Seven Irritations

Published 2007-04-17

OK, so: here’s what made this past Sunday so damned irritating.

First, taxes. This was actually not any more irritating than usual, and actually turned out a little pleasant. We were expecting to pay a few thousand bucks each to the Feds and Oregon, but TurboTax helpfully informed us that we pass the test as “bona fide residents of a foreign country” (by three days!) and thus qualify for an exemption on our foreign income. So instead of ponying up a few thousands, we actually get a little jangly money back. Still, the whole rigamarole took about 12 hours which I ain’t ever gonna get back, and we did this all online using TurboTax and scans from back home. So there was the usual PRC internet lag, which is a little like drinking beer through a swizzle stick.

Second, allergies. I woke up Sunday sneezing. Even for my heroic allergies this might be a first. It was a little like when you snore so loudly you wake yourself up. All day long I had this painful congestion behind my eyes, mixed in with sneezing jags that bordered on epilleptic. I have no idea what’s in the air here that causes this (particular)’s happened two or three times since we moved here.

Sidebar: I have learned over the years to differentiate the source and severity of my allergies, which vary in subtle ways like fine wines. Steady, low-grade nasal congestion accompanied by mounting asthma are symptomatic of my cat allergy. Sneeziness and hives on my neck, back and legs are due to ragweed and other pollen. The same symptoms plus red watery eyes indicate house dust. Mild congestion in the morning or evening comes from mold. And so forth and so on. I swear I am not making this up. China is teaching me a few new ones, although I have no idea what the source(s) are. There is a lot of stuff in the air here.

Third, the air is yellow. Newscasters can euphemize this as “haze” but they ain’t fooling anyone recently. It reached a surreal nadir of opacity two days ago, when we were unable to make out buildings that were no more than a half mile away. This is on a putatively sunny day. And remember (as we are frequently reminded): “Xiamen is the cleanest city in China.” The haze and grime followed us twenty miles into the hills.

On the road to Tong'an Fourth, we, along with a few 老外 friends, accompanied the informal “Big Dog Club” on a day-long outing to a reservoir in the hills near Tong’an, a distant Xiamen suburb. This was quite an adventure. If it weren’t for the allergies and points Five and Six (below), the adventurousness would have outweighed the irritation. There were 5 cars, 19 people, and 11 dogs on our outing. No fewer than 5 of the dogs were Samoyeds, a very popular breed with 20-something Xiamenese hipsters (who mainly comprise this group). The reservoir was about 20 miles from our home on the island, but of course with all those people, cars, and dogs, it took more than 3 hours to get there (about 1 to get back). We spent more time driving, eating, and socializing than playing with dogs. It was entirely akin to a BMW motorcycle club, or a Fiat Spider owners’ club, or somesuch. Most Chinese dog owners view their dogs as lifestyle accessories rather than companions.

None of our Chinese dog owner friends are worried about the new dog law. Some of them said they’d only take them out at night. I think most of them have trained their dogs to eliminate on their balconies or similar spaces within the apartments, and that they don’t often take their dogs out, so the law doesn’t seem unreasonable to them.

LunchAlong the way, we stopped at what is in all probability the filthiest restaurant I have ever witnessed in my life (Five). The space around the dumpsters at the Wendy’s restaurant, where I worked when I was 16, was cleaner. At this place, the toilets (adjacent to the kitchen), were little more than an open privy. There is only one table manner in China and that is: never touch food with your hands

(corollary: never set your chopsticks down on the table). You can see where this would be a sensible rule. The food was OK, I had duck tripe and pig’s feet and trotters for the first time.

The reservoir itself was not amenable to swimming. The water level was incredibly low, and all access to the actual water was restricted. This did not deter the Club, however, as we scrambled down the spillway-slash-quarry to a unexpectedly scenic stream flowing through the quarry spoils. Some of the dogs (including, of course, Bismarck) took it upon themselves to swim in the only open pool available, which was kind of wedged between some rocks between a pair of small falls. Jenny, Bismarck and I scrambled downstream a long way, until the verticality of the streambank turned us back. This would be a fine place for hiking in the American fashion, with backpacks and heavy boots.

During the otherwise lovely outing my left contact lens stuck to the inside of my upper eyelid and slid up above my eyeball (Six). This has only happened to me two or three times in my life previously, and always while I was actively fooling with my contacts, i.e. touching them with my fingers. This is the first time it’s ever done this unbidden; probably due to accumulations of airborne dust. The experience is painless but really unpleasant nonetheless. There’s a void entirely around your eyeball and if you don’t work out a stray contact pretty quickly there’s a risk it will migrate behind, which I imagine would bring irritation to an entirely transcendent plane. Jenny helped me fish it out, filthy hands and all, and somehow I managed to get it back in my eye.

Reservoir Dog Club Swimming Red Feet Channel Bismarck and Jenny

To top it all, we’re stuck in an endless loop right now debating Bismarck’s fate. There is no doubt that he is legally registered (thus OK to own) but far larger than the 40cm rule prohibiting large dogs. This means, according to the police, that he is not allowed to leave our apartment, ostensibly because he might frighten people. They couched this prohibition as “for our protection” which is really creepy. So we’re left discussing how to deal with this; Bismarck can’t stay in Xiamen and enjoy the unbounded life he’s had since he was born (we didn’t even leash him when he was a puppy). We are also weighing our relative hapiness re: living in China, which is, let’s face it, kind of a hard place to like. Jenny has another year on her contract and neither one of us is wont to quit right now.