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August 2004
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October 2004

September 2004

And we'll have fun fun fun

When I was a little kid, my family used to make a trip or two to the beach every summer. After packing up the van with food and towels and extra clothes and all manner of shovels and buckets, after stuffing five squirmy kids into five vinyl car seats, after enduring three hours of howling, kicking, and shrieks of “ALEX IS PUTTING HIS HAND TOO CLOSE TO MY KNEE!”, after stopping three different times for three different kids to puke on the side of the road, my parents finally deposited us on the vast strip of gray muck known to all us Northwesterners as The Beach.

If you are eight years old and you live in Washington State, going to the beach is not unlike going out to play in the snow. You must wear seven layers of shirts and a hooded sweatshirt on top of that because your mother doesn’t want your ears to freeze. You are directed to crawl into the deepest mysterious parts of your closet to find the scummiest pair of shoes you’ve ever owned because no, you can’t wear sandals, what are you thinking? You must also borrow a pair of your brother’s disgusting sweatpants and wear your thick red Christmas-dress tights underneath because everyone knows it’s cold at the beach!

Then, once you’re there, the ocean is frothy and vicious and the beach is like a windtunnel and nearly empty. There might be a few other brave families gritting their teeth and braving the wind, maybe some people throwing Frisbees to their dogs, possibly an older couple bundled up in matching parkas strolling along the surf. Your mother won’t let you dip a toe in the water, but the entire beach is a quarry for the most fantastic sand castle the West Coast has ever seen. At least until your brother stomps gleefully on the tallest tower and shouts, loud enough for your parents to hear, “It was an ACCIDENT! I SWEAR!”

This is all to say that I’ve never quite experienced the beach as a warm soothing vacation spot. I’ve attempted it- we drove down the coast for our honeymoon, but the weather was gloomy and stormy and my hair is flying sideways in all the pictures. Then I flew down to California this weekend and spent the greater part of Saturday on the Santa Cruz boardwalk. And now I understand. The beach! It is beautiful!

Okay, I’m still not a beach person. I can’t lay out for longer than 20 minutes because, oh, the boredom. I don’t like the whole sand-gets-everywhere-and-I-mean-everywhere issue. I’m also a few years older than eight and there are dismal things like bikinis and tans to consider. But Santa Cruz had that whole happy Disneyland thing going on and it was hard not to be in the Beachy Spirit. I mean, Santa Cruz was even hosting the USA Spirit Competition! There were corndogs and boogie boarders and bikini-clad volleyball players galore. There was also a rickety uninspiring roller coaster called the Big Dipper on which I was forced to experience two and a half minutes of Sheer Unadulterated Terror. (For the rest of the weekend I used the Rickety Roller Coaster Ride of Horror to my distinct advantage. It almost made those few fearful seconds worth it. “You made me ride a roller coaster so I get the last cookie.” “You made me ride a roller coaster so I get to listen to the country music station.” “I so get to watch this 1988 episode of Full House. YOU made me ride a roller coaster!” And repeat.)

We spent the entire morning pretending we were back in junior high, blowing our allowance inside the arcade and indulging in a little heretofore unspeakable PDA along the beach. Santa Cruz was a cheerful and suntan-friendly 85 degrees, full of families, gangs of half-dressed teenagers, and hordes of cheerleaders wearing fake curly ponytails. A few times I even caught myself wondering what it might be like to be a permanent resident of the Bay Area. And the best part? I totally felt like I was an extra in The O.C.

There was also a wedding, the last one of the season and the purpose of our little jaunt down south. The prettiest brides are the ones who really truly mean it when they say, “I don’t care about the wedding as long as I get married!” Congratulations, Shi.


Windows: Almost as great as TV

In my new office there are windows. I know this might not sound like a big deal to you, O Fair Readers, but it is a HUGE (yuge, even) deal to me. My old office had one measly window and it was in my boss's office. HIS office. And my space, which was all the space that was NOT his office, had no windows. None. One day this nice lady came to meet with my boss and on her way out she said, "You know, honey, [Fill in remote Scandinavian country here] has a law that says all employees must have a window." I never bothered to find out if that was true, but aren't those remote Scandinavian countries fantastic? [Did you know that back in the Days of Yore we call the 1980's, Finland's government decided that the Finnish people (Finlandians?) were being sorely affected by their close proximity to the Bleak and Sad Soviet Union and consequently sent everyone home for a "Sex Holiday"? It's true! I learned this from the 20th Anniversary Edition of Trivial Pursuit, a veritable FONT of worthless and often mildly disturbing information.]

