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.


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