Saturday, May 30, 2015

Three Loves Seven, Chapter 24, Part 3 - "The Questor Begins to Move"

Dear Gentle Readers,

We're not quite done with events on Seven-Seven. The after-party chatter continues.

I could tell you more, by why don't you just read what happened as recorded by the Guardian of History, Prophecy, and Lore ...

as the story continues ...

[Reporter’s note: This diary was collected from the Questor, Second Wood Princess after she related in meeting that she had had a recurring dream.]

From the Questor’s diary

U.S. Time:           Thursday, August 23 2012
Island Time:        Dragon, Month 7, Day 7, Xingqi 4, Seven-Seven Festival Day

Mother and I were making our way back home after the festival. In the past it had been such a happy time, but for some reason this year, even though it was made even more special by Dr. Wong’s participation, it made me feel overwhelming grief after it had ended.

Maybe I really coveted the Weaver’s role for my mother. I can imagine her almost running and dancing like nothing upon our upraised feet making the magpie bridge. She makes it into the Cowherd’s arms who lifts her high and twirls her about, showering her with kisses. Instead I had to endure Auntie Feng as such. Oh, she was beautiful and graceful, but still, she was not my choice.

Mother is highly sensitive to my moods. I must have seemed quite black to her because she was moved to question me.

     “What’s wrong dear? It was a lovely time, don’t you think?”
     “It just makes me sad this year. I don’t know why.”
     “I know why.”
     “It’s disappointment. You wished something else would have happened.”
     “Disappointment is something you need to accept as a life companion. It will never leave you.”
     “I really hate those kinds of answers.”
     “Of course you do.”
     “Mommy, I have been having a recurring dream. It is really bothering me. It keeps coming so that it makes me not want to go to sleep.”
     “You HAVE been tossing at night. What is it?”
     “I am chasing someone through the garden, through The Grove, into the caves, and eventually down into the sea, diving toward the bottom. The person is just in front of me. As they are about to turn around and face me I wake up. I have had this dream every night for two weeks.”
     “Is it a person or an animal?”
     “A person.”
     “Adult or child?”
     “Um … adult.”
     “Man or woman?”
     “Hard to say. I don’t know.”
     “I have two suggestions.”
     “We should change where you dream for a while. Maybe they will progress further. For the next few nights, I advise you sleep either in The Shrine at our altar or …”
    “Do you think this may be arising from your call as the Questor?”
     “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.”
     “Let us seek permission from the Sea Witch for you to sleep at the Empress Tree.”
     “I would have to sleep out of doors, in The Outside? Under the tree?”
     “Or better, in it. The boughs are very wide. It is almost like a room up there.”
     “That’s very scary to me.”
     “It’s not. It’s quite comforting. I have done it twice. When I had to make very significant choices. I will sit with you in either case if you wish. But it would be better if you did it alone. Do you think you can do it?”
     “I REALLY don’t want to do that. The forest at night is so, thick, and mysterious, and everything is hidden. And there are poison bugs.”
     “The Sea Witch will watch you if I am not there. She does not allow guests in her domain to be molested in any way. Shall we go The Shrine and summon her?”

I took a very deep breath and nodded.

