Dragon Boat Festival 2015/Dragon Boat Festival 2016: Part 2 of 2

Part 2

That’s what America had turned him into, a hungry ghost.

Damn this crazy country! It was a love-hate relationship. Or as the Chinese say so magnificently 热脸贴冷屁股: hot face-cheek sticking to a cold ass-cheek. Why was America so damn nuts? So schizo? So bipolar?

Unwanted affections.

Unwanted affections.

Apply hot face cheek to cold butt cheek!

Apply hot face cheek to cold butt cheek!

On the one hand you had a supremely developed society with enormous resources to develop human potential and realize incredible and amazing works of technology and art, and on the other you had complete fucking morons who dared accuse the victims of a gun massacre of being at fault because they weren’t packing concealed weapons.

Only in America.

Hobbit burst in on Zen’s ruminations.

“I want you to watch this new show on Netflix!”

“I don’t have time.”

“You have time. You watch Dexter over and over. Dexter! Dexter! Dexter!”

Dexter haunts this blog.

Dexter haunts this blog.

“I do not! You know, Hobbit, shouldn’t you better occupy your time by reading up on Tennis Williams?”

“This is my relaxing time.”
“Seems to me you’re always on relaxing time. When are you gonna finish reading Streetcar Named Desire?”

“Shut up and watch this show. It’s very interesting but I hate one thing that makes me really hate it.”

“Then don’t watch it.”

“No, I have to watch it. You watch it. See if you agree. See, everyone is very rich. That’s not like real life living people. All the peoples can get money rich. Even the poor guy is in Africa. His mother is die of AIDS but then someone, someone, the rich drug dealer, even drug dealer is rich, he gives him a job and gives to him the expensive medicine to cure his mother. This is not like real living life.”

“Well, Hobbit, it’s a science fiction program.”

“But why they do that? Why can’t they show poor peoples like us who struggle to making even a few coins? Look at us. No money. Can’t even pay doctor to see us.”

“Hobbit, our lives are not that bad. We’re not working outside like the 瓦工, working with our hands in the heat and cold. Those poor people are working themselves to death for a pittance. We’re okay; we’re just not rich.”

“Still, I would like this show much better if they had some peoples with real life problems.”

“Look I agree with you. The writers are probably falling back on the old formula of presenting characters that the audience can wish they were. People would rather pretend they were a famous dashing sexy Mexican actor than a broken down teacher in some backwater city in far northern China.”

“And the woman. All the woman is rich. The Indian woman is a rich businessperson. And so is the Korean woman. Both rich and beautiful. And young. And rich! I hate it. Right?”maxresdefault (1) maxresdefault

“You’re jealous.”

“I’m not jealous.”

“Look, you’re right; I’m not arguing. Obviously the average Indian woman does not fit this profile. But who wants to watch a show about an ol’ broken down toothless hag who has to scrub outhouses for a living? No one in America, that’s for sure. Americans don’t want to be reminded how much better off they are than the rest of the world. Outside of America there is still another 99% that most would prefer not to hear about.”

“Like us.”

“Well, like YOU. EYE belong to the 99% in America. And as such I am now going to ignore your existence.”

Hobbit, muttering to herself, left Zen. Zen bent back to his task: American Drug War. How to end it? That was his problem. He didn’t have a good ending to his novel. Maybe because in real life there was no end in sight for the drug war he could not imagine an ending to his book. Perhaps if he could imagine one, then the real Drug War could also finally be terminated.

If Zen were honest with himself, he felt pessimistic about anything actually getting accomplished. The world was fucked.

It would continue to become overpopulated. Resources would become scarcer and scarcer. The masses would suffer first and suffer worst, but eventually the entire globe would become embroiled in one long massive struggle for food, water, and then air. None of the world’s governments could take that brave massive step towards a sustainable existence. There was as much chance of that happening as there was of aliens visiting the planet with world-saving technology. Or the Second Coming for that matter.

No, the world was firmly in the grip of first and foremost Big Business. Then Big Government. The two forces colluded in agreements that facilitated the accumulation of wealth for the few and only incidentally allowed a few benefits to trickle down to the starving, thirsty people. Every so often their financial bubbles burst and while the Wall Streets of the world scrambled to cover their collective asses, the common people suffered ruin, scarcity, hunger, pain and death. This cycle would continue over and over in a relentless spiraling gyre until there was nothing left to hoard and the dragons themselves choked to death on a planet full of gold and jewels but bereft of water and air.

That was the future for humankind.

Skype rang on his computer. Friends from Los Angeles, a sweet retired couple from Wisconsin calling. Although Zen wasn’t in the mood to talk to them, he welcomed the distraction.

They chatted desultorily and then Zen had shared his apocalyptic vision with them. It caused a small ruckus and feelings were hurt on both sides. The wife of his close friend came out very undiplomatically and told him that no one wanted to read about that ‘political pablum.’

“Pablum? Do you mean to say pabulum? Don’t hurt yourself with those five-dollar words. Been reading the dictionary have we now? Where’d you learn a word like that? Crossword puzzles, huh?”

“You ought to write about Chinese holidays and festivals like Dragon Boat Day. Isn’t that coming up?”

“The hell with Dragon Boat Festival! If you wanted to learn about it, you could just look it up on Wikipedia. I got bigger fish to fry.”

Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon Boat Festival

“And stop writing about your lovelife. It’s indecent and unseemly. Have a little self-respect.”

“Actually I don’t mind that part,” the husband laughed, his image freezing and unfreezing on the screen, “it’s whatchamacallit. Stimulating. Bout the only part I do like.”

“Writing about my love life? What the hell are you talking about? I don’t write about my personal life.”

Zen opened up his blog. He normally posted his political rants, but never bothered to actually look at the web page. Thus Zen discovered a curious fact.

Someone had hijacked his blog and had been posting information about him. HIS blog was a rarefied articulate philosophical discussion on the socio-political differences between China and America. But someone had hacked his blog and was posting about Zen’s life. His blog was called ‘american citiZEN,’ with the letter zee-ee-ehn in all capitals. Some jackass had been writing diary-type excerpts about a middle-aged man living in far north Harbin, China teaching English. When Zen looked at it he was astounded. The verisimilitude was uncanny. Who was writing about him? Why? His life was so boring and undeserving of attention. At least of the public kind. But who could it be?

“I gotta go. Talk to you later. Bye.” He snapped closed the Skype window.

Zen’s paranoia kicked into overtime. Was the CCP cheesed off at his representations of real life behind the Great Firewall of China? Was the CIA angry that he wrote articles about their invisible fingers in the illicit drug trade? Pissed off DEA agents who didn’t like someone telling the truth about how pathetically redundant their jobs really were? Someone else who was just stealing his identity for some other nefarious purpose? Who? Who?

Zen was frazzled.

He spent the next hour and twenty minutes changing every single password, from AMEX to Zenni Optical. He notified his Astrill VPN service that someone had hacked his blog. He screamed at Hobbit that her country was full of larcenous hacking motherfucking bastards. She shut her door.

Zen paced in the living room. He needed to go into the green.

He grabbed the bow and arrows and the small target made of cardboard and old clothes. Anyway, he wasn’t getting any work done on his novel. Damn. It would never get finished.

(End of Dragon Boat Festival 2015)

Dragon Boat Festival 2016 (roughly one year from now)

Zen was hung upside down by his feet, his arms tied behind his back with thick coarse rope. He thought his head would explode from all of the blood rushing into his head. But it didn’t and he didn’t die. Nor did he feel much pain. Or rather he felt the pain but it didn’t bother him. The pain was there. Exquisite pain. Real pain inflicted upon him by his interrogators. Zen was in point of fact grateful to them.

Keaton in Batman

Keaton in Batman

He could feel—really feel—every blow, every laceration, every shock, every cut, every burn, everything they did to him. Hanging upside down in this concrete bunker, his mind spun off into memory, the pain was a catalyst for a surreal hippie-trippy journey down memory lane, into reverie and reminiscence. Hanging upside made him recall the film Batman directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton. His mind was able to recall the entire plot, some scenes out of sequence, but he remembered much of the dialog and the music. The entire time he was upside down the movie scrolled behind his blindfolded eyes. It was bliss.

He had been rendered eighteen days before on his birthday. He was on his way back from China to visit Hobbit and her son in Austin. His passport set off a mute clandestine signal in a room filled with computers and pale young men, soft hands unused to work, typing quickly and quietly into all hours of the night. One of the men sent an instant message to another man, equally young, but whose hands were rough and calloused, whose arms and legs were like iron, and whose compassion had been stunted by years of training in one of America’s special schools. Soon, a team of his peers descended on Zen in the San Francisco international airport.

The men were very polite and very professional. And very discreet.

One very striking woman approached Zen and distracted him, while two others closed on him from the sides and administered a tiny pinprick on the back of his hand. In seconds, befuddled, dizzy, nauseous, Zen allowed himself to be led out of the airport customs hall and into another quiet room. Someone else collected his luggage and passed through the final security checks.

Zen was gone.

