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

Friday, March 31, 2006

Growth not felt by most in Republic of Philippines: The bank said despite two years of economic growth, surveys showed that 17 percent of the population reported hunger compared to 12 percent last year and over 49 percent considered themselves impoverished compared to 48 percent in 2005. ...The Philippines is expected to grow 5.3 percent in 2006 and 5.6 percent in 2007 compared to 5.1 percent last year due to rising consumption fuelled by strong remittances from Filipinos working overseas, the World Bank said. ...The Philippines is one of Asia’s biggest importers of rice... Biff- This is what makes the Third World the Third World. Fucked up traditional culture in which ideology and eschatology trumps pragmatism and empiricism.
Collapsing the Maya: “Captives were tortured in unpleasant ways depicted clearly on the monuments and murals (such as yanking fingers out of sockets, pulling out teeth, cutting off the lower jaw, trimming of the lips and fingertips, pulling out the fingernails, and driving a pin through the lips), culminating, sometimes years later, in the sacrifice of the captive in other equally unpleasant ways such as tying the captive up into a ball by binding the arms and legs together, then rolling the balled-up captive down the steep stone staircase of a temple.”
...but oh, right, THAT'S Beijing: Scruples about this kind of thing are hardly in abundance. (Remember, the Chinese are "pragmatic" - which is another way of saying intimidated into submission.) Last week a former Taipei Times colleague - yes, the deep green pro-independence newspaper - over dinner told me of having applied for a job with the ultimate CCP mouthpiece, The People's Daily. Biff- Holidarity is quite a good blog. Worth going back now and again.
Philippines blast 'extortion bid': An extortion attempt may have been behind an explosion on the southern Philippine island of Jolo which killed nine people, police have said.
The Economics of Polygamy Biff- some interesting links on this and polyginy in Southeast Asia.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

VP Cheney’s Speech At Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner (VIDEO): Biff- Hard to imagine Cheney as a successful comedian? Watch him here make fun of himself. It worked well with the crowd.
The Taishi Village Elections (or How To Steal An Election, If You Must): Biff- A good roundup in point fashion for how it's done or been done in rural China or rural Taiwan.
Why we must remember Allen Leung: Mr. Leung's death silenced one of the leading anti-Communists in San Francisco's Chinatown, one local called him "the backbone of anti-communism" (Epoch Times). ...Several community leaders, understandably afraid to reveal themselves, called Leung "an eyesore for the CCP" (Epoch Times), and his support for the island democracy of Taiwan was well known. Many believe "that the case involved political motivations." Biff- If true, it echoes David E. Kaplan's "Fires of the Dragon" about the Overseas Chinese version of the Cold War which took place in American Chinatowns between KMT and CCP operatives.
Taiwan veterans seek young China brides: "We treat people from Taiwan nicely and with respect, but look at how they treat us?," said Tang Shulan, a native of China's Hunan province who came to Taiwan seven years ago. Biff- That's a fib... "Before I came, I was told Taiwan was a great place and I would live a good life. If I had known, I would not have come no matter how poor I was at home," said Tang, whose husband is 82. Biff- Another fib... "They made me so nervous and I felt as if I had committed some serious crime," said Yuan, who said she had travelled hundreds of miles to Taiwan to escape poverty in China. Biff- Finally, the truth... Yuan (43) and her 86-year-old husband live in a tiny room leased from the city government for $100 (57 pounds) a month and spend most of their days reading newspapers on a park bench. Their only source of income is his military pension. Biff- Now there's a lifestyle. Must be love...
杭州女大学生卖淫案调查:卖身钱多被挥霍(图): 浙江省杭州市公安机关日前破获一通过网络组织介绍卖淫的特大犯罪团伙,令人吃惊的是,该团伙中相当一部分卖淫女竟然是在校的女大学生。有关教育专家认为,女大学生卖淫团伙的出现反映了当前大学生群体中金钱观念的扭曲和道德观念的沦落。Biff- More juvenile malarky on the public stage as official China pretends to emerge kicking and screeching from the Victorian age...
China says it will close new Rolling Stone magazine: "They didn't go through the proper procedure," said Chen Li, director of the newspaper and magazine department with the Shanghai Press and Publication Department, where the magazine was published. "There will be no future Rolling Stone content in this magazine. There's no such thing as 'Rolling Stone.' " ..."I can tell you with absolute certainty, it's not true," said Hao Fang, chief editor of Rolling Stone China. "The second issue of our magazine should be on newsstands in April."
China's home-grown tech firms: Despite China's image as the sweatshop of the world, the country's homegrown technology sector is beginning to bloom.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Black Perspectives on Illegal Immigration: Nor do I buy the "illegal immigrants do jobs that Americans don't do" argument. Who do you think were doing these jobs beforehand? Who do you think often still does them, in areas with few illegal immigrants? Nor do illegal immigrants only do the so-called crappy jobs, but are also in areas like construction. Not to mention the issue of price. Illegal immigrants undermine the wages of low-income black (and other) workers, thus undermining the economic opportunity of lower-income blacks (and others) even further.
Biff- Two interesting takes on some of the present circumstances of the Iraq War/Occupation (both print and mp3 formats available)
Cops torn between Abu, ‘extortionists’ in Sulu blast: The Philippine National Police (PNP) yesterday said the extremist Muslim group Abu Sayyaf was behind the attack on a consumers cooperative center run by Catholic priests in Jolo, Sulu, in the country’s conflict-torn southern Mindanao region, where nine persons were killed the other day. But Jolo police chief Senior Supt. Ahirum Ajirim blamed extortionists for the bombing, the second deadly blast to hit Mindanao this year that came amid tight security and while a few US soldiers were deployed in Jolo for humanitarian missions.
黃廣湘:從劉德華的理智看大陸媒體的病態: 3月22日,西北某家晨報報導了蘭州一個追星女的故事,標題為《女子為見劉德華傾家蕩產.稱見不到他今生不嫁人》,不厭其詳地介紹了一個叫林鵑的女子12年追星歷程,以及其家人如何為她籌措見劉德華的經費而變賣家產,直至債臺高築。
古狗甘當中共的「看家狗」 : 我嘗試搜索自己的名字,那些我在海外發表的一系列政治評論文章的題目都會排列出來,但一旦我去點擊某一篇文章,立即就顯示出「沒有此內容」的答案。更不可思議的是,我再也無法點擊開其他任何內容,也沒有辦法登陸其他的網站,我的電腦頓時處於某種「休克」狀態。我只能重新開機。
This stinks: (scroll down the page) Richard Kreimer is the kind of guy who gives the homeless a bad name. At 56, he is a professional vagrant whose only "job" appears to be camping out in the Amtrak/NJTransit waiting room at Penn Station for five or so hours per night. ...Fifteen years ago, in one of the most ludicrous suits ever, Kreimer was awarded $230,000 from the Morristown, N.J., public library and police department because he had been repeatedly ejected from the library as a public nuisance. ...He has since filed lawsuits against various towns and businesses and transit systems and individuals. Some were dropped, but some were settled, putting more money in his tattered, smelly pockets. Biff- Too funny... I've crashed in a couple of homeless shelters in the US, so I've little sympathy for the notion that the indigent don't have ample resources.
Video of Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson,Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, Founder & President. Rev. Peterson discusses black political leaders, what happened in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, and how best to help Americans who need it. Biff- If you think Bill Cosby stirs up some black Americans, wait'll you see Rev. Peterson. He's a trip... Rather than write him off as a caricature, you might want to consider his description of demoralized American blacks (as opposed to Caribbean blacks in the US, who tend to sneer at the American variety), as lacking in character, resolve, self-respect and showing a pronounced incapacity for decision-making and independent thought, with your experience here in China. The simple-minded will shriek racism, the more subtle will look into themselves for similar patterns of behavior and extropolate outwards from this to peer into the minds of others bound by the limitations of other cultures and subcultures and who don't fail singularly, but serially. Unless of course, you too fail serially, in which case you best stick with shrieks of racism.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Britain and France Build Robocarrier: The F-35B will be the primary warplane on the British carriers. But it's also likely that many, or all, of the next generation of aircraft on these ships will be robotic. But first, the ship has to be equipped with an unprecedented degree of automation. Biff- originally linked at the highly recommended blog
MSM Plagiarism Strikes Again – AP Welcome to the Party : We contacted an AP senior editor and ombudsmen both and both admitted to having had the article passed on to them, and both stated that they viewed us as a blog and because we were a blog, they did not need to credit us. using a term like blog to somehow excuse plagiarism, the mainstream press continues to lower the bar for acceptable behavior.
The Stone Face of Zarqawi : Since February 2004, there have been numberless attacks on Shiite religious processions and precincts. Somewhat more insulting to Islam (one might think) than a caricature in Copenhagen, these desecrations did not immediately produce the desired effect. Grand Ayatollah Sistani even stated that, if he himself fell victim, he forgave his murderers in advance and forbade retaliation in his name. This extraordinary forbearance meant that many Shiites--and Sunnis, too--refused to play Zarqawi's game. But the grim fact is, as we know from Cyprus and Bosnia and Lebanon and India, that a handful of determined psychopaths can erode in a year the sort of intercommunal fraternity that has taken centuries to evolve. If you keep pressing on the nerve of tribalism and sectarianism, you will eventually get a response.
移民是香港神話的鑰匙: 許多香港人在提及自己居住的城市的時候,都念念不忘一百六十多年前,這裡僅僅是南中國海邊毫不起眼的荒蕪小島。一百多年來,正是大批大批的移民在歷史轉彎的時候流入,才把香港從漁村變成商埠,從工業製造基地變成亞洲的娛樂和金融中心。許多人把今天的香港稱之為「家」,可是幾十年、甚至十幾年前,在南來北往的移民眼裡,這裡僅僅是移居海外的跳板、踏腳石,只是人生旅途的中轉驛站。- Biff - while Taiwan's government keeps out foreign immigration and suffers from a pronounced brain drain (just take a gander at the bumpkins left behind crowding the streets), the HK government is trying to attract foreign immigration to remedy the same problem. Presumably Taiwan's government is following Japan's conservative model to keep social problems to a minimum; but Japan can afford xenophobia (and make it work) because, to the best of my knowledge, it doesn't have much of a brain drain.
Combat Fatigue: the ruling DPP—and, for that matter, its leader Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian—seems like a one-trick pony, and a tired pony at that. "We spend too much time on Chen and his independence," says Lee. "We have more important and deeper things to discuss." Biff- Dissidents, like other uber-patriots, tend to make poor politicians. If you consider the near pathological pig-headedness required to be a dissident during martial law, you can imagine the incapacity to listen to others and make concessions during the democratic era.
The Economist - Our correspondent is leaving South-East Asia after four years. He reports that politics and economics there have never seemed so smooth: ...Foreigners wanted to take advantage of the region's devalued currencies and foundering conglomerates to buy up local firms on the cheap. Local businessmen, naturally enough, wanted protection from such depredations. Biff- Apparently it's unpatriotic for foreign companies to contribute to domestic economies. ...Singaporeans can now chew gum, read Cosmopolitan and dance on bar tops. Soon, they will be able to gamble too, thanks to the authorities' decision to license two casinos. Instead of simply scolding voters, the government has taken to pandering to them:
Instructions To Taxi Drivers: The brakes too, operate in a gradual manner, rather than in binary on and off positions. Every time you clumsily jab at the brakes, my stomach comes out my throat. In addition, please be aware that the brakes are not the only way of making your car slow down: an alternative is just to take your foot off the accelerator. Gradually.
港人反政治竊聽捍衛免於恐懼的自由: 梁國雄的議員辦公室和家裡,都安裝反竊聽裝置﹔身為立法會保安事務委員會主席的民主黨議員涂謹申,假設每一刻都被監聽。親北京的民建聯主席馬力、政協委員劉迺強等,透露被監聽的經驗。

