The Hidden Seduction – Part IV – 4 – A Butterfly With Broken Wings!

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Hong Kong Hai Bo

 

My nails are bleeding, my lip is too,

Keep in words I shouldn’t say to you,

Tie a letter to a balloon and let it fly,

Where it bursts let the words die

It’s not who you love, it’s how you care,

It’s not waiting for tomorrow, it’s finding beauty right there,

Beyond repair

Take a trip down memory lane,

I know it feels different but it feels the same

… …

Beyond Repair by LauraBHH

 

Part IV – 4 – A Butterfly With Broken Wings

 

Winter had not quite gone yet. There was still some dirty snow mixed with sand on the street corners. The cleared centerlines of the streets were laced with stains of the whitish-yellow industrial salt used for melting the ice.

Ge Wen lost his job at the end of March.

“Oh, well, I never really liked that job anyway!”  He said to console himself, but it was true; he had never liked the work beyond the fact that he needed the revenue.

Losing his job was a good opportunity to think about moving. Living in Vancouver had always been Ge Wen’s wish, and now he had a real chance to make it happen.

“I am looking for a job in Vancouver,” he told Ou Yang calmly one evening after their routine fight over Sonny’s piano lessons.

Sonny had wanted to play with his friend Yannick from a few doors down instead of practicing the piano, to which Ge Wen agreed but not Ou Yang. Ge Wen mentioned Vancouver more as a test to himself than as a threat to his wife. After countless times of being questioned and scolded, he had lost the courage to pick up any fight for anything. He also said that to end the argument, but it was indeed true that he wanted to leave Montreal. He wanted to find a different air, and live in a place where he could remember his homeland with less mountains and shorter distance to hallucinate over; he was even ready to leave without his son, and definitely without his buzz-killing wife draining all the little fun out of his pathetic life.

Ou Yang was obviously tired of arguing too. She was tired of all her responsibilities, at work and at home. She was terribly “fatiguée” of having to be at the forefront of everything, from the smallest things like grocery shopping, to bigger issues, such as planning family vacations. It was almost always only her who watched over Sonny and his piano practices and other activities. At least she felt so.

She had nothing but her little life in her head. Although she did go out dancing with some friends once in a blue moon, she could not just dance and have fun. She kept talking about her situation, her duties, her husband, her son, and even how unprofessional her boss could be, over the loud music, as if her friend could hear her. It was probably not important whether her friend could hear her or not, she just needed to talk it out. The loudness of the music gave her voice an excellent excuse to be even more unpleasantly coarse, and the light-heartedness of the salsa music made easy her improper and unkind judgments.

And yet, usually, she would feel guilty for her two hours of freedom and pleasure, and would put even more responsibilities and duties on her shoulders afterwards. She also unknowingly pushed her husband harder in washing away her own guilt. Worst of all, she leaned on her son and spoiled him in a very sweet but horrifyingly strange way.

It was horrifying to see that her high expectation for her son,  her inherited insecurity about everything, her impossible-to-fill void, her stale relationship and dried-up marriage with her husband; it was all about to land on the shoulders of her innocent son. She was completely and unconsciously dumping an unknown burden onto a 7 year-old child, under the glorious guise of “love”. Sonny was like a little piece of straw his mother would cling to when she felt like she was sinking into an endless ocean.

“If you want to go, you can just go! No one keeps you here.”

Ou Yang replied with no emotion, thinking that it might be a good thing for him to leave, at least for some time.

What about Sonny? Who would Sonny stay with? Well, when we are in fights, no matter how hot or cold, and we corner ourselves with no solution but frustration, we do not care about the impact or the details involved. It’s like being caught in a closed environment with smoke choking the air out of your lungs and blurring your already limited view.

For Ou Yang and Ge Wen, the only way left was to get out no matter what. Things had gone beyond fights or repair.

Ou Yang vaguely remembered herself following her mother to Hong Kong in 1985, when she had just turned 14. Her mother re-married to a man from Hong Kong after her father died of lung cancer in 1981. It was a good marriage, with the effort of many good-hearted people, But her mother had married this man too soon, according to her sisters, too soon because Ou Yang was not yet old enough to be on her own.  With the promise of her mother’s new husband, whom Ou Yang called Uncle Sam and who was 10 years older than her mother, the whole family agreed that Ou Yang should followe her mother.

But her mother’s good marriage quickly turned bad, because Ou Yang’s new stepfather did not agree with her mother’s way of treating her daughter. In his opinion, Ou Yang’s mother spoiled her by agreeing to everything she wanted. She remembered the day when she wrote with her fingers in the dust on Sam’s brand-new Benz. He told her that doing so would scratch the paint and that it would be very costly to repair the whole side. Ou Yang’s mother went mad, as if Sam had criticized her directly. She thought that the adoptive dad didn’t have the heart of a real father, and that criticizing her daughter was malicious to herself.

They stayed in Hong Kong with Sam for only three years. Ou Yang’s mother had no job. She felt that she was under a stranger’s roof and trapped within by his tall fences. She had given up her primary teacher’s job in Xi’An, with the hope thather rich Hong Kong husband could provide them with a good life, and a better future for her daughter, but she never felt at in Hong Kong, never felt the “unconditional love” for her daughter from Sam. It seemed to Ou Yang’s mother that she had traded herself for things that did not meet her expectations at all.