     “Um … but before we do, you said you had TWO suggestions?”
     “Right. This one is not so scary. Maybe you’re just anxious about going away to school next year? Talk to Clete and ask him about what it’s like to go to college and live away from home. I’m sure that would set a lot of your worries to rest.”
     “OH! Why didn’t I think of that? I would MUCH rather talk to the Professor first. He’s always very interesting and cheerful.”
     “What makes dreaming at the Empress Tree the harder task? I’m a bit surprised and maybe a bit disappointed in you.”
     “The Professor taught us to apply Ockham’s Razor in our problem-solving thinking.”
     “And that is?”
     “Do not multiply entities unnecessarily. Seek out the simplest of competing theories. Or as he says it, if two roads get you to the same place, always take the easier one. Do you think he’ll be up for a while?”
     “That is a philosophy of laziness! I should hit that man for turning my most thorough, dutiful, and diligent daughter into a sluggard who seeks the easy way out!”
     “Mommy, it’s not like that at all. You should hear his lecture on analyzing efficiencies of motion. He uses the example of how you have engineered your medicinal herb garden in its tiered format to make use of as few motions as possible to achieve maximum production within the limitations of your stature and limb length and lift strength.”
     “Remember how he was taking videos of your garden and tool shed and you working in them? He said he was documenting your procedures to use as a fine example of physical efficiency in his courses.”
     “He thinks I’m efficient?”
     “Isn’t that a good thing?”
     “I suppose it isn’t the worst thing to be thought of. I’d prefer kind, thoughtful, graceful, artistic.”
     “To be called efficient by him is high praise Mother, trust me.  Shall I go talk to him now?”
     “He’s had a long day. He probably wants to rest. I am sure he is tired. I felt his right leg trembling when the sole of his foot was against mine. I put my hands on his ankle to steady him. His skin there is very rough textured, easy to grip. I made sure to touch his other leg later. Did you know that he …”
     “I think I’ll go now before it’s too late.”
     “Let it wait until tomorrow. Let him rest.”
     “But that dream. I don’t want to have it if I don’t have to.”
     “Troublesome girl. Go ahead and start the conversation. If he seems like the least bit like he is pushing you off, if his attention seems to flag for even a second, I want you to excuse yourself and leave immediately. Do you understand? I don’t want my daughter to be perceived as a pest.”
     Hai. Yes, Ma.”
     “And put on more clothes.”

I looked down at myself. It was just my usual sheath that I wore at home; the same thing she had on.

     “More? It’s hot!  I can’t believe it’s YOU telling me to put more clothes on.”
     “Sigh. It embarrasses the Professor. He may or may not tell you that it does. It seems American women cover themselves a great deal. I think they dress like First and Second Branchers. You will have to deal with the issue of clothing when you go abroad. Get used to it now.”
     “If you feel very confined, just throw on your large white gauze tunic. And if you sit, do it Western style with your knees and ankles together as I have shown you.”
     “Ugh! So many instructions!”

As I approached his cottage I heard him playing the moon guitar. He had settled himself on Lee and Ling’s porch and was performing the tunes Auntie Feng had only recently taught him. Ling saw me and waved me over.

     “We wanted to hear what all of you were talking about, so I asked him to bring the yueqin with him and play us a couple of tunes,” said Ling.
     “You have a gift,” said Lee. “You have only been playing this for two weeks? It is amazing. I find it quite good.”
     “I am honored to get a compliment from you dear lady,” said Dr. Wong. “I don’t quite have the percussive slamming of the plectrum against the soundboard right. I need to hear a REAL player do it a lot of times.” He turned to me. “Xiao Mei, surely you didn’t come here to hear me play. Did you need to see one of us?”
     “I didn’t mean to intrude. Please continue.”
     “You can help out. Are you a good singer?”
     “I am not bad,” I said.
     “Xiao Mei has a beautiful singing voice,” said Lee.
     “I’d like all three of you to sing the music of the Seven-Seven dance, phrase by phrase, so I can play it back and get a sense of the accompaniment.” And so we sat there with Dr. Wong, singing the phrases while he mimicked us. We carried on like that until the stars began to appear.
     “You know,” I said. “We don’t see some of the stars that are talked about in the folk songs and legends since we are too far south. We have had to come up with some legends of our own.”
     “I’d like to hear them some day,” said Dr. Wong. “But not tonight. My heart is too full. Nothing else good can fit it. It has been a fine day.”

Auntie Lee looked at me and I felt I was being read like a book.

     “Xiao Mei has come here to talk to you Clete. Come Ling, we should move somewhere else.”
     “Girls, stay put,” said Dr. Wong. “Is it Xiao Mei or is it the Office of the Questor who has come? For some reason, I smell a business meeting. Shall we walk up to The Point and chat?”
     “Am I really so transparent?” I asked.
     “I know the look of a junior associate who has hit a wall all too well. It’s the shoulders. ’sgo.”

