Wednesday, June 02, 2010

A day in the life of a stressed out Atheist

People deal with stress in different ways. I like to walk. It helps me clear my head and the physical exertion helps me to relax. I went for a walk last night at 2:00 am. It was either walk or stay in bed looking at the ceiling. I walked.

My home is a hotel near a large park in Suzhou, China. I started my walk after talking to hotel security. They advised against going out, too dangerous for Joe they warned. I went anyway. As I walked the perimeter, I noticed a hotel employee trailing silently behind me on an ebike. It made me smile. I've lived at the hotel for three weeks on this trip, and with many trips behind me, they've come to know me. They show  it in small ways, like making sure I'm safe on a late night walk.

I'm the big distracted guy they call Buddha. I sit at the bar most nights with a beer in one hand and a book in the other. I talk to the staff, sip my beer, and listen to music. The staff keeps me safe at the bar too. My glass is never empty, and they chase away the local riffraff and hookers before I'm bothered. I feel the love.

Last night was typical. I listened to reggae, read a short story, and drank a Tiger beer. My stress of my job is waning. I had just cracked a bottle of Champaign the night before in celebration of a successful project. At one day post start up, we have only a few minor issues. Everything works. I can relax now.

I've been teaching the locals about American music. They think Mariah Carry and Whitney Houston are the face of American music. When show the depth and richness of American music, they seem confused. They've never heard the blues, and don't know punk rock. Rage Against the Machine gives them a headache, the same goes for Green Day, but when I play Bob Marley they smile. Last night I introduced them to Sun is Shining, one of Marley's classics. They listened to it a dozen times. What do I get in return? They follow me around a park at 2:00 am. That's enough for me.

The coolest guy at the hotel is the chef. He proudly came out as a lover of reggae last night. The kids working the bar all cheered. Joe made sure my steak was perfect later that night. The funny thing is, he also mentioned that reggae was Jamaican music. The bar staff was confused, it blew their minds. I tried to explain that America had co-opted reggae. I told them that there are probably more Jamaicans in America than there are in Jamaicans in Jamaica, and that reggae was now part of American culture. Trust me on this, that blew their minds.

I played Chant a Psalm by Steel Pulse before I left. We shared headphones, the buds were passed from person-to-person as the song was repeated. Somebody mentions a Psalm came from the bible. A discussion took place that left my head spinning. they think we are all Christians and that music is how we introduce religion to other cultures. I hastily explain that I appreciate the song because of its beauty. That appreciation of beauty is something that transcends religion. They know I'm an atheist. I'm the only American atheist they've ever met. It fascinates them. I tell them that beauty makes me happy, that listening to Steel Pulse is like listening to Dexter Gordon play jazz. They say, "like Mariah Carry?" I call for another beer and switch to Led Zeppelin. At least I'm drinking among friends.

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