Monday, June 20, 2011


No, I’m not going to plagiarize the novel of the same title by Fletcher Knebel written in the ‘60s. Although the title is nearly the same – his tome does not have an exclamation point after the word ‘vanished’ my story has nothing to do with the political intrigue he spun over half a century ago. My tale is a little… darker, shall we say.

I’ll admit that, being ever the optimist with my cluckings of serendipity and the many joyous and amusing tales I recount, I may at times convey the impression that everything is rosy and fine, and that life is sweet in China. While this is in large part the truth, at least where my experiences are concerned, actually life is hard in China. Ask Jenny, who had her entire purse stolen just today.

But let me tell the story the way it happened, so you can get the best possible picture of what I mean.

Jenny, or Zhanni – pronounced the same way, is one of the original Cookie Cutter Girls (see entry from October of last year ). She is one of the many students whose presence in my life has outlasted the curiosity of hanging out with ‘the foreigner’. Way back when, during our first outing I had dubbed her My Little Chinese Mommy because she always takes such good care of me and even now, while convinced that I do a good job of surviving in Wuhan, she still expresses concern over my well-being. She is one of the few who saw to it that I did not shrivel up and die during those terrible, lonely winter months.

Her resemblance to young Audrey Hepburn is so remarkable that I am at times startled by it. Not just by her facial features – despite its Asian cast but by the grace and poise she carries herself with and by the genuine goodness of her heart and her… for lack of a better description, I’ll use that oh-so-cliché’ed phrase ‘inner beauty’. She is a lovely young woman, through and through. It is my pleasure to be her friend.

She and I had planned an outing to Mo Shan (Mo – to wear down; Shan – mountain) ‘Worn-down Mountain’. I was to prepare egg salad sandwiches for lunch along with all the trimmings. She would search the Internet for our itinerary. We would take off at 8:30 on Saturday morning, get there in time for lunch, enjoy our American style meal and then walk through the park until about 4PM, whereupon, exhausted we would head home.

Here is where serendipity comes into play. Although I was terribly busy yesterday I did take a few minutes to boil the eggs and make the salad. Good thing I did because the power went out overnight all over campus. Had I waited until this morning to boil the eggs we would have been sandwich-less. I took that to be a good sign, an indication that we would have a joyous and carefree outing.

At 7AM Zhanny texted me: ‘The weather might not cooperate today. Do you still want to go?’ Of course I want to go! Why pass up a chance to picnic at Worn Down Mountain? And so we set off, only one hour behind schedule.

The weather really was not cooperating: rain threatened constantly from the leaden sky and a cold, harsh wind gusted from the north. Soon enough both of us were chilled and, while waiting for our next bus transfer we decided to reverse course for an indoor destination much closer to campus.

That doesn’t mean our outing was ruined. Quite the contrary! We chattered, laughed and played on the various buses as though we were contemporaries rather than my being old enough to be her mother. This handsome boy became her boyfriend while the attractive man sitting next to him became mine. Several men who, for some reason persisted in presenting us their posterior as we sat and they stood earned mock pinches and pushes on their butts. Zhanni laughed till she cried and I… was just enjoying being my normal self.

Soon enough we got to our revised destination and I instructed Zhanni on the art of sandwich making. She was delighted at her newfound skill, reporting that she had often seen sandwiches eaten in movies but never knew how to make them. Her first taste of egg salad brought a smile to her face and she gobbled two sandwiches up. Hungry girl! I, more moderate in my consumption due to waistline considerations, limited myself to one sandwich, but I did finish the rest of the salad. It was nice to have egg salad again, even though the relish used to flavor it was homemade and tasted just a bit off. This was the first time I had made egg salad since I left the States.

Our hunger sated – Zhanni’s uncomfortably so, we decided to review our itinerary to Mo Shan. We intend to go another time, when the weather is more conducive to playing outdoors. I asked Zhanni to show me the notebook that she had written directions in and that is when disaster struck! Her cute little purse, tucked by her side while we ate our meal, had vanished!

This was the first time I’d ever seen her face crestfallen and near tears. As she reached for her purse her face registered first surprise and then shock, slipping right into dismay as she sprang up to better inspect the bench she had been sitting on and finally dissolving into near tears as she realized her pocketbook was gone.

While I aver that I do feel safer here than anywhere else I’ve ever lived, I do admit that this is not the safest place in the world to live. Crimes such as theft and purse snatching are on the rise. I’m constantly being told about this person or that having their bag, wallet or cellphone taken, sometimes by force. I’ve even written about it before (See Honor System entry). But this is the first time I’ve personally encountered the phenomenon.

Zhanni, smart girl that she is, immediately filed a report with Mall security while I stood just outside their office, formulating this entry in my head. Watching her – tiny, delicate and beautiful in contrast to the seven or eight uniformed men standing around her, I felt a personal anger caused by the betrayal and violation she must certainly feel.

Nevertheless the day ended well. Zhanni, after filing her report, put the whole incident in perspective. Everything taken, including the purse is replaceable. Fortunately she had not been carrying her bankcard and… she was actually kind of relieved! She’d been wanting a new cellphone anyway. See why I say she is a remarkable young woman?

The outing ended with smiles all around. This picture was taken just before boarding the homeward bound bus. When we got back to campus we found that we still had no electricity so, after Zhanni left I wrote this entry long-hand in a notebook. As daylight waned I lit candles to continue composing. Sometimes, when the urge to write hits you just gotta go with it any way you can.

Come to think of it, this notebook might be a nice, personal gift I can give my friend to commemorate our outing. She refused to allow me to replace at least her purse, so maybe she will accept this handmade gift. I hope so.

And you should check out that book by Fletcher Knebel. It is a much better tale than mine, politically relevant and significant still today. Well worth the read!

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