We Call It a Trash Can Now




I get fulfillment from my passion for information. I start taking in information as soon as I open my eyes in the morning. First, I read the newspaper, which, in this modern age, becomes ever thicker. Countless Chinese characters, like a cluster of black gnats, desperately worm their way into my brain. Then I surf the “net.” The “net” here doesn’t mean a fishing-net or a table tennis net. It refers to the Internet where you can find all the information in the world. Maybe you can’t become a great man and conquer the world, but at least you can access all the information around the globe. Holding the mouse in your hand is like wielding a scepter. What more could you want? No wonder there aren’t many careerists anymore.


As well as the Internet, we have books, radio, commercials, telephones, trademarks, road signs, files, bulletins, light box advertising, reports, films, airships, slogans, notices, letters, text messages, orders for arrest, lists of lottery winners, gossip, oral literature, slogans printed on T-shirts, leaflets... There is so much information I don’t have time to sort it all. Besides, I can’t think of enough categories! And of course there is even more than I could ever list at one time. The words keep filling my brain. Information, information, information.


Oh, and we have TV. No one can forget TV. It is so alluring, and so addictive. Every day I spend at least a couple of hours with it. I hold my remote and flick through the channels, so I won’t miss anything on any channel.


In the middle of the night, I wake up in a daze to pee. I continue to receive information. The neon lights glow outside. Perhaps a bustling bath house or a cozy massage center. The fax machine keeps churning out paper. Who is still sending me messages? He or she must pay no attention to normal working hours.


By the end of the day my brain is full from leading such a life. Here the “full” is just like filling a warehouse and leaving no space at all. When my brain is already full to bursting, new words keep coming in. I have no choice but to tell the old words to squeeze together to make room for the new. However, they are not happy with my suggestion. They group together and shuffle around. They occupy the space I need to think properly, tell right from wrong and prevent myself from acting stupidly. Now every space is packed and my mind is in a total mess. Luckily one place is still under my control and I will never give this power away. It is the gate of my brain, which will be always open to information. As time goes by, it is no longer important what information is coming in, just as long as it is information. Every time new information flows into my brain through the gate, I feel fulfilled.


But one day, I get a headache. I realize that my brain no longer feels fulfilled, it just feels swollen and dizzy. I stumble along to see a very esteemed man in the information sector and see if he can help me clean up my brain where the piles of words have left a mountain of information.


“I will ask you a question,” the man says. “Why does the sun rise in the east?”


I hesitate, with seven to eight answers tangled in my head. In addition to those I come up with a jumble of Chinese slogans, Danish fables, Indian puzzles and even Mesopotamian stories related to this topic.


In the end, I don’t say a word. The man smiles and asks me a second question: “What is one plus one?”


I still can’t answer. Various concepts, images, news and anecdotes flood into my head, such as killers, shoe inserts, rock ‘n’ roll, lip-synching, beauty, IT, a small, thin wolf, real estate swindlers, clouds and the moon, aged vinegar and liquor. I couldn’t tell him the answer even if I had a hundred mouths.


The man comes over and pats my head. He bends over and listens to my brain. He also appears to sniff it. Then he sighs and says: “Great. It is all right. There is no need to clean it up.”


“But,” I say loudly, gathering courage: “I feel my brain is swollen!”


“Why do you insist on calling it a brain?” he says, surprised. “We call it a trash can now.”


LIU QI is a well-known columnist.