No trace of his having ever been there, cameras scrubbed, vanished as perfectly and as completely as any desaparecido in Mexico or Argentina.

When he woke, into complete and utter darkness, on a freezing cold concrete floor, his dedicated team beat him roundly. They left his hands free. Zen stumbled in the blackness. He strove to fight back, his martial arts training kicking into high gear, but it was of no avail. The younger, faster, more powerful men and women of his interrogation team were equipped with night vision and electric batons. They laughed at his pathetic attempts at self-defense.

He was beaten. He yelled in rage at them and fought back, swinging, kicking, trying to grab his shadowy assailants in the pitch-black. He could not. He was beaten very carefully. Slowly his will ebbed, his strength faded, his ire seeped from his broken bleeding body. He cried in fear, in frustration, in anger. They left him sobbing on the cold concrete floor. During the whole time, no one uttered a sound except for cruel barking laughter.

Zen was kept in complete darkness in a sound proof room. He was given no food and no water. Thirsty, he licked the moisture from the walls. And every day at no certain appointed time, he was beaten. He was beaten very methodically. Waiting until his breath slowed and he had entered a troubled sleep, his interrogators entered the seamless room and pounced on him. They inflicted pain, but left no permanent damage. They were nothing if not consummate and practiced professionals. They knew where to hit him and with how much force. After all, they had a team of ivy-league scientists who had calculated every single ATP molecule, every last joule of energy, every possible psychic contingent, and could predict with unnerving accuracy when Zen’s mind would snap from this phase of his treatment. Until then, Zen had to endure.

Hanging upside in the utter darkness, he heard someone enter the concrete chamber. Zen stiffened reflexively, expecting the blows to fall any second.

“Zen,” a rough, bass voice called from the dark.

“Who is it?”

“It’s me. Batman.”

“Michael Keaton Batman?”

“Just Batman.”

“Michael Keaton Batman.”

I'm Batman."

I’m Batman.”

“You have to escape from here.”

“I know. But I don’t know how.”

“Your arms are free. Reach up and free your legs.”

“I can’t. I feel so weak, so tired.”

“You can do it. You have to.”

“Can’t you help me? I mean, you’re THE Batman. Shit. You’d think you’d use a Bat-torch or something and cut these chains off me.”

“You’re thinking of another Batman Zen.”

“Hmm. Yeah. Adam West Batman. Sure could use that Bat-torch right about now.”

“This is something you have to do yourself.”

“Why? Why do I have to do this myself? Why can’t you help me? I’m fucking hangin’ upside down in the dark! Getting’ beaten to death by-by-by a bunch of motherfuckin’ psychos!”

“No. You did this to yourself and you have to get yourself out.”

“Why? Why can’t you help?”

“Two reasons, Zen. It won’t do you any good if I help. That’s one thing. It will happen again. You have to free yourself.”

“What’s-what’s the other reason?”

“I don’t really exist.”

Oh. Well, there is that.”

(End of Prolepsis)

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Dragon Boat Festival 2015/Dragon Boat Festival 2016: Part 1 of 2

Part 1

Hobbit sauntered past Zen’s office in a sexy pink negligee, twirling her frilly panties on her finger. She was humming and marching on her tiptoes, glancing out of the corner of her eye at Zen.

Zen noticed her but he made a point of ignoring her. “She has all the subtlety of a baboon in heat. Pshaw! Pshaw!”

This face says it all.

This face says it all.

He was preoccupied with work. Work was some school-related crap, but his real work, his real job was finishing a fictional book set in the distant future about the American Drug War. Four hundred pages and his novel’s end was nowhere in sight. Much like the Drug War itself, he thought ironically to himself. He had been “finishing” this damn novel for four years now. His family had given up on his ambition to become a writer. Whenever he mentioned his book on the Drug War, they rolled their eyes and deflected the conversation to other less incendiary topics.

Hobbit in her own way was trying to deflect Zen from his work. Whenever Zen worked on his novel, his mood grew black and his temper boiled over with vicious rage. He sat in his office ranting and raving “at the injustice of it all.” Anyway, Hobbit’s “monthly time of inconvenience” was drawing nigh and she felt “a need.” “A woman has a need too, you know you know.” She marched past his office again, stopped at his office door, stretched her lacy pink and white Victoria’s Secret cotton-blended Cheekini panties and snapped them through the air, hitting Zen squarely on his ugly mug.

Victoria's Secrets Cheekinis for sale, only used once by previous owner.

Victoria’s Secrets Cheekinis for sale, only used once by previous owner.

They caught on his big black geeky glasses and hung down over his unhappy scowling face.

Hobbit exclaimed, “打中了!” and struck a pose to no one in particular and marched off triumphantly back into her bedroom. Though their marriage was a complete shambles, both Hobbit and her Dwarf husband found time to exchange unpleasant and violent affections on a more or less regular basis.

ExtremeMidgetWrestling-banners-sm

Zen cursed a black streak and stomped into Hobbit’s bedroom whereupon the both of them, resembling bellicose midget wrestlers rather than ardent tender spouses, engaged in matrimonial relations. Their lovemaking, bestial and unpleasant to civilized eyes (or any eyes for that matter), resembled their physical selves: violent, brutish, and short. It was tantamount to a double mutual rape and made the angels weep in heaven and cry out, “Oh the inhumanity! The inhumanity!” The devils in hell didn’t have a better time of it either. Their noses wrinkled from the abominable vision and the sight made fresh boils break out over their scrofulous bodies. In worse moods, they took it out on the newly arrived souls, whipping them with even more vigor and cruelty.

Oh! The Inhumanity!

Oh! The Inhumanity!

Back in the Middle Kingdom, the troglodytic pair lay sated on their rumpled, discolored, and sweaty sheets. Hobbit, without uttering a syllable, pointed to the door. Zen was already on his way out. He had work to do, “Damn US drug war! And goddamn you anyway!” Hobbit’s derisive giggle followed him down the hall.

Back at his desk, Zen sighed. The computer screen stared at him, a yawning maw, a hungry monster that asked to be fed. It wasn’t the feeding that bothered Zen. He always had ideas. The problem was selection. Prioritization. Once Zen heard the famous writer Solzhenitsyn say that there was only one true law in literature: maximum density. But how to achieve that exactly? He had trouble selecting which scenes to include about the Drug War. The War itself was a morass and there were endless incidents to choose from to illustrate his points in narrative form. Zen sighed and then sniffed.

Something stank.

He smelled his armpit.

OH-DEAR!

OH-DEAR!

Oh sweet Jesus! He was rank, but that wasn’t it. Zen did smell like Satan’s arse, but that was because recently Zen refused to bathe. Hobbit had made a comment about “Westerners being smelly” and, as a way to punish her for this unforgivable comment, he decided to forego normal ablutions for an undefined period of time.

His students and work colleagues became worried about him. Zen was normally a very carefully groomed and well-dressed teacher. When the director asked Zen if everything was all right—taking pains to breathe through her dainty, beautifully shaped mouth—Zen answered that everything was fine. Why? He looked puzzled; she looked puzzled. The director went outside to get some fresh air.

Zen knew that eventually (soon) he would have to bathe again. Summer was here and global warming was obviously turning the Ice City into a fucking sauna.

Consequently, Zen stank. But that wasn’t it. The smell emanated from elsewhere. He looked at the dog-bed where he slept every night, a rickety iron and wooden contraption that was covered in dirty oily bloodstained sheets with only the thinnest most threadbare of mattresses. The word mattress was too generous a designation, however. The mattresses (quote unquote) consisted of a few seat cushions shoved into a pillowcase. The seat cushions were the type that students bought for a few renminbi from the black market sellers on the pedestrian bridges, not Western style seat cushions that were plump and springy. These were diametrically opposite to plump and springy. Exactly non-plump and un-springy.

And smelly. The odor emanating from the dog-bed was inhuman. It was almost otherworldly. If extraterrestrial feces existed, it might smell like this. Apparently, Zen’s oily sweaty secretions coupled with the toxic dust that blew in from outdoors through the non-weather-proofed windows commingled into a perfect storm of stink.

Something ALIEN in here!

Something ALIEN in here!

Hobbit would win again, damn her. He would have to bathe and wash the sheets. Not necessarily in that order. There was nothing for it. He would have to cave in and take a shower. Who would have thought that Hobbits were so good at guerrilla warfare?

Zen would miss his stink, though. In a strange ineffable way, it made him feel connected to the earth. More and more lately, he felt like, like the Invisible Woman. Turning invisible, his molecules losing their mass, evanescing. As if his body and mind were losing focus and evaporating. Hobbit had had to slap him sharply several times during their “lovemaking” (euphemism for interspecies sexual assault) to bring his concentration back to the task at hand. He had bit her in anger, drawing blood. Hobbit only sighed in ecstasy. He hated her.

Zen thought he was losing his mind.

At first, he thought he was just getting old, but he was certain that something was wrong, on a quantum physics level. He also thought he was just getting clumsy in his old age, dropping things, letting things slip from his fingers, but now he was sure it was something else.

