Kristy dragged herself out of bed at 5AM the next morning, though she had by then cause to regret both the late hours and the quantities of Johnny Walker which had vanished during them. It was Thursday morning in China — Wednesday afternoon in California — and it was just over five weeks since Kristy had got off the plane for what was to have been a one week trip. She wanted to lose no time in alerting Bryn that she had now resolved all the factory issues.
“That’s a huge relief,” Bryn said. “The Macy’s and Saks account teams have been after me all week wanting to know if we’d have the sourcing secure in time for their line reviews for next fall. The last thing we want with a newly re-launched brand like this is to have to dump the first year’s product line on the channel partners because we were too late for the big players.”
“So… Where do we go from here?” Kristy asked, deciding the time had come for directness. “My understanding had not been that this was a China-based role. I’d like to be able to get home soon.”
“I know. I know. We all really appreciate your flexibility, Kristy. We’ll get you back as soon as we can.”
“I hate to push, Bryn, but: When?”
“Well, we need to get Todd Williams out there from procurement to sign papers with Trade Winds. You should be there for that exec meet-and-greet. This project has been your baby and everyone recognizes you made it happen. I’ll call his admin and see if Todd can fly out Monday. That would put him in… What? Late Tuesday or early Wednesday. You can have the meet-and-greet on Wednesday and Thursday. Tie up any loose ends and be ready to fly home some time the next week.”
“Seven weeks,” said Kristy dully. Long ingrained instinct told her this was the moment for some more optimistic statement about pride in getting things done, but with the full body ache and sour taste of too much alcohol and too little sleep, added to the prospect of at least another two weeks of what she was beginning to think of as “exile”, she could not muster up any business enthusiasm.
“Hey, hang in there.” Bryn offered a sympathetic smile. “I know this trip has been tough, but you’ve accomplished something not a lot of people could and you’re recognized for it. Okay?”
The next week passed slowly. It was difficult to stay in the loop with work in the San Francisco office, due to the time difference, and Trade Winds did not wish her to be overly involved in their own work.
“This is your chance to be the tourist!” Katie told her, when Kristy complained to her. “Go look at something. Go shopping. What do people do in China anyway?”
“Run factories and repress political dissidents.”
“Well, do some of that. Or visit the Great Wall. Is that near you?”
“It’s north of Beijing. About a thousand miles, I think.”
“That’s kind of far. How about the terra cotta warriors?”
“I think that’s pretty far away too. Look, Katie, I’ll find stuff to do. How are things at home?”
Katie looked down, then sideways, seemingly unwilling to meet Kristy’s gaze even through the webcam. “Ummm. Things are fine. Just, you know, work and stuff.”
“Have there been any more issues with bills that weren’t on autopay?”
“No. No problems. Nothing to talk about. How’s work? How are the bags?”
Kristy sighed. “I don’t want to talk about work. That’s why I called you.”
Though she had at first ignored it, Katie’s advice to be like a tourist and go shopping stuck in Kristy’s mind. Given that she had originally expected only a short trip, she had brought only a limited selection of work clothes. The insufficiency of these clothes grew in her mind until, Tuesday afternoon, with the office in California closed and Todd safely in the air en route, she resolved to blow-off what little work there might be to do and go shopping. Surely for the big close-out meeting she deserved a new outfit. She consulted the hotel desk, and they arranged a hotel car to drop her off at one of the cities glittering downtown shopping malls. It was as well that she had allowed all afternoon for the expedition, but she arrived back that night with several purchases that she was highly pleased with — though somewhat surprised that the elite shopping experience in China was not much less expensive than in California.
The next morning she got up early, dressed in one of her new suits, put on new shoes, and made her daily conference call to Bryn in a significantly better frame of mind than usual. A call down to the desk revealed that Todd had arrived in the small hours of the morning. He was doubtless sleeping in late. That afternoon they would have their first meeting with the Trade Winds executives, then go out for a tour of the nearest of the factories.
Looking at her image in the Skype window, it suddenly struck her how much her highlights had grown out since she’d been in China. Rather than looking like any natural behavior of her hair, it was clear that she had dark brown roots, and that the highlights began nearly an inch out. If it was obvious in a fuzzy, two inch video image, it certainly detracted from the polish of her in-person appearance. She went to the mirror and contemplated the situation, quickly confirming in her mind the conviction that it looked terrible.
