Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Cherry, oh baby.
In which our hero narrowly arrives at his destination only to escape the matrimonial machinations of his wealthy hostess in a distant city. Difficult questions during a foot massage and viewing of a blockbuster movie are adroitly dodged. His life is risked daily and head-on death by a blue rusty van overloaded with cabbage is averted. The world's largest Buddha is gazed upon. A Chinese Joan Jett and George Jessell entertain. He is displayed like an exotic pet. Goose intestines are served.
Well, I'm back, barely. You know the "no such thing as a free lunch" cliche, of course. I'm here to report there's no such thing as free plane tickets, lunch, dinner, breakfast, tours and more without at least paying some psychic tolls.
I left Shenzhen on Wednesday night with a prepaid ticket to an ancient city called Chengdu in the courtesy of a woman named Husubi (it means Cherry) with whom I'd exchanged some - from my vantage point entirely platonic - pen pal emails prior to coming here.
Since arriving she'd put the full court press on me to come to Chengdu in Sichuan (Which means: "Ancient home of nasal dripping, rectal ripping spicy food often boiled in lard") Province to visit her. I'd initially demurred, begging lack of funds and the need to settle in Shenzhen before beginning to explore elsewhere. Hell, I can still barely find my ass with both hands and a flashlight at this point.
She kept upping the ante until it was a paid vacation with tickets delivered to my office and a guaranteed personal ride by a connection of hers to the Shenzhen airport.
I caved. Nothing going on here for the 7-day "Golden Week" as far as I was concerned. Just me and the new families of cockroaches that I've recently welcomed into the Lucky Number Apartment.
Bad Omen No. 1 The promised ride to the airport arrives at 7 p.m. Oct. 1. My flight is scheduled to leave at 9:30 p.m. It's also the eve of the holiday week and traffic is like white on rice. Fifteen minutes after leaving we hit a huge traffic jam. My driver sits it out for awhile and then makes a u-turn and heads back in the direction we came from.
"Ah, ha!" thinks I. "Crafty fellow. An alternate route!"
No. He merely drives back to our starting point, turns around again and heads back on the same route we'd previously been jammed on. We then wind up inert about a mile behind the original spot where we'd been originally stuck. The saying about "Insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result each time" occurred to me. But I kept it to myself.
Suffice to say we made it to the airport with about 20 minutes to spare. I took off my shoes, got the full beeping wand treatment and cleared security, wheezed to the gate and found that the flight was delayed. Two flight attendants were passing out room temperature Cokes, bottles of water, cans of soup and boxes of crackers as compensation to the delayed passengers who were crowding and jostling each other like starving refugees grasping for the packaged crumbs and drippings of culinary beneficence courtesy of China Air.
Bad Omen No. 2Touched down in Chengdu after at two hour flight at about 12:30 a.m. and was greeted by Cherry and - surprise - a translator holding a sign with my name on it. Turns out that Cherry's emails, which I had naively assumed to have been written by her were actually the work of 21-year-old Dana Hu, a female college senior majoring in English language studies. My phone contact with Cherry was spotty here and her spoken English was poor, but I attributed it to nerves. Turns out it was worse in person. So Dana starts doing all the talking as we repair to a plush hot pot restaurant where, as I am beginning to choke down goose intestines boiled in lard out of politeness, Cherry tells me via Dana that she can get me a job in Chengdu at twice the salary I'm making in Shenzhen-and-so-why-don't-I-move-there-quickly.
At this moment, goose innard recoiling in my throat, early warning light flashing in my brain, that I see a large black rat scamper across the restaurant's marble floor to the sanctuary of a group of pottled plants.
I quickly excuse myself to the restroom, vomit up the goose and assess my situation.
To be continued

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