Saturday, March 06, 2004

A Slippery Slope

When the phone rang, I was going to ignore it -- must be a telemarketer. American companies are insidious with their demographic research, even the telemarketers callng this neighborhood speak Chinese. At first I found it difficult to hang up on someone who spoke Chinese (deeply-ingrained Confucious upbringing), but now, I can just slam down the phone with no remorse.

"Wei?" I still answer the phone with the Chinese equivalent of "Hello," which is effective in scaring off non-Chinese-speaking telemarketers.

"Um, this is Delia." Her voice sounded tentative. My heart sank.

"You don't have to explain anything to me, I'm not your mother, I'm not going to tell anyone back home either, it's--"

"It's not what you think, I haven't done...that..."

"It matters only to you, even if you won a Nobel Prize later on, someone is going to bring this up."

"I only have a few people I see, and it's very limited when it comes to what I let them do--"

"Why stay here and do this when you can go back home?" I couldn't help asking.

"You're such an innocent, nobody wakes up and suddenly decides to do this, and definitely not do this for life. It's always just to pay bills for a little while, and a little while lasts forever--"

I'm fast losing my patience with her. This is a sane, highly-educated woman who has so many options than the one she has chosen. "Look, if you want to borrow money so you can get out of this seedy situation..."

"No no no, this is just a stepping stone, I can handle it."

With that, she hung up. I took down her address and made a note to check on her now and then. Though we aren't close, I find the depth she has sunk to so demoralizing that it's almost as if her eventual fate has become my personal project. She can tell herself this is not as bad as it looks, because she only does certain things, but like that old Chinese proverb says, "Even if she jumped into the Yellow River now, she can't get clean."

The Yellow River is the chief artery running through large parts of China, it's very muddy, thus its name. The proverb is not logical, but it's used so often that people understand its allegory.

Delia is underestimating the stain she has already brought upon herself. Her Chinese name is purple lotus flower. The lotus plant grows out of muddy ponds, yet its pink and lavender-tinged petals always look pure and untouched, despite the soiled environment it's enmeshed in. Is that what she tells herself when she opens the door to a client?

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Fantasy Fix

I signed up with a video store, they have this deal where you can rent more than 100 tapes for less than $50 per month. Of course, this is overly-long Chinese melodrama series we're talking about here. An average series runs about 25 episodes at least, so that's $25. But I do need to hear some authentic Chinese being spoken.

It's sad Americans only see Chinese movies with historical settings, preferrably with martial arts scenes or poverty-related suffering. The rest of the world have petty love triangles and materialistic dreams too! I would love a Chinese "The O.C." If you see foreign films shown here, they're all very existential and focused on big life issues. Is that what's being imported or is that what foreign film distributors think Americans want?

Even good Chinese actors are reduced to playing caricature-like roles here. Can a Chinese actor be anything other than a gangster, a tourist, a laundromat/dry cleaner owner, or someone who knows computers well?

Until then, I'll have to get my escape fix from over-acted soaps. Ironic that everything I watched back home were American movies, now I'm watching Chinese soap series like they're being banned soon. However I get my fantasy time, I'm getting them.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

I had to go and pick up more herbs from Dr. Zhou's house today. Didn't snoop around and came straight back to the clinic. She has taken to talking to me when we wait for a scheduled appointment. Her moon fluctuates, like today, after a call she got from her daughter, who married an American guy and moved to Florida.

"You think there is such a thing as 'Tao Hua Yuan'?" Dr. Zhou asked, while reorganizing the bottles of herbs she has on the shelf.

My mind was on the incredibly cheap mixed nuts here and was thinking about sending some back to my friends at home and took a while to reply. "Yes, but if there was, then nobody has found it again."