So we walked up to The Point and found a couple of comfortable enough outcroppings on which to sit. He simply waited for me to speak first, not giving me any prompt.

     “Mother said to talk to you about my anxiety about going away to college. I’ve been having bad dreams lately.”
     “Academically? You will run circles around everyone in your classes. Unless you get yourself into someplace where ALL the students are the crème de la crème and already trained to push hard in a fiercely competitive environment, like a Harvard, or MIT. I wouldn’t worry about that at all.”
     “Where you will have difficulty is socializing. That’s what I think. Unless you go to an agricultural school, nobody will have your frame of reference and you will find it hard to relate to others and they to you. You’ve also got an extremely serious and hard-charging way about you and THAT will put a lot of your peers off, especially since they are ALL insecure themselves. I’ve seen it happen too often. The way you walk and sway will be different. On top of that, they watch movies, TV shows, YouTube, download music and video, engage each other in social media. You’ve been isolated from all that. That’s easily learned though. My fear for you would be that you would feel boxed in and become homesick and depressed.”
     “But if I know to expect that, I should be ready for it? Right?”
     “Yes. But it’s nothing like actually living through isolation. To be alone in a place where you are surrounded by people is even more depressing. You know what I wish?”
     “I wish I could take all you girls back to California with me, set us up in a nice big house, and you all just live with me for a year without going to school, or maybe take only one class, and just learn what it’s like to be a young person your age somewhere other than here. I’d even try to get a couple of girls your age to live with us sort of like live-in peer advisors.”
     “My! Would such a thing even be possible?”
     “Probably not. Your aunties would kill me for even suggesting it,” he laughed to himself. “But, the first thing you do to make something happen is to imagine what it looks like. Of course, things don’t turn out like you first imagine. I had a totally different view of what this vacation of mine was going to look like.”
     “What did you imagine?”
     “I thought I’d spend my days taking pictures and samples and my nights sitting outside of my pup tent counting stars. But I had NO idea I would be doing a magpie bridge dance and learning to play the yueqin. Some things turned out exactly as expected. The data report uploads however, are exactly as I imagined.”
     “How do I go about imagining being successful at school? Socially?”
     “You can’t get advice from me on that. You guys all think I’m the rudest man on the planet. I still haven’t figured out how to be in the presence of any of the Cousins for five minutes without insulting them.” I laughed at that thought. “For instance, you have this gesture for cutting off a conversation that I’ve only just figured out.”
     “Oh, what?”
     “You put your right ankle behind your left ankle.”
     I thought about that. “We do.”
     “Doesn’t seem to work for me.”
     “Oh. That’s because you’re male. You have to bend down and slap your ankles.”
     “Like this?” He tried the gesture. “It’s like bowing. In great deference.”
     “That’s very good,” I said. “When a man does that, it also means ‘farewell, see you later.’”
     “I’m going to try that on Lee. Anyway, we’re not done. The place to start is let’s find schools where the dean keeps a high touch on his or her international students. There are people at schools who are quite skilled at integrating foreigners into host cultures. One thing that happens a lot is that international students wind up becoming friends because of their shared experience of feeling outside. Let me help you at least that much in assessing a school’s culture that way and make use of some of my contacts and identify schools that don’t just set you adrift all on your own.”
     “Would you? I’d appreciate it!”
     “If I could convince your mother to send you to school in Southern California I could mentor you through the process and act as your pseudo-family support. You know I have the ulterior motive of trying to get all your cousins into California schools. You’d be my beachhead pupil. BUT I’m sure she’d be against it though.”
     “I don’t know about that now. If not, I’m sure I could convince her.”
     “Good luck with that, but social integration into a foreign culture is not a new or terribly difficult problem. You might actually have a leg up since you have to navigate two cultures here—your native Island and The Outside. And you already know four to five languages? Your adaptability has certainly been exercised. AND, you could always call or e-mail me no matter what school you went to and I could be your mentor and friend.”
     “Thank you Doctor. I already feel greatly relieved.”
     “Well, they DID choose you as their Questor right? The Cousins think you’re the most qualified to explore life in the outside world no? That has to give you some confidence.”
     “About that,” I said,  “that’s the other reason I came to talk to you? I am feel extremely overwhelmed by this task.”
     "What task?"
     "The Quest. The thing that I have been chosen to seek. Why I must leave."
     "Can't help you."
     "Why not?"
     "Sigh! You have to be willing to do something that nobody on this Island has been able to do.”
     “What’s that?”
     “Give the answer when I ask, 'What is the reason this island exists here? I am sure it relates to what you are going to ask me. It's why Lum, your Mom,  approached me to help you out in the first place, isn't it? Will you do that?”
     “No. I can't.”
     "I'm going to bed. So I slap my ankles then?"
     "No. Wait."

