In the late evening, young Chinese fathers wearing pajamas pick up their toddlers and balance their offspring on their shoulders while the elders in the neighborhood coo for the child. In the early afternoon, Chinese men wearing pajamas leisurely walk Guilin Road smoking cigarettes as the busses roll by with squealing brakes. These squealing brakes always remind me of the opening of the Birthday Party’s ‘Friend Catcher’.
I sleep later and later because I stay up later and later. Last night, I stayed up until 3 am watching Hitchcock’s Spellbound (Criterion Collection) which was the usual price of 60 cents at one of the DVD stalls near my new apartment. At my new place, I have a plethora of places around to buy these cheap DVDs; this is a bit overwhelming. It’s strange how it is hard for me to justify buying a cheap watermelon from one of the many watermelon trucks in the neighborhood when for a few pennies more I can buy a DVD.
Yesterday when I was taking my late afternoon walk, after I had bought Spellbound, at other stalls during my heatstroke inducing walk, I spotted Trainspotting, Blow, The Devil Wears Prada, Deer Hunter, Nighthawks, Clockwork Orange. When I was young, Clockwork Orange - which is hard for me to stomach these days (the brutal scenes with the women are particularly difficult for me) - was among my favorites but now that the world is so violent - and I have certainly had my fill of the violence; at this point, I would rather watch Rebel Without a Cause, Almost Famous, Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
ere, in China, the movie selection is really great. However, my apartment television is a piece of crap, a ten year old Hitachi. The color goes all over the place. The volume distorts making it about as listenable as Metal Machine Music or any latter day Oasis album - okay, actually any Oasis album. Last night, I struggled through watching Spellbound; dealing with rampant color and contrast changes and warbling, wavering volume.
The landlord is supposed to have a repairman come fix it. The landlord was supposed to do this soon after I moved in. When I signed the lease, I noticed that the color was bad on the set; I said something to Michael who in turn said something to the landlord. My hopes are set for a new television because it would probably be about as cheap as a repairman but this is China so to some extent I think of America from the 50s and 60s, the time when television repairmen still made house-calls.
Yesterday in the late afternoon, I sent Michael an email telling him I really do need the television working. This next semester, part of the visual arts and aural arts part of the course will be film studies. Since I have some time before the term starts, I would like to be able to view possible films for the coming semester. What I absolutely do not want is to be under the gun once the term has started because I already know the coming year will be difficult – fun, but difficult.
Before 9 am, both of my phones (both of the phones are in the living room, my mobile I have on the charger) start ringing; the home phone first and then the mobile phone which has two different rings one for text messages, the other for incoming calls. Both of these rings ring. Something tells me it is Michael because no one else would be that diligent in their need to reach me. On my mobile, I have a missed call and a message from Michael. The landlord will be here within 30 minutes with a repairman. I am to call Michael back and let him know that it is okay. I call Michael and tell him that is fine. I apologize for sending him a panicked email. He tells me it is no problem. He tells me the landlord will call me. When he calls me, I am to let him in.
Here I should insert how my apartment is laid out. If I am in the living room which I am most of the time, chances are I will not here the front door because the living room is at the back of the apartment. Ditto with if the landlord knocks at the back huge metal gate because, the walled patio is in between the gate and the living room. Although, I can here people at times outside the window by my desk, with the air conditioner running it is nearly impossible to hear knocking at the back gate or the front door. The only way for me to know that anyone is at my door is for that person to call me.
Michael is well aware that the landlord knows no English and I know little Chinese. He tells me when the landlord calls I will know he is at my door. Still a little blurry, I clear the midnight snack debris from the living room, make my bed, and put the apartment in order picking the shirts, underwear, and jeans off of the floor.
Usually, I listen to music in the morning; my songs of choice lately have been ‘Whatever Gets You through the Night’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones).’ Embarrassingly, sometimes, I listen to ‘Pigs (Three Different Ones)’ twice.
Today, I do not play music so that I might hear the landlord walk up because he will probably be somewhat vocal. Michael did not tell me if he would come to the front door or the back-gate. Something tells me he is a backdoor man. Before the phone rings I hear talking outside my desk window, this may mean that the landlord is approaching the back-gate. To get to the back-gate, visitors have to walk the width of the apartment building which is the width of my bedroom and the length of my dining room and living room.
My phone rings. The landlord is on the line. He says my name. I tell him okay. Okay is now a word of universality. He understands me. I go to the back-gate and open it for him and the television repairman.
My landlord is a very friendly man. We shake hands. He and the repairman remove their shoes and enter my apartment. The repairman has a tool box. I have water boiling on the stove to make French pressed coffee. I remove the water from the burner. I feel rude if I drink coffee in front of the landlord and the repairman so I do not prepare the coffee.
