Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Humping on the parking meter, Leaning on the parking meter

For the last few weeks, I have had the feeling of impending doom, an indescribable feeling, somewhere locked between dread and panic. We have reached the end of the semester. I ask myself if I have accomplished anything. How can I gauge what I have accomplished with the Shanghai90210? With the oral classes at Songjiang Public High School No. 2 (the key high school where luckily I am accidentally part of the faculty)? This semester has been dreamlike - walking, sleeping, dreaming, waking.

The international staff knows that Elizabeth is leaving because Fairy told Jo; Jo told Maureen and me. I, in turn, told Jennifer. Elizabeth, I assume, know we know that she is leaving, maybe she does not. Now, she is here at most one day a week. I see her when I pop into the assistants’ office. I tell her that I heard she is leaving and I am sorry to see her go but I understand. Then, I tell her I heard she is going to write her family’s history. She looks at me as if I am crazy.

Before I knew Elizabeth was leaving, I met with her to discuss my future. This was last week. During our meeting, I tell her I really like her as a boss that I really like Edgar, too. However, I would like to make more money. She asks me if I discussed this with Edgar during my meeting with him. I tell her we did not. My meeting with Edgar was cut short. She tells me she will discuss this with Edgar. Later, she calls me. She tells me to call Edgar that night. She gives me his number.

This is something I dread. I put off calling Edgar. My intimidation of authority figures or people in power sometimes is almost paralyzing. Of this feeling, I become very aware when I am to call Edgar. Edgar has been nothing but forthright with me. I have no need to worry. He is always smiling and kind to me. Still, I am worried. Remember to stand my ground, I tell myself. I have asked for what amounts to close to a 40% increase in my monthly salary.

Finally, I hesitantly dial his number. Immediately, he jovially answers ‘Hello.’
“Hello Edgar! This is Tyson.”
“Yes, Tyson.”
“Elizabeth told me that you wanted me to call you.”
“Yes, I would like to talk to you about the school where we would like you to teach next term.”
“Oh, good,” I respond.
“As I told you before, I would like you to be head master at a new international school near the train station in Shanghai,” he starts, ‘but that school may not have the enrollment yet. If that is the case, I would like to introduce you to the principal at the International Foreign Language Middle School. I think that would be a good place for you.”

From there, we go into salary negotiations which fortunately Edgar agrees up front upon the increase for which I have asked. However, if I teach at the International Foreign Language Middle School, I will be given a little less but then I will be given a housing allowance which would mean I would get to choose where I live. Picking out my own apartment is very appealing. This talk with Edgar happened approximately a week ago.

We are now close to the end of the term and so I naturally would like to know where I will be in the fall. Yesterday, when I saw Elizabeth, I told her that I really want to sign the contract. I am leaving for Huzhou and then Inner Mongolia after that, and I would like to sign the contract before I go or at least as soon as I get back. She told me she would talk to Edgar.

After this she tells me that she heard I took the public school students to the garden. I tell her yes I did. She then tells me that she heard I had cancelled morning classes. There were only two people who knew these things. One of the people is Jennifer. The other person is Bird Flu.

Fortunately, I was able to defend myself on both accounts. Yes, I took the 50 students in my oral classes to the garden but I did have monitors within the class. Still, I feel as if I did nothing wrong. These students are exam-ed to death. What they need - as much as books and books of knowledge shoved into their brains – is sunshine and fresh air. Of course, when I was defending myself, my argument was more like ‘I’m sorry. It will never happen again.’

With the canceling of the morning classes, yes, I did want to sleep in but I did actually always drag myself out of bed. However, I did decide at one point - after the students arrived promptly the first day – to make the morning classes optional. What can I possibly teach a half-asleep Chinese kid at 7:45 am that he or she will remember? Classes before 9:30 am should be abolished. The answer to this question: I did not cancel class because I did not. I did, however, make the class optional. I do fail to mention this amendment.

Today, after giving my listening final to the Shanghai90210, Elizabeth calls me. Edgar wants to interview me. Do I have any finals? I tell her I have one at three. That is when the interview is scheduled. I am confused. Also, I am nervous. I have no idea why I am being interviewed by Edgar. My mind races. As I have said before, authority figures make me nervous. In my mind, I invent a dozen scenarios. Hidden cameras were in my classroom capturing: me swiftly kicking Miko in the behind; me ripping up one of the oral quizzes after I had given it just to see the students’ faces; me dancing and laughing maniacally during class for no apparent reason; me slapping Max on the butt when he is bent over putting a movie in the DVD player because we are watching Pirates of the Caribbean instead of doing a geography lesson. Of course, I tell them it is a geography lesson of sorts, loosely a geography lesson. My methods are unorthodox but I believe effective. Gawd, I hope my classes are not on hidden camera.

When I did have the talk with Elizabeth, she told me when Max’s dad brought him to the school; He told Elizabeth Max did nothing but play video games. He did not study. He did not talk to people. He did nothing but play the handheld video games. She is amazed at his progress as am I. When I got here four months ago, he barely spoke. He transformed maybe because he could laugh at me trying to pronounce Chinese. He became a teacher to me.

Now, in a few weeks, he leaves for Australia for the summer. There is a chance I may never see him again. He will be back here at Songjiang next year but I will be at another school. When I jokingly asked him if he would come visit me in Mongolia, he did not even think about it, he just said no. I actually was joking but it would have been nice if he would have said ‘Sure’ and not meant it.

Of course, the other transformation has been Miko. She had a habit of not showing for class when I first arrived. She was shy. She did not really socialize with the other three. I was the one who started getting them interested in going on excursions together. Before I arrived, from what I could tell, this did not happen. The trip to Wuxi was the one that led to us bonding. Now, I look back at that and wonder if Max and Allen were a couple. I do not know.

At 2:30 pm, I head over to the office to wait for Elizabeth and Edgar. When I walk by the reception desk, Nancy who is a ball of young Chinese receptionist nerves asks me in broken English why Edgar is coming. I tell her I do not know. He is going to talk to me.
I see Bird Flu. I have not let on that I now know she is a ratfink. I am as pleasant as a best friend. I actually mean her no harm. In some ways, I am grateful because I was able to defend myself when Elizabeth brought up these charges of sorts against me.

When I told Jennifer, last night, that Bird Flu ratted me out, Jennifer was a bit aghast. She told me now she is afraid to tell Bird Flu anything. I tell Jennifer she need not worry, I have this strange paranoid feeling that WooHoo BirdFlu is out to get me. Usually, I am not the paranoid type. I think there was a character in the movie ‘9 to5’ of whom Ratfink the Bird Flu is starting to remind me.

While I am waiting, I clean my desk, empty my dustbin and then sweep around it. I have butterflies in my stomach because I do not know why Edgar wants to talk to me. When I heard Edgar wanted to talk to me, I could only eat peanut butter and jelly on a small roll. What have I done? Why does he want to speak to me? Nothing is ever presented clearly here.

Out in the corridor, I see Elizabeth walking with a group of people. She pokes her head in the door and tells me she will be with me in a minute. Now something new has been brought to the equation, a group of people.

Bored, I walk over to Bird Flu’s cage to see if she will squawk about anything that she has heard from Jo about Edgar. I tell her Edgar wants to see me and I am not sure why. I tell her it is maybe because I am going to a different school next semester, or maybe because, and I pantomime my throat being slit, as in I am being fired. A stricken look overtakes her; I nearly start laughing. I walk back over to my desk.

While I am killing time, I print the Shanghai90210 geography final exam. I go to retrieve it by Nancy’s desk. She tells me “It no printed.”

I walk back to my desk and hit print again. For no reason at all, Patti Smith’s version of ‘Gloria’ is going through my head, the part where she sings ‘ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong’. Maybe this is because of all of the Dings and Dongs I have met while I have been here in China. ‘Their words are just rules and regulations to me.’ This time the exam prints. I still hear ‘ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong’ in my head.

When I walk back to reception to retrieve the exam I printed, I sneak a peek into the conference room where Elizabeth is sequestered with 8 other people. Two of the 8 people are teenagers. Elizabeth must be meeting with a couple of prospective students and their parents. While I am grabbing the exam, I ask Nancy if Edgar has arrived. She does not understand me. She tells me to ask Elizabeth. Or maybe I do not understand her.

At 3:30, Elizabeth sticks her head in the door. She tells me we are ready to go. She tells me we are going into Shanghai for my interview. I ask her if I need to bring anything. She tells me no that she thinks she has my resume. I tell her I will print another just in case. I hit print. While I am waiting for the resume to print, I am standing with the prospective students and their parents and handlers at the reception. Oddly, there seems to be more sets of parents than students. One of the moms speaks fairly fluent English. She asks me if I am a teacher. I tell her yes. I tell her the subjects I teach. I tell her how long I have been in China and how long I plan to stay.

I play her the whole recording that is in my head. I do not mind. Much of this is the same as being in a rock band, the same questions from strangers, handlers chauffeuring me around, the classroom performance. Yes, this is much like the rock world. Lately, I have learned there are even groupies of sorts for the willing young male English teacher and for the unwilling male English teacher.

Last night, Jennifer asked me if I miss the rock life. I told her no. I do not miss it. I had a blast at the time but I do not miss it. I sometimes think of those dismal shows in Lansing, Michigan or Phoenix, Arizona and I am just as happy where I am.

I grab the resume I printed. Elizabeth tells me the whole group is going to Shanghai which is a bit of a surprise. I try to figure out how many taxis we will need. Three?

The group of us gets into the elevator. We go down to the first floor. I get in last so when I get out first, I hold the doors for the others. Elizabeth waits for me. She tells me the group would like to see the dorms which means going out the doors down the corridor. She tells me to wait where I am and they will come back for me. I tell her sure. I walk outside and enjoy the sun which has just come out from behind some clouds. Earlier it rained.

I see some students from Class Three on the sports’ field and I wave to them. They wave back. King walks by which reminds me, I bumped into Fish a few nights ago. She has changed her name to Cleo. Jo gave her the name. I told her it is a pretty name. Orange had me sign an autograph book at the same time. I then think of all of them – Wolfbark, FreeStar, Freedom, Bill, Potato, Jacky, TonySmith, 28ifPaul. Soon all of their faces will fade into the recesses of my mind. By the fall, I will try to remember certain names to tell anecdotes.

