|Portrait of a young man, as a charity worker, in Tibet|
|Though I couldn't admit it,|
I had your back, D.L.
|Finally, some good road.|
Back at Government Hotel Number 6 something was afoot. Thirty minutes previously we had dragged our luggage up five flights of concrete steps to our floor. The bags were full of five weeks of clothes covered in Tibetan dirt, sweat and the smell of burnt yak shit used to heat the homes in which we slept. The smell was so bad that it seeped from the closed suitcases. An old, nondescript Chinese woman sat at a desk at the top of the hotel staircase. She handed each of us a neatly folded, old white towel, a tiny bar of soap and a plastic toothbrush with a small tube of Chinese toothpaste. She flicked a timed light switch that lasted long enough for her to walk us down the hallway to our room. She opened the room and walked away. She would not be giving us the room key. We were politely told by our hosts to have a good sleep and, in the nicest way possible, that there would be no reason for us to leave the hotel. We got the message. It didn't matter. We were well past exhaustion and would be catching a flight to Bangkok in two more days. I could do two days in a Chinese hotel standing on my head if I had to.
Our room had two small single beds side by side and a wooden night table inbetween with four non-functioning light switches. The beds were hard as nails and a little small for medium-sized Western Imperialists, but they'd do for a couple of nights. Dr. Baum saw me take off my shoes and socks. I was about to walk to the bathroom when he yelled,
"WAIIIIIIIIIT! DON'T MOVE!"
|The only thing standing between|
me and snot between my toes.
"Who the hell is that?" I said.
"No idea. They'll go away."
Knock, knock, knock.
"Who's there? We're sleeping. Come back in the morning."
Knock, knock, knock, knock.
"Jesus Christ! Just a second!"
I sat up and fished around with my toes to find the paper slippers. My big toe hit the moldy carpet and I grimaced. I shuffled carefully to the door to keep the oversize slippers on my feet. When I opened the door and a woman--a different woman than our hotel monitor/warden--was standing there with towels in her hand. She said:
"Already have. ALREADY HAVE! Look." I pointed to the towels on the bed.
"NO THANK YOU. I mean shay-shay nee. No. Bye bye."
I closed the door before she got out the next "you," spun on my paper slippers and shuffled back to bed. Fifteen minutes passed.
Knock, knock, knock.
"Dammit! What??? We're trying to frigging sleep!"
Knock, knock, knock.
"Fuck!" (It always feels safer swearing in English in a foreign country). Dr. Baum just ignored it.
"Don't answer it," he said, "they'll go away."
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.
I repeated protocol. Toe to floor. Slippers to feet. Shuffle to the door. I opened the door and yet a different woman was standing there holding the towels. I got irritated.
"Look," I said, as if my insistence gave me universal translatable ability, "we already have frigging towels. We.......don't........need.......any........more.........towels! No need nada."
Dr. Baum rolled over. He looked at the door, then looked at the girl, then looked at the towels, then looked at me. He said:
|Fresh towel sir?|
I felt pretty dim.
"Look, we don't need that either. Please go away. We don't want. WE..........DON'T.......WANT." I slammed the door definitively.
"I told you not to answer it," said Dr. Baum.
We made it through the night. I'm fairly sure there were more fresh towel visits to our door, but I was so exhausted I slept through them. We had one more day and one more night in Chengdu. The day was ours to do what we would, but the night was reserved for an Official Dinner with official officials from the Ministry of Health. Anything important done in China is done around a meal.
We wandered around the dirty, urban sprawl of the Chengdu business district in the afternoon. Someone once wrote this about Chengdu:
With over 2,000 years of history, this capital city of Sichuan province is one of the most beautiful cities in China. The national government has even determined that Chengdu is the cleanest city in China. Chengdu is sometimes called the City of Brocade; the Jinjiang, which means brocade, is a river that flows through the city.
Even looking past the bad grammar, this is bullshit. If by being "the cleanest city in China" they mean that the copious spit and snot on the street is the least biologically noxious, then I agree. Chengdu was so depressing that it should have its own shade of gray named after it. Even in the middle of the day it felt like the sun had just said "fuck it" and never came out. The clouds had an unnatural brown tinge to them that gave the city the same glow you'd get from bad yellow fluorescent lighting. Dr. Baum and I just walked around and killed time. In twenty-four hours we would be in Thailand for some R&R. The sun would shine and I'd walk freely barefoot in a hotel room again.
|Officially, an official meeting |
with official Chinese officials.
A large bottle of Baijiu was placed in the middle of the table and small glass shot glasses filled carefully to the brim. The first of many toasts to come came from the local head of the Ministry of Health. Our translator went to work. Thank you to our honored guests, blah blah blah, thank you from the Chinese people, blah blah blah, we hope to see you again, safe journey, blah blah blah blah. All eyes were on us and glasses were raised with expectation. It was at this point where Dr. Baum informed our hosts that he does not drink alcohol. The table grew quiet. Dr. Baum said it was a religious choice and as this was translated all heads nodded together in acceptance. "Nice move," I said. I felt abandoned and figured it was a good opening for me to follow in suit, but I felt a stronger need to uphold the Western Imperialist image of strength and resolve in the face of a Communist challenge. All eyes shifted to me, the lone round-eye in the room still holding a shot glass. I looked to my translator and said,
"Let's do this."
|Bring it on, my Communist friend.|
"He say, a man who drink like that, he must have many many girlfriends. Too many girlfriends! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"
|He's gonna blow!|
|"Anyone want to talk politics? Anyone?"|