Friday, February 26, 2010

A Post from Marilyn in China

Marilyn, a writer on this blog, is behind the great Firewall of China where blogs are apparently forbidden (Can you imagine?) She sent this to me in an e-mail and asked me to post it here.

Shanghai was full of the heat of the day as I arrived. The year of the Tiger approaches and the
superficial fears of all of the unknown seemed to melt away with the snows. I looked out my window
into the yellow haze. Not a word of English welcomed me. I was the only caucasian woman on the
flight. That wasn't the moment I realized I was in China.
Alone, in one of the largest cities in the world, I breezed through customs, my passport was stamped
and I stood there realizing I was on a different pace than the rest of the world around me. I did the
usual things a person does. I changed currency, went through the duty free, and collected my baggage
with nothing to declare except my arrival. I paced and sought out some coffee to begin my day. It was
just after 9 in the morning and I was trying to calculate how much further I still had to go. I could have
immediately exhausted myself by looking back at how far I had already come. However, my instincts
silenced those thoughts as I looked for transportation to the train station.
I was guided over to a bus, number 5, that was a direct shot over to the center of where it all happens in
Shanghai. 'Just get on the bus, we will take care of your baggage.' A short woman barked over at me,
marshaling the crowd. 'I receached for my wallet, 'No, just sit down, go find a seat.' the further
instructions flew at me. I looked around, and walked to the very back of the bus, settling in. Looking
around me and seeing no one like me, and I smiled, but not quite. I watched as the capacity grew to
standing room only and we broke away from the curb. It was then I saw passengers reach for their
fares as the grand marshal pushed her way to the back of the bus to collect the fares. I watched my
fellow passengers model the exact amount and I mirrored the same.
This little act of being prepared made the woman smile as she took my fare and stuffed it into her
money belt and ripped off a ticket handing it to me. 'She-she' were the only words she said. I had not
known that those were the first words I would learn in Chinese. The words of gratitude. I sat
surrounded by conversations of clipped words and phrases of a flat staccato that was so unlike the
Korean words I was accustomed to. I listened for the rate and pace of the people, the sighs and
vocalized pauses. The sound of verbal marching was what I heard. My eyes drifted to the window.
The large spaghetti strings of concrete expressways, that weaved their intricate patterns. Along the
highway I could see the stark poverty as the clothelines were strung out in the dirty breeze.
Two hours of seeing the haves and the have nots of Shanghai as I tried to comprehend the gap of the
Han Chinese and the rest of the world. I noted the construction of buildings for hotels and shopping
buildings. My mouth dropped open at the size of the new Louis Vuitton building, which would dwarf
the one I had seen on the Champs Eysees in Paris. I saw the world of capitalism had come to Shanghai
and wondered if I was witnessing the end of Communsion here. This new religion of money that
seeped in and starting taking root.
I saw families under overpasses under the shadow of huge complexes of wealth and western
establishment. The images of Orwell's Animal Farm came to me, 'Some animals are more equal than
others.' My first images of China were far beyond what I had expected. We arrived at a huge
intersection that would have terrified most people. The cross walks had their own order and I had the
task of managing my luggage, which I had pared down to 20 kilos. The letting go of most of my
material life as I quickly learned what were necessary tools for this life. One carry one, and one
oversized bag, that I try to mask as a purse. Still carrying too much, but the material world seemed like
a past life for me, like bricks to tie you down. Though I was at my target destination, I saw a green
facade that caught my eye. “China Post”, beakoned to me and I, without hesitation, drug everything
through the maze of traffic, focused on one thing. I had no paper, no pen, but I was determined to send
out word to my dear friends. The security guard looked at my expression, and in haste put me to the
front of the line. Without a word of Chinese, or they possessing a word of English, I motioned to my
needs as if I was on a mission. Envelopes and paper were produced. A pen was loaned to me. A desk
where a person was sitting at was cleared away by the guard, and I was motioned to sit, and allowed to
compose my thoughts. I wondered for a moment if my friends receiving this letter could comprehend
the efforts of the story to even them reading those words of those tangible evidences of my care. My
initial thoughts scribbled effortlessly, as I felt I could have filled volumes with the floodgates of my
mind opened up. I sealed up my letter with tape. Another line for postage and each letter carefully
Off I went to navigate my way, through the streets of Shanghai to finally go through the gauntlet of the
train station. All alone, I had picked up a phone card that I couldn't make function, so there I was,
making a journey by faith. I managed to sort out my train ticket, and take the train from Shanghai to
Nanjing. During the New Year travels when people were making their annual migrations home.
I found my track holding area, which seemed to hold the complete capacity of Gare due Nord just in
one holding area. I watched how the guards managed the flow. The gate would be carefully unlatched,
and the throngs would push through to make the journey down to the tracks. I mentally rehearsed the
scene for myself as I anxiously waited for the go-ahead.
Again, I was in a sea of people. However, one woman approached me and in perfect business English
this young woman and I conversed. We spoke of hopes and dreams after a time. Her dream, to work
for a business corporation in Shanghai. She had made the journey from Nanjing for an interview, and
she was progressing through a series of them. She verbally coached me on what to expect, how fast to
walk, and rendered the assistance I needed with my luggage down to the track. Often, when we travel,
we don't realize the helpless position we are placed in. Those periods of sweet vulnerability that make
us open up and trust another person.
In my journey to Nanjing, I sat on the train, going at high speeds, 300 kilometers passed in two hours.
Night had fallen early and the climate returned to winter. The summer of my arrival came and went in
a flash. I went to a call center and a woman assisted in placing the call. Not once did I doubt that the
phone wouldn't be answered. Not once did I doubt during my entire journey that I wouldn't be
successful. All thoughts of self sabotage had been eliminated. All fears and second guessing pushed
These were my small beginnings, as the taxi took me to my hotel for foreign visitors. As I went
through my day, I realized no one bowed, they shook hands. I was stared at with suspicion, and
brokered them down into a smile. I was strangely free. I was disconnected from all I had known and
the world around me was without wires, without sound. I began to see the world in a different way. I
began my quest to really look at freedom.
“You either get busy living or you get busy dying.” Andy said those words to Red in the Shawshank
redemption. Prison is what you make it. The walls around you, they grow funny. You hate them, then
you grow accustomed to them, and then it grows to depending on them. That is being institutionalized.
That dialogue echoed in my head. In what ways had the West institutionalized me? Better yet, had I
taken the better path and learned how to be free no matter where I was?
The realization of the change came just a few days ago when I finally was able to go on-line. No social
networks and no blogging. My blog is now a monument of what was. A twinge of a pain, a pain I had
not expected, hit me I a watched link by link get blocked. All of the feeds went away. I saw the words
of my friend's go last..'All you need is love.' With that in mind, I love you all. My journey is just
beginning, but it always has been underway

1 comment:

marci-me said...

Marilyn - I wish you well on this journey of being wireless and free - may your find deeper connections and interconnections