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An Unintended Mongolian Souvenir

This happened 13 days shy of 3 years ago…but who’s counting????I won this Red Hat by largely losing a drinking contest in a nightclub in Baotou, in the Inner Mongolian territories of China.  And there’s irony of me being in a drinking contest – I know that I do 3 things really well:

I play a mean game of ping pong, I’m phenomenal at parallel parking, and I’m nonpareilat poeticizing the punany.   Drinking is definitely not one of them – I’m a total lightweight.  All my friends know this; ½ beer gets me high, if friends find 3 year old pot hidden behind the socks in some drawer – instead of throwing it out they call Scott.  One hit will get me high.  I’ve never had a girlfriend who couldn’t outdrink me and I’m still waiting to be mature enough to drink a martini w/o accusing the bartender of drugging me.

So, yeah, this hat is from Baotou, Mongolia.  Baotou is in Inner Mongolian territories of China’s and it’s biggest and bleakest city – there is some beauty in the magnificence of its ugliness.  And even the very word “Mongolia” means remote and the ancient Chinese thought of the Mongolia as non-Chinese speaking barbarians – and literally it means something like the people from beyond the pale – “sai wai ren.”  To me, its Genghis Khan and Marco Polo and it’s about 8,000 miles from the nearest Peet’s coffee.I’m a gonzo International Businessman.Don’t know anything about steel and iron ore – but almost 3 years ago today, I was sent to Mongolia to identify, qualify, negotiate, manage synchronized supply chain solutions program for a client.  Coil nails, duplex nails, roofing nails, vinyl coated nails, stainless steel nails, collated coil nails, strip nails, masonry nails – basically the guy wanted a shitload of nails.First of all – even though it’s torture to get to Mongolia; 18 to 21 hr grueling flight and you land w/ 16 hr time change – you switch planes in Beijing from UA to Air China – all of a sudden the seats make me feel like I’m Yao Ming.  There’s International Date Line Stuff – your brain is fried and your mind swirls.  But it should take 3 months to get there – otherwise I feel like I’ve parachuted into some alien landscape and I just can’t figure it out.  Time, place, changes too abruptly, too violently, so profoundly….Finding as I get older, my sensibilities get affected so much more…one second I’m on line at the Berkeley Bowl w/ my heirloom tomatoes and Chilean nectarines, next second I’m in Mongolia summoning the courage to try braised mutton infused with the essence of camel dung  .   Feels like my soul gets left behind and takes time to catch up.   Wednesday morning I leave SFO – spend 21 hours on a plane, and w/ International Date Line stuff, Friday night  I’ve parachuted into the Inner Mongolian Territories of China -  you’re transported into the future, literally, at same time transported into the past and my soul gets left behind – like waiting for a suitcase that didn’t make the flight and you’re left to wonder for a couple of days “will it arrive?”   Anyway, it’s now Friday night, I’m in Mongolia and I deplane and wait for my baggage at the Baotou Airport.   As I always do, I look around to see if any ex-Nazis are traveling incognito, cause goddamn it, somebody has to.So, there I am, my mind still fuzzy from the pharmaceutical cocktail I took to knock myself out on the plane – tylenal pm or a sleeping pill just doesn’t cut it – nothing worse than taking a nap for 4 hours, waking up and discovering that you have 15 or 16 more hours to go.  But when I land, my head is fuzzy and I’m cranky.  And it’s cold – even though Baotou is on the edge of the Gobi desert, it’s freezing and there’s snow on the sand dunes.  (another hard to process visual.)  I’m shivering so first thing I do is buy one of those Russian babushka funny fur hats – you can’t help but look ridiculous wearing them, but they keep you warm. I get my baggage and push my way through all the hustlers, grab a taxi.  But in the taxi the driver is playing Dylan’s “I’m Pledging My Time” and I’m desperately trying, in broken Chinese and lots of animated gesturing,  to find out why/how the driver is playing Dylan – but language issues intervene and I settle back in the cab.  I doze off and we arrive at my modern hotel.   I’m on the 18th floor, I enter my room and immediately assaulted by everything orange - all orange on orange on orange palette.  