An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.
Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.
Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.
Shanghai Office. Zihuan. Li Jie
It was already eight o’clock in the morning when John opened up his eyes. He realized that he slept into the cloths he wore the day before. Slowly he got up, completely undressed and headed for the shower. “The suit and the shirt will have to make it to the dry cleaning” John told himself while stepping into the shower cabin; once the warm water hit his skin, a calm and relaxing feel encompassed his whole body inviting him to spend as much time as possible in there and enjoy the benefits of a morning shower. His mind was always working when bathing or showering and so did this time. Following the many unanswered questions from last night, he started organizing his thoughts. First, the office work…trying to figure out who are the main players into the office who are helping Tony. How do they relate to each other and what their hierarchical roles are? Secondly, John realized that he has to do lots of reading and fully understand the circumstances of the last Ming’s days. Thirdly, he had to gain Tony’s trust. He was now convinced that this man is the key to solving the problem, the main actor of this play who managed to conceive a system of draining company’s money which was unbreakable (apparently) – or at least this is how it sounded to be – from J.J.’s description. John cracked a smile. He put a plan together and now he had to follow it to the letter. Gradually, opened up the cold water knob until the jet was completely cold. It made him release a yell of manhood and from a burnt out person as he was last night, he felt like he turned into an individual with lots of energy, many ideas in his head and lots of desire to get to the bottom of this thing. In few minutes he shaved and was out of the bathroom. While dressing, he turned the TV on and set it to Business channel. Nothing new, old stuff, things he already knew. A new suit and shirt, another pair of shoes and he was ready to leave the apartment. It was already eight thirty and he figured out that he still has time for breakfast. The Restaurant was at the ground floor with a clear view of the Entrance. The hotel was providing buffet type of breakfast for the customers who were staying in and John decided to take advantage of this little facility. He picked up a small table in a corner, trying to stay away from too many curious looks. He was by far the tallest person in the room and this couldn’t’ve passed unnoticed by the people who were already eating their meal. John realized that he was now exposed to any spy work which Tony could’ve set up. He grabbed a plate, placed some food on it and went back to the table he picked in the first place. He had a wall on two sides, a window on the other side and thus the front was being left open to the main room. Curiosity settled in again and John decided to closely look at the people in the Restaurant. His fine sense of screening people by looking at their faces, posture, gestures and mimics helped him right away take a snap shot of whoever was taking breakfast in the Restaurant at that particular moment. “OK, so it looks like we have mostly business men here: Asian, Europeans and Americans. So, the price for even a normal room must be pretty high. But I have to admit that the amnesties are top notch and the service is outstanding”. The waiter came by and asked him if he would like a coffee or a tea. John went without hesitation for the coffee while keeping himself busy with the delicious steamed buns stuffed with meat and an egg pancake. Some fantastically well-presented fried rice balls wrapped in bamboo leafs and filled up with lotus seeds completed his choices for the breakfast. He initially wanted to go for some Western food but changed his mind. “I am in China, why not try the local Cuisine at the maximum possible extent?”
The food was delicious and so well presented! A “cling” on his cell phone let him know that he’s got a text. It was Vic: “Are you up?” John realized that it was already 9 am. He was ready to get up and leave when a couple entered the Restaurant and headed for the opposite corner of where he was staying. John had a strange feeling that the woman was the person he met in the hallway while trying to fix the light. She was of a medium-tall height regardless of the fact that she was wearing high heels. Her attire was all black and stunning! The hat was a big black retro hat with a white silk ribbon and an exquisite oversize and down turned brim (which was covering a portion of her face). The coat and the dress were of a high quality Cashmere, tailored by an artisan who knew exactly where to cut the notches into the collars and to place the two buttons so the coat will emphasize the nicely shaped breasts and who knew how to cut the dress right above the knees showing thus two beautiful long legs. The shirt was all white with fine vertical stripes which were making her look even taller. The black stockings and high heel shoes, were giving this woman an aristocratic profile which was also enhanced by a mysterious look. The man was of a medium height, stocky but powerful. One could see that the span of his shoulders was quite large, thus releasing a sentiment of power, self-confidence and leadership. He was wearing also a cashmere overcoat and an elegant wool hat with an upturn brim. The suit was a designer suit with a classic two button closure and notched lapel. The shirt was white with vertical stripes, while the silk tie was light grey in color also with vertical stripes. It was a nice combination, as the vertical features of the two pieces discussed above, were helping him “stretch” his upper body and made him look taller.
