Chapter Seven – Passage Three
Yet, rolling up to Jack Bao’s estate in our horse-drawn stagecoach makes me requestion all these suppositions. For a communist country where everyone’s putatively equal, Jack Bao seems awfully more equal than everyone else I’ve seen in China thus far.
His estate is positively palatial in the most golden and gaudy way imaginable. Everything is done up in a far-east, oriental style that must harken back to some dynastic period when China was ruled by Emperors and fire-breathing dragons. I know nothing about Chinese history but it certainly feels like I’ve set foot in some Universal Studios theme park attraction.
The front gate itself is a deep, vermillion red with two grand columns framing the entrance. Up top, the roof is ornate green with gold and jade embroidery of creatures from the Zodiac: Rat, Monkey, Tiger, Horse, etc. The whole thing basically looks like a classed up version of the entrance of San Francisco’s Chinatown. The estate itself must at least be a dozen hectares and it surround by a 30-meter tall fence of black wrought iron. Beyond the gates, I see rolling lawns of green, with carefully manicured bushes and hedges. A gentle dirt path leisurely winds its way from the front entrance gate up the hill and to the estate house itself.
“How on earth is this communism?” Coleman asks, pointing at the grounds. “I thought China was all about equality and everyone being equally poor.”
“Don’t believe everything you read on the internet,” Alan says dryly. “It’s not the 1900s anymore. Tremendous wealth always has a way of finding those who seek it.”
The stagecoach lets us off at the front gates and Alan pays the stagehand with weathered Chinese bills that look like they’ve been circulating for decades. On the other side of the golden gate, a young elegantly dressed woman and her chauffer are awaiting us. The chauffer is a broad-shouldered, barrel-chested, and dark-skinned man who’s got tree trunks for arms and legs. He wears a severe, no-nonsense look– clearly the muscle and is dressed in a suit of black satin. Next to him, the woman is a good 20cm shorter but still quite tall, at least 170cm, I’d guess. She’s knockout gorgeous with shoulder-length chestnut colored hair and deep violet eyes. Even under her flowing yellow sundress, it’s clear her figure is lithe but her bare shoulders and arms are toned, some clear signs of athleticism. There’s something about her that feels familiar that I can’t quite put my finger on though.
The gates open and Shu bounds over and embraces the woman, giddy with delight. Some rapid-fire Chinese dialog happens between the two women that I don’t understand at all but the lightbulb suddenly clicks on for me.
“Yeah, they’re sisters,” Alan says to me, seeing my face. “Amanda’s Jack’s wife –third wife, actually– that’s another reason we dropped by today.”
“Yeah, Amanda’s a CRISPR baby too. You might think she and Shu are twins but they’re actually a solid twelve years apart.” Alan pauses, thinking a moment. “Yup, Amanda’s gotta be pushing forty by now, I think.”
“Forty?!” Kristen says, dumbstruck. I also can’t believe it. Laughing and smiling with Shu, Amanda looks maybe early-thirties, at most.
Deepak clasps his hand on Kirsten’s shoulder, comforting her, as if she’s suffered some great personal calamity. “Don’t worry, in the future, everyone’s gonna have CRISPR tech. And then aging will be a thing of the past.”
Kristen’s eyes narrow but she says nothing. There’s apparently a kind of competitive spirt that’s ubiquitous among all women, I’ve come to notice. Or at least women of a certain segment. A sort of constant comparing that’s always ongoing even when there is no contest. It’s honestly bizarre to me that someone like Kristen, super-educated, professionally accomplished, and enormously capable would even entertain the faintest notion of caring about Amanda’s beauty or age. But I dunno. I guess she does. I’m an idiot though and honestly don’t understand these things at all. My only saving grace is that I know enough (now, after some hard lessons over the years) to just keep my mouth shut on these matters, whenever in the presence of women. Just smile and nod. And then politely transition to the next topic. It’s a mysterious land, my friend, turtles all the way down. Here be dragons.
“Da’an will take your bags,” Amanda says motioning to the mountain man. “Let’s walk up to the house though. Jack’s finishing up a few meetings now but he’ll be joining us for lunch in the garden.” She speaks with a slight English lilt just like Shu does and I’m beginning to wonder if it’s some side effect of the CRISPR-process.
Da’an, who’s essentially the Chinese version of Andre the Giant, grunts and lifts our luggage rollers and duffels effortlessly and begins lumbering up towards the estate house without saying a single word.
“This way,” Amanda says smiling and she starts up the path herself. “It’s a beautiful day! No better time for a walk!”
Some twenty minutes later we’ve walked up the hill, through half-a-dozen topiary gardens (also filled with Zodiac creatures; I’m beginning to sense a pattern) and finally make it to the front lawn of the house. Da’an, despite carrying all of our bags, made it there well ahead of us and has already deposited our luggage on the marble steps of the house entrance where I see a small legion of maids and manservants assembled and awaiting our arrival. Shu and Amanda chattered nonstop the entire way up like two nonstop phonographs on endless repeat catching up after some great hiatus away from each other. And even Alan, though a little pudgy around the middle, also appears to have made it up the hill with a surprising briskness I wouldn’t have expected.
Coleman and I have sweated clear through our polo shirts by the time we reach the house though.
“Oh my God,” I pant, my hands on my knees. “What the hell.”
Coleman sits down on the marble steps, wheezing. “Jesus.”
Kristen, who also arrived ahead of us, wipes her brow and drinks from a bottled water that the maids are handing out. Her white tank top is also completely soaked through and the staff have concerned looks on their faces. She looks at us quizzically and frowns.
“He collapsed three-quarters of the way up,” Coleman huffs, pointing behind us, back the way we came. “Somewhere by the rabbit-shaped topiary hedges, I think.”
The air is so humid and heavy; I feel rivets of sweat running down my spine and back. Somewhere under the white lawn canopy, Shu and Amanda are still chattering away in nonstop Chinese.