At first the manager of their account at Trade Winds, a middle-aged man who insisted on being called by the name of “Eddy”, made himself unable to understand the problem.
They had wanted to see the first product samples, yes? The samples had been sent. More samples had been sent than had been asked for. Very good samples. When could he expect an order. The production samples did not match the prototypes? Of course they didn’t! These were off the production line. The prototypes were merely prototypes.
Finally Kristy pulled rank: Either he could take her to visit the factories where these production samples were made and help her sort out why the production samples did not match the prototypes, or else the owner of Aspire Brands would call the owner of Trade Winds and say that Eddy was not meeting their needs. Which did he prefer?
This finally focused Eddy’s attention on the problem, and he promised that he and a driver would pick Kristy up at her hotel the next morning and go to visit one of the factories.
Once the arrangements for the trip had been made, including calling up Sue, her independent translator, and making sure that she could come as well so that the language barrier could not be used against her, Kristy decided to give herself an hour or two off from business concerns before things became impossibly late in California.
The indefinite extension of her stay was weighing heavily on her and she felt the need to talk to someone back home, but as she sat staring at her phone she found herself hesitating over who to call. Other than Katie, who was left to struggle with bills and other condo maintenance in her sister’s absence, there was no one, she realized, who would find it particularly unusual to not her from her for a month at a time.
She flipped backwards and forwards through her contacts and at last found herself calling Dan Fischer. It stretched to three rings, and she was on the point of canceling the call when he picked up.
“Kristy. Are you back in the States?”
“No. I’m stuck. Aspire just cancelled my tickets and extended my visa again. There’s no leaving China for me till these folks can get the bags right.”
“Anyway… I’m sorry, I should have asked: Can you talk now? I just wanted to hear a familiar voice that wasn’t from work.”
“I can talk for about ten minutes,” Dan said, a barely detectable hint of reserve in his voice. In the background, Kristy could faintly hear traffic.
“Where are you going?”
There was the slightest of pauses before he replied. “Picking up a date for dinner.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“Don’t worry about it. Right now I’m just stuck in traffic. It’s you or Terry Gross.”
“My conversations aren’t so renowned.”
“But you said you wanted to talk to me, and I don’t think Terry knows whether I’m listening or not.”
“Well…” She found herself suddenly without anything to say. Then they both spoke at once.
“Who’s the date with?” — “How’s China outside of work?”
“Let’s not talk about China,” Kristy said. “How’s California? How’s the law practice? Who’s this date with?”
“One of Mom’s ‘nice Jewish girls’. First date, but she sounded nice when we talked the other night. So I guess I could use a little distraction to keep me from feeling nervous.”
“Wow. I can’t imagine being set up by my mom.”
“It’s a little weird. But she’s not just any mom, she’s a Jewish mom. It’s different. Besides, it’s not like I’ve had a stunning dating life on my own the last few years.”
“Yeah, but… Does she do this often? Does she do a good job? Pick girls you’re interested in, I mean?”
“Three or four times over the last few years. They’ve all been really nice girls. I did date one of them for almost six months. But I’m single right now, so it hasn’t been as successful as Mom would like.”
“I suppose with Mom and Dad getting all religious again, they’d love it if I found some ‘nice Catholic boy’, but I can’t imagine trusting my mom to pick a date for me.”
“It depends on the mom. And being Jewish is different anyway. It’s not just something you do, it’s something you are. I’m not as observant as my parents right now, but I can see why they think it would be important to marry someone Jewish.”
Kristy was not sure how to respond to this, and Dan cut off the silence before it could stretch for long.
“Anyway. I’m getting off the freeway and will be there in a minute. I hope your stay goes well. If you get lonely again, feel free to call me.”
“Thanks, Dan. It’s good to hear a familiar voice. Hope the date does well.”
She had intended to call Katie next — hear another voice from home — but now something bittered the experience and she felt the need to do something else and purge her mind. She began putting on her running clothes. There was time to get some exercise before lunch and work loomed.
What bothered her, she realized, was that she had called Dan with no particular thought of what he might be doing with his evening. Indeed, now she cast her mind back, she saw that she had, ever since their Stanford days, seldom contacted Dan unless motivated by some reason of her own — something that she wanted. He kept up with her: sent invitations, called to ask how things were going, all the small elements that constitute friendship. But unless she had some specific object in mind, it was always he who made contact. Nor, perhaps due to a certain reclusiveness on his part, perhaps due to lack of interest on hers, did she normally learn much about his own life when they talked. Here he was on the way to a date. He’d had a girlfriend for six months whom his mother had introduced him to. Had she seen him during that time? At which times had he been single or dating?
All this somehow came painfully into view because she had called him, not out of any real desire to know what was occurring in his life, but to allow her a distraction from what was occurring in her own, and remind to remind her of the home of which he formed a part of the milieu.
Her running clothes on, she resolved that she would make a change. If she had to live in China, she would live there. She would go down to the street and take a real run in the open air, rather than repairing to the treadmills in the gym. She took the elevator to the lobby, where the young man behind the desk seemed to give her an appraising look as she passed. She went out through the doors and found herself among the press of humanity. The sidewalk was crammed. Even though Guangzhou’s motorcycle ban removed the usual developing world sight of innumerable bikes zipping between the cars in already crowded streets, cars were packed fender to fender in the street, honking insistently at one another. All around was the faint, background buzz of a language which remained impenetrably foreign to her.
Suddenly she yearned to be back in the impersonal and sheltered silence of the hotel. She plunged back in through the lobby doors and took the elevator back up to the gym, where she mounted a treadmill and ran to the sprightly though incomprehensible tones of a pretty young television announcer on Xinhua. She ran until her body was tired and sweaty, and her mind was at last clear, then repaired to the showers.