We spent the week touring factories in southern China, and Thanksgiving morning found us in Shenzhen where we were met at our hotel by our account manager at a plastics factory, a miniature firecracker who had chosen the English name Linda. She started calling Porter “Harry Potter” right off, which set his mouth in a flat line until mom’s raised eyebrow and a subtle death threat convinced him to dredge a smile from his emergency supply. It might have made him feel better if I’d pointed out that he had a couple inches on her and could probably take her in a fair fight, a fact made all the more startling as Porter is barely nine and Linda was wearing four-inch heels hidden under her long pants, though we couldn’t see that detail until hours later when we were all racing tandem bicycles around a lake in an obscure manufacturing town with a name that included an assortment of Fangs and Dongs.
Chinese women are all about shoes: thin, lower heels for older women, and a stunningly short skirt and impossibly high heel combination for the young, unless the young woman is feeling particularly casual, in which case she’ll wear skinny pants and flat shoes with a row of buckles or bows or an astonishing Tinker Bell pouf. For a Chinese woman, a shorter than short skirt and five inch heels are no impediment to riding a bike, which she does not mount by kicking the leg back and swinging over, but by first taking off sidesaddle, then bending the knee and lifting the leg over the bar in front to catch the pedal on the other side. How they kept the color of their undies to themselves was a mystery I wasn’t willing to explore, so I averted my eyes before catching onto the nuance of the operation. I’m an American, I wear jeans and comfy shoes, and I mount a bicycle like a horse. Everybody stared.
Actually, people kind of stare at us in America too. Most people don’t take their children on business trips, but the nature of the board game business allows us to take them to game fairs where we shamelessly flout child labor laws, setting our children to wait on unsuspecting customers, demoing games, and play testing new games with designers who hope to publish with us. Taking them to tour the factories was a stretch, even for us, but it was good for them to see that the products they enjoy do not appear by magic. As it turned out, there’s nothing like three kids for breaking the ice.
When we arrived at the plastics factory, mini Linda introduced us to her boss, four toothpicks and a head of hair with the English name Nancy, who owned the factory along with her husband who was out of town on business There’s no point sharing the details of how these two sharp, professional women ended up sharing a tandem bike at the lake, suffice to say it involved chicken hearts, a chocolate fountain, and a Brazilian named Lomi who wore a straw hat and a red satin shirt. On the bike Toothpick sat in the first seat, pedaling with all eighty pounds, while Mini threw in her two cents, reaching the pedals by the grace of the four-inch spikes glued to her shoes, each woman laughing and panting and swaying side to side in an asynchronous rhythm that threatened to spill them at any minute. My husband and Chase were on another tandem getting hit on by admiring females. Abby and Porter were together too and challenged Toothpick and Mini to a duel, pedaling furiously, Abby in the front with Porter in the back pumping his legs and peeling a clementine that he slid onto his finger like a ring, waggling it at the ladies as he flew past, flashing a cheesy grin and popping it whole in his mouth while perfect strangers cycled by yelling HARRY POTTER.
I was the only single rider and at the end Linda and Nancy said I must be the most tired because I had no one to help me. I was tired, but only because I nearly died laughing.
What did you do for Thanksgiving? I hope the Turkey was good