Thursday, October 25, 2007

On the day of the Explanation.

This morning, again, I woke with a start. The time was 6:50 am, as usual. For a moment, I panicked thinking I had overslept and class had begun 5 minutes before. Quickly, I showered and dressed. I was out of the flat by 7:10.

Later, in the morning, I knew I would come back to the flat to have my coffee since I had only one class in the morning, this morning.

A gray day awaited me. Summer's over. The scooter boys manned their posts at the scooter shop. What time do they get there in the morning? - I wondered this as I told them hello.

On to school, two students greeted me at the gate. This meant I was on time and maybe somewhat early. The gate greeting is a custom. Two students, a different pair each day, sentry style, greet the teachers as they come through the school gates. I smiled and said hello as I walked past.

I grabbed the students essays, class 3, and headed to class when Fur Elise ended. Class 3 are on the 2nd floor. On the steps, I wondered if I would make it to the 2nd floor before Davy Crockett played. I did. I was walking down the 2nd floor corridor as Davy Crockett started. I walked into class before it ended as did other teachers. We all shuffled into out respective classrooms like rats finding their cheese.

In class, we talked about the sea monster of course. I asked if anyone wanted to go on the expedition with me. Most of the students do not want to go. Half of the students do not believe the sea monster exists. They told me there is not enough 'evidence.' That is what one of the boys wrote on the blackboard. I told him 'concrete evidence' would be a better term. There is evidence. There is not concrete evidence.

Others do believe in the sea monster but then of course this faction tends to believe in E.T. as well. Oh well, I do have a few on my side. I try to give both sides the benefit of the doubt.

After class, I had a coffee in the school coffee bar, for a month or so, the coffee machine has been broken. This does not affect most of the teachers. Most of them drink tea or orange juice. Since the server at the bar does not speak English, I assumed that the coffee machine would stay broken. Fixing a broken coffee machine does not seem like it would be a top priority. However, Markus asked her about it on Monday when we went and had our coffee after we had eaten yet another mystery meal at the canteen.

From what he told me that she told him, the powers that be put the coffee machine in the repair shop and that the one that is there at the moment is the one they are using in the interim. Of course, now it is broken as well so there is no coffee to be had. Except, there is a clause (if we want to call it a clause) of sorts, there is coffee if you are one of the first people to get to the bar in the morning because this broken machine makes two cups before it rests for the rest of the day. I think it might be the coffee machine from the Island of Misfit Toys

On the day of the explanation, I ordered a Pepsi ice cream float instead which I have had before at the coffee bar and they are always a bit of a letdown because the Pepsi is room temperature when it is poured over the ice cream.

Naturally, I had it in my head that I would be the first one in the morning - the next morning, Tuesday - to have coffee. That is how i would get one of the two cups of coffee that the coffee machine deemed to make. This was starting to have a Willy Wonka weirdness to it.

So the next morning after my 7:45 class which is over at 8:25, I went straight to the coffee bar, thinking for some numb-skull reason, that there would be a long line to get into this coffee bar that is usually completely empty except at lunch when teachers come to smoke and play cards.

Yes, this is not America. The smoking is bizarre. I have seen teachers walking down the corridors smoking cigarettes before. I feel as if I have tele-ported back in time or to another dimension or planet at times.

At 8:25 or a few minutes later, when I arrived, the coffee bar was closed. 8:30 is when the coffee bar opens in the morning. I went to my office and read an essay or two and then I headed back down to the coffee bar. When I got there, it was open. I walked in and told the woman 'Coffee' which is the same in Chinese as it is in English. She pushed the button on the machine and it made a few grunts and decided to go back to sleep. On this day, it refused to make even two cups.

Maybe this is not a coffee machine from the Island of Misfit Toys; maybe this is actually a coffee machine from the Flintstones and there is a prehistoric narcoleptic squirrel in the machine innards who wakes but then falls back into a slumber every time his services are needed. Thus, no services are rendered.

At this point, the process becomes secretive and covert. With her eyes, the server swore me to secrecy. She looked to the door to see if anyone was coming. We were all alone. I started feeling nervous and slightly excited. What we were about to do was naughty and against the rules. I started to feel a bit faint. “Mrs Robinson...”

Now, the server pulled it out and used it. She put it into the private grinder that was not associated with the coffee maker's built-in grinder. Out of this private grinder, she pulled out the ground coffee and put it into something that looked much like a pregnant test-tube.

For some reason, I expected Mr. Cox, my 9th grade biology teacher to walk in and help us with this making coffee with a Bunsen Burner experiment. Mr. Cox was an ace with the fire extinguisher. Susan Compton, (the last name has been changed to protect the idiotic) who was a stoner without the reefer and seemed to be fond of her own newly developed breasts - 9th grade breasts, caught her desk, all the papers that were on her desk, and even her sandals - which were fortunately not on her feet – on fire.

Mr. Cox, who to our 9th grade minds seemed well past retirement age, looked up from helping some of the smarter more adept students in the front of the class, saw the fire that was rapidly spreading on and around Susan's desk, grabbed the fire extinguisher and sprinted back putting the fire out before it engulfed more than the papers and Susan's sandals.

