Sunday, December 27, 2009

Marinade of Contentment



Morning woke me with silence and warmth. The blinds glowed softly, tickling my senses with dim grayish light. I tried to recall dreams from last night, but there wasn't any to be summoned. The slumber was as smooth as the silky sheets around me.

Coco curled up in a furry round ball by my feet. She would not rise unless I asked: "Breakfast?" I hugged my companion - the soft pillow - with a lazy sigh and a contented squeeze. My head on its body and my arms around it, I enjoyed the slow retreat of the morning haze, one warm breath at a time.

Everything was quietly resting. Even the birds were snuggling in their nests tucked away deep in the trees. Faint aroma of dinner and spices still lingered in ribbons of air painted by watercolor brushes. Last night was brought back to mind instantly. We didn't have fancy games on a table glistening with silver and crystal to admire, but we had more than enough tasty morsels for our stomachs to expand with joy.

I asked for nothing this year. A wide screen high definition TV given to me earlier was more than I needed for my simple house and lifestyle. I was blessed in more than one way, and perhaps more than I deserved. I still received presents in spite of it. What more could a heart desire?

We missed one or two of our loved ones, but we were happy most of the small family was together. I was thankful for our health, our safety and a year of relative calmness. Perhaps a few bumps in the road, and perhaps we were scarred slightly, but we overcame and were grateful they weren't worse. We look forward to a brand new year with brand new adventures, hopefully with stronger minds from the roads we navigated through the year before.

The kids were sleeping soundly, recovering from a late night of movies, games and chattering. One was under the attack of a cold, and the other snored through the night. Chicken soup had come to the rescue, or at least to the comfort, of both mother and child. The mother would like to feed her child chicken soup everyday if she could, until the ailment was defeated completely. The child had asked for a second bowl of it. A simple "yummy" was the best reward a mother could receive.

The warmth of the bed, the scattered clan under one roof again, and little abundance in our lives made my grateful heart full of joy. This was my happiest day of the year - the morning after Christmas.


(I hope your Christmas was joyful and warm, whether you were with or without your loved ones. Happy New Year to everyone!)


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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Girl at the Bus Stop

He walked slowly to the bus stop and sat down on the bench. The sultry summer heat felt like a thick warm blanket wrapped around him. There was no relief anywhere he looked. The shaved ice he just had while visiting his friend had already turned into sweat, and it was eager to escape from his every pore.

Several young girls gathered at the far end of the bench. Their whispers and giggles told him they were talking about him. It was a reaction he had to get used to, along with double takes and pointing. He was, after all, an outsider to them. The tropical island thousands of miles away from home enticed him from the booklet with beautiful pictures, and convinced him to "study abroad." It was a difficult language to master, but he studied hard in the crash course before departure. They would be in shock if they knew he could manage some basic phrases. The thought of it brought a smile to his face.

He turned to see if the bus was in sight, and he saw her.

She had long straight hair, and a clear face with no makeup. Her youthful features would be soiled by the manmade mask. The arched eyebrows asserted to be lively and challenging. Her small lips rested under a cute nose which perked with curiosity. Her dark eyes held behind a mysterious veil he could not describe. A glance from her seemed to see through his emotions, and ask for more. He had to remind himself to breathe. Her skin was perfect, as if life's worries hadn't found their ways to her yet. Her slender body was wrapped in short-sleeve shirt and a simple short black skirt. Her freshness glowed unintentionally. He hadn't seen the like until now, and a cord somewhere in him was plucked.

She came to him, or rather, to the bus stop, and sat down on the bench, maintaining a safe space between them. He moved his body when she turned to inquire the absent bus, trying to get her attention. Her eyes swept over him for a second, but they did not linger. He was a handsome young man by the standards of where he came from, and girls always paid attention to him. This was frustrating, but he was not to be discouraged.

She sensed his gaze, and hid her eyes under her long eyelashes. She hugged her books closer to her body slightly, as if they could protect her from his relentless eyes. His hair reminded her of the cinnamon bars in her mother's kitchen cabinets. His eyes looked at her, but the transparent irises strangely lacked focus, or a definite color. One could almost see through his head and into the unknown. He was not one of them - he was too foreign. She wished he would stop looking at her. What did he want? She could not fathom.

Before he could think of something to say with his simple vocabulary, the bus arrived. The group of girls swarmed to the door and shoved each other to get on. She watched from a few steps back, but did not join the battle. He quickly walked over and blocked the door with his arm, then turned to look at her. All the other girls turned and looked at her as well. It was clear what he wanted, and it was too much staring for her to endure. She lowered her head and got on the bus, whispering a soft "thank you."

His boldness terrified her. She walked to the last row hoping to avoid him. He followed her and sat down next to her, blocking her way out. She had a moment of panic, but did not let it show. She answered his questions with either a nod or a shake of her head, speaking only a word or two when absolutely necessary. He did his best to start a conversation, but clearly she was not used to talking to a stranger. He could not tell how fast her heart was beating, but gradually he sensed he was not going to have a cooperate companion for conversation, much less anything else.

She stood up after what seemed to him a very short ride, and reluctantly he moved to let her pass. She got off the bus and stole a look back, relieved to be free of his spell. He watched her silky hair flow like the wings of a butterfly when the bus pulled away. With a silent sigh he lost sight of her silhouette.

Another time or another place, the encounter would be much different. Where is she now and how is her life? He sometimes wonders, but the quiet night thousands of miles away provides no answers.
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Saturday, December 12, 2009

First Night


She woke up from a deep slumber. The room was still dark, and for a while she didn’t know where she was. She realized with a shock that this was not her room, and was awake completely.

The night before was long, noisy and utterly embarrassing. The boys stayed well beyond midnight with their endless teasing, game playing, and drinking. She was forced to have a sip, and her face turned red immediately upon swallowing the burning liquid. They laughed and let her off the hook. She thought she caught a glance of her husband, who stole a look at her shyly while the boys laughed. He was a nice looking young man. Her face felt warm at her own thought.

She sat up cautiously in bed and peeked at the other end of the bed. He was still sound asleep. The fact that there was a stranger sleeping next to him, although not face-to-face, and he didn't seem to mind was a little odd to her. She was so nervous when he came to bed last night she thought she was going to faint. Her heartbeats calmed down when the only thing he did was to fall asleep as soon as he lied down. Her mother vaguely explained to her what might happen during the first night, which sounded much like a torture to her. She was relieved it did not happen last night.

But then, he must have been exhausted, too. The boys would come back again tonight, to perform another customary "havocking the new room" for the newlyweds. Only heaven knew what they had planned to do. Last night, for one of the tricks, they forced her husband to traverse a handkerchief up one of her sleeves, across her bosom (her face was as red as the persimmons!) and down the other sleeve inside of her garment. The sheer embarrassment of it! No men had ever touched her in her life except her father, and he stopped hugging her when she turned 16. Her husband's touch sent an electric wave to her entire body. The feeling was so foreign and so exciting that she almost wished it would happen again tonight.

Her face felt warmer at this thought.

She told herself she had better get up and get ready. Her mother had told her: always get up before your husband does.

Her maids were sent home last night by her mother-in-law after the banquet, which she did not attend by custom. Her mother-in-law had made it clear: no daughter-in-law of hers would have any servants. They cried when they came to say goodbye. She was in shock and did not have any tears. She grew up with two of the maids her parents sent with her as part of the dowry. They were her only friends outside of family members, since girls from good families were not supposed to go outside or be seen by strangers.

She was left alone in a stranger's house, and she knew her days of being a treasured daughter had officially ended.

She opened the door quietly and walked to the other side of the courtyard where the kitchen was. She tried to get some hot water, but starting a fire in the brick stove proved to be too difficult of a task for her. The ceremonial lectures from her mother did not mention the details of the work normally performed by servants. The courtyard was quiet and dim before dawn, so nobody saw her predicament. She did not have to cook for the first three days, but the honeymoon would end there. Her husband was the first born; therefore his wife would bear much of the housework.

She did not understand why she couldn't keep the maids, as they could lighten the workload for everybody. They would not increase the expense for the family either, as she had her own money. She did not ask, for she was not in a position to make any decisions.

Yet.

She carried some cold water back to the new room. The fine china water bowl and jug were set up by her maids last night. All of a sudden tears appeared in her eyes now she thought of her companions, and felt very lonely standing in this unfamiliar room.

