Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Madness pt.3

(Something in the Works, 2013)

That feeling of missing becomes something without a shape. I can recall details: a smile, a face that holds that smile, scent, the shimmer in the eyes, and the feeling of being around this person and that person.  But something feels missing from the missing, that it is hard to imagine that person right now and here, that there are no caveats to the memory of that person around me in the scenery that is this place.  All there is is no lived experience of a place that only holds reference to Jackie Chan and kung-fu movies, a slight resemblance to Chinatown back home, and the few memories my father recalling of his homeland.  After that everything is new, and perhaps that is the excitement of being here.
Before arriving people would tell me about China, about how they knew someone that went and had changed.  Some of those people even returned to live there.  It is too earlier to point out what has changed in me, to acknowledge an alternative self, or if it was China that had the majority of the affect on me or if it was the experience of being with my entire family for the first time in over a decade.  Witnessing how we have changed, how we have grown apart, situated in a different circumstance from each other seemed to be an analogy to what China has become.  From my father's notion of the China, the China he had escaped, the Red China, the Mao China, the one that seemed too hard to speak of, the one that recalls memories of struggle and violent change.  That China was gone and in the void was a man in his late-60's seeing a new country from fifty years of being away.
Eventually the things I thought were strange, different, and even this notion of madness would subside to the everyday.  A child naked from the waist down is being held by his mother as he pees on to the street, the strong smell of urine in particular spots on the street, the cutest dogs ever, the massive crowds, the part of the street where cars, tuk-tuks, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycle, and people all struggle to move in each of their directions, the honking, the hawking, the spitting, the mixture of music, and the street sounds eventually fade to the opposite of white noise, a pattern from the chaos of everything happening all at once.  From how people looked here, communicating, selling, and buying, how it did not seem to phase them, that understanding of their everyday made it normal to me, or at least closer to understanding it.
Arriving in Shanghai was something else, I was still in mainland and yet I felt like I was somewhere far from the past ten days.  The same sense of order I knew from North America was here, walking was less challenged, the eyes need not pan and scan the surrounding in search of a steadily approaching vehicle, the sidewalks without vendors, the spitting down to a minimal, and the order of the buildings, of the overall was something I understood from the experience of living in a cosmopolitan city.  I had a good feeling about this place, as if I was searching for something, that something was just about to be found.  It was so close I could smell it.  And then I heard it, a whisper from the wind, "Are you ready?".

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Madness pt.2

(Michelle and Maya in Dundas, 2013)

Early morning and there was that light blue hue to everything around.  Just behind the tuk-tuk driver I watched his hair flap and dance in the wind as the street scene unfolded.  It looked like a place that hadn't changed in a long time, everything fixed, old advertisement covered second story walls, and plastic burned in designated spots.  This was the old my mind told me, comparing it to the modernized Beijing I had seen the day before.  There again, yesterday felt like a while ago.  So-so-so long ago that song went.

I looked like an idiot.  A complete fool.  The dogs were barking at me as I got closer with my camera.  All around me were locals watching me get closer and reading the signs of the dogs.  The dogs were wild and had their own place in Pingyao.  There were puppies there and I cannot resist the charm of puppies.  Dogs were barking by my legs and yet I stay there, even getting closer until one came real close, its fur touching my fur.  I started to run out of there and I felt being chased as what was directly behind was obscured by my imagination and fear of possibility getting rabies.  I must have outrun them or they just didn't care to keep chase as the sun set.
We rode tuk-tuks again, packing my entire family while the other carried all of our luggage.  Imagine two motorized rickshaws: one carrying five adult human beings while the other was devoted to carrying all their possessions.  This image seemed to carry with me the entire trip, and even before the journey started the notion of "mental weight" was dawning on me.  It came up on a hike after a friend of mine lost a precious bracelet, we were all high out of our minds in the middle of the woods and she lost that thing.  We spent time looking for it but no success, it had become part of the woods.  Eventually we had to push on as the sun was getting to that place in the sky.  Though the physical weight of the bracelet passed by day to day undetected its mental weight lingers; its significance, its sentimental value, its memory were all too important to keep on travels and yet she carried it with her, as a keepsake and a reminder.  We tend to leave things at home we wish not to lose but there are some special things we keep with us to represent something or someone as we are away.  There was a book buried deep in the backpack I was living out of for the trip.  It is sealed in a ziplock bag and it is very old.  I had no immediate plans to read it it just had to come along.  There is something in an object that has been places and has been owned by people, who also took it places as well.  It is usually objects that only find value to us and that they lack exchangeable value, such as used shoes (these are my magic shoes), an old camera that your father or mother shot with when they were your age, a book, a hat, and lucky jewelry.  When those things are lost there is a release of mental weight, but because it has been weighing down for so long the gravity is missed and so it is we can often forget we are lighter and no longer have to bare the weight of the past.  That bracelet was buried somewhere in Dundas, Ontario, where it will never get more lost than it is found in those woods.
A piece of luggage falls from the tuk-tuk ahead and our driver laughs and yells at his friend driving.  We carry on and make it to the train station late at night.  They're playing a Jackie Chan movie on an old television set and this is the first and only time I will see Jackie Chan on my trip.  The train arrives, first appearing as a distant light floating in the darkness of a small town, then it grows and creates silhouettes of guards on wait.  On board everyone appears to be asleep, occasional someone peeks over and then acts like they were sleeping.  I quickly climbed up to the third bunk and passed out.  No window to fall asleep to, no way to see if the moon was shining, just snores and coughs and the sound of a train rolling on tracks.  Sleep-sleep-sleep.