Ten minutes later, I see Elizabeth walking across the drive in between the sports field and the campus proper. I walk briskly to catch up with her. The others are talking amongst themselves staggered in front and behind her.

I am walking with Elizabeth as we leave the campus. We walk by the guardhouse. They start to hand me my paper. I tell her to tell them I will get it later. She says something to them is Chinese. I smile and say ‘xie xie’ to them. We all walk through the gate of the school and the taxi mystery is solved. Three cars are parked at the entrance. I am not sure which one I am to get into. The boy and his dad get in an Audi. One or two men get into another random car. Elizabeth motions me to get into a mini-van. Elizabeth, three women, one female teenager and me get into the mini-van. We pull out of the school.

The woman behind the wheel drives tentatively. A block away from the school she takes a right turn. After she goes half a block, she realizes she made a wrong turn. She does a very wide U-turn in the middle of the street. I am not sure where we are going. She seems even less sure than I am. Finding the highway seems to be the mission. This involves many tentative turns, U-turns and lots of honks from trucks, busses, scooters.

The road we are driving strangely reminds me of Sunny Lane in Oklahoma City but with more than a little bit of a Chinese twist. The trash and debris are the same.

While we are driving, I ask Elizabeth about the one child law in China. I ask her when this came to pass. She tells me that in the 1950s when Chairman Mao was in power the population had dwindled because of the war. He encouraged the Chinese people to procreate. In fact they procreated so much that in the 1960s the population started to become a bit of a problem. By the 1970s, the population had gotten out of hands. This is when the one child law was adopted.

After what seems like hours, we find a highway which may or may not be the right one. Once we pass the Chinese equivalent to Frontier City, the mini van pulls over. One of the women in the very back gets out. This is her bus stop. We pull back out onto the highway.

Elizabeth is stressed because she tells me I was to meet the principal of the Foreign Language School at 4:30. The time is now 5:30. We are going to the office. Fairy will escort me to the school to meet the principal. At 6:00 pm, we pull into the office. I am passed off to Fairy and Michael Wong. ‘Ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong’ is going through my head as Michael drives us like a maniac over to the school which is back over by the Chinese Frontier City. Fairy and I get out once we have reached the school’s gates. Michael Wong pulls away.

Fairy is very sweet. She is frail and has chosen the perfect English name for herself, ‘Fairy.’ She tells me that she called the school and apologized. I tell her to apologize for me. I would never be late.

The school is not that different than a typical American high school. This is a middle school. However, in China middle school is 12 years old up to 16 years old. In front of the school is a huge circle drive. At the gate, Fairy asks the guard where the principal’s office is. We walk through the building looking for it. It is on the 3rd floor. I am following Fairy.

On the third floor, we bump into two women chatting. Fairy asks them. They point her in the direction of closed double doors. She knocks. No answer. She tentatively opens the door. We are in a waiting room of sorts. She tells me to have a seat but then as soon as she says this, a woman leads us out the door down the hall to a conference room. She motions for me to sit down. I assume she does not know English. I assume Fairy will be the interpreter. This woman is not the principal. She calls herself the curriculum administrator. This curriculum administrator is not fluent in English but she knows enough to have a conversation with me.

I tell her what I teach and have taught. She asks me if I could teach literature. I tell her yes. She is pleased that I teach art. She says they would like for someone to teach design. I tell her I would like to teach design.

I then launch into my stage band diatribe. I would love to start a stage band. This is very interesting to her. She listens attentively. She tells me that the students would all be beginners. I tell her this is okay. We can start from the beginning. She says this may take a year to prepare them to perform

Ten minutes later, a younger woman with a commanding presence walks in and sits down. I am stunned that the principal is this young. She is dressed very casual. I, of course, am wearing my all purpose D&G suit.

This younger woman starts pounding me with questions. I answer them as intelligently as possible. For the most part, I feel as if I am doing okay. I had assumed this job would be a fish in a bucket type situation which would not be difficult at all to be hired. I was wrong. This interview is the most rigorous interview I have had since I have become a teacher. I am then told that this job involves a lot of paperwork which I loathe but perhaps I could start loathing paperwork less. They follow an International Baccalaureate system which I would have to learn. Yes, this would be a lot of work but it would be a place where I feel as if I could really make something happen. It would be a place where I could stay indefinitely.

As we are leaving the building I ask Fairy how she thinks it went; she is very encouraging. She tells me that I would be able to teach all of the subjects that they want taught. I would be perfect. However, the principal was not there. I thought the principal was the young woman who came in after the interview had started, I tell Fairy. She tells me no that was just another teacher. Of course, the principal makes the final decision. The decision will rest with the principal. ‘Ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong ding dong’ is still going through my head.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

It is not a big deal, isn't it?

Monday, the last week of classes, next week is finals, I go to teach the oral class with the Shanghai90210 at 11:10. Miko and Tess are not there. I am told they are taking exams all week in their hometown. That means I will only have the lovebirds Allen and Max this week. This should be so easy but it is very difficult to take class serious when you only have two students who do not particularly care to learn anything. I had planned to review for their finals this week. For 9 hours a week, I have them. Yes, I could spend all week reviewing but that is not fair to Miko and Tess because they will not get the chance to review because they are taking exams in their hometown. To me, as long as we are studying English, I feel as if I am accomplishing something. I declare this week movie watching week. We watch the latest ‘Wallace and Gromit’ movie.

I go home for lunch. I make a tuna sandwich. I failed to notice I bought the tuna with black bean which naturally makes my sandwich a tuna and mayonnaise and black bean sandwich. It is actually not bad, nothing I will ever eat again, but not bad. I will file it under the As with the KFC burger. A is for avoid.

At 1:20, I head to the international building. I left my briefcase in the Shanghai90210 classroom. I duck in to grab it. Bird Flu is there about to start her lesson with Allen and Max. I ask her if indeed we do have classes in the public school because Jennifer told me she did not teach them last semester because they study for two weeks at the end of the semester with their Chinese teachers. We do not them then.

She tells me in a haughty voice, “No we do not teach them.” She then adds “Elizabeth told us we do not teach the oral classes the last two weeks of the term at our meeting.” The meeting in question was held more than a month ago. Of course I do not remember her telling us this but if that is what she said, that is what she said.

If we do not teach the oral classes, this means that my class load has just been drastically lightened for the week which is really nice. This in turns means that next week will be the same because I do not teach them during finals week. My summer vacation is starting early it seems.

I email a contact that I have met through Brain Transplant. He is Chinese but says he’s American. He still has a thick Chinese accent. He is gathering teachers for a summer camp in Huzhou. I tell him I would like to know more about this. I tell him I have to have my own hotel room. He emails me back that I will have my own hotel room. I tell him I will do it. I will be teaching kids from primary school who know little English.

The rain comes as sudden as death. I did not even notice a cloud in the sky. Now it is a downpour. At first, it does not register that it is raining as hard as it is raining. I wonder if Shanghai has typhoons. I start to wonder if I even know what a typhoon is. I listen to the rain. We even have lightning.

The rain stops as sudden as it began. Jo, the fussy older Australian woman, tells me our boss Elizabeth is leaving. She tells me Elizabeth says she needs a rest. I go into my apartment and immediately call Jennifer. What does this mean? Has Edgar – he owns the company – pissed her off. Is she really leaving because she needs a rest? She has worked for the company less than a year. She has worked for the company since September or October at the longest.

When I talk to Jennifer, she too wonders why Elizabeth is leaving. No one seems to stay with this company for longer than a year. I tell Jennifer I love Target. She tells me Target originated in Minnesota. I tell her Bai Ren Fa reminds me of target. Somehow Bird Flu’s name is mentioned. I tell Jennifer that usually Maureen has no clue when we teach and when we do not teach and she had the satisfaction of telling me we are not teaching the oral class this week. Jennifer then tells me she was the one who told Boo Flu we are not teaching and she would not have known otherwise. We both laugh.

Later, there is a knock on my door. Jo is standing there. I ask her when she heard the news that Elizabeth is leaving. She told me that Fairy (who works in the Pudong office) whispered it in her ear today.

Jo goes on to tell me Elizabeth comes from an influential family of academics. Her father is a well known professor. She comes from a long line of well known professors. She then asks me if I have read ‘Three Swans.’ I tell her I have not. She tells me it is a wonderful book about the three generations of Chinese women. I want to ask her if there are any whales in it but I do not.

Perhaps, Elizabeth is taking time off to write the family history. Jo tells me this as she is packing her things. She is moving out of her apartment. Her IELTs class is over. Her other apartment is near downtown Shanghai. She asks me if I need a power strip and two new pillows. I tell her I can use them. I now have six pillows on my bed which is the ultimate for reading.

I take a trip to Bai Ren Fa, to buy more pillowcases. I walk around Bai Ren Fa. They have a limited supply of pillowcases. Of course, when I think of limited supply, I think of Beefheart’s ‘Big Eyed Beans from Venus.’ Maybe Don wrote the song about the folks in China while he was here wandering around looking for pillow cases because sometimes I feel like I am among Big Eyed Beans from Venus especially when I am looking for the right pillow case.

I find a few different varieties of case. However, the ones that strike my fancy are white with big orange and yellow swirls. They remind me of Twister except Twister is oversized dots. I put them in my basket. I look at toothpaste. I grab lemon Colgate. Here, company’s like Colgate experiment more with the introduction of products. In America, Colgate seems to have flavors that are all based in mint. Here the flavors range from mint to green tea, to lemon. Lemon seems like a good choice. The tube is 50 cents. Afterward, I get a spare can of Shanghai brand coffee, I put my cart on the diagonal moving sidewalk and go downstairs.

Bai Ren Fa has two floors, as does Lotus. At Lotus, the diagonal moving sidewalk is near the produce section. At Bai Ren Fa, the same sort of diagonal moving sidewalk is out in a mall like area of the building where there are shops akin to Claire’s, Hot Topic without the punk attitude, and cheap women’s clothing stores. The top floor of Bai Ren Fa is CD /DVDs, cameras, mp3 players, televisions, stereos, men’s and women’s clothing, bicycles, scooters, backpacks, furniture, cleaning agents, kitchen wares, two aisles of noodles, and imported canned goods and condiments such as French’s mustard (small size), brew coffee, pasta sauce (two kinds of Hunt’s), tuna (including the aforementioned black bean).