At the time, I would have guessed Mr. Cox was 90 years old though he was probably only 55. I am sure his years of teaching rowdy, hormone-crazy junior high kids aged him prematurely. Although I had horrible marks in his class, I remember he was a kind man. Most of us in the class deserved to be beaten severely by him.

While the Chinese Empress of the XiangMing High School Coffee Bar was making my coffee in this crazy Oriental Bunsen Burner, I thought of Mr. Cox and I wondered if this is how he made his coffee in those mornings in the late 1960s and the dawn of the 1970s when the American youth seemed so much more promising and so much less dangerous.

And then, upon further reflection, I realized, at that time, the American youth were looked upon by cranky old men like me as much more dangerous and uncontrollable with their demonstrating and flag burning and hair growing and dope smoking and free loving. For the love of Pete, they listened to Cactus, Country Joe and the Fish and Canned Heat. That says nothing but danger. Mrs. Robinson...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Skeptics, let's just pretend.
At lunch, Jeffrey told me I have a poet's heart. We were in the canteen. Markus, the other foreign teacher was sitting with us.

On my way back from Hong Kong at the train station, I grabbed South China Morning Post. Little did I know at that time, that I was to read a story that might possibly change my life...(or it might not, but for the sake of all the collective poet hearts out there; let's say the article I would soon read might change my life. Skeptics, let's just pretend.) Some of you may argue and say that the article is attention-getting and sensational and worthy of Weekly World News, but I feel differently, something inside me clicked when I read it, the same sort of way that something clicked the first time I heard 'Kimberly' by Patti Smith or 'Heavy Hammer' by Silverhead. Something clicked. This time it was not rock and roll and it was not punk. It was something bigger, much bigger.

At lunch, I asked the question.

“I read an article about sea monsters in Mongolia. Do you know anything about this?” Of course, what I expected was a guffaw and something to the affect that I was a silly foreigner who had seen too many Hollywood movies and had drank too much alcohol and had done too many drugs and had stayed up for no good reason too many nights all night and had just generally ruined my health though I am still actually quite healthy. However, that was not the response from Jeffrey.
“Yes,” Jeffrey said, “many have sited sea creatures in the lakes up there in that area in Mongolia, very remote area.”
“Many people have sited them?” I questioned not really believing my ears.
“Oh yes,” was Jeffrey's emphatic answer.
“Well, I want to go,” I said feeling a bit like Luke Skywalker stuck on some remote star system away from all of the galactic action.
“You want to go,” Jeffrey stumbled for the right English words at this point “to see if there is indeed a sea creature?”
“Yes!” And I do know that this sounds like the beginning of every implausible sort of fantasy movie ever produced but this time it is real, like the monster of Boggy Creek, like Bigfoot, like Hitler's Brain in some laboratory in some undisclosed shadow nation.
“That would be quite an expense for such a,” again he stopped to think of the right words, “foolish endeavor. Maybe you would not even see the creature and you would be out quite a bit of cash for nothing, not even a photo.”
“But it is the adventure of it,” I argued feeling a bit like a teen wanting to borrow the family car to go on some inconceivable youthfully liberating roadtrip.
“For the adventure of it? You, you have a poet's heart.” Even though this would have been nice if he said it wistfully as if he was envious, he did not. He was trying to contain himself from a laughing fit when he told me I have a poet's heart. I tried not to sulk.

At this point, Markus, who is from Reading and is really funny, smart and kind, added his input.
“My sister went on holiday for a few weeks in Mongolia. Uh, she said the food was not quite to her liking.”
“The food?” I asked. For some reason, I imagined barbecued lamb, pheasant, roasted duck, plumbs, exotic fruits; all of that stuff that you see in those movies where mammoth proportioned adventures take place.
“Yes,” and I know he did not want to be a wet blanket, he just wanted to present the facts; “everything is basically made from yak.”
“From yak?”
“Yeah, yak cheese, yak milk, yak butter,” he said. “All yak.”
“All yak?! Oh, that does not sound good at all; I think I would have to pack my own food. I would have an extra camel to haul my food supply, like Doritoes and steak and that sort of stuff, the essentials. I would probably have to bring a cooler to harness to the camel as well so the steak did not go off.”
“Or you could take horses,” Jeffrey chimed in.”Camels are very slow.”
“Oh, but I think I would love to ride a camel across Mongolia in search of the sea monster.”
“Yes, and my sister stayed in one of those odd tents. I forget the name.”
“A yurt?! Your sister stayed in a yurt?! I have wanted to stay in a yurt for like 10 years now.”
“Yes, a yurt, that was it.”

Now, all of this, had my mind racing. Sea creatures, camels, yurts; perhaps, I could come to love a diet of yak over time. And, maybe I would start to love the delicacies of Yak so much that I would start Yak franchises across the globe – Tyson's Yak Tacos, The OutYack and Haagen Yaak. These could be big, really big. Or perhaps, if I never warmed to yak in a dietary way, perhaps I could warm to a yak in another way. I could adopt a yak. I would love to eventually have a pet yak, or maybe if this whole English learning by non-native-English speakers is a fad, I could become a yak herder.

