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旅居亚洲27年,我重新认识美国

更新时间:2016-9-21 18:33:32 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

What San Francisco Says About America
旅居亚洲27年,我重新认识美国

AFTER more than 27 years abroad, mostly as a foreign correspondent in Asia covering civil unrest and poverty, I wander the streets of this city, my new home, like an enchanted tourist.

我在国外生活了27年,大半时间是以驻外记者的身份派驻亚洲,报道当地的社会动乱与贫困现象。旧金山是我的新家,我像个陶醉其中的游客,在它的街头漫步。

The people who share sidewalks with me must wonder why I sometimes laugh out loud. The advertisements for sustainably grown marijuana on the sides of San Francisco buses. (“That’s cannabis, the California way.”) The comfort dogs on public transport and the woman who brought her dog to the Easter Sunday service. Blindingly white teeth. The burrito that was so huge it felt as if it would break my wrist. Police officers covered in tattoos.

和我同在一条人行道上的路人一定很纳闷,为何我会不时地笑出声。我笑的是旧金山公交车车身上的广告在推销可持续种植法栽种的大麻(“大麻:加州风味”);乘坐大众运输工具的安抚狗,还有参加复活节礼拜不忘带上爱狗的女人;白得炫目的牙齿;大到拿不住的墨西哥卷饼;还有浑身刺青的警察。

I left the United States when Ronald Reagan was president, so adjusting to life here involves more than just unlearning the metric system and remembering to put the month before the day when writing checks.

我在里根总统当政时离开美国,所以要重新适应这里的生活,仅仅是忘掉公制单位、写支票的时候记得先写月再写日,这些还不够。

I drive around the Bay Area marveling at the America that we often take for granted. In so many countries that I covered in Southeast Asia it was a given that the elites would take over public land as a kind of perquisite of power. But in the hills and gullies surrounding San Francisco I gaze in amazement at the endless unmolested tracts of open space.

我开车在旧金山湾区转悠,为我们常视为理所当然的这个美国感到惊奇。在我报道过的许多东南亚国家,精英阶层拥有将公有土地挪为私用的特权,是人尽皆知的常态。然而,身在旧金山周围的丘陵与谷地中,我凝望着大片未遭蹂躏的空地,大感诧异。

I spend hours in supermarket aisles. Organic ice cream sandwiches! Vegan shoes! A “Bluetooth compatible” electric toothbrush!

我也花上大把时间在超市货架间逗留。有机冰淇淋三明治!完全不采用动物毛皮的鞋子!“具备蓝牙功能”的电动牙刷!

The America of 2016 is so much more specialized than the one I left in 1988. It almost seems that we have created needs so that we can cater to them.

比起我在1988年离开的那个美国,2016年的美国专门化程度要高出很多。我们看起来简直像是在创造需求,然后再来满足这些需求。

I stop and stare at the giant trucks in San Francisco designed for the specific purpose of shredding and hauling documents. What a luxury as a society to produce tons of confidential documents and then deploy specialized trucks to destroy them. I knew yoga was big in California and ditto for cannabis. But it was still a surprise to discover “ganja yoga.”

我停下脚步,盯着旧金山那些专用来撕碎与回收文件的巨型卡车。一个社会能制造出数以吨计的机密文件,又派出特制卡车来销毁它们,实在奢华。我早知道瑜珈跟大麻在加州都很火,不过在发现“大麻瑜珈”的时候,我还是惊呆了。

The Bay Area is, of course, the world’s laboratory for new technology. I tend to meet people finding solutions for problems I never knew we had. A woman told me she was developing an algorithm that would determine what kind of books a child might want to read.

当然了,旧金山湾区是为全世界测试新科技的实验室。我不时会遇到正在为某些问题寻找解决之道的人,而我还根本不知道有那些问题存在呢。有位女士告诉我,她在建立一种演算法,能判断一个孩子可能会想读哪类书。

Everyone keeps offering me credit in America. I drove away from a dealer with a brand-new $30,000 car without handing over a penny. It was so thrilling that I keep repeating this routine. I bought a Vespa. Why not? At 2 percent interest the money seemed almost free. Then I bought shopping carts full of home improvement materials at Home Depot and was told I didn’t have to pay for them for two years.

在美国,大家总想让我赊帐。我从某汽车经销商处开走一辆要价3万美元的新车,一分钱都没付。这简直太让人激动了,所以我使劲地买买买。我又购入一辆伟士牌摩托车。不买白不买!在利息只有2%的时候,买车简直不要钱。然后我在家得宝(Home Depot)买了好几个手推车的改善居家环境的玩意儿,结果店家又说了,接下来两年我都不用付钱。

Someone needs to tell Equifax to decline my next credit application. This could end in penury.

应该要来个人告诉信评机构Equifax,他们得回绝我为下一张信用卡提出的申请才行。我可能会挥霍一空。

Of course some of what I’ve encountered has been less alluring. During all my years in Asia I constantly grappled with the perniciousness of poverty. Yet somehow I was unprepared for the scale and severity of homelessness in San Francisco.

