Saturday, June 10, 2006

Decisions Decisions

At 11 am, I hail a cab at the front gate. I have my card that has the bus station characters written on it. I point to the characters to the cabbie. He drives me to the station. Cab fares have gone up a yuan within the last week or so. The fare is 9 yuan instead of 8 yuan. I suppose I can spare the extra 12.5 cents.

The line at the station is short. On the card that has the bus station characters, the characters for the Shanghai Stadium are printed. I point to the characters on the card to the woman at the ticket booth and hand her my 6 yuan. Since I have made so many trips to the stadium on the bus, I know what the bus looks like that I ride and approximately where it is parked. I walk to the bus that I assume is the right bus. Before I board, I point to the Shanghai Stadium characters to the driver, he nods his head yes. Seat 28 is my seat assignment. The bus trip to the stadium is uneventful.

At the stadium, I disembark from the bus and walk the block to the metro station. At a kiosk, I put in my 4 yuan coins and receive a one time use ticket that I scan at the turnstile.

The metro is easy to use. All of the stations and the direction the train is traveling are clearly marked. The trains are new and sleek with television monitors that show the same commercial endlessly. The commercial today is a cartoon. It is in Chinese but it seems to deal with safety on the train.

The train enters the People’s Square Station at five minutes past 12. I decide to walk around Fuzhou Road where the international bookstore is. I duck in and out of shops. At the mall at Nanjing and Fuzhou Road is a huge mall. I duck in to French Connection. I see if there are any t-shirts on sale. There are not.

I then go down to the international bookstore. When I first got here, I was so happy because all of the Hitchcock films were available for 12 yuan (less than $2) but now that I can find films on the street for 5 yuan, I have stopped buying more Hitchcock. Instead, I buy China Today and Beijing Review – two English language magazines – for 6 yuan apiece.

I stop at an art supply store and buy more oil paint. I have stopped painting in the last few weeks. If I buy a big tube of yellow oil paint and a big tube of white oil paint, perhaps I will be inspired to finish the painting I have been painting which keeps transforming.

I then try to locate the restaurant where I would like to take Logan for lunch. This restaurant is where I ate when I first arrived. I find the restaurant which is across and down the street from the international bookstore. The time is 1:05. I decide to go back to the park at People’s Square and read while I wait for Logan.

To be on the safe side, I decide to get another 100 yuan out of the bank in case our lunch is a little more expensive than I had planned. I walk into the bank. A long line of people are waiting for the ATM. This is very common here. Most of the time when I go to an ATM, there is a long line. At least 10 people are in front of me. I daydream as I wait. I think about my memoir – ‘How to Become a Headmaster without Even Trying,’ ‘The Chinese Five Star Hotel Memoirs,’ ‘Beach Teacher.’

The line slowly moves. I keep looking up at the clock on the wall in front of me. 1:10 becomes 1:15; 1:15 becomes 1:20. I am the next person in line. Two men walk up in front like they are going to cut. I start to seethe. They turn around and leave when they see the line.

A spot opens up at the ATM. Expedience, I decide, is the name of the game at the ATM. Watch me work! Unfortunately, each time I put in my card into the machine, the machine goes from English to Chinese. Obviously, I am not doing something right. With a long line waiting, I feel as if I am pee shy at the urinal. Finally, I signal to a young woman who is the next person in line. She comes to my aid. And, fortunately, she knows a smidgeon of English. I point to the Chinese characters on the screen. She tells me what to push and when to punch in my number. She turns away while I punch in my pin number. I tell her I want to get the money out of a checking account. She is not sure what I mean. After she thinks it over for a second she tells me which button to punch. My 100 kuai comes out of the machine. She then tells me where to exit. I thank her and head off to meet Logan.

I take my mobile out of my pocket and see that I have a message. Logan is waiting for me. I call him but he does not answer. Immediately, he calls me back. I tell him that I am heading that way. He describes to me where he is. I see him as he is talking. He tells me he sees me.

Logan is one of those dear innocents that make you happy to be alive. I tell him I know of a place I would like to go eat unless he has a place in mind. He does not have any place in mind. We walk back toward where I just came from. I ask him if he is hungry since I had told him I want to take him to lunch. He tells me he has already eaten. This is somewhat strange to me because I called him to tell him I would like to take him to lunch. The main reason I came in to Shanghai was to take him to lunch. (Later, when I tell Jennifer about this, I tell her maybe since he lives at home, his mother expects him to have lunch with her. Jennifer asks me what time we met for lunch. I tell her 1:30. She has a different theory. Her theory has to do with the regiment of the Chinese. At 12 pm, lunch time arrived. He was hungry. He ate. That was her rationale with which I may tend to agree.)

We find the place that I was excited to take him. We sit down. We then get up to order. Logan asks if I would like tea. I would. He asks the cashier if we could get a pot. For a pot of tea, we have to go upstairs where they sell the pots of tea. We head upstairs so we can have a pot of tea. I tell Logan I hope he will at least have a snack.

