Monday, November 28, 2005

My Honkey Weekend

***Editors note: I have omitted the first couple pages of this weeks entry due to heavy inflammatory remarks about someone that I was very pissed off at the time of the writing. I believe that anybody with a writing lifestyle as flagrant as mine should have a spotless criminal record, if only for reasons of karma and keeping myself employed. My apologies if the beginning doesn't make much sense. Maybe it will come out in the wash in a later compilation of these lame writings. - Lucas

The only reason I wanted to go to Beijing at all has nothing to do with work (of course) or sight seeing (if I have to go back to the Forbidden City, I’ll be wearin’ a dynamite belt), that strange shopping bug had embedded itself in my noggin, like a high school cheerleader. We were planning on meeting Niall and Dave and going to the Silk Market, which is the knock-off shopping mall. They’ve showed me some of the watches they’ve bought and these things are sweet, about one or two of every ten quits working, but at $20, they’re practically disposable. I was planning on finding one or two that I like, barter them down a bit and roll out of there with an authentic Rolex (or authentic Relox). The second thing that I really needed to get is an external hard drive for my laptop. They don't sell them at the Silk market, but Xinlei said he would take me to the electronics district and wrestle a few gigs from their tiny vice-like hands.

Heading to Beijing for the weekend, both PetroChina and Beijing Gas refused our requests for a driver, which is always a bad sign, so we were loaded in two taxis. Chris and Laura took one taxi and I rode alone in the taxi with our usual non-work related driver. The guy is great, he knows a little English, but is constantly listening to tapes to learn more. Xinlei and him talk the entire trip anywhere when we travel together. Here’s a bit of advice, if you’re going to be somewhere long term without a car, find a driver that is really good, get his phone number (they will all give it to you) and use the guy all the time. Either he will be an honest guy or at least screw you the same way every time you use him.

I was really in the need of some alone time. Ever since Chris got here, he’s been knocking at my door every morning wanting to set up an internal network to ‘get some work done.’ Screw that dog; this homeboy is still getting his sleep on. If it wasn't at 8:00 am everyday, it’d be different, but my hours are stretched quite long (work all day, conference calls and other stuff well into the evening and drinking well into the night). There’s no such thing as a ‘regular work day’, if I work 8 hours, it’s probably spread out over about 20 hours of the day. Chris is way smarter than I am and he’s very curious to learn the stuff we’re doing which is somewhat new to him. Normally, I love showing people how to do stuff, but this has not been a good time to be a shoulder bird watching and asking questions. When there’s problems or errors or issues, I’m not a very pleasant person to be asking questions to. I feel bad for being grumpy the whole time, but I kept saying things like “Ok guys, just get out of here for a couple hours and let me work on it, I promise I’ll tell you what I found, but I just need to work alone.”

My pressure related team-working skills continue to degenerate to new levels, which will be bad when I get back home. It’s easy to be a good person when things are going straight, it’s the times of stress that we see what we’re made of, and I am often embarrassed of myself upon later reflection (one more thing in the long list of ‘things to fix’. Number 1,372: Don't be an asshole when things aren’t going well. Right below # 1,371: Cotton balls are not food, despite their resemblance to marshmallows.)

Getting into town at around 3:00 in the afternoon, I was hoping to go and grab a nap for a couple hours, but alas, Marlow and Xinlei were standing in the lobby when we got in. Our brief conversation went kind of like this:

“Marlow, welcome back to China. What’s going on?” I said cheerily, not caring what his response was.

“Hey Luc, (because he cant spell my name right even when he talks) just hoping to get you to come with me to the Beijing Gas office for an afternoon meeting.”

“Suck my what?”

“What do you have going on right now?”

“Well, I’m going to go upstairs and sleep for a couple hours and probably stay up all night working again. I told you I couldn't go to this meeting with you and I’m still not going. But let me know how it goes.”

“I know, I was just hoping… oh well. I at least need you for an hour later to go over some charges to the project. I don't know who some of these people are.”

“No problem, have a good meeting. Sorry Xinlei, but good luck.” I said to the angry Chinese man in the corner.

About two hours later Xinlei called me to let me know that the meeting was over and to try to figure out what was going on for the rest weekend. He has a million friends in Beijing and I try to leave him alone as much as possible when we’re here for the weekend. Originally we were going to go to the electronics store Saturday morning, but since we had a good chunk of Friday afternoon left, I suggested we do it then, that way he’d be free for the rest of the weekend. He agreed and we rolled up to the electronics store.