John pulled the Menu as high as he could so he would hide a portion of his face. With one hand, he held the Menu and with the other texted Vic back: “At Restaurant. Neighbors have meal”. He pushed the Send sign. As he expected, Vic replied immediately: “Don’t move. I’m coming. Where are you sitting?” Again, with one hand John texted: “Left, last table, by the wall. Neighbors sit opposite”. “OK. Will be there in a few”. Slowly, John dropped the Menu in a way that would allow him to have a better look at the couple. The man was sitting by the aisle and thus with his back turned at John while the woman was facing him. John realized that it’s just a matter of time before she would recognize him as being the man from the hallway. It was important for her not to know that John is part of Glenworth. At this point, he almost regretted that he allowed Vic to come over. What if she knows him somehow? Then he will be exposed. These questions didn’t leave him alone until Vic showed up and took the empty chair across the table. While slowly walking in, he managed to disguise the curious look he threw at the couple’s table.
-I am dying to see the face of the man!
-Let’s wait a bit. The waiter showed up right away and Vic ordered a green tea.
-I think this is the same man I have seen through the cracked door. His skin is tanned and the neck is thick and short.
The waiter went to the couple’s table. Shortly he came back with a plate on which there were three cups of tea. It seemed like the man and the woman did not want to eat anything.
-Do you have a plan?
-Always, said Vic and he grabbed his cell phone. He texted something in Chinese. John was stunned. It looked like his colleague not only knew how to speak, but he knew how to write as well.
-What’s your plan?
-You’ll see. These two guys won’t be here for too long. They didn’t order food, so it looks like they have to go somewhere. Today is Thursday already. I have to do some investigation. Where they could go dressed up like this, at first time in the morning? I mean…look at them: they look like royals.
-Well said. Great looking couple…if I could only see their faces.
-Patience. Help is on its way. John raised one of his eye browses as always a sign of wonder and looked at Vic.
-Do you think I am kidding? I never do when I have something to get done.
-Ok, ok. I trust you. But you better hurry up with that help of yours because our neighbors are about to leave. Boy, they look great! Those cloths they are wearing are top notch designer cloths and the materials are of a very high quality.
-Yeah, who cares what they wear? I want to understand who they are. John cracked a large smile, as he knew that Vic was not paying too much attention to people’s attire. For him though, it was another good piece of information: these are not only people who have money, but are also people of great, refined taste.
-Ok. They are on their way to the door.
-Good timing. My man is here. At this point, a little skinny man stopped by the table. Vic pulled a chair and invited him to sit down. His name was Zihuan. John shook hands and realized that the individual in front of him was speaking a decent English. He was wearing jeans and sneakers and a sports jacket with the brand of a well-known NFL Team.
-Do you like Football?
-Yes, Sir! I watch American Football in TV.
-I guess this team is your favorite team.
-Yes, Sir! I like this team. They good and strong and fast.
Both John and Vic couldn’t help but start a laughter. Good, strong and fast.
-Well Zihuan, do you know that John was a Football player too?
-Wow…Mr. Parker you Football player?
-Not anymore Zihuan, not anymore. A breeze of sadness crossed John’s face, like a vagrant cloud on a nice clear summer morning sky. This little change of mood was observed by Zihuan.
-Why you sad, Mr. Parker?
John startled as he didn’t expect the new interlocutor to pick this up. On the other hand, he liked it! “This man has a keen sense of observation, of reading people’s faces and for sure will be an asset to the team”
-Just a little gloomy that I missed playing into NFL due to an injury.
-John, do you still have that big poster showing that throw of yours for the win in the last seven seconds of the game?
-I don’t know…I still should have some in the basement. I can ask Linda to send one over for Zihuan if he wants it.
-Wow…Mr. Parker you throw ball in last seven seconds and win?
-Well, this is what I was told, Zihuan. A Defensive Lineman hit me and I blacked out. I woke up in the Hospital. When I opened up my eyes, my future wife was there and she told me that we won.
-This is movie story Mr. Parker. This is movie story.
-Well, Zihuan…nobody contacted me so far. All three men started laughing and John understood that he could fully rely on his new addition to the Team.
– Zihuan, please listen up…Vic lowered the tone of his voice and in a cursive Chinese explained to the new interlocutor what his job was.
-John, I asked Zihuan to follow this couple. Wherever they go, he has to go. I also asked him to take pictures, snap shots, anything that could help us identify these two individuals.
