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Shanghai Story 2: Ruby’s Big Break

Ruby’s Big Break

Ruby works for a local massage parlor, not the seedy pink lighted type, a real massage parlor that offers only massages. Coming from a humble countryside background, she immigrated to Shanghai at 17 to seek out work as her family couldn’t, or more accurately, wouldn’t afford to send her to high school, or god forbid collage. It isn’t what she wants to do though, and at 22 having spent all the money she could spare on cram courses scheduled in the mornings and early afternoons, she’s finally ready to try her luck at getting a better job, one that pays more than 2500rmb a month and has a better schedule than her 1 day a month off ‘standard’ contract at the parlor.

Having sent nearly half her salary home each month to help her parents send her brother to university, it has taken her awhile to scrimp and save enough to by the sleek new business like suite she currently sports as she makes her way to her apartment’s door, hopefully to a better life. But it’s not really her apartment. The company puts her and 5 other girls up in a three bedroom flat where two share the master bedroom, 2 get one of the smaller rooms to themselves and the other two stay in a converted kitchen and second bedroom. The living room is used as a storage warehouse for the massage parlor, stacked high with dusty boxes from bare concrete wall to bare concrete wall. To her, it’s not so bad, and she feels lucky to have had it these past years as it is rent free and she’d never have been able to stay in Shanghai otherwise.

All her roommates are fast asleep having only gotten home from work a few short hours before. Work starts again at 4pm and this is why Ruby scheduled her appointment so early in the morning. As quietly as possible she shuts the door, climbs onboard a waiting elevator, and descends to the buildings foyer. Outside she finds the sky is grey again today but it doesn’t matter as she is positively shining. The elderly residents are doing QiGong in the park next door and watching their graceful movements fills her with a sense of peace and hope for her coming attempt at getting out of the massage industry.

It’s not a bad industry on the whole, though even at her more upstanding of establishments, some of the girls do go home with patrons and make a little extra on the side, but not Ruby. Somehow, the lure of cash never held enough sway for her to give up her conservative morals and besides, her imagination always got the better of her and could only think of what her mother would say and the look on her father’s and brother’s faces if they ever found out she engaged in such ‘employment’. No, that was a fate worse than poverty, to lose face in front of the ones she held so dear. And her brother was now working so hard at university to get a position that would bring her family pride in their countryside home. In fact she was grateful at the opportunity to assist her family in this endeavor in any way possible. Perhaps with a better job she could help them even more…

A bird sat merrily chirping on a nearby tree and her more serious concerns were swept away by a memory of the countryside. There she heard and saw the birds every day, but since coming to this city with her nightshift work schedule and the general lack of birds in the surrounding area, this was a rare delight. She looked up and greeted the bird “Good Morning” practicing her English with a smile.

One of the subjects, besides accounting and office administration, that Ruby had fiercely studied was English believing having skill in this foreign tongue would net her a better position some day. Luckily some of the patrons who called on her were foreigners and with these customers she never missed a chance to practice what she had learned, if they’d let her. Many of the foreigners were kind to her and listened patiently trying to help her with new words and vocabulary as their sections went on. Some though saw her as just being interested in getting a foreign boyfriend and tried to take advantage of her, but most were simply pleasant. And the men could really be blamed for trying as even at 17 she had been a beauty in full blossom.

Reminiscing about her past work experience she arrived at the bus stop just as a bus pulled in. “Wow. It’s my bus.”, she thought, “This is a good sign and a good way to start the day”.

The bright smile on her face widened as she climbed onboard and was crammed in with the other passengers. It was a 10 minute ride to the metro station which she used to go over all the things she would say in her interview. First she’d thank them very genuinely for asking her to come in. This would be followed by a few questions she could easily handle about the job. And finally she’d either be offered the position or be invited back for a 2nd interview. Or at least this is how she imagined it. In her hands she clutched her hard earned qualifications with a sense of pride and her excitement built with every passing second as her bus came closer to the station.

The bus arrived at the station and her and her fellow passengers struggled off with the usual difficulty and made their way into the above ground station. As she rested on the escalator the day’s first few drops of rain began to fall and Ruby was pleased she had brought her umbrella. When she arrived at her destination downtown, she’d probably need it. Her hair was done up in a ‘professional’ style that nicely complimented her petit shoulders and shapely cheek bones.

Into the station she went, placed her purse on the bag scanner immediately before the gate and smiled kindly at the bag check guard who pleased her by smiling back. “Poor guy”, she thought, as she passed through the turnstile and headed for the stairs.

