Friday, December 30, 2005

Our 6-Hour Trip Home

October 4, 2005
***Editors note: I’m actually back in the US now, it’s after the holidays and all that stuff but I still have a ton of badly organized material to put online, so I’ll just keep going where I left off a couple weeks ago.

Man this place is cold. Please keep reading, I didn't accidentally print the same chapter twice, but when it’s this cold, it is necessary to state it a couple times. I woke up Tuesday morning wearing the same clothes from the day before, and the day before that. I didn't wake up early enough to take a walk or do any writing, so Xinlei knocked on the wall to wake the girls up. The first thing I noticed as I rolled out of bed was that I muscles hurt that I didn't even know existed. My ass felt like I spent a night in San Quentin and my legs felt like they had done hard time in a meat grinder. My posture made me look like a 95-year old black woman carrying groceries home from the market.

After another great breakfast that I was afraid to eat, we hit the road. Xinlei assured me that the trip would only take six or seven hours. Remembering all the senseless traffic jams on our way out here, I was sure that we’d be forced to stop for a duck parade or an overturned produce horse on the highway, my liberal estimates put us in Langfang sometime mid-November.

The major change during the trip home that I noticed was that Mattie was acting quite a bit differently than she had most of the rest of the trip. She was leaning against the door, as far away from me as possible, head buried in her book. Every time I tried to rustle up a little contact or conversation, she was very short with me. Her evening in the hospital getting shots from rusty needles apparently wasn't enough for her forget the uncomfortable experience we shared together last night at sundown. After about two hours of this, I retreated into silence and inner-conflict. I tried to read my book, but it is very difficult to read Dumas with a wandering mind.

The car was blasting with that horrible Chinese pop music the whole trip and the only conversation was in Chinese. I was in no mood to even try to figure out what was going on, I just wanted out. It was mission critical that this trip be over with as soon as possible. How could this happen? What happened? What was I thinking? I knew that I really don't know her very well, but is that no reason not to try? Is that a reason not to pursue interest? What if our forefathers had that same mindset? There’s a pig and we have some barbeque sauce, but we don't know that it will taste like combined, we better not risk it, let’s just eat another ear of corn and some mashed oats, we know that combination wont kill us. God I miss barbeque.

No one was very hungry, so we just kept driving. We made pretty good time and hit the outskirts of Beijing around 9:00 pm, where we immediately hit a show-stopping traffic jam.

With all the creativity stifling crutches removed from my life, these are the times that I have begun to turn to the pen and paper. It has been surprising outlet and a purging process that I think everyone should experience at some point in their lifetimes. Remove the television, the Internet, communication with the people around you and see what happens. Will you wither and die, or will you learn to gleam new and useful things from your surroundings? See what you’re made of. This whole experience has definitely changed me in strange ways, but the jury is still deliberating on my verdict of changing for the better or worse.

It is very difficult to write in the car, especially if the topic of your writing is sitting next to you. I’ve also noticed that writing is a very intriguing action for people around me. “What are you writing about?” “Is that for work?” “Poetry or something?” “Will you read something to me?” No. No. No. I’m writing about you and you would never speak to me again if you saw it. Just leave me alone. I can only write if I’m in a particular mood, which usually correlates with non-complacent emotions; anger, sadness, happiness. I rarely experience the third. This mood does not hit me very often, and if I don't ignore the rest of the world when the feeling hits me, it will be gone and I don't want you to be the reason that I let my emotions disappear into the air like your words do.

Out of nowhere, Mattie turned to me and said quietly “Are you ok?”

“I guess so, I’m just sad because we had such a good weekend and I don't know what will happen when we get back. You are a very different person today and act like I have the plague.”

“Don't be sad, every day is a new day!”

“What the hell does that mean? No it’s not, every day is a result of the previous days. You’re saying that our actions of yesterday have no effect on today. You’re full of shit.” That is what was in my mind, but what came out was “I know, but I’m still sad.”

“You know you don't even really know me.”

“I know, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't get to know each other more. It’s ok, I’ll be alright, don't worry about me, I’m just tired and dirty from horse sweat.”

But just breaking the bonds of silence seemed to loosen her up some and we continued to talk. The bottom of the feelings came from the fact that she was really nervous about being with a foreigner and it feels like everything was moving way too fast.

Hey, I’m cool with that. That’s not an insurmountable issue. I’m a camel when it comes to girlfriends, taking our time is no problem; we’ll just play it cool. She put her arms around me and gave me a hug and then grabbed my hands and held them. A little communication was all that was needed.

Eventually, I leaned over to her and whispered “Thanks, thanks for letting me hold you, thanks for letting me put my arms around you, thanks for looking at me. It means a lot and I appreciate it, regardless of the future. Thank you.” Totally gay.

She looked at me with her beautiful eyes and looked away in embarrassment. Those eyes could start a war and stop a war at the same time; they could melt iron or level a forest. They are deep pools of dark ink that should be used for writing poetry or inspiring art. They do those things to my heart every time she looks at me.

By the time we got back to Beijing, we were happy pappy again, smiling, holding, she even kissed my cheek (the lips are still taboo, but that’s ok). We were all starving, so we dropped the girls off at Sherry’s parents house and Xinlei and I went off to get a table at a restaurant and wait for the girls.