-No worry, Mr. Parker. I know this work. I did many of this before.
-Of course I fully rely on you, Zihuan. If Vic trusts you, I trust you. Just please, take your time and get as many details as possible. Doesn’t matter if you take a thousand snap shots which would seem irrelevant. Maybe in there, there is something we can use.
-No issue, Mr. Parker. I know job.
-Fantastic. Now I think it is time for you to go…the couple is leaving.
-Not yet, said Zihuan with a large smile on his face.
-Not yet? They are leaving, you will lose them.
-Mr. Parker… no rush. If I follow them, they see me and job not good.
-But you will lose them!
-No, I not lose. My friend follow with his car. Then we change cars and take mine.
John couldn’t help but admire the strategy.
-Ok, then. I guess I just have to fully trust you and your judgement.
Vic placed a hand on John’s shoulder:
-He knows what he is doing. He built himself a camera which you can keep in your palm and take pictures you would normally take with the zoom in lens tower.
-What? Are you serious? John’s eyes moved to Zihuan and a sense of deep admiration flourished on his face.
-Yes. He is an Electronics Engineer and he has a Master in Optics and Acoustics.
-This is unbelievable! Why aren’t you working as an Engineer for a Corporation? I am sure that the pay is good. This question was addressed directly to Zihuan and John placed the maximum amount of stupefaction he was capable of generating into that inquiry.
-Yes, I know Mr. Parker. But work for Corporation boring. You not allowed freedom. I like use my brain, not follow orders and rules. His smile was candid, intelligent and genuine showing in the same time two rows of white, well maintained teeth.
-So, do you have a shop where you build all these devices?
-No. I have apartment. That is my shop. He laughed, but John was perplex. “This guy has a shop in his apartment. How about neighbors? Aren’t they complaining?”
He realized that this is one of those things with which he has to get accustomed, those little things which don’t make sense from a westerner point of view, but they are part of day to day life in China.
Zihuan picked up his phone. The “cling” of an incoming text made both Vic and John switch their attention to the devise which their interlocutor was holding in his hand.
-Now I go. Yuhuan follow them. I follow my friend. We talk by radio.
-You have your own radio frequency? This is fantastic! But you must pay a fortune for this.
-Mr. Parker…in Shanghai if you pay for everything, you no eat nothing. Zihuan burst again into a laughter and stood, signaling the fact that he has to go. John and Vic wanted to do the same, but their detective put his right hand up into the air into a “stop” sign. Both Vic and John looked at the man in front of them with perplexity not understanding why he was telling them to sit down.
-I go first. You wait five minutes and then you go. OK?
John couldn’t help but appreciate his plan. “He does not want all of us to be seen together while leaving. Smart!”
Zihuan made a sign of good bye by dropping his chin and in few seconds he disappeared through the Restaurant doors and eventually he was out into the street.
-So, Vic…tell me please what is this Zihuan story about?
-As you can see, J.J.’s money can go a long way in China. We have a private detective working for us. Vic’s laughter managed to pull a large smile on John’s face, however, Vic realized that his friend was not satisfied just with this answer.
-How much are you paying him that he agreed to do this for you full time?
-No, he is not hired full time…he has other things on the go, like: building all sort of electronic devices and selling them to God knows who (I think he is even connected to the underworld individuals and organizations), doing the detective work and I think he even fixes complicated devises for private individuals. Once, I was in his apartment – I needed him to do some work for me…at one point, an individual knocked at the door and stepped in. I swear to God, John…this guy was the largest Chinese I have seen in my seven years of China. He was the size of a Sumo wrestler, the size of the largest Linebacker you have seen back home. His skin was tanned like Gang’s and the eyes were typical Mongolian: very thin and almond shaped like, obviously slandered upwards. He gave him a backpack in which there was something the shape of a bowling ball. I never asked him what that was. I actually don’t even want to know what was inside of that backpack. Zihuan took it into another room and came back. God knows what sort of activity he is doing in there.
-Well my friend…I think this is a wrong approach. We need to know as much as we can about the people we employ in helping us with this task. You are saying that the individual who visited him while you were there might belong to the underworld organizations?