His body was disappearing from reality. Several times he was holding something in his hand, like a cup or a pencil, and it just slipped from his hand and dropped to the floor. He swore that the object had just passed through his fingers as though his body had dematerialized magically.

This frightened him more than the blood in his stool. More than the crushing ache in his bones (Bone cancer! Bone cancer! It was bone cancer for sure!). More than Hobbit’s violent productive cough. Was she dying? —Pneumonia? Lung cancer? Bubonic Plague? Zombie Apocalypse?

Zen began to fear that he was phasing out of reality. It was either that…or he was really losing his marbles.

Emotionally, he was clogged, backed up like a drainpipe in a sorority house with only one bathroom. He wanted to feel…feel something…it was as if he were losing the ability to feel anything. Either he was stricken with pain from his irritated colon or his osteoarthritis, or he was numb.

Either/Or. Kierkegaard would be proud.

His dematerialization had to do with his blog. He was sure of it. Every time he wrote about political matters, no one bothered to read his posts. And every time, he felt more of himself drifting away, molecule by molecule. Even though the whole world was talking about austerity and the ridiculous gap between the rich and poor, his friends and family all treated the topic as salient as offering a course on sailing techniques to residents in the Mojave Desert, teaching ice sculpture to Kalahari Bushmen, giving a lecture on the aggressive marketing techniques of the amateur porn industry to nuns. You get the picture. Zen was vanishing.

He wanted to feel his body again (minus the pain). To live in his skin.

Was this old age? A slow steady decrease of faculties, starting at the quantum physics level, coupled with an increase of pain and discomfort, and extending to one’s growing insignificance in society?

One becomes a ghost in other words. A hungry ghost.

That’s what the world made of you.

(End of Part 1)

hungry ghost

hungry ghost

June 15: things get worser

Zen was edgy.

With the warmer weather the co-eds on campus broke out their Spring season clothing. Handsome couples strolled about the university grounds in happy union. Hello! Insult to injury! Salt in the wound! How dare they look so pretty and alluring and…. Jeez. He knew he was jealous and petty and…. He was in a word pathetic.

Zen hated that hockey season was over.

It happened every summer. His raison d’être was over. He checked the calendar to see when he could get back on the ice. Playing ice hockey sated him like few other things (when he had a good game which occurred far less frequently than he cared to admit). Instead, he went to the gym almost every day and blasted out high metabolic cardio workouts to relieve himself of the “stress.”

“I got stress! Don’t tell me I don’t got stress! I got stress!”

It wasn’t all that effective

He needed to hit the punching bag, something to relieve himself of the pressure. Too bad Peter had fallen off the face of the planet. They used to box together and do some martial arts-style workouts, kicking, punching, two-step controlled sparring, whatnot, besides weightlifting, and that did the trick for Zen. The physical contact, the brutality, it was a surrogate for physical love, though neither of the two would admit it. Now however Peter was in love (love-love, not sublimated homosexual love) for the umpteenth time and he had no time for Zen. We’ll see how long that lasts, Zen thought with pettiness. He hated himself.

Men grunting sweating grasping each other...hmmm.

Men grunting sweating grasping each other…hmmm.

Peter, that happy lustful devil, had sent Zen some pictures of a bunch of new iPhones that he acquired. Peter had been visited by the nefarious iPhone bandit apparently. Zen was sure that this guy was the same guy who had stolen his iPhone way back when he first arrived in Harbin. He wanted to meet this guy to see if he was the same guy. And if he was…he’d give him hell. Otherwise, it plain irritated Zen because he wanted a damn iPhone, but Zen thought Peter wouldn’t sell him one because he thought Zen wouldn’t meet his price. Zen knew Peter expected to make good money on those under-the-table deals. Zen told him he would pay. He didn’t expect a free phone, especially not a free iPhone.

I wanna iPhone!

I wanna iPhone!

I know, I know. I’m evil for accepting stolen goods especially after my own iPhone was pilfered under my very own nose. But I really want an iPhone dammit!

Zen was not oblivious of his own hypocrisy.

I’m gonna have to meet this guy and strike a deal for myself. This Xiao Mi iPhone-Samsung knockoff/ripoff ain’t cutting it. I want the real deal. And that schmuck owes me for stealing my iPhone.

Zen also wanted to go visit Peter in his store because he wanted to show him his new collection of Rebel Money. That’s what Zen decided to call his collection of funny money.

He found it interesting that someone went to all this trouble to print these queer messages against authority.

The last two bills had a definite Falungong slant, so Zen assumed either someone who was either pro or con Falungong printed them. It was he knew counterintuitive. He thought pro or con because that’s how these things worked. For all he knew, the CIA was paying some schlepp in some remote dilapidated hovel to stamp out these anti-communist party missives on a stack of one kuai bills. And he wouldn’t put it past the CCP to do it themselves and thereby have “proof” that the Falungong were acting against the State and then have cause to persecute them. The CIA did (does?) psych-warfare all the time in Latin America. The FBI did it to discredit anyone they thought was anti-them. Was it called COINTELPRO? Or it could have been someone who just got a kick out of kicking the hornet’s nest. It may have nothing to do with the Falungong. Always machinations within machinations. That’s how governments worked. Anyway. It was a mystery. And who didn’t love a mystery? Zen was curious beyond all get out.23600cointelpro

One bill had a three-line poem with a title Zen didn’t really understand:

诚念/法轮大法好/真善忍好/善心得福报。

This he took to mean: Sincerely read or maybe to be read sincerely (?)/Falun methodology is great/Tolerance is good/Good hearts will reap a positive Karma.

The other bill had two couplets:

退党大潮风起云涌/“九评” 奇书天灭中共

and

大纪元网上发声明/退党、团、队保性命。

This was clearer: There is (will be) a tidal wave of resignations from the Party/The Nine Commentaries will overthrow the CCP.

And the other couplet: The Epoch Times released a statement/Resigning from the Party, the Team, the Squadron will protect life.

Those were Zen’s crappy translations. Hobbit would not help with the translations, sensing this was not a hobby she should encourage in her eccentric American husband. Zen brought up the topic of Rebel Money with K, but unexpectedly (or as he should have expected) she got all huffy and puffy as if Zen had personally slandered Mao and Mao’s mother and excoriated all things Chinese. So no help there. Zen wanted to ask Peter but he wasn’t sure how much help a kid who never graduated from middle school was going to be. These were the things Zen occupied his downtime with.

Sheesh! I need to go back to drawing.

Zen felt stress at work, but this was not accurate. Work had been manageable, kind of a sinecure, since no one ever called him or asked him to do anything. In fact, everyone was so busy with their own projects that they forgot he existed. He asked to go observe the foreign teachers, maybe give a guest lecture and deliver a model lesson, but every time they said, “Good idea!” And then nothing happened. Precisely because Zen waited for someone else to organize his trip. He should have proactively called Finance, gotten the green light for travel funds, and given a directive to K (or another of the numerous office girls) and hopped on a bus or train to do due diligence. But he didn’t, so he was left twiddling his proverbial thumbs instead of playing overseer on the education plantations.

Zen was left to his own devices to do whatever he saw fit. The stress he felt was actually a vacuum of oversight, a typical and regrettable state of affairs. His director assumed that he would take whatever measures necessary to promote the good of the program. Of course, when he tried to intercede or recommend (and sometimes strongly recommend) certain measures, he was handled. He got handled. He felt invisible hands handling him, patting him on the back, and sitting him down in a corner. Sit there. Be a good pet. Our token foreigner. And doesn’t that just feel good?

Of course, it was headhunting season and they needed new teachers for the next scholastic year. The number of students participating was going up and up, but Zen asked himself, “Have we resolved the systemic issues that have been preventing the program from following best practices?”

He and K had to cooperate again as they always had done each year to hire new teachers. (Awkward!) Damn her. Even as she annoyed him with her puritanical and patriotic manner, she charmed him with her smile. Her dancing almond-shaped eyes, soft innocent demeanor with just a hint of coquetry, her lips, her smile, the silly look in her gaze, belied by her sharp wry comments. A girl. A young girl. A child really, dimly aware of life. Damn sad she was not interested in the world beyond the first level on Maslow’s pyramid. Zen shook his head thinking about her. She occupied too much space in his head. He felt haunted. She haunted him. Figuratively and literally.

She had been nagging him every day to commit to a contract next year, but Zen kept putting her off. He had no idea where life was going to take him. She looked at him sadly whenever he said he might leave the Center. The truth was she was not sad; she was merely put out. The director pressed K about settling the contracts for next year’s hires. The Center still needed Zen as a teacher and as a manager of foreign teacher affairs. The quicker they settled the contracts, the less they would have to make in “payments” to certain interested parties who facilitated such matters.

Zen said to her, “What’s with the forlorn looks? It’s not like you’re gonna miss me.”

