Monday, August 01, 2005

Saturnz Revenge

A new day in the PC offices brings yet another surprise. This locker room of a building comes fully stocked with bathrooms of course. There is nothing funny I can say about them other than just to try to paint a picture. The urinal is about normal, dirty, but somewhat normal. The sink is also fairly normal, however if you wash your hands in here, they will likely be dirtier after washing them. The surprise comes when I try to find the source of the rancid odor that gives me an immediate headache – the actual toilet. It is called a ‘Turkish Toilet’. The poor Turks. The toilet is behind a normal bathroom metal wall (with out a door) and is nothing more than a tiled hole in the floor with skid marks around it. It looks like the monster in the desert in Star Wars that Jabba the Hut was going to push Luke and Han into, the Sarlacc Pit Monster. The way this thing works, actually all it doesn't do any work, the way you have to work, is to squat over it and release the hounds. Looking at this thing makes my butt hole quiver. There are no handles to hold on to and no toilet paper. The way I see it, what are the odds that I will have to take a shit in the client’s office one time in six months after eating frog soup or a sea slug or goat stomach for lunch? I’m not a betting man, but I’d probably say, ohh, maybe 10,000%. That’s a pretty good number to bet on, a 10,000% chance that I’ll have to perform the greatest feat of balance and concentration since Philippe Petit tightrope walked between the Twin Towers in 1974.

Lunch today was exactly what I needed. Xinlei had two hours so went back to the hotel, ate at the hotel restaurant and then we went up to our rooms and relaxed for a while. Actually, I worked most of the time, but an hour away from people in the middle of the day can be invaluable when appropriately used, especially here where I have so little time alone. Xinlei takes a nap, I catch up on my emails or work for a while, the main thing, is it is a brief time when I’m not talking to a roomful of people.

After work, Dr. Wang (another PC employee) wants to show Xinlei an apartment. Xinlei may be relocating here as well, so the PetroChina guys are helping both of us find appropriate living places. This apartment is right around the corner from the office, in one of those back alley neighborhoods. There are a lot of people outside sitting around, mostly retired people and young children. All of them stop what they’re doing and watch me intently. The apartment was ok I suppose. The building was like something from that really bad hotel in the Blues Brothers, but the room was decent enough, except of course for the kitchen and bathroom. Sanitation is not an important thing here. Once again, we are sat down and given water. Trying to win us over. Despite being wiped out and ready to go back to the hotel, I enjoy these little excursions into the reality of life around here. This is a land stitched together by ghettos and it is important to witness them, if not live in them, to gain an appreciation for what most of the people in the world go through in life.

After work, Xinlei and I went to a mall/grocery store to get some stuff. He bought some new shoes (floor 4), I bought some coffee. In the US, every store in the country sells coffee, here there’s like three kinds and about three boxes of each. They look like they’ve been there for quite a while, dusty like the stuff for sale in old barber shops like old combs or battery converters or whatever random shit they thought they’d be able to sell when they bought the place back in 1971. Every box was open, there’s no such thing as a safety seals here, and everything has been opened before you get to it.

I had to dial into a conference call while in the store, which was kind of strange. Trying to pay attention to a meeting while all of my senses are getting hit by other stimuli: kid running around buck naked, police roaming the isles, every four feet is someone trying to sell something, this place has got to have 300 employees.

I have never been stared at so much in one place in my life. Langfang is pretty remote and most of these people have probably only seen one or two Americans in their entire life and I’m most likely the largest. Children follow me around and whisper to each other. Old people stare at me with the cold eyes of people who have seen more than their lips have been able to describe.

By the next morning I realize that I’m starting to get sick again. I woke up this morning with that scratch in my throat that comes the day before trouble. It’s Thursday, which means that I’ll in the offices tomorrow and then back to Beijing for the weekend. If I’m sick, I’ll probably try to hole myself up in the hotel room for most of the weekend. I’m so far behind on my writing, I need about 10 hours to catch up on it, I’ve got scattered notes all over the place of memorable events and ideas and stuff like that, but I’m just to worn down to dedicate much time to it. Every evening, going out for a ‘quick bite’ turns into a two or three-hour ordeal and it’s wearing me down, that as well as changing hotel rooms every few days keeps me from getting my stank spread out into a room enough to call it home.
Thursday and Friday go pretty normal, if you can say that. It’s very difficult getting adjusted to another culture’s work ethics. Xinlei likes it out here, he says they’re very lazy, which is why we get 2 ½ hour lunches. They’re always asking if we need to leave early for anything or come in later, or take longer lunches. Every day we come back from lunch and the contractors are sleeping at their desks. I do enjoy the relaxed atmosphere but we really need to get a ton of work done. I’ll be working weekends, nights, mornings just trying to stay a step ahead of the game. These past six months have been real hard on me around the office; I haven’t been able to find the drive and inspiration to put in the extra time. A big part of me hopes that these next months will provide me with a boost of inspiration and a desire to continue my life on it’s present course. It will either do that or the exact opposite. This is another example of how Saturn’s Return has struck my life here in my 30th year and I am anxious to be happy again. I’m starting to become bogged down and paralyzed with a despair that comes from feeling that all that I have known or worked for or believed in during the past few years is wrong or stupid, so I am have to change my mind or change my actions or be content with what I am.

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