Surge of rage leads to murderous impulse

02:18, Dec 01 2012

Deep down everyone has the capacity to kill a man and for this insight I thank Led Zeppelin, a Russian teenager and the dead Chinese despot Mao Zedong.

We could start the journey to the epiphany at almost any point in the last 36 years. There's the time in 1981 I learned the world was horrible when I was teased about my egg sandwiches on my first day of school. Or we could begin in January 1990 when I sat on a rain soaked bus seat and so started my first day of high school looking like a day time bedwetter.

But it's easier to start in January 2002, when I flew into Shanghai as part of an extended charade that involved me becoming an English teacher in a small city north of the metropolis called Lianyungang.

From the moment I arrived in China to when I left a year later I was confused, bewildered and generally pissed off. This is because China makes no sense. None at all.

For a start, despite living under an authoritarian rule, they don't respect rules. They don't even know what a rule is. An eight-lane highway can just as easily be 10 or 11 lanes. A one-way street is just a suggestion that makes them giggle and the idea of forming a queue to wait your turn for something has either been lost or never caught on. Everything, everywhere is just a mad push and shove.

For much of this chaos you have to blame Mao Zedong, the leader who in his 31 years in charge tore apart what was one of the most ordered, mannered and ingenious countries. They haven't recovered yet and, as I was unused to it, life there was a succession of increasingly stressful events.


What made this all the more difficult to manage was that Lianyungang was a purely Chinese city. It had not succumbed to Western influences. There was no McDonalds, there was no KFC. There was nowhere you could even get a slice of bread, a knob of butter, a wedge of cheese. There was nothing familiar to seek refuge in. You were surrounded.

After six months I would have walked across broken glass for a buttered slice of bread and a cup of coffee just to escape for a small moment. Which is why I didn't hesitate to shell out the cash and join three of the other six westerners in our city on a weekend trip to Nanjing. It was rumoured a French Bakery existed there.

The rumours were true and just one hour after arriving I was eating a baguette piled high with butter and jam and sipping on a strong black coffee. It cost as much as I earned in a day. It was worth it.

To save money we had arranged to stay at a Nanjing University hostel that our school at Lianyungang had assured us they had arranged. Typically, this meant they had done nothing. Our arrival was therefore unexpected and caused a great deal of arguing. When I finally got my room it was obvious there was some mistake. The room was occupied.

Though the occupier was not present at that moment it looked like he had been for at least two years. I literally could not see the floor for the clothes. The bed I was supposed to sleep in was covered in magazines, the desk was strewn with CD, DVDs and old computers. There was nowhere I could even put my bag. I'd like to say this was an aberration but such situations were not unexpected in China.

There was no fighting it unless you wanted to give yourself an aneurism so I stacked up the magazines, toed some clothes out of the corner, undressed and got into bed. After an hour of lying there unable to sleep for the awkwardness of it all the occupier came back.

From growing up around Russian speakers I immediately knew where he was from even though the only word he used was an English one that rhymed with truck, which was the limit of our communication.

After an hour or so of complaining, barking and generally being a bastard, the Russian stripped down to his briefs, got into his bed and began playing guitar. His song of choice was Stairway to Heaven. Despite not being able to hit a chord, sing or even get the lyrics right he played it 50 times at least while I lay there seething in an ever increasing anger.

It was not my fault I was in this situation and he had no right to make it worse. It made me writhe with the injustice of the world. It brought back the egg sandwich incident, the wet shorts debacle. My rage grew to frighteningly intense levels but it was when he started snoring that I cracked.

All the frustration, all the confusion, anger and disgust of the last six months came surging forward in a wave of intense clarity unlike I had ever experienced before. I was going to kill the Russian.

I got out of bed, walked over to his, picked up the guitar and prepared to smash his skull in.

Then I thought of the bread and jam and realised I had no time for murder. The Russian was saved.

Taranaki Daily News