Monday, December 27, 2010

The Magpie Bridge



She is the daughter of the great emperor of the heaven, and is blessed with divine skills of weaving. They live in the palatial dwellings among the clouds. She is loved by both of her parents just like a princess is and should. They call her Zhenoo--Weaving Maid.


The skies are hung with brightly colored silky hues of her weaving. The earth is covered with every color one can imagine. She weaves day and night, never stops to have fun, for the demand of change of season and skies are too many.

She does her duties happily and faithfully until a mysterious condition starts to worry her parents. She is sluggish in her weaving, and her eyebrows are locked in an unhappy knot. Her laughter is dimmed and her appetite has largely disappeared. The heaven’s guards have to report this to her father, who rules everything in heaven and on earth.

The emperor, with his endless wisdom of a ruler, thinks about this for a while and knows what is wrong with his daughter. He calls for her presence and asks her gently:

“Who is the young man you are occupying your heart with, my daughter?”

Her face turns pale with fright, but then turns to pink after realizing her secret is no longer a secret.

“Father, his name is Niulang--Cowherd Boy, who lives on the other side of the Milky Way,” she says, “but it is not easy for us to meet, for the Milky Way is vast.”

The great emperor is happy that his talented daughter finds a hardworking young man and orders a wedding to be prepared. He sends his daughter to cross the Milky Way with his strong imperial clouds to live with her new husband.

Being newlyweds, they both are literately on cloud nine, and the rest of the world disappears from their eyes. She stops weaving, and the skies and the earth look the same every day, day after day. He, at the same time, forgets about his herd and they are scattered all over the heaven. There is cow dung everywhere.

The emperor gets the report and is angry. This is not how they should behave, he thinks. He for a moment forgets that he, too, was a newlywed and forfeited his duties briefly.

He issues a harsh order for his daughter to return home immediately. They are to live on the opposite side of the Milky Way and to only see each other once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month. 1

The heartbroken lovers beg the emperor but could not make him change his mind. The order is given and is to be obeyed.

The effort to cross the Milky Way is too great, for their clouds are not as strong as the emperor’s. Thus the day of their rendezvous is even shorter from the long commute. Zhenoo’s tears touch deeply in the hearts of the magpies--the bird of happiness--so they conspire to help the lovers out.

On the seventh day of the seventh month, the magpies come together and form a bridge in the sky with their bodies. The young couple meets in the middle of the bridge to pour their hearts out to each other. For seven days the top of the magpies are bald from the steps of the lovers.

If you look carefully at the Hunter‘s constellation, you can see the carrying pole with a basket on each side in the sky. Niulang puts their two children in the baskets and carries them on his shoulder to meet their mother. 2

Young maidens have since been setting up altars in their backyard in midnight on the day of Niulang and Zhenoo’s yearly reunion, and pray for loving and faithful husbands for themselves. Surely their wishes will be granted from a pair of lovers who do not wish others to suffer the kind of heartaches they have.

(1. The Lunar seventh day of the seventh month is the Chinese Valentine’s Day. 2. In a male dominate country I guess it’s only normal that the man gets to keep the kids.)




Saturday, December 11, 2010

Wired

"I need to get into the crawl space. Where's the entrance?”

The goofy “cable guy” said. I thought he was joking. The serious one was already high on the ladder installing the dish while this one loitered around.

“Um, there isn't one.” I replied.

“What's that?” he pointed at the little "windows" at the base of the house and asked.

“Yeah, it looks like there is a crawl space, but you can't get into it.” I assured him.

He looked at me funny, but I put his suspicion to rest firmly: “I've lived here for thirteen years, and I have never seen an entrance to it.”

He went into the house and opened the storage space under the stairs.

"There's the entrance.” He pointed at the floor.

I looked down and, as if appeared solely by magic, a square-shaped dark seam on the floor mocked me with silent cracks.

It's true. You learn something new everyday.

Thank goodness I was small enough to crawl into the storage and pulled most of the stuff out so he could get down there. Then I cleared out the closet so he could climb into the attic and do his job.

I knew that entrance.

All the stuff had to go back to where they belonged and the dust had to be cleaned. These were not in the “cable guys” job descriptions. It would've saved me a lot of grieve had I known what was in store for me.

I was a little tired but excited after cleaning up all the mess. Time to reveal the surprise to mom.

“Look, ma. Now you have nine channels to watch instead of one. Merry Christmas!” I was so proud of myself. Her only activity--watching TV--would be a lot more interesting from now on.

Or so I thought.

I then tried to teach her how to use the new remote, and that was when things went downhill.

There were four buttons with which she needed to get herself familiarize.

On—you turn the TV on with it.

Off—as the name suggested, you turn the TV off with it.

Up—go up a channel.

Down—go down a channel.

Those, and remembering her channels start at 2050.

Simple enough, right?

She tried it a few times and couldn't get it right. She lost her patience promptly and told me she never watched those channels, she wanted her old channel back and to cancel the cable right away.

When will I ever learn? Why did I try to get her a comparable life here when I knew she was not the appreciative type, and would say anything when angry?

Two days later she wanted me to teach her again on the channels. By that time I lost my patience and good wills. I'm paying for the satellite channels, and somebody was going to watch them. She can stick with her one and only channel upstairs.

Unfortunately, She figured out how to switch back to air channels by watching me, and now watches her one channel on the big screen downstairs.

I think she did it just to aggravate me, which probably gave her certain degree of enjoyment, and she was succeeding.

It's amazing how, with the right amount of incentive, whether positive or negative, a person who couldn't do or learn anything can achieve the impossible.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Long Way Home



“I see lights. That must be San Francisco!” Mom pointed at the window excitedly.


“Ma, it was seven o’clock when we took off, and that was forty minutes ago.” I replied with a finger pointing at my watch. She knew it would be a two-and-half-hour flight.

She looked at me, then the window, then was quiet for a while.

Twenty minutes later, she saw lights again: “That must be San Francisco.”

This is going to be a very long flight, I thought to myself, and it will be the first and last time I am ever going to fly with her.

It was worse than traveling with a kid. At least you could tell the kid to be quiet.

I was a little tired. The day started early, since I woke up at five and couldn’t sleep anymore. There were still a lot to do before we had to leave.

I made five or six garbage runs. Mom’s friends were going to take everything away after we were gone, but I felt bad leaving too much junk, so I wanted to do the best I could to reduce their work.

It didn’t help with mom telling me, as usual, to take a break. I think she said that to make herself feel better, not knowing or caring who was going to finish all the work.

Then I had to cook for her friends who were kind enough to stop by. I cooked the traditional dumplings which, according to mom, was the thing to eat when leaving for a long journey. Thank goodness for frozen food.

It started to snow amid all the actions. I ran to the patio yelling snow, snow!

I was the only one who was so excited. They were probably all sick of the wintry scene.

We had the first unpleasant surprise when we arrived at the airport. The flight was delayed for two hours.

I didn’t buy their reason--weather. I’m from California, okay? We don’t have bad weather there. Find another excuse for your inefficiency.

We did the duty-free shopping. We had coffee. We did the restroom runs. Twice. We had some food. I pushed her wheelchair all over the place. The airline clerk was nowhere to be found, so I decided I didn’t need her. I am my mother’s keeper now.

After we finally sat down in our seats on the plane, but not before we had this near miss roller coaster slide down the tunnel, I heard the flight attendant telling a passenger it was bad weather that caused the long delay.

So much for the great California weather.

