Saturday, May 30, 2015

9 Days in San Diego: A Quirky Tale of Adventure, Pennilessness, Workplace Envy, Loneliness, and Occasional Moxie - Part II

Tonight I went walking with my iPod, almost hoping for a boring night after some of the things that have happened to me.

A sordid recap: going with N. to a liquor store then to his studio apartment to watch "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and figuring out a way to fend off his advances by going to the gay club and dancing... reluctantly sharing my fro-yo with a creepy old man who sells hot tubs and "pleasure spas"... breakfast with the emotionally flatlined Serbian pedicab driver... getting invited to surfer church by earnest Christian rockers at Amici Park... sneaking into a Marriott conference room with a guy whose body was jam-packed full of drugs... looking at maps of Moscow with homesick Vladimir... talking S. out of suicide on the boat she lives on with her boyfriend....

But no. Actually, I was invited onto another boat. By a 45-year-old dude named Robert. He had to row us out on a dinghy to his boat, a former Canadian rum runner (it transported liquor) from 1929 that he's restoring (it'd completely sunk once, before he began restoring it). We went onto his boat, chilled in his living-room area, he made us Bloody Marys, we shared a bag of Doritos, and he told me stories from his "redneck" Indiana childhood. Then he rowed me back, and I went home.


Yes, going out with some strange man to his boat--way out on the water on the sketchy side of the bay, in the dark--was somewhat stupid. Possibly very stupid. But he seemed harmless, and it turned out to be a fun, interesting little adventure. This trait of mine may someday get me in trouble, but it's boring to always say no to these things.
On the dinghy, rowing us out there, Robert jokingly said, "Didn't your parents ever tell you not to talk to strangers?"
I said, "Yeah, but I didn't listen." I added, "It's boring if you always follow that rule," and he agreed. He was somewhat of a kindred spirit in that way, sort of a loner and a hippie.

So that (above) was the quick version. Here's the longer one...

I went for a walk. Usually, I head for the convention center, the tourist area. There were a ton of tourists out tonight because this mammoth Carnival cruise ship had just docked, a monster, Titanic-looking thing that seemed to take up the whole bay. That's over in the nice part of the bayside. That's where preppy 30-something A. and S. had their small yacht docked, near the big hotels and restaurants and tourist gift shops. To get to that area, I head for the water and go left along the boardwalk.

But if I were to go right, toward the airport--totally different scene. It's ill-lit. There are tons of homeless people lurking in the shadows, sleeping on benches in the dark. The boats there are small and ramshackle, but I like them--there's a little boat named "Seeker" that I took a picture of once because I liked the hopeful, philosophical-sounding name. (I was happy when I passed one time and Seeker was gone--out seeking, I presumed.) There's no nice dock with a locked gate, like you pass through to get to where you simply step onto A. and S.'s million-dollar mini yacht. There's a tiny, poorly lit dock and a cluster of dinghies--these little boats with motors and oars that you take out to the ghetto boats that the real characters live on. The boats are anchored somewhat near the boardwalk--but are far enough out on the bay that you have to take a dinghy to get to them.

I met Robert while walking along this gritty part of the bayside. He said hello and asked where I was from, and we found out that we're both writers--he says he's co-written (with a ton of other co-authors) Clive Cussler books and has had "Grandma-friendly" stories printed in Reader's Digest. His main job is as a boat-engine mechanic. He lives on the 1929 Canadian rum runner that he's restoring, pays $150 a month to live on it/dock in the bay. Apparently his family's really rich back where they live in rural Indiana (lots of judges in the family tree), and he's the black sheep, living out here in solitude.

He was super tan (not a rich-person tan, like the kind you get on a Caribbean vacation, but a working-class tan, the baked-in brown you get from lots of hard work outside), tall and skinny, prominent Adam's apple, frizzle of gray hair. Frayed straw hat, Hawaiian-print shirt open to reveal his suntanned chest and a big metal cross on a bootstrap (he told me the cord it was on was a bootstrap). He seemed safe, nice but eccentric, almost goofy. He tentatively invited me to see his boat, and I said okay; he was taken aback that I agreed.

We walked down the little dock and got into a dinghy. He fired up the motor as I held aloft this glowing red-and-green flashlight that he says you're required to hold up as you're going through the water (he told me to hold it "like the Statue of Liberty"). We zoomed out onto the water.

It was *amazing*.

