Man vs. Clown vs. China


I used to work with a guy named Grant who had a terminal case of yellow fever. I don’t mean the tropical hemorrhagic illness; I just mean that he was completely smitten with Asian women. I only call it a terminal case because I’m a little amazed it hasn’t gotten him killed.

After our company boat cruise a few years ago, the party relocated to a local club to continue into the wee hours. Grant took the opportunity to get on his cell phone to invite along a friend who evidently shared his fetish. “Dude, there’s gonna be Asians there!” he hollered into the phone. “Asians!” Not even Asian women — just Asians, as though any would do. Sammo Hung, Yao Ming, Mao Tse-Tung — as long as they’re yellow, Grant was their fellow. What made this scene particularly cringeworthy was that it took place in front of the new employee, Tai, who was — yes — Asian.

Grant would love Hong Hong. It’s just crawling with Asians here.

It’s also crawling with airborne pathogens at the moment. Right now, the schools here in Tuen Mun, where my girlfriend Candace teaches English, are shut down because a seven-year-old boy just died of a flu-like respiratory disease. Clearly, I picked the right time to come, just when a new outbreak of SARS seems possible. But then, I lived in Toronto in 2003 when we had our own SARS crisis, so I’m not terribly worried. Just as I occasionally saw people doing at home then, I’ve seen more than a few people wandering around in face masks. Of course, that’s also because of the smog, but it just makes sense in a city where people casually spit and pick their noses with abandon. I’m thinking of starting a photo blog consisting of nothing but photos of people unselfconsciously sticking their fingers up their noses. The other day, one old lady stuck her finger up her nose, stopped, smiled at me, and then resumed digging in her nasal cavity. They’re a friendly people.

The concern for public health here is at least better than in mainland China, or so I’m told, so there are a lot of signs warning of the $5000 fine for spitting. There are signs posted forbidding just about everything, it seems. Don’t smoke, don’t spit, don’t let your dog shit. It reads like the lyrics to U2’s “Numb”. One might reasonably ask if a park full of dog feces and cigarette butts is really more unsightly than one with every available surface covered in warning signs, but I like the campaign to eradicate people’s thoughtlessness and lack of consideration. If I had my way, the subway back home would be full of signs saying things like “Don’t take up a seat with your bags while other people stand” and “Don’t lean back against the pole when other people are trying to hold on to it, you idiot.”

Here’s another thing I like. For the past few weeks I’ve really wanted an alarm clock that plays Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt suite, which you may recognize as the music that always plays whenever there’s a morning scene in Warner Brothers cartoons. As the alarm rang every morning, I’d slowly stretch and yawn and doff my nightcap, just like Bugs Bunny before a day of tormenting Elmer Fudd. Amazingly, that exact thing has been happening here. In lieu of having a regular bell, the school across the street plays the Peer Gynt suite. It’s great.

The other thing I listen to in the morning is CBC radio, which I never do at home, but do here because it’s part of Candace’s morning routine. Similarly, I live in Greektown in Toronto, but I only discovered while eating my first meal here that I like dolmades. But I plan to eat as many weird things here as possible. I saw a gelato place that offered black sesame and sticky rice ice cream alongside the more usual flavours, for instance. And I also have an ongoing project to commit the worst possible dining-related faux pas while I’m here. For instance, I’ve learned that if you’re served a bowl of rice, it’s considered very disrespectful to put your feet in it.

I’ve also inadvertently gone on a crime spree. On an escalator the other day, I was seemingly mistaken for a pickpocket when I bumped the purse of the lady ahead of me. She turned, frowned, muttered to her husband, then turned her purse to the front of her body and clutched the strap tightly. And I accidentally boarded the light rail transit system without payment yesterday because I simply didn’t understand the swipe card system. I just wandered into the terminal the back way, vainly tried to swipe my card on the exit validation reader for my tram, figured the entrance reader must be on the train, found nothing once I’d boarded, and just sat down in confusion and rode to my destination. I got away with it cleanly, though I’m told that I was at risk of a fine that may or may not be higher than the one for spitting, though it’s definitely lower than the one for jumping the turnstiles on the TTC back home. It’s clearly a more advanced system than the one back home; I just don’t quite get it yet. Similarly, the first time I took a taxi, I was startled when the door opened seemingly by itself to let me in and out.

I’m just a simple Canadian, after all. As a matter of fact, the other day, I said a simple Canadian “excuse me” while edging by someone at the tram that goes up the mountain here, and she jumped back like I’d pushed her toward the tracks. It made me feel like a big man, let me tell you. I think I might have stumbled on a travelling strategy. In the same way that American travellers sometimes sew Canadian flags on their backpacks to pass themselves off as natives of our reputedly peaceful and polite nation, I’m thinking of sewing Old Glory on my jacket and giving myself carte blanche to further malign someone else’s bad reputation by acting every bit the Ugly American. “USA! USA! USA!” I’ll chant, punching a respected elder in the back of the head and shoving him into the gutter as I pass. “Don’t mess with Texas!”

5 Responses to “Man vs. Clown vs. China”

  1. 1 Eric

    You must do it!

  2. 2 Riley

    I like your style.

  3. 3 Adrienne

    I can see the headline now: “Canadian Bludgeoned, Imprisoned For Acting Like Douche: Blames Republicans.”

  4. Are you sure you aren’t thinking of the third section of the William Tell Overture?

  5. Upon further investigation, I guess you’re not. But they are both great morning musics.

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