Three or four times of proclaiming we were over San Francisco later, mom finally got her wish. We were over the city, only we couldn’t land. There was a thing called air traffic jam and we were in it.

We circled twenty more minutes in the air. Mom complained that the pilot drove too slowly.

To top things off, the traffic on the ground was worse than that in the air. We probably waited half an hour for our ride to drive the two-minute distance from the cell phone area.

It was almost midnight when we reached home. A simple two-hour flight turned into an eleven-hour ordeal.

My little house had never looked nicer, and the licks from my little Yorkie had never felt sweeter before.



(Happy Thanksgiving everyone!)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

House of Five Hundred Doors

I know it’s late, but I have some questions that have been bothering me for quite some time, so I figure now is as good as any to ask you a few simple questions.

What‘s that? It’s one o’clock in the morning? Oh, I’m sure you don’t mind. After all, you and your family don’t go to bed that early. Don’t bother to argue. I hear you every night.

First question: why did you spend so much money to install five hundred doors in your unit? Regardless where you originally came from, you have to admit it’s rather peculiar. Every other step one takes in your unit requires a slam of a door. Every night, all night long. It’s obvious nobody in your unit understands how to “close” a door, but only how to shut the door with a bang.

If you don’t know how to properly close a door, I will have to ask you to remove four hundred ninety-nine of them from your unit immediately. You see, there’s only so much door banging one can endure in certain amount of time, and I’m tired of stabbing the ceilings with the mop handle. I will have to fix the ceilings if I damage them, and I won’t like that.

Second question: is everyone in your unit a sumo wrestler? Not only this causes an unpleasant mental image to one’s mind, the echo of your every step ripples through your floors / our ceilings sounds like a kong sounding from afar. And you guys walk a lot. All night, every night. Add this to the banging of the five hundred doors you installed before you moved in, and you have a symphony of beneath-the-penthouse nightmare.

For your own good I suggest you lose weight immediately. If you fall through the ceilings one day from a heart attack, which won’t be far judging from the sound of your steps and the vibration of the walls, I will have to bill you for the repair. I won’t like that either, especially if you’re in a hospital and I‘m risking not having the expenses recovered--if you get my drift.

One more question: is your child half monkey half horse? He/she is obviously very young, judging from the screaming and the little steps he/she takes when running. It may be a lovely sight for you, the parents, to have an undisciplined wild beast racing in the house, screaming while slamming those five hundred doors, but not for your neighbors downstairs. Trust me on this one.

Oh, anoter thing about the kid--going to bed at ten or eleven o’clock is way too late for a child that young. In fact, going to bed at twelve, one, or two o’clock in the morning is way too late for you, too. How you manage to get up in the morning and go to work is beyond me.

I haven’t had a good night sleep in I don’t know how long. My eyes are scratchy dry and my skin is breaking out. The noise coming from above is stressing me to the point that the mop handle feels too weak of a gesture. I’m also getting more wrinkles from lack of sleep and anger. I really don’t like that.

The fact that you live on the top floor may have given you some superiority complex. Here’s a surprise--you still have to be considerate to your neighbors. Paying a little more doesn’t give you the right to forfeit common courtesy. Even a real penthouse dweller like Donald Trump would agree with me. Besides, it’s only a four-story building. You’re not that higher up.

These nuisances may be commonly accepted where you came from. People may not have the right to complain--about anything. It may be the very reason you left that country and sought a better life here. Why else would you uproot your family, travel thousands of miles to a place where nothing is easy and no one is familiar? I get that.

I just have one thing to say to you and all the horn-honking, traffic-cutting mad drivers in this town: don’t make this country a duplicate of that country. There’s a saying (and I’m sure you’re familiar with it) goes something like this: taking off one’s pants to break wind.

It makes your thousand-mile move totally unnecessary if you insist on behaving the old way. You might as well stay where you were in the first place.


(Other than raining one hundred eighty days a year and the few little things mentioned above, it really is a nice little town to live here. No really.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Skin Deep

The box of glass plates removed from the display rack was heavy. Mr. Wong offered to lug it for Mrs. Liu, who was a tiny woman in her seventy’s. She was so tiny, in fact, that she had to shop her clothes in children’s department, then had them altered to fit her properly.


Mom’s display rack had some knickknacks only she found precious. The rest of us were happy to see it go--especially Mr. Wong, who was also our realtor.

I opened the front door for them. The cold air and grey skies reminded me again this was not California, and how I missed it.

Mr. Wong was supposed to hold the dolly that had the box of glass while Mrs. Liu and I unloaded the plates from the box to the back of her car.

He let go and the box fell, without my knowledge, behind my back, hitting my right heel.

I grabbed my heel and stopped breathing. They were shocked and asking me if I was alright. I couldn’t speak for a few seconds.

When the pain subsided I lifted the pant and found a piece of skin missing. Some blood was dripping and the heel around it already turned blue.

I assured them I was fine, but might need to put a Band Aid on it, and went back upstairs half limping.

Mom was either trying to call someone or playing her handheld toy. She asked me if I remember to take the keys back and I told her what happened.

She said, “You sure know how to pick a fine place to stand.” without once looking up.

I found a Band Aid and went to the bedroom.

Of all the arguments we had over throwing her possessions away, this comment hurt me the most.

It was understandable she was infuriated by my actions in the past two weeks, even though she knew they were the right actions, and she had no idea where to begin if I hadn‘t done it for her. I knew it must be hard to be parted with her worldly possessions and move eight hundred miles away.

She was not trying to be cold. I was expecting too much.

I was silly to think now that she was going to live with me, somehow I would get a loving mother that I never had.

Growing up with a pair of self-centered parents, I should know better. They both were buried in their own miseries that life, and themselves, had brought on. No one had doted on me since I was a child. I should know not to rely on anyone emotionally. I have finally learned to be happy.

So why couldn’t I stop my tears?

Am I still trying to fill that void unconsciously no matter how hard I tried to ignore it consciously? I’m relatively smart and somewhat educated. I know a lost cause when I see one--most of the time.

What stubborn and unexplainable force possessed me to think if I looked hard enough I would find what I was missing?

Sometimes, some people are just skin deep. They are what you see.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Like Thunders to Ducks

She must have been watching me. As soon as I finished the form she gestured “Can you do this for me, too?” while holding up her form.

I guessed it. I didn’t understand a thing uttered from her mouth. Thank goodness hand gestures are mostly universal. The smile didn’t hurt either.

I could see the plot she and her husband secretly came up when I was writing. “Look, she knows English! She can help us!” Two heads nodded eagerly.

I assumed they were a couple. I know her culture. She wouldn’t be traveling with a man who was not her husband. But wait, they had different last names...

Two different passports for a couple. Interesting… Maybe they were brother/sister whose life paths led them half a world apart. I have never met my uncles, aunts, and cousins from either side of my parents, except for the one uncle who fled to the island. The war tore the families apart.

“Do you have meat, poultry, or food with you?” He shook his head. I didn’t think he knew what poultry was.

“Do you have over ten thousand dollars with you?” He showed me his index finger and said slowly: “One thousand.”

That was five times of my cash on hand. No wonder she wore pure gold earrings and ring.

“Do you have any guns?” I formed a gun with my fingers and aimed it at him. He laughed and said no. This question never ceased to amaze me. Do they really expect me to say “yes” if I had a gun in my bag and somehow escaped the baggage screening?