Soon we were way out on the water. I was scared but exhilarated. It was so flat and wide, like parts of the country I drove through on my way out here, with gentle ripples on the inky-indigo water, and the tall buildings of downtown all lit up, their red, white, and green reflections wavy on the water's surface. It was beautiful, and I was smiling, enraptured.

Suddenly the engine went quiet. He said, "We ran out of gas, but that's okay--I have oars." With his work-strong, sinewy brown arms, he rowed us even farther out, to his boat (his "girl"). I was apprehensive as I looked back at the expanse of dark water between us and the shore, remembering that I'd struggled a little when I took the swimming test for my scuba-diving class a few months ago.

I actually loved his boat. It was old and ramshackle, all wooden inside, like a cabin, and smelled like my grandparents' musty house or a basement. He removed a trap-door-looking panel in the floor to show me the engine--it was antique, from a carnival ride in Milwaukee. An upholstered bench attached to the wall that he was using as a sort of makeshift couch was from "a Dumpster," he told me sheepishly; the chartreuse chairs around the dining table were from the Salvation Army. He'd laid down the Brazilian rosewood boards of the floor, built the cabinets. There was a tea kettle shaped like a giraffe by the stove, and he served me my Bloody Mary in a coffee mug with a cherub on it. (He offered to make me eggs, but I was content with the bag of Doritos he set out and the Bloody Mary. By "Bloody Mary," I mean a little tomato juice and a whole lotta vodka and nothing else. I accepted the cherub mug of Bloody Mary to be polite but took only a thimble-sized sip from it before nonchalantly pushing it aside.) Inside, there were windows all around us, the bamboo blinds pulled up so we could see the lights of downtown on the water's surface.

He told me long, boring (to me) stories about his childhood. I could see the storyteller in him, could see how he'd be able to tell a story that someone's grandma would read in Reader's Digest. Some of his stories were bizarre... such as the one about his mean humpbacked third-grade teacher who had him tested to see if he was a "retard," and how he was so afraid he'd have to go down to the basement classroom where all the "Mongoloids" were, with the toothless janitors who'd stare at you and chew tobacco and spit. Most of his tales were just boring, though.

At one point, he pulled out a book about old ships, and opened to a page with a photo of what looked like the sunken remains of the Titanic. He said, "That's where most of the boats as old as this one are--on the bottom of the ocean." I looked at the photo of the sunken boat, helplessly on its side and coated with blue-green dust at the bottom of the sea, and looked around at Robert's little labor of love, still afloat after so many decades (and having sunk once itself). What a plucky, inspiring little vessel.

He did finally shut up about Cousin Skip and ol' Buffy Howard and, I swear, a classmate called "Poopypants" (I can't make this stuff up) long enough to ask about me. [...]

Flirty things he said: "Would you ever consider dating an old guy like me?" (I laughed it off and pretended I'd thought he was joking.) He'd assumed I was about 20, and seemed genuinely surprised that I was 30.
He asked about my job. I talked about the writing and how I do stuff for/with a nightclub/live-music venue, and he said, "That's hot."
He asked what I'd been like in high school, whether I'd been a cheerleader or anything like that, and I told him I've always just been a writing geek, school newspaper and literary magazine and not much else, and he said, "That turns me on." Yuck.

After the umpteenth boring story, Robert was standing near the open door to the deck, smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, and I was sitting at the table with my barely touched mug of Bloody Mary. I politely said it was time for me to go. For one thing, I was done with the quirky-adventure-of-the-night, feeling weary and drunk on atmosphere. (Also, I was jonesing for a frappuccino and wanted to make it to Starbucks before they closed. Seriously.)

He took a last long drink from the vodka bottle (it looked like a cheap brand, not Grey Goose or anything like that), then we got back into the dinghy and he rowed us ashore. A little drunk, he sang Italian songs for me as he rowed--pretending we were in a gondola in Venice. When we both mentioned being low on dough, as he was still rowing the dinghy, he sang that song that goes, "Even though we ain't got money, I'm so in love with you, honey." I laughed, and he sheepishly said, "I'm flirting again."

He was shy about the flirting--he didn't lay a hand on me once, even in a friendly way.
On the dinghy, he randomly shared that he's a "Bible-thumping Jesus freak" but says he's not preachy; he said he's lost the metal cross around his neck something like 10 times, "but it keeps coming back to me."

