Foreigner Sits with Deliveryman in Starbucks, Why?

Source: JobTube, Arianna J., Freya W., Josh B.

On November 4th, Chinese media covered news about how a 30-year-old deliveryman, who struggled to make a living in Shanghai, tried to make a change in his life. A foreign guy gave him a hand when he needed it the most in a unique way.  

Never lived for himself

Just like many other young people in in Shanghai, Xu, the deliveryman, came from Jiangxi, and was born and raised in a small village. Life didnt give him much options but he started to help his father in the field at the age of 7. With a poor academic score, after finishing high school, Xu went to work at a hotel in Nanchang and each month he sent home most of his salary to support his family. Years later, his father passed away and he started to shoulder his sisters college tuition until she graduated. After that, for the first time since his adulthood, Xu had the energy and time to think about his own life, which eventually took him to Shanghai in 2019.

New life: challenge & opportunity

Life in Shanghai wasnt easy. Xu quit his first job in the city as a pantry helper as he couldnt stand the constant deductions in his salary. Then, he became a deliveryman for Starbucks takeaways and was responsible for five Starbucks shops around West Yan'an Road. And this job, literally changed his life.

As per Xu, 1 out of every 10 orders were placed by foreigners. Generally, foreign customers didnt provide their room number, and instead only gave the unit and building information, due to privacy and security concerns. Thus, Xu had to call them to finish his tasks, which meant, he either had to speak English or suffered from a language barrier. He remembered his first call with a foreign lady. "I asked her which floor it was and she replied in English. I couldnt understand so I had to try floor by floor until the seventh, thats where she lived." Since then, Mr. Xu decided to learn English.

Man helps himself helped by foreign friend

Xu began to learn English in one of the Starbucks shops where he stayed between orders with two reference books, one is New Concept English, the other is a grammar book. He always sat at the long table by the window, wrote and recited the English words in a low voice. It was a real challenge for him. At the beginning he even couldnt pronounce the words, so he mimicked the sounds via a phone app, repeated a word 100 to 200 times until he got it. Each day, after 3 or 4PM, it would be a low time for orders but a peak time for his learning; after 7PM when he finished work, Xu would spend another three hours leaning English in the coffee shop.

During the time, Xu noticed that a foreign man came to the shop once or twice a week including every Sunday afternoon, and he tried to talk with him several times, but he didnt have the courage to do so.

Until one day, when they both had another awkward eye contact, which was one of many that they had had already, Xu opened his mouth and asked the man, Where are you from? the man who actually came from the UK and was called Xiangzi by Chinese, answered his question. And there, they broke the ice and talked for more than two hours. Xu introduced famous historical spots to Xiangzi, including Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Potala Palace in Tibet, while Xiangzi told him about the wonderful food and cuisines in the world. Beyond expectation, Xiangzi became Xus first foreign friend, spoken English teacher, and a true inspiration.

Refusing to stay basic

Its not easy to learn English, but it is not the most difficult part for Xu. The doubts from the people around him is. "Why does a deliveryman learn English? Your salary is 6000 yuan, your rent is 1800 yuan, you can barely live in Shanghai, and youre learning English? Can it pay your bills, or buy you lunch?" Facing these doubts from co-workers and fellow villagers, Xu said, "Their judgments have nothing to do with me. English can't buy me food, but it makes my life more dignified."

Per Xu, he has three dreams, all related to English. 

First, he wants to become an international deliveryman who can work in English; second, he wants to try a cup of Starbucks coffee. Although he delivers coffee every single day, he never drinks one as he cant afford it, currently. The third one, he hopes to have a chance to sit in the classroom of Fudan University and have an English class.

"What a prosperous city Shanghai is! What a great environment is for personal growth and learning! Become an ordinary but unique person, this is what I want for me!" Xu said.

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