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Podcast 2019
Middle Kingdom Podcasts (2005-2017)

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The Language Company
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The Interrogation

The boy soldier was silent. 

“What’s that for,” the female Chinese Public Security Bureau official said pointing to the typewriter on the table. 

“It is for writing letters.” 

They have reservations about letters. Letters, they wonder, looking at each other with jaundiced eyes. Black eyes streaked with exploding blood vessels full of fear and suspicion. 

Letters indicate political insurrection, dissent, forced labor, mandatory abortions, propaganda, civil unrest, turmoil, revolutions, tanks in the street, torture, solitary confinement and executions. 

They see party leaders wringing their pale hands, nervously pacing forbidden cities past stone lions, conducting top-secret meetings trying to figure out what to do, how to put a face on all this. How to manage and manipulate disinformation rivers, how to control floods.

The boy soldier and his comrade save face by maintaining blank, stoic expressions. They suspect I have connections. Maybe I am a plant, a party member sent to check their unit. Assigned to monitor their methods, their questioning tactics, their subtle use of intimidation, their implications to control and influence people’s lives for the good of the state.

For all they know I am a subversive. A word terrorist.

“Letters. We will keep an eye on this one,” she said to the soldier.

They are thinking: We have ways to make you talk. They don’t tell me this but I know how it works. I’ve read Tu Fu’s work. I’ve digested their bone dust dynasty history.

“Yes, well, we’ll see,” she said. “We need to remind you to remember this very carefully.” Her voice rose an octave.

The bent nail gets hammered down!”

"Just because you speak our language doesn’t mean you are special. We can revoke your visa and force you to pay a fine. We can put you away where no one will ever find you. We will discuss your situation with our leaders. We have driven the talented people abroad. Some went into hiding but we know where they are and we find them. We always do. We find them in their homes, schools, jobs. Some accepted positions at foreign universities where they form counter-revolutionary groups bent on overthrowing the state by writing articles, stories and books critical of their homeland.” 

Her face resembled nuclear fission as she pounded the table. “They are a disgrace! They are running dogs!” 

“I see,” dropping my eyes to save face. 

Downstairs my warrior team, armed with tools made on slave labor production lines financed with western capital, were busy. They laughed, singing and dancing, knocking holes in theories, lies and deceptions. They built facades, charades, fast food outlets, dream machines, ignominious pious grandiose standards of living faster than joint venture ink dries on thin rice paper. 

The authorities are momentarily appeased. 

I understand they are following orders. To the letter. I am well aware, remembering letters, if they execute me with a single bullet to the back of my head my family will have to pay for the ammunition. My family will be very surprised when they get a bill in a letter from the Kow-Tow authorities for a round. They will have to buy a round and will never meet the last of the big time spenders.

To make matters worse, the authorities, after executing me, will disembowel me and recycle internal organs seeing the profit to be made from a used, well traveled and perfectly functioning heart, lungs, kidneys, pancreas, eyes, ears, hair, genitals, spleen and assorted by-products. It will be a real mess.

First, they will need International Reply Coupons which are nearly impossible to find, and second, the post office glue made from horses is a disaster. Gets all over the wooden counters and fingers of rude, impatient people because they are slobs. After smearing glue everywhere they push and shove their way toward the sullen postal clerk thrusting mail in her face. 

If it wasn’t for guaranteed sticky white rice three times a day my grand inquisitor would be home knitting a sweater and gossiping with neighbors. They’d be discussing vegetables, weather and roving demolition crews with their bulldozers wondering when, not if, their neighborhood would come tumbling down and they’d be forced to move to bland housing tracts on the edge of the Gobi desert. 

They will be the last to know. Earth trembled as blades sliced dwellings in half sending clouds of green tiled dust spiraling into the polluted sky.

Not only will the officials need IRC coupons to bill my next- of-kin for the bullet, they will require hand carved marble chops with engraved ideograms and delicious red ink to verify and administer their official proclamations and imperial judgments. 

They will chop and stamp my passport until it bleeds. EXPIRED. They will chop every single page if necessary. They are important cogs in the wheel of the law, the wheel grinding themselves down into the dust of ages. 

