Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Rene Monory. Dr. Louis Alberto LaCalle Herrera. Rlaluih Serge Voho. Lennart Meri. The names roll off the tongue and of course, you've undoubtedly heard of them. They are, according to a sign I saw yesterday in a SZ theme park called Splendid China, some of the "Most Famous People in the World." They and other distinguished luminaries have had the distinction not only of being some of the world's best known personalities but they've also planted trees in Splendid China.
Though theme parks, leper colonies, Turkish prisons and Kenny G. concerts are pretty much equals in my priorities when it comes to amusement what brought me to Splendid China was urging from newly arrived fellow barbarian James (his blog is at and desperation when it came to entertaining Yochan. You see, other than shopping and bar hopping, Shenzhen really doesn't have a lot to offer out of town visitors, especially if you don't drive and can't speak enough Chinese to hire a cab to take you outside the "special zone" that encircles the city.
Hence, theme parks make up a lot of the tourist attractions. So far, I'd been able to side-step them, sort of like how I haven't caught hepatitis A or B yet, but James, who is a native Angelino, was born on the day Disneyland opened and finally 'fessed up about 3 hours into our sorjourn through Splendid China that he was a model train freak as a kid had repeatedly urged me to see it. This last detail is critical, because Splendid China consists of two parts - one of which is acres of China in minature. You can see the entire country and its' scenic highlights in an hour if you hurry. There's a two-foot high Great Wall stretching a full kilometer, for instance and the magnificent 3 Gorges rendered in artificial rock with a very small artificial stream, just like it looked before the Yangtze River was dammed up. Don't miss Beijing's Forbidden City either, also two feet high and staffed with hundreds of Chinese GI Joes in Ming Dynasty costumes feet firmly glued to the ground, except for the ones who have sat out in the elements too long and are now listing to one side, their minature umbrellas and banners in tatters.
It all looks like some kind of beserk Sino-obsessed gardener-landscaper run amok, or an enormous minature golf course if you factor in the enormous fiberglass dragons, fake pagodas and what appear to be old Big Boys from the hamburger chain who have been repainted and slightly reshaped as various monkey gods and Happy Buddhas.
But the World's Most Famous People who have planted trees there was a definite highlight. Though most are notables like the ones mentioned above (president of the French senate, president of Uruguay, prime minister of Vanuatu, president of Estonia, respectively) we did spot ones planted by unknowns like George Bush I and war criminal-ex-socialite Henry Kissinger.
The second part of Splendid China was a tad more interesting. Most Chinese are Han people who dominate 50-some "ethinic minorities", 22 of which are more or less represented in mini-folk villages in the park. It's sort of like visiting a sanitized Indian reservation in the U.S. - one without wretched dwellings, abandoned trucks, alcoholism and casinos. Throw in some Hispanics in colorful somberos and costumes dancing and playing mariachi music, some African-Americans tap dancing or playing Dixieland and some drunken Irish dressed as 19th century cops and you're approaching the general idea.
There's a live re-creation of Genghis Khan and his horse back hordes in a Chinese rodeo arena, though I don't think Genghis employed fog machines or wore a fire helmet and I swear that the lip-synched soundtrack, complete with the sounds of clashing swords, grunts, thuds and screams was identical to one I'd heard while watching a 1980s-era Hong Kong chop-sockie flick on the TV a few days before.
I thought that to make it really complete Splendid China needs an opium village, some barbarians dressed as 19th century British naval officers and as U.S. Marines circa 1900 putting down the Boxer Rebellion and maybe some Red Guards taunting and beating a university professor in a dunce cap.
But James and I discovered a mini-scandal. Some of these minorities weren't what they were dressed up to be.
Case #1. Kounterfeit Koreans. Because Korea borders China, some Koreans live in China and are counted as minorities. We spotted two women dressed in traditional Korean dresses near the "Korean Folk Village" and as James and Yochan photographed them I seized on the opportunity to try out my limited Korean language skills, which still outstrip my Chinese. They looked at me as if I was speaking Spanish and it became apparent that they were as Korean as Britney Spears. They were Chinese dressed as Koreans.
