“I’ve discovered a new confidence and joy,” exclaimed my Chinese friend Chris, who I also visited during my trip to Hangzhou in August 2003. He spoke with all of the passion of a born-again Christian pastor. Except this wasn’t about finding religion — it was about finding Amway.
I don’t know just how Chris went from masters studies in Chemistry to layman’s studies of direct sales. He had finished a year of graduate school at Zhejiang University, one of the country’s top ten schools, and presumably had two more years. Yet, here he was, in a dress shirt and tie, passing out Amway business cards — and demonstrating their products as if this was a sales call, instead of the friendly meeting over tea.
“Here try this,” he said, passing around an Amway hand moisturizer. “The glycerin and honey makes your skin feel softer and smoother than any moisturizer I’ve ever used.” My Chinese friend Caroline — the one who had been a matchmaker to John and I over a year ago — raised an eyebrow at me, and looked as if she was stifling laughter.
But it was no laughing matter to Chris. “Amway is the most supportive and encouraging organization I’ve found. I’ve made so many wonderful friends there, and there’s so much potential. You know, I went to a sales conference just recently, and the speaker, this 23-year-old woman, became an Amway sales rep and now earns 300,000 RMB a year, with a car and comfortable home in Hangzhou.” Chris spoke as if he had just seen the Wizard of Oz himself. But in a way, he had — to him, Amway was the wizard that could make him rich.
And, apparently, smoke, too. I caught him outside with John’s close friend, Lao Da, puffing on a cigarette. Barely a year before, he detested smoking. But when you’re a salesman in China, I expect it’s hard not to smoke — smoking with your client builds relationships, and could mean more business.
But this wasn’t the time to talk business. I had hoped this evening — at a teahouse beside the West Lake, with John, Chris, Caroline and Lao Da — would just be another evening of fine tea, treats and a little talk among friends.
In the end, Amway found us all, through Chris. To be sure, I bought their vitamins in China, and loved them. But it was hard to buy this new Chris, and his new “religion.”
What’s been your experience with Amway in China?
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 browse the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.