As she came to the top of the stairs a train’s whistle sounded and she quickened her pace. The station was really crowded and there was no way for her to get to the front. She wasn’t worried though as she had left home with at least 30 minutes to spare ‘just in case’. The train was just about to where she was standing when suddenly someone flew on to the tracks. The train’s brakes locked and the steel wheels screeched to a halt sending sparks flying. The crowd surged away from the tracks and a few waiting passengers screamed. The train stopped and an emergency message blared across the station’s intercom telling passengers to stay away from the tracks. But Ruby, like almost all the other passengers, had to have a better look.

She managed to squeeze past the onlookers to the head of the pack narrowly missing a few elbows, umbrellas, and almost tripping over a farmer’s sack. There on the tracks lay a man badly mangled by the sliding wheels with his blank staring eyes turned up to the sky. She looked down and noticed that the rain must have become heavier outside because now a light mist was falling as the roof was in poor repair. “Why… that’s… That’s Johnny!”, she thought in amazement.

She pulled away from the scene horrified that she knew the man who was dying or dead on the tracks in front of her. Johnny had been her customer for 3 years. He was friendly guy who rarely had much to say but who had never been bothered by Ruby’s questions and English practice during his massages. “I wonder what happened…” she thought for a second before the intercom blared again that the trains would not be running at this time and passengers need to find other means of transportation.

Quickly Ruby went to her purse and checked to see how much cash she had. Silently she regretted the money she had spent on getting her hair styled and her new clothes for the interview. Nearly 600rmb had been spent and there wasn’t much left for the next 3 weeks besides the 200rmb she found in her purse. “This’ll have to do.” she murmured as she decided she must take a taxi now or risk being late. And after-all, she had good friends who could help her out if her funds came up short before the end of the month.

Decision made, she made her way to the exit leaving the rest to gawk. Today was too important to stand around and stare at such an unfortunate accident. She really wanted to see if Johnny was OK, but the day was too important and she had been busy preparing for it for so long that there wasn’t a think in the world that could detract her from her dream of finally getting a better job and a better life in Shanghai.

Arriving at street level she hopped into one of the waiting cabs and told he driver her destination. The taxi pulled out into traffic without really looking and sped towards her destination. About 45 minutes later having had a few near misses on the way by no worse for the wear the cab pulled up in front of a shiny new office building. Ruby checked the fare and was relieved it was only 150rmb with a 10rmb highway toll to be paid. She’d have 40rmb left to get her breakfast with after the interview. With an ever more brilliant smile that even brought a sparkle to her eyes, she exited the cab and entered the building to find a lift to, she excitedly thought, “My new company’s floor!”

The elevator came and she entered. With each floor they passed her excitement and confidence grew. “This is my day.” she dared whisper to the filled compartment.

Having arrived at her floor, she almost leapt from the over filled interior and found herself staring at the most beautiful office hallway and front desk she had ever seen. It wasn’t particularly grand, perhaps even tacky, but to Ruby’s untrained eyes, it was glorious. She walked down the hall towards the reception desk relishing the feel of he soft plush carpet under her short heeled shoes. The receptionist looked up, asked her for her name and appointment time and directed her to the waiting area. She sat down in a semi-comfortable chair and realized she had arrived quite early. The Gold-like gilded clock on the wall showed she now had a 45 minute wait before her scheduled appointment. “The taxi was faster than I thought.”, she said to no one in particular.

As the time passed Ruby went over all the things she wanted to say. She practiced whispering “How do you do?” to herself as she wanted to make a good impression with a good English greeting as the job description she had found online had said English language ability was key to gaining the position.

Suddenly the receptionist called her name and Ruby was wakened from her pre-interview meditation. “Wow. 45 minutes gone already!” she thought, her anticipation for the coming interview growing.

Into the interview room she went and was given a comfortable chair in front of an expansive wood-like desk. A man came in behind her gruffly talking to the receptionist who quickly disappeared. Ruby stood and turned and was a bit shocked to find that a middle aged short pudgy Chinese man was eyeing her up and down for she had expected a handsome foreigner to be the boss at such a nice office requiring applicants with English capabilities. “H-h-how do you…”

“What?” the short pudgy man cut her off in Chinese. “You’ll never do. You’re too short”…

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2 comments

  1. wow!
    you make your Ruby girl famous!

    Helena is being forgotten!!

    what a joke!

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