Using only a printed piece of paper showing the address in English and Chinese, a pocketful of cold, hard cash, and a caveman’s flair for wordless pointing and grunting, Justin, Steven and I share a taxi to the Adobe office. The driver isn’t familiar with the address, but in a city large enough for 17 million people that’s hardly surprising. He lets us off within a block and, grunting our thanks, we triangulate using the piece of paper (asking passersby and watching where they point and grunt) until we verify that we are heading toward the right set of buildings.
The Beijing Adobe office is as you’d expect: a clean, well-lit place of business. Multiple computers crammed into cubicles mark the spots where coding and testing happens. The occasional stuffed bunny brings a pinch of levity, though I sense that the Chinese do not treat their places of work as extensions of themselves like we do. The questions I am asked suggest that the China developers and testers are most curious about our team social events. I’m guessing there aren’t many picnics, Friday beer bashes or “wear all black and paint your fingernails like a goth zombie” days in the China office. They like the photographs the U.S. team shares with them.
We open a 22nd story window to let in some cool air—that’s something you don’t get to do in office towers back home. We’d be too distracted throwing paper airplanes out of skyscraper windows to get any work done. Down on the street I can see bicycles everywhere, but no bike lanes. The mortality rate must be crazy high, as biking here seems like a cross between a shooting gallery game and coal mining. If you don’t get hit by a bus you’ll wind up with black lung.
I’m pretty sure the Internet here is delivered a bit at a time by all those bikes. You can fit a lot of zeros and ones on a bicycle, though the smog creates digital wind resistance that slows down the throughput. At least, that’s what I think the IT guy was saying. His accent was a bit strong.
The management treats us to a fantastic lunch, ornate and overabundant, delaying tonight’s dinner by several hours while we attempt in vain to digest enough to compensate for several thousand additional calories. A gigantic Lazy Susan fills our table, dishes piled on like preschoolers on a playground roundabout. Thin roast duck skin, light and crispy. A bowl of jellyfish, more crunchy than gelatinous. Roast duck meat with vegetables and various dipping sauces, rolled up in paper-thin crepe wraps. Round mushrooms that look like roasted chestnuts penned up in a broccoli corral. Marinated cucumbers colored a deep, dark green. A fragrant bowl of soup broth filled with soft unidentifiables. Slices of goose liver pate. Commas and curlicues of crispy beef. Something that looks like a bird’s nest filled with multicolored jewels. A giant fish. A dozen or more dishes, each more interesting than the last.
I feel like a fat kielbasa stuck in the microwave and about to split lengthwise. I’ll have a lot of explaining to do to my scale when I get home, and those new pants are going to be angry. (I was going to say the new pants will be pissed, but I don’t want to piss my pants.)
We head back to our hotel as the sun sets. I revise yesterday’s statement about the smog: while it’s not visibly as thick as I’ve seen elsewhere, it’s relentless and turns the sky to slate. There’s an acrid quality that’s giving me a slight burning in my eyes and a sore throat. I’m thinking of having my tonsils removed. I could probably get that done here for under a hundred bucks. And get a suit tailored from whole cloth at the same time.
Our taxi scoots along in stop and go traffic as the sky turns to twilight. Groups of ornate kites flutter over the local parks like winged beasts out of mythology, like enormous and colorful dragonflies from Land of the Lost.
Pairs of pay phones mounted two to a pole give a standing salute every few hundred feet on the major thoroughfares. Pay phones! As if they’ve never heard of cell phones here. Each pair is shielded from the weather by two half globes at the top of the pole. A more charitable observer might describe them as the top of a Valentine’s heart, but to me they look like big orange buttocks, mooning us as we pass slowly by in our taxi.
Late that night we walk down dark and narrow alleyways to a restaurant not far from our hotel, where not a word of English is spoken except by the three of us. Various waitstaff talk rapid-fire to us in Chinese, and we manage to order and share a succession of marvelous and spicy dishes, each one unique and something we’ve not had before. Ordering is simple: we just point and grunt, the caveman way.