Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Virtual Drawer #5: The Writing on the Wall

/chai is the Chinese character for "tear open, take apart, dismantle, demolish." It appears graffitied onto walls overnight. The neighborhood those walls encircle will be gone within weeks, if not days.

For me, the writer who best captures the experience of living in this ever-changing China, is Peter Hessler. His first book, River Town, about his time with the Peace Corps in the city of Wuhan on the Yangtze River, served as boon companion and guide in our first years here. In Oracle Bones, written while he was a correspondent in Beijing, he describes chai:
As Beijing changed, that word gained a talismanic quality. Residents cracked jokes, and local artists riffed on the character. One shop sold baseball caps with encircled embroidered onto the front. When I hung out in Ju-er Hutong, a neighbor named Old Wang liked to make puns. "We live in chai nar," he used to say. It sounded like the English word "China," but it meant "Demolish where?"
Shanghai's an ideal place to practice the Buddhist lessons on impermanence & non-attachment: any corner of the city that you discover & come to love is imminently capable of disappearing forever. It  definitely can make one feel "tear open."

1 comment: