Thursday, February 24, 2005



I used to occasionally wear a hoop earring in my left ear. Three years ago, when I made my first trip to China I was walking through Tianamen Square with a cool Mexican dude I met in the Forbidden City.

We sat down in front of Mao's mausoleum and chatted about Beijing. A few minutes later two women approached us and asked if they could sit down and talk with us. This is not uncommon in big Chinese cities where people want to practice English with native speakers or simply talk to some wai guo ren (foreigners) about the outside world.

We invited them to sit down. It turns out they were teachers at a high school in a western province on holiday. We were having a delightful conversation when one of them started to squirm a bit and then whispered to the other. Clearly they had something to ask that they were a little shy about. I asked what it was.

One of them replied, "Why do you wear this earring in your ear?" I said, "in the west some men wear them as a fashion statement, not all but some." She said, "oh, in China, if man wear earring, it mean he want to come back in next life as woman."

I went back to my hotel room, took out the earring, put it in the garbage and never wore it again. That was three years ago.


One thing you learn very quickly in China is to carry your own toilet paper wherever you go. Alas there was a day I forgot my TP and found myself at the Ming tombs on a sweltering July day. Lunch moved through me very quickly and I raced to the facilities.

When finished with my business I found that I had no TP. And there wasn't a scrap of paper for miles. All I had in my backpack was my Lonely Planet Guidebook. I rifled through the pages to seek out a place I knew I wouldn't be visiting anytime soon and settled on Outer Mongolia. A few swipes and a flush later outer Mongolia was on its way to the sea.

Thank God for Lonely Planet guidebooks.


On my third trip to China I took three days to visit the ancient city of Xi'an. This is the city that became the capital of the first united Chinese Empire, the Qin Dynasty (pronounced Shin - and the origin of the word China). It is outside of Xi'an that one of the great wonders of the world, the Terracotta Army is found.

My first day in town was spent at the amazing Bell and Drum towers and in the winding alleys of the old town. At the end of the day I went to an ATM machine to take out some cash. It didn't work. I tried three more ATMs, no luck.

I had enough money for dinner so I ate and went back to my hotel. Next morning I tried again, no luck. I called my bank and they said there was no hold on my account and that all my funds were there, but I REALLY needed cash for the next three days and to get myself back to Shanghai.

I explained my situation to the hotel manager, he explained that the hotel could not front me the money but he got a car and driver and took me to the Bank of China to get some cash forwarded on my credit card or to see why the ATMs would not give me money.

We drove around to different banks for two hours with no luck. I was looking extremely fucked. That day was supposed to be spent with the Terracotta warriors and at a sacred mountain, but now I had no cash to take me there, or to eat or to get back to Shanghai, just my Credit Card which would pay for my hotel.

Then, the hotel manager started talking with the driver (who I had agreed with the day before to take me to the Warriors and mountains). He told me this.

He said "the driver feels very bad for you, and he is worried about your time in Xi'an and your trip back to Shanghai. He offers to go to his town and get his money to lend to you, then you can send it to him when you reach New York. He wants to know how much you need."

I was quite taken aback. I thought how could this driver give me his money and trust me to send it back? Is this a scam? Am I being to cynical? So I told him, yes, that would be very kind, I would be most appreciative. I figured 3,000 RMB would be enough to finish my stay in Xi'an and get back to Shanghai where I hoped to resolve the issue.

So, he got in the car to drive to his town and told me he would meet me back at the hotel at 4 p.m. So, off I went to the famous Grand Mosque (Xi'an has a Chinese Muslim population because it was the terminus of the Silk Road) built only 100 years after the founding of Islam, and in my opinion one of the most beautiful and tranquil 5 acres in all of China. I also walked the Ming dynasty city wall that day.

When I was done, I went to an ATM on a whim, I put my card in, and it worked. I was able to take out all the money I needed and more.

When I got back to the hotel, the driver was standing in the lobby smiling, with an envelope in his hand. He rushed up to me and handed it to me. I was shocked again.

This man who probably makes about 18,000 RMB (2,100 per year) was willing to send me off with 3,000 and trust me to mail it back to him. I smiled and embraced him and thanked him profusely. The hotel manager came over and I explained that the machine had worked at last. I got my money.

We arranged for him to drive me to the Warriors and Mountains the next day. Normally the day would cost 300 RAMP (about $35). I gave him 1000 RMB up front ($125) and we were off the next day.

We had an amazing day together using broken Chinese and English to communicate. I still talk to him to this day.

His only explanation was that he looked in my eyes and felt my soul and knew that I was in need and a good man and one to be trusted.