Saturday, July 18, 2009

10 pounds of Saturday in a 5 pound sack

Weekends are tough on an assignment like this as they deprive you of all your structure. It’s easy to manage your time during the workweek with the bulk of the day filled and the early part of the evening dedicated to acquiring and preparing some food. The minute work ends the controls fall away and you’re on your own to fill up your time. While it sounds great, not having a home and a family deducts quite a bit of committed time leaving you with a couple of days to try and fill. In a bigger, more cosmopolitan city there are perhaps cultural attractions and other things to do. Here, it pretty much boils down to finding something to do with friends or working on whatever things there are to do around the apartment.

Sleeping in though is always a nice option and I was able to do so today until 5:55 when I was rudely awakened by, guess what, fireworks. It was probably too early for a wedding so it must have been some building or company event because it was loud. Most of these daytime displays have two elements – a million of those little firecrackers going off simultaneously which sounds like a very noisy machine shop and a couple of dozen of those thunderous white fireballs that go off 15 or 20 stories in the air. This show went on for fifteen minutes and gratefully ended while I still had enough sleep desire left to drift off.

Having survived yesterday’s tropical storm and stocked up on cleaning products I planned to dedicate the day to apartment sprucing. I dragged myself out of bed just before 8 and went about starting the first load of washing. While that was running I whipped up some eggs with cheese and the first try of the “French style” ham I’d picked up at Metro. Breakfast was good but what made it special was my first glass of blood orange juice. Now I love blood oranges and the fact that some food scientist would come up with the idea of making juice out them was simply music to my ears. The juice lived up to my expectations from the name “Blutorange” to the color – mix cranberry and regular orange together – to the taste – the best orange juice I have ever had, bar none.

The washing cycle ended and I fired up my little dryer and in doing so turned my apartment into Ecuador. It doesn’t have an outside vent and the only way to get the air outside is to open a window. This works minimally and is only helped a tad by closing the doors to the glassed in room where it sits. From now on, drying is going to have to be done in the cooler night time hours when the sun, humidity and car exhaust don’t conspire to join up and flow into my open window.

After coffee and lunch with friends I headed back home and went about dusting the floors and furniture and cleaning the bathroom and kitchen. As much as we all hate that kind of work, if you approach it single-mindedly it really goes fast. Most of the families here have and Ayi (maid/cook) and they are thus relieved from doing such quotidian work. I’ve debated engaging one, but every time I come back to the conclusion that I just don’t have enough work to offer. And so I go it alone.

A few of us had a plan to meet up for dinner at the popular expat haunt – Brooklyn Bar – but prior to that my pal Aaron wanted to go find a decent Buddha for a friend back home. So the plan was to head to that giant market in town - Da Cai – where the fourth floor is dedicated to minerals and artwork.

When we got there it seemed odd that it was largely empty but I take blessings where we can get them and so we headed up the stairs to start the search. It is always so hot in there as to cause an instant full body sweat, so fewer people was a nice thing. The first place we stopped had an enormous collection of painted plaster Buddha, Guanyin and Confucian saints; it was sort of like a religious supply store. While their stock was interesting and reasonably priced it really didn’t grab you – it just seemed a bit “regular” for lack of a better word. We left and wandered down the hall as the shopkeepers were beginning to pull the drapes shut on their stalls. The message was sinking in, it was 4:45 and they looked like they were going home. A cleaning woman passed by us pushing a 4’x4’ bucket on wheels with a 3’ wide rage mop, easily the largest such cleaning tool I had ever seen. Undaunted we moved on, stopping here and there, until we found a store that specialized in wood carvings. There was one other customer and so we were able to spend a little time unbothered perusing the inventory.

The items here were quite beautifully rendered and there were lots of choices. I inquired about prices a couple of times and they were on the high to extravagant side - $50 to $1000. But they were nice and we settled on a couple of options. The girl was giving me two prices – the “regular” price and the “right now” price which was about 40% lower. On one item I made a counter offer and she said, “No” and went about moving some items from the counter to uncover a sign which held four characters that she methodically read to me. I assume the translation was “We don’t bargain, moron” and so I apologized in Chinese and she smiled that away.

One does not “buy” a Buddha; one “invites” a Buddha to be purchased. Aaron found one that was willing to be bought and the girl wrapped it up. By now the security guard was standing behind us and the mopping ladies were going up and down the hall, dragging their mops across the tops of my shoes so the message was clear – “Get your stuff and get out” so we did.

Something about the storm yesterday brought out thousands of Dragonflies. I first noticed them this morning buzzing up and down the face of my building. Outside the market hundreds of them, all orange, were flying in loose formations over the grassy park across the street. I stopped and watched them for a few minutes before finding the car and heading on.

There were still a couple of hours to kill before the group dinner date so we headed to a coffee shop of a rather bohemian slant to wait out the time over a cup. It is an interesting place, built to make use of the crescent of land that hugs an expressway entrance. It features live music on some nights and sells books as well as the largest inventory of Holga cameras I have ever seen. Holgas are these really inexpensive fixed lens plastic cameras that have developed sort of a cult following due to the funky pictures they take. A little fuzzy with a lot of vignetting, they form their own little artsy niche and the output is often contentiously debated by fellows with round, wireframe glasses and pointy little beards. We took a seat out on the patio to avoid the cigarette smoke and the heat inside.

There were three Americans out there, a single guy and a couple with their overly busy young boy and some young Chinese women. The place had its own puppy which spent its time wandering around while trying to avoid the little boy. When the threesome left the dog plopped down and went about eating a branch.

It was a nice place to sit and talk and the quiet was interrupted only by the occasional bus that rolled by up above making you wonder how long it would take you to realize that one had jumped the guardrail and was about to come crashing down on you. But none did and we passed the time until we were ready to go.

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