© Copyright 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.

I was going to load up the entire scene this week, but it's pretty long. Best for this much to sink in for the modern attention span...   VW

Next installment: How Quickly Clete Deflates a Mythic Quest to a Self-Indulgent Ego Trip ... (jerk)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Malibu morning picture of the day - Friday, May 29, 2015

Dear Family, Friends, and Gentle Readers,

It's yet another May-Gray Day out on the coast.

So we got four-of-a-kind this week. But next time we meet, it'll be a new month we'll start recording June Gloom--aren't you excited. I know I am.

OK, OK. You're bored, so for all of you who slept thru Chinese School like I did, let's make you even more bored and give you a Chinese Idiom of the Day--老嫗能解--lao yu neng jie (old, woman, can, understand) or "Intelligible to an old woman."

This was said about Tang Dynasty poet Bai Juyi (pictured right) and his writing. Now before you go accusing the guy of being terribly sexist or age-ist, simmer down.

He wrote poems attacking the powerful, lamenting social ills, and whatnot. He'd probably be a Democrat in our here and now. As such, he preferred to write in popular language rather than highly-schooled courtly language. It was said that to make sure that his stuff was not too dense or flowery, he would read them to the old maidservants that worked in his house and edit until they got it right. Consider this an early Chinese form of focus-group test marketing, or common-sense editing.

I am really digging that his desk is an old log.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend in store.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

iT'S STreeT arT THurSDay! with Malibu morning picture of the day - Thursday, May 28, 2015

Dear Street Art Lovers, Friends, Family, and Gentle Readers.

For some reason today's featured work reminds me of the endless hours of Donkey Kong Country that my kids logged on over the weekends of the 1990s, and which I absorbed as the background music to my life at the time. These are NOT the Nintendo characters, but they certainly have that video game playfulness and joy to them.

Artists: DATCIK, PRECISE, and SIZE, Heliotrope Jungle, Detail 1, paint on stucco, 2000.

Detail 2, sneaky sun
Detail 3, monkey on a preponderance of names...
This is an old one. It has a production date of 2000 on it, so it's at least 15 years old. It's pretty weather beaten and faded, but still vibrates with a lot of life.

It's located on the side a building that used to a Security Pacific Bank branch at the corner of Melrose and Heliotrope. Directly inside this wall is Scoops Ice Cream--a terrific craft ice cream store. Unfortunately I can't eat there since I'm lactose intolerant. There's also a high-end stylist, a tattoo parlor, and other boutiques.

Detail 4, artist mark

Facing this is a athletic stadium for LA City College, but that only went up a two years ago, so this used to be much more prominent. Now it's barely ornament for a seldom seen alleyway. There are at least three artists' marks on here that I can see. The one on the first detail is hard for me to read but it looks sort of like DATCIK. The other two are PRECISE and SIZE.

Detail 5, native oogah boogah man

The main personality character here is Donkey Kong here in Detail 1. Secondary monkey characters are also here. The guy in the jungle mask looks to me like someone from Banjo Kazooie, but such a guy is a pretty stock trope-in-trade-guy in a cartoon jungle scene.