But, of course, that is not important now, what is important is the music.What would the proper soundtrack for the expedition be? There were times during the Kitten years when I would be driving the van through the desolate nights of New Mexico or Arizona and I would blast Bowie 'V2Schneider.' Sometimes I would blast Diamanda Galas but that scared some of the other passengers since the night in those places has a haunted quality so I had to put on Abba or something less apocalyptic and haunting. Naturally, I would most definitely have to have the first Van Halen record as well to blast in the desert night. I can just hear 'Eruption' resounding through the vastness of the Mongolian Outback. Enya can go take a hike. I'm on fire!

In my classes, I told the students about the article. Actually, I told the students about the sea monster first before I fielded the question to the lunchtime companions. Whether I was not brave enough to mention the sea monster to my lunch buddies when I first fixated on the idea, I do not know. The students just seemed like a good sounding board for this particular curiosity.

To the students, I read from the article to make the sea monster (or monsters, there have been sightings of more than one) more real. On the board, I wrote 'expedition' 'diver' and 'sonar radar' as I explained these words. I asked them if they would have dove the 25 meters below the lake's surface to see the creature. Some said yes. Some said no. I then asked them if they thought the diver went down to investigate the creature after the creature showed up on the sonar equipment. Most of them nodded an emphatic yes.

The diver did not go down I told them because he, more than anything, was curious as to what a creature the size of this sonar captured sea monster ate to get that size. With this information, their eyes widened.

I told the students that the creature has been reported to be 6 meters long and 3 meters wide. Since I am not completely familiar with the metric system, I walked and told them to tell me when to stop when I reached the length and width.

“This sea Creature is about the size of my apartment,” I told them. “I could live in the creature.” I wanted to tell them that he would be like my own Yellow Submarine – I could do the decor in post-modern, tricking out the interior in Herman Miller and Cappellini - but I do not think they are familiar with that particular Beatles's song.

Now, I am in the process of putting together a team of students to go on a Mongolian Sea Monster Expedition. Yes, this is really happening.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

John (who is not John)

Jane just danced a jig in the teachers’ office. I asked her why she is so happy. She has no lessons next Monday she told me. The students are going on an outing. This performance - I am sure - would startle her students. She is a very good teacher. Thus, she is a teacher who sometimes gives her students extra classes. None of them would ever guess that she might have a life outside of teaching, that she might enjoy her days not teaching.

Jane has a daughter who went to university in Philadelphia. This daughter lives in Hong Kong. She is a banker. Jane goes down to visit her daughter on holidays sometimes. Her daughter lives in an expensive high-rise.

On the other side of the basketball court is a little school store where all sorts of snacks are sold. This store I forget exists. Sitting at my desk, I remember I forgot to eat my yogurt this morning. Coffee is the only thing in my stomach. Never do I remember to go to this school store in the morning, so I do not know what treats are offered. I decide to head that way as the bell rings, or rather as the end of class song plays with which I am not familiar. Most teachers keep the students in the class a minute or so after the bell music has rung. So, the students do not flood out into the hallway as I make my way through the building and across the width of the basketball courts to the school store.

At the store, I stare at the shelves. There are American snacks, the usual M&Ms, Snickers, Lays Potato Chips. Then there are Chinese snacks prawn crackers, Lays Tomato flavored Potato Chips, various dried fruit which I have tried that sometimes tastes like mentholated chemicals have been added. Often, in the morning, I have a couple of chocolate muffins. These I buy at the convenience store – Buddy’s or All Days. The school store does not have the muffins that I crave. Thus I stare at the shelves.

A couple of students from Class 4 come into the store.

“We have your class this afternoon?” one of them asks me. The other stares at the beverages on the other side of the store.

“Yes,” I tell him and add “Is all of this healthy?” as I point to the chips on the shelves.
“This is not healthy,” he replies.
“I cannot decide what I want.”
He points to some Chinese snack involving duck which is fortunately not duck necks.

At that point, a herd of students stampede into the store. “It may be too late for me to get anything,” I tell him somewhat in resignation.
However, the students, or rather, the store system is an efficient ones. Most of the students, I suppose, know what they are going to purchase when they walk into the store. After all, they have limited time to walk in, make their purchase, and walk back to class. They leave as quickly as they come.

I see a student from last semester. I want to call him John but I do not think that is his English name. I ask him what sort of snack he is eating. He has something not pre-packaged. He tells me that it is cinnamon. I grab it. I see Amy, another student from last term. She says ‘hi’. At the cash register, she tells me 3 yuan when I ask how much my snack costs. The cashier just smiles. She cannot speak English. I count out the money in change and hand it to the cashier.

John (who is not John) is walking ahead. I catch up with him. I ask him if he is going on a school outing on Monday. He tells me no and looks at me oddly.

