Send in the Wingnuts. . .Don’t Bother, They’re Here

If I ever write a memoir of my time in China, that’s what I’m going to call it. In many ways my 8-ish years in China have been defined by weirdness, both my own and others’. (Let’s face it: for as much as I like to shine the spotlight on wack-jobs and loonies out here, I’m no paragon of normalcy myself.) I tend to think that’s why I attract so many space cadets. It’s a case of deep calling to deep, with one space cadet seeing in another person all the things he or she recognizes as space cadet-esque. I don’t have a problem with that. Having so said, I would like to introduce you to one of the weirder people I’ve met in my time in China, and that’s saying something considering we only talked for about ten minutes earlier this afternoon.

His name is Men Long. I only know that because his business card, which he crammed into my hand midway through our walk, is sitting on my desk. I was coming back from the grocery store, walking very quickly because I have tons of reading and note-taking to do before I officially start my research papers next week, and a Chinese guy who was walking his bike the other direction came to a quick halt and called out to me, “Excuse me!” If you’ve lived in China longer than thirty seconds you know that introduction means one of two things: either a request for you to teach him or her English, or a request for money in some form. This particular guy started in on a spiel, and I cut him off by informing him that I was very late for something, which of course should have been obvious from the way I was walking.

“Oh, so sorry! So sorry! So sorry to take up your time!” he said, as he walked alongside me, a fairly idiotic thing to say if you’re not going to stop taking up that person’s time. I shrugged inwardly. If he wanted to waste his time by jabbering at me for ten minutes, that was his business.

I’d write what he said, but I’m not sure I could do it. He was speaking in the odd patois of the super-nervous and unbalanced, which you can make in your very own home. Just add one part your own native language, one part a language you can barely speak, and one part incomprehensible sub-vocalizations. Mix well and confound. He talked for five minutes, and I learned NOTHING about what he did, save that after about forty-five seconds of the two of us repeating a single Chinese phrase back and forth to each other in a volley-return-volley of mispronunciation and mistranslation I figured out his company had something to do with Red Bull. (I still don’t know what.) Other than that, he’d said the phrase “my company” at least twenty times, “so sorry to take up your time” in both English and Chinese another twenty, and seemed on the verge of telling me what he wanted so many other times that I had started to wonder if he was a government operative but was too scared to tell me. I was almost intrigued. Not intrigued enough to keep talking with him, mind you, and certainly not intrigued enough to join him for dinner, which he suggested thirty seconds after I told him, while walking at a brisk pace, that I was late for a meeting, but still intrigued.

And then, from the slogging heart of the conversational Everglades into which he’d led us, he pulled out one solid minute of crystal-clear English that was easily the strangest thing I’ve heard from a Chinese person in. . .well, I’m not sure I could say when. I’m going to write it for you verbatim because it was instantly, eternally burned into my brain. He turned to me, nodded seriously, gave me a thumbs up, and said (strap in): “White people are the future of China. Especially American white people. They are the future of the world, and Tianjin. Yes. America is great, and white people are great. America and Japan, they are the world’s future, and especially Tianjin’s future. I love white people. You are very great.”

(Note: I have no clue why he tossed Japan into an otherwise whiter-than-white love-in, but he was clearly not working on all cylinders.)

I’ve spent enough time in America that when I heard that first phrase came out of his mouth every hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I began surreptitiously looking around to make sure no one else could hear what was being said. It was very, very creepy. What did I say in reply? I said, “Okay” with a distinct frown, my eyes locked firmly on the pavement at my feet. That sounds lame, but I was completely frozen, like a rabbit in the headlights of an oncoming car. I probably should have warned him not to talk like that to Americans, or anyone from outside China, or anyone at all, really, because I can’t imagine any Chinese person appreciating a promo video for the Aryan Nation. I knew he was terribly nervous, and it’s here I would like to offer some helpful advice to those terribly nervous people out there who want to pitch a business idea: white supremacism isn’t the way to go. Oh, I suppose there are pockets in the Deep South where it might be, but in every other place it’s likely to earn you a punch in the face if you’re lucky. Also, and I’ll confess this freely, the other reason I said nothing to him was because I was fascinated to see into what gaping ravine his train of thought would crash. It’s the same kind of morbid fixation that takes hold of people who stand around and watch a building or a car burn to the ground. And campers, any conversation that begins with the phrase, “White people are the future” is only one step removed from a house fire anyway.

I’m aware of a few things, of course. First, few if any Chinese people understand the racial complexities of America, and even fewer understand the linguistic pitfalls involved in discussing them. My friend Natalie showed To Kill a Mockingbird to her students one semester and their response essays contained some absolute classics, the crown jewel of which was a sentence that went something like this: “In that time, everything in society was for the honky’s benefit.” That student couldn’t have had any idea that “honky,” which he or she had obviously looked up online (where, though? I’d give a thousand dollars to know), meant anything bad. And in praising the white race, my friend-for-ten-minutes today similarly had no idea what he was saying. Second, we all say stupid things when we’re nervous. Granted, I’ve never taken a page from Mein Kampf to express my anxiety, but I’ve lobbed some other grenades into the bunker. (Note: all those wishing to know the number of different ways I’ve made an ass of myself when, say, I was very interested in a girl, you can write and ask me. I’m not posting them online.) I didn’t push Mr. Long into the canal today for that major reason.

We reached my turn-off ten short minutes after our wonderful conversation had started. I say “turn-off” because there was no way in hell or any other region of time and space that I was going to let him know where I lived. He asked me if I could recommend anyone to him for a cultural exchange (I think that’s what he said; my ears were still ringing from the Hitler Youth soliloquy from three minutes before). I said no. Did I know any Japanese people? No. Would I give him my number? (Don’t laugh; I’ve been asked this by thousands of Chinese people. Five minutes after saying hello, they’re asking for my number.) Double no. Triple no. No with chocolate sauce and a cherry on top. No in big neon letters on top of a statue of a person saying no. He looked unhappy, but I didn’t care. I just turned around and walked off. And then, when I was sure he wasn’t following me, I went back to my dorm.

I have to wonder if I’ve tapped into some kind of underground community of wing-nuts here in China. There’s an underground for everything else, so why shouldn’t there be one for wing-nuts? If there is, I may have to put the academic work on hold and go investigate. If the trend holds, they may just accept me as one of their own. Hopefully I can find the non-Master Race chapter.


4 Responses to Send in the Wingnuts. . .Don’t Bother, They’re Here

  1. Mieke says:

    Hilarious!!! Thanks for sharing this story :)

  2. Cindy says:

    ridiculously funny

  3. chuck says:

    I think you should take it upon yourself to be the reason these people stop thinking that the master race will be the salvation of China. Be creative, I bet you can do a good job.

  4. Pingback: Hao Hao Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>