In Xi’An, you can take the subway to any of the four city gates (each something of a large citadel), climb up onto the city wall and… rent a bike. The wall is well over sixty feet wide, and one of very few intact after China’s recent cultural revolution. And it runs rectangular a total of 18 km – two walls of 6 km running east-west, and two more north-south running 3 km. Making ancient Xi’An 18 square km rectangle. The city has since sprawled well beyond these boundaries, but somehow the walls here have survived, when the walls in almost every other city are almost completely erased. I visited over 10 cities in China, and while they all had walls at one point – only two remained. This one, and the one in Hangzhou.
With many interesting “portally” things along the way – and even more plainly visible on both sides of the wall. The inside teems with commerce and culture, the brilliant progress of a city that is nearly three thousand years old, and the outside more of the same, but growing less focused as the city sprawls away off into the grey, misty, filthy air, off into the distance, as only a Chinese capital city can. Those hazy construction cranes in the background smog are an omni-present symbol in modern China.
So many of you are curious! You ask me, “Ken, what did you do in China?” and I just straight up dodge the question and instead pop up with some ridiculous anecdote which is a complete fabrication, about how I won a competitive dumpling eating contest, or fought a monk for supremacy at the shaolin temple, or I handled a class room full of kinder gardeners all on my own. Only one of those is true in its entirety. Though I did learn a little kung fu and tai chi, and boy howdy did I eat the dumplings like it was going out of style. I visited the shaolin temple and took pictures. I visited about 12 temples that I remember, it might be more. And the kinder gardeners? Well, they stand on their own merit and need no embellishment. They are best defined by their numbers and disposition – classes with as few as 7 and as many as 31. In both day and evening class settings. YES, I KNOW, RIGHT!?
Even so, it feels strange for me having lived something like that, retaining a fairly clear memory of it! In most cases. The fact is that I drank quite a lot over in China (it is a cultural thing I was happy to comply to), maybe not remembering it so well! I smoked cigarettes there too. You’re smoking anyway just breathing the air, and I didn’t want to be a complete pariah. I don’t know if these details interest the casual reader. But there are some things I could share with you. Like the day I bicycled on top of a city wall, or made friends with a lady named Chun-li (my name is Ken, if you recall). I could also tell you about the worst decision of my life: going on a yangtse river cruise. The horror of that journey still walks with me today. I am instinctively terrified of all boats now. Additionally, I was aware of many details while I was there, but details fade if not reviewed. My memories of the kids I taught are strong, they are with me and always will. But my interactions with say, their parents, who I also learned from, are less focused.
And I have three printed journals and exercise books I nearly filled while I was over there. Plus many kilobytes of text entries tucked away on my ipad. I thought this was all lost when my ipod got lost a year back, but no, I was able to recover everything from a local backup. The same thing happened with some of my photos, I thought they were gone, but nope, one day, checking every micro sim card I own for the most free space, I find what was missing. So, I guess that’s a win for me and my data management talents, which I’ve had since I was a kid and are really no big deal.
Of course, the photos and the text don’t tell the whole story. Oh, my photos are good, even the ones I took with my tiny but mighty iphone 4, (which was my constant companion and, after discovering ingress, my new best friend in the world). I don’t see the need for any fancy photo editing or enhancing, the raw product tells the story pretty well. I have great pictures of pandas and monkeys and all that kind of nonsense! However, I’ve taken a quick skim over a lot of what I wrote while I was out there, and a lot of it is just garbage. I’m sorry, it’s really just awful. There is a lot of nonsense about some girl I met out there. And perhaps some different girl? There’s stuff I don’t want to read, and if I don’t want to read it, you probably don’t either. Even if I excised entire chapters there’s still this undercurrent of pathetic nonsense, which would have been better channeled into writing awful poetry. And then printing it out and burning it. This seems like a sensible course for me.
The last problem, which I think I’ve been able to solve, is that my story, like so many others, doesn’t make any sense. I can’t sense any kind of theme that ties together what appear to me to be very disjointed and (god forgive me for using this too-often abused word); random events that make up my experience. But I kicked the idea around for a while, and decided that maybe THIS was the theme. You know, like a whole zen thing. It’s just absurd for no reason and that’s that. This explanation works for me, and I think I’m ready to run with it. Oh, my book won’t be as good as “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, or “River Town”, but why should that deter me from writing it anyway, and stealing liberally from both of those authors’ distinct styles! Nothing! That’s what.
I’ve already posted the city-wall bicycle story on G+, it wouldn’t take much to port it over. But this seems like the wrong place to start. If there’s going to be any semblance of order to my tale, it needs to be done chronologically. This is the only form of logic I can commit to, and your only home as a reader to derive some kind of narrative from this unruly mess I’m about to hurl in your general direction. Especially since some of the topics I might decide to address will likely skew into esoteric nonsense with zero warning. And the characters in my story – Friends, all of them – well, it seems a challenge but I’m going to try to let them speak for themselves. And I will have the good taste to omit the worst elements of their natures, as I sincerely hope they would be so forgiving to me.
So, Starting on February 1 or so, I will start pushing these blog posts to this branch of my blog. I’ll see if I can match up the pictures to the events, but no promises, I may do some entries that are just a tumblr blog of hi-res photographs. I’ll update once every couple of weeks throughout the year, matching my posts loosely with the time frame in which they occurred, about 3 years ago, in 2014. I hope you enjoy them. Honestly I just want to put this project to rest so I can start something new.