I was bummed when he insisted on walking me home. I'd wanted to end the adventure once we got me to the dock. But something amusing did happen on the short walk back to Little Italy. We passed a man, 89 years old (he later told us), in a motorized wheelchair, and Robert stopped and said, "Hey man, I haven't seen you in forever!" The man, "Pops," was a jazz pianist, and Robert is a jazz drummer, so that's how they knew each other. What's sad is that Pops had recently been in an accident (he fell onto a concrete surface) and injured his hand, so no more jazz piano for him. Also, he was brittle and sore from the accident, but Robert insisted on hugging him hard and shaking his hand, which was kind of hard to watch, but Pops took it like a champ, with only minimal wincing and moaning.

Robert walked me home, gave me his number, said he really wants to see me again, maybe take me fishing. But good lord, I am not some charity for lonely guys, you know? There is only so much Christie to go around.
(Wee hours of 10/19):

A few weeks ago I met A.and S., the young yuppie couple with the little yacht. A. invited me onboard because S. doesn't have many girlfriends (although I'd been worried at first that they were swingers or something), both were wasted, they'd lost money in the stock market and couldn't afford to live on their boat anymore after the end of the month, S. kept talking about suicide. Well, tomorrow evening I'm going on a sunset cruise with them.

Tonight, after Robert walked me home, I wasn't ready to call it a night. I went walking again, because apparently I'm a glutton for punishment. This time I went by the bay in the other direction (the nice, touristed, well-lit direction). Well, that happens to be the area near where A. and S.'s boat is docked. Sure enough, as I walked past where their boat is docked, A. called out and waved to me, inviting me onboard. He didn't seem to remember me at first, but as he let me in the gate to the dock, I reminded him. I was relieved that S. had apparently not killed herself, but I wasn't sure she'd want to see me again. I didn't want to embarrass her. When he said, "Honey, look who's here!" and she saw me walking behind him, she did seem a little embarrassed and was apologetic. She had forgotten a lot of what had happened that night. I stepped onto their boat tentatively, but they both kept saying, "Come on, have a drink with us!"

And you know what? They're pretty cool.

They went on about how that one night was an anomaly for them--they had just lost the money, just found out they had to give up the yacht and their chartered-tour business. They said they felt so bad about what went down with me that night. S. gave me a big hug. They got me a beer (which I only took a few sips from--or "three molecules," as A. observed). A. got me one of S.'s coats when I seemed cold (they made me wear it home--it's in my room now!). A. is hilarious--I was cracking up at just about everything he said. They're both so nice, smart--S. is an English/writing type, too, and a former spelling-bee champ--and they were so cute together. They tell stories the way old couples tell them, interrupting each other, finishing each other's sentences (they did this while telling me the interesting story of how they met; A. was in the black Ferrari he used to have--I get the feeling he's from a rich family). They have their little private jokes, some of which they forget to explain to a third person standing there. I actually said, "You guys are so cute!"

When they're sober, they're charming, but not in a phony or suave way--almost goofy, but very likable and warm.

Last time, I could sort of tell through their drunken veneer that they were nice people, and that they cared about each other. Tonight, that was obvious. They've been together a year or two, I think, but they still flirt with each other, are still very sweet to each other. I'm sorry their romantic little lifestyle will be up in a month (they can no longer afford to live on the boat), but it's heartwarming to see how much they care about each other. I know they'll be okay because they have each other.

So tomorrow there are four rich guys paying them $1,200 for a sunset cruise (5-7 p.m.), and S. insisted I join them. "You'll be a member of our crew!" she said, although I'm not sure exactly what that means--I think it's just an excuse (in front of the four paying guests) for having me along for free. Sweet!

Before I left, they were worried about me walking home alone that late, so they both walked me through the Vegas-like interior of the Hyatt nearby and hailed me a cab. S. gave me $8 and told the cab driver, "Take good care of our girl."

I got in and laughed, explaining to the driver that my friends were a little over-protective. He and I started chatting. He's in his early 30s, nicknamed Taps, from Zimbabwe. He's here to go to college, where he studies neuroscience (he showed me one of his textbooks). Although he was born in Zimbabwe, he speaks great English (like Vladimir--he has the slang and idioms down; the only way you know it's not his native language is the accent) and has lived in Europe. He knew about Anthology and that it's primarily a jazz venue. Very cool guy--when I said (about neuroscience; no pun intended at all), "Man, I don't have the brain to study something like that," he said, "I don't think it's a matter of how much brain you have, but how you use it." Which, you know, was a pretty wise thing to say. He was big like a football player, wearing a hipster-looking brown knit beret type of cap, beautiful African accent.

