red earth, red river. yunan.

Visiting the Honghe Vineyard in Mi Le, Yunan, I am reminded how necessary a full sense life is; yes, it is beautiful here, but even more than visual, this is a beauty of open ears, nose, and mouth. Birds sing, flowers entice, spices and herbs tempt the tongue, and the breeze lightly touches open skin. Yet, in the middle of it all, my guide points to an “urban village.” The form has been generalized, something else that we have learned from Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Can there be meaningful rural life when urban consumption of the rural has pre-empted actual villages as the presumed mode of living, even here.

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afternoon tea

Playing bridge at a late 80s teahouse in Shekou’s Sihai Park is a welcome alternative to hanging at a coffee chain or one of Shenzhen’s luxury teahouses, if for no other reason than because there is enough room between the tables to create a sense of privacy. For those interested in social history, however, the teahouse also provides visceral insight into how consumption standards have changed in Shenzhen. Nostalgic impressions, below:

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刺激:craving stimulation

today i went to hong kong to order books for the school, after which i met up with a friend for lunch. both of us are in our early forties and have established home lives and jobs, as do many of our friends. lately we end up talking about our desires for excitement or stimulation. she told me a story about female friends who go into shenzhen for an evening with male escorts, known as ducks (the complement to the female escorts known as chickens). others, it seems, are turning to recreational drug-use. certainly the popularity of night clubs speaks to a pulsating need for something…

my friend noted that when she was younger, her parents were too busy making ends meet to worry about whether or not the environment was stimulating them. she, however, often has time on her hands to think about how her life could be better, or more interesting, or more romantic, or more something… she says this is the biggest change of the past twenty-five years. a child of the cultural revolution, she grew up in a world defined by necessity, but now, she says, it’s about personality and taste.

what is this unidentified need? what are we craving? we talk about taking lovers, visiting exotic places, changing jobs, but end up spending, and spend is the operative word, a great deal of time shopping, dieting, skulpting our bodies, and then going to restaurants to talk about our purchases, our calorie intake, and our shape. in all honesty, i look better than i did five years ago. physically, i feel better. yet nonetheless part of me steps to the side to observe what we’re up to; i call this ethnography. i write about our various activities and how we talk about them in order to clarify my experience and what it might mean, but lately i’ve noticed that simply writing up after the fact doesn’t resolve the craving that sometimes rides me, rides us as we move through shenzhen and hong kong, going about business as usual.

i want something. i once thought i could find it by coming to china, but here too, this yearning burns, so at those moments when craving results in devestating loneliness, i think, i’ll go back to the states and that something will be there. or maybe i shouldn’t have come to shenzhen, maybe it’s waiting for me in thailand. maybe i shouldn’t be teaching, maybe i should be writing a book. something else… of course, in more lucid moments, i realize that desiring is a state of being, not a place. i also understand that the object of desire shifts as quickly as i find satisfaction. so i’ve come to take comfort in lunches with friends who like me are wanting; that moment of mutual recognition at least is something.