Search­ing for the Mer­maid­寻找美人鱼

That's China - - Contents - Text by / H.D. What­ley

Never mind the fact that I did not take a long hot shower, wash my face nor shave that morn­ing. The real is­sue at hand was a much needed cup of "hot smokin' Joe". A freshly brewed Amer­i­can cof­fee with a spot of milk and a dash of a sugar sub­sti­tute was my morn­ing mu­biao. My quest was sim­ple: I was search­ing for the mer­maid.

The newly opened sub­way from Xi­asha to Fengqi Lu was not very crowded for an au­tumn Tues­day morn­ing in Hangzhou. The train car was filled with ran­dom busi­ness folks, some old ladies and a lot of en­try level work­ers look­ing to be the next Robin Li or Pony Ma or some­body like that. Never mind the fact that I did not take a long hot shower, wash my face nor shave that morn­ing. The real is­sue at hand was a much needed cup of "hot smokin' Joe". A freshly brewed Amer­i­can cof­fee with a spot of milk and a dash of a sugar sub­sti­tute was my morn­ing mu­biao. My quest was sim­ple: I was search­ing for the mer­maid.

As I stum­bled down the Yan'an Lu past state-owned banks, ritzy ho­tels and lux­u­ri­ous of­fice towers, my Ital­ian-style driv­ing shoes, which I bought in Is­tan­bul, made a squeaky sound caused by the cir­cu­lar rub­ber grips on the bot­tom. I didn't worry about my khakis be­ing wrin­kled be­cause I was sport­ing a freshly pressed cot­ton dress shirt. It was a light blue, Ox­ford cloth, but­ton down that matched my eyes. Quickly, I zipped past bankers, depart­ment store em­ploy­ees and shao­jie who were mak­ing their way to and from work in the Xi­acheng dis­trict. I needed my cof­fee and soon.

So I traipsed along while scan­ning the build­ing fa­cades. Where was the mer­maid who co­quet­tishly posed with her twin tails? I started to feel a twitch in my arm and my hy­po­thal­a­mus be­gan to whine like an un­fed panda bear in a zoo. Acids in my stom­ach were do­ing som­er­saults as I quick­ened my pace, all the while look­ing for large green let­ters in English.

Per­spi­ra­tion formed on my brow as I vis­ually skimmed the signs in English and Man­darin. Fi­nally, on a sec­ond story of a large build­ing, there she was in all of her green glory - the siren of caf­feine, the god­dess of java. She was beck­on­ing me to come in­side and spend my hard-earned RMB. Only, I was un­able to find the en­trance. nd

A depart­ment store se­cu­rity guard was stand­ing watch in front of the store's front doors, epaulets on his shoul­der boards sug­ges­tive of his sa­cred au­thor­ity. I made a pa­thetic at­tempt at pro­nounc­ing the cor­rect phrase in Pu­tonghua.

"Kafei?….. Star­bucks?" His face looked perplexed and he made it clear that I was not get­ting past him. Then, he smiled a snag­gle-toothed grin and er­rat­i­cally pointed at a stair­case to my right, while mak­ing some odi­ous grunt­ing sounds. Our game of cha­rades was over as I bolted up the flight like a wild ban­shee head­ing to the 21st cen­tury equiv­a­lent of an opium den.

Bathing in my own sweat, my crisp blue shirt had be­come some­what of a body nap­kin. The meinu at the counter eyed me sus­pi­ciously as I raced up to place my or­der. In my best Chi­nese, I said, "wo xiang yao yige meishi kafei." She pursed her lips, looked me straight in the eye and, in per­fect English, blandly said, "Hot or cold." It was then that I knew. I had an emo­tional epiphany - a Ker­ouac-like satori. I had found my mer­maid and all was right with the world.

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