Her husband woke up just when she finished washing her face, getting dressed, and styling her hair into a simple bun – a style indicated her marrital status. She helped him get ready for the day in silence, both felt awkward being alone in the bedroom. Much to her relief, he did not seem to mind her imperfection. He had a gentle tone when he spoke. She took it as a sign of having a kind temperament. She thanked her parents and the goddess of marriage silently.

They would greet the parents with three koutous in the main hall, and the four of them would then go to the family’s shrine to present the bride to the ancestors, with incense and another three koutous, and ask for their blessings - the parents standing in front, she and her husband behind them. She then would become a formal member of the family.

Relatives and neighbors would come and congratulate the newlyweds all day long, followed by their boys proceeding with the second round of teasing at night. It was meant for good omen for the new couple, and they would do this for three nights straight. The more they teased, the better the marriage would be.

The night might require all her strength to endure, but comparing to what was waiting for her in the future, it was just a dress rehearsal.
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Monday, December 7, 2009

Dowry


The day started very early. She bathed with fruits and herbs soaked in hot water to rid any evil spirits. She then put on brand new undershirt and skirt, and waited for her aunt to come and comb her hair. She would comb her hair with the jade comb four times, each stroke with a different symbol and blessing for her future.

First combing: From beginning until end
Second combing: Harmony to old age
Third combing: Sons and grandsons all over the place
Forth combing: Good wealth and long-lasting marriage

After that, her maid would style her hair to a fashion that would accommodate the headdress later.

She was marrying down to a family with a lower status. She never met her future husband. Parents of both families arranged everything with the help of a matchmaker. She had spent the past six months preparing her dowry once the proposal was accepted by her father. She made all the bedroom linens with embroidered dragon and phoenix on them. She made all the clothes she and her future husband could possibly wear for the next ten years. It was a lot of work, but it wasn’t hard. She knew needlework since a very young age. She also had to learn how to cook. Not that she needed to – her two maids were going with her. But she learned it as a basic skill any brides should know.

And everyday, her mother would give her advice and lessons on how to be a good wife, and an obdient daughter-in-law. She could sense the sadness in her mother grew stronger as the wedding day drew closer.

It was time to leave. She had the red gown and the red headdress on a while ago. Now the maid put a red veil over her headdress to cover her face. It would be removed by her husband when they were alone in their “new room” later. The procession of the dowry started a while ago. It was required by the custom, and it was copious because of her lineage. Her father was the descendant of Confucius, the most respected scholar in history. Her husband’s family was related to the Mencius clan, the second most respected scholar in history, by marriage. In a way it was a perfect match, and she should feel grateful that she was being married off. After all, she was considered a girl with a serious flaw.

Her mother whispered some last minute advice before she boarded the red sedan. She cried silently under the veil, for the future was foggy and scary. She wouldn’t be able to see her parents often. She would be alone in a stranger’s house. Her mother was crying as well. How was the husband going to treat her? Were her in-laws going to like her? She was out of her protective arms now.

It seemed that the whole village came out to see the procession. This was not a common marriage between two ordinary families. Both families, especially the bride’s side, held high esteem and were well regarded in the village. They were educated people who used to hold government official positions. The wealth might have been declining in the past hundred years or so, but the status was still there.

The dowry carriers formed a line as long as a mile following the musicians. Men on horses guarded the procession on both sides. The linens she made occupied about ten trunks, each carried by two hired hands. Silk cloths occupied another ten, some were brocade and some were plain. There were clothing materials for the whole future family for the next ten years or more. Jade and marble vases, bowls, and ornaments for the house stored in several trunks. There was a trunk full of coins in gold, silver and copper for her to use, so she didn’t have to ask her husband or her in-laws for money. Everything she needed for her future married life was provided by her family; including the satin pieces used to clean herself after daily bath chamber routine.

All these were unheard of and unseen by the villagers before. They watched in awe and appreciation. It was a rare glimpse into a prominent family. The bride sat silently in the sedan. Occasionally a word or two would escape the music and the crowd, and reach her ears. She wondered if the villagers knew about her, and if they had guessed the real meaning behind the bountiful dowry that came with her.

What would they think if they knew? What would her husband think when he saw her? She wished many times that she could forfeit beauty in exchange of flawlessness – she was otherwise a pretty girl. She knew she was different, and she knew she was damaged in the worst sense for a girl.

Her parents knew it as well, so they did not bind her feet. They anticipated that she would have to marry into a lesser family – if she could be married off - and would probably have to do physical work. Girls from rich families all had their feet bound since tender age. They never had to work, and would always be married to other wealthy families. In fact, they couldn’t even walk without being helped.

The abundance of the dowry had a secondary, not so obvious meaning. They were apologizing for her parents. They were saying to her in-laws: “Thank you for taking our daughter. She is flawed and unworthy, and is lucky that you accepted her to your family.” Her future husband’s family had some land, but also was some kind of merchant. It was considered a lower profession than a scholastic pursuit. It probably took the matchmaker some time to find a family that would accept her.

It really wasn’t anybody’s fault, and there was nothing could be done. She was born with a mild form of cleft lip.

She crossed the threshold, helped by her maids, and walked into a smaller, simpler courtyard than the one of her parents, and began her unknown future as a wife.



(My grandmother’s wedding)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Little Runaway



The rain stopped falling for three years. The land cracked open like dying fish, waiting in vain with its mouth open. The unforgiving sun soon turned the land into baked broken clay.

Then massive grasshopper clouds landed on the remaining crops, shielding the sun in the sky as they made their descent, and consumed whatever was left on the ground. In a matter of minutes all crops were gone. The farmers stared at their now bare rice paddies, too hungry to cry.

As if that wasn’t enough, a three-month rainfall followed the drought. The ground was saturated with water it felt like sponge when you poked at it. Whatever managed to come out when the rain first started, now died in flooded paddies.

We were a half-merchant, half-farmer family. We had a little food left, but we had to be very careful. The front gate was secured with heavy wooden bolts before each meal. The hungry farmers would rob, or even kill, if they knew we had food left.

“Food” was a loose term to use. We had to mix tree barks with a little rice to make gruel. We ate it slowly. The taste was strange on our tongues, and we waited for the unpleasant consequences. Some would have stomach aches, and others, diarrhea.

My father traveled all over the place as a merchant. He finally told us we should move to another province, where there was no drought or flooded fields. We packed our belongings in as much luggage as our hands could carry, and boarded the train.

The train station was a chaotic mess. People swarmed the place with their families and luggage, shoveling and pushing each other. Japanese soldiers were beating them with their rifles, trying to instill some order. We managed to get on the train and, with all the chaos around us, lost the sight of my father promptly.

Older boys had been sent to another province to study before all this happened. My mother, my younger brother and I stayed at a local resident’s home after searching for my father to no avail. I was playing with a hand-made ball in the courtyard when I heard the conversation. The ball rolled to the base of the wall and rested under an open window. I froze when I realized what was going on.

“It’s so hard to carry on for you--a lone woman with two kids. What are you going to do with a long journey ahead of you?” The landlady said.

“Well, one step at a time I guess.” My mother replied.

“I don’t have girls of my own and can really use some help. Why don’t you leave your daughter here? I promise she will be better off staying here with us.”

“…” My mother didn’t say yes or no, but I could see that she was giving it a mull over - much to my horror.

I ran back to our room and packed everything I had in a cloth wrappage. I slipped out of the house with my little baggage and ran to where the train track was. I remembered which side we got off the train, so in my young mind I determined that if I continued in the direction where the train was heading, I would get to the destination. What that destination would be I hadn't a clue.

Somehow my mother found out that I had run away. She carried my brother and our stuff and started chasing after me, calling my name over and over. I ran faster as soon as I heard her so she wouldn’t catch up - she might trick me into going back and staying with that landlady.

I looked into each and every alley by the train station when I got there, wishing I would see my father in one of those alleys. I was so young that I didn't realize how low the odds were. Wouldn’t you know it? I glanced upon a person when passing one alley, and backed up to see a familiar silhouette. I met the eyes of the person who was also backing up to see me. It was my father!

I ran over to his side and saw that his eyes were all blood shot and swollen. He had been looking for us for days, and thought he had lost us forever. The stress of the trauma probably raised his blood pressure to sky high. By this time my mother had caught up with us. The first thing I told my father was: “Mom was going to sell me off!”

