Friday, September 12, 2008

Watches and Passports

“When you speak Shanghainese,” Edward said, “it sounds very strange, very funny to hear foreigner speak Shanghainese.”
He told me this when I repeated a phrase that I overheard him say to Sharon.
“When we speak English,” he asked, “it does not sound as strange?”
“No,” I told him though it really does sound strange to me but I did not want to offend him because Edward is such a sweet person.

Sadly, I was in somewhat of a rotten mood, which I try to never take out on anyone. As soon as I got to school Lanny called me. Lanny now works for my company. You may, or may not, remember she was my co-hostess at the speech contest, a few years ago, when I first came to Shanghai. I did not realize until yesterday that this Lanny who has been emailing me about my passport is that same Lanny.

She called me this morning and wanted my passport number and my signature. She is getting my working visa renewed. That is fine except that I went to the office fucking yesterday and got my passport from her after I had a meeting with David – the assistant to the owner - and it seems like it would have made sense to get all of that information then while she had the thing in her possession. So now, she wanted me to find a scanner somewhere and scan my signature. In America, this would be no big deal but here in China, it is hard enough explaining little things and I just did not want to deal with it because I was working on lesson plans and I had no time for her fuck ups, basically. She wanted my passport number as well. I told her my passport was at home. It is not like I am carrying it around with me. I told her I was busy. I would talk to her later.

The reason, I urgently needed my passport back is that I tried to pay my rent (a few weeks ago) and I could not transfer the money to my landlady’s account without my passport. On the phone, I told Lanny that I still have to pay my rent. These little things that should be little things turn into major things and really puts me into a crappy mood.

After I got off the phone, I went back to my office and talked to Edward. I told him about the whole affair.
“It’s just stupid,” I said,
“Yes, it is stupid,” he repeated

The other day, in the Shanghai Daily, I read an article about Shanghai watches. The Shanghai Watch Factory was established in 1955 and at that time was the biggest watchmaker able to turn a profit for a state owned company. Now people are starting to collect the watches that were made in the 50s and in the 60s. Supposedly, the ones made in the 70s are fairly cheap but good.

Okay, granted, you can get a fake Rolex or Omega on every street corner.
“Watch! Bags!” The hawkers call as you make your way to the grocer, Starbucks, wherever.
“Cheaper for you! Best quality!” They invariably add.

Nevertheless, the Shanghai Watch bug has bitten me. I really want one. Chairman Mao wore one, as did many others in the Chinese Communist elite. Communist Chic is very in this year.

So, I have this stack of newspapers on my desk and I went sorting through them because I really wanted to find the article about the watch so that I could ask Edward if he knows where I can find one. Although I could not find the article right off, I knew I kept the paper. I kept digging and digging, looking and looking. I finally found it and then realized after I found the article; there is a big picture of the watch on the front page of the section because the article is the cover story of the section. Oops!

I then showed Edward the article.
“Where can I find one of these?” I asked.
“Oh, a famous brand watch,” he responded.
“You can find that…”and before he had the chance to respond, Sharon was right there to make sure I knew that she knew where I could buy the watch. Of course, this made Edward angry so he went silent.

This is how it is with them most of the time. They bicker and squabble. Sharon has such a strong personality that she always overrides Edward. Edward is so nice that he usually lets her.

Briefly, they argue about pronunciation, the Chinese pronunciation of the shop that carries the Shanghai Brand watches. Something tells me that Edward is right because, well, he usually is.

Edward tells me, while Sharon is squawking in the background, that I can get the watch on West Nanjing Road, maybe. I ask him it he can tell me where on Nanjing Road. Sharon writes something in Chinese on a piece of paper and hands it to me.
“This is watch shop,” she tells me.

Later at lunch, I sit with Edward and then Sharon comes and sits with us. After five minutes or so, a friend of Edward comes by and Edward tells me that his friend wants to have lunch with him. Actually, I know the reason he went to eat with his friend - Sharon would not shut up for a minute. Edward is a really good person and very helpful to me. But, now, I am beginning to like Sharon because I think she is learning the boundaries with me but at the same time, it makes me angry when she just tromps all over Edward.

Edward left and it was just Sharon and me.

“What do you call that?” she points to my bowl.
“No, not soup.”
“Oh, uh, seaweed.”

