Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

The most intricate Chinese lyric I've written so far is the song <把我当家人>(Treat Me As One of Your Own) it's about the kindness of strangers and dependence thereon.
In my first two years in China, I had some amazing experiences meeting strangers: including getting my guitar out and giving a mini-concert in a train-carriage; getting a lesson in local history from a veteran of the Sino-Japanese war; having a meal with a group of 18 year-old builders; and playing my earliest Chinese songs by a lake in a campus, letting curious people come and go.

Often, as a foreigner in China, when in public, one walks into a wall of friendliness: as expressed in introductory questions, light conversation, and the taking of photographs. I have no reason to believe that there is a sinister side to all this attention we get, but, if I were getting racially abused, I wouldn't take it personally, so as it is, I don't take it personally.

In November last year, I was ordering a meal in an expensive restaurant, and the young waitress was being exceptionally friendly, exceptionally friendly. I'm told she was a beauty, but I didn't make eye-contact, I'm told she was into me but I only gave one word answers to all of her questions. My companion at the time assures me that it was a missed opportunity for a one-night-stand, but I have long since developed a distaste for Chinese people who single westerners out for special friendliness, it would have been like spending the evening with a talking Linda Lovelace.

There's a difference between kindness and friendliness, and I don't believe there is any correlation.

Anybody who knows what a cliche is knows that cliches are a bad thing. But it takes education and experience to develop a distaste for cliche. The friendliness I encounter in China is always a cliched kind of friendliness. After a while, it ceases to matter that most of the time, it is motivated by sincere kindness.
My biggest fear in life is not being used (being used means that I must be useful). It is living in a world where conversations follow a formula; individuals adhere to stereotype; and self-expression is trivialized.

Just as a one-night-stand is no substitute for a romance. Reflexive friendliness is no substitute for learned and leisurely hospitality.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Unofficial National Anthem of Northern Ireland

The author and original performer of the song is Phil Coulter. But I have linked to the Luke Kelly version of the song, because Luke had a much more powerful voice than Phil Coulter.

Some would react to this song as 'corny'. As if expression of raw sentiment and civic pride is a sign of naivety. Our culture tends to look down on innocence, associating it with stupidity, but if you think your superior cynicism makes you smarter than Phil Coulter, I'll bet you that you're wrong.

Here it is
The Town I Loved so Well
In my memory I will always see
the town that I have loved so well
Where our school played ball by the gasyard wall
And we laughed through the smoke and the smell.
Going home in the rain, running up the dark lane
Past the jail and down behind the fountain.
Those were happy days in so many many ways
In the town I loved so well.

In the early morning the shirt factory horn
called women from Creggan, the Moor and the bog,
while men on the dole played the mother's role
fed the children and then trained the dog.
And when times got tough, there was just about enough,
and we saw it through without complaining.
For deep inside was a burning pride
For the town I loved so well.

There was music there in the Derry air
like a language that we all could understand
I remember the day that I earned my first pay
when I played in a small pick-up band.
There I spent my youth and to tell you the truth
I was sad to leave it all behind me
For I'd learned about life and I'd found a wife
In the town I loved so well.

But when I've returned, how my eyes have burned
To see how a town can be brought to its knees
With the armoured cars, and the bombed-out bars
and the gas that hangs on to every tree
Now the army's installed by the old gas-yard wall
And the damned barbed-wire gets higher and higher
With their tanks and their guns, oh my God what have they done
to the town I loved so well

Now the music's gone but they carry on
for their spirit's been bruised never broken
They will not forget though their hearts are set
on tomorrow and peace once again.
For what's done is done, and what's won is won
And what's lost is lost and gone forever.
I can only pray for a bright brand new day
In the town I loved so well