And so they came back to Xi’An. During her time away in Hong Kong, Ou Yang had learned a kind of superiority over her mainland classmates because she bathed in the sea, dressed in foreign styles, and spoke much better English. She spoke it even better than her clumsy mainland English teachers in high school who had never even been toGuang Zhou, a vanguard city for China during the years of historical transformation, with Hong Kong right at its back, a strong and direct influence for commerce and even fashion in Guang Zhou.

Now, it was Ge Wen who wanted to leave. Ou Yang would never let her son go, simply because she did not want her son to follow his father and later end up living with a strange woman who might treat her son even worse than Sam had treated her.

While she was feeling helpless, entwined by her past and present, Ou Yang saw her husband sinking further into the abyss of despair. Nonetheless, she was wise enough not to mention the shrinkage of their pockets too often. Ten months of unemployment insurance had paid him a bit less than sixty percent of his salary, and with the impact of taxes and insurance, Provincial and Federal Child Support, the actual situation was not that much different from before.

Everyone has inertia, and since most Chinese city men have the incredible ability to put up with humiliation of all kinds from their frustrated and seemingly impossible to please wives, a passive change of situation like Ge Wen’s unemployment became a faint lead for a “solution.” This change, unfortunate as it may have seemed, brought a kind of excitement to both. They knew that, somehow, a solution was on its way, and no matter what it turned out to be, it may not make them feel happy, but it would at least let both of them breathe.

Elizabeth was not coming to Montreal, so she and Ou Yang traded e-mails and talked on the phone. What Ou Yang eventually discovered about Elizabeth, horrified her:

Elizabeth had divorced!

It was a typical example of how happy news can turn sour, so sour that you have a snap moment of not knowing what you are thinking or feeling, the acidity causing a few seconds of brain freeze, like when you eat ice-cream too fast!  That was big news, a completely absurd, unexpected piece, the possibility of which had never been previewed in Ou Yang’s mind. It could not be true, not possible, unimaginable!

She lay in bed for countless sleepless nights figuring out for herself how it had happened and how it could happen to a goddess-like woman such as Elizabeth herself. To her, divorce seemed like a disease in the world, a plague among the atheists or anti-gods, dismay for merit-seeking conventions, and a grand disappointment for the stubborn wishes of high-school sweethearts seeking the Happily Ever After.

Ou Yang could not and would not accept that it had happened to her best friend. She just could not see how her idol had gone down the same path as the easy atheists. Elizabeth’s merits had been Ou Yang’s inspiration for life, her land was Ou Yang’s dream land and her family was the lovely reality that Ou Yang would wake up to from her own. And yet now, in Ou Yang’s mind, the divorce resembled Elizabeth’s departure from all her merits, and was turning Ou Yang’s reality into a horrible nightmare and her dreams into ashes!

 

“La Chinita” and the Gracious “Meritocracy”

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When I was listening to a piece of Salsa music on Youtube called  La “Chinita” by El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico last night, a piece that my Salsa teacher David Zepeda played when he taught me dancing, my eyes scanned something that was surprisingly unexpected to see, especially on Youtube. The title was even in Chinese: “快乐的女战士-万泉河水” (The Happy Women SoldiersThe Water of the Wan Quan River). I scrolled up and down and found a whole bunch of videos of ballet episodes of this huge one of a kind – one of the 8 model plays of the Cultural Revolution, the one and the only 7 others that were established as revolutionary and modern operas by Jiang Qing-the one and the only “Chinita”, serving as the allowed thus the only spiritual nourishment for a whole nation during the 10 years of this Revolution, the ever gracious ballet: The Red Detachment of Women(红色娘子军, pinyinHóngsè Niángzǐjūn). 

I was so intrigued and drawn to it that I wasted no time clicking it open. Oh, my goodness! It was the video of the Vienna Orchestra Symphony playing, from this Chinese historically significant and classical repertoire, two merry pieces: “The Happy Women Soldiers and The Water of Wan Quan River” in” The Red Detachment of Women”, one of the very unforgettable revolutionary kind. The performance took place in the worldly honoured Vienna National Concert Hall with a must-be Chinese conductor who might be born at the end or even after the revolution, with all those Austrian or worldly musicians.

The music starts with the pluck on the harp strings.  A few notes of the special pentatonic accord of harp strings set the story in the Red Army Camp on the quiet and peaceful bank of Wan Quan River. Its “ding dong” sounds display the Wan Quan River jumping joyfully and the sunshine rays flicker from the gentle ripples. One oboe softly catches what is left by the strings and extends the scenery with tall graceful coconut trees. The relaxed and prudent soothing sound of the oboe brings our heart deep into a land of unrevealed happiness and far into a place where the river flows away.

The other oboe continues and the harp player travels in-between the asperation of the oboe players. The sweet, deep, relaxing oboe sound best depicts the Hainan villages in the coconut forests,twilight tranquility and hidden joy yet to arrive… Silently a young girl in semi-army dress comes into view looking at the river afar; another came in, twisting her cotton towel full of sweat after a day’s work with the peasants.

Then the flute sends out squirrel-like quick running notes that introduce the start of a naughty play of the third girl who pours some water over the head of one girl. The double basses in their low, heavy and seemingly dark yet whimsically played fast notes lie the base and contrast for the other flute which joins in, blowing their notes to its highest to let us feel the chill of the “Clean clean Wan Quan River Water”-  the Hainan folk song that has become the core theme music of this Ballet symphony.

