Mud, Mariah, madams and mince.

All the rainfall of the past few days has exposed one of the city’s big weaknesses: the quality of the pavements. There’s flooding everywhere, which has a habit of seeping underneath the atrociously laid and completely unsuitable little square tiles of etched concrete – which, I am told, begin buckling almost as soon as they are laid, and require replacing every three or four years or so.

Therefore, if you don’t watch your every step, you are quite liable to step on a loose tile and splatter yourself, from both ankles to both knees, with muddy water – made thicker and browner by the layer of dust-turned-sludge which accumulates at times like these.

By the time I get to the office and look down for the first time, I find that my nice dark blue Paul Smith jeans are plastered – nay, caked – with the stuff. Oopsy. That’ll learn me.

J and I are growing increasingly irritated with the number of telephone candidates who are blatantly trotting out prepared speeches. It’s always the candidates with the weakest grasp of English who do this; there will be a sudden jump from faltering hesitancy, and an inability to grasp the simplest of questions, to suspicious fluency and a dramatically increased vocabulary. How can you know what “enterprise knowledge management system” means, when you don’t even understand the word “why”? Or even, in the case of one rather abrupt fellow, the expression “IT”.

(“What? What is this? What is IT?” It’s the name of your industry, petal. Thank you for your time. Someone from our Human Resources team will contact you later.)

This morning, I catch one candidate lifting entire sentences straight from his CV, and so deliberately set out to throw him off course with unexpected questions. But the phone candidate who annoys me most is an otherwise intelligent, articulate young woman who is determined to read out her lengthy scripts at all costs, no matter what questions she is asked. In fact, it’s a few minutes before I even get to ask my first question. In between speeches, she listens and responds perfectly well – but then her whole tone of voice will switch back to Recital Mode. She’s trying far too hard to impress, and this desperation spoils her chances. I’m sensing an underlying neurotic anxiety which goes beyond the nervousness which I’m used to dealing with, an obsession with winning for its own sake, and something of a prima donna attitude.

As she drones determinedly on, my imagination starts to wander, and my mind starts to project. I can see this girl fighting hard to stay at the top of her class, all the way through school; popular with her teachers, shunned by her classmates. There’s also something about this Recital Mode which puts me in mind of the star pupil on Speech Day, up on the podium, reading out her prize-winning essay on Responsible Citizenship. She’s someone who’s used to getting what she wants, whatever it takes.

“And for my next project, which I commenced in October 2003 and completed in March 2004…” Please, make it stop.

By the end of the interview, I’ve come up with a name for her: Princess Pushi. Sometimes, it’s being a snidey little bitch which gets me through the day.

The next phone candidate is a jolly, giggly soul, and a right little charmer to boot. (“My family think I am half a genius! But I am more than that! More than genius! Yes! Haha!“) His answer to the “what are your other interests” question makes my day.

“I like to sing! Backstreet Boys! And you know Mariah Carey? I love to sing Mariah Carey! You know her song Hero? Is my favourite to sing!”

Before I can stop him, he’s off and away. “There’s a heeee-ro, if you look inside your heaaaaart….

My ears, my ears. Enough already!

D the English manager asks whether I’d like to join him, one of the other English guys, the two American lady trainers, and a thrusting American entrepreneur from the office upstairs, for a buffet lunch at the über-swish Hyatt Hotel, overlooking the West Lake. What a treat! But oh, my trousers! On today of all days!

No matter. I’ll tell them all it’s the latest distressed look. Helmut Lang, darlings. All the rage in Milan. You mean you didn’t know?

In the evening, J and I decide to try the famous Banana Leaf: a Thai restuarant, where an unfeasibly camp bunch of Filipino waiters perform song-and-dance acts round the tables, flirting suggestively with half the male diners, with a shamelessness that is all the more startling given the precarious legal status of homosexuality over here.

Then again, camp “theatricals” have always got away with more than most. And boy oh boy, do this bunch ever clock me. Less than halfway through my meal, I am pulled out of my seat to join them in a rousing rendition of I Just Called To Say I Love You; a couple of minutes later, one of them is giving me a mini-lapdance, his grinding arse hovering a couple of inches above my napkin-shielded crotch.

“Where you from?”, he asks.


“Oh, Ing-er-rand! You have a special language there?”

His colleague cuts in. “You stupid! They speak Ing-er-ish! They’re Ing! They from Ing-er-rand, so they’re Ing!

“Aiee, I’m so stupid!”

“It’s like people from Swiss-er-rand, they are Swiss!”

I can’t resist cutting in.

“And people from America, they are?”



Peals of laughter. They liked that. And no, I didn’t fully buy their Dumb Act, either. Who cares, though. Stereotyping can be FUN.

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