Nobody messes with Bridget.
She’s the kind of no-holds-barred veteran Chinese recruiter whoculls blockheads like me faster than Michael Vick can whip his whippets. She wanted professionals. There was no way my powdered baby-bottom was squirming through her filter.
And then there was Rosa. She was a lazy haze of peachy hair and dimpled gaiety—the good cop, no doubt. She looked at me, radiating the power to say “no” to my job application. I looked down.
Ricky was in the other room. We both wanted to try our hand at teaching English to Chinese kids, and had fished out $PEED English Inc. from a stream of tutoring agencies that catered to the young Chinese elite. $PEED’s recruiting officers had separated us and told us to give a ten minute lesson to a class of 10 year-olds. They made clear that we would have to sacrifice our weekends—the times we had set aside to explore the country—for half the normal wage.
Bridget led me into a glassy room with eight chairs and a blackboard. Then she left, no doubt to net China’s budding catastrofistas to serve as my pupils.
Twenty minutes and four chewed nails later, she re-entered and told me, “Okay, pretend I am your student.” In my best parenting voice, I explained the difference between “prettier” and “prettiest” to a mid-thirties executive who was fluent in English.
Ricky bumped against like difficulty. Through the wall I heard him say, “Okay class, repeat after me— “
“Repeat after me,” I heard Rosa muffle through the plaster.
“I like basketball,” Ricky said.
“Repeat after me: I like basketball,” he said again.
“Repeat after me,” Rosa echoed. I was careful to conceal my chuckle.
Afterwards I sunk into a chair. I had presented an assortment of superlative rules tacked together in ten minutes. Bridget had torpedoed my lesson, and I felt like a certified lunk.
We got the job. I daydreamed of myself in their pinstriped uniforms. I looked dorky.
Then a gear slammed in my head. I didn’t want this job—neither of us did. We wanted to tutor Chinese youngsters who really needed our help. Teaching English to Han peasant kids in a remote valley might cut it, or to Tibetans over cups of yak butter tea, but coaching China’s future tycoons would be neither satisfying nor interesting. We didn’t want to spend our weekends slogging in an office for 12 bucks an hour. We want a job with flair. We want a job that sizzles our humdrum lives, catapults us from the muck of teen tedium and wallops our palates like explosive starbursts. But in thinking only of a paycheck, we had forgotten all of that.