Thursday, March 4, 2010

Gorillas in the Mist

During the climate change summit ealier this year, there was some grumbling in the American press about China’s continued insistence on terming itself a “developing nation” for the purpose of assigning emissions limits. There was no such grumbling in the Chinese press, possibly because the press is state owned (Hi, censors! I hope you like the blog!), but also possibly because anyone who lives in China knows that it’s a developing nation. Not because we know anything about economics, but because our surroundings are constantly, constantly under construction.

I do not think you understand what I mean. Everything is under construction in China, including things which seem non-negotiable. Like, the foundation of our school. You might think that the foundation of our shool, the literal bedrock on which our school is literally built, would not be subject to construction. But it is. I woke up to a big hole at the base of the classroom building one day a few months ago, and a week later it was gone. But it’ll probably have to be dug up again because I think that that fecal matter-scented water which floods the sidewalk in front of our school is actually bubbling up from some burst sewage pipe somewhere on our campus. That stretch of sidewalk has itself been renovated at least twice in the 6 months that I’ve been here, once to add a bike lane and once to add a row of trees. Around the corner from our school there are barracks — permanent buildings — built to house construction workers for nearby projects. There are no streets here; there are only streets being built, and streets about to be built, and streets being destroyed. There is relentless, futile, frozen progress. Nothing has time to decay.

Now, I’m no construction expert, but I did get an A- in woodworking in 7th grade, so I have some hands on experience in building bookshelves and carving small animals with a hand saw because the bandsaw was considered too advanced. In any case, my experience in construction makes me think that all of this is for nothing, because the streets look exactly the same after as they did before. Or maybe ther is no “before” and “after,” there is always just construction.

Construction’s so normal now that at first I barely noticed when I saw a man today walking down a sidewalk-in-progress wearing a hard hat and a t-shirt. Only. He was not wearing pants. For a second I thought he was naked, but it turns out he was a pair of ratty flesh-colored briefs. But zero percent pants.

I wasn’t surprised at all at first. I was so distracted by the jackhammering that when the carcinogenic congrete dust cleared it took me a minute to realize that the man before me was having a pants off dance off right there in the street, except he wasn’t dancing, he was walking briskly aroud a construction site, as though he just happened not to have pants on, like I might happen not to have my cell phone or happen not to have my shirt on while I’m flexing in front of my window. (I’d be a shame not to share a body like mine.)

All I could think of was that his day must have taken a turn somewhere and he simply hadn’t managed to get himself back on track before work. We’ve all been there. I mean, metaphorically there. I’d be surprised if any of you had been kicking around a Chinese construction site pantless, but you never know.

And then he was shot and killed by poachers. Sorry, I made the title of this post Gorillas in the Mist but didn’t get around to tying it in. Never too late.