“I am not racist. I like Kobe Bryant.”
The other night, I went with some friends for some lovely Israeli food.* On the way back we missed the last train home on the Batong Line by sixty seconds, exactly double the time it takes to be swamped by illegal taxi and ‘sherpa’ drivers at the turnstiles.
I ended up in the back of a (legal) cab, listening to my friend interpret the driver’s tirade about wanting to shoot Japanese people. It’s a sad fact that the recent military parade has certain chests swelling with nationalist pride and, to some people here, foreigners have become temporarily as popular as oral hygiene. Also, many Chinese people have yet to forgive the Japanese for invading in 1937 and trying to enforce things like table manners and not shitting in the street.
Luckily, this balding would-be Travis Bickle had about as many bullets as he did brain cells, so his one-man guerrilla war against the Land of the Rising Sun was restricted to pointing his hand like a pistol, giggling inanely and spouting things that I couldn’t understand or laugh at. I just stared blankly and edged towards the door, slightly grateful that Chinese cars don’t come with seatbelts in the back. It was pretty clear that if this guy ever did have a gun, the only people that needed to worry were those standing in the vicinity of his own kneecaps and feet. It was also pretty clear, if I’ve learned anything from my time as a heavy metal roadie, that he was coked off his tits.
I split the fare with my mate (the cost was mostly just financial) and then passed a couple of other Chinese guys who greeted me with a friendly “hello, fuck you!” My reply was to wittily dash across the street grumbling to myself and spend the rest of my weekend forcibly unclenching my arsehole.
The whole affair reminded me of the week I once spent in Glasgow (another city I visited for work rather than pleasure). Everyone there was still holding English people personally responsible for medieval war atrocities and talking about the battle of Stirling Bridge, a brief skirmish that was dramatized in the film Braveheart as the battle of Stirling (presumably because some Hollywood exec considered it bad cinema to have Mel Gibson tell a bunch of English guys to get the hell off a rickety wooden bridge). Trying to explain that I wasn’t even born in 1297, let alone giving a single fuck, became too tiresome so I just pretended I was Canadian.
My Russian roommate has gone. He’s been moved to a flat with a Ukrainian woman, who apparently hates Russians for invading her country and killing her mates. He has already pointed out that he’s never killed anyone, let alone anyone’s mate, but some people seem suddenly keen to tar entire nations with the same brush.
To say that Japanese people should be shot, or that Russians are killers, is racist. To say that all Chinese people are racist is, of course, racist. Like any racist statement, it is untrue. It would be like saying that every Scotsman is a thick, aggressive bellend: a statement based on nothing other than the ‘fact’ that every single one I’ve ever met has been.
We all have our prejudices: I don’t like corporate douchebags, politicians or aggressive nationalists. I don’t like people who blame their problems on other people, or people who hold younger generations responsible for ‘the sins of the fathers’. Even some people might get into every one of those bags for the right reasons, I have a pretty open mind.
I’m not saying we should all join hands under a rainbow flag and sing in perfect harmony about how insanely awesome everything is, I’m just saying that it takes less muscle power to smile than it does to frown, and it’s better for your skin. It probably takes less muscle power to shrug off the fact that there’s a lot of countries out there (and that yours is statistically unlikely to be the greatest in the world) than it does to stumble around with a nose full of blow waving an imaginary gun at an imaginary enemy.
Did nobody see that crappy remake of Planet of the Apes (the first, and by no means last, of Tim Burton’s genuinely bad movies), in which the orangutan Paul Giamatti says “Can’t we all just… get along?”
*at Bite a Pita, in Sanlitun. I recommend it. The little old lady who runs it with her husband is a fan of Hebrew literature, and I’ve spoken to her before about our mutual love of Etgar Keret’s short stories.