“So, you like to party, right?” he inquired with his heavy Chinese accent nearly encrypting his question, beyond even the reach of the NSA.
My entrancing session with Evernote was broken, forcing my concentration to be diverted from my smartphone. Trying to make sense of what was just asked and failing to do so, I could only blurt out a simple reply of confusion. “Huh?!?”
Shortly after my session with Yanis nearly a week ago, I had called our building super Miguel, consenting to meet with this lawyer who supposedly moonlit as an escort. (Though, since Brian was the sole witness to such activity and was outdone in paranoia by only Babbu, the accuracy of his testimony was obviously suspect.) According to Miguel, her name was Donna Wei, and after a few emails of correspondence between her and myself, we had agreed to meet at her apartment after work one weekday, which was only a few feet downstairs from mine. Apparently, she was only comfortable talking about something particular in person, and in anticipation of such a scenario, I expected our discreet conversation to be held in secrecy. So, upon our rendezvous at her residence a couple weeks later, I was somewhat surprised when a tall but chunky Chinese gentleman opened the door by only an inch, tersely greeting me through the chained narrow gap.
“What you want from here?” he demanded, waiting only for the wrong word to rescind his wonderfully charming demeanor.
I provided my share of a greeting, though it was clear that I would be the only hospitable party present. “Hey, good evening. I’m here to see Donna. She invited me over a little while back…is she home right now?”
Without any further indication, the door suddenly closed upon me. Through the fabricated layers of wood designed to appear as one, I heard a roaring conversation in Mandarin being exchanged between here and a feminine voice from afar, probably from one of the attached bedrooms. (It was definitely Mandarin, since it lacked those Cantonese tones that can make my skin crawl.) Finally, after a few more salvos that were hurtled at each other, my greeter (if you could call him that) opened the gate, and the animated version of a terracotta guardian motioned for me to come inside. Before even having the opportunity to ask any questions, he motioned towards a nearby couch and then walked straight to a nearby table with a laptop (which I assume was his original location before my rap upon their numbered portal). I realized that my taciturn companion was done with me, so I took up residence on the couch and waited patiently for my appointment. After a few minutes of biding my time with my phone, I became so engrossed in my virtual world that upon lifting my head, I briefly forgot where I was and how I had gotten here.
“You like to party, right?” he asked again.
“Uhh…yeah,” I said, slowly coming back to reality. “Sure. Why? Do you like to party?”
He ignored my returning salvo and instead probed further. “Errr…you have fun with drugs?”
“Well, sure, when I was younger,” I said, smiling at the reminiscence of warm memories and a desperation to postpone the night’s end indefinitely.
“Where’s good place to party?”
I shrugged, finding this surreal conversation oddly fascinating. “Uhhh…I don’t know…what kind of party are we talking about?”
“Ex-treme party…you know…girls, drugs…errr…top-shelf liquor. Where someplace like that?”
I didn’t know whether to feel honored or insulted at the insinuation that I would be the ideal person to ask such a question. In the end, I didn’t care. I had plunged down the rabbit hole, and I was too curious how deep it went. “Well, I knew of a few places that might fit the bill, but that was many years ago. Places like Filter 14 and The Tunnel are long gone now, since they eventually burn out on their own or by the powers that be…are you looking for a good time with some of your friends? Does one of them have a birthday? Bachelor party? ‘Cause you should just take him to Hustler’s…or just skip town and head to Montreal for a really wild time…”
“No,” retorted Sammo Jr., shaking his head. “I’m looking to take business friends somewhere. Somewhere where they can have fun and then be very drunk…” He paused pensively, searching for the right words. “So when they are busy having fun with girls and drugs, I can take pictures of them…errrr…so, later, when I need a favor from them, I can show them the pictures that I own. And then…errr…they feel like they have to help me.”
On more than one occasion, I have found that it’s necessary to recalibrate your mindset when conversing with natives from mainland China. As a way of adjusting oneself in such an event, it helps to imagine an alternate version of Europe where the Renaissance never took place (instead being enlightened only by Machiavelli) and where a good many mystical ideas from the Middle Ages have endured. Even though China’s zeitgeist does continually change by small increments, every longstanding culture has a momentum that prevents it from making quick turns, and the Chinese societal norm seems to be the paragon of this rule. Incidentally, when memes like joie de vivre are absent from the biomass of a country, things like morality and etiquette are considered more unnecessary than stinky tofu. If you ever have the chance to walk through the streets of Hong Kong, consider it an exercise in edutainment and ludology to discern those natives of Kowloon from those who have recently crossed the border in the north. Simple solecisms like unapologetic staring and cavalier spitting are dead giveaways, making for an quick but hollow victory. The best players, though, can detect them through a simple conversation with the help of a translator. I like to employ a Blade Runner technique by succinctly describing and then relaying the idea of an honor system; if my prospect stares back with the same puzzled look of a stunned Replicant, I just won with flying colors. I was about to do the same with my conniving confidant when he impatiently inquired yet again.
“You know club for all that?”
I held up a solitary finger to the living antithesis of discretion. “Woah, woah, woah, stop the clock. Let’s go back one moment to why you’re doing it…First, I appreciate that you’ve entrusted me with such sensitive information…” Which is a lie, since he doesn’t even regard his proposal as questionable in the least… “…Second, I think that what you’re describing is a federal crime called blackmail. Ever heard of it?”
The enterprising exploiter paused for a few moments, looking a tad flustered as he struggled to understand me. Finally, he said, “Errrr…I think that you are not understanding me. This has nothing to do with any sons of Obama…”
I did my best to suppress a smile, but more than likely, I failed miserably. Ah, the racist angle…it’s almost as much of a guarantee as the lack of manners. What other gems can I extract from this fine specimen… I was just about to ask him his personal ranking on the ugliest races when I was interrupted by a firm but feminine voice from across the room.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting…Good to see you made it, Peter. I’m Donna.”
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.