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.

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