Yesterday I went to get out money from the ATM machine just outside the gates of our apartment complex. But instead of delivering me my usual stack of crisp 100-RMB notes, the machine whirred and rumbled and nothing happened. Then this message appeared:
“Rejected for ambiguous reasons.”
I tried again. Again, “Rejected for ambiguous reasons.”
I moved on to another machine that seemed to be unambiguous, but the first rejection got me thinking about what message China was trying to give me. Here are some of my theories:
1. China hates me and wants me to go home, but can’t say that directly and so decides to use a slow process – drip, drip, drip – of gradually wearing down my resistance until I give up, back my bags, shove my cat into her carrier, and throw myself on the mercy of United Airlines. In this category I place incidents like the rumors flying that our landlady is about to raise our rent to some astronomical amount, the fact that she refuses to fix the dryer element of our washer, and even the fact that the modem mysteriously unplugged itself on Thursday, rendering me useless and shaking in anger like an addict without her fix. It’s also possible that China overheard me shouting profanities into my cellphone, blaming it for my unplugged modem. (“We’ll fix you,” China muttered darkly.)
2. I’ve been rejected for larger cosmic reasons, having to do with various sins I’ve committed in my life, including but not limited to refusing the PTA presidency when my kids were at Janney Elementary, finding something or someone to blame when the basic rule of “shit happens” tends to apply, and eating the last Ho-Hos of my roommates in college without telling them who stole the Ho-Hos.
3. The ambiguity is cosmic, the rejection is not. In other words, the universe is ambiguous and if we spend our lives trying to figure out the “meaning” of it all, we’ll find ourselves banging our heads against a dusty ATM outside a store selling traditional Chinese medicine and drinking wine at lunch. But if we just embrace the ambiguity, the stars will align, the sun will come out on a day with clear air, and Justin will give me a lovely haircut for 20 RMB. For now, I’ll embrace the ambiguity, at least until the next crisis hits.