Monday, January 07, 2008


Call it a conspiracy. Call it a coincidence. Call it what you will, but there's a strange something (my students would call it a phenomenon, meaning something unexplainable that happens quite often) that keeps occurring, and I wish to share it with all my faithful blog readers.

I can't recall the first time it happened. Maybe it happened several times before I really noticed it. Who can say? Regardless, I'd like to start by introducing our local guard station and our faithful Pee Wee. After entering the alley that leads to our campus and walking past the outdoor food market and past several local restaurants (like Happy Guys), you come to a guard station which, as I understand, is the official entrance from this particular road into our school. It's not much of a station. There's a small, glassed-in building, large enough for one person to sit and watch passersby while fulfilling his most important role of raising the crossing arm for what little traffic passes through. During the day, the crossing arm remains up, and the guard usually just stands outside watching people walk by.

Last year there was one guard in particular who had the look of an eight year old little boy playing dress up in his father's uniform. He also carried a strong resemblance to Pee Wee Herman and thus became known as Pee Wee. Since we walk past the guards several times a day, we like to create a friendly rapport with them. Generally, this merely includes a little head nod and a "ni hao". But with Pee Wee, it was different. We broke through any and all barriers that might have existed between us and developed a much deeper and more open relationship with him. As this was last year, Derek was still here, and he often joked with Pee Wee as he passed by, saying, "Hello, Pee Wee. Tomorrow I will steal your hat." For some reason, Derek's dream was to take the hat off of Pee Wee's head and to run away with it. This occurred daily for weeks, and Pee Wee always laughed, and everyone was jovial. Then, suddenly and with no explanation, Pee Wee disappeared! No more Pee Wee greeting us gleefully as we passed by. We assumed his dismissal was a result of the amount of time he spent in the guard station singing into the phone serenading, we presumed, his girlfriend. Or maybe he just didn't have that reserved guard look the higher ups were going for. Regardless, we missed him.

One day several weeks later as I was passing by the guard station, I looked up and Pee Wee had returned! I asked him where he'd been all my life, uh, I mean, in the past few weeks, and he said he had been moved to another station. My joy at his return was short-lived, however, and that was the last time I ever saw Pee Wee.

Oh, Fei Fei, yet another beloved figure in our daily lives. Fei Fei was a little kid, maybe two or three or eight years old, who quite frequently spoke to us as we passed by his parents' little convenience shop located about ten feet from the guard station. Fei Fei was playful, cute and talented (the kid could balance on the edge of a trash can and relieve himself while shouting "hellos" at us as we tried to avoid eye contact in an effort to not impose on this otherwise private business). A few months later at the peak of our relationship with Fei Fei, we walked up the alley one day to discover Fei Fei's parents' store empty and demolished (making way for a future iron bowl restaurant and another convenience store). Fei Fei and his family were gone too, along with Fei Fei's happy "hellos".

Is it a coincidence that the people we get close to disappear suddenly and without explanation?

This semester we again befriended the new guards. There are two in particular that we like. One is Handsome Guard who was clearly named by Jessica and me, though I haven't heard Brian object, and the other doesn't have a name, an unnoticed detail which is soon to be dealt with. They're really gentle men, and they always smile and nod their head at us as we pass.

For Thanksgiving this year we made several small loaves of banana bread to give to some of the people we come into contact with on a daily basis (the fruit ladies, the rice man and his wife, juice lady and underwear king, Happy Guy and his family, the Muslim noodle folks, and the two guards). We added a little note in English with a Chinese translation that said how grateful we are for them and that we thank God for how they make our lives in China easier and nicer. When we delivered these little tokens of gratitude, the guard on duty was Handsome Guard. He, like all the rest of our friends, at first refused the bread, but when our Chinese friends explained the meaning behind it, he placed it on his little desk, gave us his dreamy smile, and we left. The next day (seriously), he was gone, and we haven't seen him since.

Here is the irony: I was never able to give the other guard his banana bread (even though we made him a loaf) because we left that night for Wuhan, and he wasn't on duty that whole day. So the guard whom we have yet to name and who did not receive the small gift from us is still employed at the guard station, but the guard whom we did name and who did receive the small gift from us has not been heard from since that fateful day in November.

Is it a conspiracy that those we get close to suddenly and quite dramatically disappear?

Just a few days ago Brian, Jessica and I were walking to Happy Guys for lunch when a group of children ran past us. Among them was Fei Fei! Although he had not aged in the eight months since we've seen him, there was no mistaking his face and exuberant manner. Speechless, I made weird noises to get Brian's attention and then yelled, "Fei Fei", and pointed in the kid's direction. Brian was able to confirm the sighting just before Fei Fei disappeared around a corner. We haven't seen Fei Fei since that unexpected day, but I'm now filled with great hope that one day we will again encounter Pee Wee and Handsome Guard.

As it's "Jovial January" and I'm avoiding negative thoughts, I'll leave you to your own interpretation of these events that may or may not include an evil mastermind named Mr. V (pronounced WE) determined to destroy us foreigners with his impressive and unlimited arsenal of Chinglish.

1 comment:

Ashley said...

At least you still have Happy Guy ... for the time being!

Your story reminds me of Smokey, the cat from upstairs. I think I've told you about him. He's the sweetest cat in the history of the universe. But because his masters upstairs were horrible and abandoned to the elements last winter, he spent a lot of time curled up on our welcome mat. We'd have invited him in (to stay), but Jamie's allergic. So we would pet him and even feed him, and I think seeing us was the highlight of his day. He was like a dog. He would purr like a dog would wag its tail. He'd roll over on his back to get his tummy rubbed (what cat does that?). He'd run up to greet us when we came home from work or school. He even jumped in Jamie's car one day trying to go to work with her! We put a flea collar on him, and he just rubbed his cheek against us thankfully; he didn't even try to take it off.

Then one day, he disappeared. Months went by, and we feared Smokey was no more. We hoped he'd been adopted. We were really sad not to see him anymore. He really brightened our days. Then, after we'd long given up hope, he suddenly reappeared! Apparently someone had adopted him, because he looked healthy and groomed. He even still had the old flea collar on. We don't see him that often anymore, but it's enough for us just to know he's around and he's being taken care of.