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Moving to China

Changchun Characters

Category: Changchun Characters

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The rainstorm, violent and sudden had just passed us by, and I, Mahatma Jack, son of Pete and giver of wisdom, dispenser of good will, master of ceremonies called out unto those good and great of the Chun for a beer.

“GP anyone,” I texted in vain; GP - Grandpa’s. When we speak of GP we do so with a reverence, and a solemn understanding as we do not reference merely to a scungy, lowly, miserable pub, oh no! No, we admonish to the finest and yet humblest of gentleman’s pubs. In a back alley off a busy street, tucked away from the hum drum of this immense city, Grandpa’s stands solitary and sturdy, nestled in between a pigeon coup and a free range chicken enclosure and a very modest commune of passers-by chewing the fat and shooting the breeze. Little children testing their first steps on the cracked pavement, septua and octogenarians pacing up and down hands clasped behind their backs observing this little nook, this corner of the world they have come to call their own. Cinder block flats tower 7 stories high in all directions providing that unique rear window effect, tenants look at us and we do escape them. The ambience is all together perfect as we, yes, those expats that too, have come to call this hidden laneway our own, share the pavement with its hodgepodge fences and bleeding walls, the weeds that pierce through thick concrete bannisters, those infants and aged, the foul and fauna, the neon and spectatorship, yes, we absorb it all, at Grandpa’s, our little niche tucked away from the mad, mad world.

I arrived at the ungodly early hour of 7 pm and recognising the danger gave in to the truth that I would be compelled to drink alone with the charming albeit hardly stimulating company of the dear owners and staff as they would, at this hour, surely be drawn in to their Chinese reality TV shows or even more despairingly, some ghastly Hollywood car chase epic embraced with frenzied amazement by these unsuspecting people.

Trancing up the three red carpet lined steps and past the pleasing golden lights that herald, I opened the wrought iron doors and was greeted with our first and indeed very best of Chang Chun Bar Flies, Little John – the Peace Maker. He arrived late.

Who is this man, you may ask? Ah, you may ask, and I, the giver of wisdom, shall enlighten you.

At first glance you are greeted with the image of a lumberjack. Tall and built ready to lop, John Rutledge is every man’s man. He drinks his beer from a mason jar, and holds his cigarette with quiet reverence. Adorned with ghastly T-shirts that speak of American sporting pastimes and enjoying certain head joys of the same, he cracks a pallid smile through a grizzly beard. It is only until he speaks, however, that you are greeted with the antithesis of that archetypal quiet American. Bespectacled and learned, opinionated and truly left wing with a twist of conservatism, you will never meet a more ardent patriot and more dangerous traitor, all in one.

Politics is his game, with more than a decade in this great country having come here with those same expectations that we all have when first stepping onto Chinese soil, John was here when there was a policy of consumption. If you see it and like it, buy it. A potato masher, a pewter mug, a Mao pin. This was a China that few of us expats may ever understand, but he, with the old guard that still meander the straight and narrow of the Chun, saw a land and still do see a land unfolding and if, ye dear reader, should ever want an informed exposé of the Chinese and their country, ask little John the Peace Maker.

But, again, why the Peace maker? He is merely an expat with years of government service in Beijing, who teaches business English and steadfastly continues a shady association with North Korean radio. Is this the man we may consider the Great Khan, or Mohandas, the fuser of peoples, the voice of nations? Well, yes, quite simply, yes. When he was in Guang Zhou, a major metropolis in southern China, John earnestly maintained the career he set out for himself and continues to set out for himself to this day. And like all of us, he has stories from that period. And like all of us he wants to tell such stories. And like all of us he tells them. And yet, if there ever were to be any great build up to any great epic, any monumental tale of Olympian proportions, it would be this buttress, this segue, this killer opening line, “when I was in Guang Zhou…”

Ah! How could this tool be used to implement and bring peace?

Here in the sunshine city does consist a community of politically guided, socially ostracised, academically misunderstood, eccentrically opinionated, hopelessly misguided, emotionally forlorn, brazenly optimistic, horridly religious, utterly confident and not least, normal people, who every night do meet with the very best of intentions and together, as strangers do, exert themselves, not with fists and arms but with words and even more words. The arguments do they rage, rage into the wee hours, raging by the empty glass, raging by the full shot, heated with a dying cigarette, heated with the prying open of a new pack. And as we all have just that much to say, to afford and even to condemn, we all know that there be the one true voice that holds sway above all others, one single entry that must and will not be contested and upon such a herald we, with quiet reverence do heed that summons, when all is but anger and fury and inspired bitterness. We hear those words, “when I was in Guang Zhou”. And all falls silent, all must drink, this is the order. Kowtow!

John will observe with the insight of great Lamas, he will rise as eagles soar to crush ridicule, stem hatred, sweeten the sour and condemn those who’s inquisitions have grown unreasonable. He bates them to surrender their passion and in so doing reminds them that they are all but individuals with a voice that has grown much too rowdy. This lumberjack, this seer, this sight calms the tempest of our converse, and we, dutifully and directly resume our seats, finish the burning butt, refill that drink, and listen, just listen plaintively to yet another story from our John, the peacemaker of Changchun. Lean in, forget your troubles and indulge in another tale from Guangzhou; in the words of the man himself, “Ok, well here’s the thing, just shut the f*#ck up, and listen. When I was in…. Drink!!!

Little John, we do salute you.

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