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On a Slow Boat

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Time is different here. That's the first thing I noticed about China, and the last thing I understood. To tell you the truth, I think it never really did kick in; the idea that the movements of the hands of a watch weren't important, here. Maybe it's because they still were, to me. I don't know what it's like to have terminal cancer, but I'm guessing, when it gets towards the end, there's never a moment where you're not aware of it; where you forget. I'm guessing it's never all that far from your mind, not really, in the way that the tip of your nose is always visible, but you're only aware of that when you notice it, quite literally, in the corner of your eye.

The trick is to remember not to notice it.

See, this is how we think in the world that fell apart, the world the Chinese now look on with an uneasy mix of pity and distaste. We believe god, the universe, whatever, created the world at a particular time and that at another particular time, it will end. Start and finish. Like a race, though I guess a race could happen on a circuit. That's what the Mayans thought, and that's what people didn't realize, all those times they thought they'd prophesized the End of the World. The world didn't end, because time isn't a straight line. Hell, if anyone should know that, it's me.

I guess my point is, if you'd seen me walking down the street in those last few days, you might think I'd forgotten. And you'd be forgiven for that. I wish I could forget. I wish I could give up.


Money helps you forget, for a while. That's really what it's about; all the silver (and the gold) and the parties and the drugs; we're not stupid - well, most of us aren't - we knew what we were getting into when we got into it. So we push it away. Thirty years is a long time, except when it isn't anymore.

By those last days, I lived on a street that was cleaner than most hospitals I've been to, back in the US. (And I've been to a lot of hospitals, if you could call them that.) I didn't have the money for it, but she did, and no, I'm not telling you her name. Whoever this is, however you're reading this, I won't give you that. I've given up too much already. The thing is, she wasn't rich. This wasn't even what they'd consider an affluent neighborhood, over here. I mean, have you ever seen a lawn - a proper lawn? Not some hyperturf plastic shit kids growing up back at - I hesitate to call it home, because it isn't - right now probably think is the real thing? Soft, green grass, in firm, dark soil. Lush and thick, and plenty of water to keep it that way. Can you imagine that? If you can, you're probably Chinese.

But yeah, money helps you forget. What it makes you forget first is the fact that it won't last forever. I thought I was smarter than that, that I was different, but I wasn't; all I did was just postpone that moment when you look into your stash and notice that the bottom seems to have fallen out, at which point, of course, you ignore it, and you keep on ignoring even when people start knocking at your door, because it's not the people who will knock eventually, so nothing they can say or do can hurt you.

I don’t know. Why did I save up? So it would last me longer, sure, but I was a man with an expiration date. Did I think saving it would save me? Did I time actually was money, and thus, money time? I really don't know. I guess it doesn't matter.

So they've got this thing over here - well, I say here; I keep forgetting. China. They've got this thing in China that's on all the internetworks; chuan yue, they call it. It time travel, really, it's these stupid, pulpy shows about time travel, but that's not what they call it; that's not what chuan yue means. Chuan yue means time crossover. I'm not sure what the name implies; I could never do more than awkwardly buy groceries, and even then the cashier would giggle. Yeah, I know it's been thirty years, but see, that's how many expats there are. You could live your whole life in Beijing speaking nothing but English.

Anyway, chuan yue. It's this thing where people just slip back in time through, I guess, sheer force of bloody mindedness. You always go back, and there's no return; one way trip. You'd think that's where they got the idea. And the past is always the same; nothing ever changes. No matter how many butterflies you tread on (though why should you care; you're not going back). She used to watch it, and I'd tease her, and she'd laugh and tease me back, asking why wouldn't I want an adventure? And now and then I thought, in little moments like that, that I could talk to her, and she'd understand.

I think she would have. She would have listened, I know that. At least she would have listened.


The thing I said about watches - that's not strictly speaking true. Watches are important; the objects themselves, the craftsmanship. That’s appreciated. And keeping appointments; that's important too. You can't be three minutes late for an appointment in Beijing if you want to keep your job, not even if your job is killing other people. It's different. That's what I've come to understand. A lot of things make more sense now that I've been seen how the other half live. Even the things I wish didn't.

I don't have much more time; I want to talk about her. Us. How there ever could be an us - it's nothing short of a miracle. You see it all the time; desperate Americans trying to curry favor with rich, older women - there are just so many of us, and most of us arrive with more ego than cash. I certainly did, and I was loaded. But the poor bastards; the refugees and illegals looking for a protector and a safe, free bed - I did my fair share of laughing at them. Even when they got what they thought they wanted, they were shit out of luck; flavor of the month for their benefactress until someone more interesting came along. There were plenty to choose from, after all. When my money started running out, I wasn't stupid enough to think I was pretty enough or suave enough to have any kind of chance in that particular game. What possessed me to even consider talking too her in the state I was, years later, fat and balding, gone to seed, I've no idea.

Well, no, I do; I was dropped out of my skull.

But this is the thing; this is the miracle - eventually, she found me. I didn't even know I was lost. And I think, you know, sometimes, how I never would have met her if I hadn't killed myself. I thought about that, in our safe, clean bed that I hadn't paid for. That I would have to die, or I'd never find her.

Yeah. Well. Priorities change.

I've been doing a lot of reading these last few years. Philosophy. Confucius. You know what he says about time? It's not that time is a river; that's just putting simple words around a complicated idea. What he's saying is, time never simply repeats itself; it keeps evolving, changing. And when it does, something new is born that does not destroy the past, but recuperates it.

So really, when I hold a gun up to this boy's head and pull the trigger, in another universe, he has already survived. Just like another me was killed, so I could get these few years of freedom.

Don't you get it? Nothing matters. I'm a dead end. If I save her, I'm gone. If I don't, I have nothing to live for. I've said my piece. I'll put the pen down, now. I've made my choice. I am Schroedinger's Cat. It's time to open the lid. To pull the trigger.

Time is different, here too.