They had a huge fight in the hotel later. My father, unlike his wife, was always partial to us girls, and the idea of selling me to a total stranger, even though it was a harsh time and I didn't really hear the word "sell" or "buy", was beyond his comprehension. He was a very gentle man and I had never seen him losing his temper. My mother usually had her say and he never argued with her much. That was the first time I remembered him raising his voice to anyone.

And that was how we migrated to another province. I never went back to the old house until forty years later.



(My mother’s experience with the drought, famine and runaway when she was a little girl. The tree they consumed, after a little research I did, was elm tree.)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

From Me to You!




Sarah is a young and aspiring writer who's still going to college. I'm honored to know that she thought my writing is worthy of passing on the "From Me to You" award. She may be young, but her writing shows great style and stands out among her peer. Thank you, Sarah!

I found the Coffee Shop in August, and timidly started joining the conversation. Much to my relief, I found people in the shop friendly, fun and encouraging. I was instantly hooked. I only had a handful of posts back then and they were pretty immature, but one person was kind enough to not only read them, but also took the time to comment. His comments to a person who didn't know what she was doing were the lifeline a blogger needed. So I carried on. I tried to write better. I didn't want to disappoint my "reader." The fact that I had one reader was enough to keep me going.

His name was Mr. Bob. By now you all know that he's always kind and tolerant and humorous. I visited his blog many times because I wanted to find out what kind of writer he was, and each time I ran away as soon as I got there. What in the world is he talking about? What kind of language is that? It looked like English, but I didn't understand a word of it.

I finally got used to his style and language, and it's a good thing I did. His stories are so funny you will find yourself ROFL, like the bloggers would say. I thought he was just a happy-go-lucky guy, until one day I read this post and was left speechless. Anybody who went through that kind of trauma and didn't resolve to traversing on a self-destructive path is a hero. To be kind and warm and encouraging to others after such trauma is divine. He survived the demon in more than one form. So I want to dedicate this award to him as the honorary recipient.

His self description is:

I enjoy everbody, and love every comment left here, they are truly treasured. I am not computer geeky, learned, or proficent, so please forgive me, if you find something here that doesn't make sense to you. if you want I am always open to your ideas and suggestions. If you have arrived at this site it probably was not by accident.

thanks for stopping by, and just keep on laffin. plainolebob

He started the Hot Dawg Friday, where each Friday he gives out the award to five people--a lot of them new bloggers. It takes a lot of work to get that done. I know because I have trouble just doing it once in a while. That's just Bob--always encouraging others to carry on.

Bob, you are such an inspiration to so many people. I am honored to have known you. You don't need to pass it on, write a thank you post, or anything the like. I just wanted to tell you how much you are appreciated.


It's a great pleasure to pass this award to these delightful writers. There are more great blogs out there than I have space to mention them here. You know who you are. You all have beautiful awards to bear witness. But to continue in Mr. Bob's style, I would like to acknowledge these fairly new blogs. Please pay them a visit. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

http://buttsandashes.blogspot.com/

Dealing with elder care, death, and family members in such a humorous way you will laugh your troubles away. Her blog description is simple: Loving Someone From End To End. And that's what she did.

http://lesleymopolitics.blogspot.com/

You may not agree with her political stand, but her writing is witty and to the point. To quote her own words:
I'm a liberal Christian Texas Democrat. A living, walking oxymoron. With plenty of reasons to rant.

http://ubergrumpy.blogspot.com/

An Englishman’s sarcasm written in fine forms. He always has beautiful picture to go with the story if you're not big on reading.

http://wwwaphorismscom.blogspot.com/

One single post can generate 114 comments. Need I say more? He has a good amount of followers, but I have yet to see this kind of response on other blogs. His one-setence aphorisms make you look at things in life from a completely different angle.

http://burbsbuckandbuntlineinn.blogspot.com/

Ms. Burb’s energy in the coffee shop can blow your derriere off your chair, and laugh all the way down. Her blog is all about murder and such. You might not want to read it before bedtime. There is a disclaimer at the bottom of her blog that states in the spirit of Ms. Burb:
The half-cocked views of the Authors of B3 may not necessarily be the views of those Authors when they're sober...so don't hold anything against us, okay?!!

There is also a catch of seven things you have to share. I will not bore you with a repeat. If you are curious here's the link:

http://thegoodgirls.blogspot.com/2009/10/seven-things.html

Congratulations to all!
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

As the World Turns

I’m not sure if this soap opera is still running, but I saw the name in the passing every now and then, and thought I’d borrow it for this post.

Mr. Bob initiated the conversation titled “Is the world gonna end in 2012” the other day, and that prompted me to think. They say everyone needs to make a “bucket list” to set your priorities straight. And if the world is going to end in 2012, now will be a good time to start thinking about it.

My initial thought was: this is easy! I can give you a list of fifty things I want to do before the world stops turning, or goes up with a big kaboom.

As it turns out, I had to mull it over longer than I thought, and I could only come up with ten. If your time is limited, suddenly some of the things you want to do are not that important anymore. For example, I wanted to learn French. But what would be the point giving the situation?

Here’s my list of ten after some hard thinking:

1. Make sure people I love know I love them – I hope this one needs no explanation, and I probably don’t do it enough.

2. Go to dance once a week – I envy people with rhythm and coordination. Dancing seems to be so natural for them whenever there’s music. I’m too shy to do that, but will try to overcome it before the world ends. I have a karaoke machine at home, so I got the singing part covered.

3. Go to Italy – I always wanted to visit Italy. I know my half-Italian friend wants to go, too, but the hope is dwindling since her health and employment situation are both declining. I’ll see if I can come up with the budget to pay for both of us.

4. Laugh everyday –  crying everyday won't stop the inevitable, so I'm going to enjoy every minute of it.

5. Go back to the city where I was born – and see if I can reconnect with some old friends. Tell them I miss them, and that I dream of them often.

6. Find my lost half brother – two words: dysfunctional family. I tried it once to no avail. I hope he’s doing well.

7. Move my mom in to live with me now (I may be crazy by the time the world ends, so I won’t be too devastated)

8. See the world if I have money left – the earth is a wonderful place. See it before it goes away.

9. Thank God every morning I wake up – that means the world and me are both alive. I do that now, actually.

10. Eat all the chocolates I could – especially the dark ones. This one may change after two days, as I will no doubt be sick of it. When that happens I’ll change it to “Taste every cuisine available” Thankfully I live in a very diverse community, so I won’t be running out of options any time soon.

There’s no order for this list, but there’s really only one thing that’s important, and I’ll let you guess which one.

I did, however, have to struggle with “Forgive people who did you wrong” which is on most people's bucket lists. I did this for the most part, and the great reward was the inner peace and happiness. But there are a couple of people I just couldn’t look into their eyes and say, “I forgive you for what you did to me.” One of these people is my step-mother.

She is a hateful and crass woman. She did everything she could to alienate us from our father. Case in point: her lovely answer was often: “What do you want? To suck on his old nipples?” whenever we asked the simple question: “Where is dad?” She had a son after she married my father in a shotgun sort of wedding, but the elephant in the room was he was not my father’s son. We never said anything to our father.

She got her wish when both my sister and I were out of the house and living in dorms, and she always sent the maid home for vacation when my sister went home for summer breaks. Luckily I lived in a different city and often did not go home for breaks. She made sure we know that we were uninvited and unwelcome outsiders the day she set her foot in our door.

I will probably be dancing around the house and singing “Ding dong the witch is gone” the day she dies. So you see when it comes to forgiving her, I’m afraid I still have a long way to go.

What will be your list of ten things?
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Friday, November 13, 2009

Road Traveled

The patio overlooked the river that melted into the ocean half a mile away. The crisp morning air glistened above the water. A couple of ducks floated lazily along the slow and cool current, still half lingering in last night’s dreams.

She looked down on her plate of eggs, ham and strawberries. There were white linen and smiling guests all around them. It was as perfect a getaway as possible for the new romance.

Something was missing, and she wasn’t quite sure what it was.

He commented on the ducks and the setting, the history of the harbor and the sound of the morning trumpet. He asked what she wanted to do after the breakfast. They chitchatted through eating, but avoided the unmentioned. She looked into his eyes, and he returned with a glance and a smile - both ended half done. They finished without once touching each other.

