Monday, December 22, 2003

Born in the USA
There are a few moments when I feel that my Chinese workplace is beginning to turn me into a raving red, white and blue waving loonball. I loathe George W. Bush and his ilk and the thought that I lived through a Reagan era still seems unbelievable, yet there have been some recent in-house moments -- mostly generated by our 3rd in command, a stooge named Paul -- that almost make we want to buy a monster truck, festoon it with flags - U.S., as well as a couple Japanese and Tawainese ones for good measure - and moronic bumper stickers proclaiming my citizenship and love of country and drive it bumping and belching up the stairs to smash it through the pristine plate glass doors of the entrance to the mighty Shenzhen Press Group tower.
Paul's power at the SZ Daily is a mystery to foreign barbarian coworker Jeff and I as well as to a few Chinese coworkers with whom I've shared my frustrations. He's young, perhaps in his early 30s, has no prior journalism experience, has denied any party membership when I once ventured to ask him point blank about it, yet even the older two senior editors above him almost always routinely defer to his warped news judgment and slavish devotion to Mother China's propaganda line. Jeff and I think he's been planted by the party to inform on counterrevolutionary thought, though maybe he's just got some compromising pictures of his superiors and some farm animals.
It's most apparent in the Monday a.m. meetings where we are required to rehash the prevous week's papers. Paul kicks off the meetings with a torturous recital of his idea of the top stories and you can almost see his erection grow and the spittle beginning to froth when he begins to relive and spin them with a blindly nationalistic line.
Saddam's capture, suicide bombers in Iraq, Taiwan "independence," a hotel orgy for Japanese tourists for which two Chinese organizers were recently - in his view - "justly a good example made of" when they were sentenced to life in prison for their part in it; ignoring logic as westerner's know it, he nonetheless manages to somehow twist them all into a warped view and commentary of China as a virtuous victim striving to maintain its purity against an a thuggish outside world bent only on rape. His ignorance of the world beyond his desk is often appalling, though he is quck to cite a month he spent in Germany as his credential both for his (unremarkable) command of English and international expertise.
I usually just hold my tongue.
"Justin," he asked today. "Do Americans stand and allow bus seats to elders?"
No, because we're usually too busy eating our children, I almost replied.
Yes, usually, and to the handicapped, too, I actually replied. Or even anyone regardless of sex or disability who seems like they need a seat badly. Why?
He was crestfallen. Turns out he had an idea for a weekly editorial topic wherein four folks - usually three Chinese and one foreigner - are asked for their opinion on a topic of burning interest. He'd "heard" from a "friend" that Americans do not respect old people and apparently delight in watching them stand for hours on crowded buses.
I tried to politely disabuse him of the notion, though he was reluctant to let it go.
"But it is also said that you put your elders in hospitals and abandon them to pursue pleasures, am I right?"
Um, some do. Some don't. It's not always that simple, I replied. I didn't mention the times I'd tried in vain to give up a seat on a Chinese bus to an old person or a woman stacked with pounds of shopping bags and boxes. Or the elderly beggar outside the Lucky Number.
"I don't think it's a good topic, Paul. It would only make the paper look silly. If I can think of one that is better, I'll tell you."
He didn't respond, but I took it as a yes.
Nothing like pointing out that the paper would lose face. I'm learning a little, I think.

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