Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It didn’t start well and it has been downhill since. First impressions did not look favourable for sharing the office with Yaya Boudica. That’s not her real name. I can’t recall her real name because when we first introduced ourselves she mocked the way I pronounced her birth name which was Chinese; a language with linguistic hills, valleys, oceans and deserts I find impossible to traverse with my flat footed American tongue. Since she responded with derision to my friendly and multiple attempts get her name correct, I rechristened her Yaya Boudica. She then proceeded to correct my English. This would have been almost acceptable except she was wrong. My error was her misunderstanding and I assured her of this, and insisted this against her repeated arguments to the contrary. Rather than continue this dialogue, I decided it was time for a cup of tea.
“Can I get you a cup of tea?”
“Yes. Have you eaten?” I thought this was an invitation to go to lunch and despite my misgivings, my gregarious nature won over.
“No. I haven’t. Would you like to get some lunch at the canteen?”
“No. Just the tea.”
“Okay.” I said confused and walked out trying to parse the confusing interaction, trying to decide if there was a cultural disconnect occurring or if I now had a jack ass for an office mate? I soon found out it was something else. I had for an office mate, a mad woman.

This became clear later in the day when she came into the office in a panic. She was near tears over the loss of a jade ring. She interrogated me about the other office mate, a quiet Belgian with whom my interactions with were limited to him leaning over from behind his monitor to smile his morning greeting.
"Can he be trusted?"
"Yes. I think so. I am sure he wouldn't steal your ring." She did not question me about the other office mate, a Chinese man whose name plate was on the other desk but whom I had never actually seen in the building.
"It's my guardian." She explained of her ring.
"Okay. Where did you have it last?"
"In this office, I took it off. What about the cleaning man? Or maybe someone else came in here and took it."
"Was this an expensive ring?"
"No. I got it in China. But it is my guardian."
"I think a thief would probably take one of these computers or your laptop if they were going to take anything." I continued to try and help her, assuring her that it was lost, not stolen.
"I am going to call my mother. She will send me a new ring." I cannot fairly describe the conversation that followed after she dialled the incantation to raise her mother to a telephone on the other side of the globe. I have no sensitivity to the nuances of spoken Chinese. I can tell you that the first time I had heard such noises was when I used to live in a neighbourhood that had too many tom cats and their night battles took place under my window. Except tom cats don't cry and blow their nose. When she ran out of the room trailing sobs, the Belgian leaned over, looked at me and shrugged his shoulders.
"Well put," I said. The next day, as she sniffled and repeated the importance of her guardian ring, she was going through a folder from which dropped the missing ring. I feigned excitement at such a fortuitous conclusion to this drama. What a fool I was. Loud crying bubbled up and burst forth anew. This as she explained meant she will lose face. She would have to explain to her mother that the ring was not stolen. I asked what would happen if she was given a new ring instead. She shrugged her shoulders. I asked for her ring and then left the room. I returned immediately and said, “Yaya. I got you a new guardian ring to replace your lost one.” To which, she smiled and laughed and thanked me. I said, “No problem” and wrote on my to-do list, ask boss if I can work from home three days a week. I have come to know that these panics and tempests are a weekly occurrence but not before I had given her my mobile phone. On the upside, the Belgian has started to talk but it’s mainly to trade theories on the particular mental malady that afflicts our office mate.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The village fete

An English village fete must be experienced. There is a pleasant home-made feel that is absent from the professional fun fairs that occupy neighbourhood greens with their rides covered in airbrush celebrity faces and blaring Radio 1 pop songs. Village fetes, like the fun fairs, have game booths. There are booths where for 50p you can throw balls to try and break charity shop china. Your reward for success? Throwing balls at and breaking cheap china is its own reward. What do you want for 50p? One of my favourite games is tombola. You buy a ticket and that ticket has a number and that number gets you a prize. The best prizes are always hooch. Usually you get a fish spatula. I have three. At this village fete, amongst the bric-a-brac sellers and charity tents, I found a tombola stand whose only prizes were alcohol. This ingenious loophole through the village green's drinks ban must be encouraged and supported. So, though steeply priced at a pound, I bought a ticket. The fish spatula equivalent in the booze tombola was export lager. The top prize was a bottle of port. I won a pint of Guinness and it went well with my hamburger made by smoke choked sea cadets. I drank my beer, ate my burger and eavesdropped on a circle of cockney bikers who were regularly testing their luck with the booze tombola. One was talking about his run in with a group of hippies. Every time he said 'dirty hippy', I grinned. Something about the way a cockney says dirty hippy that will cheer you up whatever the mood. They began trading 'dirty hippy' anecdotes. By the time I left the fete, my cheer had risen to bleary-eyed joy but that might also have something to do with the four tombola tickets crumbled in my pocket.