Case #2. Make-believe Muslims. There's a gaudy concrete "mosque", complete with a crescent moon on the domed roof. Like 98% of the other prefab ethnic structures, it's actually sheltering an overpriced gift shop. Two "Chinese Muslim" women kept urging us to check it out but we were weary and broke and James finally broached the question. "Are you real Muslims? If you are we'll come inside."
"No!" they admitted in unison, giggling. "Oh no! Not Muslim!"
Well, we're not real foreigners with unlimited funds either.

Monday, February 23, 2004

"On the Hong Kong ferry I was feeling merry..."(apologies to Rod Stewart)
It was in a line at the Hong Kong ferry station waiting to board for Shenzhen on Sunday where I overheard three fellow foreign barbarians discussing the on-going rape scandal involving my alma mater's already beleaguered football team, the University of Colorado Buffalos.
"Barnett is frigging toast," said one guy firmly, referring to the coach. I saw my chance and jumped in.
"You-guys-from-Colorado?-I'm-from-Boulder-how-'bout-those-Buffs?" I gibbered like a brain-addled hostage who'd been shackled in a dog house and deprived of light and company for 84 days.
Turned out two of them were from Longmont, a town very close to Boulder and home of a couple close friends, none of whom we had in common. But on a Sunday afternoon in Hong Kong, as Barnett and his tarnished squad presumably slept the restless sleep of the damned half a world away, we tore into the gossip and bemoaned the Buffs' future.
No promises to get together in Shenzhen, though. They work for a multinational company and are comfortably quartered near the Mission Hills golf course, a posh area that -- despite its high class aura - is a place I know only as being near the Doggie Diner (How Much is that Doggy in the Window, Dec. 26). I briefly considered recommending it to them, but thought better of it - especially after one started talking about how he missed his golden lab more than his wife.
What brought me to Hong Kong was a Japanese friend, Yochan who is visiting SZ for a week from Tokyo. I'd gone there to meet her at the HK airport and take her back to Shenzhen after spending a couple days in HK.
Except for a few days as a 9-year-old and, more recently going to SZ from the airport, I hadn't spent any time in HK and this was culture shock all over again, especially after 6 months on the mainland.
Thanks to more than a 100 years of repressive, imperialist British colonization most people there speak English and drive like human beings, not ether-addled wolverines. Pedestrians have the right of way - an abstract concept I'd all but forgotten. Signs are in English as well as Chinese. Even the KFCs said "Finger lickin' good." It was like being in a China Town in New York or San Francisco and just as expensive. I spent more in two days on bare necessities, like a scoop of Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey and a cup of real ministrone soup, than I spend in two weeks of noodles and Tsingtao on the mainland.
Seeing China through Yochan's Japanese eyes is another world, too. Like me she speaks no Chinese but she can read many Chinese characters because they are also used in Japan, though some have different meanings. Sort of like an American in Europe who can't speak the languages but might be able to figure out a few signs and labels. She was fascinated and somewhat repulsed by a tour of the covered outdoor market - nothing like seeing fresh meat and fish used as fly catchers - that I took her on near the Lucky Number.
She's not wild about most Chinese food, so after I made some spaghetti for dinner on Sunday night, we had a lunch at a western-style restaurant near my apartment on Monday.
The waitress, after addressing Yochan and getting over the shock of an Asian face that doesn't speak Chinese, laboriously took down our pointing fingers order for French toast, a steak sandwich, a BLT and fried dumplings.
Then the fun began. The waitress returned, pointed to the fried dumplings on the menu and asked us a question that seemed to last about 10 minutes.
Yochan and I looked at each other and shrugged. I did my best imitation of a bobble head doll by emphatically and repeatedly nodding "yes" to the waitress and said "OK" several times just to make sure. She kept asking. Finally I used my cell phone for the purpose God and Nokia intended. I called Chicom coworker Helen and asked her to translate.
The waitress spoke to Helen seemingly another 10 minutes. Then I took the phone and asked Helen what the problem was.