She went down to the front desk. Were there any openings in the hotel salon this morning? The young man behind the desk consulted a ledger of some sort briefly, then shook his head sadly. There were no openings till the afternoon. She was about to turn away, resigned to looking like warmed-over-businesswoman-who-has-been-in-China-too-long, when the man behind the desk called after her. The hotel salon did not have any openings, but he knew of a salon near by, a very good salon that many Americans went to, that might have openings. Would she like him to direct her to it?
Kristy hesitated a moment. Leaving the shelter of the hotel typically meant leaving the precincts in which everyone could be relied upon to speak sufficient quantities of English. But if the salon had many American customers… Why not? How hard could it to be explain that she needed her highlights touched up? She accepted the man’s offer with gratitude, and he drew a map for her on a piece of paper and wrote down the name. The name was in Chinese characters, but he assured her that the sign was big and she was sure that she would be able to recognize it from his note. She set out.
The salon was indeed easy to find. Inside it was big and modern, white and gleaming, with impressive banks of hair products along the walls and giant mirrors hanging above new chairs and sinks. It was also surprisingly empty. Perhaps this was not a time when many other people were free to visit a salon.
A young woman in a brilliantly white uniform greeted her, but her command of English seemed limited to such standards as “hello”, “okay” and “yes”.
Kristy attempted to explain what she wanted in the traditional fashion of those who know themselves to be confronting a language barrier: by using the same words but somewhat louder and more slowly. “Highlights.” She held one of hers up. “I want to have my highlights touched up.” Again she held up one of the blond-ish locks of hair.
The young woman nodded. “Okay. Yes. Fine, fine.”
Wanting to be doubly sure, Kristy sought out a book in which models with a variety of hair styles and colors could be seen. She paged through it until she found one with blond highlights. She held the book out to the young woman and indicated the highlights. “Highlights. Can you do that? Mine are growing out. The roots are dark.” She indicated the roots.
More nodding. “Yes, yes, yes.” The young woman led her back to one of the stations. Kristy closed her eyes and relished the relaxing sensation of a professional working on her hair.
“Kristy,” objected Katie in a sleepy voice. “It’s late here. I have to be at work in a few hours.”
“I can’t believe I did this to myself,” Kristy wailed.
“Did what to yourself? Are you okay?” concern began to overcome sleepiness in Katie’s voice.
“I’m blond!” The vowel was drawn out into something very near a cry.
“This I have to see,” Katie said, now sounding fully awake. “I’m heading to the computer. Call me up on Skype.”
“Are you laughing at me?”
“No, but if you call and wake me up on a work night and tell me you’re blond, the least you can do is let me see. Come on, log in.”
The relief of sharing the misfortune was greater than her annoyance at Katie’s attitude. Kristy raised the lid of her laptop and logged in to Skype, still holding the phone to her ear.
Katie’s image came up bleary-eyed and tousled, wearing an old tank top. “Wow,” she said. “You really are blond. I didn’t know you could be that blond.”
“I’m not supposed to be. I was trying to have my highlights touched up and— And this happened.”
Her hair was not quite platinum, but it was very close. Not even a streak of brown remained.
“Did you try to do it yourself or something?”
“No, I went to a salon. It was a nice salon. I don’t know… Maybe she thought I wanted all my hair the color of the highlights. Or maybe Chinese hair takes much stronger bleach. Or… What am I going to do?”
“I don’t know. It’s kind of cute. It might grow on you.”
“It doesn’t grow blond on me, and I don’t want it to.”
“Can’t you just have it dyed brown? Or how about red?” She mimed thoughtfulness. “I could see you red.”
“Shut up!” Kristy considered but shook her head. “There’s no time. I have a big meeting in less than two hours. The senior vice president of procurement flew out to sign contracts and I have to meet with him. Getting the highlights touched up was a last minute idea so I’d look more professional. Besides, now I’m terrified to go into a Chinese salon again. What might they do next time?”
“Dye it black,” Katie suggested, giggling.
Kristy snapped her laptop closed, cutting off the video connection.
“Alright, alright. I’m sorry,” said Katie over the phone. “Look, though, does this guy that you’re meeting with know that you’re not blond? Just play it cool.”
“I met him once before, at the main office. I suppose maybe he doesn’t remember me, but… No. Anyone can remember that I’m not blond. I’ll look silly.”
“Just brazen it out,” Katie advised. “Don’t think about your hair. And really: If you don’t know it was an accident, it looks kind of good. You always impress people.”