Saturday, July 15, 2006

China Stories Pt. 15 1/2: Your questions answered.

Sometimes in the course of telling my little story, my readers* bring to my attention points that require elaboration.

For instance:

frazzeeee said...

i have a ton of questions!

- was it a bad thing that you missed classes?
- was it competitive to be selected as a temp. employee for CBS? (i would think lots of people would be signing up)
- what were other people/students being employed to do?
- what did the cabbies think of you?
- was the food different? american? why was Roy complaining about it?

(sorry, just curious!)

So I'm taking a moment out to answer these questions.

Q: Was it a bad thing that you missed classes?
A: Not really. I learned a ton, and I was speaking Chinese day and night because I was stuck in a hotel room with two dozen Beijing taxi drivers. I doubt the classroom could have done as much to improve my language skills.

Q: Was it competitive to be selected as a temp. employee for CBS?
A: As I recall, it was not competitive. The CBS cameraman based in Beijing was an alum of my study program, so he sought us out. My program just had an "in."

Q: What were other people/students being employed to do?
A: A lot of things, including serving as translators for camera crews and reporters. Some people did odd jobs such as fix airline tickets. I will have more to say about this later.

I should add that the other broadcast networks (plus CNN) were covering the event too, and we were all in the same hotel. I distinctly remember watching Brit Hume walk off an elevator. We made eye contact, and as we did, he tripped over a bunch of cables snaking across the lobby. In retrospect I wish I had laughed at him.

Q: What did the cabbies think of you?
A: You know? I'm not really sure. I think they liked me, but thought I was an oddity. They probably thought that about most foreigners. I was this twenty year-old kid with a beard, and I was telling them what to do. I tried to get them food that they would like and bought them cigarettes. In 1989 in China, a pack of Marlboro Reds was still a great way to smoothe over any misunderstanding. Much like Mentos are now.

Q: Was the food different? American? Why was Roy complaining about it?
A: We had the five-star hotel cater Chinese food, and the drivers hated it. I understand - it was mostly Cantonese food, which tends to be light, a little sweet, and heavy on seafood. But the main problem was simply that it wasn't local food, such as dumplings and mutton hot pot and bok choi. These guys did not have cultivated palates, nor were they interested in broadening their horizons. They were interested in going to sleep full.

We tried western food as well. One time a driver came in late, after the catered dinner was over, so I ordered him a hamburger from room service. It came open-face, the way hamburgers do. On one side of the plate was a meat patty sitting on a bun; next to it, another bun with lettuce and tomato. The driver proceeded to use a fork to break up and eat the bun and patty, and then did the same to the bun with the lettuce and tomato. I'm certain it never occurred to him to put it together and eat it with his hands - that would just be weird. I know it never occurred to me that someone wouldn't know how to eat a hamburger.

Why didn't I show him how to eat it the right way? Well, I told him, but he didn't go for it. Maybe he thought I was playing a joke on him. He was content to use his own method.

Eventually we started giving money to one of the drivers, who would go out and bring back food more to their liking.

*Okay, reader.


At 9:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm reading, just not commenting, so you do have readerS. At least 2.

Keep going!

At 2:23 AM, Blogger leomange said...

I agree with anonymous up there: multiple "readerS"! I'm just enjoying what you're sharing, not feeling the need to rock your remeniscent boat. But I must say that I'm glad your "reader" asked you the questions because the humor fodder was there. I'll save my questions until the end of the presentation (or until I feel like it, thankyouverymuch). Anywayz... peas!

At 2:24 AM, Blogger leomange said...

ps, awesome post!

At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

readerses - there are at least 4 of us! :) As a fellow conspicuously (sp) white traveler in pre-current China I am loving your stories. The bit about buying your ticket for the train was so real I could smell and feel the line again. We knicknamed it "the wedge" because everyone just pushes and shoves in a wedge to the window or bus door or train or whatever. They do it here in my very mainland chinese neighborhood of LA.

At 5:49 PM, Blogger Jenny said...


Love your stories. More please!

At 7:27 AM, Blogger Ish said...

Yay! Five whole readerses!

Thanks for reading, y'all.

Anon - yes, the wedge. I get that old China feeling whenever I ride the bus through Chinatown. Suddenly I have a five-foot-nothing grandma with her elbow in my hip, seeming to be oblivious to my presence.

At 3:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reader rollcall! I'm No. 6 ("six.. six for my sorrow...")

At 3:24 PM, Blogger princess slea said...

7, seven. Ah ha ha, seven readers.


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