Groucho: “Is it my imagination, or is it getting crowded in here?”

This picture reminds me of how the inside of my head feels when I’m beset by self-doubt, confusion, and those thoughts that scream at me to be heard above all the others. It gets VERY crowded in there.

It’s also the season of the Sanity Clause. Western Consumer Cultures indulge in an insane frenzy of spending, a time of the year when I like to become quiet and contemplative as the madness swirls around me.

Fiorello: Hey, wait, wait. What does this say here? This thing here.

Driftwood: Oh, that? Oh, that’s the usual clause. That’s in every contract. That just says uh, it says uh, “If any of the parties participating in this contract is shown not to be in their right mind, the entire agreement is automatically nullified.”

Fiorello: Well, I don’t know…

Driftwood: It’s all right, that’s, that’s in every contract. That’s, that’s what they call a ‘sanity clause’.

Fiorello: Ha ha ha ha ha! You can’t fool me! There
ain’t no Sanity Clause!

Driftwood: Well, you win the white carnation.

Fiorello: I give this to Riccardo.

The Marx Brothers, A Night at the Opera (1935)

By the way, I recently re-read my teaching contract with the University. Just as I suspected, there is NO SANITY CLAUSE. That explains a lot.

Well, the COLD weather is here, and with it, a bad cold. I’m suspicious, though: my colds here come and go very quickly, so I expect them of being allergy attacks in disguise. One never knows what kind of flying smut one is inhaling in Chengdu.

I just had to get out of the apartment today. I’ve been holed up here for two days, and there are only so many books I can re-read, and so much time I can spend in bed. I forced myself to go to the cafeteria for lunch, and then I caught a bus downtown. Halfway there, we were caught in a massive traffic circus, caused by an accident between a car and a taxi. All hell broke loose, and there were no traffic cops to untangle the mess. there’s nothing like a Chinese traffic jam.

I hung out at Starbucks – I know, it’s a globalized coffee empire, but a medium coffee there is 15 yuan (about $1.85), while the “Chinese” coffee bars often charge 30 yuan and up. Yikes. I wandered thru downtown toward a large bookstore I like, and was amazed by the crush of humanity. Was it my imagination, or had I run into the dreaded Holiday Consumer Madness in China? According to another teacher, the way that Christmas is celebrated here is by running around with inflated plastic baseball bats, many with the American flag pattern on them, and smashing as many heads as possible. Now THAT’S my kind of holiday. Forget the presents. You don’t REALLY like those family members that much, do you?

I stopped in a Chinese herbal drugstore and pharmacy, mainly to see what it was like. I also wanted to find some kava-kava and Korean red ginseng. They may have had them, but I would never have known it. I wasn’t able to ask, and I was overwhelmed by all the other herbal remedies. I ended up buying a package of Xiasangju Keli,* which looked like an herbal tea, just on impulse. It looks like little pellets, and it tastes kind of like honey and herbs. I made a pot full, and I expect a miraculous recovery at any moment.

I reached the bookstore, and spent some time looking at imported English-language novels (too expensive), and at a really good selection of art books in Chinese. I had previously bought an instruction book here on Chinese calligraphy. During our 2-month Winter Holiday, maybe I’ll get some practice with my calligraphy brush.

* Xiasangju particles name : Chinese pinyin : Xiasangju Keli [Elements] Prunella, wild chrysanthemum, mulberry leaf — yellow brown to brown colored granules; Suitable for drinking. [Indications — Qinggan eyesight, Shufeng heat. For the Wind, Conjunctive Congestion headache, dizziness, tinnitus, sore throat.


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