I think it's very interesting that wooden pallets are leaned up against this guy, echoing the wooden crates that are in the background art behind him. In a photo, it's hard to tell when the stuff of reality ends and where the imagined world picks up.

Detail 6, Horton trippin' out ...
And here we have sort of a brand marker for this "Seeking Heaven" production company with the 2000 date. The drunk or dead elephant (x's for eyes) reminds me of Seuss's Horton. And of course, depictions of bananas to his right.

All in all, this has held up pretty well. Lots of fun to look at.


[I'm writing this up the day before. I'm guessing that it's be another May Gray Day...]

Sure enough, more grey. It was blue in Woodland Hills/Calabasas, so it'll be hot in the Valley today I'm sure.

OK, that's the happening for today. Let me give as much of the mural I could get in a total picture shot.

The angle is so oblique and there's chain link fence over obscuring the bottom. Best I could do. Check it out when you're in the area.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Morning picture of the day - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dear Family, Friends, and Gentle Readers,

It's Wednesday, and here is your picture.

May Gray Day #27 ... just kidding. We've had a few clearer ones. But this is practice for June Gloom.

Stay tuned. Can't stay and chat. Too much other stuff going on.

Have a great Wednesday.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Malibu morning picture of the day - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Dear Family, Friends, and Gentle Readers,

Hope you all enjoyed restful, observant, and reverent Memorial Day yesterday! It's Tuesday, the start of this short workweek and here's the view on the coast.

A May Gray Day. Subtlety, yet again. Cool here. Diffuse. If you want to stand out today, Nature will not compete with this morning. Go to it!

I feel like a little local color myself today, so let me give you one side of a utility box at Normandie and Santa Monica. It appears to be a skater's tribute to his ride.

Artist, unattributed,
LA Mr. Skate, paint on sheet metal.
This painter knows how to render wood. Composition wheels? Maybe not so much, but we get the point.

The Dodgers' logo's conception of LA permeates the consciousness of street artists. I doubt that it's all due to love of baseball. Baseball is seldom a theme of street art. In fact, I've NEVER seen a baseball street-art mural.

Dodgers marketing team, consider this a triumph of your ability to define the Angeleno self-concept on the streets!

Have a great week.


PS: It's unclear to me who might be the signatory and who might be the overpaint-haters, so  I will leave this one unattributed.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Three Loves Seven, Chapter 24, Part 2 - "Kinda Makes Remembering Birthdays Easy, So Close to Christmas and All ..."

Dear Gentle Readers,

If you've been checking in the last few days and not finding anything, I'm sorry, but I've been down with a flu-like illness for three days. Thankfully it's receding.

Well, well, well, we have come to an important set of conversations here as everyone sits around and enjoys the afterglow of the Seven-Seven Dance, which culminated a day of great meal preparation. I don't go so much into the things that they were eating, just imagine they were eating things that take a long time to prep, and so all of the together time was sitting around, chopping things to bits and wrapping things in bite-sized chunks.

We will also take a dive into some marriage divination. Since the Chinese were very heavily an arranged-marriage culture, there's not much folklore or superstition about seeing the face of the person you will marry in pools of water or mirrors or in dreams on auspicious days or circumstances as there tend to be in Western folkways. Professional fortune tellers were the ones to give the green light on possible matches. Always makes me wonder if you could bribe a fortune teller to give you the kind of horoscope you wanted and make sure a match went your way?

Since Dog Island is a diaspora culture, there are many remnant things that inform how people get together and form families. Just remember that these Princesses are something of an anomaly, and they are probably a little more attached to their past than is good for them ....

Even so, play it out they must if,

the story is to continue ...

We were sitting afterwards on the beach, enjoying a meal out in the open. The group had broken into two groups, by generation.  We had gotten out of our dance costumes. I was back in my chin-to-toe coverage of khakis, but they had all changed into some other kind of dress, other than their usual black-and-white workers garb. Very loose blouses with mandarin collars that buttoned asymmetrically off to the right side. Also they had trousers of the same lightweight material with flowery patterns on them. Sleeves and cuffs were hemmed with large borders of contrasting color. It was a garden of color.

