Saturday, September 27, 2008


My friend Ruby is taking me to a party tonight, but first I'm accompanying her on some errands. "Ruby" is her American name, and I don't think it really fits her, but her name in Chinese could be roughly translated as "small red", so I can see the reasoning.

Ruby is slim and quirky with big eyes and a scratchy, party-girl voice. She's constantly in motion and full of nervous energy. She can't weigh more than 100 pounds, but in a country of aggressive drivers, she is certainly one of the most aggressive. She drives the wrong way down streets, honking her horn to make people move out of her way. Chinese house music constantly blaring from the speakers, she drives on sidewalks, disregards traffic signals, and gives no pedestrian any chance at all. I ask her if the police ever stop her and she tells me that her car used to belong to an associate of hers in Beijing and that it has government plates so the police are afraid to stop her. Like most things one hears in China, it's tough to tell how much of this is true, but I have driven with her on many occasions, and the police never do stop her. In fact, I notice that the police don't do much of anything except harass shopkeepers and taxi drivers. I suppose in a country where corruption is the norm, a police officer has to worry about stopping the wrong person.

I'm not sure what Ruby does. She told me once she works for a bank, but I can't believe banks, even in China, work this way. Whenever I'm with her we drive around Guangzhou, Ruby yapping into her cellphone as we approach our destinations. As we drive up someone will come over to her window and they'll exchange a few pleasantries, then Ruby will hand them a bundle of money wrapped in a shopping bag. Ruby is always happy to have me with her on these errands, apparently as some sort of security. I want to point out that I'm not a particularly intimidating looking person, but I have no idea how to say this in Cantonese, so I just smile and go along with the game and hope nothing bad goes down.

Sometimes Ruby will want to show off how much Cantonese I speak. She'll have me talk to her friends, or recite some silly limerick I've memorized, while her friends clap their hands and laugh. I feel like a pet dog being asked to sit or roll over.

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