Harbin Diary 8-10, 2011

October 8, 2011         Saturday

Abraham and I are sick. I am going to get the health exam after all although they are giving us a “subsidy” to pay for it, i.e. they are taking it out of our travel stipend, fucking bastards. The “Maytag” repairman is here at the moment to fix the broken washing machine. I tell him I think it needs a new 電腦版 (diannao ban). A young guy, he spends less than five minutes playing with it and decides that it needs a new diannao ban. That’s sweet. He asks for a phone number and I tell him that we are just English teachers here and that the person who is in charge is not here. (Later, I will regret this decision.) I ask him when he’s coming back. He calls back over his shoulder as he leaves that he’ll be back tomorrow. Or maybe the next day!

The “police” hospital is a fiasco. Eve and Gabe pick me up in a cab. Remember I am still sick as a dog. They both express pity for poor Hammy. I grit my teeth. Yes, well, I came along, didn’t I? I can’t repress a jibe at Hammy’s expense: I say how disappointed I am with him, how he constantly acts like a woman when it’s nut-cutting time. I regret those words as soon as they’re out of my mouth. I am acting like a stupid old man or like a spiteful little cunt. It’s beneath me. I hate how I feel. I hate everything. The city is dull and gray and dirty and filthy, corrupt and moribund like a rotting corpse. I envision Harbin as a colossal dead body and its populace as maggots feeding off its putrefying remains. It’s such a large body that it’s taking forever to decay, but eventually it will. Right now in the cab, I hate everything. I want to go back to bed.

I somehow get around to mentioning Lavender, the pretty bitch who lied to Abraham and me about the apartment, about the visa fees, about everything. I mention in passing that she wrote a fairly decent text in Chinese…for a moron. Gabe takes offense and stands up to me.

“Would you please not badmouth our friend? We understand that you don’t like her, but she’s our friend.”

I am taken aback, but I am also shamed. If a weak good-hearted moppet like Gabe takes offense to something I say and enough so that he must become gruff, then I really have transgressed some boundaries. Of course that doesn’t stop me from muttering that they need a better class of friend.

I feel sorry. It is a day for regrets. I offended the fallen angel and his Chinese girlfriend. Ah! I have lost what little friendship I had here in Harbin. I could blame Hammy. He does not bring out the best in me. He has gotten everyone to act and speak like homies from the hood when I would rather have them speak like…like what exactly? Like actors in a Shakespearean drama? No, not like that, but speaking like Tyler Perry won’t help them either. I can’t help thinking that Hammy is candy, sweet addictive candy. I am the opposite: bitter medicine. Or just bitter.

I recall a skit by George Carlin, one of my favorite comedians. He made this observation that if a group of white and black kids are hanging out together, the white kids all adopt the speech patterns of the black kids. It is never the other way around. Why? Because it’s fun, damn it! So true.

Perhaps the revolution would be better served if American Ebonics corrupted the entire Chinese populace. Maybe this would engender democracy more readily than a thorough study of American government and the 19th century transcendentalists. I don’t know; I don’t care. I’m sick and I want everyone to go away. Scotty, beam me up.

The hospital is Kafkaesque. We carry around a piece of fucking paper, the same fucking piece of paper that we filled out in the USA, except here some quack fills in the boxes without examining us for anything: well, he does raise his eyes to check my height and estimates that I am about 170 cm. Pretty close, I’m actually shorter but I am wearing boots. We walk around this “cop” hospital and no one seems to be doing any fucking work whatsoever. They could easily practice medicine on us at least, but they all seem to be content to do nothing. Are these the fruits of communism? But I remind myself that communism never existed in China. It was stillborn. Just like the Russian Revolution.

Capitalists hate communists, but the latter are wolves just like the former: wolves of another color. Then I remind myself again not to impugn the noble character of the wolf by comparing them with these horrible types. Orwell’s Animal Farm: at the very end of the fairy story the pigs transform into men. Four legs good, two legs bad! I can’t write today. I still feel my head all in a fog.