当然我也遇过一些不那么引人入胜的事。我在旅居亚洲期间,经常要跟贫困导致的社会危害打交道。然而,面对旧金山无家可归者的规模与严重程度,不知怎地,我仍感到猝不及防。

The juxtaposition of the silent whir of sleek Tesla electric vehicles, with the outbursts of the mentally ill on the sidewalks. Destitution clashing with high technology. Well-dressed tourists sharing the pavement with vaguely human forms inside cardboard boxes.

时髦的特斯拉电动车在路上悄声飞驰,同时你又能看到受精神疾患所苦的人就在人行道上发作。贫困与高科技正面迎击。穿着考究的游客与纸箱内不成人形的身影共用着人行道。

I’m confounded how to explain to my two children why a wealthy society allows its most vulnerable citizens to languish on the streets. My son, when he first encountered a homeless man, asked why no one “wanted to adopt him.”

我不知该怎么向家里两个孩子解释,一个富裕的社会为何容许那些最为脆弱的公民在街头凋零。我儿子第一次碰见一个无家可归者的时候问道,为什么没人“想要收养他”。

It seems a terrible statement about my home country that my children will encounter homelessness and mental illness much more vividly in the wealthiest nation in the world than they did in Thailand, where we previously lived.

对我的祖国来说,这似乎是一项可怖的声明:比起我们先前旅居的泰国,我的孩子在世界上最富裕的国家更有可能见识到无家可归之人和精神病患的景况。

During a trip back to Bangkok I spoke about this paradox with Nopphan Phromsri, the secretary general of the Human Settlement Foundation, an organization that assists the homeless there.

有一次我回到曼谷,与当地无家可归者关怀组织人类住区基金会(Human Settlement Foundation)的秘书长诺班‧蓬西(Nopphan Phromsri)女士聊起这种矛盾。

Greater Bangkok, a sprawling metropolis with more than 10 million people, has 1,300 homeless people, a survey this year found.

今年的一项调查发现,在大曼谷这个有超过1000万居民的巨型都市区里,有1300名无家可归者。

San Francisco has less than one-tenth Bangkok’s population but six times as many homeless people. I’m sure you could fill a book with the reasons for this. Ms. Nopphan believes that homelessness is more intractable in rich societies. “In wealthy countries there are systems for everything,” she said. “You’re either in the system or out of the system.” There is no in-between in America. In Bangkok, by contrast, rich and poor coexist. There are vast tracts of cheap, makeshift homes and a countryside where people in the cities can return to if they lose their jobs or hit hard times.

旧金山的人口不到曼谷的十分之一,无家可归者人数却是后者的六倍。个人原因绝对够写上一本书了。蓬西女士认为,无家可归的问题在有钱社会里更为棘手。“富裕国家事事都有一套体系规范,”她说。“你要不身在其中,就是落在外头。”在美国没有中间地带。反之,富人与穷人在曼谷是共存的。曼谷有大批凑合搭盖出来的廉价住屋,都市人要是丢了工作或遭遇困境,也能回乡下去。

On most days Asia feels very far away.

在大多数日子里,我觉得亚洲很遥远。

But a few weeks ago I had an odd flash of connection with my old life, during a visit to Walmart. Something about the cavernous warehouse roof, the grid of fluorescent lighting and the austere, sterile design brought on a sense of familiarity. It struck me that the ordered rows in Walmart didn’t look that dissimilar to the factories in Asia where most of these products came from.

不过几周前在沃尔玛(Walmart)超市的时候,有那么一瞬间,昔日生活与我莫名地连上了线。超市仓库那洞穴般的屋顶、发出萤光的灯光网,还有单调乏味的空间设计,让我心里涌起某种熟悉感。我突然醒悟到,沃尔玛超市井然有序的走道,看起来与制造他们家大部分商品的亚洲工厂并没有太大不同。

I found myself staring at details — the laces on the construction boots, the hints of glue holding together soccer balls, the knots on the drawstring of a sack holding a portable chair.

我发现自己正端详着此中细节——工靴的鞋带、黏合足球的胶水痕、装着便携椅的抽绳袋上打的结。

I remembered the hands that made these things, the factories I visited in China and Southeast Asia where workers spent their days hunched over tables smelling of glue, plastic and leather.

我还记得制作这些物品的双手、我在中国与东南亚参观过的工厂;工人成天耗在这些厂房里,俯身在散发出黏胶、塑料与皮革气味的工作台上。

It was as if there was a symmetry across the Pacific between the producers and the consumers, between the factory and the cash register.

在太平洋两端的生产者与消费者、工厂与收银台之间,仿佛有种对称性。

I stood in the checkout line and watched milk-fed Americans unloading their carts onto the conveyor belt. My mind flashed back to the diminutive workers in a factory I visited in Tianjin, China, who for a few hundred dollars a month stitched leather boots and who giggled when they thought about the giant feet that would one day fill them.

我站在结账队伍里,看着喝牛奶长大的美国人将手推车里的东西放上柜台传送带,心思则飞向了一群瘦小的中国工人。他们在我参观过的一座天津工厂里,为了赚取每月区区几百美元的工资缝着皮靴。他们在想到某天会塞进这些靴子里的大脚丫的时候,咯咯地笑了。

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