Travel Companion. Part 4: Shanghai
Bill flies on to Shanghai. Peculiar strangers are once again trying to establish contact with him. They offer their cooperation, but Bill doesn’t intend to change his plans.
Evolve or die!
A few days later, Bill was already in Shanghai. He called a taxi at the airport and asked the driver to take him to the hotel. But on the way, Bill noticed that the taxi driver was looking at him in the mirror with curiosity. He asked him to stop the car, paid, and then went on foot along one of the Shanghai streets.
Bill didn’t sleep well after the unpleasant encounter in Dubai. He was nervous. He had a feeling that he was constantly being watched. It is possible that they even wanted to kill him. But he has a chance to dissolve in the crowd here, on the crowded streets of a large city among millions of passers-by. He wandered about unfamiliar streets and alleys for about an hour, trying to cover his tracks and break away from possible surveillance. In the end, he was tired and hungry. Without thinking twice, he sat at a table at one of the street cafes.
Using gestures, ingenuity and Google, he ordered from a young Chinese woman. When she left to get him his food, he put his suitcase on the table, and looking around, began to look for something inside, muttering under his breath.
Man in a suit: Excuse me, is this seat free?
Surprised, Bill dropped some of the pens he was holding in his hands on the table and on the floor.
Man in a suit: Oh, I'm sorry I startled you. Let me help you.
Bill:Don’t bother, that’s all right. I’ll pick them up myself (ducks under the table and begins to collect the scattered ballpoint pens). Well, I’ve got them all (hurriedly throws the pens back into the suitcase, closes it and puts it on the floor next to him)
Man in a suit: I’m sorry, so is this seat occupied?
Bill: Yes.. Uh... I mean, no. It’s free.
Man in a suit: Thank you.
The man in a suit sat next to Bill, gestured to the waitress, made an order in Chinese, and began to study the newspaper in his hands, without paying any attention to Bill. Bill was looking suspiciously at his tablemate.
Bill: (thinking to himself) What a strange man. He is not Chinese. This is very strange... Why did he sit next to me when there is a free table over there. Sam had probably sent him to spy on me. What do they want from me?
Bill: Hey, mister, you can tell Sam to go to hell!!!
The man in a suit slowly looked up from his newspaper and looked at Bill.
Man in a suit: Excuse me, are you talking to me?
Bill: Yes, you! Stop spying on me. I still won’t collaborate with you.
Man in a suit: Sorry, sir, but you are obviously mistaken. I don't know who Sam is, and I'm not spying on you.
Bill: Oh, yeah? Why did you sit next to me if there was a whole empty table over there (Bill pointed to the side)?
Man in a suit: Because it’s reserved. It's rush hour in Shanghai. Everyone goes out for lunch. There aren’t enough seats, so I sat next to you. If I am disturbing you, I can leave.
Bill: (realizing that he got carried away) Uhhh... No, sir, I'm sorry, I must have made a mistake. Forgive my rudeness. I’ve become so suspicious and nervous recently... Please, excuse me. That was very nasty of me...
Man in a suit: Oh, don’t worry. This city can drive anyone crazy.
Bill: Yes, the city is bustling.
Man in a suit: Heh! That doesn’t even begin to describe it! This city is just insane. Here you can feel all of the charm of planet overpopulation.
Man in a suit: Here you can experience it all – rush hour crowds, and smog, and traffic jams, and hurried people with comatose expressions... all the attributes of a developed modern city.
Bill: Do you think the planet is overpopulated?
Man in a suit: Can't you see it? Actually, I have my own theory on this issue...
Bill: Really? Very interesting. And what does this theory involve?
Man in a suit: Would you really like to hear it? At this point most people just say that it’s time for them to tend to some important business.
Bill: But I'm really curious! I am listening to you very closely.
Man in a suit: Very well, then. Yes, I do think our planet is overpopulated. It’s not just overpopulated – it is extremely overpopulated! And overpopulation is one of the most important problems of modern humanity, which leads to a bunch of other problems.
Bill: What other problems?
Man in a suit: What other problems? You come across them every day - traffic jams, pollution, frantic pace, stress, fatigue, poor ecology...
That’s when the waitress brought Bill and the man in the suit their orders. They began to eat, but continued the conversation.
Man in a suit: Add the huge problem of recycling the waste that billions of people across the planet throw out every day. You can’t imagine how much plastic and other rubbish people dump around the world every year! The numbers are just incredible! You ask yourself – where does it all go? We are talking about hundreds of millions of tons of garbage per year.
Bill: (pretends to be foolishly unaware) Yes, I’ve read about the recycling somewhere. We have containers for sorting the garbage by our house...