We walk around the hospital and literally ask people to fill in the little blanks and check off the squares without any examination whatsoever. Typhoid? Diphtheria? Aids? No problem! People send us to other departments if they are busy at the moment playing checkers. The x-ray man is a bit different: he is a mean son of a bitch and he makes us foreigners actually stand for the x-rays. I notice that he quickly signs off on the paperwork for the locals. I was dreading the x-rays for the simple fact that recent research warns against all of these excessive x-rays that hospitals order up. I bite my tongue and stand for the blast of radiation, wondering if I’ll be able to father children afterwards.

It looks like maybe the nurses will let us slide past the blood tests, but nope, nothing  doing, Gabe and I have to get stuck. Aids is one thing that they take seriously here. Still I wonder if the blood test is real or another sham. At least the nurse is cute, petite, and competent. I like her. She slides the needle in with such deftness that I barely feel the sting at all. I notice that Gabe does not like needles. Well, who does? But the process, how barbaric the whole thing is, always intrigues me: to stick someone and drain his or her fucking blood. It’s perfectly vampiric. Can’t we come up with something better, or, as Gabe would say, wiff sumfink bettah? Anyway, we laugh because I stop bleeding almost immediately while his wound takes a while to stop. I whisper to him if he knows who Wolverine is in the X-men. He tells me to fuck off and we laugh. He has been trying to show me all day that we are still friends despite the unpleasantness in the cab. He is a good boy and I like him tremendously. Sad that we can no longer we friends, but I have retracted my claws for the moment and have promised to behave. No one need suffer unduly on my account. That’s not why I was brought into this world. I should let this Lavender thing go after all. I think what galls me most is that I find her somewhat attractive and to be hoodwinked by a woman you feel attracted to is such a stinging blow.

I take the bus alone back home as Gabe and Eve go on without me to meet Lavender. Eve brought everyone’s passports except the three she needed: mine and Gabe’s and Hammy’s. She is a nice girl but very disorganized. Or is it on purpose? Maybe they are all smarter than we are. And we really are dupes in this vast Chinese scheme to screw with the foreigners who come here to teach English. Later, we will get more bad news to bolster if not confirm these suspicions.

I return to the apartment and prepare a little presentation on Writing Workshops for the high school that wants to hire the company (really Danny and me since no one else is qualified to teach SAT prep). The demo goes quite well. We met a woman with impeccable English, Carrie, and another teacher Haiyang Laoshi who spoke next to nil English. They were both very sweet. Carrie actually lives near us in the building next door. I felt that I handled myself well in Chinese, explaining how I help students develop the writing process. Abraham did not want to prepare a demo PPT, but he handled himself well on the math part. We both felt that we were drumming up new and valuable business, but as usual Grace was nowhere to be found even though she said she would attend the demo. It irks us.

After, we stop off to eat some noodles and I go home. I start working on Adam’s lesson, but halfway into it I get a phone call: Adam’s mother has canceled. I languish the rest of the evening. I am dead tired and feel sicker than ever. I wish I could write better than this. Forgive me.

October 9, 2011         Sunday

Yesterday I spent almost the entire day alone. I was really too under the weather to go anywhere or see anyone. I did however speak with several people on Skype.

I spoke with Perseus and let him know about Hammy’s and my situation with the company. He said he would speak with some political types he knows, if necessary. I told him to wait on that (I’m not sure what his friends could do from Shanghai). I spoke with Annie Wang over Skype and she said she’d talk to Grace about this problem over the 2000 yuan visa fee. She also commented that Lavender was not to blame about the manner in which we were deceived. That comes from above.

The deception, the deception is galling. Even when we suspected and asked for transparency, they lied anyway. Is this some sort of game then? How much power would it take to raze the nation? Just create some sort of biblical catastrophe and raze the entire nation. Press continental re-boot. Argh! When one is sick, one thinks sick thoughts. And what of the kind loving people? What of them? What of my students who aspire to learn English? And all of the creatures in the field?

