Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Maybe she is my future cleaning lady…

CJ is supposed to call. He went to Suzhou for work; he is tired I know. I try not to worry. The worst case scenario – I do not move tomorrow. That would be a drag but it would not matter that much in the scheme of things. If I do not move tomorrow, it is not the end of the world.

At 8:30 am, on Sunday morning, my phone rings; CJ is on the other end. He explains the logistics of the move. Since it is Sunday morning at 8:30 am, I am somewhat incoherent. My brain tries to process what he is saying. The situation seems to be: the truck to move the sofa is coming at 2 pm; CJ is arriving at 11 am to help me, the cost is 300 yuan ($38) instead of 200 yuan. I tell him the cost is fine and he need not come that early. It will not take that long to finish packing. I do not know if he understands me. I do not think he does. I am in a fog. I just agree because it is too early to try to get him to explain the situation in detail which could take well over an hour.

This is good news though. This means I can sleep a wee bit longer before I have to get up and begin throwing the rest of the debris left in the room into trash bags. Always, I think that I will be ambitious and go through everything and pitch or not pitch to the last item I have. I have known since the end of June that I was going to move. If I was smart, I would have started going through stuff then. Instead, what I always seem to do is decide to just throw everything in bags and sort the stuff at wherever the destination is.

The knowledge that I do not have to get up soon lulls me back to sleep. Of course, then the phone rings again. CJ is on the other end again. As is often the case here in the People’s Republic, plans have changed. Instead of 2 pm, the truck is now coming at 10 am. CJ tells me he is on the way.

Oh crap! I think. Last night, I had decided I would buy muffins and canned lattes for CJ and me for breakfast. This is after I dug into the treats from Christine Bakery that I had planned for us and doled them out to the guards. I rush across the street to Every Day and buy two canned lattes and two packages of muffins. Now I must finish at breakneck speed.

Back at the apartment, I strip my bed and throw the six pillows – yes I have somehow accumulated 6 pillows –sheets and comforter into the big black plastic trash bags from Bai Ren Fa. Then, I unhook my laptop and put it into its case. Lamps, towels, shoes, notebooks, textbooks and other assorted crap; I put into another trash bag. CJ sends me a message that he is on the way. I reply ‘Okay.’ I think of the Shoes song ‘Okay’ from the album they made in their living room in the mid 1970s - Black Vinyl Shoes.
There are a few albums that I would love to have with me here, that seem important to have with me here. Black Vinyl Shoes by Shoes is one of those albums, the neglected hits such as ‘Fatal’ with its marching band handclaps and ‘Boys Don’t Lie’ often play in my head now over 25 years later.

Moontan by Golden Earring – naturally with the banned cover – is another album that I think of often during my days in the People’s Republic. ‘Candy’s Going Bad’ seems so 1970s and trashy but then so currently Chinese as I walk by massage parlors next to milk tea stands. Of course, there are the obvious albums by Big Star, Nick Drake, Patti Smith, the Rolling Stones; but Black Vinyl Shoes (the Shoes living room creation before such offerings existed) and Moontan (Golden Earring’s prog-rock magnum opus to decadence)frequent my brain. ‘Candy took the pearls, got ahead of the girls, got on top and found the secret entrance.’

As I am deciding whether or not to take the orange velour cover off of the sofa (which may or may not be hard to remove and put back on), my phone rings. CJ is at the gate with the truck. This is very exciting in that I am not sure exactly what to expect. Expect the unexpected is always the best policy. As long as the truck can haul my crap safely to the new place, I am not complaining. Of course, my swinging ultra-mod sofa and my red veneered-top, chrome legged coffee table are my biggest concerns. As long as the sofa is not hanging out the back of the truck dragging the ground, and as long as we are using a truck and not some tricked-out 3 wheeler, I am fine.

Quickly, I run out to the gate. Once I am out at the gate, I do not see CJ. My assumption was that he would be waiting right at the gate. On the phone, he told me he was here. I do not think I misunderstood him. Past, present and future tenses in English confuse him. Maybe he has not made it here yet. Maybe he will be here in 20 minutes, an hour, two hours. With him, I never know because of the communication barrier.

Down the road I see him walking toward a truck. The truck is absolutely not what I expected. This is not what I expected at all. Expect the unexpected.

