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The short stop-over at night was suffocating.
Taiwan was in a state of siege.
Security at the airport was extra tight.
Everybody had guns.
I was glad to leave.
Introducing My Chinese Experience Always lovingly Poetic:
From the warmth of Hong Kong to the freezing streets of BEIJING. The traveler had finally returned. The gritty emptiness of the airport was the same. The long taxi ride through the tree-lined streets was the same.
It was DEJAVU and a sweet one at that. The traveler had planned it that way.
The familiar Beijing drawl could also be heard. Outside the taxi window all seemed deserted. The frosty night had kept most people inside. Except for a few solitary guards who waved the speeding taxi on.
Then upon arrival at the hotel, the traveler was told no rooms were available. The old Beijing dance had begun. Yet, the bored hotel clerk allowed the dazed traveler to sleep in the messy television room.
Next morning, some friendly Swedish visitors took pity on the confused traveler and escorted him to the nearby youth hostel. It all seemed like a swift dream as the traveler listened to his trusty walkman and saw thousands of blue and green blurs outside his bus. These were the national colors. Everyone wore the same coat colors. The traveler's ears also picked up the soft " ch " and rolling " r's " of the northern dialect.
The bright sun was out, but the day was deathly cold. Siberian winds were blowing fiercely down from the north. The city was ancient and vast. Heavy dust clogged the air. Lot's of it.
More mental disorganization was swiftly on its way. Everything in Beijing was monstrously big. Big ugly buildings in the new Russian style. Stalinist chic. There were wide avenues with few cars. There were big walls around the Forbidden City. Most of the Mao pictures were gone. Symbol recycling seemed in progress.
Everyone was retching and spitting on the streets....
Beijing was now waking up. Chairman Hua was gone. So was the Gang of Four. Deng was in charge now and he was going to make a huge difference.
The slow train from Beijing rolled throught the yellow arid wasteland of Shanxi province. Not far from Yenan where the Chinese Communists had retreated to lick their wounds and then reorganize.
A tiny locomotive hissed by, past huge endless mountains of coal. All looked grimy and uninviting. But I was in China and that's all that really mattered.
Xian was the ancient capital and I hurried to see the terracotta army that had been just recently discovered underneath a forgotten vault. This phantom army amazed and excited me.
After two thousand years the soldiers were in tip top shape ready to charge at a moment's notice.
The tomb of Qin Shi Huang Ti was also nearby. He was China's Stalin and Mao during a reign of total terror at approximately the same time. This murderous unifier of ancient China burned books, killed intellectuals and enforced slave projects that would rival any totalitarian scheme in the twentieth century. Mao had boasted that he had killed just as many people as Qin Shi Huang Ti.
I shuddered and spoke to a young Chinese woman who's entire family had been foreced into the countryside to do hard labor during the Cultural Revolution and most were still out in the boonies in perpetual exile.
The little girl hawkers descended on me like locust as I trudged in the cold snow near the imperial tombs. " Two for one, two for one, " they kept calling.
Here were buried the emperors from the numerous dynasties as well as their empresses and concubines. Also other high ranking government officials.
Many of the statues near the these tombs were headless. A sign of rough political weather and older kinds of symbol recycling. Purges were not new to China at all.
The Bell Tower in the middle of town was my landmark. I would look at it from my hotel window while listening to Frankie Goes to Hollywood's hit track, " Welcome to the Pleasure Dome." The swirl of people around the tower amazed me. So did Chinese TV. New artistic experiments made it now worth watching.
I ate shishkabobs and oranges right on the street and I washed them down with thick beer. A Chinese man told me, " times are better now, but they are still not good enough. The government is in our way. "
....all I could hear was the Frankie Goes to Hollywood refrain, " We're a long way from home, welcome to the pleasure dome."
But where was home, really?
Chengdu. Last stop before Lhasa. I learned that Tibet had suddenly opened up while staying in Hong Kong. I quickly decided to make an unscheduled detour. I had my fake Taiwan student card. This gave me discounts on trains and in hotels in an already cheap country and the black market stretched my limited dollars even more. This was a temporary gap in history that would one day shut down quickly.
I aggressively pressed my advantage.
I bicycled over to Du Fu's cottage. I was in a strange time warp. This was one of China's primary poets. The two hundred poems he penned at this cottage created a national cult that blasted the nation.
The familiar white Mao statue seemed to float in the swollen air near the town square. I ate hot, spicey mapo doufu. Soft bean curd immersed in garlic sauce and red chilis. The tasty specialty of Sichuan province. Downing it with cold beer was a must, of course.
I was now mentally getting ready for mysterious Tibet. A young German anarchist who had just returned from there, luckily befriended me at my hotel. He gave me badly needed intelligence. Tibet had finally opened to solo travelers a mere two months earlier.