When I get back from Bai Ren Fa, I hit some jobsites to see what sorts of summer teaching jobs are available. I see an English camp in Hohhot - which is in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region - that looks interesting. The pay is dismal for 14 days but I could look upon this as a vacation of sorts. This might involve sleeping in a yurt. This is when I get to broaden my horizons and all of that crap. Inner Mongolia is a place where I would like to fall in love. Later I will say, “Oh yeah, we met when I was working out there in Inner Mongolia.” With a wink, I would add “We shared a yurt.”
I blast off a short email and I send a picture. The picture I send is me with my Fender Telecaster. I could be at a dive bar or at an arena. There is no way to tell in the photo. I am in a dive bar. I emphasize that I am an American pop singer. This could prove to be intriguing to my future camp employer.

I put in a Korean vampire cop kung fu superhero movie. At points, I laugh out loud the acting is so atrocious. Pamela Anderson’s V.I.P. is Ingmar Bergman in comparison. The production quality is UPN at its most UPN-ness. At points, I want to just switch it off but I know like Jaws, Moby Dick patiently awaits my return. Oh, Ishmael! Oh, Stubbs!

Tuesday, an email is waiting for me from the person hiring for the camp in Inner Mongolia:

Dear Tyson(musician),

You are absolutely the first one we chose, today is the firstr day, but so far we have received more than 30 applications. I like music and play saxphone myself. We hope that music will bring the students some fun for the program and i believe you will.Please stay in touch and we will let you know when exactly you need to be here.


Waking up and getting this email is quite exciting. I had put English Professor in the subject heading. I did not put musician by my name anywhere. That was purely Frank’s invention. Am I actually a musician? Sometimes I wonder.

When I sent the email last night, I thought it sounded like fun but I did not know if I wanted to actually do it. Now is the time when I need to decide. I talk to Jennifer about it. She tells me that it will cost what they are paying me to get there. I travel overnight to Beijing and then it is another 11 hours from Beijing. Naturally, I would have to travel first class sleeper car. This I have to think over. The job posting stated ‘Transportation to the camp is not compensated.’ I do not need to make a ton of money. I am going for the experience but I would like to make some money. Jennifer tells me to ask them for compensation for traveling.

So it looks like I am not just trying to get something for nothing, I fire this email back off to Frank:

Hello Frank:

If you could compensate me for the transportation, I would love to come. Maybe I could even do a show to help cover costs? I would love to try to work this out. Just let me know.


Frank fires this email back to me. At this point, I am starting to feel like the new exhibit at the zoo or a circus act.

Dear Tyson,

We would like to conpensate you for the transportation because we hope to see a real American singer. However, it is almost impossible to have a concert. you may know that we need to apply for doing that, and we have to deal with many kinds of people. The show for our own students can't make money.

Anyway, we hope to have this opportunity to work with you this summer.


I do not know the concert promotion business in Inner Mongolia or, if the biz there is the same as the biz in the rest of China. It is almost impossible to have a concert? What? Do they think I am going to wreck the region? They have to apply to have this happen? They have to deal with many kinds of people? This gives me pause. I am stunned. Who are these people? Are we in Narnia, the Middle Earth, Oz?

During these Inner Mongolia negotiations, I receive an email from the connection through Brain Transplant regarding the camp in Huzhou. If you are listening the Inner Mongolia soundtrack - Beefheart's Clear Spot - has ended. The following Huzhou sentences should be read while metaphysically blasting Grand Funk Railroad's 'We're an American Band.'The connection has sent my picture to the young Chinese female teachers who will assist me in Huzhou. One of these young ladies, ‘the aggressive one’ as he puts it, sends him a picture to send to me. The picture looks like those pictures you see of mail order brides.

'Now these fine ladies, they had a plan
They was out to meet the boys in the band
They said, "Come on dudes, let's get it on!"
And we proceeded to tear that hotel down'
y two weeks in Huzhou may not be quite like what I had originally expected. (We're An American band WooOoou). From Huzhou, I tentatively take the train to Inner Mongolia. This is unfolding into quite the ramshackle epic adventure.

Frank in the middle of his last email seems to sum up my place on earth; this man fastidiously writes my life in one ill constructed sentence and a double negative wrongly worded question:

You are the only person we give the compensation for the trasnsportation because you will be bringing us more fun. Anyway, it is not a big deal, isn't it?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

“Interviewing for a job and accepting a job are actually two different things.”

A familiar face sticks his head in the door. At first, I try to place him and then I remember, Blake. I stand up and shake his hand. I say hello. He says hello. We make small talk, nothing memorable. He stands there in front of me a few minutes after our conversation has run its course. He tells me he hopes he sees me again. I tell him I hope to see him too. I sit down. He goes back to his desk and sits down.

Occasionally I look up and watch him at his desk. His desk is right in front of the travel agency. Funny, I did not notice him sitting there when I walked in. Now I wonder if he was sitting there the whole time and I walked right past him when the porter escorted me back to the travel agency waiting area.

A strange sadness overtakes me which has something to do with seeing him sit at his desk. Knowing that tomorrow he will sit at that same desk and the next day and the next day. This drudgery, this sameness makes me sad. I do not know why. He looks as if he is a little boy playing at being a grown up but then I suppose all men are.

Until I saw him sit at the desk, I did not realize that he must be the concierge. I hope that the guests at the hotel are nice to him. He has a fragile innocence that is what I like about the people here in China. They are not jaded, hard, callous. They are sweet and tender to each other and to visitors. So far, that is what I have seen.

As I am pondering this, the porter briskly walks in to the travel agency to tell me that the car is ready to take me to the station. I quickly get up and head to the door. Blake sees me as I am leaving. I walk over to him to shake his hand and thank him. He grabs both of my hands and shakes them and tells me how nice it was to meet me. He has hold of my hands all the way across the lobby.

In the movies, ‘Wild Horses’ or ‘The Rover’ would play at the climax of this moment, as I am walking to the car and Blake is watching and I look back one more time to wave as I get into a late model Buick. The porter opens the back door for me. I get in. The driver puts my bag and guitar in the trunk. He and the porter get in the front. We drive to the station. I am sad but happy to be leaving Yuyao a suburb of Ningbo.

In the car, I ask the porter if he bought me a first class ticket. Since it was so cheap, I thought he may have forgotten. He points to the 2 on the ticket which means once again I am in car 2. Yes, he is a professional. They are paid to do this sort of thing the right way. I thank him.

The driver pulls into the station. The porter grabs my bag and guitar and leads me to the waiting room. We actually walk past the very crowded waiting room into the VIP waiting room. In this waiting room, there are only four other future passengers waiting. The seats are leather three person benches with carved wooden arms.

The porter tells me to sit. He is going to talk to the ticket lady at the door. He comes back. He tells me she will tell me when my train has arrived. I tell him thank you and shake his hand. I ask his name. He tells me his name is Ben. He pulls a card out of his breast pocket and hands it to me. We say our goodbyes and he leaves. The train does not come for another twenty minutes. I take the paper that I have been reading all weekend out of my bag and look over it once more. Bored, I finally stare off into space until the train arrives.

The other future passengers head toward the door. I look at the ticket lady. She motions for me to leave. I get up. There are trains stationed on both sides of the platform. I am not sure which one I am to board. I assume the one closest because I had to walk under the tracks in the tunnel when I arrived yesterday. The way the ticket lady is pointing, this could mean either train. She looks as if she is pointing to the tunnel entrance.

Then out of nowhere, a young woman appears. She speaks to me in broken English. She tells me the train that is pulling into the station on the side that I am standing is the train that I need. I tell her thank you. She says “See you later.” She then starts to walk away. She then turns around and comes back to correct herself.
“I mean, I hope to….see….you…again.”
I tell her I hope I see her again.

I get on the train. Car Two on this train is one level. The glamour of the Car Two last night has not attached itself to the Car Two of today. This Car Two has kids crying and running and screaming. The whole car has seemed to run amok. Bushels of waxberries fill the car. I search for my seat - 29. As I get closer, the din increases. The din is at its potential when I locate my seat. I sit at an empty bench a few rows back from where I am to sit. Where I am to sit is currently occupied by what equals a family of hyenas. The stench of urine permeates the air.

Granted, the train is fuller than last night but still there are vacant rows. I settle in. I put my guitar above me on a rack that runs the length of the train. I stare out the window as we are leaving the city.

Along train tracks here, residents grow gardens. Anywhere there is soil, someone will start a vegetable garden. I look out at all the leafy green vegetables that line the tracks. The city quickly becomes country. The ramshackle urban buildings give way to rice fields with roads running between the fields. These fields are a deep green. Shacks are scattered about the countryside.

The train pulls into the next station. I hope no one gets on the train. A few people board the train. I watch them as they look at the numbers above the seats. I hope they do not make me move. If I have to move, I spot some seats closer to the door. They park themselves in front of my seat. I move closer to the door. I grab my guitar overhead and lug it with me. They sit in the seat that I am vacating.

A middle aged couple who are sitting across the aisle from me see this and smile and then laugh when I look at them. I smile back. Now I am sitting facing the middle aged couple one set of seats back from them. Opposite them are two other women. The women all talk amongst themselves. I notice the man is in his own world. Occasionally, he may interject something if someone asks but for the most part, he stays silent.

Approximately twenty minutes later, the train stops at another station. Another group of people board the train. I try to gauge their demeanor to see whether I need to move again. I see them eyeing the numbers looking for their seats and yes once again, I have to move. At this point, the vacant benches are quickly disappearing. I have to share a bench with another man who does not look too pleased. Once again, I grab my guitar from overhead and move it with me. The middle aged couple, again, is watching and this time they think my whole charade is marvelously funny. They talk to their companions sitting across from them. The companions turn around and give me a look which I am not sure if it is mocking or sympathetic. I assume sympathetic.

Again, I settle in and I hope that the train will start emptying out soon. These are not long distance trains from what I understand. They, for the most part, are day trip trains. At some point, passengers must disembark. That is what I assume. I assume wrong. The train stops again. A group of very talkative young couples board. There are eight of them. I know I, for sure, am in one of their seats. At this point, because they are having a hard time finding their seats, a young male porter appears to come seat everyone.

