Archive for February, 2010

Lighten up with alien glibber!

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

On the last day of February it was time. Time for anniversary. Needless to say, it wasn’t a pretty one, but you just can’t overlook it.

Rustily the fallen ogre raises towards the heavens, stained like the fur of a scabiesious mutt. The metal skin is pervious and bust open at countless places. Steel struts from every corner join to form a crumbled monument. Like begging hands they dramatically raise their silent “why”?

You guessed it – we’re talking about the Mandarin Oriental. It was destined to become the new talk-of-the-town hotel inside the glorious CCTV complex, right at the heart of Beijing. And we all know how that turned out.

Authorities managed to blame 20 wild jumping jacks for the whole premature deconstruction during the course of the past year. Ignoring police advice they indulged in their explosive needs at the time in question and in the courtyard of the CCTV. From now forth they may indulge in splitting that extensively large piece of paper that resembles the bill. A few millions in length. Talking about explosive!

However, the clever reader certainly has already detected a flaw with the date. The five-star fireworks of last year took place on the 10th of February. So, how come the anniversary is this late?

The answer, mind you, lays within the calendar system. 15 days after the Chinese New Year is the lantern festival. On this day the Chinese dig up their last cracker reserves and celebrate the final day of the New Year’s festivities. Not a good day for devotees of peace and quiet. And not a good day for new buildings either as it seems.

So on the 28th it was lantern festival again. And this time it should be well prepared. Nobody wanted another major BBQ event. And so a truckload of signs were erected, cautioning everyone that fireworks wouldn’t be allowed in the city center. Neither close to buildings, places of public interest and best of all would be not to have any fireworks at all. You could call it the “No bang” parole.

But frankly, what do you think that billions of Chinese will do when there are countless sales tents in every larger street, just tempting everybody’s explosive desires?

Well, certainly – they buy. And they do it by the dozen.

This year the country has seen 676 fires accompanying the New Year festivities. Bottom line of damages? 2 Million Yuan. Approximately. Strange enough you can hear the authorities being proud that the death toll was reduced by a staggering 66,7 percent compared to the year before. However, they pre-cautiously don’t publish any total numbers.

Maybe that’s not such a bad idea, given the fact that just in Guangdong 21 people were swiped off the face of this earth in a single explosion due to exaggerated use of fireworks. We better don’t project that to country-wide numbers.

The odd truth is that the lantern festival originated from the will to keep suffering and death away from the country rather than attracting it. To intimidate the evil with red light like from fire and the noise of exploding firecrackers and to embrace the good into your home – this was designed to harvest heaps of luck and fortune for the coming year.

Catering to my endeavor to make the readers of this blog the best-informed on the planet I tried to gather as much information as possible about this special day. Every spot of this country was decorated with red lanterns and so it looked promising. Mister Li’s ancestors, however, have been happy travelers. And so I learned that all the historical rites and customs of the countless regional cultures have been blended into an altogether-now-smoothie.

It’s tasty in a way, but nobody really knows what’s in it or where certain traditions originate from. There was this dragon they had killed. And now the god was in a bad mood. So the Chinese had thought up the clever plan to spoof the almighty mate and thus created a certain theatrical masterpiece. By making the Earth look like it’s already doomed, they had hoped the god would refrain from his revenging plan. Why bother? The humans are already killing one another as it seems. You must wonder though why nobody thought about this possibility: What if that god got up the next day and saw this very Earth calm and in order while looking out of the window and having a godly morning coffee? Wouldn’t Lord Thunder just pick up his revenging plans again on that day? The mumbled answer to this question is a simple: “don’t ask ‘why’ all the time”!

Yes, the Chinese don’t like to ask “why”, they just do as they are told! Not going to the hairdresser until March 17, because this could make your uncle suffer? Well, there’s half an explanation, but no-one really is too sure. Still they obey that rule. Eating dumplings for the New Year, trying to find a coin in them? Come on – we always did this, what’s with all the questioning?

I have to admit – in Europe people on the streets would have trouble explaining why there are eggs for Easter and what the deal is with the special biological feature that these are delivered by a bunny. And the turkey for American Thanksgiving? Yea, well, there were these pilgrims and they kinda didn’t find the drive-in….ah, gee, don’t ask so much!

