Tuesday, July 25, 2006

They’re making up things that we’ve all heard before like romance and engage and divorce…

The boiled water is brown; I do not trust it. People tell you to boil the water and it will be okay. I do not trust it. Boiling the water does not remove the sediment and filth. I use the water from the water cooler in my apartment. Even when I am boiling potatoes, I use the water from the cooler. I do not trust this nasty water that comes out of the faucet. I do not trust it at all.

I had hoped there was enough water in the water cooler reserve this morning to make coffee. When I put my cup under it – the cup that I put into the microwave to microwave water to pour into the coffee press; only a quarter cup of water came out. This meant I would have to put on my jeans and walk to the administration building to get another jug of water. This is no big deal. This is just one more added step to the morning ritual.

The empty jug I take with me so that I do not have to explain what I need. The man in the cage at the entrance of the building understands. He takes my empty jug and goes into the water jug room and gets another jug. He is a slight man, smaller than me. I have offered to carry it myself before but he always waves me away. He waves away any sort of fruit or baked goods that I offer him back at the apartment; so I do not offer fruit, baked goods or assistance anymore. I lead the way to my apartment. Although, by now, I am sure he knows I am the foreigner in 202.

I hear from a friend that another friend may be getting a divorce. Psychedelic Fur’s ‘She is Mine’ goes through my head. “They’re making up things that we’ve all heard before like romance and engage and divorce… I called her fab and Mrs. Fish…”

Lunch has become a bit of a stalemate, if you can call it that. I know I have to eat but I do not know what I want. I know what I don’t want which seem to be my only choices. It seems like my choices are rice, noodles or dumplings. That seems to be my choices. My other choices are junk, junk from McDonalds, junk from KFC, junk from Pizza Hut.

Of course, everyone loves the food of their own country. American food, I am really starting to miss you. I never knew how much until I came here. Food is really the only true difficulty.

Sure, the language barrier is frustrating. The last time I had a conversation with a native English speaker, I cannot remember. Yes, I get really frustrated when I am apartment shopping. A point that I thought I had made clear - as clear as anything could possibly be made – is forgotten or tromped on or treated as if what I am asking is something that I did not spend 45 minutes talking about previously.

Sunday, I went on another quest for apartments. The whole day’s journey is not worth trekking back over. It was more or less a rerun of the previous Sunday with the addition of new agents. I was under the assumption that we would be talking to the really cool agent that I liked from previously. No, we did not go shopping with her. Yes, hunting for an apartment moves slower than a soap opera.

We stopped by the agent who had shown me the slumlord palace the previous time. This time, she had something nicer and by the school. This place was much nicer than the dump she took me to last week. Off of the entry was a nice little square kitchen with a stovetop that actually had three burners. Here, most stovetops have two. They are very similar to Coleman camping stoves. At night, you are supposed to turn the gas valve off to the tank which I always forget to do on the one in my apartment.

Down the hall past the kitchen was a little baby blue bathroom with a nice little tub. The kitchen and the tub were definitely selling points. At the end of the hall was a door which went into the living room. The living room was long and dark. The bedroom was on one end and the covered ghetto patio which let in a minimal amount of light was on the other end. This place had potential but I do not want to be confined to a dark apartment. I realize I need my sunshine.

At the next place, a two bedroom that had most of what I wanted, I went into the bathroom and there was a shower. I explained to my friend who has been apartment shopping with me the whole time that I want a tub. I thought I made it clear the last time. A bath tub is an essential need. He told me it had a bathroom. I say tub over and over and over. At this point, I am saying it more to hear myself say it than anything. This is the truly frustrating part because there is no way to explain. Once you thought you have already explained and explained, you have to explain again. This gets to be like Freddie, you think he’s been killed but he keeps rising up with those claw hands of his. Finally, I drag him back into the bathroom and I sit down in the shower. He understands but I am still frustrated.

He talks this over with the landlady. I go into the master bedroom and look around. The apartment that we are in has all of this slightly older art deco inspired furniture. A few years ago, I would have totally loved the place. My deco days are gone. They left long before my patience. I am learning patience. I really am.

When I walk back into the living room where the discussion took place, my friend tells me that they put the shower in for the last tenant. They could put a tub back in but it would cost me. I tell my friend it is a pity. Everyone here seems to know the meaning of the word ‘pity.’ I am not paying to have a tub put into the apartment. I will keep looking

He then tells me I could buy a tub like the Japanese in which I stand. I tell him tubs are for lounging not for standing. That is the whole reason I want one. I tell him I want to keep looking.

