Monday, October 17th, 25 days left
I walked over to Consulate this afternoon, around the side as instructed on Sunday. There were two Chinese guards. The first said something that I didn’t understand. He repeated it.
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“Your passport,” the second guard said in perfect English, sharing a smile with me.
I handed the first guard my passport. He inspected it, handed it back. As I went on, I heard him practice the word “passport” with the second guard. There was a third Chinese guard standing a bit in front of the Consulate door. Before going any further I got out my sealed ballot. As I approached the third guard, I showed him the ballot.
“I’ve come to vote,” I said, trying not to sound too proud of myself.
“Open it,” he said.
“It’s my ballot,” I said.
“Open it,” he repeated, this time putting his hand out as if to take the ballot.
“It’s a secret ballot,” I said, keeping the envelope out of his reach.
“Must open to go in,” he said, reaching for the envelope.
I took a step back.
“I’m here to vote,” I said, refusing to give him the envelope.
The door to the consulate opens and another man in uniform hangs out of the door. He seems unwilling to step out of the building, like a runner on base, keeping a foot on the bag to keep from being tagged out.
“I’m here to vote,” I tell the new guard.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” he says to the Chinese guard, waving me to come in.
I take the urgency in his wave as a signal to walk around the Chinese guard and make for the door. I don’t look back, am not impeded any further, and step inside. Another guard is there, blocking my movement any further than just inside the door.
“I’m here to vote,” I repeat, like a broken record, but also because I’m nervous because of the obvious tension I have caused.
I get no response from the guard blocking me, but the other one, the one who opened the door and hung out to wave me in, holds out his hand.
“I’ll take that,” he says, in perfect American.
“He wanted me to open it, but I told him it’s a secret ballot,” I said, reaffirming my wish that the envelope remain sealed.
The guard turns the envelope over in his hands, sees it is tightly sealed with a swath of transparent tape, reads the address label, the postage-paid stamp, and hands it back to me.
“Over here,” he says, leading me to a little box sitting on a window ledge close to the door.
The box is wood, something like a cigar box, only bigger. It looks rough, like it was hand-made. It’s painted with red and white stripes. There is a slot in the top and the words “Voting Materials”. The slot is too small for my envelope so the guard lifts the lid up a crack. There is no lock, only a tiny latch.
I wish I had taken a picture, to commemorate the moment, the box, the ordeal, but I was too flustered to think of it. I’m not sure I would have been allowed anyway. Last time I was in the consulate they confiscated anything that could take pictures. I slid my ballot inside the little box, thanked the guard, who escorted me to the door.
Later, I would share my experience with Matt, the fellow helping Americans vote. He wanted me to remember exactly who did what. He then called the Consulate and asked them what had happened. He relayed their side of the story, which was consistent with mine, and asked me if their description was accurate. I told him, yes, the American guard had come out to intercede with the Chinese guard to allow me to enter the Consulate with a sealed envelope. Matt explained that he would warn any other voters of the situation. He said the Consulate was ready to intercede, again, as necessary. I couldn’t help thinking that this was a lot of intrigue, just to vote, but I know security is tight these days at American Embassies and Consulates. Matt said they normally don’t accept sealed envelopes inside the Consulate because of concern over biological threats. It’s certainly the most attention my vote has ever gotten.
I felt good about voting, but have to say I don’t feel very confident that this absentee ballot will ever get counted. I’ll assume it does make it all the way to Henderson County Board of Elections, and they do accept it, and they do count it by hand (it’s a write-in ballot), and I will have had my say in this upcoming November election. Certainly, a lot of effort by several people has been expended to get this single vote into the count! For that, I am proud to be an American and will assume that that pride is justified.
As I walked home, I noticed something was different. There were shadows, sharp shadows. It was sunny! I had to take a picture! It’s only the third time since arriving in Chengdu that I’ve seen blue sky.
I walked home a new way, got lost, got found. Along the way, my antenna was up looking for a place to buy an adapter for my TV service box. [I’ve tried getting my TV fixed by my apartment manager, a young woman under 25 who is also the bartender in the club on the 12th floor. But after asking her three times over four weeks with no action, I’m going to try to fix it myself.] I spot a tiny shop along a busy street that has a glass case overflowing with a tangle of plugs, wire, and adapters! I stop, look into the case.
Now, I’ve done this before. I’ve lost the adapter to devices, which requires me to find the right adapter to get the device to work again. It’s not that there is a shortage of adapters in the world. When I moved two years ago, I threw away a big box of adapters, all left over from devices that didn’t work any more, but the adapters still did work. Each adapter has a plug at one end and a connector at the other end. The adapter converts an input voltage (110-250 volts AC) to an output voltage (typically 3-25 volts DC at 100 milliamps up to 2 amps), the connector accepting a positive or negative tip. The real challenge is matching the type of connector. Manufacturers want you to buy their adapters, not cheap knock-offs. So there is a plethora of types of connectors, each of them almost unique, making the chances of finding a replacement adapter unlikely.
