Thursday, May 25, 2006

Have a Shampoo…or Is this how you cross the street in your America?

I dry off the best that I can with the French Connection t-shirt. I put on the army green ball cap that I got at the hello kitty emporium in case the rain starts. Jennifer and Maureen prepare to go to eat in the dining room. I tell them I will just grab something when Jennifer and I go into town with Bruce. There is a knock on the door. We open the door. Bruce is standing there ready to get a taxi to go into town. Jennifer looks at Maureen as if she is a child asking for permission to go. Maureen tells her to go ahead and go with us. She need not worry. The three of us go. Maureen stays behind.

We head for shore. On the road, a line of taxis are parked to take cruise passengers into town. The rain has stopped. We jump into a taxi and head up and into town. The town is at the top of a mountain. The taxi winds around roads past junk yards and ghettos into town.

Once we are near the top of the mountain, the taxi stops and lets us off in front of a restaurant. Jennifer and I hop out. Bruce insists on paying. We let him. We go inside of the restaurant and we are guided by the host to the second floor where we are seated. The restaurant is a nice family restaurant which is the size of a small ballroom. We are seated across from a large open picture window.

Bruce asks if we like spicy food. I say I do. Jennifer does not eat spicy food. We try to explain that she does not eat it. He thinks she should try some spicy food. After we debate this small detail for five or ten minutes, Bruce is finally convinced that Jennifer will not try the spicy food. He is convinced she is being obstinate.

He orders spicy food for himself and me and bland food for Jennifer. Bland food in China I dislike because most of the time it seems like that is when the chicken foot soup, chicken head soup, fish head soup, silverfish soup make their unwanted appearance. To me, ordering the spicy food wards off the animal parts I would rather not be gastronomically familiar with.

The food starts arriving. I take off my army green ball cap and put in on the chair next to Jennifer’s backpack. Most of the dishes are the usual Chinese fare – tofu with pork, scrambled eggs and chunks of tomatoes, the obligatory chicken soup (yes complete with diced chicken feet). However, one dish stands out. This is a spicy dish with peppers and chunks of beef. I eat practically the whole thing myself. Bruce tells me I can order this anywhere. I just must remember the name. Of course, I immediately forget the name.

“So,” Jennifer says to make conversation “The green hat? Tyson’s hat is a murky army green. It is okay for him to wear it, right? Men cannot wear bright green hats, right?”
“A man cannot wear any green hat,” Bruce says and then he emphatically adds “If he does, he is the biggest shame of a man.”
“A biggest shame of a man?” Jennifer asks, “Even if he is a foreigner and it is a murky green.”
“No girl on the street will date him,” Bruce continues, “A green hat is a sign that you have a woman who sleeps with other men.”
Jennifer starts to chuckle. With that last comment, I pick up the hat and fling it out of the second story window. Bruce is un-phased. Jennifer, however, goes into a laughing fit when she sees the hat sail out the window. I remain silent. Bruce does not even consider that he may have offended me. Jennifer does not care because she is laughing so hard.
“Would it be okay if I wore the hat?” Jennifer asks.
“Yes, for you, it would be fine. You are woman,” Bruce says.
“I want to see what happened to it,” Jennifer says. She and I jump up and run to the window to see what has become of the green hat.
The green hat landed upside down on the sidewalk. Couples walk clear around it. No one will touch it. Then a young family walks up – a mom, a dad, a young daughter. The young daughter starts kicking the cast-off green hat.
“Hey!” Jennifer yells out the window at the shocked child. The youngster picks up the hat and runs to meet Jennifer to give her the hat.
“Do you want your hat back?” Jennifer asks when she gets back to the table.
“No, I don’t want to be the biggest shame of a man.” I say. “I would hate to think a girl on the street will not marry me because I am wearing a green hat.”
The check came. Bruce insists on paying the bill.
“100 yuan, very cheap.” He says as he pays. We thank him and all head off into the night.

Up the street a half-block we run into another foreigner. Jennifer says he looks like a rocker. He is probably early fifties and has the damaged Keith (without the blood transfusion) Richards look. He tells us his wife is the owner. She is the boss. She owns the restaurant of which we are standing in front. He invites us to come in and eat. We tell him we just ate unfortunately. We walk on. Up the sidewalk a few blocks, we are offered a magnificent view of the river.

Across the street, Jennifer and I see a clothes store which has some non-hideous clothing in the window. (Many of the clothes stores here seem to cater to those who want to look like mid-1980s coke dealers.) Jennifer and I make a dash across the street which is more heavily trafficked than we had realized. Halfway across, a speeding taxi nearly creams us. He honks. He swerves. We safely make it across.

Bruce is visibly shaking.
“Is this how you cross the street in your America?” he asks
“No, that is how we learned to cross the street in your China.” Jennifer fires back at him. We walk into the store. I see a pink t-shirt with the silhouette of a reared up horse printed on it. “Do you know how to pony like Bony Maroney?” I try it on. Jennifer tries on some jeans which actually fit. She wants to use her ATM card which they do not take. The manager of the store drives her to an ATM machine to get the kuai. While they are gone, I spot some lightweight pants. If I squint, these brown plaid pants look as if they could be Burberry. I try them on. I love them. Jennifer comes back. We make our purchases.

Armed with new duds, Jennifer and I ask Bruce what he would like to do now. He says he would like to get a shampoo. This sounds like a good idea to us since I have only bathed once on our cruise and that water was probably from the fantastically polluted Yangtze. We head back in the direction from which we came. Bruce seems to think he saw a salon by the restaurant.
We walk the few blocks to the salon. Bruce and I sit in chairs side by side. Boys who look like a failed Kajagoogoo hair experiment clean our ears and shampoo our hair. The boy who is cleaning my ears, I know is making comments about how disgusting the fungus - in residency - in my ears is. How do I tell him I have been on the Yangtze for the better part of a week? How do I say its okay to an answering machine? For Bruce and me; our shampoo, ear cleaning, and hair styling - I look like a 1960s ad executive for Philco stereos – takes approximately 30 minutes. Jennifer’s hair, they take the same time to wash it as us but the stylist who blows it dry takes 45 minutes or an hour. We assume that he is the manager or owner of the shop. Watching him make love to her hair is almost erotic. We have nothing better to do than watch Jennifer’s hair get blown.

I think of Warren Beatty and Lee Grant. I think of the stylist who did my hair when I was 13. His name was David. The place was called New Dimensions in downtown Bartlesville. He had the latest Rolling Stones album jacket above his work station. He had cut out photos of Rod Stewart, Roger Daltry, Carly Simon, random models with shag cuts taped to his mirror. On the weekend, he would go dancing at ‘Where it’s At’. There he would dance with teenage clients and tell them what sort of conditioner would work best for their - Goldie Hawn, Susan Dey, Peggy Lipton – hair.


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