Jeffrey, Lu Jun,
David, Jen, & Tracy
I'm back in Beijing, once again staying at Zach and Lisa's apartment. This time I'll get to see only Lisa: Zach has been away for some time in another part of China. He's presently working in Hengdian on a shoot for the forthcoming Chow Yun Fat/Michelle Yeoh film--The Children of Huang Shi. He probably won't return to Beijing for some weeks yet.
Lisa and I went to a Korean barbecue restaurant for dinner last night. While paying, I specifically asked the waitress to bring a receipt. Saving receipts is not something I would normally care about, but there is a reason to ask for them at restaurants across China: the right side of every receipt contains a "scratch-and-win" game.
Underreporting revenue to evade taxes is common here. If a customer doesn't ask for a receipt, it's easy for restaurants to claim they did less business to pay lower amounts of tax. In order to get patrons to request receipts, the government requires each restaurant to have a supply of these special "instant-win" receipts on hand. If the ticket is a winner, the restaurant is obligated to pay the prize out of its till.
Of course, the majority of receipts are worth nothing to the customer. Scratching away a silver rectangle to reveal the prize amount usually uncovers the words, "THANK YOU FOR PAYING TAXES". I have won small amounts before. Once or twice in Urumqi I won 5 yuan. While passing through Hohhot last summer, Meenday and I were given a winning ticket redeemable for a mere 2 yuan, which made us both laugh--the lowest prize either of us had seen back in Urumqi was 5 yuan.
Lisa jokingly chided me for requesting the receipt, so when I declared, "50 yuan!" she burst out laughing, presuming I was making a joke. I turned the paper towards her to show her the text I had just uncovered: "Y50". That was nearly the entire cost of the meal we'd just finished. The waitress kept looking at me, then back to the receipt in disbelief. She said that was the first time she'd actually seen a winning ticket issued from that restaurant.
Later that evening Lisa and I went out to a club--Yugong Yishan (愚公移山) to watch a band perform. I'm generally not much of one to go out for drinks and music after hours, but performing that night was Hanggai, a group from Inner Mongolia. Their set included lots of elements of traditional Mongolian music, such as hoomei throat singing and bowing the horse-headed fiddle.
Right now I'm trying to buy a ticket down to Kunming, the nearest major city from the border with Burma. When I inquired about tickets at the travel agency closest to Zach and Lisa's apartment the woman recognized me immediately: "You were the one who was trying to get to Urumqi last summer--I sold you a train ticket as far as Xi'an, right?" As with last summer, she told me to come back again tomorrow--tickets for the train I requested hadn't yet been issued. So, tomorrow I'll see what she turns up with.
A couple nights ago I got together with Lu Jun and his wife Jen. They introduced me to two of their friends: Tracy and Jeffrey. I was treated to the best restaurant I've been to for Peking Duck: Da Dong. Dinner was followed up by drinks at a chic place across the road: Rain Bar. The Rain Bar occupies a building that used to be an old imperial grainery. It's a lovely building, the bar inside is modern and pleasant.
At our table Jeffrey showed us cannisters of dice the bar kept for patrons to play a game. Each cannister held five dice. To play, each of us placed our dice in front of us on the table, shook the cannister, then peeked to see which numbers were face-up. We then began bidding, each player speculating how many of a certain number could be revealed across all of the players' dice. For example, if I opened with, "five fours," the player to my left would have to bid at least "five fives", or perhaps "six twos". If he didn't think he could make a greater bid, he would call me on mine. Ones were considered wild and could be used as any number. Once a bid had been called, we all revealed which dice were in front of us.
I think it was supposed to be a drinking game, but none of us were actually drinking alcohol--just fancy fruit juice blends. It was fun: we played for about an hour, after which I showed them a quickly improvised version of the dice/card game Fill or Bust. That was good for another hour or so of laughter around the table.
Jen and Tracy have been co-workers at CRI--China Radio International--for many years, which is how the couples came to know each other. Lu Jun asked why I never sent my resume in to CRI as they told me to last August. I confessed that I thought they were being polite, not really expecting there to be a real potential for employment. For years I have been told that I have a "radio voice," so have entertained the notion of going on-air in the past. Everybody around the table insisted that there really were positions with fair salary available and that I should send my resume in--they would be the right folks who could land me a job at CRI.
So, why not, I figure. I had been planning on moving on from Xinjiang after this next term, anyway. It won't hurt to see what's available in Beijing.
In other potential journalistic pursuits, I got together with Fan today, one of the editors at World Vision. Joyce, Lisa, and I met him at a Beijing teahouse. I mentioned that I'd be going down to Myanmar and Laos--would they be able to use specific photos or articles written about that area? "Sure," Fan said. "Show us what you come up with." So, I may be putting together another article for that magazine after my time in Southeast Asia.
Afterwards Lisa, Joyce, and I took a sushi lunch, then visited Joyce's office. Joyce is presently working for a company that is trying to create services using SMS text messaging and on-line forums for farmers to get the best prices on their crops. She showed us a PowerPoint presentation she'd put together to attract investors. It actually looked like a fairly reasonable business plan; Joyce always has some big project or other going.
The three of us finished up the day by going for a massage. Every massage parlor in China is different, at the one we visited last night I tried the "ear candle" service. Cleaning ears by using tiny picks and feathers is fairly standard across China, but I'd never heard of the "ear candle" service before. It turned out to be that, after the actual cleaning, the masseuse placed a plastic straw into my ear. She then lit the end on fire and let it smolder down for several minutes.
I imagined that maybe the burning flame would create a vacuum, expelling earwax out through the straw. Perhaps that's what was supposed to happen, or maybe there are believed to be some other benefits to slowly melting down a tube of plastic sticking out of your ear. Whatever the case, I didn't feel any special sensation as the straw smoldered. However, my ears are nice and clean inside now...