Later, we look at a three bedroom (3,000 yuan a month, my maximum amount allotted – 2,000 from the company, another 1,000 from me) in a high rise with an elevator. The place is really nice. There are two bathrooms both with tubs. The drawbacks are major. The first drawback is the excessive amount of oversized furniture in the living room – two oversized arm chairs, an oversized sofa, and an incredibly bulky six person Guido dinette set, and an enormous television cabinet. The stuff was nice if you are into Soprano Chic. The other drawback was the 1980s soap-opera-hospital, puke pink wallpaper. For 3,000 yuan a month, I want a much more chic sort of high rise apartment.

When I told my friend, this place was not for me, for once, he understood. We even laughed about it. After seeing that place, I thought back to the place I saw with 2 floors that he thought would be too noisy. I really liked that place. I told him I really liked the place with two floors.

He told me that it is difficult to find a place with two floors. I understand that. I wanted that place. He did not understand. I kept trying to explain. I could not explain. I even used the Chinese word for that. He still did not know what I was trying to tell him. At one point, he thought I was asking him to move in with me. I became so frustrated and I lost my cool again. He told me he was sorry he did not know enough English to understand.

Again. Again. Again, I felt awful. He is the nicest guy. For some reason, I seem to think he is my whipping boy. He does not get angry with me. I feel so horrible afterward and I apologize like a maniac.

Another element that did not help the situation was the rain. Off and on, it rained all day. I was dressed for hot weather. On the bus, the air conditioning worked very well, usually it does not work so well. I was chilled on the bus. As we rode, I tried to remember how hot I was the other day riding the bus.

When we got off the bus, I never seemed to warm up because the rain had cooled off Shanghai. It’s odd to think that in July, I might need a jacket here. My friend had an umbrella that he held for us both, making me wonder if passersby thought I was the rich foreigner who hired him to hold my umbrella. He may have been hired to walk me in the rain.

All of that stuff, all of that apartment hunting stuff, I can handle. I can deal. Yes, I lose my cool but I can deal. I apologize and try not to let the steam whistle blow that seems to control my brain. Of course, if does blow again, I apologize like a madman after and it is fine…again.

It’s the food. Everyday, I have to decide what I am eating today. You might say have a salad. Well yes, sure, I will have a salad. Of course, the only vegetable I can find that I am familiar with is tomatoes, and of course, it is actually a fruit. Oh and I have to have it without salad dressing because salad dressing is impossible to find. I could put soy and vinegar on top. I would love to have shredded cheese on top. Oh yeah, there is no shredded cheese here or really any cheese period. At Bai Ren Fa there is one kind of cheddar cheese and that is the only place that you can get it and it is expensive. Maybe I will not have a salad.

So, I go out searching for food. I seem to remember a restaurant with pictures on the menu. I noticed it during a night walk, a restaurant that I have not been to as of yet. Most of the places are mom and pop places. As in America, the true mom and pop places have Xeroxed menus with no pictures. In China, it is much the same. The menu is all in Chinese Characters. There is no Roman alphabet anywhere which does make it difficult.

Thus, what happens, I start out with no particular destination in mind. I walk and walk and get hungrier and hungrier until I just land somewhere. Today, I planned it out. I remember a place I passed or I think I remember a place I passed. This place is by the CD store where I got the Doors’ ‘Strange Days’ for what was equal to $1.25 - if you ever pay more than that for the Doors, you are seriously getting ripped off.

Yes, I spot it, a newer place, like Del Rancho without the drive-in part. The first time I met Budweiser, (the boy not the beer); Beez needed a ride back to Moore from his brother’s place in Norman. This would have been in 1989, I think. He called Bud who lived at home. Beez lived at home or was home from the JuCo that he was attending at the time. Maybe Bud was home from JuCo too. He asked if Budweiser was there when Bud’s dad answered. His dad hung up. Beez looked at me and said, ‘Maybe his dad doesn’t know we call him Budweiser.’ He called back and asked for Bud by his given name which I actually do not know. Bud came and got us. We went to Del Rancho. This place almost made me think of that time.

Here at the Chinese Del Rancho, I order the beef with peppers over rice. A soup comes with it. The soup comes, it tastes like heated mop water. It’s okay. The beef with pepper was good. It was 10 yuan -$1.25. The man at the next table sneezed a Dumbo sized sneeze when my food came. I tried to ignore it.


Under the moonless sky, the Mao Generation leaves the pagoda like zombies. My eyes meet the eyes of a man - bearded, younger, and perhaps tortured. He knows me. He sees deep inside of me. He starts browsing through the record collection in my soul. The Glen Campbell albums interest him. At some karaoke party he heard a man sing ‘Rhinestone Cowboy.’ He assumes I am from Wichita. It’s July and winter is already approaching.


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