant could hit a sergeant, a sergeant could beat a three-star private, three start to start, to star ones there. And the lowest of the low had to take it. But basic training in the imperial Japanese army did not routinely include hundred mile marches with Japanese privates bayoneting and shooting their own officers and burying men alive.... it was true that the Japanese army at the senior officer level was a mix of fanaticism and indiscipline, full of faction fighting taken all the way to assassination. And it was true that by the time of the Nanking massacre in China in 1937, tradition minded officers were worried about indiscipline in the lower ranks. Yet for all that, the imperial Japanese army was still a rigid structure, with a fetish for total obedience and instant physical punishment for the most minor transgressions by inferiors."

I'm with the author until the last sentence. Two problems. One, indiscipline at the top means unorthodox orders being given, which means unpredictability, which means fear in the troops as to which way the winds will be blowing each time an officer appears on the scene. Plus, it means if you get an order to abuse, you abuse, because you fear harsh summary punishment. No court-martial. On the spot punishment. An corps this devoid of democratic ways and means is a corps that does what the screwball in command says without question.

The author also points out the rather remarkable contrast between Homma Masaharu and Tsuji Masanobu. The first was in charge of the Bataan death March and gave orders to treat prisoners leniently and as to the second, "wherever Tsuji went in the war he trailed atrocities. He was one of the masterminds of the Malayan campaign, and after the surrender of Singapore he organized mass murders. He came to Bataan fresh from that. Out on the margin, along the East Road, an officer who looked like Tsuji was seen behaving like Tsuji, a Japanese lieutenant colonel killing a surrendered prisoner with his own hands. Some of Homma's staff did not like that sort of thing, and they said so. But then other senior officers were riding up and down the East Road in their staff cars, and they said and did nothing about what they saw, except that one of them drove over prisoner.

Some Japanese officers demanded killing of prisoners. Some encouraged it. Some tolerated. Some opposed it; but even they endured it."

I'll end this with: "in the world according to Tsuneyoshi, the domination of the white man in Asia was over, but the prisoners were still the eternal enemies of Japan. They were an inferior race, in fact worthless. They owed their lives to the benevolence of the emperor. Tsuneyoshi himself would just as soon see them dead; he regretted that he could not destroy them all, but unfortunately the spirit of bushido forbade it."

Here you have, among other things, the eternal Chinese peacetime patriot's confusion with and denial of inconvenient reality. Angry that the inferior dares upset the traditional moral order. And of course there is the underlying rage from suspecting yourself of racial inferiority. After all, racialism is a double-edged sword. If the so-called racial inferiors have defeated your nation, as was the case with both China and Japan, then you're back up the racial tree again. So one can imagine the self-doubt, plus being offended by genuine US racism and various exclusion nights per immigration. Plus the conspiracy theories about who controls the world (the Japanese would have said the White Man, the White Man would have said the Shady Jew, and so on and so forth).

One can imagine how the balderdash about Japanese racial superiority must have sounded to those who familiar with martial history. Given that 500 Spaniards overthrew more than one million Aztecs, given that the English had conquered much of India with just 2000 troops it must've been a rather awkward pill to get down into the gizzard. It reminds me of the recent scandal concerning Australian scholars who faked several scholarly histories of white massacres of Australian aborigines in order to give the aborigines a myth of their own to underpin the reinvigoration of their culture. The idea was presumably to enrage the aborigines and give them grievances and a sense of entitlement thereby making them socially well-adjusted and have them contributing to the greater glory of society. With the Japanese the idea presumably was to revive the glory and moral correctness of the ancients massacring their inferiors and thus make the common man into a faithful killing machine who loved his country and people and thus make him better adjusted to the needs of modern society. Either way, given the Japanese knowledge at the time that Westerners did so well conquering others and inventing technology, this propaganda seems doomed to produce expectations out of whack with reality. This means inferiority complexes all around and overwrought attempts to prove oneself superior, fearless, warrior-like.

Western visions of racial superiority tended to disappoint less because there was genuine superiority, though it lay not in race but in improved economic and governmental forms which in turn produced more advanced technology and more effective militaries. Even something innocuous such as Western-style team sports for kids, for example, produces an entirely different mentality (i.e. group unity, team cooperation, attention to objects lying in peripheral vision, etc.) in the young adults. On the battlefield this means in armies that desert less often, function better as teams, communicate with each other, have a heightened awareness of physical landscapes and are broadminded when it comes to potential tactical avenues.

"The standard prewar wisdom of empire was that it took only a handful of white men to run the lives of millions of yellow or brown subjects. In the Philippines, 15,000 white Americans to 16 million Filipinos. In the Indies, a quarter of a million white Dutch to nearly 60 million Indonesians. In Hong Kong, less than 20,000 white British to more than a million Chinese. In Malaysia and Singapore, less than 20,000 white British to about 5 1/4 million Malays, Chinese, Tamils, and Sikhs
. On the island of Singapore itself, whites (including women and children) were less than 0.2% of the population, and yet Britain ruled."

