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December 6, 2009


On Friday I got some pretty bad family news that gave me a really bad stomachache, and caused me to–at 9am–to call my boss and cancel Saturday’s lesson downtown in Gong Bei.  Too much vomiting and a jerky hour long bus ride sounded like a bad combination–also too much nausea and depression combined with really–really uncooperative children.
So I hung out with my friend, Brett last night, which has become a bit of a Saturday custom.  We ate at our favorite noodle place in Tangia, a place where all the noodles are handmade by strong-armed Uighyrs who whack the balls of dough against flour covered wooden boards and swing them like jump ropes until they form noodles.  While Brett showed off pictures of our friend Jim’s new cat to the children who had popped up at our table, I got a text from Megan.  She was waiting for me and Brett in Gong Bei because in my stupor I had forgotten we’d all made plans to meet there after I finished work.
It compounded with all the guilty feelings, the self-loathing that the death news had stirred up in me.  I apologized profusely, but she said it was ok.  She’d had other things to do in Gong Bei anyway.
He made a few comments about how if I do end up getting my certification and staying in China we could be roommates.  We spent about ten minutes frolicking around the apartment talking about acquiring new armoirs and dishes and entertaining and other such things.
This, however, was after we took care of our mutual friend, who had laid down his moped earlier that day and–embarrassed by all the attention he got by the surrounding crowd of  chinese people, had gone home with a minor head injury and a ripped up leg, rather than the hospital.  When we got to his apartment, he was carrying the stray cat that he’d found and bathed yesterday, and finishing a bottle of brandy.  He wasn’t wearing pants, and the entire side of of his leg was scraped.
In Jim’s passport picture he’s a handsome, slim, muscular man with strong features and a healthy head of hair.
This picture was taken before he started working on his PhD dissertation.  Although he is still extremely hairy.  No pants, kids.  No pants.
While I was sitting with his kitten in my lap, listening to him ask the same questions over and over, Brett ran home for his hydrogen peroxide.
“So were you close to your grandpa?”  Jim asked me after telling the story of his accident for the fourth time, slurring.  Every move was punctuated with curses, and apologies for curses.  I stared at the dried blood like day old raspberry pastry dotting his ankle.  I made a few comments about the complicated nature of families, the complicated feelings that get dredged up when part of your family is gone (which I did not assume he didn’t understand).
He asked me if I thought people were inherentlly good.  The kitten flipped over in my hand and started to attack the fingers I dangled over it’s face and paws.  Bits of it’s blonde fur was matted with Jim’s blood.
I’ve had many a good conversation with Jim.  He’s a former HIV counselor, who has no qualms with personal and explicit questions, who also I trust to hold them inside himself like a tomb.  Also, I figured that if I were delirious, in pain, and half naked, I would be grateful for company and forgivenes, and the fact that someone would open up in conversation to me.  I told him that I didn’t, that I thought that we were neither bad nor good, but that we were both and different parts of our badness or our goodnes appear at different times, because of different stimuli.
Due to head injury, maybe, he had forgotten I’d answered his question.  He had told me he thought that people are basically good.  “What do you think?  Do you think that people are basically good?”  I had helped him out onto his balcony for a cigarette, keeping the cat behind the screen door with one foot as I shut it.
I decided to answer differently this time, even if it wasn’t quite a real answer.  “I think that it’s healthier to think all people are inherently good.  That way you’re less suspicious when people treat you well, and are better able to receive love.”  He burst into tears.
We were out there, my arm around his shoulder, when Brett came back with the peroxide to doctor Jim’s leg.  He wet rags and dabbed as Jim demanded over and over I hold his cat and “give it some love.”  The kitten, undoubtedly overwhelmed by the attention, disappeared into the vcr space of the TV cabinet.
After we left, after some compulsive and hysterical giggling in the elevator, there were some poor and undoubtedly dangerous decisions made.  I won’t say exactly what happened, but I will say that in Thailand, some prescription drugs are sold over the counter.  I remember Brett saying, “I promise if you take this you won’t have a hangover tomorrow.”
He was right.  I just slept until 6:30pm on Sunday evening.
I called Megan, after some of my music class students (oh thank tin hau) cancelled our 8pm rehearsal, to see if she wanted to get our favorite slimy garlic and eggplant dish at Lao Beijing.  I met her at her office, and we got into the elevator.
“Do you know Mrs. Zhai?”  She asked me.
“I don’t know, I don’t think so,” I said.  “Why?”
“I got a job!  Two of them!  And she told me to come back next week at 10:30.”  She said.  She had applied to work at a kindergarten a few weeks before but had been turned down because she didn’t have enough experience with children.  I was happy for her.  I told her so.  She told me she was happy we would be working in Gong Bei at the same time on Saturday so we could meet up afterward and blow our money on manicures and KFC.  I asked her what Mrs. Zhai’s first name was.
“I don’t know–I don’t think she has an English name,” Megan said.  We walked down the uneven stone steps in front of the library.  “She’s about thirty-ish.  She has a son named Johnson?”
“Oh,” my stomach seized up all over again.  “Where are you teaching?”  I asked.
“Gong Bei primary school,” she said, her eyebrows starting to pull toward one another as if in a terrified embrace.  “I teach about seven kids.  Johnson, Julie, Cindy…”
“…Angela, Kili, Charlie, and Teddy?”
“Um…not Kili this time I guess…no fucking way!!  I can’t take your job!”  Christine, I suppose had misunderstood my fourth repetition of, “I’m feeling sick, I can’t come in today.  I will see you next week,” as a resignation, and decided to replace me with my best friend without telling me first.  Otherwise she just decided I was too flaky.  There was, after all, the time I had missed the morning lesson because our bus had been stopped by the police for forty-five minutes to search for a missing cell phone.
Not a happy China week.  And from what I’ve heard from everyone at home, not really a happy week for anybody.
I’m really, truly sorry that I can’t be of more help.
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