I unwrap my food find which when I have unwrapped it I realize it is not cinnamon at all. It is some sort of wrap which does not involve cinnamon. I bite into it and I am actually pleasantly surprised. I have found an okay chicken wrap. I tell John (who is not John) that it is delicious. He agrees. Fur Elise plays as we walk into the building. This clicks the ‘go to class’ mechanism in his head. He runs to class. I walk up the stairs eating my chicken.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The dirt is just dirt.

My flat is a mess, an absolute mess. The problem: I just hate to clean, mop, sweep, dust - all of those domestic chores. Doing dishes and washing clothes are really the only two household chores I do not mind. Sometimes washing dishes actually I enjoy. There is a bit of a Zen-like quality to dishwashing.

For some reason, I think of Sandy Denny when I do dishes, not her music particularly but of her, her in a little thatched roof hobbit sort of house doing her own dishes, thinking up songs, solo or for Fairport Convention. Her house, in my imagination, is somewhere out in the woods or in a glade. A hummingbird hums outside of the kitchen window which is above the sink as she washes the dishes which are not bone china but earthenware of course.

Nevertheless, I am not Sandy Denny and my flat is a mess - a bachelor mess, a boy mess. Movies, CDs, books, and clothes are strewn about. No, I am not trying to emulate heroes such as H.S. Thompson or Lester Bangs. Love those men as I do, I would certainly not want to have (or have had rather) either of their lives or livers.

And, now that I have this tooth that is okay, and I do not have to have that Robo-cop jawbone installed; I am quite happy with the molecular makeup that nature has provided me. Sure, I am not Burt Reynolds but then of course these days Burt Reynolds is not even Burt Reynolds, the Burt of old, North Dallas Forty, Gator, Everything you wanted to know about sex….but were afraid to ask.

Last week, I emailed Michael and asked him to call my ayi and see if she could come clean over the weekend. I did not hear back from him. He has a new job with ERA Realty. This is the 3rd job he has had since I met him when he found my apartment for me last February. Each job has been a better job but now he is very busy because he is really good at his job.

Last night, I emailed him again. Around 10 pm, I received a reply from him:

Hey Tyson,

The Ayi will come to your home at 8am tomorrow, so you'd better be home during that time, and recently I 'm a little busy, tomorrow I want to go to Pu Dong ,so maybe we can have a meet next week .

Have a nice weekend!


The meet we are to have I hope is not a track meet because I no longer have running gear for such an event. I was never really that good in track. I am sure I could have been a long distance runner since I did so much trekking around Sand Creek when I was a waif but track just always bored me. Track did not involve Bowie or the New York Dolls and so I had no time for it. Things may have been different if walkmans had come along a little sooner. Really, though, unless I am running from someone, I am not into running. Okay, I do not mean to make fun of Michael at all. His English is much better than my non-existent Chinese. And, more importantly, he has contacted the ayi for me. Yes!

At 7:45 this morning, the ayi knocked on my door. Of course, I was fairly drowsy because I often toss and turn at night before falling into a deep sleep. Yesterday, when I got back from the dentist, I was told not to eat for two hours so I accidentally took a nap that is probably why I did not sleep that well last night.

And, yes, when the ayi walked into my flat, I think she was a bit stunned. Keep in mind, I do the dishes and the wash but other than that, the place was a wreck. I smiled weakly.

At present, she is in the garden sweeping, mopping and beating the poor unfortunate lizard, that I have left in peace, to smithereens. This summer sometimes that lizard - or his brother, maybe - hung out in the bathroom in the shower. I did not mind. Small lizards do not bother me. They, too, have a Zen-like quality. Now a lizard doing dishes is out of control Zen.

From my desk, I can see out in the garden and, occasionally, I look out to see what is going on out there. How do I explain to the ayi that she should not obliterate a garden lizard who occasionally likes to shower with me? Obviously, it is too late now because with the first whack of the broom he was already issued his lizard harp. Other than the lizard’s untimely demise, everything else is fine. My ayi really does do a wonderful job. At this point, I should admit, maybe the reason I hate housework is that I am the most untalented housekeeper ever. When I mop, often the floors look worse than before.

A few weeks ago, I half-heartedly cleaned the garden but then the rain came and when the rains comes so does the leaves, the small branches and the dirt. The dirt is a mystery. Where this dirt comes from, I do not know. The garden is tiled and walled and my beds are contained. Maybe the dirt is the ghosts of the dustbowl who have come to haunt me in China. Or maybe, the dirt is just dirt. Dirt does not have to have a hidden meaning I suppose.

Some of you may wonder if I feel like some sort of warlord imperialist in my present situation with this ayi at my disposal. Yes and no, this is tricky. I hope that I am not taking advantage of the downtrodden, the poor, the meek, the inheritors of the earth. This housework is not dangerous. I am courteous and respectful. Often, when I pay the ayi, I give her extra money which triggers a puzzled look on her part. One time, when this happened, I drew a smiley face on the calendar on which we communicate and then I pointed to myself. She laughed.

