The one who had come over to say hello was a scholarly-looking middle-aged Chinese man. Almost six feet tall, he wore a suit in the hot weather. With his gold-rimmed glasses, coupled with a suitcase in hand and his meticulous tie and shirt, he looked every inch the typical businessman.
When he saw this middle-aged man from the corner of his eye, Chen Haonan, who was concentrating on devouring a portion of spicy tamales, said with a laugh, "Oh, its Brother Ma. Youve been missed, missed very much."
The two of them hugged each other, before the middle-aged man looked at Li Du curiously and asked, "Chen, whos this brother?"
Chen Haonan said ambiguously, "Hes considered one of my suppliers, and is here to deliver some wood today."
The middle-aged man extended his hand to Li Du, and said, "Hi, brother Im Ma Zhi-an, Chens friend. Nice to meet you."
Li Du exchanged a handshake with him. "Im Li Du, Chen Haonans friend. Its my pleasure to meet you too."
"Chen Haonan?" Ma Zhi-an was shocked upon hearing the name, then said, "You mean Chen Hao, right?"
It was Li Dus turn to be stunned: Who was Chen Hao?
Chen Haonan coughed grudgingly. "Yes, that. Old Li, my name was Chen Hao, then I changed it to Chen Haonan."
Ma Zhi-an smirked. "You really changed your name?"
Chen Haonan gave him an impatient smile, and said tactfully, "Yes, changed. In any case, Ive always planned on changing it, so Im Chen Haonan from now on."
Ma Zhi-an pressed his palms together. "Alright, alright, Chen Haonan is a good name, but with the change of name, I have to amend your membership information."
Chen Haonan said, "Alright, sorry to trouble you with this."
Ma Zhi-an laughed, "Dont stand on ceremony. Both being Chinese, and from the same hometown in a foreign land, we should help one another. Anyway, it isnt any big favor."
As the two of them interacted, Lu Du watched from the side. He felt that Chen Haonan was quite cold to Ma Zhi-an, and merely provided cursory responses to him.
He may not have known Chen Haonan for long, but he did understand a little about him.
To him, Chen Haonan was a friendly and chatty man. From the time they had met, he had been talking non-stop.
Ma Zhi-ans Mandarin was very clear, he wore a smile, and appeared to be a sociable man.
Logically speaking, Chen Haonan should be displaying more warmth toward him, but his current attitude could be considered aloof instead. It could be deduced that Chen Haonan was not simply indifferent towards Ma Zhi-an but actually detested the person.
Therefore, Li Du smiled at both of them without interrupting their conversation.
However, as Ma Zhi-an was a chatty man, he diverted the conversation to Li Du after chatting with Chen Haonan for a while. "Li, are you from Tempe?"
Li Du replied, "No, I stay in Flagstaff."
There was a look of surprise on Ma Zhi-ans face. "Youre from Flagstaff? Oh, Flagstaff! You look so young. If Chen Haonan didnt mention that youre his supplier, Id have thought you were a foreign student."
Li Du replied with a laugh, "In fact, I came to America as a foreign student, but Ive left school. Im now in the business of storage auctions."
Ma Zhi-an said pensively, "The business of storage auctions. Oh, its rare for us Chinese to be in this line, but there are many of us working in storage companies."
There were many storage companies in America, which had numerous job vacancies.
Therefore, not just many Chinese immigrants worked there, many other immigrants of other ethnicities also worked there. After all, many of the positions in the storage companies only required manual labor, and did not need intense language, educational qualifications, or techniques.
Next, Ma Zhi-an changed the topic to Li Du, and began to chat with him animatedly. This man was a good conversationalist, and before long, he found out everything about Li Dus background.
However, when the topic of storage auctions came up, Li Du was ambiguous and secretive of his income. He merely shared that it was sufficient for a newbie like him to live on.
Ma Zhi-an not only spoke with him, he also chatted with Hans.
Unlike Chen Haonan, whose English was limited, Ma was very fluent in English. Hans did not even know some of the words he used, and needed Big Quinn to explain them to him.
When Chen Haonan said he wanted to buy some food and alcohol, Ma Zhi-an took out his wallet and said, "Let me do it, you guys stay put here. Brother Ma has been here at Tempe for the longest, and should play host instead of letting you guys pay."
Li Du wanted to turn him down, but Chen Haonan pulled at him and said, "Let Brother Ma go, hes a generous man. If you dont accept his goodwill, hell feel bad."
Ma Zhi-an was laughing as he wagged his finger at him, then went off happily to buy beer and food.
After he left, Chen Haonan became uptight. "Old Li, be wary of this chap, he has a problem with his attitude."
"What happened?" Li Du asked.
Chen Haonan snorted. "I cant say specifically. Anyway, this chap has a bad reputation among the Chinese community in Phoenix. This jerk likes to cheat fellow Chinese peopleyou better be careful!"
"He has cheated you?"
Chen Haonan laughed bitterly. "Yes," he said, "me included. Thats why Im wary of him. Such bad luck to have bumped into him here today. Depressing indeed."
"How did he cheat you? Let me take some precautions."
Chen Haonan said elusively, "Hes cheated me so many times that its uncountable. Just be wary of him."
In no time, Ma Zhi-an returned after buying the drinks and food.
Li Du noticed how long it had taken him, and said, "You didnt line up?"
Ma Zhi-an laughed and said, "A few of these food trucks here belong to my old friends. Since Im going to have someone earn from me, then I might as well let my friend earn from me, right?"
Li Du nodded. "Yes."
As he spoke, he glanced at Chen Haonan. It had indeed been opportunistic of them to not line up earlier, but looking at the way Ma had skipped the lines, he was in a different league altogether.
Chen Haonan snorted, lifted his beer glass and gulped down two big mouthfuls of beer.
As they chatted over drinks, Li Du got to know the identity of Ma Zhi-an: he was in fact one of the directors of the Chinese Mutual Aid Associations Phoenix Chapter.
Just like what Mr. Elson had told him about the Committee of 100, the Chinese Mutual Aid Association was also formed by the Chinese, but the levels of the two organizations were as far apart as a mountains height in the Himalayas; this was just a very regular organization.
The Committee of 100 catered to the elite Chinese, while the Chinese Mutual Aid Association was targeted at the common Chinese. Any Chinese person could enroll, and the mission was for the Chinese to help one another lead a better life in America.
Li Du had known of the existence of this group; he had even applied to enroll in it. But as there were not many Chinese people in Flagstaffjust a few foreign studentsthe Chinese Mutual Aid Association had not set up a chapter there.
The one hed applied to was in fact the Phoenix Chapter. Just when hed been asked to verify his identity, and right before he was about to do so, the school had closed!
Upon hearing Li Du mention the matter, Ma Zhi-an was very forthcoming and said, "Would you like to join? Its easy. Im the director and have the authority to audit. Chen Haonan is a member and he can recommend you."
Li Dus heart fluttered when he heard this: he had found an organization.