Right before dinner was brought out to us, I got a phone call from someone in my company from America. Since the average Chinese restaurant has the noise level of an Iron Butterfly concert, I bounced outside to talk. After about ten minutes, I turned and saw Mattie in the doorway giving me a very naughty look. Hands in her pockets, arms held close to her body to stay warm, legs crossed, hair down over one of her eyes, the other eye the beautiful eye of innocence and wonder. I walked up to her, still on the phone and she put her arms around me and held me tight and kissed me lightly on the cheek.

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to whomever I hung up on that night, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

After dinner, I assumed, once again, that I was soon to be on my way home. Once again, I was wrong. Mattie wanted to go out dancing, just do something to get some energy out (apparently the Kentucky Derby yesterday wasn't enough). I’m a decent dancer when alcohol is properly applied, but I had spent the last three days either on the back of a horse or in the back seat of a car, so there was no way I’d be getting my moonwalk on that night. On the other hand, I had no idea when, or if, I would see her again, so I wanted to spend what time with her while I could. Keeping in mind that we still had a minimum of a one-hour trip back to Langfang before our day would be over, I told Xinlei that I couldn't do another 4:00 am night and he vehemently agreed.

We went back to Mattie and Sherry’s apartment and they disappeared to go change clothes, actually Sherry wasn't going out, it was just going to be the three of us. We were told to wait outside; it would just be a few minutes. A few minutes actually was 45 minutes, and Xinlei and I passed the time by nearly falling asleep in the car. We were standing around outside, stretching our legs when Xinlei uttered, “Holy shit man!” as he was looking over my shoulder.

I turned to see Mattie walking down her stairs in a shirt and skirt that made my jaw drop and my heart stop. I was speechless, and also suddenly very aware that I hadn’t showered in four days and I still have horse sweat on my arms and mutton under my fingernails.

The first stop was a Latino bar somewhere where Mattie was supposed to meet her cousin and some of her friends. Her cousin is a manager at the Beijing Hyatt hotel and suffers from the ailment of dedicating too much of her life to her job, thus is single and trying to find a husband but it totally unwilling to sacrifice any part of her 80 hour a week job. I wanted to pull her aside and warn her that I’ve tried that same method and failed miserably, but she was not hearing any of my nonsense. We stayed there for about 15 minutes and left, Mattie wanted to dance, but not salsa (just like I want ketchup, but not salsa).

Xinlei hates dancing, he just wanted to find a place to go and drink and guard the table. We went to about four places, but nothing was worthy of Mattie’s hot legs on the dance floor and our search continued. Then we found Babyface.

At first glance, I thought Babyface was a typical house-music type of club, thumping shitty techno, wild music screens, neon, mirrors and people overflowing into the streets. It was huge, two floors with twenty or thirty private rooms. Xinlei immediately told us he’d be waiting in the car and left. I felt bad; he was pretty wiped out (much like me). Mattie’s skirt gave me a second wind, but just made Xinlei miss his girlfriend.

With the man gone, Mattie and I walked around to try and find a seat (which was a futile effort). I kept hearing these strange noises that just didn't seem to flow with the music, the kind of noise that seems to always be coming in from the corner of your ears, but when you turn your head, it’s gone. This is when I gave the tables a closer look.

The floor was littered with bar height clear plastic tables at even intervals throughout the room, each with about seven people crowded around it. There were no chairs because the tables were barely two Citizens apart (1.2 Americans). All of the guys were drinking beer; all of the girls were drinking juice (the vast majority of women of China simply don't drink, no wonder it’s so hard for me to make any headway with the ladies). The people at each table were all dancing at their tables, off in their own little worlds, but the were paying very close attention so something on the tables. Yahtzee! The game, not the term for excitement, like Topeka! or Hot Damn!, the actual game. The people at every table were playing Yahtzee. This is the strangest thing I have ever seen. People were shaking their cups and dancing, rolling the dice and dancing, counting their scores and dancing.

I could barely take my eyes off this stupid phenomenon, but Mattie took me by the hand and we headed to the dance floor, which was packed. The music was horrible (even more horrible than normal house music), the fog machines smelled like piss and seemed to be pointed at my face, but I determined to dance like I was alone in my room. I’ve got my own dance I use when I’m listening to unfamiliar music, kind of a big-guy shuffle where I have just enough rhythm to move with the beats and crap like that. We ended up dancing for about 20 minutes and decided to leave. Mattie is a really good dancer and was kind of off in her own little world, and surprisingly not really into the Donkey-slappin’ grinding that we do at the thug clubs in America.

Xinlei was waiting in the car, ready to get the hell out of Dodge and I was pretty tired as well. We took Mattie back to her apartment, but she left her key inside, so we had to wait another half hour for Sherry to come over with the key. Xinlei busied himself in the car while Mattie and I chatted outside.

“Mattie, I had a really good time with you tonight, despite the horse related injuries I’ve received over the past couple days. You make me smile and feel good. When can I see you again?” I said, with a hint of self-confidence.

“I have a good time with you too, I think maybe you can see me tomorrow if you like. Xinlei is going to drive me to my parents house and you can come too.”

Sweet, I thought, second date, meet the parents, I’m in. The goodnight kiss consisted of me leaning in and giving her a peck on her earlobe and saying goodbye. I know I’ve said it before, but those eyes, damn.

It was hard to believe that the day started out in Inner Mongolia and ended up at a techno club in Beijing and me staring dreamily into the eyes of one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met in my life. Not bad for a vacation. The entire trip cost me about 1000 RMB ($120 USD) which included three nights in hotels, renting a horse for a day and splitting the car rental down the middle with Xinlei. I’ve still got three days left of my holiday and I’m going to spend it dreaming, reading and writing. Those may be three of the best things in life.

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