(apologies to Cui Jian)
So all in all it was a pretty good birthday. The water came back on. Then we went out for lunch and stuffed ourselves full. I never realised you could feel so full after a Japanese meal. Then we came home and I enjoyed our newly-restored water by taking a shower. Then we headed off to my old stomping grounds, BeiGongDa, down in the southern end of Chaoyang.
We took three buses. The 16 down to Beitaiping Zhuang, the 302 around to Chaoyang Park, then the 852 down to BeiGongDa. It was that last bus ride that had Cui Jian's song echoing around inside my head. The 852 runs the full length of Xidawang Lu from Chaoyang Park to Shuanglong Xiaoqu, or somewhere in that area. I was never particularly familiar with the northern section of Xidawang Lu, past Hong Miao (and it may change names on that section), but I used to travel from Shuanglong Xiaoqu up to Bawangfen a lot. Now? I hardly recognise any of that area. The changes have been phenomenal. What freaks me out most, though, is that they've somehow managed to widen Xidawang Lu so that now it is actually wide enough to handle the traffic generated by all those fancy new real estate developments.
But then some things haven't changed at all: SOHO, Dongjiao Market, Pingleyuan Market.... BeiGongDa replace it's old wall with a new fence a few years ago, but doesn't seem to have changed since then.
When I first arrived at BeiGongDa, just north of the campus on the other side of what was then a really stinky creek/open sewer, there was a very makeshift-looking market on a wide, flat expanse of dirt. That was torn down not long after I arrived, and remained a flat, empty expanse of dirt for quite a long time. Now? there's a new, and more permanent-looking market there. And down the road that runs around the northern side and northeastern corner of BeiGongDa there was a lot of 拆ing going on. Now that seems to be a completed, established housing development. I'm wondering about a small area behind BeiGongDa, that was nestled between the northeast corner of the campus and the Fourth Ring Road. Guanyin Miao I think it was called, but it seems to have disappeared from the map. It was a lot of rundown houses and some old apartment blocks. I've seen no sign of it as we race past on the Fourth Ring Road on the way out to my class in Yizhuang, but this area always seemed to be invisible from the Fourth Ring Road, anyway. Invisible to anyone who did not have a reason to wandering around the northeastern corner of the BeiGongDa campus, and it's not the kind of place people find themselves randomly wandering through, nor the kind of place people pass through on the way to somewhere else unless they have some connection with BeiGongDa. Something always intrigued me about that area. I wonder what has happened to it.
Well, we were there to meet an old friend. A friend we should always have kept in touch with, but thanks to a few fuck-ups involving new cellphones, lost numbers, disappearing name cards, broken SIM cards, and other such things, we lost touch about the time I went to Tianjin. A few days ago lzh found my former boss' old name card and called the old office number. No good. The person who answered informed her that they'd moved to a new office, but he didn't know the new phone number. So she called my former boss' cellphone. This time it worked. Our friend was right there, and we got talking to her.
In keeping with this blog's tradition, I'll call our friend gk. So we arranged to meet gk last night, and that's how we wound up back at BeiGongDa. And the good thing is that even though just about everything else in that area has changed, gk hasn't. Hanging out with her was like old times again. Except that she now has a car and was driving, so she couldn't drink with me like in the old days. Oh, she's from the Northeast, and a fairly typical Northeastern woman. Back in the old days she could drink any Beijing man under the table. These days she doesn't drink as much, which is good considering that after dinner she drove us to her new apartment, which is still being decorated, and then up to SOHO.
