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The Beijing Office


1. Prologue
Gem still remembers the first day she started at Potts & Crouch's Beijing Representative
Office. It was nothing like any of the offices she'd worked at in Australia.
Working for a national firm in Brisbane was not something Gem ever had expected to be
doing. Her mother had been a legal secretary all her working life, and had succeeded in drilling
into Gem's head that being of Chinese origin and being able to speak fluent Mandarin meant
eventually starting a law firm with Mum, one that specialised in conveyancing and serving an
exclusive group of clients from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong that had followed Mum around
for the last ten years.
But the problem was that, at university, Gem found property law mind-numbingly
boring. She often sat in the lecture hall frantically jotting notes as Professor Ravi droned on
about the latest amendments to the Land Act, all the while thinking she'd rather be in a criminal
law lecture. She grew up devouring every Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys novel she could get her
hands on. But she studied law because:
1) Mum said her grades were good enough to get into law school in the best university
in Queensland, so why should Gem want to study modern history and English
literature? (“What are you going to do with an Arts degree, har? Don't argue with me,
study law, graduate with honours, get qualified and open a law firm with me! You
hear?”)
2) It was not in Gem's nature to argue with her mother.
3) Gem naively thought that practicing law involved some degree of detective work, so
she could fulfil her childhood dream of following in Nancy Drew's footsteps. (Boy,
was she ever wrong about that.)
4) Gem thought that lawyers made a lot of money, so she would be able to retire by 40.
(Wrong again.)
Law school was uneventful. Gem passed all her exams with flying colours but didn't
manage to get high distinctions in the subjects that mattered, like corporate law and tax law.
Gem dutifully applied for all the jobs advertised on the notice boards at the University of
Queensland Law School office, even applying to law firms in towns she'd never visited in her life,
like Gympie and Bundaberg. She received a grand total of zero requests for interviews from the
124 applications she sent out. This was the first big blow to the ego she'd experienced in her life.
Gem experienced her first bout of depression.
Copyright of Grace Tiing Tiing Lee 2013
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