Man in a suit: My friend, you are very lucky that you live in a place where the problem of waste is somehow resolved. Only in developed countries does the government try to recycle and reuse waste. And it is only partially recycled. But only about a tenth of the planet’s entire huge population lives in developed countries. In the rest of the world, trash is simply thrown away. Millions of tons of plastic and other waste are thrown into the ocean and buried in the ground.
Bill: Yes, you are probably right. I’ve heard that China one of the leaders in the recycling field.
Man in a suit: Yes, garbage from all over the world is being brought to China. It’s processed there to be used again as recycled material. But there is so much garbage that China had recently stopped accepting it, because they can’t process it quickly enough. China has giant storage facilities for sorted waste that’s awaiting its turn to be recycled. But it accumulates faster than it is used up.
Bill: (plays the fool again) Well... I think there are a lot of smart people in the world. They will come up with something to solve this problem. Now technology is developing at an incredible rate. Recently, I read somewhere that there are new technologies for garbage processing based on lasers or some sort of plasma. They basically heat the garbage to incredible temperatures and it literally breaks up into molecules.
Man in a suit: Technological solutions do exist, but they are usually very, very expensive. Indeed, what lasers can we talk about if most of the world's population does not have a garbage can near their home!
Bill: Yes. You're right. I keep forgetting about different living standards and the development of economy and science in different parts of the world.
Man in a suit: That's exactly what I’m talking about. There are a lot of people on the planet. And this entire human mass is extremely heterogeneous and ambiguous. Somewhere in Switzerland, you can deal with garbage utilization using modern technologies. But how would you solve it in Bangladesh, for one?
Bill: Garbage is not the only problem in that country. The population is starving to death..
Man in a suit: Problems like hunger and lack of water are also caused by overpopulation. The population of the planet is increasing by 1 billion every 10-12 years. Problems with food supplies will soon affect developed countries, too, it’s only a matter of time. But, oddly enough, I believe that garbage, hunger and environmental pollution aren’t the most important and dangerous problems that we are facing because of the planet’s overpopulation. These are the obvious problems. But there are other issues that are less obvious, but no less dangerous.
Bill: Ok, and what are those?
Man in a suit: You see, it seems to me that overpopulation greatly inhibits the development of mankind.
Bill: What do you mean by the development of mankind?
A man in a suit: Hmm, I would say that development is qualitative growth. Qualitative growth of each individual and the society as a whole. We must become better and make the world a better place. It’s my deep conviction that human beings have great potential. But he cannot realize it in any way under modern condition. And overpopulation is one of the reasons why he is unable to do it.
Bill: I still don’t quite understand why overpopulation impedes development.
Man in a suit: I have a feeling that you are playing with me. Seems that you understand everything very well, but are for some reason pretending that you have no idea what I'm talking about. Hmm... You see, now I‘m getting paranoid.
Bill smiled sincerely and shrugged.
Man in a suit: Oh well, it doesn’t matter. Like I said, overpopulation creates huge problems for the whole world.
Man in a suit: The main ones are waste utilization, environmental pollution, depletion of natural resources, lack of drinking water and food, traffic jams and more. Solving these important problems requires a lot of efforts. Add the differences in cultural backgrounds, religious and life values. Don’t forget political and economic differences or rivalry. Alas, my friend, humanity simply does not have the time to develop.
Bill: But what about our modern technology? Isn’t it a sign of quality development?
Man in a suit: Not really. Technology is only one of the spheres of human life. Sure, it’s important, but it’s not a principal indicator of development.
Bill: And what, in your opinion, is an indicator of development?
Man in a suit: Well, for example, a person’s awareness. His attitude towards others. His worldview. His understanding of the meaning of life. His attitude to others’ opinions. The ability to control his emotions. The degree of his understanding of the structure of the universe. The level of spiritual development.
Bill: Wait, doesn't technology reflect the degree of understanding of the universe’s structure?
Man in a suit: You see, technology is more focused on solving specific problems, rather than understanding the structure of the universe. Science, on the other hand, is engaged in the latter. But science nowadays merely serves technology. It doesn’t pose questions of understanding. Therefore, modern science creates such theories that help create new technologies, but they do not explain the essence of processes and phenomena.
The man in the suit finished his meal, pushed the plate away and took his cup of tea, added 3 sugar cubes that lay on the saucer, and stirred it with a spoon.
Man in a suit: That's why the ancient Chinese and Indian teachings explain the structure of the universe better and more clearly than modern science. Or at least they don’t fall behind it. There is a very interesting book “The Tao of Physics.” Have you read it?
