Thursday, October 2, 2008

Concrete. Milk. Space.

School's finally started and life is supposed to have returned to normal. That, of course, depends upon normal's definition.

The migrant workers' bicycle carts, overloaded with their cheap consumer and industrial detritus (see picture above for what detritus looks like), have returned en masse, but the skies are still blue. DVDs are back on the streets, but people are still lining up for the subways...well, sort of. More than the omnipresent TV screens playing and replaying Chinese gold medal performances on public transportation, inside bathroom mirrors(!), and on high rises, it is these things -- the breathable air and the hesitant, nascent civility of Beijingers -- that remind one of the Olympics' lingering, fragile grip on the city. I won't consider normalcy to have fully returned until I'm throwing elbows on the bus platform under a gray sky.

But if normal is to mean “lack of the extraordinary,” I doubt China will ever qualify. This past week, while watching China learn how to walk in space, I opened up the refrigerator to find that Aunt Li and Uncle Shen had filled every available nook of our refrigerator with “safe” yogurt. My guess is that their horde reflex, honed in China's less fecund, more tumultuous decades, has been triggered by the milk scare. This reflex is still extant in Depression-era Americans too. My grandma went into horde mode the months before Y2K. I predict that the day the DOW drops below 9,000 she'll already have a small A&P cache stored in the recesses of her apartment. Apart from the small problem of hording perishable goods, my adopted aunt and uncle here might understand a thing or two. Pretty soon we all might just be buying Chinese milk with American securities.

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