Thursday, 25 February 2010

Debriefing China

Getting older may not bring wisdom, but I've found that it does bring more need to think things through.

I've changed countries and spaces and homes and places all through my life, but I'm finding that this time, having left China after so long on January 27th, I've brought along a lot of excess baggage. Not, you understand, over the 20k allowance which was all I was able, materially, to bring with me after having made China my home, but inside my head.

So the final move was sudden. So what? Sudden moves are nothing new. It followed a pretty traumatic time. Well, once again, that's nothing new either. I couldn't let people know I was going, or say goodbyes, or do the drunken farewell? Yeah, well, been there and done that too.

So what the hell is going on this time?

Last night there was a news item on the telly. It concerned some "poor" girls who were living in the flat from hell behind a couple of Chinese restaurants here in Australia. The point of contention was that the the back area of the restaurants - and hence the entrance to the girls' flat - was a mess. Rubbish, stray cats, food scraps and food preparation of animals destined for the table were shown with much grimacing, use of words like "disgusting" and anecdotes of horrified relatives, inability to have friends over, and eventually their having to move.

Now, what is it that's made the words "pussies!" and the snarling "big deal, wimps." go coursing through my head, followed by a surge of anger?

Dirt, flies, rats, emaciated cats, stinks...they were all an integral part of my life for the last four years.

Squatting in centimetres of urine with my nose on a level with a waste basket has also been part of my life. An open waste basket chock full of used toilet paper and unwrapped, used sanitary napkins .

I guess not a day went by during that time when I didn't walk through streets gleaming with fresh snot and phlegm, or have gobs of spit aimed at my shoes - sometimes even landing on them.

Having to watch men urinate against buildings, in the open, in alleys became a daily sight and ignoring smiling parents and grandparents who held out kids up to the age of eight to shit all over pavements and paths and even inside shops, was something which often reduced me to tears.

But, hey! I was living in China. I chose to go there. I chose to stay there. I took the decision to accept all of those things each time I extended my contract. The stench of dirt and rot and human waste was also some thing I chose to accept. Not long after I arrived a friend told me that the day one no longer noticed that stench was the day one had been in China too long - and that day never came.

So why do those memories now make me so angryand resentful? What is it about me that makes me want to write about this most unwholesome side of life in China: - a side that most people are far too delicate to mention? And why, when I made so many good friends and was ready to put my life on the line for some of my students, should my brain just run widdershens playing all those nasty things over and over and ignoring all else?

Why is it that now all the negative things are all that crowd into my mind when I think of my former home - the home in which, up until January 27th, 2010, I fought desperately to stay?

What aspect of my personality, which now shows itself as just as nasty as the things of which I write, impels me not just to talk about this, but to dwell on it night after night, day after day?

I have inklings, of course. Is this a reaction to being publicly humiliated? to being shown that I, and all people not Chinese, were of absolutely no importance? Is this a way of rejecting four years of misogyny so deep that Chinese men are able to claim, in all sincerity, it does not exist? Is it some sort of cowardly way, now that I am out of the country, or re-asserting myself, my culture, my race, my civilization?

Is it a normal reaction to having been put in a position of powerlessness so absolute that I doubted my own existence?

The more I try to unpack this curious phenomenon; to rationalise it, normalise it, to find reasons, the more I come to dislike myself and the more the doubts creep in.

But number one amongst these doubts - the thing that is really worrying me and sitting in my head each day since I have been away - is something I am so scared of acknowledging that I have ignored it up until now. Its this:-

Does all this negativity, this compulsion to tell it how it is, in all its distasteful glory, actually point to something much simpler? The thing that worries me now is whether I am about to find out that, after my perceived openness, my fairness, my inability to see race as a dividing factor, I am about to find out that I have been a fraud all my life. Deep down, under all the outward layers, does a piece of me that is forever England, a piece which takes its cue from generations of Imperialism and conquest still survive? Are those first years of life as part of the Colonialism Supremacist culture still lurking in wait in my subconscious?

Am I, dear gods and little fishes, learning racism?