I skipped the question about the farm. It would be too much work to explain a farm. The local agricultural bureau would have to be on guard without my help.

“Sign here.” I pointed the form and handed over my pen. They both signed. She thanked me in her dialect.

It appeared they wanted to stay quiet and subdue. They didn‘t get such luck from me. I opened the booklet and showed them the choices of snacks available for purchase. They smiled and nodded, then shook, their heads.

Our abilities of understanding each other fit the saying “like thunders to ducks” perfectly. We knew something was making a lot of noise, but had very little idea what was really happening.

This must be how my mother used to travel to see me. She always called me after she arrived home, describing the trip to me loudly. The flight was delayed. I met a person on the plane who spoke my language. My friend picked me up. I ate the sandwich you made for me. A woman at the customs questioned me on the jewelries I wore. Etc, etc.

I always thought it was silly to make a less-than-two-hour trip sounded like a big ordeal.

The couple made me see that it was a big deal for my mom. She couldn’t fill the customs form. She couldn’t order anything to eat or drink. Somebody had to help her. With a lot of patience while doing it.

My eyes welled up. I was full of gratitude to those strangers who helped my mom on the numerous flights she took. I now know why she was so excited when she got home safely.

I ordered a box of snacks and forced the couple to eat it with me.

Let them think I was a strange and crazy woman. I don’t care.


(I’m visiting my mom who broke her wrist recently. I will be mostly missing from the blog world for a while since there’s a lot to do.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Herder



Tu-er looks at the fading sunlight and increases his pace. The sun is clinging on the silhouette of the mountains and slipping down unwillingly. The town behind him is swallowed up by the evening haze. As far as he could see there’s no smoke to indicate a village is near.

Curse that old man at the noodle stand, he thinks. The old man told him a village was within five miles and could be reached by dark. He was eager to get home after a month away from his family, so he took advantage of the sunlight and his strong legs.

Maybe he missed the turnoff. A fork taunted him a couple of miles ago. He followed the direction given to him to “keep going west” and now he’s not so sure. A sudden scream startles him and he jolts at the noise. A big bird dashes out of an elm tree, its dark wings flap a few times and disappears into the grey horizon. He exhales nervously.

A blister threatens him inside the hemp sole. Perhaps a night under a tree away from the element is the only way to sleep tonight. He surveys the landscape when he notices a vague shape in the dark. He focuses on it and a rush of joy washes all the anxiety away. It’s a small temple. He runs toward it with brave big steps.

He pushes the wooden door slowly. To his further delight it’s closed but not bolted. He calls out timidly, asking if he could spend the night, while crossing the foot-high thresh-hold carefully. A statue sitting behind an altar table greets him with wordless stern warning. The offering room appears endless in the dark air.

The cold incense burner and the empty tabletop tell him its abandoned state. He decides it’s a place safe enough to spend the night. He spreads out the cotton quilt he carries on his back and closes the door.

Few moments after he closes his eyes, it seems, a squeaky noise and a cold breeze on his face chase the slumber away. He sits up under the quilt with his heart pounding in his chest, his eyes searching wildly in the dark. The temple door is ajar. The pre-dawn moonlight casts a blurry streak on the floor. He must have slept through the night without bolting the door first. What a coward, he scolds himself, and stands up to close the door.

His hand freezes on the edge of the door. A group of people, their shapes can’t be made out with the moon hiding in the flowing clouds, are running toward him--toward the temple. The bobbing shadow alerts him he doesn’t have much time.

He had the misfortune of running into the bandits once, and he knows what will happen if they see him. With the fastest speed he wraps up his belongings and rolls under the altar table. The tables are covered with red table cover, a long table in the back and a short one in the front. To be safe he presses himself all the way to the back. The statue and the long altar table are set in an alcove and is the only safe place he could hide.

He stops breathing when they come inside.

Thud, thud, thud. Sounds like they jump in one by one. A man yells tiao, tiao...!

He doesn’t understand. As if the rest of them don’t know there is a thresh-hold and need instruction to jump over it. He listens on. The man chants for a while in words he couldn’t make sense of, with more of the thud, thud in the mix.

To his surprise, the noise quiets down shortly and the door is closed again. He could hear the man standing in front of the table praying to the god for a safe trip home, and the sound of the man putting his bedding down. Soon his snoring rattles the worship room. The rest of the group doesn’t make so much noise as breathing.

He slowly lifts a sliver of the table cover against his own warning. The man on the floor is sound asleep. He looks up slowly and could see a row of man-shaped objects lined up against the wall. They are wrapped in linen from head to toe, their eyes two black holes looking into the lifeless space in front of them.

It feels like a bomb exploded in his head and forced all the blood out. As he slowly slips to the floor and faints, he remembers the tale he once heard from the village elder.

The families of the traveling men died away from home sometimes didn’t have money to have their bodies shipped back home. They would pool their money together and hire a herder--a mysterious man with special and dark power to command the corps. They travel by night and sleep by day, and always by routes seldom traversed. The corps jump, not walk, while they travel. It was imperative, the elder said, not to disturb them if you bumped into them, or bad fortune would be upon you soon.

By the time Tu-er comes to, the herder and the corps are deep in their “sleep,” and the pearly grey outside is promising a good day ahead.

He doesn’t remember how he got out of the temple. Perhaps he crawled out, although his children and acquaintances will never hear that from him. He never risks traveling at night just to get more mileage in anymore.

(Corps Herder was a real profession and a lost art—according to the elders)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cicada Song



The sea of red petals of the phoenix trees paint every treetop to bright red, and set the heated July sky on fire. They seem to be particularly brazen in color this year. 

Millions of cicadas join the summer march by singing their mating songs with all the force they can squeeze from their tiny bodies. They scream “Look at me--I’m here!” with their bug eyes and bulky dark bodies as if the world is ending tomorrow.

Everywhere she goes she can’t escape the loud reminder: graduation in two weeks. 

Pearl puts her books and pens in the book bag one by one deliberately slow. She hopes she can catch a glance from Toni. In fact, she hopes for more than a glance, but she will be blissfully happy if it’s only a look or a smile from Toni.

Her face dims when she sees Toni’s back leaving the classroom. She does a quick scan just to make sure Leanne is not one of the girls leaving with her. 

She’s not. Pearl feels relieved.

Leanne’s face is pretty and delicate. She attracts attention from everyone--especially Toni’s. Pearl doesn’t want to, but her heart feels as if it's filled with acid each time she sees them walking together, often laughing in a world where Pearl does not exist.

Look at me. I’m not pretty like Leanne, but I don’t ask for much either--Pearl quietly pleads. The day shines much brighter if Toni looks her way once or twice. She can’t tell anybody this secret. She doesn’t know how to explain.

How can she like a girl in that way? They don’t understand Toni. Toni is not just a girl. Her hair is cut to extra short. Her pleated skirt looks like it doesn’t belong, and is such a bother to her. She cuts her nails short and walks in large and square strides. She is something else disguised in a girl’s body. Something so different and dangerous that lures Pearl with an unfamiliar excitement. 

The walk home is quiet and alone, as it is every day for Pearl. She says “baba” to the man sitting in the living room. He is watching TV and grunts an “um” to her, his eyes fixed on the TV. The three of them--her father, her step-mother, and her half brother--look like a happy family that needs no intruder. The woman and the young boy don’t pay any attention to her. They never do. She retreats to her room to finish her homework, her yearning for Toni continues in the small and muggy room.

