Trump’s whispers are heard in the atmosphere, hovering over the populace like clouds that threaten destructive floods to come. Someone reports seeing a blue bird, which has by now become the omen that foretells an inauspicious day. Another blue bird is reported, then another. The people have learned to let the flying beasts come, lest they risk attracting their attention and having the roofs of their houses collapse from the weight of the things. After a time, it becomes clear that Trump’s aviary, gold-plated and obtuse, no longer holds life, and instead hangs empty, extravagant, and dumb.
The blue birds perch on fire hydrants, stoplights, and cars. Their feathers are of such a brilliant blue as to appear celestial—somehow, they glow. The people can’t help but look at them, slack-jawed and mesmerized, in wonder of how creatures so strange could be seen every day and still look so new. But the people are careful around the blue birds, for the birds are eager to return to their aviary and feed their holder Trump with the bread crumbs gathered from the day. Added to the normal cacophony of the day are the blue birds’ cries: “McConnell! McConnell!”
Put yourself in the shoes of the rich and the poor; diseased and healthy; smart and dumb, knowledgeable and ignorant; gay and straight–do anything contrary to your lived-in reality and you’ll have willingly subjected yourself, admirably in that case, to an exercise in empathy. Notice the missing conjunction: or. Context and perspective are only possible when accompanied by a parallel yardstick, one that may even run perpendicular at certain intersections.
Citizen and immigrant are not two sides of the same coin, though our political environment on both sides tries to make us believe it. On the right, the separating line is a legal one, simply that of legal and illegal. On the left, the legal distinction isn’t a relevant one, because morality takes precedent; these are human beings, and by now I’m sure you’ve heard the latest slogan to come out of leftwing advocacy groups: No human being is illegal. I don’t agree with that sentiment, which is a dangerous thing to admit nowadays, because, while our laws aren’t perfect and can be quite cruel under certain circumstances, like those regarding immigration, the fact remains that our entire society depends upon adherence to these laws–this we call the rule of law–and to every other law that keeps this experiment in coexistence from explosive combustion. We have a process in place to amend, repeal or create new laws reflective of popular opinion, but that process is necessarily cumbersome–certainly burdensome for those trapped in the legislation–because it demands the deliberation of consequences, coupled with the consideration of those who stand to benefit or lose. The process is cruel in the same way that it’s cruel to put people in line when they are in desperate need of a heart transplant. But it’s the best we’ve got. Continue reading Born-again Immigrant→
Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 both depict a future devoid of thought, but not awareness. The protagonists, Guy Montag and Winston, are interchangeable in their demeanor, so I don’t need to specify which belongs to which novel. Both recognize that something isn’t quite right in the worlds they live in, with Winston referring to an ancestral memory that is his only hint into the way things once were. Guy Montag questions whether books were always burned, and thanks to his boss, Captain Beatty, he learns that in fact, no, books were not always burned. Books asked questions that could never be answered; they encouraged dissent by always challenging present ideas, ideas held sacred, and so books were deemed dangerous—not only dangerous, but unnecessary. 1984’s world also roots out dissenters, purging anti-Party terrorists for the continuation and assurance of party purity. Rather than burn the past, though, like in Fahrenheit 451, 1984 preserves the existence of the past, but with heavy alterations, edits, and revisions—this is no past at all, Winston observes. Continue reading Inextinguishable: An Optimist Reads 1984 and Fahrenheit 451→
Porn is blocked in China and fireworks are illegal. Both, you might argue, pollute in their own way, but I’m a big fan of living in moderation, so I wouldn’t agree. I’m also a depraved individual who likes bright lights, so I wouldn’t be easily convinced, either way. While I don’t think I’ll breathe my last breath in Nanjing, I’m convinced the poor air quality here has contributed to it. On days when the Air Quality Index shines orange or red, indicating the intensity of pollutants in the air, I get the sensation of inhaling vaporized metal, both in the rusty, smoky smell akin to that of soldered chips flying from the grinder that presses against smoothing metal, and in the phlegm that accumulates in my throat throughout the day. Chinese men and women spit—a lot. It was quite off-putting when I first witnessed the phenomenon, and incredibly disconcerting when I would hear the cooks in the restaurant do it, too. But it’s a habit that emanates from necessity, because if they didn’t do it—if I didn’t do it—we’d constantly push back the mucous our bodies desperately wanted out. Like water vapor, the haze is visible, though I didn’t know it was haze when I first saw it. I remember walking across a busy intersection and seeing what I first thought was fog. Odd, I thought, since it’s early afternoon, on a dry and sunny day; I didn’t make anything of it until much later when, in retrospect, I thought, “Oh, that was haze. Interesting.”
