Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Liang Zhu

The red sedan swayed in hurried rhythms that told her the carriers were rushing. Unlike the usual wedding procession that was always led by musicians playing loudly with their suonas, this one was silenced by an unfortunate taboo.
They were headed to a graveyard.

Yingtai had barricaded herself in her room since the procession arrived this morning. If she had to marry someone she didn't know, with the only reason being he was from a rich family, then she would pay her respect to the man she had befriended, liked, then loved, for two years.

The bridegroom finally caved in, as the sun was tilting unmercifully toward the west.

Two years earlier, she had begged her father, who normally gave in to her pleading, to allow her to leave home and attend school. She was dissatisfied with home schooling, but boarding schools were for boys only. It was unheard of for a girl to leave home, disguise as a boy, and live among boys for such a long time. Sure, her maid Yinxin went with her as well, dressed as a young servant of hers, but the family's reputation would be greatly damaged if anybody ever learned a word about her endeavor.

Too much education would only do a girl harm—people believed. Perhaps there were plausible reasons for that…

This time, though, her tears could not change her father's mind. In fact, he lost his temper entirely when his daughter told him she had fallen in love with her classmate, and thus made the pre-determined wedding take on a sense of urgency. An educated daughter wouldn't hurt her chance of marrying well too much, but a daughter enamored another man? That was scandalous. He had to put his feet down.

Unlike her future husband, Shanbuo was poor. His family barely scraped enough to send him to school. He would probably be a teacher for some prosperous family. She didn't care. Everyday was filled with happiness when she was with him. She couldn't fathom life without him. They were best friends for two years, until the day before she left, urged by a letter from her father. That was when she finally told him what she really was. He was shocked, then realized why she was so different from all the other boys. He fell in love when she put her hair down, and behaved, for the first time, like a girl. They talked until day break.

He promised to send the matchmaker to her house as soon as possible. She arrived home only to find the matchmaker had been there, but was promptly turned down, for her father already selected a husband for her. She was broken by the news, but she died when the news of Shanbuo passed away three months later from a broken heart. That was when the world lost meaning to her.

Now the sedan stopped. Yinxin open the covering drape with a sad expression. Yingtai removed the jade bracelet from her wrist and put it in Yinxin's hand:

“You and I grew up together. We are like sisters. Take this as a present from me. My future mother-in-law may not want to keep you, so I want to give this to you now.”

“Young Miss, I can't take this.” Yinxin was alarmed. There were no tears on her young mistress' eyes as she had expected.

“Please accept it as a wedding present from me.” She insisted, then looked out. The procession stopped by a field that was filled with messy graves. She removed her red wedding dress to reveal the white mourning dress under it. Her red headdress was removed soon after the procession started its journey.

She found Shanbuo's grave with Yinxin's help. The faithful little maid had been the conduit between the young couple until the day he died.

She turned her face to the sky. No gods or fairris could save them. She had cried all the tears in the world and the world did not care, nor did it stop. She put down the flowers, fruits and incense, then she left the letter for her father behind the flowers. She begged him, for the last time, to forgive her. He didn't know what he did was killing her. How could he know?

She turned to look at Yinxin and smiled, then, with all the strength she had, crushed her head on the tombstone.

Yinxin's scream was dampened by the thunders from above. A butterfly seemed to come out from the grave. It fluttered closer and closer, then from Yingtai's lifeless body came another butterfly. Together they flew away. Together, they were forever to be. 

(Liang Shanbuo and Zhu Yingtai were buried together, and a temple of Shanbuo was built in year 347. The legend is often referred to as The Butterfly Lovers.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Laws of Harmony

According to a not-so-pleasant but all-so-true research of late, many of us will face a non-existent retirement when it’s time for the corporate world to kick us in the derrière just when time is near for us to qualify for that pension, and get a “package,” as they so strategically called, that will last you a year or half.

We can forget the Social Security or Medicare. The experts keep telling us they both are going to evaporate by the time we need them. It’s best not to get our hopes up.

We have a few options to consider, excluding the following: 1. Buy a mega lottery winning ticket. Caution--this doesn’t work that well from my personal experiences. 2. Execute a bank robbery. This will provide free room and board in local penitentiary (if we make sure the camera catch our faces clearly) but not much else, and if we don’t plan it well it could backfire in the “getting ourselves killed by the security guard” scenario.

We can move to where the jobs are, work as if the universe is ending tomorrow, save every penny and live in the Scrooge style that Dickens described so well in his book. Most of us don’t find that remotely appealing though. Another problem is we don’t speak the language where the jobs are--being proud Americans and all.

What else can I do, you ask. Let’s see…

Move into a trailer and live off the proceed of your house--if you are blessed with owning a house instead of an upside down mortgage in the first place. Keep your fingers crossed that the market will be more lucrative by that time.

I understand your need to be with family when your health and income are both declining. It’s a viable solution that each day looks more like the only solution for many of us. For the benefit of everyone involved, I think a list of things we should practice now is in order.

1. Showing appreciation is unbecoming, so make sure you don’t do it. Or better yet, let them know it’s not appreciated with every chance you have.

Maybe your kin moved out of his/her big bedroom so that you can enjoy it, and prepared new furniture for your comfort. That was what they were supposed to do anyway.

Say nothing or murmur an inaudible “thanks” when getting breakfast-in-bedroom service as if a knife is placed next to your décolletage and you are saying it against your will.

If he/she thoughtlessly ordered cable TV for you, make sure you throw a temper tantrum because the remote is different and you have to learn the channels anew. How inconvenient it is for you.

2. Show him/her how much you like the home cooked meals by insisting on eating out every other day. Lecture them on how restaurant food is healthy because the customer’s health is indeed the utmost concern of every restaurant owner.

Disregard the excess twenty pounds you are carrying because losing weight is so not in vogue among older people.

Take twenty different supplements daily to counter any claims that you are not eating healthy.

3. While dining out, display your best table etiquette. This includes slurping all things remotely liquid, diving into your food as soon as you are served without regards to others, sticking your fork into other’s plate if the other person is unfortunately served before you, spreading your elbows wide so others won’t get to your food (or get to eat their own food), chewing with half of the food hanging on the side of your mouth, etc.

A little primal insecurity will only do others, especially those you are supposed to nurture, immensely good.

4. You never make a mistake, so insist on it until the sun goes down, or until the cows come home--whichever occurs the latest. Blame others for what you did or didn’t do. Remind them you are not a lunatic if you run out of excuses.

5. Good conversation skills are imperative in old age. Nothing says harmony more when you scorn, jeer, challenge or argue every time you want to say something. Complain about something they love each day, such as a pet. It works like a charm to draw people in. Close yourself off to others so they will stay in different quarter of the house.

6. Honesty is the best policy, especially when interacting with others. Deny, make up stories from mid air, change facts to serve your purpose. Scold others for getting the "facts" wrong. Do all of these to keep them on their toes. This will show them you still have a sharp mind.

7. Doorknobs and handles are for imbeciles. Slam, shut, and bang all you want, but never use them to close things properly. Loud noise makes jumpy people, and thus makes their hearts so much healthier.

8. Frugality serves everyone good, so save a square or two of the toilet paper after your “session” to show them your good sense. This serves especially well when combined with #2 above, because eating out is a great way to save money.

On second thought, maybe a trailer is a much better way to go for you and your family’s mental health concern. Keep in mind that these are in no way any implication of how my mother behaves, because she is perfect--see #4.


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