But this is China, home of the pack rat. Starvation and poverty are still vivid memories for anyone over 60. Nothing is thrown away. Old electronics are kept on the back porch, or sold to recyclers. The glass case in this store smacked of years of collection. If anybody had a used adapter that would work, it was these guys.
A lady clerk saw me looking into the case.
“Ni hao,” I said.
“Ni hao, something something something…,” she answered.
I guess it’s a tribute that I say “ni hao” well enough that she tried to speak to me in Chinese. I asked if she spoke English. When she didn’t answer, I pulled out my TV box and pointed to the male power connector.
“I need an adapter,” I said, handing her the box.
She turned the box over, looked for a label, then called to the three men sitting in the back of the store. She held up the box, said something, they said something, she looked at the box again. I got the impression she was thinking that I wanted to sell the box.
“No,” I said, anxiously reaching out to take the box back, “I need an adapter.”
I pointed at the spot where the adapter plugged in, pointed at the case full of adapters. Now she understood. She looked on the TV box where it described the 5 volts, 1 amp, positive tip required. She opened the case and began, one by one, going through the adapters, checking each to see if it was a match.
I knew this would take a while, and it did. Twice she found the right 5 volts, 1 amp, positive tip adapter, but the connector was wrong. I watched in horror as she unplugged adapters from devices, separating original manufactured adapters from their proper devices, but decided she was right, better to make a sale on at least the adapter. Ten minutes of searching and the third adapter she tried had the right connector, well, close enough. The male connector was the right width, but twice as long as necessary. I could live with that. She started to look for a plug to test the adapter with my TV box. I waved for her to stop. I wanted to double-check her reading of the adapter specifications. I could just see her plugging in the wrong adapter, frying the TV box. She let me check the specs on the adapter. She had done a good job, and when I let her plug it in, a little green light lit up on the TV box.
“I’ll take it,” I said, nodding with a smile.
“Forty yuan,” she said.
I could probably get a new adapter for that price, so I countered.
“Forty yuan,” she repeated, not at all amused that I was bargaining.
I paid the 40 yuan (about $6), figuring I was supporting a helpful, courteous, tolerant merchant. Besides, there was the entertainment factor of watching her fish through all those chords, and the good feeling I got knowing that I had saved a polluting piece of electronics from ending up in the dump. As I walked away, I remembered an article about U.S. disposal companies shipping electronic waste to China in big containers, which were emptied forming mountains of equipment loaded with dangerous chemicals, scavenged by children looking for salvageable parts. Could it be possible that my adapter had made its way from America? Not this one. Its label was in Chinese.
Close to home I passed a major street repair job. A new curb was being put in. All the street trees had been taken out, the old curb removed, and new, cut granite curb being laid. I’ll have to go back this week to see what progress has been made, as well as see if they were going to replace the sidewalk, which was now several inches below the top of the curb.
I stopped at Wal-Mart to get onions, which I have been told are known as Chinese leeks. I also got more fermented black bean, lotus root, and cucumber. Total cost, 8 yuan, about $1.20.
Hooked up my TV box with its new adapter and voila! I have TV! I cycled through the 250 stations, found nothing worth watching (including a French channel and a couple English channels). Maybe that 40 yuan wasn’t worth it after all.
I answered e-mails, having to send each e-mail a couple times before it was made it successfully. I set up a lunch date with Matt and his fiancee for Friday at noon at the monastery. Made some more Sichuan style roasted honey peanuts. Made bread dough, rolled it with onion and hot pepper paste, cooked it in the wok. Had Sichuan style fried bread for dinner.
It was 11:30pm and the person learning to play the ukulele started up. So I pulled out my guitar and began playing along, the same chords, the same tempo. The playing stopped and there was a knock on my door. It was a woman. She started talking to me in Chinese. When I told her I did not speak Chinese, she said, “I learn ukelele.” She pointed to her apartment, the one right next to mine, and started speaking Chinese again. I repeated that I didn’t understand. “I play guitar,” I said, showing her my guitar. She tried to speak English, said her English “not good”. “Better than my Chinese,” I said, but she was embarrassed, covered her face. I wanted to get my translator, but she left.
Why had she come over? I wonder if she was either asking me if her playing was annoying, or mine. I heard her talking with someone else in her apartment, then she started playing again, but stopped after about 10 minutes. I didn’t play my guitar, in case she had come over to complain about my playing.
I went to bed early, without working on my blog, because the internet wasn’t working. Had a rough night, including anxiety dreams about learning all the wrong written characters in Chinese.