Every Friday in Shanghai on Changde Lu near Aomen Lu a market springs up to support those who have come for Friday prayers at the nearby mosque. Great street food and interesting faces. A slice of Xinjiang in Shanghai.
The first drop of sweat begins its sickening, slippery slide down the crack of my ass as I attempt to covertly speed-walk to security for a flight taking off ominously soon in these days of terror-noia. For some reason the gods are angry and so the wax on the floor of the surprisingly quiet departure hall makes my shoes squeak like those of a stumbling toddler. My anger is compounded as I am rejected at the business class lounge proudly displaying the Star Alliance logo as they are taking a dim view of my United gold card. Am flying on the new sibling airline of the alliance and they seem to have not quite worked out the kinks. Attempts ranging from the gentle “there must be a mistake” factual presentation to attempted logical traps (If I’m allowed to get in and people who are allowed to get in are allowed to get in therefore I should get in) all fail miserably as the door gargoyle is stone-faced in her ‘It’s not that way in Shanghai’ indifference.
Accepting defeat and slouching away, the Star Alliance first class lounge flares into focus. Figuring they may know the lay of the alliance treaty, I enter with rehearsed lines in full bluff mode. As air prepares to pass my lips, the girl on the phone takes a cursory look at my economy boarding pass and waves me inside. Mid-day at the oasis. Apparently ironed international newspapers and various things on crust-free bread are on offer. Swear I get a few head-nod acknowledgements from my co-illuminati. Enveloped in the ‘exclusive’ refinement of the first class lounge it seems the best benefit is calm – the lack of overweight and overwrought upper-middle management types pounding on their laptops and mobiles.
As departure time looms, I realize that the new airline’s departure time will not be announced. One last smoked fish canapé to cleanse my breath from the vodka and off to the gate with my squeaking soles leading the flock. The terminal air-con is out, leading to a second power butt-sweat. I am surprisingly fond of the large group of Austrians that heave into view at the gate. They now seem happily boisterous as opposed to the annoyingly clueless questioning cretins they seemed at check-in. In this day and rage of toothpaste-tubed squeezed full flights, my late arrival for economy class boarding fills me with dread of clogged aisles of chattering first-time flyers spring-loading shrapnel-packed to bursting over-loaded storage bins. The turn of truth to the right as I board reveals a true gift from the heavens – empty seats. My first thought is that the flight is delayed. Maybe a daylight savings time change.
Knowing better than to get hopes up, I begin mentally counting the rows ahead as I kayak the aisle, praying to be consigned to a partner-free cell. Heaven: two pillows on two vacant seats greet me. My heart leaps as I plop down. Territorial instincts flair and defenses go up. I want to pee on the empty seat next to me to mark my turf. Seconds drag. “Why aren’t they closing the door?” my mind screams. I begin to understand the stinging glances I’ve received before as a late arrival. Still I shoot mental anti-aircraft fire at late boarders as they cluelessly careen from aisle to aisle preparing to serve me all of my re-warmed late check-in bad karma. Everyone that trundles past is a bombing raid reprieve. I want to jump from my seat and close the door myself. A heavily sweating, angry guy appears on the horizon like the grim seat reaper and he’s looking at me. He stops nearby and begins recklessly flinging open overhead bins and practically trash compacts his roller case on top of some poor soul’s plastic bag of souvenirs. He pants towards me and goes past. Bliss drops down from the overhead compartment as the rapturous voice of the goddess proclaims- “flight crew cross-check and all doors for departure.” Life is good. Now, does this armrest go up?
Ah bliss. The bleating saxophone dirge of ‘Scarborough Fair’ has groaned to a halt as if via asphyxiation. Then the brief silence was broken by the guy in the next seat who decided that the rest of the packed late night train to Shanghai would enjoy his fifteen minutes of fame via his laborious concerto demonstrating the cornucopia of ring tones that had been crammed into his mobile phone. Chinese pop jarringly cut into the ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ and then into some electric howl that sounded like a more violent take on the death of the supercomputer HAL in 2001.
I was reflecting on how you never seem to hear older Chinese music in public much anymore when over the speakers came an admittedly jaunty old revolutionary type number. It was thoroughly enjoyable and I tried to recall how the seemingly lost power of this type of music to grate on the senses had now become something of an aural breath mint. As the tune ended, I began to look forward to a throwback mini concert. The pregnant pause between songs began to go onto what seemed to be contractions for a painful birth. As the sound began to be born from the speakers, the horns – I mean sax – of the beast were spawned. The plaintive notes of Kenny G. showered down on my soul like a decaying sugar-coated cascade of cacophonous caca. Somewhere, a deity was having a belly laugh as they continued the effort to break my spirit with a ceaseless soul stifling serenade of a life lived in China in the key of ‘G’.
