Friday, June 15, 2012

From Conundrum to Predicament

After having a blast with Gary in Xi’an I came home, all ready to write. Xi’an is the city of my dreams and Gary is the best traveling partner ever; I should have plenty to write about… right?


The conundrum: I’ve written plenty about Xi’an throughout this blog. What else could I write about it without being redundant? Not much has changed in the city formerly known as Eternal Peace. Even the buses to get to the tourist hotspots I took Gary to run the same established routes.

I could write about Gary. It being just me and him on this trip we had much more opportunity to converse on a deep, personal level but, without his express permission, I am not comfortable publishing any of the observations I made about him or any of the personal disclosures he confided.

Just as I was debating this point, I slipped from conundrum right into predicament. I did find a workaround for the conundrum but was not satisfied with my efforts, even though I had already written 2 entries for posting – one of them about some of the fun times/highlights of my trip with Gary and the other about the air quality in Wuhan the day after I got back. As I always do when I get stuck for a word or phrase I walked away from the computer. Dinner needed fixing, anyway.

While I was in the kitchen the computer spontaneously rebooted itself. OH NO!!!

No big deal, I reasoned. I have my Word program set to ‘autosave’. Once I open the application again, it will prompt me to examine the documents and ask me if I want to save them. I went on cooking dinner.

After enjoying a fine meal of chicken breast sautéed in butter with onions and garlic and some steamed green beans, I returned to the PC and opened Word. There it was: a nice, daunting blank page that wanted only my words to turn it into an actual document.

Wait a minute! Where is the prompt to recover my lost entries?

The entries were indeed lost. No amount of searching for them or reopening the application called them forth. In sheer frustration I walked away.  

To end this predicament and get on with the blog, I’ll recap in a nutshell what those two entries were about.

Gary and I had such fun! He is hands down the best traveling companion ever. The trip was not a whirlwind of activity, nor was it dull and mellow. At times we packed in action and sightseeing and at others we were content to spend an hour or two relaxing in each other’s company, battened in comfortable silence. I read my Kindle and he played around on the Internet, accessed on his SmartPhone. Every so often he would read me an anecdote or a humorous response someone had posted on his Weibo miniblog, China’s equivalent to Twitter.

We both aver that Xi’an food is the best. Beijing food is too bland, Sichuan food too spicy. Xi’an food is just right and that is saying a lot, seeing as we’ve both traveled extensively, and not always together.

Because we wanted to experience the most within the least amount of time, the first day there we over-ordered at restaurants. With no way to keep our leftovers (no fridge in our hotel room) we had to leave a lot of food behind. Ashamed at such waste we vowed that, for the rest of the trip we would not waste any more food. We kept our word and, in the end enjoyed our gastronomic forays that much more by not being riddled with guilt or attempting to eat ourselves into a coma.

Platonic friends of opposite gender sharing a hotel room calls for a measure of coordination and concession. Who gets the bathroom first being the main one. By the time we left Xi’an we were operating as smoothly as a well-oiled machine. I showered while Gary packed and then he showered while I packed. He checked out of the hotel while I ran next door for our morning coffee, both of us emerging from our respective facilities at precisely the same time. While on the bus to the airport he managed the coffee condiments while I doled out the full cups. It was like a synchronized dance, neither of us missing a step… or a hand-off.

We had to get up at 4:30AM to make the first bus to the airport at 6:00. Our flight was scheduled for a 7:15 departure, arriving in Wuhan at a little past 11:00. Needless to say, upon arrival we were starving. Once liberated from mass transit needs and before hailing a taxi we decided to have a nice bowl of noodles. Again that seamless operation. Gary ordered while I fished money out. We sat down at the same time, me handing him a pair of chopsticks from the bin nearby. We start eating…

Only to be assailed by another patron interested in my foreignness. While I’m shoving food in my face he peppers me with questions: What country am I from? Can I speak Chinese? How old am I? Do I have any children?

Gary witnessed the depth of my frustration at being constantly under scrutiny while in Xi’an. At any given monument or hotspot people would flock around, asking me to pose for a picture or 3 with them. While in ‘tourist mode’ I never object, but while I’m enroute or while eating I do tend to get a bit snippy about it. I told the man I was French – easily substantiated because I speak that language fluently. Usually Chinese people are deterred from questioning me further once they find out I’m not from America and I don’t speak English.

Not this guy. He continued with the standard questions. When he got to “Do you have children” I answered him “I have two”. That is when Gary piped up, saying he was my son. My interlocutor then zeroed in on him.

Gary is full blooded Chinese. He looks, acts and speaks the part. So the man asked about him being my son – I, who do not look Chinese at all. The first question was if Gary’s father was Chinese. Without missing a beat or cracking a smile, Gary wove this intricate story about not having a father because I adopted him out of an orphanage at a young age and raised him abroad. He only spoke what little Chinese he remembered prior to being taken out of China at the tender age of 7. The rest of the man’s questions were met with puzzled looks and ‘so sorry, I don’t understand’.

Leaving the noodle stand, Gary commented on how he now comprehends exactly how tiring it gets for me to go anywhere and being the subject of such scrutiny. Meanwhile, I’m marveling at how completely he fell into the story of his adoption, thus rescuing me from interrogation. See? Seamless.

I’m guessing that, by the time we get one or two more trips under our belt we’ll have a whole tragic story worked out about how I, the valiant single mother adopted poor, unwanted him from the orphanage. How we lived abroad and how generous I am, returning him to his homeland after years in France so he can attempt to find his real parents. Sated, we relaxed in our taxi, laughing about how we’re going to work all that out.

We spent the afternoon at our favorite tea shop after which Gary saw me safely home. You would think that, after one week in close proximity we would be ready for a break from each other’s company. Apparently not the case!

The next morning, all ready to resume my life I liberated myself from my mosquito tent bed, threw back the drapes and promptly ran around the house shutting all the windows. The sky was an ominous yellow, lending the impression that I was living in a sepia toned world. Everybody in Wuhan scrambled for a breathing mask. By 9AM, all the stores were sold out. Conscious of my Benadryl assisted breathing and not wanting to make it worse, I stayed indoors all day. 

I still don’t know what exactly rendered the air that creepy yellow. Rumors abounded about some sulpher or chemical gas leak – Wuhan is, after all an industrial center. Xinhua News released a statement about it being the result of a relatively harmless crop burn. It even made the international scene, being reported on Yahoo News. The next day the air was clear. Nothing new to report.    

And there, in a nutshell you have the two entries that were lost by the untimely reboot. Come to find out, I like this entry better than the two entries that were lost. This one flowed, as opposed to struggling to write the other two.

Yes, I do struggle to write sometimes. That is another reason there are long gaps between one entry and the next.            

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