Thursday, February 28, 2008

Unbearable lightness of Beijing
Whew, but it's good to be back home. Five days in Shenzhen's smog cooking for C while she was at work and generally hanging out was my initial reentry - an easy, welcome glide back into a better reality.

"That's very nice," she said contentedly as I diplomatically agreed to forgo viewing Apocalypse Now for the 187th time in favor of her watching Sleepless in Seattle for the 6th time. The things you do for love. Then on to Beijing where I'm more or less comfortably settled in a spacious company apartment, scarfing down commie party subsidized Chinese eats at the danwei (work unit) cafeteria - spicy garlic shrimp, pork ribs, rice and spinach tonight - and meeting new expats whose idea of a good time isn't getting wicked drunk and blitzing around nude on a motorbike.

I like what little I've seen of Beijing so far. Unlike Shenzhen's Blade Runner glitz the area I'm in reminds me some of tiny bits of Brooklyn, not all brownstones and charm but settled, bricked and humming comfortably. I've had twi diverse surprises. The first was literally bumping into the Cuban ambassador to China, Carlos Miguel Pereira Hernandez, in the company elevator.

"Congratulations on Raul, sir," I said slavishly after apologizing for nearly stomping on on his mirror bright black shoes. A name tag for a press conference he and a couple other diplomats were attending here identified him. I've never met a Cuban diplomat before - the closest I've come was my high school Spanish teacher and cross country coach who was a Cuban refugee with dark, bitter connections to the Bay of Pigs, or so he inferred at the time.

"Thank you," the Marxist plenipotentiary to China replied before asking me where I was from. This gave me pause, US relations being what they are with Cuba. I chose to hedge my reply.

"Norte Americano, senior," I said brightly, "A little pueblo called Boulder," - inferring, maybe, possibly Canada - is there a Boulder in Canada ? - before deftly stepping off one floor before my designated exit.

The other was more personal, file it in the small world category. Turns out one of my new foreign barbarian coworkers graduated from CU two years before me and knew several of my old buds at the Rocky Mountain News, including an unforgettable character and columnist named Gary Massaro (he's the guy pictured in the Che beret, not the ambassador). The Gary Massaro Experience is hard to define but it makes me smile even more than 10 years since I last basked in it.

I rolled Massaro's name around on my tongue while grinning like a brain spazzed idjit. "Ah Massaro, Massaro. Damn, yes, he's still writing his 'Gary's People' column I believe," I told my new buddy as we bonded over Buffs football and Massaro lore. "He's a legend. Now even in Beijing. As he so deserves to be."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Time of Your Life

Well, yeah...another abrupt departure from one foreign clime for another. This time the plan is to relocate suddenly from Hua Hin's balmy 80 degree seaside skies to Beijing's 20-degree polluted muck and teeming masses. "It's like you've been planning a prison break," one coworker said. Indeed. The details of getting out have been complicated. Normally, I'd feel kinda squeamish (or perhaps squeamishier ?) about pulling what they call a "runner" here but I firmly believe a jury of my peers who have worked for this outfit would not convict me.

I'll be in Beijing for the Olympics which could be excellent, I'll be in the same country as C and we're hoping she can move up north so we're together again in the same domicile.

I leave behind the usual bag of mixed feelings. Good friends I've had, good friends I've lost along the way, etc. but mostly I've been missing C too awfully much and for some reason China also, as chaotic as it is. "Heaven ain't bad," to quote Townes Van Zandt, "But you don't get nothing done" - which sums up Hua Hin on a good day.

On the getting something done side I've lined one young Thai woman who was working at Faulty Towers up with another better job opportunity, so I feel I've done my small part for US-Thai Foreign Relations besides filling the bar and sidewalk meal vendor coffers with baht.

On a bad night it's been getting worse to the point that I genuinely fear for one pal's life and have quit hanging out in general after about 9pm, preferring to retreat to my Apocalypse Now style suite and read rather than watch him ride his motorbike nude through a stack of Thai delivery pizzas. ("By their dead you shall know the trail of smashed pizza boxes, also") I wish him well but don't really wanna be here when the hammer finally falls.

A new blog to be determined later. Catchy titles incorporating "Beijing" anyone? I'm running on empty with that one. Suggestions appreciated.