Monday, December 17, 2007

Our memories are strange tricksters…or…finally a woman pulled out what he was looking for…

Michael loves to shop. I love to shop. Maybe that is why we are such good friends. A few weeks ago we went shopping for him a pair of new jeans. We shopped in the shops by my flat on Changle Road. All of the jeans were too expensive, I thought, since I am a bargain shopper. At that time, I told him we could go to the clothes market where I go for all of my really killer deals over on Longhua Road near Longhua Temple. He told me he did not know of this market. I told him that maybe we could go in a few weeks.
I should say now that one of the reasons we are such good shopping buddies is because I am the explorer and he is the dealer. I will walk all over Shanghai on a whim. I have covered many districts of this wonderful city on my trusty ever-ready feet.
Michael, since he is Chinese, he can get a better deal than me. Some of my Chinese friends do not bargain with the market merchants like I do. Michael, however, bargains bitterly and coldly, better than I bargain. He shows no remorse in his bargaining. This I knew would be a very good thing, our teamwork. We are the Lewis and Clark of fashion, the Scully and Moulder of shopping, the Rowan and Martin of bargaining.
Earlier this week, we set our market date for Sunday. We fortified ourselves with a brunch made by me. I had not made brunch in ages which was so nice. I had forgotten how much I loved having a guest for whom to cook brunch. Michael is the perfect brunch guest. He loves everything that I cook.
For brunch, I made French toast (with a dry baguette that I had bought on Thursday) and ham. For our first course we had apples drenched in yogurt. Now that I am no longer drinking alcohol, we had no Champagne in our orange juice. Nevertheless, we did have a nice pot of English Breakfast Tea which - to me - more than compensated for the lack of alcohol.
Michael loved the French toast. I tried to explain that American French toast is different than French French toast. In my explanation, I am sure that I failed miserably.
Fortified with a nice heavy maple syrup soaked breakfast, we were ready to haggle, hustle and deal. Since I did not know exactly where the market is located, I hunted down a business card with the address from a previous visit. Each time I go, I come back with a handful of business cards with the address and directions printed in Chinese and English. Since I have not been there in 6 or 7 months, and during that time in between I have been to America subletting my apartment; I was not sure how easy one of these business cards would be to find spur of the moment. If I did not find a business card, I could probably fake my way there but I really did not want to do that. I wanted to have the security of a business card with the address emblazoned on it.
Quickly, I did a sweep of the apartment for a business card. Behind some books on my built-in shelves which are quite deep, I have a black cloth covered box with miscellaneous cards and documents in it. I was quite sure a Longhhua Market business card might be in the black box. As I pulled some of the books down to get to the box. I stumbled onto a card under a book. Yes, this card was one of the Longhua Market business cards. We were indeed set and ready to go.
We took off our slippers and put on our sneakers and headed out the flat to hail a taxi. As we were walking on my lane to the main road, I asked Michael if he had the card that I just handed him. He felt in his pocket and did not feel it. He told me he must have left it on my sofa. So, we walked back to the flat. The card was not on the sofa. He felt in his pocket again and there the card was in his pocket. This time, we were truly ready to hail a taxi and head to the market.
Hailing the taxi was easy. Not many other people were stirring yet even though we were looking at the other side of noon at this point. We jumped into the taxi and talked as the driver shuttled us off to the market. On the way to the market, Michael asked me if I had shopped on the street on which we were driving. I told him no. he told me maybe after the market we could shop on that street. I told him that would be nice even though, I figured we would both be worn out after the market. The market usually does me in.
20 rmb later, we were dropped off somewhere in the proximity of our destination but by no means in front of our destination. Maybe it’s my imagination but it seems that when I take a taxi, the taxi never seems to drop me in front of my destination. Often, I am dropped a block away for no real reason. Why this is, I am not quite sure, maybe a Maoist thing.
It took me a bit to get my bearings but then I realized that we were dropped off at the beginning of Longhua. We started walking. We walked past the McDonalds. We walked past the temple. We kept walking. Michael asked me if we should turn right. I told him no we must keep walking straight. We kept walking. The market was farther away than I had remembered. Why the taxi driver did not drop us in front of the market, I was still pondering. The morning was brisk but clear. Actually, the walk was nice, refresing.
