The Uncertain Past on the Smiling Face (2)

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会理古城王氏槐庭二十世孙鸿恩(名雪汀1950年照)

 

…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…

 

The Hidden Seduction-Part IV-3 – Windmills of Ferocious Giants!

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200px-Don_Quijote_and_Sancho_Panza

Part IV-3 – Windmills of Ferocious Giants!

It was the end of 2010, only the second month into this long dreadful winter. Winter was like a whining middle-aged woman who had just started her grouch in the early evening! No matter how long winter lasts, spring will eventually replace it and wash the street salt away with fresh rain, and yet it is normal that some could not see Nature in all of its mighty transformative power.

Ou Yang had obviously not noticed that she had slowly changed. She had always been an assertive, principled woman. If you were on her side, she would protect you as she protects herself. If you had done her a favor, she would return it in such a hurry that you would wonder if she had accepted the favor just in order to return it! But if you did not do what she asked for, then you risked becoming a bad person in her eyes.

Now she was losing her confidence bit by bit, and she became quite confused about her life and her husband. The fact that they were settled down with a son and a nice cottage didn’t seem enough anymore. Something was lacking. Something very important…something even more serious than just not having sex!

She would invite herself over to her friend’s house for lunch, only to grumble over the whole meal:

“Oh, I am really fed up with him. He has been passive like that the whole time!”

“Look what kind of family he comes from! Hopeless!”  And then she would recount the complete version of the fight they had over the previous weekend.

They lived in Quebec where they had to find a way to survive almost five months of winter, and Sonny also wanted to go skiing like many of his classmates. It seemed like a lot of fun! Ou Yang would have done anything for her son, not mention that this was a good and healthy sport. Ge Wen only agreed to accompany them,  reckoned that he was too old to learn, but at the urge and persuasion of Ou Yang that their son needed his dad to be with him, he reluctantly agreed to try.

Sonny was a pro on the beginner’s slope; he was very excited  but did not even fall once. It seemed that he was a born talent at keeping his balance on his skis! But his father was just awkward, clumsy, and miserable. He fell, struggled to get up, and fell again. The time he spent on his feet was clearly much less than the time spent on his buttocks. Eventually he gave up, despite the help of their friends, one of whom was a professional ski coach and another a great assistant.

“No, don’t give up! Not just yet!” Ou Yang yelled at him.

At the same time, there was never the slightest indication of losing hope or a glimpse of frustration from Ou Yang. She hung on, she fell, but stood up and went on!

Ge Wen stopped after 30 minutes and decided that it was not his thing.

“No! It is not my thing neither! But we have to learn to be with Sonny. And it is good for us to pass the long winter this way as well.”  Neither reason moved Ge Wen even a single step further.

As time passed and there was no improvement of their situation, Ou Yang began to lose her discretion.  Her comments started to become more open, direct, and scornful and her judgments became harsher and more bitter. She would blame everything on Ge Wen and her scolding would often be extended to his family. Ge Wen’s family was what had made him such a loser! She had tried to keep her son from hearing her comments and insults at the beginning, but gradually she just could not care that much anymore.

Ou Yang had a somewhat rough, loud voice and a special way of speaking that would show her keen attitude on subjects very well. Her voice would get rougher and louder when she vented about her unhappy feelings and concerns. This special way of speaking showed exactly how strongly she believed that all of her unhappiness came from anyone else but herself. The louder she raised her voice, the more she reckoned that she was the only one who suffered. Her sad tone made her seem the only real victim in this misery-free world. The repetition of her stories was persuading her friends and herself that she was free of any unfortunate wrong doing.

The moment she started thinking about divorce, she could have cared less of what she was saying about her husband. In fact, she was subconsciously making her husband the cause of the divorce in front of her friends, as many instinctively do to protect themselves. Well, it was his fault! She never missed a chance to make herself a victim to arouse sympathy or support. When the custody issue came into her mind, her subconscious had become a clear conscience.  She had to make it clear to her son and families the reasons of her leaving his dad if it ever happened.