The upstairs restaurant is much nicer than the one on the first floor. There are linen tablecloths on the tables. We are sit at a two top. Although I am paying, I have Logan order. When I ate here before, I tell him, I had beef and green vegetables with noodles. When the waitress comes over, he orders the dish I want and asks what sort of tea I would like. I tell him I do not care. He orders us a black tea that he likes. He asks if I would like to try dumplings with soup in them. This type of dumpling I had in Wuxi and really liked it. I tell him that would be great. He finishes ordeing. The waitress leaves.

While we are waiting for the food to arrive, I start to tell Logan the options I have set before me. I tell him Edgar (who he knows very well) has promised I would be in charge of a school. Logan says Edgar has a tendency to promise what he cannot deliver. I know this because I have heard this about Edgar. I tell Logan I am glad he will tell me truthfully with no fear that this will get back.

I then tell him about teaching at university in Hainan. He says that sounds like it could be nice but is not that excited about it. The food arrives. The dumplings with the soup and sausage filling are still steaming when they are set on the table. Immediately, I dig into the noodles. Logan waits for the dumplings to cool a bit before he nabs one. After he nabs one, I nab one. They are delicious.

I then tell him I answered an advertisement looking for entertainment at a 5 star hotel in Ningbo. As the devil’s advocate of sorts, he tells me I could get a gig at quite a few different places in Shanghai. I tell him I have not really tried that. However, with this opportunity, I would live in the hotel and be fed by the hotel. He says this sounds very nice. I tell him I actually had a career as a singer in the United States.
“You want to be a singer?” he asks.
I do not say anything because he is giving me advice and English is not his native tongue. I am a singer whether that is how I currently make my living. I am a singer. It would be like him saying. So you want to be Caucasian? Nevertheless, I do appreciate that he is meeting with me.

We get the check. He tells me it is probably about 40 yuan. I go to the counter to pay it. The cashier rings up 22 yuan ($2.75). I am pleased.

As we are leaving, he asks me if there is anything else I might want to do. I tell him that I would like to shop for digital cameras at some point. It does not have to be today though. He says he knows of a place. We walk down some side streets. Cheap Chinese merchandise and food stalls line the streets. Cheap socks, belts and jewelry – supposedly handmade from Tibet - seem to be on sale everywhere.

Soon, we happen onto an outdoor mall mainly pushing mobile phones and clothes. We walk into a huge electronics store. Here the electronics are split by brand. At one counter is Nikon. At another counter is Canon. Sony is nowhere to be found. A Nikon is on sale for less than 2000 kuai. I like it but I do not love it.

Logan suggests we take the metro to another place which is a better place for buying electronics such as digital cameras. From there we can take a bus back to the Stadium where I will take a bus back to Songjiang.

We buy our tickets which are less than 50 cents each and we get on the train. We take the train three or four stops to the electronics Mecca. The metro station actually exits into the electronics superstore that we are going to look for the perfect digital camera. As soon as we walk in, I spot a sleek Sony. The saleslady is extremely helpful. She sets it up so I can take a picture. I snap one of Logan. He wears a completely under whelmed expression which makes me want to take more pictures of him. He reminds me of those William Wegman photos of his dogs Man Ray, Fay Ray and her offspring.

I ask for the saleslady for her card. She works everyday but Monday she tells me. We walk around to the other counters. At each counter I take another photo of Logan. He is not amused. I tell him I may come back when I get paid and buy a camera.

We leave the store. We hop on the 42 bus and go back to the stadium – two stops. At the stadium, Logan points me in the right direction of the bus to Songjiang. I give the woman at the ticket booth 6 kuai and she gives me my seat assignment – seat 23.

On the bus, I half-heartedly read China Today. I think about my future. The excitement of the future makes me feel as if someone has sprinkled me with fairy dust. I put China Today away and I thumb through Beijing Review. Neither magazine holds my interest. I go back to daydreaming. When I get back to Songjiang, I plan to take a taxi back to my apartment from the bus station which is a nice walk along the canal or a short taxi ride.

We pull into the bus station. The gypsy bikers call to you if you look as if you are going to grab a cab. I decide to walk down the block through the small park to get a cab. I know I can get a cab at the light. At the light, I decide to walk on back to my apartment. Not that I have to pinch pennies but it is a nice night and now that the fare has been raised to 9 yuan, I have to weigh the options of taking or not taking a taxi. I hate spending that extra twelve and a half cents.

On the way back to my apartment, a group of teenagers - hanging out on the canal foot bridge - call hello to me as I pass. I call hello back to them.

At my apartment, the hotel in Ningbo has sent an email with the money they are offering me. The money is more than double what I currently make. The powers that be seem to think I am a star.

I call Jennifer to tell her Logan told me that what the company pays her is at the max of what the company pays. If they give her what she is asking for that is more than they usually pay. She tells she should be thinking of her career. If she signs a year contract, she could run a school like I would be doing. She has plans to travel for three months in January with her sister. Other people our age are running departments and putting away for retirement. ‘Fuck ‘em’ she says. I tell her ‘Yeah, I should be thinking about my career but I just want to rock and write at a five star hotel.’

Swimming Pools, Movie Stars – Ningbo, China.


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