Who says that music is just sounds? It has a life, a genuine one that represents all lives, in different time, eras, different political systems, countries, sad lives, complicated ones and trouble-woven unsolvable ones…bloody ones, pleasant, joyful and inspiring ones like those lives of las Chinitas ( women) displayed by the extremely happy music of the Red Detachment.

Now the two oboes side by side lead your pulse to follow the two girls who are chasing the naughty water-splashing girl in escape. The flute is  the wicked girl! Listen, listen, she is dodging the chase and the revenge, she glides and she hides behind the third girl. The girls’ play goes on for 35 seconds in a merrily but progressively cautious atmosphere of oboes and flutes, under the monotonous accompaniment of simple chords in the double basses and bassoons until the violin tutti and French horns push their joyful play to its summit.

Now the four cellos, the forever graceful of all instruments stretch their legs and lengthen their necks lying comfortably in their players arms as if they were lying in the arms of their lovers! Their chests were full of easy and healing emotions that were gently brought out by every inch of the bows’s movements; in between the constantly oozing pleasure of the cellos’ legato, we hear now and then the oboes – two girls, and especially the flute – the wild girl, together with the jolly staccato of the violin tutti. The flute enjoys its solo while the wicked girl leads her sisters playing tricks with their old army cook.

As the oboes and flutes slow and quiet down, we know that they are talking about the strategy of how to get his water buckets off his shoulder. Then there is wild running of his old legs chasing after his stolen buckets in hurried trumpets blows , while the bassoon talks with a low and stern voice saying: “stop,  the girls! Give me back my buckets!’ yet the old cook mumbles his grudges only to his superior commander in chief.

The bass like bassoons wake up the quiet-down evening in its accelerating pace with its fatherly chesty-throaty yet sweet and calming voice to a baby girl as if she was sleeping with her ear next to his chest.  The flute then becomes the symbol of joy and happiness. With legato of violins, with solo of the key instrument oboe, again, there sounds the folk song of Hainan: “Wan Quan River Water”, its ultimate beauty and grace revealed! Its complete ideal concept of Chinese merits and harmony are triumphed with the French horns and trumpets like that in the French national anthem: “La Marseillaise”.

This graceful pentatonic “Wan Quan River” threw me completely into my first public dance experience outside school. I knew a little bit of the “Happy Women Soldiers” movements, just a little bit, because it was my older troupe members who rehearsed this episode. On  July 1st, 1970, as an 8 years old girl, I was too young to play one of the women soldiers. Yet when I was sitting on a little army stool watching our own show put up for the 7659 Railroad Army who was celebrating the accomplishment of the railroad , my father came and told me that I needed to replace one of the five girls, who sprained her ankle. Oh, my! I had no time to hesitate and was grabbed away from my stool, put on the army costumes. With nothing in its place, I found myself on the stage together with four other girls of about 13-15. Obviously, I could not have been naughtier and messier than the girls in the play, better call me the 5th ugly Tchaikovsky’s little wicked swan, nevertheless, the soldiers might never have known the difference between me being properly wicked or decently trying to be weirdly proper.

Only by reading Wikipedia, I now know that this ballet was performed for US President Richard Nixon on his visit to China in February 1972 under the personal direction of Zhou Enlai. I wonder how President Nixon felt about this piece of typical Chinese pentatonic music yet composed in the western mechanism and danced in light grey ballet shoes and army uniforms. Would he feel a little bizare as well as amazed that music is universal without boundaries? How smart was our savvy En Lai who used the charm of music to knock down the prejudice of capitalism towards socialism, or simply how smart he had been to have directed Nixon’s attention and favour to the basics of human beings.

Among Chopin’s works, there is this Etude Opus 10 No.5. It was composed on the piano’s black notes which form a pentatonic scale. Even though it has nothing to do with Chinese music, it does sound Chinese. Why is this pentatonic scale so special that Chinese fundamentally favour it? Isn’t this “The Red Detachment” the best example of this pentatonic scale music? What else grace and beauty need to express themselves than using this scale? What kind of harmony and merits it brings to the heart and soul of Chinese in this simple mainly five-notes scale?

Just read an article on Alberto Forchielli’s blog about a Montrealer Canadian professor  China as a Meritocracy. What is he talking about? I need time to think about what he said on Chinese political system and its base – this merit, grace, harmony preaching Confucius. For a huge feudalist and socialist country which has been almost proven impossible to go democratic, Prof. Daniel A. Bell obviously doubts about what democracy will bring to it anyway. Democracy, dictatorship, or this evolved meritocracy from dictatorship, or this future ideal “cracy” for China or for any other country,  the core is a question of what this country is working for and how it is working out.

I do know one thing about humans: each one is flawed for another, and even for ourselves. Will the theory based on trusting human nature, its conditional merits and good behaviours work out well on a larger than the pentatonic scale? Will a country which should represent the benefit of the majority be fine provided the powers be given to the utopian merits of the elite? I do enjoy greatly the pentatonic music of China, especially these two pieces that I take great time praising and listened to over 15 times by now, and I do hope Professor Mark can help compose some other beautiful, graceful and merit-reflecting pentatonic orchestra symphony with his western heritage! Maybe after all these years of living in China with his Chinese wife and in-laws, Mark is seeing Chinese as a nation of having only black keys?!

The Hidden Seduction – Part IV – 1 – Elizabeth Mackay!