Madness pt.1

(Some works in the works, 2013)

Just when the days were getting longer they're turned upside down. They were just as long but they started earlier and ended when things were just getting started.  And it being twelve hour of time difference I never knew what time it was as the actual time competed with my mental notion of time, and so for three weeks in China I looked at my watch with an abstract understanding and forgot what day it was completely.  I still don't know what day it is.

I remember seeing open doors for the first time, walking through the crowded streets in Beijing, there, open, families interacting, and I being able to see what they were doing, who they were, and them not giving me any mind as what they were seeing, me on the street, this staring and lost outsider fades into their everyday.  Often single lights would hang from the center of small rooms lighting everyone in as much golden light as shadow.  Where the room ended was only suggested by the lack of what could be seen, and the scene itself would soon pass as I carried on down the street.  Apartment after apartment mixed with smells that would vary each few feet and the moving crowd's configuration that would shift making my walking motions move me to the left, to the right, stop, and hurry up.
In all the rambling around me in a language I did not understand the only interruptions would be in English and would not be informative or delightful to hear as it was always someone trying to sell me something, these refreshments, these souvenirs, this mode of transport, or this place to eat.  Some were more aggressive than others while some could see a cheapskate right away.  I wondered if this is what you meant by "madness", that word that introduced me to this place, and something I had been looking for since I arrived (maybe even earlier than that).
We met a long-haired man that reminded me of my father, perhaps because he looked very Chinese, young, and always had a smile on his face.  It is those traits I saw in the long-haired man that owned the Quiet Bar by the river that my image of my father no longer possessed, whose hair was shorter and no longer looked foreign, different, but just a familiar stranger that hardly ever smiled.  We drank Tsing Tao's while watching tourists and locals interact below: tuk-tuks carrying white visitors in their tourist uniforms and an ancient bell tower just beyond, what change that lonely tower must have seen over the years.  Later we were walking down an alleyway full of shops and American Rock & Roll, every time I saw a white person look at me I wondered if they knew they could hold a conversation with me, that I came from somewhere similar to where they came from.  I don't know why I thought this each and every time a white person looked at me and perhaps I just wondered what they saw, if I blended in or if they knew I was half them, and all of them (being a visitor and an outsider to understanding all of this (points to any busy street in China)).
Walking alone a British girl looked at me reading on the curb with locals and smiled.  I wondered if I should have followed her, asking her where she was from, wanting to learn anything about this stranger just to have a conversation.  In my head I couldn't get past the first few motions in a preemptive conversation to declare I wasn't selling her something, that I just wanted to speak in my native tongue with someone who I wasn't travelling with.  She passed by and soon disappeared into the crowd and I never saw her again in my life.
We rented bikes on our last night in Beijing and got drunk.  Riding drunk through Beijing was just like riding drunk back home, and even though it has been a few days into this trip home felt like a long way away right then and there.  Perhaps it was me seeing the future for the past, that I knew this trip was long and it had just started, with many more places, people, moments, and emotions to go through before I can start thinking of home again.  So each passing day made the previous two seem like weeks ago as we carried on via train, bus, tuk-tuk, small van, bike, ferry, and airplane.  Where and what was this madness you were talking about, I was beginning to think that I could only understand that if I were to replace my eyeballs with your eyeballs and spent some time in your shoes doing what you do and seeing what you see.  Eventually I would come to realized the madness, but by then I'd be consumed by it...