This comment stung her. It was a cheap shot. Zen made it so difficult to just get along amicably and made everything ultra personal. K was a sensitive soul, maudlin and weak physically. She could never forget that Zen had helped her get this job and get her out of teaching English kindergarten hell. Her eyes watered up and she bravely laughed and said emphatically, “Of course EYE won’t miss you, but the CENTER needs you.” And quietly she added, “I need you to help me find new teachers.” Zen only heard, “I need you.”

K picked up her cell phone with one hand while her other hand dabbed at her eye with a tissue. She had allergies that often made her congested and red-eyed. Zen thought, “She still cares about me. Imagine that.”

Zen wanted to hate her, and he acted thuggishly, hurting her feelings whenever he could, giving her the high hand, reminding her that he had a higher position in the Center and that she was just office help. He made such spiteful comments indirectly, never overtly, but he made it clear she was persona non grata. But then they started interviewing candidates and they played off one another so seamlessly, trading questions and making the candidate teachers feel so at ease and liked and wanted. They quickly hired half of the teachers they would need for next year. The sense of shared accomplishment buoyed their friendship and ingratiated one to the other, prompting high fives and spontaneous cries of victory. It was worrisome to Zen.

He started making excuses why he couldn’t go into the office and they conducted the interviews over Skype, but then he did have to be in the office and ended up staying for hours and hours even though their work was done. K beamed happily because Zen stopped acting like a huaidan. He started making jokes and cutting up and being silly just like he used to do when they had first met so long ago. He complimented her about her looks and pretty dresses and good English speaking skills. He held the door open for her. He offered to buy her lunch. Just like he used to. She was content.

It did not do Zen any good, however, merely distracting him from curing the ills in his own life.

And life was pressing down on him. That was real. If he did not have actual stress from work or even from Hobbit (as disagreeable as she could be, her acrimony and waspishness was understandable given her current situation), Zen did have pressure from Life. He would have to make a choice soon. He was getting older and the few windows of opportunity available to a man of his age and limited abilities were few and far in between.

What am I gonna do? Where am I gonna go? I’m too old for this shit. I can’t just go put up sheetrock or cut lawns or clean fish. My body can’t take it. And who the hell hires anyone over the age of forty? What did Zen’s brother say to him once? “I’m convinced that twenty percent of the population in America are permanently unemployable.” He wasn’t talking about Zen at the time. They were just shooting the breeze, but it resulted he was talking about Zen. Superfluous man. Zen felt that he was turning into a Pechorin or a worse an Oblomov.

....just a lazy slob?

….just a lazy slob?

A Hero of out times or....

A Hero of our times or….

Fucking. Great.

So I’m here.

This is my life.

Harbin.

Hobbit.

Hockey.

Hell.

Do I stay or do I go? Thank you Clash.

The Clash

The Clash

Am I gonna live in China forever? Or do I pack it up, admit failure, and slink back, tail between my legs, to the US of Ay-ssholes. Yeah I said it!

I have nothing in this world. I have nothing. There is nothing ahead of me except misery and pain and then finally death.

…jeez…talk about gloomy.

Man…I think I really need to get laid…damn…when’s hockey start again?

Zen would come to regret his overactive libido and worse, he would give cause for others to regret it as well.

Hobbit’s Dreams

I had the weirdest dream last night. I didn’t remember it right away either. I remembered it when I looked into the mirror and saw my ugly ass haircut.

The “boys” at the hair salon—they’re like these seriously AGGRO gay Chinese hairstylists, being gay is not the salient point (they just happen be gay or acting as if they were flaming, maybe it’s a pose, I don’t know) BUT they are belligerent—always gave me a whacked up haircut. Every time I go in for a trim or a clean up as you say in Chinese, they look offended and I walk out with Gumby-Head.

Gumby makes his first appearance.

Gumby makes his first appearance.

A good haircut makes a man sexy! To wit...

A good haircut makes a man sexy! To wit…

It is a total WTF. I’m ugly enough. I don’t need help. Anyway, I’m looking into the mirror, wondering why my head slopes to the left and suddenly the dream I had in the middle of the night returned to me full force and slapped me in the face. You know those mid-sleep dreams come from the depths of Morpheus’ dreamland, so they are weird. Your unconscious rubs elbows down there with ancient archetypes and even occasionally meets other dream-walkers. Those dreams from the Deep often freak me out. I never get bothered by those “I just feel asleep and I’m twitching” dreams nor about the “I’m about to wake up and have to pee anxiety” dreams. If those are weird they are usually affected by your internal clock and/or external stimuli like birds chirping or an alarm clock, what have you.

morpheus-iris-01

God of Dreams

Dream sandman

Do yourself a favor and read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

Morpheus Pinterest

This image is too cool not to post. From Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/poophakoitawan/04-morpheus-the-dreams-iris-rainbow/

No, the dreams you have to watch out for are the ones that wake you the fuck up in the middle of a deep deep sleep. That means AY your dream self met a core truth that scared the holy bejesus out of you or BEE your dream self met one of the Elder Gods and it wanted to infect you with madness or malevolence. I think mine was the former, but who really knows?

Oh, by the way I will “narrate” this dream as I was taught to do in my Jungian dream workshop that I took way, way back in college. You are supposed to slip back into the dream and relate it exactly as you can with no embellishment, as if you were seeing it for the first time and dictating it into a Dictaphone or whatever.

I am in my parents home in Katy. My ma and pa are there. My brother is to the left of me. My father to the right. My mother is center. They are okay but their smiles are also slightly anxious. It’s bright in the kitchen. I am trying to pretend that nothing is wrong. I am making a joke. It’s a joke but my father doesn’t like the joke. He turns away in disgust. I see his face melt into disapproval. I try to call him back but he won’t listen. My brother moves to comfort me. My mother now looks disapproving. My brother is trying to salvage the situation because we are supposed to eat together and have a nice family dinner. Suddenly I look at my father and he has no head. His head vanishes. No blood or gross looking things sticking out of his neck. Just gone. I am freaked out by this. He keeps walking away from me without a head. My brother asks what’s wrong. All the sound is like I am underwater and I can barely hear what anyone is saying to me. I look at him. He looks at me looking at Pa. He says nothing. I point and I try to say what’s wrong. I blink. His head comes back. But his head was gone. Now it’s back. I look at my brother and part of his face and chest disappear. I jump back. The part of his face that remains looks at me puzzled. My Ma is concerned. It’s me. I am seeing things. I am losing it. Then part of my Ma’s torso disappears. Like someone removed a giant Lego-block from her chest cavity. I am freaked out but I am more freaked out because I realize that there is something really wrong with me. My mind is snapping. I try to stay calm. We will have dinner together. We walk to the dinner table. My Pa is there sharpening the knife. The front half of his head is gone now. Sliced away and nothing is there but a brown skin-colored smooth surface like clay. My brother is half there half gone and so is Ma. But then their body parts return. Then disappear. It’s my vision. I’m okay. It’s just my eyes are bad. That’s all. We sit to have dinner. My brother asks me if I want wine. I think no, but say yes. I look down at the beautiful table setting. It’s so pretty. My Ma put out all of the best plates and cutlery. I look at the turkey, but it’s not a turkey. It’s Hobbit lying on the table even smaller than normal. The size of a huge fat turkey. Pa is not happy with me but he is going to make it through dinner because that’s what he always does. He is standing and passes the carving knife and fork to me. I know it’s not Hobbit, it can’t be Hobbit, but it looks like Hobbit. She seems okay with it. She says nothing but looks at me with that smile that she gives when says “This is my trademark smile! I’m so cute!” and she snaps her tiny little fingers and strikes a pose. I feel so anxious I can barely breathe. Hobbit just smiles and looks right at me. Pa is angry because he thinks I will make a scene again. I always make a scene. That’s how he looks. Ma just looks at me and says something that I don’t hear but I know it means, “Go on, go on.” I feel tears running down my face but I hope I am not crying or at least I am not making sobbing noises. I carve Hobbit up. It’s like carving Thanksgiving turkey and she doesn’t seem to mind at all. She just looks at me smiling, “I’m so cute!” I think I hear her snap her fingers but that’s not possible because I’ve already carved her wings off. Every one eats but I can’t. I have to. I feel Pa looking at me. He’s so angry it’s like heat from a furnace. I don’t mean to cry but I do. Tears are running down my face. Everything is cotton and fog and drowned. I hear but don’t hear Pa slamming his fist on the table. Ma is shaking her head, “I did it again. Ruined another family dinner.” My brother is busy wolfing down his meal. Pa’s head is shaking so violently. Then it’s time. Everyone pushes back from the table. Lulu is barking. She runs around my feet. Even she is angry with me. We walk into the posh posh living room. The football game is on; it’s so loud. I hate football. There’s a noose hanging from the ceiling. I don’t know how. It’s time. The noose lowers until it reaches the carpet and I step into it. I am hoisted into the air by my feet. I am hanging upside down. Lulu is still barking so angrily at me. I don’t know why. What have I done? It’s me. It’s all my fault. I have to hide my mind. I hang from my feet. Ma Pa and my brother all have something in their hands. Maybe roughhewn planks or maybe tree branches. The room gets brighter and I can no longer see the furniture only my family raising their arms. I get more anxious. I wake.Hangman-noose-with-a-dramatic-background-462147693-Credit-fergregory-iStock-630x419

I woke up and shut my laptop. I woke up feeling freaked, but I realized the sun was coming up (three thirty in the goddamned morning) so I pulled my sleeping mask over my eyes and went back to sleep. That dream was a real keeper though.

