Vol. 2, Issue #12 July 6th - July 19th, 2007

Tyson in China
By: Tyson Meade

(NONzine would like to thank Tyson (former Chainsaw Kitten, current English teacher) for his 1st person account of his experiences. Catch one of his shows this summer and welcome him home!)

And rice paddies, and lotus fields (not yet in bloom), and children laughing, throwing a small stuffed animal—pig, year of the pig, oink oink—and then a child crying, a child, wearing a hot pink New Balance T-shirt, crying, and that one wisp of hair that falls into her tear stained sweaty face, her mother soothing her…this alien language soothes the child, this alien language her mother speaks to her is not alien to the child…this language is not alien to anyone except for the foreigner…the sometimes loud, often silly foreigner sitting in seat two, an aisle seat, aisle love you. The train chugs through the town on the raised rail and then through the countryside, through Chinese suburbia, past the houses with walled concrete slabs for front yards, concrete slabs big enough for 3 bikes (mom’s, dad’s and child’s) and a few dying potted plants. This is the China I know. The China I love.

Michael is asleep one row up. We were not able to get seats together on the trip back to Shanghai from Shaoxing, the college town where Michael went to university. He is 23. In China, the time in the womb is figured into the child’s age. This means Michael is probably 22 by our measurements.

Michael is a young real estate agent who moved to Shanghai from Wuhan or Hunan (I forget which). He found my apartment for me. After I put down the deposit on the place, he took me to dinner. We ate rice with beef and egg at a Chinese chain restaurant. I am Michael’s foreign friend, his English-speaking buddy he shows off to his Chinese friends. I am sometimes grumpy.

This morning I told him if I did not have Starbucks I would die. He said we could take a taxi to Dio (not Ronnie James but the Chinese coffee chain). I told him I did not want that crappy Chinese coffee. The Chinese suck at making coffee. Americans have to have coffee in the morning. It is a proven fact. I don’t want porridge or dumplings or fish that has sat out all night. I want coffee. I by no means champion Starbucks; it is just the only thing that resembles coffee here in China. He told me there was not a Starbucks in Shaoxing. I told him there is; we passed it the night before on the way back to the hotel when he was drunk.

After we got the coffee (and I did not die), we walked around the antique market where they also sold puppies, turtles and birds. You can buy a turtle with an intricately-painted shell. I would like one with the Rolling Stones tongue logo. Now that I am on foreign soil, I love to blast “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Brown Sugar,” “Tumbling Dice” and “Bitch.” In homage—and because fashion sometimes speaks to me the way Golden Corral speaks to gluttons and Paris Hilton speaks to the brainless—I recently purchased a pair of Comme Des Garcons tongue logo deck shoes. I am not wearing them today; I am saving them for America.

At the puppy stall, a beagle-mix of some sort licked my face. I love puppies. How can you not love a puppy licking your face? Later, I was worried the puppy might be a disease-carrier—typhoid, tuberculosis, malaria, scarlet fever. Later, while looking at a 200-year-old yard ornament that looked like it had been imagined by cartoon genius Peter Bagge, I swear I thought my right eye started to itch. I don’t want to wear a patch or have one of those maggot-chewed faces that you see at the Old Paris Flea Market.

My thoughts, my zigzagging thoughts, carry me from past to present, to last summer, to the small town where I conducted an English camp for primary-aged students. Small towns in China have around two million people. Dragons are good luck.

Night had fallen. I was walking along the main street wondering if I was awake or in a dream. Am I dreaming now? Is this the real life? There is this snapshot in my head. A boy, waiting for the light to change, held tight to a goose in a Hefty trash bag. This was unfortunately not a pet. I think this was to be his family’s supper.

The Royal Commission of Saudi Arabia offered me a job teaching at a university there. Sometimes I ponder going. Do boys carry around geese in trash bags in Jubail? Did Lawrence of Arabia carry geese around in Hefty bags? Do they even have geese in Arabia? Are dragons good luck in Arabia?

If I moved to Arabia, I would give up my garden apartment that Michael found for me in downtown Shanghai—downtown, in the middle of everything. This is the life. This is like a dream. I think about the weirdness of it, the preposterousness of being here, of seeing water swoop down the drain backward, of the sights—chickens and ducks and geese sold on the street, a town of 18 million, give or take a million, of the language, this back-masking language. All of the locals saying hidden demonic things; this is code, like on a Led Zeppelin record. All of them have no quarter.

But I love them. I love all of them. I love every bit of them. Would I love every bit of the Arabians? Could I buy an Arabian stallion? Would there be thieves and genii there? My Arabian life would be a different life than my Chinese life. Spent Beijing Opera performers would not be performing underneath the dangerous streetlights of Shenzhen. I know they are not, but I picture these Beijing Opera castoffs reworking classic episodes of “What’s Happening (the Ming Dynasty Years).”

I think about Andy’s Chest, the song, when I walk around Shanghai, all of the migrant workers with lifted Ts that reveal their midriffs, their smooth chests, their tightly-knotted bodies; crooked migrant smiles smile at me; songs write themselves in my mind.

At a DVD and CD store, I find a “Ventures Ultimate Collection.” My friend Meg does the sugarfoot. I buy it for her and her boyfriend Omar so that they can do the sugarfoot together.