I get the feeling he comes this place all the time, it’s the ultimate tech-geek place and if you know the ropes, you can get stuff at bargain basement prices. His technique is to go around and get a general idea of the cost of the purchase, but not to purchase anything. It turns out that about 1300 yaks is the going rate for an 80 gig hard drive. Unfortunately, the sales people are always trying to sell the shelf goods, which are treated like our old dog when she pissed on the floor. The goal is to get something untouched and get it for near cost.

After wandering around for 20 minutes or so, we went to find his inside man (actually woman, actually girl) and give her the low down. She said that I was handsome and scurried off on a mission (the ‘handsome’ part plays no part in the story, but she said it, and I’m putting that shit in here). About ten minutes later, she returned and said she could get me the whole package for 1020 yaks (about $110 USD). I forked the money over to her and she was off running again. It was kind of a strange feeling, like we were doing something. I felt a journalist paying for a video of a senator sneaking around a hotel with a prostitute.

The whole time, Xinlei had a huge grin on his face. He totally gets a kick out of showing me how it’s done and I love watching him. China belongs to him, he knows the system, plus he’s had enough western influence between living in the UK and US that he can take advantage of it in very useful ways.

He dropped me off at the hotel and took off to a party. I was pretty worn out and had a lot of work to get done, so we bid farewell and set our Langfang return time for around noon on Sunday. He’s happy and free for the weekend in the city he loves and I grunted back to my hole to get some work done.

I was working in my room later that night, around 11:00 and the front desk called. They told me that they didn't take enough of a deposit out of my credit card and needed me to come downstairs to run my card again. I told them that it was too late and that I’d gladly do it for them in the morning, but they insisted. Work was going to shit and I was not in the mood to deal with these horrible people right now. The Celebrity International Hotel is very typical of China in general; on the outside it looks really nice and classy, but after about 10 seconds, you realize that it’s all a joke, the facilities are shit, the people don't have a clue and the beer is expensive. I hate staying here and every time I’m, it gets worse.

As it turns out, my credit card was rejected. I had them run the thing three times, the flashing red light on the credit card machine reflected in my eyes in intense anger. I grabbed the card back from them before they could cut it up and called Laura. I was so pissed off by this point. How the hell could my company card have gotten canceled? Was I fired? Has it really been that long since I’ve done my expense report? What the hell. I was fuming. The stress from work already had me operating at about an 88% anger/frustrated level; this just put me over the top. They told me I could use my personal card. Yeah right, I’ll sleep on the streets before I subject my credit cards to this thieving country’s credit card machines, especially at this roach motel.

Laura came down and rescued me and talked me back from the edge of the building, something that she’s gotten pretty good at lately. I spent the next two hours on the phone with the travel hotline and the credit card hotline and all of the other people that refuse to talk to each other, even though they’re practically doing the same service. Eventually, my findings were this: My credit card was cancelled and no one knew why. But if I had my manager log a case into the company Internet help desk, they would turn it back on… sometime.

Another couple of hours of phone calls with my HR manager and my boss and I was on my way, all said and done, I have no idea how long my card would be out of commission. By this time, I was in desperate need of alcohol and I knew just the companion I needed. Laura. I twisted her arm for about one tenth of a second and she caved and we went down to the bar to work and, more importantly, drink. Of course the bar was closing, so we ordered four beers each and worked until about 4:30 am.

I still had tons of work to do and things weren’t looking well for the project. I was frustrated and confused, tired and angry, quiet and not drunk enough. Reluctantly I went to bed, knowing that the Friday was going to be brutal. Project delivery in less than a week and I still wanted to go shopping this weekend. Naturally I slept like shit.

Friday morning came extremely early. I had a one-hour meeting with Marlow, an hour and a half conference call that I can’t even remember, and about six hours of project work. Overall, a fairly uneventful day. My technical problems are still not going any better and I am stressed. Kept a pretty low profile Friday night. The next morning, we were all going to meet Dave and Niall at the Silk Market for some shopping and public drunkenness. On a scale of 1-10, Friday was a flawed Three, with wild fluctuations from midnight to midnight.

Saturday morning was possibly the worst breakfast I’ve ever had, yet another reason to hate the Celebrity. I yearn (nice word) for Langfang dammit, long for, dream of. Around 11:30, Chris, Laura and I went to meet Dave and Niall, and more importantly, try our luck at negotiating us some stolen or fake watches and clothes at the Silk Market. Once again, my inner-mind expectations were significantly different than the reality in front of me. I was honestly expecting to be buying stuff from people in the street, like a fruit market, or at least temporary shacks along a row, maybe a sleazy back alley. It was nothing like that.