Monday, March 27, 2006

被槍戰射傷的香港媒體: 警殺警案的十發子彈,射穿了香港媒體不專業和充滿豐富想像力的新聞軀體。
環保巨人是利用各種廢棄物組合而成,你看出馬桶在哪兒了嗎? Biff: Taiwan's artistic genius at the fore...
馬反對聯國停繁體字 若與中國協商 建議兩字體並行
Just Because You Eat Shit Doesn’t Make You Better Than Me : I was at dinner the other night with a bunch of friends, mostly new ones. Usually being the only “token white guy” in the crowd, I had competition that night. Another Whinese was at the table. He’d been in China for 1 year and early on started working up the crowd with his ‘Woe shur May Gwow Ren” this and “Woe ai shuay shee Hahn you” that. He conveniently ignored me as he performed, stealing a glance every now and again to ensure he would not be challenged as Alpha-Whinese.
Pentagon stays the course with laser weapon: Airborne Laser given a reprieve — and challenging development schedule - Biff: you can easily imagine at least one application for this weaponry when, and if, it comes on line
The new port deal: U.S. may hand security over to Beijing - The unbelievable news that the Bush administration and U.S. agencies are lining up a deal with Hutchison Whampoa, a company closely connected to the Chinese Communist Party and People's Liberation Army, gave me a jolt. I thought nothing could surprise me, because I expect many of our officials and politicians to do dumb things, knowing all the dumb things they've done before. But this one blew me away. Perhaps it will blow you away too. - Biff: Fer sure, dude.
Harley-Davidson roars into China: "Customers will get a real understanding and appreciation of the Harley-Davidson lifestyle," said David Foley, the company's managing director in China. .. The outlet will also provide services, rider training and events such as organised rides.
Blood on the red carpet: Annie Proulx on how her Brokeback Oscar hopes were dashed by Crash - Biff: An excellent example of a fiction author hopelessly incompetent with the essay format. The two forms are almost mutually exclusive, something most people (including myself until recently) don't realize.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

中國也有「教科書問題」: 去年十二月二十三日,姚文元病亡。中國諸多年輕人竟然問「姚文元是誰」?!也有年輕人聽說姚文元是「四人幫」中的一個,便問:「四人幫是哪四個人?」在網上,還可以見到年輕人的種種奇談怪論:「姚老走好!」「成者為王,敗者為寇,死得默默無聞啊!」甚至有人在我一篇關於姚文元的文章上留言:「我黨偉大出人才!」
Driving Defensively: I'm glad I brought with me from Korea the extra cycling gear I used there: plastic hand, elbow and knee pads that rollerbladers use. In four months here I've lost count already the number of times those have saved me from these idiot drivers. When a car tries to cut me off, my knee scraping on the panel and elbow on the window is much more effective than skin at making them move over, and the same applies to the hands of scooter drivers who try to muscle me off the road
China Plans Surprise Attack on Taiwan: Biff - worth chasing through the comments on this thread.
華爾街日報:北韓制超級假美鈔流入中國: 美國國會研究處一份報告說,目前在全球被發現「超級美鈔」至少有4,500萬美元。並說,北韓每年從假鈔中賺取的利潤可能高達1,500至2,500萬美元。... 金木蘇說,人權活動人士在中國城市丹東從一家北韓貿易公司的僱員那裡獲得了這張假鈔票。他說,這樣的假鈔用50美元就可以買到。
China harvesting inmates' organs, journalist says: Mr. Jin said he first learned of the harvesting operation between October and December and that the prisoners used were members of the outlawed Falun Gong religious group. "This is murder, and murder sponsored by a state," said Mr. Jin, who in the past has been a contributor to a Japanese news agency. "It must be stopped." ...Mr. Jin said bodies of the prisoners were burned in the boiler room of the hospital and that boiler room workers had taken jewelry and watches from the dead and sold them. He said he has provided information about the organ harvesting to U.S. government officials, including members of Congress. - Biff: Make what you will of an unverifiable story that sounds suspiciously like a recreation of the Jewish Holocaust, only with Chinese characteristics...
Saddam's Philippines Terror Connection: ...An eight-page fax dated June 6, 2001, and sent from the Iraqi ambassador in Manila to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Baghdad, provides an update on Abu Sayyaf kidnappings and indicates that the Iraqi regime was providing the group with money to purchase weapons. The Iraqi regime suspended its support--temporarily, it seems--after high-profile kidnappings, including of Americans, focused international attention on the terrorist group. ...The memos contain a lengthy discussion among Iraqi officials--from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Iraqi Intelligence Service--about the wisdom of using a Libyan intelligence front as a way to channel Iraqi support for Abu Sayyaf without the risks of dealing directly with the group. (The Libyan regime had intervened in an Abu Sayyaf kidnapping in 2000, securing the release of several hostages by paying several million dollars in ransom. Some observers saw this as an effort by Muammar Qaddafi to improve his image; others saw it as an effort to provide support to Abu Sayyaf by paying the ransom demanded by the group. Both were probably right.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Characters (tentatively complete at 4700wds)

He gazed out the window fingering a lit smoke, rolling the paper barrel between his fingers and chasing wafting curlicues with sleepy morning eyes: savoring his last addiction, leading it on a few more weeks before the happy climax of strangling it. His eyes squinted, focusing on the warming veranda, on the three-foot long bum-shaped leaves of his mountain taro, his green queen. Tongue tripped on teeth. Bum-shaped? This reminded him of bung which led to bunghole, fecal and the tang of stuffed-up crappers. These scruffy smelly images annoyed him until he cocked his head and reappraised the leaves: heart-shaped. Bloody but green. His mental ease was unconsciously mirrored by a deep, increasingly luxurious drag on his home-made smoke.