Our memories are strange tricksters. I thought the market was much closer to the temple than it actually is. While we were walking, I was certain we were going the right direction and that we would soon happen upon the market but I also doubted myself. I know I am by now means infallible. Was the market on another street by the temple?
As we walked, we passed an open gate; a few people in front of us darted in. I asked Michael what the place is that we were walking past. He had a hard time translating. It looked like the former estate of a high ranking state official. The place looked as if it was somewhat sizable. The well-kept grounds held many mature trees.
Finally, after guessing a few different possibilities, I was able to ascertain that we were standing in what was once an army base for the Red Army. A somewhat plain stucco tiled roof guardhouse sat unimposing at the entrance.
Michael asked if I wanted to stroll around the grounds. I told him I might like to after we went to the market. When I get that shopping itch, I just got to scratch it. Now that I have the part-time job at the business English school on Thursday and Friday evenings, I thought I would buy some more cheap Armani knock-off dress shirts. I was madly itching to buy some more Armani knock-off dress shirts.
At this point, I should draw a line in the sand regarding my love for knock-offs. Here in Shanghai, you see everyone with LV, D&G, and Gucci bags. They never ever look like the real thing, ever. You can tell from across the bus that that bag with the LV pattern all over it - like bad acne- is not Louis Vuitton. To my knowledge, Louis Vuitton does not work in cheap plastic and cracking, pathetic vinyl.
Knock-off sunglasses annoy me as well. I can spot the fake - the fake Chanel, un-Gucci, non-Christian Dior with no problem. Expensive designer sunglasses are quality sunglasses. They are made better - with better lenses, heavier frames, finer detailing which includes the designer logo, the hinges and the nose-pad.
However, I am a sucker for the quality knock-offs. The dress shirts are close enough to the real thing to make them very desirable. And, at approximately 5 dollars a shirt, I can become quite covetous toward them.
Back to the market: I have not been to the market in over 6 months. The last time I went was the first week of May. As soon as I walked in this time, the merchants whom I have patronized recognized me instantly.
Michael and I headed for the jeans. He looked them over and decided he did not want them. Okay, that is fine I thought. There are three floors of market stalls to browse. Actually, we didn’t really browse because all of the sellers are pulling you - mentally and physically - every which way. Really, you must walk at a fairly fast clip as if you are driving a Datsun B210 in mud so that you do not get stuck. Getting stuck in a stall where you are not aiming to buy is excruciating and just plain stupid.
Before, when I shopped at the market, I always bought the Armani knock-off, but now they have started knocking off Pink, as in Thomas Pink of London. These are quite tempting. At the first stall we stopped, I had shopped previously. She asked me what I had paid previously for my shirts. I told her I paid 40 rmb. She told me that was fine. I told her I would look around and come back. She did not like that idea. She told me to buy them now and she could hold them while I shopped. I did not like that idea. She told me that 40 rmb was the price if I bought them now. I questioned her:
“You mean, if I walk around the market and come back, the shirts will no longer be 40 rmb?”
She really did not have a broken English answer for me. I told her I would come back and buy some shirts later. Michael and I did a sweep of the first floor. Several stalls had jeans. Michael did not see any he liked. He kept asking me for advice. I steered him away from the ones with big pockets and baggy legs. I kept steering him toward the Diesel jeans and the 7 jeans, both being basic, classic- looking and -fitting jeans.
At one stall, I found some inexpensive embroidered coasters which will make nice gifts. They have the character for luck embroidered on them. They are square.
Finally, when we circled back to the jeans first stall en route to the second floor, Michael saw the same jeans that I pointed out when we first walked into the market. He liked them now. He tried them on in a makeshift dressing room – a sheet strung up in the back corner of the small market stall, not exactly Bloomingdales but oh well. As he was trying them on, I spotted some knock-off Burberry lycra underwear. Of course, the seller was all over me. I told him with pantomime and luck that I was with my friend and that I was not shopping.
At this point, Michael had on the jeans which turned out to be a tad small. He could not zip them up. His underwear bunched up around his crotch. The woman handed him a size bigger. He went about trying them on. I moseyed back out to look at the Burberry underwear which actually looked like it was made fairly well considering.