DVDs here are cheap—a dollar. In China, intellectual property is not recognized. Everywhere you go, there are CD stalls with tons of random Chinese and foreign films. Because of this, I have built up an extensive DVD collection – Hitchcock, Bergman (Ingmar, that is), Fellinni, Godard, Jarmusch, Wenders, Cassavetes and then random, rambling, circular Chinese slice-of-life films which never seem to go anywhere in particular. My life has become a Chinese film. The circle is getting bigger.

Retro-futuristic motorcyclists riding noisy Chinese 125cc cycles offer me rides for 30 yuan. I tell them I will give them 10 yuan. They take me where I want to go for 15 yuan. I wear the spare helmet. Often, this helmet is yellow.

I have a toothache. Or rather, I have had a toothache for several weeks now. A few years ago, a filling fell out of a lower back tooth on the left side of my mouth. Since then, I have eaten my food with one side of my mouth. This is stupid, I know. I need to have a root canal or the filling-less tooth extracted. For some reason, I cannot bring myself to make a decision. I have no insurance and I think a root canal is expensive dental work.

Last night, I could not sleep because of my toothache. On and off, the tooth has made itself known with a persistent throbbing.

It started hurting again. This made me decide to mosey up to the pharmacy to see what sort of Chinese medicine the pharmacist might prescribe. What would Keith Richards do? Should I consult the magic eight ball? Should I throw the I Ching? Actually, he would probably mainline, have all of his teeth extracted and write “Happy.”

Now, I have that nagging question in my head. When did it happen? When? When did Keith do it? When did he have his old ones replaced with new? Was it before or after Altamont? Was it before or after his first full drain and refill blood transfusion? Maybe it was somewhere around the time of the drugged stupor of “Goats Head Soup.”

Keith, when did you replace your teeth? I know it was after you added the “s” to your last name and after “Under My Thumb.” But was it after the passing, the sad, weird passing, of Brian Jones?

At a CD stall, I found a Japanese import of “Exile on Main Street.” This is probably the fifth copy I have bought, counting the vinyl copies I grabbed in my youth. Exile lends a mystic, dirty (dirtier) air to Shanghai. Two years ago, I stopped drinking. I want to get drunk now as I listen to “Rocks Off.” It’s not the same sober. I want to get drunk but I will not. Instead I will think of Keith and his teeth.

“Wo ya tong (I tooth-ache),” I tell the young male pharmacist as I rub the area where the offending tooth resides. He is reading a book which rests on the counter. The book of course is in Chinese. He looks up at me. He then rubs the place where I was rubbing and nods his head “yes.” He walks from behind the counter to some shelves stocked with modern Chinese medicine.

He takes a package from the shelf. “This!” he says in Chinese and then directs me in Chinese how to administer said medicine. “Wo ting bu dong,” I tell him, which means “I do not understand.” In halting English, he gives the directions again: four tablets, three times a day.

“Four tablets, three times a day,” I repeat. This seems odd to me. Four tablets seem like a whole heck of a lot of tablets to ingest at one time. He nods his head “yes” and says almost as a mantra—the sore tooth mantra—“Four tablets, three times a day.”

He then says, “Not swallow.” “Not swallow?” I ask. This is a strange quip. I turn it over in my head. “Not swallow.” “Yes, not swallow. Like this,” he says. He pantomimes putting a pill in his mouth and biting down on it with the dirty, inflamed, rotten tooth.

“Oh,” I say. “Yes,” he says. I pay the 22 yuan (around $2.75), pull out a pill and put it in my mouth where the sore tooth is commanding attention.

On the way home from the pharmacy, I buy a gallon of water. In the old days, the peasants would fetch a gallon of water from the stream. Now, with the advent of pollution and general eco destruction, the peasants fetch a gallon of water from the 24-hour All Days, peasants wearing Alice Cooper T-shirts, that is.

Later—four pills later—I feel a bit sick. The bile-tasting pill may have made my tooth better, but I cannot tell because I feel like I could puke.

“You leek Allees Coppa?” Michael and I are eating at the all you-can-eat Brazilian steak house across from Jing’an Temple (admission to the temple 10 yuan) which is a short walk from the Hilton, which is across the street from my flat. The waiter (Brazilian) has a skewer of buttered French bread and a skewer of chicken wings. Michael and I look at him baffled. The waiter is looking at my chest.

“Oh, yeah, I like Alice Cooper,” I tell him. “I too,” he says as he gives us both bread. Both of our plates are stacked with steak so we forego the chicken wings.

As we eat our steak, mashed potatoes, potato salad and sliced cucumbers and drink our Cokes, I tell Michael this is a meal like we would have in America.

“This is a meal that moms prepare for their families after church on Sunday,” I tell him. “Very delicious,” he responds. As he eats, he smacks his lips. This should be annoying but it is actually rather cute to me. He often reminds me of a chimpanzee. I am trying to be more tolerant. I am trying not to be a dick. I like chimpanzees.

Once a week, I have lunch at the all-you-can-eat Brazilian steak house across from Jing’an Temple (admission to the temple 10 yuan); usually, this occurs on Saturday. As I ecstatically tear into the steak, I realize my tooth no longer hurts. The foul-tasting Chinese medicine worked.

Thank you, Confucius.

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