And then, at the beginning of the Second World War, the Japanese started to beat the whites at their own game. You can imagine what havoc that must've played upon the superiority/inferiority complex of those members of the Japanese military who have bought into the homegrown bogus propaganda. And what a mess of primeval savagery emerged. There, but for the grace of the god, go us all.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Ch01 Busted (just the opening, incomplete, trying out third-person narrative for the first time) 1000wds

When he heard the loud clumping of the police team coming up the stairs of the short-stay hotel, he knew it was all over at last. Payback. It had been a long time in the Chinese mail. He didn't know it, but he felt it. Knew it. Like sighting a 22 rifle on a macaque and feeling the right impact, the one that's more sound than punch, when you know the bullet's going home. That was how he felt. In reverse. Like the monkey. The bullet was homing in on him, slow-mo. But instead of giving in and collapsing in fear and attempting to escape the inescapable, he continued heaving, pounding, his breathing loud, gasps escaping into the torrid stench of the barely furnished room, his hair wet and the sweat running down his face gloriously. Wet was a plus. Like perspiration making a weightlifter’s arms lighter than air, he felt empowered, stronger when wet. Not panicked. Reality not entering in because he could stave it off for a few moments more. Long enough.

He didn’t notice the heat or the sweat. She did, but it was all part of the exotic low-budget, penny-pinching English teacher experience. It was novel, queer, off. But at least it was different. Different attitude, rules, conversation, jokes, pastimes, foreplay, sex. What did it mean? What did it matter. She’d lie later and brag about how much the cheap skate had spent on her.

He’d half-forgotten the plankton smell that he’d once mistaken for a stench. It was now wafting up from the girl, his student and mistress. On arousal she gave off a seafood pheromone punch that dispersed silently like a puffball underfoot releasing an attack dose of hooked spores. She emerged from bathrooms conquering air fresheners. She left a raunchy presence in dressing closets that punished China’s line-cutters. On arousal the same pheromone punch somehow emerged from her mouth, strong-arming gum and mingling with breath mints in a mongrel raunch like week-old garbage, the vinegary tang evaporated, the rich underlying purulence still there.

He didn’t mind it. In fact he liked it. Filth was fun. Especially when it was make-believe as it was now. More comedy. She was a pretty girl spending top-dollar on knockoff tote bags, designer jeans, impregnation pumps, French skin crèmes, and loitering around expensive international restaurants offering bad food and connections to the lay-about scions of the connected. She was still unaware of her feminine odor because no one had told her. Some part of her olfactory mechanism had thrown in the towel soon after puberty. He figured he was doing her a favor by fucking her and she didn’t know it.

His focus was elsewhere. It might as well be. He knew what was coming. He'd made the mental adjustment. Thought it through. It didn't bother him now. Didn't even interest him. Just a distraction to be overcome. There was no time for thinking. Too late for action too.

So his focus remained in the room. Where his sweat was dropping down to the body below, just visible, the white skin of her narrow waist, her breasts jiggling on her rib cage just a tactile blur engaging the spread fingers of one hand, only visible in infrared, the girl whimpering in a different tone now, now that getting her man off was being pushed to the back of the priority list, now that panic was replacing it, fear reprioritizing everything.

She was starting to stiffen, unconsciously closing the scissors of her legs, her body playing out in flesh what her mind was playing out: fear. She was going frigid and impeding his plunging, his rooting ever deeper, his aiming for maximum torque. He spoke Mandarin in a soothing tone, "No, no, Sarah." Hearing her name whispered confidently, relaxed her and the rest of her softened immediately. "Chill out. It's going to be okay. I'll handle it. I always do, right?" and he gave a wheezing sardonic laugh, arched his back, concentrated on maximizing the itch that would turn into heat and then liquid fire and then waves of shut-eye white joy. He was almost there. Looking for the catalyst. Trolling for the right sensation.

Now the footfalls were stopped and hammering on the door started, "Open up! Open up or we'll kick the door in."

He was still breathing, bent over, and hard into her, slamming up to his hips to get into a narrows in her insides, to maximize his penetration, his pressure, his possession, his imaginary, hoped-for, orgasm-generating humiliation of her. Something he had never told her. Something she would not have believed about him if someone else had suggested it.

He said dreamily, trying to distract the public security officers, not realizing he wasn't loud enough to be heard, "Huh? What!"

Someone outside said crossly, "No, no, no. I have the key. A door costs money. No kicking in the door."

"Shut your mouth. Fuck your door, hotelier. The security bureau will pay for it."

Remembering his previous encounters with the high-handed officers of this agency, men who took orders from no one in the city limits, not even the mayor, the hotelier had little faith in this bureau's desire to serve the people.

He wheedled, "But it would be rude to the other guests." In his best weaseling voice, his rounded shoulders rising in impotence like a waiter pinned to the wall by a vindictive customer, "But, oh, just a minute. We'll be right there," and a tinkling of keys sounded through the door. The movement of metal was enough to distract the head simpleton, the one with the gun in hand, who now stared at the flash cockeyed like a toad fixating on a glittering bug, as if daring it to move again.

"There, there," the hotelier hissed and then chuckled self-consciously, "Almost got it," he was saying, now in a more self-effacing tone.

Friday, March 25, 2005

James R. Manchan's Paradise Raped: Life, Love and Power in the Seychelles (1983).