The drive home was less jubilant than coming here. They passed jokes here and there for the sake of breaking the silence. Passion died before it even started, and she wondered if she was to blame. He appeared to be a nice man, if not physically attractive. Still, she was willing to tend and irrigate the new liaison and see if it would grow into full blossom. They had good times at the theatre and symphonies. For her a nice guy outweighed the other shortfalls, which he owned quite a few.

Maybe you can’t force chemistry, she wondered to herself.

She picked up her car at his place and drove home. Just when she was pulling into the garage her phone rang. He wanted to talk, but not on the phone.

Talk to me now, she said.

I don’t want to do this over the phone, he pleaded.

I don’t want to wait, she insisted. She couldn’t let it brew for several days before they meet.

I feel that this could be something great. You are the perfect woman that I could fall in love with, he slowly proceeded. She waited for a ‘but’.

But…I don’t know how to go on when I’m not over somebody else, he said it sadly.

His ex-girlfriend called him a couple of days earlier. It was a tumultuous relationship, and he eventually asked her to move out when they broke up for the tenth or twentieth time. He assured her that it was over when she questioned if he had moved on too fast. No, he said. Her drinking, her dark moods, her cruel words to him were all too much to bear. I would never want to go through that again, he declared definitively.

Yet he wanted to go back to her as soon as she called.

She felt like an idiot. She was looking at a possible future, while he was leading her to a dead end. Was he thinking about her the whole weekend? She blamed herself for not seeing this coming. She had suspected it was too soon for him to start anew, but she ignored her intuition and trusted his words anyway. She beat herself down for the next few days. It was all her fault. She knew it was too soon for him. She should have been more careful. When grief veiled all lights around her, something inside changed unexpectedly.

They agreed on a date to meet at the train station for the last time.

She pulled into the station by the curb where he was waiting. He opened the door and said hi, handing over a bag with her belongings.

“Come in, and sit down.” She said quietly. He did what she said and got into the car.

“I have something to say and I want you to listen.” She tried her best to mask her shaking body and voice.

“Okay.”

“You think by jumping into another relationship is the best way to get over an old one. You don’t allow yourself to grieve and reflect on what’s going on within yourself. So you start something when you are not ready, and end up hurting others. Nobody needs a rebound from you - least of all, me.”

“I’m sorry…” He started, but she didn’t let him go on.

“I’m not finished." She paused, gathered her thoughts and continued, "You need to know how you made me feel. I thought I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t measure up, that you were quiet because you missed her and wished I were her. Do you know how hurtful that could be? You didn’t care how painful it was for others, so long as you didn’t have to feel the pain yourself. Next time you want to do this, stop and think about what you did to me.”

He started to mumble something, but she couldn’t hear a word over the deafening sound of her heartbeat. She took a deep breath and said, “Now you can get out.” He opened the door to leave, and bent down to say good-bye before shutting the door. She pulled away from the curb, determined not to look at the rear mirror. She made the turn and fought hard not to let the tears glide down.

Two years later he called and told her that he was in the process of divorcing his wife, the ex-girlfriend he married after their train station breakup. It was the biggest mistake in my life, he lamented. Her drinking, her dark moods, her cold and callous words to him, all were reasons why it didn’t work, and she had heard them all two years ago.

He eagerly wanted to renew their relationship as if the past two years didn’t happen, and didn’t understand her reluctance. What’s different, he asked in genuine bewilderment. I didn’t change, he assured her. His complete denial was astonishing. Apparently nothing she told him in their last meeting had registered with him, in spite of her best effort to connect with him emotionally.

Sometimes we need to revisit the road already traveled more than a few times to get it right, and only if we are willing to listen to our innermost voice carefully. She can't help but wonder how much more traveling awaits her.
.
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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Goose Alley





It was no doubt the dorkiest uniform I had to don in my life, and it lasted twelve years. I will try to paint as clear of a picture as I possibly could.

White boxy shirt with no shape-forming darts anywhere, and buttons going all the way to an inch under my collar bone was normally the choice of tops. The only variation was short sleeves in the summer and long sleeves in the winter. It was tucked in a knee-length black or navy blue skirt with pleats all around, and the kneecaps must be completely covered. White tube socks went half way up to the kneecaps were required, extending from a pair of black MaryJane style shoes. They had shops make these uniforms especially for schools, and we didn't have any saying in how they tailor to fit anybody in any complimentary ways. If you managed to do that, you must be from an extremely wealthy family. I knew of only one person during the entire twelve years who actually had her uniforms tailor-made, and we all thought she was a slut because the uniform greatly enhanced her feminine curves--a concept entirely foreign to us.

Everyone had to wear uniforms from first grade through twelfth. The only solace was everyone looked equally dorky--except for the one aforementioned.

The worst part was not the uniform, however. It was the hair. We must keep it no longer than our earlobes. That means we had to cut it an inch above the earlobes, so we could last a month or so without being called to the military training officer's office and getting a good reproach, or worse yet, a write-up. He checked our hair with a ruler every week, making sure we obey the rules. That also means there was always a patch of stubble in the back of my head from shaving off that part of the hair. Very few schoolgirl hairstyles in the world could compare to the ugliness of that patch. Whoever came up with the hairstyle ought to be publicly caned. I still cringe at the thought of the unsightly hairstyle.

My good friend Jeanne had the misfortune of being born with wavy hair. The training officer refused to accept her explanation and insisted that she permed her hair, which was against the rules, naturally. I think her parents eventually had to talk to the officer to clear her name. No wonder I felt a strange kinship when I saw the picture of a colonial period man with a "pumpkinhead" hair cut. He would fit in nicely in our school--on the girl side, that is. It was little wonder we all let our hair grow as long as possible once we were in college to make up for lost time.

I don’t recall the hairstyle for boys for reasons I will explain shortly. I vaguely remember it was extremely short, with at least half of the scalp shaved.

We also had to carry the crossbody book bag with the school's name on it. It added little to the dorkiness because, frankly, nothing much in the world would. Makeup was strictly prohibited. Since wearing makeup was considered a ritual for older women, we didn't really mind. Talking to a boy in school (or any boys for that matter) was an offense worse than wearing makeup. I got into serious trouble in junior high when the son of a family friend decided to write me a letter--and he sent it to my school. I still suffer the "No, I didn't do it!" knee jerk reaction nowadays from repeating “No, I don’t have a boyfriend. Honestly.” a hundred times to the school interrogators. I never looked at the boys at school, let along talking with them.

To this day I have no clue what was in the letter. The interrogators had obviously read it, but they didn’t hand it over after the scolding, and I didn't want to ask for it. I left the office as if there were a scarlet letter embroidered on my chest. I was lucky to get a mere scolding. They warned me that I could be expelled--and therefore further shamed. I felt the utter unfairness, but could argue with no one. All that humiliation for something I didn't do, and the distrustful expression on their faces I had to endure. I only wish I could somehow meet the boy again today, and have the chance to say "What the hell were you thinking?" to his no longer boyish face. But this event happened years after the goose run, and I digressed.

The walk home after school was the happiest time of the day. After the scolding, spanking (from math problems we didn’t get right) and the assignment of endless homework for the day, finally we were able to have a little breathing room. We were able to talk, laugh, play tags, and banter before going home and burying our noses in the books until late into the night. We had to get ready for the test to enter junior high.

The walk would be perfect if I could get pass those geese without being nipped.

Somebody was raising geese in a residential neighborhood near our house. Weren't there any zoning laws, you ask. If there were, we had never heard of it. This somebody thought the geese were civilized enough animals to let loose in the alley unsupervised. They might look white and fluffy and cute to the owner, but they were in fact mean little creatures that were noisy, territorial, and aggressive. Unfortunately I knew this first hand.

My heart started pounding fast when I was near the alley. My ears were suddenly super sharp, and my palms were suddenly clammy. Are they anywhere near? Do I hear a goose honking? Is that the sound of little webbed feet flapping down the road? If none of these were true, I would dash to run the length of the alley with all my might, while praying to whatever god there was to protect me and blind the geese and get me home safely.

I was not always that lucky. Somehow they heard me coming more often than I liked. Even if I started out with no geese in sight, most of the time they appeared from nowhere in the middle of my mad dash, and started chasing me as if I were the big bad wolf set out to get one of them. The long tube socks were never long enough in these incidents, despite how much we hated the length otherwise. One or two of them always managed to get me on the calves, and always on the skin, not on the socks. Their loud honking noise and the long stretching necks just increased the terror many folds. I was the villian that invaded their space.

