Chapter 41: Losing Jobs and Gaining Chinese Friends

night walk in China
Sometimes, your Chinese friends -- and exes -- surprise you. During an evening walk, after cleaning out my desk, I discovered a surprising understanding from Frank, my ex-Chinese boyfriend.

Just as I lost my job and visa, Frank, my ex-Chinese boyfriend, was being groomed for management by Mr. CEO. The company rescued his desk from the impersonal production room, and safeguarded him behind the protective, sunshine-lit walls of a small office beside his. Frank and I had long had walls between us — but now, we could finally see them.

I wanted to stay far from Frank after my job and visa crisis. I didn’t see how he would understand me. He didn’t when we dated before, letting our relationship turn bitter like a neglected glass of green tea. Now that he and Mr. CEO all but drank from the same cup, how could Frank and I ever get beyond the shards of our past?

On January 28, 2003, I visited the Chinese Internet company in the afternoon, to remove sensitive information from my computer. I ducked into my cubicle in the production room, slouching in the corner in the hopes nobody — especially Frank — would see me there. Even though I was no longer employed there, I worked restlessly, as if I was an intruder gathering intelligence on the company. Yet, I didn’t finish saving everything, staring at Mr. Fang and his quizzical smile, as he said “Ailin, it’s time for us to close up the office.” I felt as if I’d been caught yet again — and, as I prepared to leave, I nearly forgot sensitive materials of my own: an indispensable binder with my resumes and job-hunting information.

I needed a calming cup of confidence, as I wobbled out of the building onto the streets in the dusk of winter. Instead of walking towards the bus stop I usually took, I paced in the opposite direction for several blocks, hoping that each step would bring me closer to that meditative peace I desperately needed. As I turned around and paced towards my bus stop, I saw a familiar gait approaching me. It was Frank.

I churned with emotion as he came up to me, and said “Ni Hao” — because I knew he’d eventually ask what he did: “I noticed something with you in the office. What happened with you?”

I looked into his teardrop eyes glinting in streetlights. I felt a forgiveness, even vulnerability, in him — the Frank I remembered from May, 2002, when I first fell in love with him. It was as if Frank took me into his arms in that one glance, for just one moment. I forgot the walls between us — which we couldn’t see on the street, between us — and I told him everything.

“You know, I changed jobs five times in Hangzhou before I worked at our company.” Frank never told me, but I guessed he had met Mr. CEOs of his own at previous jobs.

“If you ever need any help, please call me. I hope we can continue our friendship.” Just like leaving a church confessional, Frank’s words seemed to absolve me of any transgressions between the two of us, or between me and the company.

That evening, I exorcised the company from my heart — except for Frank, and our burgeoning friendship.

Did you ever find support and understanding, when you least expected it, from your Chinese friends?

———–

Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, you can start at Chapter 1, or visit the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.

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