But back to the windows in the office I swore I would not talk about on this website. The windows? Are everywhere. And they are big and bright and if I sneak into my boss's office when he is not around, I can see WATER. Real water! Visible! From my office!

Anyway, so I have spent, like, 15 whole entire minutes just staring out the nearest available window which affords me a lovely view of the tortoise-like traffic on the Ballard Bridge, the bridge that I myself will be crossing in a short while. This can't get me down, though, because I! Am looking! Out a WINDOW!

I have moved up in the world. For example, I am no longer working on a computer running Windows ME, Office 98, and 14 different spyware programs that regenerate themselves every time the Microsoft minions walk me through a third party spyware-killer and tell me I am good to go. I do not answer the phone. I do not take the Office Mascot for walks. I am not the De Facto IT Consultant and "Reading Minds" is nowhere to be found on my job description. Not that my old job was all bad. Does my new boss stock an entire mini-fridge full of orange pop for me? Nooooo.


The Near-Tragedy of the Lost Mail Key

SETTING:
Phillip and Maggie's Apartment, approximately 10pm, September 14, 2004
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Phillip as the Person Who Dropped the Mail Key and the focus of Much Wrath
Sean as the Sucker who Assisted Phillip in the Search for the Lost Mail Key
Julia as the Innocent Bystander
Maggie as the Peeved Lover of Mail

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PHILLIP: It appears that I have dropped the one and only mail key into the depths of our couch. Wherever can it be?
SEAN: I'm just visiting. I had nothing to do with this. Seriously. Please don't hurt me.
JULIA: Uh, you guys are NERDS.
MAGGIE: Mail? I can't get my mail? You dropped the key where? You guys, I need my mail. Do you know how many political candidates and starving children and hard-working community organizations are going to be out large buckets of dollars if I don't get my mail?

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PHILLIP: I believe the key has somehow slipped inside the frame! Fancy that!
SEAN: Too bad the bottom of the couch is covered with a thick piece of fabric, thereby preventing any Searchers of Lost Mail Keys from retrieving the key.
MAGGIE: And I've been WAITING for Adam Brody to write back!

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PHILLIP: Dude, if we tip it over, we'll at least know where the key is. Right? Right?
MAGGIE: And what about the ValPak coupons? I LIVE for those coupons! Who gets us free appetizers at Coopers? ME! ME!
JULIA: Got enough cardboard back there?

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PHILLIP: Okay, here's what we're gonna do: we're gonna shake the key out.
SEAN: You know, I just came over to say hi. And pick up my bottle of Chinese shampoo. That's all. No one said anything about shaking a 7 foot long couch.
MAGGIE: THIS IS SO NOT FUNNY ANYMORE.

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SEAN: Yep, that was painful.
PHILLIP: Okay, just a breather!
JULIA: What's that sound?
MAGGIE: Those are the downstairs neigbors wacking the ceiling with a broomstick. Fellas, can we work on not dropping the couch this time?

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SEAN: Phil, give me your knife! Stat! I bet we can CUT it out!
PHILLIP: Dude, we are so AWESOME.
JULIA: Are you seriously defacing the couch? The beautiful fabulous and oh-so-comfortable in 90 degree heat leather couch?
MAGGIE: Deface the couch! Deface the couch!

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SEAN: Because we are the most clever-
PHILLIP: and most manly men on the planet, we have finally retrieved the key-
SEAN: from where it disappeared into the dark and mysterious depths-
PHILLIP: and I will never ever allow myself to touch the key again.