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Part IV – 1 – Elizabeth Mackay

 

The mild light shone through the windows of their little cottage, and diffused onto the thick white snow lying leisurely around the house. From the cottage, frozen and stiff  outside in the -25 C cold, came the soft  notesof Erik Satie from the basement. Yes, the small cottage where Ou Yang, Ge Wen, and Sonny lived had become a lively creature and the warmth, constant piano notes, and laughter became increasingly louder and louder. In this severe winter and under the “mercy” of heaven, it became the indispensable shelter where three voluntarily “de-countried” humans extended their limbs and unfolded their rigid shoulders, with the cottage itself being tended and maintained as if it were a person. The cottage born of the cunningness of all that life can bring.

Life always gives us better news in its worst season to keep our minds cheerful. Ou Yang got the news a few weeks in advance that Elizabeth, her dear long-lost friend she had met back in China, was coming to visit her. Oh, dear Elizabeth! That one special human who brought Ou Yang something to soothe her nerves and please her soul back in the old city of Xi’An! She was finally coming to visit Ou Yang after all these years of silence.

It had been more than 15 years, but it felt like yesterday. The old city walls, the Buried Terra-cotta Armies, the famous snacks of “Yang Rou Pao Mo” and other delicious foods. Weirdly, Elizabeth, an American woman, was able to bring up so many of Ou Yang’s memories of her own city, as if Elizabeth was an old Chinese friend. That particular experience with Elizabeth in Xi’An had somehow bound the two women together in a way that we could never have imagined its relevance.

Elizabeth had had three more children during the 15-year time gap. Her eldest was already about 23, and his name was John. The second was Brent, and the third was a girl named Christie. The most worthy of mention was the fourth boy, because he was born in China with the help of Ou Yang as interpreter back in 1996. Elizabeth and her husband Jonas Larsson (of Swedish origin) first went to China to teach in 1990, had left to teach in Singapore and Malaysia for some years, and then came back again to Xi’An where their fourth child was born. Three other kids had been born in the previous six years. This was difficult to believe for the new Chinese who had been on a strict single-child mindset since 1979.

Ou Yang remembered very clearly what Jonas had asked her at the hospital while she had been helping Elizabeth calm her gasps between the shots of contraction pain:

“Do you want more than one kid?” Jonas inquired seriously, with a keen look of love in his eyes.

Ou Yang’s answer was not surprising, but might have sounded abruptly unkind.

“No! No Way!” Of course not.

It is out of question for city Chinese to think about having a second child, mainly for the reason that they will lose the permanent government jobs that they had studied and waited so long for their life. A second reason might very well be that we were used to life with only one child and city mothers all having jobs. Ou Yang was even having difficulties with voluntarily conceiving her first (and only) one.

To Ou Yang’s, the Americans were very strange too. Right after the birth of her child, Elizabeth ate ice cubes and dried nuts, and she even took a shower the same day of delivery. All Chinese women know that new mothers should never be allowed to wash their bodies or eat cold or dry un-nurturing foods after childbirth. We all become fat like pigs after both families forbid us from any activity, feed us with 20 heavily sugared oily eggs a day until we were literarily transformed into stinky, glorious MOTHERS! Furthermore, we were not allowed to watch TV, or to read, because it was believed that we would have hurt our eyes permanently; we were not permitted to go outside, because there was wind and we would have caught a cold and been ill forever…

Seeing Elizabeth breaking all of those taboos was an eye-opening experience for Ou Yang. It all set her mind off to question Chinese habits and customs. She started wondering about many things, like how other women in other parts of the world gave birth and how their kids were raised.  She also felt the strength and stubbornness of Chinese customs that had been overly protective, or had been preventing the Chinese from the necessary exercises for mothers and their children. It seemed that something very wrong was starting there, right there, the very moment the child was out from the mother’s womb.

Ou Yang was a person who seemed tough on the outside, yet was very empathically charged. She went back to her mother’s home and told her about the pathetic American woman who had nothing to eat but ice cubes and dried nuts. Ou Yang hadn’t even opened her mouth to ask her anything, but her mother was already gone to the fresh market for a live chicken to kill. Two hours later they had chicken soup filled with nutritious Chinese medicines: Dang Gui & Huang Qi (Dang Gui当归-sweet taste &黄芪a bit bitter taste). The medicines were meant to give blood back to the mother who had lost much in childbirth, and to boost her immune system. One hour before it was ready, Ou Yang ordered her brother-in-law, who worked for the government, to arrange a car to bring her to the hospital. She wasted not a minute that would let the soup go cold! It was still warm when she began feeding Elizabeth the righteous chicken soup. She felt very proud that she could do that for her, her very special friend, Elizabeth.  She was returning Elizabeth’s special treatment with equally important and highly nutritious chicken soup from two generations of her family.

Elizabeth was always a romantic and sweet person in Ou Yang’s mind. There was no one else, not before, not now, and there would be never anyone else like her in this world. She loved poems, novels, and telling stories. She was astonishingly articulate with good, encouraging, sweet words. She had fully understood the Power of Words and foreseen the impact of them on Ou Yang’s eardrums and into Ou Yang’s whole system of thinking and behaving. Ou Yang had long before started talking like her, walking like her, smiling like her, and even thinking and feeling like her…

At that moment, Ou Yang started feeling hot in the eyes and sour in her nose.  Elizabeth was not anyone else in her mind and in her life. Ou Yang had grown older and more mature because of Elizabeth, with her kind, sweet and praising words, at her encouraging nods and in her unusually different smiles. She would never forget when Elizabeth came to visit her with her first son and ate Chinese porridge with Ou Yang and her mother. She could never have imagined that a person from across that big ocean, a seemingly slim and fragile Irish-American woman, would treat her like she was worth millions!

