I feel a story coming on about the person – or shall I say (eek!) my driver – who takes me to work every Tuesday at 3:00 pm sharp.
On an average Tuesday at say 3:15 pm you can find me asking a begrudging man how his day was: What have you been doing? Have you had a lot of customers today? What do you and your wife do on a common outing? Do you like the weather? Don’t you like the weather?
Lin shi fu, a perennial dweller of Beijing, husband of one, father of one, chain-smoker, park-goer, spitter, sleeper, and – of course – driver always answers my questions, and he even asks me some too. Today, he told me a story, and it went like this:
Melissa: When you were a child, in which area of Beijing did you live?*
Melissa: Is that the same as Qian men?
LSF: No! Tian’anmen. Understand?
Melissa: Ah, yes! Tian’anmen. Of course! Wow, right there in the middle of the city.
LSF: Actually, I am part of an old Beijing famiily.
Melissa: But you are not old!
LSF: No, I am part of an old family. We’ve been here since the Qing dynasty. Do you know the Qing dynasty?
Melissa: The Qing dynasty! Of course I know it. Your family must have been famous.
LSF: Well, I don’t know about that. My great-grandfather worked for the dynasty.
Melissa: Wow! What did he do?
LSF: About that, I’m not very sure. But my father told me that he died at the ripe age of 20.
Melissa: Oh. That’s young. Killed?
*Following conversation is all in Chinese, and should be imagined as such.
The above conversation happens three times at least in varying forms throughout the weekly forty-minute car ride home. (Sometimes, if I’m not sleeping, we talk on the way there, too.) Clearly, there are some gaps in our conversations; maybe I’m not the best at understanding Beijing driver-speak just yet. But I find the conversations helpful and interesting, even though it seems to be at the expense of Lin shi fu’s peace and privacy in the driver’s seat.
Though I may come off as slightly impish here, I actually do try to back off if I feel like I’m asking too many questions. But Lin shi fu always greets me with a warm smile and leaves with one, so I’m pretty sure that I’m not imposing too much. Moreover, we do discuss things of interest to the both of us. Last week, we talked about inter-generational smoking habits; today, we discussed common ages for children to leave home.
In the following weeks, I plan on writing more about my Tuesday interactions with Lin shi fu. Also, did anyone pick up on the fact that I spent the latter portion of this evening reading McSweeney’s articles? Jesus, I’m a chameleon (or a Dave Eggers wannabe – you choose)!