Wait a second, I thought. Didn't this girl have an MBA from Columbia Business School?
It was week two of my English lessons. Every Sunday afternoon, I would spend six hours in the Guomao Tower of a Chinese investment bank teaching three of their employees "Business English". I earned two hundred and fifty renminbi per hour, about 30 bucks. I needed every cent of it.
I was in kind of a funny situation at the time. I had a day job, a spring/summer internship at another Chinese bank. I got the job by dating the daughter of a guy who sat on that bank's Board of Directors. She (let's call her Sylvia) was in Beijing at the time too, and we wanted to spend time together. The job paid a thousand renminbi per month, which I was told was actually pretty high for an internship in China. The problem with this comfortable arrangement came on the third day of work.
I was summoned up to the fifteenth floor of the bank's offices, high above Financial Street on the west side of Beijing, into a cavernous office that was mostly empty and smelled new. A wizened, salt-and-pepper guy about my height tapped me on the shoulder from behind. She had inherited her father's facial features, I could see.
Anyhow, he closed the door behind me, sat me down and poured out two cups of tea. He was a big tea buff, that guy, and the tea was probably really good, but I drank none of it because he immediately started the test. The first question was nonverbal, offering me a pack of cigarettes. I shook my head and refused, and he smiled and said "good, good" before putting them down. Then he moved on to asking me about my upbringing and employment prospects. I think I failed most of that part because my spoken Chinese suddenly regressed to a third-grade level at that moment. Near the end, he got a little annoyed and asked, half-facetiously, given that his daughter and I had been spending some time together already, how much money I was spending on her.
I froze. He knew my salary; he was for all intents and purposes my boss for the next ten weeks. Too high, and he would know I was bullshitting him. But I couldn't say it too low; that would be insulting for a girl of her class. And I couldn't tell him I didn't remember, because I'd told him I wanted to go into finance or management, and what sort of future go-getter could I be if I didn't remember how much cash I was spending on my beau?
He smiled. It was not a smile that made me comfortable.
I decided to take a third option and state that I had some cash saved up from my college job which added to my current income. He smiled again and suggested that she and I should check out a a nightclub, Silk, high atop Guomao. I nodded, and said I'd check it out.
I'd heard of Silk. It had a 4000RMB table minimum... for two people.
So yeah. Back to earning my keep. The Chinese banker lady sitting across from me was 28, cute, tall, and shaped like a porcelain hourglass. But every time she used English to talk about her experiences at Columbia Business School, I cringed on the inside.
I'd brought an article from The Atlantic, since that's what most of my banker buddies in the States read and I assumed she wanted to share in their culture. I also assumed that her MBA made her ready for the writing in that magazine.
She asked me why we had to read The Atlantic, and I, feeling a little annoyed, made the mistake of saying something about raising her cultural level. She began to cry a little. Shit, I thought, she gets pissed at me and I'm down to one thousand extra per week. So I decided to make some lemonade out of the lemony situation. I remembered all my years of high school student senate, smiled my best Tom Cruise smile, and offered her a special hour long lesson the Friday of, where I would teach her free of charge.
She looked up with her big doe-eyes and accepted. I suggested coffee and she agreed, a little too quickly.
My big mouth always gets me in trouble, even when it's only smiling.
Wednesday rolled around and Banker Girl texted me. My phone OS still hated Chinese, so all I saw was a string of little white boxes and the numbers 730. 7:30? I sent her an email. She replied that she was busy in the afternoon, but she could meet me at 7:30 at her place for dinner.
I gave Sylvia a call. She said to go ahead. After I hung up, I realized I'd forgotten to tell my girlfriend that my student was a girl too, and very, very pretty. I hoped Sylvia wouldn't be jealous, but my student was not about to make that easy.
It was raining when I got off work. Stepped on the overcrowded No. 1 line, transferred at Guomao to the No. 10 line, got off at Hu Jia Lou. Her apartment was less than half a kilometer from the subway stop.
Later, someone would tell me that Hu Jia Lou was one of the most expensive parts of Beijing to live in. He was being redundant. Banker Girl appeared at the entrance of the station, holding an umbrella. She put the umbrella in my hands, and walked hand in hand with me, under one umbrella, to the place where she'd illegally parked her SUV.
And not just any SUV. It was a Porsche Cayenne. All in, including tariffs, it was probably worth over a million RMB. Along the way back to her apartment, she went into a faux-European, overpriced corner market and picked up a bottle of wine.
We got back to her place and she set the wine down on her upright piano. Then she heated dinner, which, she so charmingly explained, her maid had cooked for her while she was at work that afternoon.
Over dinner, she explained to me how to properly taste wine. Apparently that was a course she'd taken at Columbia Business School. The mystery of her English skills became ever so slightly clearer.
Somehow she went through two glasses in the time it took me to go through one. Now she was a pink porcelain hourglass. She leaned close, one pearl-white set of fingers keeping her shampoo-commercial-perfect black hair from falling into the pork bone soup, and quite drowsily asked if I still thought she was uncultured.
This is when I should have ran.
Part 2: The Leftover Lady