So in Beijing, anyway, at lantern festival they eat this …eh…stuff. For clear identification and to make things easier I dubbed them as “alien glibber”. Those who fancy a more disgusting description may very well refer to them as ‘something like soft-boiled cow eyeballs’. That would be very related to their texture. But it doesn’t help the will to bite into them.

Frankly, this dish carries another thousand years old history full of dragons, agony and valiant virgins. But this tale shall be told another time. For now let’s focus on the taste. It only took a very short year to get used to them (you simply don’t really eat them at any other time in the year) and they are not that bad. Really. Strangely similar to a Squash ball you push the top surface almost all the way down to the bottom, before the laws of physics allow a tearing of the ball and reveal the inside. And that’s where the color contrast awaits the nosy one: a dark black substance oozes out and over the innocently white edges.

“Indiana Jones part 2″ is the first thing that comes to mind. Memories of a childhood, staring at the TV screen. The rental VHS tape in the squeeling player. Harrison Ford, fitted with hat and lash, sitting at the table of horror. Monkey brain, bugs and snakes offer themselves as the utmost delicacies. The first impression is indeed related. How disappointing and boring the truth! There’s no busting chitin armor and no horrible bitter substances are attacking the taste buds. Instead it’s total relief: they are nothing but sticky rice balls filled with a sesame cream. And that’s just how harmless they get acquainted with the senses. A nice dessert. Unfamiliar but not untasty.

When sitting among the happily smacking and chatting family circle, shouting “ganbei” more often than not, there’s a single thing one can constitute at the end: Not even the Western foreigner needs a “why” for cosiness, peace and comfort. The only question coming to mind may be “why not more often”?

Note on the side:

We were able to make use of our private artillery without any unplanned incidences or blazing cultural possessions.

But then again – we only had two very tiny crackers….


Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

My dear Mister Li. Today I guess I’m going to have to apologize to you. You know, kinda like on behalf of lots of others.

I know – Your are a single person only and you have a name. But despite that you are constantly and unjustly being labeled and referred to as “they”.

THEY are simply incapable.
THEY have no clue and THEY horribly stress one’s nerves. THEY just plainly can’t do anything right and couldn’t survive a single day without US.

Sometimes it’s bluntly impossible to avoid what is men’s most beloved ritual of fraternization: pigeonhole thinking. Frankly, you don’t have to flea to far-away-land to experience it. You can very well find it right in front of your own doorstep. But still, a lot of us tend to generalize things far more constantly and extensibly when being very distant from home.

THEY have blocked the whole road again. How is it possible that THEY are completely incompetent of driving whatsoever?

And you guessed it: the word THEY usually is synonymous with “the stupid” and WE gloriously represents “the very clever”. And here comes the fabulous clue: Since he who talks is always part of the WE, he thereby is also safely on the sunny side of smart. Now isn’t that convenient?

So, if THEY are cramping up just about any junction on a green light, because THEY give a damn about the way of right, then the inversion of the argument is that WE are the heroes of the yellow brick road. And that’s certainly a nice insight to live with.

There’s only one very dumb thing about the label THEY – it prevents absolutely any differentiation. And so by using THEY, we quickly turn every single Chinese into a parking monster. Not just that sole Jetta-king in front of us who makes us detour for 2.5 yards.

Going to a foreign country inevitably means being part of a minority. Maybe that can explain why we are not shy in raising our huge social stamp to happily start playing post office with everyone around us. But one needs to wonder: if your ink dries out too quickly, maybe you’re not exactly the best choice for being part of the jury.

On the other hand, taking traffic as an example here is quite stupid in itself. They really don’t know how to park their ride. None of them does. And they’ve never heard of the combination of way-of-right and common sense. Instead they make extensible use of the car’s horn and squeeze in. It’s madness – none of them should ever have passed the driver’s license test!


Remembering the future

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

“One World, One Dream” – The local patriotic motto of the olympic games 2008.

This posy sounds like a 60degree-elevated daydreamer look into the future and it might very well be almost unknown in the West. In Beijing however, where almost exactly a year and a half ago athletes from around the globe were fighting for medals, the phrase is known to any child.

You can still see it in every day’s life. Some fading construction fence is wearing it. There are buildings whose walls are still costly decorated with the colors of the event. They stubbornly cling to the plea. The Western eye sees but a sad picture. It’s apparent that they don’t really serve any purpose these days. There’s not a lot which can de-spur as intensively as yesterday’s dreams.