I pull out my ticket so that I do not accidentally get bumped down into coach which would of course be the ultimate humiliation. I show him my ticket and he looks at me in a very unpleasant manner and he – metaphysically – drags me by the collar to my proper seat which upsets the balance there. The little bees that had stationed themselves in that section were upset like a nest when a rock is thrown at it. They then buzzed all over the train wreaking havoc on all the other passengers.

The woman sitting opposite of my assigned seat looks at me as if I have done her a grave injustice. In front of me, on the table - where I would like to eat my train snacks - a table full of crap awaits- half empty juice bottles, lychee peels, apple cores, discarded plastic grocery bags. Fortunately, and surprisingly, there are no dirty diapers on the table. That would put me over the edge. The trip back is not shaping to be as tranquil and luxurious as the trip to Ningbo.

The couple that laughed at my musical chair impression, moved as well. Now, they are sitting across the aisle from me. I assume they are a large extended family traveling. The man is sitting on the outside seat. He looks as if he wants to hang himself. The ladies talk amongst themselves. Anytime, he says something one of the women appears to say something which would imply he does not know what he is talking about. I stare out the window. The woman across from me is sucking on fruit making sounds that resemble a famished baboon. Her children seem to show some embarrassment. I hide myself in the Shanghai Daily which I have read from cover to cover at this point. The train stops at another station.

At long last passengers disembark. I look up and notice that the famished baboon has moved to the seat behind where she was. She is sitting with a friend and her children. I assume they have all landed in on a vacant booth because I notice that the table where they are now sitting is spotless. She left all of her trash at the table where I am sitting. I would like to eat the snacks that I brought but I have no table to put them thanks to the dearly departed thoughtless famished baboon. Eventually the porter comes by and scoops the pile of debris into a bucket. At this point, I pull out my Oreos and the Lipton tea product that I bought at the post apocalyptic food market. I am very excited about the Oreos. I quickly and savagely open the pack and eat two in record time. They are so good, so perfect, and so American. I then open the tea and take a gulp. I get the surprise of my life. The ice on the label signified the flavor with a picture. I am sure in Chinese characters somewhere was the flavor Eucalyptus. The tea tastes like a Hall’s lozenge in a bottle. I am surprised but not shocked. The Chinese eat Hall’s lozenges as mints. I have witnessed this first hand. To be a good sport, I have had a lozenge or two socially. I am saddened that the snack I was so excited about has been tainted by lozenge flavored tea.

I eat nearly half of the pack of cookies with no problem. Occasionally, I take a sip of the tea just to whet my throat. At this point, the man across the aisle has become bored with the women. He sits across from me. I offer him a cookie. He waves his hand to give me the universal no thanks wave.

However, offering him the cookie brought forth the invitation for conversation. None of which interests me because each sentence takes five minutes for him to construct which I admire that he would want to talk to me with the few English words he could muster. Nevertheless, I do not want to talk. But, I do not want to be rude. As I have said before, I am an ambassador to some extent and that means even when I do not feel like it, it is my responsibility to feel like it. That is almost part of my job as an American. So as he talks to me, I smile and stare at the spot where a tooth should be front and center in his mouth. Fortunately, the trip was almost over. This conversation only lasts an hour.

When we pull into the station at Songjiang, I recognize it as my home. I grab my gear and quickly disembark from the train. I walk to the exit and to the area where the cabs are waiting. This is the first time that I have had to say my address. Before I had a card with my address, I took it out of my wallet and forgot to put it back.

I walk up to the first cabbie and recite the address. He does not understand me. He shakes his head no. I do the same to another cabbie and then another and then another and then, I start getting the feeling that I might be walking the three or four miles home at night in the industrial area with my bag and guitar. This is grim.

I stop and think for a minute. I am not giving up. There must be someway. How do I do this? I look through my wallet. I find the receipt from when I subscribed to the paper. Somewhere my address must be on it. It is not like there is anything on this receipt except for Chinese characters. I go to the first cabbie that shook his head no and I point to where I think the address must be on the receipt and he recites what I am pointing at. I shake my head yes. I get in his cab.

We pull out of the station into what looks like state fair gridlock. However, we are moving within a minute. Asians get a bad rap for their driving. However, they drive in a symbiotic way where they all seem to know what the other drivers are doing. It is almost like a cartoon when the road moves with the vehicle. They resort to nothing as rudimentary as lanes.

The taxi drops me at school. I realize I have not eaten a proper meal since lunch (if KFC is a proper meal). The Muslim noodle shop next to the school is where I decide to go. However, the noodle dish I like is no longer pictured on the menu board because they changed the pictures on the board. I call the Sofa Negotiator to ask her if she can tell them in Chinese what I want. She knows what I like. She tells me she will meet me in 10 minutes. She is at the laundry by the dorms. I wait. I am hungry. Ten minutes later, I see her walking down the driveway of the school. I am waiting at the front gate.

I ask her why she is at school on a Saturday. She tells me she was helping the American students prepare to take off tomorrow for their tour of China. Today, the students went running around in Shanghai. Maureen went with them. I ask the Negotiator if she is hungry, she is not. She orders me the noodle dish I like with the homemade noodles (for which the shop is known).

I buy bottled tea from the market next door to the shop, the real Chinese tea to wash the memory of the Lipton Eucalyptus out of my mind. In the distance, I see a figure walking who I recognize. I tell the Negotiator, Maureen is coming. The Negotiator calls to Maureen.
Bird Flu walks up in that ‘Chicken Run’ hen manner of hers and starts speaking in that proper Queensland hen speak.
“I heard you got a job in Ningbo,” she says coldly.
“I interviewed for a job which I do not know if I am interested in taking,” I reply and then add in a sardonic manner “Interviewing for a job and accepting a job are actually two different things.” Boo Flu flutters on back to her nest. I tell myself she is an idiot. My noodles then arrive.

Outside of the Muslim noodle shop, we sit outside at a picnic table. I eat my noodles and drink my bottled tea. The Negotiator watched me eat my noodles and drink my bottled tea. A breeze lightly blows. The heat has not yet absorbed the night. I still cannot believe I bought a set of coasters. Oh, and I cannot believe I live in China.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The part of the story in which my escort puts my snacks with my bags

At the front desk, I ask for ‘Devian.’ The staff looks at me quizzically. I repeat the name. Then someone asks if I mean Vivienne. Yes, that makes sense. I must have heard the name wrong.
“Yes, Vivienne,” I reply. A woman comes out a door from a room behind the desk.
“I am Vivienne. How may I help you?”
“My name is Tyson. Allen told me you would assist me.”
“Yes, he just called. We will take care of you.” As with everyone else at the hotel, Vivienne is extremely gracious and helpful as if I am the most important person in the world. She takes me to a desk that is not the front desk but by the front door - the desk where packages are dropped, I suppose – and she pulls out a train schedule. She shows me that one is leaving at 4 pm. I tell her I would like to take that one and I want to be booked in first class. She tells me I should by my ticket in advance just to be safe. I tell her there should be no problem getting a first class ticket when I get there but she is very persuasive. A porter appears out of nowhere. Vivienne tells me he will take a taxi to the station to get my ticket. The porter tells me: the taxi roundtrip will be 12 RMB, and a first class ticket should be 72 RMB. I tell them that is fine. Vivienne then says in the politest possible way that I should give him the money so he can take care of it sooner than later.

“Oh, yes, of course,” I say. I hand him a 100 RMB note. The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” plays in my head. He goes to hail a cab. Vivienne tells me I should be back at the hotel by 3:00 and a car will take me to the train station. She takes my guitar and bag and put it behind the desk where we are standing. She tells me it will be safe. I tell her thank you and head off to explore Yuyao a suburb of Ningbo in the wonderful upside down world of the People’s Republic of China.

As I walk out into the light rain, I wonder if the Chinese people have a song culturally equivalent to ‘Penny Lane.’ Why does China make me think of the Beatles I ask myself as I walk?

I did not think to ask Vivienne which way I should walk to explore downtown Yuyao. I walk along the canal and then dart down the first street that dead ends into the canal. I follow it up to a busy street. China is full of all sorts of shops that would compare to the Dollar General in the USA. The street I walk down is full of these shops, peppered with a few women’s clothing stores with names like ‘Easy Fashion,’ and ‘Fashion for You.’ I then think of the Alice Cooper Group’s first tow records ‘Easy Action’ and ‘Pretties for You.’

The street I am walking dead ends into a main street. The main street to which it leads does not look appealing. I see office buildings and a few restaurants. I turn around and go back and walk along the canal back to the direction of the hotel.

Past the hotel, I walk toward the Pizza Hut, KFC, and McDonalds. There will surely be signs of life this way. The rain has stopped.

The time is 1:15. I am starting to get hungry. This city is known for the seafood. The McDonands is beside a four story mall. I go in to the mall. Here I must explain what I have discovered about Chinese malls or what look to be Chinese malls. On the first floor is usually the cosmetics area with Maybeline, Clinique, Avon, Loreal all vying for attention. Beyond the cosmetics are always escalators that promise mall stores on the upper floors. However, as in this instance, this is usually not the case. On the second floor is menswear; on the third floor is women’s wear, on the top floor is miscellaneous – bedding, towels, baby clothes, various household items. These department stores are like an over the top Sears, not quite cutting edge, actually not even close. They tend to depress me. I leave quickly.

I am disappointed. I knew there would not be, but I had hoped for the seafood restaurant to end all seafood restaurants. Disappointed, I make my way back down to the street. I am tempted to go to McDonalds but I do not.

I walk past McDonalds and come upon an intersecting street that looks promising with small stores lining both sides. I turn right. Immediately, I stop at a stereo/CD/DVD/ karaoke supply store (many of the stereo stores sell karaoke supplies). I browse the CDs and DVDs but I see nothing tempting.

I move on down the street. I pass food stalls but I am wary of them. I can see the headlines ‘Caucasian Performer Auditioning at Five Star Hotel Slowly Succumbs to Death at Yuyao’s Notorious Ptomaine Fish Stand.’

I keep walking. I hit more CD/DVD stores but I find nothing interesting. I head back to the main drag.

Near the drag, I wander into a Knick Knack store. Near the entrance, I spot a cart with sale items. Among the sale items, I find a set of coasters which I like, light and dark blue polka dots on clear square glass. The set is 8 RMB ($1). Never, ever, did I ever think, I would ever buy coasters. I have just bought a set of coasters. I have fretted some about my new red lacquer coffee table. I buy the coasters and continue my food search.

