My hotel in Beijing is located in what seems to be a shopping district, just a few-minute stroll from the intersection of two wide avenues lined with high-end shops offering mostly Western luxury brands. From my window, I can only see a couple: Chanel and something called BlancPain, which is French for WhiteBread. Little wonder the latter hasn’t caught on in the States, nor that it has in China, where even the most generic cultural detritus of “Western individualism” is processed, packaged, commoditized and sold at low margins to a huge-and-getting-huger middle class starved for identity.
My combined travel time today was over 20 hours, of which I slept only two, but I decided to venture out into the city for dinner, anyway. A few blocks down the road, I stumbled into the Dong’anmen Night Food Market, where for a small handful of yuan one can feast on such delicacies as fried scorpion, silkworm cocoons and sheep’s penis. Having sampled a variety of insects and animal parts on my last trip to China (and having lived to regret it), I kept moving until I found essentially the opposite end of the gustatory spectrum: a vegetarian restaurant.
Fuhuiciyuan is tucked away inside a deceptively large, multipurpose Buddhist compound, which itself is hidden down the sort of dark alley where the red lights above its door might be mistaken for something more salacious. Virtually no English is spoken, and while the menu — which gives off the impression of a catalog — is printed in both Mandarin and English, the descriptions largely eschew ingredients in favor of dubiously specific health benefits. I ordered the hypertension relief.
To be more honest, I have no idea what I ordered. I merely pointed to a nice looking picture and then the nice girl who had waited patiently next to my table while I thumbed through the entire 30-or-so-page menu smiled and typed something into a weird, yellow device that looked exactly like how you’d imagine a PlaySkool cell phone. Not half a minute later, another nice girl brought the menu back and handed it to me again.
Had they run out of the thing in the picture I’d pointed at? There seemed to be no way to know. “Order again?” I tried. She made a hand gesture that I can only assume was intended to be helpful. After a moment, she said, “You … noodles?”
Me … noodles. Hmm.
"Yes?" I answered.
And five minutes later I had noodles — a whole mess of them, Sichuan-style in a spicy pepper sauce that made my nose run and still makes my mouth water thinking about it now. But that’s not all. I also had the first dish I’d pointed to, a colorful medley of … well, of largely unidentifiable vegetables. I spotted some lotus root in there, and surely one of those other things was a mushroom. To be sure, they were all delicious, but they were no match for the noodles.
Me noodles. Me definitely noodles.
After I paid (47 RMB, or roughly $8 for two large servings of delicious and probably healthy if not hypertension-fighting food) and got one of the nice girls to show me how to operate the exit (‘twas neither push nor pull), I headed back for the hotel, still tired from the day’s travel and now from the full belly.
Making my way past Dong’anmen, I was stopped by a homeless woman, probably a migrant farmer from the country living illegally in the city, one of millions willing to give up PRC government entitlements for a chance at Western-style free-market opportunity — which probably tells us as much about communism as it does about the human spirit.
"I’m very hungry," she said in surprisingly good English. But it was too late. Before I’d even processed the words that came out of her mouth, I’d responded purely out of habit ("Sorry") and continued pushing through the crowd. See, I come from San Francisco, where dodging the homeless is practically a sport. But in retrospect, I’m honestly not sure which is more shocking: the fact that a woman begged me to buy her a sheep’s penis, or the fact that I turned her down.
I yawned, stuffed my hands in my pockets and charged across the street before the light changed, hurrying past WhiteBread on the way back to my room.
Apparently this is a thing today.
My top tweet, my favorite tweet, and the one that nearly three years later still inexplicably gets a star or retweet every few weeks.
Killing time at a coffee shop the other day after missing my bus, I overheard a pair of fellow patrons bickering over the recent Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action.
"You’re blinded by your white liberal guilt," he said, wiping whipped cream and caramel drizzle from his freshly shaved upper lip.
"You’re blind if you actually believe it’s a level playing field," she shot back, slumping in resignation. "You conservatives are all the same."
They saw the issue — like we see seemingly everything these days — as black and white. No pun intended.
We’re obsessed with choosing sides. Pepsi or Coke? Dogs or cats? Beatles or Stones? Ginger or Maryann? Ketchup or mustard? If you’re like most Americans, you probably have your favorites.
In college, I actually had a roommate who got furious with me when I proclaimed to have no preference between creamy and chunky peanut butter. “They’re both good,” I said. “Bullshit!” he yelled, and proceeded to turn the matter into an ideological debate culminating with the old saw, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
All these years later, I’ll admit I have fallen for peanut butter — hard. I still love it. Both kinds. Why does that make some people so uncomfortable?
Nowhere is this implicit “choose a side” directive more palpable than in American politics. When I ended my journalism career after 18 years, many of my friends (and even former colleagues) said, “Well, at least now you can be open about your politics.” They assumed that I had claimed to be independent all along simply for professional credibility. So when I said I was still an independent, my liberal friends decided I must be secretly conservative and my conservative friends decided I must be secretly liberal. Because it has to be one or the other, right?
The same college roommate who accused me of prevaricating over peanut butter also relentlessly gave me a hard time about my youthful idealism. “You think peace, love and understanding is all we need to make the world go around,” he chided me regularly. And, while he had a point (I was a rather naïve young person), it’s difficult to see in retrospect how his viewpoint was any more firmly grounded. If he said that to me today, my response might be, “Yes, and you believe in efficient markets, Jesus and Horatio Alger. Who’s more naïve?”
