Over the weekend, a mysterious box arrived for me from Guangdong. Now I don’t know anybody in Guangdong, so it was with some trepidation that I tore at the wrappings before discovering a hastily written note from my old friend, Professor Willem Gelding, along with something else.
After carefully unpacking the box, I held in my hands a carved effigy that immediately filled me with a sense of dread. Gelding’s note was little more than a simple greeting, and did nothing to explain the figure’s purpose or origin. Nor did it explain the box’s remaining content — small pots of paint and a tiny scroll with arcane symbols.
I don’t know if you’ve ever attempted to call Guangdong on a Saturday night, but it’s not an easy thing, especially when you don’t know your party’s telephone number, and you don’t speak a word of Mandarin.
Still, my curiosity was piqued by the package, and I knew I had to find Dr. Gelding come hell or high water.
As soon as Guangdong Directory Assistance picked up the phone, my worst fears were confirmed, as the operator did not speak a word of English.
The conversation went something like this:
“Hello! Dr. Gelding! I need to find Dr. Gelding! Can you help me, please? I don’t know his number.”
I overheard some babbling on the other end of the line, as if my operator was conferring with someone else in the room. Then he said:
It sounded like a question, so I replied, “Yes, I think so, whatever you say,” and the next thing I knew, I heard a phone ringing. When it was answered, my phone’s Face Time app opened, and I had these guys on the line:
Why the operator transferred my call to a jockey at Guangdong Downs, I’ll never know, but it worked out okay once he’d summoned his friends over, one of whom spoke English — not very good English, mind you, but infinitely better than my Mandarin.
I asked again for Dr. Gelding, and watched as the jockeys conferred among themselves. Soon they were waving goodbye and transferring my call, this time into the veterinary barn, where I was again on Face Time, this time with a doctor who was performing equine acupuncture.
Someone else held the phone, and I watched while the veterinarian rammed a needle into the horse’s ass. The poor beast appeared to have a pronounced limp.
“Yes, I’m looking for Dr. Gelding!” I shouted.
“You no shout, I hear you fine!” the veterinarian said. “Gelding already done. Now I take away sting. You call back tomorrow!”
“No, no, you don’t understand! I want Dr. Willem Gelding. He’s in Guangdong.”
“Dong not gone! Balls gone! You want?”
“No, I don’t want those! I want Dr. Gelding, the professor of gnome studies from America, but he’s in Guangdong! That’s who I want!”
“Oh, you want gnome guy! Why you not say so? I read about him in newspaper! He at university, probably in bar, it Happy Hour! I transfer you!”
I heard some clicking, the phone rang again, and the voice of Dr. Gelding — slurred but unmistakeable — finally answered the phone.
The shocking transcript of that conversation will be revealed in my next post.