China-focused Satire, Social Commentary, Comics and More

CRIMES AGAINST POSTERITY: Exhibit C

No Quiet on the Eastern Front

Not long ago I experienced a profound realization. I was leaning from our office window at the time, one hand supporting my body by grasping the swinging metal bars, while with the other I launched an aerial assault upon a pair of wailing cats perched on the patchwork roof below. I was not trying to maim; I wanted only to quiet their screams or drive them away, and was using as my ammunition cloves of garlic, aspirin tablets, and perhaps a jiao (small Chinese coin) or two. Still, it suddenly occurred to me that this was perhaps not an ordinary thing for a person to be doing. But it seemed unfair to cast the blame for my deviance on the two felines in that one isolated incident. There was a greater issue at hand, and it quickly became clear: China was driving me crazy.

A look back at my journal entries from the previous months helps to elucidate the process. Here are a few telling excerpts:

  • September 20, 2008: Woke this morning to what sounded like someone attempting to chisel through our wall…
  • September 28, 2008: Did I sleep at all last night? The racket stopped at 1:00 am and began at 4:00…
  • October 2, 2008: Fireworks exploded outside our window this morning…
  • October 8, 2008: My brain is not functioning…
  • October 26, 2008: Fireworks and saws all morning…
  • November 5, 2008: Hammering…
  • November 25, 2008: Whoever is responsible for that alarm should be shot…
  • December 10, 2008: The butcher’s chopping wrenched me from my sleep…
  • December 28, 2008: I think I am going insane…

I could continue, but the point is well illustrated as it is.

Of course, Nanjing is surely not the noisiest city in China, and is probably nothing compared to the hubbub and chaos of Cairo or Mumbai. But the sounds make no sense. They wake you up early in the morning wanting to tear open the window and demand of the world: Why?! Why is someone drilling a hole at this hour? Why are fireworks exploding directly below my window in the waking light of day? Why is that man yelling? Why doesn’t the owner of that motorcycle come deactivate its alarm after five excruciating hours of bleeps and sirens? Why doesn’t that person stop smoking and eating grease if it causes such a phlegm buildup? And why must the driver of that vehicle honk at every single pedestrian, dog, bicycle, and shadow?

Beyond that, the sounds are incongruous with each other. The collection of car engines, drills, saws, screaming children, building detonations, fireworks, hammers, horns, chopping, hacking, booms and billiard balls never seems to settle into white noise. Every sound is arresting. The noise invades; it violates. As I write this, I cannot hear the music playing from the computer at full volume – there is a power saw screeching next door, and it may as well be slicing through my chair. The natural boundaries of aural space have been destroyed.

Soon after that revealing episode, one of my students, while describing her hometown, declared quite confidently that she liked Nanjing because it is “not a noisy city.” Of all the categorical claims I’d heard from the mouths of these teens, that one grated me the most. Such a statement reeked of official recitation, a trickle-down response, as if my own complaints had landed on the desk of Nanjing’s mayor and now I was hearing his definitive answer in the form of a student’s own belief (Please recall my heightened level of paranoia and edginess as previously outlined).

That moment was catalyst to my coming to understand the true depth of the sonic crime being perpetrated against both the present and the future. The logic I’ve assembled is airtight, thanks in part to China’s ancient, well-documented affinity for noisemaking, a good two thousand years of evidence pointing directly to my conclusion:

1. The Chinese reportedly invented fireworks to scare off ghosts (but it’s probable that harm was also intended). The understood date of their conception is around the same time that European merchants were beginning to venture into the country, perhaps a hundred years before the appearance of the most famous foreigner of all history, Marco Polo.

2. The common term for a foreigner in China is loosely translated as “Old ghost.”

3. Consider some of China’s more famous cultural productions – Chinese opera and lion dances, for example. Both employ diabolical levels of sheer, piercing noise. The Chinese, of course, over their history, have become conditioned to such rackets. The foreigner, however, is quite unable to “digest” it.

4. Here is the most alarming of my revelations:

Historians may recall that in the fifties, Chairman Mao instructed his minions to wage a calculated war against sparrows. Their weapons: noise. They were ordered to produce such cacophony that the sparrows would simply drop dead. Combine this with Mao’s given reason (that sparrows eat too much grain) and the again categorical truth that all foreigners love bread (a grain product), and it is quite safe to deduce that the Chairman was in fact orchestrating a practice run of the great battle to come – the time when all countrymen would take up their pots, pans, whistles, hammers, horns, and cymbals and join to create the most outrageous, heinous, unfathomable din ever heard upon this earth. And the rest of the world, in trying (like sparrows) to sleep, concentrate, or live, will just drop.

This is my proposal for the good of prosperity: that the powerful nations of the planet, most of all the USA, realize this imminent threat and begin the immediate reduction of all defense/military budgets so that those funds and resources may instead be used for the production of earplugs, sound-dampening egg-crate foam, sound-proof glass, mufflers, reverse hearing-aids, and – so that the elite may remain so – a small number of Bose noise-canceling headphones.

Please, the sanity of the world is at stake.

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