The Silk Market is a five-story shopping center. Each floor features a different set of goods. One floor was all bags and shoes (hello Puma…), another floor was men’s clothes, one was women’s clothes, one was house wares and art/souvenirs and the top floor was watches and electronics. Each floor was divided up into five or six rows; jam packed with goods about 50 yards long. There was so much stuff crammed in here; you could barely walk through the isles. White people were going nuts; it was like a Pottery Barn Black Friday sale in the place. I should have known better than thinking that this would be subtle; the Chinese people are selling stolen and knockoffs and don't give a damn, in fact, they built one of the nicest buildings in the city dedicated to it, and behold…foreigners came by the thousands, just like Mao predicted.

We quickly found the two Brits and I got the skinny on watch price range; never pay more than 300 yaks each (about $28 USD each). That’s all I needed to know and I set off to buy my first watch. Laura and Chris really weren’t into it, but I jumped into it like a child at the county lake on Memorial Day, only to find out that the water is still only a fraction of a degree above freezing. I knew that most people get taken pretty good for their first watch and I wasn't going to fall victim to this, I knew my price range and was going to stick to it. I quickly found a very nice Breitling. This watch was sweet. Here was the basic course of my ‘watch negotiation’ conversation with the poor young girl behind the counter.

“I really like this watch, how much is it?” I asked casually, not even looking up at her.

“Ohh, that watch is very high quality, one of our nicest watches, it goes for 2200 RMB..” She exclaimed proudly.

“Ha, ok, never mind then” I said as I started to put the watch back.

“…but today, I give you special ‘friend’ price, because you look like a friend, 1900.”

“Not a chance, sorry to bother you.” I laughed at her.

“Wait, wait, I meant 1500, but that’s a really low price for you.”

“That’s still way too high, I’m just wasting my time, thank you anyway.”

“Ok, ok, how much? What’s your best price?” She asked me.

“My best price? 20 RMB” My key is to get them as low as possible before I even mention money, the undercut the piss out of them.

“Come on man, that’s crazy. How about 1200?”

“No, this watch isn’t worth more than 40, there I just doubled my ‘best price’, that’s my ‘friend’ price.” I said with a slight smile on my face.

“No, no, come on, you must be serious with me. This watch is high quality, high quality, see!” She then took out a screwdriver and started banging on the face with it; somehow she was trying to prove to me that the glass was good.

“What the hell are you doing lady?! You’re ruining it, 35!” Of course she hadn’t done anything to it, but when you start going the other way, they flip out.

“No! No! This good quality, good quality! How about 900? That’s my best price.”

“Ok, how about 70? I’ve doubled my price again. We have a deal?”

“No deal! You’re a very bad man! I cannot go lower than 750! That is the price we pay for the watches, you’re taking money from me now!”

“No I’m not, you’re a sly little vixen. I’ll give you 140. I’ve doubled my price again, that’s twice in a row. Do we have a deal?”

“Come on, be serious. 675, my best deal, best price.”

“No way lady, I’ll buy one somewhere else, forget it.” And I put the watch back down and do my first ‘walk away’.

“Come back, come back! Ok, 600. You’re really going to get me in trouble.” She said desperately, grabbing me by my arm.

“That’s still way too much. I’ll give you 150 for it.”

“No, 550!”

“No, 155!”

“Be serious! 500! Best price”

“165.”

“450.”

“Just forget it, you’re cute as a button but hard as a diamond, I have to have money to pay for lunch and you’re trying to take it away. Do you not want me to eat food?”

“Yes yes, you should eat, but I cannot give you better price, 400.”

“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.” I said, opening my wallet and taking out 200 yaks. “Here’s 200, that’s my last offer and I promise you I’m not getting any more money out. If you want it, just take the money, just take it.” I placed the money on the counter and stared her down.

“No, not good enough, 350.”

“I told you, 200. Should I leave?”

“No man, you’re very bad man! 300, please?”

Now I’ve got her, she’s actually asking me now, begging me.

“There’s the 200, all you have to do is take it, then I can bring my friends here and tell them how wonderful you are. Just take it, I promise it’s real, just take it.”

“250, please sir, please?”

“200, just do it and we can forget all about this.”

“210?”

“Come on baby, I’m not going to fight you over 10 yaks, just take the 200.”

“Ok, ok, but you’re a very bad man! You go now!”

