Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Chinese Democracy in the Weight Room

No, not the long awaited endeavor by Axl Rose, sorry to pique your appetite...

The school weight room used to be an appalling affair. It was covered in green astro turf that was rotted away in places. Then they redesigned it, tore out the floor and put in a new one, tore out a wall of the gymnasium and replaced it with a giant window. Along with the improvements came bureaucracy; after it reopened, a few caretakers appeared to handle things.

One was a tiny bony man, probably in his 30s. The other was probably 50. The older guy had a perfect Friar Tuck haircut, bald on top with a ring around the sides, in a near perfect imitation of Chairman Mao. I called both of these men as they are called commonly in China, laoban, boss, but I always thought of this older guy as The Chairman.

The Chairman and I did not begin our relationship auspiciously. These two guys had -- and have -- a bizarre system for checking into the weight room. You'd give the little guy five kuai, he'd spend an inordinate amount of time writing out a ticket, then you'd take the ticket. The Chairman then would come find you later and collect the ticket. Often this seemed to be in the middle of some exercise or some other critically inopportune moment.

But little irritated me more than The Chairman speaking "idiot Chinese" to me. The kind where you're retarded, and he is annoyed at having to deal with that. The Chairman would come up to me and shout "TICKET" whenever he saw me. "You want to take my ticket?" I'd say in Chinese, trying not to drop a barbell on my chest. "I'm busy right now. Please wait a minute."