It's Good to Be Home

So despite a pretty successful first day of battling jet lag—Thank you Unisom sleep gels and Wahaha U-Yo Milk Coffee with the tagline, "filled with the sentiment of urban romance and appeal"—here I am alert as a black cat at four in the morning again. Reminder: take sleeping pills AT LEAST until the second day. Wish: I should just be a copywriter for Chinese companies trying to break into the west. Unfortunately, New York coffee has spoiled me, and the Wahaha concoction was more cream and sugar than coffee with cream and sugar. China doesn't do coffee well, here is a nation of tea. 《Tea & Cigarettes | 茶烟道》

If I said coffee and cigarettes, you might conjure up an image of a hip East Village struggling artist type, a world weary fashionista, the movie with an eponymous title, or maybe Rufus Wainwright (to which I would remind you, chocolate milk).

To substitute coffee for tea, you'll have to change your film reel from New York art-house to...well, actually, who the hell knows where this image of "tea and cigarettes" exists in modern cinema. I'm talking about this image in China specifically, but when the Chinese export films for a foreign audience (shall we say state-sanctioned), it's often done in beautiful calligraphic strokes--the emperors, the martial artists, the vagabond heroes--one doesn't see the everyday images of China in Chinese cinema packaged for the west (all right, it's fine if you go to MoMA and IFC to watch Jia Zhangke, I'm still saying the latter Zhang Yimou and Jackie Chan dominate the Chinese cinema aesthetic). There are no business men with a bit of a belly, holding onto his briefcase in one hand, and shooting rapid mandarin into his cellphone. There are no guys perched at the curb, perfecting their squat while smoking listlessly. Moreover, there are no uncles and grandpas gulping down green tea (with thick tea leaves floating like a seaweed bed on the bottom of their water bottle), only to blow all his antioxidant points away with bellows of cigarette smoke.

Health and damage. Health and damage. Welcome to China.

《White Day | 白天》

As for the weather, and inevitable pollution, I asked my brother (cousin really, but like a brother) while tilting my head toward the white sky that fained a little blue at the edges, "is this sky considered blue?" "No," Cousin Wengang quipped back, "this is bai tian (white sky)." In Chinese, white sky literally means daylight time. Unfortunately, these days, most of China have taken that literally. It's a little eerie. In the environmentally urgent sense, the Chinese are a perfect example of how much humanity can endure while they are slowly being killed off, like frogs slowly being boiled alive. I'll admit it, the pollution this time is staggering worse than before. The sky darkened yesterday around six at night, and I thought the world was going to end. I was so afraid of the impending acid rain and bellowing wind as I jetted off, sunglass still on not to protect myself from the sun, but the dust dammit. The sun at sunset the day before wasn't any better--like a sick glowing wound trying to penetrate the smog.

Daddy could not stop bashing northern China's environment any opportunity he gets. Of course, even in beautiful southern Xiamen, they are getting the occasional dust storm from Beijing.

Yep, now that we are done impressing foreigners with our manufactured skies during the Olympics, domestic citizens bite it. But alas, we're used it, and deep down inside I know I'm just a weak frog pampered by New York's gorgeous skies (yes, I said gorgeous, GORGEOUS) and ridiculously good tap water.

《Freedom? | 得了吧》

Two footnotes:

1) The woman who sat next to me on the flight from NY to HK worked as a journalist for Sohu. She said, we (Chinese journalists) have always been so jealous of American journalists who can say and write about whatever they want.

2) Went to Xuehai yesterday to stock up on books and magazines, the owner said mainlanders who travel to Hong Kong and Taiwan these days get their luggages checked if they have a lot of books. Any books that are outside of the Communist agenda gets throw out, and only two books are allowed. Additional note: a lot of mainlanders go to Hong Kong/Taiwan to stock up on books that are banned in China, more probably go for the cheaper Louis Vuitton though.

Fuck, Louis Vuitton symbolizes everything that's wrong with Asia. I really hate LV.

《My Hairdresser | 董桂明》

Of course, I always visit my hairdresser when I come back to Tianjin. Two years later, Dong has a tattoo and is getting married in 10 days. He still works 13 hour days, with only Mondays off. I hate to blemish his character by repeating this part of our conversation:"If you look at the top designers in the world, L'Oreal, Gucci, Louis Vuitton... they are all men. What are women good at? Making babies."

The whimsical grin he had on almost, almost had me thinking that he was joking, then I remembered myself for all the Chinese men.

《The Game of Love | 非诚无忧》

Saw the most amazing TV show ever. I mean. W.O.W. WOW. Yuan Lai Shi Ni (literally Fately You, a play on words for "it turns out to be you"). The first ten minutes of the show has me aghast, and I mean the American in me gasped at the lack of political correctness, the shallowness, and the incredible lack of human kindness all celebrated by this show. To understand this show, first, some cultural context, Chinese parents still play a major role in their child's choice of a mate. In modern China, the guiding rule for many women to find a spouse is "he must have a car and a house." In short, he must be rich.

This show is essentially a "marriage interview" (xiang qin), a traditional Chinese custom somewhere between an arranged marriage and dating that involves the whole family. It's a lovely show really. One of the more original shows I've seen on Chinese TV that doesn't copy an American one. Indeed, this kind of show can only exist in China.

Twelve mothers and their eligible daughters are introduced to male contestants/possible mates, and in a sequence of video self-introductions, opinions from friends of the dude, they discuss (scathingly rip the guy apart) whether he is an eligible choice. The first guys was a 34-year-old who made a shit-load of money, but was deemed problematic because he was still unmarried at 34. The second guy was a crazy comedian who was "not taking the show seriously enough" with his antics. The third guy was a reasonably good looking guy who "looked like a piece of paper from the side" (he too skinny), and a little weird because he owned a makeup shop. The fourth guy was "much too narcissistic and I hate types like you."

Many mother-daughter couples have stated their criteria for the daughter's possible mate. They range from money, ability to assume family responsibility, money, looks and money, a kind person, and money...

So I'm digging myself a hole here when I say after 15 minutes of being shell-shocked, the show really made me think. For a country that many assume the media would be rigid and rehearsed, this is one of the most brutally honest show I've ever seen in my life. The people are real, they announce their opinions without any reservations for social kindness. I've given the worst of the examples where people were looking for mates with money, but there were also mothers who criticized the man for announcing his high salary in his intro for being too materialistic, and girls who roared they were feminists.

Anyway, this show is staggeringly interesting because the lack of political correctness. I am absolutely impressed by a species of mankind who can withstand constant harsh judgments from society that they are too thin, they are too fat, they are not rich enough, my daughter is far too pretty than you are, and I'm only half sarcastic. The Chinese side of me wonders, if these pre-judgments are how one feels, why bother trying to hide it, or does "hiding it" make up a kinder, more compassionate people?

I know it's difficult to understand why I think there any salvation in this show, but it's in the same vain that I appreciate, to an extent, that people tell me I'm "fatter" or "skinnier" than before whenever I come back to China. There is a frankness that exists here about body image and social norms that is at once shallow, and at once light-hearted because if you talk about it, it's not a big deal anymore.

All in all, let me try to salvage myself by saying that this is a land of opportunity for social change, but Chinese people present a very interesting world view that is.... thought-provoking.

《Love | 爱》

I'm a bit scathing here to China, but I still... love it. The energy here is raw. The people are at once great and off-putting. The food is still whoa good. The potential of opportunities are good. The pressure from the lack of social justice and a fair government is momentum for more change.

I guess this makes me crazy.