Next Time

By Miller Wey

A groupthink tribute to the Great White Buddha.

I had a Singha Beer yesterday at the Thai place on Yongjia Lu where we met the night before you left and it’s got thinking of escape now. A little hot weather and excess and women and drugs and booze and booze mixed with drugs to make you forget. Is it true about the speed margaritas? Not sure I’d really do it, but Bangkok is a new city and a new me. Before coming to China, I knew I had to move over the horizon to the next place. East coast to west coast and then a little time in Mexico before I got tired of it and I moved back to the west coast before deciding to come to Shanghai. I saw the old Spielberg film and some seventies kung fu stuff. There was usually something on TV back in the States, too. An exposé into ‘Hidden China’ or a friendly, safe profile about the aspirations of average Chinese or people trying to save some near extinct art or song and dance.

The McDonald’s was the first place I ate when the plane landed in Pudong, if you can believe it. I’m not naïve enough to expect a Panda Express, but I didn’t know baozi from jiaozi from malatang, so I played it safe. That’s the cycle, isn’t it? Hamburgers to local food and then back. Before I left for China I kept going to Chinatown and I found a noodle place I liked and ate it three, four times a week. A bowl of beef fried noodles and a bottle of Tsingtao. I stopped eating stick food when someone told me some of these guys use cats. It’s probably not true, though, right? Cat or rat or pigeon could have been what got me so sick my first week here. I wasted away in my room watching every minute pass moving from bed to bathroom and back. Three damn days off from work, but I felt too much like I was dying to enjoy it.

My first job here was a gong show. The kids had one of the Chinese teachers translate everything and present them the grammar. Pingguo was “apple” and you have “an apple” not “a apple” and after that I came in for the one-man English parade and we sang songs and pretended to be zoo animals and one day, when I was hungover as hell, I threw up in a trashcan discreetly and quietly at the back of the darkened room while the kids watched the old Batman cartoon that was on when I was a kid. I brought it in on a flash drive and I didn’t have time to download the Chinese subtitles, but it was English class, after all. They couldn’t keep teachers at ABCDEnglish for long, except for me and a South African named Monty. Everyone else got drunk and skipped work or flipped out over a paycheck and one guy got drunk and leapt up on stage at a bar and got in a fight with the lead singer from a Filipino cover band and he might have ended up in jail. Anyway, he went home. When I left, Monty jumped up to school manager or managing teacher or something. Lost his phone number when my phone got lost on a train. I came back from the bathroom and checked my pockets when I wanted to send a text and I realized it may have fallen in a squatter, so I thought it best not to go looking for it.

I was done with teaching and I knew a guy working trade who offered to convince his boss to hire me on. Since I started, I feel like I’ve thought about nothing but ladies’ shoes and I’ve talked about the same things over and over again with whatever Chinese or foreign client. Same dinner conversation. Same jokes and songs at KTV.

Sometimes I just go into some little French-looking café by myself and get coffee or randomly order something fancy like you get at Starbucks. I like watching the other people around me. Nothing creepy. I just eat or drink slowly and try to figure out what life they’re living. Life on the other side. I remember my wife Larissa telling me about a dream she had where I shacked up with another girl in the apartment below and she could hear us talking and fucking and eating and the whole time I was in the apartment with her talking or fucking or eating. I resisted the urge to ask if the girl was cute. I guess I think of stupid, insensitive crap to say when I don’t know what to say. What are Thai girls like? Is the language hard? I had a dream once where I was on my way to China and the plane stopped in South Korea for a layover and in the airport was this classroom teaching the lesson I had actually taught that day and I decided I would live in South Korea because the language didn’t have tones.

Chinese has never been easy to me. My first two years in China I was single and I would go out with Monty or Jessica, a Canadian teacher, and they would try and help me out but I always went home drunk and frustratingly alone. Larissa was someone else working for the trade company and I think she was tired of dating too much as I was too little. I’m not sure how much I really liked her, maybe just I wondered what I was missing, I guess. I still do.

So I want you to know I’m still on for Christmas. I’m leaving everything behind and I’m going to live a new life. I’ll get a job teaching or something like I did coming here to get started. We got in a fight last night, Larissa and I, and she was pissed about something I had written in the beginning of my journal. It was an old journal entry but she read, “I’m done with everything and everyone here and I’m getting the hell out” and she flipped. It was dated like five years ago, but she didn’t see that.