You Need Sun.
A Solo Trip South by Train
To Chengdu and Leshan.
The World's Biggest Buddha
and an Eager Masseuse.
What Can Jackie Do with
a Screwdriver and Vigor?
By David James
DATELINE: Tuesday, April 1, 2003
Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China
Jackie, the same man who told me about the "beauty girl," has provided many stories. So this time from the Jackie chronicles comes a story of how three little Americans in China came across hot water.
During the first three months we lived here, the air temp was hot. Chinese summer! Depending on who you ask, you'll get different interpretations of the degree of heat we're talking about. Coming from Arkansas, I was used to weather like this, so I would just tell you that it was pretty hot. But my roommate from Buffalo would tell you that he almost shriveled up like a raisin. He had fans and air conditioners whenever possible and would probably say he cooked eggs on his arms for breakfast.
The one good part about this weather was the efficiency of our solar-powered water heater. Every morning you could wake up to a nice warm shower (or cold if you so pleased). For a while we were living like kings.
Clouds, Smog, Cold Cold Water.
Just like in Arkansas, Xi'an knows heat, but it also knows cold. With the cold weather came clouds and smog. So when the sun didn't shine, our solar water heater didn't function. We took cold showers in the morning... very cold. They were the kind of showers that make you shudder when the water begins to flow.
Eventually it got to the point where we had to boil water, then put it in the bathroom sink. We would splash it up and take a sink bath.
Finally the bathroom itself was too cold for sink baths, so we called the school to figure out what could be done about it. Enter Jackie.
Marlin calls the school and Jackie answers the phone. Marlin patiently explains the situation until he's sure that Jackie understands that our heater has no hot water. Jackie confidently announces that he will come over and fix it. Marlin explains that it is a solar heater, and it isn't broken. It just needs to have sun.
Braun, Screwdriver, Vigor.
Jackie — determination being his strong point — insists that he will fix it for us. When Marlin asks him how he intends to fix it, Jackie replies: "Don't worry. I have a braun (he meant brain), a screwdriver, and vigor."
Hmmmm.... I thought to myself. A brain, a screwdriver and vigor. I didn't doubt for one minute that the little man had vigor. He was like a little ball of energy sometimes. Why would he lie about having a screwdriver? So I trusted him on those two aspects. But as to the last one ... well ... two out of three ain't bad.
So Jackie comes over. True to his word he brandishes a screwdriver. After much poking and prodding he tells us that he "speak to apartment manager." So he goes on his way, then comes back with a satisfied look on his face.
"I have found the problem. You need sun for hot water, and you have no sun. So you can take cold showers." Then he leaves. We all look at each other, baffled. What could any of us say to that kind of definitive solution? You can't exactly demand that he make the sun appear.
Luckily the management got wind of our problem, and we got an electric heater a little later.
A Solo Trip Down South.
A couple of weeks later I journeyed to a city called Chengdu. I had a week off when everyone else was working, so I decided to go solo down south. There was this awesome mountain right around the city, and a place with the tallest Buddha in the world. Nuff said.
It was my first long-distance train ride in China. As it turns out, besides a few typical Chinese weird things (like spitting on the floor, and using every square inch of the bathroom as a urinal), the trip was not bad. When I arrived at Chengdu in the morning, a man from the hotel was waiting at the station to drive me to my lodging. I felt pretty important.
At the hotel, the receptionist informs me I will have to pay a 10-kuai key deposit. Without pausing, she says that she doesn't have an extra key for me, and that I will have to ask the front desk to let me into my room each time I return.
You Pay Deposit, We Keep Key.
Curious, I asked, Do I still need to pay a room key deposit?
Me: But I don't have a key.
She: You can get a key from the front desk though.
Me: But if they have the key, then there's no way I can lose the key.
She: (little chuckle) That's why they keep the key.
Me: So if I don't have the key, I shouldn't have to pay the deposit, right?
She: But you can get the key anytime you want from here!
Me: Right. I still need to pay the deposit, though?
She: Yes, of course. For the key!
At this point she was getting tired of arguing. Me, too. I let it drop. Hey, when in Rome....
A Temple on the Mountain.
In Chengdu there are some awesome places to visit. One is a nearby mountain called Emei shan. Maybe it was just because it was the first time I had actually been away from people for a while, but the scenery was definitely magnificent.
Thousand-year-old temples are scattered along the fifteen-kilometer walk that seemed to wind straight through a rainforest. As it turns out, I picked exactly the right time to hike it. It was just before the spring festival, so everyone was waiting to travel. Everybody was going to be on vacation the next week, so it was almost like I had the mountain to myself.
About three hours up the mountain is a little place to stay. I couldn't pass up the opportunity, so I forked over two dollars and thirty cents to stay there for the night. It was the most peaceful place I could have imagined. A little river flowed nearby, providing the constant, soothing sound of water. There was also a little Buddhist temple in the trees. At night I could hear the Buddhist monks, chanting and praying. In the morning, they rang the bell and repeated the ritual. It felt like I had traveled back a thousand years.
The next morning I woke up early and hiked back to the bottom of the peak and on to Leshan.
At Leshan, the world's largest Buddha is carved into the mountain. His big toe is about as big as a bedroom. Like many monuments in China, it bespoke of a past in which the sheer manpower requirements of construction projects must have been enormous.
What an Extra Sixty Cents Buys.
After getting back to Chengdu, I decided to get a massage that the hotel recommended. It was fifteen yuan (two bucks) so I decided to splurge. I was face down and almost asleep thirty minutes into it when the masseuse informs me that for sixty cents more I could get "Chinese cupping."
I didn't have too much energy to argue, and I figured why not try it, so I give a drowsy "OK." Little did I know what awaited me.
Before I know what is happening, I feel this round thing being snapped onto my back, and then a little suction sound. Then I feel my skin being pulled up. When I turn around to see what the heck is going on, he has this little clear bowl with my back sucked up in it and he is holding something that looks like a syringe. He puts another one on, hooks the syringe up, and pulls my skin to the top. It kinda felt all tingley. I figured that people had probably lived through it before, so I just let it ride.
To this day I have no idea what it was for, but I can guarantee you one thing. I had about eight of the biggest purple hickeys on my back after the experience. So if you're ever down in China and they ask you if you would like "the cupping method," I recommend that you politely refuse.
*This is the next step toward THE One World Language.
Step Twenty-Three: *Your gerund on the Buddha's toe!