Friday night and we’re invited to the 21st birthday party of our friends, Vanessa and Mark’s son James. We’ve never met him but if they don’t mind, we don’t either, so off we go to Moon River street and seek out The Cowboy Bar. It’s not hard to find, especially with a bartender out on the sidewalk who spots us and asks us, “James’ birthday?” In we go. We are right on time according to our invite, but early for a young person’s party. The parents’ friends are all there as well as James and his step-brother Simon who is BBQing out on the landing along the canal. There’s just enough room for a table and 2 rectangular charcoal grills. Simon has just started the briquets and about half the smoke is pouring into the bar.
Our hosts pour us glasses of red and white and we start making connections with the folks there, most of whom work in one of the two companies overseen by Jeremy, the ex-pat who started this whole relationship by striking up a conversation with us in Starbuck’s. We’re having fun but the evening gets even better when the food starts coming off the grill.
I have a confession to make. A month or so ago I said to Geoff that I wasn’t sure I would be able to face a steak again, given the relatively small amounts of meat we’ve eaten since we’ve been here. I now know that I simply hadn’t been properly tempted. First course, the best burger I can remember. I ate all of mine, then a third of Geoff’s second one. (Ed. note: a third if a third is 50%) About this time, 3 Chinese Military men march into the bar. None of the 4 bartenders so much as raise an eyebrow but everyone watches as the men in uniform head directly to the landing where the BBQ is in full swing. Someone grabs a Chinese guest and sends him out to find out what the problem is and try to mollify. After a few minutes, the military come back through, this time with smiles on their faces. There has been a complaint about the smoke, but now that they know what is going on, all is well and we will be allowed to continue until all our food is cooked. Good thing because there is so much more to come: chicken wings, kebabs, pork loin , and then the piece de resistance–beef tenderloin. OMG, it was amazing, perfectly cooked, grill marks on the outside, nicely pink but not bleeding on the inside. Fantastic! My mouth is watering just describing it. So, yeah, I’ll be eating steak again, and burgers and tenderloin and probably everything else I can get my hands on.
We’re not exactly party animals and while James had predicted 50 friends to join him, very few of them had arrived by the time we left. Young people start later and stay later (like the Irish). Apparently the party went on until 4:00am so no doubt we missed some good stories.
Saturday morning and we are literally in a cloud. It’s going to rain off and on all day, but the particle meter says we are way down and the air feels fresh and clean. Geoff and I meander over to Starbuck’s for breakfast. (Fyi, at home, we went to Starbuck’s maybe once or twice a month. Who knew that it would factor so greatly into our Chinese stay?) I look out the window and see this old guy whom I had noticed on the bus the day before because he had started sketching me. I waved to him, which he took as an invitation to come in. He pulled up a chair and resumed the sketch. See below for his results. Any likeness? He wouldn’t accept any money and said in a few English words, “for friendship.” It was lovely.
Geoff headed home (perhaps he had a bit too much also?) (Ed. note: Who? Me? At a free bar?) and I decided to go to the hairdressers, which you can do on a whim in China because no matter when you arrive, they fit you in. It’s great really. So, I am not making this next part up. I’ve got my hair wrapped in Saran while the colour takes and this little boy pushed up a stool beside me and says something to the effect of, “Move over, I want to play with this computer.” I mentioned in an earlier blog that in my salon, there’s a whole bank of computers for anyone’s use, I guess, and this little boy knows what he wants. He refuses to play my game of hand signals so I refuse to move, which is great because now I’ve got a ring-side seat as I watch this kid. He’s my hairdresser’s son and I think he’s around 5 but I hear another employee say ‘ba’ which is 8 so maybe. He turns on the computer and begins to play a game in which he is part of the Chinese military and his task is to take out the Statue of Liberty! Clearly America is the enemy. All the buildings have American flags and when they are hit with a rocket, they go up in black smoke and a Chinese flag appears. As the destruction continues, Chinese paratroopers drop down to finish off anyone left. He destroys the place then jumps to a map of the US and selects another target, this one in the mid-west, where, as a sniper, he sneaks up on a US military base in the middle of snow covered nowhere and begins blasting again. Make of this what you will. I am not familiar with this kind of game so maybe the Americans create them with Chinese targets. Seems like a way to shape beliefs at an early age. Propaganda, anyone? This is him, at work:
Hair done, I leave the shop and start walking the three or so blocks downtown. Halfway along a bridge, I spot a pair of glitzy high heels abandoned, proof, in my world, that the wearer had finally had enough torment and ditched the buggers for good.
Next stop, Carrefour. We have mentioned that ours is not a great example of this French chain and we rarely go there but I need cereal. They join the list of our 2 other nearby grocery stores that do not carry it but I decide to take a good look around anyway and see if I can find a few other things. All is going well until I browse through the fish department and spot the large live frogs in tanks, thankfully not something we spot anywhere else except our local veg market. I hustle to the cashier and head into the Diamond Mall, which is pretty decent but there’s hardly anyone there so every shop has at least 3 employees in it who are dying of boredom and just waiting to dive on you if you should enter. Then it is that I realize what it is that I am missing. I need a girlfriend to shop with! I miss Sheila, arguably the world’s best shopper, who would not hesitate to drag me in and make me try on everything I show any interest in, and BUY IT NOW. By this time, she would have mastered bargaining and would have no problem getting great deals for me. I miss you, Sheila! I miss my buddy Jan, too, who once made me try on 37 bathing suits on the premise that she would try on an equal number once I was done and the two of us would know what so many suits looked like on. When I tired out and said it was her turn to take over, she said, no, she didn’t like any of them and had decided that nothing in the shop would look good on her. All women know that this was truly Machiavellian, but I still love you, Jan! I feel a shop coming on, maybe early August. I miss all my girlfriends, I miss my Book Club women, I miss my golfing buddies, I miss having a mom, I miss my sons. Think I might be homesick?
Number 28 bus drops me a half block from home and what do I spot but another pair of abandoned heels. I am righteous and right, which, I know, is really annoying.
Here’s a picture of a truly unfortunately-named shop in Diamond Mall; it had some really great looking canvas shoes which they won’t have in my size, which is another thing I miss. Home in 7 weeks!
(Ed. note: Here are my geraniums. They are quite different in China. They heads only get a few petals on them and the plants grow quite slowly. I have deflowered them twice to give the plants time to grow and nothing seems to help. They gets lots of fertilizer, sunshine, warmth and water. They are healthy, but sad.)