And, of course, this is her job and she seems fairly content but then after what these Chinese people have suffered in the last 100 years, anything beyond not starving to death can bring about contentment and a strange misplaced happiness.
Since we have no communication with each other - other than me saying beautiful in Chinese after she has finished cleaning, and me pointing to the dates on the calendar and writing down the time that she comes and leaves – I cannot forcibly instill any of my bourgeois Western ideals in her. If anything, I am more prone to adopt some of the Chinese ways. Let it be known now that I am definitely not a communist. Their system helps me to appreciate the system that I left behind. I do not enjoy their way of keeping everyone in the dark. Many things seem to be decided at the last minute here in China. But then, that is a tale for another time.

Really, though, the patio does look beautiful. My whole countenance changes after my place has been cleaned. Now, the ayi is in the living room attempting to arrange the CDs in some semblance of order. She really is good at what she does.

Gone are the days, the days when I first arrived and had my first ayi who mopped my flat – my first flat in China - on campus in Songjiang with the cholera mop. Those days are gone. When I think about those days, I sigh with relief. Birdflu, from what I hear, is back in Australia causing someone there trouble I am sure. Every time I think of her, I breathe a sigh of relief that she is gone.

At one point, not too long ago, the other teacher at Songjiang, the one I really liked was livid because she heard through the grapevine that Birdflu had told quite a few people that she, Birdflu, wrote all of the lesson plans. Of course, this is a complete lie which I was quite accustomed to Birdflu being ‘incurably dishonest’ (to steal a phrase from F. Scott Fitzgerald). The other teacher, I think, thought that I blew things out of proportion when it came to Birdflu’s conniving ways but then she found this out and was shocked and upset. Shortly after this Birdflu emailed her and told her she was making a necklace for her. Of course, Birdflu did not know that the teacher had found her out. Boy, am I glad those days are over. Birdflu was just a weirdo, plain and simple. Weird Dodo!

Max I miss like crazy. From what I hear, he is doing well in Australia. I hope that our paths cross someday. I think of him and as hard as that time was at Songjiang, I know that it was worth it. He went from not understanding a word I said to understanding the bulk of what I said. On those nights when I tutored or mentored him, sometimes I read short stories, fairy tales or whatever. He would sit beside me and feverishly look up the words he did not understand as I read. I think of him often. He was - and still is, I am sure - adorable.

Of course, after I left, tensions erupted between Miko and Allen in the Shanghai 90210. Tess left at the end of the spring semester of 2006 when I did. Miko left but came back as did Allen and Max. Max and Allen began a high school romance which was quite a coup for Allen since she is not a person most people would say is attractive. She is quite masculine but she always paid for everything for everyone else which made her more attractive to Max I am sure since he never seemed to have any cash.

Allen reminds me a bit of this sad rich girl that I knew in high school who had the same build as her brother, a star football player. All of her friends hung out with her because she had a ton of money and a new car which I think played Styx and REO on endless repeat in the 8 track tape player. Of course, this girl I knew in high school had absolute zero personality. Allen has an explosive temper but at the same time can be quite fun and actually bursts with personality. Allen was the planner in the group. She planned our little weekend excursions and such but then I digress.

At one point, Miko was being touchy feely with Allen which is not anything out of the ordinary. They were always very close. Allen had stated at one point that she was going to grow up and settle in with a woman. This was a phase obviously because Max came along. The touching and stuff between Allen and Miko should not be viewed as anything but innocent. Absolutely, I do not want anyone to get the wrong idea. They were just friends like many affectionate teens.

One day, Miko set something off in Allen. There was a catfight. Max was between them. Jennifer, my friend their teacher, stood aghast. Allen pulled out some of Miko’s extensions. Miko left school and did not come back. Jennifer interviewed Max to see what happened. In Chinese, there is no he or she just he. Max kept referring to Allen as a male which is really probably not that far from the truth.

Now, Allen and Max are in Australia. From what I was told, they are in different cities. Maybe someday our paths will cross. Maybe that will happen in Mongolia…or Kansas.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The corridor was the waiting room

My tooth is fixed, saved, hole-less and filled, rootless but intact. Really, I am stunned by how utterly painless the whole lengthy procedure truly was. To think, when I first went in, I was under the impression that I would have to have my left jawbone removed - infection.

This I told a class of students the other day. This is what I thought when I first went to the dentist several weeks ago. I assumed they would put in some robo-cop steel plate instead of the jawbone that I now have. I tried to explain this to the students. Naturally, they knew not if I was serious or joking.

Again, Qi Min went with me. This time we had to wait because she had an additional class at lunch time. Additional classes are frequent for students and teachers here. I met her at the side entrance to the school at 1 pm. When we got to the hospital, the dentist was busy with another patient.

The corridor was the waiting room. The chairs, blue plastic, were all connected by one metal framework like those that I associate with a tag agency; the tag agency’s being black or maybe brown. On the two chairs closest to the door, there were characters emblazoned. I asked what the characters said.

“For old people,” Qi Min said.
We set in the chairs beside those without characters. While we sat, I told Qi Min about my morning at the other school. She asked me in what district the school is located. The sad thing is that I do not know. I told her the metro stop but then when I tried to pronounce the stop I am not sure if I was right or not. Qi Min looked at me a bit quizzically.

