Friday, March 7, 2014

And To Think It Happened at the DQ

One of the most significant lessons to come out of living in China is to expect the unexpected. And I don't mean it in a shopping-at-Target kind of way.

Yesterday, for example, is a good example. The lovely young woman who "threads" my eyebrows and facial hair had gone back to her home province for Spring Festival and to get married. Now the newlywed was back in Beijing but out of a job at the salon where she last worked.

We had a rather confusing back and forth about whether or not she could do any threading for me, and where, in a combination of English, pinyan, Chinese characters, and voice messages on WeChat, to meet. Finally we agreed to meet at Dongzhimen on Friday afternoon. Where exactly, I wasn't sure, but I headed off in that general direction.

"Wo zai DQ deng ni," she wrote. ("I'm in the Dairy Queen waiting for you.")

So I showed up at the DQ, which is in the basement of Ginza Mall and right next door to the salon where she had worked before. Inside the DQ I saw one woman in a janitor's uniform, her head down on a table, sound asleep. An older man sat and read a newspaper. Lots of people hanging out.

Finally she showed up too, and we sat down at a table. I gave her a hung bao: the red envelope with money inside that one should give newlyweds. She gave me a bag with some candy-like sweets. We chatted for a while, and she showed me pictures of her and her new husband, she wearing a red dress, he in a black suit.

The conversation flagged. Finally, she said, "Come and sit next to me." I sat down and she proceeded to pull out her thread and there in the Dairy Queen, she threaded my face. I kept my eyes closed, but I kept expecting someone to come along and say -- as I suspect they would in the States -- "what are you doing?" But people went about their business, no one said anything, and I had nicer-looking eyebrows.

She told me I could leave; she was waiting for other friends, she said. A shadow business in the DQ? I have no idea.

So I headed off home. When I arrived at the door to my building, two boys, about 7 or 8, were waiting to get in. I unlocked the door, and one said, "Thank you!"

"Ni shuo ying yu!" I said. "Ni shi na guo ren?" (I was giving them a little compliment by saying they spoke English and asking what country they were from.)

They looked confused. "Zhong guo," they said. China, of course.

"Wo shi Mei guo ren!" I announced.

"America," they answered. And as I left the elevator, I heard them quietly practicing saying it back and forth to each other, murmuring, "America, America."

That's a nice send off. Next stop, America.

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