Saturday, February 21, 2004

The Promised Land

I should have turned right back around after the clerk at the customs window called me "China Doll."

This is New York? The glossy snapshots I had in my mind, gleaned from American movies, are so different from what this is turning out to be. Queens looks like a slightly worn version of a pre-development Chinese city in the 80s. The airport is dingy and looks worn, the air in there smells like old curry and the fluorescent lights make me look older and more tired. 18 straight hours of in-flight air and no lower-body circulation will do that to you.

Dan Ming, or "Daniel," now, picked me up. I should feel lucky that at least I can stay in his basement in New York for a while, rather than looking for a room to rent on my own. I have heard horror stories about those... the advertised two roommates turn into ten. A room divided into quarters with hanging sheets as privacy dividers... As long as he doesn't think I'm some free maid, it would be ok.

After dumping some frozen dumplings (pork & leek, my favorite filling, he remembered) into a pot that I suspect I've gotten for him back in Beijing, he shoves a sheaf of newspapers under my nose. "Chinese World Journal has the best classifieds," he said as he plopped two pairs of chopsticks on the kitchen table and scooped a couple dumplings into my bowl. "Maybe a hostess at a restaurant?"

My eyes were glazing over from the plane ride, and I decided to not be demure, this is my ex I'm facing, we've seen the worst of each other anyhow.

"Can I think about this tomorrow?"

"I have to get up early for a convention. You'll feed yourself?"

With that I'm dismissed and introduced to my new home for who knows how long, a futon with old but clean floral sheets. I do get my own bathroom, but the kitchen is upstairs. As I lathered my hair with Pantene (same brand I used in China, a nice consistency), I debated my options. There is gotta be a better gig than hostess, maybe a tutor or something?

Dan Ming gave me a phone card, I could call home and for that I need to sound more cheery than I'm feeling right now. But I did it anyway, coming across as excited yet controlled. My parents don't like the fact that I'm cohabitating with my ex-boyfriend, but it's better than living with total strangers.

This is a road of no return -- my residency card has been canceled, one has to give it up to apply for a passport. My job was a dead-end one at the multi-national corporation's Beijing office. Just picturing my ex-boss's gross, red-mustachioed face was enough to firm my resolve -- I earn a tenth of what he's being paid and he wants me to clean his private corporate bathroom?

Tomorrow... tomorrow, I'll get up and start my new life.