He fed his nicotine jones first thing each morning. It was his way, his habit picked up from days living on a parking lot, out of an ancient Chevy station-wagon, way back in the world, way way back in D.C., on the snow white plantation, to get the blow out of the way before he hit the street. Safe means not having to say you're sorry. Now he was blown safely across the Pacific Pond and conscious master of his domain, a tax payer and apartment dweller, no one the wiser to his septum-impacted past.

Life was slower now, the grind less grinding, but still, he was fulfilled. Yes. His eyes narrowed as he picked out and appraised the daily transfers of power in his garden. He was eager witness to a civil war of weeds smothering succulents, shrubbery choking trees, evolution green in gripping tendril and strangling root.

He sighed buoyantly - like he often sighed first thing in the morning these days - then shook his head knowingly and crossed his arms, a full-on smile now quivering through his features like an earthquake. He realized he could look into this tropic verdure forever. A new, less punishing compulsion, round and round you go, he thought; a more socially acceptable addiction. The more things changed, the more they remained stubbornly the same. He shrugged as his smile went wan.

His veranda jungle was his private distraction and peace of mind, his garden of Eden above the coughing street and asthmatic city. To the left the sun was emerging, catching his eye while it ran its morning race with the smog. A sudden glitch of light sandbagged him and he squinted uncomfortably. He moved out of the angle of attack and discovered the source of luminescence was the metal band on a plastic cigarette lighter abandoned by Monk.

Monk, a derelict wannabee and Johnny cum lately protégé of cool, had shown up the night before, prancing about recklessly in his usual form. They'd shared some smoke and Monk had chattered excitedly about his new indigenous squeeze, 'fresh as a plum she is', pointing to the half-moon symmetry, the long and tapering bits, the round eyes, the high-bridged nose. She'd smiled deferentially and said hi. Good girl. She was a business owner, a clubgoer, and a well aged piece of ass to boot. A practical girl, she knew her market value. Altogether, Frank reflected, a nice package. Nicely aged. Bundled up in skin like dark wrapping paper; without blemish until folded, after which the creases could never quite be removed. But the accumulation of lines was reassuring. Age meant experience and tolerance; from wrinkles he'd come to expect understanding and forgiveness. As he saw it, for a woman below thirty, the world was her oyster. For a man above thirty, it was his. And when he saw oysters, his heart picked up the pace and he became his natural-born old self, the natural-born predator, indifferent to the evening television's precepts and pieties.

On arriving, smoker’s lungs panting at the top of the stairs, Monk had trotted over to the taro and plucked a shard from the ass-end of a green leaf. Buddy's shoulder's tightened up and he grunted with alarm at his sacred plant, holy of holies, the untouchable being defiled. Before he could bark out a warning, Monk popped the greenery in his mouth like a bit of salad and grinned, chewing and declaring from his masticating mouth, "Yeah. Tastes sweet. Poisonous. Can't eat this one, eh? Or is it the other way around? You can't eat the bland ones? Hell's bells." He threw up his hands, tossing Frank a look as if it was his responsibility to know which was which. "Hell if I know Frank," he replied to a question unasked. Satisfied he'd done something useful, reassured by Frank's ignorance, his letting down of the team as it were, Monk felt a profound psychic relief, like the deep serenity après the shooting of a tastefully hand-massaged wad. He shrugged and expelled mutilated leaf, an emerald clot of verboten chewing tobacky hitting the tiles and spreading a stain that cried for washing.

With the space of a good night’s sleep, the memory no longer chafed Frank. You had to deal with the good and the bad, reality’s bite and bark. Monk had this nervous chutzpah when it came to helping others; an outward whinnying that disguised an inwardly pig-headed need to make a forcefully positive impression. 'Pain in the ass' Frank had thought yesterday, but now... 'Entering a mofo's garden and biting off a mouthful of plant. Spitting motherfucker! What the hell?' Frank began heaving, the laughter bubbling out of his belly and lifting him pleasantly. Too fucked-up! Too funny! What could you do? No sense in putting a weed up his ass. Monk was just being himself. Wired. That was just the way he was: wired. You accepted it. Or you didn't. But either way, you moved on.

Frank moved on to Delilah. After a minute of reflection he concluded: same, same. He moved on. And after a few more moments his thoughts had rimmed a complete circle and returned to the martial sanctity and security of his seventh floor garden. Mind blank, smoke swirling at the end of tattooed arm, he was peace incarnate. He gazed at his squabbling plants.


Delilah was thinking about Frank. Recumbent on her bed, Hello Kitty comforter above, milk calico bed sheet below, grass-plaited mattress supporting the bulk, she sagged with heavy thoughts. Thoughts without end, without resolution, chasing wiggly tails higgledy-piggledy. Hello Kitty was a comfort though. She was the ultimate in cute. She had no mouth.

She couldn't get Frank, who had a way big mouth, out of her mind. He wasn't cute. He was grubby. Old. His smile wrinkled his face like… like something wrinkly. And he was smokey too. Impatient. He was mysterious and imperious. Dubious too. In a word: sexy. And yet, turning over on her side suddenly in rebellion, out of superstition, as if rolling over in her bed would right something wrong in someone else’s, deep down she knew there was something fundamentally wrong. She could never marry someone like him.

Her cell phone snuck out a Chinese pop song with impressive fidelity, the tinny tune full of high-end cymbals calling to her louder and louder. As she picked the handset up, a string of pewter, fools' silver, and blue enamel amulets - sharp prickers with evil ideographs to terrorize the bejesus out of ghosts and round jade cylinders luring in and making an easy mark of financial fortune - clattered about, getting in the way of comely dialing fingers with decal-flecked nails, but scattering the light prettily as she turned on her bedside lamp.

"Do you want to go out tonight?" It was Christopher.

She said, "Maybe." A definite maybe.

"Is that a yes or no?"

"Might be."

Christopher was made ill by these conversations. But he endeavored to be patient. He wanted to treat her properly, in accordance with the feminine archetype and the hybridities emerging in this wing of her globalizing subculture. "Can you please make a decision?"

"About what?"

"Okay. I'll decide. Let's go to the night market then."

"What are we going to do there?"

"We'll figure it out when we get there."

She squealed, "No! Tell me! What are we going to do we get there?" She sighed, and lay back down on her bed, exasperated.

Christopher felt his temper rising and knew it was time to end the conversation. He lifted his free hand up and back toward his shoulder, to a safe distance to prevent any regrettable act of violence, such as a slap. "Okay," he said, breathing easier now, secure that the regrettable was now impossible. "I'll see you at seven. Bye." He snapped the phone shut, a whirling clot of edgy angst and angry lust.

If his mother, like most moms, had revealed none of the feminine mystique’s proprietary secrets to her little boy threatening to grow into a big man, she had at least warned him about getting carried away with small talk with girls. Given that these words had emerged from mother's sacred lips, he felt he could indulge his anger and in good conscience abruptly end the conversation with Delilah. But he still didn't understand their chemistry. What the fuck was going on?

Delilah was rolling her eyes, reclining on her bed again, exhausted and breathing heavily. Men could be such hard work. She was in between jobs, in between men. Scouting, shopping for two-legged bargains. Her mouth twitched in a wry smile, she looked over, beyond her stack of fashion and sexploitation magazines to her huge black-and-white poster of D-Day, featuring the famous nurse kissing the unknown sailor. This life-size cliché was a dramatic message for boys lured into her lair; neither drunkenness nor illiteracy was excuse for insufficient foreplay.

