Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of any character to any actual person is purely coincidental.
When Jimmy Riley graduated from college he couldn't find a job, at least not in his hometown. There were really no opportunities for a journalistic major in small town USA. He didn't want to take just any job he could find, so he packed up his things and decided to venture wherever the wind would take him. With what little money he had, he booked passage on a merchant vessel bound for Shanghai.
It was fall by the time he arrived in China with almost nothing except the shirt on his back; he traded everything he had for food and necessities. Even the customs official thought it strange that he didn't have anything to declare. Jimmy had never been so relieved to feel solid ground beneath his feet.
Having took a semester of Mandarin helped him secured a post translating Chinese articles into English for a local newspaper. It wasn't much but it did pay the rent.
Jimmy lived in a flat on the third floor of a townhouse in an older part of the city, within walking distance of The Bund. It was really a small room which in its hey day must have been used as a parlor for a well-to-do family. He had to make do with the furniture there; a lacquer table with two chairs and a bench. He slept on the bench.
For the facilities, Jimmy had to use the public bath across the street. As public baths go, this one was actually quite clean. There was a trough for filling an ewer if he wanted water for the wash basin in his room. And everyone showered with everyone else. There were set times in the day allotted for men and women. He did have to get used to walking to and from the bath in his pajamas.
Jimmy had little time for breakfast. So on the way to work he buys mantou or Chinese steam buns, from a little peddler lady on the street. She really loved it when he spoke to her in bendihua local dialect.
"Huang Ma jiao." He would greet her everyday.
"Chineese steam bun. Vewi hawt. Wun yuan fer thoo. Yummy. Goot."
Huang Ma was from the south. At her age, she shouldn't have to work at all. Her husband died leaving her with no children. That meant there was no one except herself to rely on to make enough money for retirement. Jimmy taught her a few English phrases she could use to sell her ware to foreigners. He was her favourite one so she would sometimes slip him an extra bun when business was good.
It wasn't enough to just work in Shanghai, it was important for Jimmy to blend in with the locals. He played a game of weiqi at the park every Sunday. His opponent, an old guy name Xiao Lu, who will let him win a game once or twice just so he will always come back for more. As a sign of friendship, Lu called him Lao Jim, lao meaning old was the opposite of xiao for young. The way Jimmy adapted to local customs made him a natural for the job at the newspaper. He had an uncanny knack for learning new languages. By immersing in the life, he made sure nothing would be lost in translation. To the editor Jimmy wasn't just some yangguizi westerner, he became one of their own.
On one warm September day, work just became a little more interesting.
"You wanted to see me chief?"
"Ah. Jimmy. Please come on in."
He had just noticed the young woman sitting in the editor's office.
"Jimmy. This is Ivy Chen, the new photographer for the Chinese edition of fashion magazines. She is doing a spread in Shanghai and would like to see the local colours. I want you to show her around town, the next few days."
He shook the hand she proffered.
"Please to meet you, Mr. Riley."
She was beautiful.
"The pleasure is all mine, Miss Chen."
It was going to be very interesting indeed.