I don’t have a beef with Communism.
Personally, I think almost any political system, be it Democratic, Theocratic, Autocratic, Communist, or even a Sultanate or Monarchy, has the capacity for good and dark deeds. Whether it’s The Great Leap Forward, The Middle Passage, Manifest Destiny or The Third Reich, when the wheels of change get to rolling, usually a lot of heads get to rolling, too. Everyone likes to point fingers at which political, economic or cultural movement is responsible for the most heinous crimes against humanity. I think it’s rather difficult to say. All kinds of people have the capacity to kill all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons, and unfortunately throughout history, have done so. Whether it be their own people or those conveniently designated as “others”. Mankind is just fucked up that way, I guess.
So, I didn’t come to China with a loaded finger looking for a villain to aim it at. I didn’t pack my little red (white and blue) book of Americanisms (though I did feel strangely compelled to sport my red USA cap at all times.) I just wanted to experience a taste of what a Post-Cold War Communist society looks and feels like. To me, it’s simply fascinating how far a nation of two Billion-give or take million- has come. From The Cultural Revolution to the 2008 Olympic Games Host. From Mao (Tse-Tung) to Yao (Ming) in 50 years.
It’s impressive…kinda. Kinda scary, too.
There certainly wasn’t much communism going on in that awe-inspiring architectural feat known as Beijing Capital International Airport, the largest terminal in the world until recently.
As a Cold-War veteran American, you half-expect that upon landing in Red China you and your belongings will be whisked off into a little windowless room with 3 chain-smoking Chinese Secret Service agents who’ll very carefully review and re-review your travel documents (Visa) and ask you questions like: Loco? Your mother named you Loco? You expect us to believe that??? Not because they suspect you of being a spy or an agitator or anything- they know who all the American spies are. Hell, anybody who follows espionage news knows the Chinese intelligence agents are second only to the former Soviet spies in their knowledge and prowess. No, they’d just want to fuck with you and remind you that you’re not in Kansas anymore, so you best leave your notions of Miranda and Due Process and Fifth Amendment right there in their amnesty box, cuz this is the Middle Kingdom, and don’t you go forgetting that.
Clearly, I’ve watched too many B-movies and read too many spy novels.
But, alas, nothing as sensational as that occurred. But, damn, that would’ve been a good story. Maybe that was why I was sporting my USA cap (and even my Obama T-shirt once). I was trying to draw their ire, provoke an incident. (-:
Apparently, they were unimpressed and unprovoked.
I had booked this trip through KNT (KinkiNippon Tourist company) because they’d had the best deal. It was a package deal including hotel and meals. I had passed on the guided tour option, though. My nihongo is OK but I suspected not good enough to follow a guided tour given by a Japanese person sure to, politely, belittle, ridicule and make snide comments about the people and culture. Yep, I’d heard enough of that over the past 6 years to feel assured that would be the case. Besides, the last thing I wanted to do was spend my entire vacation on a bus full of Japanese people. To be honest, any vacation I take away from Japan is as much about where I’m going as where I’m leaving. I need a vacation from Japan.
However, the KNT staff people in China that met me at the airport and transported me to the hotel, though Chinese, in anticipation of Japanese guests, spoke Japanese fairly well, but no English. Lovely. Here I was, an African American in a Chinese Hotel in the middle of the Middle Kingdom forced to speak Japanese to Chinese people…and to make it worse, the Chinese staff in the hotel clearly were not accustomed to an over-abundance of Japanese visitors so they hadn’t brushed up on their Chinese-version of tatamae…if you know what I mean. They clearly weren’t thrilled about their arriving Japanese guests…No plastic smiles, no welcoming hospitable warmth of any kind. It was kind of shocking to see having been spoiled by the superior customer service in Japan.
What kind of goddamn Asians are these?
Instead of chocolate on their pillows, my fellow Japanese KNT customers should consider themselves lucky that there weren’t hand-grenades under them, or scorpions, if I was reading the Hotel staff’s facial expressions, body language and remarks to one another correctly.
And, as for me…I got the distinct impression that I was an oddity beneath contempt. I don’t know what Mao’s Little Red Book says about customer service but I was beginning to suspect that CS, too, was considered beneath contempt. In this respect, I think Mao would have been better served if He’d stolen a page from the Japanese little Pink Book: お客様神様 Translation- The customer is God!
Yes, I’d gotten my first heaping helping of culture shock and my first backlash resulting from the spoiling I’d received in Japan.