When I went back in, Michael was sporting the jeans, 7 for all mankind. They looked great. I told him they look great. He haggled. After this went on for a few minutes, the seller and Michael agreed on a price. He got them for a bit cheaper than I got mine the last time I was there. Now I know, now I know. The woman asked me if I needed another pair. I told her no.
Since Michael is a better haggler than me, I thought maybe I would let him broker the underwear deal. I found 3 pairs of Burberry. I asked him what he thought the underwear should cost. He told me 20 rmb which is exactly what I thought it should cost. When I can find them, I buy Paul Smith boxers which are actually in a Paul Smith box for 50 rmb which I think is a fantastic deal because they actually seem to be the real thing from what I can tell.
Michael started haggling over the underwear with the seller. The seller would not agree to 20 rmb. Michael was adamant. I watched in awe. A few minutes, I walked off with three pair of Burberry boxer briefs. Michael bought two. We continued our stroll. Yes, we paid 20 rmb a pair.
Michael decided he needed a computer bag which I took to mean a modern take on the briefcase. I kept pointing to what I thought he meant. Finally, a woman pulled out what he was looking for. What he meant was a back-pack. Communication Maodown.
He looked at a knock-off Samsonite which was quite nice I thought. She then showed him a black and orange Swiss Army pack which was even nicer. I told him the Swiss Army pack was much nicer. He should inquire about it, do the deal. The seller wanted 230 rmb which I thought was insane. Michael did too. He thought the price at a bargain should be about 60 rmb. The woman would not budge much less than 100 rmb. We knew we would find plenty more, plenty more. We knew there were stalls and stalls of these, stalls and stalls. We were not worried.
We started looking for a belt for Michael at the same time. He decided he needed a cool belt with his new jeans. Hunting for belts was nothing but discouraging. He had faith that I could find something cool for him. Now, I know, without a doubt, where the belts come from that find their way to Wal-Mart.
We did keep running across the same Swiss Army packs. All of them seemed fairly sturdy. The zippers seemed of good quality. Finally, Michael found a lady who came down to 80 rmb for a pack. We bought matching packs. At this point, I thought we should be walking around Chelsea in NYC together. All we needed was a miniature dog in a cute little outfit to complete the picture.
We continued to search for a belt. This was dire, truly dire. There were no belts that even came close to being okay. We kept looking and kept looking. We were now on the third floor. There was an inconspicuous little belt and wallet stall. We did a quick scan. I saw a white leather Calvin Klein belt with a silver buckle that was fine. I asked Michael if he liked it. He tried it on. He was set to buy it. I then saw a white Hermes belt that was quite nice. I gave it a closer look. It was actually made well. I was surprised at the quality for a knock-off. Before I moved here to Shanghai, my fashion stylist friend in NYC told me that China had great knock-offs, fabulous knock-offs. Without a doubt, I knew then that I had found a really great quality knock-off that looked every bit as nice as a belt that I would see at Barney’s in NYC for like $200. I tried it on. It had a nice fit. I asked how much. The seller told me something ridiculous, 230 rmb. I asked Michael if he was going to buy the Calvin Klein knock-off. No, he told me, he thought he would buy the Hermes if I was not going to buy it. He had bargained them down to 30 rmb. For 30 rmb, I would buy six of them I thought.
“30 rmb?” – I asked him.
“30 rmb.”
“30 rmb?”
“30 rmb?”
I don’t know why I thought that was so hard to believe. The seller told me he had more of them. He looked and found another. I looked it over, and this happens often; the other one was not of as good of quality. I really wanted this Hermes from heaven but then Michael really wanted it too. I would have settled for a red belt but I had just bought a red belt a few weeks ago. There were 5 different colors; red, black, brown, orange and white. I have a nice black belt as well. I really do not need a orange belt and I was not wild about the color of brown. Michael then told me he would buy a different color.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “I buy red one.”
“Great, thanks!”
With our purchases, we walked out of the market. When we walked out of the market, Michael noticed a sign for a flower and bird market across the street. Although the clear crisp day had become a bit dismal while we were in the market, we walked across the street to the flower and bird market.
The flower and bird market across the street turned out to be very small, as in one bird shop and two slight plant stores. The stores - and the plants - were slight. Well, we walked into a pet shop that had exactly 4 dogs which included a grown Schnauzer which I do not believe was even for sale. There was two little puff balls rolling on the floor. Michael, captivated, started playing with them. Up above was a puppy in a cage. I said something like 'Oh, look at this one.' He was whining but not barking but whining like his heart was about to break in half, absolutely right in half.