     “Are the Sea Witches not invited to this event?” I asked.
     “They are always invited,” said Lee, “they never come.”
     “I think they may watch,” said Lum, “that is, I feel like they are present sometimes.”

I was reminded of that odd phenomenon of traveling invisibly on the Witches’ Path. This deserved some additional investigation, but I decided now was not the time to delve into it. There were times when I think I wandered onto it by chance.

     “Thank you for joining us,” said Ting Ting. “It was the most fun we have had with it in a long time.”
     “I have to say, your training me to walk on branches up in the canopy the other day helped out a lot, especially in the Bridge Scene. Feng said there was a score. Is it in written form anywhere?”
     “Dr. Sun left some notes, but its not in tablature or notation eastern or western.”
     “You should come by the lab and sing it and I’ll record it, so that you have some kind of record of it.”
     “A very nice thought,” said Feng, “but Dr. Sun “but unnecessary. I think the intent of the Drs. Sun was for it to be adapted through the generations. I think Mr. Sun is said to have said if he could recognize it a hundred years after he died, it would be a failure.”

Qin Qin and Ling had come over and were standing on either side of me.

     “We need to borrow the Cowherd, if you don’t mind,” said Qin Qin.
     “Go ahead, but we want him back when you’re done,” said Ting Ting. I rose and went over to the separate circle of the Seconds.
     “Excellent job today Professor,” said Qin Qin. “You’re one of us now in my book!”
     “I hope I didn’t crush any of you when I walked on you.”
     “No worries,” Dr. Wong, assured Eight, “we are a LOT stronger than you think. We are pros.”
     “What’s up?”
     “It would not be a Seven-Seven without a bit of marriage divination,” said Qin Qin.
      “You girls are wasting your time here. I’ve been single for over 30 years since my first marriage. There’s no way that’s ever going to happen again.”
     “Still,” said Qin Qin, “I need to practice. And as the Guardian of Prophecy AND Lore, I feel obligated to do a reading. You’re the first stranger to come to the Island in years. OK.” She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Everybody seemed to lean in. “What is your date of birth?”
     “December 20, 1958.”
     “What? I don’t think I heard that right.”
     “December 20, 1958.”
     “You sure you didn’t say twenty-ONE?”
     “Yes, I’m sure. Two zero. Here’s my driver’s license. That’s derived from my birth certificate. So you can consider it accurate. You sound disappointed.”
     “It is! No, no, no, NO! SO close. Argh. I can’t stand it!” said Qin Qin.
     “Well, he is hit on Year of the Dog and Month of the Dog isn’t he? As long as he was born after the 10th,” suggested Ling.
     “What’s on the 10th?” I asked.
     “The New Moon beginning the 11th month in 1958, the Month of the Dog, was on December 11,” Angie replied Angel. “How about the time?”
     “11:11 at night,” I said. “According to my birth certificate.”
     “Hour of the Rat,” said Qin Qin. “That’s no good! It’s way off. At least there are no dragons in there.”
     “You guys keep a lot of calendar trivia in your heads from a long time ago. What’s the point of all this?” I asked.
    “You know, if you were a little more Chinese yourself, like you accuse us of not being because we’re here in the South Pacific, you’d know what we’re talking about,” said Qin Qin slightly irked. “If you were born one day later …”
     Nu was acting quite wary about how things were going in this conversation. She had come up behind Qin Qin put her hand over her mouth.
     “I think, Dear Cousin, that is quite enough on this topic. Perhaps you should now tell him what kind of woman he should be on the lookout for knowing the TRUTH of what you do now?” She seemed to give Qin Qin a threatening look. Qin Qin relaxed, but started right up again as soon as she was unmuted.
     “I don’t believe it,” said Qin Qin. “Something’s got to be wrong!”
     “As I recall it," I said, "I think I’m supposed to be best matched to someone whose birthday is apart from mine by a multiple of four right? Tiger or Horse? Or even another Dog? Although I’ve heard it said if you marry your same year, it can be kind of a boring relationship?”
     “But,” said Ling,” I thought you said you wanted to have a very boring marriage. So you SHOULD probably go with another Dog.”
     “QIN!” yelled Faye. “Is this it? Is this ALL you’ve got? You got us all here to have this BIG REVEAL. This is the major revelation? And you have nothing. What about all these other stories and oracles you supposedly are to know about?”
     “I’m still working on those. This was going to be the main thing. I was so sure …”
     “SURE? All you had to do was ask me, or Jie, or Wen, or Nu! But NO, you’re NOT on the Junior Security Council with access to his dossier. All four of us knew this was a mismatch a long time ago.”
     “Well, it would have been nice if someone would have SHARED some of this ‘common’ knowledge …”
     “So it’s my fault that you’ve been doing a bad job of being a Guardian. How typical.”
     “Would you two stop it?” said Ling, “I’m sure you’re making Dr. Wong uncomfortable.”
     “Fine, fine, fine,” said Qin Qin. “All you doubters can continue to doubt. I’m moving on. I’m not waiting for the four-hit wonder.”
     “What is this about?” I asked.
     “According to my reading on your birthday, you’re compatible with my mother as a husband. As her only next of kin, who do I talk to among your people to arrange a marriage?”
     “WHOA there girl! I like your mom. But I am not in market for a bride. I think I’ve made this pretty clear. As for who you’d arrange it with, it would be me. And, for that matter, it would be between ME and HER. Nobody else.”
     “But just think of it. If you were my stepfather, you could take me to optometrist whenever you wanted to, and buy me clothes. You could force me to go to college and study engineering and do all kinds of things against my will! Because I’m a very obedient daughter!”