"She wants to know what you want inside your dumpling."
"Please tell her pork."
Waitress to Helen (imagined): "Pork? He wants pork on a Monday? For this I came to work? Who does he think he is? Every fool knows we have no pork on Monday. We have a variety of ingredients, as anyone save this white ghost knows. However, I will not bother to list them. Little sister, let us talk instead about a variety of other subjects - including the proposed re-evaluation of the Chinese yuan, China's World Cup chances, the chance of direct elections in Hong Kong by the year 2010 or my dirtbag of an ex-boyfriend whom I saw with that slut Mei Ge at the Dongmen shopping center this weekend. Yes, anything at all. But not pork."
Helen to me (real): She says there is no pork.
"OK, anything else. Seafood if they have it. If not anything else."
After another lengthy debate with Helen, she seemed to get the message. Our sandwiches and French toast arrived and were consumed and we kept waiting for the dumplings.
The waitress returned again, pointed to the dumplings on the menu and delivered another oration, this repeatedly using a phrase I finally recognized that basically means: "No way ever - not in this, or even your next lifetime." I hear it a lot here, actually. So, following her genial suggestion we passed on the fried dumplings.
And this time I didn't need the cell phone.
Note: I'm taking the rest of the week off to show Yochan around Shenzhen and to perhaps see some sights I haven't seen either. Shenzhen Zen will resume its irregular schedule as events and circumstances allow, but probably sometime early next week.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Funny business
One of the banes of my editorial existence is "polishing" the comics every Tuesday. The Shenzhen Daily runs five comic strips that appear in a Wednesday supplement aimed primarily at Chinese middle school students who are learning English. Though I am sure foreigners, starved for the likes of Garfield, Marmaduke and Cathy, also read them. I know my son and I did when we were teaching here and we got a lot of snarky mileage out of how incredibly bad they were. Even Family Circus was looking good after three weeks.
The translations were one problem. The barbarian polishmeister who preceded me obviously hadn't changed them a whit. A typical four panel affair would go something like this:
Teacher to class: Do not dare to disobey my noble commands at severe risk for I am your revered teacher-master! Have your possessions included assigned tasks that were assigned to you?
Impish tyke: Fellow student Ji Li has promptly not completed onerous assigned task duties assigned previously to him!
Teacher: This is not suitable hearing for my ears! Ji Li, please to explain to myself, revered teacher-master, why previously assinged tasks assigned to yourself previously are not present on your person!
Ji Li: My ears are blocked like the mighty waters of the glorious Three Gorges Project for I have been laboring mightily in preparation of studies for the soon to upcoming difficult Level II Examinations! (Teacher seen flying out of panel in disbelief with only his feet visible and three "woosh" lines depicting his shocked exit.)
You get the idea. But since I've assumed comics duty it's been a mixed affair. I've successfully replaced phrases like "Explosive sound" and "Very stupid rascal bandit" with "Kaboom" and "moron" and "pushed my foot down with hard force" with "stomped." I had to argue for all three because M., the comics lady, couldn't find "kaboom", "moron" or "stomped" in her Chinese-English dictionary but wanted to keep another word "bullshit" in because it was in her dictionary.
Anyway, it all came to a head today regarding a four panel comic with a single repeated phrase.
The set-up was a car with a sign reading "Do not kiss me" on the rear. Two men walk in front of it. The car almost hits one. In the last panel he's had a "Do not kiss me" sign taped to his back by the other fellow.
Hilarious, huh? I didn't get it either.
So I sucked it up and went to "M". She's a impeccable human being with absolutely no sense of humor. She explained that "Do not kiss me" is a common sign on cars driven by student and new drivers in China. It's a cute metaphor for "Don't hit me."
I told her most westerners wouldn't understand that and suggested "Caution: Student Driver" instead.
"That is too far from the original meaning," she said primly. "I will put an explanation for the metaphor."
"If you have to explain it, it isn't funny!" I replied, my blood pressure rising.
"Yours is not funny," she retorted. "He is not a student driver and he is walking."
