Wednesday, April 19, 2006

For the last few days, I have thought about subscribing to one of the English language Chinese newspapers. This, I decided after looking for the English language Shanghai Daily at all of the newspaper stands in Songjiang with no luck. In this town, anything English print is not available. I must trek into Shanghai for such an extravagance. Jessie (Sofa Negotiator) told me I could get an English language paper across the street from the school at the newsstand shack manned by a chatty woman. Jennifer and Maureen told me there are no English language newspapers there. Jennifer told me that she usually found the English papers at the metro in Shanghai which is less than convenient. Imagine being in New York and trekking to Madison Ave. and 50th St. from the East Village to get the New York Times and you may understand my dilemma.

This being the situation, I decided a subscription was the way to go. Maureen told me to do it online. Yes, online might be the answer but I still do not trust the online transaction implicitly, especially when there are language barriers involved. She told me I could subscribe and then look at the paper online. She is dear but not very up to date. I look at newspapers online now without paying for them. My homepage is the New York Times for Pete’s sake. My aim is to have the physical paper to look at on my balcony with my morning tea and crumpet. A civilized breakfast is all I am asking for, really, nothing more.

Maureen then told me I could have the paper delivered to the international building office and I could pick it up there. Again, I do not want to traipse to the office in my pajamas to get the paper. My boss - who is sweet but very business like-would most certainly not appreciate seeing me in my pajamas in the office first thing in the morning. I like to come clicking in wearing my suit and tie.

Furthermore, I would like to get the paper as close as I can to my front door. Or if the Chinese paperboy would like to throw it over the (now three story) building under construction onto my balcony, that would be peachy. All I want really is the goddamned paper.

Today, I asked Jessie (Sofa Negotiator) if she had any other ideas. She told me I could go to the Post Office to subscribe to about any English language newspaper my heart desires. Lovely, I thought. I first had to give Shanghai90210 their English listening midterm.

The English listening midterm: a few minute ghost story, told in a proper British voice. I played it once (I told them I would play it 3 times. Max said “Four.” I said no three. He said okay.) After I played it once, the three students frantically wrote, filling in the answers. I played it again - more frantic writing. I played it the final time. The story took place after a lecture. One of the questions was - who was involved in the discussion about the ghost story. The students asked me what is ‘involved?’ I told them. I said “Who was there” as a statement. Miko thought I asked “Who was there?”
She replied “Students.”
“Miko, that is one of the answers,” I said getting a bad case of the déjà vu once again. Of course, that got me going. I started laughing and could only stop in minute intervals. When they get me laughing it is one of those from the bottom of my gut laughs that eventually makes my abdomen sore because I am laughing so hard and thinking “Oh My God, they are going to give me a heart attack.” Miko finished writing and brought her paper up for me to look at. She says “100” as she is handing it to me. I take one look at it and make the sound of a dive bomber and a bomb exploding and go into another laughing fit. Max starts laughing. Tess just looks frightened. I ask Max show me his exam. When he almost gets to me with it, he backs up and is frightened to give it to me. I without a doubt start laughing again. And, again, I cannot stop. These students are killing me.

Miko asks me to grade it right then. I tell her I have to listen to the CD to make sure I have the correct answers. Allen is still gone taking tests in her hometown. I will not give them back their results until after I give Allen the test. Jessie (Sofa Negotiator) tells me later that Allen will take her tests on Thursday and Friday.

The 3 students ask me about the upcoming geography and culture midterm. I make a dive bomb into a bomb exploding noise. Miko laughs uncontrollably. I call Max a sodbuster. Tess punches it into her translator and laughs “Farmer.”

After class, I stroll into the Sofa Negotiators office to see if she can negotiate a newspaper subscription at the post office for me. She says lets go. (She is always ready to go anytime, anywhere).As we are walking across campus to the gatehouse for directions to the post office, the Negotiator wants to know what paper I would like to receive. I feel as if this might be a test. I tell her ‘Shanghai Daily.”
“That is the one I read,” she says.
We stop at the gatehouse. She quibbles back and forth with a nice looking young guard. I wonder if there is flirtation involved. The older one - who stopped me once when I first got here and I smelt liquor on his breath at that time- looks at me and rolls his eyes and grins as the Negotiator negotiates directions to the nearest post office. I know better than to say anything. I always wait until the discourse is finished. Foreigner’s ‘Double Vision’ is running through my brain, a frequent occurrence for me before 11 am.

The Negotiator tells me we need to take a taxi to the nearest post office. We walk out to the road and immediately hail a taxi. The Negotiator jumps in front. I get in back. We zoom toward downtown. The post office is around the corner from the Pizza Hut where I ate with the students when I first arrived during Maureen’s bird flu phase; the same Pizza Hut where the woman was yelling from across the street at the passersby and onlookers “I hate you!”

