YU LI WAS FROM A SMALL TOWN in the Hengshui area of Hebei province, a place with no tall buildings. He’d been working for over ten years as a quality controller in a renowned state-owned fake Hengshui wine distillery.
Yu Li was fired when the distillery realized their production of fake wine dropped 10 per cent during his shifts. It was discovered that, during the course of his inspections, Yu Li drank vast quantities of the wine. When the factory was set a target of increasing its output by 10 per cent within the year, Yu Li was axed.
During his first nine years of working at the distillery, Yu Li had been a teetotaller. He had inherited an allergy to alcohol – even the tiniest drop caused his whole body to break out in red spots – and it was for precisely this reason that the distillery had hired him as a quality-control inspector.
When Yu Li started drinking at work, it wasn’t because he wanted to; drinking made him feel terrible. On one occasion, his body swelled by 10 per cent and he became covered with monstrous purple blisters. It made him think of death. But he had to drink because, the way he saw it, alcohol was the one thing his job enabled him to get for free.
Yu Li was no idiot. He couldn’t turn down his one perk.
After Yu Li had wasted another year in that small town with no tall buildings, he was presented with an opportunity to work as an elevator operator in the city.
One day Wang the Third, who had left for the city a year earlier, returned to their town. He asked stay-at-home Yu Li if he wanted to leave and go to work in the capital, adding that by great good fortune he knew of an elevator-operating team that might just be short of one operator.
‘What’s an elevator?’ Yu Li asked.
Wang the Third explained that elevators were related to the trend of building automation. He then asked if Yu Li could speak any English or use a computer, because in Beijing the required cultural level of a would-be elevator operator was extremely high.
In response, Yu Li asked: ‘What is English? What do you mean, “use a computer”?
Yu Li’s parents were anxious because their son was unemployed and might never bring them a daughter-in-law. Realizing that Wang the Third hoped for a gift, they went to their cellar and dug up two bottles of 100 per cent genuine fake Hengshui wine for him to take back to Beijing.
A fortnight later, Wang the Third returned to the small town with no tall buildings and told Yu Li that even though ten people had applied for the elevator-operator position – including one with a master’s degree – because Wang the Third knew the team leader, the team leader had chosen Yu Li.
This was how Yu Li became an elevator operator.
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