Monday, July 16, 2007

letter from Soho (Beijing): 3 kinds of smoking

Dear __

what do Chinese do on weekends? Yoga class. At least Baoqing does -- and has invited me to join a noon session. Perhaps I'll go.

My parents are now settled into the nearby Winterless (as it's called) Hotel -- my mother has a mobile phone lent by Baoqing. We installed a new SIM card in it. The phone seemingly can receive calls but not make them. So I'm phoning her from time to time. Experimentally, she seems to have more or less worked out how to send a blank SMS message to me -- which suffices as a cue to phone her. I was playing the notes of Bhairavi on saranghi for some while, and glanced at my phone/watch, noting messages. My mother had (she said) failed to get my call earlier in the morning -- except in fact I didn't phone. So who could have called her? At such point as I have her phone in hand, I can look at missed calls history.

My mother likes to prepare her own meals; my father likes to eat out at restaurants. These patterns are in place whether they are living in their Los Angeles apartment, or staying in a Beijing hotel. My father is happy in the room where there is, right at hand, a computer. For the moment, we're keeping it online all the time (my father is not so versed in doing things like opening a web browser on a PC and calling up URLs) -- the cost for all-day online-ness is not so high. Later, after he gets more used to the computer, we may revert to logging off

I'm in the Purple building of Soho. Soho is the name of a condo complex (and mixed residential/commercial area -- they seem to have appropriated the Soho moniker based on this, in a rather far-fetched linguistic borrowing) in Beijing. XD and BQ live in the Orange building. Each building is the same height and design -- distinguished only by color.

Xiaodong used to work with & hang out in a pu-erh teashop in the Green building, but he seems to have had a parting of ways with those teashop folks (I've not gotten the detailed story); instead, he's using this Purple building office condo for his business development in the sphere of pu-erh tea. He also is connected with the elegant pu'erh teashop that's right off of Tiananmen Square -- near the Forbidden City. We paid a visit there yesterday, and I gave a tin of Dutch cigars as an incidental present to Mr. Gao -- the gentleman more or less in charge of the whole block of buildings (including teashop and fancy restaurant -- as well as the Royal Art Museum where XD is nominally director) adjacent the Forbidden City.

Mr. Gao had joined us for dinner when we dined at the fancy restaurant back in January -- it was there I tried playing the instrument called zheng. But speaking of zheng (a bit like vichitra vina in how it sits horizontally -- but with many more playing strings, one for each note) -- a couple evenings ago, Zhao Tingyang, the philosophy-writer and Kewen (the editor of Life [Shenghou] magazine)'s young daughter played this instrument for us -- she played some 3 or 4 songs. There are interesting forms of meend-like and gamak-like ornamentation in this Chinese classical tradition . . .

Mr. Gao, anyway, has taken to smoking a pipe. XD was smoking a cigarette, and I was smoking a Dutch cigar -- at the teashop. So I told Mr. Gao my theory about smoking. Those who are well settled in life and have a feeling of leisure, may smoke a pipe. Those who are a bit more pressured / busy / anxious, can smoke a cigar. Those who are really harried / on-the-go / nervous, will smoke a cigarette. XD and Mr. Gao laughed. Then Mr. Gao told me his own theory. He said that a pipe is like one's wife. A cigar is like an affair with a lover. A cigarette resembles a prostitute. (It is not uncommon among Chinese to pass around a cigarette from one person to another. A cigar requires a special atmosphere to enjoy it. A pipe can be a constant companion, and is never shared.) He said that he told his wife this analysis. She then bought him a pipe to smoke. So perhaps my gift of Dutch cigars was superfluous.

1 comment:

Max Babi said...

Interesting, David!
Your friend's theory about smoking was very fascinating... keep writing.
And keep on doing your riyaz too.