Sunday, May 28, 2006

Stealing someone's girlfriend

Gloria was a slow-burn relationship; I’d known her a long time before we became lovers. She worked at one of the German departments I used to teach at, and she was unusually efficient; switched on, capable, reliable -- head and shoulders above most I have met here. Workplace efficiency in this country is pretty abysmal, and initiative, reliability and industry are not so easy to find. Gloria had them all.

But in this country it does not matter how good you are; it matters who you know. From top to bottom, China is stuffed with incompetent and idle buffoons who hold their jobs by mere virtue of having the right friends.

China does not reward talent (which is of course a blessing for me), and this is the reason so many people leave the country. Time and again I have heard it from students (most often female students, for the connections club is mostly male) – ‘I can’t get ahead in my company, I don’t have the right connections.’

Example of this enough with Gloria; by far the most capable person in the office, she lacked the right friends. And without that protection she had no defense against the spiteful backbiting, the dirty jostling and sniping, the petty viciousness and cowardice that is so much a part of the impotent and raging history of China.

What did for Gloria was a letter about her sent to head office -- but not a bold, self-respecting letter from one with a grudge, but a tattling malicious letter from nine, signed by thumbprints alone.

Thumbprints! What cowards people can be, how weak! Gloria knew where the enmity came from; her error had been to nail her allegiance to the school. A mistake, in a culture where connections are the entire grease for the engine. The way to do it here is to flatter and butter; in her case, when various staff asked her to collude in their plan to sign and draw pay for hours they had not worked, she should have agreed. She could have done so easily enough, since she was office manager. But her straight answer, her refusal, led her down that crooked path, its claims and counter-claims, the denials and the whole worthless vortex of it.

She saw how it lay; she knew one of the nine signers, knew he was greased with the big boss of the university; and thus knew she was wasting her time in fighting it. And so she left, and at least left without as full as dose of bitterness as she might have, since one guy in the chain, lower ranking but some way above her, seemingly as angry as I but with the avenue of a more effective response, saw her off with three months' pay.

Thus does China reward honesty. And how it rewards dishonesty I need not say. That’s what you’re reading.

So one day months ago, just after she’d got binned, we spent a long and close afternoon together. Oh, just eating, talking.. but subtle flirting, too. My arm on her back crossing the road; hers on mine to emphasise a joke. We ate in a Korean joint in a new food street near Fudan University, and then went for a long walk, along the tree-lined evening streets, the student crowds. The railings round the campus were hung with exhortative banners, urging citizens to live clean kind and pure. We took them as our texts for an impromptu lesson. It was good.

So the attraction crackled between us, but remained unspoken. I’d known her for two or three years by this point, and while we’d often teased and flirted a little, it had not been as strong as this unspoken feelings now.

Unspoken because it was complicated; she had a boyfriend already. And I knew this guy pretty well, and liked him. I'd given them a little bit of help with their English studies, and he passed the relevant exam, she did not. And off he went overseas to study, off to Canada. A decent guy, kind and loving and strong for her. But staid, but dull, but passionless; unable to put his love into glorious actions or wild words.

I saw very clearly that night that she was lonely, and beaten down by having lost her job, unpleasantly. This was my avenue, and one which I knew I should not take… but wanted to.

That night we parted as friends; but the following day we exchanged a lot of text messages, English and Chinese, among which one from her was `U r so cute' -- which I was half amused, half touched to get. And I arranged dinner with her the next night, for she wanted to cook for me in her flat.

As I walked out my door that evening, I saw clearly where it was I likely headed.

We ate, talking easy, and flirting as we had before, a touch here, caress there. She’d prepared a careful meal, cooked it lovingly. Though the mutual attraction was obvious, I was not sure if she would act on it.

