Beijing. A dusty, colossal city full of strangers and windblown faces. You can hire a taxi for two dollars American and go anywhere in this town. The taxi drivers wear white gloves and you can smoke or turn the radio to anything you want. Talk radio is the main offering, featuring old Chinese stories about Kung Fu and Qing Gong, which is ‘lightness’, the ability to fly on treetops and jump from branch to branch. There’s always somebody getting poisoned in the old Chinese stories too, and they’re always on a quest to find the antidote.
The radio is taking you to the past, but outside you see building after building flashing by – grays, blues, yellows – all reaching toward the smoggy atmosphere. The people are on the streets; they all move in beehive masses, and the sky is bloody and orange.
Your cabdriver is a middle aged Chinese man, his face filled with grooves, and when he talks it sounds like he’s gargling marbles. That’s the dialect of Beijing town. If you ask him how long he’s been working he’ll say 26 hours. That’s true, but false as well. See, he’s been in the cab 26 hours, but you didn’t see him park in the alley where they sell dumplings. You didn’t see him lean his chair back, stick his white-socked feet out the window, light up a cigarette, and fall asleep immediately, the cigarette still burning, getting longer, a grey caterpillar.
Where are you going?
You could be going to the Zoo, where black immigrants sell marijuana. You could be going to the pub district. The pubs surround a river flanked by willow and peach trees. You could walk through the bars, through the willows, to the old men sitting on benches playing their two stringed lyres (the sound of the lyre is a nostalgic thing, it’s memory, to the point of irritation, it’s the whine of your buried past). You can stop by any pub; buy a bottle of the shittiest beer in the world. It tastes like tires and rubber. Really. Sit there on the rattling bamboo chairs, chew some sunflower seeds, spit them on the ground, and watch the people coming and going.
No one knows you, and you don’t know anyone, but you’re part of it anyway.