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

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Ch08 Classes (rough) 2700wds

Frank’s face was beet red in the throes of throbbing passion, his white-tipped pimples a deep lavender, his meaty pate glossier than usual, a quaking hand grasping the first reading assignment of the semester, care of our charming instructor for the course An Introduction to Jiang Zemin’s The Three Represents Theory. We’d all received a Xeroxed screed from the revered People’s Daily which, in the flowing Engrish favored by its political wing, states that the Three Represents Theory is “the treasure for ceaselessly increasing the combating capacity and the creativity of the Party, the latest scientific summary of the basic experience of the Party building, and the ideological weapon and guiding principle for carrying out overall Party building…” The usual murky doo-lally and multifarious malarkey and it ended with the modest claim that “History has proved that the CPC is creditably a great, glorious and correct Marxist party…” Who said the winners rewrite history? In China, so do the losers. Fair enough, I thought, given that nothing in life is fair anyway.

I tried to have a sense of humor about these things. But this, properly speaking, had vexed Frank, and truth be told I was having trouble swallowing it without gulping and heartburn. But it was the other handout which really launched Frank into a feverish outrage. Fortunately, the handouts were handed out at the end of this, our first class of the first day.

We’d sauntered in an exclusive gang of three directly out of the class, in the usual blithely disrespectful Western manner, leaving the Chinese students behind. I smiled observing them fawn over Master who stared us out of the room with glaring eyes. We meandered through the hall, exchanging opinions, shuffling and stirring up clouds of dust, chattering about the course content, the hectoring martial air of the showoffy insecure lecturer, and our prospects for the course in general. Not that we were concerned about failing grades but because this lecturer struck us, as opposed to our other professors who were far more reasonable and personable, as being the secular edition of a fire-breathing voodoo priest.

“No dude,” interrupted Noah, dressed today in an unusually clean Mao jacket, blue chinos, and cotton slippers. Even his posture had changed. He was trotting gaily in the iron rice bowl shuffle: bowed shoulders, rag-doll arms, the Chinese moon-walk which is a sort of stamping around as if trying to make sure your feet can reach the ground. All that was missing was a copy of Dr. Mao’s Red Book in Noah’s hand. “That man ain’t like no priest!” he griped earnestly, “You disrespectin’ Dr. King. This mofo, he mo’ like Hitler. Gits himself worked up, starts stepping around and sawing the air. He ain’t speakin to us no mo’. He’s addressin’ the world. He’s speakin’ to history hissef.”

“No way. The new generation of frauds are back to day one. They’re back to taking religion seriously again. Christianity is hi-tech because it’s American. It’s chic. Cool. Deep. I say he’s speaking to God Almighty. Trying to blabbermouth his way into Heaven. Wanting to slick talk his way past Peter at the Pearly Gates.”

“Jive-ass whiteman.” But he was just messing with me, enjoying the chance to let off some steam. He too realized the adjustment that was going to have to be made by all of us, one that would require us to swallow pride by the lungful.

Frank wasn’t in the conversation, ignoring our babble, in the midst of earnest concentration, fuming and scowling, bringing to life the adage that virtue is its own punishment. All three of us were ignoring the Chinese students in the course, several of whom were now following us, like we were the Three Wise Men and trying to improve their English listening skills by lending an ear to our incomprehensible slang-whanging.

I chirped “Nah. Check it out. The man’s got an apostle (Mao), a vision (a fascist utopia with him in charge), and a conspiracy theory (Marxism). Them’s the prime ingredients to that half-baked concoction folks calls religion.”

Noah snorted, “Go suck you so mo eggs, whiteboy. You just wheelin’ and dealin’; scheming and squealing, jiving and hypothesizing. Yo cain’t fool the blackman.”

“What? You’re a poet and you weren’t goin’ to let us know it?” I mocked. “You’re about as black as I am, as ebony as my bonny Scotch-Irish white-trash ass. Besides…”

“Hey dude!” while jumping in front of me and mocking a spastic walking posture ripped from middle-America.

I smiled. “Hold up a second Noah.” Catching up to him I put my hand on his shoulder, and he gave me a withering look. Which I graciously ignored. “Look, you’re dressed up in the local homeboy’s duds. Why are you copping this MTV faux Ebonics anyway?”

He must have already been thinking about this for he didn’t bat an eye before saying, “Hmm… Yo right whiteboy Bob.”


