《Fatal Weakness》Chapter 6: The Most Outstanding Classmate
On the way as Tian Haipeng drives me home, I don't feel like saying a word. As we squeeze through traffic, just before we reach Huiqiao New City, I suddenly change my mind: "turn the car around. Take me back to my parents' place, on the south side of the Pearl River."
He gives me a look but doesn't say anything, and right there on the Guangzhou-Huadu expressway does a big 180. Only just as we're about to arrive does Tian Haipeng say something: "you're afraid of being all alone in your little room, aren't you?"
I think he's pretty much right. I've never been in as heavy a mood as I am today. I come from the school of Ah Q; I've always felt there's no need for people to carry too much weight on their shoulders, they'll just end up with a heart feeling heavier than Mount Taishan[how about Mt. Everest?]. Only I don't know what's happened, today I just can't seem to let myself relax.
Going up in the elevator, as soon as I think of how upset my parents will be at just having had their dreams of a longer, more prosperous life vanish into thin air, I've already begun to get myself worked up. I ring the bell, and quickly hear a light pattering of footsteps running towards the door. It opens, and I'm shocked to see Ah Hua standing there alluringly, giving me a big smile. Those full, moist lips of hers, the deep dimples on her face, the high, sleek bridge of her nose, her curved eyebrows, these all leave me momentarily stunned at the door.
Mom and Dad don't just seem relaxed, but quite healthy too. Ah Hua's wearing a long skirt today, with a short-sleeve t-shirt, her face as bright as a spring morning. You'd think she owned this place the way she keeps popping in and out of the kitchen getting dinner ready. Dad takes the time when she's inside the kitchen to tell me that after Pan's Nutritional Oral Tonic was shut down for false marketing, Ah Hua laid low for a while, scared she might run into them. Over those two weeks, quite a few consumers were looking for these nutrition ambassadors, wanting to get a refund. A week before, Ah Hua had drummed up the courage to come and knock on the door and apologize to my parents who, being such lenient people, were quick to forgive her. Ah Hua even took out some of her own savings and compensate my parents for their losses. Dad says Ah Hua was a victim in this too, or at least she didn't know the truth, so they firmly refused that. Ah Hua was moved to tears, and asked my parents if she could live with them for a while, serve them. My parents were a bit baffled at this, and then Ah Hua told them the truth. She said that after the company was shut down she had no place to stay, and on top of that she was worried her old customers would come looking for her and start some trouble. Nowhere to go and in one heck of a bind, my parents suggested she go back home to Hunan for a while—but Ah Hua jumped up and said that she couldn't go back penniless like this, people would get the wrong idea. And if she did stay in the city, she'd only just end up a hooker. In the end my parents just decided to take her in. "We might as well have, seeing as we've got the spare room, and you hardly ever use it." Dad said that's what they were thinking, then in a small voice he tells me: "but having this kid staying here is easily one of the best things that's ever happened to us. She's not just competent, but doesn't what she's told too. And she even likes to sit down with your mother and I to chat or go with us for walks. She can even play old style Mah Jong! We've been really happy."
Dad keeps talking and talking, but I just feel on edge. I think I've heard stories like this before, of the many scams one sees around Guangzhou. These swindlers slowly gain the trust of some lonely old person, then one day they run off with their whole life savings. Though watching Ah Hua bustle around for a while, these unpleasant speculations begin to fade. Ah Hua's beauty and my parents' puny life savings just don't seem to add up. With all the demand in Guangzhou for pretty girls with nice faces and Ah Hua this natural born beauty, she wouldn't need to bother with such a calculated scam. As we eat, I notice the low spirits after meeting with Li Jun have all but scattered away.
Ah Hua doesn't eat much and I watch, amazed, at how white her teeth are, just like a baby's. As she eats she tends to scrunch up her nose, a look so cute that it tickles my heart. I keep my eyes aimed at her and at first she avoids my looks, but later as we're clearing the bowls and chopsticks, we make eye contact a good few times. Threaded into the look in her eyes is something charming and enchanting; there's both a seemingly familiar and unpredictable feeling, the kind of fancy and desire that can't be put into words. I think, isn't that what it feels like to be in love? I haven't had that kind of feeling for a long time now; so long that I wonder if I once ever even had.
This time as we finish the meal I don't stand to leave. The four of us sit and watch television and chat. I see from the clock hanging on the wall that it's already nine o'clock and think that Mom and Dad might wanting to go to bed. Reluctantly, I stand up: "I'm gonna go, I haven't been at my place in ages, gotta go tidy it up a bit."
Mom and Dad mumble a goodbye and Ah Hua says, sheepishly, "I'm kind of embarrassed, taking up your room."
It's nothing, I tell her, it's nothing, I almost never sleep here. Then I'm suddenly reminded that this last little while, Ah Hua's been sleeping in my bed. My face flushes for a minute as I envision Ah Hua lying flat in her thin, thin nightgown. If she were to lie down, her tall, towering breasts would press down on her so hard she wouldn't be able to breathe. If she slept on her chest, wouldn't those exquisitely crafted breasts of hers be crushed? I wonder if she likes to wear a g-string, have a piece of string passing through her two white butt cheeks...
"How about I go with you? I can help you clean up your room, I'm sure it's all dusty in there," Ah Hua says.
I stand there savoring this thought and Mom and Dad come and say yes for me. I try and keep a calm face as I try and hide my excitement, nodding my head.
The bus takes an hour and we don't say much. Avariciously, I breathe in an old, familiar smell wafting up from her body, not knowing if it's coming from her clothes or her hair. When the bus crosses the Pearl River Bridge, a pack of people squeeze on, pushing me against Ah Hua. And so we ride all the way to the Guanghua Road stop, pressed up together like two old lovers. We still don't say much. Ah Hua might be too shy. As for me, I feel that in situations like this, just keeping silent trumps speaking; there's nothing either of us could say that would pull us as close together as we are now. That and I'm worried about not having brushed my teeth after dinner, I'm gonna have bad breath.
Restless and uneasy, I return to my small flat which just this afternoon I wasn't willing to enter. Ah Hua quickly gets to cleaning it up. One minute she's crawling on the floor scrubbing away, her plump and fleshy butt crack squeezing and spreading with her every move; first she's standing on a chair wiping dust off a light, the two smooth calves beneath her skirt capturing all my attention; then she's raised her butt as she scrubs the bathtub, her two breasts seemingly weightlessly hanging there. Before long, she's soaked in sweat. I haven't been paying attention as she cleans; the color of my whole flat has changed, it's much brighter now. My body feels a bit stiff as I sit there; my legs are clenched and sweaty yet waves are crashing through my mind. I've seen a lot of porn videos, I'm not afraid to admit it. As a single guy, I've come up with more than my fair share of unmentionable rich and colorful sexual fantasies. And while they belong only to me, watching Ah Hua working away, I can't hold myself back. She's a grown woman, after all, and sitting here in my bachelor pad watching her every move is more unbearable than any sex fantasy I've ever had. A throbbing urge makes my breath come faster, my body feels hot and dry. I stand up, grab an old sock, and get down beside her, rubbing here, scrubbing there. She gives me an appreciative look and a charming little laugh, which takes me by surprise. Our hands bump together.
We don't move them apart and for the next two hours, all our body parts are stuck together.
** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
The ear-piercing ringing of the phone wakes me up and my first thought is how strange phone rings can be. When you're in a good mood or waiting for a lover's call they can sound melodic. But when you've got a lot on your mind, especially if it's something you're feeling ashamed of, those rings can be enough to scare the balls off anyone who hasn't got any. I thought it would be Ah Hua calling, but when I pick up the phone it's Tian Haipeng's voice I hear: "can you come over here? Another classmate's in trouble now."
Haipeng's opened a club down on the busiest stretch of Nonglinxia Road, in Dongshan district, called One Year Plan. With a gym, a spa, night school and psychological counseling all in the same place, he had some problems at the beginning trying to register with the Guangzhou Industry and Commerce Administration, and it was Li Jun then who stepped in to take care of it. After it opened he invited me down a few times, but I was never in the mood to go and visit.
On this trip to the States[America?] I was thinking that when I got back to Guangzhou I'd go visit Tian Haipeng. I'd heard that he'd opened a facelift clinic and I wanted to learn a bit more about the industry. Hearing now that something's happened to another one of our classmates, I waste no time in heading over to One Year Plan. I follow the address he gave me and find the club. It looks small from the street, just a sign, nothing special. I go in through the door, there's a reception desk. The two uniformed ladies sitting behind it seem to have been told beforehand that General Manager Tian was expecting a guest so they don't ask any questions and with a broad, professional smile, one of the ladies takes me inside. We pass through a weight room, lots of men and women hopping up and down; we pass row of small rooms. The doors are firmly shut but sounds of music and laughter leak out. We stop and enter the club offices. What amazes me are all the people who look to be busy working. Some I can tell at just a glance are serious professionals, like doctors or teachers. Passing through the big main room, I'm welcomed by Haipeng into his spacious and deluxe office.