(To save time I'm going to edit these essays less in future and just let them run loose as they come, free and easy and disorderly maybe and perhaps even speaking in tongues sometimes, but at least without fretting over them as I used to, wasting more time in the fixing of them than in their making - which seems pretty foolish when I think about it now)

I chose this book at this time because I'm studying international relations and thought it’d be fair to have an informal introduction to the field at the hands of a former Prime Minister deposed by violent revolution in the 1970s. Manchan was the first elected Prime Minister (1976) of the Seychelles, an archipelago located approx. 1000 miles off the east coast of Africa to the north of Madagascar and which were formerly a British colonial territory, previously purloined from the French. I thought it'd be thought-provoking to have a sort of shallow politician's perspective on things as opposed to the shallow academic blather which would set out principally not to explain events but to explain the explanation of explaining events that needed explaining. The politician would be fluent in folk-speak, the familiar and undiluted tongue of the working people who read newspapers and their Bible. And being a politico, he'd probably have learned how to tell a story to an audience. His fibs would be more readily apparent and intelligible than the fabulous stretchers inserted into the waffle of the orthodox professor whose focus lays with placing nose to grindstone and ears to the ground to be both up and down with what's hot and what's not in the world of university fashions.

Manchan says he’s a loveable guy with a girl in easy reach of each arm and has several photos of famous glamorous pusses to prove it. He’s conservative, pro-business, and fights valiantly to keep the country under the aegis of the United Kingdom and yet in this morality play he’s the paleo-KTV singer, the winer and diner, the panache dresser, the people’s person with black and white blood and a hint of almond eyes from his Chinese grandmother.

The villain of the piece is Andre Rene who having failed to weasel his way into the top job by fair means, plays foul. He stridently insists on cutting the apron strings and achieving independence from the White Man yet surprises continental African supporters by turning out to be a rat-faced white dude himself. (photos back this up too) Rene strikes me as being a sort ethnic impersonator wannabee. He tries to steal the role of ethnic underdog in a country that in part because it has no indigenous population has no ethnic majority or even minorities per se. Rene seems a sort of Don Quixote fighting impossibly for the impersonator successes of Asa Carter or Ward Churchill. Instead, he succeeds by impersonating an ersatz socialist, sets up a political party, achieves a military coup d’etat after which he lets his hair down, gets some killing and looting out of his system and settles into his natural pose as the local warlord.

After the fall of the USSR, and the collapse of the Stalinist iron rice bowl, Seychelles went quasi-open and democratic in 1991 and our hero returned to the islands to lose one election and then didn’t bother contesting the next. Rene just stepped down this year, 2005, putting a crony in charge.

On page 51 there's an interesting anecdote which helps to explain the economic sloth of people who are traditionally self-sufficient. According to my favored anthropologists, farming did not become popular with its invention. Instead, farming was invented, abandoned, reinvented and re-abandoned over and over again for thousands of years. Nobody wanted the damn thing on their hands because it’s too much work. Farming, though raising the flag on economic efficiency, is no great shakes compared with hunting and gathering. Farming, where put into practice didn’t represent another clever step forward for mankind’s living standards but actually signified desperation with a relentless retreat in living standards. It was declining forest yield, overpopulation, and the threat of starvation which led to the desperate defensive move we call farming. Similarly, building the Great Wall of China did not represent the growing strength of China but its periodic decline. A strong China used offensive maneuvers such as saber-rattling and battles, brides and bribes to defeat or win over enemies. A weak China built walls when it could not defend itself in a can-do fashion and was the sort of last resort that suggested a dynastic collapse was in the mail.

Page 51: ... a banker on holiday on Mahe came into my office. He was shaking his head and grinning to himself.
"I've just been talking to a fisherman a few miles from here", he said "I'd been watching him from my room. Each morning he takes two hours to row slowly out to his one-basket trap. It seemed to me such a waste of effort that I suggested to him that he get a bank loan and buy an outboard motor, which would save time so that he could make six trips in the two hours. He looked at me as if I was crazy."'
'"Six traps?" He said. "What would I do with all the fish?"'
'"Money," I said. "With all those fish you'll get more money."'
'"But what will I do with it?" He asked.'
'"Well, once you've paid your loan off," I explained, "you will be able to save it to you have enough to relax and take life leisurely." He shrugged. "I'm doing that already," he said.'
The banker chuckled to himself. There was no answer to the fisherman's logic. It was a typical Seychellois attitude which went hand-in-hand with a gentle quality of life that over the years had caused visitors to describe the Seychellois as inhabitants of the last lost paradise, a place where paradoxically you can be poor but rich and happy, a land of little yet of plenty.

Manchan's political opponent was Andre Rene. While Manchan represented the side of tradition and political conservatism, René took the side of political revolution and international socialism. Interestingly, and perhaps typically, you can find the same sort of irresolvable debate going on in the China section of the Asia times online forum between the non-China writers (sincere and reasonably knowledgeable) and the China correspondents (insincere and unfathomably/willfully ignorant about their own country). On page 62, Manchan demonstrates how this worked in the Seychelles in 1976. The following may remind you of ongoing debates on Iraq and China.

From pages 62, 63: From the very beginning the [international socialist] paper carried articles deliberately calculated to disparage the USA and to lower the esteem of the American people in the eyes of the Seychellois. They were painted as villains in Vietnam and racialists at home.... No matter what they did, they were wrong.
[The Americans] had the only modern refrigerator system on the island and began by buying stocks of lobsters. René accused them of depriving the locals of food. They took the point and imported their lobsters from Kenya. René then accused them of failing to support the local fishermen.
The same logic might apply to fraternizing with the girls. Ignore them and you discriminate. Don't ignore them and, with your money and sports cars and offers of US passports, you inspire jealousy...
One of the conditions of the agreements between London and Washington was that the Americans could import food and provisions into the island free of duty. Rene attacked them. Here was the richest nation on earth, he said, depriving a poor island of much-needed revenue. The Americans reacted quickly. Through the auspices of the Catholic Relief Service Agency they imported tons of bulgur wheat in sacks as a substitute for the rice which was the Islanders staple diet. The trouble was that the Seychellois hated the stuff and René attacked them for dumping en masse leftovers that their cattle and pigs had not consumed.
(Recently I saw that the lessons still had not been learned. Traveling in Micronesia in the Pacific, I saw a number of islands under American trusteeship. Behind most of the thatched houses stood beautifully mounted 50 hp Johnson outboard motors, monuments to American generosity but of no practical benefit as the Islanders had no idea how to replace a simple spare [tire].)