There it was. Total time elapsed, about 10 minutes, if that. Honestly, I bet these people here love their jobs

I ended up buying four watches, spending a total of about $100 USD, plus I bought a pair of Oakleys that I’ll never wear for $4 and a Swiss Army weekend suitcase for $10.

Laura was pretty skeptical of the whole ordeal and hung back trying to ignore the whole process until she saw me negotiate my Swiss Army bag. Something in her snapped and was informed by her subconscious that she needed a watch, but was nervous about the whole bartering process and she asked me to negotiate her a watch.

She found a couple Rolexes that she liked and it was my turn to play. With Chris and Laura as my audience, I stepped on stage and went to work on the young girl behind the counter with a couple thumbscrews and pipe wrench. In about ten minutes, I ended up getting her two watches for about 275 yaks (about $35 USD). Laura and Chris were continuously trying to stifle their laughter and disbelief at the things I was saying to this girl. They were astounded and amazed and most of all, entertained (you cant put a price on that, especially in yaks). All Laura could say was “Man, that was so awesome!”

Chris slapped me on the back and asked me to do the same thing for him. He wanted the stereotypical ‘cheap’ Rolex, a watch that wasn't going to fool anyone about its authenticity. We found one and I started my business on another girl behind another counter, he should have gotten this watch for about 100 yaks, but when it was his money at stake, he was less apt to let me work and kept interrupting. He ended up paying more for his watch than I did for any of mine. I think he was afraid of offending them and getting us thrown out of the joint (the Chinese prey on these weak minded fools). There is no room in the Chinese society for scruples, especially if you’re a foreigner. They know we have money (compared to them) and that’s all we are to them, like in the cartoons where the duck looks at the rich chicken sees is a burlap sack with green dollar signs, a chained monocle balanced on the top, and chicken legs sticking out of the bottom.

Chris was then ready to try his hand at bartering (I didn't necessarily agree, but he wasn't spending any of my yaks). He found a laptop backpack that he liked and went into attack mode. Long story short, he paid about twice the amount he should have for his bag, Dave and I hung our heads in shame, but Chris didn't mind. I think the bag was still only about $18 USD.

After a couple hours at the Silk Market, we realized that we had been ignoring the cries for help coming from our stomachs and we headed to the Peking Roast Duck place. This is my favorite restaurant in Beijing, but it was closed for another couple hours (many restaurants in China celebrate the Mexican siesta work hours). We headed across the street to have a couple beers (which turned into about four monster local 30 oz beers). We all dumped out our booty on the tables like a bunch of pirates back from pillaging a merchant ship and passed watches, shirts, glasses, everything around and laughed at how awesome we were (back at the Silk Market, all those girls were doing the same thing with our fistfuls of yaks).

We continued to drink during dinner and killed two ducks and a ton of other food. This place is a tourist area, so we weren’t stared Langfang style, so it was a nice relief.

After dinner, Dave and Niall were going to head back to Langfang while Laura, Chris and I were going to roll to the Celebrity Hotel of Shit. We hung around outside with them for a couple hours waiting for their driver to get there, snapping pictures and of course, drinking more beer. Chris bought a Chinese fighter-pilot helmet for his kid, so we passed it around and pretended to be communists. Dave and I also posed for about a dozen pictures with various Citizens who wanted their children to remember the great white giants that used to walk the earth.

Laura and Chris were not coming back to Langfang, so tonight was their good byes with Dave and Niall. Chris had only been here for a week, so he didn't know them as well as Laura and I did. Eventually their driver showed up and Laura and the boys said their goodbyes. I knew that I’d be seeing them next week still, but they’ll be leaving soon too, it will be tough to say bye to them, they’re really good people and we’ve had some real fun together. One week from now, I’ll be alone again here and I’ve got mixed feelings about it.

Eventually, the three of us made it back to the hotel around 10:00 pm. By this time, we had been drinking on and off for about seven hours and I was already living on a dangerous combination of caffeine, lack of sleep and life frustration, my course of action should have taken me directly to bed. It would have too if Xinlei hadn’t messaged me to see if I wanted to go to a pub (calling ‘bars’ ‘pubs’ is his most noticeable souvenir from a year in the UK) and have a couple beers with him and meet a ‘pretty lady’ that he met not long ago. When alcohol runs my body, I will choose more alcohol and girls over sleep, even at the tender age of 30.

I had about 20 minutes to sober up, so I drank two beers while I waited for the coffee to brew and before I knew it, I was in a taxi with Xinlei on our way to a bar.

