Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Workmen are set to move my couch from my old apartment into my new apartment today. I tried to lift the couch the other day and was surprised by how heavy it is. $200 couches with 3 year warranties are quite sturdy in China. Campus Housekeeper Mrs. Gao is overseeing the workmen. She always says "Ni Hao" to me and I to her but that is the extent of our discussions. I bought her biscuits since she will be in charge. The biscuits have English phrases such as "You'll Get Better Soon" and "It's Lonely Sleeping Alone" stamped on them. I will give the cleaning lady a box of biscuits too. They cost 4 kuai (50 cents). I bought 2 packs of 50 cent cigarettes for the men - Peony, made in Shanghai. I understood from Dong Qian that the cleaning lady would be here at noon; It is now 1:30.

Last night, I walked along the canal to the superstore, Lotus, to buy cleaning supplies for the cleaning lady. I am more than a little wary of the cholera mop, I am somewhat petrified by the thought of getting cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis. (A week ago when I asked the Australian Jo about the cholera mop which I thought was a total joke, she informed me that, yes there had been outbreaks of Cholera in China. That was enough for me. I have now armed myself - like a good germ warfare soldier fighting the enemy, Cholera - with disenfectants and bleach.) At the grocery, I bought a mop, a broom, a dust pan, a bucket, a toilet brush, dishrags (that shrink to half their size when wet), sponges, anything I could find to wipe the threat of Cholera from my domicile. These items were all on the first floor of the Lotus. I stopped and bought a pack of cheap smokes at the cigarette counter for my one-cigarette-an-evening habit. I then decided to splurge and spend 7 kuai (almost a dollar)instead of the usual 4 kuai I spend. After snagging the smokes I headed for the disenfectant department on the second floor.

On the second floor, I mulled over the disenfectants. I put air sanitizers, a lemon scented toilet bowl cleaner, a spray cleaner, a jonquil scented liquid cleaner in my trolley. While I was manically searching for the strongest Cholera killers I could find, I was surrounded by a group of bored Tuesday afternoon female clerks. One of the clerks reached into my basket and pulled one of my items out (the lemon sceneted toilet bowl cleaner) and replaced it with another (better?) brand, the scent is a mystery. I said "xie xie ni" and went back to what I was doing. One of her cohorts, for I was near the air fresheners at this point, took a can off the shelf and sprayed it into the air "Old Fashioned Rose" I believe. Another clerk took another can off of the shelf and sprayed it, "Evergreen." Eventually, after quite a few duds were sprayed and all of us sniffed, the winner was sprayed, "Osmanthus." I put it into my cart as I xie'ed xie'ed my way away from the disenfectant section and the Tuesday afternoon bored clerks

I was ready to check out. When I am alone checking out, I say a few prayers that everything goes smoothly and I do not have to answer any questions with my remedial pantomimes. The people talk to me always and I nod my head, I feel like an idiot, always. In the checkout lines, I have no magazines to browse, brad and angelina do not hold court in these supermarket magazines. I stand and stare into space or try to make myself interested in the hawkers with wares at the exit, shoe polish (which I bougtht after having my shoes polished my first visit), a lottery (maybe?), digital phones, cookware, what have you.

At the cashier, I put my things on the conveyer belt and noticed I had a line behind me. I looked up over the line and noticed that I was in an express lane which is the one thing written in English. I tried to apologize to those behind me. Blank faces. After my goods had been tallied, I handed the woman my Chinese bank card. She swiped it. I put in my pen number. A receipt came out and she said something to me which of course I had no idea what she was saying. She then said somthing to the crowd behind me. I am feeling a little uneasy like the guards will soon be called. I started sweating. The young lady behind me said.
"This machine no good. You must go to another counter to ring up." And then she motioned to my receipt. "Take this."
I go stand in another line with my items bagged and with my receipt in hand. As I am getting close to the cashier, I see the woman leaving who explained the predicament to me.
"Could you explain to her what is going on?" I asked the woman as she walked past pointing to the cashier that was quickly approaching. She nodded yes and waited for the cashier to finish with the customer before me and she then told her the problem with the other machine. The cashier nodded and punched in the number from my mock receipt and the list of items came up. I handed her my card and signed after I punched in my pen (Here you have to sign and punch in the number).