The snorts from her peers were many. Qin had joked often about pairing me off with her mother before, but was in her serious tone of voice. She’d been only half-joking. And well, as I thought about it, sure, I could settle down with Lian. Would she like it in L.A.? She’d be cold all the time. But what am I thinking? It’s way too late for me.

    “Why Qin, I’m honored that you would think of me that way being worthy of your mother. Let me just say that I promise I will think about the possibility, but don’t expect this lifelong bachelor to change, OK?”
     “That’s not direct ‘no’ so I guess that’s something.”
     “What’s so special about December 21?”
     “If you were born a day later, you’d have other options.”
     “All of their mothers would be available.”
     “Qin, that’s enough!” said Nu.
     “He deserves to know more than we’re telling him. If I don’t say it here, I will say it elsewhere. They were born on December 21, 1958. They will only marry a man with the same birthday.”
     “Your mom was born on December 20 then?”
     “No. Same day.”
     “So why I am acceptable to her?”
     “The Fire Maidens have lower standards than everybody else.”
     “Wow, that makes me feel REALLY special.”
     “I’m so frustrated. My mission is at a standstill. And today of all days would have been the best day to resolve all of this!”
     “Let’s back up a couple of statements and I want some clarification. Some of your moms were born on the same day?”
      Everybody looked to Ling. “It is as Qin Qin said. All of the First Princesses, all of our mothers, were born on the same day, December 21.”
     “We had this conversation on the first day of class. So it’s no just the year, it’s even more coincidental. You said none of your mothers are twins, or even sisters. How is this?”
     “No, they are not like twins in that sense, but they are more than twins since one twin is always older than the other. They all have separate mothers. They were born all exactly at the same minute, during the eleventh minute of the Hour of the Dog, which is 7 p.m. in the American style. As was the current Sea Witch.”
     “The Sea Witch too! So there were TEN simultaneous births. Do any of them have the same father?”
     “No. The Firsts are all first or second cousins to one another. But Na and Mei are sort of like sisters. Since their mothers were triplets and their fathers were twins.”
     “This is incredible. Excuse me. I need to confirm this.” I got up and walked back to the Cousins. I just stood there until they looked up at me. Something about my posture must have tipped them off that I knew something.
     “Clete,” said Mu, “is something the matter?”
     “I was just told you all have the same birthday, or even the EXACT same birth moment. Is that right? I mean, how is that even possible?” The silence that followed, along with pursed lips and the exchange of glances told me that this was true.
     “Who told you that?” asked Lee.
     “I did Mother, I am so sorry,” said Ling. She had come up behind me and now fell to her knees and put her head on the sand.
     “And how did the topic come up?” she inquired.