He went quiet for a second, closing his eyes, rolling his shoulders up and over, stretching his neck and relaxing full body. As if emerging from a micro-trance he opened his eyes suddenly only to look at me dully, the enlivening spark of Noah the Oreo who tried to hard was gone. He said dully and joylessly, “Okay. Back to normal. Whatever that is.” He wheezed, as if trying to force all of the old musty air out of his lungs, like undertaking an anatomical spring cleaning, and sighed, “Once you get used to being someone else, what is normal anymore, man? Don’t mean nothing. Nothing to me anyways. No way, no how.”

I was still eying his metamorphosis, wondering if it was for real or just another stunt to impress his audience of the moment. “Too true.” I opined. “The face grows to fill the mask.” I shrugged, unconsciously imitating him Pavlovian style, feeling bored, discomfited, discontented. It felt as if he willed his sudden ennui upon me, as if I’d earned it, as if boredom was the appropriate comeuppance for me being such a keener about being true to oneself. Feeling oppressed with a heavy strangling dose of ‘virtue is its own punishment’, the cold-water bath of tedium made me desperate for action of some kind, any kind. I began to obsess about our destination. To give myself time to come up with one I continued blabbering absentmindedly, “That’s what learning Chinese is all about. Picking up a stage double, a second half to the split personality required to work up the right body language and cop the right attitude to converse fluently in both English and Chinese.” Presto! “Hey! Who gives a shit? This is old, old news. But what about food, man? Hows about chowing down on some primo eats? I know this…”

Like a stroke victim operating on a time delay from reality, Noah blundered directly into my words, nuance left behind in his previous persona, “No,” he sighed.

I waited. I continued ambling down the corridor, looking over my shoulder to see that Frank, still apoplectic judging by his floral color scheme, was in tandem.

And then Noah managed with an effort, “We better go to the lounge first. Get your homeboy settled down in private. Park his ass and chill him out.”

To get a rise out of him and snap him out of this zombie personality-in-limbo nonsense, I raised my voice and attacked: “What do you care?”

This perked him up a bit, his eyebrows rising and his eyelids opening, “Who says I care, whiteboy? I got myself to look after and that’s enough trouble as it is. But your European homeboy’s going to set a bad example. He’s rough. Rude. Mean. He likes to hurt people.” Stepping closer to my ear he asked, “What’s his motherfucking problem anyway?”


“You mean self-righteousness?”

“Is there any other kind in this day and age?”

“Bitch!” he said, but rubbing his tummy and smiling.

Arriving at the door to the student lounge, it occurred to me that Frank, in his humorless workaholic methodical fashion had been ignoring the chance to butter up the locals, to check out the cuties and horn in on some well-earned co-ed action. Instead the monomaniac had rifled through his notes and then to our assigned readings. No wonder he was in no mood for conciliation. He had no ulterior motive. Always a bad sign.

His rage, never far from the surface, was erupting again and he was frothing and raging like a... like a mad foreigner, as the locals would say, not incorrectly. Noah opened the door and I took advantage of my superior height and heft to shove Frank inside the lounge for privacy, for safety's sake in other words. Snoops might be listening. Frank didn’t resist. He was pissed off to high heaven, but also terribly demoralized.

Recent events were having an effect on me too. I was starting to heed the advice of those I'd falsely figured were my social inferiors, Michael and Noah. Lately I’d begun to suspect that they, being incurable clowns, had a superior grasp of the dumbed-down world around us. I’d been fooling myself, flattering my ego by excusing my ignorance of the demimonde as worthy, elevating, even glamorous. I hadn’t been born with a spoon either silver or plastic in my mouth and didn’t understand their violent doomed world and didn’t want any part of it. Ignorance was not only bliss, but also the gateway to class, to chic, to the refined air of the beautiful people, intellectually speaking that is. The sort of beauties who’s mantra is that beauty is only skin deep. But it seemed that everyone who was less read than myself was more competent than me. As if knowledge of the bookish kind incurred a growing deficit of know-how and wherewithal. I was confused. I was vulnerable because I didn’t know what I thought anymore. The first hustler down the pipeline could screw me upside down and backwards and I’d be thanking him for it and begging him to come back for sloppy seconds and thirsty thirds. I was in defense mode now and defensive position is usually the worst.

I closed the door behind us and rushed across the room to get first dibs on the cracked caramel vinyl loveseat next to the window facing south, where I hoped to selfishly catch a few stray rays from the sun and a glance at the greenery outside to warm myself up both physically and to the occasion. Frank scuffed across the bare yellow concrete floor and sized up what was left, hard wooden chairs with attached scratched desks, probably ripped off from a local public elementary school.

Having squeezed himself into one, he began cursing again, "I can't fucking believe it. This is the work of monkeys. Sheer primates."

I tried to slow down by asking, "Aren't humans primates?"

