Cliterati in Mongolia 209 Part IV

Posted by: ming

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(Part IV of The Poem That Still Speaks: An Essay on the Poetics of Political Exile)

Erlian was dusty, windy, and a little chilly. Against clouded brown air and light fixtures that look like dandelions, the flag flew at half mast. The same woman who met my eyes like a hawk when I handed her the sheets on board the train then had a talking crush on me on the hallway because of my blue eyes--and then chased me out of the bathroom--passed by, her shift over for the time being. This region, the deserts of China and Mongolia, did feel to me unequivocally like the dusty, barren apocalypse, the real end of the world. During the night sometimes the man in the opposite bunk would sit cross legged in his paisley long underwear, studying me. Each time it always looked the same out--rock, sand, gobi, pre-dawn. Now I waited in the cold gusts sitting on my bag on the side of the train station, wondering how to prepare for meeting the family and visiting the home of someone who had been exiled.
I tried to make my eyes blaze with other fires than those of love,
With corroding fires, or whistle’s echo, sinking, sunken.
Tell him...tell him you saw me and that...that you saw me.

A team of forest-green-suited police were there to greet us when the train arrived, standing between the train and log-laden cars on the next track. They shone flashlights on the floor and roof of the train hallway, felt my bed nonchalantly, asked me for an entry card I was never given, then shrugged and walked away. Now they filed into a van. Would they have taken him into that van if he had attempted to return to his wife and daughter.
You have rather the look of another world. We have our reasons. How could you leave the crime uncleansed so long?

I thought I should not blink once, because I was in the land that was only a dreamscape to him: he would never come back, and as a place his body will never reside it was now, to him--to his brain in the body whose mobility was limited by political restraints--strictly a world of metaphor.

Look the house in its blind face.
the Film upon the eye
had the opal lightings of dark oil.

Winging, swept away, What good were eyes to me?

I waited. Pushy taxi drivers. A woman with a gauze scarf pulled over her face, smushing her features. Tumen called me on my phone, which got service here, to say to stay where I was. Tumen's friend, who picked me up after a while, was a doctor with an office in one of the spaces of a mall sort of deserted outlet place. The other spaces in the warehouse sold all manner of things but mostly cheap clothing. There was a picture on the wall of a wolf and a Chinese emperor guy. Calendars. When I asked what kind of emch he was, he pointed to them.
You cannot explain to others because they have no conception of what is meant.
They say they are ions in the sun.
You may say it is to prevent our reason from foundering.

His wife mopped the floor. A sterile smell. Their daughter, an eight year old in a pink shirt, black pants, and clackety black flats scurried by, a white mop dog in her arms. She played jump rope with a long, rubber rope in the wide warehouse hallway with the other girls. Some of them sat and whispered on the sofa next to me, finally asking me how old I was. I slept and woke in a place that was not supposed to be surreal--not a metaphor for me--vibrating white light and girls clacking and jumping rope. The mother and daughter put on their jackets and left. The light was never direct. There was too much dust for that.
The book Tumen is writing now, he indicated through Natsagdorj when we met for dinner, chronicles his journey to Mongolia. I can't wait to read it--to be able to read it in Mongolian or to read the English version, whichever comes first--because those moments in Inner Mongolia for me were peppered with holes in the narrative. Flickering in and out of sleep in that strange room in the storehouse mall, I wondered, was this a friend who helped him escape? Did he need help escaping, even? How much time did he have, or felt he had, to leave? How much time passed between when the police raided his house and his office, and did he know they would come? If he did not have such negative associations with the Chinese government, would he long for home? What thoughts did Tumen's inner world churn out as he left his country of birth?

I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future.

The car was taking four people to Hohhot and I was the first, which meant I got to see the bright shapes of Erlian's buildings against the dusty air as we made the rounds to hotels to pick the others up. In the car on the way to Hohhot every red flag flew at half mast. The three men I rode with, I knew, made up the miracle of the present but I did not want to talk to them anyway. Dinosaur statues on the way into Hohhot, twenty of them sweeping the landscape over hundreds of yards. All is well in the world, read some meditations. Life is unfolding as it is meant to. A chorus of schoolchildren were trapped under buildings for a third day then, in the immediate aftermath of the Szechuan earthquake. Dust formed a globe of the sun, it always would. "Stew in the screen of the mind," I scratched. First a flat expanse, then rows of trees thrashing, then as it grew dark the great sleeping-boar shape of a mountain.

The words are purposes.
The words are maps.

They dropped me off first. I said thank you to the moon, hanging full above their apartment. The first thing I noticed is how much less tired, how much happier, the face of Tumen's wife was as I glimpsed it through the window before exiting the taxi; I had seen her once before, in Ulaanbaatar, when she had just arrived for a visit from Hohhot the previous night. Here she was happy and affectionate--why wasn't she like this before? Was she exhausted from the train ride she had taken the day before from Hohhot to Ulaanbaatar? Was she worried? Had she been detained again? I knew the swiss-cheesed narrative, the lack of information colored my experience there as almost exclusively one that played out in subjective, emotional terms. I've mentioned before that I'm a shoddy journalist. Facts are not always mine to obtain, though; I didn't know how to be there. I didn’t know the words to all these questions. Plus her dialect, the Inner Mongolian, as it contrasted with the Outer I learned, made even the most basic communication difficult. I didn't know if the questions were appropriate to ask, or even if it was safe to in that apartment.

She persuaded us to let the mystery go
And concentrate on what lay at our feet.
The worst of words. The original quarry, abyss itself.
You need riches, armies to bring that quarry down!
Will you swallow, will you deny them, will you lie your way home?