-I am not saying that! I am just conveying a piece of information. John couldn’t help but notice that Vic was in a sort of distress and affliction, a situation he was trying to avoid and hide as much as possible. He started getting worried again about his friend: “Why is he getting jumpy, fidgety and crusty? Does he have connections to the underworld of Shanghai? It appears to me that when I asked him that question about the appurtenance of that large fellow to the underworld fauna, he became irascible. I have to be more careful. I think he does have something to do with the hidden world of outlaws”
-OK, OK…sorry, man! Just a supposition. I guess I watched too many movies. John’s laughter was not genuine and he realized it by looking at his friend’s face. Vic’s mimic was frowned, was not relaxed anymore and was showing a certain level of distress and wariness.
-I think Zihuan’s five minutes are up. Let’s go to the office and see if we can get something done for today.
-Sure, let’s go. It’s already ten o’clock.
Both men stood, pushed the chairs under the table and headed towards the Exit. The temperature was already into the high sixties and it was again a beautiful sunny fall morning with a clear sky above. The taxi ride was short as the lunch rush hour had not yet started. Once in the office, both of them headed towards John’s office. John opened up and once he reached his desk, he placed his suit case on it, unlocked the drawers and asked Vic to join him to watch the view. It was spectacular as usual and for two minutes both men quietly admired the sun ray’s reflections from the calm and majestic waters of Huangpu.
-Listen, I am sorry about what I said a little earlier.
-Ah, don’t worry about. I also feel like I have to tell you a little story, as between friends. But not now. At the right moment only.
-I am not forcing you to tell me that story, Vic…
-I know John, but we are both into the same boat here and we need to be a hundred percent honest with each other, we need to row in the same direction, otherwise we will drown.
-Totally agree. Are you paying Zihuan well enough to fully rely on him?
-Don’t you worry about this! J.J. receives a monthly bill from me. I pay Zihuan cash obviously. Let’s put it like this: if he would only rely on this source of income, he would be more than ok. He would make more than an Engineer working for one of the big Corporations around here. But this job allows him freedom to move around, to do what he likes and to always meet new people. He makes a lot of money. That’s why he figured out that he had to team up with his friend.
-Did you ever meet that friend of his?
-Yeah, I think this was the name he gave us.
-No, I’ve never met Mr. Handsome.
-This is what this name means in Chinese: nobility and handsomeness. Both John and Vic burst into laughter. At least John, simply couldn’t understand the way the names are picked in Chinese culture.
-Well, my advice is to eventually know Mr. Handsome as well, whenever we have a chance. I would like to meet all the members of my team.
-Sure. We’ll do it sometimes. Listen, I gotta’ go do some work now. I’ll see you tomorrow I guess.
-Yes, for sure. Thanks for all your help Vic.
-Don’t mention it. We are team mates now. Vic turned around and headed for the door. Before exiting, he turned around and walked back to the middle of room slapping his forehead in a sign that he forgot something. John, Zhaohui asked me to invite you for dinner at our place on Saturday night.
-How nice of her! Please extend my compliments to her and convey the following message: invitation accepted with many thanks.
-Fantastic! We’ll have a good time. She is a great cook. Is six o’clock ok with you?
-Absolutely. Where else am I going to go? This last phrase was followed by a big laughter and Vic simply joined in.
-Right! You are now a prisoner in a nice hotel and a luxury apartment. Way to go, man!
-Yeah, sure…wanna’ change?
-As much as I would like to…no, thanks. The volume of the laughter started few seconds ago became even louder as the two men felt like letting it go and get back to work on a high note.
-Alright then. Saturday night I will join you two guys for dinner at your place.
-Great! Saturday morning I will probably do all the shopping. When we have an event like this, she cooks the whole day.
-Can’t wait to try some real, authentic Chinese.
-The food we ate at the Restaurants was also good and authentic. Not sure what she has in mind so far, but you’ll see that it will be good. By the way, on Sunday we are planning to go to Suzhou and visit again the gardens. Many of them are protected UNESCO sites. They are absolutely gorgeous and the weather is still great for visiting. On Sunday, the temperature will be in the mid-seventies, perfect for a walk through the gardens. We visited them many times. Every time we go there, I have hard times to get Zhaohui to leave the place. She is obsessed with these gardens. There are also many kiosks where you can have a sit, rest and take pictures at the surroundings, as they are fabulous. If you want, we will be happy if you joined us.
-Thanks very much, Vic! You two guys are awesome! I appreciate your kindness in trying to make me feel at home. I will definitely come for dinner on Saturday. What would you like me to bring over?
-Just bring yourself, man! Vic burst again into a laughter of joy hearing that John accepted the invitation.
