Slow Boats To China?

April 22, 2010 at 3:10 pm (Personal essays)

Those who know me well know that I love old movies from the 1930s and ’40s.

And one of the things I loved about those old movies were the scenes shot on old steam trains and old passenger cruise ships.

In those days, travel was something that was meant to be savoured.

Enjoying the scenery of land and sea at a leisurely pace.

Today travel seems to be standing in line at airports for hours and hours to eventually move through a booth where you’re gawked at and strip searched by beady eyed perverts in uniforms as the leaders of our respective countries turn into Orwellian Big Brothers and neither they nor we seem to notice.

The line of the U.S.S.R. was, “Your papers, please?”.

The line in today’s world, “May I see some ID, please?”.

Nouns may change but the intent remains the same.

At least the U.S.S.R had its Aleksandr Solzhenitsyns.

Where are our Aleksandr Solzhenitsyns?

Why, text messaging of course.

But a work like Gulag Archipelago would be marked and classified as so much spam in a world of quickie thoughts and quickie sex.

The greatest accomplishment of a totalitarian state would be to make the unfree think they’re free.

Freedom is an illusion and I’m loving it- the welcome sign over the Matrix says.

What the Kremlin in Moscow and the Reichschancellery in Berlin failed to accomplish- the globalization of Madison Avenue has made it a fait accompli in 2010.

We have our Nike shoes and our Gucchi bags.

Our cell phones and our ipods.

We are hooked in and interconnected.

We want fame and adoration?


We just need to grab Simon Cowell’s attention.

Or kill our neighbour and then post it on YouTube.

The hits and the offers will come flooding in.

The medium IS the message.

We ARE the pieces on the board game of Monopoly.


But unseen masters roll the dice and we move.

And think we’re free.

The only real outbursts of freedom seem to come from Icelandic volcanoes.

And the volcanoes stop our flying through the skies.

And we are grounded with no where to go.

But what happened to the slow-moving steam trains?

What happened to the easy pace passenger ships?

What happened to that old maxim, “We’re going to find our way to heaven is a rough and rocky road if we don’t stop and smell the roses along the way?”.

What happened to that old song, “… taking a slow boat to China”?

I’d like to take a slow boat to China.

Or a slow boat to Malaysia.

Or a slow boat from Malaysia…

after picking someone up and then going off to see the world.

As the song Moon River put it, “There’s such a lot of world to see.”

Maybe if we looked up from our text messaging and looked outside the confines of the screen showing us American or whatever idol we’re currently worshipping, we’d be able to see that.

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