A few weeks ago my boss Elizabeth told me I would be the judge at a speech contest in Anji - famous for white tea and bamboo. This was to happen in a few weeks. The next day she told me there was a change of plans: local university professors would judge the contest instead, so I was off the hook. However, by that time, I was looking forward to going and was now disappointed that I was replaced by Chinese professors. I had heard people in the office talk about the beautiful bamboo forrest which was used in the Ang Lee film, the non-gay martial arts one set in China. Fortunately, a few days later, I was reinstated as a judge and then I was told I would emcee the event with a Chinese woman. I had been in China for less than a month and I had already gotten my big break in showbiz. I just knew Ang Lee would be in the audience of this very prestigious high school speech contest.
(As 'Untitled' by Interpol plays, the workers on the construction site have returned to work from their supper break. The floodlight just came on. The foundation has been set. They are now starting the brickwork. They haul bricks in small two wheel buggies into the excavated area. They work seven days a week. This is Sunday evening.)
The speech contest was this weekend. At points during the contest, I thought to myself who in the hell do I think I am. My support staff and co-host were all calling me Mr. Tyson the whole weekend. My co-host, a young female named Lanny (which is pronounced closer to 'Lenny') was equal parts exuberant tour guide, annoying little sister, and speech coach. At times, I felt like such a dick because I just wanted to say leave me alone but I didn't; I dealt. Nevetheless, this is without a doubt, willy nilly, the most overwhelmed since I have been since I have arrived in China. The climax of the contest brought the "I Love Lucy" chocolate episode to mind.
Maybe I should start from the beginning. Roy (who picked me up from the airport three weeks ago and loves to drive in the urgent parking lane on the highway) was to pick up Maureen (who after the speech contest had an alergic reaction to the four star supper and had to be driven the four hours home), two Songjiang Public High School No. 2 high school students and me in Songjiang on campus and drive us to the main office where a bus and the other students and teachers would be waiting.
We were to leave at 2:30 pm. At 2 pm Maureen told me I needed to bring a xeroxed copy of my passport to check into the hotel. As I have said before, everything here is much more difficult than you can imagine. The Chinese government currently hold my passport while the papers for my foreign expert certificate is being processed. I know I had saved it in an email. I walk the football field length of the campus from apartment to my office. I dug through me emails. I found it and tried to print it. Nothing. A blank white paper. Elizabeth was at the main office. I called her in a panic. She told me not to worry they had a copy there.
I went back to my apartment to quickly pack a few more items. I have 'Who are the Mystery Girls' by the Dolls blasting, the perfect Emcee send-off song. I may be have been loudly singing along with it. I heard a knock on the door. I opened the door. Roy and Maureen are standing there. As I looked down at my watch, I sheepishly asked if it was already 2:30 pm. Roy looked at his watch and emphatically nodded yes. I told them I would be right down. I threw my Christian Dior jogging pants (for sleeping)in my bag and headed toward the door with my bag, my emceeing suit (which a year ago some naysayers told me I did not need to buy a D&G suit that fit perfectly and was priced at 90% off - boy am I glad I did not listen to them!), an overcoat, and a bag of fruit and other snacks.
In the car, Maureen sat in front. I sat in back with the two students. We drove to the main office. On the way there, I told Maureen I had found a couch that day that I liked at a expansive home store that was by the grocery store. Whether this was a mall or one store full of sinks, fishtanks, lamps, beds and sofas; I was not sure. However, I was quite excited by this couch I found. (Earlier When I told the office manager Jessie about it and asked whether I should by the couch or a digital camera, she told me to buy the couch. When I asked why, she told me that I could not sit on a camera.) As Roy drove us weaving in and out of traffic narrowly avoiding busses and scooters, I described the couch to Maureen. I felt so fricking gay.
"Well It's bright orange and it folds down into a bed. It's covered in a velour corduroy," I said trying to remain unphased by Roy's commando driving.
"Oh, that sounds nice," Maureen said - again imagine one of the chicken voices in 'Chicken Run.'
"Bright," she added.
"Yeah, Jessie told me I should buy it when I told her," I said. "And it's only 1,500 RMB (less than $200)."
"What a bargain."
"I know. Right?" I was about to tell her it looked like a sofa you would find at West Elm but I knew she would not know to what I was referring.
We made it to the main office and were ushered into a meeting room that was set up like a classroom. Roy disappeared. The four of us sat at the back of the room. Another teacher had given Maureen pineapple chunks to distribute. The students, Maureen and I ate pineapple chunks while we waited for further instruction. After we finished the chunks. My cohost made her appearance. Over the course of the weekend, I learned that her younger sister and her are both teachers; her younger sister teaches Chinese; my cohost teaches English; her father is a doctor; her mother is a nurse. Her parents would have liked either her or her sister to be a doctor; that was not to be. Her students call her by her first name because she is so young and beautiful, the Vanna White of the East.
"Mr Tyson," she called to me. "We need to practice."
I followed her to a conference room where we made changes to the script for the contest which she had written.After we made the changes, she taught me the pronounciation of the names of high schools and presenters. During this scene, I seemed to be equal parts Bill Murray and Peter Sellars. ("Do you have a leezinze for your moonkee?") In my head, a voice was foretelling disaster.
Believe it or not, the others had forgotten about us. The bus was getting ready to pull out. I had to pee before getting on a bus for four hours. I left my suit, bag and fruit bag with a handler.and went into one of the stinkiest mensrooms I have ever encountered which includes the worst one in the United States - and maybe the world - CBGBs where I am sure Johnny Thunders, Dee Dee Ramone, Patti Smith, whoever all shot smack. I was then hustled to the bus.
As I got on the bus. My cohost was evicting students from their seats.
"Mr Tyson! Mr Tyson! I got seats for us here."
Part of me thought, "Wow, I will not be lonely or feel excluded on this trip" and the other part of me thought "Oh Brother."