A Lunch Ruined

After a long, horrible week (more to follow), I returned to social intercourse and solid food with a trip to one of my favorite lunch spots, a western-style bakery near the office. Guiding my tray of tapioca milk tea, salad and packets of Thousand Island dressing, the nation's only approved salad topping*, towards the only available seat, I caught the tail end of a rather elevated conversation: "...so, what happened with the Gang of Four? I mean, there were four of them, right? Mao's wife and then, what, three others?"

I sat down next to a middle-aged Canadian man and a young Chinese girl, whom time revealed to be his English language student. The man was in the middle of pontificating on Chinese history, totally undeterred by his tenuous grasp of said history, and pausing only to critique his companion's choice of lunch items for their perilous level of transfats, described with horror as "twisted poison molecules" (yes, the best band name ever).

The girl appeared to understand no more than a few dozen English words, "cultural" and "revolution" not among them, and so the speaker interrupted his monologue just often enough to punch key words into an electronic pocket translator - "gang" was one such entry, "leap forward" another.

Our interlocutor was a bulbous, bearded man with a mane of shaggy white hair of the "counterculture professorial" variety, wearing a button-down shirt, faded jeans, and Tevas, with a wedded ring embedded in this thick finger (rather puffy for a man waging a multilingual war on transfats). His captive audience was a slim but inelegant girl of around 25, her plain features further dimmed by a look of deathly boredom which froze her politely upturned lips into a rigor mortis grin.

A second man, indistinguishable from the first except for his totally unironic Hawaiian shirt, joined the pair and the two men began conversing among themselves in English, to the evident relief of the young Chinese girl, who busied herself painstakingly rearranging the 3 inch stack of snapshots she kept in her wallet.

In the course of their conversation (which repeatedly referred to the girl in the third person), our hero explained that of all his students, only this young thing really understood him, had a real love of learning, a mature wisdom and insight - each virtue emphasized by a series of vaguely lascivious hand gestures, the last of which seemed to indicate "full breasts." He also made it clear that he speaks not a word of Chinese nor has any intention of learning any, and that he doesn't know this girl's name.

This is what I get for trying to sneak out of the office at lunch time.

* Recent menu sighting: "salad with your choice of thousand island dressing"