The truck is a big flat bed truck with rails on each side. This is what I would expect someone to use if they were going to haul a road grader, a bulldozer, a 4x4, or a Ditch Witch, not what I would expect to move a few textbooks, some oversized luggage, a mod table and couch and some black plastic bags. This is the sort of truck that would have shovels, traffic cones, and portable cement mixers in tow.

Not only is there this truck that looks as if it has been lifted from a road construction site but there is the whole road crew included – five men plus the driver plus CJ. Somewhere here there is an existentialist joke but I am not sure what it might be. To say I am a bit embarrassed by the expanse of this operation is an understatement.

CJ runs up to me. He was across the street. What he was doing across the street, I do not know. The truck is parked up near the Muslim noodle shop that I frequent. The truck follows CJ like an oversized lapdog. I tell CJ to tell the crew to pull on into the school. We walk into the gates. I am leading; CJ is behind me. The truck with the crew is behind us both. The guards look at me. I tell CJ to tell them what we’re doing. I nod my head yes. The gruff bear guard motions us on in and says something as he does it.

CJ has never been to my place before. It is a wreck; I am in the process of moving. The whole horde of movers descends upon the place. The guys in the crew are on the shorter side like little Chinese munchkins.

The sofa is moved out first. Two guys pick up the sofa gingerly. I ask if I should remove the cloth cover. No one is listening to me. They do not speak English. Duh! The guys shimmy it through my front door. I am a ball of nerves because I am afraid they will rip the fabric or brush it against something dirty. I hold my breath. They seem to maneuver the sofa fine.

Once the sofa is out of the picture, everything else goes in a flash. I am still throwing extension cords, bathroom necessities, and my wok into whatever I can find. The wok I throw into my kitchen trash can after I have put a liner inside. As this is happening, the men are all looking for things to carry out.

CJ follows me to the kitchen. I tell him that I bought muffins for us. He has already eaten. I hand him the muffins. He hands them to the crew. I leave the lattes in the fridge; I will drink them later when I come back to trash the trash.

Everything is happening as if I just shot a speedball. Bags are not zipped. I zip them and hand them to the men. It is like they are all on fast forward. They heft the trash bags and luggage down to the truck. I look down at the truck from the foyer. Most of the items are loaded.

The cleaning lady looks in. She says something. CJ answers. I nod my head yes. She smiles. When I go back to clean, I will give her things from my refrigerator. Maybe she is curious; maybe she is looking for discards.

Each time I turn around another man is by my side looking for something to carry. I point to more black plastic trash bags. I hand them some fold up chairs and the bistro table. I hand them the painting that I have been working on for months now, the painting which now seems to have it roots in the school of Rothko.

I survey the room. The room looks like the aftermath of a VFW indie-rock show. I follow the crew to the truck. The guys all hop on the bed of the truck. A couple of guys sit on the sofa. One guy sets up one of the folding chairs on the corner of the truck which seems a bit precarious to me. CJ scoots in the middle of the truck. I sit by the window.

As we are leaving the school, pulling through the gates, the driver says something. CJ tells me that he said he would drive slowly so that none of my stuff falls off the truck. I tell CJ that is good. I call Michael Wang to tell him we are leaving the school. The landlord wanted to meet me at the apartment when I moved in which does not thrill me.

Instead of taking the toll road, the driver drives the city streets and old highways to my new place. Occasionally, I look back to see how the crew is doing. They seem to be doing fine. Once when I look back, the crew person sitting in the folding chair bounces up off the chair after the truck hits a bump. Once he touches down, he then seems to fidget with the chair. CJ and the driver talk the whole time which is fine with me. I am fine with daydreaming.

At one point during the drive, CJ tells me that he called quite a few moving companies and this was the only one who would do it. Most of the companies told him that the move was too far. The petrol would eat up any of the profits. This is the only company that would do it. That is why it was 300 yuan.

At one point, CJ points out the window and tells me that he and I have been here. “Old town?” I ask. “Yes,” he is proud that I remember. Soon thereafter we drive along a long walled garden. “Guilin Garden?” I ask. “Yes,” he is happy that I recognize it.