The school held a sleepover in the gym once. She was assigned a spot next to Toni. She was so nervous and excited she could hardly talk or sleep. Her head was next to Toni’s, but she couldn’t look into Toni’s smiling eyes. To cover her shyness, she turned her back and pretended to be sleeping. What she would do to revise that day! She would talk all night with the one person she adores the most. She would find out all about her, and find a way to let her know how she thinks about her every day.

Her shyness must have looked like cold indifference to Toni. Pearl realizes it now with a permanent stab in her heart. She missed the only chance she had. She watches helplessly when Toni and Leanne get closer each day.

The final days and exams come and gone in the speed of a tropical storm. Everyone is exchanging address and phone number. The yearbooks are signed over and over. Toni writes “wishing you a bright and successful future” on Pearl’s. It’s painfully routine and polite.

The graduation ceremony flashes through before Pearl, or anyone else, is ready. Auld Lang Sine is still ringing in their ears when they find themselves out of the hall. The girls wave good-bye to their classmates with tearful eyes, promising against life’s onslaught to keep in touch, and junior high is over.

The cicadas still sing on every treetop. The moment they stop singing is the moment they die. The phoenix trees still burn up the sky every summer, proclaiming their passion to few who notice. Pearl knows she is the only person in the world who knows the cicadas are calling out to Toni, but she will never see Toni again.


(Phoenix tree is called flame tree here)

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Follow



I shortened the leash and said “heel” before crossing the intersection. Coco tightened the leash right on cue as if I just gave her the command to run.


I’ve been walking and training her to heel for about a year and half now. I don’t know what her problem is. She knows to “wait” when I say so, just not “heel.” I can’t say she’s not smart, since she never misunderstands “breakfast” or “dinner.” Or the Chinese version of “come brush your teeth.”

I’m convinced a bilingual dog can’t be a dumb dog.

Yet she acted in complete surprise every time I yanked her back after the command “heel” and her subsequent running. I would tell her she was a little stinker for trying to flee from me. Maybe that’s where I did wrong. Maybe "little stinker" sounds like "good job" in Yorkie lingo.

I saw the couple on the other side before crossing the street. At first glance they looked like strangers who happened to be walking on the same side of the street. He walked a good forty feet ahead of her and seemed not at all concerned that she was about to cross the street by herself. He didn’t stop or look back, just kept on walking.

Coco and I kept our distance behind them. She had dark hair fashioned into a simple bun. It was the only part of her that didn’t say “old.” She was short and walked with a little lopsided stride in her chubby physique. He, on the other hand, was tall and agile. The distance between them made me somehow want to yell at him.

They were from the same mysterious country from the far away land of which I knew very little. Must be arranged marriage--I mused to myself. Suddenly he made a blunt one-eighty and I yelled silently--yay, he did care!

He passed her without a word or even a glance, and turned back a few feet afterward. In the meanwhile she didn’t miss a beat--just kept on walking behind him.

I was getting annoyed, despite the fact that I knew I shouldn’t. I was from the same kind of society where men walked around as if they were sent down here in golden sedan carried by God himself. I had enough of that that I didn’t want to see it here. I sometimes would get stuck in the doorway with another man from my hometown, who clearly was not familiar with the concept of “ladies first,” and I would go out of my way to ignore him and resist the urge to apologize.

They had to learn and I was accelerating their assimilation process by giving them their first lesson.

It was also annoying that “love” did not exist to us. If we were awkward adults with no clue how to show affection, it’s because we were raised where love was a hushed word, a taboo. It’s a shameful emotion that should be ignored at all costs.

Parents showed their love by scolding and putting their children down in front of others. Criticism equates adoration in their minds. They get away with it because parents command complete filial piety, one of the first words I looked up in the dictionary soon after I came here, upon their children; and because there’s no such thing as “therapy.” We had nobody to blame for our problems.

Love is to be assumed, and not expressed, between husband and wife, or lovers. My friend once told me she loved her husband, and her mother said she talked like an idiot. Did she have no shame, she wondered about her daughter.

Having a full stomach, on the other hand, is of utmost concern of ours. We greet each other not with “how are you” but “have you eaten yet,” or the latter follows the prior immediately after. Regardless your answer, we will proceed to force-feed you until your mid section is about to explode. It took me years to forgo the habit of taking food with me when going on car rides with my friend. She shared the peculiar behavior with her other friends, and they had a good laugh. I didn’t understand why it was funny just as they didn’t understand my need to feed her.

Had she known where I was coming from, she would’ve asked “Where are the chicken wings?” instead.

The couple made a turn and parted way with us. He stopped and looked back until she almost caught up before making the turn. They didn’t share a word throughout the walk, and yet there was an air they silently exuded that was so comforting. They stuck together through so many decades, and in all likelihood will be fulfilling “’til death do us part” part of the union. I watched their backs, lanky and nimble versus short and wobbly, trotting away from me for a few seconds. I wasn’t so annoyed anymore.

Coco looked at them and realized that wasn't the path we were taking. Not anytime soon anyway. We continued on our usual route home. It must've started drizzling, as my cheeks were getting misty.



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Monday, August 16, 2010

Promise



Collin’s touch jolts me back from the murky abyss. I look into his blue eyes and I could tell he’s a little worried.

“Are you all right, darling?”

“Yes. It’s nice to be relaxed at last.” I put on a smile behind the sun glasses. I have loved this man for so long, and deceived him for so long, that I must keep the act going.

Until I find a way, if the possibility is not as bleak as it seems right now, to show him the truth without hurting him or the family.

“I know what you mean. I should thank you for planning this family vacation. The cruise is perfect so far.” He sits down next to me and looks out the horizon with a satisfied sigh, holding my hand in his. It’s not hard to make him happy, but he said “so far” as if he had some foretelling inkling.

Is he also gentle and loving like Collin? It’s been thirty years and my memory is a bit fuzzy of his face.

I remember kissing Collin good-bye and watching him drive away as if it were yesterday. I ran upstairs and cried behind closed door all night. He was going to college and it was our last day together for a long while.

We will see each other soon, he promised. Christmas will be here before you realize it. You know I love you, Alina. I am doing this for us, for our future. We will get married as soon as I’m done with the school. Wait for me, Alina.

I held Collin close to me that day while silently fighting a war inside me. He was gifted and disciplined. The future for him was bright and the college was the right thing to do. He said he wouldn’t look at other girls, and I trusted him. He never did the entire senior year we were together. I would wait for him for as long as it took. Other boys didn’t exist in my eyes.

He was also leaving early to start working at the college. It would be selfish if I told him I was pregnant. I knew he would’ve stopped his life to be with me. The thought of whether or not to tell him had tormented me for months. I lost weight instead of gaining it. Now it was too late to either tell him or to terminate it. There was only one option left. I had to beg my parents to keep it a secret. They finally caved in to my tears.

They tore my heart apart when they took my baby away. I was not allowed to hold him. They said it was for my own good. I glared at his face through tears for five seconds and tried hard to sear his image in my mind. They said it was better to give him up for adoption than otherwise. They said this as if they had no hearts and could feel no pain. The physical pain was minute comparing to the heartaches, which took years to heal. I learned to harden my heart each time I saw a baby, or heard a lullaby. I even drew up a sketch of a lovely woman holding my baby with a smile on her face in my mind, then pushed the sketch deep into the back and told myself he would be fine.

Collin held my face and said I had changed, but wasn’t sure how, the first time he came back for the holiday break. I hid my face in his collar and just said I missed him so much. He believed the tears were over his absence, and he loved me more. I learned to live with that lie, too.