Insomnia

We made it home to 60 degree cloudy weather in Seattle, a much more familiar gray sky. We flew straight over the Olympics, then the Sound, then my aunt's house in Magnolia, then skyscrapers, the stadiums, I-5, and finally landed a half hour before schedule. I have to say these were some of the easiest plane rides of my life and I didn't even think about opening my bottle of nice and potent tranquilizers. Phillip had requested emergency exit seats (and I am probably the only person in the world who, upon hearing that she has an emergency exit seat does not immediately think, "Score!" but "OHMYGOD what if I have to actually OPEN the DOOR!?!?") and this made for a more comfortable ride. Watch out, though, all you who try this tactic, because you might be exchanging cramped legs for the flourescent lighting and the constant hurried movements and general eavesdrop-able bitchiness of the flight attendants hanging out in the food storage space inches from your sleep-deprived body.

It's now a half hour past midnight, a time I rarely see when I'm at home. It's the jet lag. And the fact that after we called the parents, emailed the friends, and unpacked our toothbrushes, we fell asleep at 10 and didn't wake up till 5. Seriously, I was just going to take a quick nap.

I've gone on more than my share of trans-Atlantic plane rides and I'd like to say that I have met Jet Lag and Conquered him, but it's unfortunately not true. I think I might even be getting worse. This time will probably be especially awful because I've never had jet lag in this direction before. Usually I'm flying 9 time zones to the west, not the east. Coming home means going to bed at 5 and waking up at 3. This whole not-tired-yet thing is completely new to me- but it's only 3:30 in the afternoon in Xi'an. Ah, Xi'an.

I made tea this afternoon. I boiled water in my tiny teapot (a year-late never-used wedding gift from my little brother who just wanted to make sure that he got his wedding gift from me) and poured it into the teeny tiny tea cups (another wedding gift I've never used.) Before China I never drank tea, didn't like tea, couldn't stand the mere smell of tea. But when it's the only thing the restaurant gives you to drink, and especially when you find out it takes the sting out of the spicy noodles AND makes your sore throat feel tons better, tea becomes your friend. So I bought some loose jasmine tea at the 3-Floor Grocery Store in Xi'an and thought I'd try it out at home. I poured some leaves into the little strainer thingies that fit inside the cups and stuck the lids on (which also double as coasters) to let it steep. And oh it was like drinking Fields of Flowers Febreeze. So, my first attempt at tea was a bit too strong, but I'll figure it out.

Phillip and I both have the week off to figure out this sleeping thing, thank goodness. We intend to spend the week dilligently watching everything TiVo saved for us (Two episodes of Scrubs! Yay!), unpacking, buying groceries, and making the apartment look as if I didn't spend entire days hosing it down before we left.


These crazy Communists

Xi'an had 4 or 5 street food vendors across the street selling an assortment of meats and tofus and vegetables on sticks, ready to be dipped into the vat of oil and fried to lovely perfection. Beijing has an entire dajie (huge huge humongous avenue) of street food vendors, the sticks cost twice as much as they do in Xi'an, and you can get everything from octopus to frog legs to lotus root on skewers.

Xi'an had big streets with even wider sidewalks. Beijing has huge streets, actual pedestrian walkways, and a vast expanse of sterile Communist concrete called Tian'anmen Square. You will have gray hair, wrinkles, and bad knees by the time you make it all the way across.

Xi'an had annyoing souvenir hawkers shrieking "Hallo! Hallo!" the minute they caught sight of your big foreign nose. Beijing's annoying souvenir hawkers are completely fluent when they attach themselves to your side and insist that by God your trip to China will not be complete without purchasing a package of their special Forbidden City postcards, special price!

Xi'an had crowded buses and busy restaurants and people clamoring for the best view at the top of the Bell Tower. Beijing has the Forbidden City and 743 yellow-hatted camera-brandishing pointy-elbowed Chinese tour groups within. Do you want to get a good look at the throne inside the Hall of Heavenly Peace? Then you must chuck everything you've been taught about how to treat Old People and start throwing elbows and using your high school basketball experience to Block Your Opponents Out.

Beijing is Xi'an on speed.