I eventually got home with sweat on my face, and bite marks on my calves. Luckily they didn't draw blood. Mostly just scrapes as if I fell down backwards and scraped myself on rocks. I would wash up, do my homework after my heartbeat calm down, and get ready for another day, and another goose run. The only thing I could do was to try and run faster next time.

We didn't stay in that neighborhood too long, but the mental alarm was permanently set. There are flocks of Canada geese in the park where I will now take my dog for walks. I always look at them with watchful eyes, and warn my dog that they are vicious fowl. I don’t allow her to get close to them, regardless how badly she wants to investigate the wobbling birds.

I can't tell you how happy I was every time I dined at this little restaurant in the city where the geese roamed free in the alley. My favorite dish there was boiled goose meat. There was simply no word for the feeling each time I sank my teeth into the juicy flesh.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Superior Scribblers R U




Yes. We are all superior scribblers--unofficially.

It took a lot more work than I had thought to pass this award on. Not because of lack of good blogs, but the opposite. So many good blogs and so little time/awards. I had sleepless nights over this.

First, the rules you need to follow if you get this:

*Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.

*Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
*Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award. http://scholastic-scribe.blogspot.com/2008/10/200-this-blings-for-you.html
*Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
*Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

I'm passing this to these blogs:


http://dannysignifyingnothing.blogspot.com/  He's very young, but very into technology. The novel he's putting together is full of details of the technology world--all fiction, but you won't know it unless he tells you. Danny has been putting in a lot of effort on a subject he loves.

http://www.boomerpie.com/ The thoughts and rants of a baby boomer, but you don't have to be one to appreciate them.

http://www.thecleanwhitepage.com/ A great story teller in Ireland. The Halloween story "After Dark" is really good, and really creepy.

http://coachyourmind.blogspot.com/ Coach Dayne is always thought provocative. One read may change your mindset for good.

http://auntievlifeandcookery.blogspot.com/ Good writing combined with yummy recipes.

Of course there are a lot more than mentioned here. I may have to come back and add five more later. Congratulations to all, and thank you so much, Mike!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Uninspired in NorCal

“Cold autumn candle light flickering on painted screen
    Chasing fireflies with round fan, in light clothes
    Courtyard steps feel cool as water in the night
    Sitting there alone watching stars in black skies”

A beautiful and somewhat lonely depiction of an early fall evening. No, I didn’t write that. I wish I could.

Or if I could put the words together so eloquently as Lou did in one of her poems:

“As soft mist lingers white over waters
    starched by the cold hand of frost”

She has such a way with words, doesn’t she? Instead, I wrote the following:

The air feels a little chilling in the morning. I put on the light sweater the first time in a long  time.
The heater kicked off one early morning unexpectedly, startling me and the puppy.
Hot coffee in the morning doesn’t feel hot enough, and gets cold sooner than days before.
A sip of brandy at night warms me up more agreeably, and no longer makes me sweat.

That was all I could say about fall season in California. I have good reasons. This is a fall scene you will likely see here:



It isn't a joke - I’m dead serious. In fact, it could be worse. I saw this a little further down the road:



If you were lucky you might see this (Yay! Red leaves.):



But I got real lucky today and saw this - finally, some real fall pictures. (Okay, that was the only one I saw):


I could practically hear the two maple trees arguing:

“It’s fall.”
“No it’s not.”
"I’m telling you kid, it’s fall.”
“And I’m telling you pops, it’s not!”


I needed to take a shower for sweating too much from walking the dog. It was a sunny 75-degree “fall” day. Now you know why I’m not a poet.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fallen






I was sitting in my car pondering what to do next when I saw her. The parking was free after six o'clock, and I was a little early. Should I stay in the car or feed the meter?

She was wearing a coat on a balmy early evening. That should have given me a clue. She made some gesture at me from the passenger side. I buzzed the window down just a little:

"What?" I thought my parking was bad and she was alerting me good-naturedly. Maybe this is not a parking zone? Is she telling me to move?

She waved and said something inaudible. She then bent down to pick something up. I saw an empty soda can in her hand when she straightened up again. Oh God, is she homeless? Is it too late to get out of the car and run? I decided to stay put. What could she possibly do to me?

I buzzed the window up. Please go away, I pleaded silently. I have a class to go. I don't have time to be bothered.

More importantly, I needed my quarters for the meter.

She moved slowly across the front of my car and approached the driver's side. Oh no, what does she want? I felt a little panic.

She started talking and gesturing. I couldn't understand a word of it, but finally i figured out from her gesture that she wanted food. I dug into my purse for some change. I couldn't give her the quarters because, well, I needed them for the meter. I had to give her something because she was blocking my way out.

I found a few dimes and cracked the window a bit to hand them to her. She didn't take them right away - still busy talking in spite of the fact that I didn't show any signs of comprehending any of it. She showed me her wrist while she talked. There was a round bump the size of a ping pong ball near her wrist. I thought to myself, "Please don't let it be contagious."

She finally took the change I was holding (carefully - trying to avoid touching her skin in any way.) But she was not leaving. I came to realize after more gesturing that she wanted more, so I looked back to my purse with a hint of resentment. Where is her family? Have they no shame? How could anyone let their elder, who doesn't speak a word of English, beg on the street? Street in a city with the highest crime rate, I might add.

At last she took the second alms and left, but not before rambling some more of the foreign words to me. Now it was almost time for the class, so I didn't need the quarters after all.

I felt a thorny pinch in my heart every now and then for the next few days. Why didn't I give her more money so at least she could get a hot meal or two? Why did I assume she had something contagious just because her joint was deformed? Why was I afraid of an old woman who was just hungry? I shouldn't have blamed her family either. Maybe she outlived all of them, and she didn't have other means to support herself.

I prepared some small bills when it was time for the next class, but she was nowhere to be found. The redemption I was hoping for did not happen. It must be a punishment designed by God. My sin was forever etched on the triptych.

I have always thought of myself as a somewhat decent person. Not perfect, but still, not bad. I tried to be nice to people. I tried to be compassionate to my friends. I tried to do the right thing most of the time. I volunteered at the children's center and other non profits. I even donated to my friend's cancer walks. I was better than most people out there, you know?

Along came a tiny, frail, and very wrinkled old lady, and she nudged me off my pedestal effortlessly.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Long Drive Home




I barely started my first job a month ago. It was new and exciting. I was officially "man of the house" and bringing home the bacon. We had a very orderly life. We got up early and headed to our separate destinations - the kids to school together, I to the office. When I got home in the afternoon they would have finished their homework. We would have simple dinner before getting ready for bed. Life was plain and calm, but that was about to change.

I pulled out from the company's parking lot one afternoon and merged into the traffic. I stopped at the light behind some cars and thought to myself what I could make for dinner that night. All of a sudden the car started to rock as if it were a boat on choppy water - very choppy water. I was trying to hold on while wondering if I should get out of the car - not that I could. It just felt dangerous to stay in a car that was acting crazy. All I could do was holding on the steering wheel as if I were riding the mechanical bull.

It felt like forever before it was finally over. All the traffic lights were dead. Cars stayed on the road, and nobody moved. Two cars ahead of me the female driver got out of her car, and ran to the car behind her. She cried, "Oh my God! What was that?!" At this time it gradually dawned on me: we just had a major earthquake.

The normally twenty-minute drive home took me an hour and half. Every intersection was stop-and-go, one car at a time. The speed was reduced to that of a snail. I gripped the steering wheel with my white-knuckled fingers, and bit my lips to fight back tears. The kids - are they all right? They are home alone. Are they hurt? Is the house still there? Are they being buried in the rubbles? I forced myself not to imagine the worst. The houses along the road were still standing. I had some hope. There were no fires as far as I could see. The kids could be just fine.

I got home at last and everything seemed "normal." I looked at the kids and I had a strange feeling of having been away for a month. They looked the same, and yet different. The kids told me how they hid under the dining table and finished their homework there - thinking there might be another one coming. A plant was toppled over and left some dirt on the carpet. Everything was fine. We were safe.

Until this day I couldn't remember what I did for the rest of the evening. It was completely blank. The only thing I remember was crying silently in the office the next day. I couldn't work at all. The boss finally told us to go home. It was futile to tell anyone to concentrate on work. I don't remember what I did after going home either. Somehow my memories in those time periods were completely erased.

I grew up in an earthquake country. Hurricanes and earthquakes were common events. Nobody showed any emotions toward them. It was life - deal with it. My reaction to earthquakes used to be exactly like that of the kids - that was frightening and fun! Now back to homework.

