Thursday, October 06, 2005

That pimp just grabbed my unit, just ask the German

Mr. Feng bought me a ‘learn Chinese’ phonics book; the ages are 0-3 (or 30 year old Americans). I’ve pretty much given up on trying to learn the language; it’s just too difficult. Everyone tells me how to say something different - hotel, car, beer, his or her names, numbers. It goes in one ear and out the other, I repeat it until they are convinced that I am pronouncing it correctly and immediately forget it. Everyone thinks that I’m picking these words up and placing them neatly into my long term memory, little do they know that my long term memory is a cluttered mess of random things that are totally useless for me to remember; my family’s phone number when I was five years old (542-0287), the definition of facultative heterochromatinization (because it’s really long word and somehow justifies seven years in college studying biology), Ozzie Smith’s hometown (Mobile, Alabama), plus a smattering of memories that I wish I could forget. Instead of Chinese, I’ve spent my time learning how to spin chopsticks on my fingers. It’s entertaining for everyone to watch and keeps the communication on a ‘demonstration’ level instead of words.

Xinlei went back to Beijing again this weekend for driver’s school. Apparently, to get your drivers license here, it’s a major undertaking. He goes for about 10 hours a weekend for around 2 months, that’s a lot of hours. Some of the tests that he describes, I know there’s no way I could pass. The process rivals the passport and immigration process that I’ve been going through, but once you have your license at least you get to drive, I just get all my underwear from customs when I’ve got all my paperwork. From what I’ve seen, once you get the license, all bets are off, and you’re free to drive on the sidewalks and run red lights.

Friday night, I was extremely bored, so I went on a walk through the Slutty Chick District again. This time I went several blocks farther to an enormous city square. People here are always doing stuff outside, the streets and benches and sidewalks were packed. This is most likely due to the fact that the average Chinese citizen household does not own a television. I know that I’ve been much more productive since I’ve been here away from the television (I’ve had the time and lazy motivation to write all this crap down).

This square featured an outdoor auditorium style water show. They played classical music and jets of water and light went off in unison. It was similar to how American fireworks displays are. It was a very surreal experience, old, young, parents, children, everyone sitting around on concrete steps all pointing down to this sunken pool with lights and flashes and water going everywhere to music. Next to the Water Works Cinema, there was an outdoor track that was about the size of a basketball court. People were walking, jogging, sprinting around this thing; others were sitting back watching, smoking, kissing, or holding each other. People everywhere, just enjoying the beautiful weather while it lasted.

After an hour or so I meandered back to the hotel and decided to hit the hotel bar for a beer or two. I sat down at the bar with a German guy named Kai. Kai is here for a couple weeks installing a machine of some sort. He’s about 26 years old and has the same comments as I do about the communication issues here in China, which is even worse for him being a German speaking English to Chinese people who speak it right back to him. It’s amazing to think that the language spoke in his meetings here are non-native languages for everyone in the room.

There were three waitresses here and we had a really good time talking to them. One of them, Jenny (another Jenny?), spoke pretty good English and the other two (Joanna and Harmony) spoke a slightly less. These are the first real people I’ve met in the hotel since I’ve been here. I typically don't hang out in bars, but sometimes, it’s nice to get out of the room. I had six or seven beers, Kai had about the same. Somewhere along the way, before I got there, Kai had given Jenny the nickname Monica. I’m not really sure where it came from and why he thought it was so funny, but it was a joke and I laughed right along with him. Jenny asked me if Monica was a good name. Being the good honest person that I am, the only legitimate response I could give her was “Monica? That’s a great name. Monica is the Princess of America. Very honorable.” The German spit beer out of his nose at that one.

The ladies got off work at midnight to be replaced by another guy (Ben) who spoke no English. About 15 minutes after that, I convinced Kai to venture out to the Slutty Chick District to find a bar and have a couple drinks. He had the same comment about every suggestion “Shit, happens, let’s do it.” Awesome, we’re out.

The nightlife in China is more of an evening-life. They pretty much roll up the carpets around 11:30, so by the time we got over there, the bustling of sluts and pimps and hairstylists had been reduced to a mere smoldering of a handful of people just hanging out with the hopeful looks of possibility in their eyes. There may have been three or four places that were still open, so we just picked one and went in.

This is where it got a little bit strange.

This place was pretty rundown, it was about the size of my living room, with bright pink lights all over the place (again, just like my living room). There were two stools at the bar and two couches and a coffee table in the main part of the bar. That’s it, nothing else. On one of the couches laid a fat girl with some serious dental issues, grinning at me like an idiot. On the other couch was the ‘mammason’, sprawled out with enough hair in her armpits to clog a toilet. The manager guy, who kind of looked like DJ Q-Bert, got us a couple beers and started getting in our faces slapping his palm with his fist, which I now know is the international sign for “you want sex fatty?” Kai immediately was extremely uncomfortable; I was drunk and trying to explain to the guy that we just wanted a beer and nothing else. He didn't know a lick of English, so it ended up with me just laughing at him and telling him that my friend here, Johnny Cochrane, is interested in buying some property in South Africa.