-OK, I will bring some drinks.
-You don’t have to, but if you really want to buy some drinks, there is a liquor store just five minutes of walking away from your hotel. You take the main street going North and at the next major intersection, it is right there, at the North East corner. Please, don’t spend too much money.
-Why? J.J.’s pockets are pretty deep! Both men cracked another big laughter and judging by the fact that this time tears of joy were coming out of Vic’s eyes, one would only imagine that he was having lots of fun. When he finally managed to stop from the burst of happiness which encompassed him, Vic placed his right hand on John’s left shoulder and while wiping his tears with his left cuff, he looked into John’s eyes and with a friendly and sincere voice he said:
-John, both I and Zhaohui love you, you are a great person and you can rely on us. We’ll get this thing done somehow. We’ll figure out together how.
-Thanks you two guys, I love you too. You are great human beings and I am happy to call you friends.
-Thanks John. I will convey your compliments to Zhaohui.
-Fantastic! I can’t wait to taste her food! I think she is a great cook.
-You better make room, so you can eat everything she is planning to cook.
-Don’t you worry Mister…Saturday I will hit the gym twice and I won’t eat anything the whole day.
-Ha ha ha! You want to put a dent into my budget, huh? That’s OK. I’ll expense it and get J.J. to pay for this. Another round of laughter burst out of their chests, only this time Vic made a sign of “good bye” and headed for the door.
-Hey, Vic! John remembered that he wanted to ask Vic something and until that moment he was struggling to remember. All of a sudden his memory helped him out and he asked the question:
-Why is the software we are using to track outgoing transactions so much slower here than back home?
Vic was about to leave John’s office and when hearing the question, turned right away a hundred eighty degrees and looked at John completely puzzled.
-It is slower? Are you sure? Never noticed that…hmm.
-I am positive. I used it hundreds of times. I checked the Internet speed and it is no different comparing to what we have back in America. Still…why so much slower? Is this temporary, has anyone else from this office complained?
-John, I had no idea that we even had this problem…never heard anybody complaining that software is slow. And by the way…nobody from this office went to America at our head office to have something to compare against, besides Tony Gang. Let’s have a look.
John pulled his laptop and fired it up. Shortly he logged in and starting running the usual applications, used by everyone in the company. When opening the specific application, indeed, the speed at which the system was working, dropped dramatically. Vic tried himself and shortly both men were scratching their heads.
-Honestly, I never noticed this. To me, this is normal.
-It’s not…I am telling you, it is at least three times slower than back home.
-Wow…I have been gone for seven years now and I really can’t tell the difference. Let me call the IT guy. He picked up the phone and called their IT office Manager. He will be here shortly…hmm, this is strange.
-This is what I am saying. Very unusual. Are there any filters, which would slow down the search?
-We’ll see what our hero will have to say.
-You mean the IT Manager is a hero? This is the meaning of his name?
-Yeap! Li Jie is our hero. Let’s see what he has to say.
Vic couldn’t help but noticing that John put a puzzling gimmick on his face in a sign that these Chinese names were becoming a headache for him in trying to remember them.
-Don’t worry, John…you will get accustomed with their names. It won’t take long. I suggest you wright them down and read them whenever you have a chance.
-Yeah, I have to admit that I have hard times remembering them.
-Patience my friend, patience. This is what they are taught from an early age. You have to be patient if you want to achieve anything serious in life.
-I know, unfortunately back home we dumped this concept and we want everything and we want it now.
-Yes, this is the dumpster (in which we tossed one of the greatest virtues of human kind): fast pace environment, multitasking, prioritization, fast food, fast learn, etc.
-You were part of the “fast forward” culture too…I can see that since you came here, you significantly changed though.
-Yes, I did. Unfortunately, China is following right into America’s footsteps. I realized this in these seven years of my stay here. Great cities (like Shanghai) follow America’s example. Things are changing rapidly and so do the people.
-Well…this is the pace of the evolution, I guess.
-I would say it is the pace of involution. We are going away step by step from our nature, from our essence, we are walking away from humanity and turning ourselves into the slaves of few material things which are insignificant to the Universe: a TV, a car, a house, a job, a hobby, etc.
-Wow! You became quiet philosophical. Any other things I should know about yourself? A friendly smile flourished on John’s face, in a sign that he agreed with everything Vic just said.
-No, I don’t think I became more philosophical. But I started paying more attention to things which now I believe really matter in life.