Picture this:  orange bedspread, orange carpet, orange walls, orange sheets, orange shower curtain, orange tub, orange toilet.  Plus, bed is about 12’ wide w/ mattress about 1/2 inch thick and rock hard. And even stranger – and strange is the motif for this whole experience:  I am sitting at executive style business desk in this all orange hotel room and if I look out the window on my left, (think it was facing west),  I see the pulsating mélange of the changing China – modern skyscrapers close with post apocalyptic satanic like fires burning in the night sky coming from all the steel and iron ore blast furnaces making all those zinc plated ball corners, coil nails, duplex nails, roofing nails, vinyl coated nails, collated nails, stainless steel nails, masonry nails. (China builds skyscrapers in what seems like 3 weeks w/ bamboo scaffolding….)  If I look out the window on my right (to the east), I see Lawrence of Arabia landscape with guys on camels w/ ammo belts slung over their shoulders, swords in the waistbands, even double humped camels and animals called “wild ass” which is small horse w/ enormous ears.  And those ears are really big and in my weakened state I think maybe I’m at that Emeryville hotel by Pixar in an animation film like Shrek.  And I’m suffering from sleep deprivation and and I’m delusional and I think of Talking Heads song ‘and you may find yourself in another part of the world”…”and you ask yourself-well…how did I get here?”  And I keep glancing at the different landscapes visible from the window to left and window to right and it is beyond strange.And my laptop finishes its start up, and, bingo, I’ve got wireless – so I’m reading e-mails from woman in south Berkeley whom I had recently met, after reading book “Blink” – you know Blink, main thesis is that you’re blink of an eye decisions are just as valid as careful deliberate analysis, and I’m pondering the logic of love; and her e-mails were like the finest chocolate truffles – and I’m in an all orange hotel room, left window has fires and skyscrapers – China on mission, for good or bad,  outcapitalizing the capitalists, right window has Lawrence of Arabia landscape.   And it’s winter but there’s a desert out that window to my right; the Gobi Desert – size of Switzerland -  it’s a desert but there’s snow on the desert sand dunes – everything is taking on a Fellinesque flavor.And it’s late at night, I am suffering from the time zone change of 16 hours, and my mind is fuzzy from all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, being 8,000 miles away in a very orange hotel room in the Inner Mongolian territories of China and I am thinking of Genghis Khan and Marco Polo and the Silk Road and the Talking Heads song “how did I get here” and I am trying to prepare for meeting w/ owner of factory to discuss iron ore qualities and quantity capabilities and I can smell the history and getting more confused looking out the left window and then the right window.  So I get some parody of sleep while trying to remember who I am, what I’m doing, and why I’m here.  My head is twisted and I feel far away.  My thoughts were racing so fast and I couldn’t hear my mouth.  Time is an asterick!Owner of factory picks me up early in the morning and we go to the factory, check out the machines, look at coil nails, duplex nails, roofing nails, vinyl nails, stainless steel nails, collated nails, masonry nails and then there was the obligatory meal at a specialized restaurant that the owner of the factory graciously took me to.He ordered specialties for me to savor: Saliva of the pigeonMutten cooked on cow dungLong dainty wormsYellow dog – golden labLive larvaeScorpionsI choose safe dish, say I’m not feeling well, and get a simple salad with tasty garnish – find out later the garnish was minced beetles.We go back to the factory, conclude business, I return at dusk to hotel room and fire off more e-mails to this woman named Hayden Elizabeth Lancaster Parker, warning, danger ranger - her initials spelled HELP and then it is night time and I am free to search out intriguing night spot.  I try to explain to concierge that I am looking for bar w/ Humphrey Bogart / Peter Lorre / Hunter S. Thomspon type characters or guys at the bar who look like arms dealers – maybe smoke filled w/ Hungarian lanterns (don’t even know what Hungarian lanterns are) and charcters out of Star Wars or Neuromancer bar scene.  For some reason I’ve always been attracted to the underbelly.  