Poverty is not without its dignity, but to live in such a rich country and to be blessed as I am, one might doubt that truth. The expression is neither dignified or idealistic but necessitated by the truth of the many poor in the world. They poor know their dignity like the black, our beauty and sophisticated even when folks call us nigger. If you are the opposite of rich or white or man or straight or the opposite of disabled, you know the difference between what you are imagined to be and what you are. Doubt too is part of the human condition and increased by running a script through your head that argues for heaven or white supremacy or better than. Some of us do not want more. We want enuff.
But to talk of poverty as I am lets you know how rich I am. I have met a few very rich people, but have not spent much time with them. Ideally, there is no more crime in being rich than being poor; but what's the saying about the eye of the needle. So be it, for sick or poor for better or worse. For the long distance journey, and all the I ain't going out like that.
So Duo Shao Qian is what people have to ask in the world if they don't have a lot of money. How much does it cost? If I'm here and I want to get there, What's the price of the ticket?
Xiansui China is so small, last time I was in China, a friend pulled out his cel phone to look the town up. After he found it, he laughed and said-oh. Xiansui. I knew the look, he thought I had mispronounced it(which I probably did) and that it did not exist. It's a small town in Jiangsui, and in 2010 just before I came home, I grabbed a bus from Xiansui to Yangzhou. I had tacked three extra days onto my trip and was going to use that time for some actual vacationing. The first thirty days I spent teaching English to teachers of English in Jiangsui. We did two week stints, and Xiansui was the second stint.
My bus ticket cost about 12 RMB. The bus trip was about three hours. In American dollars that is just a little under two dollars. I was a bit afraid navigating the bus all alone as a foreigner. I knew almost nothing of Mandarin then. ( I still know little.) We watched movies on a bus that was fully packed. It was new and hip; and I thought of the China bus friends catch from D.C. to New York in America.
But this was China on the other side of the world. My life seemed to change when somewhere close to Yangzhou the bus driver stopped the bus on the edge of a highway. At first I was a bit worried. I thought perhaps the bus had broken down, but then I looked up and noticed five or six people moving about the bus. I looked out the window and saw tall grass at least ten feet tall. Maybe it was bamboo. The people grabbed their bags, got off the bus and I saw them disappear into the grass. From high in the bus I could see the tops of the grass sway and move. I did not know what it meant, but it was beautiful and strange.
I want to tell you about how different it is, but people are the same. I want to tell you the surface is so different from the center we all share, but I think in China we may share the surface and the center may be different.
At my school they are hip enough to give us time to center ourselves on formal occasions. It is a new world option: prayer and centering. Every time that happens now, I think about Taiji and what center means to me. It is really beyond words. It is practice. It is physical, mental, and spiritual. Though everyone in China does not practice Taiji, the idea of Zhong Guo (Mandarin for China meaning the middle country) might grant folks a different idea of what a center is. It is a cultural concept as deep as the American me or I. We are on that in a different way,; and likewise China might have some different center.
I've only seen the moon once since I arrived. It is a large city and the neon is in all directions. Yesterday, I stepped across a large red ad for food pasted onto the ground. A man walking near me, broke a strange rule for etiquette, and motioned as if he was scooping food up form the ground and putting it into his mouth. I saw him smile a strange smile of blackened teeth. The soundtrack was Justin Timberlakes Strawberry Bubblegum piped to my ears from my i-pod from home. It's all surreal.
Looking is irresistible. You scan the directions open to you and the colors and movement grab your attention. Most of them by design.
If you loose some of your mind for a second, you can see how it's all connected: the rain making dots in a particular place with shadows, the unison feet of too small girls holding hands walking against gravity up a hill, the fluttering of a scarf, and the men like shadowed knights on scooters with rain gear draped over their head.
One motion, but each place with its own identity. One can see light behind the windows, the geometry of a fan-like a strange metal flower, trashcans on the street with their mouths open, and the the walls graffitied with weathered announcements. Most of the streets are the same black tar that exists everywhere, and the parks are majestic and marbled their shrubs somehow aligned in a way you might not notice, a way that will seem chaotic if you are not paying attention.
So you don't look up. At least I haven't much, but I caught the moon one day, thin sliver of it on a day that now seems like the last day of fall to descend upon the city. It was thin like my memory these days, just a sliver of light.
A friend of mine dies in D.C. He is one of the ones who took on an African name. He worked in the D.C. government. He is afro-centered underground musician and cultural enthusiast. For years he has worked behind the veil of the gentrifying infrastructure that changed D.C. from a crack town to a town where the clinking of glass and ice cubs, and the walking of dogs past dark has become all too common. We know him as a drummer and musician, but in the government he was stretched between the poles of the dark and the light. He crunched numbers and helped issued bonds that transported the city into and oasis. He was an efficient administrator in the most powerful city in the most powerful nation in the world. I know where he used to live. Part of the town that was still dark. I been to his house.
They found him in the park. Some folks said it was a conspiracy. Other folks was like it is just a suicide. That's not even a sentence. Just a suicide. I cried when I found out, just like a lot of other folks. I gotta be third circle: outside family, outside the inner circle, somewhere in the stratosphere, nowhere near center. But I remember talking to him.
Oh, how we used to talk of Africa, but never once talked of sadness, hope, despair, outside of the shit some "they" put us through. But I could go back and glimpse the bags under his eyes. Or the way he spoke of his own betrayal by his wife. I moved on. Like somethings are more important. What things I don't know. Moved on quickly to more simple things: like the dream of revolution, like the truth of names and drums, and what's funky in music.
When he died I realized I had missed something important about our culture and him. And by culture I do not mean African-American, but as much the American in African American. Though nationalist or revolutionary, or underground, there was a moving through despair too quickly that was there even before he died. I can see it now as some hidden cost.
duo shao qian