It was good. Really really good. When I first met gk I spoke terribly broken Chinese and she spoke worse English. She was the secretary of the programme I was working on, and neither she nor the other secretary spoke any English. The boss was often out doing..... whatever it is bosses do. So I had to work with gk and the other secretary, but I had to work with them in Chinese. And to top it off, they were both really friendly and insisted on sitting me down in the office and talking to me. That's how my Chinese got good. The other secretary disappeared around about the time of SARS, but gk stayed on. We got a pretty good friendship going. She'd come around to my place with a couple of dozen cans of beer and we'd drink them all. We went out for meals. We hung out in the office, only pretending to work when the boss showed up. We had good times together. I usually tell people that lzh is the best Chinese teacher, and she is, but it was gk who got my Chinese good enough that when I met lzh we spoke Chinese almost entirely right from the very start of our relationship. And gk didn't do that by teaching or tutoring me or any pedagogical bullshit. No textbooks. Just my battered old dictionary on those occasions when it became absolutely necessary, but mostly she taught me Chinese just be being a good friend.
So it was great seeing gk again.
Best thing is that she and lzh get along really well, too.
Unfortunately the night ended on a slightly sour note. We went up to SOHO to get drinks at O'Farrells. O'Farrells is one of my favourite cafes. It's always had a good, relaxed atmosphere, and the prices aren't as ridiculous as in many other expat areas. We found ourselves a table, I got a Tsingtao and they ordered some strange fruit-flavoured mushed up ice things. We relaxed and continued chatting. Then towards the end of the evening I got up and went to the toilet. O'Farrells doesn't have its own toilets; you have to use SOHO's public toilets. I walked in and there's a guy in there already. No surprise there. But he stares at me like my presence is in severe, flagrant violation of some law. I stare back like, wtf?, and go about my business. He, naturally, finishes and walks out before me. I finish, and go back to O'Farrells, but being a very fast walker I nearly catch up with this other guy, who is also going to O'Farrells. He opens the door and then slams it behind him. I look at the security guard with the same wtf? Anyway, I went in and sat back down. I started to tell gk (lzh had decided to avail herself of the free internet service) about what had happened when dickhead's group got up to leave. Naturally, not wanting to actually get in a fight, I kept my mouth shut. But as dickhead passed me and walked to the door, he started yelling at me "What the fuck are you looking at? Arsehole! Fuck you!" and other untoward phrases. This left everybody in O'Farrells, at least everybody I could see, myself included, dumbstruck. gk and lzh had no idea what was going on. I would have been surprised at his behaviour had I not already seen dickhead trying to stare me down in the public toilet then slam the door in my face on the way back in to O'Farrells. I noticed a woman at another table fill her friend in on the details (he'd been outside, apparently, and walked in as dickhead was leaving). lzh and gk did what they could to calm me down, and although I have to admit I would have liked to kick the living shit out of dickhead, I'm not so stupid to think that doing anything he could have perceived as a challenge would end in anything other than far more trouble than the fat bastard was worth. I tried to assure them, it's no big deal. Had I stood up, chances are dickhead would've run like hell, he's that kind of loser. Plenty of money, nothing else. Their assessment of him wasn't much more complimentary: They decided that either he was gay and very frustrated or he'd seen me with two beautiful women and, having just been dumped himself (no surprise there: judging by the way he behaved, no woman over the age of thirteen would consier him a worthwhile match) he saw me as a convenient punching bag (in a metaphorical sense; I'm still convinced had worse come to worst he would've wound up in jail paying me compo and nursing a few wounds). Either way, he was actually pissed off with himself, and not me, I just happened to be a convenient target, was their decision. Anyway, this is far too much verbiage allocated to what is really a tiny little incident, but nevertheless, I'm still pissed off that such a good day had to end on such a sour note and that I was chosen as a target by this complete idiot.
But then again, SOHO has always been a bit strange that way. Several times I've seen rich bastards, who are probably only rich because Daddy made their money, and who still behave like spoilt little 13 year old boys, pick similarly stupid fights over equally stupid, little or non-existent problems. I even saw one idiot try to pick a fight with a car load of soldiers because of the traffic. Never pick a fight with people who are trained to kill you. That's such a dumb idea it makes your average Hollywood star seem intelligent by comparison.
Enough. Yesterday, apart from that minor and incredibly stupid incident at the end of the night, was a good day. And today is shaping up to be pretty decent too. And somehow my 31st birthday seems to have taken on the importance usually reserved for a 21st.