My Chinese friend Jane recommended me to Nick Jin, the CEO of a Shanghai Internet company, saying I once worked for Alibaba, and studied Mandarin at Zhejiang University. I finally had a contact in Shanghai — but what he knew about me was a lie.
Jane, a sprightly girl with a boy cut known for unconventional clothing and church-chime ringtones on her cell phone, had her reasons. “I mentioned Zhejiang University to prove you can speak good Chinese.” And Alibaba? “He really hates the Chinese Internet company you worked for.” Nick despised the company because of his experience there as a manager. Mr. CEO’s stinginess — he actually decreased Nick’s stock shares, and later, absorbed them all when Nick left — drove him to form a new company in Shanghai.
Even if we shared a mutual dislike of Mr. CEO, Nick didn’t know the truth about me. How could I contact him now? As I commiserated with Caroline one evening, she offered a solution. “Just tell him Jane’s English is bad, so she got it wrong.” Jane’s English was, admittedly, nonexistent.
Caroline cocked an eyebrow, smiling at me. And even as I smiled back, I wondered just what chance I had with Nick Jin.
Still, I e-mailed him anyway. And, after a warm reply, and an even warmer phone conversation, we planned to meet in person in Shanghai the next day — Friday, February 21.
I imagined the possibility of a job offer, or job lead. But sometimes even the facts of the moment don’t mesh with the fiction we create for ourselves. What Nick said was just as unexpected as the piles of boxes, carpet stains, and unseemly piles of office papers littering his office.
“You have a very impressive background, but we just can’t afford you.” Nick — a short, bespectacled thirtysomething man with the energy and enthusiasm of a fresh college graduate — flashed me an affable smile, which made the moment even more awkward.
Thankfully, he didn’t leave things there. “However, I’d be happy to help you find other job opportunities.” He then picked up a worn magazine from the pile strewn across the plastic coffee table between us. “You might consider working for this company,” he declared, pointing to the magazine in his hand. It was a global media company, with a CEO from the US. “They make magazines, and websites for people who buy from China. I bet they would have a need for writers like you.”
We shook hands, and promised to keep in touch — and I left his office with nothing more but a suggestion of work at this global company.
That afternoon, I sent the global company my resume for an open copywriter position. I had no warm introduction, and no connections — just the whole black-and-white truth of my background, in Chinese and English.
Less than a week later, on a bus in Hangzhou, my cell phone rang. The global media company.
“We would like to bring you in for an interview. Can you come in March 3, 2003, at 9am?”
A lie may have brought me into Shanghai, but it was the truth that would make me gainfully employed in China.
Did your friends ever lie or embellish the truth, in an effort to promote you in China (or elsewhere)? Did it get you in trouble?
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.