Michael looked up at the puppy and then something somewhat magical happened. The lady took the puppy out of the cage and put it on the floor. Michael started playing with it. I instantly loved this little puppy. How can you not love a puppy?

Michael talked to the lady, the pet shop owner; I know not what they discussed. The next thing I know, he is playing with the dog and then he is paying for the dog. It was a whopping 60 rmb which even in China is a bit shocking I would say. There was this other lady that kept talking to me and I acted like I knew what she was saying but I had no clue she was talking a mile a minute in Chinese. I was agreeing in Chinese. dui dui dui pretty much what I was saying as she was talking. She had money and she was pointing to the money. I thought she must be agreeing that Michael was getting a killer deal. I just kept saying dui dui dui. Yes. Yes. yes.

The owner of the shop then started outfitting, literally, the dog. She first put him in a hot pink jumper of which Michael did not approve. He wanted the dog to look more manly. She then put him a baby blue jumper. This was better. I told Michael baby boys wear blue in the West. Then the woman pulled out some dungarees with flannel that were supposed to mimic overalls and a flannel shirt. Michael thought this perfect – a cowboy. I did not want to break his heart and tell him the doggie was dressed as a farmer, not a cowboy. And, of course, while this is going on, that other lady kept talking to me. She was really quite emphatic about whatever she was telling me. I just kept agreeing in Chinese.

Well, I learned the story from Michael as we were walking around with our new matching Swiss Army packs and the outfitted dog who Michael told me to name an English name - the first name of which I thought being Ralph.

It seems the lady with whom I became so friendly owned the dog and had to bring it back to the pet shop because her other dog and Ralph did not get along. Ralph is really mellow by the way. He almost barked twice the whole afternoon and evening but just did not have the energy to go through with the bark so he sort of almost growled instead which was more of a slight moan. I guess the woman had paid 400 rmb for Ralph and when we walked into the store. She thought we would be a good couple for the dog (our matching backpacks, no doubt). Well, after Michael and she agreed upon 60 rmb she got cold feet and she was telling me the whole time that we should give her more money and I was adamantly agreeing because I had no idea she was the owner, now former owner of Ralph. I thought her to be some innocent bystander. Some pet shop dog loving hanger on. In the end, all was well, and now I am a uncle of sorts to Ralph the dog.

After we left we tried to figure out Ralph’s breed. I thought Michael would have asked what sort of dog Ralph is or I assume they would have told him. I thought he might be a Chihuahua but then he is really mellow which does not seem like a Chihuahua. I then thought he could be a miniature Pinscher but I am not sure because of his coloring. He is a small black and white dog with a long tail.

Oh, and we really do not have a clue as to his age. I thought he was a puppy that would get bigger but Michael did not ask that either. He seemed to think that he will not get bigger.I assume Ralph might be like 3 or 4 months old but I am not sure. I told Michael he needs to take Ralph to the vet so I think the vet (I hope) will shed light on all of this doggie business.

Later, we took Ralph back to my flat to play. He is so mellow that he really does not play. I had a tennis ball in my newly retired backpack that I got out for Ralph. On this, he half-heartedly chewed. We gave him some water. Michael bought some dog food at the pet store. He fed him a small handful of that. I followed him around thinking that he would pee or poop at some point. I had newspaper handy for such an event. Of course, when I was not ready for him to do so that is when he decided to pee. I am glad he did it on the marble floor and did not lift his leg and pee on my silk curtains.

I gave Michael a little dog advice. I told him to buy a little house for Ralph to sleep in and to stay in while he is at work. When he comes home from work, he can take Ralph out of the little dog house and outside to pee and such. Michael took this advice under advisement.

Later in the evening, I got an email from Michael. He wrote:

“I think I need to teach Ralph how to go to the bathroom because he just make excrement at my home and I will be buy a house carrier to put him in it.”

