Wednesday, April 07, 2004

A Change is Gonna Come
The Lucky Number neighborhood is not what it used to be. Change, while not sweeping, is in the air and most doesn't seem to suit me yet.
The missing park benchs outside the Lucky Number were the first signs that the apocalypse may be imminent. I'd loved all three of them because they provided equally good vantage points to watch a slice of sino-world go by on a lazy weekend morning or slow Sunday evening . Though they were usually occupied, this being the world's most populous country and all, I did enjoy the chance to plop my fat, hairy barbarian butt on one to catch the show.
It's not every day when you can watch a guy buff the sidewalk, for instance. There's a wide and long tile sidewalk in front of a collection of stores running along the bottom of the Lucky Number complex and it gets a daily hosing down and buffer job from two fellows in cheap green jumpsuits whom I've dubbed "Hoser" and "Buff Man."
Buff Man has the hardest job. His buffer runs off a 40 yard extension cord that is plugged into an outlet in a shed about 42 yards from his farthest buffing point. Hoser has it easy, just letting the water run and setting up little yellow plastic Chinese "Slippery When Wet" signs that are usually knocked over by his co-worker's efforts to control the bucking buffer.
If they aren't on duty, there's usually another show going on such as one inside a new barbershop under construction. One night I watched a manager-type outside the shop repeatedly test the automatic garage door style security gate with his remote control. Gate goes up, gate goes down, gate goes up, gate goes down -- I heard Homer Simpson's voice in my head as this middle aged man in a ill-fitting cheap suit repeatedly pushed the buttons and beamed at his handiwork.
Until, that is, gate goes down and stays stuck, which trapped three Chinese versions of Moe, Larry and Curly working inside the shop. They pounded on the gate, shouted and tried in vain to lift it while their boss stood outside impotently punching the remote while a crowd gathered to offer commentary.
But I awoke earlier this week to find the benches had vanished. No more free seats for the greatest small shows on earth.
The second blow came when I was buying a couple Tsingtaos from a merchant whom I've become fond of. He and his family live in a small store front business that serves as a grassroots 7-Eleven. He speaks passable English and his wife, who doesn't, would favor me with a free tangerine or pack of dried beef or squid slipped in my bag, no matter what I'd purchased.
His name is Mr. Lan, but I'd privately dubbed him Happy Skull Man because his head - with protruding teeth and gums, high cheek bones and a nearly bald pate - resembles a living skull and he was always happy to chat with me. But Happy Skull Man told me last night that this is his last week in business. He's sold the store and is thinking of opening up an Internet bar somewhere else in Shenzhen. I'm going to miss him and his wife's little freebies.
Blow number three also came this week when my friendly laundress with the forehead cyst told a Chinese friend of mine to tell me that she's going out of business "soon." No specific date yet, but I'm going to have to learn to handwash my unmentionables or break down and buy a washing machine.
Change number four is kind of positive, though. A new foreigner has moved into the Lucky Number complex and he's only a few doors down from me on the 19th floor. We made eye contact outside the elevator but quickly learned that our European heritage wasn't enough for a lasting relationship.
He's French and speaks no English. I know only three phrases of atrociously accented French, not including "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?" from Lady Marmalade, which I didn't think would probably be appropriate given the circumstances.
So I asked in Spanish if he spoke Spanish and he replied in Italian that he speaks Italian and then in French asked me if I parlez vouxed Chinoise to which I replied "mei-wo." (No, in Chinese).
We established my name and his (Christian) continued this fractured dialogue complete with body language up 19 floors to the bemusement of five Chinese fellow passengers who began giggling and hiding their smiles behind their hands at the ridiculous sight of two barbarians who couldn't communicate with each other.
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