And from page 69: people working under pressure often need an opening valve to let off steam. Some go for alcohol. Others smoke heavily. A few become the unfortunate victims of drugs. I discovered with Isabel that my strong -- or may be weak -- point was that I found great solace in the company of women, particularly those who were both intelligent and beautiful. A tête-à-tête by candlelight would normally provide a temporary and useful respite from whatever political problems and frustrations that beset me.

Indeed, over the course of the 200 plus pages of this book, the author refers discreetly but firmly to his picking up and shagging of a dozen or so celebrities in various stages of marriage or divorce. He was known as the Pierre Trudeau of the East for his swinging bag and adventures. At first this seemed a bit clownish. And association with Pierre seemed unfortunate as the late Trudeau did as much as any politician in recent Canadian memory to lead the country down the primrose path to being put out to pasture.

Then I came around to Manchan's way of dealing with an attack of low-esteem. Alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes are essentially diversions and aides to forgetting a situation. In other words, tools of someone who is passive for the moment. Picking up floozies is a power booster and confidence restorer. Particularly when you spend time with intelligent cuties, hard as such animals are to find (One of Manchan's more intelligent plants informed him one evening that she was the spirit of Nefertiti). On the other hand with even just a facsimile of intelligence, you have something to talk at, given that talking with is out of the question. Either way you can get things off your chest, debate them if you like, and come up with fresh ideas and solutions. You don't obsess because you can't: you're in the company of somebody you're trying to talk up. And sex is healthy: both more of a workout and yet easier on the body than designer pollutants. After chit-chat and love/hate sex, you don't wake up feeling removed from the situation but feeling empowered to deal with it. Gives a fine sheen to WhamBamThankYouMam.

Given the international socialist misery which gripped the Seychelles after the violent revolution of 1977, which brought in witch hunts, political prisoners, political assassinations, and at least one street massacre, I developed an appreciation for the simple happy politicking necessary to work a simple happy people.

From page 73: our party responded to Rene's political violence with restraint. I knew that the great majority, brought up under Christian ethics, abhorred violence and I knew that the way to the hearts of the people was through song and laughter.
My brother Mickey, perhaps the best vocalist the islands had produced, became a great asset to our campaign bandwagon. He wrote over 50 songs which on the whole popularized the theme of nonviolence, said 'No' to independence and called for fraternal understanding.
... we fought the election with Mickey's songs and a carnival atmosphere. The songs attracted big crowds who, in between the singing, were being educated about what we saw as the social and political consequences of breaking our links with Britain. The lesson of Zanzibar was regularly recalled. 'Think of all the dozens of political leaders who made use of emotional issues to seek popular support for independence,' we said. The result was the most gruesome type of dictatorship and the denial of human rights.

Songs and a carnival atmosphere worked, keeping the islanders away from the lunatic sub-Saharan African dictatorships that broke out after the British and French left. In the end, Andre René had to resort to machine guns and importing warriors from the Tanzanian army to get rid of Manchan who was too popular and who lived in a nation too prosperous to be overwhelmed with the usual left-wing conspiracy theories and politics of envy.

Perhaps most interesting in this book to me was evidence provided by the author for the positive aspects of colonialization. Taiwan clearly benefited from being watered and manured by the Japanese colonial regime. Americans on the other hand paid more taxes for less government benefits as an outcome of an expensive war for independence waged ironically to reduce taxes (recall the hated Stamp Tax, the Boston Tea Party, the maintaining and installing of troops in American residences after the British had paid for and successfully fought the French & Indian War).

From page 70, 76: The Gibraltarians did not want independence because of their fear of Spain; the Fijians were worried because their Indian immigrant population had exploded to an extent that it formed the majority on the islands.
... Britain, anxious to dismantle the empire, soon bought off the Fijians by offering them a constitution which assured the native minority the government mantle over the Indian immigrants. Naturally they took up the offer and became independent.

The author, who was prime minister both before and when the Seychelles became independent, never wanted independence. It was the British which forced independence upon him and the islands. One wonders how many pages of professorial dirge Noam Chomsky dictated to secretary Edward Herman on this hideous nastiness and into how many beet-red Irish rages Robert Fisk must have suffered whilst feeling their pain. Here, in the conspiracy-free zone, it appears that the colonies were too expensive for the British to maintain as a side show and the British foreign office ended up bribing colonies to leave the circus. Yes colonialism, shame that it was, was so shameful that it took years of begging and plenty of payola to get them off Britannia’s bloody teats. And, to be sure you didn't miss it, the Brits even went so far as to provide Fiji with a system that was antidemocratic to please the reigning indigenous locals (what an earlier generation of tear-squeezers and pain-feelers called noble savages). I hope you enjoyed that irony as much as I did. Well, in this world, there's plenty more where that came from.

