"I find it a strange dichotomy how you can love the mainland the way you do and still talk like that," my friend R remarked. We were coming out of Bumrungrad Hospital, in Bangkok, Thailand, and I was making scathing comments about how all the Chinese characters in the building had been being simplified, or "crippled", as many people term it.
Just because a country decided to have a communist revolution and carry out one man's dream of obliterating a whole civilisation's history, thus mutilating its written language, why does the rest of the world have to follow suit? Why does the mainland have the monopoly on how to write Chinese characters?
But while I detest simplified characters and all they stand for, can't I still love the mainland itself with a burning, all-encompassing devotion? I love my dog, but I'm not fond of dog poo. Still, I pick it up. And just because I wrinkle my nose while I do it, and would take a dim view of finding it in my house, does that mean I don't love my dog?
I explained this to R while glaring at some more misshaped, crippled monstrosities on the ATM machine (in Bangkok the offensive characters are everywhere except, mercifully, in Chinatown).
I love China like I love my dog. But I do know that certain of her inhabitants like to keep people out of the mainland for this and that reason the same way they, until recently, preferred to keep her own citizens safely ensconced inside her borders.
And that's why every time I go to pick up my three-year China visa I feel a little frisson of anxiety. Have I criticised, for example, simplified characters and all they stand for too loudly and too often?
This time the anxiety started when I went to apply for a visa. China Travel in Queen's Road Central wanted to charge me HK$2,500 for an HK$800 visa. So I went to Wan Chai, only to find a large hole in the ground where the Chinese consulate/visa office used to be. Fortunately, it had set up just around the corner, with increased security.
When I nervously returned three days later, I was made to put my thermos in a basket on the pavement outside. The exit being on the other side of the building, of course, I forgot about the flask entirely as I skipped and jumped for joy out onto the street: I had my visa! Hello, three more years of joy.