Like some English romantic poet’s God, Kenny’s music seems to extrude from every surface and in fact every valence electron humming around a nucleus in China seems to sing the siren songs of the curly-locked reed blower. Without undue exaggeration, I can safely say that his musak is even more widely served up than MSG in local restaurants. If one adds in the highly audioactive dosages administered locally over the last decade of Celine Dion’s Theme from Titanic, it is becoming increasingly harder to hold onto the life raft of sanity. After all Celine Dion anagrams include ‘indolence I’ plus the more personally chilling ‘lice dine on’ / ‘nice Ed loin’. I can’t even begin to digest ‘clone Ed I in’. Thinking about it makes me go numb and feel like willingly sinking into the depths of despair like Leonardo did in the film
I don’t pretend to understand why China has so fallen for the Western folly of this pre-digested pabulum of the worst of all possible musak. The old standby whipping boy of karaoke can’t even be blamed for the G man’s music as there seems to be a distinct lack of words for the bouncing ball to follow. One can only surmise that playing this form of music is an attempt to display some level of Western sophistication. In that regard, taste is subjective, but personally it is like the nails of a universe of civilizations on my mental chalkboard. Perhaps less evilly, this musak masks only some deep subliminal mind control plot to get people to order Tsingtao or not ask for a tax receipt in restaurants. We need a musical Moses to lead us out of this subjugation. Perhaps an underground movement can be started to pilfer the offending disks and force the offenders to listen non stop with their ears pried open ala A Clockwork Orange.
Solutions to the big problems don’t often arrive when and in the way that you expect. It finally happened, though, as the train became so packed that I couldn’t lift my arms enough to turn the page of my book without exploring the mysteries of the country gentleman’s crotch that was grinding into me as he jostled with his comrades to try to buy what seemed to be a lotto ticket for a sleeping place for the overnight hump of the trip past Shanghai to Beijing. The woman crouched at my knee was using my thigh as a forehead rest and perhaps preparing for a dreamy drool as I enjoyed the complimentary massage from another country squire’s elbow as he persistently reached over my head and bleated for attention with the besieged ticket keeper who was only kept from death by crushing by his karma along with a little help from a steel reinforced fortress cubicle. Reading became impossible.
I focused in a zen-like trance on all that I could see which was only a blue button on the coat of the guy draped over me giving my skull an anti-aromatherapy work-over. Entering into a dreamy trance state, I became open and the pureness and power of Kenny G (who I noted has the initials of Krishna and God) filled my sensory void. Perhaps Kenny himself had sent this man pressing against me represented by a button which was only made useful by its holes/empty spaces; a message about the universe, voids, or saxophones?. I couldn’t even move enough to see his face and so he became everyman. I could choose to spasm out in anger, push him away and mutter at him with an indignant glare – but something made me refocus this dark energy back inwards towards its source. The raging frustration began to devour itself and disappear. I began to hum along and was transformed. I could see why Indian mystics sit on beds of nails or hang anvils from their tongues. Once you break on through the pain to the other side and the veil is lifted you begin to hear genius and the truth sets you free. So bring it on Shanghai. Crank up Kenny to the full G force. I will be the one dancing and prancing naked in your restaurants, trains and shopping malls to the call to prayer from my guru and godhead. I have finally found my soul’s Kenny G spot.
Kind of classic China events yesterday. Had to go to the strange land of Pudong to get my visa extended. Something felt weird walking around. Then I realized (first of all, we’ve had a rare string of days with big dramatic puffy clouds/thunderstorms) that the sky seemed so huge because of all of the space between the buildings. So, went into the visa place and it was like walking into a UN staffed Shanghai train station waiting room during CNY minus all of the luggage. Get my number and I’m only about 130 away with six desks handling the load. The lady tells me it will be an hour and half ‘chabuduo’, so I use my Chinese gov’t time calculator and figure on two hours. After twenty minutes of my book, I can’t take it and head out in search of food. Find a Holiday Inn with a restaurant on top as only choice. Upscale place and end up having a fantastic meal of braised cuttlefish on leeks and french string beans with garlic and little crispy pork skin bits. Total with rice 68 rmb with enough left over for another meal. Head back to visaland and had just missed my number by two. Several ‘mei banfas’ later, I get a new number 150 away. Pacing around knowing there is always a way, this Hong Kong Chinese looking guy at a counter with his friends spies me, comes up to me and asks if I’m waiting then gives me his number which turns out to be the very next one. Seconds later I’m in front of a very cute official and in two minutes am out the door belly-full. Sometimes, it pays to follow your gut. (Couldn’t resist that ending.)