Last but not least, let's take a quick look at how NGOs operated in the 1970's and, as far as I can tell, continue to operate:

Page 86: News that the airport project was on washed up on our shores a shoal of entrepreneurs and our difficulty was to differentiate between the snapper and the shark. We did not want any fast buck merchants and we hired Dun & Bradstreet, the international status investigators, to check every individual and company who arrived with plans and ambitions. The status reports threw up some astonishing backgrounds. Among the sharks were undisclosed bankrupts and a fair selection of wanted criminals ready to take advantage of those whom they thought were still backward islanders. They were soon told to get off the islands but fortunately there were many serious businessmen ready to risk precious capital in the name of free enterprise.

Keep in mind that the author, Manchan, studied law in London and Paris and is a Knight of the Empire who's father was a successful businessman. NGO's typically go into ridiculously corrupt countries where the Big Chief and his adjunct swamis either know nothing about the likes of Dun & Bradstreet or wouldn't want foreigners peering and nosing around in the nation’s business anyway, disturbing family and friends.

That's enough for today...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

"The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers," complained [Thomas] Jefferson.

Taking a break on the manufacturing of bad novels (though the next one should be much better as I'm past the self-indulgent screw-the-audience phase I think and into the healthier and more productive money-whore stage). Inspired by my latest flip-flop on the National Taiwan University grad program. Thinking of writing the required exam in English instead of Chinese (a language I can read and type, but not write by hand). Wouldn't be the craziest stunt they've seen I'm sure. They might buy it anyway, as there's an oral interview and I speak Chinese like the wind plus I've translated for plenty of respectable non-entities around town. We shall see...

Monday, March 21, 2005

Novel Chapter 1: The Learning Curve (incomplete, very rough, redoing the original story, requires a complete makeover...)

Mistakes come in many shapes and sizes. I guess you could say I’m sort of a 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.

But 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 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 dark stranger’s member aimed at my butt-crack a knife against my neck. It wouldn’t be the first time.

You can smell the damp from the green harbor and this evening's rain even through the fake aerosol that comes wheezing out this demented clanging aircon unit. It’s still drizzly. Night. Got nothing to do but wait. Wait and think. Think about the humidity soaking the shirt I’ve got hanging up on the roof and the mold spores greedily fermenting on my towel, beginning their dirty work by blackening the tips of the fibers poking out into the smog and then working their way down to the roots. In a few days that towel will be rag as solid as a Kleenex tissue and just as useful for drying down after a shower. The itchy lint on my stubble is care of the disintegrating towel I just threw out. Thank god towels are so cheap they’re practically disposable.

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 like I did.

I’m dreaming about when the weather gets hot again and the clouds part and the sun pokes through. The floating restaurants will honk again and the hawkers start stalking 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 the weather station that do good service at that high altitude. Plus there’s 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!

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. No joke. Who knows what the local cops will do to one of their own. She’s less than that actually. She’s Taiwanese. And that sort of Chinese compatriot isn’t popular with mainland China patriots. It upsets me to even think about it. I’d rather talk about something else than let my daydreams keep returning 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.

Really? Or is my real problem the dyslexia I’ve had since childhood. Not just a problem tracking movement in three dimensions, but also faulty memory. Can’t remember back in time, only by association with color, faces, sounds. This means my head is clear of memories so I can think uncluttered, which means fast. Real fast. Problem is I can’t remember properly so I’m always expecting the wrong things. Especially from people. Which means disappointment and frustration. I’m quick coming up with ideas but quick to forget them. Quick to learn but unable to use most of it. Quick to make mistakes. The same mistakes over and over. Which makes me irritable much of the time. For the wrong reasons. For reasons I don’t even know.


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? 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 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 maybe it doesn’t sounds bad. Passes muster in conversation, even if it isn’t worth its weight in ink on the page. In print itis prey for the philologist, 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! No time like the present to start with this, 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.

Yeah? Well I’m still catching my stride. Let me try another approach.

Copyright Biff Cappuccino

Saturday, March 19, 2005

From the Atimes forum:

Dude wrote >>The civil war was a civil war -- not an attack on a foreign country. The Mexican and Spanish wars are the exceptions that prove the rule: both were wars of aggression, like our war in Iraq. Some will argue that it was misunderstanding in the case of the Spanish war, but it was similar to the Iraq one in that the casus belli had no evidence to back it up. In WWII, Germany and Italy declared war on us, and were furthermore aggressive countries actively trying to conquer large parts of the world.<<

I wrote: The civil war was a declaration of independence by the south and featured one side at least which viewed itself as an independent nation given that the union had been entered into voluntarily. I'm not a partisan of the confederacy, just reworking your semantics. And I think that all of these wars are 'exceptions' casting doubt on your statement that "Democrats favor a foreign policy that was the consensus in America for 50 if not 200 years". I don't see a consensus other than one which could be stated as: "the US is opposed to belligerent war except when it's not opposed to belligerent war."