Tossen quietly told me, " remember, Rome is the capital of the west. Lhasa is the capital of the east. Going to Lhasa is a pilgrimage by way of these sacred white clouds. Go now...."
I knew instinctively that my life was soon going to radically change in less then a day. Tossen gave me this ratty map of Lhasa and a few worn out postcards.
I had just received my first Tibetan empowerment, but it would take six more years to really understand this.
Om mane padme Hum
Om mane padme Hum
Om mane padme Hum
Om mane padme Hum
Om mane padme Hum
Om mane Padme Hum
Om mane Padme Hum
The poor seeker landed at Lhasa airport with little interest in explorations of the mind.
Boundless wastelands and stirring streams fiercely greeted me. The new moonscape facing me was weird and hypnotizing. The infinite vastness engulfed me. I frequently felt these ancient rhythms.
The seeker was karmically ignorant. The seeker was terribly self-centered. The seeker was on the periphery. The seeker still thought there was a goal. The seeker still felt there was a distance. The seeker was still seeking.
There were strong flashes of an ancient life just barely being grasped here by a mind that was seriously weakened. Headaches and chills. The traveler was in some desperate trouble.
So what is a mantra?
I must keep drinking more water or I shall be in the hospital tomorrow. My poor lungs ache like hell. There is something so cruel about Tibet that I cannot really describe.
So what is a mandala?
It's so powerful the way the natives prostrate and drag themselves on these long dirt paths.
So what is strong devotion?
I don't understand what I'm seeing, really....
So what is witnessing?
I stepped suddenly into the twilight zone and found no mental orientation hooks to latch onto here. The mighty Jokang left me in a daze. Disneyland, the Buddha, and Dracula were all fused dramatically inside my thoughts. This was the moment my mind encountered this higher and unknown force.
So what is mental disorganization?
Dusty pilgrims prostrated themselves on the dirt floors and dragged themselves forward. The potent smell of yak butter hit my nostrils. I entered the Jokang's noisy courtyard and then its main altar-room. Lines of pilgrims snaked themselves through the main altar-room and towards the darker and smaller rooms nearby.
(The seeker never considered himself much of a spiritual person....)
Each room had zillions of statues of the Buddha and other saints unknown to me then. Monks sat and chanted endlessly.
The pilgrims uttered the name of SHAKYAMUNI, ceaselessly.
So what is the deepest reverence?
Along the walls of the inner courtyard, prayer wheels spinned seemingly without human assistance. Shining reds, yellows, and greens captivated the curious traveler.
So what is real magic?
The priests wore these curiously curved boots. The endless statues were painted in bright hallucinatory colors. Some of the sacred statues had scary fangs and multiple arms.
So what is real power?
I walked slowly up the steps just outside the potola. The thin air forced my tired lungs to grind and labor. I trudged up the steps to the second floor and found a sublime view.
So what is this?
The Dalai Lama had fled Potola long ago. His old boots rested next to his bed and the clock on the wall was frozen at the exact hour that the master had exited his country.
So what is a real trance?
I hitched a quick ride to the Deprung monastery and quickly realized this was going to be another twilight zone experience.
So what is real reflection?
Deprung consisted of hundreds of nested temples. My eyes suddenly glazed over and my senses soon began to shut-down.
So what is real transformation?
I trudged up the mountain towards the sound of these blowing horns. I found a stream and drank some holy water. The sky was huge and pure.
So what is an ego?
I contracted some type of immodest throat infection. My sleep was dicey and restless.
So what is that?
The old sutras were stacked up against the dark walls gathering dust among the mysterious demon figures.
So what is this anything?
The monks prayed and chanted and I mentally followed their harsh sounds.
So who am I?
I felt slightly better and guessed that the worst of this ordeal was now possibly behind me.
So where am I from, really?
Lhasa sickness has struck me down again. I'm just too ill to write. The high altitude is purifying me.
So where am I going?
I took a dicey chance and biked over to the Sera Lama monastery. I saw a picture of a snake chasing a hog which in turn was chasing a bird. A mystical, endless loop which I did not fully understand.
So were is this where, anyhow?
I'm amazed by how much these Tibetan pilgrims resemble the Indians of Guatemala which I saw earlier this year, in another completely different continent. Especially, the bright colors.
So now what?
I violently slammed the walkman against the wall and it started to work again. It just had a curious and miraculous rebirth.
So then what?
I made myself a nifty Lhasa burger by wedging a piece of fried meat in between two pieces of barley bread. The Tibetans at the hotel were amused.
So when is a when a what?
