teisipäev, november 20, 2012

letters from beijing and shanghai

The world belongs to you. Estonia belongs to you.
I'm a dinosaur. I imagined Beijing, I conjured Shanghai. I could see the men and women in their gray and blue uniforms with their gray and blue hats and their little red books, the walls but tapestries of propaganda red with little golden stars. Nothing but bicycles, nothing but cigarettes, nothing but military police and rice. But the "bicycle era is over," they told me from the driver's seats of their BMWs and Mercedes, and Big Brother is no longer Mao, but a retired American military man by the name of Colonel Sanders.

The satanically smug Colonel Sanders grinned down on me from a hundred locations in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou. In the Beijing metro, one can watch a commercial on the small digital televisions that are mounted in each train, a young pretty woman, a young handsome man, fashionable, sporty, business-like, the future, walking in peace, hand in hand, through a local business district, until the pretty young Chinese woman spies the Colonel and then they sort of leap through the air toward the gates of KFC where mushrooms collide with sauce midair and shrimps parachute into steaming plates of rice and the caramel-colored secret sauce bubbles and oozes forth from the buns of fried chicken sandwiches. So happy! 

In the back alleys of Shanghai, I was escorted into what could be called a townhouse where a young Estonian socialite now dwells. Like many promising youth, she has turned her back on her native country and vowed never to return. Refugees like her feel suffocated by the village gossip, the incestuous romances, the lack of opportunity as the gluttonous Winners Generation continues to gorge itself ever forward. They have grown sour on the atrophying political scene, where even the most damning of political scandals can't bring down the Teflon Dons. And did you hear that Estonian Air is cancelling its route to London? Tragic. At home, the media sounds and pounds the alarms as Estonia's youth pack their bags and move away. But the youth don't care. They are already gone.

Anyway, it was an enchanting evening of pizza and hää eesti seltskond. One Estonian man, a hulking Viking of an individual who runs a Belgian window factory outside Shanghai, informed me of the pleasures of slaughtering pigs and making one's own verikäkk. He keeps boa constrictors and feeds them rats. In winter visits to Pärnu, he takes his truck out on the frozen bay for rally racing. He complains how the Chinese men spend all their time lazing about and eating and whoring and not renovating their homes, even if a window gets jammed or a tile falls off the ceiling, "Can you believe it?"

The Estonian sea pirate warned me about the chemicals in all Chinese food, how one producer of lamb meat was actually taking beef and soaking it in lamb piss and passing it off as the real thing. Mmm, lamb piss, delicious. It's so common though. Expats in Estonia bitch about the Estonians, expats in China bitch about the Chinese. What is an expat but a bitch who only bitches? "Bitch, bitch, bitch," as a friend's wife mock-says when her expat man goes off on the shoddiness of Estonian  journalism, "bitch, bitch, bitch."

China is a land where people drink only hot water, and foot massages are extremely painful. And yet there is a majestic quality to it all, even to the bundles of toilet paper that litter the restaurant floors, as if it was just charming tumbleweed in some Old West saloon. It's a raw, intuitive place, China. There is no need for safety belts, or for even following traffic rules, and pigs and dragons are lucky. In China, sometimes it is best not to know things. Like, what was in that food I just ate? I don't know, but it tasted good and that's all that matters. Or, did the chef wash his hands? I don't know, but I didn't get sick this time and that's all that matters. Who cares if it was soaked in lamb piss or not if we wake up well the next morning and our toes are still tapping? Why do we demand on knowing so much in the West, huh? Ignorance is bliss indeed.

But still, I was tricked. The little boy in me expected one kind of cultural revolution, I got another in the form of two Louis Vuitton stores in one city, Shanghai, the "Paris of the East." Never have I witnessed such shameless materialism, and this in a people's republic, where the the Starbucks mermaid swims alongside the golden hammer and sickle of the CPC in the public's stream of consciousness.

Security was tight in Tiananmen Square, where the 18th party congress met to annoint the next generation of leaders. Nobody was sure of the outcome, yet the outcome was assured. Of course, statistician Nate Silver told us that Obama's victory over Mitt "47 Percent" Romney was certain as well. According to Prime Minister Ansip, Reform continues to be the most popular party in Estonia by a percentage point. So there. But still, the clawing anxiety, the anticipation, the foreplay, the debates, the build up, the waiting, the incessant website refreshing -- in China, it just wasn't there.