I see nothing tempting. I do not go into restaurants because if they do not have a picture of the food on the menu, I do not know what to order. I need to have someone write a list of what I like in Chinese characters to show restaurants. This would make eating out easier. I wander around until after 2 pm. I finally decide to suck it up and go to KFC.

I would like a burger and KFC has a burger on their menu. I go to the counter. The cashier looks nervous. I point to the sign behind her where there is a burger. She disappears. She is looking for something under the counter. She finds what she is looking for, the paper placemat which shows the food choices that KFC offers. You can not get a chicken breast at KFC in China because no one likes the breast. I would love to have a chicken breast but that is not to be in this country of dark meat.. I point to a burger and mashed potatoes on the place matt menu and I say ‘Cola’ which is pronounced more like ‘Coola’ in Chinese.

The cashier starts to put my food on the tray. She puts an order of fries on the tray. I shake my head no and point again to the mashed potatoes with gravy. She takes the fries away and puts a small container - that is in something that resembles a Styrofoam shooter - on my tray which I assume houses my mashed potatoes and gravy. She rings me up. I pay her and find a seat. Everyone is staring because of course I am the only Caucasian in the place.

When I pull it out of the package, the meat in between the buns looks charbroiled which is a very good sign. This is very exciting. I am very interested by this oblong burger that I am about to eat. Yes, I prefer for my burgers to be disc shaped but I am in China so I will not complain. I take a bite. This does not taste like a burger; or rather this does not taste like a Western burger. This may be the embodiment of a Chinese burger but I am thrown off by the flakiness of it. The meat is white. This is not beef. Maybe this is heifer of the sea. This is not what I was expecting. This hamburger is made of codfish. However, it actually is not too bad. I will never order it again as long as I live, but it is not too bad.

The time is edging toward me to be back at the hotel. I walk back, looking for a place to buy tea and snacks for the three and a half hour train trip. I dart down another side street and come upon fruit and vegetable stands. Waxberries are in season. This weekend - I was told by Allen - is the beginning of the waxberry festival. People come from all over the region to pick waxberries and take them home. The hotel was full because of all of the waxberry fanatics. People are serious about their waxberries here. I mull over getting some fruit but I decide I do not want to deal with bartering so I keep walking.

I make it back to the hotel. Along the way, I looked for a market to buy tea and snacks for my trip but I did not see anything. When I get back to the hotel, I ask Vivienne if there is a place close. She sends the porter with me. But before we do this, I am given my change from the 100 RMB for the ticket and the taxi to get the ticket. I am given 50 kuai back. The train ticket was only 42 RMB.
The time is 3:05. The porter says we must hurry. He tells me there is a place at the end of the street. We walk quickly. We walk into the other sort of mall that is common in China which is basically a multi-level flea market. In these malls, you can buy everything from garden tools, to rugs, to DVDs, to socks, to snacks for the train. At the back of the first floor is a small dusty grocery store. These stores always have a post-apocalyptic air to them. They are perpetually dusty and have boxes strewn everywhere. The cashier usually sits at a card table with a cigar box for a cash register. Yes, these shops are always low rent.

My escort asks me if this is what I was looking for. I tell him yes thank you it is. I look for the Suntory tea that I have fallen in love with. I do not see it. I see some sort of bottled Lipton tea with a lemon and a mountain of ice on the label. This seems like a safe bet. I grab it. I then peruse the cookie aisle. I pick up some lemon cookies, the kind that I had on the Yangtze River cruise, the kind that are actually club crackers with lemon filling. I then see a pack of Chips Ahoy. I put the lemon cookies down and grab the Chips Ahoy. Then, I see the king of the cookie, the universal dominator of all cookies, which of course is the OREO! I pick them up. In my hands, I have my tea and a pack of Oreos. I am set. We walk back to the hotel.

Back at the hotel, my escort puts my snacks with my bags and looks for a place for me to wait until the car arrives to take me to the station. The lounge areas are all occupied. He guides me to the travel agency waiting room. He tells me he will tell me when the car is here. I thank him. My bags are still at the front desk which means I am just sitting staring into space thinking about ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ for no apparent reason.

One of the women that work the front desk at the travel agency brings me a newspaper - the China Daily. I peruse it. There is absolutely nothing interesting in it. Time crawls in a waiting room of a travel agency within the confines of a five star hotel in Yuyao a suburb of Yinbo in the People’s Republic of China.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Beware of the Ningbo Dragon Lady Chim Chim Cha Roo

In my gig bag, I have extra strings. By now, I know that Allen is probably waiting for me with the camera. I put the guitar in the bag with the busted string and head back down to the lobby bar. I hope that busted guitar strings do not equal head decapitation. This is not going well. I should be panicked but I am not, I am almost laughing, almost.

Once, I am back downstairs in the lobby bar, I tell Allen I broke a string. However, I brought spare strings so I can fix it I tell him. I pull the guitar out of the bag and the strings out of the pocket of the bag and proceed to try to pull the e string remnant out of the hole beyond the bridge where it is snugly stuck. And, this does not go according to plan. The bridge pin will not budge.

The Dragon Lady of Ningbo and Allen stare at me. By the stares I am getting, they seem to wonder if I am a professional. Every so often, I look over my shoulder for the quick sword to the neck. The businessmen are getting up to leave. I see no swords. I am safe for the time being.

However, the little girl sitting with her mom and dad looks insanely suspicious. She is trying a little too hard to look like a little girl having an innocent milk drink with Mom and Dad. I see no swords. I then wonder if swords can be folded like switchblades. I then wonder if perhaps this seemingly innocent would pull a switchblade on Uncle Tyson, Warlord of 1960s British Pop Music, former King of Impromptu Oklahoma Naked Parties.

But now, I must focus on the task at hand, the string. At first, I try to pull out the shrapnel of string with my fingertips but the bridge pin won’t budge. Allen gets the bar’s corkscrew. I try with the knife part of the corkscrew to jimmy the bridge pin up. No luck. I pull out my keys. I try to pry the bridge pin up with my keys. Allen tells me to be careful. BE CAREFUL! I AM BEING CAREFUL OF THE NINGBO DRAGON LADY WHO IS GOING TO MAKE SALOME’S BEHEADING OF JOHN THE BAPTIST LOOK LIKE SOME SORT OF MARY POPPINS CHIM CHIMANEY KIDS GAME. CHIM CHIMANEY CHIM CHIMANEY CHIM CHIM CHA ROO is what the Dragon Lady of Ningbo will be singing the whole time, as my head flies through the air like the winning goal in the World Cup! The family, who as I said look innocent, will pull out their guns and use my head for some impromptu skeet shooting.

But, as I said before, back to the matter at hand, changing the string, I am still looking over my shoulder though. Do not worry about that! Again, I am having no luck. Allen says he will see if the bar has something more appropriate. He goes to the bar again. While he is gone, I try various approaches to remove the bridge pin. Nothing I do works. June Chen (who is trying very hard to mask her alter ego DRAGON LADY OF NINGBO) wants to say something but she does not. I wonder if they wonder if this is a common occurrence. If I break strings during the middle of my sets and then I take entire sets to fix them. Is this part or my shtick?

Allen comes back with needle nose pliers and a long thin flat head screwdriver. I tell him one of these should work. I try the pliers first. No luck. I try the screwdriver. No luck. Again, I try the pliers. The bridge pin gives. It pops out and rolls onto the floor, better the bridge pin than my head. I quickly pull out the new string and start to string the guitar with it. I realize I put the wrong end into the bridge. I look to see if June and Allen are watching. They are not. Good. I, then, switch the string and put it on right.

I then have trouble winding it through the tuning peg. The light is reflecting strangely. I cannot find the hole. Allen is sitting next to me. He is starting to stare. I feel like this is some bad skit. I wonder if he thinks there is a candid camera somewhere. I tell him I am trying to find the hole. Sloppy, I think I missed the hole, the hole, the hole. He starts to assist. We find the hole. I finally start to wind the string. Tuning the guitar takes little time. ‘Saw my baby yesterday, she spent her money on a car, she spent her money on a brand new car.’

Now, a man- who I assume is the bar manager - is putting the PA together for me to audition. This has an element of absurdity to it. Why am I here? I sit and wonder what he is doing. He seems to be running all over the floor but accomplishing nothing. In America, I would ask. Here, this just plays into the upside down wonder of China, the fantastic absurdity of my new life. I have become an Upsy Downsy. In Los Angeles, someone is naturally writing a screenplay about the day in the life of a Mattel Upsy Downsy. Shelly Duval will play the mom.

A microphone is on the vocal stand. A music stand is in front of the vocal stand. I move the music stand. The bar manager looks as if he is going to mic the guitar. He does not. Allen tells me he is ready to film. I launch into ‘From Me to You.’ I have no idea about the quality of my performance. I know that I hit wrong chords left and right. However, the vocals, I assume, will be the predominate thing that will be heard when the DVD is given a listen. On the vocals, I did fine. Especially since, I was keeping a look out for swords, daggers, switchblades through the entire song.

Allen thanks me when I finish. He tells me this is the sort of song the man that runs the other bar is looking for. I did my best John Lennon, how could the man not love it, excluding the sloppy guitar playing. The family stares at me mouth agape. They do not clap. They do nothing. They look at me as if I am Jo Jo the performing monkey. In many ways, I am.

Allen asks me what I intend to do now. I tell him that my student and I are set to go shopping I will call her. He tells me if I need someone to take me to the train station, let him know. I thank him and tell him I will go back to my room and call Miko. As I put my guitar in the gig bag and zip the gig bag, I tell Allen I will let him know if I need a ride to the station.