Ou Yang had been a strong, tough woman and had seldom shed tears for anything, but right then, she could not hold her tears any more and she let them pour down her face. She cried, for the first time in her life, for something not sad, but rather joyfully inspiring and energizing. She had definitely (and luckily!) been struck by lightning back in China, the kind of lightning that struck better than generations of any moral teachings, better than political brain-washings, a kind that struck better than anything else in the world: joy and love through smiles and wonderful words.

 

 

To Be Continued… 

The Hidden Seduction – Part III-3 – The Cunning Cottage

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Part III-3 – The Cunning Cottage

 

One year after Ou Yang started working, they bought a little cottage in Lasalle.

It was a cottage row house, two stories with a basement. “Row” means that there are other houses directly connected on both or one side of the house. The front of the cottage was very narrow, only 4 meters wide and 10 meters deep. The first floor was one meter higher than ground level to give height to the basement, while the rest was 1.2 meters dug into the ground, to make 2.2 meters of livable space.

The front door opened into the combined dining-sitting room. Further ahead was their medium sized kitchen with a small island in the middle.  There was a truly minuscule “bathroom,” with just enough space for a toilet bowl and a sink. It is actually called a “powder-room,” a euphemism for a lady’s place that is still in use as culture develops, and it is mainly for the convenience of the guests. Of course, gentlemen are allowed to go as well. A nice spiral wood staircase led up to the second floor where there were two small bedrooms adjacent to a space in the middle that served as their son’s playroom. The strange thing was that the windows were not on the long sides of the cottage, but on the front and back, due to the fact that the cottage was sandwiched between two other cottages. It felt like a long train compartment with misplaced windows! And then there was the basement. It held a garage and a guest-room or other playroom for their son, where they could put the piano.

Ou Yang had always loved things to be nice and beautiful. The decoration of the house then became a significant way for us to know her. The fact that such a cottage was chosen already said a lot about her. The whole development was quite new, and their cottage was only 6 years old, since the Chinese from Mainland China only liked new houses. Why? Maybe it is because all of China is new, with skyscrapers, shiny new stores, and trendy apartments appearing in every major Chinese city. They liked new things. 25 years old apartments were already very shabby and dirty, looking like slums. Ten year old apartments began to look bleak, because the Chinese did not have “Co-ownership Committees” to help clarify rights and obligations, or, in a word, govern their apartments and carry out the proper maintenance.

“Aiya, you have many residential buildings and houses in Montreal that were built in 1900 and even older? How do they look? They must be terrible!”

Her sisters in China were amazed. How incredible it was! In China, buildings erected after 1988, only 21 years old in 2009, already looked so old, dirty, and out of date.

In China, in one area after another, “old” buildings had been torn down to make way for new, more modern ones, with bigger bathrooms, huge sitting rooms and gardens, bridges and fountains everywhere. It seemed that dismantling “old” buildings was as easy as just blowing out a sneeze! There seemed to be no mortgage issues to worry about, nor land acquisition to argue about. Right, for sure, China was a socialist or communist country, where buildings belonged to a ghost-like collective. The country once belonged to everyone in name, yet no one really knew what ownership was, what rights this ownership granted, and who was responsible for what. Although property privatization had been going on for many years, obligations were still not necessarily and automatically forthcoming with ownership.  Under the vagueness and ambiguity of no trivial concepts of ownership, even masonry will rot! When human hearts become like poorly mixed cement: either too much cement, resulting in complete rigidity, or too much sand, and not being able to hold even air; water does not help consolidate and “Ethics and Trust” have no place.

Both Ou Yang and Ge Wen were delighted to live in the house. Though not as big as she wanted and neither as new, Ou Yang was satisfied for the moment. As having a family “Cheng Jia 成家 ” had been the first crucial symbol of success for Chinese, “house” became the fundamentally indispensable element for a home or family. In Chinese culture, no matter how successful a person can be in other aspects, if he or she is not married and does not have a home (together with a house), he or she will barely be regarded as successful. A house has become such a preeminent thing in people’s life. After almost 40 years of being deprived of property ownership,  without limitations of times and era, we have become  fundamentally and thoroughly so poor inside, that we have been paranoid of the impact of being poor and unconscious on the effect of spiritual status. We know that without a home, no souls could survive for long. So with privatization of properties and maybe land in the future of China, can we expect the flourish of happy souls?

Not like many Chinese families overseas who acquired huge houses yet no money for furniture nor heating expense, Ou Yang and Ge Wen preferred to have a smaller house. Ou Yang had taste and a good sense about the balance of living. She wanted to have a nice home with trendy furniture and decorative things. She hung many lovely pictures of her little family along the wall going upstairs; she painted some walls in different colors; she bought exaggeratedly huge flowers from “Pot Pourri” and put them together with some green leaves, dry sticks that were plastic, but made to seem genuine.  She would never wanted the idea of buying a huge house with no furniture and barren “white” walls, only to shiver in winter with 15 degrees in the house wearing sweaters and outdoor coats!

