Saturday, June 17, 2006

Much Ado About Nothing

The Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit is winding down this week after much ado in the city leading up to the event. As soon as I arrived back from a long visit to the States, I knew something important was going to happen. (The States, by the way, were the same as I left them, except what is UP with the TomKat and Brangelina baby watch…if they gave birth to a three-headed hyena that could say “my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,” THEN I would care.) The streets were being paved, the bottoms of trees had sparkling new coats of white paint (a Soviet/Commie thing, I think), buildings that had been left in mid-construction for over a year with a cartoon-like frozen crane next to them were humming again, and sidewalks that had previously dropped off were being lengthened by Shel Silverstein himself. My, I thought to myself, something is afoot.

I honed these skills while I was in the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan, in fact. My first experience with city-wide preparations for an important visit was when two large Russian men came to the English Resource Center where I was volunteering. In broken English, they said, “Ve be need for chair-ez. Prezident vill be come.” From this, my students wisely deduced that the Uzbek president would be coming to our humble city for a visit, and that these nice gentlemen wanted to make his stay as comfortable as possible. As Boris and Ivan started to take the couch out, I inquired as to where they were taking it and when they would return it. There was no time for an answer because the two had decided they could not get it through the door and would have to take the door off of its hinges. No, let’s make that rip the door off of its hinges. The wacky 72 year-old Peace Corps Volunteer (another story in itself) who was with me squealed and made preparations to pack up the entire Resource Center in her purse, should the doorway be permanently left open. I tried a more rational approach—showing Boris and Ivan how to turn the couch sideways and angle it such that it would, indeed, fit through the doorway. Seelly Amereekan Peace Corpus Volunteer, their stares said, ve don’t have time for thees crap. So, long story, short--they did rip the door off of its hinges and we had to pack up the entire Resource Center in luggage that we had to run home to get. What ultimately happened to the couch, my anxious readers want to know? It was used for the President’s possible, but never realized, visit to the prestigious International Lycee. It was eventually returned to the Resource Center sans one of its side cushions.

So, back to APEC. The city was alive with (in addition to the rats) preparations! What I noticed most, however, were the signs around all of the construction touting “Cotecin Construction—Safety First,” above hatless workers and welders dangling precariously off of the 20th floor, with lightening providing a glimpse of their profiles. Drivers pulled up on their motorbikes, having transported a giant, glass window pane between themselves and a passenger behind them. Pedestrians wove throughout all of this, not a barricade or warning sign in sight. Even the Mini-Kiss midget cover band (see Daily Show story) that was here on tour as part of APEC was able to roam freely through the chaos. It reminded me of the time when Duke and I were at the airport in Hanoi and someone was stripping a carpet off of a spiral stairway above the check-in counters. Nails, threads and large chunks of carpet were raining down through the steps. Finally, an airline employee thought to put up makeshift gate that is used to guide the passenger lines near the counters as a blockade. It only served to encourage people to stand directly under the flying debris. As if in a movie, a woman with her baby walked under the open staircase and took a call on her cell phone, pausing long enough for us to wince, then walked on just as a very large piece of carpet fell behind her. She didn’t even notice.

Sadly, I was having popcorn last night. Sad, because it was popcorn and sad because I was watching it turn around and around and around and around on the microwave carousel. The other sad part was that as I watched it turning around in the microwave, I noticed the “This end up!” and “Side of bag!” and “Do not pick up from this end!” Really, Orville takes more concern for his consumers than the Cotecin Construction Company took in its workers or fellow citizens. Let’s not even discuss the lengths to which Hotpockets (cue “Hotpockets!” theme song—that was a good one, wasn’t it?) goes to save its customers’ from tongue-burn, or how McDonald’s warns its slow-minded patrons about the amazing concept that the contents of their coffee cup are, indeed, hot, or even that Conair must spend thousands of dollars to tag its hair dryers with large signs for users not to operate the product while in the bathtub. I digress.

Mmmm, hotpockets—pizza inside a hot bread-like pocket. Great idea. Breakfast, all mixed together into one delicious hot pocket that is always soggy and cold in the middle and crispy hot on the outside. Such a contrast, you are, my little hotpocket. Anyway, safety in Vietnam—not so safe, no. Perhaps we need to create a jingle for Cotecin Construction Company, a la Team America—“What would ye-oo do-oo if you were asked to give up your dreams for safety? Safety isn’t free—it costs folks like you and me. And if you don’t give us your buck o’five, who will? Safety costs a buck o’fiiiiiiiiiiiive.” Perhaps the Mini-Kiss midget cover band can sing it for them.


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