Friday, November 20, 2009

Xinyang, China

Friends: Thanks to eating out a couple times with Julie-Ann at some genuine restaurants in Xian with menus and someone serving the meal other than the person who cooked it, unlike the mini-roadside-restaurants I ordinarily dine at, I knew that the four scratch cards Stephen and I were given along with the receipt for our meal at the luxurious restaurant at the deluxe hotel/resort/spa/convention center we were forced to stay at a couple nights ago were lottery tickets, and we had the chance of winning enough to pay for our extravagance, though not much of a chance, as Julie-Ann said not once in her three years of living in China had she scratched off a winner.

Julie-Ann explained that the lottery tickets had something to do with making sure businesses paid their taxes, as the lottery tickets they were obligated to give out indicated a sale. The tax-collectors could look at their booklet of tickets and based on the number that were torn out, they could calculate the amount of income the business had taken in. I'm not sure if that's exactly right, but it's probably close.

Knowing that we didn't have much of a chance of winning anything, and not having much of a gambler's demeanor anyway, I had no urge to do any scratching. Instead, the idea occurred to me that the four tickets would make a decent little gesture of a gift for the semi-English speaking attendant who had befriended us when we arrived at the hotel and agreed to let us stay for 218 yuan when the lowest posted price was 568. He spent nearly an hour escorting us around the vast complex of the Tianzi Lake Resort, fifty miles north of Wuhan, taking us from the gated entrance to the palatial main building to check in, then to our accommodations half a mile away past a couple of lakes and a golden statue of Mao, and then to the restaurant, another half mile hike, making sure everything was okay with our room and assisting us in ordering our dinner, even finding a packet of instant coffee for Stephen, a rare treasure.

He had already turned down a monetary tip, as has everyone Stephen and I have encountered during our time in China, but I thought this might be different, appealing to the Chinese love of gambling. When I mentioned to Julie-Ann I was surprised to see so many people playing cards and mahjong at small tables along the road in front of their homes and shops, she immediately said, "Why of course. They're all gambling." Even she can't play a friendly game of mahjong with friends without there being money at stake.

We fully expected to see our benefactor waiting for us the next morning when we came down from our third floor heated room in a huge building where we were the only guests, what this being the cold off-season, but he wasn't there and we were free to at last ride our bikes on the grounds back to the main building to turn in our key card and retrieve our 100 yuan deposit. At the reception desk were four young women, all bundled up in coats, and along with them the woman who had accompanied us on our rounds the evening before. I was happy to give the lottery tickets to her, as she had been equally helpful and cordial, never losing her smile, though not quite as brave with her English as the young man. She pulled out a coin and promptly rubbed all four of the tickets, shaking her head sideways four times. No surprise.

It took a little while for our receipt to be printed up and our deposit returned. While we waited, a young woman brought us two cups of hot water on a tray and gestured for us to take a seat on a nearby couch. When at last our deposit and receipt was brought to us, it included two more of those scratch-to-see-if-you-won slips. The woman knew we didn't care to check them ourselves, being as observant and as quick to assist as just about everyone we have encountered, so did it for us. After the second one she let out a yelp of delight, and thrust the slip towards us to show us we were a winner.

Looking at it, all we saw was a string of Chinese characters that meant nothing to us. I had no idea that I wouldn't have known whether we had won or not, never looking at Julie-Ann's cards. Looking at it I couldn't even tell how much we had won. Could it possibly be enough to pay for this super-splurge of ours? Even our dinner was an extravagance, eating in our own private room at a table with eight golden high-backed chairs, attended to by a handful of waitresses, as we seemed to be their only customers for the night, eating off monogrammed plates and bowls with an array of utensils meticulously arranged and mounted on various holders. Someone with a crown should have been at this table, not us lowly cyclists in our tights and multiple layers of bedraggled clothes in this unheated room.

I followed the woman who had scratched off the lottery ticket to the reception desk for our winnings. As a woman rummaged through her cash drawers I saw her withdraw a shiny bill unlike any I had seen. Could it possibly be a 500 or a 1,000? The highest I had come across was a 100. But the bill was just a ten. It only looked different as all the tens I was accustomed to seeing were so well circulated they had lost their initial luster. It was enough to pay for our lunch later that day, no big deal, but at least I can report to Julie-Ann that it is possible to win and that she should keep scratching away.

An even bigger thrill for the day was happening upon a bike mechanic-seamstress who could sew up the hole in the toe of my cycling shoe. The front of the shoe is mesh, so the hole wasn't allowing that much more  heat to escape, but it contributed to my bedraggled look, and was something that people occasionally pointed out to me, and no doubt was noticed by the many who continually scour me and my gear from head to foot.

Stephen was the one who saw a guy sewing a child's shoe on the sidewalk in front of a woman we had just bought a couple of freshly baked flour patties from, and suggested I give him a try. We had just had lunch, so the few minutes to let the food digest was welcome. The man took thirty minutes to do the repair, even doing some extra sewing along the side of my three year old shoe that had over 25,000 miles on it. His charge, three yuans, less than fifty cents. "No wonder Nike has their shoes made here," Stephen commented.

We were able to camp last night in a small forest with patches of snow around us. We're hoping to be in our tents again tonight. The temperature remains not much more than forty, but we have had some sunny days and are making progress and happy to be on our bikes.

Later, George


Julie Hochstadter said...

Thanks for including us in your journeys.

drstrangekubrick said...

Hi George, Since being in Beijing, I've had the good fortune to win RMB100 in a McDonald's, located in Changshu, an hr's drive away from Shanghai, and RMB50 in a noodle place in Beijing. :)