The walls were turquoise. She sat across from me. She worked today; it was Monday and she was a geography teacher. She mixed sweet yogurt and grain, gave me milky tea and a can of beer, cut the mutton for me from the bone when I showed myself incompetent. The mutton was the best thing I had ever tasted and I'd sworn I was done with mutton. I looked at her face and at her daughter's room, where I would sleep. This is where he cannot be. This is where he cannot be.

It is weak and silly to say you cannot bear what it is your fate to be required to bear.

24 hours later, after a day of outing she let down her hair and it framed her face in a way that made me understand why the word pretty came into being. If they were to reunite, would they fit together again? With the death of the gentle ghost's voice on the phone that comforted me during my year in Asia, with the replacement of that self I loved by an unkind stranger, I learned it's possible for a self one loved to die while its body, the shell, lives on and grows new selves, nothing like the ones before. What if this happened to Tumen Ulzii and his wife? When distance is chosen--or, in the case of an exile, forced--experience of an other becomes dependent on medium, which doesn't cover everything. All sorts of changes can occur. The body lurking within a body--hope, optimism, or a self--can die, and the other doesn't always know. What of realignment, should they be allowed to reunite?

You have not wept at all! I see a white cheek and a faded eye, But no trace of tears. I suppose, then, Your heart has been weeping blood?
I have always stood in the way of your pleasures. Open your eyes. Look and see who I am.

In Hohhot's new Museum of Inner Mongolia they already had a graphic design poster with images of the Schezuan earthquake. The museum also boasted the largest complete dinosaur skeleton in the world. The guide accompanied us for it though she knew nothing about it since she was actually stationed on the floor below, and she wouldn't shut up so I retreated until she left. I call Tumen's wife mother in Mongolian, Eej, and accordingly, it took me no time to become the sullen daughter. Eej alternately pushed and pulled me by the elbow and I, sleepy from the day and a half of transit to get there, felt irritated and unable to help feeling irritated. Sometime the body is a heavy thing to lug when you know you are walking in the nightmare of Tumen's memory, China, but the miracle of his hope, in the form of his wife. She took the day off to spend with me there in the museum where the stuffed animal skins all looked vaguely confused.

Witness, you ever-
burning lights above, who are so lovely fair and smellst so sweet that the sense aches at thee:

Suppose we repented. Repented what? Our being born? Remorse is the poison of life. You were born for pain.

All over Hohhot streets, taxi screeches--tin the restaurant thank god I came awake though I shuvuu shig iddeg ("eat like a bird")--only the mind and its attachments form the specters--I like this hour, I tried to tell her: the most popular Mongolian restaurant in Hohhot and we are the only customers--waiters walk by singing, and towards the back the cooks sleep with their heads in their arms--bed on the verge of breaking--futile to want the connection dreamed of, in which one does not construct oneself but one simply is--the cottonwood leaves clappered outside----a teaset shaped like genitals in the museum--a cup of coffee in "mike dong," as she said: McDonalds (and there is not one Mike Dong, KFC, or Starbucks in all of Outer Mongolia)--taxis like a school of fish outside the train station--they gave you a large faux-denim backpack in which to put your purse, then they lock it with a sensor for the duration of your stay in the bookstore--in the front of the museum a huge piece of topaz that supposedly looked like an eagle, which supposedly looked like the state of Inner Mongolia--the museum was huge, new, built in 2007, so Tumen hadn't seen it--behind his house, the university track field, at dusk kids run around, playing ball--fewer people in Hohhot than in Ulaanbaatar, but Hohhot worlds more developed--Clean, wide streets, like a Chinese Seoul--Women taxi drivers--his is one way political privelege seeps through the cultural script of literature: I could confuse the past and present tenses, I could switch voices, whereas Tumen's past and present were starkly divided, and the violations had happened to him and his wife and will always have happened to him and his wife, not a "you" they can separate from--

Witness, you ever-
burning lights above, who are so lovely fair and smellst so sweet that the sense aches at thee:

Suppose we repented. Repented what? Our being born? Remorse is the poison of life.

If words are ever-burning lights then, as much as this may neer have happened, everything that had happened continues to happen in a present that spans the horizon: outside, on the university field, a candlelight vigil is being held on the concrete track. On the ground the candles form the shape of a heart. It is for the earthquake victims. It is where Tumen and his wife would walk at dusk.

Give me the ocular proof, if only to save you from freezing at the street corner all night, to comply with heat: Bells
in your parlors, wildcats in your kitchens;
After every tempest come such calms. Even then this forked plague is bated to us.
Comments (1)add comment
written by Hohhotter , May 18, 2009

Hello, I am a Hohhot native just reading ur post. Are you a journalist in Mongolia or a foreigner. Is Tumen a writer who has been waiting for his application from the UN?

I am a half-Mongolian Chinese who grown up in Hohhot, you know, many of Mongolians in China are not actually "genuine" Mongolian people, I cant speak my mother tough--the Mongolian language, and the grassland is too far a image for me--I am living in Hohhot--a kind of-modernized provincial capital city of China.

We have a few KFC and Mai Danglao (McDonalds),pizzahut in Hohhot, and you mentioned that Hohhot has fewer people than fewer people in Hohhot than in Ulaanbaatar? I checked that the population of Ulaanbaatar as of 2008 is just over 1 million from WIki, that of Hohhot is over 2.5 million.

Dylan a Hohhotter smilies/smiley.gif

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