Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Taxis in the night
Just reminded how warm it is here by walking out of the office and into the hallway for a short break. The windows are open and the heat seers you as you escape the sanctity of air conditioning. Our daily walk to the university produces a nice workout with about a three-pound fluid loss (and displacement all over your clothing). Everyone is sweaty and even growing up in Florida and now living in Texas, this is oppressive to me.
Instead of following along with a group of students that went to escape the heat and try indoor snow skiing, I tagged along with the Fry family as we headed downtown to do some shopping along Nanjing Road. After a quick trip on the subway (with plenty of signs that make me chuckle), we return back up to ground level and are blasted by the heat and blinded (and awed) by the city lights (or as I later read -- flourishing neon lights) looking a lot like the Vegas strip. Crowds of people are all headed into the bath of colorful lights, on foot, bike and a few "trains" pulling cars filled with families taking in the sights. We take this in, but are on a mission ... PEARLS!
Nanny Fry knows the place to shop and the sales girl at the counter (named Lemon) even recognizes her from previous encounters. The stores are mostly quiet on a Tuesday night, except for the one we hit, as we pick trough the tiny treasures. Here's a note to all who might get the opportunity to shop for jewelry with Professor Cindy Fry: Don't EVER ask WHICH one to buy, as her answer is always going to be "Buy both," (or worse ... all). The pearls are brought out in a variety of colors and sizes and offerings ˆ necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. The strong-willed begin to bargain over prices and quantity and the weak head up to the seventh floor for tea. So it goes, as the men got a nice window booth overlooking the plaza as the women buy, buy, buy. Our tea was a pot green tea, filled with leaves and the hot water kept coming from the attentive staff. One student that tagged along to get some pearls for family members ordered up some strawberry ice cream and the sweet scent filled the booth. We stayed there until the store closed at 10 p.m. and then headed home with our arms full and wallets a bit emptier.
Outside, are besieged with roving street people, selling and offering an array of things we don't want as we try to grab a cab. The first car leaves with half the group (all the women and most of the pearls) and we figure it shouldn't be too hard for us guys to find a ride home. Waving, yelling, flailing and switching street corners for the first 15 minutes proved fruitless. The offers made to us by vendors became a bit stronger; a women and little boy (about Carter's age) plead for money and the boy takes me by the hand and tries to lead me toward the street. Police start coming by more frequently and other riders are beating us to the next available car. More taxis race by, but none seem interested in picking us up. We find the driveway of the Howard Johnson's (no orange roof, but a very nice high-rise accommodation) to be a good bet, getting aid from the staff working out front in helping us secure a ride. By simply sticking his white-gloved hand into oncoming traffic, our helper gets us some attention and a car pulls up to the drive. We get in the car and eek our way back to the Pearl Hotel with traffic creeping along bumper-to-bumper, even on a Tuesday night. We do get back in time to show off our purchases with students in the lobby and vow to return to buy some more.
Next time, we are bringing a white glove.