Sunday, September 18, 2005

Love and Doubt Have Never Been On Speaking Terms

Over the next few days, Jenny and I spoke frequently, very frequently, like twice a day on the phone plus several text messages. The one recurring theme seems to be how much we wish we could see each other and how much of a pain in the ass it’s going to be to get together again. She lives about seven hours from Beijing and only comes here on special circumstances (I’m special aren’t I?). She works in Beijing for the next couple days while I work in the hotel room in Langfang. They’ve got her doing pretty stupid work. We’ve got a salesman moving here for two years (a Chinese guy who’s a Canadian citizen) and he’s basically treating her like a personal maid. One day she has to iron his bed sheets and all his clothes and mop the whole house (my little Cinderella…awww, I’ll rescue you from that asshole). The next day she had to house sit for him for a total unknown reason. He makes her take a bus to work because a taxi is too expensive and leaves her instant noodles for lunch. Needless to say, she got pretty sick of it.

We talk a lot about how much we miss each other and how we wished we could have another couple days to spend together. Then we move on to planning on how we can meet each other again sometime. Its always fun making plans that you know will likely never be fulfilled. It’s not that I don't want to, it’s just that it’s easier to organize a space shuttle launch than to organize a way to get to another city in a communist country where you need a travel permit to meet a girl that you have only met once and whom you don't even know her real name. That also means I’d be meeting the parents and there’s still no booty guarantee. It was the same way with Gisella, my Peruvian princess. I had one weekend with her and it was one of the best weekends of my entire life and I haven’t seen her since either.

So, I’m still in Langfang, still moving rooms, still alone, still writing, reading, and thinking, still drinking, still feeling, sleeping, and dreaming, most of all, still hoping. For what, I don't know, just to have my soul and spirits raised. It’s been very stressful and busy, hot and humid, dark and bright, no moon or sun, just mist, smells and the hearts and eyes of people who have it worse than me.

Just when I was feeling it from all sides and angles, a genuine smile forced my face muscles to return from the atrophy that they had gained over the past month. Happiness and change always comes in different packages and the surprise in that package is always a big reason. Getting caught off guard can be a good thing. Enough banter, enough lame descriptions of feelings. What could it be? Money? Love? A banjo? What?!

There’s always a thrill that comes when you move into a new apartment, house, hovel or what have you. Tuesday was that day for me. I have been officially moved into my new pad on the 15th and top floor of the Langfang International Hotel (which adds up to the total number of rooms I’ve been in so far). It’s basically a one-bedroom apartment without a kitchen. My rush of emotions is like a roller coaster (not really). As I stroll through the room I notice several things that will bug me and very few that will please me.

First, the Internet plug-in is behind the couch in the living room, but the desk is next to the bed in the bedroom (about 50 feet away). The TV is in the bedroom, but conveniently not facing the bed nor the desk, it’s a good thing that I haven’t turned a television on in this country for over two weeks, so it will be used as a night stand or coat rack. The bed is basically three inches of mattress and six inches of cement (good for the back right?). If I lie flat on it or roll over on it funny my balls are crushed. The balcony is about 30 feet long, but it doesn't matter because there’s a table and two chairs placed in front of the door, forming a nice little sitting area where me and Ethel will be able to play bridge and talk about Walt’s colon polyps. The bathroom is much smaller and there’s no seat in the shower, this hits me pretty hard, I really was getting to enjoy my Epiphany Chair every morning. There is a filtered water cooler in the living room, which is totally excellent because now I’ll have a place to hang out and tell priest and rabbi jokes. There are four phones in here, which is good, because now, at no time will I be more than four feet away from housekeeping. The living room hosts an array of furniture that have a comfort level comparable to sitting on the hood of a Camaro (without the cool mullet to turn the chicks heads).

Within about 20 minutes, I’ve completely unpacked. All of my clothes are crammed into the closet, which is about the same size as my suitcase, but at least my Jurassic 5 t-shirt is now upright where the wrinkles can naturally flow out over the course of a few days. I have moved the desk into the living room, moved the Camaro hood couch out by the window to give me a little room to work. I have made a pile of stuff in the corner that I’m going to give to housekeeping and tell them never to bring it back until someone else is paying for the room, among the items; salt and pepper, toothpicks, three gallon water pitcher, bag of tea (not to be confused with teabags which are a GE specialty), all of the nasty booty-wine they put in the mini bar, three vases full of various flowers in bloom from the China countryside, two of the seven lamps that seem to be places in every corner and on every flat surface and of course the female-genital wash from the bathroom (the joke is wearing off and I’ve stockpiled enough for Christmas).

From my new deck I have a new view of the city, a much more interesting view (not really). I can look down the street we go every day to get to the client’s offices and notice how much construction there is. From the street, everything looks normal (for China), but all of the buildings are only about 50 feet deep, behind most of them is a vast open space of construction. It will be interesting to see how fast the buildings go up. My guess is that they’ll be up quick as hell. The Chinese construction industry has many things working in it’s favor; first of all they have a limitless worker pool, which means they can hire as many people as they want and can make them work millions of hours without the fear of things like unions and workers rights and other such detriments to corrupt construction companies. Secondly, they don't have all of those annoying safety standard, for both workers and building safety. It’s acceptable to have bamboo ladders that reach up seven floors (and they don't have to put toilets in, just leave a hole in the floor with a pipe leading out to the street).