We are now close to my apartment because I live off of Guilin Road near Guilin Garden. The area is actually starting to look familiar. We pass pirated DVD stands, mobile phone stalls, a grocery store, the Shanghai Teachers’ College. We turn on to my street which winds around to my apartment complex.

Although I know where we are going, the driver stops at the gate to get directions. Approximately halfway into the apartment complex, we turn left (by the trashroom) and the driver almost stops. I tell CJ that I live all the way at the end. I point to the only car that is parked anywhere in front of us and I say by the car. CJ does not understand me. I motion with my hands for the driver to keep driving. He does.

The car that I pointed out is right by the back gate where we need to park the truck to unload. I ask CJ if he could ask the people sitting in lawn chairs if the car belongs to any of them. He asks. They tell him the owner is not here, he left for the day. We are not able to park right by my back gate but we are able to park a short driveway’s length away from it.

The gate to my patio is open. I see someone who I think is the landlord and I say hello. He is not the landlord. He must be someone my landlord hired; he is doing handiwork. The landlord soon pulls up on his scooter. The landlord is a jolly guy with a bit of a belly. He is probably in his late 50s. To my surprise, not only is the landlord and a random guy here but so is the landlord’s wife and another woman. The other woman may be a friend of the landlord’s wife or maybe she is my future cleaning lady.

The landlord’s wife is showing this woman around the apartment. The crew unloads the truck. Constantly, I try to move the stuff out of the way where the couch will go. Each time I do, CJ sets another trash bag or piece of luggage there. Finally, I just let the bags fall where they may. Of course, when the sofa does come through the door that is when it dawns on him why I kept moving the bags that he was sitting where the couch would go. Unloading the truck probably takes all of ten minutes. Actually, I do no unloading. I am in the apartment rearranging trash bags and luggage.

Now it is time to pay. The cost is actually 360 yuan which is really no big deal to me. I give the driver/boss 300 and then I realize I do not have change. I peel out another 100 and decide to just let him keep the change. It was definitely worth 50 dollars to have someone haul the stuff for me. He and the crew take off.

Now, my new apartment has gone from bare and inviting to having trash bags and luggage strewn about. The landlord, his wife, her friend, and the random guy (Wasn’t that a Peter Greenaway film?) stand around surveying my junk. I realize my bistro table and chairs are dusty. The sofa is fine. The trash bags lend a punk aesthetic to the room. I wonder what they are doing. Are they here to help me unpack? This is awkward.

Since CJ is the only one who knows English, I ask him if he is hungry. He tells me he is. I tell him I am too. Let’s go eat. I will unpack when we get back. I tell him to tell the stars of The Landlord, His wife, Her friend and The Random Guy that we are going to go eat. He tells me that the landlord says they may be gone when I return so they will lock up when they leave. I tell CJ to tell him I have my keys.

CJ and I leave. We decide to eat at the place where we have eaten twice during past apartment hunting fiascos. While we are walking there, I tell CJ I want what he ordered me the first time there. He does not understand. I tell him the dumplings with peanut sauce. He does not understand. I tell him I do not want what I had the last time which is the dumplings in the soup. He does not understand. I tell him I want what I had the first time. He does not understand.

By this time, we are at the restaurant. I go sit down. He orders. Finally, he asks if I want the cold dumplings. Today is a scorcher. I tell him ‘Yes! Yes!’ He tells me he is happy that he finally understood me. I tell him I am too. When you are really hungry, this is very frustrating but he is so nice and so good to me. Again, I tried to buy lunch and he would not let me. He will not hear of it. And I am the one that he helped move. I should be at least buying the lunch.

While we are eating, CJ asks me if I pay workers that come to my home. What he is getting at, I have no idea. I ask him to explain. I tell him it depends. He tells me that the men who work for the moving company, not the boss but the crew are not paid very much. He told me they make about 800 yuan a month ($100). The workers should get like 20 yuan. I still am not sure exactly what is happening. Did I not pay enough? I paid 40 yaun extra. He tells me I paid enough. What he is trying to tell me is I should have got change to pay the workers something. In fact, the extra 40 yuan, I should have given to the workers. Won’t the driver give it to them? I ask but as soon as I ask I know that he won’t. That is what happens. Now I feel terrible. I feel as if I took advantage of the Chinese migrant worker population. Is there a fund I can contribute to?


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