In Which I Have Man Troubles and Go On My First Trip
What was I going to do now that my teaching schedule had been shrunk to almost nothing and my income had been more than halved? Go to Beijing! I had all this free time, I should take advantage of it and go on a trip. With an 8-1 exchange rate if I needed to borrow money from my parents, it wouldn't be that hard to pay back. So I grabbed the next available bus to the railway station and bought myself a hard bed round trip ticket to Beijing. Buying tickets is in itself an experience.
The railway station is always crowded and the lines stretch to the horizon. I stood in the one marked English Language Service, even though I didn’t need it and made my requests amid the hoards people shouting their ticket orders over my shoulders and shoving money through the window in front of me. They didn’t need any special language assistance either, but must have decided that the line looked shorter. I couldn’t really resent them as I barely had a right to be there either. This was one of my earlier lessons in the importance of being aggressive and that lines are merely a suggestion in China. Service is on a first person who has their act together and money together basis.
Ticket obtained I took the bus home feeling very pleased with myself.
The next day Lorne called,
“Hi Marj, I have another teaching job for you.”
“Already? That was sure quick!”
“I told you, I like you. It’s a Tuesday/Thursday job and starts this Friday.”
“That’s great Lorne, but I just bought a Wednesday night ticket to Beijing.”
He sighed. “I’ll just have to tell them that you can’t make it to the first class.”
“Thanks Lorne. I really appreciate it.”
The new job brought my monthly income up to 3,000 kuai. A decent income compared to my buddies in the park. Most of them received between 800-1200 RMB a month. This amount is the equivalent of 100-150 dollars or at least was in 2004. This may sound scanty, but their spouses also brought home money and none of them were paying mortgages on their houses any longer.
Getting out of the city would be a relief. I know I haven’t mentioned this before, but I was having man troubles of a most unexpected variety. Though I probably should have been prepared for this. I remember my Taiwanese tutor senior year getting off the phone with a friend of hers and turning to me all worried.
“I don’t know if I should tell you this, but...my friend says a lot of men in Shanghai have wives in the city and mistresses on the side.”
I looked at her uncomprehendingly. “Well that’s no problem for me, I’m not married.”
When I told my older sister this she laughed and said “No, moron, she means that married men will be looking to make you their mistress.”
And they were right, they were so right. I didn’t notice it at first, heck I didn’t understand it. There just seemed to be an awful lot of nice middle aged men in Shanghai, but then everyone was friendly. Strangers stopped me on the street to chat all the time. There were days it would take me an hour to walk around the block, because there were so many curious people who wanted to talk with me. Besides, my father had told me to get those name cards for potential business contacts and so many people seemed to want English lessons!
My first bad experience was Jack the poet. I have no idea what his real name was. He was Chinese, but his name card loudly proclaimed him to be “Jack, the Poet”. I suppose it was no stranger than the Chinese people I met with self styled names like Money, ET, Winner, Bobo and Melon. Anyway I met Jack in Pudong when I was waiting for my first class at my very first job. I had come early and decided to explore the area. I met him sitting in a park. He was an unremarkable looking man somewhere in his late thirties. We talked, about what I can hardly remember now, and in the end we exchanged name cards. I hardly thought about the exchange until he started calling me. I was very new to cell phone culture and had never bothered to enter his number into my phone, so I was always rather disoriented when he called. Truth is, cell phones themselves were a bit disorienting for me. Back in the ‘states the only people who had my number were my family. The idea of a near stranger calling me verged on surreal. He didn’t have anything in particular to say, which was just obnoxious. I started hanging up on him, so he started sending me text messages. Actually, this was how I learned to answer cell phone texts. At the time, I was still unclear on the phone functions, since the English mode wouldn’t let me write in Chinese, but I couldn’t figure out how to navigate the phone in Chinese, so I would have to use Chinese mode to type the message and then switch to English mode to send it. It was a very tedious process.
The messages were more explicit than the phone calls. He claimed he loved me. I typed back that he was a jerk. He told me he was writing poetry and I used every bad word I had picked up from Taiwanese soaps and comics to express my feelings on the subject. It was very unnerving. I didn’t know what to do. It felt like an invasion of my privacy. My roommate thought it was funny and helped me devise more offensive replies to his advances. I called my boss Lorne, because he had told me that if I had trouble with anything at all to give him a ring.
As always he sounded very authoritative, did Lorne. He asked what had happened, and then he told me what to do. Threaten to call the police. If the guy didn’t stop go into the police and get his number blocked and let them harass him.
In the end I didn’t do that. I just stopped responding. I would wake up in the morning and there would be a message on my phone, by now clearly labeled OBNOXIOUS GUY with something stupid about love. Mostly they were in Chinese, though occasionally I received one in English. Clear through New Year’s this happened though with decreasing frequency as he grew bored with my lack of response. The last one I received was in English, it ran something like this: It is God’s Will That We Will Be Together, I Know We Will Meet Again. Well he could think whatever he liked, but I certainly wasn’t going to believe it.