"You remember Zhu Zhimin?" he asks, before I've even sitten.
"Of course I remember him. Wasn't he assigned to work in Gansu?" I remember this much, the rest goes too far back and I just draw a blank. We haven't seen each other since graduation and work assignments, and I haven't heard much else about him since.
"He was, to Jiuquan. So you can guess what he was working on there."
"The satellite launch center? But he doesn't know anything about technology, it must have been translation or something. What else could he have been doing?"
"If you have no idea, what more could I possibly know?" Haipeng stands up. "But something has happened to him, I've only just found out. He was always talking about leaving that job and transferring to something on the coast. But his job dealt with government research on plans for moon exploration, transferring wasn't proving to be so easy. Li Jun and I, there was nothing we could do to help, though they say a few months ago someone took the initiative to try and help him, someone wanting to take advantage of his international background and expertise and bring him down to Shenzhen to head up some company."
"Isn't that just what he wanted? He must have wanted to go." I stand up too, taking a slow look around his office as I speak. I notice one open drawer full of business cards. I pull two out at random, one a director-general of some government department and the other from some company's president. I put them back at once.
"He used his holidays to make two trips down to Shenzhen, though he didn't get to see the company. The guy who wanted to bring him in was enthusiastic enough, even spent nearly ten thousand US on it all. In the end, after enough urging from Zhu Zhimin, that guy said the setting up the company was going to have to be pushed back a little while, but that it would have no impact on their recruitment of Zhu to come be Vice President. He even said that this would be of assistance for them in doing the required preparation work prior to the company's establishment. Poor old Zhu really believed he was some crucial talent they needed and went back to Gansu quite happy with himself, carrying on with his translation work and serving as their Vice President in secret at the same time, taking the five thousand yuan from the company each month with complete peace of mind. A few months later, Zhu Zhimin used another holiday to make a trip back to Shenzhen during which he proposed that he resign first from his job in Jiuquan and come to Shenzhen to focus on setting up the company. Hearing that, the company guy was quick to tell Zhu he must never think about quitting, that if he did all would be lost. Zhu didn't get it, so the guy explained some more, that his company was a think tank for some foreign multinational technology corporation, hoping to set up a company in Shenzhen for more convenience in researching developments in Chinese space flight technology. According to a guide written for the mother company on trading technology with China, this multinational corporation had a heavy interest in Zhu Zhimin's unique position. In the end the guy tried giving Zhu Zhimin a pep talk: 'though you may be stuck out in China's economically backward northwest, you are in fact standing at the leading edge of China's technological development'."
"Then what happened?" I anxiously ask.
"Luckily, Zhu Zhimin's senses were already on high alert. He just stayed calmed and returned to the base, reporting everything to his superiors the second he got back. In the end the MoSS took some steps of their own, so there were no serious consequences. Of course though, Zhu Zhimin didn't just lose his job, but was severely punished as well."
"I'd think so. He might have made the first move to make the report, but as a base employee with such secretive work, by bringing his operation in contact with a foreign spy agency, even if he didn't know, the mistake had already been made."
"How could this happen, fuck!, classmates keep running into trouble. Oh yeah, not including the three weeks you just spent in the police station." Hearing Tian Haipeng speak of my own incident, I raise my eyebrows.
And I also fall into deep thought: "are you sure that none of the forty of us have gotten in trouble already?"
"I am. We've never had a class reunion, and not all of us are in touch with each other, but most of us are have still kept in touch with at least one or two other of our old classmates. With all the connections crossing over each other, if anything worth mentioning ever happens, word will naturally spread around in a flash. You're the least social out of the whole group; the most social? I guess that'd be me."
Tian Haipeng doesn't mean anything by this, but hearing it said is a little rough. What's happened to Zhu Zhimin sounds so far out there,
even if he has only just lost his job. And yet meeting with Li Jun yesterday, who I've always kept in touch with, even though he pretended to be relaxed while telling us all about his criminal past, I just felt strange and uncomfortable. My mind was spinning that whole morning, not sure if the real Li Jun, my old classmate Li Jun, is the one I used to know, the one I met yesterday or the one in his stories. I tell Tian Haipeng the confused thoughts I'm having. He looks at me for spell and lets out a grudging sigh.
