I arrived in Beijing late Sunday afternoon and successfully made it through the airport after standing in approximately 5 different long, slow lines. A driver, who had my name scrawled in black marker on the back of a piece of paper, was waiting in the crush of taxi drivers and others who were yelling at me to acquire my business. He spoke no English, drove like a man with a death-wish, but got me to my hotel in one piece. He held his steering wheel in what I believed to be a fairly unique way with his hands on the middle part of the wheel positioned such that he could either honk the horn or flash the brights in rapid succession with finger twitches. It didn’t seem to matter that he couldn’t work the turn signals from this position since he didn’t actually use lanes in the classic sense of actually driving in a particular lane.
I didn’t sleep particularly well that first night though I was incredibly weary, having been up for some 30 hours. It more closely resembled four consecutive naps than an actual night of sleep. The first day in the office went well, though around four in the afternoon I found myself vertically challenged as my body tried to shut down. That night I got an actual night of sleep, though it was far too short (perhaps 5 hours or so). Tuesday was more of the same, but culminated in several of us going out to a classy restaurant. We had a nicely appointed room to ourselves with great service and mostly excellent food.
Now, I like to try new things, so when they served the duck feet, I figured I wouldn’t reflect on it, I’d just eat one. Turns out that this restaurant was classy enough to actually remove the bones. What I discovered was that once you take out the bones, the only things left in a duck foot are all the parts I most despise in any form of fowl: fatty skin, ligaments, tendon, and cartilage. It was utterly disgusting, but I got it down. The picture of the moment was taken on a phone camera, so its not the best resolution, but it captured the moment fairly well. I was glad to have the whole episode behind me and went on to enjoy the remainder of the meal.
That night I didn’t sleep well, and by the next morning my bowels were, um, undone. It was so bad that my body as a whole had a violent reaction to the situation and by the early afternoon I felt feverish and couldn’t eat. Now, keep in mind I was in SARS territory, where a fever could get you in a bit of trouble. I left the office early and headed back to my hotel, managing to slip in unnoticed. This was quite an accomplishment given they had people posted at the entrances taking everyone’s temperature as they entered. Back in my room I checked my temperature and found that it was at 100 degrees, right around the 100.4 that is considered a warning sign of SARS.
Fear of the most primal sort overwhelmed me at this point, as I lay there not knowing exactly what was wrong with my body and not yet able to rule out SARS (diarrhea is a secondary symptom of SARS). I spent the next hour in prayer as concerns of being quarantined in a Chinese military hospital caused irrational psychosomatic responses in my body. Around 3 pm I finally collapsed in bed and drifted off to sleep. When I finally got up at 10:30 that night, the fever had broken and the symptoms had narrowed down to my gut, letting me know that this was not SARS but the Chinese equivalent of Montezuma’s Revenge.
A day later, in comparing notes with a couple of the Chinese folks with whom I was working, we figured out it had been the duck feet. The two other guys who had eaten them had been mildly sick for a day. Of course, their stomachs were more or less impervious to whatever strain of bacteria was present. I on the other hand did not eat for most of two days. After getting up at 10:30 pm on Wednesday, the pain in my gut prevented me from sleeping anymore so I stayed up working the rest of the night and then went into the office on Thursday. Thus, by Thursday night I had not eaten or slept in quite some time. Thankfully, I got a solid night’s rest Thursday and was able to eat breakfast Friday, so that when I had to lead a large meeting with representatives of an important customer Friday, I had some strength back.
The trip finished out quite well, and I got on a plane Saturday morning for an uneventful trip back to Texas. Of course, all this is merely a setup for Tricia’s description of her week while I was gone. Here’s the teaser: of the two of us, I had the easier week.