Wednesday, October 08, 2003

I returned to the table realizing I had bitten off more than I could chew both literally and psychologically. I explained through Dana that I had a one year contract with the Shenzhen Daily and would not consider breaking it unless the circumstances were very unusual. Cherry did not appear pleased but I feigned ignorance.
Cherry drives. Very badly. In fact, I can say she's the worst driver I've encountered since coming here and that's saying a lot. She's bad even by Chinese standards and the ride from the airport to the Rat Restaurant and back to her home gave me a sample of what I could expect for the next four days.
Lanes and oncoming traffic meant nothing to her as she routinely drove - drifted is more like it - heedlessly and obliviously like a bemused empress on too much Valium - the wrong way for as many as two blocks in one way lanes and when going the right direction often straddled or wove back and forth the dividing stripes. She also used sidewalks and bike paths as roadways and thought nothing of sudden U turns across four to five lanes of busy traffic going both ways. She got lost countless times and often stopped the car in the middle of traffic to get out and flag down another driver for directions, which were acknowledged but usually ignored, while cars piled up behind us honking furiously.
She herself used the horn like a brake and the turn signal was frequently going for as long as 3 minutes without being switched off.
We finally arrived at her house in a gated community through a narrow alley roadway outside a lower class market area of Chengdu.
"Cherry wants to know if this is like your house in America," says Dana.
No. I can safely say that I do not live in a pink stucco monstrosity with two large gold cupids (which appeared to be weeping due to moisture and humidity) adorning the front, five bedrooms, four bathrooms, three marble tiled floors and furnished with with hideous white leather and white and gold wood trim furniture that looked as if it came from the set of a Bulgarian movie about Marie Antoinette.
I was shown my bedroom on the second floor and given a tour of hers on the third floor. It was a vertiable Shrine to Cherry decorated with a plethora of enormous color and black and white studio photos of Her Cherriness - all taken probably 5 to 8 years ago. Her closet - jammed with racks and racks of clothes - was about 3/4 the size of my entire apartment.
The next day was spent meeting her somewhat surly 15-year-old daughter, and watching her firing her cook and cleaning maid - but only after breakfast was prepared. We then left to run errands, which included an extended shopping expedition at a large Japanese owned grocery store where she began to make her move.
I'm fairly conservative when it comes to public displays of affection and the Chinese as a rule pretty much limit it to casual hand holding. Not so, Cherry, who began "accidently" bumping me, and finally grabbing my hand and dragging me through the aisles and at several points firmly putting my hand on one of her breasts.
As already a focus of attention as the only foreigner amid hundreds of shoppers, I was more than a bit mortified. Dana, who was with us every step of the way, pretended not to notice.
Next stop was a tour of two new business offices she's having built. (She owns two businesses, one is a bio-tech research firm and the other I never figured out. She claims to also want to build a small medical clinic.) We clambered through sawdust, mud and electrical wiring, old lumber and plywood and found the workers snoozing on lunch break.
Though this is standard operating procedure in China and even extends to my office where employees sack out at desks and on couches after lunch, the proverbial shit hit the fan and I broke away from her grasp as she laid into them.
After driving on the sidwalk to exit the construction site and narrowly missing a head on collision with a rusty, blue cabbage truck, it was on to another site where dozens of middle-aged women were milling around outside. It was a sort of day labor employment place for maids and cooks.
"Cherry wants you to help select a new babysitter," said Dana. I explained the difference between cook and babysitter and maid and then said I had no desire or qualifications for such an honor.
"It does not matter. She wants to include you."
I was shown a pleasant appearing eager domestic worker who spoke no English and I passed on my ignorant approval. She joined us in the car and we went to another crowded grocery store for more casual bumping and grinding and food.
A late lunch followed, more hot pot minus goose guts. I stuck to the lamb and beef and mushrooms. Then back to manse Cherry for a nap.
About 30 minutes into my snooze and there was a knock on my bedroom door. It was Cherry with an invitation to her inner sanctum.
Fade to black.
Gentle reader, I will spare you the daily nitty-gritty, but suffice to say that the days and nights that followed included a barrage of more upper crust hot pot restaurants, meeting her relatives and two employees, seeing the newest cook fired and being replaced by her mother, and listening to a seeming randomly generated series of (to-me) bizarre and inappropriate questions and demands based on her belief that I wanted to marry her and my (mostly polite) insistence that that was and would never be in the cards, no way, no how. Nada. 'Nuff said. End of story.
An overnight trip to a Chengdu spa for luxury shower and foot massage and viewing of a bootleg DVD on a huge screen of a newly released flick called Warriors of Heaven and Earth that China film buffs hope will be another Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
It is nearly midnight and I am almost asleep in my padded Commie barca lounger trying to decipher the non-subtitled movie when out of the blue Cherry says something sharp in Chinese and Dana asks gently in English: "Can you prove you are divorced? Do you have your divorce paper?"
My wha?
Roused from my lethargy with a shot of angry adrenalin, I grit my teeth and explain patiently that unless marriage is in the offing no such proof is needed in America and while I could conceivably come up with the aforementioned document from the Boulder, Colorado County USA Clerk and Recorder's Office it would be a huge pain in the ass, take months, and basically what-the-fuck?
Snapshot No. 2Out of the blue again. This time on another death ride (to what is allegedly the world's oldest standing dam) while lost and stalled in a miles long traffic jam on a rural byway because Cherry ignored the traffic signs that even I could read because they were also in English.
I was passing the time immersed in a pastoral scene watching an elderly woman in a bold blue tunic and pants herding bright white ducks along a misty rice paddy dike when the barrage began.
"Was your Korean wife pretty? Was she prettier than your American wife? Which wife was prettier? Did you divorce them because they were too ugly? Am I prettier than them? Did you beat them?"
Dana, bless her heart, was as sick of having to ask these as I was gob-smacked attempting to answer or even acknowledge them. She complained frequently to me about Cherry's lack of tact and class and about the low wage she had accepted for what she had thought would be a part-time job. In fact she quit early - the night before I left.
Another snapshotI am once again summoned to the boudoir but this time not for pleasure. Dana, sleepy herself, knocks on the door with the invite at about 1:30 a.m. We trudge up to the Queen's Nest and once again I am asked for divorce papers and to explain why I "only want to be friends." I leave her in tears, which I suspect are of only the crocodile variety - or at most, self-pity - and crawl back to sleep.
Tomorrow the melodrama concludes

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