Saturday, February 5, 2011

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Reason No. 317 Why China Will Never Be a True World Power
All dialogue guaranteed verbatim

I was waiting at my apartment for my China Air ticket back to the States to be delivered today when my phone rang.


"Hello? Is this Mr Peter Justin Mitchell?"

"Uh...yes. Justin Mitchell, anyway... Who is this. please?"

"This is China Air. You have a ticket delivery today?"


"I am very sorry. We cannot deliver today."

"Oh? Really? Why not? What is the problem?"

"Um...(silence) How to say? Our delivery bicycle is broken."

Friday, February 4, 2011

Just Like Starting Over

It was Wednesday February 2, Chinese Lunar New Year (Year of the ‘Wabbit) and I was at J’s apt with her husband, big brother, his girlfriend, an aunt and two uncles to for a traditional new year dinner.

Television was playing the CCTV New Year Gala – this year heavy on saluting migrant workers who’ve built these cities, if not on rock ‘n roll, on sweat, tears and blood and disenfranchisement, though you wouldn’t know it by the upbeat song and dance numbers – but no one was really watching.

It was only the second time in my years here that I’ve spent a traditional New Year’s night; the first was in Shenzhen where a “host family” – a wealthy, raving alcoholic I dubbed the “Strawberry King” because he apparently controlled the entire Guangdong Province strawberry trade at the time and who I later learned had been nabbed for corruption – and his long suffering wife and 16-year-old daughter hosted me.

That visit ended the next day when The Strawberry King began showing me his massive cognac collection and (presumably illegal) WWII-era Japanese shotgun and rifles. Guns and alcohol, I thought at the time. Not a good mix.

This was low key. Food – succulent fish, beef, and vegetables – was laid out when I arrived, though one uncle was “hiding” as J put it in a bedroom as I arrived.

“Where’s your other uncle?” I finally asked.

J smiled a little. “He is scared. He is hiding in the bedroom. He has never met a foreigner before.”

“I’m not here to loot the Summer Palace. Ask him to come out, please. I’d like to meet him.”

Who emerged was a stout, short grizzled guy of indeterminate age, though graying a bit in a buzz cut and what appeared to be a uniform of some kind. He smiled shyly. I smiled back and we shook limp hands and exchanged nei-hou’s.

He sat next to me on the couch and through J I learned he was working in BJ as a security guard after retiring many years ago from a grain distribution factory during the years when rice and other grains were rationed.

“So, his family perhaps got some extra grains?” I asked. She translated and they both laughed. “Yes, maybe,” she replied.

During dinner he and the other uncle broke out homemade “wine” (baiju) – more like white lightning steeped in ginseng and I joined them as J’s more urbane husband sipped some Great Wall red.

Toast followed toast as he almost simultaneously carved up a fatty succulent ginger flavored pork hind passing portions on to me saying how he never imagined he would meet a foreigner. Photos documenting the occasion followed and then he was on the phone telling friends and relatives he’d met a foreigner.

It was bittersweet for me, though, a closure that had repeated a beginning when I first arrived here and I was fresh to meet Chinese and seemingly they me.

What was really weighing was the fact that I’d just been let go at Global Times two days before, contract not renewed due to circumstances involving a delusional, power mad American charlatan, apparatchik Chinese chicanery, miserable management and my equally miserable misreading and mishandling of the whole situation as it unfolded and ended. I have several new employment possibilities, though none certain, nothing is here, and am returning shortly to the US briefly to regroup and re-enter.

I left with handshakes, loose hugs and smiles to a motel J had booked for me near her apartment to hole up as Chinese New Year blasted in. New Year doesn’t ring in here. It is a non stop barrage of artillery shells packed with paper instead of shrapnel that thunders throughout four nights and thuds and sputters during the days.

A few of the motel staff were laying out a 10-15 yard long line of high voltage fire crackers at the entrance like army machine gunners as I staggered in. I stepped over it just as the fuse was lit, hit the elevator, hit the sack and cried.