Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The temptations of being treated V: Thinking about getting paid

A few months later and Pierre hadn’t made any positive moves. He still owed a lot of money, and was still determined not to teach to pay it back. He was also still toying with the invitation to be a Friday boy. He had said no so far but the idea of getting paid had crept a little deeper into his bones. He had no money in his pocket so tonight, he had made his way to the intersection of Nanjing East Road and Chungshan North Road, and was slowly walking up Chungshan where there were a bunch of boutique shops like Max Mara that appealed to the older crowd.
He chose a woman in her mid to late thirties – 10 years older than him - and walked over.
“Hi,” said Pierre. “How are you?”
“Ok. Uh, nice to meet me,” she replied checking over her shoulder to see if anyone she knew was around.
“I am sorry,” he said. “I am new in Taipei, and I am looking for a coffee shop. I have walked around for a long time,” he said.
“There is one behind you - There!”
“Uh, so stupid…I should buy you a coffee for showing me where to go. If you would join me.”
Twenty minutes later.
“You are very pretty you know. I can’t believe you are married.”
“Thank you, but I am not going to fuck you.”
“You are married. I know.”
“Yes, I am a Taiwanese girl. We are not so easy. Most of you foreigners have AIDs, don’t you?”
Twenty minutes later they were walking into a hotel. Pierre tapped his pocket. “I should go and buy some condoms. I don’t want to give you AIDs.”
“Whatever,” she answered.
“Whatever it is then.” He continued to press the elevator’s doors shut.
A couple of hours later in the reception, it was time to pay. Pierre shuffled in his pocket. “I have left my money at home.”
“That is okay. My treat,” she said.
“Uh, I’m sorry, which direction are you going? - No, maybe that is not a good idea…Could you lend me a hundred for a taxi?” said Pierre.
“Here is 500. Really you should be more careful,” she said.
“Thank you. I agree. Please you get the first taxi.”
He waited for her to go and started to walk in the direction of the hostel. Then he remembered she had given him 500 dollars and he could afford a taxi and dinner now. He thought about treating himself to a steak dinner – he hadn’t eaten anything good for a few weeks – but then he would be worrying about how to eat tomorrow, and he wanted a break from worrying where his next meal was coming from. He walked to the night market and ordered a big bowl of beef noodles to fill him up. All along the street were doubled parked BMWs and Mercedes, their owners sat on the plastic stools in front of the food stall. Food was a fantastic equalizer in Taiwan. Back home once you made money you started to be picky about your food eating caviar or special health food, rather than bangers and mash. In Taiwan, however, you never forgot the food you grew up with – your mother made for you. It kept you humble. The other main crowd in the night markets were the KTV girls opening Louis Vuitton bags and checking the time on their Cartier watches. There was a lot of money to be made in escort work.
Can you call me Pierre – was the message on his phone from various people who he owed money to. Unfortunately, there was no message from the girl from the modeling agency offering work.
He hadn’t found anything he was interested in doing yet.
It would be easier if I was a teacher, he thought. But it is just not for me.
A few days later we were all in John's room in the hotel drinking beer before going out.
“So when are you going to take over the bloody world?” said John asking Pierre what we had all been wondering.
It had to be John to ask because that way we wouldn’t get an hour of you know I am the man. how can you question I am not on the path grandstanding. John wouldn’t listen and so to keep his cool image Pierre knew he would have to change tact and appear to get the joke at his expense.
“Only joking, mate! I have taken a while to get a hang of things, too!” taunted John.
Pierre smiled again, but there but there was little room in his self-image for anything that suggested he had problems working things out. It was now five months since he had made his declaration of intent that he wouldn't be pigeon-holed as an English teacher, he would succeed on his own terms. All his money now came from irregular modeling or advertising work, and the two private students he had kept – and this was all the lowest forms of short-term foreigner work, that he was supposedly was not going to do. He was broke, beginning to run out of excuses, and acutely aware that he was not making good on his promises.
"What happened to the job selling advertising space?" I asked.
One week ago, Pierre had proudly told everyone how he had a job on a new bilingual magazine set up by foreigners, but he was selling advertising space in Chinese, proving that he could do anything here. It lasted one week before he walked out, after having to get up every morning and go to work for nine.
"Hmm, exploiting your nationality does pay well for doing little," said Eric.
Pierre sat smarting for 10 minutes before making an excuse and leaving.
Two days later John got a knock at his door.
“Can I ask you a favor?” said Pierre.
“What is the matter, American and Canadian won’t lend you any more money?”
“Of course not! I just can’t find them, and it is an emergency”
“Always is mate, always is. So, how much do you need?” John figured he owed him one for the ad – fifteen thousand for dressing as Tarzan and behaving like an idiot for half a day was much appreciated.
“Twenty thousand!”
“That is a fair chunk of cash!”
“I have a little business I am up to.”
‘Whatever! What is the most -” John was about to ask him what his most prized possession was, but then thought better of it.
“You know if I lend you this money I am not going to take any shit. You have 2 weeks to put it back in my hand, at my convenience…I may be leaving anytime so two weeks is all I can give you.”
Pierre had so far not borrowed money from John, because he was aware of his own problems with paying back on time and the consequences of not doing so.
“No problem!” he said, overflowing with smugness that deliberately implied, with what he was going to do, it is really not going to be an issue.
“I have a few things to sort out, but when I do, we can have a little chat about what I am doing.” John shut the door and laughed, he liked Pierre because it was like having your very own soap opera performing for you on a daily basis; worth lending him the money just to see those pantomime facial expressions. Today he just got a glimpse of a new one - fuck I am up to something big…God maybe this is a little too much for you…let me think about if I can confide in you. It was an expression we would learn to love and laugh at over the years.

No comments: