Ever since I got back to China, my company has been working on renewing my work visa, which is always a drawn out process. For the last two and half years, this process has been a mystery to me, a mystery that never worries me. I hand over my passport for the renewal; a few weeks later I have my passport back and my work visa.
For some reason, this time, this process has been a bit more muddled and peculiar than usual. Emily started the process before I left to go to America but then she quit the company. Lanny took over and began handling the details and now Lisa (another office worker) has taken them over from Lanny because Lanny is dealing with Australian exchange students at the moment. There, as I have mentioned previously, have been some problems along the way, which have made me have a few meltdowns.
Now, out of the blue, Lisa calls me and tells me that they want to see me at the Visa office. This sets my mind reeling. Every mistaken identity story - which includes a few Hitchcock films, North by Northwest and The Man who Knew too Much, in particular – plays in my head like some newsreel set on repeat. I cannot get this out of my head. Has my number been called? Is my life hanging in the balance? Am I 46 and savaged? Is my goose cooked? Is my duck Peking’d? This makes me very uneasy.
I try to think about other things. Before, I have mentioned how much I like Edward. He is always jolly and considerate. Lately, several times, he has reminded me that he is looking for the Shanghai Brand Watch for me at the lowest price.
I always enjoy talking to him. I especially enjoy lunch with him because that is when his motor is really revved. At lunch, he is always on a roll and I just sit back and listen and nod occasionally.
Today at lunch, he told me that Dolly was late ‘by 20 minutes this morning.’ This, of course, really upset Sharon. And I was privy to the information that the students cannot understand Dolly's Filipino accent. This I can understand since I can barely understand her as well and I must ask her to repeat everything she says about five times.
Dolly really is just an embarrassment for all of the Dollys of the world. For the most part, I have tried to be nice to her but she just always rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it is because when I first met her she immediately rubbed me the wrong way and she has since not rubbed me right.
After lunch, I was busy preparing for my class at 1pm. Usually, I have everything ready but sometimes, I have to do a few things at the last minute to insure that the lesson is the best that it can be. This seems to be the time when she wants to talk to me, always. And, anything that she says to me I have to have her repeat because I do not understand her.
Today was typical. She said something and I tried to ignore her and just do my work. She said it again louder and I asked her to repeat what she just said, not because I cared, simply because I was making an effort to be polite. She repeated what she had said and it took me a minute to realize she was asking me if I wanted a roommate, which was completely out of nowhere, completely.
Naturally, this completely stunned me, completely, stunned me. I know there are people who love having roommates and probably have to have roommates to stay sane. That’s great! I am not one of those people and Dolly Dildo is not someone I would ever even almost consider as a roommate. Does she not have any clue that it is hard enough for me to deal with her on the days that she teaches, like today when she was talking about her teaching methods as if I cared? Maybe she is a really great teacher but if the students do not understand her it really does not matter how great she is.
Later, after I returned from teaching my class, she asked me if I would switch schedules with her in the morning; take her early classes. Yeah right! No, I told her laughing when she asked. This, I could not believe she would ask me.
"I thought I would ask," she said in response when I laughed. I mean really, yeah, sure, I would love to take your early class Dill Weed Dolly Dill Do. Finally, Dolly Dilly Dill Do left. Do Do Ran Ran!
At the moment, someone is talking with Sharon, a young Chinese guy whom I have never seen before. They are chattering away animatedly in Chinese.
I do like Sharon. She has a strong personality. As I have said, her and Edward do not get along. He smokes in the office to annoy her, which I, of course, find amusing. For the most part, I am trying not to get involved.
Sharon does really work hard. I think that she puts more effort into this than she should. She stays at the dorm with the students on some nights. She is discouraged because the boys seem to be making no progress.
“The girls are hardworking. The boys are lazy.” - She tells me.
Yesterday, I took the students to the Shanghai Biennial, which the girls really loved and the boys didn't. The boys ran around knocking into people and sculptures and generally causing havoc. I acted as if I did not know them.
At one point, Elliot who was once Mark told me that he thought the exhibit boring. Danny who was once Bill agreed.
"Would you rather have lessons?"
"Oh, no, this very exciting." Danny exclaimed after he thought about it for a second.
Later, when we were by the gift shop waiting for the girls, Danny said something about being bored. "Did you say you don't like me?" I asked in my most mock accusatory fashion.
"No, like like!"
"He very like you" threw in Elliot. "He gay."