I was surprised when he stopped the cab outside where I live, turned off the engine, and chatted with me for an additional 15 min. or so (it was the end of his shift and he wasn't in a hurry), asking about me. He refused to let me pay him, then asked if I would enter my e-mail address and phone number into his BlackBerry (he also asked if I was on Facebook). I thought I was looking pretty rough (it was 3 a.m., I was wearing Sarah's baggy fleece jacket), plus he's a hot young muscular guy, surrounded by young college girls all day. But he wanted my info. He seemed to enjoy talking with me and said he hoped we could get coffee sometime and "share stories, unless it will make some other guy mad" (his way of asking if I was taken, I guess). I'm not interested in "dating" anyone here, but I wouldn't mind a nice conversation again--and hey, a friend from Zimbabwe!

I need to just not leave home. The late-night adventures (with A. & S., and Taps) were more benign than the Robert thing, which in itself wasn't too bad and definitely anecdote-worthy, but good lord, can't I just have one boring night?!
10/19: Back from the sunset yacht cruise with A., S., A.'s sweet little Jewish mama who's in town, and the four rich folks. D.'s living room is a little tipsy-feeling to me after being out on the water in a bobbing boat for two hours... I've sort of got a boat hangover.

The cruise was fun! I arrived at 5 (wearing a white shirt, per S.'s instructions, so I could pass off as a member of their four-person "crew" of A., S., A.'s mom, and me). A. let me in the gate, along with the rich folks (two married couples; it was one of the guys' birthdays; the other guy owns a bunch of real-estate companies). They were from Albuquerque and had brought their own cigars, which the two guys smoked on the cruise. (I should have asked them if I could have a cigar--"Let me chomp on one o' those!")

I helped S. and A.'s mom with the cooking down below deck--fun! I can see how people nerd out about cooking. It's sensual, working the food with your hands, drizzling warm oils onto it, seasoning it. I didn't do anything fancy--I chopped up bell peppers for the grill, drizzled stuff with olive oil and lemon pepper, little things like that. I poured wine for the guests. S. manned the grill up on the deck. (Her parents run a pizza place, so she's a natural at the cooking stuff. A. drives the boat, shares interesting boat/scenery facts, and socializes with the guests while S. handles the food.)

The food was excellent, and I felt proud for having helped. ("Yay, I helped out like a big girl!") On the grill, we cooked the peppers, asparagus, shrimp (with lemon butter)... then steak (filet and New York strip, marinated in A1 and Worcestershire sauce in a big Ziploc bag) with scallops for the main course... corn on the cob (also grilled)... and a rich chocolate-raspberry torte for the guy's birthday. (The torte was the only thing we didn't make; it was store-bought.)

I liked S.'s laissez-faire style of cooking--yeah, dump some olive oil on this, flick some lemon pepper at that, whatever, it's all good. I guess she figured that all the ingredients were good on their own, so how can you go wrong? I prefer this to the cooking-as-science-project, recipe-based method.

It was funny--A.'s mom is like a kooky character out of "Golden Girls," total busybody (but well-meaning), motormouth little old lady. She spoiled the big birthday-torte surprise that had been planned for the end of the cruise--she heard someone say it was the dude's birthday, and she exclaimed, "Oh, we should sing 'Happy Birthday' to you!" A., from behind the wheel, muttered, "Mom, we do that later, with the cake." So his mom says (loudly, in her little New York accent): "Oh, that's right, Mark! We have a cake for you!" Ugh, total forehead-slapping, "Doh!" kind of moment.

We saw sea lions!! Up close, clumps of them, their little blubbery bodies just piled on top of one another, on this concrete platform out in the bay. And lots of sea birds... submarines... a Chevron gas station (just for boats) right on the water... underneath the bridge to Coronado, we saw little tiered hillside lights of Tijuana in the distance... rich folks' huge yachts, sailboats that'd been in the World Cup race. Plus, of course, the sunset (too bad it was a little overcast tonight) and the downtown San Diego skyline all lit up at night, glittering on the water's surface. At one point, a Navy plane zoomed overhead very close to us, looking like something out of "Top Gun." Very interesting little jaunt. We motored slowly around the bay, but A. cut the engine off and we floated quietly during the main course.
It was chilly and breezy and romantic.

Tonight, after the rich folks left, A. and S. insisted I stay and chill at the table on the deck with them and A.'s mom. It was so warm and nice... it felt like being with family. A.'s mom was sharing her "TMI" stories. She lives in Virginia now but is in town staying at a health spa where they drink wheatgrass and a lot of folks there have colonics. Yes, she talked about colonics. And she revealed, at one point, that A. was conceived on a boat.

