It's cold as shit.
The cold autumn winds have just begun in Wuhan. They come mixed with rain that falls day after day. It's more difficult than what I am used to. At home I drive. Here I walk. The wind blows in my face and each step seems to test my spirit. I'm walking into a world I don't know. Head down digging in.
A different country seems a different type of weather. It has only taken a couple of these cool days to convince me that the sun has forgotten about us, even though, just last weekend I walked the streets with no coat.
One of the men I have recently met tells me that he fears the warm will not return until after the New Year. I look at him perplexed wondering about winter. How cold will it be? I flashback to my mother who, after my father died, wondered how cold he was in the ground? When I headed off to New York for school, the winter seemed to scare me most. My mother concerned and southern, brought me long johns and a new coat. I brought long johns to Wuhan, but need a new coat. I'll go out one day and buy one.
In the late evening I take beer at a local bar whose walls are lined with pictures of people who look just like the Africans who frequent the place. It seems un Chinese to not have pictures that look like the customers on the wall. It' a question of culture and a small price if you asking how much does I cost. Why not make the folks you making money off of feel comfortable? What's the big deal? Couple of dollars, stock photos, bring in a photographer one night with one of those new digital cameras and put black people on the walls.
I think back to the shit Radio Raheem got killed for. China will confuse almost anything. Chinese etiquette and hospitality will kill you with its sophisticated unsophisticated. Some of the Africans wander here imagining the Chinese hate them, though lots of folks are fool of smiles. White supremacy is a riddle, often justified as being a human expression. All people think they are superior? The Chinese are no different? But the Chinese don't want you to be Chinese. They already that. They not going put you in a school to learn them and then say you ain't them. They not gonna give you a religion that says the color you is represents the personification of the evil and the worst in the world. Not because they better human beings, but just because, that ain't exactly how Chinese culture works.
A woman tells me a story of a video on Wechat (Chinese ap like Facebook, Twitter, and Paypal all in one) that features a foreigner speaking flawless Chinese. It goes viral. Chinese people imagine foreigners can't really do anything Chinese well. Not simply because they haven't seen many foreigners cuz China doesn't have a lot of foreigners running around, but also because the Chinese find China difficult themselves. . People in the West think China's long history is a myth. We can debate that later; but rest assured it is overwhelming. Chinese people know they don't know everything about China. So it is all the more fascinating when a foreigner gets something right.
Like how they hell they do that and they ain't even Chinese?
Back home, before a left a friend gave me a book on China and Africa. I read it. I doubt that he did. In conversations folks who don't even no ni hao are certain they know something about China. Many imagine I am too idealistic about the growing country. Some might even think I work for the government. A friend of a friend who knows someone Chinese, finds a Chinese person who lives in the States who doesn't like the Chinese government. Suddenly, I am contradicted. The real Chinese against a real what? American, Afro-American, African American, American with an Afro (though I am going bald and just have one of them philly mo beards) and my face is pressed back into the ground. I am nigger again. Only a nigger would be so idealistic about a country where censorship, women's rights, human rights, and the marginalization of minorities is part of the larger social order. Some real Chinese knows better than me what China is.
And I guess I know America better than most or maybe not, depending on the day and who you talking to. Who's watching. Who's listening.
I call one of my friends who served a few tours in Iraq to discuss the matters of China. He tells me that he doesn't care. I ask about what. Anything, he replies. After those tours and the death and the occupations, he thinks most about the money. What he has brought home. I tell him I don't like the wars; but I pay my taxes. He says, Well then we all good. Cuz its taxes that pay for the military. Dissent with taxes paid is different from dissent without them being paid. I say, good point. You got me.
Folks I know seem experts on how somebody is mistreated and perhaps the finer points of literature and the human spirit, but many still find it hard to bang in the street. In a Free Black Space degrees don't matter. Yall feel me? We at the barbershop or out in the parking lot after something has happened, just saying what we feel. What done been tweeted and broadcast. Our reflections. Our deep feelings. Something rising up. Something going down. We run out the circle laughing and slap hands, get deep. Do it. Whatever.
Confession, I have few Chinese friends outside of those I met in China. Gentrification and segregation after segregation will do that to you. I went to an HBCU. Not a PWI where middle class Chinese folks who can't make it into Tsinghua, Peking, and Wuda go. If I had gone PWI I might no more Chinese folks, but they may not be trying to be my friend.
Shit, I can only remember a few Chinese folks in my direct cipher over the years. They been good to me, help me swim across the sea, but that ain't even the point. China, just like Black folks is bigger than the people. Well, nothing is really bigger than the people; but China is the feel good history, great food, majestic landscapes, martial artists doing weird and unimaginable things, the Great Wall (like the one Trump wants to build) and the Yangzi and Yellow Rivers, like the rivers Langston said he knew (though I think he left the Chinese ones out). Truth is China could be as simple as contemplation, extravagant and nostalgic as Greece is for the African American raised in the West on Plato and Socrates. It takes a bit of the imagination to think that you are connected to some white people in ancient times who laid the foundations for much of our philosophy and scientific thinking. But I done read the books with the references. Oh, those good old days. I remember when. But then again, what's good about China is not really Chinese-its just good, like what's good in Greece is not really Greek it's just good. Li Bai and Shakespeare, hanging out with Lin Yu Tang singing some old song that gets plaid with erhu, mandolins, and whatever else.
China don't cost anymore than Europe to get to or contemplate. Difference is ain't nobody gonna make you study China and figure it out, not even the Chinese themselves.
I feel as if my sense of words slowly evaporating from me.
Back home I had already lost the drive towards explanation. The rough years 2006-2016. I spent most of that time nursing my wounds, and finding some other rhythm besides the sea I was raging in.
A bus, a train, a warm coat, fried dough in the morning, and a bowl of noodles all seem much more tangible. What I do know of words returns as storms, strange confusions. The dust in my mind stirs and I seem to be learning the difference between words and what I sense in the world. I thought they were the same thing. Trauma tells the lie that is truth and weds the two in the blur, flash of pain, the feeling of hurt.
But the hurt is elusive. You could blame the IPA's I've found in select spots all over town. The beers are a bitter that work against the traditional Chinese palate. To get that bitter right, you have to import good ole American hops.
America comes to me in many ways now. My nigger My nigger on the louder speaker imported hip-hop at the 8763 bar frequented by mostly Africans with black folks smiling on the walls like they are in some never happened Spike Lee film. Jay-Z on the loud speaker as I walk the beautiful streets of the campus. It's the consumables I find on the shelves that make my job of being a foreigner a little bit easier.
Here I can get most of the parts of America I want without being in America. I am in First World China without the West as a dominant mode of reference.
Others may argue differently, but the argument seems colonialist. The West has borrowed from every country it ever colonized and still maintained its identity. In fact, we imagine the same type of borrowing from those in other countries to be co-optation. But it is complicated. This is the global age. I text my wife every night. I video chat. I walk the strange line between countries and though I am gone, I am very much connected.
While I was drinking a man from Wales explains to me the Indian Pale Ale became more hoppy to preserve the beer for the British soldiers and foreign workers on the other side of the world. Any British man on a boat reminds me of slavery. Most things come back to the Middle Passage. The beer shipped would spoil on the long journey from Britain to India, and so they added extra hops to keep it fresh. I guess then my favorite beer is a colonialist beer.
I've discovered something new about something I've been drinking for years.
Down at my favorite bar, me and my friends have nicknamed Joe's crack shack in a nod to the owner, the beers cost about seven to ten U.S. dollars. That's forty to sixty R and B.
duo shao quian? How much it cost?
For me an American not too bad. But it's still a nice piece of money.