Saturday, October 27, 2018

"You'll Not Get the Best of Me"

I came back home late with my new haircut.  The last of the trick or treaters were making their way back to their homes.  Come one kids.  It’s 8:55PM.  No one has any candy left.  My older one and her friend were upstairs.  “We’re trying to find something scary to watch.”  I walked into the kitchen felt my socks get soggy.  The floor was covered in water and turning on the lights I discerned that someone had left the nozzle on the faucet open. “Hi girls.  Who was the last one to get water?”  I didn’t really have to ask but the guest piped up and said “Me” with a smile and then screamed with disbelief when I reminded her of the importance of turning the nozzle off. 

Neither of them seemed to think it was especially necessary to offer to clean anything up.  I took a towel and dried the floor.  Everyone else had already eaten.  My wife and younger one were at a friend’s who regularly had a Halloween party.  So I took a package of tofu and mushed it up with raw onions and sesame oil and cherry tomatoes and called it a meal.

I had plenty to do.  Today I am flying off the U.S. and I was conscious of all that was yet to be done.  But the last eighty pages of “A Tale of Two Cities” was also before me.  I sat in my chair and began to unwind Dickens’ improbable ball of yarn, unable to resist the urge to finish it off.  Dr. Manette is able free his son in law, Charles Darnay, only to have him returned to death row based on his own, testimony from thirty years prior.  The plucky Miss Pross squares off against the reprehensible villain Madame DeFarge: “You’ll not get the best of me.  I’m an Englishwoman.”  It seems its only Sydney Carlton, Darnay’s unlikely double is the only character who undergoes a transformation in this story. Everyone else is a stereotype of goodness or evil whom you can rely on to remain that way throughout.

I get to start something new today.  I suppose I will take on another of these Alexandrian Quartet novels, though I can’t say I loved the first or the second.  Don't know if I’ll get lucky and have a big fella like me next to me for fourteen hours this evening or enjoy an empty seat as it appeared when I did the online check in last night.  I don’t really want to travel today.  I’ll be in the U.S. for week.  Sometimes that’s a treat but this time really does feel like work.   Post all this then.  And go get some lunch on this overcast Sunday in Beijing.

Sunday, 10/28/18

All of Us Decided to Retreat

Heading all the way in the city for a haircut on a Saturday night.  I’ve decide I don’t want the Bozo the Clown wings extending out any further for my upcoming trip to the States.   Photos on screen saver show up defaming my character on the bad hair days that one can see rotate in and rotate out.  I wrote the hair place to say I was running late.  So are they.  I was told to take my time. 

Tonight it was the Halloween celebration at our compound.  Bah Humbug.  No one in the family wanted to decorate the house.  I wasn’t particularly interested to go out and buy lots of over-priced imported candies to dole out at the door.  In years passed I’d brought my bass amp out and made scary noises into the microphone from behind the scene while one of my daughters would hand out the candy.  All of us decided to retreat this year, instead.

Riding my bike over the gym and back from the gym I noticed that the neighboring compound was gearing up for trick or treaters as well.  I saw younger parents with the kids and of course the costumes and the kid's excitement is infectious.  I felt old.  My kids no longer cared.  And as I reached our compound and saw more parents out walking around as I had ten years ago, I thought about my civic duty.  Perhaps I should do more for the youth of compound? 

But by the time I reached home I opened the garage quickly, threw my bike in and ran in to close it quickly so I wouldn’t give off the impression that we were hosting a hunted house in with the clutter.  And I closed the lights and made my way inside assuming that any minute the kids would ring the bell.  But they could tell.  We had no Jack O’ Lantern and we had to ghoulish decorations and no one bothered to ring at our darkened home. 

Saturday, 10/27/18

But I Didn't

The friend I dined with last night told me within five minutes of arriving that he wasn’t drinking.  This suited me as I wasn’t either and now I didn’t have to second guess whether to sample single malts with him, as I’d otherwise expected to.   He had an ayi from Anhui who filled the table with lovely dishes and we chatted a very long time, ending with confirmation of an ugly rumor that he and his wife had been filling themselves up with Judge Dee novels. He pointed me to bag behind him.  They’d read everyone and credited me with having introduced the books to the mutual friend who'd turned them on to the series.  I must credit my step father for the seminal handoff.  

I ate the big, fat complementary brownie that the Le Meridien always leaves around in the room before bed.  But I hadn’t had a bit to drink and so I woke up fresh with time for the gym and a shower before the 7:30AM call.  And finished it in time to meet the gentleman who’d come across town to meet me down in the lobby.

We talked Berlin and Munich and technology and China and all that he wanted to do and all that I was up to.  And, with China as the pivot it is possible to spin and replicate much of what I do to other parts of the world, such as the world that he knew best.  I kept referring to my internal clock, as I knew I’d need to leave at 9:00AM.  But I wanted to know more about how Berlin had changed.  My mind was back in that Autumn city I'd visited only once, twelve years ago.  By 9:05 I was down with him in the lobby bidding him farewell and summoning a car. 