"Yang, I've always thought you were a freak. You've impressed your supervisors everywhere you've worked, but then you've never made anything of yourself. Sometimes I think your personality and your bearing is all just one big pretense, like the story Li Jun told us yesterday, having to act naive his ignorant and incompetent leaders, asking them for answers to history questions, even eating raw potatoes to feel what they went through, all just an act. But you, you're probably not even acting when you do things like to make your supervisors happy. You were probably just born this way. You know what I mean?"
"No, I don't what you're trying to say. Could you be a bit clearer?"
"There's only one Li Jun, our old classmate. Li Jun, you know? He hasn't changed, not even a bit, there's just the one him. But with you, first impressions last forever. You're set on seeing two different Li Juns, you even look for the relationship between them. Just like the newspaper's always saying, you've got rotten roots. Shit!"
"So then tell me, Haipeng," I stare at him, "just what kind of person is the Tian Haipeng I'm looking at right now?"
"You see? You see? Here you go again."
"No, I'm being serious. I've always been too afraid, never let myself ask before. I want to hear what your story is." I sit back down again and settle down into my chair. Since I found out Li Jun had run into trouble, I suddenly feel the urge to get to know my other classmates, to pay them more attention. Maybe Tian Haipeng already knew what Li Jun was up to. I honestly do want to hear what Haipeng's about. The roads we took after graduating from college are a bit similar: we both went on to study in America, later coming to Guangzhou. Only except this much, what do I really know about him? Even today, it's my first time here at One Year Plan in all the years since he opened it.
Tian Haipeng looks at his watch, then pulls over a chair and sits down across from me. I can feel now that he's always been wanting to tell me his story, it's just me that never asked.
"Yang, you said you wanted to hear my story, so don't be blaming me if I go on too long." Haipeng laughs as he starts, and his smile is immediately followed by a serious expression.
"I'm pretty lucky; after college I got assigned to the Ministry Foreign Affairs. Then when I checked in I was assigned to their translation department, working in fixing up certain materials. Sounds pretty boring huh? But with a future as a foreign diplomat waiting for me, I was still able to stick it through. A year into it, I felt I wasn't doing so badly, but then when it came time for the year-end evaluation, both my supervisors and my coworkers, they all gave me a big heap of criticisms, mainly that I talked too much, loved arguing too much, and that I wasn't politically mature. I went outside for a breath of fresh air, calmed down, and then decided that there wouldn't be much of a future for me if I stayed there. So, all excited, I went and I resigned from the Ministry. Then I went to Beijing and worked in a foreign enterprise. The pay was pretty high, but it didn't take long for me to see that even with wages a lot higher than a government cadre could ever, no matter how I looked at it I wasn't ever going to have it nearly as good. You've been there, wouldn't you agree?
"Yeah, I do." I nod and say, "after I left I could see that my old colleagues weren't doing that badly after all. Their wages might have been lower, but they had so many other benefits. Aye..."
"But we left, so we'll never know for sure. Same as if Li Jun's business hadn't been exposed, we wouldn't have ever guessed he'd racked up all those millions so easily over the years, and climbing up in seniority as he did it." He continues: "And then I left Beijing. Everything's too politicized there, I couldn't stand it. I came to Guangzhou, and what a great place it is here."
"I don't know the official statistics, but since Haipeng came to Guangzhou until now, I wonder just how many people have left government departments and state-owned enterprises behind and started their own businesses. I also wonder how many of them have been successful. I have to say, for anyone without a good family background, without the resources and connections collected through years working for the government, descending, as we say in Chinese, into the sea of business would be more like jumping straight into the ocean. I'm reminded now of back when I made my own descent into the sea and the looks in the eyes of those crooked old colleagues of mine at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, what an idiot they clearly thought I was for leaving. Hmph. We leave our cushy government jobs behind, but to do what? Especially those of us with brains full of ideology and concepts of morality. No friends to depend on, no skills. It was a different kind of concept I ended up depending on: making a bucketload of money.