Remembering a real estate flyer I was given near the school, I handed that to her. She looked at the address written in characters and said the district out loud which I, of course, have now forgotten.

She then told me that the agent must think that I am rich because the apartments are expensive. I asked her how much. She told me some of them are 649 million rmb.
“Oh, gosh,” I said
“Yes, the real estate prices are soaring,” she told me.
“That’s what I have heard.”
In June, her brother-in-law bought a townhouse in the suburbs for 147 million.
“Guess how much it is worth now?” when she talks, she halts in a dramatic Captain Kirk sort of way. This is somewhat endearing actually. This, also, is because she speaks English fluently and weighs each word she says before she says it which is not a bad idea really.
“180 million,” I said. I did not want to overbid in case the increase is not as steep as I imagined.
“230 million.”
“Wow,” I replied. I was honestly taken aback and did not know what else to add.
“Yes, I wanted to buy one at 147 million but I did not want to pay 230 million.”
Earlier, when we were walking Qi Min’s shortcut to the dentist, she told me that she and her husband live in the house in which her husband grew up. It is a really big house that is now apartments where several other families live. Her husband’s mother lives with them. Their apartment is a three bedroom with a living room, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a garage that has been converted into a small flat. The flat they let for a little over 1000 rmb a month. The money I could save if I moved in. Presently, a young woman is letting the place.

The families who live in the rest of the house have to share bathrooms and the kitchen. She asked me if I have to share a bathroom or kitchen at my flat. I told her that I have my own bathroom and kitchen. I then launched into my song and dance about how at this point, unlike many foreigners that come here; I have to live in a nice place. In America, we do not have to share bathrooms and kitchens. Maybe we are a bit spoiled in the west. Privacy is very important to us.

When we were talking about the townhouse in the suburbs, I asked her if she could sublet the place where she lives now because she told me the government owns it.

“No,” she told me, “we could sell it.”
Okay, this is definitely Chinese. How can they sell it if the government owns it? I am not sure. I will have to do more investigating. She then told me that her place would be worth about 800.
“Thousand?” I asked.
“Million,” she replied.
Yes, something does not add up here I know. If she could sell her place for 800 million rmb, that is a little more than $100,000,000. I am not the most financially aware person but that seems like a hell of a lot to me, like enough money to afford an Onasis style yacht with no problem and still live comfortably. I know she is not the type to lie. I think there is maybe one additional zero there somewhere. Again, I will have to investigate this further.

At this point, the dentist ushered us into the cubicle that is her office. At times, Qi Min told me that the dentist told her to tell me that some of the procedure would be uncomfortable for me. Really, the procedure was not. This is surprising to hear I know.

Sure, I had a mouth full of cotton but there were no jabs to the gum by sharp dental instruments or anything of the sort. Of course, somewhere down the road, this tooth may turn brown - who knows? - but then no one will see it because it is in the back left-side bottom of my mouth, not a lot of photo ops in that area of my body.

The only somewhat unnerving thing about the whole procedure is that I saw everything that went on. That is the only slightly unnerving element to my visit to a local Chinese dentist. Let me add to that that the dentist is a really good local dentist. I am sure that makes a difference.

Nevertheless, when I saw the small copper wires that were being jabbed into the hole in my tooth, I was a tiny bit squeamish but brave. I did not wriggle or anything. After 5 or 6 of these were jabbed into the tooth, the dentist soldered them. Maybe this is how it is done in the USA as well. However, I am not aware of this dental tactic involving solder. Maybe I am a robot and I do not know it. If I am, please, someone tell me. I’m a lovely little tired rock and roll droid.

While this went on, Qi Min told me that her house was built in the 1930s and that the pipes are old and the roof needs to be replaced. I told her that old houses are very popular among foreigners. She proudly told me that the bathroom has American Standard and Kohler fixtures.
“Those are nice,” I told her. “American.” This I said after I spit out some solder.
“Yes, American fixtures,” she nodded in agreement.

During the duration of the three appointments, Qi Min stood behind me each time. So, as I lay in the dentist’s chair, I could roll my eyes up into my head and see her and talk. This is definitely the first time that I carried on a conversation with a friend while having dental work, that was not orthodontic, done.

When I was in junior high school, my mother always stood there while the orthodontist tightened my braces. She would stand to the side of me. That was some teeth-work that hurt. I did, however, want braces because I had serious ugly buck, horse teeth so I took the tightening of the braces in stride. This was a walk in the park in comparison to those dental visits of pain and torture. Of course, after my mother spent thousands of dollars on my teeth, I know now, she is up there smiling happy that I did not have to have this tooth pulled. Now, if I can just stay away from caramel apples and Laffy Taffy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

December boys got it bad (or sometimes the students even get the jokes).

October. Where did the summer go? I am settling into the term, beginning to know the students, starting to have my favorites.

