constantly playing the medium bus version of musical chairs, today i finally sat next to zeng fei. she wore a yellow peacoat, her hands folded neatly on her lap. "is anyone sitting here?" i murmured, politeness being one of my charms. i sat down and tried to think of something witty to say, trying hard to hide my excitement. maybe i was imagining it too, but i think zeng fei wanted to say something as well. in the end i said nothing, and when i took a quick glance at her, i saw she had her eyes closed.

i was late to the bus because i was getting some meat buns this morning. it'd been weeks since i ate them, finally had an urge, too much egg in the morning. however i forgot my insulated tumbler, with a fresh brew of thai chai that i wanted to savor while at the office. you can't have everything it seems.

while it's only the 30th back in the states, it was already halloween morning in china. i wrote on my QQ message status in chinese, "happy halloween! free chocolate!" but there was no takers. i ended up having to hand deliver my chocolates. it was more valentines than halloween, since i only gave them to girls. first there was sun meng, whom i didn't even know where she sat, but i pretended to be handing her a file and dropping a chocolate on her desk. then i gave one to shirley, and xiang min, and zhang anshun. and of course fy, folding one into her hands. if i knew where zeng fei was, i would've given her one as well.

the anticipation was over, 8am in the morning here in china began game 6 of the world series between the red sox and the cardinals. i watched it live on mlb.com text version with graphics. since i had to imagine all the action, it'd be curious to see a rebroadcast of the game one of these days. watching a game this way isn't as exciting but better than nothing. i pump my fists at numbers and texts! it was a good game to watch since the red sox scored enough runs when they did score that the cardinals never had a chance. when the game was over, i couldn't believe it. there was a sense of, "that's it? that was easy," and i quickly jumped to boston.com for confirmation of what just took place. the red sox have just won their 3rd world series in 10 years. it's a great time to be a boston sports fan! to be honest, i wasn't following the team this season. actually, i've sort of fallen out of love with baseball after it was revealed that not only manny ramirez was on steroids, but david ortiz as well. and this year's team, i don't know any of the players except the veterans: ellsbury, pedroia, and of course ortiz. that 2004 team that won the world series? that was a team i loved, and i could name most of the players from memory. sucks i can't be in boston for the parade! there's always next year!

i wore my new blue shirt today, very svelte looking, along with a new pair of pants. nobody made any comments, but i caught fy glancing up, and normally she just ignores me in the office (at least for the past few weeks). i made sure i pranced around the office in my new outfit, because i drank so much water, i practically had to go to the bathroom every 20 minutes. i alternated between the 2 bathrooms, so as to not draw too much attention.

around 5:00 loren asked me if i wanted to try dog meat tonight. i said that would be never, but we could still go out to dinner anyway. he invited fengya, but after a discussion between the two of them i couldn't quite make out, loren said she had other plans tonight. he also tried to invite yuwei, but she had to study for her exam on sunday (besides, she hates eating dinner anyway). so it was just the both of us.

at 5:50 we climbed onward the bus. "who's fengya eating dinner with?" i asked loren, but i already knew the answer. "guo," he said. since we hardly have any free time apart from work, dinners are a social currency. your social status depends on whether your invited or not. i suddenly realized i was on the not invite list. frankly, i was a little hurt. no, actually, i was more than hurt. weren't these people my friends? i went on vacation with them, twice as a matter of fact. guo. fengya. xiaolong. zhouke. yangyi. i thought we were friends. but not the kind of friend you invite to dinner apparently. then i got angry. who do they think they are? i should be the guest of honor! not relegated to the refuse pile. to make it less suspicion, guo got off the bus early, while the remaining party carried on to their destination. i was waiting for them to get off at the next stop so i could at least make them feel a little guilty, but they stayed on the bus, waving at me. i pointed to them before the bus drove off. i have a long memory.

it wasn't so much they were going to dinner without me. i could care less about that. even if they invited me, i might've refused. it was the simple fact that fengya was going with them. fengya who's been so cold with me, suddenly is all happy and joking with them. it wasn't a good feeling.

loren and i ended up going to dog meat restaurant anyway, except we were ordering lamb instead. they brought out a white broth sprinkled with goji berries. the smell of lamb was very strong. once the soup heated up, they dumped in a plate of lamb innards. they brought us some dipping sauce, a mixture of minced hot peppers with fermented tofu. later we added some potatoes and lettuce.

