Friday, May 26, 2006

Last Day on the Yangtze or the Expectation Days are Over

This is our last day on the cruise. Jennifer and I have become good friends with Bruce who we bumped into among the trinket and food stalls in front of the temple. This is the last temple that we will see on this cruise. He bargains for tea-testers for me – the ceramic figures that pee when you pour water over their heads. I am struck by white porcelain Buddha boys. I would like to have multiples of this particular tea-tester. He bargains the seller down to 6 figurines for 10 yuan – 4 or which are the porcelain Buddha boys.

Jennifer haggles with a woman over three pairs of baby slippers. These slippers are red Chinese lions which are hand stitched together. They are simplistic but nice. The woman is adamant. She will not budge from 20 yuan a pair for the slippers. Bruce tries to help bargain. The woman will still not budge. I do not want to be a pushover but I tell Jennifer 20 yuan is only $2.50 when you think about it. For something handmade for a baby, I think this is a good deal. She got money out of the ATM last night for the clothes so she pulls out 100 rmb and gives it to the woman. The woman smiles and says a few Chinese phrases and hands Jennifer her 40 rmb change.

Bruce tells us they charged him two yuan to get off of the boat. We tell him that we went through a different gate. We realize we went through the ship entrance gate instead of the ship exit gate. For once going the wrong way paid off.

He asks us if we are hungry. I say that I would like a steamed bun which I saw being sold at one of the food stalls. I do not tell him that I stood there like an idiot trying to get one before I bumped into Jennifer - and then him.

We walk back to where I was. He gets me two steamed buns for one yuan - which is like 6 cents a piece.

We walk back to the ship. Jennifer tells me that the cruise has been nice but she has not had any sort of epiphany. I tell her I did not expect anything so I am happy. She does not want me to feel bad. I really had absolutely no expectations. Maybe my expectation days are over, maybe not. Here, however, I have to add a note of sorts. And, I feel as if I must digress from the trip on the Yangtze. Bear with me.

If I write my expectation days are over, I realize that may be read out of context or with the wrong translation. Maybe this has to do with being older and wiser or maybe it is my own epiphany (for lack of a better word). I stop and think how different my life could be in good and bad ways. Mainly, I think of how my life could be much worse. I could wake up from this dream of China chained to a desk staring at a computer all day. I would not know Bizmark, Orange, 28if Paul, the Sofa Negotiator.

There would be no Shanghai 90210. I cannot imagine life without Shanghai 90210. My pal Max would not exist. Miko would not exist. Tess would not exist. Allen would not exist. My office world would have no place for them. I would be talking about 401ks and the Apprentice. Must see TV would be their possible replacement. Maybe I would buy magazines and read about Brad and Angelina. Odd sorts of things would not tend to happen (okay who am I kidding, nothing but odd sorts of things happen to me). Nevertheless, the stranger who made me take his umbrella last week because I did not have one, that scene would not have taken place in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago.

I would not be having a good time at Allen’s parent’s apartment. Allen’s golden retriever Star would not be licking my hand. I would not be telling Max that Star will not hurt him. Max says “Protect me Tyson.” Allen’s dog is barely more than a puppy, a big puppy but still a happy puppy. Max hides behind me. Max has never been around a dog. Max is 18 in November. I tell Max, Star will not hurt him. Star will only lick him. I am walking Star on his leash. Max is right at my side holding my shoulder. Max has now officially stolen my heart. Eventually, Max takes the leash. Max throws me aside for Star the dog.

Allen takes us to ski at an indoor ski hill which is one of the best times ever. All of us are novices. I get half way down the hill and bite it repeatedly. Max is as bad as or worse than me. We laugh at each other.

Tuesday nights are the nights I tutor and mentor Max. I read him Salinger, Saki, and Brothers Grimm. He looks up words. I try to explain English language literature. He seems to love Saki the most. I read him ‘Esme’ ‘The Storyteller’ and ‘The Open Window.’ He likes the ‘Story teller’ the most. He looks up words like ‘sultry’ ‘protested’ ‘persistent’.

The first beautiful Tuesday evening, I tell him we are going somewhere. This is a surprise. I tell him he does not need to bring his electronic translator. We walk toward downtown Songjiang at a fast pace. He is smiling. We have become close pals.

We go into the remodeled department store that has just reopened. We take the escalator up to the third floor. We walk past the toddler department, past the office supply section, past the toy section. We walk into the room the size of a large Duncan, Oklahoma living room where there are a handful of video games – driving games (race car and motorcycle) shooting games (man eating aliens and villains). They have the claw game. For one yuan you can try to snag a stuffed animal with the claw.

When Max sees where I have taken him, his eyes light up. I get 20 yuan worth of tokens and we play every game at least once. Most of the two player games are set up for only one player which ruins some of the fun but I let Max play and watch him and I cannot imagine another life.

Back on the ship, we pass mountain village plateaus which look like a washed out Van Gogh landscape – an absence of schizophrenia yellow is noted.

Bruce and Jennifer are talking. Bruce tells Jennifer he enjoys being her hostage. Jennifer and I both laugh. We tell him he means host. Hostage is not what he means. We explain the word hostage to him.

Jeff walks up with his son Jack. He does not seem pleased that Jennifer is talking with another Chinese man. He, Jack and Jennifer have plans to go on the dam tour together on the bus. He tells Jennifer they need to leave soon. She tells Bruce she will see him later and leaves with Jeff and Jack. They both say goodbye to me. They do not acknowledge Bruce.

When our shady travel agent told us of the dam tour, Maureen and I were not interested. Jennifer, however, wanted to go. As I told them, I saw Hoover dam when I was a kid and I was not impressed.

The first traffic jam I experience in China is on this ship on the Yangtze. We are in line to go through the lochs of the dam. Beside us is a gravel barge with a three story living and working area attached. The strangers look out the window and yell hello to me. I yell hello back. Everyone here loves to yell hello.

Finally, we are going through the loch. Going through the three lochs to the other side of the dam takes five hours. Each loch is like a wide two lane highway. On one side is a wall on the right is another ship. Each loch is approximately 5 or 6 ship lengths long. This is a long tedious task. Time does not fly.

I spend some of this time on the back deck. Around me are various groups of families, men playing cards, children playing games – taunting each other.

As I listen to this alien language, I feel closer but further. I know now, I will never talk about my 401k.


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