Saturday, November 05, 2005

I call this meeting of the United Nations to order. Gentlemen, welcome to my hotel

An era of a legend has come to an end Wednesday, we moved Xinlei into his new Langfang apartment. He’s getting hooked up with a sweet three-bedroom apartment about two blocks from the hotel. It costs about as much as my little two-bedroom apartment in Kansas City and is easily twice the size. The place is tiled from head to floor (easy to clean up blood splatter I’m assuming). It’s in a gated community about thirty feet from the Slutty Chick District. I could have gotten a place exactly like this and saved the company about $3000 a month, but I’ve kind of grown to like living in the hotel. If I was in an apartment, I would have absolutely no contact with other people, plus, I’d be forced to cook food, and there’s so little food in the grocery store that I would even know how to prepare, it’s just better this way. If I was going to be here longer, I would have to get an apartment, but for now I’m fine. Our company told Xinlei that he was costing the company too much money living in the hotel, and by Chinese standards, he’s correct. It’s different for me because I have a monthly living allowance, and as long as I don't exceed it, I’m fine. My hotel room is right at the upper limit of my allowance. This would not be the case if I was in Beijing, but in Beijing I would be much more mobile and probably living in an ex-pat community with Quik Trips and Starbucks surrounded by the same people I’ve grown to not miss.

Xinlei went to Beijing to finish his driving school this week; he’s so pumped up about it. I take it for granted that I’ve been driving for 15 years and have had three cars in my life. He’s got a driving test to take, and then in ten days, he’ll be legit, but no less dangerous.

Monday was Christmas in August for me. After seven weeks of waiting, all my shit from Kansas City showed up. It was a great day; I had no idea how happy this would make me. I had been living out of two suitcases of clothes for seven weeks and nearly exhausted my supply of books. It had been so long that I couldn't remember what I packed for myself.

Inspired by the boxes in front of me, I now present to the hungry eye a self-esteem and mood improvement method.

Take everything you have and divide it into three piles. The first pile must fit into two suitcases and will be represent all you have in your world for two months. This will be with you at all times, which is a blessing and a burden, because you have to take it with you everywhere you go, no matter where. The second pile consists of things you can wait two months to have, but you will not receive any of for two months. This shit must fit into six boxes total and no more. After two months you will receive these boxes and you will live on only the two suitcases and six boxes for a total of six months. The third pile consists of everything else you own; you will not see any of it for a minimum of six months. I guarantee, the day your boxes get there and the day you get everything else out of storage will be the happiest days of the year for you.

I was literally dancing around my room, congratulating myself for being so smart as to pack certain things. My shoes are lined up along one wall like a battalion of soldiers, my closet bursting from the seams with clothing, to top it all off, I have a nice stack of unread books in the corner lookin’ all sexy. For some reason, I also have a bunch of random shit from my bathroom. I think they sent a wrong box, but it was so long ago, I may have asked them to ship it for some reason and just plain forgot.

Also, attached to the packet of papers that I had to sign, tucked away in an officially sealed envelope was something I haven’t seen in weeks, my passport. I have a feeling that my passport has had a much more interesting story to tell about it’s trip than I do. My passport also brought a friend along to play with – my work permit. It looks like my passport except that it’s red and in Chinese. At least on of us has been able to score some Chinese action.

While I happily unpacked my stuff, I my mood became more somber as I began to realize how much I have compared to everyone here. Xinlei has had everything in his name with him in the form of three medium sized suitcases, I brought more than that with me on the plane and just got six more boxes of stuff, I now have about 50 shirts and 20 pairs of shoes. Plus I still have a storage unit in Kansas City with ten times the number of boxes easily. I haven’t been ‘roughing’ it, I’ve been living high on the hog and now I’m living even higher. One of the girls was genuinely shocked when I told her that I have about 20 pairs of shoes here, she said she had two pairs and one was only for work.

I saw an interesting headline on a China ex-pat website the other day that was called “Leaving China? Help your domestic helper find a job.” I need a domestic helper, I would have him type up the China Scene section of the China Daily newspaper for me every day so I could publish a book out of the articles. It would be great bathroom reading.

There is still a steady flow of foreigners in and out of the hotel, and since I’m an official hotel ambassador now, I am introduced to them all. David and Niall are here for several weeks from the UK installing a metal milling machine; a guy named Jason is also here from the UK, his job is a sperm sorter, which is one of the most interesting professions I can imagine, sticky, but interesting; Jason’s assistant Todd is also here, he grew up about one hour from where I went to college and spends most of his time in the Slutty Chick District; Michael the Austrian and Franz the South African are here working on a pipeline project from Kazakhstan to China; George and two girls that I don't know are here from Germany studying something, I only see them at breakfast, so I don't know much about them.

Every night it has become a ritual to meet downstairs in the hotel bar and throw back a few beers. They’re so cheap, it doesn't really cost us much, plus it’s an excellent social time. Of course, there are those nights where it just tastes good and we end up getting wasted (about five nights a week). On any given night there are between three and seven people sitting around the Western Restaurant bar getting tanked. It’s nice to speak to people from time to time; I’ll be here long after they’re gone, so I may as well take advantage of the company while I can.

The stress is building and pressing in from all sides. This stress has very little to do with living in another country, it has to do with the position that I’ve allowed myself to be placed in. I’ve worked at least 70 hours a week for the past three weeks, I can’t sleep, my heart rate is faster, I break out in cold sweats. I cannot fail, but I cannot do everything. They expect me to do everything and if I don't try, we will fail. The stress must be driven out; it must be sweated and ran out of my body like a horse in heat. It must be extracted and destroyed from my mind by Kerouac and Burroughs, Dumas and Hemingway, Rollins and Wells. I must break out of this. There is no reason to be this way, I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again. I hear the doors of my neighbor slam ten times an hour for an entire weekend, the cigarette smoke from his room blows through into my room through air conditioner vents putting me on edge. Once stress appears it either grows or subsides, but it cannot grow forever, the body will end stress one way or another. The longer it is allowed to exist, the harder it is to rid the body and mind of it. The only way out is to just do it. Work, read, write. Punish my body like I caught it breaking into my house and heal myself by pure white-hot determination to succeed.

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