"At the end of 1988 I was renting an two-floor retail-residential combo unit on the south side of the Pearl River here in Guangzhou and I opened a hair salon. You don't need a medical license, but the four staff I hired were from among the top experts in surgery, gynecology and dermatology on the mainland at the time. We mostly did minor surgeries, folding eyelids, for example, or chin jobs. If we got requests for breast implants, we'd accept them, and then we'd phone up a hospital and bring in a surgeon to complete the operation. The price for this kind of operation was usually quite high, but we had to split the profit with the doctor. After we'd been open for a year, we were pretty much already in the black. At the beginning of the second year it was a chance opportunity that helped me find the road to wealth. It was a young girl that came to the clinic looking for help at the introduction of an old friend. Five years earlier she'd finished up junior high and then came down south to look for work. She'd saved up enough money and now she wanted to head home to Hunan and get married. She was worried, though, because she'd lost her virginity very early on. Hearing this, my doctor smiled and said it would be a piece of cake, and so we went ahead. He had the girl lie down on the operating table and, piece of pie, her hymen was back in one piece. After the surgery, the girl sure seemed like a virgin with all the bashful thanks she gave before she left. Not long after, that old friend brought over three thousand yuan as a token of appreciation. We wouldn't accept it, but he was insistent on pushing it into my hand, shouting almost angrily that this three thousand yuan, compared to the happiness that we had brought that little lady, wasn't it, in the end, nothing more than child's play?
"I quickly thought it over, then decided on the spot that from that day forth our clinic would specialize in hymen restoration. So we changed the sign to read 'Project Luckiness'. We relied mostly on personal introductions, also taking to the streets and alleyways to paste up our ads, even going to neighborhoods with high concentrations of drifters and migrant workers to pass out flyers. Before we knew it, business was red-hot. There were two years in the early nineties where the twenty-minute procedure had to be booked three months in advance. At the time we only charged five thousand yuan for this simple operation. If it was your second time there we only took three thousand, and two thousand for every time after that."
"Haipeng, hold on," I can't help but cutting in, "what do you mean, second time? Every time after? You mean for the men or for the women?"
"It's like this," Haipeng says without looking me in the eyes, "though most of our Project Luckiness was in helping girls with crushed hearts and broken hymens, later it became that nearly half of our customers were from the sex industry. Pimps saw a chance in all those newly rich hicks and middle-agers who in their day, out in the countryside or ... 搞串联时/when they were still dating?..., messing around with their current wives out in paddy trenches or train station bathrooms, never had the chance to experience the joy of tearing through a hymen. So these guys suddenly have money, and now they want to try doing a virgin or two, pay themselves a treat. Pimps then find some half pure-looking hookers to play the virgin. They say these cherries could fetch as much as eight to ten thousand yuan a shot. So you can see, even after our operation fees, the pimp and the hooker still make some good money. If they repeated the restorations here with us, they just made so much more."
"My God, I can't even imagine what the things would look like. How do you even do repeat restorations?" I can't keep from asking.
"Don't tell me even you're interested in stuff too?" Hah! Actually, no matter what we're working on, we say restoration just to be polite. Some women come in all battle-scarred, long since having turned black down there; they come in so bent on getting it restored our doctors have no choice but to bite down and do what they can. Some of them really are impossible and part of the slit has to be surgically stitched together. As for whether or not anyone notices, I have no idea. I imagine if the john is spending that much money on something like this, he can't be totally clear-headed now can he?"
"Fuck, business was so good for those two years. I was so happy then. Even if half of what we were restoring were hymens, in reality we were also mending a lot of fractured hearts and relationships."
"I'll go on. It was the nineties: the South was becoming more open at the same speed that the economy was booming, so I should have been doing just as well, right? But Project Luckiness' business had gotten bad and was getting worse. The doctors told me people's minds were opening up, their morals had begun to change. I had only contempt for talk like that—wasn't I making money precisely off these morals? Besides, could several thousand years of Chinese virtues really change so quickly? Though money was pouring in each month those two last years, I still hoped that people would wake up and start valuing this virtue thing again. Maybe I was too smart for my own good. Having studied politics here in China, in this kind of political climate, I'm used to second-guessing myself. Maybe another anti-spiritual pollution movement was just around the corner, and if there was, I thought, and people rise up against bourgeois liberalization, I'll be in just the right position to benefit from it. Women are bound to start treasuring their hymens again just like they do the little ornaments on their cell phones now. Just wait and see, I said to myself, and I'll have you romping sluts lined up at my door, kowtowing and burning incense all the way around the block. Heh, such an evil plan I have: when the time comes I'll raise prices so high your hearts will break!
