|2003-05-02 - 6:01 a.m.
i don't know if you can imagine a city like this. when i used to live in new york, i would often wake up around 3am, restless and contemplating. i would walk across town from my christopher street apartment to yaffa cafe, a campy little food dive in the east village open 24-hours. the streets were empty. even the homeless people were nowhere in sight. empty. and i was never unsafe. an empty city is my church. i owned new york in the window before dawn.
but beijing is different. it is not like a sleeping city at all. it is a metropolis skeleton with vacant arteries. the air thick and oppressive with the potential of unknown. buses, restaurants, and bars- gratuitous reminders of urban living like backdrops in a morbid production. the hustle and bustle of new consumerist china now still and suspended in the aftermath of lies.
my visa was about to expire. i headed to the police station to get another extension. the office was buzzing. and not with people trying to leave. it was buzzing with people trying to stay. i was confused. were they mostly students? were they applying early so they could go hibernate before things got really bad? maybe that's it. so it was my turn. apparently you can not extend your visa more than once in beijing. the police looked at my papers and said...you have three days to get out. there are no exceptions. we are in a crisis.
now, there are many ways to get around this that may not all be legal. people sell anything up to 6 month visas. but all of a sudden my life roads placed me on a vortex. road 1: i was asked to leave my apartment because americans posed a threat to security(there was also a war, remember). road 2: my TV segment finished taping the next afternoon and due to SARS news overtaking programming spots, CCTV would be at a standstill. road 3: my visa legally expired. road 4: SARS. so without even lingering, i bought a plane ticket on thursday. hit the basketball stadium for the final taping thursday afternoon, and boarded a plane for san francisco friday morning, masked and overwhelmed with emotion. besides the general air of panic, making such dramatic changes in that short amount of time felt like i was racing a clock. like i was the tomb-raiding lara croft after lowering a secret pyramid door that released a river of hot molten lava i was now pole-vaulting to escape. it felt like that until the plane landed.
i was livid to observe the lack of any airport measures to contain the virus. i had been too sick on and off to take any risks so i kept on my mask and checked into a motel. i went into self-imposed quarantine for 5 days. althought elated to see friends and family, i was slowly becoming aware of my position in the cosmos. i felt alien again. i was dissociated in the space of post-trauma and i could not help think, as i arrived in san francisco, i left at least some of my heart in beijing.
i love you like the antidote.