The next place was much further than I thought.  The driver took longer than I’d reckoned to arrive and I showed up at the hip café at the far end of Huahuai Road about twenty-minutes late to meet someone whom a mutual friend had introduced.  No matter. We got right into it with all we’d both been to for the last twenty years working in and around China.  He asked good questions.  I tried to as well.  Soon we were fast-friends though I knew I should head to the bathroom and check my watch.  I knew it was getting late.  But then things turned to Taiwan and then things turned to Ah Q and I couldn’t resist another volley. 

If I’d had my luggage with me I’d have been fine.  But I didn’t.  I’d need to go grab my stuff at the hotel,  before I could proceed to the airport.  I called the folks.   I’m never going to make my flight.  What else do you have this afternoon.

Friday 10/26/18

Mean for This Area

We had a meeting out near Hong Qiao.  It’s wise for this company to have offices here.  Their headquarters is in Hangzhou.  From here it’s ten minutes to the airport and more importantly ten minutes to the high-speed rail network.  As implied those two facilities are located right next to one another.  I’m assuming housing and office space everything else is more reasonable out here as well.

The west regularly marvels at China’s logistics build out and surely there is much to envy.  But not all Chinese cities are equal.  Beijing with its airport and high speed rail stations on opposite sides of the city, still has a way to go.  Will the new southern airport that is being built change much?  Could be.  But unlike Shanghai, the rail station is still a good distance drive away.  And the main capital airport isn’t served by high speed rail at all. 

Perhaps Beijing’s new Xiongan project towards the south of the city, near Hebei as part of Jing-Jin-Ji mega city, will allow for the realization of inspiring convenience in the capital to match what Shanghai necessarily enjoys.  It will almost certainly have a high-speed rail stop.  It will have relatively easy airport access.  And what, one wonders, will that mean for this area out here, where I’ve spent much of the last ten years.  It’s hard to imagine this becoming more relevant or better served without better linkage to all that will be developed in the south of the city. 

We headed out from the Hong Qiao offices into city.  A colleague had forgotten his Mac charger.  We went to one store that had everything, including lots of Apple products.  But no peripherals like chargers to sell.  We got another big Di Di van and went to the place that was sure to have the chargers but once again did not.  And now we were out of time.  There was a café in the mall though.  I got everyone a coffee and couldn’t pay for it with my credit card.  The young lady surprised that I could speak to her.   And then surprised that I didn’t have wechat pay.  “Yes.  It’s tiring for me too, darling.”  The coffees took much longer to prepare than I’d anticipated.  The driver of my fourth car of the day, had to wait till the last espresso was poured. 

Thursday 10/25/18

I Fan the Echoes

I was bouncing around this expo center earlier in the month.  Huawei owned it two weeks ago.  Their banners have been folded up and bundled off.  Today the venue is owned by Microsoft.  I presume many of the people inside, like myself, are the same. 

Two weeks ago this was the wrong building.  I’d cabbed it over, the driver couldn’t go down a blocked off street and I piled out here at the large building bedecked with Huawei regalia.  It must be the back of the building I was at yesterday, I reckoned.  I went through security, wandered around and realized I’d reckoned wrong.  This was a side venue and the main event was fifteen minutes across the plaza.  Yes.  Over there..

Naturally I was suspicious once again today, as I cautiously exited the car.  “Are you sure?”  “Yeah.  This is the address you gave me.”  Lots of Microsoft signs, and none that I could see at the “other” building across the plaza.  Soon, my colleague is out with me, in the main hall with my badge that lets me enter.  We cross an bridge-like flourish down into what strikes me quickly as a much smaller hall than the one Huawei had hosted.

Later, riding to friend’s I allow myself to sink into the sophistication of Shanghai’s urban evening.  I gaze out at the lines of plane trees and pedestrian traffic and feel like I’m alone once again, with an old flame and I fan the echoes of our old love story:  I remember why I used to adore you.  I’ll never love you that way again.  But I remember. 

It was probably around that time that I first read the “The True Story Of Ah Q” by Lu Xun.  I’m not sure that I’ve read it since then.  But I probably should.  I’ve forwarded to one and then another China-hand friend the article by Kerry Brown in the Diplomat entitled: “Trump, China and Ah Q” which is powerfully explanatory.  Trump’s unerring ability to find the weakness in others has, it is argued, has caught China off-guard and challenged the nation to confront what he calls “this complicated, half-envious, half-admiring attitude” towards the United States as it finally finds its opponent who has been soft is turning the tables on them.   It is possible, I think, to hate Trump and yet be fascinated by what his unpredictability has meant for a Chinese leadership that desperately needs stability.

Wednesday 10/24/18