That evening, she took the bus to the night market to meet Christopher. It was Christopher, not Chris or Little C. He saw no reason to bandy with his full Christian name and insult his forebear’s judgment via a cheap contraction. Hip was no substitute for taste.

They coordinated the final couple dozen yards through their cell phones. For revenge, he suggested she meet him on the northeast corner of a nearby intersection. He knew she wouldn't know directions. He could tease her about Chinese incompetence with the compass and the four corners of the earth.

But maps and directions were not something she was required to know. These and other mechanical things, abstract or concrete, were reserved for men. Not found in the social contract nor the user’s manual. She would no more feel compelled to master directions than develop competence with auto repair. It wasn’t that it was icky, but superfluous; not consonant with the image machine of which she was but a cog; in a word, hoggishly out of step with daintiness. Delilah was far from silly, nor anesthetic to common sense. Practical competence was admirable, naturally. And from a safe distance of course. Not something hands on, to dirty one's hands over. Fingernails were preserved for other uses where pretty lay in pink. A mind was a terrible thing to waste; certainly not to be burdened with trivia or tainted with dubious competencies and disreputable skills. But Christopher wouldn’t complain. Couldn't complain. He had no right to judge their culture.

They scanned about for a meal while passing an endless assortment of yummy food stalls and vendors who caught their eye: an elderly chain-smoker scorching stinky tofu and spitting dramatically into a drain, confidently indifferent to Christopher’s stare; someone’s sweating grandma in a stained bandanna and the smile of success hawking boiled chickens feet; a very pretty young girl, new to the business and overworked, given the scalds on her forearms, boiling won-ton noodles; crowds of competing panic/aggressive mouthpieces stuttering between being polite and press-ganging herds of dawdling customers into nifty hot pot restaurants in Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese styles.

The savory aromas ranged from rice vinegar to spunky urine, from Three-Cup stewed beef to chewy doggy doo. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and just as a man of experience may develop a peculiar taste for fat ladies, a trip to the orient reorients ones conception of the appetizing. It’s an adventure of the palate, moving farts and minds: as human flatulence becomes associated with the charm of fermented soy cake, the mind moves excitedly into new gastronomic realms. A sharp fart no longer wrinkles noses, but rings dinner bells. Faced with the stirring choice of adventure or same-same, Christopher settled on Japanese stir-fry, outsourcing their entrees to a safer nation. Delilah pulled his hand to take him in, but even here he hesitated.

"Is this place clean? Have you eaten here before?" Memories of barfing into a river in rural India, while a sympathetic stranger moved his bowels just upwind, ripened within his nose.

"Oh come on. Stop complaining. You’ve never been sick in this country, have you?"

He relented, a sudden pang of guilt tightening his chest and paralyzing his shoulders, reminding him that he could not be Eurocentric. Not that he was European, but the irony of being a Canadian worried about being Eurocentric was not worth quibbling over.

Inside he sat down at the counter, his buttocks sliding onto the chair seat, his town-shoed feet settling onto the metal bars below, and looked doubtfully at the food around him. Patrons were going at it, shuttling Chinese fast food from plates to eager mouths via disposable chopsticks; discarded bony tidbits were trafficked from finicky maws back to the plates with those same disposable chopsticks. Wait, nope. Discarded below the plate to the tabletop. And the floor? He didn’t want to look. His eyes returned to the security of the tabletop. Mmhh… He cringed, his brain squirmed, he closed his eyes tight. His mind, cut off from the world for a moment, put his memory to work trawling for additional sources of dissatisfaction to meet his current mood. A cold tongue of guilt emerged from the abyss. He hadn’t dragged along his reusable plastic chopsticks. He wanted to save the forests.

Without opening his eyes, he demanded, "Did you bring any chopsticks?"

She frowned, "Who brings their own chopsticks? Do you bring your own chopsticks in Canada when you go to McDonald's?"

His eyes opened. "We don't use chopsticks at McDonald's."

"Well," she nagged, "You know what I mean. Whatever."

Christopher saw another defensible opportunity for revenge: "If you weren't in such a rush to make fun of me you wouldn't make these kinds of mistakes." And to ram it into her skull he waggled his head and said, "Duh!"

Delilah was wounded, but put it out of mind. Christopher cared so much about her. He was paying the bill after all. Better not bite the hand and all that jazz... Jazz! Gosh she loved bass players! And they seemed to love her too. Musicians were easy. But she was confused by Christopher, somebody who worked so hard at being nice. She looked into her purse to check her phone for messages and to rub her amulets for luck. She wondered why every conversation turned into a squabble or terminated in angry silence. There was some connection between nice guys and always ending up angry guys. But she didn't try to figure it out. She wasn't incurious. But it never occurred to her to figure things out on her own. Life was complicated, yet simple. Questions were made for asking other people. Being an intellectual renegade wasn't her responsibility. She shrugged. Mustn’t grumble. Life was good. She couldn’t complain.

It was usual for Delilah to order their food. This gave her face; the ritual of face preservation was something Christopher recognized as a sacred rite of Chinese interpersonal interaction. But now, ire getting the upper hand, Christopher, the secular humanist, sought to push her over the great wall of superstition and into the backwaters of empiricism. He’d embarrass her by ordering the food in Chinese himself. He leaned over the bar and said to the chef, "Excuse me! Excuse me! I'd like to order please."

The young chef, in toque blanche, white gown, and gold neck chain looked at him with widening eyes, his smile infected with a growing hint of terror until he realized he could fall back to the mask of a waiter's dead eyes and relax.

Christopher grew impatient with this servility, though he held his tongue, blaming it on colonialism. He looked at Delilah and asked, "Isn't he going to get pencil and a pad of paper?"

"No, of course not."

"Why not?" He asked defiantly.

She crossed her arms and spoke through her mother’s pursed lips. "I don't know. Just because."

At times like this Christopher was really cut to the quick. What was it about Delilah that made her such a bitch? And then he hauled up again sharply, guilt pulling in his shoulders and tightening up his stomach. He admonished himself to be more understanding. He had no right to judge. He took pride in his refusal to degrade and dehumanize his fellow man by placing him beyond the pale and into the realm of the Other. His hands jumped up as if touching a hot oven. Woman, he corrected himself. Woman...

Christopher turned back to the chef, forcing himself to smile, but with anger leaking out and contorting his face into a teeth-baring grimace: "I'd like to order to fried beef noodles for both of us please. She likes hers extra-spicy. And one cold beer plus a hot red tea please."

The young chef was staring. He was just a high-school graduated gangster wannabee putting in his dues. Like a child under his schoolmaster, now an apprentice under his master, he was terrified of making a mistake.

Christopher leaned back in his chair, a leer growing as childhood instincts prompted him to make hay with this frightened man. But his latter-day upbringing suppressed his urge to say something clever and cutting to make Delilah laugh. He mustn’t be critical. He couldn't be savage. Bigoted, he corrected himself. He defeated the undertow of a powerful desire for revenge. A desire that tailed him always, ready for him, waiting just under the surface.

What was it about her that made her eager to be difficult? Women, you can't live with them, you can live without them. But as this doggerel emerged, he flinched. He had a sudden urge to punish himself and saw himself present at a dunking. His dunking. Then a round of bloody self-flagellation. At times such as these, he often had oddly satisfying visions of brutal and primitive rites. Then he saw the martyr’s cross aflame, alive with human struggle.

He jumped out of his seat as if shocked by electricity. The other patrons turned over to look, expecting a fight or at the very least a shouting match. Christopher shut his eyes again, caught between humiliation and fear. He’d long been perplexed by these vivid images which had started soon after his arrival. He couldn't figure out where his frequent descents into animal rage came from. And what provoked these disturbing visions of avatars of a culture disintegrating into the ashbin of history? What was this all about? But in tandem with his yearning for an organic understanding, was a thick vein of pride in purpose and awareness. He was overcoming, winning one for the Gipper. There you go again, he said to himself. God damn it! His eyes scrunched up into his skull. He couldn't win for losing. Where were all these clichés bubbling up from?

