I remember a day in China when I asked my driver to go with me to buy train tickets. In other words, I hinted for him to drive me so that he could work his way through the mob to buy my tickets while I watched from the safety of the backseat of the car.
He understood completely.
I can’t remember where it was I wanted to go but it was probably to Xi’an or Beijing—or maybe even to Shanghai for shopping.
But back to the story.
The train station was located out of town and quite a distance away from my home. When we first moved to China, our company let us borrow a small, black Volkswagen Passat. I hated that car.
Seriously. I absolutely hated it. Why, you ask? Because we were an American minivan family! We were used to having unreasonable space all around us. Space we didn’t really need but were accustomed to! (Um…the word you are searching for is spoiled)
In the tiny Passat, my six foot something husband and lanky daughter and I were crammed in the backseat like sardines. To make matters worse, within the close confinement and chaotic driving of the Chinese drivers combined with the weaving about, it wouldn’t take long before one of them was moaning and begging to get out of the car—most of the time to vomit. After a year of that, I suddenly developed my own version of motion sickness.
That began the negotiations for a minivan that turned into a standoff between my husband and the higher uppers. Ultimately we got our minivan, used and scarred a bit, but we were content to be higher off the ground, have more room, and felt sufficiently spoiled enough to keep the motion sickness to a manageable level.
But back to the story. Again.
On this day my driver was not particularly pleased to spend his day taking the Tai Tai (that’s me) to the train station. Though he was paid extra to drive the family around, he would much rather spend his time in the drivers’ lounge at my hubby’s factory, playing cards with the other drivers. So to passively aggressively show his dismay, that day he treated me to a ride that would have been Nascar worthy.
But I’m proud to say that I showed no weakness. Never let them see you sweat.
I played with my phone, flipped through a magazine, and fluttered my eyelashes as if I were on a slow cruise through the Pacific as I silently fumed and gritted my teeth. You have to understand, ours was a love/hate relationship. Against all warnings, we had become too close to our driver and his family. We’d even gone to his home for dinner, much to the complete shock of some of our expat friends. We were helping him to plan for his upcoming birth of his son—and had even committed to buying the crib after explaining to him that in our family, that was a gesture always picked up by the grandparents or godparents. And Richard adored us. Except when he hated us. He even told us one day, “I want to have a happy family, like you.” That was after as a family we sang Christmas carols all the way home during a 2-hour drive from Shanghai. (He is probably still wondering to this day who Rudolph is and why his nose was so red..)
Back to the story. Okay! I’m getting to the point!
Finally through the madness of traffic we arrived at the train station and Richard (as he asked us to call him) flipped the car into a tight spot, threw it in Park and turned around.
“Where you want to go and how much you want to pay?”
I spent a moment emphasizing to him that I wanted to pay the going rate and no more. I handed him some cash and he was off, disappearing through the crowd and probably mumbling his frustrations at having to baby sit the boss’ wife.
As always, I took the time to ‘people watch’. Being such a big part of the orphanage world, I was always on the lookout for children. Also knowing that children were frequently abandoned in the train stations around China, I was especially watchful to see if I could find anyone who appeared suspicious with their child(ren) in tow. What would I do if I suddenly saw someone put their child down and walk away? I don’t know—knowing me I’d probably chase them down and tackle them and as I sat on their chest, poke them in the eye. (just kidding, guys. A little)
As I watched the crowd, I failed to notice a woman approaching my car. It wasn’t until she was only a few inches from the glass that she caught my attention. It was a cold day and the woman wore a long dress of some sort, and her head was wrapped in a multitude of scarves. I smiled at her and she beckoned for me to roll down the window. I hesitated and she waved some tiny flowers impaled on sticks at me.
The windows were electric and the car was not on. I looked to the front area to see if Richard had left the keys and I saw him bolting back to the car. He opened the door and jumped in, then locked it.
“Don’t look at her. Don’t speak to her.” He bellowed at me.
Richard was usually very soft-spoken. Even when angry, instead of articulating his irritation he usually simmered quietly. For him to yell at me was shocking.
“Richard! What’s wrong?”
“She is gypsy. A fortune teller. She will curse you and your children if you no give her money.” He quickly began backing out of the parking space.
I can’t say I am a believer of fortune telling and cursing generations and such—but then again, I’m not a non-believer. I guess you could say I like to err on the side of caution.
“Stop and let me give her some money.” I instructed him. What would it hurt to give her 50 yuan to ensure my children’s futures were curse free, after all?
“Bu keyi. Cannot. I am very afraid.” He returned, and refused to stop.
Richard had never told me no before. His fear of the woman and her powers were something indeed, for he quickly drove away while reminding me not to look in the eyes.
It’s years later now. And I guess she didn’t curse me or my children. We are doing okay—minus the few ups and downs many families have. However, she might have blown some magic dust on me as we backed away because my career as an author has really taken off.
So if you are out there, Dear Miss Gypsy Fortune Teller, thank you if you are the one who sent three of my books sailing to the best-selling lists on Amazon!
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