Choose Your Own Adventure

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May 29th 2011
Published: May 29th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

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Two friends from the office and me
Last Thursday started out like any other day. There was no reason to suspect that it would be any different from, say, Tuesday or Wednesday. I had a full work day ahead of me, including a field trip from my office in the southwestern cornfields of Beijing to the Central Business District. As usual, I left my castle to catch the morning shuttle to the office with barely a moment to spare, locking the interior door in a hurry and slamming the exterior security door behind me as I dashed to the elevator lobby. As the door clanged shut, I heard a strange metallic sound echo from between the doors, but I had no time to ponder the source of the noise in my haste to make it to the shuttle on time.

As soon as I was out the door, the strange sound was forgotten. I walked briskly along the tree-lined streets of my neighborhood, leaving octogenarians and toddling tots in my dust. Excited about the prospect of venturing into civilization that afternoon, I felt as though I hadn't a care in the world.

I was deeply immersed in my work when my cell phone rang. At first I didn't hear the joyful melody of the Hamster Dance as my phone buzzed on my desk (whatever, it's hilarious); it was only when some of my coworkers starting laughing at the sounds of a hoedown coming from my work space that I hastily snatched up the phone to answer.

It was my ayi. (One of the many wonderful things about living in China is that I can afford to have a housekeeper at the ripe old age of 27. It’s pure magic- when I leave in the morning, my house is due for a cleaning and when I arrive home in the evening, everything is sparkling). She was calling because her key wasn’t opening the door and she wanted to know why. Why? How should I know what- oh. Right. That strange noise from the morning. In a flash, I knew what had happened. My security door has two locks- one on the outside that is opened with a key, like a normal lock, and one on the inside, that is turned by hand for added security when one is at home. Key words being when one is at home. When I left in such a hurry that
Better than non-living, I supposeBetter than non-living, I supposeBetter than non-living, I suppose

Also, what does it mean to be "mathernal"?
morning, the slam and subsequent vibration of the metal door had jostled the inside lock just enough to make it slide into place, essentially rendering keys useless.


I explained to my ayi what I thought had transpired. There was silence on her end and I could just picture her staring at her phone, wondering if I had gone insane. I asked her if she would mind talking to the business management company on my behalf, since I thought I wouldn't be getting home until close to midnight. After a brief pause, she came back on the line and said it was a no-go. The building management refused to allow her to handle the situation on my behalf, because she might be "dangerous" - despite the fact that she had a photo ID, verbal confirmation from me and keys to my apartment.


I suppose my parents are reading this, feeling relieved that the building security where I live is so strict; I, on the other hand, was, shall we say, annoyed. The only upside of the situation was that I had an appointment in the CBD that afternoon and so could conceivably make a detour to my neighborhood to take care of the problem.

The morning went by in a flash and I soon found myself in a taxi speeding towards Mecca. By the time my meetings concluded, it was nearly 6:00 PM and the chaotic nightmare that is the Beijing rush hour was in full swing. It was also starting to rain, which makes the traffic about a gazillion times worse (that was the official statistic provided by the International Ministry of Traffic Insanity). I astutely decided to take the subway. I was only two stops from my neighborhood, so I'd be home in no time.

Ha, ha!

What I had neglected to remember was that the Beijing rush hour does not merely apply to the roadways; no, the subway lines in the city are jammed as well. While sitting in traffic is not a day at the beach, at least automobiles have the arctic blast of air conditioning, comfortable seats and a semblance of privacy. My chosen mode of transportation was packed to the gills; I found myself wedged between two particularly fragrant individuals. Air conditioning on the subways is not turned on until the "official" start of summer, usually
Window Washing in BeijingWindow Washing in BeijingWindow Washing in Beijing

They're sitting on buckets. Yes...buckets.
sometime after the mercury passes 30.

It’s quite astounding to see the lengths Chinese people go to not to get hit by a single drop of rain. When I got to the exit of the subway station, there were about 150 people crammed together under the overhang, all looking outside, waiting for the rain to stop. Many were smoking, some spitting, coughing, others talking on phones, and there was a steady flow of thoroughly disgruntled commuters pushing past them attempting to get out. The weather guessers had correctly predicted (for once) that it was going to rain, so I pulled out my umbrella and haughtily pushed my way through the crowd of non-prepareds. It was raining pretty hard at this point, but I had a limited amount of time to get home and take care of the door situation, so onward I pressed.

About ten steps outside the subway, the wind picked up. Of course. My trusty umbrella began betraying me; after four loyal years together, it had started to leak. I told myself it was just water, it wasn't like it contained radioactive particles- oh, wait. I broke into an all-out sprint toward my apartment. The manager
Display of CondomsDisplay of CondomsDisplay of Condoms

The brand name? "Clinton"
on duty barely glanced at me as she asked for my name and recorded my contact information. I quickly explained the situation and asked her to call the maintenance guys. She looked confused and asked whether I had my keys with me. Yes, I had the keys. Why couldn't I get in? The door was locked. Was someone at home? No, obviously, someone was not at home; otherwise, I wouldn't be asking for her help!

We went back and forth for a few minutes before I used a few key props to illustrate the problem. Oh, she said, I get it. (Pause). We can't help you. You have to call a locksmith. By that point, I was becoming increasingly concerned that my head was going to explode. She began paging through a list of maintenance numbers at a maddeningly slow pace. I suggested that I go upstairs and try my own luck with the lock while we waited for the locksmith; she agreed.

As I faced my door, I gave myself a little pep talk. I wasn't going to let the door outsmart me. I was bigger (well, no), stronger (than metal? Well...) and smarter (yes!) than the stupid thing and I could win this battle. My key turned, but the door remained locked. I studied the outside facade of the door; it seemed hopeless. It was then that I noticed a tiny rip in the screen between the security bars. I glanced at my watch; I had half an hour before my date. Suddenly, it was like my hand had a mind of its own. I reached out, grasped the corner of the screen, and yanked up as hard as I could. It tore neatly up the middle, leaving enough space for my arm between the bars. I snaked my hand through, then got stuck about halfway to my elbow. I considered giving up, but defeat was not an option. I kicked the door soundly for good measure to let it know it wasn't going to win. Gritting my teeth, I forced as much of my arm through the bars as I could. The tips of my fingers just reached the secondary lock. I held my breath and fluttered my fingers. The lock turned a fraction of an inch. I fluttered my fingers again; this time, the lock clicked open. I had done it! Victory was mine.

You may be wondering why I devoted an entire blog to getting locked out of my apartment (which is becoming an alarmingly common experience for me). I had been faced with a problem that seemed to require outside help and was able to solve it on my own. There is no greater satisfaction than figuring out a solution to what seems like an impossible problem. Who knows what's next? CEO of my own company? A political career? The U.N.? The sky's the limit!

Assuming I'm not stuck in traffic.


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