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Introduction & Chapter 1: Ragout & Guanxi


Introduction

 

Who, however, is in doubt ‘and’ awe (thaumázein) about a matter doesn’t believe in the thing to begin with. That is why the friend of Stories (mŷthos) is also in a certain way a philosopher; because the Story arises out of awe.’ (Aristotle’s Metaphysics: Book I. Part II)


In this fragrantly theoretical treatise aka succulent treatise on theoretics aka hoppy memoir—in this Mereology—Garlic is more than just a mawkish vegetable being added to the ragout of life.  Garlic is the Story Teller.  Allium sativum facilitates the relationship of events in all their past, present and future tenses.  In other words, I am is not the one writing this saga because I am is ragout-in-process.  And the best one can ever say for my part in these words is that the I am is just the guy delivering them:  The I am is, at most, a maître d' bringing The Story.  And as far as Garlic Cures go, they and/or it can be thought of as a living flavor enhancer:  Garlic Cures is Spiritual MSG.  And as this delectable narrative continues to unfold—as this life slowly simmers on the Burner of Existence—you, lovely reader, will come to understand that Garlic and its Cures is not just my story:  The Spiritual MSG and Story Teller have been there for others as well.1

But before Garlic gets into what you, lovely reader, may or may come to know, understand or believe, I can says that as long as I am continues to simmer on the Burner of Existence, regardless of my place, time and state of awareness in this bathetic account, there are and will always be other ingredients being added:  In some instants it’s a creamy heaping of daily grind and at other times it’s a rich pinch of life changing events finding their way into this here and now amalgam, perking up the overall flavor, and making it, the ragout as it is Existence and Life, even more succulent. Then it is precisely through this arbitrary addition of ingredients, which is ordinarily an uncontrollable act of palatable attributes carelessly mingling into the existential pot and ever-so-smoothly blending with the aromatic ragout, whereby the where, when and how of the mouthwateringly tasty aroma of story gets delivered … capriciousness is without a doubt an absolute Life delivering force:  Willy-nilly is the unbounded origin, the soul of souls if you will, that makes it all a truly delicious and smelly affair.  Though on occasion, fortunate as it is unfortunate, there are those items, those catastrophic fetid events and bitter olfactory elements, that, when unexpectedly introduced, cause mysterious physical and mental distress:  The unsuspecting ingredients, or the for lack of more sophisticated wordage “unexpected” and “unwanted fixings”,  that should add, by their very nature of existing and living, extra delicious qualities to the masterful ensemble of potentially scrumptious (and ceaselessly fragrant) ragout but appear to be pushing the dinner toward spoiled.  And then, as if the rotten appearance wasn’t enough, as the surprise rank elements continue to addle the stock of one’s Life, the at-one-time enchanting ragout starts to accrue reeking potentiality and stinking possibility only deserving ultimate refuge found in the bottom of a garbage can.  This flavor spoilage occurs at a time when the main course, as it is a Life appearing to have evolved beyond mere daily special status, seems to have reached the zenith of Story; and it is then, in such an elevated state, that the Life is not even deserving of the dignity of being served—or at least not even being given the illusion of having become a main entrée that was finally prepared.  I don’t want to say at the point where and when one has almost died, because one can never really know how close he or she comes or has come to such an illusion, but there are those defining moments when the ragout needs a new chef—a time when the ragout needs new inspiration.  It is the moment when the willy-nilly guide, which has been leading the illusions and delusions of one’s life thus far, turns out to have been little more than a misguided (if not completely deranged) cook with absolutely no cooking sensibilities.  Moreover, and regrettably so, much too often a viand-life, when it has reached such a point of despair, is already too lost, too frightened and, therefore, too confused in the mix to hear, smell, see and/or taste salvation, and, subsequently, too insecure to recognize the need for a new chef—the life as ragout simply seems to be no longer appetizing:  The Life going, going, gone rank has arrived at the juncture where and when all roads appear to be leading onethe ragout—straight into the rubbish bin.  As for the outcome of my crossroad being spanned—the catastrophic, unsuspecting, nasty, life altering where and when ingredient delegating me to a new commis chef, and consequently forever changing my ragout in process—I didn’t stumble into the bin of unpalatable entrées defined by unwanted ingredients:  I rose to the occasion like a Phoenix rising from out of old life-ashes into a new probable and possible life; full of better illusions and more grandiose delusions.  This is to say that instead of this story being nothing more than an after dinner fairytale of dessert, I smelled the Garlic.  To this day, some even say I reek of Garlic… I am is fragrant and tasty ragout!