I missed the gruesome sky burial, early in the morning. The bodies were hacked into small pieces and given away to the vultures. After the bones were finally picked clean, they were then pounded into a fine dust and then mixed into a dough for making these strange holy ornaments.
So how is now?
The murderous bumps on the unpaved roads suddenly began as the Potola's ghostly image disappeared from my view. I felt anxious depressed. A kid barfed inside the bus and the stench was pretty bad.
When the bus arrived at the dark airport, my backpack got stuck between the iron seats and a furious dust storm began to smack the vehicle. I had difficulty finding my hotel room and began screaming loudly at the people sitting in the airport kitchen.
So then what?
I flew out the next day, like I flew in. A wild sleep-walker....
The plane landed back in Chengdu with a final thud. I was physically back from the twilight zone, but my mind was not.
I checked into the hotel and fell into a fitfully deep sleep....
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most spaced out one of all?
Voices interrupted my tinsel thin sleep. It was an American guy and his new Chinese bride. Robert and Ping were a first. They were the first mixed foreign couple to get married in Sichuan since the revolution.
I took photos of them registering their marriage papers at Chengdu's city hall. They were couple number one.
How about that?
I was invited to an impending celebration banquet, but I was in a great rush to move on....I got up early and left for Yunnan province.
More destiny awaited me.
The train chugged along through these increasingly tropical landscapes. Yunnan was going to be a different China for sure....I was told by a train passenger that the railroad had been blasted into place by prisoners and soldiers during the Cultural Revolution.
The vastness of China never ceased to amaze me. It was a blessing to be here. I had loaded up on China books in Hong Kong and I gave them away to grateful Chinese aquaintences as I finished them off. Books mostly about modern Chinese history.
Books that were not available in China at all....
Indeed, the Chinese I spoke to on my travels were eager to talk to me. Me, a westerner, a foreigner. The ugly meiguo, the foreign devil.
The average Chinese was politically exhausted and still a bit paranoid about how and what to talk about to anybody, but especially a foreigner. History was constantly being rewritten in China, depending on who was on top at the moment.
Kunming was very laid-back. It was a rest-stop for China vets suffering from dreaded China burnout.
The western new year was upon us now and we China hands were all grateful to be here in China smoking the wild dope filched from the Kunming zoo.
I met a Canadian who spoke eight languages and we soon became fast buddies. The Canadian had taught English in Japan and was now on his fast way to Thailand to get some badly needed sun.
We met the daughter of a high Chinese cadre who showed us some tapes featuring John Travolta dancing to the old Saturday Night Fever tunes. I was intrigued by this. But even more so when the Chinese started to celebrate the western new year to the tune of Doris Day's " How much is that doggie in the window...."
I just couldn't help but laugh hysterically.
Dali. Vacation time for the weary traveler. Just outside Kunming in the unknown land of the Bai minority. Southeast Asia was not too far off now....a whiff of Burma was in the scented air.
The food was superb. I dined on tasty spring rolls and beer. I would dip the crunchy rolls into a sweet soy sauce. I couldn't resist taking a commemorative photo of the plate and food. It was that picturesque.
I read up on how the Communists had destroyed the old areas of Beijing to make way for new Chinese socialist concepts. Tibet had been this heavy nightmare. Everywhere I had seen smashed temples. The karma was screaming murder. I remember picking up a gold painted Buddah statue minus its head. No sacraments had been holy here.
It was lamentable, painful, and brutal.
But this beastly carnage was past me now. The inky Chinese shadows that had been constantly following me were taking a short break.
I took a small boat across Erhai lake to the old Zhonge temple. I was greeted by superstitious villagers burning pieces of thin paper. I was told it was for good luck.
The Shaping market nearby was a colorful riot. The Bai reminded me also of the Indians I had seen in distant Guatemala and I haggled with them in good cheer for all kinds of odd knick knacks.
I traded survival stories with fellow western China travelers and met two Americans who had been teaching English in Beijing. Chinese art was still struggling to break out of Mao's infamous Yenan Talks legacy.
This strict call for socialist realism was damping Chinese inspirations....
I saw a poor Italian movie in the only cinema in town and became more interested in the glorious embroidery of the local women and how they wore it. The faces I saw here were a curious mix of Chinese and Malaysian features.
There was something eternal here. I knew I had been Asian in many past lives. It was comfortably familiar.
I played with the kids as I took photos of them. We would dodge each other in a friendly game of camera hide and seek. Snap I went, run they did. But it was all smiles....
I was home here too.
Chongqing was full of cool surprises. Chaing-Kai Shek's war-time capital still retained a feeling of ghostly old China. Thick fog shrouded the city. The decaying buildings looked old and run-down. Little nooks and alleys abounded steps within them seemingly lead to nowhere.