The three of them, Ou Yang’s little family, were very comfortable in the cottage. They kept the heat at 24 degrees. In the summer they ate outside and received friends on their small wooden deck under a charming red umbrella. Ou Yang had planted tulips the previous November, and now she was planting more perennials and annuals. She invited her boss and his wife. Ou Yang showed her beautiful white teeth as she smiled from ear to ear when she finally heard the compliments about her new house and her good taste. The few lines between her eyebrows were gradually disappearing now that she was under her own roof and was eliminating the factors that were carving them. She helped her husband cook a delicious and exotic banquet, both western and Chinese, and her son was playing the piano downstairs. Every thing went extremely well. Ou Yang was soaked in happiness, feeling proud of being a person full of savvy.

Time passed without them noticing, and their son Sonny turned six years old in 2010. Ou Yang was promoted twice because of her good performance and was earning forty-eight thousand Canadian dollars a year. Ge Wen made a little bit more. Because he did not speak French, he always felt that there was some discrimination against him.

“It was discrimination against Chinese!” He would think.

He started talking about moving to Vancouver, where he would not have as much of a problem with the language. There is a huge population of Chinese in Vancouver, and Ge Wen thought they would feel better there. But the issue naturally went away, as he was the only one who said so, and the fragile one among all others. Their son started primary school.

With their son going to school, Ou Yang and Ge Wen’s life became more stable, and they began to relax. Sonny was older now, and gaining more independence each month, which also gave Ou Yang and Ge Wen more time for both of them. They were not bound from minute to minute any more. They could literarily enjoy some time without having to watch their son playing in the yard or outside. They could even send their son to the home of his school friends, or rather to that of her close friend who happened to be the mother of their son’s friend. They could go see a movie now and enjoy a bit of free time- time when they could have rekindled something that had begun to be extinguished by the daily routine.

Over the issue of taking turns to watch over the kids among the school parents, Ge Wen and Ou Yang had a huge and definite disagreement at the beginning. He only agreed with reluctance to try once.  He would rather stay home to be with their son when Ou Yang wanted to go out, and he would frown when his son’s friend wanted to sleep over Friday night.

“Don’t bother other people!” was his usual righteous thing to say when it came to matters like these.

If he had not been willing to also provide his service, it surely would have become a “bother!” But a father is a father. He accepted it, after seeing his son jump up and down upon hearing the news that his good friend was coming, and seeing that many other people were doing it. His son needed friends!

What about them? Did they need friends?

For Chinese men or women to have a friend of the opposite sex is not a possibility. It is not common to even find true friends amongst the same gender. Women could have girlfriends for going shopping or gossip, but men do not go out after work to grab a drink to keep up with the world. We Chinese just do not talk nonsense. For overseas Chinese men, it seems that their world is literarily getting “smaller and smaller,” narrowing it down to their homes. In China, they go out drink and sing karaoke for “business” and social networking, but in Canada they don’t. Maybe it is too cold too long in winter and their nuts have to hide inside their bellies. Their busy struggle for survival has made it almost impossible to have any extra time for friends, anyway. If we say that friendship in China is as shallow and hypocritical as the relationship between wolves and lambs, here it becomes a luxury.

Sometimes it is difficult to understand why our Chinese culture centers on Family values. Having no time could be a good excuse. The need for making friends comes from a hunger, just like the need for a wife or husband. We have been trying to combine friendship with couple-ship, maybe in order to save time and be efficient, or maybe because we have wished it so, but it randomly works out that way. We wish for friendship to serve as the base for couple-ship, yet that is probably a “Fleur Blue” (a hopeless romantic), which seldom blossoms. The chances of turning our spouses into friends with whom we can talk about anything and everything, is as scarce as the writer of this story falling from a capsule in space and breaking the speed of sound like Felix Baumgartner.

Yet Ou Yang ended up uniting with western or non-Chinese families for such services, because Ge Wen was not the only one; there were many others just as distrustful and uncomfortable as he. They didn’t see the necessity of keeping their social life going or having some private time for themselves, thinking that it was their full responsibility to watch over their kids, and they also genuinely did not want to “trouble” other people! They didn’t trust others; at the very least they didn’t feel comfortable with language and cultural issues. In their minds, they would feel guilty for their kids and their friends, and always worried if that ever happened from time to time.

We Chinese are basically incapable of trusting people other than our family members, or people who are connected to our family members. How much this distrust comes from self-distrust or lack of self-confidence, it is hard to say. In China, we would always have family to help with our kids, either the in-laws or brothers and sisters, or in the worst case, we could afford nannies from the far-away countryside to be live-in baby-sitters, sometimes until kids were up to 15 years old. In Canada, we are stuck with kids. No cheap help is available and we refuse to work with other people. But luckily and out of blue, Ou Yang had a couple of friends she seemed to trust.  Obviously, she did have certain self-assurance, self-trust and pragmatic entrepreneurial spirit.

As a great nation, we Chinese are polite, quiet, and always agreeable when among other people. But under such great merits, there seems to exist a deadly rotting element of distrust and untrustworthiness.  It seems that we Chinese, both as individuals and as a nation, really lack the need to connect with other individuals or other nations, and the ability to truly connect. “For what?” we would ask, and then wonder about the question ourselves. We do connect within ourselves, but even that seems reluctant and passive!  It could only happen when desperately necessary or for the sake of “business.” This pathetic connection is so often of the materialist nature that it doesn’t really hold, like the poorly mixed concrete combination, with the fault always falling on others.

