After the sheets are going, I do the dishes that I have been putting off washing. From the kitchen sink, I put them in the (since she favors the cholera mop and bucket –the cleaning lady neglected) mop bucket and take them to the bathroom sink to wash. The kitchen sink does not have a hot water faucet. In the bathroom, I get the water as hot as it will get and I fill the bucket up and squeeze in a generous portion of random brand Chinese dish washing liquid. One by one, I take the dishes out of the bucket and scrub them with a sponge. I, then, rinse them with the hot tap water. After rinsing them, I set them on the white (with bright orange, green and red dots) tray – which I found at Lotus for the equivalent of $4; similar trays I have seen at Crate and Barrel for $18. Once I have washed and rinsed all of the dishes, I carry the tray into the kitchen and set the dishes to dry on the kitchen counter.
My morning activities have killed nearly an hour and a half. Impatient for my paper, I decide to walk to the guard house. I am armed with my phrase book. ‘Bao’ is the word for newspaper. In case I have to show identification, I take my wallet. I am still in my pajamas (Christian Dior sweatpants, Club Monaco long sleeved shirt). I put on my brown Miu Miu slippers. Out the door I go, confident in Chinese paper delivering efficiency. Mao be with me.
At the guardhouse, I say, “Bao.”
“Chinese….Chinese….Chinese….Chinese.” says the guard.
I point to the clock and say…. “bao”
“Chinese….Chinese….Chinese….Chinese.” says the guard, the nice looking younger one who squabbled with the Sofa Negotiator yesterday. The drunk guard, reassuringly says as he shakes his head “Chinese….Chinese….Chinese….Chinese.”
I walk back to my apartment.
Once I am back at my apartment, I fix breakfast. I steam two kinds of Chinese sticky rolls: some with custard inside, the others with mushroom filling. I let them steam for twenty minutes. While they cool, I walk back to the guardhouse.
As I turn the corner of my building, I see a cycle loaded down with what looks like packages at the guardhouse. As I get closer, I am able to distinguish the cycle as some sort of postal vehicle. This postal vehicle would give Mad Max pause. This time, the guards look genuinely annoyed when I walk up smiling to the window. “Bao?”
In more of a gruff manner this time:“Chinese Chinese….Chinese….Chinese….Chinese… ……………Chinese”
The younger nice looking guard makes a half a ‘k’ sign with his finger. I know this must be a hint or a clue. I walk back to my apartment and mull this over.
Back at the apartment, I sit on the balcony and eat my breakfast and ponder how much more enjoyable it would be if I were reading the morning paper while I was eating. Still, my breakfast is enjoyable. The construction workers poured the third floor of the building last night so I have a quiet breakfast. Last night was Throbbing Gristle revisited. The floors are poured with a huge hose that looks and sounds like an enormous vacuum cleaner or what I envision a Throbbing Gristle album may sound.
After I eat my breakfast and shower, I go to the office. I tell Jessie (Sofa Negotiator) the situation. I make the broken ‘k’ sign to her and ask what it means.” Is it a number?” I ask. She says it is not number; she has no idea what they were trying to sign. She calls the number I was given for the paper. She gets into - what I think may be - a heated discussion with the person on the other end of the telephone line. Part of me feels that subscribing to the paper was a mistake. Now I don’t know what I was thinking when I thought it would be a good idea to subscribe to a paper that will never arrive. My heart sinks by the minute. I will never feel the touch of ink dripping on my morning muffin, the soft rustle of newsprint blowing into my tea.
Jessie hangs up the phone, defeated.
“He said your paper come this afternoon.” My heart starts to float back to my chest from my groin. “The man who delivers the paper….” She then stops talking. I am suddenly concerned about the man who delivers the paper. I feel horrible. This is all my fault. I am heartless. How could I have been so thoughtless to not think about the safety of the Chinese paper delivery boy. Did he die? Did he get shot as an insurgent? Did someone think the paper was anti-Maoist propaganda? Does he floss?
