Sunday, February 22, 2004

My New Neighborhood & New Job

There is something familar about my new neighborhood. Not quite China, a little bit American, but really, it's a pragmatic hybrid of the two. The streets downtown are unevenly-paved and littered. Ambiguous odors, some pleasant, others less so, waft in and out from various shop doorways. Stores are crammed together, with signs overlapping each other. Some are restaurants, some are 99 cents stores (Beijing has these too, only they're "Eight RMB" stores, which converts to about a dollar). The restaurants here are supposedly better than those in Manhantan, I'll have to try one of those and judge for myself.

New immgirants settle down here at first, but then move on to better, more suburban places in New Jersey or upstate New York, or at least Long Island. But they come back here on the weekends to shop for fresh fish and juicy bok choy. You can tell who they are -- they're the ones who drive the Mercedes and Lexuses and park at Kam San and Hong Kong supermarkets, and complain about the airplanes flying overhead. Their kids, if unfortunate enough to be dragged along, will mutter back in English when spoken to in Chinese. Dan Ming told me about their label, ABCs (American-Born Chinese), or bananas (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). I am fortunate to be given my own acronym -- FOB (fresh off the boat). Hah.

I got a job at a Shiseido cosmetics specialty store. If my grandparents, who told me about the Nanjing massacre, knew of this, I would surely be damned. But it's either this or working for a family as a nanny/housekeeper. I doubt my housekeeping skills are that marketable, and there is something icky about there being no boundaries.

Traffic was slow at the store, I was tempted to try on some makeup and do a makeover on myself, but then people started walking in. One woman made eye contact with me and walked closer to the counter; I guess she would be my first client. Her hair looks to be freshly thermal-straightened, and she wore a pair of black boots with a knee-length suede skirt topped with a denim blazer. Okay, late 20s yuppie, possibly willing to be suckered into this new $200 skin regimen I'm told to be pushing. I put on my professional smile and realized it's my ex-coworker from Beijing. She froze when she saw my face close-up and then squealed my name. Well, it's better than being recognized as a restaurant bus-girl, I suppose.

Delia, that's her name... she was one of those people who work at foreign companies in China that insist on being called their American names. I heard that she married a guy who was some government bureaucrat's son and came here a couple years ago with him.

I told her where I'm staying now and we settled in the living room to chat.

"Got any kids?"

"No, divorced."


"He had a company that's like a gift from his father. It's pretty much a plaything for him. There weren't any business. He spent all his time gambling at Atlantic City and would go through a couple thousand each time he went--"

Dan Ming came in. When he saw her, he flinched. I quickly looked over at Delia, she lowered her head and excused herself and said she needed to get back, but she never did tell me where she is working now.


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