Sunday, January 27, 2008


You are not my sun-dim

New York always seems like a better place to live after I’ve been gone for a few weeks. Since I was in China for the last month or so, coming back to Manhattan seems like a breath of clean air. Our overheated apartment seems snuggly after huddling under smelly wool blankets while wearing multiple layers of unchanged long-johns. But I know this is just the lull before the rat race and soon enough I’ll be sucked back into the labyrinthine like a blindfolded trained monkey twitching my nose whiskers against dead ends and the miles up and around and back down to get to the place I need to be during the right second. I don’t like that part of it.

In China common workers don’t live like that it seems. At night they sit around watch TV, gnaw on various husked up seeds, smoke cheap cigarettes (50 cents a pack), and play cards. During the day they work hard, but there are so many people doing exactly the same job in every given context that it rarely seems too overwhelming. We always enjoyed watching waitresses scrub tile walls with toothbrushes in-between instantaneous responses to requests for more tea or additional pork filled pancakes. I think they do slave labor type work outside what we think of as their job description because service people are expected to do whatever the boss asks no questions asked. Yet despite this lack of free will work seems more convivial and jocular over there, people stay busy, people talk to each other, not too many seem tired, bitter, and stressed.
The only time I noticed regular workers in China that looked like they could be workers here was at a “Coffee Shop” (that means Western style high class restaurant) in Beijing where a latte comes with a neat leaf design etched into the foam on the top. The two waitresses looked really tired and bored, they slouched against a wall trying to sleep while standing up. I think the main problem was the coffee shop was not very busy and just too western, the boss didn’t have anything for the girls to do in between dings of the service bell.

Here in New York it seems easy not to smile when we think about everything we can do if we push ourselves hard enough. Jennifer says she smiles at all the Chinese people she sees since we’ve come back and “they like that.” I think it’s possible to be happy here, you just have to try. It made me happy that on my way to work on Monday while I was waiting for my bus across Central Park a taxi driver pulled over and suggested that he could give me a ride to the other side of the park. It was on his way, he said. “Get in,” he smiled, “It’s cold out there.”


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