It was not her fault; it was absolutely the dad’s! Somewhere in her whimpering, it came to light that Ge Wen had done something during his first six months in Montreal, before Ou Yang’s arrival.  He had had an affaire with a Chinese girl, something like a one-night stand.  That adulterous moment eventually became the centre of her blame, and a true problem overall. It was something that used to be a much more serious crime, under penalty of death in Mao’s time, but which has become such a cliché in modern life.

Many people are always keen on finding out why people divorce.  There needs to be a good reason, a reason that other people can understand and agree on. Ou Yang had them all ready for both families in China to approve: Ge Wen’s passiveness, and the worst of all, that one-night-stand!  It was never clear if it really happened, knowing Ge Wen’s personality and loyalty to Ou Yang in the first years of their marriage, or if it was just an invention of Ou Yang’s to make her look righteous in front of her friends and to have a real reason for divorce to hand over to the two families.

Don Quixote’s battle was with the windmills as ferocious giants, while Ou Yang’s was an invisible one-sided battle with herself and with the part of her from where she came from.  The weapon of choice of the thin-limbed fragile Don Quixote was a rather imaginative sword, while Ou Yang’s weapons were words, limited and blunt to the senses but real and piercingly sharper than the sword. Her words became malicious and deadly poisonous, not only to Ge Wen and her friends, but also to Ou Yang herself. They depicted not only her husband, but her whole family collectively as wimps, made her friends afraid of seeing her, and made her winter days shorter, with long, dark nights.

Gradually, the battle reached the next level. She couldn’t stop worrying about her son. She was not sure if he would survive the divorce.  What she never realized was that a child can worry much less than an adult!

“Your dad does not love Mommy any more! But Mommy will be ok if Sonny is ok. Sonny will love mommy forever… Right?”

Of course, her son would usually nod.

Sometimes she could be very proud of her son in front of her friends:

“Oh, My son is just so sweet. I was feeling down the other night and I was crying, and then he came to me and said: Mommy, don’t cry! I love you! I Daddy does not love you any more, I will love you! I will be your husband!”

A six year old boy who would also tell her that he would grow up faster and help Mommy by making more money.

Children are not adults, but we sometimes mistakenly regard and treat them as if they were. At his young age, Sonny naturally had barely the notion of right and wrong, but now he was taught whom to blame; even though he was a positive, upbeat kid, he was led into a world full of mother-induced fears and worries. A child is a blank piece of paper, reflecting whatever is  painted upon it. What is borne into him will become the base for his future and part of his life forever.

Nevertheless, it must be said that Ou Yang had always been a smart one. She did listen to some advice not to talk badly about the father in front of her kid, but it was impossible for her to evade her conscious worries and fears when speaking with Sonny. She had no idea of the divorcing procedure and custody issues, she could not see with whom she might end up in her future, and neither could she know how her son would handle it all. She felt very afraid in this world now, a cold world far away from her mother and sisters. She had no one else but her son to lean on, just like Don Quixote only had Sancho Panza.

Ou Yang was in the dark. She did not know what to think any more, or what other irreconcilable differences could be found to justify her reason for wanting to seek a divorce. She was like a blindfolded person probing in a place where the air was thinning out and the light was going dim. She tried everything: being nice, being cold, being indifferent, being malicious, threatening, talking to friends, talking to her son, but nothing worked. Absolutely nothing had worked the way she had hoped, and no one seemed to have helped at all the way she wanted…

She was waiting for Elizabeth to come, her missionary, her salvation and last hope.