"why didn't guo invite us?" was the first thing i asked loren once we settled down. "i don't know. maybe he's trying to save money," he said. "i thought we were good friends. i even went on vacation twice with them!" i exclaimed. i was going to invite everyone to dinner either friday or saturday night, but after this indignation, there was no way that was happening. friends like these, who need friends? "fengya didn't want to go," loren revealed, "but she already promised guo." that made me feel a little better. but it still didn't fix the fact that fengya was having a good time with guo and the gang while i was eating alone with loren. it was then i decided to tell loren my secret.

first i told him i tried to invite sun meng to dinner last night. "fengya knew you invited her," he told me. did she? good. kind of wrong to say this, but that was part of my strategy to make her jealous, who knows if it worked. i've noticed that fengya often keeps track of which girls i'm inviting to dinner, even if she never says anything. maybe she thinks i'm some lothario moving from girl to girl (which can't be farther from the truth) and just curious to see where i land next. but the interesting part is sun meng actually consulted with fengya before she refused my offer. i thought they weren't speaking anymore, but apparently when it comes to going out with the strange american, some consultation is needed. "i think out of all the girls in the office though," i said, "i think fengya is the best." i was waiting to see loren's response, he didn't seem to be the least surprised. apparently i'm not the only one under her spell.

i then talked about guo, whom i now know is my frenemy. i told loren what guo told me in the privacy of our yibin hotel room: that he likes fengya as well. there's 2 things wrong with that picture: 1) he married with child, and 2) he's her boss. i on the other hand am free to pursue whatever interests me, and i think this makes him jealous. i told loren he also has a crush on zhouke, the girlfriend of his office assistant. "he is shady," loren muttered with contempt.

i also told loren my story of how pansusu tried to fix me up with ms.yudian, whom earlier he was speaking to on the bus. how after our initial lunch the first sunday i arrived in changshou, she never spoke to me again. "she's not married? she's not bad," he said.

it was good to finally get this off my chest. prior to that, the only person i told my secret to was guo, and that was nearly a month ago, and he said he'd help me put in a good word with fengya, but that never happened, because he's actually working against my best interest. loren on the other hand is the perfect wingman. not only does he sit next to fengya, but he also has a pretty good relationship with her. his advice to me was these things take time. "i'm afraid she's leaving once her contract is over at the end of the year," i reminded him. "just keep doing what you're doing, don't change anything," he told me, which was kind of a weird thing to say, because whatever it is i'm doing for more than 2 months so far hasn't worked. "saturday night, we'll invite her to duck soup dinner in yanjia," he told me.

the pieces are set, a new game begins! this is my new hobby in china, social engineering. eventually it'll reach a point where everyone knows my secret except fengya. i don't know how i feel about her anymore. maybe i just like the pursuit, and once she likes me i'll lose interest. i don't know why finding a girlfriend is this hard. it'd be nice to like a girl for a change who sort of likes me back.

as for the lamb broth, it was pretty good. i still think that xinjiang lamb restaurant loren took us to last month in the old town is a little better. on our way to the restaurant, we actually saw a restaurant in the new town putting up a sign for the exact same xinjiang lamb restaurant. could they be opening up a chain? another good thing: clear broth doesn't stain like spicy sichuan broth!

afterwards loren asked me if i wanted to walk further down, near his apartment, where there was another commercial area. it was slightly drizzling, but i was game and it was still early (7:40). after a brief period of dark streets flanked by residential apartment buildings, we can upon some lights that revealed a traditional chinese gate (newly built, not ancient) that was the entrance to a small fake ancient town along the riverbank. we walked around a bit while loren talked to a coworker on the phone from his old shanghai office.

afterwards he went home while i walked the 15-20 minutes back to my place. he lives far! back at the apartment, i went to go use the bathroom. though the broth may be clear (a milky white clearness), it was probably still sort of oily, and my digestive system revolted slightly with some light diarrhea. i felt fine afterwards, and did a load a laundry while ironing tomorrow's shirt (i'm getting better with the steam feature).