“Hello. Where are you from?” A strange, deep, almost accent less, but still Chinese, voice came from behind me.
“Oh, are you a teacher?”
“Yes, I am a teacher at HuaQiao Wai Yuan.” I began, “You speak very good English. Are you a teacher?”
“No, I am a business man.” He began to say proudly. “I export ga’ments.”
“Oh, wow! That makes sense. That’s why your English is so good.”
“Oh, my English is okay,” he added with the modesty that most Chinese people have about learning English. “How long will you stay in China? One year?”
“Maybe more than one,” I said, expecting the question that had almost become a refrain among Chinese inquirers.
“So you can find a Chinese husband, then.” He said, smiling with assurance.
“Uh, maybe not.” I said attempting to change the subject that Chinese people were so fond of. “So what is your business about?” I asked.
“I export ga’ments,” he began, “like underwear, children wear, women’s wear. We export to European companies now but hope to sell in Wal-Mart and Target, some day. We have been a company for 7 years.”
“Oh, you export garments?!” I said realizing what he was saying for the first time.
“Yes, I just went to a job search at HuaQiao to give jobs a few days before.” He said pointing at the HuaQiao bag on the chair.
“Will you go back to the next job fair?” I asked seeing an opportunity to give my senior students better chances of getting a job.
“Yes, I will go back next month, but I’m not sure I will find the characters I’m looking for.”
“So what characteristics are you looking for in an employee?” I asked attempting to gather more information to give my students.
“It’s hard to explain the characters, but I want some couple for a long time who is not married, work together well.”
“Ok, so you’re looking couples, boys and girls?”
“Only girls. She don’t have to be very beautiful and she can be old, but she must be attract to me.”
“Oh, so you have many guys now?” I asked not realizing how weird his comment was.
“Maybe 20 girls.” (I thought he meant guys) “All girls except me,” he said with a chuckle. “Hehehe. You should come visit the office sometime.”
“Oooooooooh ok,” I said realizing the awkwardness of his comment for the first time. “So do you have a business card that I could have,” I asked attempting to bring the conversation to an end.
“Uh,” he said patting his pockets, “I must have left them, but I can write it down.”
As he began writing down his information, I started to make eye contact with Emily as if to ask, ‘is this weird?’ She simply nodded and smiled inconspicuously.
“Here,” he said handing me receipt paper. “This is the web address, my cell phone number and my English name, Barney.”
“Oh ok, Barney is a good name.”
“What is your name?”
“Uuuuuuuuh, uh Tempestt.” I said reluctantly.
“Oh, how to spell?” He asked handing me a paper so I could write it down.
I wrote it down.
“What is your number?”
“Uh, I don’t know it. Let me look,” I said taking out my phone, pretending to look for my number.”
“Oh, I have it!” Carly shouted, enthusiastically. “I will tell it to you.”
“Oh, no. I have it. I’ll give it to him.” Emily interjected.
“Thanks, Em.” I said with a quick glance across the table.
“It’s,” she began, and I literally sat on the edge of my seat as she gave him all the right numbers until the last two, giving me another quick glance.
“Ok,” Barney said. “Maybe we can get together in your free time for a party this weekend so my girls can speak English with native speakers.”
“Oh, are they your daughters?” I asked.
“What do you think I am? 50?” He responded with a question that should have had an obvious answer judging from his tone but didn’t. I almost responded ‘yes’ but decided against it. “They are my colleagues, very young, like you.” He said smiling broadly.
Awkward glances around the table…
“Oh well, we are very busy grading papers and hanging out with students on the weekends.” I began. “She is one of our students,” I said pointing to Carly.
“Ok, well, may I have the honor of being the host of this dinner?”
“What?” I asked, genuinely confused.
“May I be the host and pay for the meal.” This sounded way to similar to being hit on at this point, but I was too surprised at his offer to even respond.
“Oh, no,” Emily interjected. “We are treating her today, so we will pay.” She said trying to avoid the obligation of repaying him later on. (In China, there is something known as Guanxi, which means dutiful relationship with implied reciprocation, so we were making every effort to NOT begin a relationship that would one day require us to reciprocate his kindness.)
“Yes,” I added. “We will pay as a treat to her.” I said pointing to Carly.
“Oh ok,” he said looking a little sad.
“But you enjoy your dinner.” Emily said with a smile.
“Yeah, enjoy your dinner.” I said.
“Ok, see you again.” Barney said, looking as if he wanted to add something else but decided against it.
Once he finally turned back to his table with his three female employees, we quickly ate the last of the food that was on our plates and started re-layering. We called for the “fuyuan” (helper/waiter) to bring the check so we could go. We all began to walk toward the register.
“Tempestt, are you leaving so soon?” Barney yelled out.
“Uh, yes,” I said. “We’ve been here for like two hours, so we’ll leave now.”
We had been there for two hours.
“Maybe I will see you later.”
“Maybe,” I said looking back as I rushed out the door, thankful that he had not asked me for my hand in marriage.