The only thing I could remember now is he had Collin’s dark hair. Time has buried the little wrinkled face and the nine-month dark period in a place I seldom visited. Just when I started to think my life was perfect, that the darkness had finally left me, I got a letter from the agency.

Your son wanted to contact you, it said; he's waiting for your decision.

His first letter was enclosed. It was short and polite. He’s in the States half a globe away from me and somehow he found me. He talked about his life and work there, but very little about his childhood. The omission spoke louder than words. My heart sank. The promise that he would be with a good family was not kept. The sketch I made up for him was another lie burned up in smoke.

I’d love to meet you, he said. Is he punishing me by not saying he grew up in a loving family, or that he didn’t blame me? How could I tell him I did marry his father and have a great family, only he’s not included? Will he understand I didn't try to find him because I didn't think I had the right to disturb him? How could I tell Collin he had another son he never knew, because I gave him to strangers?

Me, the person he thanked many times for making his life complete, had carried this cancerous secret with me for thirty years. Our lives are built not on rocks, it seems, but in the sands, and now the tides are coming in. How, in trying to do the unselfish thing, did I manage to fail my family and my first born?

The shimmering ocean stays silent, but stares me back with an enticing promise. The promise of peace, at last.



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Friday, August 6, 2010

Point Siege


The river shines a million diamonds under the September sun. Donald doesn’t stop like he used to, but walks with his eyes looking straight ahead.

He used to think the river as a big, beautiful woman loving and nurturing her children with her ample bosom and comforting arms. With her soft throaty voice she sings them to sleep at night.

The hurricane changed it into a savage sea monster. It unleashed its claws and swept away houses with people in them. His roof was blown away and his possessions were stewed in muddy water. In one day he lost everything. He can't bear the sight of the river now.

He heard the police had set up an evacuation center at “The Point”--a small town spared by the hurricane and flood. He hopes they have food there. He's getting hungry after walking several hours on foot.

This town makes him uncomfortable. He saw a few glances behind the curtain along the way. Plantation style houses with summer blossoms and wrought iron fences can make a postcard ashamed, yet he feels he is being watched with unwelcoming eyes.

Some trees are lying on the street blocking his way. They are arranged not by wind, but by human hands. He looks around. Going back to bypass it will take too long. He's losing energy under the inferno heat. He bends down to remove the trees.

* * *

Robbie sees him passing his house and gets his shotgun out. He calls the boys and tells them where the guy is heading. The boys say they will be there soon. They are going to get him this time.

We set up the barricades to give you warnings, he says to himself, not my fault if you’re too dumb to get it. This town is special. We take good care of our properties, and we are not going to let some looters ruin it. Hurricane or not, you people are not welcome here. The sheriff told me they didn’t have enough people to maintain order. Do what you have to and leave them by the side walk, he said.

Robbie pats his shotgun proudly. He's grateful he had the smarts to get it at the first sight of the drones of those people flooding in to the center. No low lives like them are going to destroy our town by stealing or looting. We'll show them who’s in charge here.

* * *

The sound of the blast bounces off the water and ripples away slowly. Donald feels the pain in his neck, arms and back before falling to the ground. Two or three guys with guns pointing at him looking from above, their silhouettes big against the blue sky blocking the sunshine. He doesn't feel the heat anymore.

“We got you, nigger. We got you!” Robbie says. Donald sees anger in his eyes, but more than that, he sees fear glittering behind it. I know that fear, he wants to say. He had felt it many times before--every time he passed a man like him.



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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wild Ginger


shifu - abbess
nigu - buddhist nun
miao - buddhist temple



The hills glistened under the slanted golden sun. Her hand-tucked canvas shoes and long wide sleeves, sweeping along grasses scented with dewy drops, were wet. She brushed her long hair aside along with the sweat on her forehead and drew in deeply the cold mountain air.

She had collected enough fire woods for the day and filled the giant urn in the kitchen with spring water. Shifu told her to fetch one more thing for the ceremony tonight, and she was told to do this chore by herself.

Others had described the shape and scent to her before. It’s pure white in color, they said, and they bloom in summer with dancing petals. She missed the season when she came to the miao to stay last year. She was broken then, lost her sight for life.

Shifu and other nigus nursed her back to health in their quiet and gentle ways. She gradually understood from shifu’s wise eyes that life could be simple; that heartaches could be buried.

She realized she wanted to be one of them when she was healed. The tip of her hair danced in the gentle breeze and tickled her face, her neck. Waye used to do that. She pushed the thought out of her mind.

Not today, she thought, today I need to be pure and empty. The bothersome hair will be gone forever, much like her thoughts of earthly connection. Her fingers wrapped the hair around but she was concentrating on purging her thoughts and didn’t notice.

You will know when you find it, they said. The scent is divine, there’s nothing like it! That’s why we offer it to Buddha.

She followed the turn of the road and there it was: behind the big tree in the shade, some white flowers swayed in the air. The blade shaped green leaves bounced under filtered sun light. Her hands reached out to touch the petals and the aroma seized her.

Waye’s head was buried in her hair and he whispered: “You smell like heaven.. ” She felt Waye’s arms around her and she caressed her arms achingly. Her memories were battered with horrible fragments. There was blood all over her. She remembered screaming his name, his head draped lifelessly on the steering wheel. People were shouting and pulling her away from the car, from him. She couldn't stop screaming.

They told her she was lucky to have survived, but she didn’t know how to live without Waye. Her mother took her to this miao as a last attempt to pull her back to life. Almost a year later she decided to join the women. Her head would be shaved clean, a symbol of cutting tie with the rest of the world, and her scalp would be burned with incense for spiritual cleansing. All pains would be gone for good.

Her face was wet with tears and her arms full with white wild ginger flowers. She had lost the sense of time sitting under the tree. Fresh tears kept flowing down and she let them come out freely. She was no longer lost. Her heart hurt for the first time in a year.

Shifu saw her face when she walked into the miao and knew--the broken child was repaired. She carefully put the flowers in the vase in front of Buddha’s statue and turned to face shifu.

“They smelled so...” she began to say, but words failed her and her voice cracked.

“I know.” shifu said, her eyes calm with foreboding wisdom. “ Your bag is packed and ready in your room.” she said, gently and lovingly, “Go now. Go and have a wonderful life.”


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Monday, July 12, 2010

Hair Therapy



The shop was sparse when I walked in. A woman sat me down and asked what I wanted. I didn’t remember her but I was not surprised. Their turnover rate must be astronomical, and the quality of their work remains not improved.

I don’t do the $50.00 haircut. I tried, but nobody ever said “Wow. Your hair looks gorgeous!” to me.
I told myself if nobody could tell the difference, it makes no difference where I get the cut.

I don’t do Lancome or Estee Lauder brand for skincare either, but only because my skin broke out miserably every time I did. I’m more than happy to save some money there, too. Drugstore brand works great in that aspect.

My mother has a good analogy for that. She told me I was born with a body fit for a royal family (that means not very strong and needs pampering), but a fate proper for a poor peasant (that's pretty self-explanatory).

Thanks, mom.

I do draw the line at Supercuts. They butchered my hair so bad once that I looked like a man. Actually, more like a woman who would prefer a female lover.

“Your hair is wavy.” The hairdresser commented.

My hair is straight, but she would hear none of it. She pointed at the back of my head, where a few strands of hair were posing in an acrobatic twist.

