Thursday, November 10, 2005

Lost wallets and Chinese fire drills

I was in a cab on my way to Chinese class today with my friend tom. I got a phone call from home and got into a pretty long and intense discussion with my dad. We got to school. It was my turn to pay. I threw a 50 kuai at tom and got out of the car, still talking. Tom handed me change and a receipt and I waved him in, said I’d join him soon. He departed. I was still on the phone, but something didn’t feel quite right. Suddenly, it hit me: My wallet!

I went through those exaggerated motions which must look hilarious to a bystander – patting every pocket, rifling through coat pocket, rummaging through every zippered pocket in my bag.. all to no avail. I was still talking to my dad.
“Fuck!” I said.
“It’s ok” he said.
“No my wallet, my wallet. I left it in the cab.”
“Oh for Christ’s sake, alan. Go find it.”
Too late, man. That cab was gone.

I said good bye and headed up to class. I went to the office and told the administrators what happened. They ripped the receipt out of my hand and all three women in there started dialing away. There is no central number apparently, but the cab company’s phone number is on the receipt. They finally got through and were chattering away before hanging up and smiling at me.

“We found them and they will call the driver now,” I was told. “He will not steal it now. You only have to hope another customer did not find it first. Go to class now.”

So I do, rather distracted. Tom had already started. He tells me there will be a fire drill in 20 minutes. We go to work, mispronouncing till our hearts content. Then the fire drill, right on time. We all file out into the stairwell and I say to Tom, “He, this is a real Chinese fire drill.” We cracked up. But it was actually quite orderly and calm and more or less like a fire drill at home. Going down the steps, I was reminded of the classic story of Harold Steinblatt interviewing B.B. King for Guitar World on the 20-something floor of the midtown Hilton when there was a real fire.

Harold had to stifle his run-like-hell impulse to trudge down the 20-some floors with an elderly, obese b.b., laboring every step of the way. People fleeing would stop constantly to say, “Hey, B.B. King!” and shake his hand before running off. I love that story.

Anyhow, we got down to the ground floor and the director came over and told e my wallet had been found and she told them I would pay 100 kuai plus the cab fare from where they now were. No problem. I went back to class and about half hour later, they came ad got me. My wallet was back, with the 500 kuai still in there. Unbelievable.