Thursday, March 30, 2006

Speech Contest Part IV

After the contest, a few people came up to me and told me I did a really good job. Liars! I wanted to crawl under a rock. Lanny smiled and said "Don't woory Mr. Tyson." Since my boss did not come up and clock me or fire me, I felt better.

Sailor came up to me and I congratulated him. He asked me why he was only awarded 300 RMB. He had been promised 400 RMB. I told him I did not handle that part of the contest. I told him he should ask one of the handlers. At this point, I wondered what - and if - I would be paid. Shortly thereafter, I heard the rumblings of complaints amongst the students. When we got onto the bus the rumblings became a near mutiny. I heard the f-word which made Lanny wince. Up to this point, she and I had discussed the students' strong work ethic. Her comment now was:
"I hear bad language Mr. Tyson."
About that time, we heard a:
"Dis is Boorrsheet"
With each expletive, my cohost was becoming more and more embarrassed. I feigned shock to prolong her agony. Last, I heard a student say, as the bus drove past a trash heap (which there were many in this seemingly ecologically aware town):
"This is said to be an ecological town. Look at all the trash. This is no ecological town," which was punctuated by the F-word.
I muttered something to the tune of "Oh Gosh."
Lanny, I know wanted to crawl under the seat. At this point, a handler, who uses Megan as her English name, stood up and addressed the bus in Chinese. I was very curious to know what she was saying and why the students got stiffed, especially since I had been stiffed often in my last life as a pop singer. Megan was very sweet but I sensed if you crossed her she could explode in a chinese fire of jujitsu and karate. I did not cross her.

Lanny told me that Megan explained to the students the reason they did not get paid what they were promised was because the Anji government paid the prize money and so the Anji government stiffed the students. I thought to myself, "So the students are getting it stuck to them by the man." And then I thought, I wonder if that is the true story or if that is the story they are using to diffuse a potential mob scene. I could envision the New York Times headlines: "American Defenestrated from Moving Bus During Angry Chinese Student Riot."

However before I was defenestrated from the general proximity of seats 33 and 34, my feet getting caught in the bright yellow curtains as I sailed out of the bus at 90 kms an hour, I would make my plea.
"Brothers, Sisters, I am on your side. I too have hated and despised the man. We will rise up together and finish what the Symbiotic Liberation Army started in the USA in the late 1960s. They had a plan (a plan that at this point I really don't recall and also at this point does it even matter? I am after all just buying time during the climactic angry mob scene. I would then end my diatribe with) Kick out the Mao."

Yes, my psycho babble would not register and they would unclasp my ankle caught in the bright yellow curtains and send me, once and for all, on my way, out the window. However, it would be like in a soap opera, I would be thought to be dead but I would be alive, except I would look different due to the horrible accident which disfigured me. Instead of splatting on the pavement, miraculously I would land in the bed of a chicken truck heading in the opposite direction. My diet for the next season until the sweeps would be chicken feet soup and grub worms. Okay, so I would not be disfigured during the defenestration. I would, however, have amnesia and the chicken farmer would not know who I was or where I came from. But then the ratings would plummet and the audience would want something even more catastrophic to happen to me. That is when I would suffer a horrible green tea and dumpling accident. Of course, I would become a little deranged because of the chip implanted in my brain and I would pick some arbitrary person on whom to extoll my vengeance, some person who had done me wrong in business, who had stolen my lover, who had ripped off my sound, who told others I liked Pepsi better than Coke. I would come back looking astonishingly like Susan Lucci.

The mutiny was successfully quelled which means none of the above happened. In fact, ten minutes later, the students seemingly forgot about being cheated by the man. They were back to singing Back Street Boys songs in the back of the bus where the uprising had first occured.

I asked Lanny where we were going now. I wanted to go back to the hotel and have a rest. This was not to be. We were taken on a tour of a park in the Anji mountains which was nice but I really wanted to lie down. The tour seemed endless. We rolled around and up a winding road in a few of those oversized golfcarts that seats ten. I just really wanted to sleep. I feigned interest. Lanny pointed out every detail of every piece of landscape and then she pointed to some chickens and said "Geese!" I did not have the heart to tell her they were really chickens.