In my last class today, the boys in the back were their usual noisy selves. One of them asked what we were to do after the students in the rest of the class had already begun doing the assignment. At one point, this would have made me mad. Now, I just smile. His friend, who is from Hong Kong, seemed to be the ringleader of the noisy pack or boys. When I asked who has been to Hong Kong; a few people pointed him out, this ringleader. They told me he is from Hong Kong.

“Is he the Hong Kong Godfather?” I asked his friends, the noisy boys in the back when they were being there most noisy. This, of course, produced riotous laughter and comments in Chinese by the other delinquents. I just smiled and continued walking around the room like Mr. Chips or Pee Wee Herman as Karen Valentine as Alice Johnson in Room 222. Imagine Pee Wee with a cheap Karen Valentine wig and a tartan skirt.

This is the new kinder me. Sometimes, the students even get the jokes. Sometimes they just laugh as if they understand. I know they don’t. Maybe I am Norman Bates at the end of Pyscho. Really, I would not hurt a fly. A few weeks ago, when these noisy boys were throwing paper airplanes in class, I did not even bat an eye.

That said, fall has always had a melancholy feel to it as if dead things are waiting around the corner hiding from view. Everything starts dying. Of course, summer has always been the time of tragedy but fall reminds us once again we are these rotting mortal coils. We are aging and dying, aging and dying. We are a Joy Division song on an endless loop. Where will it end?

Of course, fall makes me think of the Movies of the Week on ABC back in the 70s. Usually, these movies were based on the supernatural of the bogus kind or weakly served terror and suspense. Don’t be afraid of the dark.

I always watched. Not only did I watch, I anticipated the movie each week. Sometimes, the movie stayed with me in the form of nightmares. I was suckered into them by the preview. I armed myself with peanut butter and crackers, tomatoes and cucumbers, cottage cheese and Guy’s potato chips.

These movies starred whoever were the big television stars of the time such as Valerie Harper, Dennis McCloud and yes, our dear beloved Karen Valentine with her wonderful Roquefort-cheese overbite. Karen, I love you! Please do not take offense. And, do not worry, I am not a stalker; I live in Shanghai for Chrissakes!

Andy Griffith made his comeback in one of these lovely sorts of death TV movies. He played a bad guy. I read a review in TV Guide at the time. Where I was when I read the review I am not sure because my folks never bought TV Guide. That would have been a waste of 35 cents. Dad kept Brown Derby beer in the fridge.

In this TV Guide interview, Griffith stated he wanted to shed his sugary Mayberry RFD image. Shed that image he did briefly before he decided he didn’t mind the sugary image and came back to television as a detective or lawyer or judge or whatever in that dreadful Matlock travesty. In the movie of the week which took place somewhere in the desert near the Grand Canyon, Griffith played a sadistic killer. Somehow, the movie involved a sling shot. That is all I remember.

October, too, brings my college days to mind. Those nights of drinking gin with a cornucopia of citrus fruit sliced and topped in a big glass, a glass which probably came as a complimentary gift from Red Lobster. Whether it was the fruit or being unaccustomed to drink, I do not know, but a doctor was called by Page when I got weirdly sick. Sick on Gin, how could that happen? Those were my gin drinking days. Later, as we all know, vodka replaced gin as my drink of choice. Now, Earl Grey tea is my drink of choice.

At that point, in those gin soaked lazy days, our tragic lives were not yet tragic; no one had died. Everyone was still healthy, moms, friends, everyone. We thought we were living these tragic lives. Everything was dire. Dire. We needed what we needed immediately. Everything was so General Hospital, All My Children. Our lives, we did not really appreciate them. We didn’t study in school. We didn’t even know why we were in school. It was someplace that we inadvertently wound up.

All of us were yearning for something; what that something was, at the time, we didn’t know, but we wanted it, whatever it was. During this time everyone loved the wrong person. No one could figure out who to love. There was no guidebook to love; no guide to guide us to love.

Part of this memory play involves those long autumn evening shifts at Shadowplay Records; that used record store where Styx and REO Speedwagon records reproduced when no one was looking. Suddenly, there were 35 copies of High Infedelity and 42 copies of Paradise Theater.

The shifts - only 4 or 5 hours long - dragged and dragged. Sometimes friends would drop by and visit and listen to the new Kate Bush or Echo and the Bunnymen single or the latest Cure album. Sometimes, I was left to my own devices which included cleaning and pricing records that people in need of fast cash sold. Even after cleaning and pricing records, I stared at the clock and realized I had several hours to work. At times, I would kill time by playing albums by Henry Cow or John Martyn or other obscure artists that hid away in the record bins.

Of course, we carried all of the hippest new music. Sadly, I could only listen to so much Psychic TV, Severed Heads, Hula, and Coil. Sometimes I needed – and still need - B.O.C. real bad. At some point, I would invariably put on Big Star Radio City. Instantly, this would transport me into a world of jingle jangle guitar. This album I kept in my record bag which I always took with me back and forth to work. Sometimes, I threw in Aerosmith Get Your Wings, Sparks Kimono My House.