They refused to let me walk home. We all piled into A.'s SUV parked at the Hyatt, and they dropped me off on the way to take the Jewish mama back to the health spa.
I believe their time on the boat is up at the end of the month (business has been slow; the Sun. sunset cruise was their first charter in about two months). I'm hoping they figure out a way to keep up their beloved boat lifestyle for longer than that.

And yes, it was strange to be on the boat again and see it in a completely different light--to see S. up on the deck, poking with tongs at vegetables roasting on the grill, the sunset sky above her, entertaining these paying guests... and to think back to that night, when she had black mascara tears dripping down her face and put on that red dress and talked about ending her life. It was uplifting to realize that she'd gotten through it.

It also struck me that, just a few nights earlier, I'd been sifting through coins in my wallet to make sure I had enough for an 89-cent doughnut from 7-Eleven--then here I was on this million-dollar yacht, floating around on the bay with these wealthy folks smoking their cigars, dining on shrimp and steaks and chocolate-raspberry torte with them. Ah, life.
10/21: It's a little after 8 a.m., I'm at work looking out the huge windows of our loft-like office over Little Italy, and the city is obscured by thick white fog. It feels very London--which is cool, in part because today I'm wearing a skirt I bought in London a few years ago. I could have worn my Dubrovnik earrings, too, and ooh la la, wouldn't I have been worldly?

At work, we listen to Radio Paradise. It's playing Black Rebel Motorcycle Club right now. (Their song "All You Do Is Talk.")

Since I've worked here, it's played all of my favorites: Cat Power, PJ Harvey, lots of new Radiohead, Tom Waits, lots of Death Cab for Cutie, Bjork, obscure Tori Amos songs, hip stuff like the Pixies... the Decemberists' "The Crane Wife Pt. 3"... Norwegian singer Ane Brun, Shivaree, the Sundays.... and, occasionally, eclectic stuff---classic rock, soul, even a wacky song from "The Muppet Show." We have it playing all day long in our hip loft office here. Very pleasant work environment.

Quick dude updates: Robert (the guy who rowed me on a dinghy to his 1929 Canadian rum runner) called, inviting me fishing. I was glad to have an excuse (this was Sun., the evening I went on the sunset cruise with A. and S.). I don't want to be mean, but I hope he doesn't call again.
Last night I was out walking when Taps (cab driver/neuroscience student from Zimbabwe) texted me. We texted back and forth for a while, and he had me cracking up right there in public. He was studying for exams, and said he'd pay me to take some of them for him... then he said we'd be sure to fool people, because we look so much alike. I said, "Yeah, I think our plan is gonna work!" and he said, "U r so funny!" Ah, Taps.
I got a shout-out on my friend's Facebook profile (name-checked in a status update!) for sending him a link to a Wikipedia article about this bizarre but sweet Japanese folk tale that inspired the Decemberists' "The Crane Wife" album.

Here's the gist of the "Crane Wife" tale: A man finds a wounded crane on his doorstep, nurses it back to health, and releases it. Soon afterward, a woman appears, and the man falls in love with her and marries her. The woman creates silk at a loom to support her and her husband; she asks that he never watch her at the loom. The silk is of such a fine quality that it begins to make them rich. The man grows greedy and demands that she create more and more. One day, his curiosity gets the better of him, and he looks in on her to see what she's doing to make the silk so fine. At the loom, he sees the crane, plucking feathers from her own body to work into the silk. When she sees him, she flies away.

What strikes me about the story is the crane/wife's selfless love for the man. She takes from herself to make him happy, not complaining, not even wanting him to know about the sacrifices she makes for him; she doesn't want to trouble him with the burden or guilt from knowing what she does for him. So much so that, when he finally sees how much of herself she's been giving for him, she flees, unable to take putting this burden on him. That's my take on it, anyway.

If you put the Crane Wife on Maury Povich, audience members would tell her she should have kicked her man to the curb. If you sent the Crane Wife into today's office environment, her co-workers would tell her she should have taken credit for how fine the silk was, should have gotten acknowledged and compensated for giving so much of herself.... should have started her own silk business without the man. But all of that misses the point. The point, to me, is that it's a beautiful thing to love selflessly.
10/22: An eerie encounter with a homeless/schizophrenic man who wandered into Borders last night wearing bright blue socks and no shoes--

I was sitting at a table in the crowded cafe section, reading book reviews. The man, leathery tan skin and prematurely white hair in a ponytail, took a seat in a nearby armchair and began muttering in an even, hypnotic, Father Time-wise voice. He stared straight ahead and, I think because there were shelves of fashion magazines to his left, one of his utterings included, "Beauty's only skin-deep, man." Everyone else was ignoring him.