At the hotel, a crazy Australian drifter barged into my room. I did not know it then, but the start of a deep friendship was secretly unfolding. The Aussie who was German by birth introduced himself:
" My name is Klaus. What's yours? "
I just stared.
The water-front was pitch dark. I could barely see the nearby ship. But the bright lights of the boarding dock suddenly appeared and electricity just surged everywhere. It was the moment of a life-time. I was taking the Yantse river boat cruise. But soon I found myself stuck inside a sweaty cabin with nine Chinese peasants who simply snored like buzz-saws and stank up the room with foul body odors.
The wild beauty of the river gorges popped up out of nowhere. I kept shooting black and white shots as a young engineer shyly introduced himself.
Wei's English barely crossed the threshold of fluency. Yet, he recounted how his father had been brutally murdered during the Cultural Revolution. But politics aside, Wei still wanted to see China modernize and advance.
Wei lit his cigarette in the wind with consummate skill. He quietly struck a match and pushed it into a match-box to protect the flame from the fierce blowing winds. Wei then put the cigarette into his mouth and pushed it into the waiting match-box. This was Chinese ingenuity at work on a daily basis.
The rotten food on the boat made me sick. My poor head throbbed with a fever. Could it have been the dog meat? I had seen shiny carcasses of the poor mongrels next to the kitchen. But I hadn't put " two and two " together fast enough. " They must be for somebody else " I thought.
Wuhan was totally fucked. The town was devoid of any charm, except for the old European concession with its old majestic brownstones and white marbled buildings.
The rest of the town....
I found this flea-bag hotel, but found no respite really from the earth-splitting noises. All night people came and went. I was put in a dingy hallway with no privacy. I started screaming at the bewildered receptionist and was quickly put into a private room the very next morning.
WUHAN BLUES, WUHAN BLUES.
....stuck inside this rat-infested room and with a bad fever. Running out of Remenbi with no black-market in this smelly dump. The people were not that friendly. NOISE was just everywhere.
WUHAN BLUES, WUHAN BLUES.
I thought about the cybernetics of society....
Stability was change within certain programmed limits. Stability was a relationship between a system and its nearby environment. It could be good. It could be bad. Democracy could be stable. So could Totalitarianism. But nothing was ever stable forever. The environment was always changing.
Modern China had been a story of wild cultural oscillations. Anarchy hitting a proud culture. Today the energy and information units inside China were severely degraded.
China had played these primitive war games with herself and a dense psychological vacuum existed now. The average Chinese was living in limbo. Both ancient and recent history in China were controversial and thus completely taboo.
Only guanxi mattered. Who you knew and why you knew this person. That was pretty much it with few exceptions. Chinese society was like a loose heap of sand.
Lack of conflict was impossible in Mao's cultural software. There would always be this perpetual revolution with political cycles of mass unrest and revolutionary consolidation.
Did Mao confuse Marxism with Taoism, perhaps? Instead of a harmony of opposites Mao saw simply this perpetual conflict between opposites.
This bizzare vision led to bloody chaos in China. Such was the power of this grim imagination errupting from this Great Helmsman
Survival was a supreme systems' property. Complexity allowed local failures. The concept of redundancy allowed for this. Variety was the necessary insurance policy.
Ninety percent of all living species that ever existed were no longer around. China's channel capacity for foreign inputs had not been big enough initially and thus an entropic mess was unavoidable.
Japan played the info-regulation game in a much more refined manner. Japan had been lucky, China less so.
Both the Chinese and Japanese were masters of strategic illusion: facades of strength hid deep weaknesses. Bluffs and deceptions were important in these Asian mind games. The west had thus been fooled at high cost in both Korea and Vietnam.
Thermodynamics was running wild in east Asia.
So be it....
Nanjing. The boat stopped and I got off at night. Everything seemed dead. But in the morning there was the usual bustle of pushy Chinese trying to board the buses by storm. Never very efficient, but symbolic of China's current plight.
The masoluem to Sun Yat Sen was a curious place. The old nationalist star could be seen on the masoluem's lofty ceiling. A faded reminder that other forces had once ruled China.
The Taiping museum was intriguing to me. During the time of the American Civil war the Taiping rebellion had cost the lives of millions of Chinese. The Taipings were Christian radicals who believed in clean living and communal reforms. The Taiping leader was convinced that Jesus had been his elder brother. The revolt was ruthlessly put down by the Manchus with the help of foreigners busy cutting up the empire to the highest bidder.
The civil war in China matched the American one for its sheer bloodiness. I wondered about the curious symmetry. The Cultural revolution in the 1960's in China also echoed a cultural revolution in America, but instead of doped up hippies you had Red Guards.
