Yesterday it rained. Mid-morning, I endeavored to buy plane tickets for our summer trip. This involved a trip across town, and I knew it would be tricky to find a cab in the rain, so I donned my raincoat and my stubborn city face and headed out. In the ten minutes it took me to find a pedi-cab (essentially a motorized bike with rickshaw-like seating in the back, ranging in quality from okay to horrific but much more readily available than proper taxis), I was yelled at by no fewer than seven people that I should be carrying an umbrella. One man even ran over to offer me his own. I politely declined, indicating my rain jacket, but this only elicited confused looks. (Waterproof material is not widely sold here, so it’s likely that most people don’t know that a jacket can really repel the rain. Everyone just uses umbrellas.)
The pedi-cab I found was pretty low on the quality spectrum, with no shocks and ratty curtains, which meant a shuddering, bumpy, rain-soaked ride. Halfway there, I noticed with some dismay that the driver had strapped a pair of crutches to the outside of the rig. Which leg was injured?, I wondered. Hopefully not the important one. I was happy, though, to be getting there. We arrived to find out that the address I found on the website was the former site of the China Southern Air office; the new location was about 3 miles down the road. The pedi-cab driver agreed to take me there.
It took a full 90 minutes to purchase the tickets, because the computer system they used required the teller to input all the information in what looked to be binary code. She had a four-inch-thick booklet explaining each step, and she referred to it frequently. It was painful to watch, even though she was well-versed in the program; at one point, I said to her, “Kind of a lot of work, huh?” And she smiled cheerfully and said, “Yes, a little bit.” Workers here rarely complain, at least not to customers, even if the computer system is fiercely slow or the printer is 20 years old. They are eminently patient.
While I was staring off, trying to read the signs in Mandarin to stimulate my brain, I got a text message from Nick. Mousama bin Laden is dead. Huh? Was this like the 3rd-in-line in the Taliban? I racked my brain trying to match the name with a news story, but couldn’t quite connect the dots. Then the pun dawned on me, and I burst out into a peal of laughter so loud the ticket teller stopped her meticulous key-stroking and gave me a hard, quizzical look. The mouse, our mouse that came and went and came and went…it was dead. Somehow. Fingers flying, I texted back, asking for details. Quickly the response came: Nick had stabbed the rat in the neck with a cleaver as it ran across the kitchen floor. I knew which knife he’d used: the big one we’d bought on Taiwan’s Kinmen Island, the one fashioned from shrapnel from one of thousands of artillery shells shot at the outpost by the Mainland government in the 1950s. Was the mouse this metal’s first victim? I wondered and hoped it was. Just then, our tickets printed out of the creaking dot matrix printer onto the floor, and I was off.
The rain had tapered to a slight drizzle by now, but that still meant there wouldn’t be a real taxi for miles around, so I readied myself for either a long search or a long walk. Just then, I heard the distinct thump-bump-clump and motor revving of a pedi-cab coming up behind me. Blessed be! I turned around and climbed in, and as I started to tell the driver my address, I noticed them: the crutches strapped to the side of the vehicle. “It’s you!” he exclaimed. “From before! Remember?” “Yes!!!” I heartily replied. “Wow! How great!” And we made our clanking, broken way back home, where the kitchen is mouse-free, finally.