The flight here was pleasant enough. (And our taxi driver to the Xi'an airport had us give him a lesson out of his English For Taxi Drivers Handbook on the way. "I think many more foreigners will come to Xi'an!" he told us brightly.) Our hotel is snazzy and a block north of the glitzy Wangfujing shopping street. There are a TON more foreigners here and not so many Chinese doing double takes when you walk by. This was obvious as we walked down Wangfujing last night on our way to Tian'anmen Square. Not only foreign people, but many foreign brand names (although I still can't figure out if the Nike store sells real Nikes.)

It was dark by the time we got to the square and we were standing by the south gate of the Forbidden City, right next to Chairman Mao's gigantic portrait. The party line is "70-30", that Mao was 70% right and 30% wrong. The Communists gave women equal standing with men, but as far as Mao was concerned, I think that just meant that he had no problem imprisoning female dissidents along with the male ones. As I know next to nothing about Chinese history, I think I will now conclude my commentary on Chinese Communism. Oh, but I will make fun of them. The Museum of Chinese History and the Museum of The Revolution on the east side of the Square, for example, were closed from 1966 to 1978 so that history could be "revised". Our guide book says it was closed at the time of writing and as far as we could tell, it's still closed. On the west side is the Great Hall of the People where Nixon met Mao in 1972. And at the southern end of the square we have Mao and his mausoleum. It was fun to be there in the evening when most of the souvenir people were gone and the square was left to foreigners taking pictures, locals out walking with their babies, and small children flying kites or rollerblading around the obelisk (the Monument to the People's Heroes) in the middle. Half the buildings are being restored and are hiding behind scaffolding, as seems to be the case with historic buildings wherever I go. But it seems that most of the construction going on in Tian'anmen Square is for the 2008 Olympics. At least, that's what we decided. A huge section of the square is closed off for what looks like a dozen or so circular above-ground fountains. And scaffolding is going up near the obelisk where they're building something else. I did read a few older articles about Tian'anmen Square possibly being the beach volleyball venue, but I think the proposal was retracted. The Chinese people and government alike are very excited for the 2008 Games. There are some hopes that hosting the Olympics will further open China to the world, but most of what I've seen and read is about how the international stage will finally be giving China the respect and honor it deserves. It's hard to believe that beach volleyball might be played where pro-democracy students were once massacred.

But on a simply practical level, where are they going to put all the people? Beijing already has 14 million residents and I think most of them were at the Forbidden City today. The Forbidden CIty itself is one of the most spectacular things I've ever seen. It's a real life movie set, an enormous private playground, temple upon temple, concubine residence upon empress residence. There's a stunningly beautiful garden at the north end where the emperors went to unwind. But if the emperors knew how many screechy pushy commoners were tramping through their palace they'd be thrashing around in their graves. I lived in Italy for a few years and know a thing or two about Japanese tour groups, but Chinese tour groups are something else. (Of course, the world has yet to find this out as the Chinese are hardly ever allowed to leave the country.) These people are loud, excited, and joyous on one hand ("We're in the Forbidden City! Take THAT, Emperor Qin!") and impatient, tough, and sneaky on the other ("I must get to the front of the line NOW NOW NOW! Out of my way you big fat foreigner!"). After a while it wasn't worth it to me to push to the front to get a quick view of the emperor's throne. (You weren't allowed into the big halls, you had to gather around the entry ways and fight for a glimpse inside.) The English audio tour is narrated by none other than 007 himself, Roger Moore, but in the garden, when Roger begged me to "feel the beauty of the this quiet retreat" I burst out laughing. Phillip said it wasn't this crowded on his previous trips, so they must have all known I was going to be there and wanted to make it a special event for me.

We're leaving in a bit to go see the hutong, the tiny historic alleyways where the courtyard-style dwellings are. We hear that most of these will be demolished soon to make way for wider streets, another construction project readying the city for the 2008 Olympics. And tomorrow? The Great Wall!


Last Day

Usually when you go on a trip, especially one that lasts longer than a week or so and even if you're having a great time, you're kinda sorta looking forward to going home, getting back to normal, having your own space again. Tonight is our last night in Xi'an and I don't know that I've ever felt this reluctant to go home! I even almost regret that we are spending the next 3 days in Beijing- wouldn't I rather stay here and work more with the students and watch more stupid movies with Blondie? There are still dishes I haven't tried, places I haven't seen, and oh my gosh there are a zillion more things I could buy!

