No Good without Connection: a story from Shanghai

After having lunch with a beautiful woman a young man entered a taxi in the center of downtown Shanghai. The taxi driver asked where to and the man told him so. The taxi driver, in a gentle and sincere voice, complimented the man’s Chinese. The man did not respond to the compliment, seeking to be effected by neither praise nor contempt. He gets out his cell phone and makes a few needed calls.

They drive through the city and arrive at the man’s destination: an apartment complex where he has an audition. As he gets out the taxi to remove his excess baggage (an umbrella, jacket, laptop and backpack) he looks at the kindly taxi driver and tells him, “Your demeanor is very polite.” The taxi driver accepts the compliment and the two part. The man goes toward the apartment tower, emptying his mind in preparation for the audition. Meanwhile, the taxi driver notices something on the passenger seat as he drives off into the bustling town.

In the audition, the man read for a technical worker entering a panic at his control station, slapping buttons and cranking handles with ever rising intensity in an attempt to fix some disaster until a robot arrives, saves the day and flies off to his robotian wonderworld beyond the clouds. The man feels he did very well and impressed the casting people immensely both with his acting and suave hairstyle. He takes a pee and heads down to the street. As he walks out the building he feels his back pocket. His wallet is missing.

Instantly, he recalls what he’s been practicing with greater frequency since leaving the Zen temple, to, instead of allowing the mind to automatically use words to judge situations as ‘good’ ‘bad’ or some other adjective and thus give rise to an emotional reaction based on these words, rather watch this process, to watch it only. Watch these thoughts arise without following them, getting involved, and they naturally fizzle away; this unneeded judgmental process and subsequent emotional reaction are thus avoided. They do not help the situation anyway. Without this reaction, he looks at the situation more focusedly and recalls all the places he might have left it.

His first intuition is that he left it in the taxi, as though an image from his subconscious returned in that moment, a fragment wherein a black wallet lay on the seat before him. The thought arises, about how much money he will have lost, of how difficult is the process of replacing a bank card in China. He watches these thoughts, does not get involved and focuses on finding a solution to the problem.

He takes a taxi back to the restaurant. On the way, he calls the beautiful woman with whom he ate those delicious cheeseburgers, a rarity in China, but not Shanghai, thankfully. As she answers the phone the man asks,”What was the color of the taxi I got in?” “I think it was pale blue.” He asked without saying hello and telling her about the situation not because he was in a hurry or being rude, but because he wanted her to say the first thing that came into her head, without any interruption from the reasoning part of the brain. It was successful. He thanked her for her help.

The taxi driver then offered his help, sharing the numbers of the taxi companies, both the green and pale blue variety. This was necessary as the man wasn’t sure which color taxi he had been in. Hell, he wasn’t even sure he did leave it in the taxi, he was still on his way to the restaurant. Yet, he did know, at some level in his mind, he knew.

Meanwhile, the taxi driver, the gentle one who took the man to the audition, drove another customer to a grocery store. It was his second since dropping off the man. Though he had been driving around for 45 minutes, he couldn’t stop thinking about what the man had said, “Your demeanor is very polite.” Actually, the exact translation is that his “character” is polite (Ni de suzhi hen you limao), but that sounds funny in English, so I am writing demeanor. But one can see how the idea that one’s character is polite is a bit stronger in connotation than one’s demeanor.

The man on his way to the restaurant was asked a question by the taxi driver, the 2nd one, ‘You lost your wallet and you’re not angry?” The man replied,”We should not react to things.” The man was happy to be able to actually practice what he had been learning, and to speak it not as a hypocrite but one who was actually doing what he learned. He wondered if the man realized that the teaching in which this practice is most extensively expounded comes from the sage Buddhists born in his own country. Probably not. But I’m not sure.

He arrives at the restaurant and his wallet is not there. Then he loses it. He held out for a long time, but finally explodes. He accuses the waiter of theft. He throws over a table. The customers tell him to stop and he tells them to @#@%@#$! They subside.

The taxi driver continues to drive around, pondering the thought that his character is “polite.”

What I just said, about the man exploding, was actually just a possibility that wasn’t realized. Sorry if you feel deceived. Of course, he could have exploded at any point throughout this process. All that was necessary would have been a thorough subconscious belief in the ‘wrongness’ of the situation. With that word in place within his mind, placed on his perception of the situation, any emotional explosion would be justified. Thankfully, this didn’t happen. After being told that the restaurant didn’t have his wallet he simply thanked them and left. He remained detached from the tendency to label the situation with value words (good, bad, horrible, sucks, etc), and so remained clear headed.

