"Evree things gonna be alright now...evree things gonna be ohkay..." or so I thought...

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January 23, 2008...Wednesday night...at the airport waiting for the flight from Changchun to Beijing...and Bob Marley is definitely the "Mastah Rastah Brah"...I've got him on my Nano now, and let me tell you, his words from his heart overshadow his love for life...and his was short...God Bless him...

It's kind of a bittersweet departure right now...leaving Coldchun and the kind, generous people that I became close to on the team at the Hotel and throughout the city...It has been a wonderful journey, these last 5 months in Changchun...The pictures I have captured through the lens of Steve Castleberry and my dear friend, Larry Stone, only accentuate the positive feelings I come away with from here...I'll always remember being addressed as an "old man" by Pancake, "Shortstack", our translator...NOW THAT was a cultural shock of sorts hearing that the first time, trust me...With the players, that all stopped quickly when I stepped on the court and began demonstrating footwork and change of speed one on one moves that detailed balance, recognition and execution, challenging each player to "new" areas of discipline and application...You see, our young aspiring players today seem to think that they can "get by" on their innate skills, which have evolved from And 1 videos, pickup games that are no more than 1 on 1 "horrorplay", and of course what they see on the tele professionally...and THIS IS UNIVERSAL, sadly...

Plane delayed ONLY 3 and a half hours...and FINALLY I arrive to my hotel in Beijing at 2am...The following events between Beijing airport and my hotel is a script that could only be acted out by Steve Martin or Albert Brooks...meaning, I need to rewind here (it's now Thursday after 6 hours sleep and 5 phone calls already this morning from the "new" on duty Concierge, whose understanding of the English language is about as good as mine in Chinese...got the picture?)...I was "hustled" by a supposed Taxi Driver upon leaving the baggage claim area, and after letting this "Napoleonic" figure know that I appreciated his effort, I wanted to speak first to the Information on Travel and Hotels that is in front of the Baggage Exit...I first ask the young woman if she spoke Chinese, which she said "yes"...I then asked her if this "gentleman" was a "licensed" driver and legit, to which she asked me if I was looking for some noodles to eat first...NOW THAT should have been a "sign" in itself...So, I changed my question to: "is this man a REAL Taxi Driver?"...She then asked him in Chinese and he in PERFECT English states: "I have BIG METER..."...and he's a small guy...We now have a "crowd" surrounding me and my dialogue, and true to my cynic nature, I tell him I'm "1 meter 95"...he didn't seem amused but the Lady laughed...Anyway, I "allowed" him to him and his "friend" to help me with my two carts, that being the case because of the materials I am taking to Russia, courtesy of Lee Larson and my son, Bo's "care" package mailing a couple of weeks ago...I have 3 suitcases and 6 boxes, file type that are on the cart...this is important to follow along here, as I am teaching you something about arriving to Beijing in the middle of the night, fatigued, and about as pleasant as old dog resting on hot summer day and being bothered by a fly that keeps trying to land on its nose...Keep in mind, I have been on a train over 7 and a half hours and a plane for 3 something in the last 24...How Kiefer Sutherland does "his" version of "24", I have no clue, but MINE require a number of pit stops and delays along the way, for sure...Fortunately, I don't wish to "eliminate" anyone like Sutherland does...but ALMOST was ready to after this trip...

