You could hear her sweet voice in every Chinese grocery store, barber's shop,
and old Cantonese restaurant. Bill felt as if he had gone back to the 80s when
his aunts used to hum to the banned tunes of "The Song of Four Seasons" and the
like. He himself missed the boat: once he grew old enough (last year in high
school) to be interested, Teresa Teng was taken over in the mainland by new
waves of stars from Hongkong, Taiwan, and later the west. He was swept off his
feet for the next six years. By the time he was married, however, Bill thought
he was done with mushy pop music. Yet two years later, he came around the globe
to run into Teng and be smitten.
He was crossing the SF-Oakland bridge in sister Fan's van when he first
listened to the "Do you know who is the one I love?"(你可知道我愛誰) and "It
doesn't matter who you are."(不管你是誰) The simple melodies and plain and
carefree verses bore no trace of the useless fake heartbreak or self-pity that he
had grown out of and turned to hate so much. In fact, the drama in even some
of her sad songs, e.g., "When will you come back"(何日君再來)or "Good Wine
with Coffee,"(美酒加咖啡) cracked him up every time. He might be heartless, or it
might be the language of that era, but Teng seemed not bending backward to try
to move her audience. She seemed above the melancholy that she was trying to
express, and Bill had a hard time taking the lyrics literally. Among all the
singers he had laid ears on, she was in a class of one.
To his new gang, it was a joke to be Chinese and not know Teng. Mostly five to
ten years older, they were first amazed by Bill's sudden infatuation which in
turn endeared him to them. The school kid knew nothing about the world and they
had to educate him.
Sister Fan was also unique in that she seemed to have endless energy and always
fly by the seat of her pants. Not only she herself juggled half a dozen projects
besides her day job but she also had a problem seeing people around her idle.
After Bill had squandered a few weekends, she got him a one-time assignment
selling CDs for a friend. Saturday morning, she dropped him off at the job
It was a flea market in a big warehouse in downtown Oakland. Vendors unloaded
their goods in plastic jackets, digital CDs from classic piano, jazz, pop, to
computer software, in cardboard boxes from their vans and dump them in big piles
at their booths. 9:00 am, the gate opened and customers poured in like hungry
fish to their feedlots. There was not much haggling as each disc asked for five
bucks and both the seller and the buyer felt it a good deal. Transactions were
smooth and cash-only. Bill never knew such commerce could exist in the US.
He ran into a problem from the start. A 40-ish coworker, Tony, towering over
him and maybe not impressed by his medium stature, seemed to dislike him.
Loading a heavy box of goods over his shoulder, he sneered: "This is why you
feed the big guys first."
It turned out that among the four that manned their booth, only Bill knew enough
to catalog the discs to make it easier to search. He recognized many of the CDs
and softwares, thanks to his informal education in western music and schooling
in computers. Many foreigners came for the same popular hits that he enjoyed in
college. He spoke broken English just as the others but customers came to him
Tony soon became friendly and before long whispered one word in Bill ear:
"fiber" followed by some detailed advice: "The network is the computer and we
are going through a new revolution. They are digging trenches and laying down
fiber optics like crazy. I'm giving you pearls. Buy fiber stocks. You won't
Bill had never bought a stock but didn't ask how--it would make him look more
like a greenhorn. It was just another way of gambling, he had heard, where
fortunes were more often lost than made. He was content with what he was doing
for now. Early afternoon, when Laowu came to pick him up, he had made 100 bucks
for four hours' work, more than he would as a teaching assistant. He felt bubbly
even in the traffic jam toward SF, listening with his new friend to another
cassette of Teresa Teng.