Nemoianu In Beijing

A visit which lasts barely a week, spent most of the time in meeting and conference rooms or on the plane, cannot possibly be conclusive. You are astonished by the gentle, harmonious and calming lines of the roofs in the beautiful Forbidden City of the former emperors. You become disconcerted by taking off from Narita airport in Tokyo and reaching Chicago (another stopover) on the same day, three hours before taking off again. You might also become irritated by the refined and wisely balanced Chinese food, when you don't have to eat it 2-3 times a year, but daily, at lunch and at dinner, for a whole week. But that's about it.Other than that, you are especially surprised by the lack of the exotic atmosphere of the place. Everything is déjà vu. This communist civilisation of three quarters of a century has left undeletable traces, which are too easy to recognize, from the shores of the Pacific to the very heart of Europe. The same standardized and shriveled blocks are stretching everywhere. The same statues, stirring slogans, floral arrangements, frescoes with liberating armies, portraits of leaders (among whom the late Mao is holding a place of honour) and pioneers with red scarves, the same shaky and polluting buses. These are the fifties as an old-fashioned show on a gigantic scale of an 11 million metropolis! Even the filthiness and the negligence of the people have their own communist stylistics: it is something tired and poor, different from the coloured and abundant dirt from Paris or New York (repulsive there in its plenty) because it is rarefied and because it thus triggers a feeling of futility.Most amusing is to see that not even the 90s have spared the capital of the People's Republic of China. All over the streets there are little shops with all kind of second-hand Western goods. Bustles of dodgers who want to sell to you who knows what kind of postcards or balls are crowding you everywhere. The beggars are ragged in a professional manner, others organize pseudo-folklore shows for tourists. Huge dusty ads praise Western companies and goods, at some corner you can see some McDonald's or Pizza Hut restaurant or some other specimen of a Western fast food chain, taxi drivers (who recently moved in from the country-side) are incompetent in their worn out cars. The once forbidden rickshaws drawn by people are being used again. Elisabeth Arden and Christian Dior are spreading their tentacles towards the newly-rich people in their shiny Mercedes and Nissan cars. In the morning, people of uncertain age in bad imitations of brand jeans walk up and down the streets with giddy looks, carrying bags in their hands and smoking cheap cigarettes.The young intellectuals are clever and are always in search of trips abroad. The older university graduates have recycled themselves in a hurry. The first category imitates quietly the western leftwing movements: feminism, the theory of colonialism and power are flowing unobstructed from critical pens. The second category has eagerly translated the former Marxist or materialist categories into spiritually-idealistic concepts and it severely criticises the drive towards materialistic consumption of the decadent West, sex and violence on TV which corrupt our supposed traditionally healthy national spirit. The apples on the market are either very big, mild-coloured, with a fine texture and a vapid taste or very little, sour and with a pear-like skin. The drivers and the salesmen don't speak English. Orizont no. 11, 1995

by Virgil Nemoianu