Monday, July 03, 2006

Hey baby, it's the Fourth of July (Dave Alvin)
While Monday was The Standard's official move-in day, I managed to duck it by combining a much needed journey to HK Immigration for a visa renewal and new ID with a late afternoon interview. After sitting from essentially 10am-5.30pm in the immigration building waiting with hundreds of others for our papers to be pushed, processed, stamped, stapled and filed in sextuplicate, it was a relief to interview a lawyer. And that's saying a lot.
The Fourth found me navigating my way via subway to the eastern edge of Hong Kong to a place I'd never been before and a building I'd never seen before. Within two hours of finding the site, I'd discovered there was no smoking room and was hit up for a loan by a near-sobbing coworker who told me he needed it for his wife who is hospitalized in Shenzhen with severe vaginal bleeding. The guy is also a notorious gambling junkie -- supposedly once did time for some bookie related hijinks -- and I'm short myself already this month. But I'm also nothing if not a frigging sucker, so I gave him about the equivalent of US$60, though he says he needs much, much more.
I also learned that a perfectly competent, hard working, part-timer had been suddenly laid off after she'd worked like the proverbial dawg to help move her department. No reason, no pity. No job. And she needed it more than I'm sure my debt-bound coworker needed his loan.
It got better, though. A lunch time stroll revealed that our new neighborhood is a real, honest-to-gawd funky, cozy enclave -- unlike the scabby, rusty soul sucking vacuum we just vacated. And while we have no cafeteria as in the old digs, it's jammed with modest eateries -- sushi, Chinese, yes, a McDonalds and Pizza Hut, a working black smith shop, dessert shops, bakeries, CD and DVD shops, two -- count 'em two -- temples, one Christian church, florists, funeral supply shops -- and very few high rises save our building.
Our office also faces a harbor and the view is spectacular what with the boats, ocean and mountains. But there's a dark current, too, I discovered while dining on a traditional American Independence Day meal of flat noodles, brisket, fish balls, french toast and a 6 oz bottled Coca Cola with two Chinese coworkers and an American intern.
''Two people have also quit already,'' one announced after telling us about the part-timer's savage layoff.
"Bad feng-shui!," she replied. "They say our new building has bad feng-shui. They say that the bad feng-shui will also cause all the employees' parents to die early. But (owner, publisher, tobacco and press baron) Charles Ho's parents are already dead so it doesn't matter to him."
This elicited a grimace and a snort of amusement and disgust from me, something I kind of regretted after the other Chinese coworker looked hurt asked why I'd made "such a face."
"Well, my mother died 11 years ago and it wasn't from feng-shui," I said. "It was from smoking, drinking and wayward genes."
"It is part of our culture," she said.
"I know. But it doesn't mean I have to admire it, believe in it or even sympathize with it." Lifting some instant wisdom from Stevie Wonder, I added, "As one of America's wisest blind sages once said: 'When you believe in things that you don't understand, you suffer. Superstition ain't the way.' "
"We are not suffering," she said. "And it isn't superstition. It is Chinese science."
"That's like saying 'American peace keeping in Iraq.'''
Point taken, she agreed. Then she asked why me and the other American were eating a shared order of french toast off of the same plate.
"Why not?"
"It is so intimate. I have only seen foreigners do it and it always fascinates me. I thought maybe only homosexuals or lovers would do this."
I turned to the intern and faked a deep, soulful gaze. "Nick and I more than friends," I told her. "We are countrymen. And we're declaring our independence from feng-shui and our right to share french toast off of a single plate."
Happy Independence Day.

Japanese were the same way about mouths - food sharing etc. - could never understand why a culture that has no problem with drunk salary-men peeing on the floor of a train station is so squeemish about nose blowing, food sharing etc. I would figure that the Chinese, who have no problem with mass expectoration would not mind food sharing!
Having mentioned feng shui and Stevie Wonder in the same post I was reminded of a passage in one of Steve's e-mails about music in Boulder this spring..."Apparently, when Robert McEntee came to town, he called Joey Conway and talked him out out of retirement, who then called Michael (Wiebold), and did the same... I also took the opportunity to hunt down my old buddy, Mike Lepine, drummer phenomenal, who is currently playing with Funk Shui (great name, wish I’d thought of it. Almost as good as Phunkifino),..."

We'll be spending independence evening upstairs on the deck watching the explosions all over the San Fernando Valley. Last year it occurred to me that, except for the three legitimate public fireworks shows, the many (many) thousands of aerial shells we see are totally illegal. I wonder how much is spent on fireworks every year in L.A. And how many of your coworkers' gambling habits that would finance...

Happy Fourth, Justin.
Happy 4th of July, Justin!

john: from my experience, the Japanese do not have a sensitivity to food sharing. I know there is a sensitivity towards the passing of food items, but not food sharing.
I wonder if this food-sharing taboo applies only to guys? Because I used to sit with the cafeteria staff at my school sometimes, and I have seen women who work together sharing food with their own chopsticks. I mean, one of them would pick something up off of her own plate and place it in her friend's mouth! I suddenly understood all those "serving chopstick" PSAs on Hong Kong TV.
And speaking of feng shui: Did you read in my Journal where a monk announced in my presence that he didn't think anyone outside of China could learn the Buddha's teachings because they were born under bad feng shui? (Cue Albert King...unless you prefer Cream's version..."Born under bad FENG shui...I been down ever since I could crawl...If it wasn't for bad feng shui...I wouldn't have no feng shui at all...")
Before we go off on the Chinese, though, the Italian-American head of the science department in the expensive prep school where I used to work would plan her day according to her newspaper horoscope...
-James Laughing Buddha/Temple Guy
Thanks all for the July 4 wishes. Especially cool to "see" ryusei again...
Re: food sharing ... that's not what fascinated her specifically. Chinese meals are shared for the most part, as in multiple dishes from which all partake on separate plates, in separate bowls.
It was the fact that we were picking our french toast slices off of the same plate and consuming it directly that intrigued her.
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