Sometime in the wee hours of this morning it occurred to me that not all was lost with my phone. It was gone despite the dream I had in which a short Russian with a platinum bleached brush-cut knocked at my door and returned it to me and then went off down the hall refusing to say how he had found me. But while I would not see it again, it became clear to me that I would at least be able to save my phone number and the $40 balance in my account. I would simply head back to the nearest China Mobile store and get them to assign a new SIM to my account. And then go back to using my Chinese Nokia.

And that’s just what I did; only I brought along Ben my 2-in-a-box partner on this project figuring that while I could muddle through, it would be far faster to do it with help. And while it was faster, it was still darn slow involving lots of discussion, passports, signatures, PIN’s, a guard who stared straight at me for the entire 30 minutes I was in the store and a long wait for a message to come back from the system stating that all was no longer rotten in Dalian.

Today was my birthday and anniversary and as you can see from the title there were lots of 5’s involved. Significant milestones and a consummate drag to spend them alone. But I did garner quite a few wishes on Facebook and a couple of really cool e-cards and much to my surprise a birthday kit left by the hotel staff including a sugar cream frosted cake, candles, a card signed by the managers, paper plates and a single pink rose denoting their undying dedication. It was a nice touch for a day that was 15 hours ahead of my friends and family back in the world – my day being over just as everyone else’s is beginning which made it even a bit stranger. I capped it with a couple of kind friends who bought me a spicy dinner at 川人百味 my very favorite Sichuan restaurant across the street in the shopping mall. I wish I could say that it only took a plate of crispy fried pork skins, deep fried chicken knuckles, red chile oil pork stew, garlic green beans, Sichuan noodles and three or four Qingdao beers to smother any feelings of melancholy that came from spending an important day thousands of miles away from the people I love. But as My Lovely Wife put it this morning, “we’re apart on this anniversary and we don’t have to do it again” and honestly, that’s the real emotion simmering here.

While walking home tonight I had a chance to observe one more interesting thing about vehicles in China – not many drivers feel that headlights are a critical part of motoring at night. More than one of my co-workers has told me the story of having to tell their drivers that headlights are a good idea and that they expect them to be used. In fact headlight lectures go hand in hand with “please don’t use the crosswalk to angle across 4 lanes of traffic” and “it really wasn’t all that considerate to squeeze that bicyclist between our rear fender and that truck.” But while we might feel unsafe riding in a car in the dark with no lights on, the real potential for mayhem is directed towards those – pedestrians, motorcyclists, scooter riders – who cannot detect the large, dark iron mass attempting to simultaneously fill the same space as they are. No, where you really gain appreciation for this little feature of Chinese life is when you’re on the outside, trying to cross the street at night during “bus hour” when all those big 6-wheeled boats are stopping to gather the thousands of commuters unlucky enough to have a car. At this point, it becomes a sort of quasi-astronomy problem – buses are black holes and you can’t detect them by direct observation. Rather you only know they’re there by their effect on the space through which they are passing. You position yourself on the curb and you look upstream. If you can see an unbroken palette of lights and objects, you’re safe to cross. However, if some pieces of the visual fabric seem obscured in an ever-changing pattern by a large dark rectangle, devouring the light as it passes between you and its source, it’s best to wait until the phenomenon has passed lest you meet the pavement in a far more painful manner than I did last night when my right foot got the better of me.

So now another year behind me I’m sitting here writing, listening to 70’s rock, watching last night’s “Lost” download and pondering the un-pondered – is the silence of my little washing machine trying to tell me it’s time for fabric softener?