24 hours in Guilin, China

The amount of construction here is suffocating – literally. I heard about the poor air quality before I moved to China. I was offered a great position teaching English – housing, pay, medical, Mandarin, flight (Korean Air nonetheless – the best I’ve ever flown). Did I mention I would have my own classroom for the whole year. I’m teaching English, but I’ll bring philosophy, my America and it will be awesome. Sooo, the roomers of poor air quality were only blips on my radar when compared to personal, professional gain. Now that I’ve been here for the last 24 hours, more than anything else I have noticed the poor air quality. In my new apartment there is a film of dirt over everything, EVERYTHING! I wiped the floors down, counters, etc. But mere hours pass before the film returns. It’s the AIR! My GOD! Am I breathing this dirt-film in? ARE all these people breathing this air? ALL the time?

Yeah… Well… you leave the airport and the first thing you begin to notice is new huge resort like buildings popping up. There’s one. There’s another. Jesus… there’s three more. And more and more. Cranes and dump trucks are everywhere. There is CONSTRUCTION EVERYWHERE! No wonder the air so bad all over China. The entire nation is digging up dirt and building shit. They must be kicking up millions of tons of dirt a day. Its all in the air, floating around the atmosphere, landing on our furniture.

On to other aspects of discovery… The intimation factor is weird. Not being able to communicate and read is daunting. I’m not in Shanghai or Hong Kong; I’m in Guilin. It’s not Westernized; its China. Its not global, cosmopolitan, although its clear the city’s hope is to become more hospitable as a tourism destination. There seems to be a visible tension between its hopes for tourism growth and its native expression. On the roads you find VW‘s, Fords, Nissans, I saw a few Mercedes and one Porsche, but mostly its jerry-rigged motorcycles with trailers and many, many mo-pads. I’ve been told there are 4 stop lights here… somewhere. Road regulations are extremely limited. No stop signs, no stop lights. Everyone honks, merges, cuts, weaves, and avoids collisions. Whole families will be hoisted up on one motorcycle. Babies have no diapers; what they do have are slits cut in the seats of their pants.

AND speaking of shitting. Their should be whole dissertations written about the way people shit. Has anyone hear of Slavoj Zizek‘s commentary on how ideology is so pervasive its is expressed on the very toilets we sit? Well here it is:


Here in China all the toilets are set in the ground. You have to “pop-a-squat” to do the deed. Who hasn’t done this in the woods or some strange inopportune time of desperation? In China, and many areas of the “East” this how the world shits. And who could blame them when they accuse the westerners for being disgusting when we all share the same toilet seat? They touch nothing! haha! Like Zizek I can’t seem to separate some fundamental discourse of ideology from the matter. I haven’t quite fleshed out all my theoretical insight on this point, but in the least one can say that the Chinese shit close to the ground. Its much less lesiure than in the West. I will shit for hours if you give me a free day. I’ll read whole books on the shitter! I’ll eat and support my fattening on the can. This doesn’t seem possible here. The privileges haven’t quite yet flowed through the culture. And its shows in just about everything that’s captured my attention. There seems to be a fury about the place; a drive to stay in the show of development. There’s a feeling of general unrest about everything from shitting to driving to building buildings. I’ve been asking myself if I’m witnessing the difference between communism and democracy, but I know these blanketed frameworks are much to simple an explanation.

Everything here is up to global pace basically – wireless (sure there are some blocked sites), electricity, plumbing, housing, trash, the concrete’s in place (for the most part), but the little elements of social rush, anxiety, and the subtle expressions of disorganization are apparent, from the absence of stoplights to the unmanaged pollution. As a city, San Francisco is a little less worried than Guilin about whether people accept its global offering/presence. You can feel the difference and it lives in the bodies, institutions, and buildings.

I think I’m viewing the notion of development along a scale. I have studied the discourses of post-colonialism enough to know how much notions of development, white western privilege, and notions of needs and rights can suffer from racism and imperialism. Still, I don’t believe that the discourse of “difference” – “Oh, its just a ‘different’ culture…” suffices to account for every point of social aggravation or unjust practice. Sometimes things can be better and work, intervention, alliances must develop to move forward.

I’m told the mountains here are beautiful. Guilin is surrounded by them… I’m just hoping for some rain to knock the dust out of the air so I can see them!

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One thought on “24 hours in Guilin, China

  1. so LOVE reading the News and Views from your China.
    i havent had the chance to view the Zizek Toilet Tube but look forward to it.
    a game i LOVE to play while traveling is looking at a scene (devoid of people if possible) and asking: HOW DO I KNOW THAT I AM WHERE I AM? of course, for philosophers (i count myself as one though never having been made bona fide by academe…), this can get hairy but i mean – what aspects of architecture or smell or climate let me know i am not “home.” TOILETS sound like a dead give-away.
    these nuances (shitting sounds bigger than nuance though doesnt it?) are key to discovering the core of a culture.
    in Danish, the word Hyggelig (theoretically pronounced “hoo-guh-lee” but frankly a challenge for most non-Danes) means COZY. and they will compliment a social experience by saying it was “hyggelig”. imagine americans saying a party was cozy? nerds. losers. but it says so much about what the Danish value.

    not to get all Editorial on you but “The intimation factor” above – do you mean the INTIMIDATION FACTOR? are there many westerners walking about or do you stick out like a sore thumb?

    sending love from the emerald city. xox

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