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Pillow Love (A Screwball Toilet Comedy)

My toilet has given me problems since I moved into my flat. Yes,yes, I do love my place. I have my own private little yard. The interior is somewhat spectacular with marble floors and high end fixtures. Yet, my toilet has given me problems this whole time. At first, I assumed a female friend that stayed all night at one point - platonic, of course – may have caused the problem because it seemed to really kick in after our impromptu slumber party. Of course, I never accused her of throwing anything feminine down the toilet but that is what had been brewing in my head.

Well, the problem has gotten to the point where I must pour a buck of water down the toilet to flush it which is not that big of a deal but still a bit of a hassle. You see, I am going to go to London over winter break at the end of January and I would like to sublet my flat while I am away. Telling my temporary tenant that he or she must pour a bucket of water down the toilet to flush it seems a bit Clampett to me. I would like to fetch a nice price for the flat while I am away. Thus, I would rather have the problem fixed and not worry about it any longer. Problems can be alleviated here for a reasonable price. I assumed alleviating this problem would not set me back much.

Michael called me. His friend's boyfriend wanted help on his resume. Of course, I do not mind helping I told him. We decided I would look at the resume on Saturday afternoon. This made Michael happy. I told Michael about the toilet. He told me he would call a worker. That made me happy. The last time I had my bathroom drains snaked it cost 50 rmb which is about $6.50. This is very reasonable. In other countries, I am sure a plumber would cost $100 at least.

Michael told me the plumber would arrive on Saturday at 1:30. I thanked him. Little did I know at the time that this would have the makings of a screwball toilet comedy.

Saturday morning when I woke up and made coffee, I realized something was strange with my upper lip on the left side. I looked in the mirror and I seemed to have developed a cold sore overnight which is weird. I do not think that I have ever had a cold sore in my life. I thought of the cold sore scene in Spinal Tap. I then wondered how I might have got this cold sore that could very well be Herpes. I have not had contact with anyone except for my pillow. In my sleep, I am sure that I am probably a bit amorous with my pillow. Could my pillow have given me Herpes simplex? This mystified me and somewhat unnerved me. I really do not want to have cold sores for the rest of my life. I have avoided them this long.

After I had my coffee, I decided to go and shop a bit. Screw the cold sore I said. I have this part time job at Web International, a business English school, on Thursday and Friday evenings. All together, I teach there six hours a week. That brings in roughly an extra $500 a month which is helpful. At the moment, I have no comfortable black shoes. My black Miu Miu slippers wore a blister on the upper part of my heel not too long ago so I have decided to retire them.

The other day when I was out, I spotted some pointy toed Comme des Garcons black patent leather and gold spectator slip-ons. When I saw them, I tried them on (41s) and they fit. They seemed as if they would be comfortable and they were reasonably priced. When I saw them, I thought I would look at my bank balance if I had enough money to last me comfortably until payday I would buy them. When I looked at my bank balance, I realized I had plenty of money to last me. I could buy them and not sweat it.

After I finished my breakfast of chocolate muffins, and after my maid finished cleaning my apartment, and after I puttered around the apartment for a little bit; I headed to the shops on Changle that are on the north side of my school. On the way to buy the shoes – or at least - on the way to seriously consider buying the shoes; I became hungry, famished, actually.

On the same block as the shops, there is a wonton place that is fairly tasty. They speak no English but I thought that I could fake my way through and order something if worst came to worse. The place was fairly deserted when I arrived. I did not have to wait in line. However, at the counter, I was not sure how I was going to order what I wanted to order. I have started this little book of phrases which I did not have with me and the book does not have anything about ordering food in it anyway. Yeah, I do have the Berlitz phrase book that Meg gave me that I should carry with me but I did not have it with me either. I travel light. I love to travel light. Traveling light sometimes puts me at a disadvantage in certain situations. This was one of those situations. For a minute, I stood at the counter and stammered. Then, I looked around which I tend to do to see if there are any students around that might be able to help me.

Well, when I looked around, I spotted two students at a table. There were only two tables occupied and at one of the tables were the two students I spotted. I looked closer and realized it was my friend Pascar whom I taught last semester. I called out his name. He did not look up. I did called out again. No response. I thought it looked like him. Maybe it is not him, I thought. I called his name again. This time he looked up and saw me and smiled.


