Wednesday, February 04, 2009

My continuing run of luck

Life ebbs and flows here. Some days you sit back and think it’s a wonderful experience and a challenge. Other days you wonder why you even rolled out of bed. I suppose it’s that way back in the world, but for some reason the challenging days make you re-evaluate your situation far more than you ever would in your normal life.

I had a dinner invitation to a friend’s house tonight and decided to walk over after work. It’s about a mile and right on the edge of an easy evening stroll, but as always I was not about to give in to using my driver for such a piddling distance. So I had him drop me off and hung out at my hotel until it was about 20 minutes before I was due there.

I gathered my belongings – local cell phone so I could call from the guard house at the entrance to his development, iPhone in case something went wrong in my real life and my flashlight – and I headed out the door. It was a bit chilly and the air felt like it was going to snow but I figured it was a short walk and I could always catch a cab home if the weather turned bad.

Past the Bank of China tower I turned left and headed east toward my destination. A block or two down the road I jogged across the street cutting across a side street to the next main drag. I was having a look at a couple of Korean produce stores thinking perhaps I had found a good source of fruit when I suddenly found myself face down on the brick sidewalk; I had caught my toe on the curb lining a driveway. Surfaces in this country are bad, they’re either uneven or slippery or rough or in any number of conditions that make sure to throw you down if you don’t pay attention. I did manage to break my fall with both hands, but when you’re nearly six feet tall and weigh 160 pounds and are 50+ years old, it is never fun to go down onto a hard surface. Frankly, it’s just too far to the ground.

I dusted myself off and had a look around to see who was laughing at me but I was more or less anonymous in my embarrassment as it was dark on this street. I went on a block or so, still checking my condition when I realized my local cell phone was gone. I turned around and went back to have a look but it was nowhere to be seen.

Now I had a dilemma. I could not call my friend because I did not have his number in the other phone I had with me. I was bruised and bloodied but halfway between my house and my destination. I was not completely sure that I had even picked up my phone when I left the hotel so the decision I came to was to head back to the hotel to clean up and to see if my phone had been left behind. I turned around and walked the half mile back only to discover that it wasn’t there. I changed clothes, got cleaned up and faced with the decision of standing up my friends with no apologies or trying to bluff my way past the security guard, I decided on the latter. Back off I went.

Just to be thorough I traced my path back and still found nothing. When I finally arrived at my friend’s house, he was waiting at the gate so my worries of having to argue with the guard were avoided. We had a nice dinner and I went on my way in order to make sure I was back in time for a 10 PM meeting.

On the way home I had time to ponder the situation and decided to go and have a look one more time. That detour came to nothing, it was clear the phone was gone which means I am now doomed to another trip to the China Mobile store to try and set myself up with another phone number and another mysterious plan which I am sure will mean more dead phones and more trips to the store.

I’m a little surprised that someone could have picked the thing up so quickly and I suppose I might have dropped it elsewhere. Nonetheless, some person out there somewhere now has a password locked Blackberry with 284 Yuan in its account.

None of the little events I’ve reported lately would be terribly devastating if I was sleeping in my own bed and eating my low carb breakfast every morning. But here, where one’s perception and emotions are always on the edge simple things take on an importance that is far, far greater than their actual import. I had a great conversation the other night with my oldest kid about her Peace Corps experience and we both agreed that no matter how hard you try unless you’re living in a quasi-western country the day to day weirdness is guaranteed to overshadow any joy you might get from challenging yourself to do something on the extreme edge of your comfort zone. If you don’t accept that you’re off the grid, the next step is surely a panic attack. Unless of course you’re capable of wrapping yourself in the expat cocoon and blithely moving along letting the locals do your bidding. But I think the choice is twofold – you get down in the streets and see what it’s really like to live here (at least to the extent that a westerner can ever understand that) or you isolate yourself completely behind a screen of drivers and maids and remain protected from stupid things like falling on your face and losing your cell phone. Everyone is going to do what makes them feel the most comfortable and I imagine that there is a strong argument for choosing to be protected when you measure the actual benefit from exposing yourself to one failure after another. I suppose my answer to that is this – if I'm going to live in a foreign country I'm going to try to live in a foreign country, not Kansas. Even if it means a dozen more blogs detailing cell phone problems.

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