Usually, I pass on the soup because it is often egg and tomato or mystery chicken parts but today I got the soup because I am fond of seaweed.

“You don’t like soup.” Sharon tells me.
“I don’t like most soups,” I tell her “ but I do like seaweed soup.”
“Oh, I can’t eat.”
“You can’t eat it?”
“No,” and with that she points to her neck and pantomimes swelling.
“Allergic” I tell her.
“Allergic. You are allergic to seaweed.”

I then tell her I once had allergies but I took shots when I was a kid to cure them.

“Not allergic.” She says.
“Not allergic?” I ask. “I don’t know what else it could be.”
“Not allergic!” she says as a confirmation. “I like all soup but seaweed, you like no soup but seaweed.” This sent her into a cackling fit, which made me laugh.

“That kind of soup,” she said, “can’t eat because of my age.”
“Age?” Okay, now this really stumped me. Sometimes, conversations here are like trying to work out some abstract crossword puzzle with half of the clues missing. Oh, okay, I think I see.
“Do you get really hot?”
“Yes, really hot!”
“And you get cold, really cold too?
“Oh, that is called menopause!”
“Men – uh – paws!”
“Men-uh…paws!” she repeated it slowly and tentatively but said it.
“Yeah, good, menopause.”
Sharon has somewhat slithered into my heart because she is totally whacked out of her brain.

After lunch, I thought I might go to Nanjing Road, a few blocks away, and see if I could find one of those watches that I had read about. Edward had disappeared. I called him on the phone to ask if he might go with me. He was outside the school gates so we met at Guangdong and Guangxi, which is the northwest corner of the school. He pointed the way to the shop but could not go with me because he had students waiting for him in the teachers’ office. They were there to give their recitations.

As he started for the school he turned to say one more thing:

“You may have to go to the Shanghai Watchmaker factory shop to find watch.”
“You may not find the watch on Nanjing Road,” he said. “I talked to friend. I know of another place to look for watch. We can go there when we have time.”
“Okay, thanks.”

I headed off to Nanjing Road. That part of Nanjing Road is a pedestrian mall of sorts. Tons of Chinese are selling all sorts of things that you never want unless you are into hookers and massages. Today, I was not in the mood for the hustle bustle - especially hustle – of the road. A woman approached me; I ignored her.
“Hey you walk too fast,” she told me as I passed. “I no catch you.”
I smiled to myself. The watch, the Shanghai Watch, was not there. This was a place to buy expensive watches. I walked back to the school somewhat dejected.

As soon as I got back to school, Sharon accosted me; Lanny had called. She absolutely had to have my passport now. They had to renew the visa today. I told Sharon the whole story. At this point, I was very angry. They wanted Sharon to take my remaining lesson at the end of the day, which I thought was ridiculous that they would put her in that spot. I told her I was very angry with them after I explained the story again.

“I was there at the office yesterday. Lanny gave me back the passport. She told me she did not need it. ” I told Sharon. “Yesterday!”
My little tantrum made her laugh. I told her that it made me really angry that I would miss my lesson at the end of the day. She had a lesson at that same time in the public school so she could not take it.
“That is okay,” she said, “that is extra lesson. Students don’t need lesson then.”
“Well,” I told her. “I am really angry. I never miss lessons.”
“It is not your fault,” she told me.

Lanny called again. She told me she would come to the school and take me to pay my rent and then take the passport. I asked her when. She told me in a few hours. I told her that I could go home, get my passport and go pay my rent before that.
“Oh, that make you too tired,” she told me.
“That is okay,” I told her, “I will go home. Call me when you are coming to get it.”

As soon as I got off the phone, I had yet another small outburst. Sharon had left the office. Edward was there.
“So stupid,” I told him.
“Yes, stupid,” he repeated.

I left the office, took the bus home, got my passport, went to the bank, stood in line for about 30 minutes to pay my rent because Friday afternoon is an universally busy bank day. Finally, after I was done, I walked back home. By that time, I was really tired.

After I recuperated for about an hour, I called Lanny because I was curious why she had not called.
“Hello Lanny.”
“I am at the gate”
“The gate of my house?”
“The gate of the school.”
“I left the school hours ago. Come to my house.”
“Yes, I will come to your house right now.”


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