A petite Chinese woman in her mid-fifties sat in a wheelchair behind a low glass display counter at the back of the shop. In front of the counter were two straight-back wooden chairs for customers. Two low, glass display counters ran along the side walls with sufficient space behind them for the woman’s wheel chair. Rion examined the woman’s face as he approached her. Her long black hair was gathered neatly behind her head. Her smile was friendly, but the look in her eyes was piercing as she sized him up. Her facial features revealed a European somewhere in her ancestry and the beautiful young woman she once was.
Indeed, she had been a beautiful woman. Born in Shanghai in 1964, she fled China with her parents and older sister to the Crown Colony of Hong Kong during outset of the Great Cultural Revolution. Her parents established a successful jewelry business in Kowloon and made enough money to send their daughters to college in Great Britain. Helen’s beauty and long slender body landed her a job modeling in New Your after graduation. There was even talk about contracts with an advertising agency and a Hollywood producer. All that came to an abrupt end in 1988 when she was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident. She was riding in a Maserati convertible with one of her many pursuers when a drunk driver smashed into the passenger-side door. Her injuries, robbing her of the ability to walk, hospitalized her for nine months. Just as she was about to be discharged from the hospital her father died, and she returned to Hong Kong for the funeral. Her older sister was married and living in London; and she had no interest in the family business. Helen took it over from her aging mother and decided to expand it. She hired a family friend to run the Hong Kong shop while she returned and opened the store in Rockville. She preferred living in the United States and she eventually became a U.S. citizen. Throughout the 1990s her business prospered as she used her contacts in Hong Kong and China to good advantage. As China opened up, she found a vast new market among China’s wealthy entrepreneurial class. You wouldn’t know it by looking at this diminutive handicapped Chinese woman, but she was quite wealthy and had guanxi (networks and influence) with powerful people around the world.
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