-I can see this, Vic and I have a tremendous respect for you and your choices.
-Thanks, John. I will tell you what my dream is…but not now.
-Of course, especially that our hero showed up. During the conversation between the two colleagues and friends, Vic stood with his back at the door the whole time. John, obviously was able to see the man standing at his door and knocking into the frame of the door as he was facing it. Vic turned around and in a perfect Chinese he invited the IT specialist inside.
-Li Jie, this is John Parker. John, this is the IT Manager of the office: Li Jie.
-It is nice to meet you Mr. Parker.
-John is my name. Nice to meet you too.
Li Jie smiled and replied with a still respectful voice:
-Very well, Mr. Parker. I will call you John. What is the problem you having?
-Well, when I run the outgoing transactions, the software is a lot slower than what we have in America. Why? I checked the Internet speed and there is no significant difference. Do you guys have some filters which may slow down the software’s function? Both Vic and John couldn’t help but notice that the smile on Li Jie’s face perished and a barely perceptible grimace replaced otherwise a pretty good looking smile. He was thin and quite tall for the Chinese standards. The nice dress pants and the white silk shirt and grey tie, showed a man who knew how to take care of his attire and thus send a signal of neatness and a certain level of elegance.
-Let me check, John. May I have your laptop for five minutes?
-Sure, go ahead. John walked him to his desk, logged in and then came close to the middle of the room where Vic was waiting.
-So, I guess I see you on Saturday.
-Great! I think you are OK now. Actually you know what? Let me show my office to you and let me introduce you to few people you need to know during your stay.
-Sure. Let’s do that.
Both of them walked towards the entrance into the office where Vic’ office was. The window was facing downtown. The majestic sky scraper line and the swarm of people down on the street was the usual view and one would realize how vibrant, rich and fast paced this city was.
John couldn’t help but notice the framed pictures that Vic had placed on his desk. There were four pictures and in three of them he was shown beside Zhaohui. In one of them (on the left side of the desk), John could see the man he knew from back home: the heavy guy with a round face and the hair all messed up, with a double chin and the skin all moist and stretched to a limit when one would believe it will explode. The other three pictures (all on the right hand), it was a man who was barely resembling the one from left. Only the eyes were the same: sharp, lively, intelligent, investigative and inquiring. The second chin was gone, and so was gone all that extra weight he was carrying. His face was now a sum of bones: cheek bones, the square chin and a forehead which was not covered anymore by messy and unkempt hair. He was now employing a short cut style which was making his head look even thinner and sharper. Zhaohui was holding him from the back, with her hands encircling his waist and the chin resting on his shoulder while Vic was hugging her with his hands wrapped around her neck. These three pictures showed John a happy and emotionally balanced man, a man in control of his life, a man who was now living a second life.
-Your life has changed so dramatically, Vic…
-Aaaa….you looked at the pictures. Yes, I can say that lots of things have changed since I left America. My leaving was a blessing and probably I should say thanks to Scott. Zhaohui is saying all the time that it was meant to happen, that it was meant for us to meet. I started believing in this philosophy, in the theory that everything in this life happens for a reason.
-It is part of Christian believe too, you know it very well.
-Yes, but I want to go further more and add a little Confucius: “Everything happens for a reason; don’t worry about reason, just live with what happens”
-Did you start reading Confucius? I can see that you have become a little more intellectual, more philosophical.
-Yes I did. Confucianism is a great philosophical system and has been part of Chinese culture for twenty five hundred years. It gathered so much wisdom in it that we would be so much better as a society if everyone would follow the teachings of this great philosophy.
-We both know that this is not possible. The human nature is not kind by birth. We are mammals and we have the instincts of the wild animals. That’s why we have possessions, that’s why we (unfortunately) start wars and kill other people, that’s why we have a competitive nature.
-Agree, but this is why we have that thing called Education. The Chinese saw the role of the mass education twenty five centuries ago when this great man started putting together his thoughts and sharing them with others.
-Have you turned into an idealist, into a humanist, into a visionary and wishful-thinker?
-I hope I just turned into a better person, John…that’s all.
-Wow! This is deep, Vic…I thank you for sharing your intimate thoughts with me.
-You are a good man, John. Zhaohui says that you have a good heart too. What a Confucian you could be! Again, both men burst into a heavy and uncontrolled laughter which was heard all around the office as the people in the cubicles started raising their heads and look through the open door and the glass hallway wall of Vic’s office, trying to figure out what was going on inside.