“They make some excuse. You will have your paper tonight… it will be delivered on morning after now.”
Now I did not feel as guilty. The Chinese paper boy was not shot. He is just a slacker.
I walk into my office. Maureen is at her computer. We need to buy our tickets for our mayday holiday she tells me. Jennifer is teaching a class – the Shanghai 90210. I give them their geography and culture midterm at 2:20. We decide to go to the official Chinese travel agent across from the school at 1:30 to buy the tickets. We leave a note on Jennifer’s desk. I make copies of the exam and do other things and lose track of time. At one, I realize I am hungry. The cafeteria is closing as I walk up. I go home and throw some leftover rice and hot sauce with some soy sauce in a stir fry pan. Jo arrives from Pudong. She only teaches Thursday and Friday in Songjiang. My sheets have dried; I put them back on the bed as the rice is cooking.
Jennifer arrives. I take the rice off the stove and put it in a rice bowl and start eating while I talk to Jo, Jennifer and Maureen in the hallway. Jo tells me I look quite Chinese eating the rice in the little bowl with my chopsticks. Maureen tells Jennifer that we won’t have time to buy the tickets before my exam. This seems very odd to me. As with most things, buying tickets is another bizarre thing here. You give the travel agent your money and then it takes her an hour to process the request while you wait. I wolf down the rice. I give Jo a bowl as well since Maureen and Jennifer do not eat spicy food. Jennifer, Maureen and I go across the street to the travel agent. Jennifer remembers the travel agent does not take ATM cards so she and I go up the block to a bank. The cash machine tells us our request can not be processed. We go back to the travel agent to tell Maureen. Maureen has enough to pay a deposit. She gives the travel agent a 500 rmb deposit. I have to head to the midterm which is okay because the tickets cannot be processed until tomorrow anyway.
I stop at the guardhouse to make another futile attempt to get my paper. I know it will not be there. Why I stopped, I don’t even know. I look at them and mumble ‘bao.’ The nice looking guard looks around. On the desk to the side of him, he grabs something that looks like a small weekly. I am about to tell him that is not what I am looking for and then I see ‘Shanghai Daily’ emblazoned on the top. Part of me is excited that my paper has arrived. The other part of me quotes Peggy Lee “Is that all there is?”
I snatch the paper and start to walk. The guards ask me something sternly. I produce my receipt from my wallet. The look at it and make a signal with their fingers. They hold up two fingers and then three. I point to the clock. Oh it will arrive between two and three. They nod their head no. I give them a puzzled look. They shoo me away and laugh.
I tell Jessie this when I get back to the office. Jokingly, I tell her I think they wanted me to pay an extra yuan for handling. She tells me I paid yesterday and that I do not owe anymore. I did not know how to explain it was a joke.
I go to the classroom to give the students their midterm. I tell them no talking. They talk. I shush them. They shush me back. They talk again. I tell them no Chinese. Miko tells me she is talking in Japanese. I tell her no Chinese, no Japanese, no English and I give an extra long ‘ssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.’ They are quiet. I open ‘The Shanghai Daily’ and read.
“I have question.”
“What is it Tess?”
“How do you spell ‘Shakespeare,’” Déjà vu has struck yet once again.
I start laughing. “Tess you just gave away an answer.”
As the test progresses, Miko and Allen look increasingly more and more suspicious. Miko keeps laughing and saying “You are favorite teacher ever.”
I finally get up and go to her desk and I see a suspicious paper that she tries to hold onto which is her study sheet. Allen has one in her desk too. I take the study sheet and tell them I am going to go discuss this with Jessie. Off I walk to the office. I tell Jessie I am going to have them take the test over. Jessie is stunned they cheated. Later when I told Jo, she started laughing.
“How could students in a class of four cheat?”
I thought about it for a minute and started laughing. I think I do trust them too much. Max and Tess, I do not think they would cheat. Miko and Allen I realize cannot be trusted. Sometimes I forget that I am the authority figure. Understatement, right?