Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I Dont Eat My Words as Often As I Swallow My Heart

October 5, 2005

On Wednesday, the day after returning from our holiday extravaganza, Xinlei and I returned to Beijing. Two of the five watches I bought during my honkey shopping weekend with the Limeys and Laura had already stopped working, so I decided I would go back in there and see if I could get them exchanged. I knew it was a long shot, but I knew the worst that could happen is that they would tell me no. We were also going to go see Mattie for lunch, which is the double bonus. Mattie was planning on visiting her parents and Xinlei volunteered to drive her. Her family lives about another hour south of Langfang, he was still in the driving mood and I was still in the seeing-Mattie mood, so it was a good opportunity. I really didn't know what to expect, but my mind was in the aloof dream-like state that often surrounds the excitement of a new relationship.

Our first stop was the Silk Market and it was packed with honkeys as usual. I walked out of the elevator on the fourth floor with the confidence of a senior citizen at the Sizzler. I knew I needed to get a rough idea of a plan of attack to use. I doubted that it needed to be that good of a story because they would barely understand me, but I needed to have something prepared so that I could play the part and not be seen as an out and out liar. I was also putting a lot of stock on the fact that this place gets a lot of tourist traffic, so the odds of them remembering me were quite slim (all white people look the same right?). There are about 20 kiosks for watches and I had two to exchange, I doubted that I could exchange them both at the same place, so that gave me a 1 in 10 chance, and I was prepared to go each one until I found a story that stuck. I approached the first kiosk off the elevator and three girls flocked to me with that ever familiar twinkle of greed in their eyes.

“Hey sir, would you like to buy a watch? Breitling? Tag? Rolex? Omega?”

“Yes, I would love to buy a watch. I bought three watches here about two weeks ago because you have the best quality, but one of them is having some problems. I was wondering if you could look at it.” I replied confidently. I seemed to remember the ‘best quality’ bit being quite popular with the sales staff here, so I was going to play it up.

Two of the girls immediately turned around and pretended not to hear me, the third looked at me quizzically and said, “Are you sure you bought it here?”

“Yes I am, I remember you and the best quality. Here’s the watch, the problem is that the minute hand won’t move past 12:00 because it’s offset a little bit.”

She took the watch from me and quickly said, in a dismissive voice “You didn't buy this watch here, it’s not good quality, we only sell good quality watches, this is bad quality.”

“I’m so sorry to bother you, but I’m sure I bought it here, and I would just like to exchange it for another one, it’s a beautiful watch, but it just has a little problem.” I quietly replied.

“No, I’m quite sure you didn't buy it here.” She repeated with the same conviction.

“Here’s the deal, I’ve got a few colleagues coming to town this weekend and I would like to bring them here to buy some watches, but we’ll have to find another person with good quality watches, perhaps these people may have better watches than you. It’s a shame, because I really liked you guys, but you’re too dishonest for me to bring my friends to.”

Xinlei smiled and translated for them and they quickly changed their tunes.

“Ooooh, we’re very sorry, here, let us get you another watch and exchange it.”

It took about ten minutes, but I got one watch exchanged successfully, I even bought another watch from them as a token of good faith, it was needed to repair my karma a bit because I lied at least four times in the previous conversation. See if you can find them, treat it like the back of the placemat at Red Lobster.

Now, I have 19 booths to attempt the exchange of my Tag with faulty band. I decided to skip down a few, to get out of earshot of the first group of people. I stopped at a larger kiosk with a handful of young ladies working.

“Hello! You like watch?” One of them practically yelled at me with glee.

“Holy crap! You can't jump out in front of me like that, my brakes don't work so well anymore. Yes I do, I like your watches very much. In fact, I bought one here last week, but the band is broken. Can I exchange it?” I replied, putting my best friendly-foreigner eyes on.

“Do you have our card?” She asked skeptically. Each kiosk has a business card with the number of the kiosk on it. They don't have receipts, but if you have one of these cards, it’s a good start on proving to them that you’ve at least bought something from them in the past. Of course, I didn't have their business card because I didn't buy the watch from them, or maybe I did, I really didn't know, it all runs together quite a bit.

“No, I’m sorry, I don't think you gave me a card last time, but I’m sure I bought it here, because you had the best quality watches. Here, take a look.” And I handed the watch over, showing her the band. Xinlei explained what was wrong with the band, which was pretty much unnecessary seeing as the band had broken in two.

“No, you didn't buy this watch here, this is bad quality, we only sell good quality, you’re trying to steal from us, you’re very bad man!” She angrily replied.

This wasn't going nearly as good as the last one, I had to think up something quick. This little pistol is feisty, I like her.

“Yes I did, I would hate to tell my friends that you’re dishonest.” I was still sticking with the same story, but seeing that it wasn't bought. “Ok, ok, I did buy it here, but in a show of faith, how about if I buy another watch. Will you agree to exchange this one for me?” I don't know why the word ‘faith’ had chosen this day to appear in my vocabulary.

Her eyes lightened up and she said, “You’ll buy another watch? Which one?”

I found another watch I liked and held it up. The next 10 minutes featured me bartering them down to a reasonable amount of money. As we got close to sealing the deal, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that they were fixing the faulty band. We were stuck at about 350 yaks.

“I’ll give you 300 if you exchange the watch.”

“Ok, deal.” She said and handed me my other watch.

“Oh, but wait, you’re not exchanging the watch, you just fixed it. I’ll only give you 250.”

This was like trying to negotiate a hostage exchange with terrorists (if terrorists were cute didn't believe in any sort of religion and didn't have guns).

“You what?!!! No, no deal, you said 300!!”

