postvirtual

A Visit from the East

In Acampada Sol, Madrid, Spain on 28 May 2011 at 22:36

Dear friends,

It’s quiet in Communications at noon, so quiet that I’m extremely busy. I haven’t got a moment of time to look at the international papers and the independent media. From all sides people want to drop their communications with me. One message must be forwarded to the working group, another has to be announced by the Megaphone, and yet another has to be uploaded onto the web. But the internet is down, and the comrades from Web have vanished. However efficient our spontaneous organisation may seem from the outside, on the inside things are not always going smoothly.

Then there are the people who come up to the desk to be informed. We have seen a lot of different nationalities dropping by. Even a Dutch anthropologist who came here to study the New Human. But thus far I hadn’t yet encountered a girl from China.

She wants to know exactly what’s going on. Her English is well disciplined and slow, you can see her thinking at every word she pronounces.

“So the people want their money back?” she asks.

I honestly thought that I had misunderstood. “Excuse me?”

She repeats the question literally. I scratch myself under my cap, and I realise that some explanation is in order.

“It’s a little bit more complicated than that …”

I try to explain it simply and synthetically. I tell her about the banks. About people who borrow money to pay for a house. About high housing prices and low incomes. About unemployment, speculation, vacancy. About converging political and economic interests.

She nods to show she understands. She looks at me with wide open eyes. At the end she says: “But… that sounds exactly like what is happening in China!” I get an acute sense of planetary brotherhood. She offers to help us translate our manifesto into Chinese.

“By all means, comrade! Come in, sit down, here’s a pen, here’s a paper, and here is a copy of the manifesto in English. If there’s something you don’t know, just ask.”

Well, comrades, I’ve learned something today about the way the English language is taught in China. The first word was still easy. “What is a ‘concentration’?”

“In this case it means a gathering of people.”

“Okay.” She goes on translating. Then she asks the next word. She repeats it twice but I don’t understand her. Then she points it out in the manifesto. The word is ‘dignity’.

I take a deep breath. Try explaining a word like that in English so that someone from China knows exactly what you’re saying. I didn’t succeed. We did not come any further than ‘human rights’, and that isn’t quite the same thing.

“Wait here,” I say, “this is important.” Internet still isn’t working, so I walk over to the Library. It keeps growing fast every day. Now we even have a twenty volume encyclopaedia at our disposal. But no English-English dictionary yet. I ask around if anyone can help us restore the connection. “Es muy urgente, compañeros. We need to give a comrade from China an accurate description of the concept of dignidad.” Eventually we manage to get the web working. “Here,” I say, “now I can also show you what Wikipedia is.”

Dignity is a term used in moral, ethical, and political discussions to signify that a being has an innate right to respect and ethical treatment.” Whether it’s enough, I do not know, she still seems to be processing the words one at a time. Luckily, a comrade comes along who has looked up the Chinese translation on her smartphone. Two elegant characters. A broad smile appears on her face. She knows exactly what we’re talking about.

It would not be the last word she didn’t know. “What is ‘solidarity’?” she asks later on. “What is a ‘volunteer’?”

Ronald Reagan once claimed that the Russians do not even have a word for freedom. They have three. How many words the Chinese use for the concepts of human dignity and solidarity, I can’t say, but each time she nodded with a smile, I knew we got a hold of one.

When she finishes, she is happy and content. She stands up. “There you go.” The Chinese translation of our manifesto in latin characters. “The only way for us to resist in China is by spreading information clandestinely over the internet”, she says. But even that is risky. For her it’s unconceivable that we have the opportunity to protest like this here in the west. “If we were to try this in China, we would suffer the consequences on our skin.”

I think I understand what she is referring to.

“Good luck!” she says when she is about to return to the busy streets of our global village.

“Good luck to you, comrade. You need it more than we do.”

Regards,
Oscar

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