I finally trudged to the Nanjing massacre museum that commemorated the Japanese slaughter of 1937. It was a truly gruesome business. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians were killed by the Japanese to satisfy a racist blood-lust which struck me as mysterious and irrational. The museum was built on top of a mass grave. It was pretty creepy.
The buildings in Nanjing were mostly ugly concrete blocks which I had learned to ignore by now completely.
Dr Ju who was my companion in my first class bunk spoke fluent English and told me that during the cultural revolution he had basically stayed home and kept his head down. As a " vile academic " he was certainly a potential target. He also had a niece in Hong Kong during this period and this foreign association if discovered could have then been a serious liability. These Chinese witch-hunts were not much fun, really
I saw Reagan inaugurated for the second time on the ship's TV, but I didn't really care. America seemed remote to me.
Shanghai! It's like New York! Pretty classy, yup. I immediately fought for my hotel room. The receptionists always said MAYO. No room. I then stood fast and started taking secretive notes. They would then finally give in. This theater was really old now. To save face the first receptionist would always disappear and the new one would then give me the keys.
Klaus was also back. He gave the receptionist the finger and joined me in the empty restaurant. I was reading a book about Jung and the collective unconscious. Klaus was amused. " These crazy Chinese, you know they like to eat pigs ears. " I then asked. " What did they taste like? " Klaus smirked, " they didn't. " He paused. " You know, with food in China it's always hit or miss, usually miss....."
I started laughing.
Shanghai's energy felt sophisticated. The Chinese here had class and they were also ambitious. Many struck up deep conversations with me and Klaus. One man wanted to be a Christian. Another couple wanted to visit America badly.
I ran into serious trouble at the post office. I was trying to send some stuff to Tokyo and did not anticipate the use of metal detectors. The post office people found my metal picture of Lin Biao. They gasped in absolute horror. I had found the picture in the ruins of a temple in Lhasa. Lin had been Mao's right-hand man during the Cultural revolution and had died mysteriously in a plane crash. Now he was completely persona non grata.
The post office people demanded that I surrender the photo. I played the dumb tourist, but refused to give up the picture. They demanded to know my hotel room number. I saw that the jig was up. I reluctantly gave up the ghost and they smiled. The dope they found in the box was competely ignored, however.
In Russia, Gorbachev was coming to power. I instinctively knew that big things were coming. An American student told me that young Chinese were not happy with Deng Xiaoping despite the fast pace of the reforms. This surprised me. I thought they would be happy after the recent changes. But more rumblings were a foot.
I basked in the cold sun outside the hotel. Kids were playing bad miton and were dressed relatively well. Shanghai chic was blooming everywhere. People wanted to look good. Individualism was now in the air.
I looked beyond the horizon to a different China. One that would challenge the world after being hobbled for over a century. It was coming. I could feel it. Part two of China's revival was starting.
Young Chinese communists had told me on the boat to Shanghai that Alvin Toffler was a best-seller. This was significant to me.
For the Chinese of the eighties, Toffler was the new Lenin. Toffler's vision of an information society shook the Chinese up. Here was a way to leap-frog the west. Lenin had described the imperialist curse, Toffler was now describing the digital boon over the horizon. The Chinese found it quite tempting.
I took a quick train to Suzhou. There is a curious saying in Chinese. There is heavan above and Suzhou below. I wondered what the person who had cooked up this phrase had really been thinking.
Suzhou looked pretty miserable.
It was China's famous garden city of true poets, but the streets were unbearably drab. If you looked into the small alleys you could find some sweet charm, though.
I found temples with these exotic names: Cold Mountain, Coiled Gate and West Garden. There were the Twin Pagodas and also the Couples Garden. Suzhou oozed this old faded romance, but history had been too unkind recently.
I boarded the Grand Canal boat and quickly regretted it.
The Grand canal was severely polluted and the boat's floors were filled with ugly trash and spit. The loud music drove me crazy. In Hangzhou for the first time ever my hotel receptionist put me up with Chinese guests. But their snoring soon made this novelty wear off rather quickly.
Hanzhou was in better shape than Suzhou. The famed West Lake was picturesque. I took a row-boat to the breezy islands in the middle of the lake and could breathe the glorious poetry of past generations. It was perfect.
The rock statues in the old Lingyin temple had been saved by the direct intervention of Premier Zhou Enlai from those rampaging Red Guards who had destroyed much of China's artistic legacy.
China was waking up from this long dark nightmare. Under the Gang of four only eight revolutionary operas were allowed performance throughout all of China. All foreign music was banned. All foreign books had been prohibited. Even Chinese classics were severely censored. Only the collected works of Chairman Mao were deemed suitable reading for the main mass of Chinese by the all knowing Communist authorities of course.