My understanding of WWII is that Hitler's top generals were strongly opposed to invading France and even convened a conspiracy to depose Hitler and the Nazis in the winter of 1939/1940, not to mention that Hitler tried repeatedly in vain to draw up a peace treaty with the Brits. Churchill instead bombed Hamburg. The US went to war because FDR wanted to go to war despite his election promise that he would not and despite polls showing up to 80% opposition to intervention in Europe. He couldn't get Hitler to declare war on the US so he tried to provoke the Japanese, an ally, through various means. FDR didn't see Pearl Harbor coming, but he did expect (and want) an attack on either the Philippines or Midway Island. I agree that Hitler had to be stopped and that the Japanese did not have to attack the US, but FDR wanted into that war. Though I'm no fan of FDR, if it had been me, I probably would have done the same thing that he did: i.e. lie to the public, as most politicians do regardless of the cause, and do what needed to be done. This seems to be what often passes for statesmanship in our imperfect world.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Ch10 Class in Session (rough draft)
3400 words

As the professor shuffled into the room, we turned. He was moving heavily. Bent over with an armful of books, he looked up and smiled shyly, his gaze slowly moving across us like a water buffalo eying skittish birds. It was heavy going for the old dude and he was panting in his tired navy blue polyester suit, a red sweater-vest, a tie that didn’t leave an impression and white sneakers that did. An encouraging smell of library books entered the room with him.

He was in the standard uniform. The down and out kind. Not that there was any other at the moment. For all the tall talk about respect for education, most educators were paid jack. Everyone piped down as he found his chair, red and plush in the seat, the edges chafed and grey but still comfortable, still respectable. We were on fiberboard and rattan, the natural give cushioning our behinds. The classroom chatter faded to a respectful silence and the sound of traffic and the distant hoots of the two eternal debaters filled up the empty space.

The professor looked up, fatigued but genial. A new sweaty aroma hit my nostrils and my gaze moved to his hair where I found the expected dandruff like dry snowflakes. Frank and Noah were leaning away from the table, but for the rest of us the smell of a naturally earthy specimen wasn’t a problem.

Suddenly, as if orchestrated, the Chinese grad students stood up like a sports team trying to make a good impression with the new coach. I smiled, half-expecting them to burst out in a company song.

Then the professor turned to us inscrutable occidentals. Finding himself in the presence of a superior being, Noah stood up and stooped over half way between a nod and a bow. The professor stayed seated while returning his greeting, nodding politely, conserving energy. Frank smiled blankly, his face a mask, the sparkle gone from his eyes. I did my cheeky best to stop my whimper of a smile gleaming into a leer. An aimless will to power was still strong in me and the sight of bowing and scraping encouraged it.

The professor sat up and raised his arms to rearrange his books on the table. As he went through them, I noted a selection of Chinese essays on Sunzu's The Art of War and an English edition of Colson and Groom's International Relations Then & Now: Origins and Trends in Interpretation. It was encouraging that we’d be able to converse in English and Chinese.

He stacked his books on the discussion table and then thought better of it, cleared his throat, glanced around and put them on the ledge behind him, leaving a scrapbook and pen on the table. As he turned back, taking his time, unhurried and mellow, his presence had a calming effect on us all. The tension separating the Chinese students and us dissipated for the moment.

The prof’s face was lined like used wrapping paper though he was but fifty. The dry weather in this part of China was one reason. But he had deep crow's feet too and smiling came easy. Too easy I thought. Through a lot, he’d learned to grimace his way out of trouble. In many ways he was the quintessential professor of his generation. A few whiskers sprouted around his mouth, cropped but not shaven; there was a mole on his left cheek and chin, both sprouting thickets of facial hair. He had late-night bloodshot eyes and a shiny dome enclosed by steel wool hair in wild wavelets like the laurel wreath of a country champion.

He looked around at us, taking in the square and round faces. He had a warm glow that suggested he was always thinking pleasant things and which cheered me up considerably. But with experience I learned that it was an agreeable camouflage: projecting something, revealing nothing.

"Um..." he began and then thought better of it and began pressing his thin suit jacket as if it was a gift wrapper and he was trying to feel what was inside. He picked up the pace, his fingers flying through his pockets like a dodgy postal worker tickling envelopes for hidden dollar bills. The professor looked up at us, angling for a helping hand, whereupon a long-haired Chinese student gallantly handed him a smoke with impressive speed. He must have been ready for this moment. The professor thanked him and fired up his smoke with the student’s Zippo knockoff.

The prof leaned back to get comfortable, acquiring the serenity you see in old black and whites of satisfied opium customers. He was a well-adjusted old bird. He looked over us again and smiled and this was the first time I suspected a deliberate vagueness about him and realized I needed to keep my wits about me.

He thought for a second, paused and tipped his ashes on the floor to keep them off the table, inhaled and then said, "Well, this is the first class our department of international relations has opened to the foreign community and I would like to welcome the three foreigners here today." He nodded and opened his palm indicating us, flipped more ash on to the floor tiles, inhaled, snorted smoke, and continued gently, "We look very forward to learning together, to profiting from the exchange of opinions across the political spectrum. I expect that there is… ah… much for both sides to learn and I hope that we can proceed in a mutually advantageous fashion."

He cleared his throat to say something else, and then thought better of it, swallowed and then said calmly, "What I mean to say is that… ahh… I hope we can proceed in an air of mutual friendship. I for one am very happy to welcome these three Americans here to our school. On behalf of the department I welcome you," at which point he began clapping his hands gently, his cigarette clamped between two fingers, and the Chinese students followed his lead in a sort of clapper posse.

I wasn't used to being flattered and was too vain to wave this off as the feudal routine it was. It was too tempting for the sadist in me not to call them clowns and laugh it up. They were just being polite in their own way, a favor I should have appreciated. Instead, I suppressed a chuckle, putting my hand in front of my mouth and choked the laughing gas into a poor imitation of a cough.