Bill: Uh... no. Unfortunately, I haven’t read it, but I heard about it somewhere.
Man in a suit: Make sure you read it. You’ll learn a lot of fascinating things about modern science and ancient Eastern teachings.
Man in a suit: And we can say that technology today contributes to stagnation in development. Technology develops because it allows us to solve the problems that I’d named. This isn’t development, it’s stagnation.
Bill: And technology also helps to hold on to power and start wars.
Man in a suit: Exactly! You are absolutely right! That’s nothing even close to development. People simply develop technology to control resources, money and power more efficiently. Nothing has changed since Caesar’s time, he-he-he...
Bill: Imagine how the world would change if technology was used to promote human progress!
The man in the suit once again stirred his tea and took a sip from the cup. He looked at Bill intently.
Man in a suit: You know, I still have a feeling that you know a lot more about all this than I do. But for some reason you are hiding it.
Bill: Please forgive me if I misled you a bit. I really do understand what you are talking about. But usually I’m the one telling this to people. And you surprised me today, so, I decided not to be a smart aleck, but just to listen to you.
Man in a suit: Funny situation, isn't it? By the way, I must admit, I also misled you a little. In fact, I do know who Sam is (his expression changes dramatically).
Bill: Sorry, what? Who is Sam?
Man in a suit: The one who spoke to you in Dubai, Bill.
Bill got agitated and began to look around. He suddenly felt hot and thirsty. He saw a carafe of water on the table, poured himself some water and drained the glass in one gulp.
Man in a suit: Don’t worry, Bill. It’s all good. Please, understand that we are not your enemies. We are offering you our cooperation.
Bill: Why set up this whole circus then?
Man in a suit: So that you’d understand that there are other people in the world who think the same way you do. So that you’d know that you are not the only one worried about the global issues of saving humanity and the planet. We also have a clear understanding of these things. We also see all these problems and are trying to find a solution.
Bill: First you created these problems, and now you’re trying to solve them! But the problem is that all this had to be dealt with 50 years ago. It’s too late now!
Man in a suit: Everything is not that simple, Bill. You don’t know much. Therefore, we are offering you our cooperation. This will help you understand everything in more detail.
Bill: What’s in it for you? Why would you care to help me understand anything?
Man in a suit: We think that you intend to do something very bad and dangerous. We just want to help you avoid a mistake.
Bill: I don't know what you're talking about.
Man in a suit: You are playing the fool again, Bill...
That’s when two Shanghai police cars drove up to the café and several policemen came out. Two cops began to walk through the café, looking at visitors. The other two came up to the waitress and showed her a photograph of the man they were looking for.
Man in a suit: So, Bill, it looks like they are looking for you (nods towards the police).
Bill: What? I’ve done nothing wrong!
Man in a suit: Tell all of this to the Chinese secret police. They came to arrest you on a CIA tip. If you don’t want to spend the rest of your life in prison, follow me quickly.
The man in the suit stood up calmly and walked towards the toilet. Bill was perplexed and didn’t know what to do, but his self-preservation instinct made him move. He grabbed his suitcase off the floor and darted after the man in a suit. Next to the toilet door was another door that said "Staff only," and that’s where the two men went. Behind it was a corridor, some offices, and a staircase.
Man in a suit: Bill, keep up. This way.
Bill didn’t understand how they suddenly found themselves in some narrow and noisy street filled with people. It was very crowded. Bill grabbed his suitcase with both hands and pressed it to his chest so that no one would accidentally tear it out of his hands. After a couple of minutes, the noise died down, and people disappeared somewhere. They stood in a quiet side street, completely alone.
Man in a suit: Well, now we are safe.
Bill: Do you really think that they were looking for me? Or are you lying again and trying to lead me on?
Man in a suit: Want to check it out? Go back, I’ll show you the way.
Bill didn’t respond.
Man in a suit: So, what are we going to do, Bill?
Bill:I don't know about you, but I'm going back to the hotel.
Man in a suit: What about our collaboration? We could be useful to each other.
Bill: I don’t know. I need to think about it. Let's meet tomorrow somewhere in the center of Shanghai and discuss it. Will that work for you?
Man in a suit: Good. I'll pick you up right at the hotel tomorrow. It will be safer that way. Where are you staying?
Bill handed him a smartphone with a map on screen.
Bill: Here it is.
Man in a suit: Good. I know where it is. I’ll pick you up tomorrow at 3 pm.
Bill: Well then, see you later.
Bill nodded his head, turned and walked down the alley towards the nearby street. The man in the suit stayed put. He took out a cigarette, lit it, and watched Bill for a long time until he disappeared around the corner.
Log in to add a comment