My life and my feelings for earthquakes are completely different now. I used to be strong. I could deal with disasters with no problems. The long drive home that afternoon twenty years ago changed me forever.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Folly

Blog Action Day, 2009



I heard Jason calling, "Dad..." and ran into his bedroom. His face was red and his breathing was shallow. I sat down by his bedside and felt his forehead. It didn't seem that he had a fever. I opened the drawer under the nightstand and took his inhaler out. He took a deep breath through it and lied down slowly. His breath gradually became deeper and longer. He fell asleep again.

I looked at his thin body and tried to control my emotions. He was supposed to be in tenth grade now, but his illness forced him to stay home. His body is the equivalent of a twelve-year-old. We had to home-school him for his constant battle with asthma.

"Is Jason okay?" My wife Helen asked when I went back to the living room. Her rash was getting deeper in color. We had cut down our daily meals to once a day, and that didn't help with her condition. There was little selection of vegetables in the market, and meats were rare occurrences. Even if they had them once in a blue moon, we could only afford it twice a year - on Helen and Jason's birthdays. With the increase of prices on all foods, meats have become the untouchable for most people. It was almost impossible to raise livestock anywhere when the vegetation started to recede from the extended drought and long period of flood caused by twenty to thirty hurricanes a year.

Nevertheless, we were thankful to be alive. Millions died each year all over the world in those less advanced countries.

"Honey, we need to take you to the hospital." It was her monthly appointment. The medication was barely keeping her condition in check. Without proper nutrition there was little hope that she would ever be back to complete health. Still, we needed to make the trip.

"What about your lungs?" She looked at me worriedly. I put on a brave face, "Don't worry. We have the masks."

I had damaged lungs from working outdoors for the last twenty years in spite of the mandatory mask. I was forced to retire, and the insurance company refused to pay due to "condition caused by nature." We were barely getting by with the scanty pension I received from the company. I would have been able to sell our vacation home had it not been flushed away by the landslide caused by a category seven hurricane the year before I retired.

The doorbell rang. Helen opened the door. It was our neighbor, Alicia. Jason was old enough to stay home by himself, but I asked Alicia to stay with him just in case. She took her mask off and said, "Make sure you wear the masks. It’s a bad air day out there!" She appeared very pale, but at least she didn’t have depression from the long absence of sun exposure so far. The artificial sun lights did not work that well for some people. Although she was as thin as Helen, she did not have any obvious health problem. She was lucky so far.

"Thank you so much for the help. We won't be gone for long." There were so many people with air-related illnesses that the hospital had developed a system so that we didn't need to get out of our cars. We would drive up to a window and the technician would pull up our records in the computer, verify our IDs, ask a few questions regarding the illness, and dispense the pre-packed medications. Most of the time would be spent on driving to and from the hospital, and waiting in the queue of cars.

We put on the masks before leaving the house. It was only fifty feet away to our car, but the air was too dangerous for us to risk breathing it directly. Not with our conditions.

The sun was burning hot. The thick smog in the air made it look eerily pretty in the color of orange-red. Too bad nobody was outside to enjoy the view. Every window was tightly shut. The street was practically empty, and was a sea of grey to look at. No one was able to keep any plants or lawns alive, and I didn't remember when the last time I saw a real tree was. I missed our trip to the museum last year very much. There were so many plants and flowers it felt as if we had gone to a different planet - a planet that was lush, nurturing and life-sustaining.

I drove away in our electric car and couldn't help but wonder: I read in history books that our great grandfathers had predicted the outcome in numerous studies during the late twentieth century, but somehow they chose not to do anything about it. Instead they fought over political controls and ignored all the warnings from the scientists. Many believed all the doomsday predictions were just sci-fi fictions used to scare people. By mid twenty-first century the severe climate had reached the irreversible point. Last country to ban the use of fossil oil and coal was ten years ago, but nothing could make the earth go back to what it once was.

Whoever said human being was the most intelligent animal on earth was dead wrong. We had dug our own graves with the grand shovel of ignorance decades ago. Soon all of us will have to lie in them.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Seven Things



I have always enjoyed reading Hunter's blog. He's a seriously funny guy with a talent to tell a great story. So it's a great honor that he thinks my blog is worth his passing on the "Kreativ Blogger" award. Thank you, Hunter. And readers, please take a moment to visit his site. It will brighten up your day, I promise.

The catch for this award is to tell seven things about me that people may not know. (I now regret that I didn't lead a more exciting life.) By risking reveal too much about myself, here's the list:

1. I love spicy food. The spicier the better. I planted a habanero pepper in my backyard one year and found out my limit for hot spices. I don't have the plant anymore.

2. I used to have a cat, but after raising my puppy I found out I was actually a dog person.

3. I used to speak Portuguese, but have forgotten it completely.

4. I did not know what 'hemp' was and had to be told it was "the" weed. Yes, I led a very sheltered life when I was a kid.

5. I am the designated driver among friends because, well, I can't drink. Half a glass of wine will get me dance on the table. So I was told. Of course I don't remember any such event.

6. I play a little piano - very little, but my crush for my piano teacher was huge.

7. My dream job would be either a writer or a graphic artist, but got into project management instead. Writing this blog provided me great joy that's otherwise missing in my job.

Now comes the hard part. I have to pass this award to another deserving writer, and there are so many that I know of, and even more out there I haven't found yet. I wish I had 50 of this award to pass out. The new owner of this lovely award goes to a young and brilliant writer, Lou. You can find her blog here. I enjoyed reading her blog very much, and hope you will pop over to check her out. I'm sure you will like it as well. Congratulations Lou!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Lady on the Moon

(To my women friends) 


My little maid Blue Jade ran into my chamber in her light steps, and said in a warning tone, "My lady - master is back.” I called her Jade to be short.

I put down the medicine book I was studying and took a quick glance in the copper mirror. My hair and jewelries looked fine. I needed a little rouge on my cheeks and…I didn’t need to ask. Jade opened the pearl-inlayed makeup box and pulled out the rouge. She dabbed a little on my cheeks and smoothed it out with her fingers. She then handed me the red lip stain in a little round copper box. I stained my lips with my pinkie while Jade slipped a small silk pouch stuffed with jasmine petals into my sleeve. I smoothed my long skirt and we left the room, walking as fast as we could. The main hall is located in a different courtyard in the house.

Hoyi, my husband, was sitting in the main hall sipping tea. He looked dirty and tired, but he had a faint smile and his eyes seemed to be somewhere far away. I smiled before I stepped into the big room, “Your humble wife welcomes you, master.” He pulled himself back from that mysterious place and looked at me, and then nodded his head and said, “Oh. Sit down, please.”

"I heard about your brave endeavor, master.” I said, after taking my seat on the other side of the tea table. It was his most difficult challenge so far - more difficult than slaughtering the two-headed beast. Thank goodness he was an excellent archer, and was born with surreal strength.

"You mean the nine suns I shot down?” He was pleased that I recognized his infamous feat.

"Yes. People of the middle kingdom are so grateful. Now they can farm the land, raise livestock and live above ground. You are the hero they warship now.”

"Well, it wasn’t easy. I almost got burned from those scorching suns!” He said with a hint of pride.

"You must be tired from the journey. Will master care to take a bath in my chamber? I will tell Jade to prepare the hot water.” I tried to be subtle. It was unbecoming for a woman to show that she missed her husband and longed for his company.

"Oh. Not tonight. I will take a bath in my chamber and rest there. It was a long journey.” He stood up and left the room. His servants followed behind him.

I saw the look in Jade’s eyes, and I knew what she was thinking. The rumor was true, then. I heard that, in addition to his heroic feat, he also “conquered” the nymph of the water kingdom. I stared at the silver candles in my room for a long time. The wax dripping down the side of them seemed to resemble the tears on my cheeks. Jade gently reminded me several times that it was late, but sleep completely eluded me.

Two days later Hoyi was leaving again. There was a giant lion with horns appeared in a village, and was devouring the villagers. He had to answer the call for help. Jade informed me that he requested my presence in his room. He showed me two dark round orbs in his hand when I got there.

"I requested these from the Empress of the West Heaven. They are potions of eternal life. I have performed enough heroic feats so she granted the request.” He told me. I was speechless. It was the highest honor any masters of the middle kingdom could achieve.