"Seems I spoke too soon, but who could I blame? Only myself, for not knowing to change with the times. One of my earliest ideas was to pull in a million yuan, but even to this day I still can't keep up. By the time I finally figure things out I was already five hundred thousand shorter in the bank. If it hadn't been for what happened next, who knows if I might have gone bankrupt. It was a sizzling hot summer day, we'd opened for business just like normal—oh I forgot to tell you, I'd already let three of the doctors go by then, leaving us just with one. Just after we'd opened for the day, someone actually pushed open the door and came in, a young girl. The doctor and I were ecstatic. You have to know we'd already been three days without a single customer. 'God watches over us!' I thought at the time, and now we'll have the utilities covered.
"They went inside to chat, and when the doctor came back out ten minutes later I anxiously asked him, can we start the operation right away? To cut costs I had to let the nurses go too, but I was always there to lend a hand. The doctor didn't answer right away, just gave me a comical look. He pulled me to the side and in a small voice told me that—can you imagine?—it turns out this girl wasn't here to get her hymen put back after all. She was a senior at Sun Yat-sen University, just got her first boyfriend half a year ago. She's in love with him, and there's been a few times when they've snuck out to the woods at the back of campus to meet in secret that things have gotten heavy and he's wanted to have sex with her. But every time, she gets scared and tells him no. She says she's twenty-two already and still a virgin. She's worried what her boyfriend will think when he sees that getting up in there won't be so easy, when he finds out that she's never done it before. She's really in love with him, but what if he starts thinking she might not want him? She'd be crushed, no reason to live. That's why she's snuck down here, to see if we're able to painlessly tear her hymen for her. She's willing to pay the same price for a restoration. That damn doctor, just as he said he'd be happy to tear her hymen for five thousand yuan, you could see the lust dripping out from his eyes."
"I was two seconds from passing out cold! Like a thunderbolt had just landed on my head, I could hardly see straight."
Tian Haipeng pauses, it's like he still remembers how that day felt. He takes a sip of tea and goes on telling his story.
"I shut the doors and closed the company that same day. I sat around at home for a few months and watched my savings dwindle and still I was unable to find my road to riches. You know, people like us, all we have are our ideas. Yet during that time I felt like my whole brain had stopped working. That's when I decided to sell off all my property and use all my savings to head over the ocean to America and go on with school. The United States of America, I thought, known to the last few generations of Chinese as the country of the flower flag [of freedom?], home to Gold Mountain, and such a strong country was guaranteed to get my brain juices flowing again. I went to America and ended up staying for seven years. Just before the millennium I became eligible for American citizen, and boy, what a conflicting time that was for me. China doesn't recognize dual citizenship; the second I applied to become an American, legally, I wouldn't be Chinese anymore, and coming back to China would be a lot more difficult. Such a hard decision to make. But then I started thinking, for people like us who always travel on Chinese passports, we have to go through stringent inspections to get visas to pretty much every country there is; sometimes the way they make things difficult for us feels quite insulting. So I thought up and down and still was unable to make up my mind. Just then I got some news from the mainland that sure cheered me up: from the capital down to the countryside, people had been mobilizing to welcome overseas Chinese back to China, to set up their own enterprises and help China in her modernization drive. And just like that, I came back to Guangzhou.
"Seeing my joint degree in politics, international relations and philosophy, as I was registering the government dude hinted that I might consider looking for work in a privately-owned corporation. What people want is technology and modern management. Things like politics and philosophy, we Chinese have been into that for thousands of years already: things like dirty tricks, deception, we perfect these ages ago. And those Americans, how long have they been around for again? Anyways, most of the recruiters had heard that I'd studied politics in America and that was the end of that. So I went and looked for a corporate job. Aren't the papers full of job ads? One, two hundred thousand yuan a year management jobs, even five hundred thousand, a million. Listen to this though: I went to them all, damn near broke my legs from all that walking. And what did I end up getting? One job said it paid five hundred thousand a year, on just one condition: you have to be able to make the company a million a year first!
"Goddamnit, if I could make a million yuan a year what the hell would I be doing applying for a job that only pays half that?!" So I started my own business, but that was just to make ends meet. To make things easier I went back to the States and got my American passport. Did you know Liu Mingwei and I are the only two from our class now with foreign citizenship?"