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

The life changing ingredient inspiring these Garlic Cures and the Art of Telling a Tale of Ragout arrived roughly five miles out from the coastline of China.  I was on a day-long kayak trip with my friend, Gerhard, and because he was having problems with his boat we were forced to stop on a tiny island in the Yellow Sea.  After having pulled our kayaks onto shore, Gerhard remained near his craft so that he could tend to the mechanical troubles and I—a man without a nautical problems—stepped away from my boat to journey over slippery boulders and large rocks resting in the shallow tide; playfully testing my footwork skills as I made my way to where the sandy shoreline was replaced by a craggy embankment feeding into the ocean.  Having gone far enough away from Gerhard and our vessels, I put my hand down on the stony outcrop bridging land and water, stabilizing my stance so that I should then be able to turn my head and look out over the ocean’s expanse, and that’s when an angry, crystal-tooth rock jumped down from the tor and landed on my right hand keeping balance.  In an instantaneous explosion of white, blinding light my index, ring and pinky fingers broke and the middle one severed just below the middle knuckle. Within the milliseconds following finger destruction and liberation, there was calm and then a computer-like, categorical calculation as to what the greatest problem facing me was—and it’s not what you, lovely reader, might imagine.  While I gazed glassy-eyed at my mangled hand, and, perspicuously, the white lights of deliverance faded, from out of the haze of Life’s injurious deliverances further blitz-quick reckonings revealed what needed to be done in order to resolve, in an efficient and timely manner, a crucial issue not at hand.  With my wits coolly collected, I looked over at Gerhard, who was still positioned some fifty meters away on the shoreline, hunched over his kayak, and hollered that we had problems. Gerhard, who is old enough to be my dad, had evolved in our relationship over the twenty months I got to know him in China into one of the few role models I have in this Life.  (And I say this in all honesty, and not just because he eventually sculled his ass off getting me and my severed finger back to China in a timely fashion.) But in that moment busy trying to fix the rudder on his kayak, he had little interest in me and my problems.  “Yeah, we all got problems!” he barked in frustration; whatever was wrong with his boat wasn’t budging.  Not recognizing my somewhat whimsical plea for aid as an honest request for help, he simply returned his strained attention to the problem bedeviling his boat, and I… I, in turn, gathered my wits and finger, and imperturbably headed toward him, stumbling the whole way over the large and small rocks resting in the low surges of ocean water that, through the will of the clockwork of the tides, eternally splashed along the rocky, precipitous embankment.  Eventually on even, wet, sandy ground, and no longer caught between the Yellow Sea and the knoll of mischievously if not devilishly amassed, sloping rocks feeding into its waters, I was close enough to Gerhard so that when he looked up he could see my one hand cupped over the other hand that was, unknown to him, holding the severed digit. “Whatcha hurt your finger or something,” he chided sarcastically if not grumpily; still only annoyed by his problem.  “Yeah, something like that. But I think my problem’s yours now,” I replied, and opened my hand so that he could see what I was holding.

“Oh, shit,” was about all he could say. 

Gerhard was no stranger to danger or the problems that come with being in trouble in isolated locations.  Before retiring to China where he found a job teaching English at a university, Gerhard had worked as a parole officer in the outback of British Columbia:  It had been his career to fly out to little known, isolated settlements to check up on hardened criminals.  But out on the island in the Yellow Sea, somewhere off the coast of China, I knew Gerhard wouldn’t understand my most urgent issue at hand—no pun intended—and so I made no effort to tell him that my finger was the least of my worries.

  At first, in a panic, Gerhard wanted to climb the rugged, small island and look for help, but I reminded him of where we were:  There was only one way to go, and that was back to mainland China:  A feat entailing a five mile fight against wind and current.  Honestly, I don’t know if just anyone could have paddled two boats, gear and a helpless person the whole distance back, but, somehow, Gerhard managed to do it in less time than it took us to get out there.   

After reaching land, he had to first break down the portable vessels before we could depart on the hour-long ride back to Dalian.  As he disassembled the Feathercraft Kayaks, I sat in the rented van with the driver, my finger and hand still in the plastic bag Gerhard had wrapped them in to protect them from the salt water, and watched as Gerhard took apart the boats piece by piece by piece by piece….  The driver of the vehicle, still not grasping the severity of the situation, kept trying to speak to me:  Chinese people speak Chinese; this much I had learned in my previous twenty months living in Dalian.  And, unfortunately, in this story of ragout, garlic, and garlic cures, I could only sputter a few sentences and a limited number of words in Chinese—not enough to communicate.  Following a ten minute exchange of waffle, I removed my hand from the bag and showed the driver my finger.  He stared for a moment, then vomited. 

