Let me backtrack just a little bit now so you understand the significance of what comes next in the story. While I was still in New York with the kids, about a month before we boarded the plane, my wife had managed to rent a house for us in Shanghai. She sent pictures and it seemed to be okay. The pictures even showed blue skies. For China that was really something extraordinary.
I had taken many trips to China since my initial visit to Changsha, but I couldn’t recall ever having seen an even faintly blue sky. As the economy had grown in recent decades, pollution had also increased on a similar scale. The country had been undergoing an industrial revolution and there was a price to be paid for the progress. I was very concerned about exposing my kids to such a polluted environment. The blue skies were a good sign; perhaps life would be better in the new China and we’d be able to live away from the contaminated output of the factories.
I was still far from being sold, though. I couldn’t put it into words at the time but I didn’t quite see this as the next stop on my, until now, slightly upward trajectory in life. It looked okay in the photos but without seeing it in person, it was hard to tell if this would be an acceptable place to live. Then she told me the address of the compound it was in:
One Long Dong Avenue
My fears and misgivings vanished in an instant. It was going to be okay. I was sure that I would soon play host to a steady stream of visitors – old friends, colleagues, and relatives would all want to visit Shanghai and experience this address first hand. There was simply nothing like it anywhere in the world. The best competition would have been Butt Hole Road in South Yorkshire, England, but that had been renamed to Archer’s Way over a decade ago for some unknown reason.
The opportunities for eighth grade humor would be practically limitless. If I could just get past the spam filters, this could be the beginning of a truly great string of emails. Perhaps it would even go viral.
I could tell the world that we had also considered houses on Short Dong Avenue and Small Nuts Drive, but for reasons of stature and accuracy we chose the Long Dong property instead. And we wouldn’t be moving to just anywhere on Long Dong Avenue. We would be at Number One, a number the Chinese hold in the highest esteem.
Even though “Long Dong” innocently means “East Dragon” in Chinese, the average Westerner would react similarly to the way Bill from the moving company did.
We were sitting in the dining room on Long Island filling out paperwork when he asked me if I had a destination address in China that he’d be able to understand. I told him that not only would he be able understand it, but that he’d be amused by it. Bill was a real New Yorker. He was from Queens and it seemed that this was the best thing that had happened to him in a long time. For the rest of the day, every time he was on his cell phone, no matter who he was talking to, he would announce amid howls of laughter, “You’ll never guess where this guy is moving to….. Long Dong Avenue….. That’s right…. Long… Dong…. Avenue. It’s an actual address in China. Can you believe it?” And then he’d say something like, “Well, we don’t exactly know what happened to your container, but I’ll call you back if the truck shows up.”
As the plane touched down 15 hours later at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport, I was optimistic. I was psyched about my new address, and even though the skies were just as gray and murky as they were on my earlier visits to China, I wasn’t going to let that spoil my enthusiasm. It had been a hard slog getting prepared for the big move and now that we were finally here, I was ready to settle in to our new home. We pulled into the Long Dong complex and drove up to the house. It looked nice, just as it did in the pictures.
As I got out of the car, though, I found myself standing next to an enormous problem. Not more than 30 yards from the side of the house was a 200-foot tall electrical transmission tower, the biggest one I had ever seen. Maybe this is what they meant by “Long Dong” in the address. Impressive as it was on some level, it was certainly not the type of Long Dong I wanted my family associated with. It was disgraceful.
“You’ve got to be kidding! How could you not mention this?” I said to Ming, somewhat bewildered.
“Oh that? What’s wrong with that?” she replied.
“What’s wrong with it? It’s the ugliest thing I’ve seen since that wedding in Bayonne, New Jersey!”
“Don’t get so excited, it’s not such a big deal,” she said.
I realized that I had raised my voice. Perhaps subconsciously I was trying to ensure that I could be heard above the hum of the transmission lines.
“You sent me all these nice pictures of the place, but none of them included this! In New York, we had a view of the harbor. And not only is this ugly, it’s probably dangerous too! What if it falls on the house? What if the kids try to climb it? What about electromagnetic radiation?”
Now I didn’t know for sure if any of these things posed a real hazard. Maybe it’s perfectly fine to live next to high voltage transmission lines. But I had young kids and I didn’t want to take chances.
So that was that. My mind was made up even before I entered the house. My dreams of living on what is perhaps the single greatest phallic symbol road on the planet were ruined. Trashed. Done for. The best I’d be able to do for visitors would be to take them for a drive through this neighborhood. Perhaps a few would still come.
We entered the house and I found that the furniture – we were renting the house furnished – consisted of over-sized sofas, a fake gold leaf table, and an overly elaborate chandelier. In China this is known as the Ornate European style. To me, and especially given my sour state-of-mind, it was just gaudy crap. It was a mishmash of cheap odds and ends thrown together with no rhyme or reason. I expressed my distaste for the decor without mincing words. Ming took this as an indication that I was having a tantrum. I told her that I most certainly was not. Then I stomped around the house for 20 minutes to prove my point.
When I was done and had calmed myself down, we decided that it would be a good idea to find a different place to live immediately. We had six weeks before our container on the boat from New York would arrive.