The question of what I'm doing over the summer I'm sure has been a hot topic in the editorial pages of all the major U.S. newspapers. Unfortunately, since I'm unable to access their websites out here in the home of the not-quite-free, I don't have the opportunity to set the record straight.
Some of you may have heard rumors that I might be working on a cruise boat on the Yangzi this summer. Well, not any more. Last Wed (5/17), I flew down to Chongqing. I had arranged to have an interview with this company and I felt pretty badass about having a company pay my way down there and even picking me up in this sweet VW with plush leather seats. When I got in to the office Wed afternoon, though, they had me wait for about 5 hours and then told me "Oh, by the way, the person who's supposed to be interviewing you isn't going to be here until Friday." Thanks asshole. Anyway, I didn't think that that was too much of a big deal, even though I only packed a toothbrush, a novel, and the clothes I was wearing, expecting to be back on Thursday. So Friday comes along and the guy gets in and the interview seems to go OK. He then tells me that I should go on a sample cruise, which would take a week. I figure why not and go along, which I'm glad I did.
Golly, this job seemed boring. I wasn't going to be a tour guide. Instead, I would have been a "cruise director" on this luxury boat. Which means my job would have consisted of schmoozing with the elderly American, German, Hong Kong, Japanese and Taiwanese tourists on the boat and to wipe their ass whenever they need the help. (Interestingly enough, they try to put people of different nationalities on different boats. The boat I was on during the way downriver frequently has to put some Americans, Germans, and Japanese together. While I didn't see anything unusual happen, I was told that there have been frequent problems when you stick former WWII adversaries on the same ship.) If they want to upgrade their room, I have to help them move. The actual responsibilities were pretty vague. But one thing for sure was that I was bored as hell on the boat. If I go travelling this summer, I'd have stories about sleeping out in yurts with some Goluks in the Aba grasslands of northern Sichuan. If I do this job, I might have stories about an elderly couple stuck in a room with a shower that won't drain. My level of interest was hovering in the area of what I was doing last summer: typing DNA sequences into computers and pushing buttons on machines.
A perk of the job is the crew. They were really cool. In fact, I think it probably would have been better if, instead of studying Chinese in a classroom full of Japanese and Korean students, I worked on this boat for a year speaking the language with real live Chinese people. Not to mention that most of the women were from Chongqing. Ah, Chongqing women are of such a superior stock than the dregs I see here in Beijing. So many look to be fit and fertile enough to proudly carry forth the Cabradilla lineage. It's bizarre how much better looking they are even though it isn't nearly as developed. All along the streets of Chongqing are these "stores" where you can just walk in, give the cashier some money, and they'll sit you down in a dentist chair and perform some cosmetic surgery on you. Get rid of those Chinese eyes; add that fold to your upper eyelid with laser surgery! Also, Chongqing seems more a bit more...morally relaxed. There are sex shops inconspicuously lining the alleyways. All of the telephone poles are covered with flyers advertising home remedies for STDs (a wonderful teaching aid for learning how to say words like "oozing puss"). To get back my point, if I had worked on that ship for a year, well, I wouldn't be in the middle of such a drought. The crew was all really cool and I enjoyed the couple of times when we pulled into port and could go ashore and sit around in dumpy restaurants eating snake hotpot (Snake sucks. Imagine fish with about five times as many bones.) and drinking warm beer.
On the way back, I switched to another ship, whose cruise director was a complete asshole. He's this old guy who had been working there since '82 and still only knew about three words of Chinese. (One of the words he did know was xigua, which means watermelon. When all the crew were together eating dinner and watermelon was served, they would start calling him shagua, which sort of sounds like watermelon but means idiot. When they realized I knew what they meant, they got all scared that I would tell them and he would fire them.) His idea of leadership was scolding the river guides for their poor table manners. I don't think I made a good impression on him when I told him that I wasn't going to do any work since I wasn't hired yet. By the time that I got back (26th), I was ready to go home, having worn the same clothes and not shaven for more than a week. That's when I had the chance to meet with the company's CEO. This guy was an absolute prick. I got a vague impression of what he was like from the pictures of him hanging all over the ship that were taken of him when he went to some Asian-American Republican get-together in '97. Him shaking hands with such luminaries as Rudy Giuliani, Dick Armey, Henry Kissenger, and even Jiang Zemin who was there for some reason (future essay topic: why does Jiang Zemin look so much like Jabba the Hut?). All of these pictures with this smug, self-righteous grin on his face. When I met him, he looked at me in disgust and mentioned my grubby appearance. I committed the faux pas of instead of placing my olfactory organ up his rectum, telling him that I didn't appreciate being held over unexpectedly for such a long time and that if I had known, I would have brought some more toiletries, a change of clothes, and more than the $5 in my wallet. His second statement was that they were looking for people to help them in the busy season, which starts in September; my reply was that I plan on being home by mid-August. Needless to say, he didn't ask me a third question. He ended up taking me and some recent new hire from New York out to lunch. Seeing the writing on the wall, I didn't even bother to pai mapi (kiss ass). Instead, I sat there smirking at this new hire, some cloying, Jewish former museum director who was having problems with her chopsticks. The one Chinese sentence she knew was "I'm vegetarian," which in China is like saying, "I enjoy having sex with little boys." The only sentence I said during the meal was my reply to her that the spinach she was eating was probably cooked in pig lard.
Well, what's the moral of the story? While the job seemed OK, I don't think it was something that I would want to spend my last month in China doing. Even then I do feel some bitterness at not getting it (I got the "We'll call you" line). But more disturbing was my inability to deal with office hierarchy i.e. to act sniveling to the guy higher up. It doesn't bode well for my financial future. I could sense that when I was in the CEO's presence, that I should be acting like everyone else and nodding my head and laughing at his pointedly unfunny jokes, but I felt queasy just being a witness to such spectacles. Alas. At least I got a free trip to see the Three Gorges.