We live in times where the globe’s larges search engine company and both the Chinese and the American government fight for digital leadership. Who, with impunity, may be allowed to install the largest thinking filters to whom? And who may collect the most data? The liberal mouse-clicking lad is scratching his head. Not only is there no mutual dream – even the beginning of the olympic sentence is out of line: Currently it doesn’t much look like “one” world to begin with.

Herr Meyer believes that the pre-olympic dreams have not only not come true, but that the dream has turned slightly nightmarish on top. Where is the rapprochement of the Chinese which the world has hoped for so desperately? What about being more open to lifestyles, which are widely accepted by the West? Sir Johnson adds, that it actually looks like the situation is much more desolate now than it was prior to the games. He fretfully orders another beer.

And Mister Li? Did we ever think about questioning Mister Li for this two cents on this matter?

Mister Li pleasurably chews down the last dumpling and queryingly looks at Herr Meyer and Sir Johnson. He wants to know what they mean by “desolate”. But before any of them can kick off an answer, heavily filled with words like ‘human rights’ and ‘freedom’, Mister Li finishes the meal. He then gives his thoughts while looking for a toothpick:

The intention was to bring the Olympics to China. And didn’t that work out indeed? Proving to the world, what a great athletic nation resides on this side of the cultural equator – this turned out to be an absolute success: China took the number one spot on the medal ranking. The games in this country – one could compare it to the football world cup in Germany. An indescribable feeling of unity. Patriotic to the fullest and arm in arm, the Chinese for once didn’t have to feel like a shabby third world country on the brink. Who would want to deny them this experience?

In 2006 the Germans learned that it’s OK to disclose their nationality in public. And suddenly their nation’s flag didn’t look all that ugly any more. It was a sudden liberation.

For Mister Li, this olympic games thing was just the same. And cross your heart – who really cares which girl is singing which song and how much fireworks are genuine or fake? Hollywood repeatedly decides to blow up Washington D.C. or New York, and in reality not a single brick is going loose. Still, everyone is feeling fabulously entertained. What really counts is the effect. For two weeks the Chinese were allowed to experience themselves as a grand part of the “One World”. This and the provable athletic success was the “One Dream”. And everything has come true. So, Mister Li really doesn’t understand how the word “desolate” fits into this picture.

Herr Meyer and sir Johnson are glimpsing at one another with huge questionmarks on their faces. It’s dawning upon them that they might have to check about the origin of the their interprettion of “One World, One Dream”. But still, they push up their mental sleeves and for the next hour they will fight on the terrain of inter-cultural arguments.

The sun is starting to set over the capital. With a slow pan, the camera retracts from the small restaurant’s table on which our little group is heavily discussing their important points of view. After moving backwards out of the window, it curves to reveal the little hutong alley. Typical sounds reach our ear: the whispering of the wind, a distant car horn on the main street, two laughing kids and the murmuring of the neighbors. Captivatively they are checking out the camera crane which elevates at this very moment. We catch a short glimps of a piece of cartboard. It was scantily squeezed into a hole in the wall.

A few yards down the road we spot five colorful rings. Their best days have long passed and they keep paying their tariff to time.

We overlook a city that has changed tremendously because of the olympic games. The IOC relics disappear bit by bit. But the life of the people we see has mostly been changed in one single way: their ego is strengthened and their confidence into the future is much stronger now. And THIS change is long lasting.

Further into the distance we can spot the birdsnest. It features an artificial outdoor skiing track these days as well as the World Chocolate Wonderland exhibition. Visitors may marvel at Easter eggs, Santa Clauses and lots more strange foreign treasure made from chocolate.

Both attractions imply mainly two things: On one hand the continuous attempt to familiarize the Western and Eastern cultures. On the other hand it proofs the amazing fact that this city’s government is still pursuing the goal of not letting the games’ facilities go to waste. A goal which lots of other nations have given up rather quickly after they held the ‘games’.

Our camera elevates and near the horizon we can see a piece of the Chinese Wall. A testimony of the country’s 5000 year old history. According to Mister Li, at one time in its shadow Confucius said “Those who strive for longlasting happiness must change often”. Change however, comes from the inside and so does its direction. And who honestly believes that this direction would be exactly the same as it is expected from the outside?

Geez, Mister Li – I must say you’re awefully right about that. Cheers, you yellow scoundrel! And now let’s go and sing a few.