It reminded me in ways of the selection of the new pope. And in the Vatican of the East that rainy windblown week, all eyes were trained on the center of Beijing for that telling puff of white smoke.

32 kommentaari:

Temesta ütles ...

Did anyone read this Finnish interview with Ansip?

http://news.err.ee/Politics/d75845d2-667b-41c7-96a0-eef2af941333

The things he says about the recent demonstrations are awful. What an arrogance to portray the demonstrators as 'people (who) want to get return to the era when incomes were growing much more rapidly'. This man is a joke.

Spawnie ütles ...

"Never have I witnessed such shameless materialism, and this in a people's republic, where the the Starbucks mermaid swims alongside the golden hammer and sickle of the CPC in the public's stream of consciousness."

That's China in a nutshell. Very nicely crafted mental image.

Marko ütles ...

Yes, Temetsa, he is a joke. He has only got 25 odd percent public support and he acts as if the whole country is behind him. I think percentage wise even Mr Putin is more legit leader than him. Sickening. But that's the reality of coalition governments and illustrates pretty well how fragmented Estonian society really is.

Mr Ansip is just a manifestation of what is wrong in this country. He is a personification of an anomaly in a society.

Electorate needs to be seriously educated. Especially the older generations. Selfish voting, where a person votes for the people promising to stand for their interests only does not give the result, in Estonia. We should vote en masse in protest exactly the opposite way. Vote for the party who will deal with the homeless, the elderly, or whoever. In general, vote for the party that holds the means to make the most positive impact on your neighbours, your kids, your parents etc. I believe that will give us the result, long overdue in this country.

Marko ütles ...

Actually I might have got carried away a bit by being too naive, lol. I always believed that, when it comes to marality, ethics and manners, an MP should have a moral highground similar to what your average high school headmaster would have. So, next time at the polling station just quickly think in addition to their policies - would I like to see this guy running my local school? And if your answer to that question is no, then you should not validate your vote by allowing him to make decisions on your behalf at State level. There, simple as that.

NB Nice post Giuostino!

Marko ütles ...

Just to add a quick one, sorry:). I also think that the silver lining in all this is that we actually got people involved in politics again. Even the so called numb Estonians, took the streets last week. Consider all the redundancies, wage cuts, large scale emigration etc - nobody moved a muscle. All it took was Mr Ansip to show what a real dick he is - and people had none of bullshit anymore . There's still hope for this country and that's brilliant!

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

I don't know anything about China. What side are they taking in a cultural clash christianity v. islam for example? Who are they, these chinese? What to expect from them?

ilja_v ütles ...

This is great reading! Beautiful style. I shouldn't forget to thank my Estonian colleague who helped me stumble upon your blog!

Rainer ütles ...

"Expats in Estonia bitch about the Estonians, expats in China bitch about the Chinese. What is an expat but a bitch who only bitches? "Bitch, bitch, bitch," as a friend's wife mock-says when her expat man goes off on the shoddiness of Estonian journalism, "bitch, bitch, bitch.""

Call it deja vu...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMq5QiksadY

PS very insightful post.

Giustino ütles ...

Rainer, indeed! Thanks for the kind words, friends. I was beginning to fear that I had lost my flow ...

stockholm slender ütles ...

Nice style as always. Maybe you have seen the future? Does it work? Never been there, never been to India either, but of these two giants, I have a feeling that I prefer India...

Marko ütles ...

If by American terms you're a Republican, then India it is, lol : ).

Don't particularly like the Chinese. Its the 'I know the best' attitude, which makes them extremely unattractive. Food is great tough, love Chinese food. Mind you, I got a Chinese takeaway downstairs, might have to give them a visit this weekend.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Ask if they put MSG in their food.

Sure they'll tell you no, no, we only good food. :-)

Thai and Japanese food top Chinese food in my opinion. Chinese food is bland. Even the stuff they sell in high end Chinese restaurants. Wait, did I say high end Chinese restaurants? Pffh. What am I talking about? I've never seen one. Do they even exist?

Giustino ütles ...

I defense of our Chinese friends, I will say that the Chinese food in China is about a thousand times more delicious than anything I have eaten in the "West." Tõsiselt.

Stowarzyszenie DZWONEK ütles ...

http://stowarzyszeniedzwonek.blogspot.com/

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

I remember how sad and empty it was in Russia during Christmas, I can imagine it is the same in China. Zero Christmas feeling. True?

Marko ütles ...

