Monday, January 30, 2006

kung hei fat choy

Days of being wild

The lovely song “It’s Only Time” by the Magnetic Fields is playing on the ipod stereo now, accidentally. It’s on shuffle. Then again not so accidental. I put it on there, along with 2900 songs, so the chances of that coming on at a time like this aren’t completely infinitesimal. We’ve got choices in the garden of forking paths. Last night, after we left work late (Saturday is when we send the magazine to the printer, in a frenzy), and after a group foot massage, David, Yumi and I ended up in a path headed toward the gardens of Victoria Park. We were in a police-controlled, inescapable crowd of hundreds—the last time I was in one was during the Republican convention in New York, though that one was a bit rowdier—who were being corralled because the number of people already at the gardens was already too much, presumably something like 10,000, though I’m not very good at estimates like that. Let’s just say that things were very crowded, and even more crowded than you might think because after all this is China, and it has billions of people.

Also, there was great cause for coming out when we did, as it was the Lunar New Year, the year 4703 actually (I know, I know, it crept up on me too!). Because it's the year of the dog (something I want to talk about later), everyone was wearing furry dog hats, or they were looking at mechanical dog clocks that waved their paws, or they were wielding inflatable dogs,. Also, they had inflatable hammers, inflatable batons, inflatable fish ball kabobs, inflatable police shields, inflatable bar stools (those last two being inexplicable in a context admittedly already quite inexplicable).

We pushed, or were pushed, our way through the crowds, passing by all assortment of stands selling household items and toys as useless as the inflatable stuff. When we got out, I grabbed a stick of fish balls (un-inflatable). We made our way back to Causeway Bay, wished Yumi “Kung Hei Fat Choy,” and grabbed a cab back home. It was a tame celebration, but an interesting one. And a relaxing one. There was no plan, no worry about what parties to attend or not, not much concern about who I was with or not. It felt like any other night, and except for the compelled walk into the gardens, which we wanted to check out anyway, we had no pre-drawn plans. We just went, or we stayed, and in the process probably forgot that time was moving at all, forgot even that it was New Year’s.

Last night David and I watched “Days of Being Wild,” which is Wong Kar-Wai’s 2nd film (made in 1990), an important souvenir of Hong Kong, and a kind of prelude to his newest long player, “2046.” It’s about what and how we remember and why, and like the best of movies, I couldn’t help falling into its faded depths, its rainy streets, pensive moments of blurry people in quiet rooms—and eventually through those depths into the filmic scenes of my own life. I zone out into my own memories watching Wong’s. “Time” is not mentioned, but its his arching theme: people are always mentioning things about “from this moment on” and asking what time it is, making promises about the future and thinking about the past (whether it be a lost love, a lost youth, unknown origins) while the clock’s tick is as omnipresent as the beating of rain on the streets. A clock seems to appear on the wall of every other scene. Across the characters, each torn by unrequited love, the scenes roll in slowly with the languorousness of old Hong Kong and, with the sound of a quicker-than-expected, sometimes tropical beat, they roll out again fast, with the clip of a city on the move. These shifts in the speed of the narrative are a reminder that time flies when your characters are having fun maybe. But they are also a sign that the movement of time is contingent on individual memory of it, on the memories of our love affairs really—those which bind or release us, keep us grounded or lets us fly (also think of how Wong’s memory of an old Hong Kong, if he even has one, leads us to a quiet, slow place on film, far from the one that exists now, one that truly resists remembering). So the movement of time is dependent on where we stand, not just in Einstein’s sense, but as films always remind us, in the sense that the progression of living is always being reordered in some, sometimes secret way by each of us, who are controlled by unnamed desires and needs and myths. How we move through time is no different from how we see our movement through time; and that in part is a function of our search for what we’ve lost, or a renunciation of what we’ve gained. That our protagonist asks his friend to tell the protagonists’ former lover to “Tell her that I’ve forgotten everything,” is not just a reflection of nonchalance: he is cool but not passionless, and though we expect him to have forgotten the moment he and his ex-lover met, he remembers immediately that minute he promised to never forget. Nor then is his renunciation merely an act of spite, a continuation of a cycle that winds into the frustrated love in “2046.” In a way it is a gesture of charity, a way of releasing her at last from the binds of a shared past, a memory they shared together, the one with which the film starts. It’s a reminder to her that as much as he wants to create memories, he won’t stop to actually remember them, to linger over past love, and neither should she.

But then again, not trying to remember (and he also tells his friend this is a problem of his, memory) means that you have no sense of time at all. Ie, you never move. As his friend narrates at the end, “A bird that’s always already dead.” Our days of being wild—what a charged phrase in terms of memory, some great time that we want to remember and yet can’t help but forget—these days are numbered, and in more ways than one. We have to try to remember and deal with all that that means, or we won’t have any days at all.

Basically, I think Wong’s idea is that love is a continual reckoning with and ultimate defeat at the hands of time. We always lose to time, but we also can’t not fight to regain what it's taken.
Our best weapon is memory.

[And then suddenly the music picks up again, and we're moving.]

"It's only time..."

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