So I’m back in Beijing. Back in Wudaokou, actually, which is proving to be a little weird. Moved back on Friday. I wasn’t so happy to discover that our new apartment is in the teaching building, with a classroom across the corridor and offices downstairs, but as lzh keeps reminding me, it’s free; and as other friends keep reminding me, I’m not going to have much of a commute.
Well, come September I won’t have much of a commute. The first two months, i.e. July and August, I’m supposed to be working at the Changping campus. But I get to keep this apartment and apparently they’ll provide a free car to bring me back on the weekends. I don’t think I get to drive it, though. That would just be far too much. Probably they’ll just send some chump to pick me up and bring me back, then deliver me back to Changping on a Sunday evening.
Yesterday was fun. I was taken off to the hospital for the regular health check. The girl sent to take care of me and get everything done had never been to Hepingli Hospital before, let alone take a foreigner in for the regular health check. I’m calling her a girl, not a woman, because she seems that young and inexperienced. And maybe not too bright, either, but that could just be her inexperience and apparent lack of English (we communicated almost entirely in Chinese). So she and I piled into a Santana driven by the guy who seems to be in charge of maintenance and keeping things running and generally stopping the building from falling down (and he seems to be a pretty decent bloke, and competent, too) and off we went. When we got to the hospital, I heard the girl ask Mr Zhang the maintenance man/driver if this was the gate we went into. I thought, oh shit, and just walked straight through, up to the fourth floor, grabbed a form and sat down to fill it out. Fortunately she kept up with me, and busied herself cutting out a photo to stick to the top of my form. When that was done we went over to the desk to get it computerized and get yet another photo of me taken (they need a digital one on the computer, too, of course), then I took her around the health check process, showing her the way from office to office, getting her to hold my bag when appropriate, and then when everything was done, I showed her to the window on the first floor and told her to hand the form in. There weren’t many people there. Well, there weren’t many foreigners, and one of the odd benefits of segregation (at least, for us foreigners) reared its ugly head: I wasn’t the one having to stand in the mile-long queue for X-Ray Room 101 (for Chinese leaving the country). I ran straight to X-Ray Room 102 (foreigners entering ) and got my chest zapped in super-fast time. So, there weren’t many foreigners there, I should have said, which made my life much easier than it could have been. For some reason, most foreigners don’t start showing up ‘till about 10-ish, and we’d arrived just before 9. And I filled out the form and ran between the four health checking stations with all the speed and efficiency I’ve developed over the last few years of being health checked in that hospital, and occasionally guiding other foreigners through the health checking procedure, and we were done and out in super-quick time, before the usual hordes of foreigners had started showing up to get in each other’s way and piss each other off as they get poked and prodded and asked strange questions.
Anyway, nobody carted me off to the SARS ward or the morgue, so I guess I’m officially still alive, which is good news. I guess the full results will be out tomorrow afternoon, then I’ll find out whether I still have a liver.
And yesterday was lzh’s graduation. She left bright and early to tie up all the bureaucratic loose ends that come with leaving a Chinese university then do her graduation ceremony at 1:30 then continue leaping through bureaucratic hoops while tied down with red tape. It was a bit of an annoying day for me, though. First of all, lzh somehow got it in her head that I couldn’t attend her ceremony. “ is different from !” she said. Astounding. I hadn’t noticed until she pointed that out. But surely Chinese families and significant others want to be a part of one of the most important days of their loved ones’ lives? Shit, I certainly wanted my parents at my graduation, and it would’ve taken an earthquake flattening Wellington and a tsunami depositing the Cook Straight ferries on top of Mount Vic to stop them. But no, she said, I wasn’t allowed to attend her graduation. As it turns out, several parents of students showed up and attended the ceremony, so I actually could have gone. Bloody hell. Then she told me to meet her at about four in the afternoon at 快乐谷, which is one of my favouritestest cafés in Beijing. No problem, of course I’d be happy to sit around there indulging in their neverending supply of Yanjing Party and reading old issues of Time, Beijing Review and Newsweek and whatever else they had in English (I’m too lazy to sit down with a Chinese magazine or one of the bajillion Manga comics they have lining the walls). And it’s a cool café, one of those rare Chinese cafés that doesn’t do some UBC-style tacky, over the top, nouveau-riche, swaggering, posturing bullshit decors, the café equivalent of a fat fuck in a fake Armani bought at a genuine price driving a Buick down the wrong side of the road at rush hour, no, it actually has genuine character and atmosphere. It’s actually a really comfortable place to sit back, relax, and wait for your fiancée who eventually shows up two hours late.