After dinner, we sat side by side on the bed watching TV for a while, until I left the room for a moment. When I returned, she was standing by the foot of the bed. I sat, put my arm round her waist as she stood in front of me, and laid my head on her waist. She murmured and stroked my hair. And then, with the gentlest of pressure from my arm, she sat on my knee. We watched TV some more. But I could feel her heightened emotion, as maybe she mine. A kiss on her cheek was easy enough. Then we locked eyes and the half-hesitant invitation therein was clear. The chastest of kisses on her lip, and still her hesitation. ‘Sorry...’ I apologized, and ‘sorry’ again. But she smiled it away. I kissed her cheek, then again her lips, still soberly. ‘Watch TV' she admonished me, kindly, her fingers on my chin, turning my head to the screen.

Once started, not to be stopped; and so our kisses became warmer and her hands more adventurous; so her I took her lead, moving under her top, over her back, round to her breasts; and soon we were on the bed, undressed, kissing, caressing. She was sexy, seemed a promising lover… But as with other lovers, this first time wasn't so smooth. I could not get inside her without pain – ‘It's like the first time’ she said.

Still, we had plenty of fun, and I boosted my ego by making her come -- that took a while (and some aching in my neck, as this was all oral) with many almost-theres fading out. And her many ‘It's so big' comments had the effect they would have on every other male.

But the way she held on to me as we slept after made me sure that it was more than a one-night stand for her. And I might have seen this, for I knew she was lonely, knew she needed someone to hold on to. Twice the words escaped her lips, recalled as soon as spoke but not quick enough to mute them – ‘I love you.’ And those words rose in me, too.

She was worthy of love.

This was no one-night stand for me either, I felt at the time; for holding her filled a deep well in me, and indeed her pleasure was the more to me than mine, for I did not come -- not being able to penetrate her comfortable the only way was her hand or mine, and that seemed somewhat crude. It was fine by me; her arms were enough.

But of course it creates lies, births deception. The boyfriend’s name was mentioned just once, late, before we slept. More eloquent than this; a bookshelf, fashioned into the headboard of her bed, bore a pile of used IP phonecards, thirty, forty, rubber-band bound. Each of these used to talk to him, I am sure, and there as trophies, talismans. And before lights out, she had to check something on her pc; I did not enquire and she did not volunteer. But I have little doubt it was to do with him. So I have made a liar out of her.

Another example: I added her address into MSN when I got back home the next day, and later on she logged in. And as our messaging began, the pic on her display was of him, the boyfriend. She changed it soon enough to one of her, and again neither of us spoke of him. But he was there, in the room, unspoken.

As maybe Kay was for her. Kay was my only long-term Chinese girlfriend, with whom I had broken up a few months before this, with whom I kept in touch (and still keep in touch) but had (at that point) told nothing of this thing with Gloria. I could not clearly recall telling Gloria I’d broken up with Kay… Maybe I did, or maybe Gloria assumed I had so to ease her (and my) betrayal of her guy. Indeed, just a day or two after we’d become lovers, she told me, ‘I love him’; but even in those words there was a ‘but’ -- maybe not spoken, yet there clear enough.

So what had I done? Taken advantage of a fragile woman or began after someone worth loving -- oh, worth loving as Kay was and is…? But even then I could see it ending in heartbreak for Gloria, could see that I would fail to commit to her like I should have to Kay.

So I did not know. Did not know. But I was happy, filled.


Anonymous said...

hi chinabounder. just read your comment at the end of some comments on past entries here. you're right - your critics use logic like condemning the girls you sleep with as sluts, which reveals their prudish victorian-era thinking once and for all. they'd prefer that if women must have sex, that they do it within the holy framework of church-endorsed marriage. wankers. your blog and the critics of it remind me of someone who has passed through lands of experience that others either haven't stumbled into or don't have the guts to stray from the path of mediocrity to explore, and therefore they have no idea of the reality from which you voice your experiences. i on the other hand do know, and it's an extreme way of life that begs to be told, if for no other reason than to help it sink in for the teller. so go on telling it - to widespread mirth and enlightenment. my fellow veterans from our beloved seedy city have bets on when the first henry-miller-type groundbreaking tome will be spewed forth from its slimy shores. get an agent now, and make sure you get a good deal on the film rights ;-)

Jei said...

Rock on dude.... rock on!.