He left the restaurant and began walking down the road, towards a subway station. The road was crowded with hundreds of fashionable Chinese girls looking for men with money or places to spend the money so that they can be looked at and feel they have value. Or so that they can look at themselves and feel they have value. The man called the casting people. The wallet was not there.

The taxi driver just dropped off a man at the train station. He started driving back towards the area where he dropped off the man, perhaps attracted there because he has been constantly thinking about the man. As he drives, he takes out a black canvas wallet from his pocket and looks at it thoughtfully. He puts the wallet back.

The man continues walking. For some reason, he decided to take neither bus nor subway. He had his transportation card as he keeps that in his pocket, but kept on walking. Perhaps he thought, “It’s not that far.” As he went, he called to two taxi companies. He was surprised by their punctuality. They took down all his info including the time of the taxi ride, the fee, the pick-up and drop-off points, and his underwear size. No, no they didn’t ask that, sorry, just joking around again. But they were very punctual indeed. And he was surprised.

He kept walking and thought, “Hmm, maybe this will work out afterall.”

A beep sounded on the taxi driver’s console. It was a message describing the man’s situation. The taxi driver was pensive. He knew that he could take the money in the wallet, discard the rest of the contents (or sell them) and deny the matter completely. It was only a few hundred renmenbi, but he only makes about 2000 or so a month. The echoing thought returned of his ‘politeness.’ “What should I do,” he thought. In fact, he knew what he should do, but that other part of his mind still asked the question.

The man made his way toward home and suddenly there was a ring from the man’s pocket. He picked up the phone. It was the taxi company. “Do you have any good news?” said the man in a pleading voice. He then realized he was pleading, and let that go, no need to plead. The man from the company said that nobody found anything during the time that the man was in the taxi and that he was sorry. The man thanked him and hung up the phone.

The taxi driver approached an intersection. He had just decided that a few more bucks toward his children’s education was more important than giving the laowai (foreigner) his wallet back. He thought, “The foreigner was well dressed and had nice hair, and was picked up in one of the most expensive areas of town, he could probably afford to lose some cash.” Of course, the taxi driver did not realize that the man was an actor and that the beautiful woman bought his lunch.

The taxi driver headed through the intersection, a small one, near the part of town where he dropped off the man, which happens to be near the place where the man lives. As he passes through, he looks to his left and, through his glasses, sees a man with a white shirt and black pants, carrying a laptop, jacket and umbrella. The man’s eyes are distant at first, looking beyond the intersection, but then they move slightly down, as if drawn to taxi driver’s gaze, lining down to the taxi and then they peer inside. They make eye contact for the briefest of moments. The taxi driver turns his eyes to the road and keeps driving, but his mind is aghast.

The man, after hanging up the phone with the taxi company had a thought. He realized that the taxi driver could easily pocket the money and deny everything. The man began to accept the possibility that he might never see his wallet again. He began to think of what he would have to do: cancel his cards, go through the difficult process of getting a new bank card in China, possibly borrow money from…his roommate? the beautiful woman? At that moment, he approached an intersection and a don’t walk signal. A pale blue taxi came into his field of vision from the right. In slow motion it crossed in front him, and as it passed him by, the man’s eyes drifted down toward the taxi, just in time to catch a glimpse of the taxi driver. They make eye contact for the briefest of moments. He then sees the taxi driver look away from the man and back to the road. The man walked forward into the street and looked at the taxi driver as he passed on. He noticed the same shaggy hair and glasses as the taxi driver before. “Could it have been the same one?” he thought. He couldn’t see the taxi’s number, so he continued on toward home.

Fifteen minutes later he received a phone call. It was the taxi company. His wallet had been found. He would go to the office the next day to retrieve it. Hanging up the phone a well of laughter arose from his chest. Deep, bellowing, joyful laughter. He released all tension in his body, which included a fart, just kidding, and let his laughter fill the air around him. It flowed forth like a gushing river of warm loveliness, of eternal joy, the laughter of angels which echoes for eternity in fathomless spaces filled with white light; in that he partook for this brief moment. A young Chinese man looked at him strangely. The man said in Chinese, “Share my happiness!” The Chinese man did not, at least, not apparently. But it made no difference to the man. He went on laughing down the street at the wonder that had occurred.

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