Are you all familiar with China?
Have you felt the weight of the smog in Shanghai? Have you sat in wonder at the ominous, orderly rows of all-alike apartment buildings that reach sixty stories in the air—this terrible dystopian skyline—as you ride by in an airconditioned bus that still reeks of the speckled grey air outside? Have you coughed the smoke of a cigarette in a Xi’an hotel lobby, pondering the purpose and intent of the no smoking signs bolted to every ashtray? Have you tossed and turned that same night in a 3M particulate-filtration mask in the squalor of a hotel room, to later wake to the violent scare of a telephone ring and a banging at the door, finding the thermostat in such a malignant state that the window must be left open, and the covers slept on top of, to dissuade siriasis?* Have you witnessed, spread out before you, the eighth wonder of the world… only to stop and wonder if it were, in heretical fact, the eighth greatest deceit, just another piece in the five-year plan to boost tourism, morale, and national pride? Have you stood atop the Great Wall and basked in its majesty and the only fresh air in China? Have you ever been so thankful that a five-star hotel, along with its amenities of a tube of bamboo-salt toothpaste to compliment an unapproved-by-the-American-Dental-Association disposable toothbrush, offer air clean enough that you can breathe it without contracting lung cancer by the third day? Have you been to the highest bar in Beijing to celebrate your Mother’s forty-ninth with brownies and ice-cream at ninety Yuan a plate? Have you ever stood in Tiananmen Square, where so many years ago the youth of Beijing had rallied and lost their lives to demand their inalienable right to democracy, and where so many years before that the youth of Beijing had rallied to hear Mao Zedong’s proclamation of the People’s Republic of China and, at long last, equality? Have you ever been woken an hour early to account for the misdeeds of a still drunk, newly-twenty-one-year-old girl, and of student twenty-four, who was always late, and of the ear, hard of hearing the call to action? Have you been to that collection of islands that is the English-speaking, pizza-serving, last colony of the British Empire; the city whose people can be directly owed the coining of common phrase: one country, two systems; the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China? Have you been all the while feasting on fourteen courses of dumplings, innumerable bowls of shaved beef noodles, sweet-and-sour chicken delights, delectable duck, chicken feet, teahouse-made doughy dumplings that are the envy of all Hong Kong—nay, of all China—nay, of all the world; in brief: the greatest food of your life?
*siriasis is an archaic medical term for heat stroke. It is not to be mistaken for psoriasis, which is a condition of grey and flakey skin. But if they must be categorized together: you don’t want them.
China in Pictures: