The Hidden Seduction – Ticket to Ride

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Ticket to Ride

Sunny’s school ended in June, so Ou Yang decided to go visit her family in Xi’an. Actually, it was to keep her head from spinning since the big decision she made the week before: To sell the cottage and move to Vancouver. Staying in Montreal meant she had to shoulder all the responsibilities, the expenses for the house, and her son’s education. It also meant that she would have no time left for herself — no chance to go anywhere alone, to enjoy herself,  to go dancing.

These difficulties were all bearable except for the thought of her son not having his father around to love him and help with his education — things which required more than just time. Ou Yang had deep-seated worries about her son going through his life without a father by his side. In her mind, only a blood-related father could truly love and educate his son. Anyone else’s sincerity and integrity could easily come into question. When she watched her son fart and laugh without restrain in front of her friends, it convinced her that Sunny was developing bad behaviour and that he needed his father back.

With a pair of discounted tickets, Ou Yang and her son arrived home in Xi’an, where she was born and raised.

“Aiya, how come bao bao’s* teeth are so ugly!?” burst Ou Yang’s mother as soon as she caught sight of Sunny at the airport. This was only Sunny’s second time in China seeing his grandmama, and he hadn’t yet grown any teeth on the first trip back.”

“Maaa, can’t you say something nice?” defended Second Sister, nearly yelling. “Plus,” she added, “Ou Yang can always get his teeth fixed in Canada.”

But she was wrong! Ou Yang couldn’t afford to get his teeth aligned. Two years of dental surgery work could easily cost her ten thousand canadian dollars. It was obviously impossible to have it done in China, though it would be 6 times cheaper.

Ou Yang looked at her son’s protruding, uneven teeth,  and felt that it was also her fault.

“Ai! when things are not right, even water gets stuck between the teeth*!” her mother shot back.

Ou Yang sighed and felt the tears begin to well up. It wasn’t water stuck between the teeth, it was salty, sour and bitter tears that stung her throat.

Ou Yang went up to the Old City Wall where she had brought Elizabeth more than 15 years ago. Despite the new skyscrapers and car-filled streets, she still recognized the city of her youth. At least, the Old City Wall had stayed the same.

Ou Yang did notice one big change: the old man who always sat there on the corner knitting was missing. He was 87 when she showed Elizabeth the City Wall; if he was still alive, he would have been more than 100 years old.

“Ei, people die!” Ou Yang said to no one in particular. A look of complete hopelessness in her eyes dimmed her excitement of revisit. She had no idea how the old man had maintained an air of such calm living through all the turbulent changes of modern China: the chaos of the Republic of China, the Japanese Invasion, publicly humiliating and humanity degrading struggle sessions of the Cultural Revolution. Ou Yang lived in a place and period of peace, yet she felt she was suffering the miseries of all mankind throughout history.

Ou Yang sensed that she had lost something there, where the old man sat, something important that she had never quite understood. Xi’an was no longer her city and, after a lifetime in Canada, maybe she could no longer call China her country or even home.

She could not imagine what her state of mind would be when, in two month’s time, she had to move into a small apartment in Vancouver, three blocks away from her ex-husband. She did not dare to think what it would be like to see her son running back and forth between a mother and father who could neither live together nor live without each other, connected inextricably by their son.

Ou Yang had not only lost her man, city and country; she had also lost her home in an endlessly turning world where her wandering heart could never find refuge.

She got a ticket to ride

Simone was driving on Peel up to Boulevard René-Lévesque in downtown Montreal. It was just afternoon and a lovely day was unrolling before her, with double skylines letting sunshine into her quiet and spacious shiny silver Tesla Model S.

She was on her way to pick up a friend. It was currently 12:40 PM and she was one kilometre away from her destination. As she pulled up to the line at René-Lévesque, Simone took a quick glance at the text message she had sent telling him that she would be there at 12:45 PM, on time. She checked the time and put down her phone. Everything was in control.

As her car crept quiet as a cat to the stop line, Simone lifted her eyes from her phone to see two tall, handsome forty-something-year-old policemen walking towards her car with what appeared like curiosity on their faces.

“Please drive across the road and pull over on the right side!” one of them said suddenly.

Simone stopped smiling. “But why?” she asked in surprise.

“You were using your phone while driving. Please drive over!” the policeman ordered.