We spent yesterday afternoon at a nearby orphanage. After 15 minutes careening across a huge dirt road with giant potholes and huge deep puddles, we finally drove up to a 5-story Pepto Bismol-pink building with turrets and a new-looking jungle gym out front. A foreign organization runs the fourth floor and I was told I wouldn't see anything too frightening there. We arrived at nap time, so we spent the first 20 minutes looking through photo albums of adopted children, and then individual albums the staff will give to the families once the children are adopted. I was thankful we got to see those pictures, because some of the kids did have some major problems and it helped to be prepared.

Almost all of the kids in the orphanage were abandoned as babies. Most of the small babies had cleft lips and palates, but all the older babies and toddlers we saw had their lips repaired. Suyuen, the woman who invited us, told me that one baby without a cleft lip had actually been abandoned by her drug addicted mother who walked out of the hospital after giving birth. Suyuen laughed about how the baby had to quit "cold turkey". Her name was May and she smiled a lot and I wanted to take her home with me. We also got to play with the 2 and 3-year-olds. They seemed to either immediately latch on to us or glare at us from a distance. One of the glowering ones, Renee, was about to be adopted and Suyuen asked if we'd spend more time with her, to get her used to strangers. We took Renee and Emily, a little girl who had been burned on one side of her face and body, outside to play on the jungle gym. Emily glowered more than Renee, but would allow Phillip to hold her for some reason. (Suyuen told us that the children are hardly ever around men and seem to gravitate towards men whenever they're around.) We spun them around on a merry go round and put them on swings. After a while Emily finally stopped tearing up and Renee let me carry her back inside. Success!

We also saw some older kids, although Suyuen took us one at a time and didn't let us play with them. Some are autistic, some have epilepsy, some are still mysteries. There was Jonathan who had too much water in his brain and a much larger skull than normal, and Anna whose limbs were twisted and couldn't move, although she did smile at me. We were all having a good time just playing with the kids, but there was a short period of time where I came back from saying hello to the older kids and went straight to the baby room. I'm not sure where Phillip and Blondie were. Some of the staff (and the staff child ratio is nearly 1:1) were all feeding the infants. The older babies were left to play on the other side of the room and a few of them were crying, so I went over to play with them. They didn't want to play, they wanted to be held. Eventually I found a way to hold three wailing boys in my lap and entertain a fourth with rattles, but there were three or four more that weren't getting any attention and there wasn't anything I could do. All the workers were busy with the infants (and the infants that were already fed were crying too). Sometimes a worker would take a baby out of my lap and give me another so she could feed the next one. So that part was horrible. There was no way I could hold all of the crying babies. And you could tell that's all they wanted- the minute I picked them up they'd stop crying. They'd hold onto your neck and fingers and stare up at you and calm down a little.

This was not a scary orphanage. The colors were bright, things were clean, the workers (all Chinese women) were friendly and spent a lot of time just playing with the kids. They had a lot of toys, enough beds, enough clothes, huge sinks for taking baths, and they weren't hungry. But none of that seemed to make up for the fact that no one could hold all the babies.

But today- today was Phillip's birthday! We ordered a cake from the bakery on the first floor and celebrated with some students this afternoon. It was so hard to say goodbye to them. When it was time to go, they didn't stand up or get ready to leave. They just kind of sat there and looked at us dejectedly, but after much hugging and discussion of letter-writing, they left and Blondie and Phillip and I went into town for hot pot. Hot pot again! Whee!

And then, on the way home, we stopped at Music Town for about the fourth time in two weeks. Music Town exclusively sells pirated music and DVDs. In fact, you can go upstairs and ask Garfield, the nice English-speaking employee, if you can preview your movies on a little TV so you can make sure that there are English subtitles and that there aren't any people coughing or talking on their cell phones in the background. The movies cost about a dollar each and we will have to hide them in our luggage on the way back to Seattle.

We leave for Beijing at 10:30 tomorrow morning.


Chinglish

***UPDATED PIX***

I've seen a few girls around the city wearing a shirt that says“Suicide Impact" in great big scary letters. Blondie told me about a previously popular shirt that read “I Eat Your Skin". The other day we finally asked our students to read the English paragraphs on their t-shirts and even the students agreed that the English makes no sense. Who knows how these phrases translate, but one thing is clear: wearing the English language is definitely cool.

The Chinese also attempt to translate many of their signs and this is a source of never ending amusement for me. I shouldn't be so snotty, as I'm very grateful for any English translations they offer! But the mixture of Chinese and English, the literal translations of Chinese into English, and just English signs in general are often pretty funny. (Especially to a nerdy English major.) Like, was this one necessary?

nuclear

This is a good example of Chinglish, I think. Notice the many places where the carved letters were whited out and edited, not always for the better. Also, the Chinese like to tell you the exact measurements of whatever you're viewing, as if you know the length, width, and depth of, say, the Grand Canyon and the Eiffel Tower and you want to compare.

chinglish

Our visit to the Wild Goose Pagoda also afforded these treasures:

takepity

fragrant

And they don't have to be eloquent to be funny.

pickles

The best signs are the most informative. It's nutritious too!

beef

Need more?


For you? Best price!

I thought I would be used to the apartment bathroom by now, but I'm not. It's hard to take a shower, use the toilet, brush your teeth, shave your legs, and wash your clothes in the same two foot by two foot area, and even harder to keep that area clean. Phillip says it could be worse, Phillip says the toilet could be a hole in the floor, Phillip says it's nicer than many other Chinese bathrooms, pointing out the fact that whenever the Chinese students come over, they almost always use the bathroom before they leave. I believe him. It's true. And I hate to be a spoiled American, but I am a spoiled American and I really miss my bathroom!

I also thought I would be used to all the people staring by now, but that's actually become more annoying. When everyone was warning me/giving me tips about China, "they stare at foreigners" is the one thing they all agreed on. So it was okay at first, because I was prepared! I'm new, I'm different, small children will hover around my table at dinner gawking at my big eyes and my big nose and hmm, what is the foreigner eating for dinner? Fine! Besides, everyone is friendly once you start talking to them. Okay okay, everyone is friendly once Blondie starts talking. I just stand off to the side with a big Non-Threatening Foreigner Smile plastered on my face. Besides, Blondie probably gets more stares than I do on account of the whole blond thing. STILL. It makes me really self-concious. Do I have food on my face? Am I wearing something wildly inappropriate? AM I REALLY THIS STARE-WORTHY?

We have a little routine: class in the morning, lunch, siesta, some afternoon sightseeing, and then dinner with a little shopping, TV watching, and taxi riding squeezed into all the spaces. We do a lot of eating and sleeping which is what you're supposed to do when you're on vacation. One of the best things about being here a few weeks is that we don't feel pressured to see everything right away. But at lunch today we realized we have only one week left in Xi'an and Blondie, the list maker, started writing down all the things we must see, do, and buy:

1. The Wild Goose Pagoda
2. The Bell Tower
3. The grocery store with 3 floors
4. Eat hot pot
5. Another round at the Muslim market
6. Sit in on one of Blondie's university classes
7. Eat more street food

...and some other stuff I've forgotten already. Phillip and I will probably go see the pagoda this afternoon while Blondie works on her syllabus. Tomorrow I'll sit in on one of her classes. We'll probably go back to the market on Saturday and do the grocery store and church stuff on Sunday. Tuesday we'll visit the orphanage and a week from today we leave...

