A Night At The Opera

May 22, 2010

Sitting watching Bizet’s Carmen at Beijing’s National Grand Theater on our last night here in China, my mind wanders over a few things as this amazing trip draws to a close. For one, why am I at an opera? It’s not even the Beijing Opera which is what I thought it was going to be when Urban Sophisticat said he’d secured us a couple tickets to the opera. We are in Beijing after all. If not now, when?

Otherwise, this is just opera opera and I fucking hate opera. There, I said it. It is nothing more than an elitist art form that has long since outlived any purpose whatsoever other than serving to build grand edifices like the one we’re sitting in, listening to Bizet’s Carmen. Oh for chrissakes, Don José, run, run!! The woman is nothing but trouble!

The National Grand Theater or, the Egg as it has been dubbed, sits just east of Tian’an Men Square, behind the Soviet style Great Hall of the People. Designed by French architect, Paul Andreu, this wonder is yet another example of the architectural boldness we have witnessed in China. While Beijing is somewhat more subdued than Shanghai, it certainly hasn’t shirked from embracing modernity when the opportunity has presented itself. In a matter of minutes, pedestrians can stroll through a 15th-century, Ming dynasty gate into an alarmingly open space lined with mid-20th Brutalist buildings before turning the corner to find themselves staring directly into the sci-fi future.

China seems undaunted by its 5000+ years of history, at least architecturally speaking. Instead of being weighted down by centuries of tradition, China today has little trouble obliterating whatever it perceives to be standing in the way of its progress. It is not an approach I embrace wholeheartedly to be sure. In this mad dash to assume a spot at the head table, lives and communities have been completely overturned and not everyone is sharing equally in the country’s dizzying growth spurt.

Still, I could go for a pinch of the Chinese gusto, their dispassionate disregard for the past when it becomes a hindrance. China remains a conservative country in many ways, especially politically and socially. Yet in others it is bold in facing the future. We, on the other hand, think of ourselves as progressive and forward looking while displaying all the attributes of cringing, cowering, unbending obdurates. (No, that isn’t an actual noun but I like the sound of it so I’m going to use it in a willful rejection of convention. See how easy that was?)

If they need to modernize their transit system, they modernize their transit system. Us? We fuss and fart, wring our hands and gnash our teeth. We can’t afford it, we mewl. What about the businesses that’ll be affected if we tear up the streets? Drivers are going to be so pissed off at more delays, detours and congestion. Change is difficult. Outcomes aren’t always predictable. But there are points in history when standing pat is no longer an option.

And right now we are quaking and quavering in the face of necessary change, clinging to tried and untrue ideas and philosophies in the vain hope of ineffectually staving off the inevitable. Maybe we were nothing but the luckiest nation on earth, chasing off the original inhabitants just in time for the resource boom that rocketed us into the modern age. Our number came up and we cashed in.

That’s all about to change, however. Only those that recognize that fact and act accordingly will prosper and thrive. Tradition and history strengthen us as long as we recognize that neither is immutable. What once worked is no guarantee of future success. Sometimes throwing the baby out with the bathwater becomes an absolute necessity if the infant is actually the devil’s spawn.

The fat lady has begun to sing. In fact, it feels like she’s been caterwauling for some time now. As tempting as it might be, we ignore her aria at our peril. Time to step up and move forward. China is showing us that it’s possible.

prophetically submitted by Cityslikr