I wake. I forget I am in China. For a few seconds, I think that I am still in college, maybe I have to work at the record store today. I think I feel okay so I must not be hung over. (Note: In college, I was not the drinker I would become later.) Maybe I have my poli-sci class today. I hear the construction. After I realize I am no longer living in Owl House on University Place, I realize I am in China.
No news has arrived from the hotel in Ningbo. Last night, I had a long talk with Brain Transplant and he told me I should call them and then go there and sign the contract and be done with it. He got me pumped about this possibility, this turn of events. Jump off the bridge and see what is in the water. Even if you cannot swim? You learn. This will open another set of doors.
Sometimes, this is almost like being in a dream. In dreams, you decide to go through a door and you do and there is a mountain or an ocean on the other side of the door. Here you decide to go through the door and you do, there is a hotel or a new school on the other side of the door.
I paced around my apartment and thought about it. I lay on my couch and thought about it. I still love my couch. It is the perfect couch to mull over life decisions. In the evening, when the shadows from the construction are cast into my living room, the couch glows with newness. What do I do with the couch if I get the gig at the hotel? I am ready to live in a 5 star hotel.
The difference between China and the USA, everything is much more fluid here. If I decide to rock at the hotel for a few months, the teaching jobs will not go away. Brain Transplant told me that teaching jobs will probably not go away for 20 years. This is a different sort of the world than the one that is sold to us in the USA, not that it is better or worse, it is just different. As an English speaker, I am lucky to have this world offered to me. The language I speak offers me these advantages.
Today is one of those hot sticky days. Yesterday when I was talking to the male chaperone escorting the American students, we talked about the heat. He said he heard it was unbearable here in Shanghai. I told him in Oklahoma the temperature gets up to 113 degrees which is pretty unbearable. He told me that Oklahoma is a dry heat. I told him Oklahoma is not that dry of a heat.
I walk to downtown Songjiang. I am going to buy more DVDs. I walk past the illegal gardeners who sit on the bridge over the canal with signs which I assume describe the services they provide. Sometimes, six or seven gardeners are hanging out. Today, only two women were waiting for customers, the garden sluts.
Isaac and his roommate come by a little before 4 pm. I help Isaac put together his power point presentation on David Bowie. Onto his MP3 / thumb-drive, we download the song ‘Space Oddity’ and the mini-power point presentation which includes two photos -
Ziggy era, Thin White Duke era – and the lyrics to ‘Space Oddity.’ He knows nothing about Bowie. I do not know what he will tell the class, what sort of mythology about Bowie will start in this Chinese high school. Maybe, I should have given him ‘China
Girl’ for his presentation. I do not want to pander to the crowd.
After we finished helping Isaac with his homework, we play cards. I show them how to play ’21.’ They show me how to play two games. The first game, I did not understand. This game made as much sense as Chinese arithmetic. 2s are the high card. After we play it once and they assume I have learned it and all of its intricacies, we play ‘witch.’ They describe ‘witch’ to me. I have played it before with the Shanghai 90210. In this card game, one of the jokers is the witch. All of the cards are dealt. All of the pairs are thrown out of each person’s hand. From there, you blindly pick cards out of each other’s hands looking for pairs. Each time a pair is nabbed, it is thrown down into the discard pile. The first person to run out of cards wins. The person left with the joker is the witch. This person loses.
We play several hands. Isaac never seems to win. When he has the witch, he makes me laugh. He says ‘Which one is the one you like.’ However, before he says this he thinks that I cannot see him put his cards to the side and shuffle them around. I can always clearly see where he is hiding the witch within his hand. His roommate’s English is better but they are both often difficult to understand. Nevertheless, I applaud them both because I am sure that it is a struggle for them to understand me since I sometimes forget and babble about things I know they must not understand.
They ask me when I might go to Ningbo. I tell them I hope to go this summer. Isaac’s roommate is so happy. He excitedly tries to get out the words to tell me I could visit him since that is where he is from. They ask me if I cook rice in my apartment. I tell them I had a rice cooker in the United States. This is mysterious to them. They do not think that people eat rice in the USA. I tell them we do. We do not eat as much rice as the Chinese but we do eat rice. They ask me if I like noodles. I tell them I really like noodles. They ask me if I would like to go eat supper. I tell them yes. We play one more card game.
They take off the slippers I gave them and put on their shoes. They say sorry they have to go study. They do not have time to eat. They are very dedicated students. I tell them that this is fine, we can go eat another time. I tell them they can come by whenever they want. They stare at me blankly. I try to think of a way to reword it. Isaac then says “When we have time, we can come by and play.” I tell him yes. They smile and leave.
I watch a movie. I fall asleep. Someone knocks at my door. Jennifer is at the door. She is on her way to Suzhou. She brings the movies back to me that I wanted yesterday, no big deal.
Jennifer sees a note on the floor by the door left by Bird Flu. 28if Paul is trying to find me. My cell will not accept calls. I have run out of minutes. I ask Jennifer how you put more minutes on the cell. She says the lady who sells the international phone cards in the lean-to newsstand across the street can put more minutes on our phone for 100 kuai. She has to put more minutes on her phone so I go with her.
She tells me she slept all day as we are walking over to have our minutes added. The visiting Americans were given painting lessons and dumpling making lessons today. I tell her Miko told me about the dumpling making session when I talked to her last night but I was still freaked out because I thought she had been abducted, the American in me.
The newsstand and phone card shack is China at its most Chinese. The woman who runs the stand is like a Jerry Lewis character with all of the pratfalls and vocal props to match. When we walk up she grabs her gut and then says a stream of Chinese as she pantomiming an hour glass figure. She points to me. As usual, I am confused. Jennifer tells me that the phone card lady says I look thinner. I ask Jennifer if the lady thought I was fat before. The phone card lady then, according to Jennifer, says that most Americans are fat. I know this probably seems like Chinese gloating but this is just a statement she is making nothing more. This whole shtick involves her slapping my arm, rather hard I might add, and shoulder while she is making her point. I look at Jennifer to act as my interpreter.
The phone card lady then asks Jennifer if I am married. She then asks Jennifer how old I am. Jennifer tells her I am not married which immediately raises a red flag. Jennifer tells her I am divorced. This seems to appease her. She asks me something else. Jennifer tells me the phone card lady wants to know how many children I have. I hold up four fingers. This sends her into spasms. Jennifer looks at me and just nods her head.
We then each give the phone card lady 100 kuai. The phone card lady is still talking to herself about my four kids I assume. She then pulls out two cards, takes them out of the plastic, dials a number on our phones which add the minutes to the phones. She gives us the cards which act as receipts of sorts.
I come back and dial the hotel. I ask for Allen Lu. The operator asks me to repeat. I say “Allen Lu – L-U.” She tells me he is not there. At first, I get the impression he is on vacation. She then tells me to call back tomorrow. I ask her what time. She does not understand. I ask “When?”
“8 to 5,” she says. I thank her and hang up the phone.