Noah bent forward and turned his head, giving me a smile full of sharp teeth. Frank wasn't interested in us. Being labeled an American had probably got his goat. I scanned around and gave the table my best look of simpleton’s contrition, but the long-haired student's gaze lingered on me. I tried to tune him out. He wasn't buying any of it. Who knows what the professor thought? Nobody’s business it seemed. For all I knew he was a smiling knife.

To clear the air he suggested, "It would be good for all of us to give a brief self introduction. It would help us all to have an idea of where everyone else is coming from and besides we need to get to know each other better anyway. Let's start with you there young man," pointing to the Chinese student closest to the window.

There were five Chinese students and the first four ran through the usual background of urban parents, father an engineer or an entrepreneur or a government employee, mother a factory worker or a market vendor. When it came to Longhair, he muttered quickly in a strangely accented Mandarin, "My name is Li Dalong (Li Big Dragon) and I am from Kunming. My family is descended from the Dai people." But rather than knuckle under and accept that being a cooked barbarian meant second-rate genes and poor judgment in one’s choice of ancestors, a sort of moral failing historically speaking, he embraced weakness and made a weapon of it in the best tradition of the underdog messiah. “My parents are journalists and have been reporting on the plight of the disempowered.” Looking over us with a frown and in a superior air, “Reporting on the abuse of peasants and government profiteering. All at great risk to themselves. My father has been beaten and received death threats. But sacrifices need to be made to get our country up off its knees. To achieve fairness, equality.”

He was the perfect prototype of the peacetime patriot. He borrowed his parents’ pride and wore it on his own sleeve. He dared anyone to challenge him. In lieu of good genes, he had good lineage.

He kept rattling on, lecturing us about the rights of the people and our responsibilities to pick up the downtrodden, to protest poor work conditions, to avenge the self-immolation of farmers at the end of their rope. “There were 58,000 violent protests in China last year!”

“How do you know this?” one of the students asked, pulling off his glasses and gaping. But he wasn’t incredulous, but impressed. Longhair had been accessing offshore websites beyond the reach of patriotic censors. Cool!

Longhair ignored him. He was on a roll, “This is a growing trend and the question is: do we want to ride the wave or be swamped by it? And speaking of trends, our nation’s strength is growing. We need to assert ourselves on the international stage. It is time to avenge the insults of the foreigner powers, to end the humiliations they continue to perpetrate on us. Remember Belgrade. Remember Hainan Island. Remember…”

“Yes, yes,” wheezed the professor. “Thanks so much for your introduction,” sounding more and more like Mr. Howell in Gilligan’s Island. “I’m sure we all get the point.” He raised his hands to indicate that clapping-time was here and the Chinese students began patting their palms to commend the rousing speech. Noah began clapping too. This was too much. I coughed again, leaned back, and slapped him between the shoulder blades.

He shot an evil look at me, his eyes furious. Over the noise of the pattering palms I shrugged and said lamely, “Sorry, man.” Looking at my arm as if it was to blame. “I don’t know what came over me. I got a fit of coughing and wanted a slap on the back. I got disoriented and slapped yours instead.” I rubbed my cheek, “Crazy shit, man. I don’t understand it either.”

“Try that again homeboy and I’m going to disorientate your face.”

I bit my cheek and smiled apologetically about my big lie and turned back to the clappers to end the conversation. What I’d said was so dumb and incredible, that it might be true. A standard trick you learn in international dorms. Either way, Noah wanted to appear safe and cuddly to the locals so there was no way he was going to lash out at me here.

I looked over at Longhair, who was focused on the professor. But I knew he was privately basking in the glow of his fellow’s admiration. He was a scammer for sure. He spoke at a hectic clip to keep people out of his one-way conversation. Speed was a warning and an offensive maneuver. His go-getter habit of taking the attack to the enemy made me sympathetic right away. He might be a prick, but I’d respect him at a certain level.

He was sharp, to the point, and nervous. Yet he forced himself to be confident. The more he’d talked, the stronger he became, feeding on the sound of his own voice like a psychic perpetual motion machine. He was emblematic of the best of the younger generation: impatient and pushy, self-centered and self-assured. He was a great improvement over the run-to-seed older generation, still waiting for the axe to fall thirty years after the demise of Mao. But of course, personal freedom doesn't just mean freedom to be yourself but also freedom to hassle others.

Frank and I gave our spiels. Nothing you don't already know.

Noah's was interesting though. After getting his Sri Lankan folk’s emigration to Los Angeles out of the way, he spoke in Chinese with great gravity, "I speak to you my brothers as a man persecuted for his skin and his culture. As a man once oppressed but now liberated. Liberated here in China, a multicultural nation opposed to racism and cultural oppression, where the underdog can speak his mind freely and not be harassed and persecuted. I was once treated like a dog.” This got the local students going with a flurry of oohs and ahhs and even the professor let a raised eyebrow escape his micromanaged countenance. “Yes!” said Noah, rising to the occasion and pausing to let the air rush deeply into his lungs, making him heady with the onset of hyperventilation, “And didn't the colonialist oppressors ban dogs and the Chinese people from Shanghai?" There was a rumble of louder acclamation now, with several quick glances first to the professor for permission. "But no longer my brothers!” Even louder praise burst out and I began to see the echo-chamber effect of the southern Baptist church coming into play. The sneaky devil! Hosannas and Huzzahs threatened to bust out any minute but then Noah pulled up short and mellowed his audience, “I am here to humbly learn and to make a contribution to this great country. I thank you all for giving me the opportunity to attend this esteemed university."

