chapter one: meshugah

july 21, 2007

beijing, china

there's a funny and perfect word in yiddish, "meshugah". simply translated, it means, "crazy". for example: you're a young, privileged new yawk woman, possibly of the jewish-american persuasion, the boss' daughter to be exact; you've convinced your rich, 1st generation american daddy to make your husband, chosen against daddy's firm will, vice president of the company; then after having 2 perfect and wonderful kids and filled up a huge long island house with countless, keep-up-with-the joneses possessions, you fall in love with the puerto rican cabin boy, after which you abandon said husband and kids, now 6 and 9, and run off permanently, to hawaii, never to bee seen again stateside. "meshugah!" or: you're benjamin, dustin hoffman's character in "the graduate", and after graduating college on your parents' multiple credit cards, you come home after your senior year, get your virgin-ass seduced by the next door neighbor, mrs. robinson, hence are thereby driven to avenge yourself by chasing after her beautiful auburn-haired daughter, katherine ross, only to be cruelly rejected; yet ever steady, you break into her wedding ceremony to "the other guy", just as the vows are abortively exchanged. "meshugah"! or: you're another well-brought up, new yawk jewish suburban boy, groomed to become "our son, the doctuh", when after your sophomore year at college, you drop physics and calculus 3 times each, take your ‘64 pontiac tempest cross country in 1970, get locked up in wild bill hickok's jail in deadwood, south dakota, become a dancer, poet, and clown, and end up in beijing, china, a year before the 2008 summer olympics, not speaking a word of chinese. "meshugah!" thrown in with a little "chutzpah!"

but here i am, amigos, in beijing, china. within 4 days, i've already climbed the great wall, seen the forbidden city, gotten arrested in tiananmen square, and found my way to this keyboard. because, you see, there's this street in beijing, in the dongcheng district, northeast of the city center's forbidden city, called "meshuguan diadje". i don't know how to translate it exactly, but i think it means "meshugah street". hey, they always said the jews were a lot like the chinese. or was that, the chinese were a lot like the jews? no matter. but yes, beijing is meshugah! not that they drive on the wrong side of the road like the brits. or take ayahuasca in the amazonian rain forests like the peruvians or ecuadorians. or eat dog like the batak tribes in sumatra, indonesia. no, in fact, there are more bicycles on the roads than cars in dongcheng. and drugs are hard to find in beijing. and dogs, well, i’m afraid they do eat dog in china! but… well… they speak… chinese. and they work 15 hour shifts. and almost never smile. and want to make and sell everything in the world. and boy, are they proud of their upcoming world-class 2008 olympics!

see, it's the end of the american empire. just like the fat cat, decadent romans fell centuries ago, all empires must come to an end. are overtaken by hungrier, wilder hordes and civilizations. it's america's time. to fall. led by the policies and blunders of george dubya. and the hatred of the muslim hordes. besides, we americans don't want to work hard anymore. we want to sit back, eat fat, greasy food, and watch super bowls, american idols, lifestyles of the rich & famous, and all the other hypnotizing and distracting gladiator sports we can find. we want to watch ourselves become obese and self satisfied, and let the immigrants to do the grunt work. but then again, we don't want to let too many of those strange-speaking, dark-skinned motherfuckers in, have a free ride, get amnesty, become the same people we, our grandparents, and our children’s' children are, were, have been, will be .....

it's the chinese century, babies. and beijing is its center. along with shanghai and guangdong and jiangsu and hewing and fujian and shanxi and sichuan and shandong and hunan and jiangxi and suzhou and hong kong and macau. the chinese are coming. the chinese are coming. not the russians. not the russians. not the japanese. not the iranians. or koreans. or the palestinians or al qaedans. oh sure, the al qaedas are coming. if they can get in, that is. if we can't stop them. if our fear and our force and our missiles and our wire tapping, and our orange and red alerts and our presidents and our congresses can't stop them. but rest assured, comrades, some will get in. some will overtake us. it's inevitable. it's historical. it's terrible. terrible, that is, if you're american.

meanwhile, da wife is off hiking the great wall. again. the steep climb at badaling just wet her appetite. now it’s 8 kilometers (6 miles) between simatai and jinshanling. 7:30 am to 8 pm. me? i'm typing. her? she's hiking. she of youth, me of the bad hip in need of replacement. and then - of course - there's shopping to be done. at wangfujing. at the silk market. and best of all, at xidan, where they ask 760 yuan (100 dollars) for a cute little chinese silk dress, and after you walk away and they chase you, grab you, beg you, and harass you, you can have it for 40 yuan (less than 6 bucks), thank you very much. yes, much, much shopping to be done.

the place is meshugah, dudes. this california-new yawk boy has done a lot of hard travelin', but this place is a jungle. not as in humid, insidious, or sneaky communist-turned-capitalist vietnam. but just downright aggressive. brings out the new yawker in me. "why don't you say please?", one of my chippy australian fellow travelers asks, as i'm doing backpacker business from the back of the van bringing us to the beijing opera. "cause i don't feel the need to use the words 'please' and 'thank you'", i want to say. "because no one understands me here unless i bark at them", i want to say. because i don't like my hotel clerks and taxi drivers and restaurant servers to keep giving me the "get lost" gesture with their hands and arms.

jeez, i sound like died-in-the-wool american racist, don't i? like i'm the only tourist-traveler having a little chinese culture shock in smog-laden, beautiful beijing.

but hey, give me time. i'm just beginning, my friends. give me time to surrender. the job of the traveler. to see what's here. give me time to let go of gringo consciousness and get inside chinese consciousness.

besides the chinese food is good and it's time to get on the bus to datong. to see some mongol buddhist caves.

peace and serenity, more smog and pollution await.........


the unexalted one,

guangtrulesxi (pronounced guong-trool-she)