Sunday, February 13, 2011

Fear and Loathing in Wudaokou

"Let's sway; you could look into my eyes. Let's sway under the moonlight—the serious moonlight."
—David Bowie, "Let's Dance"

In a club in Beijing, in Haidian District, in the Wudaokou neighborhood, there's a dance hall covered in my sweat, a dingy basement with spilt-beer floors and low-hanging ceiling lights, a local DJ spinning American tracks on Chinese turntables, two bartenders serving Tsingtao in green bottles and brand-name liquor that is all actually white wine mixed with different flavoring. There are Chinese women who ask me my name in Mandarin, women to whom I have to respond: Bu dong, bu dong, I don't understand. Beautiful women I can't hear over the pounding music. In a club in Wudaokou I danced like a belligerent, slipping in time-space, waiguoren, spilling.

I took a flight from Grand Forks, North Dakota to Minneapolis. Easygoing. From there I was supposed to connect to Seattle, but mechanical troubles kept the plane on the ground, and I missed my connection in Seattle (to Beijing). So Delta gave me a hotel voucher and I booked at the Days Inn. The next day, I was on the tarmac for an hour, waiting for my flight from MPLS to Tokyo (after the change) to take off, when the captain finally revealed the reason for our delay: security problems: a weapon found on board. Flight delayed, all passengers sent through security again, arrive in Tokyo late, miss connection to Beijing, Delta provides hotel voucher, go through Japanese customs, sleep overnight in Tokyo, eat strange breakfast, fly to Beijing. I never found out what the weapon was.
So I made it to Beijing. Disembark. Went down to the luggage carousel, only one of two bags circling. A new Zhongguo pengyou from the MPLS flight helps me at the lost luggage office. My other bag is in Osaka.
Cabby drives up. Give him fast, loose directions to campus. We are en route, unsure of actual destination, Program Director not picking up phone. Finally he calls back, talks to cabby, talks to me, and we arrive, safe. Broken Chinese conversation goes well.
Three days later, baggage arrives. Chinese dictionary finally in hand, new shoes on feet, fresh underwear, pleasure reading.

And so I ended up in Beijing. I could write about eating scorpion in Wangfujing (silkworm and snake), walking the same walk Mao walked on the Forbidden City gate, running through Tiananmen, bartering at the Silk Market, taking placement tests, or watching Chinese acrobats, or I could just say that I left it all on that dancefloor, that I spent my last few days before the semester's commencement he-ing some pijiu, burning those empty calories, meeting my new friends (from Iowa, New York, Georgia, or Bah-ston). That I tore up a rug in Wudaokuo. And that would work, for now. Suffice.

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