I love China, I really do. But I get the feeling that I might just die here. And I don’t mean, “I love it so much I’ll stay here until I’m so old I keel over.” No, I mean that in spite of China’s awesomeness, it’s basically a big death trap.

For the past two or three weeks I have been unable to stop coughing. I feel that my lungs are filled with junk. Maybe it’s the pollution. Hefei is phenomenally polluted. The only city I’ve visited that was worse was Beijing. Even Korea and Taiwan didn’t seem this bad. I read in a textbook (and I’ve no idea how accurate it was) that nearly 700,000 people a year die from pollution in China.

Much of the pollution comes from cars and buses, which seem to have absolutely no restrictions placed upon them. The buses are the worst. They pump out thick black plumes, and sometimes, if you’re inside the bus, there is a hole in the floor through which the smoke comes. I’ve seen people keel over and I’m never sure if they’re sleeping or dying from the toxins.

From time to time, I have been known to work as a temp in Investment Banks when my financial situation lingers in the 25-watts-or-less range.

It’s mind-numbing work. Answering phones, scheduling (and rescheduling) meetings and defending a coked-up frat boy’s right to expense his SoHo House membership, succulent dinners at The Gramercy Tavern and executive limos to his Murray Hill penthouse, a mere ten blocks north of the office.

But the pay is great, there’s little-to-no responsibility involved and if you can find humor in the daily patronizing condescension that is heartily served by the aforementioned punk-ass bankers (usually several years your junior) then it’s a decent short-term gig.

Several times a day I would get e-mails that start like this:

To: ML-IBD-Worldwide-All
Fr: Candice Compliance
Re: Relationship Inquiry

The e-mails go on to give a brief bio of the people and their company history and then a contact number to call,

if you have had or currently have a relationship with Randolph Smarmyton or James Picklebum or one of the other senior partners at Super WASP-y Venture Capitalist Group, Inc.

Now being the kind of person I am, it would take everything in my power not to hit the “Reply All” button and begin a long-winded description something akin to:

Candice,

Oh. My. God. I DID have a relationship with James Picklebum and I have to tell you, girl… total nightmare.

At first, he was really sweet. Paid for everything, held open doors, sent flowers; my faith in chivalrous behavior was restored! We made plans for weekend ski trips, compared notes about reasonable numbers of offspring and started looking through the New York Times Real Estate section over our Sunday morning bagels and schmear; I loved Park Slope, he was keen on Brooklyn Heights. It was the kind of argument you dream about!

And then, without warning, it all changed! Turned out, he was a “Future-Talker.” After only our first open house, he vaporized. Suddenly he was working late every night. He had these all these ‘Client meetings’ and ‘restructuring sessions’ and since we were saving for the new house, couldn’t I just chip in just once in a while – what was he, made of money??? Four-time-a-week overnights turned into weekly phone calls turned into emails turned into text messages.

When he dumped me, he didn’t even give me the courtesy of a fucking phone call! Just ‘ping’-ed me from his Blackberry during the company Christmas party:

“No sparx left. U wr fun tho. Gd lck. xo –j”

Me! A “text-ex”!

So thanks for asking, Candice. If I can save just one woman out there from the horrors of pursuing a relationship with James Picklebum, then I’ll know that the agony I endured was worth it!

I would crack myself up thinking about how the Compliance Department would respond to something like that.

* * * * *

All joking aside, there are some seriously vitriolic websites out there devoted to this kind of thing. There’s rateyourboyfriend.com where you can actually assign a numerical value to your boytoy. You can vent your frustrations at HeDidWhat.com or join the message boards at stupidboyfriend.com. You can play Relationship Revenge, or consult the folks at Make Him Pay for fresh ideas to spew your venom.  All designed to make you feel better about not giving out the Rejection Hotline disguised as your real number to the ungrateful schmuck in the first place.

On the brighter side of this mossy-tinged copper penny, there is a heart-warming, only mildly-frightening site: greatboyfriends.com where you can herald your best-friend (or ex) and recommend them to other people on the prowl.  One of those “he is perfect… just not for me” kinds of things, which personally, I think is noble, but lame.  If he’s not good enough for you, why on earth would he be good enough for me??

Nowadays, I defy any single woman to bypass the pre-requisite internet search as part of the ‘Do-I-Want-To-Date-Him?’ contemplation ceremony.

Better safe than sorry, right?

Meh.

* * * * *

In May of 2001, I got a call from a friend of mine to help him out. Would I be interested in stage managing two operas in rep on a tour to Taiwan? It was a tiny production company and the fee was crap, but the airplane tickets, hotel and food would be paid for and the rehearsals would be in New York, minutes away from my apartment.

It took me about three seconds to bleat out “YES!”

When we got back to the States three weeks later; exhausted, drained and vowing NEVER to go through an ordeal as horrible as the one we had just endured; with possibly the most inexperienced and ridiculously incompetent producer on the scene, another friend asked:

“Did you ‘Google’ her before you accepted the job?”

“Google?” (remember, this was early 2001) “What the hell is that?”

She dashed for my computer and flipped open the screen.

In 4.83 seconds, page after page reported an embarrassing number of cases in appellate court from the New York chapter of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 802, after countless offences had been made by said producer against said union members.

We could have saved ourselves weeks of torment, despair and sleepless nights if we had just performed a simple 4.83-second “Relationship Inquiry.”

If I had done that though, I would never have seen the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Theatre, met a brilliant artistic collaborator, eaten a 100-year old egg (disgusting, btw) or gotten a tattoo of the first phrase I mastered in Chinese: “Children to the stage, please”.

* * * * *

You know, if we performed due diligence before we did every little thing, think about how much fun we would miss out on.