"That really happened," I thought to myself for the first time that day, as I walked to the subway.
As an expat, you're often sought out for odd jobs. We've all heard about the strange requests: "Seeking a young British man with nice voice for voice recording." "Looking for an American to read fairy tales twice a week to Grade 1 children."
My friend was even employed for a morning as a book-holder, so they could photograph the books with ... hands of a certain skin color.
My assignment that morning: To watch a TV show and rank the emotion.
"To clarify, I'm not in the show, right?" I'd asked.
Nope. Just watch one.
Meh, I was off that morning. May as well.
It took a bit of phone tag to find the place, but soon I was in a conference room of a busy office, being walked through the rules.
The television show: A clip of the latest P.O.S. sexist b****** Sean Hannity was featuring that week.
My job: Rank, on two scales, the excitement level and emotional state of the jackass, and the woman he was offending, while Hannity chuckled in the corner.
Not an easy task for this admittedly strong feminist, but I stuck to the rules, typing away while two extremely bored Chinese office workers dozed in the corner. An hour later (and after having one of them blatantly change some of my answers), I walked out with a little money, baffled by my morning.
For a few hours, my day normalized. Laundry, naptime, chatting with a friend. But then we went to dinner, to a hole in the wall near my new house. With luck, we managed to order without any pictures on the menu (spicy tofu and braised eggplant), and settled in to eat.
Then we met Jack.
("That's my name," he said over and over. "J. A. C. K." "Great to meet you, Jack," we'd continue to respond.)
So it went, Jack peppering my friend with questions, while I giggled, mouth full of tofu. While she told him where we were from, I glanced up at the TV screen: it was a Chinese soap opera, set in ancient times with some top-notch C-list acting.
By the end of the meal, I was hooked.
I mean, that one woman, with the particularly overdone hair, was yelling at the man with the half-shaved head. Then the other woman's lady in waiting sneezed, and WHOA, did her fellow lady in waiting not care for that at all.
So my evening went, watching a Chinese soap opera with Jack and the two women who owned the restaurant. (My friend was far more enthralled watching the real-life women, gasping and sniping at the television when something didn't go their way.)
The chef, and probably the husband of one of those two women, snored in the corner. Chinese dining at its finest. Casual, quick and probably more dirty than you'd like to think about.
Yep, that's Beijing. A quirky city, with its history and culture, and a heaping dose of, "What the hell just happened?"