Harbin Diary September 29-30, 2011

September 29, 2011  Thursday

Again the city was drenched with rain. Today I ran to McDonald’s under a wet gray sky, feet pounding through the dirty puddles. I noticed that the rain didn’t deter the Grand Opening of the new restaurant from blaring loud Chinese rap music into the street.

When a new business opens, the owner installs these immense arches made of garish pink balloons and huge jumper-looking things that seem like a child’s version of architecture from the Forbidden City in Beijing, all in order to stimulate good fortune for the fledgling enterprise. It seems like a tremendous waste of money to me, but the Chinese really put a premium on pleasing the denizens of the spirit world. At night they burn ghost money to appease their ancestors and rally the phantasmal troops in hopes of procuring greater luck and fortune for those still breathing in this life. They fold the shiny gold paper into small ingots and then around midnight, they lay these gold foil paper hat-looking things directly on the street and proceed to burn them, teasing the fire with long shafts of wood. In Taiwan, they used to burn ghost money that really looked like ethereal bank drafts made of paper, but here they seem to use gold foil that seems better suited for origami.

I ran along the wet streets because I did not exercise yesterday. I was wrestling with hesitation: should I spend some face time with Hammy and Gabe? I opted to chuck it all and just go out to eat with Abraham and then retire to Eve’s apartment and watch an episode of Boston Legal. Hammy was soon snoring on the couch. He loves Boston Legal as much as I love those inane episodes of Meet the Browns, Tyler Perry’s brain(less)child. Hammy and I: the 21st century Odd Couple; oil and water. I went to sleep afterwards, but I woke when I heard them rustling about, debating whether to go out or not. I put my earplugs in and rolled over.

Eve came home with Winnie from the KTV very late and vomited once or twice. I could hear the dinosaur roars from my bedroom as if she were retching just without the door. I at first thought it might have been Gabe and worried that he and Hammy (who also threw up yesterday after our dinner together) had contracted an illness—I even thought of Hepatitis although I am not altogether sure of the symptoms. In the morning I discovered it was indeed Eve. That poor child is really putting her body through the wringer.

I was to teach at the College. Winnie woke up and accompanied me halfway on the trip to Jian Qiao College. We left late and were caught in an awful crush on the No. 338 bus. I blathered uncontrollably about the Drug War. Poor Winnie: how she must have suffered! A captive audience for my diatribe on US drug policy. She got off the bus abruptly looking green around the gills. She lobbed an excuse at me, but I’m sure she was feeling la cruda and not in any mood to listen to my political rant.

I rushed up to the second floor and found my class. We spent the entire lesson on asking each other questions on which person we thought was the greatest athlete, singer, etc. It was not an inspired lesson, but around the small oceans of dullness there were lush islands of laughter and delighted surprise as I mimed activities and narrated segments from my past.

The second class I began with a short, uncelebrated poem of Emily Dickinson’s and as I kept it very brief, I think it went all right. We did spend the rest of the time on, “Who’s the greatest blah blah blah?”

After, I wanted to exercise but didn’t, opting to eat lunch. I have avoided meat for five days or so. I am committing myself to not eating meat, which decision prompted my fat friend to comment that I had turned to the dark side. I told him that we could still take meals together, and that it would be good for him to have some vegetables in his diet, for Christ’s sake.

He and I ended up having a frightful argument over the phone.

I called because I wanted to organize the cleaning people to come over on Friday before the big Chinese National Holiday. It might have been be difficult to arrange while everyone was on vacation. And he basically stymied me, saying it was better to wait. I knew that he wanted time to move his stuff into Seth’s room and then Jimmy to take his old room, leaving me with the middle-sized room. I did not want to inconvenience Jimmy, and in all honestly I felt that I should take the largest room. I am the oldest of us all. Hammy did not agree (surprise surprise). He feels that he has suffered enough indignity.

I hung up on him as speaking with him was useless. Petty. Then he inundated my cell with insulting messages. The prospect of living together seems untenable at best. I feel that I have done my duty to him: I wanted to help him get out of the hole that he was in. I facilitated his job as a teacher. It is far from perfect, but it is an international job and it is a teaching position. People will be far more impressed that he taught abroad in China than spent his time slaving like a coolie in a gas station as a pump jockey.

I am considering finding a place near the Unit 731 Museum: it was broad, unhurried, and swathed with swatches of verdant green.

September 30, 2011  Friday

Today is colder than yesterday, but at least the rain has swept past the city.


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