I am venturing into unknown territory nowadays. It’s a very strange land, Beijing – and even stranger, my attire. When I left the house yesterday, I was wearing: not one, but two pairs of socks, long underwear, two jackets, gloves and a huge scarf.
Scarf? Yeah. I’ve never worn a scarf in my life. As you can imagine, scarves aren’t all that necessary in nice and sunny Southern California. But there I am, every day, wrapped up like an ancient Egyptian mummy ready for burial. I feel like that fat kid you always see on TV whose mom always makes him wear like 9 times the amount of warm clothes as his friend and he just waddles around after his friends. Damn it…I am so that kid.
Yes, the heat is on. The little radiator in the corner of my room indeed radiates a semblance of heat and takes the cut off of the cold if you keep your door closed. Yesterday, I woke up to the sound of someone pounding on my door:
Upon opening the door, a middle aged Chinese woman drenches me with Chinese.
“Huh? Wo bu hui shuo zhong wen” (I don’t speak Chinese), I reply.
She looks frustrated. “AKDHFJKAHDFKJHASDJFJASDFJJAHDFJKHAJDS”????
I bring her a paper so that she can write down a note that I could give to my roommate and she rights down a flurry of Chinese and points at it while waiting for my response.
“Ting bu dong” (I don’t understand).
So she writes down some more and repeats the procedure.
“…..ting bu dong” (I don’t understand).
So she writes down some MORE and repeats the procedure.
“Wo bu hui zhong wen, wo hui ying wen. Ni hui ying wen ma?” (I don’t speak Chinese but I speak English. Can you speak English?”
So she comes inside my apartment and goes to the big heat pipe in the kitchen (yes, there is a big pipe that runs through all the apartments). She points at it, points down, and at the note.
“uhhh…wo gei wo de peng you zhezhang” (uhhh, I’ll give this note to my roommate).
She thanks me 20 times, bows five times and is gone.
What the hell that was all about, I don’t know. But hey, that’s life in China.
So what else is new beside crazy Chinese women attacking my heat pipe?
Well, it seems that there is a city wide effort to build little lattices over all plants on the side of the road. I couldn’t figure it out for the longest time until I saw the other day that they were putting tarps over the lattices. I guess the tarps protect the plants from the cold and the lattices support the whole thing.
And please tell me why ALL glass cups in China have chips in them? I can’t understand it. How do you chip ALL your glasses? I’ve never chipped one in my life. My friend told me a story about how her maid chipped all her expensive china cups that she brought from America (China cups from America in China, ironic, eh?), one by one each week until they were all destroyed. She just couldn’t figure out the concept of being careful while she was washing them. But you can still drink from them, yeah? That’s what’s important. Until you cut your tongue open, I suppose.
The other day, Maurizio and I were walking to the DVD store and after going inside, we heard a huge explosion and the outside lit up. The power went out. Everyone ran to the door to see what had happened. A HUGE transformer up on a power pole was black and smoking. It must have been as big as a wide screen TV. So we browsed our DVD’s in the dark. The power was out for the entire block and I wouldn’t be surprised if it stayed that way for a long time.
Even funnier is how we got to the DVD store in the first place. From my apartment we hopped in a cab and started our 20 minute journey to the DVD store. The taxi did not sound like it was in good shape. It sounded sick. It was creaking, squeaking, shaking, rattling and the driver had to turn the wheel nearly a half turn before the car started turning. There was a large crack in the window. And the transmission sounded old and cranky. After we got off the highway came the problems as the driver had to start shifting. He grinded the gears with the skill of a noble warrior but two blocks before getting to the destination (and in the middle of one of the busiest streets in Beijing) I heard the most god awful noise I have ever heard coming from a vehicle. I heard the car die..and it screamed with the agony of the most gut wrenching and mind numbing grinding noise ever. It heaved and spat – and would go no more. The taxi driver looked over at us and sadly said “Sorry…” and we paid him and got out. I felt really bad. Taxi drivers have to pay for their own repairs here. I met a taxi driver who spoke pretty good English the other day and he said he wanted to improve his English so I invited him to dinner with some friends of mine. He seemed somewhat confused – first because he didn’t think I would call and second I don’t think he had ever been invited to dinner by a bunch of westerners before. But we all chatted, I helped him with his English and I learned quite a bit about the taxi life here in Beijing.
The taxi drivers make about 100 yuan a day (about 12 bucks), they work about 10-11 hours a day seven days a week and they have to pay for their own repairs on their cars. If they total their car, they have to pay 20%. China is decommissioning several thousand cheap taxis (there are three classes, cheap, middle, and expensive) to make way for new and more expensive taxis). Crazy stuff.
In other news, my Economist magazine this week had an interesting story about China. Unfortunately I was unable to read it. Why, you ask? Well, it seems that all four pages have been torn out. I looked in another. The same thing happened in all the rest as well. As much as I would like to believe that it was an accident at the printers, I suspect a bit of censorship going on. I spoke with the writer for Asia of The Economist the other day and he said that this is quite common – the Chinese government likes to hack out stories deemed inappropriate. So he’s going to email me the stories.
Ahhh, the crazy crazy life of living in China.