The hotel room was no sanctuary, either. Adequate is the best way I can describe…and my perfunctory search of the room uncovered no hidden cameras, mics or other recognizable surveillance equipment. I was disappointed. Apparently even the communist government didn’t find me worthy of their efforts. So, I wasted no time taking to the streets of Beijing and heading on foot to the nearby Tienanmen’s Square. Gotta be some communist around there, I told myself.
On the way, I caused quite a stir. I was still gagging on the first helping and already the Chinese were dishing up another. I mean, over the course of the past 6 years living in Asia I’ve grown quite accustomed to being stared at. Hell, stares hardly register anymore. So, I was prepared for that. What I wasn’t prepared for was the Chinese style of staring. It’s so different from the Japanese style that it was downright disconcerting…I mean, it rattled me.
I hadn’t experienced fear caused by another human being in years. I hear myself say such things and I have an outer body experience. I can’t believe it’s me saying them. I mean, in NY, fear could reach out and grab you by the nuts at any time. But, in Japan, I could walk through a mob of Yakuza shouting at one another in the street and feel nothing but curiosity. In NY I’d at least cross the street and depending on the intensity of the argument maybe detour two blocks away for fear that it might turn into a gun fight and a stray bullet would find its way through me. That’s just plain common sense back home.
In Japan, people stare at me in such a cowardly way that it’s virtually impossible to feel threatened. And, they only stare when I’m not looking. Of course, I catch them so often that I don’t even have to look to know it’s happening, and frankly I don’t even care. If I do catch them they invariably look away quickly or pretend they were looking at something else (like the particles of matter floating around my head) or close their eyes or scratch their heads or all manner of strange idiosyncrasies Japanese utilize to indicate that they were not doing what they were caught red handed doing. I’ve yet- and I mean in 6 years- come across an adult with the audacity to hold a stare once I’ve acknowledge it in anyway, unless they’d had an agenda (a girl infatuated beyond self-control, someone dying to practice their English, etc…) or drunk out of their gourd. Only Japanese children stare unabashedly.
Chinese, on the other hand, have the audacity, in spades! MY GOD! I’d never seen anything like it in my life. Here was a nation (or at least a city…I don’t want to get carried away) of Asians who had no fear of me whatsoever. I mean, they were comfortably gaping and gawking, safe in the knowledge that, hell there’s 2 billion of us and one of you. What the hell should we be afraid of?
If I hadn’t lived in Japan for 6 years my initial reaction to this wouldn’t have been fear, I suspect. I would have thought something more akin to, damn these Chinese are gangsta. But to see these very Japanese looking people behaving so un-Japanese felt like I was in the Japanese version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers surrounded by Japanese pod people who, due to their strange cheeky behavior, I’d recognized to be their alien counterparts. It felt like, for a few moments, the end of the world as I knew it.
Then, once I had arrived in front of Tienanmen Square, out of the blue, one of these pod people walks up to me…I would have jumped out of my skin if he didn’t have a little boy with him, looking dazed and confused, as his father shoved him beside me, and with body language, explained that he wanted to take a picture of his son and I. No sumimasen-ing (excuse me), shitsurei shimasu-ing (forgive my rudeness), just shoved his son beside me…And, you know what I did, right? Yep, you guessed it: I bent down to his son’s height, threw on a big smile and hoisted two fingers in a peace-sign. Before this trip was over I would be approached in this way for photographs another 25 or 30 times.
But, where the hell are the communist at? I mean…this was Tienanmen Square, for crying out loud. Y’all remember that Tank guy, staring down the Red Army, right? This is that place…I figured if I were going to see me some communism this would be the time and place.
Want to know what I did see in the yard behind that wall bearing Mao’s famous mugshot? Want to know what lies before the gate to the Emperor’s Palace, the famous Forbidden City?
Yep, my first glimpse of those commies at work…kinda
Yeah, working on their jump shots, that is. From Mao to Yao in 50 years…
Oh well…Wish my finger wasn’t still half broken. Maybe I could’ve put my old school moves on these wannabee commies (-; I mean, you wouldn’t have caught the KGB doing lay-up drills or working on their jumpers unless of course they were sleeper agents in deep, deep cover in the US. Ah, the glory days of communism…when a commie was a commie and a cappie (capitalist) was a cappie and God help those guys who crossed the line.
But wait…a few minutes later I would get my first dose of communist doctrine. Stay Tuned.
PS: Notice the court is made of astro turf??? What’s that about?