James the taxi driver lives in one room of a maze in the hutong near my apartment. His cab is parked on the main road, more like an alley really. I spy it out the window this morning and run down five lights to find him. I want to make arrangements to get to the airport on Saturday. Yue had printed out all the details in Chinese in the event I would see a cab in my neighborhood. When I get near to the taxi I can see no one in it or nearby.
Just then, a woman walks out of the hutong. After a minute of pantomime and showing her my Chinese message, we make a plan. She walks me through the tiny yards and passages. She knocks occasionally on a decrepit door, waking the occupant before moving on to another door. She does this several times before finding the cabbie. What a patient and helpful woman, taking time to help a stranger before rushing to work. Rush hour is not a good term for the relaxed pace most people seem to enjoy here. I've had numerous experiences like this, being the recipient of kindness from strangers.
James gets pants,shirt and shoes on before inviting me into his little one-room unit. A bed fills one end. A small desk is opposite the shabby door. The other side has items that might be a wash bowl and chamber pot. No cooking items. He must eat on the fly as he works around the city.
Politely, and using a smattering of English, he helps me exchange phone numbers. I'm hoping to heck I get to the airport on time for my weekend pleasure/video trip to Shanghai.
Leaning close to the scallop edged mirror over the sink in my bathroom, smearing make up, for the first time since I left Los Angeles in 1992, over my ageing face, trying to disguise the spots and irregularities of age and years of working outdoors at the nursery. I'm experimenting with a makeup kit I purchased on the plane over, duty free. I discover an ingeniously hidden drawer with tiny brushes and colored pencils. In one of those moments I identify one small brush as for lipstck, and, yes, those reddish pots of color are lipstick. And a tiny red lipliner pencil. Now it all comes back to me. As I swipe up a dab of color and press the brush to my lips, I see my mother in the mirror, looking back at me, applying lipstick in the exact same way. So many years have passed. I don't think of her often. Very pleasurable to relive that memory in China of all places.
I look out my kitchen window at 5:50 on Saturday morning and see James, the cabbie, warming up his car. the headlights wink at me with reassurance.
On the way to the airport he tells me he has been worrying about me. His concern seems sincere, making it his responsibility to get me to my China Airlines flight on time. It's an interesting feeling, knowing a kind stranger cares.
It's a long ride to Terminal 3, and I get to know my neighbor since his English is pretty good. He tells me he makes 3,000Y $150 a month and pays 150Y to the taxi company that owns his car. He thinks that's fir. His tiny one-room micro studio costs 700Y a month, 900Y for two months in winter for heat. He says it's high for Beijing but the neighborhood is worth it--quiet and near the university. He practices English with his better educated fares. "From the bottom of his heart" he wants a better job. He's saving his money and has a "plan" to purchase a computer by July to improve his job skills and use the internet to find work, his "goal." He has a wife and high school aged son who live in Yunnan. His son is planning on attending college. This is a family that plans!