"That's exactly why it is funny!" I said with clenched teeth, while looking around in vain for a U.N. peacekeeper. "I know humor. It is FUNNY!"
Then I did something very mature. I stomped away muttering "moron" under my breath.
She consulted foreign barbarian coworker Jeff, who also told her it wasn't funny.
"I told her to just run another one," he said. "Told her no foreigner would understand hers and that yours is funnier.
I just got the new one.
First man: What will you do with your winnings if you win the lottery?
Second man: I will spend my winnings that I win to build a grand football training center.
First man: Yesterday you declared that you would build a welfare center!
Second man: It was yesterday that I have purchased a welfare lotteries. It is today that I have purchased a football lotteries!
(Foreign comics polisher seen flying out of panel in disbelief with only his feet visible and three "woosh" lines depicting his shocked exit.)

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Secret Agent Ice Cream Man
Foreign barbarian coworker Jeff and I have had our schedules flipped for a few days due to the SZ mayor's office. Hizzoner has a State of the City address to deliver soon and as the Daily serves double duty as a newspaper and the city's English language propaganda organ (not necessarily in that order) we were told on Tuesday afternoon that I would temporarily work nights and Jeff take the lighter day shift so he could also "polish" the English translation of the mayor's 40-some page oratorical masterpiece.
Why the mayor doesn't employ his own English speaking polisher and we weren't assigned to split the duty wasn't addressed, though after Alex gave us our marching orders -- including a warning to Jeff that the contents of the speech were "very confidential" and not to be shared with anyone -- there was some speculation by others as to why I was left out of the process.
"Maybe it's because you're an American, mate," Jeff cracked. "Aussies aren't a threat. We're all about kangaroos and cuddly bloody koalas, not screaming eagles."
Actually, I had seen portions of the speech before the edict because two of the Chinese staffers doing the translating had asked me for help. Suffice to say that what I saw didn't exactly inspire me to contact my CIA handler, though I briefly considered registering it as a new, miracle sleep aid.
Later, the "Ugly American theory" was also independently proposed by two Chinese pals, one of whom I had lunch with in a mall prior to starting work Wednesday afternoon. "K", a friend of Peter's, is also a party member so I took him at his word.
Besides, he was right about the ice cream rule.
After lunch I spotted a Baskin-Robbins outside the restaurant and stopped to order a cone of mango sorbet. I asked K if I could buy him a scoop, too.
He laughed and declined.
"No Chinese man eats ice cream," he said.
"Why?" I said, licking a swirl of the sweet icy mango.
"We say that only women and children eat ice cream."
I mentally checked my genitals and wrinkles. They seemed to be still intact so I ventured another small bite of sorbet.
"Sure you don't want one? It's really good. Just like home. Mine, that is."
"A man will be laughed at if he is seen eating that on the street," K continued.
"Let's test that," I said brazenly. After all, SZ isn't a Chinese version of Hooterville. It's a cosmopolitan metropolis of affluent mostly educated residents who - despite occasionally dubious sanitation habits and standards - enjoy the sophisticated worldview that comes with having regular access to KFC, McDonalds and Walmart.
We went outside and I began conspicuously slurping the sorbet.
Within three licks, a group of adolescent school girls in identical blue and white sweat suits spotted me and the largest one pointed at the eunich foreign baby eating ice cream and began laughing. Then she made a bizarre grimacing face at me and pointed down with both index fingers at her torso in a repeated up-and-down motion.
Her schoolmates thought it was hilarious. I was baffled. Usually they just smile politely and shyly and say "hello!" hello!" and ask where I'm from. The more pushy ones sometimes commit what another foreigner in China has called "language rape" which involves incessentally badgering you to "practice" English with them - but this was mocking and a little startling.
"What does that mean?" I asked, still gripping my cone o' shame after my tormentors had had their fill. "That thing she did with her hands. What does it mean?"
"Ignore it," said K. "You do not want to know. But please finish the ice cream quickly."

