Sunday, February 12, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving, Honkey

November 21-26, 2005

Today I was eating lunch and reading in one of the hotel restaurants when a man came up to me and asked if I was Lucas.

“Yes I am, nice to meet you.” I said as I racked my brain to figure out how this guy knew who I was. I thought it may have been an assassin sent from my former apartment for nonpayment of rent, but he was old and English (instead of the traditional young muscle-bound Italian hit man).

“Ahh,” he replied, “Roger told me that there was a big guy here for six months named Lucas, and I just guessed that that may be you.”

This has started happening more and more lately. The foreigner traffic has begun to run together so much that I have problems keeping them straight. I remember Roger, however, because he is a former employee of my company who was here a while back doing some sort of work (I have met three former employees and three current employees whom I never knew existed thus far). I have gone through the first round of introductions of foreigners, now I am meeting the second round of people from the same companies. This is yet another sign that I have been here too long.

This week there was another return guest to the Big Show; a guy from Sweden named Gunnar. Gunnar was here way back in September when Laura, Dave and Niall were here. He kind of showed up at the end of the first session of the UN, but he brought some good whiskey, so I remembered him well. At the time Gunnar told me that he was coming back in late November, but that was so far from September that I immediately forgot about it. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when he showed up at the hotel Sunday.

Gunnar brought with him five colleagues, all from Sweden. These guys like to drink and are pretty bored, which spells bad news for me on all sides. The first night they were here, we all went up to the VIP bowling alley and drank and bowled for a couple hours. I knew the hotel had a bowling alley, but I had never been there, I had no idea that it had a ‘VIP’ bowling alley as well. Having VIP facilities is a very popular thing in China. It provides a way for everyone to do the same thing but still add some level of class separation to the thing; VIP bowling alleys, VIP foot massages, VIP restaurants, VIP elevators. The people of this country have had the one person, one country ideal shoved down their throats for many years that they just don't have very good methods for showing how much better they are than everyone else. Te people here are desperately trying to find ways to be unique, and the first way is separation based on income.

In order to gain VIP status, the facility must provide something that the normal facility does not have, this is often difficult to achieve, but the people of China have found new and improved ways to make you feel like you’re getting something really nice (such as clean seats or fresh chicken heads). The VIP bowling alley is no different. There are two lanes and glass tables to set your beer on. The lanes are no different than any other bowling alley. When your ball comes back from your most recent gutter ball, a staff member is waiting by the ball chute to pick your ball up, clean it and hand it to you for your next gutter ball. None of us were very good, but it was good to have some company and drink a few beers. The cost was outrageous, more than double the price of the normal ‘commoner’ bowling alley in the basement.

The second night, we went to the hotel driving range and I tried to show them how to swing a golf club. The hotel has got a ton of amenities that I have never used. The problem is that they’re all somewhat expensive. You have to pay to use the tennis courts, pay to swim, pay to sit in the sauna; they’d probably make you pay to walk in the halls if they could find a way to track it. The driving range is no different, this place is unbelievably expensive. You have to pay per club, per ball and per minute. This means that at any one time, there is a minimum of three meters running up your tab. The driving range is pretty nice, the walls are painted with a sort of bright blue and green landscape with green trees on the walls, blue and white ceilings, even a cement water hazard in the middle (which puts a wicked bounce on a shanked ball).

In short, the Swedes were not good. None of them have ever swung a golf club, which isn’t too surprising, in their world golf season is probably about 13 days long, then it’s back to snow, ice and blonde babes in bikinis. The first swing of a golf club is not a pretty work of art for anyone, I remember my first time and it was a painful experience for my uncle’s Toyota parked behind us. I have improved significantly over the years and despite giving up the game a decade ago due to insane prices of the sport I still can swing the sticks. The girl working at the driving range said she has never seen anyone hit a drive as far as I had. Skills people, skills.

On the way back from the driving range, a few of the guys wanted to stop off and get massages. By this time, it was after 1:00 am and I was tired as hell. Lately, I’ve actually had to go into the office in the mornings (which is BULLSHIT!), so I headed off to get some sleep. The next day I found out that they got the ‘whole’ massage, if you know what I mean. Swedes are pretty funny when they try to make sexual innuendos. These guys are all tall, blonde and goofy as hell. Swedish fashions are similar to America circa 1985, with super-tight T-shirts and nut-hugging jeans. I can just imagine these guys taking a Chinese hooker to the rack, complete with Swedish Chef dirty sex-talk, tossing rubber chickens over their heads, and cutting up basil with a pickaxe.

By mid-week, Xinlei had got all the hotel wait staff to refer to me as ‘honkey’, which is totally awesome. He’s very interested in English racial slurs, not because he’s racist, but because the words usually sound so funny to him. I’m surprised that he hasn't asked me what the negative slang for Chinese people is, whenever he decides to ask me, I’m sure he’ll eat it up and make me start calling him by whatever term I choose to tell him. I rarely use these words and it is strange to say them to other people, even for educational purposes (not honkey of course, but everything else). I don't want to feel self-conscious and nervous, looking over my shoulder and whispering words, so I’ll probably make up Chinese racial slurs for him - Nickel, Artificial-Sweeteners, Plastic Siding, Hot Air Balloons, whatever comes to mind.

Thursday was Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is America’s number two holiday, behind Christmas (based on the 2004 end of season rankings). Surprisingly, they don't celebrate this holiday in China. Why wouldn't they celebrate the holiday when Europeans landed on Pilgrim Rock and began the quick annihilation of the natives? When I left Kansas City, back in July, my mother asked me if I would be home for the holiday.

“No,” I told her, “I’ll be back for Christmas, but not for Thanksgiving, I’m sorry mom.”

“Well, I’m not so sure I like the idea of this ‘China thing’ anymore.” She replied tartly.

Thanksgiving is particularly important to my family because is a good low-stress holiday for us. The whole family gets together and eats, drinks and fights for a day. Not the guilty you-forgot-to-get-my-new-boyfriend-a-gift-and-I-am-your-mother fighting, but good clean wholesome you-were-an-asshole-to-me-when-we-were-kids fighting.

I’m already ready to go home, but when you start throwing missed holidays into the mix, it makes it a real bitch. A surprising number of people here knew that it was Thanksgiving so I got several ‘Happy Thanksgivingson Luksa’ or ‘Merry Turkada you Honkeysa!’ wishes today, which helps to put a smile on my face.

Christmas is a good family holiday as well, but as my family gets older and people get married, have kids, get divorced, get remarried to people with kids and stuff, the whole gift buying process can be confusing and stressful. This year is different, I made a list of everyone I’m required by law to buy presents for and will head to the Silk Market and buy that exact number of Rolexes. The Silk Market, your one stop shopping stop.

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