Delilah was quiet. She knew Christopher was thinking. She could tell by the shut eyes and the unintelligible sign language of flinching shoulders and twitching fingers. She had a natural Buddhist serenity soaked up through example which kicked in now, though she was largely unfamiliar with the religion’s precepts and practices. Besides, foreigners were difficult. ‘What could you do?’ she shrugged. Their unpredictability and lunacy was part of their charm. She had yet to consider that this foreigner might be defective. Part of her still lurked in the local child's world of not speaking until spoken to. It wasn't her responsibility to make conversation or to ask forensic questions. She was used to inarticulate partners. In bed, she was the noise-maker. That was her role. She accepted this as naturally as the man's sweat dripping down on her from on high.

Of course she preferred talkers, barkers, people with the gift of gab, weenies who'd smooched the blarney stone and were full of themselves and malarkey. Wasn't that how Frank had put it? Frank, a scoundrel, unshaved, unprepared, completely irresponsible. He was a train wreck, a collision of cultures, the bullshitter in the china shop. She smiled thinking about him, sucking her lower lip with unconscious amour. He was penniless. Worthless as a man by Chinese standards. And yet... and yet...

She was interrupted by the chef who was back to normal now. He leaned over, scanned her bosom to be sure it was real and asked, "Would you like to order something? Here's our menu, please take a look. Your foreign friend will probably like the beef selections."

Christopher's face went red as he realized that he'd been ignored the entire time ordering the food. He hated being patronized. He exploded, "Delilah! Why the fuck doesn't he know what I just said? What's his fucking problem?"

Delilah looked at him, lips pouting, eyes straight ahead, fearless. She knew the stuff he was really made of. Sugar and spice and everything nice. All bark and no bite. She'd known ten men for every woman he'd known. So she burst out laughing, her teeth chomping in his face, the spirit-crushing roar blowing in his ears.

In Chinese she spoke at him but told the room, "Your fucking Chinese is rotten. Rotten to the core." She shrieked with more unspeakable unanswerable laughter and Christopher couldn't take it anymore. His face purple, he stormed out, leaving her far behind. As far as he could. Putting her far out of his mind. For the moment. Delilah knew the reconciliation would be forthcoming later on. It was already in the mail. She knew him better than he himself in these affairs of the heart. The heart, she thought. And burst out laughing.

Smiles rounded the room, not a few of which were satisfied smirks. A woman telling a man his business. Now that was something to have witnessed, a story for the water-cooler. Foreigners. Crazy foreigners. Never did make much sense. But a guest is a guest. Though even guests needed to be put in their place now and again. For their own good and the general harmony. The food bar relaxed, the chef prepared to take her order, the patrons went back to shoveling their food. A young man walked up to her full of beans and a revenge drive of his own, putting the stake through the heart of blood-sucking women-stealing foreigners. But her firm look deflated his sails and he farted in fear, then stammered, "Would you mind if I pay for your dinner?"

Afterwards, she left the kind young man with a smile and a phony cell phone number. Out on the street she called up Frank.

"Hey Frank." putting music in her voice, "So what're you doing right now?"

"Not much." He sucked his teeth loudly to make sure the receiver picked up the squawk, "Getting ready to jerk off. You want to make yourself useful? I could use a hand."

Delilah was always impressed by his Chinese. He knew the colloquial expression for jerking off, 'maul the pistol', but he went beyond that kid's stuff. He bent a double-entendre out of the vernacular for bachelorhood: 'beat the bright scepter.' This made him sound educated, though his learning lay mostly in street smarts. He had the natural brightness of a cock of the walk, the surprising trivia of the pushy asshole who won’t take no for an answer.

But all conversations are negotiated. She tried to fake him out prissily, "Oh you're so rude Frank. You shouldn't talk that way. Chinese people won't like it."

But her giggle was giving the game away and Frank couldn't help but say, "What the fuck do I care what Chinese people like? I know what you like." Sucking his teeth into the phone receiver again, he asked lazily, "So what's going on out there in the big world, little sister? Your date dump you? If you’re calling me at this hour, I must be picking up sloppy seconds, is that the deal?"

"No, of course not." She was impressed. She liked savvy. That he understood the gist of things. There was something so very appealing about a man who wasn't self-conscious and could be himself. She found vastly reassuring and masculine his lack of self-awareness, his confidence and capacity for poking through bullshit. Cuddling up she felt safe. He could take care of himself. He could take care of her problems too.

Frank felt an itch and his hand snaked into his shorts, shoving his budding erection to the more comfortable left side. "So, what's the plan?"

"I don't know?" She posed it as a question.

"Oh yes you do. That's why you're calling. Because you have a plan. And that plan includes me. That plan includes coming over to my place."

"No it doesn't. I’m with Christopher," she fibbed.

“So how’s Little C doing?”

“You know he hates that name.”

“That’s why I use it. Besides, I got no use for pinheads. Airheads maybe. Maybe not. But he’s a pinhead.” He interrupted her attempted interruption and said, “So what’s the problem this time with Mr. Wonderful?”


“Okay then. I’ll talk to you later. I’ve got a date with Harry Palm and her five sisters.”

“Huh? What does Harry Palm mean?” The idiom was lost in translation, he realized. It fell on its ass in Chinese, the language of meaningful domestic conversations.

“I’ll tell you another time. It’s getting close to show time here. Have a good time with Chris. Tell him I said hi.” Knowing she’d do no such thing. She’d never reveal to Christopher these secret communiqués.

“He thinks too much,” she blurted in desperation.

“Pardon?” but he was hooting with laughter. No follow-up was required. He was thinking to himself, ‘Typical Chinese complaint. Someone thinks too much…’ Too funny and he laughed until the tears rolled down his face.

All she heard through her headset was muffled joviality. She loved laughter and people who knew how to laugh. Her mood was warming into contentedness. She didn’t interrupt him.

Finally, Frank got it together again. Shaking his head he said, "Hey, why don't you do me a favor and pick up a couple of tall beers on the way over. Chocolate would be nice too. I do love chocolate. Mm-mm. I don't know, but there's something about it which makes me happy, you know?"

"You're shameless,” she said brightly. “I'm not buying anything for you."

"So what's your ETA?"

"Hey, I haven't even made up my mind what I'm going to do this evening."

Sensing noise in the system Frank said, "OK, I'll make you a deal. I'll run out and get some noodles. How about you come over in... Twenty-five minutes."


"Well. If I have to use my hand, I'm going to be out of action for the next 24 hours. Don't blame me if nature calls. So how about you come over? Rest your feet. Take a load off."

"I don't know."

"Yeah you do. Okay, look. I'm going out the door for the noodles. See you soon. Call me if anything comes up."

And then he hung up the phone. The bird was in the bag. She wouldn't call back. She'd come over. She was bored and chasing happy. She’d found it in him and his pad. Crazy bitches, Frank thought. Treat ‘em mean to keep ‘em keen. And like Brando in the film, he’d make sure her happiness was mingled with his ha-penis.

The pursuit of happiness wasn’t a problem for Delilah. She didn’t solve problems. Making decisions wasn't her responsibility. That was a man’s job. For better or worse. Till death do us part.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Scene: [Morning in the Simpson's home. Homer creeps around, looks over his shoulder, bumps into Bart in the kitchen.]

Hey Homer! Where are you going in your pajamas?

[--nervously--] Where do you think I'm going, heh-heh-heh?

A pajama party?

At 8 in the morning? Pfff... I got to get ready for work. So first [-- reaches into fridge -- ] Duff. Mmm, beer... Breakfast of champions.

Won't Marge mind?

Oh!!! She wants me to diet. But skinny guys can't throw their weight around.

But isn't it too early to be drinking?

Not if I don't know what time it is.

But you just said it's 8 in the morning.

Doh! Why did you have to tell me what I already said? C'mon Bart... Please don't repeat myself! Even I don't want to repeat myself...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

UN Bender Version II (incomplete… I’ll finish it or rewrite it later)

It was all very professional, very efficient, not to mention glamorous and well-paying. And it paid off at both ends of a candle, a sticky wicket in Emperor's Scarlet whose wicks were burning scads of money at both ends. Someday the shoe would fall and he'd get kicked upstairs, in one of those teary demotions that are actually a snickering-up-your-sleeve promotion. Before such a reassuring disaster could take place, he and his fellow industry of verbal fixers and sleight-of-hand putter-uppers could take pride in a good job indifferently done. Great deeds were getting done greatly cheap. Or something along them lines. For all the city slickers you met, it seemed a very grassroots, earthy sort of seedy corruption. Either way, the UN was coming here in its sunniest pick-me-yuppiest role: Johnny Seedmoney, buying the bootstraps for indigenous peoples who needed to lift themselves up onto their own bare feet.