“Yes, it IS wavy.” I said.

She had the scissors, so I let her win. My decades of experience with my own hair merely meant she knew better than me.

I looked around the shop when she did the cutting. I’ve learned long ago they had their own minds on how you should look. It’s beneficial for my own mental health if I indulge their artistic expressions freely.

A man walked in. He was short with dark skin, but pleasant at first glance for the smile he was sporting. He looked around and proclaimed happily, “Ah, there you are—hiding in the back!”

A woman stood up and greeted him. She was his favorite, obviously. She had a knit top on, and her torso was squeezed into three sections above her waist, in Michelin Tire logo guy style.

I soon found out she was his victim, not favorite. He talked non stop all the time while she cut his hair. I tried to tune him out, but he was only two seats down. At one time I heard him asking her if she knew the difference between smart and intelligent, then proceeded to explain the difference. She murmured mindless “uh hum” every now and then while trimming. Maybe she had a good reason to be hiding in the back.

He was either in love with her, or had a bad case of superiority complex. Either way it was an urban tragedy. She struck me as the type who would value earthly pleasure more than intellectual enlightening, with which he was so eager to impart.

He had better come up with a better strategy if he wanted this to go anywhere. I would suggest lots of dining out and leisure drives in his luxury car if he had one.

As for the complex, he’s on his own. My arms weren’t long enough to reach over and slap him out of it.

She said something to her coworkers in a foreign language after he left. I had a pretty good idea what that might be. Following is just one of many possibilities:

“WTH was that? He should pay me double for putting up with all his crap!”

A haircut is not only a fun and relaxing event, it can also be therapeutic at times.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Last Train for Home



She moved a little closer to the edge after sitting there for a while. The stomach ache gnawed at her now and then. She ignored it. The pain became easier to endure after some practice.

The locomotive in the distant dark cried a muffled woo-woo. She listened and remembered sitting in one a few months ago. How hopeful and bright-eyed she was.

Momma, wait for my letter--she had said to her mother. I will save every penny I make and send them to you. You will be able to buy meat and new fabrics for the family. We will have a much better life after I get there. They say everything is better at the factory. Money, meals, and new dorms. Oh, I can't wait to get there.

She remembered eating dry bread on the train. Her mother saved all she could to make the flat bread for her trip. She couldn't afford to buy anything during the trip. They spent all they had to get her the train ticket.

Momma, they took my ID card the first day I got here. I couldn't go home without it.

They took most of my wages, too. They said it was for security's sake. I soon realized it was for their security, not mine. It was the way to make sure we would stay there forever.

There was plenty of work. Too much work. And we weren't allowed to say no. It seemed the back-orders never stopped flooding in. The kids in "The Beautiful Country" are so lucky. These gadgets we make day and night couldn't fill their demand. They must have so much money.

We didn't have time to rest on days at a time. Often we didn't have time to eat. I had to swallow my rice so fast, soon my stomach started to ache. They wouldn't let me go to the hospital. They would deduct my wages for missing work, they said. So I pushed the pain away and worked.

At night my dorm-mates could hear my pain even though I tried to hide it. The dorms were big rooms with curtain dividers between rows of beds. Ah May was my neighbor. She was worried for me, but there was little she could do to help. She smuggled rice mush for me when she could--it helped ease my pain a bit. My line supervisor was not happy with me. He said I worked too slow. That meant deduction on my wages.

I'm so tired, momma. I feel dizzy. I hadn't slept for two days now. The orders must be filled, so nobody could rest until they were done. I complained to the head of the union once, and I learned not to do it again. The company's manager reprimanded me in front of all my dorm-mates for complaining. I was so naive. I didn't know the union leader reported to him.

We have fifteen minutes for dinner, then we have to go back to work. I snuck up here because it's quiet and peaceful. I'm tired and dizzy, but I'm not hungry. Momma, I really don't want to go back to the factory. I don't know how much longer I could endure the dreadful place and endless work. I don't care if they take my wages. I just want to sleep.

She moved again but wavered and lost her balance. The last thing she saw was the concrete-covered ground rushing up to meet her.

The woman a thousand miles away heard the soft whistle of a train passing by the village. She wondered when her daughter would be home again. Her last letter was more than a month ago. Is she alright? The low and sad whistle made her eyes watery.

She didn't know her daughter had already started her journey home.



(To the twelve workers committed suicide at Foxconn. 'The Beautiful Country' in Chinese means U.S.A.)



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Monday, June 21, 2010

Grounded


Go away, I whisper to myself. Please...just go away.

But no. The little girl and her little dog get closer. The bouncy, featherless, naked dog looks into the viny grass where I thought was a good hiding place.

I back up a little when its little brown nose gets close, praying that they don't see me.

"There it is!" The little girl shrieks.

Qua! Qua! Mom is very mad at this--they are getting too close to me. She jumps around yelling with all her force. Soon dad joins her. I could see from under the grass that they both are jumping up and down, and the screaming is almost deafening.

I know they are worried sick, but all this noise is not helping with my hiding.

A woman with another little dog appears from behind a door. At lease this dog has long hair and doesn't look obscenely naked. Something tells me I should move, and fast.

I jump out of the viny grass when the little girl is not looking in my direction, and hop with all the strength I can summon to get away.

The shoulder hurts when I hop, but the other side of the courtyard looks safer than here.

The little dog, the little girl, the woman with the little dog in her arms, all follow me as if I was putting on a magic show. Mom and dad follow me from above--never stop yelling for a second.

This is aggravating. Why couldn't these people just leave me alone? Thank goodness the bushes and grass are coming up. With one last hop I dive into the grass.

The woman disappears and reappears without the little dog, and her hands are covered with something thick. She tries to grab me. I dodge and sidestep in the grass so she can't reach me. I show her my sharp beak and imitate mom's screaming when her hands are upon me. That scares her and makes her stop. She disappears.

A guy appears from nowhere and tries the same thing. I scare him away the same way I did with the woman. All this hopping around trying to stay away from them is hurting me even more.

I survived the night before on unsuspecting bugs and dew drops on the grass. I'm sure I can manage if they will just let me be.

Mom and dad still jump from branch to branch, screaming at the top of their lungs. Qua! Qua! Her voice is getting coarse, but she doesn't stop.

I'm sorry, mom. I didn't mean to make you worry. The worm looked so good and I wanted to show you how strong I was. I didn't see the short tree next to it until too late. I miss our warm and safe home up there. I want to go back, but I don't know when I will be able to fly again. My chest hurts each time the thought occurs.

The woman tells the man she called the animal services. I hope they are less annoying than these people and dogs. I can't get a minute of rest when they are around.

All of a sudden they don't worry me that much anymore.

From the corner of my eyes I could see a steel-gray cat quietly approaching. Mom told me before: it is one of the most dangerous things I should watch for when out hunting for worms.

I'm scared. From the screaming noise made by mom and dad, I know they are, too. I hope I can survive tonight.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

When Good Girl Gone Bad...

I am ashamed to say that I have been a bad girl lately.

I have been a little depressed after the visit to my mom's. We are now in a holding pattern as she couldn't decide whether to move in with me or not. Regardless of her decision some significant challenges will present themselves for sure. The fact that Parkinson's could be genetically passed down didn't help either, so I escaped to the imaginary land of stories. I piled up the awards I was given, awesome blogs that I should have mentioned and passed the awards forward, and buried my head in the sand for the past few months.

