Monday, February 16, 2009

ZAI JIAN ZHONGGUO...

Since this blog is probably due a travelogue, I was going to tell you...

...about Spring Festival, which I celebrated by joining a collective and rolling vegetarian dumplings. This collective unit, this danwei, fuelled by Tsingtao beer and baijiu, exceeded output targets, producing upwards of 300 dumplings, which it then proceeded to consume.



The danwei then made a great leap forwards into an altogether more violent phase of its development, letting off countless spectacular (and even more rather unspectacular) fireworks in the streets and throwing Exploding Terrorist Noggins at cars.



...or about my discovery of KTV, the ubiquitous chain of Asian karaoke bars - or should I say, KTV's discovery of me. I tore strips out of Meredith Brooks's "Bitch", forgot the words to "Umbrella" (the shame...), realised upon straining for the high notes in "Bridge over troubled water" that I ain't no Art Garfunkel, tackled most of Phil Collins's back catalogue with incommensurate gusto, and climaxed with Elton John's "The One," which I dedicated to DV (poor, unfortunate girl). When in Rome, one must do as the Romans do. Nevertheless, let us never speak of my singing again. Next!



...or about the giant pandas of Chengdu - the research centre just outside the city has bred this most endangered of species with remarkable success (two adult sisters have recently each given birth to twins). We got up at 6.30am to go and see them eat bamboo and fall asleep. The cubs were ineffably cute - this blog does not generally coo over small animals ... but they're just so cuddly and lovely, and they wrestle with each other and fall over like tubby little balls of fluff!... We went to the restaurant afterwards to sample panda-burgers - mm-mmm! - just like chicken! (just kidding)



...or about Fawlty Towers, my hotel in Yangshuo. I kid you not - here is their website. It even has a Basil and a Manuel (though, alas, no Sybil to keep them in order). Basil and Manuel embodied courtesy and competence (admittedly with a habit of dropping the phone on DV whenever she phoned), even on the evening when they announced to all the guests that nobody could leave the hotel for several hours because a house was being demolished next door. I grumbled a little that I was hungry, so they gave me an hour's free internet time. As I sat there emailing, an over-exuberant bulldozer knocked a large section of next door's wall onto the hotel with a huge crash - all the power went, Fawlty Towers's staircase, balcony and entrance was crushed, and several women yelped. Here was the Chinese destruction and reconstruction boom in all its glory. Eventually we were let out to survey the wreckage and I took some photos with my phone - alas, I left said phone on a bus in Shenzhen a couple of days later, but Fawlty Towers was left looking something like this:



...or about my arrival in Hong Kong, a city which reeks of ill-gotten gains and which retains its imperial snootiness, yet which remains the beautiful city in the world (for natural beauty, only Rio comes close); the Bank of China Tower remains my favourite skyscraper (in spite of its neoliberal philosophy - it was designed to symbolise economic liberalisation), with its four staggered triangular towers reflecting its surroundings like a Cubist painting, its shards of glass and steel jutting out at impossible angles. The Central district of Hong Kong island on a Saturday evening is an offensive place indeed: the sight of city boys in jeans-with-belts-and-polo-shirts-tucked-in made me feel physically ill, but my walk around the Peak on Sunday morning, New Gold Dream in my ears, was sublime.



...or about the enthralling hours spent reading Hobsbawm's Age of Capital, about the post/intra-revolutionary years between 1848 and 1875, in which capitalism globalised and boomed, and in which the bourgeoisie became the dominant class. Hobsbawm introduces the book by disdaining this period in which the power of capital was consolidated, and in which the power of workers was eroded, but the scope of his analysis and the detail of his narrative is breathtaking. He is witheringly ironic when he describes the bourgeoisie, and in particular two of their most distasteful innovations: social-Darwinism racism (required by capitalist ideology to explain away the contradiction between an economic system which is based on free and open competition, yet which entails the exploitation of the majority for the benefit of the minority) and the domestic interior:

The most immediate impression of the bourgeois interior of the mid-century is overcrowding and concealment, a mass of objects, more often than not disguised by drapes, cushions, cloths and wallpapers, and always, whatever their nature, elaborated ...

objects, like the houses which contained them, were solid, a term used, characteristically, as the highest praise for a business enterprise. They were made to last, and they did. At the same time they must express the higher and spiritual aspirations of life through their beauty, unless they represented these aspirations by their very existence, as did books and musical instruments ...

This duality between solidity and beauty thus expressed a sharp division between the material and the ideal, the bodily and the spiritual, highly typical of the bourgeois world; yet spirit and ideal in it depended on matter, and could be expressed only through matter, or at least through the money which could buy it. Nothing was more spiritual than music, but the characteristic form in which it entered the bourgeois home was the piano, an exceedingly large, elaborate and expensive apparatus ... No bourgeois interior was complete without it; no bourgeois daughter, but was obliged to practise endless scales upon it.



...or about the food I have eaten (more hotpots, barbecues and dumplings that a stomach can comfortable accommodate - though, alas, no dog, cat or starfish, tempted as I was), the bus journeys I have taken (on which I managed to lose a camera and a mobile phone), the scenery I have admired (of which the most stunning was the karst mountains of Yangshuo and Guilin) etc etc.

But alas, I have no time to report on such things, as I have now left China and arrived in Sydney, where it has rained constantly for a week. Yesterday I acted as groomsman at the Orthodox Greek wedding of my dear friends Stephen and Denise, and on Saturday I fly east to Buenos Aires. My arrival in Argentina will be a homecoming in two respects - because BBAA remains my favourite city in the world, and because I will be reunited with my fiancee and best friend in the world without whom my adventures in China and Australia have, even at their most exciting and eye-opening, lacked the insights and laughter that make me love her so much. Only 5 days and 8 hours to go...

1 Comments:

Blogger Tom said...

Wow, sounds like a great journey - I'm hoping to travel in Southern China and Sichuan a bit this summer, so giant pandas are a must! Plus, Fawlty Towers Hotel - that's added to the itinerary. Thanks, and hope you had a great time.

9:33 PM  

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