Tuesday, June 27, 2006

More of the Six-foot Stunner

And indeed it turns out Arina would have been a hard chase anyway, since she’d gone back to her hometown for the vacation.

But I have yet to finish up that dinner I had with her, the one I’d invited her to along with Cara, even though I was half included to chase Cara too.

Arina and I met first, before going to dinner, and she was just stunning... Tall, elegant, dressed with great individuality, she was waiting for me near Henan Zhong Lu subway. I made to kiss her cheek and she avoided it. This seemed a bad omen to me; but maybe I just took her by surprise, or maybe she thought I was going for her lips, since later in the evening she became more relaxed, more physical with me. I sms’d Linda to tell her we’d arrived; she replied to say she was at the restaurant already, even though we’d agreed to meet at the station. That was mildly irritating, but no great matter – a brief stroll round the corner, to Shanghai Uncle, and the evening kicked off. Cara was looking good and, sans Arina, I’d have made more effort to flirt with her.

But it likely would not have got anywhere, and indeed I think I reinforced the image she might have of me from class as a swaggering foreigner since I insisted on paying at the end. But it was a good evening for all of that, and I ordered a fine meal.

Ordering a good meal, it seems to me, is a kind of wooing. It looks good to know your way round a menu. This is a lesson I picked up from Michael Bloomberg; on a trip round NY, he said that in a business meeting showing power matters, and that one could do this anywhere. In a business dinner, for example, one way to do this was either to show you know the menu back to front, or just order what you want without even looking at it. Now business strategies leave me cold, but the lesson can be applied to the chase. It is one I have used to great success at Laris.

And in fact this restaurant anecdote reminds me of another. A few days ago I stepped over the road to get some fried rice to go with a meal. When the chef had cooked it, he called over the guy behind the counter to bring the carton out from the kitchen. The guy did this, fetching the carton from the kitchen and placing it on the work top opposite me, its lid still open. I looked at him; he returned my gaze blankly. Since I did not know this was even my rice I just waited. The rice sat there, open, cooling, the idiot guy vacant, his mind idle. After a few moments one of the servers on my side of the counter came out of the washroom, closed the lid, put an elastic band round it, bagged it and handed it to me.

This minor incident struck me quite deeply as a testament to the utter vacuous mindlessness of huge swathes of modern Chinese society. No imagination, no thought, nothing at all; just the myopic focus on one’s own task. No possible thought of stepping outside it. It is a society so cramped and conditioned, so bereft of individuality that I can imagine such people looking on as, say, a piano from above falls from a crane towards a hapless passer-by. Somebody else’s problem. Sure, sure, boxing up fried rice is a job for a robot and working in such a joint at that would snuff out what little selfhood this dolt might have had. But to not even make the tiny step of closing the lid because it was someone else’s job….

Anyhow, back at Shanghai Uncle, it was a fine meal, all the usual wow dishes, the ones that look good, taste good, make the orderer look good: the cheese-baked mandarin fish, the lamb, the veal. (The fish in particular impressed Cara. very much, which gratified me… though writing that I also wonder if maybe she was doing a little showing off too, for the other women at the table, demonstrating her familiarity with the Western style of this dish. Cheese does not go down big in China, and Cara also made a point of mentioning the Italian influence in it. A certain familiarity with international culture is held to have cachet here.)

Though this evening was some time ago, I still very clearly how greatly Adina impressed me and how much that evening redoubled my wish to get her. At the evening’s end she said she’d catch the bus back to her campus, which was nearby and, since I had Linda and Sara, I somewhat reluctantly agreed. Adina gone, Linda, Cara and I taxied to the tube, Linda heading off into Pudong. Cara was heading in my direction, to Huaihai Lu, and we talked as we went. I said, ‘I get the impression I irritated you in class.. I’m really very sorry about that.’

I had hoped to hear ‘Not at all’ but instead she said, `What’s in the past is in the past,’ meaning ‘Yes, you did irritate me’; which took me aback rather. I have not seen her since then and not though of her until now. So it goes.

Back home I sent an SMS after Arina, `Great to see you.. You were stunning,’ and during the next few days she and I talked on MSN. Our chats were a little brief and I was not sure I was making any headway. But then she emailed me to invite me to stay with her family in Nanjing over the Spring Festival holidays, telling me that:-

Today my mom talked about Lunar New Year with me, and I told her I wanted to invite you to visit Nanjing, especially for real local food. She thought foreigners might not have chance to spend time with their families while other Chinese families were celebrating together on this special day. So, she really hopes you can come to spend the New Year’s Eve with us, just like I do.

This was an email that pleased me greatly. But my first impulse was to make an excuse, for traveling though all the crowds and noise to a family I do not know at all would be a hassle. But I suspected it might have been her offer, and that if I did not go I would have no chance of her. But if I went it would still have to be in the terms laid out in her email – as just a friend. It was a test.

So I decided to go, my decision partly influence by the selection of photos she’d sent me. They were all chosen to show her at her best, which seems to me a fine sign; and I was frank about how stunning I found her, so she knew I was thinking of her beyond just mere friendship.

Yet even at the time I felt that my attitude was something I ought curb a little. If I showed too much keenness for her, I would seem a supplicant, not a master. And no one ever gets a woman by asking too hard.

But getting a ticket to go see her was a real cunt, with the fucked up system they got here. The clerk told me (after I’d got to the head of a long queue) I could not buy a ticket until within six days of the desired travel date. I went back on the sixth day before departure, and again met a long queue. At its head, the unsmiling clerk told me I could only get a ticket two days before departure. I went back two days before departure, queued again. The still unsmiling clerk told me I should have bought it six days before I planned to leave.

I lost my temper, somewhat. Generally I try not to do this, for I have seen too many foreigners, perplexed by the hard language and odd rules, shouting and screaming at the locals. This happens especially frequently at the PSB – the Public Security Bureau - where they issue passports and visas and the like. Most every time I go some foreigner will be frothing and screaming at the person behind the perspex; and while the rules here are frequently arcane, arbitrary and frustrating, shouting about it is only going to have a counterproductive effect. So in general I keep my temper, for I have no wish to come off as another intemperate white guy.

But in the face of my mild irritation and broken Chinese, grudgingly they told me I might be able to buy a ticket on the day of travel. On the day, I queued up once more and this time got a ticket.

Every single one of these queues, naturally, was made longer by the incessant number of people pushing straight to the front of the queue.

Fuck me, I’m writing about the inability of Chinese people to queue. Next it will be spitting, and then, fuck, it will be bicycles, and then my blog will be the same as every other blog on China.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is an old post, but you wrote, "It is a society so cramped and conditioned, so bereft of individuality that I can imagine such people looking on as, say, a piano from above falls from a crane towards a hapless passer-by."

Last time I was here (BJ), I was planning a motorcycle trip around the Western part of China. I don't drive in the city here, and a friend of mine, a Chinese guy with lots of experience in distant parts of China, told me that I should be very careful not to get into an accident. He told me that if I did, people would just stand there and watch me bleed to death without calling an ambulance. I thought he was BS-ing me, but have later, with experience, altered my opinion and I think probably he's right.