The green light was on and Simone drove slowly across the intersection. She gently pulled over to the right and immediately took out her driver’s licence and car registration paper. She wondered why one policeman didn’t come to her left side as the normal case would be, but rather remained on the right rear side while the other one went one full circle around the car. She handed the papers over to the officer, explaining she wasn’t texting or using her phone, just taking a glance at the time and checking to see if her friend responded.

“We will mail the ticket to your address,” was all the officer said.

“Oh God!” said Simone. “How much will the fine be, can I ask?”

“$120.”

“Oh my! Is this a joke?”

Simone was seldom annoyed, but now  she felt troubled and wronged!

“You can contest in court. This is not the time or place for that,” said the officer indifferently before turning and walking away along René-Lévesque.

Simone was definitely thinking about contesting. She wasn’t talking or texting, just taking a quick glance at her phone. She felt wrongly accused because she was conscious of the dangers of using the phone while driving, and she had not been using it.

She also knew that the police had not been joking. She would get the ticket in a week’s time.

“Well,” Simone thought to herself, “maybe my expensive car – and more importantly, my life – maybe even other people’s lives have been saved by this $120 fine.”

With that in mind, Simone felt relieved and truly thankful for the inevitable ticket. She felt that she had to make these 120 dollars count. She had to make everything worth its cost, just like the plane tickets she bought in 1998 to cross the Pacific Ocean, leaving her son and family behind in China.

She’s got a ticket to ride.

 

The End

* – bao bao: in Chinese pinyin, means baby

*– A Chinese proverb to describe the worst situation

The Hidden Seduction – Part VIII 3 – The Commitment (2)

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The Commitment (2)

Ou Yang broke her commitment to her husband, yet at the same time, she strangely needed it too — the kind of commitment that suited her, a promise to which she could reasonably and righteously cling . Though it was not quite the same commitment she had imagined and expected, she thought she could still try and see what François could offer to put her heart and nerves in the right places for the rest of her life.

Doubt crept into her mind and made her leery of going out with François any longer, but it was hard to give up hope on him. She dared not say anything to her sisters and mother in China about her handsome well-off Québecois boyfriend’s money-borrowing issue, especially since she had no solid proof to persuade them that she was in good hands.

François, obviously, would never hand over his wallet to her and neither would he — an independent-minded North American man — always say yes to her and her son. He would never, by nature or by belief, become a submissive husband like many Chinese men had for their wives.

But still, François was not bad at treating them coffees and meals. Not every time, but often enough to cause Ou yang — a complicated Chinese woman who could only accept nice treatment as debt, not love — to feel guilty.  She thought she paid more often for him than he did for them.

So how she satisfy her desire to be generous without spending too much of her own money? The only way was to have his wallet. But Ou Yang knew that this would never happen with François. Nevertheless, François did invite them to live with him in his apartment on the South Shore. And he had been taking care of her son, which she could never imagine any Chinese man doing.

Ou Yang, though, could not go live on South Shore. It was too far from work and from Sunny’s school. She didn’t even want to drive to see François over the weekend, to a place where, in the prejudiced eyes of a well-traveled Chinese woman from Xi’An, a big Chinese city, there was only countryside with American-style shopping malls and a boring small Québecois town. So it was usually François who came to Montreal to see them.

After brunch at Cora on Newman Street one Saturday morning, the three of them got into François’ BMW X3 to go to a golf driving range in Bromont. It was only a 45 minute drive from the restaurant, and it was a very nice day in early June. They were well-prepared and properly dressed: golf clubs, caps and gloves.

Ou Yang was not as fast or as good as her son in learning sports. After only a dozen times practicing and learning from François, Sunny became pretty good; his ball could even reach close to sixty yards from a beautiful swing.

“My son needs a good father like François who can help him,” she thought, silently rehearsing her argument to her family for the goodness of François despite any doubts. That was what she strongly felt whenever she saw her son enjoy learning and heard his giggles and laughter. Indeed, François was very loving and patient towards Sunny. Very importantly, Sunny really liked François. Nothing could please a Chinese mother more than when her son is doing well.

After about two hours of on-and-off practice, they decided to head back to Montreal for an early dinner at a new Sichuan Restaurant Hong Fan Tian ( 红翻天). It was early afternoon. The city of Bromont was hilly, quiet and nice with houses of all styles covered in trees. There was even a Swiss style house surrounded with huge natural gardens, that made them  wonder who migrated to Bromont from Switzerland and why. The weather was beautifully perfect — “ni froid ni chaud” — or “not cold not hot” as Québecois would describe it.

Ou Yang was not quite finished putting her bag into the back space of the SUV when she heard François telling Sunny sternly, “What are you doing? You can’t do this! Stop it!”

His voice irritated her ears. She quickly left the bags and things and came around the car to where François’ was lecturing Sunny.

“What’s the matter? What’s wrong?” she asked, worried that something seriously bad was happening, and that it must have something to do with her son.

“Look at your son! He smeared my car with his fingers. I didn’t have time to have my car washed and it’s full of dust!”

“So? What’s wrong about a few fingers writing on your car?”  Ou Yang was upset. “He didn’t break anything. He didn’t even scratch your car! Why are you yelling at him for such a nonsense?” she said furiously.

“No, he didn’t break my car. It’s not so much for the scratches neither, but he might have really scratched my new car,” said François. “The point is that your son should learn to behave better in public with other people’s property.”

François didn’t easily give up on things that he thought to be right. But Ou Yang wouldn’t listen to his reasoning, even it was for her son’s own good. She was deeply offended. If she was the one criticized, she might accept it, but her son was still young and should not be treated like that. At the very least, she should be the one to lecture Sunny, not François.

“You are not his father!” said Ou Yang. “Don’t you ever yell at my son for something so stupid.”

François was cool and did not try to fight back. He calmly continued trying to explain the importance of respect and good behaviour in public while Ou Yang was feeling weird  about Fançois’ being fuzzy. Her heart was sinking away from him and all the good things he had been doing for them were fading.

When Ou Yang was young, she followed her mother to Hong Kong and lived there for some years. One day, she smeared the new Benz of her mother’s boyfriend with her fingers and got yelled at.

That event was the end of her mother’s relationship with the Hong Kong man, and now a similar situation had just happened in Montreal to her son, not on Benz, but on a new BMW X3 some quarter of a century later…

 

The Grand Finale follows…

The Uncertain Past on the Smiling Face (2)

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…continued from part I

I was about four or five years old the first time when my parents took me back to see my father’s family in Hui Li(会理).

Grandpa had nine children with my grandma, who brought with her a permanent nanny as part of her dowry. They lived together in a two-story cottage with a front and side yard. For a girl who lived with her parents in a one-room high school apartment — the public canteen and outhouse were two hundred meters away and eerily lit by a dim 15-watt bulb – an entire house became a never-dying charm in my heart.

The few times we traveled from Mi Yi(米易) to Hui Li(会理) , I felt very much endeared and enchanted by my grandfather’s Chinese-style cottage, with its real kitchen and a private, detached bathroom just two steps away. Even if the bathroom was just a properly covered shit hole, I still adored the delicacy and privacy that couldn’t be had anywhere else.

Definitely, the outhouse of the High School where my parents taught had contributed to my infinite admiration of my grand father’s. I just don’t know how I dared entering the public shit house after dark, my mind anxious with dread, imagining the evil man or ghost jumping out through the boards. As soon as I was finished, I would run out as fast as I could,  as far as possible, with my pants halfway up, like a lost spirit screaming loudly and desperately inside but pretentiously keeping calm on the outside, away from the despicably horrifying public shit hut.

In the whole world, there was nothing so nice and cozy in my heart as Grandpa’s two yards. He had  two trees in the front yard: a cherry tree and a crabapple tree with shiny sour-sweet fruit, in addition to other trees and flowers. My grandparents even had a mechanical, manually operated well close to the kitchen to provide portable water for the household.

In the side yard stood a large, mature plum tree that produced lots of plums every year, though none of the children ever stole its sour, bitter fruit. They shook their heads at me when I picked one. They knew. But four or five years after China’s Grand Famine of 1961, the mere fact of having the chance to know and eat those pretty, precious plums – in fact I hadn’t known or tasted any fruit before, provoked a rare, unearthly and uncannily good feeling, despite of the actual tart taste.  It was a feeling of prestige, an impression of a better world in an atmosphere of freedom and abundance,  a naive sensation, the value of which was not confirmed, praised nor encouraged by the outside of this world.  It was a kind of secretive little joy in my innocent young mind.

Lovely and cunning,  the cottage was never big enough for 12 people. The older siblings were probably forced to leave home at quite a young age in order to make room for their younger brothers and sisters. When I was born, my dad and his two elder siblings had already left home, all by the age of 15. But when we were visiting, I couldn’t comprehend how two bedrooms could accommodate Mom, Dad and me, plus Grandma, her nanny, and father’s three younger sisters!