Monday, February 09, 2004

My City Was Gone
In two days I've lost my bank and handy neighborhood cigarette and news kiosk. Both have vanished, gone, nada, el zippo - as if they never existed. Recently I made a soggy, cold rain-soaked trek to the bank designated for me by the apartment owner to deposit money from which phone and utilities are deducted. It was a monthly ritual - that is until Sunday when I found that the bank was gone or else entombed within an enormous concrete slab that bore fresh new Chinese characters and a phone number. Perhaps the Tomb of the Unknown Teller with a hotline to Paradise? The bank had sat on the top of a steep embankment with stairs leading to the entrance. I stared at what had been the stairs only to see the massive slab instead. Above it, no bank, not even a foundation.
I thought perhaps I'd misplaced it - "Excuse me! Have you seen my bank? I think I might have dropped it near the foot massage parlor.." and spent another 30 wet minutes wandering around the neighborhood to no avail.
It's still a mystery, though one coworker says he thinks it might have moved somewhere nearby. He's promised to help me track it down. Phone calls to a bank branch made by another coworker were fruitless. "She says she doesn't know anything and that all is in order," I was told.
Then this morning on the way to work I planned to stop at the corner newstand for a pack of cigs and copy of a Beijing English language rag. It's been a dependable mainstay, a pleasant morning habit and I've gotten to know the owner and his wife in as much as we've exchanged smiles, greetings and limited vocab lessons in both languages. I'd passed it last night on my way back to the Lucky Number and waved to Mrs. Newstand Vendor. She smiled and waved back.
Fourteen hours later, like the bank, it's MIA. Nothing to show that it had been there except a modest newstand-sized rectangular square on the sidewalk.
I'm beginning to think I'm living in some kind of Chinese Bermuda Triangle.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Celluloid Heroes
China's biggest female movie star at the moment stands about 5 ft.-1 or 2 and probably weighs as much as a couple packs of instant noodles. Her name is Zhou Xun and when I saw her at a recent press conference in Shenzhen she was wearing blue jeans, sweater, and a pair of classic "Chucks" (Chuck Taylor All Stars) and a light blue cashmere cap that covered her hair and emphasized her enormous, expressive eyes. She vaguely resembles a young Audrey Hepburn; gamin-like and appears younger than her 28 years.
She also has an alluring husky cigs-and-bourbon soaked voice -- testimony to her a slightly seedy past as a struggling bar singer in Beijing and at odds with an appearance that looks as if she should be cheerfully exclaiming in helium tones: "Gosh, Mr. Bunny Rabbit! You sure look hippity-hoppity happy today!"
I was at a local hotel tagging along with one of our intrepid reporters, an eager young pup named Alfred who had been assigned to cover the press conference, though he said there was little chance any story would result. The SZ Daily's entertainment coverage is spotty and it was only after I badgered him gently that he began to take notes.
Zhou was here with the two male leads and the female director to promote the release their "newest" release, Baober in Love. I say newest in quotes because the movie was filmed three years ago, but shelved until this month by censors due to racy sexual content. Racy by Chinese standards, I suppose though the clips I saw in the press conference were pretty tame by my jaded Western standards.
Let's just say based on what I saw it's no Das Booty, Gonad the Barbarian or even 9 1/2 Weeks.... It's a contemporary love triangle story involving Zhou and the two guys, one of whom plays a handicapped dude in a wheel chair.
I was curious though -- having covered more than a few such affairs while writing entertainment drivel for the Rocky Mountain News -- to see what the Chinese version of flackdom was like.
It was remarkably similar, right down to our names and media outlets being checked off a list at the door, being handed gimme bags with various promotional items, including CDs of the soundtrack (which wouldn't play on my home player) and having to wear oversized access cards (a reproduction of the Baober poster) on cords around our necks. The crowd of TV and still photogs hogging the front rows making it impossible for the miserable ink-stained print wretches behind to see was also a blast from the past. But the Chinese are too polite to yell "Down in front, muthafuckas!"
Things finally settled down. It began with a long, formal announcement - Alfred translated everything for me - that the movie hadn't been pirated to DVD because of strict and unusually stern security measures taken by the movie company.
