Chengdu blues: The joy of spit

February 9, 2019 § 9 Comments

I was sitting at dinner last night with my friends from Sacramento bemoaning the fact that I still had pages and pages in my notebook about my trip to China.

“Why don’t you write it up?” Drew said. “We really enjoy the non-racing blog posts, especially the ones about China.”

“It takes too long to transcribe the notes.”

Darrel looked at me as if he were speaking to an extremely feeble-minded person. “Why don’t you use talk to text?”

“I travel without my phone,” I explained imperiously.

Darrel paused, trying to think of a way to politely call me a dumbfuck. “You know Seth, once you get back home you can use your phone to transcribe those notes that you wrote in China. I’m pretty sure your phone won’t care.”

So the next morning, with a little experimentation, it turns out that Darrel was right. The phone didn’t care.

Snipping the cord

And so I will pick up where I left off, which is the point at which my camera died, severing my last electronic link to the digital age. I quickly realized that as far as as cameras are concerned they are just one more piece of junk to lug around, things you use to badly chronicle that which 1 billion iPhotos have already uploaded to the Internet.

No camera also meant no eye candy for the blog, making the pages look long, hard, daunting, and filled with nails, which is exactly how I like them. Candy is for kids.

As I got ready for the day I realized that I had fully acclimated to the hotel service. They didn’t replace the mini shampoo and conditioner bottles in the shower, they actually topped them off by hand. I suppose that over the course of several hundred changes, they saved a few dollars. And dollars add up.

Other little details were that Hotel H Riverside isn’t really by the river, the phones in the room don’t work, there is no clock in the room, they forget wake up calls, they forget to refill the tea and wash the chipped cups, but how can you really get upset when the shower is the very best you have ever had anywhere?

And how can you really get upset when the staff are friendly and helpful, the breakfast buffet heavenly, the pillows lush and plump, the bed soft, the comforter cozy and thick, the towels luxurious, and the noodle shop next-door… damn good?

As I sat in the lobby waiting for the panda tour that was never going to materialize, I went back to my last trip to China and checked my notes regarding untethering. Here’s what I said then and it’s all true.

  1. We do better with less information.
  2. We have limited processing speed.
  3. We don’t process in real time. Our brains require after-the-fact cogitation that takes time and requires empty mental space.
  4. We are not digital or sequential thinkers. Our brains freely associate at random, and don’t function well when they are forced into endless sequential tasks.
  5. We require but dislike human friction that comes from personal interaction. Untethering forces us to do what we would rather avoid but what we must do.

Morning flail

Day eight was a total a.m. flail. The giant panda tour operator was a no-show. The hotel staff called at my insistence when it became clear that the tour bus wasn’t coming, as the hotel was the one that had made the alleged reservation, even though they denied knowing anything about it despite telling me to be ready to go out the door at 7 o’clock.

The new clerk typed her explanation of the problem into her phone translator, which is still working on a few bugs as it advised “no reservation request your menstrual cycle.”

I was so pissed I refused to give them my menstrual cycle and instead hit Plan B, whose main deficiency was that there was no Plan B. I recalled all the tour hawkers near the station the year before in Kunming, and took the subway to the north station, which turned out to be the mother lode for cheap watches after I’d splurged the rather astounding sum of $75 on a Swatch.

Tour hawkers in Chengdu were nonexistent and I stopped into a couple of travel agencies requesting a personal guide for Chengdu but I might as well have been requesting a portable atom smasher or a satire about the chairman.

One lady directed me to the Chengdu Grand Hotel but they told me they had never heard of such a thing as a personal tour guide, but if I wanted a great panda tour I should call the panda tour operator. I glanced at the brochure and it was the same folks who had done such a stellar job of not picking me up earlier that morning.

However, the confusion it caused requesting a personal guide encouraged me so much that I decided to stop into every hotel I could find and ask the same question. It wouldn’t get me a guide, of that I was confident, but it would pass the time and let me practice my Chinese as I made my way back to the tea shop at People’s Park.

Cold and rainy Monday mornings in winter are pretty awesome. They have a not too busy, kind of good feeling because you realize it’s not only you, but everyone is flat fucking cold, they just deal with it, which is a pretty awesome outlook on the minor or even a major discomforts of life.

The amazing manly joy of spitting

Despite the Party’s dedicated spit eradication program, hundreds of millions of Chinese men have not yet successfully completed the SEP course. The pleasure with which meant spit can scarcely be imagined, a pleasure limited only by the infinite variety of hawking and expectoration techniques. There is the casual spirit, a simple emptying of the mouth, barely conscious and never premeditated.

There is the deep-throated, rumbling rev that collects errant fluid and mixed solids before firing them out, thick projectiles with fierce velocity to spatter hard against the pavement. Each sticky glob, upon observation, is as unique as a Rorschach test, distinct in color, consistency, and angle as the most considered painting.

Spitting is surely linked to horrible air quality, lingering catarrhs and even more sinister diseases of the throat and lungs, but that only explains part of it. The rest? Male privilege, of course. Spitting is the mark of the man, denied it to women with the same finality of scratching one’s crotch in public.

I made it to the park fine and had a cup of tea. It wasn’t as exciting as a great panda tour but it was certainly cheaper.

Maybe I’d have better luck next day.

I thought about that.

Maybe I wouldn’t.

______________________

END

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§ 9 Responses to Chengdu blues: The joy of spit

  • dangerstu says:

    There is a small but obvious difference to me at least, in the retelling after the delay, there was always an urgency and an almost palpable sence of exasperation, which is lost. It is nice to be able to compare the difference, and experience the effects of time of a great story.

  • Drew C says:

    There! It’s out there, but, I’m betting there might be another post or three in your notes, and you can practice your text-to-talk, too. I should add that I think dangerstu has a point. You seem in this post to like the hotel better now than in the earlier posts. Maybe you’re just reconciled now that it’s one of the better features of this trip. Thanks.

  • Vlad Luskin says:

    The spitting is lungs clearing pollution. The Chinese government can solve the spitting problem by improving air quality — a small ask.

  • Edwin says:

    The juxtaposition of extolling being untethered, after the post of stopping at the Apple store to get more tethered is interesting…

  • V says:

    As a guide for years in China, I felt bad for your experience in Chengdu. It’s easy to find personal English-speaking guide, with professional skills and knowledges. The agencies in the hotels are usually not very professional, they are not the tour organizers.

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