We go into the post office. At one end of the post office is what looks to be a small-town sort of periodicals library with magazines on shelves and a long line of people waiting to see the man at what looks a lot like a ticket booth from an old small-town downtown cinema. The rest of the Post Office is a row of safety glass windows with postal clerks behind a few of them. We wander around for a minute or two while the Negotiator gets her bearings. Moody Blues “Lost in a Lost World” now meanders through my head.

We fall into a random line. We got the beat. A woman of authority walks by us. The Negotiator says something to her. The woman in authority leads us to a lineless window where a gaunt unpleasant looking young man is stationed. The Negotiator starts the subscription negotiations. This time, I add a few things.
“Do you want a subscription for six months or a year?” The Negotiator asks me.
“Six Months,” I say and then add “How much is it?”
“300 kuai.” I see my dreams of the sleek red chrome legged coffee table going right out the window.
“Can I subscribe month to month?” I ask.
“You would have to come and do this every month.” This I took to mean: I would be dragging the Negotiator with me every month for something that she would rather only do once.
“Oh, Do I have to pay it all at once?” I know in the scheme of things 300 kuai is a little over 30 dollars but I am not sure if I will definitely stay at this school when my contract is up at the end of June. I know a lot of schools in the Shanghai area need teachers. I feel as if I am a bit of a hot commodity. I may be at a school where I can buy the paper at a newsstand everyday if I am in a more Westernized part of Shanghai. To buy it everyday is cheaper than a subscription, much cheaper. The whole selling advertising because of subscriptions is not a part of the Chinese newspaper way.
The Negotiator and the disgruntled Chinese postal employee negotiate a bit more, at least I assume they are negotiating. He could be asking her:
“So where have you been all my life? Who is this douche you ‘re with? Where’d he get his hair cut, K-mart?

As I am mulling this over, the Negotiator gives me the final offer: She tells me I can get a subscription until the end of June. This is perfect. I hear angels sing. James Dean revs his Porsche Spyder. Natalie Wood dives into clear water. Sal Mineo waltzes with Rock Hudson. Randolf Scott cuts in. Cary Grant buys a new set of cuff links.
The subscription - starting the 24th of April - is 112 kuai. I take 120 out of my wallet. She tells me it will be delivered around 10 am every morning - I had hoped earlier –to the guardhouse. Mr. Disgruntled says something more. She tells me they can start delivering it tomorrow. I ask her how much that would be. She tells me 120 kuai which is what I coincidentally am now holding in my hand. She tells me to pay the clerk. I hand him the 120 kuai and say ‘Xie Xie.’ He hands me a receipt and writes some random numbers on the back. Is he giving me his number?
“That is phone number to call if paper not delivered,” the Negotiator tells me.

“Thank you so much,” I tell her as we walk out of the post office back onto the bustling lunchtime-crowd street. “I am so excited that I am going to start getting the paper.”
“Yes, that will be very good,” she says as we stroll along downtown.
“Do you want to walk back or take a taxi?” I ask.
“It does not matter.”
“Let’s walk,” I say. “Today is such beautiful day.”
We walked. A little boy with a begging bowl ran up. Sometimes I ignore the beggars but today I gave the boy with the begging bowl 1 rmb. He ran off and yelled something to the adults who were sitting along a building.
“What is he saying?” I ask
“Some people of authority are coming.”
“Do you have many beggars in your country?”
“In New York, there are a lot of beggars.”
She asks and I answer as are walking past a woman who I have seen often who lays on a stretcher and begs because her legs are mangled – maybe from birth, maybe from an accident.
“Look away.” Jessie tells me. I look the other way.
“A lot of people go to New York to become successful and sometimes they wind up on drugs. They then start begging.” I say as we walk past the mangled beggar woman on the stretcher.
Jessie misheard me. “They have guns?” She shudders.
“Sometimes, they have guns.” The Lower Eastside shooting last year flashed into my mind. I did not know how to explain gangs and random killings by teenagers.
“The authorities here come in and chase people off sometimes,” Jessie says as, believe it or not, we are walking past an all blind traditional Chinese music quartet. The blind quartet has a small audience of guys on scooters and women with their children.
“The authorities do not want people to think this is a poor area of China.” She says this as we walk past the mangled male version of the beggar woman we looked away from earlier (a man who has mangled legs who lays on a stretcher and begs) whom I have also seen often.

By this time we are at the edge of downtown and we have fallen into silence. We walk on the bridge over the canal. The sun is high in the sky. We wave to the guards when we pass the guardhouse. My apartment is the first building inside the school’s entrance. It is around the first turn. I tell Jessie that I am going to get out of my suit. I walk into my apartment building. She walks off toward the international building across the parking lot and driveway which is the width of the football field. Tomorrow, I will wake and walk to the guardhouse and gather my first newspaper subscription newspaper. I am now an adult.


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