“For a cunning cottage we could share…” Oh, yes, a home to have, a cunning cottage we could share…

* The title is an excerpt of a George Gershwin’s song: I’ve Got A Crush On You

 

To Be Continued…

The Hidden Seduction – Part III-2 – Thorn Birds and Prejudice!

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Canadian-Multiculturalism-Mounties

Part III-2 – Thorn Birds and Prejudice

 

Ou Yang and Ge Wen only felt financially relieved once she had found a job as a clerk at a small importing & exporting company, where she was paid $32,000 a year. Not bad at all for someone who had only two years of post-secondary education in the form of training as a travel guide after high school.

Many immigrants from Mainland China who had master’s degrees in technology, sciences, or the arts, or had already worked for up to 15 years as medical doctors in China, were paid minimum wage as cooks or grocery store owners. Grocery store owners can make money, but it is mostly illegal, done by not declaring all of their revenue, while sacrificing their precious time, and that of their kids, for what amounts to peanuts when factoring in 17 hours a day of work for 7 days a week. Most astonishing is the fact that some had left their jobs as engineers to be grocery owners for the promise of “more money” and freedom. But who have these menial jobs, and who are the owners of small grocery stores in China?

They brought money to Canada, of course, and no unimportant amount. But as Chinese, who always adhere to the old Chinese teachings of “being a smart rabbit having three caves in case of danger (狡兔三窟),” they also saved money and refrained from spending more than the minimum necessary for their first home.

We should remember that Ou Yang had been making good money back in China as a tour guide, and she surely knew how to spoil herself with luxurious stuff. She was the youngest child and the wife of the only son of a very sensible family; naturally, she was exempt from all responsibilities for both families, and she had enjoyed all the money for herself. For Ge Wen, a Chinese “intellectual” type, a shirt or a pair of shoes would last him forever without feeling the need to change. He had always told Ou Yang in China, and now in Canada, when she wanted to buy some new clothes for him:

“No, it’s not necessary. What I have is good enough!”

Isn’t it? Ge Wen was a person who sought nothing beyond the few things that he already had.

Yet Ou Yang was a person with taste and a sense of social behavior. She knew that they could no longer dress the way they had in China. They had to change shirts every day to go to work, and even the men needed to put on a bit of “cologne.” Ou Yang was already used to it from her time as a tour guide who mingled with people of “perfume and cologne,” yet Ge Wen was used to his colleagues at a Chinese state-owned company, where he had never known anyone who smelled like that.

“Lao Gong! “(老公-”lao” means old, “gong” means male) is a popular nickname for husbands, resulting from the rising influence of Hong Kong vocabulary since the early 1990’s, when China first opened her doors to Hong Kong.

“You should wear some cologne when you go to work!”

It was not a suggestion, so much as an order. While it often seems that passive people don’t think much, Ge Wen did have his ideas!

“No! No! What are you talking about? I will never be like them!”

His colleagues here in Canada, he said, smelled badly, some even smelled like stinky foxes!

“I don’t stink, why should I put on that kind of thing?”

Ge Wen was offended. No matter what Ou Yang said or threatened, he refused to accept that kind of thing for the declared reason of not being smelly himself, yet deep down in his heart this sort of thing was more a symbol of a spiritual connection with capitalist taste than an odor remover. For a Chinese “intellectual” – an independent and different man, a man with a deeper insight – the acceptance of “such a thing” could have an impact so deep as to make him feel that he was losing his personality or identity.

There is a limit on the things we can control, even when we know that one way is better than the other.  Ou Yang could do nothing on the matter of “cologne,” yet Ge Wen did have a point on this matter, didn’t he? Chinese people don’t stink and “foreigners” do, so they invented “perfume” and “cologne” to disguise their natural but unwashed bodies into “seduction,” which to Ge Wen was a revolting idea.

The Quebecois were strange in Ou Yang’s eyes as well. For one, they took their time serving you in restaurants. It was very slow, and Ou Yang would waste no time to comment:

“Not like in China! In ten minutes, 5-8 dishes would be on the table, all delicious and hot!”

Here, the waiters and waitresses came to the table, smiled, chatted, made jokes, maybe even flirted with the customer, regardless of whether they were to their liking. In an hour of waiting, they did everything else with you besides bring your food! This was unbearable for most Chinese, revealing another hidden reason why they don’t talk while eating. They have been taught by old rituals not to talk over meals or when sleeping (吃不言,睡不语-chi bu yan, shui bu yu). They cared little for jokes and smiling while waiting for food. They were ok in China where food was served without the waiters even looking at the customers, and everyone ate quietly like ants!  Why were they being flirted with when going for food? They just wanted to eat!

Here, the Government services to the public were even slower.

“Oh, Good Heavens!” Ou Yang would say when talking like a religious zealot about her medical experience in Montreal with his family in China.

“It was a pain in the butt to go see those doctors!” Sometimes she would wait an entire day, seven to eight hours, just for a little checkup. She clearly did not know the function of “triage,” which classifies patient urgency according to the seriousness of their illness. The wait for small problems could seem to go on forever because all of the more serious cases pass to the front of the line. In China, the patients themselves performed “triage.” When the Chinese were busy running around crowded hospital like lunatics trying to find out what to do, or finding family friends who had relations with the doctors, of course they were not bored like here by waiting for hours in the waiting rooms, instead they were working hard for hours to make the hospitals look very efficient!