"Then when I came back to Guangzhou, my head was full enough of ideas but my wallet was all but empty. My first priority was to make some quick money to use as start-up capital. I gathered a bunch of 'get rich here's how' kind of books from America, Taiwan and Hong Kong and locked myself up at home, poring over them day and night to learn the secrets to making the big bucks. I read so much I started to go cross-eyed, walking around in a daze. Then one day I had a flash of inspiration and decided out of the blue to start learning more about where the writers of these books came from, it was like striking gold. Turns out half of these authors have never made any of their personal details public, and the other half, today, are as poor as rats, wannnabe intellectuals posing as writers. Some of them were in fact quite wealthy, like the most known of them all, the guy who wrote "Rich Dad, Poor Dad", using himself as an example to expound on what his father taught him growing up and how this helped him eventually become a millionaire. But I'd been to the States and back, how could I have not figured it out? He writes in his book of having had a mind for business ever since he was a kid, growing up and going on to buy a house, reinvesting the money from that to make even more money. But then where are the records of all this? I'll tell you how he really got rich, by writing more books and then being invited all around the world to tell people how they could get rich too. Hah, brilliant! I went back down to the Xinhua bookstore and searched carefully for books from some real millionaires like the world's richest, Bill Gates, and Hong Kong's Li Ka-shing. But these millionaires, I'll tell ya, there wasn't a book among them that taught you how to get rich. They just told you how to be a better person."
"But then I got a new idea as to how to get myself some start-up funds. I decided I was going to write a book on how to get rich too, written from the perspective of a returned overseas Chinese, and I'd even throw in some relevant personal experiences. Of course a book like this if anything would have to encourage people to worker harder in moving up and getting rich, so chances are nobody would look into any particular details from the book. And when I arrange to meet with the publisher, if it's the lobby of a five-star hotel we sign the contract in, there'll be even less chance of any problems. You see? This is the book, I still have a few dozen copies left, you want one to take home and read? It ended up selling pretty well, I even had two autograph sessions. I even met my wife at the second one. Not bad, huh? I got both a wife and a big stack of cash out of it."
Listening to Tian Haipeng's story, I'm fascinated; not the least bit like my life, flat and bland all along. Haipeng's life is like steaming Szechwan hotpot in comparison. Like being the first person in Guangzhou to open a recreation club with in-house psychologists, weight trainers, fitness instructors and even individual tutors. Over the past four years, each time (didn't he say in chapter 5 that they hadn't seen each other for ten years?) Haipeng and I met, he always gave me a fresh new feeling. From his old bike jacket and straw hat to a BMW and diamond Rolex watch, you can see One Year Plan makes a lot more than Project Luckiness ever did. I'm still not sure what exactly the One Year Plan is, though, and I ask him, hoping he'll explain. He gathers himself and then continues, starting again from an idea he once had.
"A though, an idea, a concept, that's all it is. Our club is selective in who it lets become members, but even if you were to apply now, you'd still have to wait at least a year. Of course, I have been considering expanding out lately."
"Let's start with why it's called 'One Year Plan'. My aim when I first opened the club was that members wouldn't keep their memberships for more than a year. Within that year, we'd assist members in realizing the fantasies they've born their whole lives but for various reasons have been unable to see through. As many of our members aren't willing to leave when their year is up, and others come up with new things for us to help them with, all are current members have been on for over a year. But we still advertise ourselves as a one-year program. How can I explain this...let's start with you as an example."
"Me?" I sit up straight on the sofa and look questioningly at Haipeng.
"You came looking for me, but if you were anything of a local celebrity here in Guangzhou, our club staff would come looking for you. The lowest education any of our staff here will have is at the very least a university degree in psychology, and their role is to provide you with a simple introduction to the goals and conditions of the club. We've helped a lot of very visionary people achieve a goal or two of theirs in just the one year. So Yang, why don't you tell me what goals you have."
"I don't really have any. I mean, I think a lot, but a lot of it's not very practical, and the rest would be quite simple if I just got around to it."
"We don't really do fantasies that stretch too far from reality, or sexual desires. Aside from those there must be some things that you've once considered doing, maybe even tried once or several times, to achieve, that until now remain hanging there, constantly tempting you, tormenting you. Yang, just keep thinking, and tell me the truth."
"Fine, I'll tell you, but there's probably nothing that you didn't already know back at college. One desire I've always had is to learn Japanese; why, though, I'm not going to say just now. Another thing I've always wanted to do is to work out and build up some serious muscle."
"Hah, yeah, I could've guessed. I just don't get why these have stuck with you all the way since college." Tian Haipeng just laughs. "You're thirty-seven already. If you don't stick through with my One Year Plan I'm afraid you might just end up taking them to the grave."