Even China's most famous modern writer Lu Xun. whose house I had visited in Shanghai was completely banned. Despite his anti-imperial leanings.
Now china was slowly returning to the civilized world.
I pondered Chinese culture.
Taoism seemed to espouse optimal kinds of individual development. While Confucianism seemed to espouse optimal kinds of collective organization.
This Chinese software was pretty old and it had even influenced Mao, but in a very distorted way.
The bigger problem to me from a systems' point of view was this. These East-West encounters of the last few centuries had created very wild oscillations in China. These new foreign inputs had
pulled off the cork from the Confucian regulatory bottle while failing to replace this loss with something equally as solid.
Asia had become rudderless.
Finally human passions released from these new major disturbances then found wild expression
through these new forms of Asian violence: Red Guards, Kamikazes, and
the Khmer Rouge.
It was this teratological kind of morphogenesis that seemed to be the key to all this strange change. This distorted process created a sick and deformed politics.
This horror was certainly not confined to Asia. In the west: Stalinism and Nazism displayed the same teratological
manifestations that arose from having poorly digested inputs do their new thing both within and without with little time for any balanced integration. It was a crisis of learning curves not mastered nor aligned properly both culturally and technologically.
Hiroshima was where eastern and western teratological developments gruesomely converged finally. It was the birth of a new psychic field.
This was terribly fascinating to me.
Hunan province. Mao's birthplace. I was getting closer to the Communist epicenter. The Ground Zero of Maoism period.
Changsha was the capital of Hunan province. It was a dumpy place in my opinion with little charm, but I met two young New Yorkers who were bankers visiting the sights. We saw the mummified corpse of a Han dynasty woman. Her preserved body had been wrapped in more than twenty layers of silk and linen. The mummy's guts were also out on display. It was a gross scene, but a fascinating one.
Mao pilgrimage spots were everywhere. Mao's school where he was a high school student was high on my list, of course. It was next door to a huge auditorium covered by a fading mural of a young Mao radiating sun beams and spreading good tidings to all parts of the world many covered in deep red.
It was time to go to the holy of holies. Shaoshan. Mao's birthplace.
I was in for a bizarre treat....
I arrived at the Shaoshan guest-house and was ushered into a very surreal world. It felt secluded and peaceful. A small portrait of Mao hung behind the wall near the receptionist's lonely desk. No one spoke a word of English. But I was comfortable. The staff was exceptionally friendly. After a huge dinner I was shown to my room. Three beds, one canopied, all stood in one neat row. A large desk with waiting ink bottles and brushes stood next to these various beds. Rich and cozy was the best way to describe these new lodgings.
The small village of Shaoshan was where the heart of Maoism was left to be seemingly forgotten. One could still see Mao statues and red banners everywhere. I also felt the heady feeling I had consumed in 1980 when I first visited China. The dizzy feeling of a virgin idealism. Yet I also felt this queer feeling of exclusive privilege radiating from Shaoshan. The guest-house where I was lodging could easily have been some paradise resort for secret party meetings. That's how the teeming masses were segregated from their all knowing leaders.
Only now did I realize how little of the countryside I had really seen in these last few months of constant travel. Yet it was the messianic vision of a country utopia that had firmly molded Mao's psychology.
The Mao exhibition hall seemed to lack organization. Mao's life was divided into nine big rooms. Pictures of the old and young Mao were mixed up everywhere.
Mao radiated heat and energy as these mere mortals groveled underneath him. Mao was basically God. His old glasses, his ratty shirt, his trusty match-box, even his worn out sandals were on display under the protective glass.
I peered into a dingy storeroom and was surprised to see Mao busts of all ages jumbled together in silly confusion. Many exhibit rooms were locked tight. So where was Lin Biao? The Gang of Four? Deng Xiaoping's photo was available now. It all seemed like a creepy psycho-ecology. I felt this necessary remote feeling of personal detachment. The exercise of power seemed to demand this crucial detachment. The toiling masses were
separated from their mysterious leaders even as the political battles were fought in their name.
A few sinister postcards of Mao's manger were for sale. Also a few Mao t-shirts and even these curious little buttons with Mao's picture painted on them. Plastic notebooks with Mao's portrait could be had for just 93 Fen. This was all yours for the asking.
History seemed to be just a fiction. This realization pained me seriously. If the past didn't really exist. Did the present? And what about the unknown future?
It was time to leave the People's Republic of China. I was ready.
I looked at my dirty blue Chinese coat that I had worn throughout my long Chinese odyssey. It had food stains and tiny rips, but it was still in decent condition.
I was now in Guangzhou where I bumped into old Klaus yet again. This was China's biggest city in the south. Indeed the south was symbolized by the richness of bamboo while the north seemed to be arid both geographically and psychologically. Capitalism was alive and roaring in Gunagzhou....