The cute feistyness had pretty much worn off by now, so I decided to be a bit of a dick.

“Nope, you lied! You said you would exchange, not fix. Here’s 250, take it or leave it.”

We went back and forth for about 10 minutes, but I finally got my way, with the usual slur of bad names and such, however it’s less with Xinlei around. Xinlei kind of makes me feel like I’m a child telling on my sisters, only I’m narking on his country. “No man, they don't stare when you’re around, only when you’re not around! Make them stop!”

We left the Silk Market and successfully negotiated the exchange of two broken watches for two slightly less broken watches. Luckily, one of the things I have going for me is my total willingness to humiliate myself. This has proven itself true time and time again during my life, but usually less in matters of retail than with matters of the heart, such as the second half of my day was going to display.

Going to visit Mattie was much more anticipated than exchanging watches, for obvious reasons. I was hoping to exchange my dignity for her shirt. We were expecting to pick her up and drop her off at her family’s house and then return to Langfang, which would take about 14 hours by Chinese travel standards. I could sense the inevitable conclusion on the horizon, the simple, uncomfortable letdown, but I’m in it for the duration this time. Worst-case scenario, there’s one more person out of this country that I will not be able to date.

Xinlei called her to let her know we were on our way but Mattie was a little sick and decided not to go home, instead she asked Xinlei if he could come over so she could get a copy of the pictures from our vacation.

We get to her house and I jump out and start heading up to the building and Xinlei called out to me to stop. Apparently, the living quarters of Chinese girls are strictly off limits to men, so we had to wait outside for her to bring her computer down. This is quite a bit different than America, not only are ladies houses not off limits, they are often hosts to some real barn-burner parties. Here, they act like going into a girls house means that you’ll immediately have sex (maybe there is some truth to that. If I ever get into a girls house, I will let you know).

After waiting for about 15 minutes, Mattie came down. She was in an extremely sour mood and looked very sad, like most people when sick. As the pictures copy, Mattie and I chat, but her discomfort is obvious. She asks Xinlei if he’d take her to the grocery store to pick up some stuff, so we set off.

The best part about the rest of the trip was finding peanut butter at the grocery store. I haven’t had any for months and I bought four jars of the stuff. You never know when you’ll be around peanut butter again.

Mattie’s unpleasant mood continued through our trip to the market, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt because she was sick, even though it was reminiscent of the first five ours of our trip back from Ice Country yesterday. We dropped her off and I told her to have a good night and I’ll talk to her soon, her reply was to turn around and return to her apartment without a word. I didn't dare approach her, so I let her go with a wave and a strained smile.

The rest of the afternoon I felt horrible, a sinking feeling in my stomach, my mind screaming for help, my heart spinning in confusion. It was an unbelievable 180-degree turn and I was just shocked. Later that evening, back in Langfang, I mustered up the courage from my darkness and decided to call Mattie to see if she wanted to talk.

“Hi! Mattie? Hey, I just wanted to call and tell you to have a good night. I hope you feel better tomorrow, you looked very sad today. I’m sorry.”

“Luke, I have to be honest with you. You’re nice, but I’m Chinese girl and I feel like the saying ‘easy come, easy go’, and I am not comfortable talking to you.”

Ouch. There it is. The whammies are always there; you just got to know when to stop and when to take your prize blender home with you. The house always wins. Somehow the broken English made it even more embarrassing this time.

“Ohh, hey, it’s ok, I’m sorry too. It’s just that I had a good time with you and I’m sorry that I make you so uncomfortable. I’m so sorry; I hope we can still be friends (not really, but that phrase always finds its way into these conversations). I really am sorry.”

“I’m sorry too, but I have to be honest with you. I don't think it’s a good idea if you call me any more. Maybe we can still talk through emails or SMS messages, but you don't even know me, and you still act like I’m important to you. Foreigners are just too much different than Chinese girls and I don't expect you to completely understand.”

I needed to understand something, whether it be Mattie’s point or something different altogether. So what level of understanding could I possibly gain in the brief instant of time before my inevitable reply? That flash of electricity through my mind. When you are challenged to understand something, something always hits first. I understood, in that split second, that I am a total liar. I lie to everyone around me when I think that I want something, I lie to my friends, my family, and worst of all, myself. Why cannot I challenge myself to prove that something is important? Why do I insist on this blind faith of my fool’s feelings? There’s a certain amount of emotion that comes when someone can accurately point out the reason of your anguish and this was no different.

“I understand, I’ll talk to you later I guess. I’m sorry again.” I muttered as I hung up the phone.

And I was sorry, it’s a horrible feeling making someone uncomfortable, it’s also a feeling that I always have to deal with in other people. The truth is that I make many people uncomfortable. I know it’s my quiet desperation and wide open loneliness, but I just cant help it. It’s a self-esteem issue, I’ve been getting beat down and disappointed my whole life and it makes me feel stupid for dreaming for happiness in the first place.

There it is, once again. She told me a while back that Chinese men don't like girls like her and her cousins because they’re too strong. Good for them, they need to be strong, especially over here because women are treated like total shit in China. Good for her because I’m weak and jealous of her.

I will be upset and sad for a few days, trying to sort out if I’m sad about not being with Mattie or sad about only being with myself. But eventually I will realize that I’m sad because I continue to allow burning passion to arise in my heart and the only result is my heart gets burned. Eventually the flame dies, just in time for the next gust of wind to arise and reignite my heart. Each time my heart becomes a little harder, a little more black and a little smaller. It will never be any other way.

1 comment:

lisaharolds4591 said...

I read over your blog, and i found it inquisitive, you may find My Blog interesting. My blog is just about my day to day life, as a park ranger. So please Click Here To Read My Blog