After another hour, Gerhard had the collapsible craft packed up, and we were on our way.  The driver wanted to take us to a nearby hospital but that was out of the question. This was not because the country doctors were notorious for having simply acquired their MDs through good old fashion guan xi—which translates into no medical school but just a who-you-know kind of relationship to the medical accreditation board—it was out of the question because I wasn’t happy about anything at this point:  My problem wasn’t a fucked finger and hand.  In the moment that the explosion went off and I saw the white light of Being, I knew that my true threatening problem was back in Dalian:  I needed to get home and intercept my seven-year-old daughter, Gwendolyn, before losing her in the insanity to which I had driven us.  At the time, she was the only blond haired, blue eyed Western child in any public Chinese school in Dalian, a city of seven million. And to understand the immense stress of such a living context, imagine witnessing a person walk on water or turn water into wine and you’ll get an idea of the daily reality Gwendolyn went through when simply walking out the front door of our apartment building every morning.  Eventually in our neighborhood it got better, and people no longer accosted the little princess with longing touches and awe filled stares:  It got better but we were for the most part limited to staying within our little corner of China.

Although Gwendolyn eventually learned to speak Chinese, I couldn’t, and, truth be told—as the aroma of Garlic now reveals to me—in that moment of fingerless despair, sitting in the rented van, I needed to see her in order to keep myself from falling apart—but this, my potential moment of mental collapse, wasn’t the ominous problem on the verge of over-cooking in the broiler of life. My menacing concern was of a different nature:  Gwendolyn generally got out of school at around 4pm, and she knew that if I wasn’t there waiting for her then there was a serious dilemma… the problem Gerhard couldn’t understand or I’m sure you, lovely reader, can’t yet fathom. The true problem was found in the plan whereby Gwendolyn was, in the case that I wasn’t there to pick her up from school or wasn’t at home waiting for her on the front steps, to search out our friend, Wang Hé on the University.  She knew where his dorm was, and she was instructed to make the journey alone if I was no longer there—it was a lot to expect from a seven year old child but what else could I do given the circumstances.  Besides the fact that Gerhard was with me and, thus, couldn’t attend to my daughter in this crisis, Gerhard lived too far away to be a key player in the event of any dire emergency that might have occurred in our lives. Wang Hé graciously accepted his role of uncle and thus the responsibility of fulfilling the plan and all its corresponding duties:  If Gwendolyn was to ever arrive at his room alone he was then to call the hospitals and morgues in Dalian because my absence meant that I was either dead or very close to being a served dinner.  And if my dinner was served, he was further instructed to start the process of locating her mother, my wife Martina, who was at the time in Germany studying to become a nurse.  

I had to give my seven-year-old daughter a lot of responsibility—something even our glorious Presidents and world leaders know very little about in today’s world.  But unlike our role models, Gwendolyn had to be responsible:  We were real people and foreigners in a foreign world.  We were alone at this point, and isolated from the world.  Or more honestly said:  I was isolated and she was slowly becoming my only doorway to the mysteries of China. 

On this day, taking my adventures into consideration, I thought I might be late and so luckily I had made prior arrangements:  Two of my university students were to come and pick her up from school and take her home.  They always came two times a week to help her with her Chinese homework, but they’d never picked her up from school before this fateful day.

Out on the island, as my life changed, and the number of fingers on my hand encountered a negative integer, I knew that I had to be home within a reasonable amount of time before the plan would be initiated.  And believe me, at that moment, short one finger and on my way to a nervous breakdown, the last thing I needed was Wang Hé calling my wife in Germany and having her freak out.  There was no need for Martina to hop the next flight out to China; thus throwing away a year of nursing school.  Besides saving my wife from any adverse shock and consequent misguided reactions, I also wanted to avoid the trauma that would be inflicted upon Gwendolyn.  Even if I had only lost a finger she would believe, again, that I was dead.  Dead again… this had happened once before when her school, without informing me (not that I could speak enough Chinese to understand anything of importance), spontaneously decided to end classes early for the day.  I was out running errands and had returned home shortly before 4pm before I headed to her school to pick her up.  While walking the measly two blocks I had no doubt that I would be greeted by her after she’d just finished a full day of classes.  To my dismay, the school yard and building were deserted:  Nothing and no one to be found.  In hysteria, I searched for Gwendolyn for over an hour; scouring the neighborhood until I eventually found her.  She, the seven year old, white hair, Western girl, had roamed the neighborhood streets in despair and confusion since 12pm that day until finally finding comfort in my shaking embrace. 