Tao Hua Yuan is a mythical place, translated literally, it means "Peach Flower Garden." Legend has it a fisherman happened upon a dense cluster of peach flower trees while fishing in a mountain valley, he followed the fragrant orchard until eventually the trees thinned and he discovered a narrow crack in the mountain itself. He squeezed past the opening and saw a peaceful village of people of all ages living just beyond. The villagers were very amazed to see him and treated him to elaborate banquet meals. They asked him about his life and the dynasty era he came from, as they all escaped here from a past war and never ventured out again. The fisherman loved the tranquil lifestyle there but missed his family. Upon returning, his hosts warned him about never speaking of this place to anyone. Of course, the minute he got back to his own world, he told the local governor. The governor immediately commissioned a group of searchers to find this place, yet, despite the markers the fisherman left, they could never find Tao Hua Yuan again.

I always thought this was more about being loyal to your word than an utopia being hidden somewhere, just waiting to be found.

Dr. Zhou said, "Would you ever come back, if you saw it?"

"Yes, but I would leave better markers, like strings tied to trees, and not rice, which had probably gotten scattered by the wind."

She made some comment about my being young and opportunistic. If I wasn't, would I be here?

Dr. Zhou was likely reminiscing on the life she left behind in China. I gathered from tidbits here and there that she married an old American guy she met on campus, who was visiting China on an academic tour, while she was a grad student in traditional medicine.
Lots of women did similar things; losers and social misfits who were unable to get a wife in their own country had gotten Chinese brides this way. Some divorced after the years of required marriage to get a green card of her own, and some stayed, for various reasons. What was her reason?

Monday, March 01, 2004

The people I had to deal with today:

At the store:
Irate woman who insists on using the whitening lotion kit though she already looks like her face is dipped in cornstarch. I'm on commission so I refrain from saying the obvious.

At the clinic:
Woman who comes in for weight-loss treatment, she got started on the standard 30-min-a-week session for six weeks. Chinese acupuncture doesn't aim to cure so much as to heal. Every disease is traced back to some clogged nodes somewhere in the body. For weight-loss, the thyroid is stimulated through pressing the needles against the nodes known to be linked to thyroid function. More and more health insurance plans are accepting alternative treatments now, more business for Dr. Zhou, and hopefully more hours at the clinic for me, at $10/hr, I hope people get sick more.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

The makeup store job is not enough to supplement my lavish lifestyle (daily roasted chestnuts, for one), I better work somewhere else too. On the bulletin board at a Chinese supermarket here, I saw an ad that doesn't seem too seedy, though it says "no experience required." If it's in anyway massage-related, I'll just have to run fast.

The acupuncture clinic is situated ground-level on a small side-street off of a main thoroughfare downtown. I was buzzed in but couldn't see anyone at the front desk at first. There is the ubiquitous bamboo plant. I don't see how a mutilated plant, being made to grow in a spiral pattern, is going to bring any good "chi," but I'm not going to argue with Feng Shui. There are some medical licenses and degrees on the wall; I tried to discreetly check out any spelling errors, in case there are any online university degrees.

"Here for the translator ad?" The speaker is a woman dressed neatly in a pair of black slacks with a berry-colored sweater, probably in her 50s. Looks mid 40s though, maybe could even pass for late 30s from the back. Asian women could get away with lying about their age far more aggressively than other races, I've found. She must be one of those who gets regular sheep placenta cell injections before Americans even started the whole Botox craze.

I was grilled about my English experience by Dr. Zhou. My years of working of at that multi-national corporation must have impressed her. It's not as if I'm interpreting at an international tribunal court here, I can't imagine anything more strenuous to say than "One capsule three times a day."

I start there tomorrow, after my makeup-hawking gig ends.

Dan Ming is not talking to me. Trying to appease him, I made some deep-fried stringy apples. This sounds disgusting when described in English, but the taste is amazing.

Deep-fried stringy apples

1 Apple
1 Egg
Corn starch
Toasted black sesame seeds

1, Mix corn starch and beaten egg together into a thick paste, dip cubed apples into the mixture until thoroughly coated.

2, Heat oil in work until oil is hot. Add apple chunks to wok and fry until they are golden. Carefully move the apple chunks around so they don't burn.

3, Make suger glaze by heating oil, sugar, and a little bit of water in wok, use medium heat until glaze is light gold in color and stringy.

4, Add apples to glaze and coat apples completely.

5, Serve with sesame seeds tossed on top.