Academic journal article Chicago Review

Buying In: Views from Entry Level

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Buying In: Views from Entry Level

Article excerpt

Yang, 24, Vegetable Farmer, Fujian Province

(10 PM to Midnight, 16 November 2005. Yang was in bed with his hands on the counterpane. He interrupted himself now and then with a nervous habit: curling back his lips on the left side, he sucked cold air against a molar where receding gums exposed the root.)

When it was over I came back and raised fish. Beforehand I'd been trying to raise scorpions. Before scorpions I'd had a lot of other ideas: meat dogs; pheasants; foxes. Finally I chose scorpions, but it wasn't working out with the climate and the feed. That was when my old classmate called. We were from the same township. He told me he was making furniture, said it was great down there. That was in Guangdong, Xini. Xini's a county in Maoming. He said he was making a lot of money from furniture and asked if I'd be interested, though he wasn't pushing me at first. He was just like, "You and me have always gotten along so well, and here's this money-making thing, and besides, this is what you're gifted at."

I'm gifted at art. He and I had grown up together and then we'd both studied art, which made us even closer. He used that on me. I didn't even ask about the pay. I figured however much he was making, I'd make about the same. He said it was an opportunity. I did ask if there would be at least three thousand a month, and he said that depends how much you do. On the way I stopped over in Guangzhou to see another old classmate, a girl who used to be in love with me. I stayed a day with her. She warned me not to get ripped off, and I said, "What are you talking about?"

When I got to Xini it was strange, it was like...all these young people. My friend said they were colleagues. Why hadn't he told me he wasn't living by himself? And why was he living in such a shabby place? They didn't have a bed. There was just one mattress on the floor, and there were clothes hanging between the walls. There weren't as many people then as later on. There were just seven or eight, but it felt like a lot with just one mattress. Most were younger. I was twenty, the younger ones were seventeen or eighteen. There was also one woman that would have been a few levels over us, about three levels over the one who got my classmate in. He called them all colleagues.

The next morning I wanted to see the factory, but he said, "Let's go for a walk." So we went out. Walking walking walking. We got to a point where I wanted to go this way but he insisted-"Let's go that way"-so I went with him. He said, "There's a friend who lives up here." We went upstairs and there was a woman: "Have a seat, have a seat." She'd already poured me water before we got there-"Have some water"-and before I could open my mouth she started reciting brain detergent. Brain detergent: that's three thousand-some words, all memorized. It was memorized, but at the time I had no idea. I was thinking, how can she be this eloquent?!-and she's nothing but a secretary or department manager. I was thinking, all right, but you called me down here to design furniture, so what's this about selling furniture? I still thought it had something to do with furniture. She was saying, "You earn so much for every unit you sell." I only understood that much: I could sell for myself or I could get other people to sell and collect a commission. That's all I understood. Then we went back to the apartment. I kept asking my friend what it was he wanted me to sell. He said, "Wait and see." Then I realized it wasn't furniture. I even joked around: "Is it sex toys?" He said, "Wait and see-it'll make you money, all right?"

The next day their work was like this: they told me, "We're not idiots, we're all smart. If we can make money without breaking the law, isn't that enough?" That seemed reasonable. But when I asked about actual income they were sketchy: "When the time comes you'll get what's yours." I asked if I had to invest and my friend said no investment. The next day he brought me to another person who said the same stuff: "Just believe that we're not morons and we're not criminals. …

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