Ou Yang tried many times to be nice with the clerk in order to get some favors, but it never worked. She got a cold answer every time:

“you have to wait your turn.”

In that respect she felt that China was faster and better. China works with connections, and who did not have connections in China? That is why China gave birth to 1.6 billion people so that they could link-in for convenience, speedy treatment, and the exchange of favors!

So “efficiency” comes from connections and favors, rather than “inefficiency” serving no connections. Which one is better? Are there any other choices?

Ou Yang perceived the Quebecois as lazy people in general. In her mind, they were not only lazy, with many relying on social benefits, but they seemed not to encourage efficiency or strive for improvements, and they also failed to encourage people and children to have dreams. The Quebecois, they actually liked to bathe in the sun in summer time, some even enjoyed being tanned by a machine!  They enjoyed sitting for a long time with a cup of coffee without doing anything; they were addicted to having fun with meaningless things, and enjoyed talking for hours about nothing. They put their young children to bed early so that they could go out and enjoy themselves! Both Ou Yang and Ge Wen were both very much against this. They thought they were not responsible for their kids and family.

With regards to education, Ou Yang thought the Quebecois parents were lazy and had no plans for their children’s future. Parents left their children outside after school in spring, summer and fall, and didn’t give them drills to practice what they learned at school: even worse was that there were no home-work from teachers! How could children abide by “Review the old and they will know new better (温故而知新 – wen gu er zhi xin )”?

Ou Yang had a girlfriend with two daughters, one twelve and the other fifteen. Ou Yang could not stand the way her friend and her husband spoiled their girls. They were complete princesses: in Ou Yang’s opinion, they didn’t learn much at school and did nothing at home, either with their studies or helping with family chores. They even had a nanny to clean their rooms for them. They ate and then stood up from the table and left without helping, enjoying the habit of having their mother or father do everything for them.  Worse was that the parents had no desire or intention to train the teenagers in any other skills besides the minimum required in school. Another thing that was hard for Ou Yang to accept was that the kids here could and would not stand any criticism of any kind, as if the necessary training and discipline were regarded as torture for children, making parents feel guilty for attempting it!  If they could ever get the children to agree to do anything, they were far too slow, and the job would never be complete. Western parents would have a day when they would have to bargain for their child’s love.  But what about Chinese parents? Haven’t they been constantly bargaining, begging or manipulating for their children’s love the entire time?

One thing Ou Yang and Ge Wen agreed upon was their son’s education. There was not even a question about whether their son would go to piano lessons, or another activity that would help him to develop his abilities. And so their Sonny began taking piano lessons at age three and half; then at five, the Go. Ou Yang was as busy as a bee, running between school, work, the piano, and Go practice. Ge Wen would usually cook, so that they could start their dinner at 7pm when wife and son finally returned home.

Quebec had undergone their social revolution from the 1960’s to 1980’s with little blood shed. It seems that they had realized what the Americans and Chinese have been struggling towards for so long. Quebec enjoys its social benefits: free medical care, nine years of free mandatory education, nearly-free colleges and universities, and a “no-fault” automobile insurance policy installed by Lise Payette! Because of all these fundamental social improvements, Quebecois society’s mentality has made great strides with its people’s freedom from the conservative days of Catholic Church rule. One might wonder how the great French writer Victor Hugo’s social political idea of “he who opens a school door, closes a prison” has influenced the present free education system in Quebec!

Chinese and many other immigrants came to Quebec because of the results of the famed thirty years of social revolution, “The Quiet Revolution,” the French cultural heritage.  What greater dreams could Quebecois even have? Was it really necessary to train children to be capable of doing small things at home, in order to make them alert of the possibility of one day needing some basic skills, such as cleaning up after oneself? What else could Quebec do to please Ou Yang?

One evening, Ge Wen heard a dispute on TV over whether an Indian boy could keep his tradition of his culture and bring a knife to school. Both of them had no opinion about it.

“Mind your own business!” was what Ge Wen,or even Ou Yang would say to themselves. “It is not our business!”

Was it really? One day maybe their own son might have an Indian boy sitting beside him wearing a “cultural symbol!”

Ou Yang had also heard her colleagues talking about a Sikh who had been granted the right to wear his turban instead of the hat as an important part of his mounted police costume. Ou Yang felt it strange that such thing would even happen in Canada. To her, this was just like a Tibetan solder in the Chinese army who would want to wear his mountain boots as part of his military costume!

“How ridiculous!” Ou Yang said!

Did she have a point? Can we challenge our traditions and rituals?  Can we raise questions?

Surely the western people who lived in China had much to complain about Chinese habits and customs. Even Ou Yang hated those uneducated Chinese who spit, hawked, or smelled badly after wearing their shirts for days. She detested people, especially Chinese, who ate with their mouths open. She was furious when talking about the disrespect and distrust of Chinese to each other, and she could often judge fast and clear what kind of person someone was.

“She is a bad person,” Ou Yang would conclude when someone did not return her favor.

Since Ou Yang was fast in just about everything, her judgments were no different. Ge Wen also judged, but only as fast as his metabolism allowed him to. Often, once judgment was done, although differently from hers, his conclusions would rarely change and could seldom vary.

Thorn birds are not Kun Pengs(鲲鹏)and prejudice is hard to avoid. We can hardly say that integration has nothing to do with money and stability, but it has everything to do with the perceptions that integration requires us to alter, in the very least.

 

To Be Continued …