"Given enough time monkeys banging on keyboards can type out Shakespeare. A stopped clock is right twice a day. But this sort of foolishness. This requires, what do you American's call it again? Yes, yes! The American substitute for evolution. Yes, yes. Intelligent design."

Whenever he got mad, there was always an American to blame. Even at a time like this, when obviously we were dealing with an entirely homemade Chinese phenomenon.

"Stop calling me American. I'm Canadian." I said irritably.
"Canadian, American. What's the difference? You're all the same. You're just a watered-down milquetoast version of the Americans anyway. That's why they call it Canuckistan."

"No they don't. They call it Canuckistan because it's not like America. Jesus, if you can’t even get that much right, why pretend at all to know anything about what's going on in North American politics? On second thought, don't answer that question."

"Don't get me started on American culture. Or the ersatz substitute for American culture that is American culture."

"You're starting to sound like a Euroweenie, you know that? I should call you Frank N. Furter. Fucking perfect for you because you’re getting perfectly fucking annoying.”

“Fuck you…” he said looking at my couch enviously.

“Likewise. If you weren’t my friend and colleague…”

I had to sneak in ‘friend’ somewhere, risking the required word without losing face by acting like I really cared, like I was a real pal. Now that I think about it, friend is a much more flexible word in Chinese. Has all the right ambiguities in all the right places. Ambidextrous and sufficiently plastic to mean everything and nothing. Why can’t English be so cool?

Anyway, I went at him again with, “Now stop your bitching about Americans in the closet and under the bed. Fucking conspiracy theories. Next thing and you’ll produce a Protocol of the Elders of America. And for heavens sake, who gives a shit what the local propaganda organ spews out anyway."

I didn't mean any of this though, I just wanted to calm him down. Frank could be an annoyance sometimes, but I highly valued him as spiritual anchor. At least we agreed that things were pretty fucked up, almost beyond saving, and that we had to retain a critical mass of integrity if we were to operate as civilized human beings.

But maybe I should show you the article and let you make your own decision. Fresh ripped from the People's Daily on February 8th of this year, I made sure to save a copy for posterity. This is the real McCoy. You're going to love it.

Why are Chinese disinclined to show wealth?

Not only are most Chinese inclined to hide their wealth, they even insist they do not have money.

The disinclination to show wealth has been ingrained in the Chinese culture since ancient times. People today are becoming even more private about their income. Psychologists believe this attitude derives from China's thousands of years of cultural tradition, evidenced in proverbs like "a prominent bird gets shot" and "a blossoming tree will be eventually destroyed". They summarize the essence of Chinese social experience, and reflect certain characteristics of Chinese society to some degree.

Exerting a profound influence on Chinese culture for thousands of years, Confucius' doctrine of the Golden Mean promotes a humble, calm way of life. Thus formed the Chinese people's unique psychological quality of disliking self-publicity.

Since Qin Shihuang, the first Qin emperor (248 BC to 206 BC), unified China 2000 years ago, China has mostly been a unified country. In this relatively stable society, there was little competition and no basis for comparison. In this environment, ancient people did not need to reveal their wealth at all.

Chinese people's unwillingness to show wealth also has a physiological reason. Scientists found more dehydrogenates in Chinese livers than westerners' through studies of intoxicated people from various countries. This explains why alcohol poisoning occurs much less frequently in Chinese even though the alcohol content of China's "white spirit" far exceeds that of foreign liquors. The existence of dehydrogenation enzymes in the human brain may have to do with the fact that the Chinese are better at controlling their moods than Westerners.

Cultural traditions and life styles can also have an impact on brain structure. The cultural traditions, conventions, living habits and attitudes that Chinese have inherited through generations cause gradual genic and neural changes. The accumulation of such quantitative changes eventually leads to qualitative changes, or gene mutation. When the mutated genes were inherited, the disinclination towards wealth exposure passed on.

Modern scientific studies find that only the brain's left hemisphere is active in speaking foreign languages made up of alphabets. However, since the Chinese language combines sound and shape, both hemispheres are used in speaking Chinese. Therefore, it is true that the disparity between people's personalities in the East and West has a physiological basis.

Of course it was loony, a short comedy sprung from the Red Asylum and now out on the loose, foot and fancy free. It botched physiology, genetics, philology, common sense, you name it. It was back to the drawing board, scratched out in crayon: volk myths, eugenics, the master race, lebensraum.

It couldn't fool a foreigner; it wouldn't even fool the Chinese. Or would it? Who was it fooling? Whoops! Whoops, indeed. That was the question which inspired the fear which grew into terror and bloomed as Frank’s psychotic rage.

Copyright Biff Cappuccino

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