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

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Ch 10 Lounge Lizards (sort of approaching complete, rough)

I was just about to launch into Frank once again, when I heard the squeal of rusty hinges. I lunged around to find the party cadre cum lecturer entering the room. He entered with the tutorial instructor. A witness I thought. But to witness what?

He shut the door behind him. I tried to keep my eyes off the tutorial instructor, in tan leather heels and hip-hugging jeans. No mean feat.

"So, apparently there's been some sort of disturbance. Do you gentlemen have some sort of problem with the hand out that I gave you?"

I began to stutter a reply but he saw an opening in my quavering and waved me down peremptorily, "You need to understand that this is a university!" He began pacing in a circle, staring each of us down in his ad hoc star chamber. "You attend classes. We teach. You take exams. Maybe you graduate. If you work hard. This is not a kindergarten or a daycare center. You will act in a courteous respectful manner at all times."

Noah and I looked at each other, wondering where this was going. Frank, on the other hand, had no time for nuances. He glared at the lecturer, not giving an inch. Though he had yet to open his mouth and say anything, I had a sixth sense about what was going on behind the beady eyes and pizza face. I was seeing a pattern and slowly realizing that he was the type of sociopath who is often a hero to the intelligentsia back home. He was the sort of lunatic who focused exclusively on parsing and pulling apart your words and logic, and who dished out responses that were often rude and potentially insulting, completely disregarding your feelings. He was high IQ, low EQ. A recipe for success in the West. But dead man walking in the East.

Frank glared at the floor while his damn fool conscience forced him to mumble in English, "What if the courteous instructor is not worthy of respect?"

I held my breath. I realized for the first time that integrity could be a dirty word.

The party cadre, having been hired for his loyalty and not his work ethic, was fortunately the weakest link in the campus English proficiency chain. He leaned over and commanded, "Please repeat that."

For a patently evil bastard, you had to admit he was least polite while trying to cut you off at the kneecaps.

But before Frank had time to repeat himself, Noah interjected in Chinese, "Yes master. Of course master." And he diverted the lecturer with a deep bow which, for a second, inspired me with a panicky fear that he was going to go imperial traditional and prostrate himself, bouncing his head off the dusty tiled floor, a picture of reamed obedience.

The lecturer continued in an agitated voice, feeling us out, looking for a crack at getting some satisfaction, "You will complete the required assignments. Or, you will be expelled." He was daring us to rebuff him.

Again I admired him for taking the attack to the foreigners. He had courage, balls of steel.

The problem was that we weren't prepared. We hadn't come up with a strategy for dealing with hostiles. We were so busy being smug and flippant, or self-centered and into our own trip, that it never occurred to us that we might have enemies here. Real enemies. Capable ones.

A sense of doom loomed in my chest and a creeping panic moved into my pecs, tightening them and messing with my breathing. I blinked to upset the rhythm of fear and took my breathing off automatic pilot. But making breathing a conscious process took precious mental effort, enfeebling my ability to think on the fly.

All I could do was feel sick with worry that we were out of our element. I had no time to think. My RAM was maxing out. The bastard had us by the cohunes.

I tried to speak, but I was like Noah out in the hall, in the limbo between personas, mumbling unintelligibly, wires crossed like a stroke victim, memories inaccessible as I wheezed "Hahhooo... Azhriarrgghhh..."

The lecturer looked at me like I'd lost it. I could feel Frank trying to burn a hole through my head. Noah was reshuffling his cards now that I'd completely botched the situation.

So much for presenting a united front. But we had to stick together.

Noah hissed, "What the monkey-fuck are you doing?"

This snapped me out of my daze. I hissed in return, "What are you doing, selling out?"

"No bitch!" He whispered out of the side of his mouth, "I'm buying in."

The lecturer barked, making me twitch, saying "I will not tolerate profanity in this lounge. This is a school of big learning. Big learning. It is a center of civilization and civilized intercourse. I will not tolerate any barbaric utterance profaning these sacred walls."

Again Noah spoke out, getting the jump on Frank and I, and pretending to speaking on our behalf. He was not just our representative but also our superior, primus inter pares, "Yes master." He bleated. "We will honor your request master."

Emboldened by Noah's apposite ass-kissing the lecturer went into a lazy strut, "Let me be frank then. I have no prejudice against the white man, even if I must admit that I feel a certain repugnance instructing foreigners. I do not think it is any of your business what we Chinese do in this country." Looking out the window at the sun-dappled greenery, he relaxed further and said airily, "It was not my decision to open this department to foreigners. Frankly, I disapprove." Turning back to us, he resumed his pacing, his dwarf-beloved platform loafers clicking out the time on the tiles, "Furthermore, I think you should butt out of Chinese politics. White people have no place here." To Noah, he said respectfully, "Neither sir, do black men. I'm sorry but Asia is for the Asians. I'm sure you can all understand. You wouldn't want Asians taking over white people's countries. We don't want any new imperialists or hegemonizers here either."

Frank interjected with undisguised hostility. “What about democracy? Any room for that in your hidebound paradise?” But we already knew the inevitable answer.

“Democracy is a spiritual pollution spread by the West. Mostly by the Jews and by those masters of deceit, lawyers.”

I could already guess his sour view of rule by law. Rule by fiat was traditional, ergo moral and now sacred to patriots everywhere. “What about the Jews of the East”, I asked facetiously?

He ignored me and continued, “It is a hypocritical exercise in ignoble money-grubbing and a deceit carried out through a bought and paid for so-called free press. Your professor Chomsky has revealed all of this conclusively.”

I knew I was pushing my luck but still I blurted, “Isn’t Chomsky a Jew?”