In the taxi, Xinlei gave me the hot-chick lowdown for me. He had met her at an industry conference in Shanghai last week (the same conference that I was asked to go to, but couldn't due to extreme work overload). She was 26 years old, single and very pretty. She had dumped her last boyfriend recently because he was kind of immature, lazy and it was pulling her down. She was on the prowl for someone who’s around 30 years old, funny, professional and is mature (they say “I need a Man, not a Boy”). Keeping in mind my alcohol level and knack for not remembering conversation details, as well as the fact that it was coming from Xinlei (who has been trying to get me set up with a girlfriend here for two months already), I really had no idea what to expect.

We arrived at The Goose and Duck at a noon according to my new watch. The Goose and Duck is an expatriate bar that caters primarily to English people. Soccer was on the television and pints of beer littered the tables in this packed house. We grabbed a seat, ordered a couple beers and watched the house band warm up. This bar had more white people in it than I have seen since I’ve been in China. It was like a damn Gap commercial and I was immediately on edge.

The band was an 80’s English music cover band, which meant that they played Elton John, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Flock of Seagulls cover songs. Cover bands are always risky business in America; the band members are usually musicians that fall into one of two categories. First, the cover band is their regular income while the constantly work on several side projects, making demo tapes, playing shows in basements or Junior High School graduations, guys who are just biding their time before they hand off their demo-tape to ‘the lead singer of Puddle of Mud’ at Ozzfest next weekend. The other types of cover band musicians are the people who just do it for fun, they’ve got day jobs and families, they just like to play music without the stress of writing their own music. The band at Duck and Goose was different, the cover band IS their life, there are no ‘side projects’, there’s no Puddle of Mud or Ozzfest (yet another reason to like China), this was their job and they held onto it with the dedication and sincerity of a brain surgeon. Their music reminded me of a Picasso painting; all the pieces were there, but not necessarily in the right place. Xinlei was impressed as I sang along to every song that they played. All in all, it even bad western music was a nice change from the ‘good’ Chinese music.

Somewhere between No One Ever Is To Blame and Karma Chameleon, we decided to get out of the way of the hoards of people flooding the dance floor. We made our way back to the dart boards and I taught Xinlei how to play cricket, not UK cricket with arm guards, bowling creases and googlies, but the proper drunk game played with sharp object being hurled at a cork board with varying degrees of accuracy (however, I was wearing the puffy shin-guards). After one game, I could see that Xinlei was beating me at my own game (much like when we shoot pool).

After about half an hour and three more beers, I noticed a very beautiful girl sitting by the bar in the corner. She was as hot as I was drunk (which often go hand in hand in my experience). She appeared to be checking us out (at least my drunk head was telling me so).

“Hey dude, look at that girl over there. She’s smokin’ hot, and she keeps looking over here I think.” I said, pulling on Xinlei’s sleeve (this is also a pretty good dart distraction tactic, but in this case it was true).

“Dude, that’s her!” He laughed at me. After he saw her, she smiled and stood up and walked over to where we were handling sharp objects and beer.

Her name was Mattie and she was drop-dead model type of beautiful. She doesn't drink, so she ordered some hot tea (imagine that) while Xinlei and I continued our downward spiral into a blurry haze. We played darts for a bit and eventually moved upstairs to shoot pool.

The evening was becoming a blur and I was cursing myself for not pacing my drinking any better, even though my watch said it was only 12:05 pm, I knew that I had been drinking for nearly 11 hours by now. I desperately needed to sober up and not make a jackass of myself, or at least sober up so that I can remember exactly the method of my demise.

At some point, Xinlei disappeared on the phone (no doubt to talk with some girl). Mattie and I sat down and chatted for a while, our first real conversation, our first chance to get to know each other, the introduction and presentation part of any first meeting between two people. This was a crucial juncture, one that should not be approached unless both people are either drunk or are sober. Unless she was slipping some everclear or gin into her tea, she was sober. You already know what state I was in, but there was no avoiding it. Lines of communication must be established and this was the only window of opportunity we may have.

There is no need to go into ‘conversation’ mode of the ensuing conversation for three reasons. First, I’m horrible at writing about it. Secondly, nothing very interesting happened, which is actually a very good thing, which means that I didn't try to grab her breasts, or ask her to marry me, or try to pick up the pool table to display my lion-like strength. Lastly, the specifics have slipped my mind, trying to piece together my notes is like trying to read Naked Lunch and I remember the general stuff. Another result of alcohol induced continuous partial attention.

