08 June 2011

On Fanta, festivals and philosophy

‘It is green.’

It’s sugary. It’s artificially-flavoured. It looks toxic – worse, it looks like the bottle of Aldebaran whiskey served to Scotty by Data in TNG’s ‘Relics’. It comes in long, scratched, dusty violin-shaped bottles in iceboxes at the mom-and-pop everything stores and newspaper stands found across Beijing. It is indispensable if you happen to be working during the hot, dry Beijing summer on the twenty-fifth floor of an un-air-conditioned office building in a foreign residence district. It is green apple Fanta, one of the small joys of life in China, sadly not available to the American public.

6 June – today is 粽子节 or 端午节 (the Dragon Boat Festival), which I celebrated by walking around Qianmen, hanging out at home, and for dinner eating zongzi 粽子, a kind of sweet ball of glutinous rice, stuffed with dates and wrapped in bamboo leaves (which are not eaten). They are actually quite good boiled. My girlfriend informed me of the history as well, which is fairly interesting – an official / poet named Qu Yuan, famous for his resistance to the Qin Empire, was banished from his homeland (the state of Chu 楚国 during the Warring States, nowadays in Hubei湖北) due to having been slandered by corrupt officials. When he heard of Chu’s capture by Qin, he became depressed and committed suicide by walking into the Miluo River 汨罗江 after composing a lament for the loss of his homeland. Pretty heavy stuff. The reason zongzi are eaten on the Dragon Boat Festival is apparently because villagers on the Miluo River threw rice-balls into the river to keep the fish from eating Qu Yuan’s body; also, the reason it is called the Dragon Boat Festival is because dragon-boat races are held on the river, so that Qu Yuan won’t be lonely.

Speaking of loneliness, I miss home a lot, these days. A lot more than when I was here last time, which is a bit odd. This is a familiar city to me, and yet somehow it’s not the same place – a bit colder, a bit more reserved; or is it me who has become colder, more reserved? Maybe the perspective of an adult working in Beijing is much different from the perspective of a child studying there. Maybe it is because I must spend this time away from my beloved Jessie and from my friends in Pittsburgh. Maybe it is because Beijing herself has changed. Maybe it’s because I haven’t found my sea legs yet. Maybe it’s all of the above.

But, I’m actually doing real work on the PlaNet Finance China website, which is awesome; also, I’m using my daily bus commute to slog the rest of the way through John Milbank’s Theology and social theory, which I have now decided to me is an Important Book, in the same way Ched Myers’ Binding the strong man and Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and trembling were Important Books. I think it should be required reading for anyone attempting to articulate a uniquely Christian form of social and political engagement – even though Dr Milbank is generally more concerned with exposing the faith-based and mythical assumptions behind social theory and postmodernism, he nonetheless hints strongly at what an existentially-authentic, politically engaged radical Christianity should look like. I would be very interested, as a subject for further study (in, say, a PhD programme), in applying some of Milbank’s method and legwork to the field of international relations, particularly as concerns China – in other words, preparing the grounds for a space on which Milbank and the Chinese New Left (as represented by Wang Hui) can interact constructively. This would involve, though, seriously engaging with the mythologies – both Hegelian-Marxist and pre-Confucian – within which the political structures of China constitute themselves, in the same way Milbank engaged Plato and Aristotle via Alasdair MacIntyre.

The house I’m living in now is in a hutong 胡同, but it’s a pretty upscale hutong – my own room is spacious and comfortable. Structurally, it’s kind of similar to an old style siheyuanr 四合院儿, with a dining room and bathroom in the front, bedrooms in the back and a courtyard in the middle, except a.) much smaller, suited only for a single nuclear family and b.) one of the sides of the courtyard is a wall separating it from the hutong. I’ll hopefully take some pictures later.

No comments:

Post a Comment