By this time, Q-Bert was around the front of the bar, standing between us. Out of nowhere, he reached down and grabbed my package.

“What the fuck? Did you just grab my junk Q? …….THAT’S SO FUNNY!!!” I howled in a drunken laughter.

The German didn't share my sense of humor and got pretty offended, but it still didn't stop Q-Bert from grabbing both of our units a couple more times. He only stopped when I, laughing my ass off, grabbed his little unit like Crocodile Dundee at a cocktail party.

By this time, Q was getting desperate, he was asking us if we wanted two girls, or 14 year olds, he was even trying to pimp out some dude that was washing dishes. Somewhere along the way, Snaggle Tooth came up next to me and started rubbing her tits on me and Captain Caveman mammason was rubbing my leg and the German was about to go Hitler on these guys, so I suggested we quaff the rest of our beers and get the hell out of there. But, the beer was super cheap, so I knew there was a pretty good chance that I’d be back there sometime.

Total elapsed time in this bar? About thirteen minutes.

It was only about 12:45 and we really needed more beer, so we went a couple whorehouses down and found a nice quiet little place to have another beer. This place was very similar in appearance, but without the super aggressive pimp. There was an older guy and two girls eating some food, no music, nice and quiet. They served us a beer and left us alone. The quiet made me think of something; the Chinese eat loud as hell. This cute little girl was on the couch slurping her food and smacking her lips, grunting, snorting and spitting. It was like watching Shirley Temple back up the toilet and spend a half hour going to town on it with a plunger. Totally sexy. Of course, by this time, we were both pretty drunk and extremely loud. What started out to be one beer, quickly turned into about five. After about our third beer, I noticed these people were dropping off like flies. One guy was sleeping on the couch, a girl was curled up in the corner like a Labrador, but we just kept drinking.

This place had the wettest bathroom in the city. A mixture of the amount of beer and the urine/greasy tiled floor made it extremely difficult to hit the hole in the floor. Plus the ceiling was so low I had to duck down. It was kind of like going to the bathroom in the back seat of a Volkswagen.

Finally, out of some mixture of pity, we decided to let these poor people go to sleep and took off. By this time, it was about 3:30 AM, and there was nobody anywhere. We stayed up later than the whole city of Langfang that night. Arm in arm, we returned to the hotel, singing and laughing and dancing like white morons, hoping that the hotel bar was still open, but alas, it was closed. Once again, my only option was to go to sleep and dream of a hangover.

Saturday was much the same, work from the hotel room, eat a couple light meals, work a bit more. In the evening I went down to the bar again where I kicked it with the German for a couple hours. I met another German, Wolfgang (for real). These guys are everywhere. Wolfgang is an older guy who does some sort of instrument configuration work for some German company. He’s really nice and we had a good talk. Kai had to go to bed early because the next morning he had his big sightseeing trip to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City (poor guy, he better wear umbrella safety glasses).

After the waitresses got off work, they made sure to come back through the bar to show off their non-work clothes. Jenny (the new jenny) came out dressed nice and good, she’s pretty cool. I think she wanted me to go out with her and her friends, but alas, Wolfgang was beatin’ on my eardrum when she left. I ended up staying up talking with Wolfgang until about 3:00 am. It was a good week and I’m starting to feel a bit more comfortable here at last.

I’ve been enjoying the seclusion quite a bit. It’s been nice to not be expected to communicate; it has freed my mind for other activities and freed my subconscious from the burdens of sorting out white noise from background conversations. It allows me to use my senses for other purposes, using my ears to hear the city, using my eyes to taste the air. It’s like a blind person being able to improve his other senses to help see the world. My heart has felt empty over the past few years and I’m beginning to realize that it is because I haven’t allowed my mind and body to fill it with the wonders and problems of the world. Walled up in Overland Park or New York or Houston or anywhere in America have dulled our minds to life, but when the walls begin to crumble it becomes apparent that our hearts cannot be consumed with our surroundings if we are to have clarity.

Joseph Conrad wrote in Lord Jim “It is extraordinary how we go through life with eyes half shut, with dull ears, with dormant thoughts. Perhaps it’s just as well; and it may be that it is this very dullness that makes life to the incalculable majority so supportable and so welcome. Nevertheless, there can be but few of us who had ever known one of these rare moments of awakening when we see, hear, understand ever so much – everything – in a flash – before we fall back again into our agreeable somnolence.”

How true.

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