She manages the Chinese sales market for a Dutch company, a company that is a direct competitor of my company. She is very dedicated to her work; she probably works about as many hours as I do every week. She’s fighting an uphill battle in her career. Chinese women are given very little respect as professionals in this country, and being in sales, it’s even more difficult. She’s very lucky to be working for a Western world company, which at least gets her respect within the company. She learned English through one of those power-English schools here. A person could get lost in her eyes and her hair is like a dark waterfall. We exchanged business cards (the new ‘hip’ thing to do) and phone numbers and resumed playing pool, drinking tea and beer, and chatting.

Mercifully, Xinlei came back before I could really put my foot in my mouth and we were ejected from the bar shortly thereafter because it was closing. I was wicked tired; you can imagine my surprise in realizing that only five minutes had elapsed since our arrival (according to my new watch). Mattie and Xinlei were hungry and they offered to get me a taxi back to the hotel, which I refused. I was drunk and tired, but I wasn't about to voluntarily lose the chance to keep kicking it with Mattie for another hour.

We went across the street to a Korean restaurant and ate some food. It really didn't taste very good, but I chalked that up to my taste buds being somewhat rattled from beer and cigars. About halfway through dinner, everything hit me like a freight train. The beer in my stomach, the intense heat from the restaurant, and the strange odor from the fish on the table combined to make me feel like throwing up and passing out. I was sweating like Oscar Zeta Acosta and my stomach was rumbling. Mattie and Xinlei just kept eating.

“What’s wrong Luke?” Mattie asked.

“Nothing, I think I’m just really tired all the sudden. What time is it?”

“It’s 4:45 am, we should get you back to the hotel.”

“Hmm, my watch says it’s only 12:15…. Yeah, I think you’re right. I’m sorry, it just snuck up on me.”

“That’s ok, I think we’re finished anyway.”

Mercifully, we left. We dropped Mattie off and Xinlei and I headed back to the Celebrity.

On the way back, I felt it necessary to talk, mainly to keep from passing out or throwing up in the back seat.

“Hey man, did something happen with you and your girlfriend lately? You’ve really been out and about a lot lately with a bunch of girls, not that it’s really any of my business.”

“Yeah, kind of. I’ll know more in a day or two, but I’m pretty sad right now.”

“Dude, I’m so sorry. If there’s anything you need, just say the word. You’re the man and I hate to see you upset.”

“Thanks man, maybe just a hug.”

“Ok…that’s a little more gay than I had in mind, but you got it.”

About 5:00 am (or 12:22 pm, according to what timepiece you were looking at), I finally made it to my bed. It felt great and I was going to sleep until 12:00 the next day (which was 22 hours from now according to my watch).

Apparently Laura thought otherwise. Around 8:30, she called me to let me know she was going to church.

“Ok, you better not mention what I did last night, just stick to your sins, I’ll straighten up with the big guy after I brush my teeth. Will you be back early enough for me to check out? I think I need to use your card because mine is still cancelled.” I don't know how I remembered that, but I’m glad I was able to mumble it.

“Sure, no problem. You sound tired.”

“Yeah, I’ve only been asleep for about 3 hours. I’ll tell you about it when I’m sober, sometime next week. You’re the man Cracken, thanks, Jesus loves you.”

The rest of the day was a haze; I ended up getting back to Langfang around 4:00. At some point, I sent Mattie a text message to apologize for ‘being so tired’ last night and she replied that she had a great time and it was good to meet me.

Xinlei tells me that I have my choice of any woman I meet, they all like me, but the fact is, they all like him. That was reaffirmed at dinner by one of the waitresses who said that all of the girls at the hotel are in love with Mr. Yu. It’s true, he is the man and I can’t blame them.

I spent Sunday evening writing and trying to figure out why I have this empty feeling in my stomach and why I keep thinking about Mattie. I need to clear my head. This week is going to be extremely rough; I have a lot to do. Wednesday, we’re delivering the final version of the first project and I will be working late and early the next two days, but it’s good to be alone again. Laura and I really hit it off well this time and I’d work with her anytime.

These past few weeks have been hell on me. I’ve been stressed, eating less, writing less, reading less and drinking more. Those are five things that I hate and I can see it in my eyes in the mornings and feel it in my heart at night. There will always be stretches like this, it’s just a matter of keeping a clear head and staying focused on the end. I must learn from these times, I must use the pain as an opportunity to make myself better. This is when we earn the stripes that we wear our whole lives.

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