On one cold and sunny day, when Ou Yang was busy in the office dealing with purchasing orders, an e-mail appeared in her mail box. It was from Elizabeth! She bent over her desk and quickly opened it.  She sat, stunned, with her pencil in her mouth: “Sweet Ou Yang, I am very, very sorry that I cannot come to Montreal this time…”

“What?”  She sank into her chair… “She is not coming… not coming…”

Ou Yang remained motionless for a while, her eyes staring out into the sky, already dark at 4pm. For a moment, she felt the absolute silence and herself as if she did not exist. When she awoke, she turned her head back down to her desk, only to find the neat orders full of smeared and blurred letters. She silently went out into the corridor, where she bent over the water fountain…

 

To Be Continued…

The Hidden Seduction – Part VIII 2 – Trust (2)

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trust-building2The Hidden Seduction – Part VIII 2 – Trust (2)

 

Ou Yang wanted to know François better, to ease the worries of her sisters and mother back in China. Yet deep down in her heart, their concerns were hers as well. Her family did not help her by putting more doubt in her mind.

Her family had liked Ge Wen – though not as an extraordinary person but as a kindhearted Mr. Yes. But now they had not the faintest idea about Francois. Photos wouldn’t add up, and a light smile on his face would not trigger any curiosity about him or change their total ignorance of “foreigners.” They would tell Ou Yang not to laugh too early before she got to know him.

“Hmmm, we don’t know them! They are different from us! They do not understand the qin qing (亲情) of our culture, the close blood relationship and feelings between family members,” Ou Yang’s family warned her.

Those green-eyed ghosts, who once invaded China and drove the Last Emperor and the Dowager Cixi to Xi’an, were becoming someone who might someday visit them as their son-in-law. That was scary. Not that François was scary, but that they did not know how to handle this new thing. They would be absolutely out of orbit.

Ou Yang came to see Simone one late afternoon on the way back home after running some errands. She found Simone in her front garden watering the plants.

She had a secret mission this time. Oug Yang wanted Simone to check Francois’s credit, to see if he was a good, reliable man. She knew that as a real estate broker, Simone had the mechanism and contacts to check credit. Ou Yang’s short encounter and love affaire with the young French man Mathiux Galland over a decade ago in China had left her with nothing solid about seriously dating a Westerner.

Simone was so astonished by Ou Yang’s request that for quite a moment, she did not know how to respond. Ignoring her demands, she bent down over some weeds and pulled out the roots. Ou Yang, it seemed, was incapable of trusting the normal ways of judging François’ character, and perhaps Ou Yang assumed that a foreigner’s behavior could indicate different meanings from what she was used to. She had to go as far as to check out Francois in such a drastic, almost ‘professional’ way.

After a moment of silence, Simone said coldly, almost sarcastically, “Of course I’d like to do it for you. But the problem is, in order to do a credit check, I need to have an authorization letter written and signed by François himself. And we need his social insurance number, address and some other pertinent information.”

Having lived in Canada for ten years, Ou Yang couldn’t say she didn’t know the rules, but she was asking Simone for a favor, and to get it done without Francois’s consent. Plus Ou Yang had all the necessary information ready; all that was missing was his signature.

But Simone had been working in the Canadian system as a professional long enough to have a strong sense of what was considered “right and wrong.” As the older person with more conscience, she had no problem refusing her friend’s indecent request in the end.

Slowly, as Ou Yang got to know more about François, more and more was revealed about Ou Yang at the same time too.

One day, over the phone, Ou Yang finally told Simone the reason she wanted to check François’ credit: François had asked to borrow $3,000 to fill in an emergency cash flow shortage. She hadn’t been able to believe that the man she was dating would ever ask to borrow money from her. It had made her eyes pop and her mouth drop wide open. In her mind, no foreigner would ever ask to borrow money from his girlfriend, especially from someone who was more or less a single mother with only a regular job.

Even Simone had a hard time believing that a decent, experienced Canadian businessman would turn to his relatively new girlfriend in an emergency instead of going through his usual and reliable professional channels.

It was nearly impossible for Ou Yang to digest. She had thought she was dating a prince who was rich with money and void of any of life’s mundane problems. It was hard for her to see beyond the material, beyond the BMW X5, which, in her eyes, was a symbol of doing just fine. But this money issue had created a contradiction in all she knew and saw about Francois. She was beginning to think that her mother and sisters might be right about things. After dating him more than six month, she still didn’t really know him!  She stopped smiling.

 

To Be Continued…