Since everyone enjoyed my last post about my conversation with a taxi driver, I thought I’d follow up with some more conversation excerpts – this time from visits to my favourite nail salon. The lady who runs it, Lucy, is the only one who’s been there longer than I’ve been going there. We had a good old catch up last week – she’d been away a lot, and I haven’t been to the nail salon much (a luxury I indulge in rarely when on a restricted budget as I have been this year).
While she doesn’t talk a lot about herself, I’ve learned a little of Lucy’s story over the years. She’s from a small town (well, small for China) in an outer province. She has a country accent that slips out more the more comfortable she gets – her “n” sounds all shift to “l”. From the pieces I’ve heard here and there, it seems that she married young to a much older man. My impression was that she was pressured into the marriage by her family, as the man was quite well off financially. They had a daughter, who is now 18, but while she was still in primary school Lucy left for Beijing. It was a difficult choice as her daughter was better off at home – with family (and family money) and access to education and health care that she wouldn’t have as a migrant worker in Beijing. Lucy worked her way up until she opened her own nail salon. In the last 18 months she found and trained a supervisor to take her place and has spent a lot of time in her home town, seeing her daughter and family.
Her daughter just finished high school and took the “gao kao” – the exams that determine university entrance. Lucy says they aren’t sure how well she’ll do – they don’t expect her to get into a top university, but Lucy doesn’t see the point of attending a provincial university. She says a degree from a small town university is looked down on elsewhere, and won’t get her daughter anywhere. She would prefer that her daughter get a job in the city if she doesn’t get into a well known university.
Lucy and I talked a little about a mutual friend, Dawn. I worked with Dawn at BICF and I honestly don’t remember whether she or Christina first took me to the nail place Lucy worked in at the time. Dawn left Beijing several years ago, but Lucy still remembers her with great fondness. She talked about how Dawn gave many of the girls who worked there then their English names, the board with their names and photos Dawn put together to have displayed in the salon, how Dawn invited them to her house after work one night and cooked western food for them. Lucy said that it was the first time any of them had used a knife and fork. I was touched by the deep impression Dawn’s efforts to love these women had left on Lucy even years later.
At one point, Lucy’s phone rang. She got up and answered it, but quickly hung up, saying she was quite busy at the moment. It was a 400 number she didn’t recognise – a telemarketer. It was the first telemarketing call she’d received (wish I could say the same).
Lucy asked about my friend Bec, whether she was still in Beijing. I happily reported that not only does Bec still live in Beijing, but that we share a flat :) Lucy saw Bec performing on Chinese TV (on an extremely popular show) years ago. She’s still excited that she met someone so famous in person and chattered excitedly about what a wonderful singer Bec is. (I totally agree!) Linda (the supervisor Lucy trained) brought up my CD – I have hardly seen Lucy since I started work on it. I promised to bring her a copy next time I come in. And Linda told me once again that I should do a Chinese version :)
When Lucy asked how busy I’ve been lately I had to laugh – it’s been a CRAZY month. This was quickly followed with a common question – “do you have a boyfriend”? The implication was definitely did I have a boyfriend yet. Lucy told me not to be TOO busy – that I need to find a boyfriend! I get that a lot now. The attitudes of Chinese strangers I meet has definitely changed with my age. When I arrived at age 21, answering that I didn’t have a boyfriend received a reply of “that’s okay, you have plenty of time”. At 24 it was “What about a Chinese guy? Then you can settle down in China”. When I hit 27, strangers began to be quite concerned for me that I was still single – less teasing, more serious discussion of how I should find someone and have children soon. I suspect that when I hit 30 next year the concern will go up yet another notch!
There were other side conversations that piqued my interest. Linda was talking with another patron of the shop, a Chinese woman probably 10 years my senior, about buying a car. The woman got exasperated, and talked about it being difficult for someone like herself, who isn’t from Beijing, to buy a car here – let a long property. She said: “不管有没有钱,外地人不能买” – it doesn’t matter if you have money or not, outsiders (people from outside Beijing) can’t buy.
I also enjoyed listening in on a conversation some of the girls had about a customer who popped in – she had chipped a nail and wanted to get it repaired (the girls said to come back in twenty minutes and someone would be available). Once she left Lucy asked if she was Iranian. Another girl corrected her – she was born in France but her family moved to Iran for her father’s work and she spent most of her childhood there. They talked about the woman’s sister, who is out of town attending her son’s graduation, and whether or not they are Christians. I suppose it could be called gossip, but the way these girls know their customers and their stories is part of why they’re so great.