Lee, Me and the Fallacy

by Dena

Lee worked in a Kung-Fu Shoe Shop. The shop makes and sells Kung-Fu shoes. They are very fine slippers. The soles are made of hundreds of layers of fine cotton hand-stitched tight to form the shoe’s insole and outsole. The uppers are plain or embroidered cotton.

Lee calls them Thousand Cloud shoes. He dislikes my calling them Kung-Fu shoes as they have other practical applications.

Lee was insulted when I asked him whether all the little children in the shop like hand sewing the soles of Thousand Cloud Shoes. He told me it is a shoe shop, not a sweat shop. The Master has run the shop since the very dawn of time and has always been fair and just.

Lee will not tell me why he parted with his Thousand Cloud job. He does not like to talk about leaving China. His countenance is staid. He is stoic. He is a living Steinbeck novel.

I cannot imagine letting him go. He is my best employee. Lee says I am the worst boss he has ever had and that I drive him harder than an ox in a rice paddy. He says I am mean and racist and a dirty red-haired devil. I let him get away with this because he is right.

Lee brought me a pair of Thousand Clouds as a gift after his first visit home in seventeen years. I love my Thousand Cloud shoes. They wear like a thousand clouds. They have a red Chinese character embroidered on the top. I asked Lee what it means and he said it means asshole.

Lee said it appears the Kung-Fu Shoe Shop Master is wealthier than he was twenty years ago. He said the workers look better off than they did before. The factory girls are resplendent in their fake designer clothes. They reject Mao style with their powerful pockets full of Mao money. They do not wear the Thousand Clouds. They emulate the city’s newly minted aristocracy. They long to hold larger pieces of the new wealth. The wealth is to be spread out and shared, but people on the top tier and the bottom tier are not included in this philosophy.

Lee is stunned by the way the city has developed around the unchanged shoe shop. Lee is disturbed by urban China. Foreigners are everywhere and road signs are in English and Chinese. He could not see the sky for the malls and financial buildings and Chanel billboards.

He said his city is sprawled out just like the suburbs of Los Angeles, except that the tract houses are apartments stacked on top of one another like Legos.

He said the apartment buildings are short compared to buildings further in the city, but that they are incredibly tall compared to the buildings just outside of most American cities. He said the view from his brother’s 20th floor window the city is like a giant’s version of the suburbs of L.A. except that many more people live in each unit than in Los Angeles, and the green spaces in between are like giant suburban American backyards. He said the towers line up and disappear over every horizon. He said they hold rooms crowded with three generations of families and sport laundry hanging off of all the balconies. They hold rooms of one or two people earning good money. Some are very nice and some are not, but each little dwelling has its own sink and modern bathroom. There are still old style dwellings in the city, but they are few and appear to be populated by migrants and not city folk.

He said the ordinary people of his city still live their lives openly unlike in L.A., where people huddle in their backyards and living rooms, afraid to look at each other on sterile street corners. Lee likes the ghettos of LA the best because community thrives within the confines of the poverty and violence. People look and live and there are things like street vendors.

He was relieved to see the nature of Chinese city life is largely untouched. A middle class is slowly emerging but Lee can see it’s false: it’s poverty plus a large television set , a laptop computer and many pairs of shoes. The people have more money but it’s just enough. The average Chinese isn’t mobile and won’t cease to be productive.

Lee says America and China are reaching toward each other in reverse. The only difference is the American people live under fascism without the pleasures of socialism. Americans are losing excess comfort while Chinese are gaining it.

Lee wants to go home.

Lee can’t go home. Home is much like America: a capitalist society without freedom of expression. Each nation poses. In either nation one can be arrested and tried without due process simply for speaking out loud. This is nothing new in China but it’s new for America. The rights of Americans are corrupted. The law was shattered by greed.

Lee wants to go to Cuba where the government doesn’t lie about wealth or freedom. It is what it is, and if you don’t like it you will disappear.

I told Lee there is a Chinese-Cuban restaurant in Garden Grove but that he is a U.S. citizen now. He’s not allowed to go to Cuba.

Lee said this is the point.  Honest oppression is the best oppression.

I told him to be quiet and get back to work.