225. The Outside Track

A slice of life: a city in cen­tral China where I knew almost no one. That was OK, I’m a free spirit. But then, you never know who will come knock­ing. So one Sat­ur­day morn­ing, here was a rather attrac­tive woman at my door with her young daugh­ter in tow. My fame, appar­ently, had to do with the magic of speak­ing Eng­lish. A tiger mother? Want­ing a father? A vis­i­ta­tion from the Chi­nese secret police? Any­thing and noth­ing was pos­si­ble in a place like this. I invited them in, together with their “uncle”, an engi­neer, who could proudly speak some kind of Eng­lish. An hour of chit chat later, the mis­sion was still unclear, but the next week­end the engi­neer invested in tak­ing us all to lunch. We had a nice bot­tle of wine, then alone for a moment, the engi­neer wrapped his arms around my shoul­ders and slurred “I’ll take you to a place that has some girls”. Hmm, this mis­sion was look­ing even more clouded. He meant, of course, a brothel and became offended when I declined. Our cross-cul­tural friend­ship hit the rocks, if it was friend­ship we had been trad­ing in. Yet this estrange­ment was not really about a taste for work­ing girls. In another time and place, it could have been about pray­ing to this god or that, to belong­ing to one aca­d­e­mic clique or another, to being a will­ing par­tic­i­pant in some ‘com­pany cul­ture’ (regard­less of whether it was cor­rupt or hon­est), or even to shar­ing a cig­a­rette. By tem­pera­ment, a strange few like me are forever out­siders. That’s OK, out­side is the place I know best. It has the friendly famil­iar­ity of fresh air. Oth­ers crave con­verts to their cause, co-con­spir­a­tors in their crime, or fel­lows in shared weak­ness (this last, the foun­da­tion for many a mar­riage). An orgy of shared back­slap­ping, a haze of shared tobacco smoke, is as close to truth and cer­tainty as a nor­mal per­son ever wants to come. That’s fine too – for them.


This entry was posted in culture, human nature, life, psychology, values, wisdom. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply