unsafe worlds: of gutter oil and loaded guns

Today, I’m thinking that there’s a perversity to the way in which our highest values come back to haunt us. Consider for example, the functional analogies between feeding the people in China and protecting one’s rights in the United States.

In Shenzhen, for example, ingesting gutter oil (地沟油) symbolizes all that might go wrong when interacting with unknown persons in the big bad city. Likewise, back in Southern Pines, all sorts of bodily harm might happen because “the wrong people” get guns and go off half-cocked.

Life is hard, they say in China. Here, there’s no guarantee that you’ll eat your fill. Instead, you not only have to take great precautions to make sure you get enough to eat, but also to work diligently just to ensure that what you do eat is healthy, let alone being able to truly eat as much of whatever you want. Moreover, just when you think you’ve made it, some greedy bastard serves you a portion of gutter oil, ruining your digestion and damning you to a life of porridge and bland vegetables.

Life is hard, they also tell us in the US. But here, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a fair deal. Instead, you not only have to be vigilant to make sure you can make a life for yourself, but also to ensure that what you do end up doing is what you want, never mind having a chance to truly enjoy the pleasures of freedom. What’s more, just when you think it’s going your way, some nutcase shows up on your porch, forcing you to pull the trigger or suffer the consequences.

I concede that Chinese cuisine and American independence organize desire differently. Indeed, on the face of it, Chinese preoccupations with food seem radically different from American obsessions with self-realization. Nevertheless, today I suspect that the differences between Chinese celebrations of fine food and American glorifications of independence merely muddy the cross-cultural waters. Rumors of gutter oil and loaded guns remind us that no matter how different Chinese tones and American syntaxt may be, nevertheless they tell the same story — we have constructed unsafe worlds for ourselves and our loved ones.

2 thoughts on “unsafe worlds: of gutter oil and loaded guns

  1. Mary:

    Life is indeed unrelenting. Each day is a challenge to successfully make it to the next, and of course that varies with individual circumstances!

    I have been reading the “works” of Annie Proulx. She is the author of several novels (Shipping News) and other short stories (Brokeback Mountain). Her major theme is that life is hard and unforgiving. Naturally her characters are from the bottom of the barrell or rapidly decending in that direction. In their case there is “no hope”, as they progress from bad to awful. It is a slice of life that Mom and I have managed to avoid!


    • Hey Dad,

      Glad you joined the conversation. I think for me what’s interesting is the ways in which we (our respective societies) create hardship for ourselves. Clearly, in the US we can manage to keep food more or less safe, but can’t prevent a 9 year old from bringing a gun to school. Likewise, in China no one’s running around with guns, but they can’t seem to keep the food stream clean. All a matter of “interest”.

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