That's what I meant by "good girl gone bad." I hope you weren't expecting something else.

There are other reasons for my postponement. Each time I recieve an award it's incredibly humbling for me. Someone thinks my blog is not only worth reading, but worthy of an award! I am forever grateful for being able to make the journey to the wonderland, and take you with me for the ride.

The pressure of passing down the award is another reason. All I can say is there are too many great blogs/writers out there and not enough awards to go around. All the blogs I'm following are wonderful and worth your visit.

Here are the awards I stored away and now is the time to say thanks:

Sarah just finished her 250-page book, so I should say Sarah, a writer is born!


Sandra is a former math teacher. Alas, she has moved on to other things in life. I hope someday she'll revive her blog to document the progress in her artistic pursuit.


He combines the Englishman's humor with the most, eh hum, interesting, pictures on his blog.


Tom's lunacy can be related to many, and particularly, me.


Back to Sarah again. I find her life in Canada as a student very interesting and her writing introspective. I'm sure you will, too.

Thank you all for thinking of me. I have an award for you as well. (see below for the fireworks one)

Some awards have rules to follow and some don't. I can't remember which is which, so I'm making up my own. I'm listing some of the wonderful blogs here for you to check them out. The blog owners below can grab any awards above and do whatever they want:

Hunter has a way with words and is working on a novel. That's how you can tell who a serious writer is. http://timecrook.blogspot.com/

Bruce's columnist style writing is always insightful and powerful. I won't be surprised if he's secretly working for Boston Globe or New York Times. http://brucecoltin.blogspot.com/

Tina's supernatural stories send chills down your spine. She, too, is working on a novel--her second one. http://www.thecleanwhitepage.com/

Charlene finds lessons even in life's most difficult chapters. Her blog is always uplifting and inspirational. http://www.beamingbalance.com/

Lou is a talented writer. I think she is also working on a novel--another real writer in the making. http://livewritedream.blogspot.com/

Judie makes breathtakingly beautiful arts of various mediums. Her feelings come through in her words and just as touching. http://rogueartistsspeak.blogspot.com/

Kitty's stories make you laugh, cry, and laugh some more. Her life in UK will hook you on the first read. http://kittymoore.blogspot.com/

Angie is another artist with an uncommon medium: pyrography. It's a slow but interesting progress. http://angierea-originalpyrographicart.blogspot.com/

Robyn has the worst luck in dating, but that makes great blogging material for us. I hope her bad luck continues...just kidding Robyn. http://rawknrobynsgoneblogwild.blogspot.com/

I know I missed quite a few great bloggers out there, so here is an award I made in case you're visiting:

To all the followers and all the blogs I'm following--You are all awesome!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Sacrifice


How long had it been? She couldn't remember. Her eyes were blurry and her throat was dry. Slowly she picked herself up from the floor, holding on to the wall that once was a door.

She tried to clear her throat, but the only sound it made was a scratchy echo rippled in the vast room. She looked around with a cold smile.

The walls were painted with deities to guide and welcome the pharaoh's arrival. The scripts next to them depicted what a great king he was. All the figurings, jewelries, furniture and everything else they thought the pharaoh would need in his afterlife was provided, richly decorated with glittering gold and priceless gems. The garnet ring whispered to her under the torch light with its crimson curse.

She grabbed the ring and threw it against the door with a desparate roar.

Her parents were more than relieved when she was picked by the pharaoh's court. They could barely feed the family of seven. Now she could take care of the family for a change.

And she did. The pharaoh was charmed by her gift of singing and dancing. She was showered with jewelries, presents and servants, and most of all, the pharaoh's frequent visit to her chamber. She sent most of the favors home.

"Papa, put these away for me please." She said. Her papa understood the unspoken words, and kept the small stash for her. The family was well fed now, but she was afraid of her position in the pharaoh's court. She couldn't give him a son, a tragedy saddened them both, but his love for her never wavered. It was his wife's jealous look that worried her the most.

Being the pharaoh's favorite woman, she imagined a quiet and secluded life after his passing. After all, he was quite a bit older than her. Although he promised to take care of her, she knew her fate would be uncertain once her protector was gone. Still, she had prayed to the gods that she would be sent home by the queen to live out the rest of her life.

She laughed. A tear slid down her cheek and she didn't wipe it away. She didn't suspect a thing when the queen told her to dress up for the funeral. We need to look our best for the pharaoh's journey, she said.

She was in the middle of the prayers when she suddenly realized her voice sounded hollow in the room. She looked up and saw the last of sunlight before the stone door slowly closed out the world behind it. She ran to it screaming, "No! Have mercy, My Lady!"

The queen's voice coldly replied, "Thank you for volunteering your companion, Amarna. We are grateful for your sacrifice." With that, the door was sealed forever.

The air felt cool and heavy in her chest. There wasn’t much time left. She found a hairpin in the jewelry chest and started carving on the wall. She and her family would be long gone when someone saw this—if it would be seen at all. Her only hope was her story would be told, and her name would be remembered.

Her malachite-green eye shadows were smeared with black eyeliners by tears, but nobody would witness it. She would leave the gold and turquoise necklace, bracelets and headdress on her, so one day people will have a clue as who she was from her remains.

I may not have an afterlife for the lack of a proper burial, but my name will live forever--she promised herself.



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(A trip to the Egyptian museum inspired my wild imagination.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Veil of the Night


I adjust the paper bag in my hand before opening the door to the living room. Not because I have anything to hide. I hope for her sake she knows how to behave by now. It's easier if she doesn't see the wine right away.


She comes over with a smile and says 'hi honey.' I peck her cheek just light enough to keep her on her toes. It tells her to watch out and leave me alone. Sure enough, her smile becomes somewhat uncertain. A subtle cloud arises between us just the way I wanted.

I suppress a chuckle with pursed lips. It's the oldest trick on earth--the best defense is an early offense. She is weak as usual to counter my game plan.

The kids stand half way on the stairs and say hi to me before quietly going back to their homework. I stop and listen for a while--it is quiet upstairs as usual. They know the rule: no TV before finishing their homework. I will not have a noisy house when I come home, and this assures it stay that way.

They are good kids--if you think getting good grades at school and not rowdy like other teenagers are good. I make sure they understand where they are in my eyes. When she showed me the daughter's report card with all As, I reminded her that she was not in the special program for gifted kids. She got quiet.

Don't even try to imply I am stupid because I didn't finish college. I easily proved to the three of them I was smarter than any of them. Now they tip-toe around me just as I expected.

It is even easier with the boy. He is a happy little guy with short memory span. There is no lacking of words or opportunities to put him in his place. "Dumb-ass" seems to quiet him down fast enough.

I provide this home for them, and I make sure they appreciate it and worship me properly. I need them to show that nobody is more superior to me.

She is cooking something in the kitchen. I walk in there and take a silent look into the pan. I walk out with a glass and a bottle opener. This will no doubt make her doubt her own cooking and leave me further alone.

I listen to the soft chatters between her and the kids in the kitchen while quietly nursing my White Zin in the living room. I know she glanced at my direction a few times, wondering what was wrong. Just the way I wanted her to feel.

I might open a second bottle if the moods fit me. This should teach her a lasting lesson.

She had the nerve to challenge me to stop drinking. For a whole month! I told her I could stop any time I wanted, and I took up her challenge successfully for two weeks. That should be more than enough to prove that I didn't have a problem. I saw no point in continuing it. So what if I drink a bottle or two after work? It's not a big deal, and it irks me that she thinks it is. It's the reward I deserve after a day in the office.