He rose from the table as he slurped one more mouthful of noodles. Across from him sat Allen. Allen is a student who I became friendly with at the end of the semester last term. Last semester, he asked me at one point why Avril makes great sounding records but live her sound is of poor quality. I was not sure how I was to explain this. Would he understand if I told him she was a manufactured star? I told him much more money and technology went into recording her records. Live you get what you get. He seemed to understand.

Allen and Pascar both smiled and said hello. I asked them if they could help me order something to eat. I explained what I wanted. You can get the wontons dry or in soup. I wanted dry wontons. I pointed to a picture. They asked me if wanted hot ones. Yes, I want hot ones I told them. They ordered for me. I paid the cashier 9 rmb which is about $1.12.

I sat with them as I waited. They finished there wontons in noodle soup. Pascar told me that he could not believe that they saw me. He told me he was nervous to talk. I told him to not be nervous. Allen told me he was not nervous to talk because I am so nice. I told them that they should not be nervous. I think it is very courageous that they would talk to me in English. I cannot speak Chinese.

While we sat, I learned more about them. My wontons arrived. I listened while they talked. Both of them are from the same town and they live in the dorms at the school. Their town is 10 hours away by train and 5 hours away by car. I asked them how often they talk to their parents. Pascar told me that he talks to his mom about 'one time every day.'. I told him that is very important.

They asked me how many brothers and sisters I have. I told them I have 3 brothers and 1 sister. Allen said that my mom does not miss me as much then because she has other children to love. I told him my mother passed away 8 years ago. He told me he was sorry for me. If my mother was still alive, I would not be talking to you I told them. It would have been too hard for me to leave her.

We finished our lunch. I asked them if they wanted to walk around with me. I was going to buy some shoes. They told me they would like that and that they could talk to the clerks for me. I did not know how to tell them I had no problem shopping. I just have problems ordering food. I guess we know what is more important to me.

As we walked around, I realized that inviting the two of them along might impede my decision making somewhat. They seemed to want me to hip hop out. I told them that might not be age appropriate for me which is something I am trying to take into consideration these days. Not to mention, that I am just not really into the hip hop chic.

Oh well, I enjoyed walking with them. I had plenty of time to shop later after the toilet problem was alleviated. I told them I had plans to go to London for winter holiday. They both wanted me to come with them to visit their hometown. I told them I would love to come and visit their hometown with them, maybe for the break that we have in May. They both walked on each side of me so that they could both take turns asking me questions. We plugged each others' numbers into our mobiles. I did really enjoy walking with the two kiddos.

Oh well, I thought, we were close to the shop with the Comme Des Garcons slip-ons I had been eying. We walked in. I saw the shoes. I pointed to the shoes and told the boys those were the shoes I had been thinking I might buy. They looked at them and I think they were a bit dumbfounded because they are really shiny – somewhat preposterous - shoes. I told them they would be good to wear to work but that I could wear them in London when I played my show there. Pascar told me that the shoes made me look younger. I have never heard of shoes making someone look younger but I did take it as a compliment.

For some reason, I thought when I had come by the shop a few days previous, the woman had marked the price down on the shoes for me. I am not sure why I thought this but I did. This was not the case. Nevertheless, they did knock a few dollars off of the price which made me happy.
“Bu Hao Yi Se.” I told the lady which means that I am sorry or embarrassed or something like that.

I did not take off the shoes; I bought the shoes – the clerk put my old shoes in the box – and I headed back to meet Michael and the worker. Pascar asked if they could walk with me back to my flat but then Allen reminded him that they have much homework. They went back to school to do homework. I walked in my new shoes back to my flat. I stopped at the scooter boys scooter shop. They eyed my shoes enviously and smiled. I rubbed the scooter boys head who got a haircut last week and I made my way back to my flat.

I arrived at my flat with plenty of time to spare. The maid had just cleaned so I did not have to do any cleaning. Ten minutes after I arrived, Michael showed up with the worker in tow. The worker busied himself in the freshly mopped bathroom, which was soon not freshly mopped – or at least, did not look freshly mopped. He snaked the commode while I made tea (Earl Grey). Michael told me that his friends would arrive at 2 pm. I showed him my lip. He did not know the English words to explain what he thought might be the problem.