I try not to dream any more. I have kept a dream journal for many years and I have decided that what I learned a long time ago at the temple where I studied Buddhism was true. Well true enough.

Dreams are all bullshit. There’s no point in paying attention to dreams. All that matters in life is your waking reality, the reality you deal with when awake. Most dreams are exactly what Ebenezer Scrooge said they were: an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There is nothing of import from the other world and if there is, it’s best to leave it alone. We are not equipped to deal with archetypal beings. If there is an afterlife, that’s when we’ll deal with it. Now, in this waking life, you have to be aware of each moment as aware as possible of your actions.

I have forgotten that lesson and I need to get back to it. I realize I have slipped far down into a hole and forgotten what I need to survive. Dreams don’t matter if you don’t change your everyday reality.

Hobbit has crazy dreams too. In fact, her dreams give my dreams a run for their money. I don’t tell her about my dreams. A lot of my dreams are way too sexual and she would not be able to handle it. And she’s not the object of my prurient dream affections, which fact would make her little hobbit-sized head explode. Plus some of my dreams are just weird violent so I don’t tell her (I don’t tell anyone) and anyway I quit keeping a dream journal. I just ignore them and forget them as soon as possible. Usually.

Hobbit, however, likes to roll over and tell me her dreams right after she has them, any time of the night. I don’t mind as her dreams are quite interesting and I love to play Carl Jung and interpret them for her.

What freaks me out about her dreams is how often she dreams of having a daughter, sometimes twin daughters! Both of us are too old to have children. Well, technically I’m not, but she is past that “safe age,” although maybe there’s the possibility of in vitro or surrogate, but that’s for rich people. Poor people like us have to have kids the old-fashioned way, blood sweat and tears. Still, it really freaks me out how sweet and lovely her dreams are when she dreams of her dreamland daughter. My reality or rather our reality can’t compete with wish fulfillment. She swears it’s so real. I tell her that her daughter in her dreams is really herself, but Hobbit won’t listen to me and instead says it’s one of her deepest dreams, to have a daughter. Her real son is such a fulltime pain in the arse (and inevitably conjures up memories of her previous marriage to her wife-beating bastard of a husband) that Hobbit wishes she had just had a daughter, a little her, a little princess to love and care for in just the way she wished she could have been cared or could be cared for. I know this and tell her that I am sorry I am such a poor excuse of a husband. But, hey, at least I’m honest.

Hobbit recently had this dream and I wanted to share it but things always got in the way. Things are always getting in the way.

This was back in April, the fourth I think, or maybe the third, anyway she woke me up at four-thirty in the morning to tell me this one.

“All right Hobbit, tell us about your dream. We’re all fucking curious to hear about it.”

Hobbit said: So in my dream I had this old American teacher. (Slight laughter.) Umm. The director of the English Major office asked me for this favor. She asked me to take in this American teacher for one night or for some time because he couldn’t find any place to stay. So uh umm. And she knew that in our house I had extra room, an extra room, so uh I asked this guy to come into my house and I gave him my bed to, to let him, let him rest, rest. But he it was strange that he forgot to close the curtain before he went to bed. It was strange; it was weird to me because my American husband always makes a point of closing the curtain to protect his privacy. So I helped him close the curtain before he laid down and uh after he laid down I uh, I uh snoopied at his stuff that he put on the shelf. And the uh shelf is at the place where we put our wardrobe in real life, right? So I, I saw some photos. I saw some photos. And one of the photos is uh is him in a desert like place dressed in car-mou-flage. And on the back of this photo he wrote some English words, which I cannot recall very clearly now. Uhhhh, he wrote something like he “I am a MISFIT” and uh “I am” uh “I’m serving special service in the Army” you know that kind of special service that people can people are supposed to do the most dangerous things in the battle. And they are very good at shooting people. Uh I and this photo shocked me cuz I thought ‘Oh wow this American teacher once served in the army?’ You know. And uh and I found another photo, which was his wedding photo, wedding picture. In, in the picture he is putting on the wedding ring on his bride’s ringfinger and uh I and just as I wanted to read the words on this on the back of this picture anyhow this picture disappeared! Either because he woke up or because of some weird things you know that always happen in the dream. Anyway I didn’t got the chance I didn’t get a chance to read the words on this picture. And then this is basic, basic, the basic that I can remember now. And in my vague memory I remembered we walked in the dining room? Or in the classroom? That’s it. Nothing special happened later, later, afterwards. (Snaps fingers.) I’m done.

My Hobbit is a real hoot I’ll tell ya. When she wakes me just to relate these things. I record her dreams for posterity because, hey, you never know. These things might just come in hand sometime. But anyway when she shares her dreams with me, no matter how painful to me they are, I feel closer to her. Sharing dreams is special I think. It’s sacred. It’s fun too and we always laugh about them. But sharing dreams is like sharing real life dreams. Maybe not better, but for a brief, brief moment, it is better.

Turd War in the Green

Zen relied more and more on entering the Green in order to find peace and balance. His home life left him so desperate and lonely that he needed the quiet meditation and tranquil solitude of nature. He relaxed in the Green and used it to clear his thoughts.

The forest was in full bloom and everywhere animals and insects he never thought existed in the city popped out to say hello. There were many small brown sparrows—some that looked as if someone had been plucking out their feathers; plump red and brown horned squirrels with bright eyes and huge teeth; red-tipped, white tipped, and blue-tipped, magpies that sang marvelously in the canopy above; shiny black and green beetles skittering through the air; frightening finger-long centipedes; huge purple-winged flies; ubiquitous mosquitoes and gnats (especially after it rained); small spiders launching themselves into the air trailing their silken threads and large spiders building catcher’s mitt-sized traps between the pale branches of the Korean willow trees. And humans. Young and old. Here, there, and everywhere.

With the warmer weather the forest became populated at all hours of the day and night. In the summer, the sun came out promptly at three-thirty AM and by four the tai ji players were out in the clearings of the forest, moving their hands like fog across a lake surface, some practicing with their flexible tai ji swords, others not; the tree huggers were out soaking up the green energy shooting upwards and outwards from the earth, into the reticulated net of roots, rising through the wet trunks, and into their shriveled fingers; middle-aged women shrouded from head to foot in order to protect their delicate skin from the strong rays of the sun were power walking along the trails, some singing classic army songs from their youth; musicians were trilling on flutes or horns; lovers who had been up all night were ensconced on diverse benches and lost in each other’s eyes and lips; and Zen. The only foreigner in this forest, a forest alive with small forest creatures and large hairless apes.

Zen didn’t mind. He walked quickly between the trees, picking his path carefully to avoid the people. He didn’t like them staring at him while he practiced archery. He didn’t mind either, but he didn’t particularly care for it. Chinese people had no qualms interrupting someone while he or she was practicing whatever art or exercise of choice. Westerners would respect a person’s privacy, even in a public space. In China, that concept was greatly diminished. In the West, Zen only ever worried about the police harassing him when he practiced martial arts outdoors. Here martial arts were commonplace and people were not afraid of anyone swinging a sword or a staff or a pair of nunchakus. Nor apparently shooting arrows.

Zen was worried that his archery practice would be considered reckless. In the late winter when they was much less people about, he felt nigh invisible. A ghost slipping between the slumbering forest sentinels to send darts through the cold air into a handmade target. He carried the bow and arrows concealed in a cheap green sack, the target wrapped in an old black plastic garbage bag. He hoped anyone who might see him would think he was just crossing the forest after doing some shopping. He was not fooling anyone however. The shape of the bow under the green sack was too obvious. Once when he took Hobbit into the Green with him, they were questioned by the old guard at the gate. Zen ignored the old man’s question but Hobbit turned very brightly to him and said, “We’re practicing archery!”

Zen chided her for revealing “his business.” “This is my business. I don’t like people to know my business!”

“Sorry. I didn’t know. You didn’t tell me not to say anything.”

“It’s probably not legal to do this here.”

“I doubt it matters.”

And it didn’t matter. Subsequently, after he passed the guard watching dramas on his iPad device, the old man would see him and raise his arms, pulling back on an imaginary bow, and smile. Zen forced a smile. And after many weeks, the smile was no longer forced. Each time Zen arrived the old man was happy to see him and smiled broadly. Zen began to look forward to seeing the old guard. He no longer felt like an outsider. He felt as if he belonged to the forest and the forest to him. The forest had accepted him. Now that there were more people, Zen took extra care that no one was coming down the path where he practiced. He was not shooting far in any event, only thirty yards or so and he selected a path that was not much in use. It sloped slightly downhill and where he stood the toddler-sized target made of old clothes and cardboard against a good-sized oak, there was a gully that rose slightly on the other side. It was perfect and seemed made to order. If he ever missed the target (which was rare), his cheap arrows fell harmlessly into the muddy bank of the gully. It was less than twenty minutes for Zen to find blissful peace.