By the time, I had made it to September Gurls, on the second side of the Radio City record, the autumn evening did not seem so lonely. December boys got it bad. I could relate. I was a December boy and I had it bad, worse than anyone could have imagined. My life, I thought, was a true tragedy. Nothing would ever improve it.

Now, over 20 years later, I live a world away from that time which was so full of strange promise and pent-up emotion. Everything was so mysterious and earnest but vaguely humorous at the same time. Everything was black and white. At that time, there were no grey areas. Life was simple. Of course, that is before I visited NYC, before I had two day meth benders.

Now, I holiday in Hong Kong. Times have changed. Life is good. Hong Kong is wonderful, full of a ying/yang East –West energy. I could live in Hong Kong with no problem. To wake up healthy and happy, what more could a person want.

Sometimes, I wonder if I dreamt my other life, that life in a college town, the life of late night bike rides on cruiser bikes through the college campus; when $20 was a lot of money; when you could find Beatles’ picture sleeve 45s at garage sales for 50 cents; when everything was still so new instead of so old; when I was excited when I wrote a new song, when my friends were excited to hear my new song.

As my friend Meg and I rode on a small bus - headed to a wealthy beach town in the suburbs of Hong Kong - careening around the curves through the mountains, I thought about the past as I wondered if we were in one of those busses that you read about, a small item in the Oklahoman.

Two Americans Perish As Bus Plunges Over Cliff on Outskirts of Hong Kong (AP).

I then thought how Hong Kong was like what I would imagine Monte Carlo to be, a beautiful enclave of sand and shopping with no super highways, no endless strip malls, Monte Carlo with dim sum. When we were walking around the little town of Stanley, at times, I thought I had been transported back to Southern California in the 1970s, all Linda Rondstadt and coke dealers.

I told Meg when I was 12 years old I wanted a floppy hat real bad. I never got one.

Actually, I did not spot any coke dealers while we were walking and shopping and talking but when I think of Southern California in the 1970s, I think of coke dealers - not that I would know or anything like that.

Of course, when we were downtown, the travelator took us from the bottom to the top.

Nothing makes it move
From the bottom to the top
Does it start at the bottom?
Or does it start at the top

Magnet draw day from dark
Sun zoom spark
Sun zoom spark.

The travelator is the escalator that takes white collar workers down from the apartments on the mountain to central Hong Kong. It goes down in the morning. It reverses and goes up in the evening to accommodate the workers.

The travelator travel took place earlier in the trip. Meg wanted to move to a different corporate apartment. We looked at apartments on the travelator route. Her company owns other properties in downtown Hong Kong near the travelator. Now, she lives across the street from Times Square, a Hong Kong mega mall housing Aveda, Burberry, Armani, Lane Crawford and other high end stores, not to mention the swanky restaurants. We ate at Wasabisabi, a somewhat extravagant sushi restaurant with a catwalk entrance. We both felt like supermodels when we walked in.

Meg’s fiancé (and my friend) Omar came at the tail-end of my visit. The three of us tried the upscale Thai restaurant. Meg got a strange rice dish shaped like a pyramid or a traffic cone. I am not sure which. It tasted healthy.

Times Square in Hong Kong is madness. One day I walked out of Meg’s apartment and a Puma fashion show was in progress in front of the entrance. Yes, Puma, I am serious. The models had that Puma attitude. When I saw them, I wondered whatever happened to my Koss Go Ape T-shirt. Can I still buy Ragtime superbell hip huggers somewhere?

In class 7 this morning, I asked the students if they went anywhere for the holiday. No one had. I was wearing my new long sleeve mock French cuff shirt that I bought at a young designers three story mall near Meg’s apartment in Hong Kong. I took off my Gucci blazer and showed off the shirt. The students were a bit taken aback by this. I swear I was not doing a strip tease. They really did not know what to do, Most of them laughed. In my heart, I knew they were laughing with fashion not at fashion.

Somehow, I turned the young designers’ mall into part of the lesson. Writing an argument paper was the assignment. I told them they could pick the subject of their choice to write about. One idea would be an argument to allow students to pick the subjects they study in school. Maybe some of them would grow up and be clothes designers. What subjects would they need to study to become a clothes designer? At this point, of course, I showed off my new quite fabulous shirt again.

The shirt’s designer told me that he bought the fabric in Japan. I told him I really liked the cut of the shirt. He thanked me. The shirt is pretty dang fabulous. I did not tell the students about the conversation I had with the shirt’s designer. Us teachers must keep some of the good stuff to ourselves.

One of the boys, not one of the noisy boys, a boy who sits in front, this boy is girl crazy, absolutely girl crazy. He could be a teen actor. He is 5’6” or so. Imagine a Chinese Michael J Fox but a Chinese Michael J. Fox who does not act or look anything like Michael J. Fox whatsoever. This boy as I said is girl crazy. Every essay he writes, he talks about girls, how they smell, how they feel. Everything is PG. He is Disney, Mattel, Hasbro.

Today, I told him every time I saw a pretty girl in Hong Kong I thought of him. He laughed. Sometimes the students even get the jokes.