Saturday, April 26, 2008

The New China: Wall-to-wall smog

(Photo: Even out in the countryside, the air is polluted in China)

You've heard of that old expression, "In vino veritas"? In wine there is truth. Well guess what? There is truth in jet-lag as well. When one has just flown in from northeastern China, been in the air for 24 hours, hauled luggage all over three different airports and gone without sleep for two days, all the polite facades and social niceties of life tend to quickly fall away.

Here are some of the basic home truths that intense sleep-deprivation has allowed to sneak past the usual rational censors inside my brain:

1. I loved the Chinese. I loved China. And I was totally impressed by how it had gone from a feudal land of starving slaves and peasants to a country where no one is starving, everyone knows how to read and write and there are millions of cars. In fact, China today is like how America used to be -- where an enterprising young person can work his or her way up the economic ladder, like Horatio Algers or Horatio Hornblower or whoever that was.

2. All that nonsense you hear about Tibet being a miserable place before the Communists came and set it free? That's hogwash. You wanna know what Tibet was really like in the old days? Go to Bhutan. People in Bhutan are basically living the same kind of life now that Tibetans used to live one hundred years ago. Climb up some mountains. Poke your head into some monasteries. Talk with some smiling kids. And what will you find? That the Bhutanese are happy and that their spirituality, kindness and respect for themselves and others is practically palpable. Sure, the serfs of feudal China were miserable but why project that misery onto the Tibetans of the past? The people of Bhutan are HAPPY -- unlike most of post-modern America. One does not live by bread alone. Want to know what old-timey Tibet was like? Check out Bhutan. And you won't want to leave -- except maybe in the winter.

And when people complain about Tibetans viciously attacking the Han Chinese in Lhasa? Well. What are all those millions of Han Chinese doing there in the first place?

You gotta give the Chinese snaps for trying to help Tibet -- but there could have been better ways to do it than to kill off over a million Tibetans. "What's wrong with that?" you might ask. Here's the thing. If you kill a lot of people, like what has happened in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Wounded Knee, the Congo, Tibet, etc., you are gonna spawn a generation of vipers. Period. You cannot create a whole generation of war orphans without reaping the whirlwind. You simply cannot. When your brutal occupations create millions of Children of Frankenstein who have watched their mothers and fathers get blown up before their very eyes, then you can't just turn around and COMPLAIN when these children also grow up to be monsters.

3. China is covered with smog. Wall-to-wall smog. From Beijing to Shenyang to the Korean border, the air is thick with the stuff. How thick? So thick that the sun looks like a red-orange sphere in the sky -- if you can see it at all. When your plane lands in Beijing, you can't see the ground until right before the wheels hit the runway. I kid you not. Even out in the isolated farmlands of the northeast, China is wall-to-wall smog. That's scary.

4. I've written my freaking fingers to the bone since as long as I can remember. I've written articles. I've written blogs. I've written freaking books! And a million people, I bet, have read stuff written by me. And do you want to know how much money I've made from my writing in all of those years? Total? $35.15. Some really nice people helped me buy Kevlar to get over to Iraq with last year and that helped a lot. But it just isn't the same as getting an advance on a book contract.

On behalf of starving writers everywhere who devote their whole lives to their art without any compensation, I got this to say -- enough is enough! We want artist-in-residence programs. We want grants. We want some of that money that is now being poured onto the Bush-Cheney gravy train.

Instead of great writers, nowadays America just mass-produces gaggles of media hacks who sell their souls to the devil -- like what happened in Philly last week when so-called journalists who should have freaking known better turned a debate between two intelligent and well-qualified candidates into a talk-radio sideshow. And these journalists got paid big bucks for it too. Yet those of us who take writing seriously, write on serious topics and force our souls through the meatgrinder of creativity every single day of our lives get no respect -- and no money either. To hell with writing.

5. I once had a doctor of Chinese medicine tell me, "Jane, you have the rare ability to bring people good luck."

So I figured, "Gee, what if that doctor was right?" So even on the off-chance that he might be, I've traveled the globe like some Johnny-freaking-Appleseed, trying to bring good luck to our poor weary wretched be-nighted world.

So. What's my point? I'm sick and tired of living on rabbit food, watching every penny and saving like a miser so I can go out and bring people good luck. Screw it. You want me to bring you good luck? Then pay for my freaking plane ticket and hotel room your own freaking self!

"But, Jane," you might say. "That's just magical thinking." No it's not. Magical thinking is what they do in the Pentagon and the White House. They think that they can start another war with Iran and North Korea just like Germany did in 1939 when it deliberately started wars with Britain, Poland and Russia, and that the military and financial fallout isn't going to destroy America as we know it? Now THAT'S magical thinking,

6. And no more good luck from me for those top-of-the-chain-of-command sardines who run the press embed operation in Iraq. I've spent three whole years trying to get embedded in Iraq. I've been there twice -- and that's enough good luck for them. Unless they BEG me to come back and then offer to fly me over to Baghdad on Air Force One, I'm staying home. I can just call up the Combined Press Information Center in the Green Zone and bring the wonderful staff doing the grunt-work over there some good luck over the freaking telephone. But the muckity-mucks don't get nothing from me.

And, trust me, if there is any place that needs good luck, it's Iraq.

7. The Chinese may have a smog problem but at least they haven't been stupid enough to allow themselves to get screwed royally by Bush, Cheney and the neo-cons like us dumb-ass Americans have.

"Jane, you need to get some sleep now, before you start saying things you'll regret." Too late for that.