Pssst! the can sputtered as I applied a final touch of metal paint to my shoes; a trick remedy from earlier, countrified mornings preparing for the excitement of a different imposture; the whole family hectic, the sprawling, sleep-deprived panic and giggling excitement of mater, pater, and familia discovering our Sunday best wasn’t up to the standards of a goldenrod and elm church morning. I grinned at the small reflective patch of fraudulence, the reflection finally sobering me up when I saw the workaphobia in my face. I sighed and leaned back. Voila! The dirty deed was done. I opened the window into the graying sunshine to let the fumes mingle with the cleaner traffic-tainted air from the freeway below. I turned over my trusty patent leather shinies, dust wiped and mold scraped, to review their worthiness. Good as new; which would have to do. I checked the mirror and ran my hand up top my head and through brush pelt clipped to superannuate the house comb. I could never find the damn thing, rooting through book collections, inspecting the heads of toppling stacks of old newsmagazines, sniffing my way may past the Indian and Chinese spices spilling from the sagging kitchen shelves and mellowing in the living room. I felt a raw, scratchy heat source and looked at my neck in the mirror. A practiced arm snaked out beneath the overhead fluorescent bulb, feeling on the shelf for a familiar yellow wrinkly tube of Kinglenic Ointment. Skin was reddening where mold was doing battle unto death with immune system. I applied a veneer of waxy undecylenic acid balm to make sure my side was victorious. I rubbernecked yoga-style in front of the mirror, getting the shoulders going, vertebrae cracking into alignment. I was rusty and recovering from an extended horizontal vacation; rested and ready to head back feet first into the working world.

It was my job as an interpreter to be professional mouthpiece, paid-for-confidante, and rent-a-pal. International clientele, drawn from the flyover-country-dodging jet set, busy with international what's-its and whatevers, would often forgot that we working stiffs were folks of some merit too. Crippled shoes and yesteryear fashions didn't mean crippled, yesteryear opinions. Or a vacuum where self-respect ought to be, despite many spirit-crushing moons on bended-knee, facilitating the inter-tribal talky-talk biz.

You had to have a sense of humor. But I’d run out of dead-baby jokes, ditched formulae humor a generation ago. The best I could muster on rubbery stage-frost bitten legs was wit. Which produced a leer giving away the show, betraying the sarcasm of a black heart. Coming off as a smart ass didn’t please frightened purchasing officers, sober auditing team leaders, smug legal eagles, blue-nosed activist academics and other no-nonsense types who formed the bulk of my clientele. I could only blame myself for a lack of discipline and for falling through the professional cracks.

When I thought about it, which was as seldom as possible, the core of my problem was the fathomless boredom of acting as mouthpiece once-removed, flapping my gums in gobbledygook on behalf of the mouthpieces of swarming global entities. I was a ventriloquist reading lines in a second-language through sock-puppets. I would have given anything to be taken to their masters. Instead I dealt professionally with hollow men, mimic men. The verbal filler tedium produced grinding teeth, fidgety feet, and air-conditioned sweats. I ventilated odd ideas, frank suggestions, ornery opinions. Anything for relief. And did so gratuitously, effortlessly, without begging for tips, which made me even more suspect to customers billed and already paid up. There was something sickly, vaguely unethical, probably second-rate, and most definitely unprofessional about doing stuff for gratis. I was suspected of being a do-gooder, a reddening turncoat to the corporate cause de jour. More than once I’d been accused of being here too long, getting burned-out, taking on ‘foreign ways’. A slap on the shoulder and sympathetic laughter followed by ‘Time for a vacation from paradise, my boy!’ And, worst of all, I ad-libbed. I embellished upon the original for amusement. I edited out for laughs. This first got me questioning looks, then shooting pains of complaint. It gave my employers grief. They grieved as they let me go. I gained a reputation as a wild card which would have enormously surprised my wife. Maybe I was shooting too much sperm; maybe popping too many pills. The rumor mill was grinding my street cred into dust.

So this time I was keeping my cards close to my skinny chest, playing it straight and narrow. This balmy tropic morning I would be servicing Benjamin Brinkley, a VIP fresh in from the cold at the United Nations headquarters.

Setting up this gig was Guy Thibodaux, a pale almost albino Frenchman with weedy blond hair. He was part of that elderly and jaded, publicly belching generation preferring extinction to extinguishing its smokes. We were in his office up on the seventh floor, far enough to be above traffic and just right for a three dimensional panorama of crumbling brick, newly poured concrete and the ancient mountains, the leafy festooned bedrock marvel upholding us all. But Guy hated distractions. He kept the drapes and windows firmly closed. The staff recycled his second-hand smoke, human humidifiers and air conditioners at fair market rates. He turned back to me and flapped his arms, frosted with white fur, as he strode aggressively in front of a white marker board, fat nicotine-etched fingers etching fat fingery arrows indicating project schedule, goals, strategy, and resources. The latter meant me. It being seven in the morning, his secretaries weren’t in yet and he had an audience, and air-conditioner, of just one.

He was chattering and I was fidgety all ready. But it didn’t pay to interrupt and ask him to cut out the crap and just leave the point. A chattering fidgety uninterrupted hour later, the gist was that this veep was parachuting onto our industrial island to quickstep through the backwoods aboriginal situation. I was to squire him to the pristine east coast and walk him through a bayside town walled in by kilometer-high cliffs. Once he got settled in, he'd part his briefcase, fire up his laptop, windup his spreadsheet and guestimate with mathematical precision how the indigenous folks were making out with their International Community guilt money. Privately I predicted traditional shell-games and hide-the-weenie.

It seemed so familiar. I couldn't suppress a smirk and a deadpan, 'Jeepers Guy, I mean, do you expect his report to be, uh… in the bag. Like a done deal or something?'

I overdid it, maw agape, awaiting flies. Guy Thibodaux, MBA, Ph.D., LLD from Francophone Canada, his sense of humor DOA, knew me both first-hand and by reputation. He replied: "If youse open your goddamn mout' this time and piss off de customer der won't be no more of these goddamn cakewalks for youse no more. I had nuff of your shit. You unnerstan me?"

I wiped a suddenly perspiring neck with one hand while timidly projecting the other, following the jab of his angry pointing finger through my skull and beyond to a yellowing topographical map of Southeast Asia. Through hard hectoring lips he told me that after this industrial whitewash, the veep would be on a flight to what he called 'everywheres-else-ville'. More hectic jet-setting over squabbling flyover countries to the next rain-or-shine money-bags of a destination.

Clearly, sarcasm was serious stuff and no laughing matter with Guy. It had a Catholic order and process. You grimaced with a frown, suppressed anger with pursed lips, uttered the regrettable naughty words, atoned by feeling someone’s pain -- preferably one’s own -- and got on with it. Laughter was not a laughing matter. Certainly not during office hours. The show must go on.

Speaking of shows, I wanted money-bags too. We, foreign workers whose consciences had been confiscated at Chinese immigration, certainly felt deserving. But we didn’t have a marketable shtick, a spiel. We lacked authenticity and cuddle-factor. They, the Other, had a song and a dance, often quite literally a dog and pony show. The novelty of ethnic impersonation had been growing on me, getting under my pale skin.

Last year I’d an epiphany: an eye-opening, gut-wrenching, mind-draining yet on recovery an invigorating and enlightening vision which brought me to the verge of burning my shingle. It was all the happy fault of a beckoning example, a doable exemplar. I’d guided a memorable parcel of somebodies way into the outback. The locals were ready for us. The red carpet and VIP treatment. The village elders had shut down the hooch stills and meth kitchens, shed their t-shirts, sneakers and shades, and given the village a poetically abandoned look by ordering most of the working-age men to make themselves scarce and shoving the rest on a bus headed into the lowlands on a gambling junket. The graybeards turned out in their best personal approximations of a tan and indigenous gear, organized the women into a boo-hoo water works brigade, and communally complained through their mouthpiece, me, that they wuz being wronged by the Global Village. They put them the veeps through a gauntlet of sympathy trips, embraced them with leathery begging hands, pummeled them with their warm bosoms, opened their hearts.

