Let me clear my throat, Beijing

“I’m goin’ to f***ing China!…I’m in New York…Man, I’m goin’ to f***ing China!”

Having befriended Dave, a friendly English teacher from New York on his way back to the city of Handan, I tried to avoid making reference to the dreadlocked man in front of us, cursing animatedly into his phone, as we quietly shuffled through the departure gate, en route to our respective Fall semester students.

Almost fifteen hours later, having taken a second to glimpse the smoggy neon vista of my new home nation, I descended the stairs, stepping on to the tarmac runway of Beijing international airport. As I had won the last row on the plane, there was already a small crowd of passengers, largely Chinese, waiting for the approaching shuttle bus.

I found myself again behind the dreadlocked man, now making smirky comments to a politely bemused man who happened to be within earshot.

“Back up! Back up! OK…they’re just gonna let the bus run over them. That’s what’s up here, then!”

I had to laugh. His unabashed American presence was made all the more noticeable given that he seemed to be the only Black face on our entire flight. Two minutes into China, and I’d already witnessed my first cross-cultural communication gem: a sea of Confucian harmony jeweled by a single, forthright African American voice.

“Hey man, where are you from?” I asked.

“Washington, D.C.,” he replied, most emphatically. I told him that it was my own previous residence, and the subject switched to why we were in China. For him, the answer was music.

“I’m DJ Kool man…Ever heard of a joint called ‘Let Me Clear My Throat?!’ Uhuh, that’s right!…that’s who you’re talking to right here!”

He dipped into his satchel, pulling out a sticker and signing it for me, eschewing the inconvenience of social custom and waiting for me to ask. The first person I met on mainland soil happened to also be my first (if perhaps slightly dated) rap star.

As limited as my exposure to mid-90s hip hop was in Australia, I can certainly lay claim to familiarity with the smash hit he’d cited, a staple of prom nights and city summer barbeques across the United States. “Let me clear my throat!” goes the refrain, followed by a catchy saxaphone sample that helped to define feel-good party rap from that decade. This is his first concert tour in China, and it seemed oddly fitting, given its citizens’ long-standing habit of public spitting, which the government has tried to curb in recent years, but with limited success.

Let them clear their throat, indeed.


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