He began muttering observations about the people around us. It was quiet in the cafe area, so we could all make out what he was saying. He was dissing everyone, noting that they were ignoring him. I was the only one looking up occasionally, to acknowledge him and to tactfully observe him in fascination and empathy. We made eye contact a few times, and I'd thought I was doing a good thing in not ignoring him.

But then he said, in his spooky, barely audible tone: "... and she keeps looking at me like we have a commonality... Do you have a Ph.D.? I don't think so." I guess he thought I was being condescending or maybe even that I was being a sort of rubber-necker (I wasn't rudely staring at him, though). He went on to quietly dis the fact that I was reading a magazine and not a book (dude, it was literary reviews, not Us Weekly!) and even my outfit (I'd bundled up for the cold night, layering a sweater over another top, with a hoodie over that, and he said it was "overkill"--this from a dude who strolls into Borders in bright blue socks and no shoes).

It might not sound like much, but it was unsettling. I guess I'd had this bleeding-heart/white suburban girl idea that I was some friend of homeless people everywhere, their patron saint or something. To be called out for my liberal do-gooder nature, to realize that it can be more patronizing and voyeuristic than I like to admit.... it bothered me.
Last night in the kitchen, I asked D. if I could take a quick shower (I ask when he's home because you have to enter the master bedroom to get to the bigger bathroom with the shower in it; there's only a half-bathroom next to my room). As I was heading back there with my towels and soap and shampoo bundled in my arms, he said it was always okay to let him know when I need to be in there, to even wake him up if I had to. He said, emphatically, "I want you to feel at home here." His goodness moves me.
10/23: While out walking by the bay last night, two guys in their 40s or 50s passed me. I wasn't looking particularly hot (corduroy pants, hoodie, nothing skanky... hardly any make-up, hair gone wavy from the humidity), but one of them called out as they passed: "I love you!" I laughed, and when I made eye contact with him, he said, "I'm too old, but you're still cute."
This city is good for my self-esteem.
A thought-provoking book review ("Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China" by Leslie T. Chang):

Two things struck me:
1. Here's a long quotation from the review: "The factories are a world of brutal 12-hour shifts and minimal leave, Spartan dormitories, six-month-minimum commitments enforced by the withholding of the first two months' salary, and monthly wages that often hover in the $100 range. Fines are assessed for talking on the job, and bathroom breaks are allowed once every four hours.
Despite exploitation like this, the supply of girls willing to trade the dead-end life of the village for the cheating and discrimination of the factory appears limitless. As one chapter title puts it, to die poor is a sin.
If the steely motivation of these young women were only about securing a meager wage, this bargain would not work. One after another, they tell the author that their current jobs are merely temporary stopping places.
For nearly all, the greater goal is self-improvement, which they pursue by frequently jumping jobs, abandoning both friends and back pay as they bluff their way into better and better work.
This self-improvement is also facilitated by night school sessions, which may cost as much as a month's salary and which the young women attend after a full shift, somehow managing the feat of showing up in a fresh change of nonfactory clothes. The change of dress is an important part of their transformation into what they conceive of as a better class of people. Many dream of jobs as managers of some kind or, best of all, as white-collar workers."

Humbling and inspiring. When I'm walking around with my iPod and a $4 frappuccino in my hand, wallowing in self-pity after some minuscule slight at my cushy white-collar job... I hope I can remember how hard daily life is for many people, and how happy they'd be in my situation.

I'd almost given up on the idea of one day getting a loan to go back to school for creative writing, partly due to the financial state of the world (and me) now. (And partly because I keep thinking that's precious or lofty or esoteric, that I shouldn't invest that kind of time, money, and brainpower into a purely artistic endeavor that doesn't save lives or directly help people in some tangible way.) But if these girls can work that hard and save up to better themselves, maybe I can, too.

2. "The women's road from village to factory job is lined with manipulators and cheats, and the schools, which busily copy one another's curriculums, in turn teach the virtues of lying as a means of getting ahead. 'People who are too honest in this society will lose out,' one instructor told the author."

Disheartening to think that young women in China are being encouraged to be dishonest (at these schools, at least). But it's true--sometimes if you're too honest (or trusting, or nice), you will get taken.
But I believe that you should still be as honest and nice (but maybe not trusting) as possible. You might not get ahead in life, but you'll be a good person. You'll be able to sleep at night. That's worth more than money or career success.

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