The weather brightened up this week. I may have mentioned the BLUE SKY. Oh, I love you Blue Sky. Yesterday, because Phillip had absolutely no interest in shopping for curtain material with us, we went downtown to the Muslim market. This is a gazillion-mile long alleyway full of souvenirs and other assorted junk, not a place where they sell Muslim babies or anything. It's Muslim because it's in the ancient Muslim part of town. Anyway, I was glad to have Phillip and Blondie with me because bargaining is the order of the day and if I'd been alone, who knows how rich the merchants might be today! You could practically see the dollar signs (kwai signs?) flashing in their eyes as I walked by. If I found something I liked, I would yell for Blondie or Phillip who would then perform a little drama as follows:

MAGGIE: Oooh, I like this little painting. How much do you think it is?
BLONDIE: Oh, I wouldn't pay more than 10 kwai. (to the merchant) How much is this painting?
MERCHANT: For you?! Friend price! Friend price! I will write down the Real Price here on my little notepad and then I will draw a big line through it, just so you can see that I am giving you a Friend Discount!
BLONDIE: How much then?
MERCHANT: Cheaper price! Cheaper price! For you? One painting? (Scribble scribble. The foreigners peer at the notepad and much scoffing ensues)
BLONDIE: 55 kwai? No thanks.
MERCHANT: But see? This is good quality! A professional paint this painting! 55 kwai!
BLONDIE: Ha ha.
MERCHANT: Okay, okay, what is your best price?
PHILLIP: 5 kwai!
MERCHANT: I am completely and utterly offended!
BLONDIE: (to Maggie) Well... I'd pay a little more than 5 kwai...
PHILLIP: I would only pay 5 kwai for this painting.
MERCHANT: I don't make money with 5 kwai! 50 kwai! 50 kwai best price!
(continued foreigner-scoffing)
MAGGIE: Well, I like this painting too!
MERCHANT: Ah! Two paintings! For two paintings, better price. For two paintings, 80 kwai!
BLONDIE: That's too much.
PHILLIP: 10 kwai!
MERCHANT: 10 kwai! You humiliate me!
MAGGIE: This whole bargaining thing is really cutting into my shopping time. And can't we all just remember that 8 kwai equals ONE DOLLAR? ONE DOLLAR, PEOPLE.
PHILLIP: Maggie, this is about principle.
BLONDIE: Yeah, Maggie, just stand over there and try not to ruin everything.
PHILLIP: Well, let's LEAVE, because there's NO WAY I'm going to pay 80 kwai for two paintings.
(foreigners begin to shuffle out of the shop, one of them much more reluctantly than the others)
MERCHANT: Wait wait! Maybe 65 kwai! 65 kwai for two paintings! (Sensing that Maggie is the bargaining wuss) You! You! Your sisters like these paintings, yes? Your friends? Paintings for your friends? Only 65 kwai!
BLONDIE: But I thought we were friends! What is the friend price?!
PHILLIP: 15 kwai!
MERCHANT: This IS friend price! What about 3 paintings? You want 3 paintings? Your family will like these paintings!
MAGGIE: Two paintings! Two paintings!
MERCHANT: Okay. (glowering at Phillip) 50 kwai. Final price!
MAGGIE: Hey, wasn't one painting 55 kwai?
PHILLIP: 15 kwai. That's my best price.
MERCHANT: Your best price?! Your best price?! 40 kwai! 40 kwai final price!
PHILLIP: 15 kwai! (beginning to walk away again...)
MERCHANT: 30 kwai!
BLONDIE & PHILLIP: 20 kwai! FINAL PRICE!
MERCHANT: Oh you Americans are mean little people. I will nod in acceptance of 20 kwai, but this sour expression on my face will make sure you know that I am definitely not happy about it.
BLONDIE & PHILLIP: (as we are walking out of the shop) Man, I bet we could have gone even lower!

I got a lot of stuff like this and not all of it was junk. But the most I could do on the bargaining end was shake my head balefully at the price jotted down on the notepad. 50 kwai? For a singing Mao lighter? Even I know that's ridiculous. Blondie's method is to talk them down, point out flaws in the merchandise, turn the Friend Price tactic against the merchant, to stand indecisively for many many minutes hoping the merchant gets tired of us first. Phillip's method is to give the merchant a look of Great Disdain and walk away. Most of the time the merchant will scream for him to return, but if not, there's always someone else selling the exact same thing next door. It was a successful afternoon for all of us, I thought. Win win for everybody. Especially me. I didn't have to do any work!

Please think happy thoughts for Blondie and Phillip who have sore throats and stuffed up noses. Please hope that one of them wakes up soon so they can accompany me to the Wild Goose Pagoda!