Bu yuan zuo nuli de renmen, Part One

I want to start a game show called “Chinglish T-Shirt or Indie Rock Song Lyrics?” The contestants will either be Guangdong textile merchants or record store owners from the Pacific Northwest. It will be impossible to win.

Kevin’s blog has already talked a bunch about the Chinglish here, and he has funnier examples than I do, but I keep seeing really amusing things all over the place, especially in more cosmopolitan areas that aren’t actually connected with direct foreign investment, like domestically-owned supermarkets and clothing stores.

Pharmacies and tobacconists right next to each other. There's some collaboration there, I think.

The only really interesting thing I’ve done lately is hit the Military Museum and teach my weekly 2 hours of English. After a bit of research into the various clubs and bars and places for enterprising young gentlemen of stature to frequent, I decided to try out Cargo, which is apparently more dance-oriented, cheaper, and overall one of the best of Beijing’s clubs. But I made the mistake of using Lonely Planet’s map instead of the actual address of the club and ended up having a lovely three-hour stroll of Chaoyang instead, which was quite nice, if slightly disappointing. I need some real aerobic exercise, and walking will not cut it in this pancake of a city. Biking may, and I need to ask my host family about using theirs, or to Beida’s biking club. Intense people. I’d like to hunt down Salsa Caribe and try to take some lessons or just dance a bit. I miss Latinos, being now devoid of SSA, Mexican grocery stores in walking distance, and my collection of Hispanic folk songs and Cuban and Colombian Marxist music. Hasta sieeeeempreeee Commandaaaaantteeeee…you know you’ve been in Asia when you want to pronounce the name “Juan”  as”Ju-An.” Also when you stop laughing because your teacher is Professor Dong or Teacher Wang.

But what I really want to talk about today is my visit to the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution this Sunday. I swear, I am not making up that name.

Uniiiiited foreeever in frieeendship and laaaaabor…this is the Museum, from maybe 250 meters away.

The interior is huge. Maybe a dozen planes and several dozen tanks and mobile artillery pieces on the ground floor, an entire wing devoted to small arms, a floor devoted to gifts of foreign ambassadors to China (some of which were really cool and others were really amusing, like the Jordanian Foreign Minister’s’ gift of a gold-plated submachine gun engraved with Arabic calligraphy.

Classy, Jordan. Classy.

Some of the stuff was really cool, though. Don’t worry Dad, I have a photo gallery of over a hundred and fifty pictures you can see when I come home. I didn’t know what was rare or stuff you hadn’t seen in person, so I took pictures of lots of stuff and figured some of it would be cool and fresh. For those of you who don’t know my father, he spent his childhood wanting to help fight the Cold War, and when the USSR fell apart he wanted to move to Russia. I take after him, believe it or not.

On the veranda are some of the guns that fired the first shots of the Opium War, and some guns used by the Taipings to defend Nanjing, and to defend Beijing when we invaded.

I come from a country that has no real sense of time. We’re very young and live in the moment. We like tearing our history down and forgetting our past, especially our mistakes, and celebrating the present, without thinking about the future. China is a very four-dimensional country, and Beijing is a very four-dimensional city. You can walk up or down or in or out of an area and step back in time, into a different way of life and different ways of thinking. America is much more homogeneous, I think, although you could probably say the same things about the differences between Detroit and upstate Michigan, or different parts of New Orleans or D.C. It’s just not on the same scale as Beijing, though. There are migrant workers here who couldn’t make what I make in a day back home in a week, and the quality of the working conditions or hours worked can’t even be compared.

My hand, next to the oldest known handgun in the world.

They had a really cool section on ancient weaponry and the military history of China. I’ve always been much more interested in old weaponry than new ones. Partly that’s because I find primitive firearms and melee weapons really cool. I understand the mechanics much easier, and enjoy going through the process of “okay, we have an explosive and want to fire a projectile, but how do we concentrate the force in a specific direction?” kind of basic physics problem. Also, I really liked the episode of Star Trek where Kirk had to kill the Gorn with a bamboo shoot, a rock, and handmade gunpowder. the concept of pointing at someone and killing them seems kind of unnatural to me, but then I’ve never fired a gun, but have trained with swords before when I was studying aikido. Wonder if there are any dojos here that could teach me, or any sifus in any of the parks? Should look into that…modern weapons just seem so classless. It’s so easy to kill someone with a gun, it’s just a spatial perception exercise, but proficiency with a sword or a spear or a staff, that’s an art and exercise and takes years of practice.

Mao Zedong, or Christopher Walken? We report, you decide.

After going through all of the exhibits I am more convinced than ever that “China” is a subjective concept rather than a real concrete nation-state. It’s like Judaism, it’s more of a millennia-long running argument than a complete object. It’s true of all countries, especially big countries with lots of flat, arable land that are thus prone to civil war and migration issues (India, Iraq, Germany, South Africa, Zaire, Russia, I’m looking at you guys), but it’s especially true of China. It’s been locked in balkanized feudal states as long as it has been unified in bureaucratic empires, and the borders and ethnic compositions are constantly changing, to say nothing of its oral languages, capital cities, or general cultural characteristics. But it’s always had the idea of a unified, Confucian, “harmonious society,” ever since and even millennia before the Han Dynasty, with the legends of the Zhou, Xia, and Shang “Dynasties,” and national unification and establishment of a bureaucratic empire from the Yangtze to the Huang River Valleys have always been in the back of every pissant bourgeois family since Qin Shihuang’s death. Even though it’s only during the times of chaos, civil war, and political infighting that China’s cultural heritage is defined! When philosophers, artists, and merchants freely practice their trades, when people think about what they want out of their country, what their country is, and who they want to be.

I’ll talk more about this tomorrow, when I have more to say and more pictures to share. Mingtian jian!

P.S., red moon tonight. Really gorgeous against the city lights. They're not that harsh in reality, I can't get the exposure right.

1 Comment »

  1. Cathy Reas Said,

    September 15, 2010 @ 5:26 am

    Extraordinary blog! I’ve not read all the entries yet, but some of it is just hilarious (the humor is SO dry)! Glad you’re having a great time amid the Chinese “argument” (most interesting concept, thanku).
    I’ll be bok, Cathy

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