The Ride: "Lil Nap" as I now have nicknamed him, and his friend take me curbside, all the while in my non-beveraged induced stupor, thinking to myself: "hmmm, here he is, with his "friend" taking me and my carts to the "Taxi"...Now, keep in mind, that there is NO FREAKIN way that the Port of Seattle Police would EVER allow a Taxi Driver to leave his "parked" taxi in front of the arrivals gate, right? So, as we ascend to the "Stairway to Hell" (tom's version of the Led Zepp classic), I am getting my second wind, meaning "sober" and realize that "this is going to be REAL interesting when I see HIS taxi and where he has it "stashed"...Lil Nap goes quickly to the curbside and hollers for this "private" BLACK, VW Passage sedan to come to the curb to pick me up (I KNOW Chinese well enough now to understand "voice inflections well, mind you), and here it comes, screeching to a halt, and a young fella jumps out, trunk popped and the two guys with my cart are getting ready to load "me" up...I politely tell "Lil Nap" to hold on...NO!!...They both stop in their tracks and Nap says to me: "what your problem?"...I say, where's the "meter" on this car? He says: "you have many bags...I have many cars, and this is special for your hotel..."...They say during the day the smog is really bad in Beijing, but no one ever told me about the "methane particles" that are also a HUGE emission problem at the airport...I tell him to give me the price NOW before he takes one bag and places it inside the vehicle (did I say BLACK SEDAN...? ...the windows were so tinted that a laser couldn't penetrate its film!!)...He says: "200 Yuan"...Which is about right...BUT he wanted to take TWO CARS to the hotel...Now the lyrics to Led Zepp's classic are ringing in my mindshare: "There's an Old Man I know, whose intentions are good and he's driving his way to hellllllllllll...oooh weee oooohooooh wee...and he's buying his way to hellllllllllla..."...I say ONE CAR, and look to call a METERED Taxi...I tell him that he was not honest with me, when he said he had "BIG METER" and that I was not happy with his actions now...He apologized and said 'okay', one car...He says that this is "Good Driver", he will take good care of you, okay...now you must tip tip tip me for my hard push...and to think, in less than 5 months, the world is going to "experience" thousand-fold what I am going through right now, and I thought I was a savvy "cat"...Back to the "Blackmobile"...the back door is opened and the seats are lamb hair covered, really nice in fact...so all the bags and boxes go into this vehicle, and I thank Lil Nap and his friend and give them a $10 tip between them...which they both looked at me like: "did you see the Stock Market today, bad day, we want more...", and I smiled and "SiChi" (thank you...seeshe)...Now to the "ride"...so we're rollin along on the highway with very very few automobiles traveling at 2am right now, and I strike up a conversation with "The Fella"...he knows a little English, and not enough, I'm soon to learn, and we're heading downtown to my hotel from the airport...not only did this car have its seats lamb covered, but so was the steering wheel...so much so, that I'm hoping that no animals "jump" in the path of our car, 'cause if it did, there's NO WAY that this fella is going to be able to do a "Nascar" swerve accurately...That mental pause on my part was short lived, as I remembered all too well, that most dogs and cats are "delicately" prepared for the table, which meant "fat chance" on hitting anything with four legs right now...Our conversation quickly moved to "you like basketball" and you "play" basketball...His eyes and smile told the rest of the story...He loves basketball and the NBA...Great, I say to myself, he just might be alright for this trip to my hotel...Now we are inside the city limits, heading towards my hotel as he slows down on an offramp...he soon STOPS in the right lane of the two lane offramp, calls someone on his cellphone to GET DIRECTIONS...and then I'm singing to myself: "Help me if you can I'm feelin dowwwnnnn...and I do wish that someone else were arounnnnnd...", and NOW he's LOST...I shoulda known that someone as young as Li is (24 years old), living in Beijing, where there are more than 20 million people, that he has NO experience with ALL the hotels that are in this city, let alone the street addresses...This I know, he wasn't a "homing pigeon" before in another life, as we spent a half hour trying to find my hotel, which I actually gave him IN CHINESE the directions and he goes "I know I know...", they say that alot in English here when they DON'T know something...keep that in mind when you're here...Then, at a signal, he jumps out of his car TWICE to get directions to the hotel, the first time at a signal, the next time at a side street and he runs back about 50 yards to ask a Taxi Driver the same...Now why wouldn't he just BACK UP like he did on the offramp to "get" directions on his first call for help...I now have my hotel on the cell and as he gets into my car, I give him the receptionist and he's listening and driving ahead...hmmm, now all of sudden HE KNOWS where he's going...he cuts her off to take another call and then 3 mins. later, we pull up in front of the Red Wall Hotel...does he pull up in front...no...he pulls ahead away from lights and says okay, "Pay me 200 Yuan and Tip"...I tell Li that he must back up to the front of the hotel and I will pay him then to help me get my bags out of the car...so, backs out of the lot and drives around to the front and jumps out, starts pulling bags and boxes out and I'm slowly helping all the while and then he shuts the doors to his passenger side back door and says "now Tip"...I said, "Li, you did good job to get me here, but you did not do good job to find hotel..."...With that he jumps in and takes off...I check in and forgetting to get a receipt from Li, soon realize that two of my 6 boxes are missing..."Won't you pleeeeease pleeeeease HELP ME HELP MEeeeeeeee ooooooh..."...Now I am NOT a Happy Camper at all...I start speaking in "tongues" to no one in particular, and this young bellman, David, says to me in a kind, reassuring voice, "Sir, I can help you...do you have the Taxi receipt?...I tell him no, but I do know what they ALL look like and the name of the Driver...so, my newest "hero", David, takes me to my room and says, I will help you, please don't worry, this man will have to call back because you know what he looks like...So, about 10 mins. later, I get a call to my room and David is all excited as get out to tell me that the "driver" called to the hotel and says that he has your box...but that I must "pay" another 200 Yuan to get it back...I tell David to keep him on the line as I will come down quickly to speak to him directly...Let me tell you something, my "transition" was so good that Lorenzo would have had me demonstrate at my age on how to "run a fast break lane" correctly...Now I'm at the Bellman's desk and I tell David to tell him that I am calling the Police NOW, and that he will never drive again and to bring my box back NOW...David translates this to Li and he wants to now speak to me...He now is speaking English and telling me that he is sorry that he didn't realize that the box was still in the back seat...I told him that there is no way I am paying him another 200 Yuan and that if the box is not here in the next 20 minutes I will call the Police and report him...I give the phone back to David and he repeats the SAME words in a different voice inflection that I am sure spoke to "the fella's" conscience...David says my box will be here in 20 mins. as he was back at the airport again...

20 Minutes later...an older lady dressed as a Taxi Driver comes into the hotel with my box...not "the fella", but a heavy set woman, with no smile and demanding 100 Yuan for this box...I'm sitting down while David, my new "hero" is negotiating with her...I know that I have to "pay" something to this driver because she got set up, and at 3:30 am, I AM NOT about to do evil upon her, so I kindly give her 80 Yuan, thank her and explain that the Police are going have a report this incident...She NOW smiles and says back to David, that she was doing "Lil Nap" a favor that's all and away she went...I now ask David to call Li back and ask him where the other box is...he tells David that there was only ONE, not two, and "that is the truth..."...the bar's closed and I am in need of a G&T RIGHT NOW...Larry Stone where ARE YOU when I KNOW you can handle this situation much better than I, and even my good friend Big D would have had BOTH boxes in my room by 3am, not one by 3:30am...So, now my day begins with becoming the American version of Inspector Clousteau...I was planning on visiting the Forbidden City, which is across the street from my hotel, but that shall wait, as I NEED the box that has my materials for the Russian Clinic in 10 days...Hope you're able to follow my story, Folks, as this is the only way I can maintain my sense of Irish humor and share the "Magical Mystical Tour" with y'all...Stay tooned...Safe travels, all the best, hope you enjoyed this entry...I felt much better after reading it twice...I'm a slow reader...Coach tom

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