Well, can’t I just transform into a colossal dragon and annihilate just a few of them? Just a few of the ugly, lying, cheating bastards?

No, we’re sorry. It’s a package deal down here. It’s universal unequivocal unconditional loving-kindness mixed in with the regular human lot of outrageous fortune, the heartache, the whips and scorns, the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, the pangs of despised love, the law’s delay, the insolence of office, and all the rest.

I shall die here I suppose.

I think I feel well enough to spend about 25-30 minutes outside exercising. It feels good to move my body, but then when I’m done I feel weak and shaky. Crap.

October 10, 2011       Monday

I spoke with my father on Skype and our conversation eventually gravitated toward the political economy. Same old, same old. I am the inveterate anarchist and he is the staunch conservative. It’s boring. We really need to find some different ground on which to center our discussions.

It hurts me that after reading the excellent book The Working Poor by David K. Shipler my pa’s one outstanding conclusion is that America’s poor are padded out—overwhelmingly—padded out with ne’er-do-wells and shiftless, lazy bastards. I in fact am a shiftless, lazy bastard, but I work, I work my ass off. Are there in fact lazy people who are content to suck from the government teat, rough nipple that it is? Yes, definitely yes, but I am sure there are equally as many sycophants and undeserving rich who have only inherited their family’s wealth and power and influence. (George W. anyone?) I’d bet the numbers were equal. Balance in the universe and all that.

Can we ever know the numbers? Is this an endeavor that requires the hosts of heaven to descend with their divine abacuses and begin to calculate just how fair has been the salaries of each and every person? Will I be shocked to find that I have been grossly overpaid for my “work”? No, I wouldn’t be surprised, but I also won’t be surprised if I see a long line of businessmen and politicians and lawyers in front of me. Actually they will be behind me. I think. I’ll need to check the Bible on that one, or maybe Dante.

All of this is silly. I act as if there were a God, as if Jesus were the Son of God, and that a Second Coming were in the offing, as if all of that were not myth—living myth to be sure—but still the stuff of myth; lies we need to fend off the outer dark.

Ahhhh! This galls me as well: the fucking hypocrisy. You cannot claim to be a Christian and then also advocate unfettered capitalism. Christ advocated living simply, not living surrounded by lavish and exorbitant trappings. Imagine what He must think from up on high.

I see in my mind’s eye a large man, a powerfully built one whose muscles have gone soft with age, but whose commanding voice is still imperious. One can easily imagine that he is still a virile bull in the bedroom. He holds a large snifter of brandy in one hand and a cigar in the other. His sharp mind can be seen in the predatory glint of his eye. His smile is not unkind. In fact, it is expansive, generous even, and all encompassing. One almost feels like running to him for protection. He exudes the warmth and power of the All-Father Odin. His suit is made of the finest silk, tailored to tuck away the rolls of fat his comfortable lifestyle has caused him to accumulate. His hair is thinning just barely, and the strong hairline receding only slightly, lending a saturnine, sinister quality to his expression. But his face still glows with strength if not youth. He has after all what no youth possesses: experience and wisdom. He knows how the political air currents of society whip and beat the common man and he can discharge living lightning to enact his bidding with pitiless and consummate proficiency. Pity is a false sentiment after all, shameful for the man who feels it as well as for the man who receives it. Better to deal forthrightly with a man. On his electric blue lapel, shrouded in cigar smoke, next to a dull yellow stain from a morsel that fell from his fleshy lips at lunch, is a pin. A smallish pin made of carefully wrought gold. It is a pin of Christ on the cross.

This is the reach of Christian philosophy in Western Civilization.

If you look closely, wary of the man’s powerful sweep of arm, if you inch closer, close enough that you can smell his heady breath reeking of cigar smoke, brandy, some young woman’s most holy of holies (and a surprising hint of mint), there on the breast of the Christ figurine are minuscule tears. From whence sprang those tears is a mystery to us all.


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