Friday, August 17, 2007

Happy Birthday

Here in Xiaoshan, The People's Garbage Trucks sing a 140-decibel MIDIfied rendition of a Communist anthem penned (supposedly) by Chairman Mao himself. Less revolutionary but more obnoxious are the street cleaner trucks, which pump out either Jingle Bells or The Birthday Song. Although they're loud enough to sterilize all the massage girls in a twelve block radius, it's impossible to tell how far away the trucks are or from which direction they're coming until one of them has already descended upon you with its 900 PSI Chinese tapwater cannon. I would advise against going anywhere near Chinese roads, in a vehicle or otherwise. But in a country overrun with bicycles and bicycle rickshaws, it is extremely worth your while to stand on a street corner with a cold version of your favorite beverage in hand, watching the bikers get tossed up onto the sidewalk like oysters in a tsunami.

Could there be a more ominous harbinger of death than a 6,000 gallon steel water tank on wheels blasting The Birthday Song as it pursues you at ten miles an hour? Only one among many in a place like this, where the pistons in the engine of random annihilation are pumping at a few hundred thousand RPM above the existential norm, where oversexed roosters rove the sidewalks, peckers at the ready; where live catfish come leaping out of buckets to chase you down the street; where restaurant proprietresses hoist their baby boys up to drop turds in the trash can at the next table over then stretch the kid out bare-ass on the glass tabletop to play pattycake; where a select few microbrews boast that they're formaldehyde free; where the cabbies won't let you buckle your seatbelt because they swear it's unsafe - everything's white-knuckle in China's more Chinese parts and it's hard on the hairline, particularly as a citizen of that half of the globe that puts choking disclaimers on its bags of pretzels. But if you're young and you've just spent a year teaching in a country that freaks out about electric fans, it's a welcome change of pace and a refreshing, life-affirming reminder of a grim fact that you'd almost forgotten about because you didn't have enough vacation time to notice it: the Happy Birthday truck is never very far behind, so you shouldn't stand around in traffic gawking so damn much.

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Justin said...
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