One month in.

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So I’ve been here about a month.  Work was kind of a drag today, as any job sometimes is.  I didn’t feel like I accomplished anything; I felt like somebody’s monkey.  We’ll see if tomorrow’s better.  If they wanted a monkey, they hired the wrong guy. 

This afternoon, I left the office with C with two missions:  1) to pay my rent to my landlord’s account, and 2) to have my legal documents settled.  Frustrating. 

First, we took a cab to the landlord’s bank.  I was supposed to take out cash from the machine, walk it inside, and deposit it into the landlord’s account.  Well, my ATM card didn’t work, so that’s the end of that story.  I had used it just last night to buy a new chair for my office at home, so I know it works, and I know there’s money.  Oh well, the banks close at 4pm here, so we got in a cab for the east side, where the foreigners go to get legal. 

The cab ride over was quiet.  The streets in Pudong are wide and straight, totally car friendly, but I’m glad I don’t live there.   When we got out of the cab, three dudes descended on me with little cards with phone numbers, saying “phone card” and “America.”  They were aggressive, and I wanted them off me.  Maybe these people don’t have space issues, but I do, and I’m tired of assimilating.  In my life.  Many people in my life have tried to tell me, “you just have to try to understand their culture.”  None of these people have ever been a minority.  It’s always been people who have grown up in the majority, telling me I have to adapt.  Well my new attitude is “screw that,” and my rational is “screw you.” If hegemony wants to be understood, it can write a book. 

So I as these guys attacked me with their stupid phone cards, I told them I didn’t want it, and I raised my voice, because they were all over me.  C blew right past them, because they ignored her.  But when we got a few steps past them, I realized one of the cards had been slipped into my pocket.  Oh no.  No no no no.  I told C, and she laughed and said they were clever.  No no no.  I thought about going back and dealing with it, but C was in a hurry.  Be patient.   

We arrived at a sparkling building and went up an escalator to a bafflingly cold, modern waiting room, with a bunch of cops sitting behind a long row of desks, acting all robitically efficient and cold. I think robotic efficiency inspires confidence in Chinese people.  Anyway, they weren’t helping anyone, because everyone was waiting for “Take a Number” lady to get back from her potty break.  While she was gone, the number machine jammed up.

It’s funny.  Chinese people individually poked at the button, and then when nothing came out, they poked it again.  When that didn’t help, they went straight to the counter and told the policeman that the number machine wasn’t working.  The policemen didn’t offer any help, except to tell them to wait for the lady to come back.  The funny part is that a crowd of people had started to gather at the number machine, and every time a new Chinese person arrived, he would repeat the same sequence of actions; press button, press again, go ask a cop.  It did not occur to any of them to tell the new arrivals that the machine didn’t work, that they had already asked, nor did it occur to the new arrivals that the crowd around the ticket machine was there for a reason. 

So I opened up the machine and looked inside.  Instantly, the crowd pressed in around me.  I didn’t understand it, so I shut the machine, but a long haired American dude behind me opened it back up and tried to clear the paper jam.   Whispers of hope all around. 

At that point, the lady came back, saying she had just stepped away to use the bathroom, and taking us to task for opening her machine.  Sorry, button-pushing lady, we all forgot to care.

A few minutes later, they called my number, and then the robot-like cop took my picture and my passport and application, and said I’d get it back in a week. We were free to go. 

Great.  I had time to go back to work, record a show, satisfy all the needy people at work that wanted something from me right away. 

So on our way to the cab, the three guys with the phone cards were all over me again, but I reacted quicker this time.  I said, “I dont’ want that, I don’t want that, and I don’t want THIS.”  And I took the card from my pocket and tossed it at one of them.  They all chuckled light-heartedly, and then one of them picked up the card, which had fallen on the floor.  Funny foreigner!  He seems to not want our cards! 

Anyway, went back to work, stayed an hour past to make up for the time I had lost, and then came home and boiled some frozen dumplings.  They weren’t as good as the fresh ones down the street! 

Later, went to City Shop.  The ATM didn’t work again, and when I got to the store there were no bay leaves, no ground beef.  Lame.  I bought some cheese and walked back, bought the last loaf of bread at the boulangerie. 

One thing that’s been on my mind, ever since my post about beggars:  I understand how people want to avoid unpleasant confrontation, or maybe they don’t want to encourage an interchange anyone by engaging in any sort of conversation, but I don’t understand how anyone can claim that ignoring a solicitor or beggar is somehow an act of kindness.  How is it kind to pretend that someone who is in your face, talking to you, to pretend that they don’t exist?  Answer:  it’s not. 

So maybe if people want to sell you a fake watch, you pretend they don’t exist and hope they go away.  That’s not kindnesss, but maybe they’ll leave you alone.  But what about poor or disabled people? Maybe they’re scamming you, but maybe they’re suffering.  Is it *kindness* to pretend that you don’t see or hear them?  No.  Ignoring the poor is a form of violence that I’m not comfortable with.  It’s worse than saying, “tough shit.” 

I don’t fault you for not wanting to engage, and if that’s the way you’re most comfortable handling it, then fine.  But don’t tell me it’s a form of *kindness.*

And as for the people that are going after me, putting phone cards in my pocket, following me around about watches I don’t want?  I tell them “bu yao.”  Because it’s the truth.  And that’s the end of it. 

2 thoughts on “One month in.

  1. Robocops!

    I think there’s an extra layer of complexity when you’re a woman walking down the street and a male panhandler talks to you. I am in the habit of tuning out most strange men who talk in my direction. (If they’re saying, “Miss, I think you dropped something,” they’ll usually have to say it twice for me to notice!)

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  2. That’s true, I’m totally in favor of tuning out strange men in Chicago, especially if you’re a woman, and in the States that tactic usually works. But that so doesn’t work for me in China. The younger women asking for money bait you into engaging them; the older women just repeat their plea until they give up on you…

    Wait a second… are they all women here? I think besides the disabled people, the panhandlers might mostly be women…

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