Let me wax poetic about the “other” man in my life. One I have known since the day we arrived.
The day we arrived we were met at the airport by a tall, boyishly charming man in his early 30’s. He was all smiles and introduced himself as Mr. Jing Yi. Right from the start I could tell this was someone I would like. He took my suitcase and my carry-on bag and wouldn’t let me carry anything. He loaded all our luggage carefully into the car without so much as a grumble or sigh(and we had a LOT).
Since that day he has learned a little English and I have learned a little Chinese and we both have learned a lot of hand signals and we communicate pretty well. He texts me each evening to see what time he should come pick me up. He does not ask for a full days plan, but just takes me wherever it is I want to go at that moment. He doesn’t question why I want to go to the grocery store all the way across town when there is one three blocks away. I couldn’t explain to him that it has the flour I need and my kids are going into cookie withdrawal – even if I wanted to. He doesn’t comment on the fact that I seem to spend way too much time shopping or hanging out with other women. How do you say “I desperately miss my friends at home and need to have some human contact and do something with my day or I will have a nervous breakdown!” in my nursery school level Chinese??
He opens the door for me to get in and out of the car and pouts a little if I try to do it myself. When I appear from a store he comes and carries my bags to the car and loads them in the trunk. He smiles politely when I show up with the big, bright green poster with the face of a cow. I try to tell him that it is a gift for my daughter, but I am not sure he understands.
When we get back to my apartment he carries my bags in and puts them on the elevator for me.
I have had the chance to ride in a few taxis since I have been here and it is like being in the wild west, only with cars. Drivers here make NYC cabbies look like little boys in those Little Tykes Mr. Magoo cars. I have also ridden with other people and their drivers. I have to say my driver is careful and competent, by far the best driver I have met.
At first when I found out we would have a driver I was upset. It seems terribly stiff upper crust – totally not me. We chose an apartment that is within walking distance to many things, including one of the main metro/subway lines that feeds all of Shanghai. The kids get bussing to and from school every day and Hubby takes the metro to work. So what the heck would we do with this guy all day?
I had just finished reading “The Help” when we got here and I think it gave me a heightened sense of the weird situation I have been thrown into. I cannot deny that the convenience of having a driver is wonderful, almost as good as having our own car. I can go places without spending hours online trying to figure out how to get there. Or dealing with the myriad of subway entrances/exits and trying to read street names. This makes it so I am able to do a lot more with my time. But it also isolates me somewhat from dealing with the real world and having more opportunity to use my language skills. My biggest source of guilt, honestly, is not being able to tell him a plan for the day, or to ask him if he minds working late in a more familiar way that might elicit an honest answer. All I can say is “can you work until x time?” and he answers yes or no (but he has always said yes). I know nothing about his life outside of being our driver. Is he married? Does he have a child? I do actually know that his mother lives in Shanghai and was ill recently. I think she is better but that situation really rattled me and made me feel my deep lack of language skills. It made me redouble my efforts to learn.
I was at a meeting of a local women’s club, basically to hunt out friends – nothing life or death. I met a few really great people and was enjoying talking to them. I ended up being about a half hour later, returning to m car, than I had said I would be. I went outside and was immediately approached by my driver who thrust a cell phone into my hand. On the other end was his dispatcher of sorts. Freda is his backup if he doesn’t know where something is, and as a big added bonus, if we get really stuck with communication ,she speaks both english and chinese. Freda told me that Jing Yi’s mother was very ill and he had to go to the hospital right away. They had arranged for another driver to take me home. Jing Yi ran off into the crowd before I could say any more than “ok”. Then I began to think…how was he getting to the hospital? how far away was it? did he need a ride? I would happily take him there and did call him on his cell phone. But we could not understand each other. I called Freda back and she checked with Jing Yi but said he was already gone in a taxi. I felt horrible. I made sure he knew he had at least the next day off and I hoped his mother would be ok. He came dutifully to work two days later and seemed ok and said his mother is ok. But I am not really sure she is, or is he just saying that because he doesn’t know enough english to explain more and my chinese is too limited?
The whole experience made my mind go back almost 20 years to an escalator at pompedeau museum in Paris. A woman’s camera was stolen off her shoulder right in front of me. I saw the man do it but could not tell her or the police what he looked like. I felt so helpless.
Our contract with Jing Yi is for a year. I hope in that year my Chinese will improve enough to really communicate with everyone around me, especially my friend Jing Yi. In the mean time, I will also relax and know I have one of the best drivers in Shanghai to help keep my family safe until we get our feet more on the ground.