Before I go on, you have to understand I have a hard time writing or thinking about these things.  I sit here and get teary-eyed and emotional when reminiscing about events that seem so real and yet are nothing more than imagination’s game.  But it is just such a game that precisely defines Life:  Imagination’s game delivers ragout in binding, liberating and/or tearing emotions that give every, any, and all Life true orientation and/or contextual meaning.  However, on the rare occasion, imagination’s game does deliver the viand-Life as though it is nothing more than a steamy pile of smelly shit—a rank meal spiraling toward the rubbish bin.  Granted, the game ordinarily rewards us, but it seems that all too often it shits us out, cold, callous and indifferent to anything that would make us truly content.  

Don’t despair dear readers, this is not a recipe for nihilism.  The Garlic Cures is only positive.  The smells and aromas of a Tale of Ragout are the absolute embracement of All that is:  There can never be a moment of meaningful doubt to Existence.  Such an action as to truly doubt is, in the nature of the moment in which we are living, impossible.  Our ragouts simmer on the burner of Existence, and the ingredients may get tossed willy-nilly into the mix, but in such moments of chaos, wretchedness, despair, hate, sorrow, pain, suffering and apparent senselessness, all one needs to do is stop for a moment and savor the experience, regardless of the ingredients’ flavor—putrid or sweet—and one’s Life, as it is dinner in progress, can never turn rank.

Fortunately, Garlic’s aroma is strong.  I can relish every emotion in this ragout called Life:  I am’ is here thanks to the glory of Garlic, hallelujah!

On this important day of finger emancipation, I made it back in time before my daughter or students became worried as to my whereabouts; thus preventing a chain reaction that would have caused wife and child untold duress.  But before I returned home, I made the driver of the van stop so that I could get a couple of beers to help get me through the possibility of the plan already having been initiated and to get me through the inescapable guan xi hospital experience.  Finger in one hand and a beer in the other, I walked into our apartment to find my daughter happily being tutored by two of my university students.  Somewhat relieved, I sighed and then laughed before I told Gwendolyn we had problems.  (I knew then they were just beginning.)  Fortunately, Gwendolyn is a tough little girl with a wicked sense of humor, so she wasn’t too disturbed by the whole affair—it was after all only a finger:  Maybe an important finger considering it was my right hand fuck you finger, but I already knew then that I could learn to speak with my left hand just as effectively.  Gwendolyn actually wanted to see it wrapped up in the plastic baggie but I didn’t have the courage to show it to her.

In addition to Gwendolyn’s existing admirable traits, she was learning to love China:  The warmth of its people was truly enchanting and endearing.  There was this and then there was the fact that since learning Chinese she had come to understand that she, with her alabaster hair and skin, was viewed and treated as a princess.  Sure, being physically touched by hundreds of people daily has its downside, but in knowing that these people admired her and only saw possibility and hope in her shimmering, white appearance, she intuited with the onset of language that her guan xi was good.  Since the time of her unexpected half-day schedule change and ensuing forlorn, aimless wandering of Dalian streets, she had become more secure in her environment.  Matter of fact, she was learning to become that princess of hope and possibility.  

After making arrangements for Gwendolyn to stay with the neighbors, I went to the hospital—but not before buying more beer on the way.  At that time, guan xi was the only standard in China, and in having very weak guan xi I knew my operation was going to be a life-long process.  I didn’t mind the Chinese doctor not giving me enough anesthesia to keep me from waking during the operation—heck, I expected it, and that’s why I stopped to get more beer.  Nor did I mind the doctor’s half-witted comments to his colleague (in Chinese) as I lay semi-conscious on the operating table about whether or not I was screaming because of the pain:  I still can recall the hammer tapping the pin into the bone at the middle joint, fixing the top part of the finger at a 90° angle to the bottom part of the finger.  It wasn’t even this screwing up the reattachment operation that bothered me:  Pounding a pin through the joint destroys the joint, and eventually, because of this non-operation, I would be forced to have the finger removed again in Germany. (Oh, the sweet, delicious mysteries of China.)  I was, and still am, more bothered by the eventual blood poisoning I suffered due to the fact that the non-doctor prescribed the wrong antibiotic.  I can play piano with nine fingers but death is a silent song.  China challenged my ability to embrace Life in every moment—this much I am sure of.  I don’t doubt the glory of living, but I am now much more aware of the sacrifices.  This is to say that no matter how bitter the addled ingredient may seem to have become, I always enjoy the story:  I am is still here simmering on the stove. Garlic be praised!