Friday, October 14, 2011

My Generation

I never intended this to be a “living with/surviving cancer” blog, of course. Since the breakup with C I'd posted on several Chinese-western lonely hearts sites all focused on new love, new opportunities and accentuating the positive. I just wonder though how many people, western and Chinese alike, present themselves in a totally honest manner.

Prior to my cancer surgery, I used to smoke, though I ignored confessing to it when my first lovelorn notices were posted. Drinking too much sometimes? Guilty as charged. Two marriages and a few broken relationships before advertising my desirable single status? Also guilty of withholding evidence, your honor. Maybe not worth mentioning initially, but it’s significant baggage I carry and I think some weight any potential new partner would want to consider.

There’s the crucial age difference, also. I’m 59 this month and most of the Chinese women I’ve been with or am just friends with are a decade or more younger than me. I’m puzzled by this – but have also figured out that I often have more in common culturally and socially with a newer generation of Chinese than ones closer to my age.

I wish it were different. But growing up in the Cultural Revolution as the older ones did while I simultaneously grew up in the pampered western “Youthquake Revolution” were completely different experiences and sent us to different futures and reference points in which we’ve only really partially connected within the last 20-30 years.

While I can talk about the Grateful Dead, Chinese my age may talk about how grateful their parents and grandparents were not to be dead due to the Cultural Revolution.

But it works both ways. I’ve got a lot of down time now healing from surgery and waiting to return to China and recently decided to do something useful that I never did during my previous 7 years in China – I’m taking Chinese lessons.
A no-brainer, but I’m a slow learner, I guess.

My tutor is a late 20something Shanghaiese video art graduate student at Syracuse University – a patient understanding teacher besides being a cutting edge artist. Her works range from an ongoing documentary about a blind 5-year-old girl in Shanghai and satiric Chinese social commentary to a meditative performance art piece inspired by Japanese monks that was filmed in Holland.

Our time together allows me to concentrate on something other than my own woes and has led to some talks where she told me her filmmaking may be creatively/genetically linked to a grandfather who was a Shanghai movie maker in the ‘40s and later until the Party clamped down. Among his early acquaintances he told her casually was a budding actress in the early Shanghai movie clique, Jiang Qing, later better known as Madame Mao and the demonic force behind the Cultural Revolution, which eventually led to her grandfather’s professional and creative downfall. There were other, less historically significant players in his film group, all notable talents at the time whose memories and works have long since been lost.

“Wow,” I gushed. “You need to record his memories. As many as he’ll let you. It’s important. Sit him down, get him comfortable, get it all documented. There are so many stories out there and his generation (he’s 85) is dying fast.”

She seemed politely neutral though. Agreeing to be agreeable but I sensed it was territory she didn’t want to tread, whether it for his comfort or other unspoken reasons.

And it’s not my place to push it, just to work on mastering the four tones.