I confess, my Spanish isn't that great. I can get by ordering in a restaurant and taking a cab and even making small talk - but when someone tells me a story, you might get a blank stare that I'm trying to cover up with a polite smile and a nodding head. Fortunately, the literary laws of Tango story archetypes means that the plot, the ending and the moral of the story are all fairly predictable. The milonguero gets the girl (or not) - and they have a nice tanda (or not) of tango. It's all good - whether or not it all sinks into my noggin.
Now, I have another confession to make - my Chinese ain't that great either. I can speak it without an accent but I can't read anything more difficult than a menu. Man Yung has to backtrack and explain quite a bit when our conversations get serious. I'm sure that Man Yung thinks that it's like teaching kindergarten to kids...
...And strangely, I do feel like I'm in kindergarten again - listening the stories that Man Yung is telling me about current affairs in China:
In China, thousands of babies drank baby formula laced with a chemical that made their heads grow five sizes bigger and destroyed their kidneys. The baby formula company could skimp on actual milk by adding this chemical and make more money that way. Many babies died.
The Chinese Government found some scapegoat underlings at the baby formula company and executed them. The real culprits - the ones making the business decisions and the corrupt officials who were supposed to be monitoring food safety - naturally got away. The Government also supposedly set up a "compensatory fund" for the victims. None of the victim's families got to see a single penny. When one of the parents of these unfortunate babies tried to rally the other parents in order to get justice or compensation, the Government arrested him for "inciting a disturbance" and locked him up.
Once upon a time in China, the police beat up this guy for no reason just because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The beating was so bad the guy's doctor said he was going to be impotent for life. The guy got so mad he rushed into the police station with a knife and stabbed every police he encountered, killing seven. When the police finally caught him, they put him on trial which lasted like, a day. And then they executed him. And the people hailed him a martyr and a hero.
Meanwhile, once upon a time in another part of China another guy set off several homemade bombs at Government buildings around the city, killing some officials. He had been driven off his land several times by the Government acting in cohort with Development companies - every time he relocated, they relocated him again. The compensation was not enough, since the officials skimmed money off at every level. The injustice drove him crazy. The official report said two bombs went off - but unofficial channels said there were more.
Once upon in China, prostitution became so prevalent that brothels occupied the area of several football stadiums. Some men started to think that all women were whores and could be bought with money. A corrupt government official threw money at a waitress in return for sexual favours - and when she refused to put out, he was outraged. He beat her and tried to rape her. She resisted and in the struggle, stabbed the corrupt official to death with a dinner knife. The Chinese Government arrested her, charged her with murder and sentenced her to death.
Once upon a time in Chinese Mongolia, big business strip mined the grasslands for coal. The locals made their livelihood herding sheep and cattle, but the shortest direct path of the coal trucks was right in the middle of the grasslands. They destroyed the habitat and ran over the herds of livestock with their wheels. The sheep and cattle starved because they could not access the grass. The locals pleaded with the coal company to take a detour around the grassland and use the paved road, but the company refused to listen because they had the protection of the corrupt government officials and did not need to answer to anybody.
Some of the herdspeople tried to stop the trucks by staging a protest - and the trucks just accelerated right into the protestors, killing a herdsman and dragging his body for miles without stopping. There was a huge, angry riot. The Chinese Government shut down the internet, and sent in soldiers, guns, tanks and planes.
Once upon a time in China, some farmers bought seeds that grew into watermelons that burst at the slightest touch, because there was too much growth additive. Some other farmers bought seeds that grew into watermelons that were harder than stone - you could whack the watermelon with a metal shovel and they wouldn't break. Yet some other farmers spent their life savings and bought seeds that did not grow into anything at all, because the seeds were fake.
Once upon a time in China, there was a great Chinese leader who used to study engineering. He decided that his big project for China would be a huge hydro electric dam - he considered himself an engineer and wanted to leave his mark. Millions of people were displaced off the land for the project, which would immerse many areas under hundreds of feet of water. Many wise men and scientists said that the dam would do more harm than good - but the great Chinese leader wouldn't listen.
Finally the dam was built. The environment was turned upside-down within months. Some areas drowned in "100 year record rainfall"; other areas turned to dust with "100 year record drought". You can see the cracked, parched bottom of some of the great Chinese lakes - lakes that used to be so huge you could almost consider them seas.
Once upon a time in China, a developer backed by the power of the corrupt Government gave an order to expropriate a poor flower farmer's land. The flower farmer pleaded, please, give me one more month - so I can harvest my growing flowers and recoup my losses at the Chinese New Year flower market. The developer laughed and ran over the flower fields with his trucks and tractors.
Since the flower farmer still refused to move off his property, the developer made the fatal mistake of going in person to the flower farmer's house to deliver his ultimatum. The flower farmer stabbed him to death with gardening shears, and then used the same shears to cut off the developer's head. The flower farmer then threw the developer's head into a plastic bag and brought it to the local police station to turn himself in. The police were horrified when the severed head rolled out of the bag, but there was nothing they could do to revenge the developer's death - the flower farmer had drank pesticide and died right after delivering his message.