The best way to make her stop challenging me is to turn the table on her. I did it for years, on many people. I knew it would work, and it did not disappoint. I took over control on everything within a month.

The old man's face slowly surfaces as I start the first glass. The anger I felt when he raised his fist to my mother, the shame I felt when he called me names, and the worst of all: the fear and powerlessness he made me feel every time he had a drunken rage. I take a big gulp from the glass to dampen the nameless anger rising inside.

I swore I would never feel that way again--by anyone. I make sure she knows I have no problem raising my fist to her--the way I did to the one before her. I am, after-all, three times her weight. I could break her with two fingers. She knows very well that I am a real man. Too bad the old man isn't here, but she and the kids are.

It is getting late. The house is quiet. They know I don't like laughter or noise. The old man's face starts to fade as the White Zin goes down in the bottle. I think I will open another one just to make sure he vanishes completely.

When I go up there she has better be ready. The king of the night will take whatever he pleases.



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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

E. O. E.


“Guess what I found out?”

Sharla and I became friends after working several months together, and we talked once in a while after I left.

“What?” Her tone of voice piqued my curiosity; although I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to find out. I braced myself for the suspense.

“Judy, one of the new hires, is the sister of the other team lead – Pam.”

The forgotten rage flooded back with a vengeance. So many questions were suddenly answered.

QHF was one of the major energy companies in this state. The interview for the contract job had gone well with two supervisors, and I didn’t mind the long commute too much. It was a nice change to trade driving with reading on the train.

However, the job itself left much to be desired. Of each and every step in the project management process, an approval was required. Project assistants spent most of their days sending out, chasing after, and archiving these approvals. Whoever designed this process must have lived in the 19th century and stayed there. I watched with dread each time I glanced at their enormous spreadsheet used just to keep track of the status of all the approvals.

Thank heavens I didn’t have to do that. The manager whose work I was supporting decided not to manage her program, which was entirely different from other projects, with this cumbersome process. I did have to spend a lot of time converting spreadsheet data into a project plan in the beginning, and run intricate reports weekly, but I would do anything not to chase the approval papers daily.

The same manager also fought with two other groups to have me on her projects full-time. I was working on her projects on a part-time basis, and she was quite happy with my work. She looked intimidating, and most people shied away from working with her. I was able to look past her serious exterior and got along with her amicably -- much to my co-workers’ amazement.

I had dealt with HR department of both large and small companies long enough to ignore the first two emails encouraging us to apply for the new position. Besides, some contract jobs I had lasted longer than some of my “real" jobs, and I had become accustomed to certain degree of freedom that came with  contract josb. The second email was forwarded by my reporting supervisor with blind copies to anonymous recipients.

One morning my reporting supervisor came to my desk asking me to apply. I thought about it for a long time, then decided not to let her feel snubbed. It was a public company. Surely they would follow the laws, right?

I went through two rounds of interview. They went well. One day a man from HR called and asked for my pay rate. He indicated that he was working on an offer for me and needed that information. I was excited and started to plan my near future in the following few weeks. The job wasn’t ideal, but it provided a starting point, not to mention some sense of security that would be nice to have.

Instead of an offer letter, I received a “Thanks but no thanks” email from HR two weeks later. They had decided on a “more qualified candidate.” I saw the subsequent announcement email with the new hires’ qualifications listed. Four out of five new hires didn't have either the degree or the related work experiences required. At least two out of five didn’t have better qualifications than I did - Judy was one of them. The HR was working on my offer when they called. What happened between then and now?

I had no ways or means to fight with a team of corporate lawyers, who were paid for the sole purpose of defending the company’s interests. I talked to the sympathetic but powerless manager who I worked with, and did the only thing I could -- I left and never went back. I felt bad for leaving, but not as bad as the indication that I was unfit for the job, regardless how well it was working out for all parties involved, so they had to hire those less qualified people to fill the positions.

After I left, I was told the contractor who replaced me was so underqualified that her co-worker refused to train her. The comment I heard was "I don't have all day to train her on the basic skills she should have." She got the job because her half-sister worked there. That was not as bad, though, as the news I just heard from Sharla now.

I wonder what kind of connections the other four had.

For a few weeks I had really thought an enormous company with state-wide offices and employees would follow the laws and practice fair hiring. I was so pathetically wrong.

Next time I see the fine print on a company’s job site that says “We Are an Equal Opportunity Employer” I will be laughing so hard that my sides will split open. I will probably need medical attention, but it will be completely worth it.


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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lost

Screens of bamboos stood on guard on one side of the dirt road. Rice grasses swayed like sheets of green silk fluffed by a gentle and invisible hand on the other side of the road. I turned and looked at the other end of the road, only to find the same country scene. Panic, not serenity, hit me in an afternoon filled with pre-storm damp heat.

The seed of decades of nightmare had just been planted. It was the worst kind any kid could have--I was lost.

The singing rehearsal at the radio station had gone well, and we were told to come back the next day. A group of my classmates chosen by the teacher walked together toward the little village settlement while chatting, laughing and teasing. The head of the class was among us, and I was the target of his constant teasing. It must have been puppy love they so lovingly named it. I didn't feel much of the loving to be frank; but then, I was only in second grade.

I made the turn and walked away from the group. He yelled at me over and over: "No, Sarah. This is the way home! Not that one!" I refused to listen, thinking he was teasing me again, and I wasn't going to fall for that.

Now I desperately wanted to reverse that bad decision.

There was not a soul in sight. I had traversed the roads forever and no matter which way I turned, they all seemed familiar at first, and turned into another wrong direction shortly. I was both tired and anxious. My parents would think I was stupid not to follow the group. Worse yet, it was getting dark.

A small house sitting a few yards off the dirt road with a window that glowed warm amber light drew me closer to it. Either my pacing up and down or my sobbing, although I don't remember crying, caught the attention of a man and he walked out of the house. It wasn't difficult to see that I was miserably lost. He invited me into his house.

He had a wife and a little girl close to my age. We might have been going to the same school, but I didn't know her. I didn't refuse the dinner, but I couldn't eat much either. The reaction from my parents worried me the most. I asked them to take me home after dinner, but it started to pour and didn't want to stop. Finally they said I should spend the night there and they would take me home in the morning. There were no streetlights in country side, and nobody owned a car.

I was going to share the bed with their daughter. Just when I was getting ready for bed I heard the faint shouting of my name outside. I jumped up and said: "That's my dad!"

They opened the door and called out to him. There was my father, drenched with water but relieved to see me. He thanked the kind family after scolding me for getting lost, and then we were on our way home.

The dirt road outside had turned into an endless mud path. I was riding on his back, holding on to his neck with both of my arms. It was a surreal feeling forever etched in my memory, as my father seldom held me. I saw the water drops beading down his neck, not sure if they were rain or sweat. I felt guilty for causing so much trouble. I was ashamed for being dumb enough to get lost. However, beneath all those feelings I was also a little happy. It was one of the rare moments I felt loved by him.

My parents complained to the teacher and promptly ended my singing career next day. It made me feel like the biggest idiot in the world. It was many years later that I finally could relate to the anger my parents must have felt. I still blame the boy for my inability to sing karaoke today.

Perhaps I should thank the boy instead. Perhaps, just for a moment, panic also hit my father--thinking I was forever lost. Perhaps he held me a little closer to his heart because of it.



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