Given poverty chic and the consideration of not asking questions that inconvenienced their hosts or themselves, the Prada-haves found the Prada-have-nots hootenanny, i.e. groveling and singing for one’s supper, to be ‘cute’ and ‘authentically Third World’. They weren’t amused when I whispered that Canadian farmers and fishermen pull the same moves on the taxman: hauling hand-me-downs out of attic trunks, planting rent-a-wrecks about the property like shrubbery, stashing valuables in bottle-walled hunting camps, painting the house one different colored can of paint at a time, and otherwise camouflaging and depreciating their immobile assets.

‘Lose the attitude dude,’ somebody muttered under his breath, hiding behind the second-wind of a cough.

Who’s to say who is in the wrong? Nice guys finish last. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. What did I expect if I didn’t toot my own horn? Why speak up for others? Or why try to drag others down in the mud with me. If I couldn’t be self-centered, the mud was surely where I belonged.

I was learning.

A loud noise. Yet my eyes hesitated to draw back into focus. Somebody was asking me something. I willed vision to congeal and figured the odds were better than even that the right answer was: "Yes Guy. I mean, Mr. Thibodaux. Sorry, boss."

"I'm ain't chore fucking boss! T'ank god for dat!" He was red and blustery. “Now you better pay some damn attention, der mister.” He was saying whatever he was saying, but I didn’t hear any more than this. I was already dreaming. Boredom was cum pathological. My subconscious was off the leash and I couldn’t chase it down. It mattered little. My profession being small talk and other palaver all day every day, most conversations were of such a familiar pattern I could carry them for minutes by just going through the motions without the listener, or even myself, being the wiser. It wasn’t any more difficult than daydreaming while behind the wheel, the road disappearing for miles on end.

It was last week. In the security of a favored chat bar, Flunky, fortified with liquid courage, a rat-pack of translators was stammering hushed complaints about the 'Quebec Redneck'. He hectored in three languages: French, English, and Chinese. We, as a rule, only did the latter two. Our international clientele viewed the in-country tongue of Mandarin Chinese as a charming mumbo-jumbo which could be praised from a safe distance for its non-aligned charm. Fluency in the lingua francas was what counted. The frog had us beat two-to-one hands down.

Today was a working day and I was happily bouncing down the jumbly street, crowded with pedestrians and foreign compacts, myself on an uninsured scooter without tags. The wife was already at work, investment counseling in a boiler room. One of us was destined for financial independence and/or jail and I was hitched to her star. I set the peeling machine in the veep's hotel parking lot, resting the kickstand on a brick placed on top of the liquefying pavement next to a tour bus. The driver, probably a temp holding down two or more jobs, was catching up on his shuteye in the shade of ten-foot elephant grass.

I was trotting to the hotel parking entrance when the gold doors swung open and a short dapper middle-aged gentleman bellowed, "Top of the morning to you sir!" He smiled broadly and exclaimed, "I see from my travel package that your name' Norman." He winked and issued a regulation warm and hearty handshake.

“Hey, how are you this morning. How’d you recognize me?"

He flashed a color photocopy of an old brochure sporting a picture stealing my soul a dozen years past. The tropic climate, slippery stir-fry, and neo-colonialist-status aged one gracefully. I was chipper even with the two score years nature was holding against me. It seemed he agreed for I felt fingers gripping mine with an alarming enthusiasm. I shyly dodged his unblinking stare, my eyes going south. I was used to the cadaverous palming of the locals: virginal shy or patriotically refusing to give into foreign salutations. The veep's fingery embrace had begun by exploring the palm and was presently sliding down and loafing around the erogenous metacarpals. There was a spunky heat though he'd just emerged from the arid cool of his five-star extravaganza, the Podunkery Plaza International.

I left my mit tucked in this zone of strange unfamiliarity. It wasn't like he was going to bite me. Public prudence and all that.

He sucked his teeth officiously, reminding me of his superior status: "Looks a bit of a scorcher today, wouldn't you say?" Continuing his southpaw shakedown, he mock-wiped his dry brow ambidextrously with his other hand. "Care for a refresher inside. No sense in rushing things. I wouldn't want to put you out on a hot morning like this. I’m buying."

I was too confused to speak but he was enjoying the moment, relishing in my discomfort, the awkwardness of his daring proposal heightening the anticipation of success. "I discovered some very naughty cocktails at the hotel bar last night." He paused, waiting for me to look up, whereupon he cocked his head and snapped it back sharply with wet moony eyes and moaned euphorically, "Whoa!!"

I threw up my hands as if caught in headlights trying to stop an oncoming vehicle. It was too early for all this. I was usually between calico sheets, soundly snoozing, my brain - I mean our brains - so empty of concern that the wifey and I never dreamed.

My mouth opened, but only a noiseless wind emerged. Accompanied by mad blinking. Serial blinking, like the circuits to my eyes were shorting out. My brain squirmed like a fist-sized maggot and a soundless voice suddenly shrieked 'For Christ's sake!!!'

And then the panic attack was over. It was eight o'clock in the a.m. and I was already wilting under the strain.

"You need an aspirin?" someone was asking.

"Huh? No, I'm fine." I sighed, grateful for the space to settle down. I realized it was the veep talking. I said, "Thanks for asking."

He got to the point: "I don't mean to be unkind, but do you think you're up to serving as my interpreter?"

"Oh, sure. No, no, no. Don't worry about it. It must be the heat." Realizing that wasn't going to cut the mustard I added, "...and dehydration. Too much salty food and beer last night with the wife. Electrolyte imbalance. Heat and dehydration's a perfect recipe for sunstroke. Nah, I just need some water. I'll get something in the hotel. I'll be right back."

He looked at me and tapped his watch.

On the train down I gulped more water. I was taking my own story seriously. Maybe I should have pled diabetes. Then again maybe I should take it seriously. That blinking thing was embarrassing. I’d only seen it in locals. Now I had it. Not the sort of acculturation I wanted.

I found a vending machine adjoining our carriage and scanned the display for a particular beverage. I looked approvingly over beckoning jugs of Pocari Sweat, Calpis, and BJ Coffee until I found Green Mountain Water. As I plunked my gold and silver change down the slot, a tall Chinese student bumped into me from behind, pinning me with his bulk like a drunken gay-bar pickup, breathing garlic on me and buttonholing me.

Not wishing to disturb this odd approach, striving to minimize my impact as an observer, I turned with the frailty of a woman wanting to be chased. He had massive shoulders and a face as impassive as the vending machine display. He was like a cigar Indian broaching cross-cultural relations, a strapping country boy who broke a bird’s neck when he wanted fried chicken. He was utterly innocent of the awkwardness he was creating. Mouth moving slowly, he chewed his Mandarin carefully to be sure foreigner understood. Unpruned sooty bristle loomed from nostrils on to wet rubbery lisping lips.

"Can you speak Chinese?" and in his eagerness he stepped on one of my foot.

“Ow!!” I yelped and jerked my leg to recover my foot. “No!!” I replied in Chinese: "No!”

“Oh sorry… “

“Yeah, I’m sure.” I wanted to go on about the oafs per capita in this country but instead the rocking of the train calmed me, and I said, “Sorry. I only speak English."

Now the encounter became an old one, long rehearsed, long since automated. Nursing my pain, I absorbed the echoes of our speech second-hand, as if two strangers were mumbling to one another beside me. I zoned into that chimney sweep of black bristle:

"Are you sure?" he prompted.

"Positive. Never had the chance to learn. Like to someday," I chirped hopefully, mechanically. "Yup. Someday." My indifference was reducing my stock smile to a flat-lining ghost. "I'm just passing through on business. All business and no pleasure."


"Sorry. Thanks for asking. See you round sport!"

He was disappointed but soon forgot me under the strain of making a selection from the tempting vending machine display.