The whole trip had cost me a mere seven hundred dollars. Not bad for three months of insane travel and that nifty price included everything. Trains, planes, boats, taxis, buses, food, hotel, and souviners.
Now I was celebrating my Chinese departure with Klaus eating snake soup and hot steamy rice.
China had been quite a trip. Klaus and I soon started packing up....
The food markets were pretty astonishing in Guangzhou. Anything that could walk or crawl was for sale. The Chinese certainly had unusual dietary habits.
Pangolin, puppies, rats, snakes, lizards, monkeys, cats, chickens even ants and beetles....
Klaus and I then boarded our trusty bus to Macau and we hurridly passed the new economic zones that grandfather Deng had just created. Buildings were rapidly going up in seas of torrid mud. The Chinese phoenix was rising....
Amen, I said.
We were out of China. Macau was congested and cars had nowhere to go really. Klaus and I continued to celebrate our concluded Chinese trip with rich Portuguese food and wine.
Macau was just a historical footnote. China could take it anytime, but it was Hong Kong that China wanted right now.
I sent a long letter to Lonely Planet about my perilous trip into Tibet. I was now a pioneer and lonely Planet was the global backpacker's bible. I had bought Lonely Planet's first guide to China in China from another backpacker who was leaving. I read it cover to cover and roared with laughter. It was too funny. I could relate to the author's triumph's and woes.
I was still in an altered state of consciousness....
Hong Kong 1985:
Mr. Lee was the manager of the Swindon bookstore inside Hong Kong's Ocean Terminal complex. He told me to read-up on Sun Tzu and to always be a man of superior balance. Truth was the only goal in life and you could only get strength from it. If you deviated from the holy truth you lost your focus and also the battle against all evils.
Nature was your constant partner and you chose the time and battle by knowing yourself first. You then became simply invincible. Bold actions demonstrated your newly found power and your thoughts always reflected upon your actions. So went this keen superior balance.
I rented a room in this seedy hotel and just simply read books for two weeks while listening to Annie Lennox singing the soundtrack to the movie: 1984.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood was played quite a bit on my walkman too. Indeed, Welcome to the Pleasure Dome had become the unoffical soundtrack to my long Chinese marathon.
The Chinese new year had arrived too....
Crazed crowds clashed on the streets and watched the exploding fireworks. Robert from Chengdu was now here in Hong Kong too. His wife was still stuck in China. The fireworks were loud and apocalyptic. I shouted to Klaus.
Is this how it all ends?
We were so stoned.
All the jaded China hands were moving on to Palawan to chill out. So it was monkey see, monkey do.
A cheesy portrait of Marcos and his wife greeted me at Manila airport. Also a tacky Filipino band, but I was too spaced out to admire this fake front. Marcos was on the way out....
Manila was noisy, dirty, and not particularly safe. The thick hustle of the monster city quickly overwhelmed me. I met an American from Lhasa in my funky hotel. We cruised the mean streets while we ran away from the sleazy whores. We were totally drunk on life and riding the clouds....
Filipinos called all damned westerners like us--Mike or Joe. It was chaos. The steamy heat made me delirious. It was time to fly off to Palawan. To chill-out and further decompress.
I heard angel blasts in the toilets. Glorious voices brazenly singing of death in the universe. I was running completely on empty.
I loved it.
Quiet beaches. An endless supply of high quality dope and Halo halos galore. This curious mixture of sweetened beans and fruit topped with crushed ice in a tall frothy glass became quite addictive.
I discovered the mysterious Bataks while trekking through the Palawan jungles. These nomadic natives were truly primal in their lifestyle. Young females pranced about topless and the tribe was led by the big chief who was in tune with the protective spirits of the land and water.
This eye-popping shamanic excursion was a first for me. As usual Klaus appeared out of nowhere and we journeyed further onto the north of the island. It was spooky. Thick jungle, silky waterfalls and the dark eyes of the all-seeing natives made for quite a glorious adventure.
I sadly said goodbye to old Klaus. But it was now off to Manila and Tokyo. My credit card expired sudenly and I arrived in Japan practically penniless....
started dodging silly bullets in Japan almost the minute the plane hit Narita airport.
I had no roundtrip airplane ticket. No cash. Not even a valid passport. Zip nada. The police nabbed me immediately. I looked foul in my blue rumpled Chinese jacket.
Yet a miracle occurred. The police gruffly told me: buy a ticket to LA! The credit card then had a strange rebirth. Now I had a ticket home! The cops reluctantly told me to go my own way. So I took the airport subway to Tokyo by bumming money off a British guy who I approached on the busy platform. Then I found my old rooming house in Tokyo and bummed more money off an American boozer who I knew from my last stay before trekking off to China.