Back at my room, I call Miko.
“Miko, what are you doing?”
“On internet.”
“Oh, you’re surfing the internet?” I say.
“Yeah, Yeah, surfing internet.” The Shanghai90210 never use articles when they talk.
“Oh, well, I am done with my meeting. I didn’t know if you still wanted to go shopping.”
“You want go shopping?” she asks.
“Yes, I know its raining but I would like to go if you would like to go.”
“Oh, oh, yeah, I go outside to eat at 11.” Outside to eat? I was not sure what she meant by this since it is raining outside. As I think about it, she must mean ‘out to eat.’
“Oh, okay,” this is not a big deal to me.
“I will call you.” She says putting the emphasis on the word ’you.’
“Okay, call me when you finish eating.”
“Huh?” She likes to say ‘huh.’ She says it the way that Lucy Ricardo says it. Miko is the most vaudevillian of the Shanghai90210. On the occasions, when I have given her a swift kick in the behind, she has a slapstick comedic response. Yes, this is inappropriate but it is the funniest thing ever. She has that total shocked look on her face and then starts chasing me around saying “You! You! You!”
“Call me when you are done eating.”

We hang up. I think about taking a short nap. I debate turning on the television. Instead, I sit at the table by the window and look out upon the Yuyao rainy day. Across the street from the hotel, a canal winds through town with a sidewalk beside it. A few people with umbrellas are walking along the canal. Not many people. In the United States, the townspeople would be walking dogs and jogging. Here, most people do not have dogs and most people do not jog.

On the other side of the canal, is a street that runs in front of a temple. The temple - which looks like your typical ancient Chinese Buddhist temple - is fighting for space with a sprawling apartment complex and a 1960s style office building. Behind these structures is a small mountain. (The people at the hotel call it a small mountain; I would be inclined to call it a medium sized hill).

Below me is the terrace to the 5th floor bar where I would play if I was deemed fit for the job. The rain lends to the desolate look of the place. Lawn chairs and tables are strewn about. On sunny days, I imagine, it is brimming with life, with people laughing, drinking bloody marys, sake, martinis; talking about their families, careers, loves, problems. Today, it is an abandoned, sad grey balcony.

I lay down. I will call Miko at noon. The time drifts past. The landline rings. The person on the other end of the line would like to know when I would be checking out. I tell them I am waiting on a friend. I should be out by 1 pm.
“You will be out by 1 pm?” they repeat.
“Yes, 1 pm,” I say.
I call Miko. The time is 12:35.
“Have you finished your lunch?”
“I am on my way to exam.” This is an exam crazy country. I could be wrong but it seems like the students here are taking some sort of exam every time I turn around. Therefore, I like to give them none.
“Oh, yeah, I forgot, you are taking an exam.”
“Well, I think I may go back to Songjiang because I need to leave the hotel.”
“Why you don’t stay? Go back in morning.”
“Well, I would not have a place to stay tonight,” I reply.
“I would have no place to stay tonight.”
“Oh, well I must take exam.”
“Yes, that is fine,” I say. “I realize that. I think it would be best if I headed back home today. I will come to your hometown another time.”
“I said, I will come to your hometown another time. Do you know what time the train leaves?”
“Okay, I can take you to the train station after exam.”
“That’s okay, someone here at the hotel will take me. Do you know what time the train leaves? ”
“Do you know what time the train leaves?”
“Okay, thank you for everything. I will see you at school. Good luck on the exam.”

After I hang up, I call Allen to tell him I will need a ride to the station after all. I dial his cell phone. He immediately picks up.

“Yes, I will need a ride to the train station after all. I would like to take the 7:35 train”
“That is no problem, go to the front desk and ask for the front desk manager Devian. She will help you.”
“Will I be able to leave my bag and guitar at the front desk. I would like to walk around the city before the train leaves?”
“That should be no problem. Just let them know at the front desk.”
“Okay, thank you Allen.” We hang up. I throw my things into my bag and prepare to leave. Since I traveled light, I do not have much packing to do. Within ten minutes, I am at the elevator pressing the button waiting.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Popping an e string is a pretty strong hint

At 8 am, I open my eyes and look at my watch. I decide to sleep until my wakeup call at 8:45 am. At 8:15 am, I look at my watch again. This time I decide to get up. I am awake. If I am tired, I can take a nap after the meeting.

Mornings, these days, are strange. In the morning, I am no longer hung-over. I no longer hope that I can put a solid in my stomach before I puke. Everything from the night before, I can remember. Now, I do not need to apologize to anyone for peeing on their carpet or doing anything else fantastically inappropriate. I need to remember this. I cannot forget this. Absolutely, I never need a hangover again.

Even last year, at this time back in Oklahoma for the summer after my first year as a college professor in New York, I remember laying on various couches after nights of drinking, laying and waiting, hoping and knowing that the queasiness would pass after I had Taco Bueno, Sonic, Arbys, The Hungry Frog. I do not miss those hangovers.

Last summer was my last summer of drinking. I drank and I drank. Last summer I was going through a half of a bottle of vodka a night with no problem. Something had to give. I sometimes think that I do not even know that person who occupied my body and drank so much. That person was not the most self-destructive person you will ever meet but he was self-destructive enough to drink every night until he passed out. What was I thinking? Was I trying to kill some sort of pain? Soothe some sort of inner turmoil? Out drink the legends of Capote, Hemmingway, Fitzgerald?

I get into the shower. The hotel has those nice plush 5 star hotel towels. There is a soap dispenser and shampoo dispenser on the wall of the shower. Marble tiles cover the bathroom. Yes, I am staying in a 5 star hotel.

After I get out of the shower, I put water in the electric kettle for an instant nestles cappuccino. The water boils. I pour the water into a cup and empty the packet into the cup. The phone rings. The operator is telling me it is 8:45 this is my wake up call. I say thank you. She repeats what she just told me. I realize I am listening to a recording.

Last night, I took the Karl Lagerfeld white mock tuxedo shirt out of my Delsey bay and hung it up. I put on my pinstripe Club Monaco slacks and the Karl Lagerfeld shirt. At five ‘til 9, I head downstairs to have breakfast.

Although I am sober these days, I am still in a bit of a fog in the mornings. When I walk into the coffee shop, I walk right past the hostess. She comes up to me and asks for my complimentary breakfast coupon. I hand it to her. I see a two top. I ask her if I can sit there. She pulls the chair out for me and asks if I would like tea or coffee. I tell her coffee. I look around unsure what I am to do next.

I realize breakfast is buffet style. After my coffee is poured, I get up, grab a plate and start scooping food onto it. This is a very nice buffet. Immediately, I am interested in the cheese area which is stationed in the middle of the restaurant. From there, I head over to the side and start putting bacon, waffles, crescents, pastries, anything from the West on my plate. A chef is in the corner making omelets to order. I could eat lots. It seems like it has been awhile since I have eaten lots. Perhaps, at the Hungry Frog on Penn was the last place where I was truly full. Today, I do not eat lots. I do not have the omelet. I want to be sharp for this interview. At 9:20, I decide to head back upstairs to brush my teeth. Ten minutes is enough time to take the elevator up, brush my teeth and come back down…if I hurry. After all, I am the star.

The elevator arrives fairly quickly. I get in; I press 6; I head to my floor; no problem. By this time, I have mastered the key card. I open the door. I pull my toothbrush out of my bag. I rip the complimentary toothpaste out of the wax paper pouch which it is in. I squeeze. Nothing comes out. The tip is aluminum. I need to puncture the top with a pin or something sharp. The clock is ticking. I do not want to be late. I try to remember where I put my own dangerously close to empty tube of toothpaste. I see it in the mesh part of the bag. I dig it out. I brush my teeth quickly and head back to the elevator.

Two men and three women – all of them have luggage, the women (of course) have the most- are waiting for the elevator as well. All of a sudden, there are no elevators. Beside each elevator the number is lit where the elevator is currently parked. The elevators are all in the 19 to 22 floor range. Not to mention, one of the six elevators seems to be out of service. There is no number lit beside it.

Finally an elevator makes its way down to us. It stops. It opens to reveal itself as already being somewhat full. The women get in with there eight or nine bags of luggage. Now the elevator is full. The men and I have to wait for the next one.

The two remaining guys and I look at each other and roll our eyes. They say something in Chinese. I nod my head.

My phone rings. Allen is on the line. He wants to know if I am nearly ready to come down. I tell him I have been waiting for the elevator. I ask if I should take the stairs. He tells me no. He will see me shortly. Finally, the elevator arrives. The two men waiting with me, motion for me to enter first. I say ‘xie xie’ and enter.

In front of the coffee shop, Allen is waiting. He tells me the general manager is meeting us at the bar off of the lobby. I tell him I am really sorry I am late. I did not know it would take so long to get an elevator. He tells me to not worry. He does not seem worried. I am paranoid he will think I am late everywhere, the Axl Rose of lounge singers.

I follow Allen to the bar. The bar looks over the lobby. Two circular staircases lead up to it which lend to its grandeur. A grand piano sits midway across the bar near the back wall. Coming up the circular stairs, on the left side is the actual bar which runs the length of the balcony. Informally dressed men at a table in the center of the room are the only patrons at this time of the morning in the bar. I do not know if they are drinking.

Allen and I sit down. The general manager walks up. She introduces herself. Her name is June Chen. For a moment, we sit there. None of us seem to know what to say. Allen starts talking. I realize his English is much better than June’s English. He tells me that they are happy with the current band but they do not know what will happen in September when the time comes to renew the contract. He tells me the current band have a pianist. He asks me if I play piano and he motions to the grand piano. I tell him no. He asks me what kind of songs I play. I tell him I play my own songs mainly but I play Beatles songs too. He tells me that the people of Ningbo are not as educated as the people in Shanghai. He says as a way to say that I might not be right for the job. I get the point. They are happier to hear the songs that the Phillipino band plays than songs with which they are not familiar.

At this point, I start to wonder why I am at the interview. At this point, a family sits down a few tables a way from us. And, at this point, Madame Chen asks if I teach business English. I tell her I have taught English to international college students. I would be able to teach business English quite easily. For some strange reason, Chinese women in power intimidate me. I feel as if I say the wrong thing I could get my head lopped off by a samurai sword. And within five minutes, my body and head would be removed from the premises. A crew would clean up the blood. The family who sat down next to us is really associates of June Chen, Ningbo Dragon Lady. I try to be as forthcoming as possible during the interview. I would like to not have my head lopped off.

Allen explains the set up. The lobby bar opens early and closes early. The bar on the 5th floor opens later and stays open late. Allen tells me that they possibly will hire two groups to play at the hotel. They are now toying with that possibility. A man subleases the upstairs bar from the hotel and he would be the one that would be interested in me. He has another bar, an Irish pub, downtown where he needs performers as well. That, too, may be a possibility for me.

