Keepers of the Light
Daniel, the drummer from the band, So So Modern, was a New Zealander whom I had just met minutes ago through a friend of a friend, and he yelled out facts about Shanghai over the sound of his electric scooter with me on the back as we zipped through the streets of Shanghai and wound our way to the the tattoo bar. It was late night now, and the streets felt empty, but even during the day the traffic was still not impossible. There were not just bike lanes, but a whole raised concrete dividers, complete with ornamental shrubs between the cars and the bicycles and scooter lane. It made traffic tolerable, and drivers were not nearly such bastards as they are in NYC, Boston, or Bangkok. It made for a pleasant ride with the almost warm but still cool sea breeze with mild humidity and palm trees and soft glow of yellow gold street lights.
“It seems like weigh too much aht first! You think oh shit oh shit- this city is too big…” he shouted, then paused to look over his shoulder to check for oncoming traffic as we scooted along.
“But then it just gets smallah and smallah. Ahv been heah a yeah now, and its not that big.”
Shanghai is the largest city on the planet.
Tattoos are very uncommon here. So uncommon that you really don’t see them at all. Many people like to take pictures with me and make jokes about my being from the show Prison Break, and I joke back telling them I just got out. The association is that only the mafia wear tattoos here. That said, we have all felt remarkable safe while here and have seen no police. This topic has come up a number of times that myself and the other artists are amazed at how open and welcoming the Chinese people have been to us. They seem well accustomed to foreigners, but I do tend to get people that often stop and stare as I pass by, the older generations wondering what I could possibly be, and did I really just say “Ni Hao” to them, and the younger generations who assume I am a movie star or the cool American. Their perplexed looks or giggles as I dart off and onward gives me great thrills and makes me smile wide and chuckle to myself with the great mischievous glowing mirth that fuels me.
You can see the difference in generations here just the same as in the US. American kids don’t associate Japan with Pearl Harbor in WWII, or the rape of Nahn King, they think of Hello Kitty and sushi instead. I know that although there is a the perpetuated allusion of conflict between American and Chinese ideology of capitalism vrs. communism, but these ideologies do not really exist for the new generation coming up. Most people all over the world just want a peaceful life, and most Chinese seem to want to be American: there is even “China Idol”, a direct rip off of American Idol, and it seems to be always on the TV... Then again, it is easy for me to say this because China is currently a very capitalist society, probably more so than the United States. Many foreigners working here refer to China as being akin to the Roaring 20’s of the United States. The China that my parents and grandparent knew is gone. Its not just a new generation, but a new world and new way of thinking. Even my younger siblings are growing up in a world completely different from the childhood I knew. I was 20 before I ever had a cell phone, and when I was a kid the internet had yet to be invented. My five year old nephews are already well versed in a digital language and understand how to use their iPads better than me. I often contemplate the a fact that my parents were born less than 70 years after the battle of the Little Bighorn. That fact is stunning. Even here, it is amazing to think that the “cultural revolution” was in the 60’s, a time when all universities were shut down in China in an attempt to stop and destroy the upper class culture. Some of the Chinese artists I am working with still remember when they were not allowed to go to school or practice art. Although there is an intense history of repression here, the United States went through dramatic cultural revolutions itself. The civil rights movement and the cultural repression in the United States or the Iran Contra scandals of Reagan... These all seem like ancient history to me. They are concepts that I can understand, but have a hard time imaging ever being a reality because they are so far removed from what I have grown up and known.
I have been traveling internationally very heavily for the past 16 years, and I am only 31, and this seems to be the standard more and more. I am constantly meeting others in or around my generation that are globe trotting in search of new experience and culture. I often tell people that I am a citizen of the world, and I live in Livingston, Montana because its the best place I have found. Its not the city itself, but the access to freedom that abounds in all directions near there. As I kid I took trips into the Beartooth Plateau and would not see a fence for weeks at a time. It was and still is a place with no limits, no matter how hard some may try to cage me with their trifling laws and opinions that I will break if I deem them wrong. I have a rifle range out my front door, and clean water flowing in the creeks, and I pay less taxes than friends in Mexico. I love it there, but I also have to see the world, to cage myself up and think I know the world is wrong. This trip, just as all the others, has proven and has dispelled the illusions and lies and opinions we are told.
With all these travels of the world, I have met wonderful people overall where food, good manners, smiles, and laughter are all universal. It makes me wonder how human history has been filled with such a steady stream of horrible actions. How have we gone wrong so many times, and when will we bcome right? More importantly, who is going to make it right? Despite the US history of imperialist wars abroad, I have to say there are some bright spots in American History, and at this art show, the promotional posters display a giant image of the Statue of Liberty, and it gives me a flutter of hope and pride and goosebumps from excitement. It makes me believe that there is hope for a better world. How amazing a simple image or sculpture can be, and how proud I feel to be part of the cultural emissaries from a place that has continually fought for individual freedom. It makes me feel like the bringer of light to protect those that cannot protect themselves.
The end result is that this is a new generation and new world, and it will only be good if we keep the light of hope burning bright in our souls, and shining through in our actions.