When I come back into the living room, the repairman has the back of the television removed and he is busily survey the innards. The landlord goes around the apartment turning on all of the lights so that the repairman will have more light. None of the lights he turns on are direct lights so none of them do the repairman much good. I point to my desk lamp and the landlord shakes his head no. I unplug the desk lamp and plug it back in next to the television. He understands and smiles. He really is a very nice man.
He holds the light for the repairman. I go into the kitchen and dip some coffee grounds into the French press and pour hot water in. When I go back into the living room, the repairman has removed something that is similar to a computer motherboard. He has a soldering iron. He is soldering little spots on the motherboard as if he is decorating a cake. The landlord is smiling. From my desk, I watch, I daydream and I watch again.
I go back into the kitchen and grab a couple of cups. The cups and the coffee, I bring out to the living room. I point to the coffee and the cups to the landlord. He smiles and shakes his head no but I can tell he appreciated the thought. I motion to the repairman who is still busy soldering. The landlord says something to him in Chinese. The repairman smiles and shakes his head no. They both smile at me. Back in to the kitchen I go to make coffee for myself.
The back is put back on the television when I walk back into the room with my coffee. These two Chinese men are watching the television, flipping from channel to channel. This is surprising, not that they are watching the television but that the picture looks good; it is a clear picture. Stunned, I am actually, well not really stunned but impressed. Yes, I am impressed by the repairman’s abilities.
The repairman starts packing his tools into his kit. My landlord does the telephone pantomime which I take to mean he wants to talk to Michael. I call Michael on my mobile. He asks if he can call me right back on the landline. I say yes. To the landlord, I point to the landline. He starts to pick up the receiver. I shake my head no. He puts it down. He then starts to pick it up again. Once again, I shake my head no.
The phone rings; the landlord answers; the repairman starts walking toward the door. The landlord and Michael talk for a moment while the repairman waits for the landlord to get off the phone. The landlord hands the phone to me. The landlord says something to the repairman; the repairman opens the door and walks out to the patio, starts putting on his shoes to take his leave.
I tell Michael the repairman is leaving without fixing the volume (when playing DVDs) on the television. I hand the phone to the landlord. Michael relays this message to the landlord as the repairman is going out the gate. He runs to stop him. I get back on the phone and thank Michael for the help.
The repairman takes off his shoes again, comes back into the apartment and turns back on the television and messes with the volume. All of the buttons are in Chinese. It seems to have some sort of equalizer. He messes around with it for a few minutes.
I put in Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii because it has music and it is a VCD which means you do not have to go through the setup, the CD just starts playing. Of course, I have no clue what the repairman and landlord are thinking when the disc starts.
This is not exactly the sort of disc that I would use to brag about my really cool Western culture. In 1970 or whenever, a rocket taking off at the beginning of a movie to space guitar, I am certain was cutting edge but now some 36 years later, it is a bit embarrassing.
I am sure they think that I picked the most cutting edge film in my collection. Not to mention, a Chinese film involving a love affair between an older man and a young man (that someone had given me) is sitting on the DVD player. The repairman interested picks it up and looks at it. What he thought of this, I would really like to know.
After the repairman fiddles with the volume for awhile, he, once again, takes the back off the television. I go into the kitchen and refresh my coffee. When I come back out, the landlord hands me something that looks like a ghetto metallic Barbie comb with an askew tooth. This seems to be the volume culprit. This is very interesting. Is this a common part or an unusual part? Is this the sort of component that the repairman carries in his toolbox, or is this something they will have to go to the local television repair shop to purchase?
A few minutes later, the volume is working nicely. Live at Pompeii has never sounded better. Actually, it probably has. I am sure some stoner somewhere in Colorado or Birmingham (England or Alabama) is listening to the soundtrack on ¼ inch reel to reel, through Klipsch Heresies, powered by a McIntosh tube amp but, then again, I am probably jealous of that stoner.
The repairman assembles the television again. When the repairman was about to leave the first time, he handed the landlord an invoice. This time, he hands the landlord another invoice, at which time, the landlord pulls out a wad of cash as he is pointing out the amount of the receipt to me. The invoice reads either 16 or 160 ($2 or $20). Here, the price could be either. The landlord gives him 160 yuan. The repairman leaves.
The landlord does the call-Michael cha-cha. I call Michael. I hand the phone to the landlord. The landlord talks to Michael and hands the phone back to me. Michael tells me to call him Monday or before if the television is not working properly. The repairman will come back out and fix the problem. I tell Michael thank you. I hand the phone back to the landlord; he says a few more things to Michael. He hands the phone back to me. I start to talk but Michael has already hung up.
Last night, I dreamt I was walking down Guilin road. I was wearing pajamas smoking a joint. After the landlord leaves I think about sheep and last night’s dream. Today may be Marie Antoinette’s birthday. Or is it in November?