-Let me consider…never say never.
-Exactly. We will talk more on this subject on Saturday. We will engage Zhaohui as well so we can have an expert guiding us through the thinking process.
-Is she a Confucianism practitioner?
-Yes, she is. We, Americans, could also say: she is practicing Yoga as well. No, she is not practicing Yoga, she meditates following a ritual of breathing learnt from some Confucian monks.
-Wow…now I understand the change. This is where John stopped short of continuing, as he didn’t know how Vic would react. He obviously wanted to say: “now I understand the change in you, in your physical appearance, in the way you think, in the way you conduct your life”, but the subject was touchy and he didn’t want to touch a sensitive chord.
-You can continue if you want. I don’t care. I know very well who I was and who I am right now. I don’t give a damn about this stupidity called political correctness. I was wasting my life partying, drinking and gambling, I was morbidly fat and I was one step away from death (I will eventually tell you the story). In other words: I was a bum. She picked me up and turned me into the man you see. I owe her almost everything.
-I kinda’ figured this out myself, but I didn’t want to bring it up. When you first time introduced me to Zhaohui (in the Lobby), I realized that she played a major role into your metamorphosis and this was actually a blessing in the sky – knowing how hard you were partying back home.
-Yes it was, John. Yes it was. Funny how things work out in this life…I had to go half way to the end of the world to realize that I was dumping my best years into partying, alcohol and gambling. Both John and Vic kept quiet for few seconds. It was a moment of reflection, of meditation and forethought in which the two men tried to gather their own thoughts. A knock into the frame of the door made them startle. It was Li Jie who was standing there and wanted to obviously convey a message.
-Yes, Li Jie. Are you done?
-Yes, John. Come see please. He turned around and headed back towards John’s office, followed by Vic and John. Before reaching his office, John grabbed Vic’s arm in a sign of: “I need to talk to you”. Vic stopped and a question mark made his eye browses join above the nose bridge. It was the moment when John came closer and whispered into Vic’s ear:
-How long did it take him to fix this?
-Probably fifteen minutes at the max. We haven’t been talking for more than fifteen, after we left your office…why are you asking?
-Just a thought…I will tell you later. Vic’s face turned from a questioning type into a wondering type of gimmick.
-So, Li Jie…did you manage to fix it? What was wrong?
-Nothing major, Mr. Parker…I mean, John. Both John and Li Jie smiled at each other showing a mutual respect and consideration. I cleaned up cookies, internet temporary files and some other junk you don’t need.
-And this was it? Really? Hmm…It was that easy. I could’ve done that. Li Jie smiled again while John took a seat and started testing the program. It was indeed much faster. However, he still felt like it wasn’t that fast as it was back home in America. He decided to keep it for himself. Li Jie, please tell me why other programs were not affected (speed wise) the way this particular program was affected? Outlook was just fine, Internet browsing the same and other typical software we are using (large programs) were not affected either.
-Good question, John. Li Jie’s face brightened up and with the same confidence a professor is ready to present his lesson to the pupils, he mentioned to John that this particular software is very large as it carries lots of macros and links between different levels and stages of the program.
-Aha…I understand. It is a very complex Program and it takes more time to run the background information.
-Yes! Very well done, John. You are good IT person.
-No, I am not a good IT person Li Jie, but I know a thing or two about computers. He put a big smile on his face which in turn made his interlocutor smile back. Thanks for your help, Li Jie.
-You welcome, Mr. Parker…I mean, John. You call if you have problem again.
-Of course I will, of course. Thanks again, Li Jie. The IT specialist turned around and was ready to head for the exit when John stopped him with an apparently trivial question:
-Li Jie, please tell me…John stopped for two seconds waiting for his interlocutor to fully turn and look at him. Please tell me…is the incoming software (which tracks our entries) as large and complex sort of software as the outgoing one?
-Yes, John. It is large software and complex as other one.
-Thanks Liu Jie. That’s all for now. You have a good day.
-You too, John. Bye, Vic.
At this moment, Vic made a good bye sign to John signaling that he wanted to go to his office. John raised his right hand simulating a stop sign.
-Vic, two more minutes please. Vic froze in the middle of the room and inquiringly looked at John trying to understand what else he needed from him. John made a barely perceptible sign with his head: “come on over” and turned again with his face towards the window. He was not resting his butt against the desk, inviting Vic to take a seat into his chair. Vic refused politely and calmly took the same position as John. Now both of them were facing Downtown and that particular stretch of Huangpu.
