The Beijing Office
Dad, trying to make conversation with Gem while she's pretending to watch the
Australian Open, “Daughter, why are you watching TV when you should be applying for more
“Ba, I applied to every law firm in Australia already. No one wants me.”
“That's because you're so lazy, watching TV all the time.”
Gem, raising her voice, “Ba, didn't you hear me? No one wants to hire me!”
“How can that be? You already have a law degree. When I graduated from Nanyang
University in Singapore, every timber company in Sabah wanted to hire me! I was hot stuff! You
are lazy and stupid, that's what you are.”
Gem knew better than to continue this conversation with her father. The last
„conversation' had gone south at lightning speed, with her father recounting all the sacrifices he'd
made for the family and the lack of appreciation he received from his children.
So she nodded along to the rhythm of her father's rant with her eyes fixed resolutely on
the TV. Once you block out the content of his rant, his voice was actually quite soothing …
Right before Christmas, Mum told Gem about a job opening at N&H, a medium-sized
Queensland firm, which was looking for a Mandarin-speaking lawyer. Gem applied, was called in
for an interview, and got the job. It took all of 10 days. Gem shed tears of joy when she received
the letter in the mail, offering her a full-time position as solicitor at N&H on an annual salary of
$40,000. Dad was so proud of Gem, he took a picture of her business card and sent pictures of it
to her aunts and uncles in Sabah.
Thus Gem began her career working as a lawyer in N&H. It was nothing like Ally
McBeal, Law & Order or any of the American sitcoms about life in a law firm. For as far back as
Gem could remember, there had been 20 boxes of documents in her office, and on top of them
were files for her eclectic mix of clients from China, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan a nd Hong
Kong. She trudged along, enthusiastically doing whatever was handed to her by the partners, and
after two years distinguished herself as the office expert on spouse visas. Yes, she became the
legal gun for ladies who married Australians so they could leave their developing countries
behind and live a life of comfort in the country of their dreams.
One of Gem's best clients was a 70-year-old man whom the receptionists in the office
called Mitch the Sleaze. He was onto his fourth marriage, to Meena, a lady in her mid-30s from
Micronesia, who he claims had won a dozen local beauty pageants and loved him unconditionally.
Why was he Gem's best client? He said the same thing about his last two wives, both from
Copyright of Grace Tiing Tiing Lee 2013