“Thank you for your kind foreign understanding,” smiled the professor, followed by the regulation patter of applause.

This was getting complicated fast. As a tight crew, the three of us foreigners might get away with anything. But with Noah politicking like a Sunday morning preacher, and a good one at that, he was fracturing our coalition. The splitter!

Longhair... I'm going to continue calling him Longhair. Not out of disrespect (his type is the can-do future of this great country) but because Big Dragon isn’t what he looks like and makes him sound like a clown. So many bad names are launched into birth certificates by hopeful parents placing too much faith in magic and fortune tellers. We later learned he grew out his locks playing speed guitar for a metal band in Kunming. He was a rebel: a word which still means something in a land crimped by five thousand years of traditions.

I stole a glance at Longhair. He was looking down at the table, not yet persuaded by Noah.

And there was good reason for this. The sacred 'humiliations.' This referred to a series of events that began with the Opium War, what some heretics call a series of comic skirmishes that ended the Chinese Drug War and put the Chinese Drug Czar out of business. If somebody deep-sixed the Drug War in America, he'd be hailed as a hero by many. But China is different. Why? Because a rose grown on the colonial plantation could not smell as sweet. There were other humiliations such incursions into China by the European powers and Japan. Sun Yatsen was so humiliated that he spent years in colonial enclaves and colonial powers raking in tons of pocketed donations from foreigners. Mao ended up so humiliated that he refused to take back Hong Kong, spoke fondly of the US and thanked the Japanese for invading China because they set the stage for the communist defeat of the nationalists. Lu Xun, the famous writer, didn't feel humiliated until he returned from Japan to China and noticed some of his compatriots compared poorly to the Yellow Peril across the bay. Maybe he was confused. Writers can be queer and irresponsible birds squawking any nonsense to sell a story.

It was all very confusing for a self-confessed ignoramus like me too. Who was I to form anything but an opinion that could be wormed out of later without too much humiliation? But not the peacetime patriots for whom there is a right way and a wrong way for everything. Admitting that shit just happens sometimes, historically speaking, is to lob a series of patriotic nuts into the cosmic machine. Makes everything complicated. Cold-stone patriotic facts get spun into creepy mirages that float off the stage of history. Everything gets weird and difficult and threatening. It’s just morally wrong. Conspiracies however...

The introductions over, the professor urged, "Ask questions everyone,” meaning the mammals with almond eyes. “Open a constructive dialogue with the foreigners." He was smoking and many of us had the urge. I looked around at the empty room while he asked if any of the students had any questions. Longhair set the tone asking in English, "In such sense, do you think America should be the leader of the world?"

I raised an eyebrow, pinched my nose, and looked over at Frank whose shoulders were rising in irritation. Yes!

But it was Noah who took the initiative and replied "America shouldn't be the leader of the world. It doesn't have the moral right. I believe we should have a multipolar system, just like during the Cold War. When there were other powers like China to balance the world and make it a better place to live in."

I said nothing, preferring to wait and see what people would say.

One of the other students, handsome, well dressed and in a brush cut, followed up calmly with, "The Bush administration always claims that it is spreading freedom and democracy to all over the world. But there is widespread suspicion over the motives of what the Bush administration is doing. Some experts say democracy is just a beautiful pretext for America to seek its own interests. So personally I think there is a kind of hypocrisy here."

A fair enough question really for someone peeking out from the bamboo curtain, but way too much for Frank who was now red in the face. He said in a low tone, the words a hiss through bared teeth, "You poor, poor moron." In this room, surrounded, he felt like a junkyard dog insecure on a chain, made savage by impending doom.

I suddenly snorted sharply as snickers escaped, lunging through my nostrils and threatening to put a mess of mucus dribble on my face. I didn't know what inspired this reaction, but it was too late to stifle. I felt like a schoolchild who'd farted and was waiting for the other children to blame each other. The sound of an ambulance rang out in the distance, making me think of a rubber truck coming for its patient.

The professor was kind enough to save me from myself, asking "Are you alright?...umm..." and looking at his scratchpad to check for my name, "Charlie? Is it?"

"Yes, professor" I replied. "Thanks for asking." I was sincerely grateful. "Much better in fact." I beamed.

The ambulance siren continued to pick up and we all began to wait to see if it was stopping here. Ambulance service was relatively novel still. The squealing grew to that frantic level that gives you violent tendencies. It was now too loud to speak and my eyes grew large and I started to have shotgun fantasies when the wailing finally began to decline, whereupon the screech of braked tires broke through and the sound of two vehicles impacting followed. But the ambulance continued merrily on, rushing forward to save lives elsewhere. I raised my arm and barked, "Long live China! Long live China!"

The students looked at me with concern and our professor finally broke with his mask for a moment and frowned at me. But it was a form of comic relief that fortunately no one understood but Frank and Noah, who were smiling at my outburst.

"Sorry," I said to everyone. "I just had to get that out of my system." I rubbed my facial stubble. Nobody pried. Nobody quizzed me. Lunatics were common stuff in a country where the old folks lived at home and dementia became familiar, accepted, and then taken for granted. What was so strange about a demented foreigner?

"Shall we continue?" I said perkily to get the show back on the road and get attention off my odd behavior. Saved by cross-cultural confusion, the inscrutable occidental struck again.

Copyright Biff Cappuccino

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