It’s J’s first day in the office, so I’m back in Mentor Mode, introducing him to all and sundry and explaining the interviewing process. We do the first couple of phone interviews together, with J sitting in as a silent partner. Fortunately, the first candidate is one of the strongest yet, thus providing a useful initial yardstick.
Later on, I have to terminate a phone screening interview when the candidate – whose verbal English skills are almost non-existent – breaks down completely, his attempts at speech dissolving into soft whimpers. I do this as gently as I can – I’m used to nervous candidates, after all – but I can’t help wondering why someone would put himself into such a distressing situation in the first place. It’s not as if they aren’t warned in advance, in their native language, by our Human Resources team.
On the way home, J and I spot a dodgy DVD shop on Wensan Lu. Wa-hey, the complete second season of Desperate Housewives, for less than three quid! Back in the apartment, it takes a good half hour for the two of us to master the complex and typically non-intuitive DVD system, but persistence wins out in the end. Bree, Susan, Lynette, Gabrielle: welcome back into my life. (And thanks for hanging onto the hunky plumber; I don’t generally do Celebrity Crushes, but Mike Phwooar Gerra Loada That Delfino is the shining exception).
On the half-hour walk between the apartment and the office, J is spotting all sorts of things which I had missed last week, stomping along with my headphones turned up high, impervious to everything but the mad traffic and my inner angst. An obvious case in point: the tiny brothels, with their pink lights, barbers’ poles, and nominal disguises as hairdressing salons. Once I learn how to spot them – and it does take a while – I realise that they’re ubiquitous; yet another phenomenon of Chinese life which makes no economic sense to an outsider.
(At this point, I was going to say something along the lines of: we only see what we need to see. But as that would cast all sorts of misplaced nasturtiums upon J’s stainless character, I shall refrain.)
J has decided to take his breakfast en route, purchasing gyozas (he calls them “jowzers”), “bowzers” (God knows how you spell that), and filled pancakes from a variety of street vendors, in exchange for tiny handfuls of small change. I follow suit, and feel a frisson of excitement in going native, to such a daring degree. Tomorrow morning, I’ll pack tissue paper; this stuff is tasty, but it ain’t half greasy as well. Jowzers and bowzers! Sure beats supermarket muesli…
(Side-note: since I’ve been here, I’ve almost completely stopped farting. Could this be down to the lack of dairy products, such as the milk on my morning muesli? Whatever it is, it’s a blessed relief. This won’t have come up before, but I’m SUCH a fart-arse. Sorry, is this too much information? OK, back to the plot.)
As usual, there’s a long, chatty e-mail from K waiting for me when I log on. In an unexpected side-effect to our prolonged separation, K has revealed a previously hidden talent for witty, eloquent, tartly observed and pleasantly bitchy e-mails. I suspect that he would make rather a good blogger. Dammit, is there anything the man can’t do (apart from putting away his shoes neatly under the stairs, or leaving the house in unironed clothing)?
The day’s first face-to-face candidate is articulate, charming, confident, energetic, immaculately groomed (he’s gone in a bit heavy on the clear lip gloss, but I’m in a tolerant mood), thoroughly likeable, enjoyable company, with all the hallmarks of a rising star… and, for various reasons, completely the wrong “fit” for our company. Part of me feels rotten for rejecting him, but the rest of me is certain that he would not be happy here, and would quickly move on. It’s for his own good, I tell myself, as I circle the NO option on his reaction sheet.
After work, J and I try the sushi bar down the road from the office. The sushi turns out to be first-rate, and we find ourselves wolfing down dainty little plateful after dainty little plateful. The staff, who look vaguely stunned at our rate of consumption, and vaguely distressed at the size of our bill, offer us a VIP discount card as we settle up. VIP cards are common enough currency round here – JP bequeathed me his card from 5th Avenue, for instance – but you generally have to earn them through repeated visits. Our naked greed appears to have fast-tracked us through the entire process.
It’s still quite early, so we jump into a cab and head downtown for a speculative mooch. The main downtown area turns out to be a bit of a let-down; bright lights and wide streets, but with little of unique interest, as KFC follows Pizza Hut follows McDonalds follows bloody KFC again, in an endless loop of homogenised mediocrity. The shops are still open, but we search in vain for atmosphere, buzz, life. In fact, it all turns into a bit of a trudge. After an hour or so, we head back to the flat.
Emerging from the open-all-hours “C-Store” over the road, with tonight’s beer and water and tomorrow morning’s rolls and juice, the awful realisation hits me: I am no longer in possession of my satchel.
Shit, what was in it? Company laptop? Nope, I left that at work. Passport? It’s in the flat. Keys, cash? In my coat pocket. Oh buggeration, my bloody credit cards. Shitshitshit stupidstupidSTUPID.
I’m almost certain that I left the satchel on the floor of the taxi, which sped off into the night over five minutes ago. Trying to think clearly, I make a call to Y, our Chinese office administrator. As luck would have it, I asked the cab driver for a fa piao tax receipt, as torn off from his little till-roll machiney type thing. Mercifully, this contains the registration number of his cab; all we need now is the phone number for the cab firm, who can put a call through to him. I read out the only number which I can find.
A few minutes later, Y calls back. It was the wrong phone number, connecting her instead to the company who manufactures the till rolls. Oopsy! I can’t see another number. She says she’ll see what she can do.
An agonising hour passes. What if the car can’t be traced? What if the driver denies all knowledge? What if the bag has been filched by another passenger? J is urging me to cancel my cards, but I’m reluctant; it feels like giving in. For the umpteenth time, I remind myself that things could have been a lot worse. It’s only plastic, no-one has come to any harm, and the passport’s safe. Actually, what bothers me most is that I’ve also lost my CD Discman, my sexy top-of-the-range Bang & Olufsen headphones… and one of the lovely world music CDs that K lovingly put in my suitcase for Christmas Day boo hoo hoo I miss him SO MUCH oh pull yourself together you big fat drama queen.
Why hasn’t Y replied? I text her, but no reply. Look, I’m English; one hates to nag, one baulks at being a burden, oh very well then I’ll ring her.
“Hi Y, any luck?” Oh so faux-casual.
“Didn’t you get my text? Your cab driver is downstairs, by the main gates.”
Shitshitshit quickquickquick, and I’m flying down the stairwell, out into the night, how long has he been waiting PLEASE let him still be there hey THAT must be him PLEASE let it be him aha he’s smiling at me, opening the boot and YES, it’s my bag!
Before handing it over, the kindly looking driver (who bears a passing resemblance to Chairman Mao, now that I can take a good look at him) insists that I check every compartment of the bag. The cards are there, the Discman is there, all’s well. Xie xie, xie xie. I slip the driver a massive tip – five times the original fare, but Y said he had come a long way, and it’s important to demonstrate that honesty pays, right? – and stagger back upstairs, sinking to my knees on the living room floor with relief. What with my notorious absent-mindedness, and all the solo business travel over the past few years, something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. It could have been so much worse. Oh, did I say that already?
Although J and I were dog tired an hour ago, my mini-drama has left us with sufficient residual energy to keep us heart-to-heart-ing into the small hours.