THAT LIT, LIT LIFE (with global characteristics) 7 (of 14)

There was a time I traveled without checking in luggage. Business trips. Harrowing schedules. No time to wait at carousels when you could be speeding to your next meeting to harass a supplier or fawn over a client. Now that I’ve left that life behind in favor of this lit, lit one, I travel with large, empty bags to be filled with goods from other lands. Books. Shoes in half sizes (hard to find in Hong Kong). Affordable organics.  Etc.

Not entirely unlike the “parallel traders” that worry the residents of Sheung Shui and create headaches for both the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.

Myriad headaches abound lately for these Chinese governments and societies with wannabe democratic characteristics. “Moral and national education” in Hong Kong schools that the government finally gave up on.  Uninhabited islands over which Asian nations squabble that send protesters to consulates in a patriotic fervor.  The burning and tearing of flags. The waving of signs with just enough English for international media cameras. Somber, silent or stumbling officials who say too much, too little or the wrong thing as they choreograph photo ops.

Ten thousand opinions abound.  Here’s one from its lofty, politically correct perch:

Methinks ‘tis time for another Modest Proposal.

or perhaps the Hip Hop Interlude of same

I discovered this amazing Yostrick9 version while meditating on Swift’s satire to write an essay responding to a famous essay for Understanding the Essay, ed. Patricia Foster and Jeff Porter, recently released.

So allow me now to honestly plagiarize Swift since governments’ woes arise mostly from stealing from the poor to feed the rich and falsifying histories or rewriting incidents of unrest to face the world (non-italics, mine):

It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with protesters on a daily basis. Occupied Wall Street (HSBC in Hong Kong, recently vacated, forcibly at the end). Mothers afraid of “educational brainwashing,” in tandem with students on strike, unwilling to attend classes thanks to the re-definition of what it means to be “educated.”  Residents of one-time remote, rural villages besieged by parallel trading travelers from Shenzhen, who are basically trying to make a living on an unequal playing field. Patriotic citizens of many Asian nations in a frenzy over uninhabited rocks bloated with gas.  And so forth.  These protesters, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time marching to protest for their future sustenance for their helpless societies.

I think it is agreed by all governments that this prodigious number of protesters is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom(s) a very great additional grievance; and therefore whoever could find an easy method of making these protesters useful members of their societies, would deserve so well of the public as to have her statue set up for a preserver of the nation(s).

Forget the statue. Instead I give you books for these deserted islands to where ALL governments could ship ALL protesters on a random survival quest.  May the best protest win. That way, NO government would have to actually make a wise decision that might make them lose face.  And in Asia it’s ALL about face – humanity, common sense, fair play and wisdom be damned – in the pragmatic battles for glory and riches (may your stock markets rise and unrest fade or at least be buried where the bodies are never found).

So here are my picks for the longevity of deserted islands:

Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son:

Joyce Cary’s Mr. Johnson:

Joan Didion’s Democracy:

John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces:

Marianne Wiggins’ John Dollar

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies:

And to fully steep oneself in the rules of the game of I’m right and you’re wrong . . .

Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.

‘Twas brillig. Slay that jabberwocky, do.

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Meanwhile, the world is lyrical / because a miracle / has brought my lover to me. I’m “dancing on the ceiling” in the words of Lorenz Hart  who wrote some of the most sing-able lyrics in the American songbook.  One of these days I must pen a “Modern Love” column about my distance relationship, connected by email, Skype and a 15-hour flight. The luggage is in aid of that flight, tolerable even in cattle class, if you’re dancing. 

* * *

But let’s pause a moment to meditate on plagiarism. As a current member of the ivory tower (which seems an entirely wrong image in these endangered-species times), I think about plagiarism. It happens with such alarming regularity that it seems reason enough never to assign anything older than a minute because too much has already been written, tweeted, facebooked or googled that can readily be lifted for papers.

Teaching creative writing in MFA programs, I’m happy to say it rarely happens. But those rare instances I’ve witnessed utterly confounded me. Why would any creative writing student plagiarize? Beyond merely stupid, it’s the mark of someone who can never possibly be a real writer.  Just forever a wannabe.

But what astonishes are these so-called writers who actually get caught plagiarizing.

Never underestimate the power of ego inflated beyond common sense.

Or, as George Carlin (R.I.P.) noted, never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.

All of the people most of the time.

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Slithey toves to you, too. Come loaf with me (and eat a little fish).  The blog skips a couple of week and returns Tuesday Oct 23, and for the rest of the year will no longer appear only on Thursdays.

About Xu Xi 許素細

Xu Xi ( is a Chinese-Indonesian native of Hong Kong and author of nine books of fiction and essays, most recently a story collection, Access: Thirteen Tales (2011), the novel Habit of a Foreign Sky (2010), which was shortlisted for the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize and Evanescent Isles (2008), an essay collection. Since 1998, she has made her home along the flight path connecting New York, Hong Kong and the South Island of New Zealand, until Mum’s Alzheimer’s ended such peregrinations. She is now Writer-in-Residence at the Department of English, City University of Hong Kong, where she established and directs the world’s first low-residency MFA in creative writing that focuses on Asia and writing of Asia.
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2 Responses to THAT LIT, LIT LIFE (with global characteristics) 7 (of 14)

  1. Robert Abel says:

    Nothing made me madder than trying to track down stories I knew were plagiarized. In one case, I traced the story to an anthology of 1940s detective stories. Was stolen from the library. So I asked the “author” about details in the story. What is “scrapple”? He didn’t know. What’s the “A Train”? Had no clue. Etc. I had your question as well: who are you trying to kid? And why? Makes no sense. In China, in one of my classes of ENGLISH TEACHERS, every student turned in the SAME essay–variously miscopied–which I recognized as coming from a Norton anthology I had used in previous classes. That one depressed the hell out of me.

    • Xu Xi says:

      It’s difficult in cultures where the idea of “original” writing holds less sway. The problem of plagiarism is quite acute in Asia, and Hong Kong/China is certainly more the rule than the exception. Having said that I’ve also had AMAZING students who are writing in a second language and turning out work of great originality, both in their creative and critical writing, and re-inventing the English language as well. In the end it comes down to the individual and whether or not s/he has a clue or values the written word. Unfortunately, more people want to “be writers” than actually write.