When she finally arrived I expressed my displeasure at having had to wait so long. I’d run out of reading materials, for reasons I’ll explain in the next paragraph, and was running through a mixture of boredom, frustration, and worry. I mean, I don’t think lzh has ever been on time for anything. I’m told she was born in a mere 10 minutes, but I’m sure that’s because she realized she was late and was trying to catch up. I’m sure she’ll be late for her own funeral. But really, two hours late is a bit too much. As it turns out, she was late because she was still jumping through hoops of flaming bureaucracy tied down by red tape soaked in kerosene and it took all her kung fu, cuteness, and li hai to break out (I’ve seen her take on ten cops inside a police station and have nine of them cowering in a corner, so you can imagine the sheer amount of red tape it would have taken to delay her that long). Anyway, she got there eventually and we went off for dinner.
And the reason I ran out of reading material is because of Newsweek. See, I’d never really bothered with Newsweek before. I’d picked it up a couple of times, glanced through, not really paid much attention to it. I got used to Time’s pro-corporate propaganda a long time ago, and so I don’t mind reading it. I know what to expect and what slant they’re going to put on it, and it’s not too over the top or offensive, so I can tolerate it. But yesterday I picked up a copy of Newsweek that promised some article on China-US relations entitled “The Real Clash of Civilisations”, or something like that. I started reading, and within the first paragraph all the usual Right-Wing American clichés started leaping off the page. Honestly, the authors and editors of this article had about as close a relationship with reality as a certain Mr Bush. Pretty soon, my stomach had turned and I just couldn’t read anymore. And with my only other options being Time, Beijing Review or a bunch of stuff in Chinese that I was too lazy to read even if it was stuff that I was interested in, so I wound up sitting there ranting to myself about the shittiness of Newsweek and how late lzh was. Really, that Newsweek article was so bad it made Time look almost liberal. And don’t none of you Yanks out there try to tell me that ’s mainstream media is in any way liberal or left wing. The most ‘liberal’ of your mainstream media sits decidedly to the right of centre. Hell, Michael Moore would be an ordinary, mainstream, conservative, centre-right voting working class bloke had he grown up in , or Western Europe.
I went to the Tree on Saturday to catch up with an old mate and drinking buddy from way back. He had the bright idea of getting there early, like about 5-ish. I was still too buggered from the escape from Tianjin to complain, and to be honest, an early start and early finish suits me better these days. Call me old, but that’s the way it is. Now, I knew as soon as the 拆s started appearing down the old South Street that whatever good that ever existed in Sanlitun was on the ropes looking thoroughly battered. But as soon as I got to Sanlitun on Saturday afternoon I saw that it had finally happened: Sanlitun has completely gone to Hell. That weird mixture of yuppies, pimps, dealers, and property developers has completely ruined everything that ever existed there. With the sole exception of the Tree, that is. My mate suggested getting there early for two reasons: Firstly, to avoid the shit that would inevitably gather as the sky darkened. The second reason was a little more salient to our actual mission at the Tree: A beer called Palm going for 20 kuai a bottle before 7pm, and 25 thereafter. And it was a nice beer, too. So we took refuge in the Tree and shot the breeze and reminisced and generally had a good time. And then, of course, having consumed quite a number of beers stronger than we were used to, we had to brave the wilds of Sanlitun again. It was not a pretty sight, but we got into our respective taxis mercifully unmolested.
If anybody knows what has happened to the best of Beijing, all those good bars that used to exist, please inform me. All the places I once knew have gone to Hell.