Sunday, April 25, 2010

Food Poisoning and Cricket

I thought I was immune. For two months now I've been tempting fate, eating pancakes and pork buns from street vendors, slurping noodles in holes-in-the-wall. I've spent enough time in China, I've built up immunity. But microbes are always evolving, and Wednesday my stomach encountered a bug it hadn't met before.

You don't want the details. I'll only say I'll never eat kungpao chicken again. Probably anything with peanuts is no longer in my diet.

Thursday I summon the strength to phone in to cancel class, and then I return to an unconscious state. During bouts of wakefulness, I sip water or juice to rehydrate, but I'm not even hungry. I just want to sleep.

As I lay in the dark, I feel homesick for the first time. I just want to lie in my own bed, eat food prepared in my own kitchen. I'm miserable, I'm lonely, I'm depressed.

Friday morning I drag myself to class simply because I yearn the company of other human beings. My students know I'm ill and are kind to me, for which I'm grateful.

I sustain myself on bread and bananas. It's all I can get down. I'm definitely not going back to the school cafeteria, that poison palace. And I don't want Chinese food anyway—do they really have to fry everything?

Saturday I'm on the mend and meet friends for lunch at Zhongshan Park. I'm so excited to be having spaghetti and salad, the first American food since I've been here.

After lunch, I go with two British guys to a cricket match in Pudong. We ride the subway under the river, change trains, and go deep into terra incognito.

When we climb to the surface, we're no longer in China. Broad boulevards. Wide open spaces. The streets are clean, the sidewalks spit-free. Cars slow down for pedestrians in crosswalks. (But they still don't stop.) We've ridden the subway to another country.

We pass well-dressed people speaking English and French, Japanese and Korean. I see an American kid buying a candy bar in a supermarket. I overhear a French couple in heated conversation—about existential philosophy, I'd like to believe, but more likely about the poor selection of cheeses at Carrefour. Here, wealthy expats can live as if they were in America or Europe. And so can wealthy Chinese.

We sit on the veranda of a coffee shop drinking pints of Guinness. The British guys explain the rules to me, but I just don't get it.

Out on the field, British and Australian and Indian men stand around throwing a ball at each other. Every now and then, they run around the field or jump up and down cheering. Baseball is a game that packs five minutes of action into two hours of playing time, but cricket packs the same thrill into an entire afternoon.

“And sometimes the game goes on for days,” one of them tells me.

It's getting dark, and the players walk off the field. We haven't been following closely enough to tell whether the game is over or will continue tomorrow.

We have dinner at Century Avenue, and then we head home. Four subway lines cross here, and we each take a different one.

For half an hour, I slide sideways through a hole in the ground, and when I climb to the surface, I'm back where I live. I dodge taxis and motorbikes as I cross the street, I push through the crowds on the sidewalk.

From the depths of despair midweek, I'm back to my normal happy self. It was a good day, the kind of day I came here for—to get out of my little corner of the planet and meet the world.

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