Normally, my posts take an abstract angle at right about this point, and this one will be no different. I, however, felt like rekindling the poetic sparks that initially lit my desire to write—I’m talking my first desire to write, back in middle school. Bad writing tells you what is going to come next. It warns you and bores you with every unnecessary word inside the author’s head. Good writing is direct and demonstrative. This, right here, is an example of bad writing, but I’m doing it for stylistic reasons. I hope you’ll excuse my doing so. It’s enough to provide an explanation as to why what’s coming next, is coming next. Continue reading Witness→
The raucous year that was 2016 is almost over. I graduated college and now find myself in China. Unable to escape domestic news, I helplessly watched the upsetting political upset of Trump, the unrest in American society—I’m struck by what appears a general loss of direction. We’re moving forward, but it’s as if all of us are being bulldozed together with no one driving the damn thing. That should be a feeling confined to individuals, fresh college graduates or young people in general who are making it up as they go along; but now, an entire society can’t work together to decide the best path forward, and so the bulldozer continues its steady trampling. The only cries heard debate the best way to be trampled comfortably!
But I digress.
2016 is almost over, and for the first time, I will conduct a Selfies…with Books! retrospective look, not just for this year, but to the beginning of my campaign. My first post is dated February 8, 2015 and it recommends The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano. I have made 35 other posts, showing 40 books, since then bearing the #selfieswithbooks insignia, with Gary Jennings’ Aztec being the last of this year, the year of Our Lord two thousand and sixteen, to borrow the writing style of one of the characters in the book. I have gone through three phones in the past two years, the great HTC One, the marvelous Sony Xperia Z3, and the too-oftentimes awful LG G4, the phone I’m currently tolerating.
There are condoms everywhere. Unlike in the US, where you have to go through the 7/11 clerk to ask for a pack, or wave down a supermarket associate so that she (it’s usually a woman) can unlock the glass door and know more about you than you wanted to reveal, since she has to lock the glass again after you’ve made your selection, China has condoms next to the bathing products, and the snacks, and the wine, and the miscellaneous items, and on this corner, here, because you’ve walked too far without seeing a condom pack. Family planning, after all, is part of Chinese culture. Though the one-child policy has been relaxed to allow for two children, the Communist Party still caps the number of children a family can have to avoid its 1 billion+ population from becoming a John and Kate + 8 scenario. Chinese people have very strong knees, a colleague explained to me, because of the way toilets are, or rather, aren’t. Squat toilets reign supreme here, which to me feels like an urban camping experience, but you’ll often see people squatting in the street while on their phones, to rest—in the absence of benches, squatting provides a suitable substitute. Continue reading Minority Report→
We’ve reached the post-truth era. 2016 will be the year the phenomenon of soothing truth was finally recognized, truth that massages our own biases and kneads away troublesome knots of inconvenient fact. Gradients of truth, varying in their veracity, overload our supposedly shortening attention spans and we are collectively led to the newspaper’s logical conclusion: memes housing bite-sized factoids. Their intake quick and easy, memes are the fast food equivalent of news consumption. 2016 marks another epitaph for the intelligentsia. This one reads:
Here lies plethoric hubris. It declared everything fine even as the last nail pierced its ankles.
Things made in China do not say, “Made Around the Corner.” Dogs run around, unleashed, beside their owners, and they maintain a reasonable proximity to passerby traffic. Despite their small size—poodles are popular here—they do not bark or try to intimidate like the poodles and Chihuahuas back in the US. The price of winter coats goes down during the fall, not up like in the US; I chalk that up as a victory for the socialist part of China’s socialist market economy. Gratuity is factored into the final price and every restaurant, including McDonald’s and KFC, will clean up after you. The metro system is fast, clean, and routinely cramped, sometimes to the point of bursting, on which occasion you have no choice but to wait for the next train and hope for better luck. Apartments reign supreme in Nanjing, so I have no idea what houses look like in China. Life hasn’t been very different from living in the US, save for the obvious language transposition. Oh, and I’m much closer to North Korea now. Continue reading Wary Observer→