"We will take these together on the night of the full moon, which is ten days from now. Take care of them while I’m gone. Imagine: we will live forever!”

Imagine I did. I have been thinking about it ever since he left. We will live forever. Together. After all, I was his wife, and he would honor that title, if not me. Being his wife, however, also meant I would have to endure the loneliness, the other women, and pretend to be happy.

I received a message from my husband’s servant on the ninth day. The giant lion was more illusive than he had thought, and his return had been delayed. The servant added, “The master said to make sure and tell my lady to wait for him.”

I knew what he meant, but I couldn’t heed to his request. On the night of the full moon, I swallowed both orbs and wrote him a note. I told him my devotion for him had never changed, but I could no longer stay being his wife. My body became lighter and lighter, rising to the sky. I came to the moon and settled down here. I have been making medicines for passing fairies, and have a loyal guard to do the heavy works, be it chopping wood or carrying water, for me. He was a gift from one of the fairies I cured. Another fairy gifted me with a trained rabbit, so I don’t have to smash and grind the medicines myself.

Certain poet wrote a poem on how I must regret stealing the potions from Hoyi, and how I have to endure the lonely life on the moon everyday, day after day. They even taught little children in the middle kingdom to recite and savor this poem.

Do I ever regret what I did? Sometimes, but never for long. Of all the past earthly connections, I miss my little Jade the most. The poet, being a man from the middle kingdom himself, did not understand a woman's heart - sometimes the loneliest place for a woman is her husband's house.

I traded loneliness with content. The vast sky is not dark, and definitely not lonely. Stars show me their brilliant colors that even the best poet would not be able to put into poems. Fairies with various illnesses come by everyday. My life is busy and with a purpose now. I am appreciated and needed everyday.

I am no longer the lady waiting in her chamber. I am the lady on the moon.


(There are several different versions for this legend. The poem used the word "steal," so it begs for an answer to the obvious question: why? This is my interpretation of what had transpired.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Tip of the Bayonet


"I was flipping the persimmons when I heard the sound of gun shots."

"Gun shots?" Obviously she survived the event, since she was sitting right in front of me. Nevertheless, my eyes couldn't help but enlarge a bit.

"Yes. You know we dried those persimmons, among other things, after the harvest so they would keep throughout the winter." People used to dry fruits, vegetables, and meats to survive the long and cold winter in a country where there was no such convenience as markets in the neighborhood.

I could see it in my minds eye - a little girl squatting by a sea of persimmons being dried in the square atrium surrounded by rooms, turning them one by one. Her cheeks were red from the sun, and her shiny dark hair was braided into two queues hanging down both sides of her face. A piece of red yarn tied them up at the ends.

"I knew it was the Japanese soldiers because grownups had been warning us to run and hide as soon as we heard the gun shots.

So I took off running as fast as I could. I didn't know where to go, and my parents were no where to be seen. I guess they were working. Everyone had to work all the time back in those days. There were no idle hands in anybody's household. I wasn't flipping those persimmons for fun either.

The only grownup I knew who was in the house at the time was a sick aunt. She rested in her room all day long from an illness that I couldn't name. I ran into her room and cried out, 'The Japanese are coming!'

She said, 'Quick! Hide under the bed and be very quiet. Don't make any noise.' I rolled under the bed and squeezed myself against the wall with all my might. I heard the running footsteps coming into the room. I heard someone yelling at my aunt in a language I didn't understand, and my aunt answering in a pleading voice, 'They are not here. The men all fled. There are no men here.' I'm sure she must be gesturing while she pleaded.

Just to make sure she wasn't lying, a soldier swept under the bed with his rifle. I could see a faint shimmer on the tip of the gun - it was a blade. I stayed very still and quiet while watching the blade moving from side to side. The blade passed in front of me a couple of times and missed me by an inch. The soldier finally decided there was nobody under the bed.

There was some more yelling, and then the soldiers left the room. Neither one of us said or did anything for quite a while. Finally my aunt said quietly, 'I think it's okay to come out now.' I crawled out from under the bed and slipped off to find my parents. I don't remember if I thanked her or not, since I was still quite frightened by the experience.

I went back to the old house forty years after I fled the country and, to my astonishment, the aunt who hid me was still living there! I gave her my belated gratitude and asked her if she remembered what had happened that scary day long time ago. She did, but she remembered the event a little differently from me. She said I hid in her bed under the comforter right next to her, and not under the bed. I was a little confused when I heard that."

I was finally able to breathe after she finished the story. She had a shiny reflection in her eyes, and a smile on her lips. I think the aunt's memory was probably failing her. I think if she was hiding in bed next to her aunt, she probably wouldn’t have seen the rifle or the blade.

I thank God the room was dark enough that the soldier didn't see the little girl under the bed. I thank God that she was small enough that the blade missed her. I thank my great aunt for her quick wit - whether she hid her under the bed or under the comforter - that spared my mother from the possibly horrific fate. They both were very lucky.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Crabby Quest


"With wine in one hand and crab claws in another" is the ideal way to celebrate autumn, according to some highly respected poets who died long time ago. Not that I'm a wine enthusiast - I can barely finish one glass throughout the course of an evening, but who am I to argue with them? That was why I happily responded, "That's a great idea!" when someone suggested we had a crab dinner on Mid Autumn Festival, which fell on October 3rd this year.

I got up and got ready by nine o'clock - on a Saturday, I might add - and went on my hunt for live crab. I don't do the frozen crab thing - those are for amateurs. My experience told me they are the freshest if you get them on the day of the event. And they are the best if you get them from the Asian markets. Well, you really don't have a choice on the market because general supermarkets don't sell live crab. I knew exactly which market to go.

I parked the car and walked into the market, aiming straight at the seafood section. What did I see? An empty tank! There was one small part of a crab left: a crab claw on the bottom of the tank, and that was it.

Shit! I said to myself after the shock subsided. I finally flagged down a clerk in the fish section and asked if they would get more shipment in today.

"No." was the answer. No customer service training was provided to workers of this market, obviously.

"Do you know when you'll get more in?" I knew it was a long shot, but maybe there was a slim chance that they were expecting a shipment in a few minutes.

"I don't know." was the concise answer.

How could this be? The tank was always full of crab piling on top of each other. Always. What happened? Maybe I'd have better luck at the next market. I drove to the second market, half deflated.

I could see it half way down to the seafood section at the second one - an empty tank. Not even a broken claw this time. And when would they get more in? You got it - don't know.

I looked at the frozen crab in the big freezer and thought about it for a moment. The thought of being an amateur was unbearable. Nah, I'll try a third market before giving in to the second choice.

The third one was a little far out, but was worth the drive if they had the illusive commodity. Please, please let them have the crab, I said to myself while walking toward the back of the market, where the eight-legged critters would be.

I came home with a bag of manila clam for the clam chowder I was about to experiment, and three packs of frozen king crab. I was counting on the wine to befog my guests’ taste buds before dinner. Maybe they wouldn't notice the difference after the wine and the chowder.

Clearly I wasn't the only one who heeded to the gastronimic portrayal of the season. I also learned that the frozen king crab couldn't hold a candle to the live Dungeness crab - no matter how lavishly I poured the wine. Note for next year: get the crab the day before the dinner.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Downtown Class

"Ogay glass. Now let’s dalk about the dex boogs for this glass.”

...What?!

After the teacher explained that we needed two books and one optional software in his heavily accented English, my neighbor raised her hand and asked, “But which one do we need? The first one or the second one?”

The woman in front of her turned her head to see who the idiot was. I tried not to look at her so she’d know it wasn’t me. She had a deep crease between her eyebrows. I made a note to myself not to sit next to her in future classes. She looked mean.

I asked a couple of questions about the books as well, since the syllabus wasn’t so clear. When I mentioned the school’s bookstore told me they didn’t have the book and I had to check on amazon.com, he seemed to be a little defensive.

"It’s unduh another glass name.” he said.

Well, why didn’t you mention this in the syllabus? I wanted to ask. How would we know this? Then he said it would be okay to use another edition that didn’t have a CD to save some money.

I didn’t get either book before the class started, because these details were not spelled out in the syllabus. Now I would have to wait for a week for the books to arrive. It would be interesting to see how I could do the assignment without the books.

He probably had a deal with the author, I thought to myself grumpily. That was an unfounded guess, of course. I was just not happy about the extra work and delay he had caused. He is a college professor, and should be smarter than us. He showed off his extensive resume and work experiences before officially starting the class - totally unnecessary in my opinion. A great resume doesn’t guarantee a great teacher.

