Monday, November 22, 2010

Crosstown Traffic

Despite its mega subway system and buses, dependable transportation and Bejing are not synomous, My apt is about 2 miles frm the nearest subway stop which would dump me about a mile away from the mighty Global Times.

I've spent many months trying to decode the taxi matrix system to and from work but still it's a mystery.

Just when I think I've cracked it, everything changes and Im standing as a frozen loon feebly trying to flag down cabs with no success, frozen, standing and waiting thinking: "This is not forever. Really.I will wake up warm in my bed tomorrow no matter how long I stand here."

Winter is closing fast. Not the best time to be standing like a human Popsicle waving creaking and doing my best hitchhiker moves, which is why I made a deal recently as I was when a grizzled three wheeled motor cabby pulled up and recognized me as a sucker who once paid about three times the going rate to take me from my apt to work.

Fair enough. He knew where I lived and then began a plan. After I clambered in I phoned Chinese fluent/Global Times rock writer James Tiscione, late of NYC and Tucson, to see if he could seal a deal with Mr Motor Trycycle pick me up at 7pm Sunday-Thursday for a ridiculously inflated daily rate.

It worked well for four nights til the fifth as we were doing the death ride through crowded commuter traffic and pedestrians (vehicles rule over all people and over each other depending on size; a three wheeler only outranks a walking human or bicyclist) and he tried to squeeze in front of a bus.

Three wheelers are typically powered by worn lawn mower engines and strung together only with industrial rubber tubes, duct tape and faith.

Bad move. It went into slo-mo for me as I watched the bus loom. I've only been close to apparent death once before when a Denver hitchhiker pulled a gun on me and it was the same feeling this time: "Ok, this is where it ends. Sorry for messing up what I did and hope I did some good and will miss you Julian, forgive me for picking up this mofo, etc."

It was also a weirdly peaceful easy feeling. Accepting that my time had come and I couldn't prepare, but it was how it will be. I hope that's how it might be for many and maybe there is a brain chemical that mercifully kicks in to cushion it.

Enough shaky science. In this case, the earworm went from Jimi Hendrix's
"Crosstown Traffic" to "Hear my Train a' Comin' " and morphed into "I hear my bus a'comin' to squash me like a bug" and braced for the impact as the three wheeler managed to turn sharply and only scrape the behomouth bus. What followed was pure Two Stooges.

Lurching to keep steady and escape, three wheeler sped up to maximum 5 mph mower speed and I thought we were outta there, scattering pedestrians on sidewalks and bike lanes alike.

No way. Bus man, ignoring his primary directive to move passengers reliably and on time, braked suddenly to a halt, jumped out and in completely crowded commute traffic overtook us on foot and squared himself in front of the three wheeler hands on the hood. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

Obscenities flew, bus man pounding on the three wheeler til my crosstown driver turned the cab off and emerged for what I thought might be a street fight.

Pedestrians and bored bus passengers emerged for the showdown as more traffic piled up behind us.

It was short and ultimately comical. Both frothed at one another, bus driver forcefully pointing to what appeared to be an invisible paint scrape and three wheeler ranting about bd's bad driving. Then as I thought I'd just better find another ride home, three wheeler takes a small wad of cash outta his pocket and hands it to bus driver who grins and gets back to his appointed rounds.

Three wheeler then comes back to his cab to ferry me unstably over sidewalks and against one way traffic as usual for an otherwise uneventful night in Beijing.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thing One and Thing Two

Unlike the usual modest and hesitant Chinese tap, the knock at my apartment door Saturday night was firm and forceful. It's either an unexpected expat or the Public Security Bureau, I thought as I eased the door open to find...

Two small Chinese women bearing plastic bottles of what looked like spray cleaning fluid. They didn't speak English, or I Chinese so I just stared at them as they tried to make themselves understood.

The next minute they were in the room like the Cat in the Hat's Thing One and Thing Two headed straight for the kitchen where they began furiously spraying my stove fan vent, rubbing it with a rag and babbling as I babbled back, “What the hell are you doing? The cleaning lady was already here. Who are you? Why are you cleaning my stove? Leave, please! Go home!”

Finally, I phoned a native speaker, coworker J, and described the situation.
“Two women. They look like migrant workers and are furiously spraying cleaning stuff all over the stove. I have no idea who they are or why they're here. The stove was already clean!”

I handed the phone to Thing One who spoke at length to J while Thing Two went to a wall light switch and began to spray and scrub grime from around the panel, all the while grinning and gesturing to me to notice how white and bright it was becoming.

Thing One handed the phone back to me and J explained that they were “authorized by the apartment management office” to demonstrate and sell the amazing multi-use spray cleaner.

(Note: This is the same apartment management office that can't provide reliable hot water service on a regular basis. Yet they can authorize strangers to invade your living space to randomly spray cleaning fluid.)

“How much?” I asked. “I just want them to leave. I will pay them to leave!”
We settled on two bottles for 50-yuan ($7.50) but emboldened by their unexpected success Thing One and Thing Two were ecstatic and trying to push more products at me until I more or less gently body blocked them out the door.