Zen was in love.

Even back in America he had never had such a perfect place to shoot his bow. In America you had to live out in the country if you wanted to set up an archery target and shoot off some arrows. He had tried to do that in West Houston once and the police were quickly on the scene, the contemptuous neighbors peeking through the window curtains. Zen couldn’t always make it to the archery range or drive out to the countryside where no one would care. For one thing, he rode a motorcycle. He couldn’t tote his bow and had to rely on family or friends to give him a lift. Then, traveling by city bus was always an ordeal in Texas. The truth was he just could not bring himself to carry his bow case on public transport. It just seemed wrong.

Here in Harbin, on the other hand, he could walk out the apartment door and escape the city in minutes. In minutes.

Zen was in love.

True, this was his first summer shooting in the forest and he had to be wary of granddads and their screeching grandkids, but they never walked down his path, narrow dark and wet and away from the main trails. Occasionally an old man or old woman would cross between the trees, searching for wild herbs, but Zen could hear them stumbling through the brambles from a long way off. Zen was sure he would never accidentally hurt anyone with his arrows and he didn’t.

Zen was content. This had worked out much better than he had ever expected. He crossed an ocean to find the type of meditative practice that fulfilled him. He breathed in the wet oxygen-rich air and felt the forest breathe joyously with him. He swore he could hear the trees soughing in ecstasy with him.

A gentle smile on his face, Zen entered the green, crossed the broad stone path that crisscrossed and circled the forest, and slipped down the narrow path that led to his clearing, his clearing, the clearing he had so judiciously selected to remain away from prying eyes and screaming children and moon-eyed lovers and jogging geezers.

He was almost to the clearing when he saw a strange sight, a phantasmagorical vision. It was a perfect heart-shaped ass, so white it literally glowed, the symmetrical cheeks like large luminous eyes, just above the ground, near the oak tree where he placed his target. Zen’s pace slowed. What the hell? Zen did not register what he was seeing at first. He thought it was an animal, a forest sprite. Then the beautiful buttocks trembled ever so slightly and squeezed out a dollop of excrement.

“Oh hell no! Stop! Stop!” Zen ran at the floating ghostly magnificent buttocks yelling at the top of his voice. “You can’t do that here! Stop!”

Zen was so engrossed to stem the desecration of his sacred space that he didn’t see the young man rushing up to detain him.

“Please wait a moment!”

Zen tried to circle the young man, but the young man fended him off, imploring him to wait. A young female voice yelled out, “Don’t look! Don’t look!”

Zen was livid. He didn’t look. He turned away but berated the young couple over his shoulder.

“There’s a bathroom at the front gate. If you need to go to the bathroom, just go there. This path is for people to walk on.”

The young man begged his forgiveness and explained that his friend was “urgent” and felt “much pain” and just “couldn’t wait.”

“God damn it,” Zen said in English. The young lass wiped herself clean and dropped the used tissues on the ground.

The couple vanished down the other end of the path and Zen was left alone in his precious forest with a fresh steaming steamer, the slightly redolent odor of female excreta rising in the green-tinted air.

“Fucksticks,” was all he could manage. “Just fucksticks.”

There was nothing else to be done. Zen laid down the target and bow, making sure there weren’t any other surprises underfoot, and got to work. He fashioned a digging stick and dug a hole, a good ways away from his practice area. Then he found some thick broad banana-leaf kind of weeds and used it to transport the offensive matter away from his precious area. Finally, he swept the forest floor with a dead branch. Good. He was satisfied. No harm no foul. Time for peace. Thank God she was a woman!

The next time he almost stepped in it. And it was a sizeable steamer from someone who had obviously had had a lot of corn in his recent meal. Zen wanted to vomit. He had to peel off a huge section of bark from a dead log in order to scrape “it” away. Zen took extra pains to be careful. He did not want to track human “mud” back home. Hobbit would kill him.

Was this the end of his archery? Zen had tried other spaces in which to practice and this small clearing in the middle of the forest along a narrow path closeted in by the thick foliage was just so perfect. Away from prying eyes. Private. Too private obviously.

In the warm sunny days that followed, Zen was forced to perform clean up duty each time he went to his precious spot. Only when it rained was he given respite from this odious task. He had had enough and complained to the old guard, but the old man only blinked at him uncomprehendingly and raised his arms, shooting imaginary arrows.

Zen then made up signs, very tastefully and artfully done and in perfect elegant Chinese, asking people not to go down this path and use it for a toilet. Please use the bathroom located at the front gate. When next he returned, the signs were kicked over. One man had even—almost assuredly a man because only a male would perform such an atrocious and vicious act of defilement—dropped his odious loaf right on the center of one of Zen’s polite signs, looking like a bizarre postmodern work of art: shit on a plate.

This was war.

Zen was not going to give up his sacred space so easily. It was his tranquil turf and he’d be damned if he was going to let these barbarians defecate all over it. This was his forest, his. And he belonged to the forest. He loved her like a good woman. And he was not going to let her moist holy spaces be profaned by hairless apes with weak sphincters. He had tried being polite. Now it was time for more drastic measures.

Still, he couldn’t very well chase away perpetrators while carrying a bow and arrows (even if the archery set was for young teens and not in any way suitable for real archery or hunting). There was always the police to consider. Moreover, Zen didn’t want to get confrontational. Chinese people had a keen disregard for any official signage. Witness the thousands who lit up right next to no smoking signs or who shoved to the front of queues even when orderly lines where painstakingly roped off. No, Zen had to think out of the box. What might scare people off? Or at least prevent them from going down the path? He had to think about it. Ghosts? Make people afraid of a ghost or some monstrous creature? He doubted he could pull it off. This wasn’t a Scooby-Doo cartoon. In the middle of the city, who was going to believe that a horrible monster lurked in these small woods? And then, it occurred to Zen.

“Ah ha!” he yelled from the bathroom.

“Ah ha what,” asked Hobbit. ‘What’s going on in there? What are you doing?”

Zen laughed. This just might possibly work.

“What are you doing in there? Are you watching porn? I told you to stop that!”

“I’m not watching porn! Goddammit! You shut up and mind your own business! Damn Hobbitses.”

Zen went out and bought the supplies he needed. That evening he got to work.

“Oh my gorsh! What are you doing? Cooking all that food! I’m not eating dinner here you know. I’m going to my parents’ home.”

“This food ain’t for you, silly Hobbit. Away with you!”

“Hmm. Crazy dwarf. Who wants to eat your food anyway? Still, I should taste a little to make sure you’re doing it right.”

“Away with you I say!”

“Humph! How rude!”

Zen cooked a feast for an army. He made egg and tomato and mushrooms with green and red spicy peppers, red curry potato and broccoli and tomato, steamed corn, and four different kinds of dumplings: pork and celery, beef and carrot and green pepper, egg and leek, and shrimp and corn and vegetable. In addition he bought fried chicken hamburgers and chicken burritos from the local cangmai. They weren’t real burritos like back home, but they would do the trick. He cooked four cups of rice in the rice cooker and then laid out all of the dishes on the foldable round table in the living room.

“Are you inviting someone over? Is it your girlfriend? If you invite that vampire into my home and I’ll kill her! I will!”

“I ain’t inviting anyone over anywhere. Jeez. For a small Hobbit you got a big imagination. Now I’m busy. This’s work. Lemme alone.”

“Fine. But I’m not doing any dishes.”

“Do you ever?”

Hobbit slammed the door on the way out to her parents’ home and Zen sat down to eat.

And eat.

And eat.

He was so full he thought he might die. He felt awful and happy at the same time. He could barely move to clean up the dishes. He lumbered into his office and fell down on the dog-bed. He fell asleep listening to his stomach gurgling like some diabolical machine. Indeed, there was something infernal happening inside his digestive system. With every morsel that Zen ate he made sure he dabbed on some kind of fiery spice: Tabasco sauce from the import market, spicy Korean bean curd paste, Hobbit’s father’s special super-hot red pepper oil, Thai sweet chili sauce, and finally good old American yellow mustard. It was a lethal concoction.

When Hobbit returned from dinner she demanded that he open all the windows.

“You open ‘em. I can’t move.”

“You’re trying to kill me. That’s what it is. You want kill me and marry a younger girl. Pervert.”

Zen moaned.

Early the next morning, Zen got up and made coffee. He poured the boiling hot coffee into a thermos and took out some special pills he bought at the pharmacist. He packed up his small yellow backpack and set off with his archery gear for the forest.

Ninety minutes later Zen returned, whistling quietly and looking quite satisfied.

“Had fun? Good shooting?”

“Oh yes. Very good shooting.” He kissed Hobbit three times, one on each cheek and then on her lips. This time he didn’t pretend it was disagreeable.