I turned and whispered to Alfred, "Funny, I was offered it two days ago by the video pirate boys near my apartment." Which indeed I had.
He looked aghast and made a shushing motion with his fingers.
Before taking questions, the stars posed repeatedly for pictures against oversized backdrops of the poster and then came over to another backdrop two feet from me and Alfred to pose with a corporate sponsor, a cell phone czar who was slightly bloated, middle aged and sporting one of the worst toupees I've ever seen here or in the U.S. I had to scrunch down and fold myself nearly in half to avoid being in the photo and after looking at her tennies found myself looking up at Zhou who flashed a quick sardonic half smile and half-shrugged a shoulder when we made brief eye contact. I returned to contemplating her tiny black and white Chucks until the camera flashes stopped.
The best part, though, was another foreign barbarian who was there. I'll call him C. Our paths have crossed several times here and I still haven't figured out what exactly he does. C is an American in his 30s, married to Chinese woman who manages a men's soccer team, is from the deep south and speaks elementary Chinese with a Mississippi accent. He has mentioned that he's involvedin show business, though is vague on specifics. And most recently he tried to sell me on an Amway-type operation involving nutrients that he thinks will be huge in China. We'd greeted each other upon arriving at the press conference and when the questions to the stars began I saw him edge forward - wearing wraparound shades - with a Chinese woman who was translating for him.
I followed just to see what he had in mind. I heard him ask his translator if anyone of the cast speaks English. She said she didn't know.
Finally there was a lull in the questions from the Chinese press and C. spoke up in English.
"I'm a film producer from L.A.! Los Angeles! In California, USA. Hollywood!" he proclaimed.
Alfred, who also knows C., whispered to me. "What? He is?" I shrugged and didn't know whether or not to laugh or leave immediately.
The cast and director looked at him quizzically. If C. was disappointed for not receiving shock and awe adulation and applause, he didn't let it show. Though his line was complete bullshit, I had to admire the chutzpah.
"Do you speak English?" he asked one of the male leads.
The guy looked at him evenly and said. "Yes, I do. A little."
"Good! Good!" Chuck said, pressing on. "I am a Hollywood producer and we want to make a film in China and we are looking for actors for it."
He focused on Zhou and smiled. "Do you? Speak English?"
"No," she said. For the first time C. looked crestfallen. "No? None?"
Zhou lifted her right hand and made an extremely small space between her thumb and index finger. "Very little," she said.
"Well, maybe we can use you, anyway," C. blustered. Imagine some Chinese loonball interrupting a press conference with Nicole Kidman to say he might be able to use her in a Hong Kong chop-socky flick and you get the general idea of the kind of impression C. was making. But instead of unleashing security goons, the assembled celebs just kept staring at C. Some press folks were giggling, however. I wanted to die, apologizing on behalf of my counry.
C. turned back to the male actor and said, "Would you like to be in my movie?"
The actor smiled patiently, said something in Chinese and pointed to a woman standing at the other end of the table.
"What did he say?" C. asked his translator.
"He said you have to talk to his agent," she replied. "That is her."
A very Hollywood answer. And at that point C. shrugged and retreated.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Black Bird
I'm still eating chicken, but might pass on the black swan if it spins my way these days on the oversized Lazy Susan that Chinese use for their communal banquets.
There has been mixed news and censored news regarding avian flu in China and in Shenzhen in particular lately.
The mixed news first: Hong Kong TV news outlets which enjoy greater freedom than their mainland counterparts, despite sudden, unexplained breaks in broadcasts that might embarass or contradict what is reported here, have reported that World Health Organization inspectors are being stonewalled in attempts to investigate new areas where bird flu has reportedly broken out.
I saw one WHO worker say as much - but in more diplomatic terms - and would have enjoyed hearing more except there was a "mysterious" break in his interview that was replaced with a static mainland graphic showing a snow covered field that read "Hard Cold" in English. When the HK feed resumed, it was for a weather report. Stormy weather was predicted. Indeed.
