&: Diary (4)
(April 8th, 2019) No sleep the night before, out to Narita to get a Cathay flight into Hong Kong, few hours' layover spent charging my phone and wandering over to the outdoor smoking lounge (one benefit of flying out of the North Satellite Concourse, get to feel the night air), then boarded a red-eye into Beijing, line up to clear customs behind a few hundred Russians, crashed until dawn in the dingy sort of cubicle hotel (まんが喫茶-style), slept for an hour, then woke up, pissed in a bottle, ate a half dozen packs of Peanut M&Ms, and started re-reading Yu Miri's Tokyo Ueno Station until the sound of hacking and snoring got too bad and went to sit out in the terminal. It was as unpleasant as it sounds.
(April 9th, 2019) Another flight, into Xi'an on China Eastern with Nicky. Directed into a garish waiting lounge to wait for ** ** and Jia Pingwa, picked up in a Ford E-series with blonde wood trim and a wet bar in the front with a bottle labeled MATINET, checked into the luxury hotel built into the Tang West Market complex. I'd met ** ** and Jia once before, in the back of a bookstore at 798 in Beijing, before he went on to give a talk alongside Nick Stember, someone from Grove Press, and a publisher from Mexico, and I'd been too stunned to say much, but now that I was locked into a backroom with him in a hotel restaurant, I could ask him whatever I wanted, and nothing came to mind. The first of several bottles of Maotai was drunk. Drove across town to see a production of Yangmen Nvjiang 杨门女将 (the story of 11 widows?), a qingchunban 青春版 "youth version" put on at the Shaanxi Traditional Opera Institute Theater 陕西戏曲研究院剧场 by their Xiao Meihua Tuan 小梅花团. Got the first hint of the reception Jia Pingwa receives when he goes places, ushered into a side entrance, met with the director of the company who requested the author take the stage afterwards, settled for his two foreign guests going onstage, brought to the best seats in the house, then quickly hustled out while being mobbed by fans. An impressive show, and the young woman in the role of She Taijun 佘太君 was particularly impressive. I've watched hours of qinqiang 秦腔 opera on Youtube but to see it in person, even in an aggressively modern staging with lots of lights and smoke, that alone was worth the trip to Xi'an.
(April 10th, 2019) Woke up before sunrise and caught a taxi to the Great Wild Goose Pagoda, could only see it from across the park, sitting inside the temple complex, wandered down Xiaozhai Commercial Street 小寨商业街, walked all the way back to Keji Lu 科技路 and across the Second Ring Road. Received a carton of soft pack Zhonghua from the author. Took the conversion van a couple hundred kilometers southeast of the city to Dihua 棣花, a village split between a regular old countryside town and a section developed by the local government into a Jia Pingwa-focused tourist site, peppering Jia with questions along the way. Met Jia's younger brother, local cadres, walked through Jia's old home, down into a new street named Qingfengjie 清风街 after the village in Qinqiang 秦腔. The street features shops that pop up in the novel, like the pharmacy operated by Zhao Hongsheng 赵宏声, a statue of Xia Feng 夏风 and Bai Xue 白雪 being married and another of Bai Xue steaming mantou (like visiting a replica Macondo with Gabriel García Márquez). Had our first drink of baogujiu 包谷酒 by midmorning. Constantly mobbed by fans of Jia wanting to get books signed or pictures taken. Stopped at the Erliang Temple 二郎庙, saw the opera theater and pagoda. Strange feeling, hearing Jia talk about when he was a boy, climbing up to sleep on the lower floors of the pagoda, in this village he has written about so many times, because by writing about it, he has helped to destroy it, right? In a way, it's been preserved, and everyone seems happy to reap the benefits of Jia's popularization of this remote corner of Shaanxi, but it has been destroyed for him—he can't even walk down the street! Whatever was left of the old village has mostly been transformed or torn down, replaced with a simulation. We got a taste of that after lunch when we sat down to drink tea and were mobbed again by people trying to get signatures. Every conversation was interrupted by a request for a photo. We went in the afternoon to a restaurant down the road, with Jia's younger brother, the guy running the baogujiu shop, a local cadre, and a few other people, ate a meal of good bread, larou 腊肉, drank a bottle of Wuliangye 五粮液 and a bottle of Fenjiu 汾酒. I need to write about this soon, before I forget everything. That's the problem. Got back into the city late. Sat down at the desk in the hotel and tried to write. Watched RT and drank a Sprite out of the minibar. Fell asleep with the window wide open.
(April 11th, 2019) Went up to Sanyuan County 三原县 with Jia and Wang Shenghua 王盛华 to see the cave houses, similar to those in Jihua 极花. Once again, accompanied by local cadres and other enthusiastic county bureaucrats. Ate a boozy lunch in a cave, drinking more Fenjiu, featuring a local cop/antiques collector who after helping me to polish off a bottle begged off, slurring, "It's against the law to operate a car after drinking." Visited his antiques shop in the county town, where he showed us his book of mostly Han rubbings, took us around to the other antiques shops in the neighborhood. Went back into the city with Wang Shenghua 王盛华 , drank tea in his studio with his lovely personal assistant who was reading a copy of Huainianlang 怀念狼 at the desk when we came in. Another boozy dinner. Went out that night with ** ******** and friend to a KTV, both people I've talked to by email but never met in person, spent three hours in there, nostalgic rush of old China days, spent the time chatting with a young woman named **** **, quizzing her about the life of a KTV girl, making notes that I won't share here but can probably be used somewhere else, and the thought occurred to me again, that she was, as I repeated over and over again, encountering people in Xi'an and the countryside, "like a character in a Jia Pingwa novel" (the first time was the writer Wang Shenghua, the cultural entrepreneur with a plush studio, going down to the countryside to take notes for some story), a plucky girl from the countryside that fought with her husband and went first to the county town and then the city to work, etc. etc.... And strange to watch the drama of the KTV, the playing out of some idealized masculinity and femininity—I wish I had something more to say about that, and this note is kind of incomplete in a way that I think could be misinterpreted, but it reminds me of the Miura Atsushi 三浦篤 line quoted on Neojaponisme about the kyabakura キャバクラ as a "theme park of traditional gender roles." I feel like that day alone, I could part it out into a few pieces of writing, maybe a piece on Wang Shenghua? (I have to dig deeper into his writing), maybe something about the literary man and women (huge question mark placed here, but maybe draw from women characters in Jia's writing? return back to **** ** in a Xi'an KTV, Wang Shenghua's assistant, History of Modern Xi'an as Told by a Bar Hostess? I could probably write a brief KTV experience memoir, like Isham Cook [just to take a China-related example, but I'm sure I could do better, God, I hope I could do better—I mean, he is good at what he does, though, even if it makes me never want to fuck again] but without any poetic descriptions of vulva, probably hopefully less overheated, or maybe I should wait until I'm in my 40s or 50s to start doing that kind of thing, because maybe my then I'll be interested in fucking again and will have completely given up on everything else?) and something about the caves? I don't know. I feel like there's a lot there but it's bubbling just under the surface and it'll take a few weeks, maybe a few months for the memories to ferment into something worth writing. Returned home by myself, walking across the city. This entry seems so slim for a day on which so much happened.