LPR, what do you mean by, where do they stand on Islam vs Christianity? There are millions of Christians as well as Muslims in China. How are they supposed to be clashing? Does maausk and Lutheranism clash in Estonia? As far as I know, most people don't give sh*t. Maybe just some, to whom I like to refer to as, armchair fundamentalists with an IPad . You know, the nutters who are looking out for paranoid contradictions where none are not to be found.

I've only known a handful of Chinese people in my life and they all have seem to be rather tolerant towards different religions. Not overly big on individual rights, or so it has come across. But then, who knows. China is a civilization compromising of many cultures, just like Europe. Your average Estonian can hold views rather different to your average Portuguese but for a Chinese person we might seem as two of the same kind, nearly identical.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

I was thinking more in the lines of Clash of the Civilizations as described by Samuel P. Huntington in his book (not to self: re-read the book for an answer). Western world v. muslim world type of thing.

Marko ütles ...

I doubt there's much of that. Haven't heard of radical Islam raising its head in the mouth of the sleeping dragon, nor radical Christianity ( the Catholics). There's not much radicalism in China when it comes to these matters. Communism, maybe, but even that seems to be a muted or turned down version of it.

There isn't much of a West versus Islam out there, is there? I mean if you leave the far-right groups out of there picture, there is no clash. I've got Muslim and Christian neighbours, and myself being agnostic, we get on just fine. Why would we be clashing? Maybe there was a clash in the 60's, but I'm not old enough tI know.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Being agnostic is all nice and neat, but it does not mean that there is no clash out there.

Once the world order is remade, your luxury of meekly practicing obliviousness to crazyness might come to an end. A violent end at that.

You might find the aforementioned book an ineresting read. If nothing else, check out it's reviews on Amazon.

Temesta ütles ...

In Belgium live hundreds of thousands of muslims and while there's not something like a major clash of civilizations, there are some issues. In certain districts of the bigger cities, especially Brussels, some muslims are trying to impose their own religious and cultural standards. Woman who have a 'western' style of clothing are frequently harrassed. In the summer there was a huge scandal about this when a young woman from a filmschool made a documentary with a hidden camera to show that in the neighbourhood were she lived she was harrassed physically and verbally about every ten minutes. After this, there came a lot of stories from women living in Brussels, testifying that they were avoiding certain neighbourhoods are changing their style of clothing to avoid harrasment. Two weeks ago, two gay men did the same thing with a hidden camera (they walked through muslim districts hand in hand) and the response from muslims was even worse. Of course, not all muslims behave or think like this, but a big and visible part of them are clearly out of touch with mainstream developments in Belgian society. The head of the Belgian Intelligence agency also stated that muslim-extremism has become the biggest threat to Belgian security and that the number of muslims attracted to these movements (not terrorist movements but movements like salafism that reject democracy and human rights) are growing fast.

Marko ütles ...

Well in Britain we also have these kind of people, but by no means are they all Muslim. I find the Poles, and Catholics in general much worse. At least most Muslims respect the - cuius teria, eius religia - concept, while a lot of Catholics don't. And not just in Protestant England, but also in Lutheran Estonia. 90% of anti-gay pile you can read in Estonian newspapers is written by people who are, or do have strong connections in Catholic Church. And there only are some 3000 odd Catholics in Estonia.

As a gay man I find British Muslims to be rather tolerant, while I still struggle to come out to some of my Christian coworkers. They're just nasty people in principle, while Muslims will compromise at least on - hate the sin, but not the sinner. Not that I find it less derogatory, but there's at least a starting point for a dialogue .

And I've also seen the YouTube videos, and yes, it seems that in some countries (Belgium, Sweden, France) you get more of a conflict than others (Britain, Estonia, Denmark).

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

They nature of clashes is that they build up slowly.

Temesta said: "...a big and visible part of them are clearly out of touch with mainstream developments in Belgian society"

Interesting. One could have said something like that about the growing nazi movement in the 1930s Germany.

Marko ütles ...

Indeed, but its not just the Muslims. Its the foreigners with different cultrual backgrounds. Up to a point, in Britain today, the Muslims and the Poles are the new Irish. These things come in waves, and this too will fade soon enogh.

I just don't like the extremes, on any side. We should look at the more positive factors and common ground. I mean, one can undoubtedly say that the contributions to the Western civilization by the Muslim scholars, in terms of mathematics and technology, are one of the great pillars of our civilization, comparable to the legacy of Roman law and Byzantine art.