Occasionally, he walked into the bathroom to check on the progress. From what I could tell from my limited knowledge of toilets is that there was no progress. The worker explained something to Michael. He was very adamant in his explanation. This was serious. I had no idea what sort of serious operation this Marcus Welby MD of plumbing was exacting. I was in the dark, in the toilet dark. I kept trying to gain hints or clues but I could not. Finally, the worker stopped to take a breath and light a cigarette. He looked at me to see if it was okay to smoke the cigarette he was about to light in my bathroom. I gave him the okay.

The problem, I was told by Michael, is that there is something hard that the snake cannot penetrate in my toilet which means that more serious measures will need to be taken.
“Something hard?” I asked.
“Yes, yes, something hard.” Michael confirmed.
“I assume this means,” and I took a breath “that the worker has to remove the toilet to remove the problem.”
“Yes,” Michael, again, confirmed, “so it will be more expensive.”
“I think the landlord should pay for this,” I told him “I know that I have not thrown anything in the toilet and it has not worked like it should ever.”
“Yes,” Michael said, “but the landlord does not know that.”
“Oh,” I said. That is true I thought. I have never complained about the toilet so how would the landlord know that it has always had problems. I decided to take my lumps. In my head, the figures are multiplying which freaks me out a bit. Actually, in my head, the figures skyrocketed. I imagined that I might have to take out loans from some Chinese loan shark. Something told me that this problem is not going to be easy to alleviate after all.

“How much?” I asked, as I prepared for the worst.
“150 rmb.” Michael replied.
Okay, I was not happy about it but, okay, I thought. That is a little less then $20.

The worker then dismantled the commode. The next thing I knew the commode was sitting in the middle of the bathroom. He ran the snake through the commode with no problem. The hard object was not in the innards of the commode. It must then be somewhere down in the floor which made me nervous to say the least. I was not sure what to think. The worker talked to Michael again. They talked back and forth for what seemed like an eternity before I could get a word in to ask the problem.

Michael then told me that the worker said that the toilet does not fit. After he explained it somewhat, I understood him to mean that the hole in the floor did not match up with the toilet. When I flushed the toilet the waste just gathered on the floor and oozed to the opening unless I poured the bucket of water down which would be enough water to force the sludge down the drain. This, I told Michael, is the Landlords problem because I am not the one who had the commode installed. Michael agreed and asked me if I had the landlord's number he would call. I told him I did not know. He told me it would be on the lease. I had no idea where the lease was. I started my search for the lease. I thought it might be in this canvas box in which I keep important papers. It wasn't. I then thought it might be in my white leather bag. I hoped it was in my white leather bag. If it was not in my white leather bag, I did not know where it would be. I pulled my bag down from the top of my built in armoire and sure enough, there the lease was. I handed it to Michael. He called the landlord. At one point, he was laughing. He got off the phone and told me, yes, the landlord would pay. Good, I said, because this was not my fault.

Of course, this is when Michael's two friends showed up, the one who wanted help on his resume and his girlfriend. I met the girl at Michael's birthday Karaoke party. Her English name is Lisa. She is nice. She thinks that most Chinese music is crap. She hates the Back Street Boys and all of the foreign music that most Chinese seem to like. I liked her instantly.

Of course, this is when the whole scenario had the makings of screwball comedy. Constance Bennett, Carole Lombard, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, – any of them could have played the lead at this point; take your pick. Michael's friends walked into my flat, into my commode-less flat, or at least, into a flat where the commode is sitting nonchalantly in the middle of a somewhat expensively fitted bathroom with a now filthy muddy floor. Furthermore, where the commode once sat was now just a pile of muck, sludge, murk – which I do not wager to guess what this crud consisted of - and next to the pile was a hole in the floor.

I told my visitors to come on in. I gave them slippers to put on. I do not let anyone where their shoes in the flat which I know is quite different from the days when I launched pop bottle rockets and had cook-outs on various abode floors back in the days of liquor and drugs. Of course, I know they thought it odd to have to wear slippers in an apartment where the commode was not even fastened to the floor. And that in plain sight they could see a pile of dookie.