After an hour of rolling around on the golf cart, we were taken to the 4 star restaurant where we were to have supper. The party of 40 or so sat in a few different little rooms that I suppose were for the special guests of the restaurant. Lanny ("We have a seat for you here at this table Mr Tyson")and I sat by the 4 amped primary students. During the meal, these students were typical children; they stole each others chopstix and napkins and made loogy jokes. The youth and exuberance that I had admired in them last night quickly vanished. I now wanted to hit a couple of them over the head with a chair. The chaperones/teachers were with them. I had sympathy for them. They looked defeated but still tried to keep a game face. I made a mental note to never teach primary school.

The waitress came and we ordered our drinks. Most of the grownups ordered tea. I had Coca Cola with the kids. At all of the nice Chinese restaurants that I have been to so far, the meal is served family style. Each dish is set in the middle of the table on a lazy susan. (the fifties, sixties whenever - "Named it after my daughter, can't get her to do anything, made it out in my shop, idea came one night durin' supper, I was so dangblasted tired of tellin' her to pass the mashed potatos, ya know how i love mashed potatos.")

The servers soon started setting dishes on the lazy susan. This could be a food network gameshow. The loser winds up with a plate full of chicken feet and goose shins. In the last few weeks, I have become adept at this game. I have learned to put a satisfying amount on my plate just in case I like the mystery dish and it does not make its way back around but not so much in case I do not like it and I have to leave some on my plate.

First, a big bowl of chicken soup arrived. Here, when you get chicken soup, you get the whole chicken including the feet. Fortunately, the chicken is chopped up so it is not some bloated dead chicken floating in a bowl of broth. Unfortunately, the first ladle dipped out included a boiled foot. I half-heartedly drank some broth and waited for the next dish to hit the table. The next item looked like fried twigs which I thought was interesting. Yes, the goose shins had arrived, not that tasty. Next, since Anji is famous for its bamboo, we had boiled bamboo which was rather tasty. After that we sampled the best dish so far which were some simple greens, which were soon followed by a heaping bowl of tofu. Next to arrive was a meat dish that looked like it had been smoked. I thought it might be pheasant or duck or some exotic bird. I took a bite and asked what it was. Lanny replied "Gezi."
"What?" I thought the name sounded quite exotic and I wanted to be able to properly pronounce it.
"Pigeon," she said "is the English name."
Immediately, a picture of pigeons crapping all over New York City came into my mind. Why this is different than, say perhaps, steak, I do not know. Maybe because pigeons were an everyday pest in NYC and stockyards are sites - and stenches - from roadtrips. Therefore, stockyards do not invade my thoughts when I am eating a sirloin or a T-bone. Furthermore, eating pigeon is no different than eating rat which makes me think of Monty Python's 'Jabberwocky' and the rats on a stick scene.

DASH DASH DASH beep beep I INTERUPT THIS BLOG TO BRING YOU THIS IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT - JO THE AUSTRALIAN, JUST KNOCKED ON MY DOOR AND TOLD ME THAT SHE WOULD SWITCH APARTMENTS WITH ME. -STOP- SHE IS HERE ONLY ONE DAY A WEEK.-STOP- SHE ALSO HAS AN APARTMENT IN THE PUDONG AREA OF SHANGHAI. -STOP- MY FUTURE APARTMENT IN THIS SWITCHAROO HAS THREE BALCONIES INSTEAD OF TWO -STOP- A BALCONY OFF OF THE KITCHEN -STOP- A BALCONY OFF OF THE LIVING ROOM -STOP- AND A BALCONY OFF OF THE BEDROOM STOP-INSERT PERIOD (Oh while I am at it, I have just procurred a cleaning lady. She is to come to my apartment once a week at 20 kuai -$2.50. Jo told me I might think about buying some cleaning supplies because all this lady is equipped with is what Jo refers to as the cholera mop. Jo said that the cleaning lady who absolutely -willy nilly- only speaks Chinese is fond of spray bottles.) SORRY FOR THE INTERUPTION, AS YOU WERE. DASH beep DASH.

Okay, it is absolutely not funny that during the course of the meal Chicken Run voiced Maureen had a spell and had to go sit on the bus. I assume the barbequed pigeon may have induced a birdflu relapse. All I know is I looked up and Maureen's birdflu ass had flown the coop.

This was along the time, near the end of the meal, when a drunk Chinese man from the Anji Education Bureau came to the table with a bottle of Chinese white wine (which has all the sublety of Everclear). He insisted I take a shot. I kept saying no but he was drunk and he poured me a shot. He then poured himself a shot and insisted that we both drink.