This guy hated Japan. But the money teaching English was good so he stayed on. Booze was his discreet companion.
The Japanese owner of the boarding house was a paranoid windbag. He was retired and his English was pretty good. Yup. He had been born in America and got caught in Japan during the war, but he had made good here.
I called home and my Dad wired some cash. But I didn't even wait for it to arrive. I took off to Nagoya to see this strange fertility festival I had read about in my guide book.
What can I say?
Nagoya was totally forgettable. But Tagata Jinga was not. This odd little town had a shrine devoted to phalluses. All kinds, too. They were made out of wood and stone. The cagey priests paraded the biggest of these around the small town and everybody got so roaring drunk. There was singing and dancing. It was all good fun.
Nearby in Ogata Jinja there was another shrine devoted to female genitals....
This all had to do with queer Shinto ideas about fertility and virility. But who was complaining?
I had my fill of cold beer and zesty sushi and even caught the mochi cake thrown out from the shrine's balcony. I was told I had earned some good luck by catching the hard rice cake.
The dark night descended and I was back on the speed train to Tokyo. I dreaded this moment, but didn't know why, really.
When I got back to Tokyo. All hell broke loose at the boarding house. During my absence my airplane ticket had been confiscated by the paranoid boarding house owner.
The American boozer started cursing me out too. I demanded my ticket back and after paying the day's rent I was told simply to leave. But now I had the wired money. So there!
I soon found another boarding house, but decided to leave Japan anyway. Bad luck followed me everywhere in Tokyo. I lost my wallet. The stupid airport authorities wouldn't release my Chinese luggage. I finally said to hell with this BS.
I went to Setagaya-ku and retreived my other stored belongings. She was sad to see me go. My newly found female friend who disliked Japan.
But California was calling me....
Shoganai, you know.
It just couldn't be helped!
Still, I had one last thing to do....
It was a fitful rainy day in Tsukuba. The 1985 expo was being held here in this newly built science city. The Fuyo robot show was a bit tacky with its crudely made metal and plastic creatures. But at the Japan IBM exhibit a movie on a revolving triple screen showed me how the creative mind process combined with new technological inventions, and impending kinds of social reorganization could all be integrated into one seamless process.
The American exhibit however blew my mind. HAL was coming....
A little boy learned how to play simple games with the aid of a thinking, talking computer.
Then the very same little boy as a doctor now solved diagnostic problems with the same computer as it threw out these really cool colored holograms to aid in the human/computer dialogue regarding an impending surgery case.
Then I saw the same little boy lying on his death-bed with just aching memories about him and his trusty computer companion.
Finally, the great grand-daughter of the same little boy could be seen being taught by the very same computer a newer version of tic tac toe. All this while the computer told stories lovingly to the little girl about her late and great grand-dad.
I looked at the rain and pondered my impending exile to America.
LAX was a horrendous nightmare. The loud airplane noises and tacky billboards hustling Japanese high tech stuff. Left me disoriented.
The air was blowing hot as my brother drove me home to a fate totally unknown.
I saw a huge American flag rustling foolishly in the wind and I cringed.
The freeways just screamed....
DC was sick and steaming. The futurist conference was like a massive kick in the head. The Canadian banker walked up to the podium and fearlessly told the audience....
FORGET ABOUT THE US DOLLAR.
Then the speech of speeches.
The Reagan administration has ushered in the first fishy stirrings of American decline. I as a global banker am guilty of a mass deception. You see, these loans I signed off on weren't worth the paper they were written on.
The money center of the world is fast moving to Tokyo and in forty years it will be in Beijing. It's nothing to feel sorry about. It's nothing to cry about....
I think the world needs a few more super powers.
Economic production should move to the rest of the planet because that's where the main needs are now. That's were the bulk of the brains and bodies are.
End of story....
Look at the planet from ET's point of view. There is no center. America is not the center of the world if you look at things from outer space. So get used to this.
We are entering the information economy where brains count for more too. You see, we have this strange bizarre commodity called information.
If I sell you this podium I'm standing on. It's yours. Transaction's over, but if I give you information. We both can use it simultaneously. Sure, information can become degraded, it can become obsolete, but it can still be used by many, many people at the same time.
So enjoy the ride.
Clap, clap clap.
I was stunned and took a walk to the capitol building. It looked so offical and permanent. But I was thinking of imperial Rome.
My nerves were tingling....
I called my broker and threw everything I had into an obscure Japanese mutual fund. These were the curious beginnings of my glorious trading career.
It would last exactly four years.
But there was more, much more. I had abandoned the pax Americana completely. It was time to take the inner plunge....