He continued his soliloquy, looking over our heads, pushing his chest out, “Little Bush invades Iraq to establish a corrupt regime to facilitate his greed for oil. The whole world needs oil, China needs oil. Bush is a gangster. He is only concerned with the White Man. But, admittedly, moral authority means little when dealing with immoral governments when power derives from the power of a gun, as Chairman Mao said.”

“You mean chairperson?” I asked. Sure I was being stupid. I had to slow him down somehow.

He gave me an evil stare, deadpanning and locking on to my eyes for several seconds until I looked away. And in those moments, he prepped me to betray myself and my friends.

As he went back to pacing, click-clack clickety-clack, in his bourgeois pumps, “And what form of governance does Little Bush establish for his corrupt oil-soaked purposes? Democracy! Of course, the Holy Grail of corruption. The infamous blueprint for corrupt dealing. Well, we in China are not so easily fooled. While America has exhausted 200 years to become half civilized, fighting itself to free black ghosts de jure. Bah! In practice they remain oppressed by their white masters.” He went silent, as waiting for kudos and wolf-whistles.

But I had to admire the way he threw off unwanted concepts with ready tropes of glossy verbiage. Most of it was crap, not to mention filched from elsewhere, but then again most arguments are. Rhetoric was his strong point. He’d go far with the masses, democracy or no democracy.

Frank fought back, tilting at his appointed windmill, “You don’t care about your own people. You don’t want democracy because you don’t even like people. You don’t trust them. So of course you’re willing to sacrifice the lives of 100 million Chinese to take back a rock called Taiwan. Flesh and blood is worth less to you than a piece of real estate. You lecture about money-grubbing elites, cultural imperialists and corporate hegemonizers. But the simple truth is that you’re a sociopath. You’re criminally insane.”

Franks stood up as the lecturer’s cheeks ballooned and went ballistic. His face went imperial scarlet and his skin was a bright red sponge reaching into the roots of his greasy hair.

“I love your country more than you do, you fucking freak!” Frank shrieked in his ear.

“Shut your filthy hole!” the lecturer stammered, rage upsetting his bio-servomotors and giving his whole body the shakes of a Parkinson’s sufferer. His musculature fought against itself everywhere and droopy spittle began creeping out from both sides of his mouth. And yet he remained silent again, some part of his subconscious fixated by Frank’s grotesque, unthinkable, unanswerable accusation and crazy-gluing his thinking processes.

“The truth is we all do,” Frank said quietly, no longer angry, and yet his face was blushing. “You” he mumbled, while looking at the floor. “You, however, you don’t give a damn. You never cared. You never will. Did Tiananmen mean anything to you? Really? I doubt it. While people around the world shed tears for the meaningless deaths of a pack of foolish students… Do you know what I really think?” An odd question at a time like this I thought. “You’re a traitor to your own country.”

The lecturer stated firmly, in a calmer voice now. “I will have you suspended. Ejected from the country.” As usual, as was unavoidable, he missed most of the drama. He reduced the scene from a debate to a power play. As always with peacetime patriots, when push comes to shove, the argument devolves to my uncle can beat up your uncle.

This had little effect as Frank knew he’d already crossed the Rubicon. He must have made some decision early on that if it came to this, he would act in such and such a fashion. I supposed on some level we all had. And not all of us had chosen to act honorably.

He continued quietly, “In fact, you’re worse than a traitor. Because a traitor changes sides. You know where he stands in the end. But you…” and a tear dribbled down from his right eye as he jerked his head up to look the lecturer in the eye, “You never change sides. You pretend to love your countrymen while happy to send them to their deaths like so many stooges. How can you hate democracy unless you nurse a hatred for your own people?”

The lecturer looked away from Frank and with this the spell was broken. He immediately looked us over, sizing us up like a warring chieftain, looking for a sign of weakness to stamp on like a hooligan.

As his gaze fell on me, my eyes jumped in their sockets. Cowardice spread through me so fast that it overwhelmed me and I couldn’t help it as my shoulders leapt up Lurch-like and the self-preservation mechanism in the reptilian part of the brain made me suck the stale chilly air through round puckered lips. I looked around for support, strength in numbers, strength in anything. I rubber-necked, cartoon-like, like I’d farted and hoped somebody else would take the blame.

In a China sojourn enlivened by serial folly, this was my greatest blunder, the soaring climactic peak of a mountain of fuckups. Once I showed an inch of weakness, the lecturer would take a mile in backpedaling. If only I’d shrugged him off. Acted like the event didn’t happen. Acted like we didn’t care.

Acting was everything on the stage of cross-cultural interaction. If only I’d known that any botched maneuver can be excused as culturally inspired ignorance. I pissed in your beer? So solly! So solly! I screwed the pooch? So solly! So solly!

But in addition to caving in, I was an honest John. A trick who took a perverse pride in getting fucked by evildoers. It was the bad guys fault. I was comforted by my sheen of moral purity. The onus on change wasn’t on me, it was on them. Rather than ‘fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me’, my unconscious motto was that I’d ‘rather stand on moral feet, than live on morally relative knees.’ I was the perfect victim, perfectly adapted in theory for China, a nation which thrived on and cultivated political victimhood. But as the writer said, all moral victories are disasters. Victimhood was just another a cynical power play, a camouflage for nationalism which in turn was a straitjacket holding racialism, ethnic cleansing, cultural chauvinism and other political poltergeists struggling to burst out for lebensraum. I had the wrong race. I was trying to ally myself with the wrong uncle.

At this stage I was still a multicultural sucker soon to be parted from what he valued most. It wasn’t just Frank who was a self-righteous dickhead, a moving violation of cultural sensitivity. We were both accidents waiting to happen. Up till now, everything had seemed as harmless and comic as a Chinese fire drill. But all good things must come to an end. And did they ever.

Copyright Biff Cappuccino

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