Here, I should back pedal a bit. Rewind to fifteen minutes before when my boss Edgar (Chinese name Xian - of which I crapped all over the pronounciation at the speech contest) brought a bottle of 1995 red wine to our table which was supposed to be very good. I declined. He did not push it. A lady named Ann (who looked like she was very much a drinker and had been drinking steadily since approximately 1962)accepted. As she drank, she said more than once that a little bit of wine was good for the plumbing. Ann had an Aunt Hagatha air about her. She was sweet, harmless and ready to party. I am sure, eventually, she probably killed the bottle.

However, back to the story, when the drunk from the Anji Education Bureau came to our table, he would have none of my tomfoolery soberness. He emptied my small wine glass of coke into an ashtray and poured me a shot like a man would have. This is the first time since I have stopped drinking that I felt pressured, beyond my control, to drink. I was now facing one of my worst fears. How do I not drink without insulting someone from another culture? How do I tell them I have a drinking problem and should not drink? What would Jesus do? Would Jesus even be in China? Why did the chicken cross the road?

I think Jesus would take the shot. Like Jesus, I took the shot in one gulp. The women at the table, who were exempt because they were women, looked at me in shock. Lanny asked if I was okay. I told her yes. Well, after I took that shot, one of the drunk's Anji Education Bureau cohorts poured me a glass of the '95 red to shoot. At this point, I thought this would be the true test: Am I an alcoholic? Yes, I mean No. I mean I don't know. I downed the glass of redwine as a shot (the first time I think I have done red wine as a shooter - It's China).

Okay, here you must realize that I am with people that I have just met over the weekend. People who have never witnessed me: peeing on staircases in Tulsa; pulling out my watch and emptying clubs throughout New York City and Oklahoma with my watch exhibition; drunkenly catching my hair on fire; vomiting across the USA in a Ford extended van; impersonating Shaft late night in black neighborhood fastfood drive-thru's in Atlanta. All of the women at the table are now staring at me. One of the primary school teachers asked me - in that primary school way "Are you okay."
"Yes. Fine." I said.
But I was wondering to myself "Am I fine? Am I an alcoholic? Will this night end with me pulling out my watch in front of people I barely know in a foreign country?" I decided to address it later. I could not deal with it now because we had to go to Edgar's table and wish them well which is a Chinese tradition after the meal at a large gathering. At this point, I was not sure what was a tradition and what was a new tradition created by the presence of alcohol.

The next thing I know, Lanny and I are at Edgar's table and more shots are poured and demanded. At this point, there is no backing out. I made the mistake of letting them pour me a glass of wine at their table, which I thought I would nurse until we left the restaurant. Chinese tradition, you must finish the glass at the table where it is offered. I downed it. Everyone cheered.

This is the part of the movie where you really really want the protagonist to win. He is somewhat likeable and almost cute in this retarded sort of Boo Radley way. You want him to stop drinking. We've all seen Barfly and Trainspotting and Days of Wine and Roses and Lost Weekend. We know the story can end two ways. This is when we ask ourselves what kind of story this is. Is this Laurence of Arabia or is this Dazed and Confused?

Lanny and I went back to our table with the primary school students and the primary school teachers and Aunt Hagatha. The primary school teacher asked me again if I was okay. I told her I was fine. Everyone was a bit shocked that I was fine after seeing me drink so much so fast - and a school teacher no less. At this point, Sailor and a few of his friends dropped in to have toasts with us. He and all of his friends were drinking an assortment of fruit juices. His drink of choice for the evening was orange juice. I was not at the point where I was slurring words but I was on guard.

Because, I knew I was not fine. Now, I had that feeling a drinker gets when they have tasted enough liquour to crave more. I was at that point where I had been many times before. I knew I could turn onto the highway of no return or I could stop drinking. I was starting to become a bit lightheaded. I did not like this feeling which so often before I had waited for in anticipation in my drinking. For once in my life, I did not like feeling like I was not in control. I felt downright uncomfortable. Primary school students, junior high school students and senior high school students surrounded me. For no reason I could name, other than I am an adult, they look up to me. They were all having a great time drinking coke and various fruit juices. I cannot break character. The character I am now playing is a non-drinking high school English teacher in a foreign country who feels so lucky to have come out on the other side.

At this point, I felt I should tell the others at the table about my fight with alcohol. I told them about my days as a pop singer and how alcohol was always readily available. With the children around, I did not go into the whole drug aspect. All of them looked a bit shocked. After I had spilled my guts, Aunt Hagatha said, "You look as if you have never had a drop to drink in your life."


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