My neighbor didn’t have a clue what the class was about, or how it was going to be integrated with her work, or what her next step after the class should be, or her possible desire to take the test (no, you can’t take the test - the teacher said; because you didn’t pay for it - a student explained, since she didn't seem to realize there was a cost related to it) etc., etc., and asked a lot of questions. I had to look at the mean woman's face every time she turned around.

I ran out during the break just to make sure my car was still there (it was in the city of the highest crime rate in Bay Area) and that I didn’t get a ticket – sixteen quarters for two hours. It’s only free after eight o’clock. The city is in deep budget shortage, so parking fee is a good way to squeeze some money out of people who are short of it right now.

It seemed that my neighbor got herself a banquet during the break, and started to lay down the feast during the class, opening plastic boxes and wrappers and making all kinds of noise. Now I wanted to give her the dirty look. I already had a hard enough time trying to understand what in the world the teacher was saying without the noise. Thanks to the hard working air conditioner; I was able to stay awake for the entire class. How much I got from the lecture is another topic.

I stepped out of the building and the street had transformed into a deserted movie set of some ghetto scene. A couple of scary looking people were shouting to each other in the dark street. I did my best to appear brave and unconcerned while walking toward my car, praying that I didn’t look like a potential victim of robbery to them.

It's going to be a very long Fall quarter.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dragon, Lions and Little Italy

It is said the dragon boat race began with the suicide of a famous poet and scholar, Qu Yuan, who jumped into the river when his country was invaded by Qin. This was more than two thousand years ago when China was divided by several smaller countries/warlords. Here’s the excerpt from wikipedia :


The common people, upon learning of his suicide, rushed out on the water in their fishing boats to the middle of the river and tried desperately to save Qu Yuan. They beat drums and splashed the water with their paddles in order to keep the fish and evil spirits from his body. Later on, they scattered rice into the water to prevent him from suffering hunger. Another belief is that the people scattered rice to feed the fish, in order to prevent the fishes from devouring the poet's body.

However, late one night, the spirit of Qu Yuan appeared before his friends (that is, he resurrected from the dead) and told them that the rice meant for him was being intercepted by a huge river dragon. He asked his friends to wrap their rice into three-cornered silk packages to ward off the dragon. This has been a traditional food ever since known as zongzi or sticky rice wrapped in leaves, although they are wrapped in leaves instead of silk. In commemoration of Qu Yuan it is said, people hold dragon boat races annually on the day of his death.

While dragon boat race has kept its form more or less throughout the years, we now eat the rice treat ourselves instead of feeding it to the fish. Why waste perfectly good food?

The race is held at Treasure Island by San Francisco every year, but I had never witnessed one myself. It seems to be a crime since I’m only 40 minutes away from San Francisco, so my friend and I made the trip this year. It was a good excuse for us to take more pictures – she with a seriously professional camera, and I with a dummy camera.



These rappers are rapping in Cantonese. I think my friend and I had a cultural shock.


The dragon is getting ready for a performance by some super women.


While the little lions are getting ready for their turn, the green one is trying to appear ferocious for the camera.


Ready, get set, go! ( The Bay Bridge in the backdrop is undergoing a bypass surgery) The race will go on for two days as there are numerous teams attending.


You can see San Francisco skyline by the finishing point. Most of the time SF is covered with fog and a cool temporature of 60, but we are having a glorious day of 80 degrees and clear sky for a change. Qu Yuan must be watching!


We have lunch at a very busily decorated Italian restaurant called "Cafe Sport" in Little Italy, then some gelato afterward. Both are yummy. You can't beat an outing that has dragon boat races and Italian food.


Friday, September 25, 2009

May

She had dark hair and dark eyes, and the lively eyes that were flanked by long lashes told me that she was focused and intelligent. Her face was the perfect shape of oval, and her nose and lips were small, cute and in ideal proportion with her face.

Everybody who saw her would say, “She’s beautiful.” Not only that - she was also at the top of her class. The only thing about her was that she was a little too serious for a girl supposedly at an age of innocence and laughter. She didn’t smile often.

May - that was her name. She made me feel like an awkward little duckling that had little idea about what to do with the unfriendly world around it.

She singled me out to be her friend. My classmates said we looked like sisters, but I knew better. She wrote me little notes, telling me my dreamy eyes reminded her of the glistening stars. I checked with the mirror that day, and couldn’t find anything about me that was “dreamy,” but my little heart was secretly elated. She was one of the very few people who were kind to me while growing up. Did she somehow sense we had an unspoken connection?

We didn’t spend a lot of time together after school. She either had to help her father, who was a doctor with his own practice in the same building where they lived, or she had to go back to "take care of things” as she put it. I didn’t question too much at first. We would either go out and take a walk around the neighborhood, or share some shaved ice at a food stand once a week, exchanging chitchats that were meaningful only to thirteen-year-old girls. Our time together was the much needed escape from my horrid stepmother.

Summer was always sultry and humid on the subtropical island. I repeatedly asked her why she was wearing long-sleeve shirts, as I could barely keep my short-sleeve shirt on. At first she said she didn’t like short sleeves. I thought she was crazy – and probably told her so. She hesitated a while, then finally lifted her sleeves. My heart stopped beating for a second. The skin on her arms was covered with whipping wounds from dry bamboo stems.

"Who did this to you?!” I was furious.
"My stepmother.” She said it calmly.
"Why?!” I demanded.
"It was my fault. I didn’t wash the dishes clean enough.”

I found out about her life in the house of horror.

She washed the clothes and cleaned the house for the whole family every day. Anything that was not to her stepmother’s liking was a reason for a good beating. She also told me her father used to slap her mother across the face in front of the family. She finally left him and remarried, but she didn’t want any visits from her daughters from the first marriage. What was more incredible to me was that she thought she deserved the beatings. Her father was perfectly capable of hiring a maid with his income, but he chose to let his own daughter be abused and did nothing to stop it.

I felt the worst emotion I ever experienced – anger combined with powerlessness. For the first time I connected the word “demon” with the face of a human being. And for the first time, I felt lucky to have a life that was as unhappy as mine.

I moved to another city a few years later and we kept our friendship by writing letters. I had to be careful with what I said, since she didn’t get to be the one to read them first. More often than not she didn't receive my letters at all. I was very happy to know that she was in the teacher’s college as she wanted. She had to move to the college town, and thus was freed from the abuse at last. I thought her happiness had finally arrived when she told me her boyfriend was going to marry her as soon as they graduated, and that he would make a happy home for her. She paid me a visit with her husband when she was very pregnant, and very content, a few years later. I thanked her lucky star, or fairy godmother - whoever was watching over my dear friend - for bringing her the life she deserved.

A few years passed before she visited me again, this time by herself, and shocked me again.

"Adam is having an affair.” She had the similar emotionless tone as the time when she revealed her wounds to me years ago.
"….With whom?” Was the only thing I could think of after pulling myself together.
"A teacher at the same school where he teaches.”
"How did you find out about it?”
"He told me.” She said, as if she was talking about someone else.
"He told you?” Did he set out to hurt her on purpose?
"I asked him what she would do that I wasn’t doing so I could get him back, but he wouldn’t tell me.”

Once again I wanted to ask her, “Are you crazy?” I think I would've had a big fight or two with the cheating husband if I were her. Then she said, "He doesn’t want a divorce. He doesn’t want to stop the affair either. He said they just wanted to have sex. She’s married, too.”

The nerve he had. I would divorce him, but that might not be the most rational thing to do. Maybe she was…right?

We shared a bed that night. I couldn’t sleep – I couldn’t stop thinking about her marriage. What happened to his promise to her? He would make a happy home for her, he told her. I remembered how pleased she was when she told me that. Had he no concerns about their family or their daughter at all? Again I felt the terrible emotion – angry yet powerless.

She tossed in her sleep and said softly, “Adam…” I sighed. As long as she loved him, she would put up with the affair just so he might come back to her one day. There was nothing I could’ve said. After all, she was brought up to believe she deserved very little love, if any. The "demon” may have made her strong in order to survive; but strangely, it had also broken her to irreparable pieces.

I moved again, this time to a different continent. We lost touch completely. I think about her a lot during many sleepless nights. Did Adam go back to her to be a truthful husband and father? Did she finally find the happiness she was looking for?

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