Grandpa had the 3rd bedroom – the master bedroom to himself. That was HIS study and bedroom. Saying HIS, it is because I had never seen grandma wonder in this room or share his bed. That was grandfather’s room on the second floor, as sacred as the King’s.

I had no words to describe it at the time, but I sensed something strange about the way that he, as the head of the family, would take his meals alone upstairs in his study. To me, he was an important person who always presented himself before us as a serious, unsmiling authority.

One incident, however, began to change my impression of him. One day around dinner time, he caught me running in the front yard and carried me up to his study. It was here at his desk that he would eat his solitary meal, surrounded by his pile of books topped with his pair of reading glasses.

This time, though, he seated me on his lap in front of a plate of bāo zi (包子), two round dumplings filled with meat and vegetables. I stared at the soft white, nicely pleated dumplings, the smell making my stomach turn madly inside causing the over-familiar noise cry boldly loud from its miserable shy dungeon.

My mouth dropped open as if I were the Little Match Girl. Grandpa took out his snow-white handkerchief and wiped my dirty face and hands clean, spoiling the spotless cloth he used to clean his glasses, just for me. I was perched on his lap, behaving extremely well in anticipation of something unbelievably good falling on my head.

He took up one bāo zi, broke it in two halves, and placed one in my hand. I turned my face to Grandpa, goggling at his face in search for another sign of consent. As soon as he nodded, I swallowed the bāo zi in two voracious mouthfuls.  Watching his granddaughter nearly choke herself colourless, he smiled.

That was the only time I ever saw him smile.

 

To be continued…

The Hidden Seduction – Part VIII 3 – The Commitment (1)

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Part VIII 3 – The Commitment (1)

Elizabeth and Ou Yang never had the chance to meet up, either in the US or in Montreal. Both were busy with work, with children and with their own love affairs. Even in a world of easy communication, these methods are always and forever just means, never the will.

They were always different, and they hadn’t gotten any closer with Ou Yang’s migration to Canada. In Ou Yang’s mind, more so back in China than in Montreal, Elizabeth had been an idol for Ou Yang, a woman who sparked Ou Yang’s aspirations in a special and nourishing way.

But Ou Yang had almost forgotten that she had a friend living not too far from her. Elizabeth, on the other hand, had simply been consumed by her duty as a mother to four children, the disturbance of her divorce, and the relationships that never fit just right.

Elizabeth had had a nice year dating Patrick Simard, but towards the end of 2011, they stopped. Most people assumed it was because of the distance. But it was something else, something that was key for any conventional relationship – it was commitment.

After a full year of dating Elizabeth, Patrick had failed to commit to marrying Elizabeth with no further intention of doing so. Elizabeth was disappointed and was soon exhausted by the long distance when she saw that there was no light at all at the end of this long tunnel.

After all the years of waiting, looking and searching, she thought she had finally found someone who suited her just fine. But life showed no mercy for her romantic and kind heart, no reward for her persistence, no compensation for her honesty.

Life left her aspirating uneven breaths of despair, a dull brain that could look and plan no further, and a face wrinkled with sagging skin. To her, life was more odd than she had expected – indifferent to good and bad, impartial and insensitive to all she had believed in as the reward for good deeds.

Elizabeth was at her wits’ end. Neither the Bible, Confucianism, nor the Koran had teachings specifically for women dealing with men who failed to or were unwilling to commit. These books were written by men with instructions for men; women were not part of the big picture. Instead, they were told to commit themselves to their children, their husbands, and their families, and the societies made sure of that in brutal or subtle ways.

Women,  generations after generations followed their men’s – and God’s – instructions. They were ready to commit, and in return, they expected the reciprocal commitment from the men, though many of these men failed from Day One to honor their oaths, and would continue to fall short in this “decent play” of gender roles.

Elizabeth didn’t just feel disappointed; she was disconcertedly helpless. The convention of marriage was just like the religious institutions that had somehow failed to commit to her a loyal husband and to feed her more internal needs – the need   to keep the balance of her body or the need to have her heart and soul in harmonic concert.

Elizabeth had a strange, unspeakable desire for a new balance, a new mechanical system that could filter the toxic stuff that life had ungraciously thrown at her – one that would also keep the basic elements by which life could still thrive, despite of the most vicious or banal changes.