This of course, made the other boys burst out in uncontainable laughter. They could not contain themselves for about five minutes. I made a Mr. Bean face and pretended to hit Elliot, which made them laugh even harder.
We waited and waited for the girls. They were about a floor behind us when we separated. After fifteen minutes, I started to wonder about them a bit. I was not worried. They are all high school students but at the same time, they are three schoolgirls which maybe I should have been more worried than I was. I know that they are smart and that they would not go with someone against their will.
There were four floors of the exhibit. The fourth floor was a pretty quick look of a floor. We kept waiting. Finally, the boys decided to send Leon, who was once Riki, to find them. He disappeared. We sat down just inside the entrance to wait. Maybe I should have been more concerned. The boys always concern me much more than the girls.
While we waited, Kevin played a basketball video game on his mobile phone. I watched.
After about fifteen minutes, the girls showed, waving and laughing, with Leon behind frowning somewhat. Somehow, they had gone past us and were at the exit. I told all of them that I was very proud of them for being able to stick together.
On the walk back to school, we decided to get a small snack which the boys thought was the best idea ever. We gave a few places a glance but the boys vetoed each one. All of the places I suggested were not delicious enough.
Finally, the boys decided they wanted to just go back to school and play basketball. That was okay with me.
About that time, Leta told me that Lillian who was once Belial wanted to ask a question. Lillian then told me that Jane who has been Jane the whole time was the one who wanted to know. Jane told me that Leta wanted to know.
Leta has always been Leta, by the way.
“Would you like eat supper with us?” Lillian asked.
“Supper?” I asked
“Outside school,” Jane told me.
It was at this moment that I realized that I never pay that much attention to the girls, part of it is because they seem so autonomous and self sufficient, part of it is because I just did not think that they look at me as more than another adult in the parade of adults with whom they interact. For some reason, I don’t know why, I was truly touched, truly touched.
“Yes, I would love to have dinner,” I replied.
They all squealed as if this was 1970 and they had won a date with David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman or Tommy James. Again, I was touched and feeling a little guilty that I had not paid that much attention to the girls in class.
Leta and Jane are hardworking. So far, they have impressed me with their understanding of Frankenstein. The boys at this point seem to just stare into space or look at me with those looks of bewilderment when we talk about Frankenstein. We have been taking it very slowly.
I know it is very difficult for the boys but at the same time, they do not seem to want to put the effort they need to put into their studies. Yet, they want to go to America in a year and be able to assimilate with the American kids. After teaching international students in NYC, I know how difficult this is and it has to be their decision to put forth the effort, not mine.
While I am at dinner with the girls, I think about the boys. I love the boys but I realize that I must help the girls as much as I can because they are the ones expending the effort to learn. Once the boys realize that they must put more effort into this, I will gladly help them.
The girls chattered in Chinese and English at dinner. We ate at the girls favorite restaurant, a Japanese noodle place in the mall by the school. Lillian and I both got the cold sesame noodles. Jane got the lunch plate. Lillian got hot beef noodles. We all began with miso soup. While I ate, I realized just how precious this time is that I have here. The dark episodes may come and go but really, I have a lot of reasons to be thankful. Unaware, the girls, at dinner, helped me to remember this.
After dinner, we walked around the mall. They bought little candies at a candy shop. Jane swooned at the Hello Kitty store. At the mall, they were typical teenage girls, shopping and chatting and laughing. Eventually, I told them I had to go home. Instead of taking the bus, I took a long walk home. For part of the walk, I walked through one of the long underground malls filled with clothes shops and toy stores. Part of the way, I walked through the park. The rest of the way, I walked down Julu Lu - my street, my neighborhood. Really life is okay.
This evening, when I cannot take it any longer, I call Lisa because I am worried about this upcoming appointment in the morning. Since I have never had to go to the Visa office, this just seems really odd. What do they want? - I want to know. This is Hitchcock-like or Kafkaesque; I really am a bit worried.
“Oh, hello Tyson, nice to meet you.” This is how Lisa greets me on the phone, which is a common greeting here.
“Yes, nice to meet you too. Uh, I am worried about this meeting in the morning. Should I be worried? I am really worried?” I tell her in rapid succession.
“Oh, don’t worry!” she assures me. “Edgar (my boss) will answer questions. They want see your face, take picture of you.”
“Oh, okay,” I tell her. This makes me feel much better. I hang up the phone, breathe a sigh of relief and put on Bowie.
And in the death…as the last few corpses lay rotting on the slimy thoroughfare…