There is an open lot right next to the hotel; it’s actually hotel property. In the middle of the overgrown weeds and rusty pipes is a burned down nightclub. There hasn't been a peep out of this area since I’ve been here, which seems a bit odd. There are very few places within the city that have no action whether it be building, destroying or functioning, so it is a bit odd to see idle land around. But just within the last couple days I’ve noticed a little movement. It’ll be interesting to see what this amounts to, probably a whorehouse, hair styling boutique whorehouse, cigarette shop whorehouse, karaoke whorehouse or a bicycle shop whorehouse (I have a glimmer of hope to see a Starbucks whorehouse, but that’s just silly talk).

Every day here is the gloomiest day in the country of the year. When I first arrived several weeks ago I was astounded by the total grayness and lack of sun that seemed to fall everywhere. Every day since my first day, it has gotten worse. Now, I cannot even see the ground from my hotel room, just the grey blanket that is a mixture of fog, pollution and people’s souls. My windows are always wet from the condensing humidity that has reached new highs. This area is a very dry area (dry in a sense of no rain), but it feels like a rain forest. The dirt and exhaust mixed with the deep sighs of a billion people raise the humidity to levels that cant even be attained in a lab.

I am quickly becoming to enjoy all of the people at this hotel. All of the waitresses and doormen and desk people and everyone else here recognize me immediately. On my way through the lobby, I regularly wave at anywhere from six to twelve different people. As soon as I step from the elevator, all eyes are on me watching me, seeming to plead for me to make eye contact with them and smile. It’s unbelievable the value of a smile around here, a real genuine smile, not that token smile all the people in America give you.

None of them really speak very good English, which is a shame, because they’re desperate to communicate with me and I can see how frustrating it is for them to only be able to say one or two phrases. I have started to notice several of them making the effort of using new words or asking me how to say certain things (actually, they have to ask Xinlei, because if they could ask me, it would have to be in English, which would defeat the purpose of asking me how to say it, confused?). Happiness and kindness are so rare here, that these people just burst from the seams when you say hello. Several people have made the comment to me (through Xinlei) about my eyes. They say that they like smiling and saying hello to me because my eyes are kind and truthful. That’s one of the best compliments that I have ever received from anyone, anywhere and that is why I love the people here. I have questioned my choice to stay in the hotel for six months, but no more. These people are great and if it’s as simple as being kind and smiling and helping them with some words in English, bring it on people of China, I’m here for ya.

Of course, my smiles and laugh have gotten me in a little bit of a pickle with one of the ladies here. Xinlei told me that several times she has told him how handsome I am (I think I should buy this little lady some glasses). Once again, attraction via personality. This girl speaks about fifteen total words of English, and unfortunately is not one of the five or six attractive members of the staff (while they may be able to overlook my physical flaws, I still seem to be attracted based on appearance to a large extent, plus I cant talk to them very well, what else can I go off of?). Her name is Mengmeng (pronounced Mong-Mong).

Over the weekend, Xinlei went back to Beijing and I stayed at the hotel. At dinner on Saturday evening, a new guy came over and started talking to me. He’s a young guy, probably 19-20 years old and speaks fairly decent English. He told me that they needed my number; I assumed he meant my room number (in the hotel world, the room number is the equivalent to your social security number).

“Number? Ahh, 1517.”

“No, need phone…”

“Huh? Ok, I don't really know my phone number, but here’s my phone, you probably know how to work this thing better than me. But if you change the language to Chinese on it, I’ll stab you in the neck with a chopstick.” I said as I handed my phone over to him.

New guy took my phone over to Mengmeng, where she proceeded to enter her phone number and name in and hand it back to me. Ahhh, I get it.

“You want me to call you?”

“Yes, yes Lukason.”

“Thank you, thank you. However, I’m not really sure what to do with this, but I should probably be going back to my room.” I smiled and stammered, getting slightly blushed.

So, I now have the phone number of one of the wait staff on my phone. Even if I called her, how the hell will I talk to her? So my predicament is, I cannot really call her, and I cannot bring myself to break this girls heart, there’s no telling what she would understand that as. She may be forced by honor to cut a toe off or get caned by her boss or something strangely brutal. So I did the only thing I know how to do when I’m bored and not hungry, I took a nap.

The rest of the weekend featured her following me to whatever table I was eating at to serve me, no matter which of the four restaurants I was eating at. Every time I made eye contact, smiled and said thank you, to which, every time she nearly pissed herself out of embarrassment and giggles.

Finally when Xinlei returned, I gave him the rundown and looked to him for support, to which all I got was laughed at very loudly. Thanks for the support dude. As good as a translator as you are, you suck at cultural relationship advice.

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