I’m not saying you’re a fool to pick a side. If you find value in doing so, great. All I’m saying is let’s be honest about what it means.
In their stance on GMO foods, Republican lawmakers have trampled on long-held core conservative values such as states’ rights, personal responsibility and the power of free markets. Meanwhile, in their defense of the NSA scandal, the Obama administration has flagrantly flouted one of its most fundamental commitments.
These are merely top-of-mind examples from the past few weeks. Research is hardly necessary. One needs only to browse the day’s headlines to find examples of rampant hypocrisy.
At the end of day, aligning yourself with a political party in America is not unlike having a favorite color of M&M. They might seem different on the surface, but as any White House aide can tell you, when you close your eyes they all taste the same.
She’s in bed, sleeping. Dog, too. It was a long week for all of us.
I’m up, reading a book. Something about the economy. It’s surprisingly quiet here, perched atop a hill in the middle of the city, save for the occasional trolley bell and the fairly incessant woodwind hum of a nearby hotel doorman’s taxi whistle. It’s Friday night, after all.
When we moved here nine months ago, I had this idea that by now I’d know each cable car operator’s distinctive staccato, and that when they rang the bell as they hauled past our apartment window I’d say, “Oh, there goes Ken!” or “Sounds like Leo today!”
But I don’t. I don’t know those guys or anyone else here. The city can be impenetrable, especially if you have an underdeveloped social instinct. It’s crammed full of people, and you rarely see the same face twice. If you want to make friends, you have to make an impression, and that’s not easy when your natural inclination is to sit in the corner like a potted plant and just observe.
On the other hand, at least there’s plenty to watch.
I watch it mostly with her. And the dog. Not sure I need much else, really.
Certainly not after a long week.
So I’m just sitting here, reading my book. Sipping a cocktail. And, yet, somehow — probably because it’s Friday night — I feel oddly like there’s something wrong with me that I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I wouldn’t, though. For the first time in 43 restless, ridiculous years, I can honestly say I wouldn’t.
Trelvix, by Cliodne.
I just got home after an evening with friends, and I see I’ve missed a memorial of sorts. I guess the only sort you can have for someone none of us has ever met, yet we all admired and loved. I’m going to go back through the dash to read your words, but wanted to honor a request first.
Trelvix posted this portrait on one of his obscure blogs a few weeks ago, then deleted it a short time later, as he was wont to do. I had very briefly reblogged it - knowing that he wouldn’t keep it up for long. (Damned irritating habit, that, by the way. He trained me to wake up in the wee hours to check for posts, as he more often than not would delete them in the clear light of morning.) Reblogging seemed wrong, though, invasive. Jesus, have you ever met anyone more tantalizingly private and unknowable? Fuck. Anyway, I deleted the post, then messaged him that I had done so. He answered:
“I’ve only just now seen your question / post - so sorry. Thank you so much for recognizing my blink in this fog. I reckon you and I would be proper friends should circumstances allow. I’m working on the latter.”
There were messages about remission, then a troubling one about a PET scan that “lit up like a Christmas tree.” Every message of concern was met with a “pshaw, don’t you worry about me how are you doing”-type response. About a month ago, the posts stopped. I feared the worst, and apparently my fear was justified.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, there was a new message on one of his blogs. A post called “Lists”
He makes a list and says, “These are places I want you to go before you do anything stupid like get married, or worse, have kids.”
How is that supposed to make me feel?
“Probably pretty shitty right now,” he admits. “But maybe eventually like I’m the only person in the world who never lied to you.”
Like he would ever.
The link led me to a newly-created Tumblr from whom I can only assume was his daughter, mentioned in so many of his posts. I followed her, and a day or so later, she followed me back. Others followed, and she posted more. I sent messages of support and concern, and told her that this is a tight community and we look after our own and she was one of us now. I told her how beloved her dad was, and hoped that she would stick around. She said she likely wouldn’t be around long, and was just fulfilling an obligation, a quest, as it were.
More of you followed and sent her messages, notes of support, of love. She said she was promised such kindness and genuine caring if she would come here. He sent her here so we’d take care of her.
He sent her to his friends.
And then, as promised, today she pulled the same disappearing act he did so many times.
Trelvine (or whatever your name really is), I hope you’re still following along. I hope you have read the things this community - this family - has written about your father and seen the expressions of grief and love for him. He was admired. He was appreciated. He was loved. I so fervently hope you find some comfort there. And you’re always welcome here. You’re family now, too.
I saw Heaven today. — trelvix
Average rent for a 1-Bedroom in San Francisco by neighborhood (hint: $2,700).
An addendum to my San Francisco advice post: get roommates. Or, try
Oakland / Berkeley/ Dayton, Ohio, Memphis, Tennessee, Wilmington, Delaware, anywhere that isn’t San Francisco proper.
I may have edited the above text. Also, that Excelsior average has to include Daly City & Salinas in its average or something.
Whoa, Bayview & Dogpatch are higher than WA/NOPA? Still, feeling pret-ty good about rent control right about now.
I probably should have thought twice about moving out here without a proper job lined up.
This random person who doesn’t even follow me has outstanding taste in completely inexplicable four-year-old retweets.
I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and — gosh darn it — people like me.