Day 6: Why I (Give Up) Love, Part 1

In everyone’s life, there must be that moment that you feel you could live forever. Imagining a middle-age person looking at his/her own photos in the 20s and mutter to his/her ownself, “that was such a good time, and it’s all gone — all of it.” The time when everything around you was beautiful, and because you had the vision to enjoy it, and the energy to seek more beautiful things, you felt as if the world is yours, and it would be yours forever. To many, it’s the time when they’re in their 20s. It’s those time when things seem to move slow because you don’t have a lot to do yet. To some, it’s the time when they’re in their 30s.

I am in my 30s and I am beginning to realize that which time for me has already long long long gone. I look at people, and their happiness, and feel that “I was once happy, like that, too.” One may call what I am facing right now a mid-life crisis. I call it, a “mid-life understanding.” There’s a time during which time didn’t mean much, because I had all the energy to make time fly in such a way that I did not feel that it had any importance to my well-being. Those were the time when I’d go out everyday — and every night — and had a “good time” with friends, enjoying all the toxic drinks, polluted air, and frustrating confusing audial environment. My friends and I did not have a clue that the time when our bodies would no longer be able to absorb all of these unnatural malignant externalities was arriving sooner than we thought. And, lo and behold, suddenly, I found myself desiring nothing, but a continuous moment of solidarity to, reflect, to really enjoy being myself because the happiest time of my life is when I do things for myself and there’s no one else I’d have to please, and, finally, to feel that the time is not being taken for granted. I think that is the essence of our specie.

Time in money, yes, but I mean it in the sense that we should all treat time as valuable the same way we treat money. I don’t waste money on things that don’t matter, therefore I don’t waste time. The major difference here, as many philosophers will tell you, is that you cannot bring back the time that you have wasted. If you have spent it already, presumably unwisely, the best you can do is to keep moving on without regretting it since, duh, there’s no point regretting about it unless having some thoughts about what you could have done gives you some sense of guilt that lead to self-improvement. The longer you’ve lived, presumably, the longer you’d feel the importance of time, especially those long gone time. I used to do a lot of things that I didn’t think matter to anyone, and bared no benefits to nothing at all, such as playing video games, reading comic books, drinking excessively, gossiping about other people, talking trash, and, the worst of all, being worried about how other people saw me. Did I enjoy those moment? Maybe. Some of which did provide me some comfort that there was a way I could channel out my anxiety. And apparently, as backed by science, some anxiety is good for you. I still do, in fact, but only when I do them with good friends, with whom the importance of time that I would be spending has a direct implication.

Biking to Hongqiao Record

Photo: The route that I took today to get to Gubei and its geographic data thanks to Casa Run App on Blackberry Passport.

I got some writing done today. In the morning, I was able to crank out a few pages of my next chapter in my dissertation (the tentative title of this chapter is Anthropology of Displacement in which I’d like show the alternative consequences of the relocation process in Shanghai). I was dying to get out of the house after the work for the day was, kind of, done. Thanks to my colleague Harry den Hartog who had decided to spend his entire afternoon and the evening hanging out with me. Originally we were planning to attend a film event there, but as soon as we realized that it was an exclusive event for exclusive participants we just scrapped the idea and instead, quoting Harry den Hartog, “head for some beer.” We started off biking almost 28 kilometers all the way to the southwest side of the city where we somehow decided that it would be the place that we would enjoy a great feast together — without our friend Leo Pang who once lived around the corner from where we went for food. It’s ironic because three of us had, in the past 12 months, always talked about the plan to have dinner together there, but it only happened after Leo had left Shanghai to return to London to continue his study at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). I’d spent almost two hours in the bike trying to get from the northeast part of Shanghai to its southwest counterpart. Even though, at least on the map, it looked like the path was going to be pretty simple (just a direct diagonal line) the reality was much more complicated. Among the 101 things expats hate about Shanghai (a poll recently conducted by a local magazine), one thing I can wholeheartedly agree with the Chinese drivers’ excessive and irresponsible use of their vehicle horns. I always thought that we only use it when we need it because the sound of the vehicle horn isn’t pleasing (and it will never be because of its nature to function as a warning to other drivers on the road) but in Shanghai, drivers use it as if it would help their vehicles to move faster. I thought they would only honk their horns when they make a turn, but apparently they also do when they move on a straight line with no one else in front of them. I thought they would honk their horns when they want to tell you that they are behind and therefore want to give you a warning, but apparently they also honk their horns at you even though they are far behind you and do not have any attempt to surpass you. And the list goes on. You get the idea: No wonder many urban Chinese people have anger management problems. In other words, honking horn is a pathological expression of habit, as a result of pathological repression, compulsive suppression, and chronic sense of self-imposed selfishness. I knew this because I had a lot of opportunities, usually while waiting for the traffic light, to converse with my fellow motorcyclers who also ride with us bikers on the bike land.

Most of these drivers looked at me as if I was a mad man when I asked them why they honked their horn at me (because I usually stop my bike and ask them “what’s the matter?” and I guess not many do that as a response to their horn-honking habit), before sharing with me their thoughts on the rampant and blatant urban China’s horn honking culture.

For an ordinary citizen, I quote one incidental informant here, “honking a horn is to tell whoever around you that I am here.” When I asked him whether or not he thought that the sound of his horn is disturbing, his response was “not when I honk it (laughter). In a way, I had a good time with drivers like Mr. Hu here (let’s call him Mr. Hu for now). All I was trying to do was to spend my time wisely. Instead of getting upset over something I won’t be able to change anyway (or even if I can, what can I do since I am a part of it anyway), I would like to spend my time trying to get to the bottom of it — with the help of the spirit of James Rachels’ version of relativism. That is, maybe it’s just me who gets annoyed by this horn-honking culture. Mr. Hu was, at least, very sincere about his feeling. He said he wouldn’t mind if someone honking his/her horn for no reason behind him. “I’d just ignore it,” said he. Our conversation lasted about 3 minutes before we parted to go our ways (talking about him actually makes me miss him now). He did waved good bye to me with his right hand, in which he’s also holding a cigarette. Personally, I think horn-honking is one of the very few legal and normative “gesture of authority” that ordinary Chinese citizens could do to others, since the political system of the country aims, almost wholeheartedly, at limiting its citizenry’s sense of moral authority. It’s like in the episode of Modern Family in which Mitch and Cam drove around the city with a car equipped with a stereo equipment and a loud speaker. Once they realized that people tended to act differently (in a more proper way) once they felt ashamed of how they originally behaved as pointed out, through a loud speaker, by Mitch and Cam. So, on the one hand, horn-honking represents, at least, the smallest possible gesture of agency and personhood. I usually let it pass. But there were times that I got off my bike and walked to the persons who honked the horn and asked him/her what the f**k was his/her deal. Because, on the other hand, we’re all in competition here. You want to get home quick. I want to go there, also, quick. What’s better than using the only means possible to provide that gesture so that you would achieve your goal sooner? That said, I felt ashamed every time they returned my anger with a smile, in which they were saying “what’s the big deal? It’s just horn.”

I feel like I haven’t touched upon the topic I’d like to write about today, which is “why I love.” Shame on me. Perhaps I’ll do it tomorrow.

With Harry at Zitu Lu

Photo: With Harry den Hartog at a wonderful Korean restaurant in Gubei.

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