I don't find this funny at all. As for these two targets of mine, to learn another foreign language and to get buff, ever since I started at college, at the beginning of each year I'd revise my top goals and every year these two were what I came up with. Though I never managed to realize either, I never abandoned them. I sure would like to see just how this blimp of a classmate sitting before plans to help me achieve these two aspirations.
"Just tell me, have you ever been to a gym?"
"Sure I have, lots of time."
"So then tell me, what was the longest you were able to last going at least four times a week?"
"Three months," I say.
"Hmm, not bad. Let me just run some figures by you. Did you know that anyone, even scrawny little nerds or big fat housewives, if they just stick to going to the gym, with forty-five minute sessions of basic weight training at least four days out of every week, that within a year his or her body will be covered in clearly-defined muscle, leaving them more or less with a bodybuilder's physique? The same statistics show that people who manage to keep this up for a year, a hundred percent of them keep it going indefinitely. Pretty encouraging statistics eh? Wait, though, because before all that there's another figure: of all the people who start going to the gym each year, only twenty-five percent last a month. Only ten percent last three months, six percent make it to half a year, and roughly only two percent or so of people are able to keep going for a full year."
"And what kind of people are they, the ones who make it?"
"They're the ones you see every time you go to the gym, bulging with the kind of muscles you wish you had as they stand there lifting dumbbells. They're also the people who get all the attention when they walk down the beach, in case you hadn't noticed.
"I know. But what does this have to do with your One Year Plan?"
"Getting people to join up and pushing them to complete their year of weight training is just one the projects we have at the club. Here's a way of putting it: how is it that people, stuck in a job that bores them and pays peanuts, stay on working there for years on end, through rain or shine, but when it comes to working on their own bodies, working out so they can stand out from others, they'll give it a try every couple of years but just end up backing out not long after? It's because nobody's pushing them, because staying or stopping is still up to them."
"What our club does is after the member signs the agreement, we use every possible method, take every step, hard or soft, to force our members into completing the course of a year. It may sound strange, but things that many people spend their whole lives dreaming about can actually be accomplished in just one year."
"You don't believe me. Let's take you learning Japanese as an example again; with your memory and brainpower, memorizing ten Japanese characters a day shouldn't be a problem, right?
I have to admit that ten characters a day wouldn't be much of a problem. Back in college I set a record for memorizing seventy English words every day.
"Ten words a day, for someone of average intelligence, probably wouldn't take more than an hour. So a year would mean three thousand six hundred words. You probably know, right?, that for nearly every language in the world, three thousand six hundred words is more than enough to carry on a fluent conversation. Even Chinese probably only needs three thousand characters or so. So now I want to ask you, old buddy, that over the past ten years, assuming your total time spent studying comes to more than three hundred and sixty hours, are you able to speak Japanese yet?"
I'm a bit ashamed. Tian Haipeng's theory actually does seem like common sense, I know this much.
"Yang, you might be thinking about saying you have no time, but let me tell you: the best thing for people when they're in the weight room is to have something else on their mind to think about. It helps take care of both fatigue and pain, and before they know it they'll have muscles sprouting up all over. A case like yours, for example, is quite easy to handle. You could just take forty minutes to an hour each day to work out in the gym, and at the same time memorize your ten words of Japanese. If you do this for a year, you'll end up with a muscular body and a mouthful of fluent Japanese. How's that sound?
A muscular body and fluent Japanese are things I've been yearning towards for a long time already, but with Haipeng's guidance here today, I feel closer to achieving these two goals than I ever have. I mumble: "how are you supposed to memorize words and keep working out at the same time. I've never tried it."
"You just need to worry about signing our contract and let us take care of the rest. We have some of the most preeminent psychologists in China working here at our club, as well as our pathologists, advanced level instructors, and even our bodybuilding coaches. Of course we also have over a hundred gorgeous models. We tailor every case according to the client's needs. Say, for example, we get a miserly type coming in. We might resort to having him mortgage his house to us and if for the next year he's able to abide by the terms of the contract, when his time's up, we give the house back to him. But if somewhere along the line he stops without a valid reason, then the house stays ours. Right at first a lot of them are pretty nervous, scared to death that they might lose their house. Here I can share with you a little secret, though, that we never would really go ahead and take someone's house from them. Until now we've had over a hundred clients hand their mortgages over to us, but we haven't had to collect on a single one. Last year we had six on the mortgage incentive plan, two of whom, after their One Year Plan agreement expired, actually went and just gave us their houses. The other four gave us double what we charge as their way of making a donation. What's more, all six of them are still club members today.