He then asks me about my job. I tell him and Dragon Lady what I make and how many hours a week I work. I do not work many hours. In that way, I am very fortunate. That is one of the fantastic perks about my job. I do not work many hours a day.
The Dragon Lady says “Two or three hours a day, average.”
Somehow when they put it this way, I begin to like the job I have more than I did a few seconds ago. Again, I ask myself “Why am I here? Do I want to sing in a hotel? Is that what I want to do?”

Allen then says that it sounds like my current situation is a good one. I tell him yes it is. He then suggests that I work during the week teaching and playing the hotel on the weekend. I could take the train up on the weekend to the hotel. I tell him that could possibly work.

Allen then asks me if I could do a song for the guy that he could tape. He could then make a DVD for the guy. I tell him yes. He tells me to go get my guitar and he will meet me back down at the bar. He tells me to take my time.

As I walk to the elevator, get in the elevator, depart from the elevator, and walk to my room; I wonder what in the hell I am doing. I am auditioning as a lounge singer at a five star hotel. At first, this sounded very glamorous. Now it just sounds like Tony Orlando’s nadir.

In my room, I remove my guitar from the gig bag and strum a few chords. Oh well, I am here. I might as well go through with it. I do a run through of ‘From Me to You.’ I mess up all over the place. I get angry with myself. I am not concentrating. I must concentrate. I try it again. I play it better this time. Near the end of the song the low e string pops. I laugh because I am really not that surprised. Maybe my guardian angel is trying to tell me this is not the path I am to take. Popping an e string is a pretty strong hint.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

(I have a coupon for a complimentary) breakfast in my cardboard card key case.

As we are getting close to the hotel (or I assume we are getting close to the hotel), Allen tells me that this time of the evening he will park in back of the hotel. As he says this, he whips the car into a driveway and drives behind a large building which must be the hotel. As he is doing this, I remember the days of press junkets, flying to New York or L.A. to promote a record, being escorted by publicists, marketing strategists and managers to restaurants and boardrooms where the interested press would interview me, drinking at New York or Los Angeles chic dive bars at night where we might spot Dennis Leary, Matt Dillon, the super model of the moment. In those days, during the day, I was usually hung-over. I should miss those days but somehow I do not. As we are parking the car behind the hotel, I do not feel as if I could puke. In the old days, I did.

We get out of the Audi and walk into the back entrance of the hotel. As we walk to the front desk, I look around at the cavernous cathedral like lobby of what is touted as China’s first five star hotel. Later, Allen tells me the hotel has been in existence since 1996.

At the front desk, a clerk has a card key waiting for me in a packet with various coupons. The clerk asks to see my passport. At my apartment when I was packing, I had put it in the top pocket of my silver Delsey carry-on. I unzip the pocket, pull out the passport and hand it to the clerk. He writes down my passport number and hands it back.

As this is happening, another man appears out of nowhere. Allen introduces me to him. His English name is Blake. Blake will see me to my room. Before Allen departs, he tells me he will meet me at 9:30 am in front of the hotel’s coffee shop. I have a coupon for a complimentary breakfast in my cardboard card key case.

Blake points the way and we then start walking to the elevators. Blake is a bigger guy. He looks as if he is in his late 20s or early 30s. My room is 2607 which is on the 6th floor they tell me at the desk but I do not understand. Once we are in the elevator, I ask Blake if my room is on the 26th floor. He points to the numbers and tells me the hotel has only 22 floors. My room is on the 6th floor. I wonder if he thinks I am an idiot.

He escorts me to my room and shows me where everything is. This I can actually see for myself. Therefore, he does think that I am an idiot. He is a very kind person. He asks me if I might play at the hotel. I tell him that I hope to play. He smiles. He rubs my shoulder.

I tell him I am hungry. He tells me after I have a bath I could have some food. I tell him I would rather eat and then bathe afterward. He asks me if I know Chinese. I tell him no; he looks disappointed. I would assume that he knows that I would not know Chinese. He tells me there are KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonalds in the vicinity of the hotel. I ask if those are all of my choices. He says yes unless I would like Chinese. I tell him I would like Chinese. He smiles again. When he asked if I knew Chinese, he was asking if I knew Chinese food.

We walk back to the elevator and take it back down to the first floor. At the first floor, he leads me into the five star restaurant attached to the five star hotel. Along the wall on the other side of the entry to the restaurant is a long narrow cashier’s counter that looks very much like a check-in desk. They want to make everything go fast and flawless here at the Grand Pacific Hotel. Across from the long cashier’s counter is a lacquered Chinese fishing boat anchored in the middle of a koi pond. A small foot bridge connects the boat to the restaurant’s terra firma. In the fishing boat, a party of four are sitting eating a gourmet meal.

Blake asks the cashier if we can see a menu. On the elevator on the way down to the restaurant, I told him I would like to take my meal back to my room. The cashier tells Blake in Chinese there is no menu and points to the restaurant Carol Merrill style (The Price is Right or in China we could call it The Price is Rice). Lining the restaurant are various display cases of examples of the food served and chefs at food stations cooking food to order. I was stunned and in love. Miko is in love with America; I am in love with this Chinese happenstance in which I have found myself. I smile all the time it seems.

Although I know the time must be after 11 pm, the restaurant is somewhat crowded. All of the patrons are Chinese. However, this is the first place where I have gone where people do not stare at me like I am from Pluto. These people in the restaurant I suppose have traveled and have seen their fill of Caucasians. I am completely uninteresting to them.

Picking out what I want to eat is tough. Blake walks with me. He takes this very serious. He inspects everything. He wants me to be happy. I feel so full of myself. Who do I think I am anyway? Oh yeah, I’m the star ha haha! We walk past a large display case –much like the dairy section in a grocery store such as Homeland - of seafood in which the displayed food looks like it is - or is a cousin of - the sea urchin, the jellyfish, or the eel. We keep on walking.

I am wondering if they have heard of a good tuna steak in these parts. ‘Tube Steak Boogie’ by ZZ Top goes through my head followed, of course, by ‘Party on the Patio’ because in my head it is not Friday night in China; it is two for Tuesday on KMOD (the Rainbow Station).

We make our way around the restaurant. There are so many choices that I have hit overload. I think I saw someone making sushi. Did I see someone making sushi? Do I want sushi? Maybe I imagined sushi. We come to the dumpling stand. I tell Blake I think I would like dumplings. He asks me if I would like four or six. I tell him four. He looks at me like I am crazy.
“Do you want something else?” he asks.
“No,” I say
“You want just four?” he asks again somewhat disappointed in my sheer food wimpiness.
“Maybe I will have six after all.” This pleases him; he smiles.
One reason, I did not go nuts with the food, I assume I am not paying but if I am paying I do not want to have a huge bill to pay. After all, I am in a five star restaurant in a five star hotel. And, my belly does not need a five star Chinese meal before I go to bed.

I watch the chef as he puts the dumplings into a chef’s pan and adeptly shake them in that way that chefs do. This only takes a moment or two to lightly brown them. I am actually surprised by how fast this is done. He pulls them off of the fire and scoops them into a takeaway container. He then puts them in a bag and hands them to me.

At this point, I am not sure if Blake and I are leaving the restaurant or if I am to pay for the dumplings. We walk back along the length of the sea urchin and friends display cabinet. We stop at the cashiers’ station. Blake asks if I have cash which sounds like a cross between ‘cars’ and ‘cards.’ I know I give him a vacant stare before I come to life and say:
The cashier the whole time is writing and ringing up the bill. Blake turns to me and says “10 RMB.” I do think this is a deal. Dumplings, for the equivalent of $1.25 at a five star hotel, are good for me, okay! I hand him a 100 which he hands to the cashier. She counts the 90 RMB change back to me. I put it in my wallet. Blake and I exit the restaurant.

At the elevator, Blake tells me I am on my own and asks if I can find my room. I tell him yes, 6th floor, room 2607. He tells me I am right. He says he hopes he sees me in the morning. I tell him I hope I see him too. He stands there expectantly for a moment then turns and walks away. I get into the elevator and hit the button for the 6th floor. I am alone.

When I get to my room, I have trouble getting the door open. This is a problem I have with keys, key cards, lockers, whatever. When I was in Junior High at the start of every school year, the vice principal had to send someone with me to help me open my locker. I could never get it open on the first try or the second or actually until the vice-principal sent someone to open it for me.

Here, 25 or 30 years later, I stand in front of my door to my hotel room at a five star hotel and once again I feel the frustration of puberty. I look at the number on the door more than once to make sure I am at the right room on the right floor. I am. I try the key card a few more times. This is frustrating I feel like an idiot. I do it one more time and I see the green light. I try the knob. The door opens.

I put my takeaway on the bed and turn on the television. Since this is a five star hotel, the television is hidden in a sleek armoire instead of sitting naked on a chest of drawers or a desk. After channel surfing, I settle into a music video channel as I eat my dumplings which are excellent. I give them 5 stars.

For no reason, I think of Bowie’s ‘Sound and Vision.’ “Don’t you wonder sometimes about sound and vision?” I call the front desk and put in a wakeup call for 8:45 am.

The music videos veer from American angst ridden teen emo pop to Chinese non-angst sugar teen pop. Suddenly, a Chinese boy band, called the G Boys, captures my attention and - somewhat briefly - has a chance at capturing my heart. Although, I am sure, they are trying to emulate the Backstreet Boys, through - no fault of their own - they have captured – maybe through the use of white leisure suits emblazoned with Porter Wagoner style gauche sequined flowers – the spirit of teen pop from an earlier time, the golden years of teen pop, the early 1970s. I hope they remake “One Bad Apple” or “Down by the Lazy River.”

The video - which involves slapstick scenes in and out of limousines with mock overzealous fans and mock paparazzi – seems to be about the trappings of fame and success to my untrained Chinese-pop ears. Of course I am not sure if the G Boys are singing about being famous or if they are singing, dreaming of being famous. This I will ask my Chinese brethren.

As I am watching the videos, I go through the coupons in my card key case. I see I have one for the restaurant where I got my dumplings. If I would have looked before I leapt, I would have saved $1.25. After awhile, and after getting a glimpse at the G Boys pop genius, the videos become an endless parade of void, nothingness. I am getting tired. I have my interview in the morning at 9:30 am.

