This interview was not conducted at the intersection of Xindong Avenue and North Gongrentiyuchang Avenue, at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, beneath a florid sun. Ms. Zhang did not wear a brown baseball cap, a long-sleeved beige cotton shirt, brown trousers with beige piping, white cotton gloves, a black belt, and black shoes. Also, she did not carry a red flag in her right hand or a bullhorn in her left, nor did she wear a stainless-steel whistle on a string around her neck.
Roy Kesey: First of all, Ms. Zhang, I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me today.
Zhang Si: (Something something! Something_) road (_something something something!)
RK: Right. Well, let’s start with the basics: where you were born, what it was like for you growing up, your parents, your schooling, just anything you’d like to share with our readers.
ZS: (Waves flag and blows whistle at middle-aged male jaywalking pedestrian, who retreats immediately to the curb.)
RK: Well, sure, for a lot of us, I think, revisiting the past can be a very difficult thing. All those painful memories, the snubs, the insults, the wedgies, the swirlies, the noogies, the whippings, that same goddamned bologna sandwich in your lunchbox day after day after … OK, so instead let’s talk shop. For example, could you describe your relationship with your boss, who I’m assuming, and correct me if I’m wrong here, but I’m assuming he or she is some sort of traffic-control-specialist supervisor of some kind? Is that right? Yes? And what’s he or she really like?
ZS: (Icy stare.)
RK: I apologize if I’ve … But you realize, yes, that this is not a real interview? That as far as I know there is no actual person such as you, and that while there is a person such as me, there’s simply no way he could ever work up the courage to interview a live human being? OK then—carrying on. Ummmmmmm. Right, here we are. Surely there must be people who pass by this same corner at more or less the same time every day. Are you able to form any sort of bond with them? Do you chat when traffic is slow? Is there perhaps some particular cute taxi guy you flash a smile at from time to time, hoping someday maybe he’ll pull over, roll down his window, beckon to you, and you’ll step closer, intrigued by his soft Jiangxi accent, his thick black hair, his muscular yet graceful hands, and he’ll—
ZS: (Something something something! Something something! Something! Something! Something!)
RK: I’m so glad you brought that up; that’s a terrific segue to my next question, which is about Beijing itself and how rapidly and profoundly the city has changed in the past few years. So much construction, so much foreign investment, the closing down of most heavy industry within the Third Ring Road, the rising cost of living, the building of so many new roads and bridges and overpasses, and yet, paradoxically, the traffic seeming to get worse day by day—what’s your take on all these phenomena?
ZS: (Waves flag furiously, blows whistle, and shouts through bullhorn at attractive young female bicyclist who was edging out away from the curb though the traffic light was still red.)
RK: I think we all know what you mean by that. But seriously, the—
ZS: (Something something something something something_) green (_something!)
RK: Well, but—
ZS: (Something something something something something!)
RK: Be that as it may, all indications are that the federal—
ZS: (Something something something!)
RK: I think we’re getting a little off track here. What I really want to get at is your—
RK: And to what extent do you think that will affect you as a typical Beijinger?
ZS: (Icy stare.)
RK: OK then, just one last question, if I may. Given that the Beijing Olympics are only four short years away, what would you say is the single most important factor for ensuring that the games are as enjoyable and uplifting and, if you’ll forgive the expression, “passionate” as they can possibly be, from the point of view of the athletes themselves, as well as of the spectators, both live and via televised broadcast?
ZS: (Icy stare.)
RK: Well, I’m afraid that’s all the time we’ve got. Have a great day, Ms. Zhang, and thanks once again for bearing with me and my questions.
ZS: (Looks away, shakes her head.)