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avant-garde_chauvintist wandering through the garden of ideals

Outside a huge department store...

CHINA | Sunday, 27 January 2008 | Views [529]

...I had another conversation about the failings of Communism.

I sat in the freezing cold weather anticipating Mario and Ilan's arrival and reading Wild Swans (a book that has been banned in China because it tells the story of a grandmother, mother, and daughter during the 20th century in China). A young man was skateboarding in the vicinity.

I phoned Mario to find out where they were and continued reading.

New friend (I never got his name) says, "I'm sorry about the noise."

It wasn't bothering me, and I was quite amused to see a Chinese skateboarding (it doesn't happen often). I replied as such.

"Are you waiting on a friend?"

He sat down near me and slowly inched his way closer to start a conversation.

"Hi?....Hi?" he timidly asked.

I put my book down and had a quite long and interesting conversation about China, America, the NBA, and the lives of Chinese peasants.

He started it this time. Not me. I swear.

It was something like, "In America, if you don't have money to buy food, the government will give you some, right? Just a little food and a little money. It's not like that in China. If you don't have money, you don't have food. The lives of the Chinese peasants are...how do you say?....screwed."

"Screwed? That's not a very nice word."

"Yes, screwed."

It's not a very nice word, but it was exactly what he wanted to say. We talked about how to change things, and he suggested a two party system like the US. I just listened most of the time (those journalistic skills paying off yet again). I also didn't want to burst his dream of the perfect country. Many Chinese believe that America is the perfect place to live and grow up. I don't really know where they get this idea. It's been historically documented that the most influential leaders of China in the last century HATED the United States and everything it stood for (namely Capitalism). But I've encountered more than a few Chinese people who dream of seeing the States (including but not limited to Kevin [one of my best students] and Kim [my closest Chinese friend]).

I asked if there was anything we can do to help. He proceeded to talk excitedly about how helpful Americans always seemed to be. He talked about his father visiting Las Vegas (which he couldn't pronounce; I had to decipher it).

He's 24, like me. He works at a bank in Beijing.

"I'm just a soldier," he said when I asked more about his job.

I took this to mean he's one of the guards. There are guards EVERYWHERE in Beijing doing the most mundane work. In fact, you can often see them just playing with each other, wrestling or cracking jokes. Most of them are his age or younger. They don't carry any weapons. But they do look quite intimidating with their uniforms and their persisent THERE-ness.

This discussion of Chinese politics and lack of support of its citizens occurred, by the way, outside a HUGE Western style shopping mall with a McDonald's and a KFC within sight. I walked around to the back at one point and found a Starbucks as well...

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