Jet-lag and sleeping until four in the afternoon after arriving in Beijing City seems to find new use in making one groggily well-rested for the upcoming postmodern adventure. The three days thereafter have been filled with the high intensity sport of attempting to obtain a visa extension to stay in pre-Olympics China. (pant, pant, pant) Queuing in huge lines! Leaping buildings! Scanning overly witty online forums filled with bitchy expats! Filling in forms faster than the speed of light! Working the guanxi for all it’s worth!
Oh, sweaty palms…
The outcome of this relay is yet to be known, but it’s extremely interesting in the question of means in the Chinese socio-cultural context. There are ways, and there are ways. And while we can probably say this anywhere in the world (Fred Ulfers talked about the pressure of over-abundance that is often mistaken for an economy of lack and scarcity), it becomes so…incredibly…fantastic here. Ideas of decorum or appropriateness are culturally determined, of course, but how they play out in the public intellect is an interesting game of what we can and cannot, dare and dare not to do in our lives, to get away with or take advantage. The singular heavy-handedness of the oppressive red regime of communist China is a highly fallible idea, not because it is by any means “democratic”, liberal and free, but because it evades singularity altogether. There is no one way of anything in this country, whether it be national policy, cultural identity or simply just getting by. The laowais here have to learn that fast if they want to keep playing the game, and if they blindly stick to the what’s on the cover, well, they are no different than any other well-indoctrinated mass. Of course, what makes China not so different than anywhere else in the world is that money still talks best of all, and after visiting the Public Security Bureau, it seems that official rules, shiny floors and piles of bureacracy are still not up to par with the power and efficiency of the agent. Who is this phantom figure within Chinese society? Singularity steps out of mass and piles of paperwork (toting a hand full of official looking business cards but remaining rather anonymous) as a specter through the network. This is the point where locality moves and maneuvers through officialdom, this is agency enacted on the initiative of subjectivities (or maybe one just calls it survival), and though we may have our qualms about wheelings and dealings, the agent’s politicking is an individualised ingenuity that works on the level of the face-to-face. It is the realm of the private making use of an inefficient public, and while I don’t want to banter triumphant about this veiled version of dirty capitalism, there is something to these micro-networks that exist like nowhere else I’ve been before. I call her mobile phone. Serena comes to my house. There is no office, or if there is, that may as well exist only as a stamp on the business card. The agent moves fluidly through the network! The agent has a mobile number and a name! She can metamorphise seamlessly through the giant hands that haphazardly striate the premises. This is the agency of the little fishes in the China sea, and that’s more than we can say about our dealings with the Public Security Bureau. In fact, here both person and state are highly fluid, but whereas in other cultures we may be taught to engage one with the other in terms of confrontation, dealing with, addressing level with and upon more level, here we can imagine the agent as a concocter of the smooth, shifting through, butting through sometimes rudely but highly flexible and maybe—-just maybe—-with a thing or to from which we could learn.
(p.s. b… can you send me the link again for that 代理 in geneva? i can’t find the e-mail anymore, and have a friend who’s interested! thank you!)