Their propaganda looms spin broken threads out faster than they can weave them into their tapestry. If they make one mistake they will answer to the authorities. 

They examine my passport with filthy greasy fingers. They turn pages, looking at visa stamps, examining strange forbidden exotic designs. They see rainbows and rare birds, hear wild drums from Amazonian rain forests while savoring fruits from lush gardens filled with crow and raven songs. Eagle feathers drift out of the pages. 

On one page they explore meadows illustrated with roses. Thorns dive out of the sky piercing their hearts. A river of blood breaks through dams flooding their ancestor’s graves. They see names, histories and corpses floating toward the Blue Sea. 

Turning another page they scamper above raging gorges on frayed rope bridges. They hear people screaming, “Help us. Save us!” 

They keep going. The other side of the gorge is dark and dangerous, full of Black Mambas, vipers, pythons and fear bred demons slithering out of the ground, evaporating into rivers of sound, twisting forms dancing through their eyes, weaving into their spirit.  

They struggle through fog, hail storms, into blizzards toward mountains where they are blind. They are stranded inside the discursive circular logic drowning in a river of tears inside their river of dreams. 

“We’ve gone too far,” the boy yells to the PSB woman. “Turn back!”

“It’s too late,” she cries. They began seeing with their ears and hearing with their eyes.

Turning a leaf they dived into the ocean of their love below the surface of appearances. In deep turquoise waters they discovered a secret spirit cave pulsating with a heartbeat and magical sources of inspiration and beauty. 

She handed the passport to the boy. “What do you make of this?” 

He took off his military party hat and scratched his head.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Appears to be some fable, a fairy tale, a mysterious rambling incoherent story. Never seen anything like this before.” 

His comrade grabbed it back.

“Yes, strange indeed,” she whispered. “Where did you get this?” She held up a page of a butterfly sitting on a pure white lotus flower growing from mud. 

“My girlfriend sent it to me. She's a superstition manager. It’s a dream.”

“Where did she get it?”

“Along the way.”

“What way?”

“She collects dreams from people along her journey.”

“Where is she? In Laos? Bhutan? Cambodia, Tibet?” 

The interrogator is suspicious. She knows the primitive mountain people are animists, superstitious types. Their Dongba ancestors created a written language 1,000 years ago using pictographs and worship nature of all things! They have powers like levitation, lowering their body temperature, running for miles above the ground, transcending their physical bodies. 

“She is everywhere.”

“I don’t believe you,” said the woman. She skipped a few pages and started reading. 

“They floated through caves into Greek and Roman Empires. Inside a huge cavern flooded with strange celestial star light were halls filled with beautiful art from everywhere in the world.  It was arranged in a form of a historical magic time circle. They admired fabulous paintings of strange beauty. They cried tears of happiness and their tears created the beginning of the ocean.”

She handed the passport back. 

“It appears authentic. But, I must say, parts of it are rubbish. Pure imagination. Your girlfriend will have to account for this. She’s crazy and needs medication. We have ways of dealing with these people. She’s clearly a threat against state-controlled propaganda laws. We can’t allow lunatics to just go roaming around the country writing this stuff. She could be in serious danger.”

She rattles on in her well rehearsed monotone.

“There are immediate restrictions on your travel outside the city. You are required to check with the local Shanghai Security Office if you want to leave yourself, if you need to transcend this impermanent state of being.”

“Yes, I know. Existence, for many unenlightened beings is an endless cycle of desire, anger, fear, ignorance and suffering. Thank you. I am rainbow of Light. Will you have more tea?”

“Yes.” She handed me a cracked cup. I poured tea. 

She doesn’t want to lose face with this foreigner. Not in front of her comrade. He might talk at headquarters. Her superiors will question him. 

Her comrade is young and vulnerable to new ideas. If he has the chance to escape he will visit neighboring lands, meet people and see their art and absorb their music and stories.

She finished her tea gave me a withering look and left. 

Before leaving the boy soldier ripped the butterfly page out and put it in his pocket. He smiled.

“You have been very cooperative. We will be in touch.”