Meanwhile the Shenzhen Daily was trumpeting a statement on its front page today that a WHO director-general, who happens to be Chinese, believes that China will "be able to bring bird flu under control." Right. As soon as he can get those pesky, inquisitive underlings back to the office.
SZ Daily will also run a report tomorrow saying that an unspecified number of black swans recently died in a local safari park, but don't worry because "tests" reveal that they didn't have bird flu. What the story fails to mention is an interesting detail that our local "information bureau" strongly suggested that we omit. (Foreign barbarian coworker Jeff and I always appreciate these helpful editing suggestions.) It wasn't "one" swan that died as another paper reported. It was 51. Oh, and the safari park has been shut down. But that's another needless detail. But readers will be glad to know that safari park workers were given shots, even though the tests for bird flu were negative.
It's all under control. And control is what it's all about, doncha know?

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Are You Ready for Some Football?
I have quoted foreign barbarian coworker Jeff's wise counsel on China in the past: "Be patient. It's taken them 5,000 years to develop a Third World Country." Today I am happy to report that China has finally attained First World status.
No, I'm not talking about another manned space launch or even a national mandate for sit-down toilets, toilet paper and paper towels in all restrooms. It was much, much bigger than that.
I was able to watch Super Bowl XXXVIII live from the Lucky Number Apartment. Doing so, though, took some some planning. While it was Super Sunday in the U.S., here it was Miserable Monday and the game began at 7 a.m. I also had to work and after I learned that Pats vs. Cats would indeed be broadcast on the government network, CCTV, I began scheming for an excuse to come in late Monday morning. It finally came to me on Thursday afternoon.
I approached second in command Alex and relying on the general Chinese ignorance of and indifference to American football told him that I needed Monday morning off for "religious reasons."
He may not comprende NFL, but Alex is no fool and was a little curious. "Christmas is past," he replied. "What religion? Why Monday morning?"
I explained that I belonged to a minor religion - hard pressed to come up with a name quickly I mumbled something like "Turfitarians, an offshoot of Christianity, but more inclusive" - that followed the thoughts of great American prophets,
"There have been many - 37, or more - since the original teacher, Teacher Lombardi. There are Prophets Namath, Unitas, Starr, Bradshaw, Montana, Elway..."
He was silent. I kept pushing. "Traditionally followers usually meet on the last Sunday in January for what we call Super Sunday. This year is will be on February 1 in the U.S. We meditate on the thoughts and deeds of the two best prophets and one is appointed for the coming year. This year there are Prophet Brady and a new one, Prophet Delhomme. I want to study and to consult with others on the telephone in the U.S. during the same time. We will meditate and discuss Brady Thought and Delhomme Thought."
He thought for a moment and quietly told me it was OK. But I'm still not sure he bought it.
Though I donned a tattered, faded and shrunken Broncos '88 AFC championship T-shirt for it, watching the game with Chinese broadcasters and a Chinese feed wasn't exactly the same. Commentary and play-by-play action was unintelligible except for odd bursts like BlahblahblahChineseblah - BLITZ! - blahblah - IN THE POCKET! - bblahblahChinese - RED ZONE! (Yes, incredibly there is apparently no Chinese translation for "Red Zone"...)- blahblah - NO HUDDLE HURRY-HURRY OFFENSE! ..."
There were no commercials and I only learned of Justin Timberlake tearing off Janet Jackson's top from the Internet. The Chinese feed's halftime music audio was terrible, though and cut away midway through Kid Rock's flag-draped hoohaw in favor of old NFL light features about mascots and - thankfully - cheerleaders. But like viewing it in the U.S., I managed to miss some key plays and a couple touchdowns while I was in the bathroom or kitchen and was only alerted to significant action by one Chinese announcer who would scream "WOW-WOW!"
Lacking nachos, chips, pizza and Bud, I slurped down noodles and a glass and a half of Great Wall red and stayed til the thrilling finale.
I made to the office by noon and Alex - who was leaving for lunch - asked me how it had gone.
"It was much like a previous Super Sunday," I said. "After close examination, Prophet Brady was selected with the help of a Disciple named Vinatieri."

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