There were times in the past when we used to cover up our women, force them to marry, burned free thinkers on the post etc. And at that time Islam flourished - they had most beautiful poetry, magnificent art, the Turkish saunas used to steam of sexual liberation etc.

But then things turned backwards and in a way we swapped places with them. I mean modern day Iran is like Estonia in early 1500's. Our Order State was as religiously fanatical as the modern Iranian administration. We got over it, and so shall they. But we must never judge. It would be too hypocritical of us to do so.

Marko ütles ...

Another point on the subject of clash of civilizations would be, who were the people who influenced your opinion on it? If your role model was Mart Last, then yes, you need to get ready for the final battle while arming yourself to the teeth. While I look up to Arvo Pärt , my opinion differs greatly. What a man! One day he is having afternoon tea with the Pope, next morning he's having breakfast with the English Queen and the day after you find him giving autographs to Muslim leaders in Istanbul . A true Estonian, with a vision to build bridges rather than burning them. By the way, LPR, wasn't he originally from your neck of the woods, Türi or Paide or something? You should ask him, how much of a clash there really is.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

He is a Christian. I am sure his response would be no matter what, turn the other cheek. Let Lord sort it out who is right who is wrong.

Love his music. Te Teum is simply out of this world good album. He is the greatest Estonian alive. 100 years from now people will be jealous of us that we lived at the time of Arvo Part.

Marko ütles ...

Yes, he's an Orthodox Estonian. Its a minority religion, having only couple of thousand followers in Estonia. So, I suppose, he knows only too well what it means to be on the other side of the mainstream and how to stand strong, true to his convictions against all odds. And that what makes him truly inspirational.

His music is fantastic too, my favorite being Cantus in memory Benjamin Britten. But by Estonian standards he is a link in a long chain stretching through ages - Tobias, Kreek, Tormis - all world renowned musical heavyweights. I love all of them and their works.

Marko ütles ...

The thing that has always baffled me about Arvos music though, is that it is quintessentially Estonian. The - its not about what you say, but what you do not say - concept. So how come he's so popular? Has Arvo opened a window to Estonian culture through his music or do foreigners just like to listen to it for its esthetic value? Which would be a shame, as then they would be missing half of it.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Arvo's roots are in cold austere Estonian environment, sure, but his music soars in a way that speaks to all human beings at avery deep level. How Estonian is it? I don't know. It is in Latin mostly.

I played Te Deum to a muslim person once and he liked it a lot. I did not mention that it was all about Christ and religion. He borrowed my CD and made a copy of it without seeing the cover with the translated liturgy on it. Is he going to listen to christian music now? Hope he does not get into trouble with his mullahs or some other enforcers. He occasionally travels to Afghanistan ... Maybe I should warn him. ;-)

Marko ütles ...

Well, they say music is universal language. But then again when I stick his Alina on, I can just imagine Arno under the old willow tree waiting for Teele to return yet the look in his eyes tells the story - he knows that she never will. He's music is Estonian alright.

I think what appeals, is the outer shell. And as I said, its just the half the story. What a shame.

Temesta ütles ...

This is off-topic but I wanted to let people know that it seems Ansip has now officially departed from his belief in austerity and small government.
Transfers from the EU appear to be what keeps the Estonian economy growing:

“The drop in our domestic economy was very steep in the crisis years, including due to cuts and necessary reforms,“ Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said in a government press release. “Hence the Baltics require an exception to be made. To sum up, their economic growth - and thus job creation - depends on the investments made with these funds.”

http://news.err.ee/politics/be419cb4-c5e3-489c-803b-a193dc534329

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Also maybe just a little bit off topic, but funny ...


http://www.theonion.com/articles/latvian-diplomat-tells-amusing-human-development-i,30534/

Marko ütles ...

To be honest I don't know what to think of Andrus Ansip anymore. He's a bit like Gordon Brown on his last leg - no matter what he says it will come across as controversial. I used to vote Reform once, it was just after I turned 18 and they were talking about EU and the higher living standards and giving gay people equal rights etc. But it was like if you voted for them it's as if you're lending some money from a bank, you're expected to pay back the full amount and interest, yet you would have only received half the money you applied for. Do you know what I mean? I felt cheated.

I just think its not very nice that they preach us on being fit, and taking care of our own affairs and not to relay on help from the state. Yet at the same time they are writing foreign aid in to the budget - who does that? I smell a rat...