Once upon a time in Guangzhou in China some government licensing officers beat up a pregnant street vendor for refusing to pay them a bribe. The street vendor's husband tried to intervene - and the licensing officers punched and kicked him to death. The locals were so outraged there was a huge riot. The Chinese Government shut down the internet and sent in soldiers, guns, tanks and planes.
Once upon a time in China a news program interviewed some kids in kindergarten. They asked the kids who they wanted to be when they grew up. Instead of wanting to be teachers, or doctors, some of the kids said very loudly they want to be "Corrupt Government Officials". Because that's where the money is being made - everyone knows that.
Once upon a time in China there was a good, uncorrupt government official. The people loved him for taking a tough stance on corruption and dispensing real justice.
The corrupt government officials would have none of that - and made the police arrest the good official on trumped up charges. Even before the good official was taken to HQ for questioning, it was reported that he had died a "mysterious" death en route. He had been beaten to death by the henchmen of his corrupt accusers. The people found out and became angry and there was a huge riot. The Chinese Government shut down the internet, and sent in soldiers, guns, tanks and planes.
Once upon a time in China there was a wise village chief who rallied his people to fight against the appropriation of their ancestral lands by greedy developers working with corrupt government officials. His opposition was ruining everything for the developers and their allies - so it was conveniently arranged for him to be accidentally and tragically run over by a car. The villagers did not believe it was an accident, and a riot ensued. The Chinese Government shut down the internet, and sent in soldiers, guns, tanks and planes.
Once upon a time in China there was a son of a corrupt and powerful official. He had no fear of the law because of his father's power and influence. He was driving recklessly one night and ran over a pedestrian. He got out of the car - and when he discovered that his victim had not died, he knifed him eight times to make sure that he was dead and that there would be no witnesses. Speeding off, he hit another pedestrian around the corner.
Once upon a time in China there were grieving parents of the students who died in the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Another anniversary rolled around - this time the Chinese Government had a different tactic up their sleeve. The grieving parents - usually sent out of town or put under house arrest during the anniversary of the Massacre so that their voices would be not be heard - suddenly received mysterious phone calls in the night. This time, instead of threats - the voice on the line offered them money. "How much do you want to make all this 'go away'?" the voice asked.
Once upon a time in China there was a corrupt official who was in charge of food safety when the deadly baby formula incident broke out. He was supposed to get punished, or even fired, but he was considered a staunch party member so of course they just put him in charge of something else.
Unfortunately, they put him in charge of a region that subsequently experienced a very deadly earthquake - even more deadly than usual, since all the schools were built using substandard materials and shaky "tofu" construction in order for the corrupt officials and their developer buddies to skim off more money from their government contracts. A whole generation of schoolchildren died, crushed to dead under the collapsed school buildings. How embarrassing for the Chinese Government - and how unlucky for the corrupt official.
Once upon a time, there was a corrupt government official who amassed such an immense fortune through bribes and corruption, he had to hide his mountainous stash of cash in the fish pond - wrapped in plastic inside a big crate. In fact, there was more than one corrupt official with lots of hidden cash - luckily, searchers started to get more experience with the hiding areas. Whenever the Chinese Government was forced to arrest yet another corrupt official who overstepped the limit (what, is there a limit?) they would know where to look for the money.
I feel so helpless - it is kindergarten all over again. And there is nothing cathartic in the telling, listening or re-telling of these fairy tales. Where are the heroes and heroines, the moral of the story, the happy endings? Once upon a time in China, there's only greed, corruption, abuse of power, injustice and no morals - and just villains and their victims. How will all these Chinese Fairy Tales end? I think it will take Man Yung more than 1001 nights to tell them all, every day they keep on coming...
...That is, until the Chinese Government shuts down the internet - and sends in the soldiers, guns, tanks and planes.
** This "Once upon a time" is not a long time ago - it is NOW, and EVERYWHERE.
Martha's Apartment in Buenos Aires
A Non-exhaustive set of Tango links in Toronto
- La Cachila - weekly milonga
- Paradiso -- weekly milonga
- Practica El Beso
- WE Tango
- Tango Sur - classes, shows
- Rhythm and Motion - classes, milonga, practica, annual Toronto Tango Festival
- Tango Obsession - classes, weekly Practica La Coqueta
- Tango Lirico - classes, practica, weekly milonga
- Tango de Oro - classes, shows
- Tango Soul Productions - classes, weekly milonga, shows, El Congreso annual Tango Festival
- Vivatango - classes
- Tango Argentino - classes
- Club Milonga - classes, special events
- Alternatango - classes, weekly milonga
- University of Toronto Tango Club - classes, practica
- El Abrazo - classes
- Tangoloft - twice monthly milonga