I gingerly padded over red carpet, limping carefully past empty seats of tan on scarlet terry-cloth upholstery, antimacassars advertising Cathay-Pacific Insurance in that pleasing scarlet lettered, leafy-green on a white cotton logo. The train was charmingly bereft of passengers on weekdays. Free from the squalor of standing room only, I bent over and crooked my neck to view the primeval scenery. To the left was ocean, clean azure pelagic swells and gloaming green tea surf. To the right, slate cliffs with skeins of fault lines and pressure warp carried up for a kilometer or more, indifferent to wind-tortured saplings and stunted greenery clinging to little more than a will to life, through wisps of steam and cloud, up to crags poking through thinning air and into the beginnings of inner space. The island was still active and, by geological standards, charging furiously out of the ocean, shaking, quaking, quivering, shattering. Rain lubricated the shards and the mountain regularly roared down avalanches, depilating a growing dermatitis of wriggling forest, etched roads, farting vehicles and belching travelers, carrying one and all to meet their maker. On a lemony day like this, with the roads and track cleared of debris and victims, the all-clear was out, the air was warm and bracing with the complex odors of elephant grass, beech, fig, camphor, and a hundred species of hanging orchid defeating the train's air-conditioning system. I inhaled deeply, glad to be out of the anaerobic city.

I began shuffling down the aisle. Merry with fresh fragrance, my mind was tripping and alert. A few seats later I was stopped up by another Chinese gent. The train’s anonymity and the rhythmic cover of the clickety-clack embolden the shy. With his ochre/chocolate tan and a well-fed oily face, pomaded bouffant, tan golf jacket, amber slacks, and Italian shoes with trademark leather frescoes and Mandelbrot curlicues, it was hard to place him. A sun-loving businessman or a fun-loving farmer? Then again, in these mix and match globalizing days, he could have been a Ph.D. wielding scholar-politician-gangster-pimp. He said, "So you speak Chinese, eh?"

I made a surprised face and spoke amiably in Chinese, "No. Not me, sir. You must be thinking of someone else."

He extended a beefy leg into the aisle, forbidding me from proceeding without crashing etiquette. He wasn’t being loutish. He was being my elder.

"I saw you chatting with that student over there."

"Yeah, his English is pretty good. A testament to the national education system." I whistled admiration.

He unconsciously tucked in his chunky leg a tad, chortling. I spied an opening but he was on to my escape. He placed his hand on my arm, taking his time, confident: "No, I insist. Please sit down." But there was no ‘please’ in that firm grip.

I sucked my teeth as my heart raced. Mafia.


Well... why not? The other option was back to the veep who was starting to sulk now that the novelty of my nervous condition was yesterday's news. Getting up to look for a drink was an escape in the right direction. Escaping this situation was fleeing in the wrong direction. My grace period was over and I couldn’t milk derangement no more. The veep resented his eunuch and mental defective. Two strikes and counting. I knew what was in the pipe.

So I sat down in the empty seat across the aisle. I looked at the well-to-do duffer and noticed the comely young woman for the first time.

He said, "You tricky foreign devils." But he laughed, approving my chutzpah, digging his expensive elbow into her.

I said, "Judging by that turn of phrase, you must be from the mainland originally."

"You’ve been here a while yourself.” He scratched his nose, revealing a shiny Rolex, the loose wristband clanging against itself like noisy jewelry. “My parents are from Shanghai, but I was born here in Taiwan. It doesn’t matter anyway; we're all Chinese in the end." The woman twitched.

"That's not what the locals think," I said, making conversation. She was nodding, curtain mats of loose dark curls waving in and out of sync. She had a decisive chin, alabaster skin, doe eyes. But she had a bulb nose; a Clintonesque confusion of genes squabbling over economy shield or air-splitting projectile. What excited my libido was the finger-width of bloodless skin at her temples where her eyebrows reached for her hairline. She was a looker, a keeper chosen for her western aspect, though the package reminded me less of Chinese grace than the go-go Philippines.

"The locals can think whatever the hell they want,” he snorted, swiveling to impress his disdain upon his pet. She indignantly flung her head away exposing a giraffe of a neck, attached to a body whose height I could now estimate. Perhaps she was a trophy wife. She was a good foot taller than our ethnic Han Napoleon out to conquer the 21st century for the Chinese.

But I felt his contempt for Taiwan locals was misplaced. His clothes, accent, and hygiene ensured he’d never be mistaken for a China homeboy. "Taiwan belongs to us," he barked triumphantly. "It belongs to all Chinese."

"Does it belong to the American Chinese too?"

His eyes narrowed and he bellowed with laughter. Wagging a fat finger, "You tricky foreign devils. If China belongs to the American Chinese then it belongs to the Americans, right?" He laughed patiently, the deep wheezing joy of control, the understatement of someone who didn't bark to be noticed. He said, "I see where you're going with this."

I smiled. He was imputing a motive I'd never contemplated.

He said, "You Americans think you are special. But the 21st century is ours. You will see."

I wasn't American, but I held my tongue. Correcting him now would be wasting a weapon, now best concealed for revelation at a more opportune time. So I said, "I like China. I really do actually. I just wonder why, um, you know, why Taiwan has to belong to China? Why can't it belong to itself?"

"Because Taiwan belongs to China. The motherland. We Chinese own China."

"But the Taiwanese got here first."

"No, the Chinese got here first. China discovered Taiwan." He nodded gravely, ramming his facts into my skull with his gaze.

"Wasn't it the Dutch? Or the Japanese?" I asked facetiously.

"No, no,” he patiently explained, shifting his weight to get a better purchase on his words. “No big noses. No Japanese dwarf pirates. Taiwan was discovered by China in the seventh century. It's recorded in Chinese history."

"But didn't the aborigines get here first around eight thousand years ago?"

"But the aborigines came from China."

"But China didn't exist eight thousand years ago."

He shrugged confidently and rubbed his hands, disposing of the issue: "Go read Chinese history. Can you read classical Chinese characters?" I began watching his leg again. He admonished me with a smile disguising rows of sharp teeth, "You see, foreigner, you can't read classical Chinese. So how can you know how long China has been around for? Trust me. I am a Chinese."

I made my eyes drunk with heaviness, "Can't I trust English language sources?"

"No. Of course not. Only the Chinese truly understand China."

"But I thought the first people to get to Taiwan were black. You know, Negrito. I mean look at your wife's hair. That's some nappy stuff. Add Jerry Curl and she'd be stylin'. "

"What’re you carrying on about?" he asked through narrowing eyes. Of course, it wasn’t the oblique reference to the hair product which flummoxed him and pricked his suspicions and drew more of his leg in from the aisle. It was the traitorous suggestion of blood relations with the Dark Continent. Thirty years of firing-squad enforced square-dancing to the national ditty had led to a popular affinity for goose-stepping. Tribalism emerged in roaring spiritual conniptions like a Great Awakening. Martial law had put the flourishing tropic island under glass, introducing a rot that degraded the national culture into compost. Hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world, the national thought chased its tail, the body politic inbred and though democracy’s recent revival, still but a sort a confused zombie risen from the Chinese grave, had scared a few of the old ways away, it remained a political necropolis, an open-air museum full of human debris blown about by the stale winds of racialism. The bulk of this big boy’s thoughts were wall-flowers pressed between Victorian sheaves. I was a frightened flunky, lost in an historical archive, sniffling with an allergy to dust.

But of course I was thinking too much, trying to edify myself above my intelligence. He wasn’t complicated. He just wanted a normal everyday conversation with a foreigner. The garden-variety you saw on TV. He had the global villager's fantasy of talking shop and shooting shit with a pasty fella with a big nose and lots of hee-haws going the rounds.

Sure, I was a wet blanket. But, for the love of Jesus, why be predictable? You couldn’t pay me enough to be bored.

He exclaimed, the lines hardening in his face, "There are no black people in Taiwan."

That was my opening, "Not now. But there were.” I grinned. “Plenty of the dark devils jumping all over the place. The first to arrive in the Philippines got there 22,000 years ago. Had the world's most advanced technologies, such as ocean-going boats. An amazing world cultural achievement."

‘Culture’ in Mandarin is a word only licensed for use in tandem with ‘Chinese’. His cheeks were darkening and his chest heaving now. "And it's recorded that the mountain aborigines in Taiwan included black people. At my home I have pictures of black aborigines up in..."

But I didn't get any farther than because he started to get up. As his legs withdrew completely from the aisle to support his weight and free up his fists, I scampered off to a volley of complementary curses.

When I got back to my seat, Benjamin asked with feigned indifference, "Where were you?"

He missed me. I was relieved. How sweet. But I could use that.