When Lisa stepped into my flat, she looked around and told me that she thought it really nice. Her boyfriend, who wanted help on his resume, was not forthright. He was maybe even a bit stunned by the whole scene. She was the talker. She loved the garden. She told me to tell her if I move. I told her I would. I told her Michael found the place for me. He is such a dear.

She had her computer with her. Mine currently does not have Word because I replaced the hard drive and my friend installed some strange free office software. I had told Micheal to tell them to bring a computer because of this situation. We opened the computer on the floor and set about to start working.

At this point, Michael told me the worker had another engagement and that we could go get the toilet later. This is when something clicked in my head – toilet later? Something about that rubbed me wrong.

“No,” I said, “we can work on the resume later and get the toilet now. There is no way that I want to be without a toilet.”

“Yes, yes,” Michael agreed, “get toilet now, resume later.”

I would have assumed that Lisa and her boyfriend would take the hint and just come back another time.
“Do you mind if we wait here?” Lisa asked. “We could watch a DVD.”

That is fine. I showed them where I kept the DVDs. I then remembered that most of the Chinese people I know are very fond of Amelie.
“This is the same director who directed Amelie” I said, as I handed her Delicatessen.
“Oh, I love Amelie,” she told me.
They then got settled in to watch the movie. Michael and I proceeded to put on our shoes to go pick out a commode. This is when the worker came in to tell us that his company sells toilets. He told Michael this who in turn told me. He will get one from his company, a better one. The worker headed off to snatch a commode. This will cost me 900 rmb which is around $112 which is fine because my landlord will reimburse me. I can take it out of the rent.

While the worker was gone, I helped Lisa's boyfriend with his resume. It was not as bad as I imagined. I tried to advise him the best I could. While I was glancing at it, buried at the bottom of the resume was the fact that he had the highest score on the graduate school admission exam to Fudan University. I told him this was a major deal. This should be at the top. Getting the high score on the graduate school admission exam to one of the most prestigious schools in China is a really big deal. Lisa agreed with me. That is much more important than the fact that he started a computer game sports club at the school.

Soon, the worker was back with his elderly father – I assume the old man was his father – and his very young daughter. Michael asked me how old I thought the daughter might be. I guessed six. Michael asked. She told him six. With them, they had a big box shaped like a commode. Yes, the box was square but it was actually shaped like a commode with two boxes stacked off center on top of each other. I was interested to see if this was actually a nicer commode. When they tore the cardboard away, I instantly could tell that yes, they had brought a nicer commode with two buttons used to flush the toilet on the top.

They got busy and had the commode in place in no time. I told Michael I had to go to an ATM and get the cash to pay them because they were nearly finished. I ran off to the ATM and had no problems which always surprises me. There is a little All Days convenience store next to my ATM. I thought I might buy the painfully shy daughter some candy. She really did want nothing to do with us boys when her father brought her into the flat. For 3.6 rmb, I spotted a small plastic dog – 2 inches high or so – filled with little hard candies shaped like fruit. Oh, and the dog was wearing a fedora. I thought this might be nice. I grabbed it and headed back to the flat.

As soon as I walked in, Michael and Lisa's friend wanted to see what I had in my hand. Lisa had left by this time; she had a previous engagement. I showed them the dog then I handed the dog to the little girl. She took it but she seemed a bit baffled.

“Ruff” I barked.
“Dog” I said.
This did not seem to make her any less puzzled.

Lisa's boyfriend packed up the computer, Lisa's computer and left. He asked Michael if he was going to leave as well. Michael told him that he had to go to the pharmacy with me to deal with this sore on my lip. Of course, this discourse was in Chinese but I somehow knew of what they were speaking.

The worker asked for a mop and actually cleaned up the bathroom somewhat as he tracked it up more as he mopped. I was touched. I mopped it again this morning. The worker, his daughter and his father packed up and left. They lugged the old commode with them. I briefly thought of planting a plant in it in the garden but then I thought.
“Nah, too Clampett.”

(Sidenote – Michael and I did go to the druggist. I bought some pills for the equivalent of 50 cents. The druggist told me to not eat any fried foods or anything spicy for three days. Actually, he told Michael to tell me this because he said it in Chinese.)