Saturday, May 4, 2013

Questionable Fact: Fu Ping's First Babysitting Job in America

The Original Story:
On Page 54 of Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping told the story of her first paying (illegal) job in US as a newly arrived foreign student:
The gregarious sisters and I communicated through facial expressions and full-body gestures, like a game of charades. They knew I was desperate for money, so they connected me with one of their professors, an Iranian man who had recently divorced and was in need of a babysitter. I couldn't speak English, didn't understand American culture, couldn't drive, and had never written a check. But there was one thing I knew how to do. 
The very next day, I started my new job. As I walked into the professor's apartment, I saw dishes piled up in the kitchen sink, heaps of dirty laundry, and toys strewn across the floor. I cleaned the house thoroughly and played with the professor's five-year-old daughter for seven hours. When the professor returned home, he asked me how much I wanted to be paid. I hadn't yet figured out the American system of prices and payments, so I just shook my head. He handed me a one-dollar bill. It didn't seem like enough.
The sisters, Fu Ping's roommates, eventually forced the professor to pay the fairer price of ten dollars an hour.

The Earlier Story:
The same story was also told in Drifting Bottle, Fu Ping's earlier autobiography, on Pages 9-10:
At 1pm, Professor Peter brought his little daughter Lisa to where I lived. Lisa was not afraid of strangers at all. She said goodbye to her dad and ran over to me immediately. She was only 2 years old, with big blue eyes like the ocean and golden curled hairs. Her fat little hands were all over my body. She captured my heart at once. What a lovely girl! I offered her chocolates I had brought from China and provided her many toys. We both had a great time. 
9pm, the professor arrived to pick up Lisa. He asked me how much I wanted to be paid. I said, "Whatever you wish to pay is fine." He took out a one-dollar bill from his wallet and gave it to me. 
In this version of the story, Fu Ping's roommates, although shocked and angry, did not confront the professor for her pay. Fu Ping felt powerless since she was working illegally.

The Debunking:
Other than the professor and the one-dollar payment, the two versions of the same story differ quite a bit in details. Most significantly, it happened at different locations: the professors apartment vs. Fu Ping's own, which led to the additional work of house-cleaning in the new version. The age of the child changed and lost her original loveliness.

Although memories fade over time, it's hard to think that she would confuse such important details of a story that had a big impact of her life, especially that she had written it in her book.

In both versions of the story, the professor taught classes for one of her roommates and therefore is at least an acquaintance if not friend. It is incredible that the professor, being Iranian not withstanding, would try to cheat a new immigrant student this way. It would have been reasonable for her roommates, knowing full well of her situation, to have helped her negotiate the payment before the work.

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