Later that day a young couple was strolling through the Forestry University’s experimental forest along the smooth stone pathway. They walked together happily, the young man holding his beautiful girlfriend tightly, and the young woman leaning into him. They paused at the entrance of a small path that led off into a section of the forest that was particularly thick and dark and green. The young woman whispered something to the young man and he nodded. She pulled out a package of tissues from her purse and then gave the purse to her boyfriend. She disappeared down the path, but came running back almost immediately. Her face was aghast and she was pinching her nose closed. She hooked her boyfriend’s arm at a run without explanation, and the two of them pounded down the stone pathway until they made it to the safety of the front gate.

Afterward, the path gained a certain notoriety and almost everyone avoided that dark green heavily wooded section of the forest. A fetor, not quite human, but definitely not animal, terrible and fearsome, lingering and caustic, pervaded the shadows among the trees and formed a palpable deterrent to the forest visitors, leaving only one man, one lone foreign man, carrying a bow and some cheap arrows and a handmade target made of old clothes and tape and cardboard, light of foot, light of spirit.

Into the Green

Peter disappeared.

I expected as much. He could only spend so time many pal-ing around with an old fart like me before his hormones kicked into overdrive and demanded pacification.

After a week or so the photo stream started up. Pictures of a group of young men and women out drinking and eating. Close ups of cute girls. Then closer up. Then things that only should be seen in anatomy textbooks or I don’t know. The Kama Sutra.

Hard to find a photo that would not scandalize the public.

Hard to find a photo that would not scandalize the public.

That’s not fair to the Kama Sutra, though. The KS is a book on the art of love. Drawing an analogy between Peter’s relentless pursuit of a new GF and India’s famous book on the art of lovemaking is like trying to make an analogy between a George Bush Jr. speech and a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speech. They’re both Americans giving speeches and both are juniors, but that’s about it.george_w_bush_quote_3Martin-Luther-King-Jr.-zumwalt

Getting Peter’s photo history was like a big cat (or dog) sending me updates while he was out on the prowl. Random chickee-poos he would meet somewhere or who would walk into his web—I mean store—and he’d chat them up and then—bingo! Hello Jungo!spider-to-the-fly

If I sound a little bit envious then I apologize. Because I am way more than a little envious. (sigh)

Peter was on the prowl. He even stalked the perpetually grumpy co-ed who worked the counter at the gym. Usually when I interact with Chinese—male or female—I get them to smile because, hey, I speak Chinese pretty well, and I crack jokes with them. Not this cara de piedra. Nothing I did did any good. She looked at me as if I had just raped and killed her grandmother. No scratch that. That’s not accurate, because that would mean she emoted. There was no emoting coming from her.

She treated me like a damn gnat that had landed on the screen of her big Samsung cell phone. Moreover, she couldn’t really be bothered to shoo it away. I would stand there, my head just over the counter, level with her eyes, and smile my nicest friendliest dirty uncle smile.

“Hi!”

No response. Cough cough. Extend gym card and 50 kuai deposit for the locker key. Long drawn out sigh from her. Snatches—snatches—card and bill out of my hand and throws the locker key onto the countertop. I say hello, please, thank you, good bye, every time. And I could never get any kind of, any kind of, the Chinese say, 人情味兒 rénqíng wèi’èr , warm human feeling. And that was it. She had none of that. She was one cold mama. Yeah, I wasted not a little grey matter wondering why she didn’t like me. It really bugged me. I saw this girl almost every freakin’ day. She can’t spare a polite smile?i9

I mentioned this to Peter and he said, “No, no. She’s really nice.” I did notice that when I came in with Peter she deigned to look up from her phone. At him. I still did not exist and fumed in my non-existence.

She not only looked at him but actually went out with him (albeit briefly). He sent me pictures of her and him smiling. Smile. Ing. And having a ball. I don’t know that they actually balled, but that would be purely incidental. What was amazing was seeing a smile on the girl’s face. She was transformed from surly lazy counter-bitch into sweet, angelic, pixie Asian chick. Whatever Peter has, we oughta bottle it up and sell it. The hell with Viagra Cialis whatever.

Before

Before

After

After

Anyhoo, since Peter was lost or out on the hunt, I was not about to stop going into the woods to practice archery. It was May and rainy, but the weather was gorgeous in between the storms.

In April, the trees began to sprout their leaves. Little by little your vision into the distance diminished. As the foliage grew in, the bare trees lost their stark appearance, lost that spindly pale bone-flesh feel, and seemed to swell with life, with power, with green. I know that is impossible. Trees don’t get fat, but it seemed that way. The air was so fresh, I swear I could smell the oxygen wafting off the leaves. The forest floor was soft wet and spongy from the intermittent rains. Yet above me around me the trees penetrated the air with their new green velvety palms and leafy fingers glistening with raindrops. The sun was not cold, not hot. Not even masculine. The sun gave off a feminine light. She was naughty and sweet, gentle and ticklish, falling between the branches and leaves, to drop at my feet like a prankish child, rebound quickly and dance off elsewhere. The winter forest had transformed into a place of magic, populated by elves and fairies and wood spirits. Sadly no Hobbits were anywhere in sight. My Hobbit was back home sulking over whatever it is that Hobbits sulk over. The irony is not lost on me.

Elves in the forest

Elves in the forest

So alone in the forest, but very much not alone. Solitude, but not solitary at all. The beautiful blue-tipped and white-tipped crows were telling jokes to one another. Squirrels gamboled in the leafy network of branches. In the distance a dog yapped happily. She had found a friend.

I love the forest.

I love stepping away from the cold grey dirty city and entering the green bosom of nature. In her I feel at home. And I, American Zen, have never felt at home in any place made by man. Never in any city or town or village. But in the forests, in the woods, in the mountains, in the jungles. These have been sanctuaries, all too brief, but they have been refuges from the blight of mankind, from the pain and worry of dealing with the human things, the man things, the woman things.

In many churches across the world I have seen beauty, man-made beauty, architectural psalms paying tribute to the glory of god, but I have never felt god. Only in nature have I felt that divine power, that masculine feminine fullness, bountiful and dangerous and limitless.

For a little while anyway.

For a little while, I tramp into the forest, am enveloped by the forest, blocking out the skyscrapers, shutting out the noisy construction, scaring off the fearful anxious human things, and I am left alone-but-not-alone with a crappy wooden bow and two cheap arrows, a homemade target stuffed with old baby clothes and a greasy seat cushion.

I nock my arrow. Breathing in, I pull back on the string, pulling it to my lips. I feel the finger-tab touch my lips.

Kiss.

My eyes line up with the center of the target. I feel more than see the arrow lined up with my vision.

The trees whisper all around me, scattering the sunlight children, who dance and laugh and play in the pale shade of the trees. One of them jumps onto the tip of my arrow and as I exhale, releasing, she rides the arrow through the green air, splitting the shadow and the light, riding true, riding straight, riding into the heart.

I smile.

I know peace.

new target

new target

sunlight rides my arrow into the target

sunlight rides my arrow into the target

i'm happy

i’m happy

Harbin Night Market: That’s a lot of Wangs.

Peter texted me: I break up with my girlfriend.

I texted back: Did you break up with her? Or did she break up with you? Or did you both decide to break up?

We fight. She say me if I love her. I say no. She cry and left. Game over.

Peter is not a playah, but he sure acts like one. He goes through girlfriends more than he changes his chonnies, which is not saying much since the guy lives in a pseudo-basement apartment with no running water or electricity and rarely has a chance to shower. He sucks electricity off the office building next door and defecates in a plastic bag over a pan and dumps it into the gutter before the street sweeper passes by his cell phone shop at daybreak. I know when he’s been too lazy to get up because his little closet store smells like night soil.

I politely tell him, “Dude, it’s kinda ripe in here.”

He claims it’s the kitty litter, that he hasn’t changed it. I know the difference having owned cats off and on and having had to crap in my own hands because there wasn’t a place in which to cop a squat. Nothing teaches you humility better.

Peter texting me this bit of information means I might have to babysit him for a little while. Although he has always cheated on his numerous girlfriends and always watches porn all day long, he was basically a kid. His behavior led to tearful break-ups but sex was really just candy for his (I’m assuming) outsized membrane. He was attracted and attached to (i.e. codependent with) a girl based on how sweet her pussy was. He met all kinds of girls who were looking for a good time (but also secretly hoping for something lasting) and inevitably they’d go away crying. There were a lot of one-night stands. I know cuz Peter often texted me photos of him and his conquests au naturel. I told him it was not funny and that he ought to have a little more self-respect. He thought it was funny. I did not. Most of the girls were fine looking, too, I’ll have to admit. I often warned him that one day he’d get his. And he did once, for all the good the experience did him.

He met an older woman, Sun Cui. A real piece of work that one. A wild woman with the cutest most divine little boy. How the hell she ended up with the Dalai Lama for a son I’ll never know. Just goes to show you that life is fucked up. I hated her the first time I met her. She was essentially a Chinese version of a dumb blonde bitch. One of the most irresponsible mothers I’ve ever had the displeasure to meet.