Interviews are no longer the daunting task they once were since a friend told me the secret which perhaps is not a secret but is something I have remembered. She said you are always able to tell right away if you are meant for a job or not and if the job is right for you. Since I now have that attitude, I am no longer nervous like I once was. I turn out the light and go to sleep. I go to sleep in my 5 star hotel room in Yuyao, China.

Monday, June 19, 2006

At some point, we will split off into two pairs and at that point the confused will be the enlightened.

The Who song ‘5:15’ is playing in my head as we make our way through the train, through the crowded train. We pass smokers. We pass families crowded together. I feel as if I am on some sort of drug or intoxicant. However, the new me is not on uppers and downers. ‘I’m out of my brain on the train’ as a transplant, not due to hallucinogenics. “Inside outside nowhere is home.”

When we get to car two, Miko notices the door is locked. This is strange. All of the other cars are easily accessible. They are like subway cars. You walk through one to the other with no problem. Car two is locked. Is this the prison car? Is Miko an escaped convict? Yes, this is strange. The female porter is right behind us. She unlocks the door.

My life in America is a world away sometimes. Sometimes, I feel as if I have been in China my whole life or as if I am an android and my life was just created, created for me to teach English. The memories in my brain are implants. I was created to experience emotion in an emotionless way. Perhaps, this is the dream and my America is the reality. This, I ponder as the porter is unlocking the door. If I touch her, would my hand go through her like a hologram or a ghost? Maybe I am the ghost. Maybe I am. Maybe I am.

Now, that I am in China, I feel as if I need to experience China. I need to see all of the cities. Not only do I need to see the cities, I need to live in several cities. This is part of the reason I am now on my way to Ningbo, well Yuyao a suburb of Ningbo actually. This is another door that someone has opened. I am walking through the door, door number two into car number two.

Miko asks if I would like to go up or down. Car two has two levels. I tell her up. We walk up a short flight of steps. Instantly, I am transported to another time, another time in America. The time of passenger trains and Petticoat Junction, the time a generation before my time, Twilight Zone and club cars, North by Northwest and sleeping berths, a time I almost experienced but did not. The time of dining cars, snack cars, first class upper level seating with picture windows to gaze out into the passing pastoral. I am gracefully stepping back into time.

Our first class car is abandoned. Instead of three seats on each side of the aisle, there are two seats which make each seating area a four seater booth. Seat covers that lend themselves to the bygone era of radio serials cover the seats. White doilies are meticulously laid over the back of each seat. They form triangles over the seats. The other cars had no arm rests. This first class car has carved wooden arm rests.

There are at most four other people in the whole car. I am stunned. For an extra 25 yuan we have complete privacy. I ask Miko why more people are not traveling first class. She tells me that 25 yuan ($3.13) is a lot of money to some people. At many noodle shops, 25 yuan would feed a family. We find our seat and sit down.

Over the public address system, the equivalent of what I suspect to be China’s National Public Radio plays. At one point, American teen pop invades the public address. Miko hears Hillary Duff. She tells me she used to like her. I wonder if she means she liked her before she met the American students. We hear another song by someone. We do not know who it is. It is a teen girl. She seems edgier than Avril. Miko likes it. I tell her I like it too. She says it sounds like my music. She uses the word ‘natural’ which surprises me. Perhaps, this came by way of the American students. This song we hear, I suppose, is all over the radio at the moment in the USA. I would have no idea. A key phrase is ‘What I like about you is what you like about me.’ At this moment, I feel a bit like a dad trying to find some small something to connect with his teen. I instantly feel sympathy for all parents of teens in industrialized nations all over the universe.

Miko has become quite fond of the words ‘shit’ and ‘poop.’ I turn her onto the word ‘crap.’ That is a bunch of crap. I tell her crap can be used even more rampantly than her two favorite words. This does not seem to phase her. She still loves the word ‘shit.’ She says that the Chinese word that she punches in for ‘shit’ is not that bad of a word. She is surprised that ‘shit’ is such a foul word. I tell her the Chinese words are probably the polite way to say it like ‘crap’ or ‘poop.’ ‘Shit’ is not one of my favorite words. I do not like or dislike the word. It does nothing for me. Miko looks for ways to phrase ‘shit.’ She laughs when she finds ‘shit on.’ I try to use this in a sentence but she does not understand. It only sounds rude if you know English which is maybe the beauty or the problem with language depending upon how you look at it.

A goofy looking older businessman walks by and I say “Man, he’s a real looker.” Miko repeats this as ‘The man is ill looker.’ I try to explain ‘looker.’ She says she understands; she doesn’t. I laugh. She laughs. Language.

Behind us is a man that she says she has seen before when she and Tess have taken the train home together. She punches a word into her translator. She shows the word to me ‘ape.’
“Ape,” I say.
“Ape-uh. He’s ape-uh.”
We both laugh again.
She tells me he likes strange girls. Where she got this information, I do not know.

She tells me we will arrive in Yuyao at 10:40. I tell her I thought the trip was a longer trip.
“No, not longer trip,” she tells me.
I tell her I will call Allen. I am afraid he will not answer. Did he misunderstand me? Does he know I am coming to the hotel tonight? Miko tells me her dad called and there are no vacancies at that hotel. I tell her I know that but they have a room for me nonetheless. She says okay. I dial Allen’s number at the hotel. I hope I am not making a mistake. I am very trusting. T.IC. Anything can happen.
Allen immediately answers the phone.
“This is Tyson. I will be at the train station at 10:40.”
“Okay, I will be picking you up at the station myself.”
I was fretting for nothing. He will be there to pick me up. He knows that I am coming.

Miko asks me about the word ‘already.’ “When do I use the word ‘already?”
I try to give her an example. “You can say ‘I have eaten already.’ If someone asks you to eat and you have eaten. ‘Already’ is a strange word.”
I tell her this. I never think about the word ‘already.’ It seems redundant and wrong when I am telling her about ‘already.’ She uses it a few times and I tell her she is correct. She tells me to correct her English. I tell her, her English is better than most of my students. She wants me to say she has the best English among the Shanghai90210. Once I have given it a bit of thought, I realize her English is probably better than the rest of the Shanghai90210. She has the sort of accent that a clothes designer or an artist would have. I do not tell her this. I just think this to myself.

I pull out the Shanghai Daily and thumb through it. The main headline reads ‘SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) intends to build a harmonious region.’ Five other countries are members of this organization – Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan. The presidents from these countries all gathered in Shanghai for this convention of harmony. Representatives from four observer countries – Mongolia, India, Pakistan, Iran – attended. From what I can tell, the organization promotes the ideas of trust and alliance between these countries. The article states President Hu spoke on the importance of ‘political trust, unity and coordination among SCO member states.’ Kyrgyzstan is the location for next year’s summit. Courtney Cox (wearing glasses) will host.

One of the American boys is staying in Max’s dorm room. Max went home for the weekend. He is not there. Miko calls the dorm room. I hear her talking in Chinese with a few English words sprinkled in along the way. I wonder if this will be our civilization in 100 years. One language made up of all languages. Perhaps English is already that one language. This is probably not a new thought. Some linguist at Stanford is probably working on this theory for his doctorate. When she hangs up the phone, I do not ask who she talked to. I assume it was a few of the students gathered in Max’s room.

These visiting American students are, for the most part, in advanced placement Chinese classes. They are close to being fluent in the language. The male chaperone that I talked to when they arrived told me that their school is the only public high school that offers Chinese in the San Diego school district. This stuns me. I would not expect for it to be offered in Small Town America but it seems like too important of a language to not be offered widely in bigger progressive areas.

At 10:40, Miko tells me we have ten more stops before we get to Yuyao. I look at her stunned. She tells me the train is running late. I tell her that means we will not get in for another hour at least. I am annoyed. I try not to show it. This cannot be helped; I refuse to sulk. I feel bad; I feel like I am putting Allen out.

“You’re the star,” Miko says.
“You’re right,” I say. “I am the star!” Then I add “He can wait.”

At 10:46 pm, the train pulls into the next station.
“Our stop,” Miko says.
“I thought you told me we had several more stations.”
“I was telling joke,” she responds.
“You got me,” I laugh.
“I got you,” she says putting the emphasis on ‘you.’
We gather our things and exit the train and walk along the platform and then down the stairs under the tracks through the tunnel. We walk back up the stairs to the opposite platform and the exit. The tunnel looks like the innards of a small Oklahoma town’s American Legion baseball bleachers. Before we go through the metal corral exit, we see a man. Miko tells me this is her father. I shake his hand and want to say “Nice to meet you” but I forget how. He tries to take my bag and I tell him it is okay I have it but I know he does not understand me. He keeps pulling at it. Finally, he gives up and takes Miko’s bag. On the other side of the corral, I start looking for Allen from the hotel. A man is smiling at me. I assume this is Allen and I walk up to him. Out of nowhere, another man comes up to me. This is like something out of Hitchcock. The man who came our of nowhere speaks:

We exchange hellos. Now, Miko, her dad, Allen and I are all walking in the same direction. Allen and Miko’s dad both look confused. Allen seems to be wondering if I brought these two people on the train with me. He is now wondering if he will have to find rooms for them in the hotel. Miko’s dad, I am sure, is wondering who this man is who has appeared out of nowhere. We walk. I do not know how to explain the situation. Miko does not try to explain the situation. We keep walking. At some point, we will split off into two pairs and at that point the confused will be the enlightened.

When we get to the parking lot, Miko’s dad points us in the direction of his car. I ask Allen where he is parked. He points in a different direction. I shake Miko’s dad’s hand in parting. Miko says something to her dad which seems to explain the situation. He and Miko walk off to his car. Miko’s dad waves one last time. I wonder if Miko will tell her dad that she has fallen in love with America.

Allen and I walk to Allen’s car. He asks me if that was a student. I tell him yes. He tells me that worked out to come to Yuyao with a student. I thank him for picking me up at such a late hour at the train station.

We walk in the direction of a cluster of black Volkswagen gypsy taxis. This seems odd that he would be driving a gypsy cab or that he would be chauffeured by a gypsy cab. As we get closer, there is a sleek black new model Audi amongst the Volkswagens. He opens the backdoor and tells me to throw my stuff in. I do and then I get into the front seat. We drive to the hotel.