-God, I love this view! This river fascinates me. Vic raised his eye browses in a sign of nervousness…”What the hell is wrong with him? This is why he called me to sit with him?” John realized that his friend was at least puzzled by his request and put the again a large and kind smile on his face. The tonality of his voice was low, telling Vic that he wanted to keep it between them.
-John…I have things to take care of…
-Vic, please tell me what you know about Li Jie. Vic’s lower jaw dropped.
-This is why you are holding me here for? You are kidding, right? John looked straight into Vic’s eyes and while keeping the same smile on his face, replied:
-No Vic, I am not kidding. I want to know everything about this guy. Vic looked again at John and his mimic was still showing a man who was all puzzled.
-Well…he’s been here forever. He was here when I joined this office. He knows everything, every piece of software.
-So, he was not brought here by Tony.
-No…why are you asking these questions, John?
-Simple! Have you heard what he said about outgoing and incoming transaction software?
-Yes, he said that both of them are complex and require lots of resources to run.
-Exactly! However, I tried both of them during my first day into this office. The incoming transactions program was running just fine, at the same speed as it was running back home. Vic’s face was now showing the face of someone who is perplex, who is at one more punch away from being knocked down.
-So, you are telling me that…
-I am not telling you anything. I am just asking some questions trying to put together the pieces of an apparently complicated puzzle. Remember when I asked him if you guys have some filters on the software you are using in this office?
-Yes, his face kinda’ turned blue and lost the smile.
-Exactly! But when I asked the question, I was actually thinking at some antivirus software you guys may be running on daily basis. Now, I am thinking at other things…
-Do you think he may have planted a piece of software into your laptop during those fifteen minutes of chatting we had? It is an awfully short amount of time, in my opinion.
-It seems to me too that it is not enough time to do something like this, but neither I, nor you Vic, are IT specialists.
-You are right, John…hmmm. How do we find out that he messed with your laptop and most of all: why he did it if this is the case indeed?
-This “why” is something that scares me, Vic. But it may as well be the lead we need to get to the bottom of our assignment. Vic took another look at John and started scratching the top of his head with his right index finger in a sign of confusion and encumbrance. Both men kept quiet for a couple of minutes and at that point, all their intellectual resources were focused on finding an answer to an already burden: who is Li Jie? Vic’s face all of a sudden brightened up. John looked at him and with a voice which was betraying impatience, eagerness and hastiness to find an answer, he grabbed Vic by the arm:
-Don’t tell me that you figured out a way already. Vic smiled and while fighting to get his arm out of John’s strong grip, he picked up his cell from his pocket, went to speed dial and made a phone call. What followed, was a short conversation in Chinese. After hanging up, he looked straight into John’s eyes and with a waggish accent into his tonality, said:
-Mr. Parker, we shall know soon if Li Jie is playing games on you.
-Whom did you talk to?
-But he is not a software Engineer…
-Trust me, man…he knows everything. Think about…he builds all sort of devices, only he knows the kind of stuff he is making. He built a camera you can hold in your palm. Do you think he doesn’t know how to look into a software?
-Good thinking, man! Good thinking. You are smart.
-Please tell J.J. this, maybe I can get a bonus or a raise.
-I am not sure about that. He is tight with the money right now, as his cash is drained God knows by whom. Once again, the two colleagues and friends burst into a laughter, this time a laughter of relief that they could be on the right path towards deciphering the mystery. So, what do we do?
-Tonight we come back to the office and we bring Zihuan with us.
-Now this thing really started looking like a detective type of work!
-Do you have another option?
-No I don’t. That’s why I am relying on you.
-Great. Now let me get to my office and do some work. God…it is noon already.
-I guess it’s time for lunch, though.
-Ha ha ha! I didn’t know you had such a great sense of humor. I see you tonight. I will pick you up at your hotel. I am figuring that if we come back at eleven, nobody will be around. By then, the cleaning crews are gone and we can look at the work Li Jie did for you.
-Listen, why don’t we do this at the hotel, in my apartment?
-Zihuan wanted to try this into the same environment Li Jie did it.
-Got you! I will wait for your phone call. I will probably hit the gym, have a bite at the hotel’s Restaurant and then go to my room and do some reading.
-Fantastic. You may want to take a nap. I am not sure Zihuan will figure this out as quickly as we would like to.
-We have a deal. See you tonight, my friend.