This human cat ran around with several guys at a time, utterly shameless, protesting to each one that she was faithful, dumping her kid on whomever was at hand. And I get the whole double standard thing. I do. It’s one thing when all parties agree to free love, but cheating on your other is heinous and dishonorable. On top of that, ditching your kid so you can go drinking at a KTV? There has to be some sort of Mega-Bitch Award for that kind of behavior.

She got her claws into Peter and gave him a taste of his own medicine. Peter was distraught because whatever talent this woman possessed in the sack enchanted him to desperate distraction. He was not himself. In other words, he was undeniably irretrievably and indefatigably pussy whipped. He got into a couple of fights trying to stake her as his own. She never let on that she didn’t want to be exclusive and made up all kinds of excuses why she kept waking up in some other guy’s bed. Sometimes leaving her handsome little Buddha child in Peter’s care. This worried me. Peter was not the kind of guy that should be taking care of a little boy. I had to babysit the sweet little tyke on more than one occasion. “Where’s Mama? Where’s Mama?”

Absorbing all of his laments about his two-timing dragon lady, I pounced on the irony of the situation, but at the time Peter only looked at me with pained eyes: “I really love her! I really love her!”

“No, you don’t. You barely know her, Peter. It’s just lust. Sex. Don’t let her do this to you.”

He would call and call, and she’d ignore his calls. I gotta hand it to Peter cuz he’d track her down, find her with another guy, and a brawl would ensue. Peter might be a kid at heart, but he’s extremely powerful.

I’ve seen him pick up guys who weigh over two hundred pounds and bounce them on their heads. Literally. It was a move he picked up from his shuaijiao days. I told him not to do that move in a fight. He could seriously injure someone’s spine or even possibly kill him. Between the bouts of crocodile tears, he’d smile; crying from Sun Cui breaking his heart, but smiling with the predator’s pride of being able to dominate the savannah. He might be the toughest lion in her pride, but she was still shacking up with every Li, Zhang, and Wang in a fifty-kilometer radius. That’s a lot of Wangs.

One shattered heart later, umpteen other girlfriends later, umpteen donnybrooks later, we were back here again.

This latest GF, a tall Harbin girl (slightly big in the hips with long heavy limbs and as educated as a bag of hammers) had lasted a lot longer and I knew why. She spelled Peter at his little cell phone store so he could meet with me and go lift weights or practice archery. I never much cared for the dumb chick, but she did have her uses and I pointed that out to him. She essentially learned how to run his shop (and put up with all his bullshit) while he ran around town with his buddies—male and female buddies. Love gave her the wherewithal to become an impromptu businesswoman. I admired her for that. The things we do for love. The things love enables us to do. No matter how you slice it, it’s masochism. But at the end of the day any girl stupid enough to pin her hopes to Peter’s comet was short a few million cells in the grey matter.

I sighed. It was unfair to her (I never could remember her name—that’s how little she mattered to me, supposedly Peter’s best friend) and I pointed that out to him.

“Peter, last week you were telling me how much you loved her and that you two were gonna get married. Shit, your Ma wanted you two to get a house together.”

That was true. He tried to borrow money from me, like several wan, and I didn’t have that kind of money. I stalled and stalled because I was not gonna get mixed up in that money pit. It was inconceivable to me that a guy as young and sexually irresponsible as he was could even think of marriage. I mean, I know I’m not one to talk, but this was clearly a situation where someone’s traditional expectations were crashing on the rocks of reality. His mother and ex-girlfriend were high on baijiu if they thought Peter was anywhere near taking on the responsibility of a family. Probably most of China’s population was not anywhere fiscally prepared to marry and raise a child, but that didn’t stop parents and grandparents from harping on it. They ought to advocate celibacy and homosexuality. The last thing China needed was more people.

Peter wanted to drown his troubles. I told him in no uncertain terms that we were not going to go get drunk.

“Just a couple beers.”

He wanted to introduce me to one of Harbin’s night markets. It was down on Hongqi Street. Fine. I could do that. But no drinking.

Night Market

Night Market

Night Market scene.

Night Market scene.

When I saw him, his face was ashen and drawn. His skin was grey and rough anyway, like the Grey Hulk from back in the Sixties. Peter didn’t get to bathe often since he lived in that stanky basement. The Grey Hulk analogy was apt since Peter also had a bromance going on with the Big Green Behemoth.

Hulk # 1, the Original

Hulk # 1, the Original

In addition to photos of him and bimbo du jour, he’d often send me pictures of the Hulk, telling me he wanted to look like Hulk. Like I said, big kid. I would send him pictures of Namor or Green Arrow since that was the body type I aspired to, although at my age I was just trying not to look like fucking George Costanza. In my defense, I doubt Jason Alexander possesses my physical skill set even if we could pass for twins.

Namor the Sub-Mariner! What a swimmer's bod!

Namor the Sub-Mariner! What a swimmer’s bod!

Original Green Arrow

Original Green Arrow

Oh George!

Oh George!

I figured we’d walk around the night market for a while and I’d try my level best to stick to my diet and keep him out of trouble.

We ended up having a good time. We goofed around taking pictures, trying on women’s hats and whatnot, me blanching at the disgusting food they had on display. I refused to eat or drink and he respected my terms.

Worms anyone?

Worms anyone?

Big Black Beetles

Big Black Beetles

Grasshoppers I think.

Grasshoppers I think.

Bu-FUGLY caterpillars.

Bu-FUGLY caterpillars.

More Worms and coccoons

More Worms and cocoons

The Ubiquitous CHUAN, creatures on a stick.

The Ubiquitous CHUAN, creatures on a stick.

That first night was special. The weather was pristine. Cool but not cold. In fact it was just cold enough that milling around with the mass of unwashed humanity kept you warm. Of course, sexy svelte lithe Chinese women everywhere. Christ, Chinese women are so fucking achingly sexy and beautiful! I wish I were either younger or richer. Either that or a goddamn sexless robot. That way I wouldn’t feel the horrible riptide of desire every time I brushed past a Heilongjiang beauty.

Night Market 8

Night Market 8

Night Market sweets.

Night Market sweets.

We went to the night market every night for five days and after the first coupla nights it was boring as hell. Eventually I started trying the food and we had a couple of brewskies at this small tea shop out of sheer boredom. I brought my laptop and did some reading while he posted pictures of our misadventures on WeChat (China’s FaceBook).

I never got so bored that I ate the barbecued semi-formed baby chicks that Peter swore by. He said that eating these eggs in which the baby chicks had begun to take shape helped put on muscle mass. I told him he was fulla shit. I didn’t care how much muscle it might put on your biceps, there was no way in hell I would ever let that pass my lips. Jeez, even if I wasn’t (usually) vegetarian, even if I was a diehard carnivore, I could never eat that. It sounded like someone’s nightmare. Imagine that: you’re trying to eat a hardboiled egg and discover there’s a dead little chick inside. Yeesh. Gives me the shivers thinking about it.

Chick egg fetus. Yum!

Chick egg fetus. Yum!

I held Peter’s proverbial hand every night. I didn’t mind being away from home. Hobbit was still treating me like a red-haired stepchild in a black family, so I needed the distraction too. I also realized I had missed being around people, believe it or not. I was off so much on my own and alone (in China of all places) that I forgot the simple pleasure of just people-watching (as opposed to girl-watching which is less of a pleasurable activity and more of a painful involuntary hardwired biophysical response).

I even bought a few stupid baseball hats. The last night we went to the market, Peter brought me a new cell phone. I had been complaining about the other phone (that incidentally he had given me for free). I appreciated that it was free but the damn thing was so cheap it caused more headaches than it solved. I even asked him to find me an iPhone, something I should never have done since I knew where—and how—he acquired them.

Peter, despite my warnings, engaged in several side businesses besides repairing cell phones and slapping on those silly plastic protective coversheets. In fact, these side deals were his most lucrative transactions. He still maintained a few connections from back in the day. He’s a businessman right? Most businessmen with such thin margins are always ready to make a little extra money and you know if you weren’t too circumspect about the origins, well you know, as long as it wasn’t a habit. Peter had Johnny Law or rather Zhang Law come down on him before and he had to spend a few nights in lock up while the Po-po went through his store and confiscated everything they thought looked suspicious. A few nights and a few thousand kuai later he was released on his own recognizance. Basically the police just took all his goods and any cash he had on hand and kicked him out with a warning not to accept stolen goods ever again. Like they gave a shit. Peter swore he would walk the straight and narrow but that only lasted a short while.

“How much is this?”

“Don’t worry. It’s a present for you. Take. Take!”

“No way, man. How much? You gotta take something.”

“Two kuai.”

I pushed it back across the table. “I won’t take it. I will fucking pitch it right through this window.”

He just smiled his big shit-eatin’ grin.

I played with it. This was China’s answer to iOS and Android. Some Chinese company had obviously ripped off Apple and Samsung and rolled out this cheaper version. This Chinese “Apple” system was all the rage now. Later I found out just how expensive the phone cost, but at least Peter took some money for it. Fucking capitalism. It absolutely corrupts all of us, absolutely.