The young lady waited for me to finish and we walked out of Lotus together. She asked me all of the usual questions: "Where am I from?" "How long have I been here?" "At which school do I teach English?" I told her and then i told her, her English is good. She said that she studied it in University but had forgot a lot. We stood where I had to drop off my trolley and talked for a bit. She asked for my number. I told her I did not know it. I wrote my email address on a pad of post-its she was carrying. She wrote down her number and email address for me and handed them to me. I told her I would write. I probably will if I remember. I gathered my stuff and headed out of the parking lot area - where there are other shops as well - to catch a taxi back to school.

I do not trust the gypsy taxis that wait. I have heard that they drive passengers around lost. I walked past the motorbike taxis. They always say hello to me. The leader saw the pack of cigarettes which I had bought for myself and pointed to it. I asked him if he would like one. I had my hands full so I handed him the pack to open. He asked by way of pointing to fellow cycle escorts if everyone could have one. I nodded yes. The biker quickly opened the pack and passed out cigarettes to his cronies. I felt like Hemingway in Italy or Spain, connecting with the locals. These men at times appear rough hewn. However, they are piloting 125CC cycles, not that threatening. I said 'Goodbye'. They all said "Hello."

I continued up the small incline past the black cabs to hail a legit taxi on the main road. Within a minute, one drives up sees me and pulls over. I get in and pull out my card with my address written on it and I point to it. Wordlessly, the driver takes me back to school.

Earlier today when I remembered I had forgotten to buy cigarettes for the workmen and the biscuits for Mrs. Gao and the now M.I.A. cleaning lady, I took a walk to the market up the street. The Muslim Chinese boy (I know he is Muslim because of the hat) was waiting on tables at the hole in the wall that has become an instant sidewalk bistro with the advent of the warm weather. He did not see me. He was busy. Usually, he smiles when I pass. The boy in the doorway of the scooter shop was reading a book falling asleep. When I got to the hair salon, I witnessed something I would only see in China or Manhattan (Kansas or NewYork). On the sidewalk, a regiment of young women in hot pink (what looked like)1960s stewardess garb were doing some sort of synchronized dancing to some Chinese disco. I was not sure if I should walk in front or behind or in-between. I walked in front where there was the most walking space available.

This morning before I took my walk to get Mrs. Gao biscuits and the workmen cigarettes (which later they would try to refuse but I insisted by sticking them in their shirt pockets), class 7 finished telling me their names. This is one of the classes in which we have the eye exercises. That is, we as in they have the eye exercises; I went out and sat in the sun in the breezeway outside of class. I felt like a delinquent when the eye exercise patrol walked past. I meekly smiled and said hello. During these exercises, I have 10 minutes to write in my Moleskin journal. In that time, I try to write as much as I can and finish all of my thoughts. I feel a bit like I am playing some sort of intelectual Pac Man. When I hear the last few bars of the eye exercise theme music, I finish writing my thoughts and I head back into the class room.

When I walked back into the classroom Demonhunter was talking to the girl sitting behind him. I called out "Demonhunter" and he stood up.
"Could you tell me what the voices are saying during the eye exercise?"
He looked perplexed. I then pointed to the speaker where the sound comes from and pointed to my brow.
"What are they saying?"
He thought about it for a minute and consulted his friends. All of them discussed it in Chinese. Maybe I had asked some topsecret question that the non-Chinese can never know. He cleared his throat and spoke.
"They are saying 'One Two Three Four Five Six Seven, Two Two Three Four Five Six Seven, Three Two Three Four Five Six Seven.'"
"Oh," I said more than a little embarrassed that I did not know the Chinese numbers. "I thought they might be saying something like that."
Demonhunter then said:
"Wassa Wassme."
"Wassa Wassme?" I repeated.
"Wassa Wassme," he said again. I thought this was some Chinese code that I needed to break to officially be cool with the kids. The whole class was alert at this point and waiting to see what I would do next, what I might say to break this code. After a month in China, perhaps I knew the secret.
"Wassa Wassme?" I repeated again and everyone laughed.
"Wassa Wassme." Demonhunter said with more conviction.
At that point one of the clearer speaking students, Mickey perhaps, spoke up "He said 'May I sit down?'"
"Yes, Yes, Demonhunter, you may sit down." This I said in my best rip-off of a British headmaster.
When Demonhunter sat down, I continued the class with the name game. When I called Kathy (tall girl with pop bottle glasses but darling like a Fassbinder character), she told me that I would not be able to remember her name and she wanted to switch it.
"I would like you to call me Alien."
"Alien?" I repeated. Sometimes, the accents are so thick that when they say a word like Alien, they are really saying Susan or JoAnn. Once more I repeat:
"Alien." She said one last time.
"Alien, it is."


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