And so he tells me where to go.  (Be careful what you wish for)This night club – imagine scene from “Mongolians Gone Wild” - looks like it can handle about 100 people is packed with 300 plus already inebriated patrons – filled w/ so much smoke – apparently each man is smoking 3 cigarettes at the same time, and everyone is drinking / talking very loudly on cell phones – and there are roving musicians, and belly dancers on a stage, and wrestlers and some sort of vertically challenged circus contortionists and total Fellini like atmosphere.  And people look like they’ve been drinking for days – definitive degenerate drinking atmosphere.  It’s loud and raucous, people passed out in the corners, people slumped barely hanging onto their chairs, people dancing on table tops.As I am only Westerner, I am escorted to front row table adjacent to stage.Yada, yada, yada, - there is some sort of drinking contest about to take place and I am pulled from my table and taken on stage.  There are five of us – all given silver bowls filled with this nauseatingly powerful and clear liquid alcohol like spirit called ‘baiji” – and the musicians play and the belly dancers dance – and we are told to commence drinking.  Large Mongolian Men to my left and to my right are guzzling down the liquid while I am taking small sips and go back to that Talking Heads line “and you may find yourself in another part of the world…and you may ask yourself…well, how did I get here?”  Long story short – I am the clear loser to this drinking contest – crowds are cheering that I have lost.  Corner of my eye I see those vertically challenged circus contortionists and wrestlers wrestling.  Crowd makes it clear that they are delighted with outcome of drinking contest.Apparently the loser has to sit in chair on stage and be blind folded.  Noise, chaos, circus performers all sorts of shit going on.  Fellini/Salvador Dali/ images morphing in my confused brain.I sit in chair and I am blind folded – and begin to hear hissing sound.  After sound gets closer and closer, I react thinking my mortality might be at stake, (think of Woody Allen line about I don’t fear dying, just don’t want to be there when it happens.)   I whip off the blindfold, and have Ted Williams moment - he could see the seams and small print that says Ford Frick baseball commissioner on a 98 mph fastball when he is in a bona fide great hitting groove, I am able to see the limegreen / purplish pimples on the tongue of this large black snake that is being held by the belly dancer 18 inches from my face.  I let out guttural scream, (my two sons know it – like the time I opened their hamper and two rats jumped out at me), flip backwards in my chair, two of the wrestlers lift me up and the belly dancer puts this red hat on my head.  The crowd is going wild.  I bow like a Ren & Stimpy toaster shocked character and basically bolt off the stage and feel like biblical miracle takes place like Moses parting the Red Sea; the crowd of 300 Mongolians Gone Wild separate - leave clear path for me to race out of the night club, into another taxi and back to my orange hotel room.For a variety of reasons, too long to be explained here, prior to leaving SF, I had bought bag of red sharpie magic markers w/ me – I had decided it was my mission to introduce graffiti and urban Tagging to Mongolia and China.  So I went to this hotel’s bathroom in the lobby and wrote a message to my new found love on the walls of this bathroom stall.  “Between the clicking of the shutter and the fixing of the image – potential shrapnel flayed into flesh.”  (I ended up writing red sharpie graffiti throughout China – and somewhere down the line some Chinese anthropologist will discover and make sense of all the graffiti I wrote everywhere – but that is another separate story.)The story of this red hat is the middle of the story.  The next morning I flew to Shenzhen, China’s first special economic zone.  A city that grew from 40,000 people to 14 million in ten years.  Rampant capitalism and, no surprise, many drug problems, mafia triad gangs, prostitutes, gambling, etc.  And, at dusk, I was walking down the street, 2 blocks from my luxurious Shangri-la Hotel, whereupon I was kidnapped, and left with other less memorable souvenirs….but that’s a much longer story for another time.So, yeah, I was in Mongolia for all of 36 hours and this red hat from a nightclub in the inner Mongolian territories of China has an enormity of memories.