Apart from her inherited Christian teachings that needed reinterpretation, Elizabeth was quietly learning the laws of nature and of the universe. She was also beginning to adjust her own system of belief. She slowly stopped leaning on expectations hidden behind rituals and social customs.

Oddly enough, with time, those ugly wrinkles started to appear less deep and some just disappeared while her face retrieved its youth’s glow, her hair became shiny and smooth again, and her body repositioned itself as if it were that of a twenty-eight year old…

To be continued…

 

 

The Hidden Seduction – Part VIII 1 – Counting and Accountable (2)

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Part VIII 1 – Counting and Accountable (2)

Elizabeth could no longer go on with her neighbour boyfriend. Though they were both Christians, their personalities were like two different stars far apart from each other in the immense expanse of the sky.They were the classic example of a couple who wanted so badly to be together, to love one another, despite the fact that they just couldn’t get along. He so desperately needed to be right, and both wanted to persuade the other to see the light of his or her own thoughts. They were vividly, passionately impossible together, like day and night trying to appear at the same.

It was hard for Elizabeth to let go. Maybe it was because she believed genuinely that her kindness and good intention would eventually change this man she was dating, for she believed that they were both the children of God. Pairing up with men for existence has been the Christian or traditional design for women . Both of them fought very hard for this cause and it was worth fighting for. The harder they fought, the more emotionally entangled they became but the more distant they grew within each their own mind.

Letting go was a symbol of failure. Unconsciously, Elizabeth had been doing her best to avoid another failure. She started counting; she could not allow another disappointment. Her heart was like a horse dashing to the edge of a cliff. Saving this relationship meant saving herself from falling over the cliff into the valley, even though the relationship was mismatched. Both worked hard on it, hoping that the more effort they put in, the more righteous the relationship would become. We wish simple logic would work sometimes, if only for the sake of sincerity.

Elizabeth tried Internet dating again, but it was still too much out of her way and technically inconvenient for her. We could almost say that she was ingenuous because of her simple marriage that lasted more than 20 years and also because of her pure decent state of mind as an enlightened Christian. She needed references to avoid encounters with people who had strange minds and behaviours, or she simply had no time for the consuming task of searching and meeting people.

After Sunday’s discovery, Ge Wen went silent. Simone was Ou Yang’s friend, not his, so she didn’t expect to hear anything more from him directly…Concerned, Simone nearly sent an e-mail or called Ge Wen to check that he was all right, but being as wise as an older woman, she held her trembling heart for the sake of propriety, to not help shake up more dust in everyone’s life.

We did not now how long a person in critical moment could hold on to himself. A couple of weeks after the Event, Simone heard from Ge Wen. It was a long distant call from Ge Wen in Vancouver.

It was not strange that Ge Wen had no friends in Vancouver. He was new in town. But he didn’t have friends in Montreal neither, especially no friends with whom he felt comfortable enough to divulge his secret shame or to engage in small talk about life. Simone was obviously the only one who would not make his discussion sound abrupt or feel out of orbit, because Ge Wen knew Simone’s involvement in their lives.  Simone might have been the closest friend to Ou Yang, but at this moment, she became definitely the closest one to Ge Wen.

Simone was driving when Ge Wen called. Highway 720 was busy at 3:30pm going from Downtown to South Shore through Champlain Bridge. Simone was agitated by the noise of passing cars and trucks jumping over pot holes on the cheaply built and poorly maintained surface.  She had to turn up the volume to hear Ge Wen’s distant, faint voice.

“I don’t know how to continue my life any more. She has been everything to me…and my son… She said I am not …I am useless and I have to give half of my sala… I counted on her…She has been the only one I ever counted on…now I am useless to her…I am nothing…”

Simone became even more disturbed by these negative words. Although rarely troubled,  Simone frowned and sighed helplessly, not knowing what to say. She wished something would happen so that the subject could be changed, but she knew that she was called only for this matter, nothing else. For a moment, Simone forgot where she was going, the sad look of Ge Wen floating in front of her eyes. She got lost and found herself on a ramp leading to some direction she didn’t meant to go in…

Ge Wen’s voice was muffled by the noise on the busy noisy bumpy road, as was his last pride and hope for his reuniting in Vancouver. Even his pathetic small self-esteem sank into a big pot hole in the road, crushed completely to pieces and dragged along with blood on the flat tire…

To Be Continued…