Saturday, May 2, 2009

How to know where to start from the end? The details are mundane and predictable. Flight from Bangkok to Beijing in the middle of the night and I got three or so hours of sleep. I take some pills ordinarily at bedtime that help sleep as well as function during the rest of the day so I do and I sleep soundly until we are about to land in Beijing.
The airport is new and glossy, left over from the Olympics. I was last here in 2006 and loved the city but this time I'll be stuck in the air terminal for nine hours. It sounded worse in advance than it was in reality. I find things to be interesting almost anywhere I am and for the most part refuse to be bored but insist on trying to bring my own context of experience with me to understand where I am from a present perspective each time.
Despite a depressive personality I love the world and humanity and revel in all the variations and permutations we insist upon each other. It is these infinite variations and digressions that make us human and keep me from being bored.
How can I as an American accustomed to the impossible privleges and assumptions that Americans entertain, not be impressed with the soaring modern architecture in both the Bangkok and Beijing airports? Yet, Phnom Penh charmed me, reminded me of the first time I flew out of San Francisco as a child in the fifties, the terminal was similarly modest but no less international. We oncce built a patch in the middle of the bay and called it Treasure Island after the Robert Louis Stevenson story, dropped a Worlds Fair on it (what ever happened to those?) and had loft plans to use it as an airafield for Pan Am Clipper Ship airplanes to the "Orient".
In America the future is constantly racing ahead to collide with the present in ways that we here take for granted and the rest of the world marvels at and yet like any one anywhere, we pay a price for this success rate. The price is the sometimes loss of personalization. It takes time to be personal, it takes time to spend time with others long enough to hear them and know what they feel. One of the American failures has been the trade off of the human for the transendentally futurist. So enchanted with our ability to fly close to the sun like Icarus we forget to sit in the mud and be charmd by the child mocking us and being a clown just across the way. It takes time and patience to do these things and it does not require any gadgets or gizmos. It doesn't matter if you have the latest Ipod or sleekest car. The child doesen't care and neither does a lot of the rest of the world. Theyn are dazzled by our neverending phenomena but at the end of their days, there is still rice to be planted, a child still to be sung to and some one down the road expecting to be paid off to leave you alone for another day. We just handle our payoffs with a less primitive systlem, but no less draining ultimately.
Corruption is part of the human condition. That's how we got to be where we are now. Not glamorous and fast, but clumsy and awkward. stepping in the mud of the world, not watching where we walk, electing fools who couldn't even lie with a straight face. Some of us insisted on voting for these people and it will always be so, here and abroad as well.
This time though the greetings were so often more "welcome, Obama GOOD!" and lots of thumbs up. People wanting to know how we feel about the new president and hopeful that we're still hopeful.
They do depend on us to an incredible degree and we have let them down so many times and told them to ignore the little man behind the screen but people are not fools by and large and they don't ignore what is in plain sight.
We insult the world when we take it for granted. They know that we have taken them for granted and that is why in part they are ready to take us for what ever they can when that is the option, because they will never be up to the bigger hammer that we represent so viscerally.
I grew up in the immediate shadow of the atomic bomb, that hammer ever ready in the shadows that everyone hopes will go away and everyone knows will never disappear within the memory of anyone who will ever remember them however remote. We're talking here about people who in some cases still celebrate the holidays of the Pharaohs. How do you argue with people who readily acknowledge a heritage of four or five thousand d0cumented years? This isn't some vague Day of the Dead worshipping some personal ancestors, this is the history of the world, all of us. They celebrate it, we don't. We're still hung up with Seventy Six Trombones and a Big Parade on the Fourth of July. It feels puny to me. These folks know antiquity and what the nitty gritty reality of being human really is in the put rice on the table with nothing else in sight.
I know I'm rambing here.
I'm home and rattling around in my coffin factory looking at the artifacts of my brief trip and wondering what I could have left behind. What I might have skipped. Not much, I would have skipped letting myself be humiliated by being ripped off by a man inthe building I once called the home zero in Cairo but now is just another decrepit two star hostel hard by the El Tahrir Bridge. Since I'm such a "rich" American, I can take it and wince. Not let it color the rest of the time, and me? I'd go back to Egypt anytime, hot, cold, wet or dry. Cambodia? Sure I'd go back. I'd plan a little more now that I know a little more. And Thailand? When do we leave?
I found a message on my phone when I got home from a friend who I wnet to China with the last time, when I thought I was happily married, asking me if I wanted to go again this summer. Now that I'm not happily married, what's to stop me? When do we leave and do I really have to come back this time?

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