>(John goes to Starbucks to tutor “Rachel”, a rather rich Chinese girl, in English)
She lived down near one of the major malls, in a four bedroom apartment which her mother cleaned and her father slept in only when he tired of the karaoke bars. John had pegged them as soon as he’d met them, and though he’d tried not to pass judgment so quick, being in China this long had given him a sixth sense when it came to this stuff.
Daddy was a drunk and a womanizer. Mommy was a drunk as well. And the girl…
Well she was a racist. Just to add a little variety.
The first time he met she’d stared at him as if he’s arisen fully formed from an unflushed toilet. Then she had poked him in the stomach and asked, Are you pregnant?
He hadn’t known how to react and still didn’t. The bitch had done so without a smile or even the slightest trace of humor and had stood there waiting. As if expecting an actual answer. He had directed them to a table and they’d begun their lesson.
350 RMB an hour. That was the rate he’d quoted and the rate he’d gotten. He had given this rate to deter them. Who in the hell would pay such an outrageous price? Then again, they regularly paid their foreign teachers two or three times what the Chinese teachers made, Chinese teachers who could actually communicate with the students and who did twice the work, so he supposed that it shouldn’t have surprised him when the woman had agreed and asked for his number. Desperate people with money to waste. The entire China EFL industry in one sentence.
After poking him in the stomach, he’d started by asking her about her day and she’d started by asking him why he came to China.
Well, he said, preparing his answer. I like to travel, and I just thought it would be very interesting to live in China for a year.
But it’s a developing country. USA is developed. I don’t understand why you come here.
I told you that I like to travel, he said, 350 RMB becoming more expendable by the second. I like China, and I like being here.
She made to speak, but he added, I like teaching. I am a teacher.
But! she yelped. I don’t understand. Why do you come here?
A group of older women were practicing tai chi in the square, turning their limbs and waving silk scarves while a security guard stood watching them. John smiled at the guard and went inside and sat down. He glanced at his watch. Almost eight.
At eight fifteen she arrived. She came wearing dark blue jeans and a white shirt with a flower stitched in the center. Under the brim of her Adidas hat, her eyes narrowed at him and she stood beside the chair but did not sit down. Not yet. She had other business to attend to first.
Um, so are we ordering?
I could use a coffee.
She pointed at the counter. Right there.
Yes, he said. Slowly. Carefully. Then he forced a smile and went up to the counter while she sat down and began text messaging. By the time he got back, she’d moved on from texting to studying her nails.
Here you are. He set the coffee down.
Is this coffee? she asked jabbing a finger at it.
She groaned. I hate coffee.
Oh? Why’s that?
Why’s what? I hate coffee. No why.
John crossed his legs and set his watch down. Let’s get started, huh?
Huh. She returned to her nails.
So…he muttered. How was your day?
Today? She waved her hands around. Today’s starting. It starts now.
I meant yesterday.
Okay. Just so-so I think.
I see. He sipped.
You see what?
No, I see. I understand what you’re saying.
A sigh came bounding towards his lips. He blocked its path with the coffee cup and when he set it down she was smiling.
I have an English name.
She said nothing. He motioned for her to continue.
What is it?
You—do you—why did you choose that name?
I like the sound of it. It has a good meaning. Does it?
Yeah, I guess, but it really isn’t a normal name.
It doesn’t matter. I like the sound of it. It has a good meaning.
Yes, the meaning isn’t bad, I suppose, but the word ‘horny’, do you know what it means in English?
She neither moved nor spoke. She returned to her nails.
Do you know its meaning in English?
No, she said staring at her nails.
It means that someone wants to have sex.
She looked up.
If someone really wants to have sex, then we say they are horny.
A lot of sex?
Oh. I don’t want that.
Okay. I think I can—
Foreigners have lots of sex.
He looked at her.
What? Foreigners always come here and have sex with Chinese girls and ruin them for marriage.
He stroked the edge of his coffee cup and glanced at his watch. 8:28.
Do you care if I give you an English name?
Do you care if I give you an English name? English name. I give to you.
How does Rachel sound?
What does it mean?
I—I don’t know. I don’t think it means anything.
Then why are you giving me this name?
What it means is not the point. In English, we don’t think of our names as having meanings like you all do.
Chinese names are special, she said. All your foreign names are so weird.
He held the cup to his mouth. Fuck, he said and the word fell into and dissipated inside the hot foul tasting liquid. He set it back down.
I will call you Rachel from now on. Okay?
She shrugged again.
Okay. Let’s talk about college life. Where do you go to school?
Wuhan technical college.
What is your major?
Your major. What do you study?
I see. She glanced up at him. Why did you choose this major?
My father tells me this major is good. I don’t want to study in it but he told me it’s a good major to study.
And would you rather be studying something else?
What is that?
I don’t know, she said, picking at her nail.
There came a silence between them in which John sipped his coffee and thought of the next topic. He had wanted to get at least three hours in with her. That much money would help fund his new laptop and pay for another couple weeks in their apartment. He lifted his watch, dreading the sight.
And what a dreadful sight it was. 8:33. He searched for topics, and at last, he came upon one.
Tell me, he said. What do you think of foreigners?