Ling kept her head on the ground, but answered.

     “Qin Qin wanted to practice doing a divination reading on Dr. Wong.” Everyone cast a glance at Lian. Qin Qin again.
     “Qin Qin, come here,” ordered Mu. “You did a reading on Dr. Wong. Please report it to us.”
     “Very well. He was born December 20, 1958, at 11:11 p.m. Year of the Dog, Month of the Dog, the ninth day, the Day of the Rooster, the first hour, the Hour of the Rat.”
     “Did you ask about any other circumstances? Accidents in the town, animal births, weather conditions, his parents coming into contact with any elements in particular?”
     “No, I did not get that far.”
     “Anything else to report or recommend within the stated terms of your office?”
     “No ma’am. Nothing more to report at this time. Switch to putongwha?”

And so it was time to be shut out of conversation and they went into executive session with that damned Manchurian dialect of theirs.

[This translation was made by the reported at a later date.]

     “He knows some of the common language and he's been learning more since he's been here. Use Court Language. Go ahead dear.”
     “First, I believe we have nothing to fear from Dr. Wong. He has done nothing but provide beneficence to our Island and its people. And in some ways I believe we have treated him poorly.”
     “And why were you doing a reading on him?”
     “I thought he might be an auspicious match for my honorable mother.”
     “Do you discern that he is?”
     “I think he would be fine.”
     “The birthdate coincidences are only two.”
     “If you want to count on the American clock, he was born at 11:11 p.m. Doesn’t that bring him up to four? If you count minutes?”
     “You are grasping my dear. You are really wanting this.”
     “No more than anyone else.”
    “I think you are confusing gratitude and schoolgirl infatuation with logical thinking. Don’t you remember that fortune-telling protocol requires you cannot do a reading on your own self, or on behalf of your relatives. That there would be bias in such a reading?”
     “In the sense that I want only the finest man for my mother, I am biased. In any case, I find him an acceptable though not perfect match. But Seven-Seven is a good day to talk about such things don’t you think? And there is NO unbiased person on this island who can do a reading.”
     “There is the Sea Witch or her daughter.”
     “Perhaps I shall ask them then.”
     “Do you realize that your mother is promised to another? The One with the Ancient Claim?”
     “I haven’t forgotten. May I say with the greatest of respect that my study of our stories and history tell me the Great Prince was a man of pragmatism, not piety nor religious dogma. He would not hold my mother to an unreasonable demand that would interfere with her happiness and progress. And so neither do I.”
     “This is a major shift in our understanding of him.”
     “If the First Princesses wish to bide their time in loyalty to a man who will never come, that is their business. While I have not yet discussed this with my mother, I believe it is time for my family to move ahead. If and when the Great Prince should come, he will have plenty of other choices. However, you are all now on notice of my intentions as far as mother is concerned.”
     “Strong words. Strongly said. I would feel remiss if I did not slap you for saying it in that way."
     "Mu, please don't." It was Na. "She is no longer a child you can intimidate."
     "Very well. I will take this to mean you have other grounds that overcome birthdates. So are you ready to make your report on history and prophecy?”
     “Not yet. I have a couple more things to confirm, but it will be soon. I have letters out to former elders of this Island. I would like to have their responses before I report.”
     “Thank you, dear. Well spoken, but I believe your judgment is clouded. Think this through some more. DO discuss it with your mother—thoroughly. That is all for now.”

Qin Qin went over and sat with her mother, who wrapped her arms around her. They were crying, but it was not shame they were communicating, but pride. I looked around and all the girls had come over to observe as well. They all sat down and apparently once the Manchurian switch got flipped it stayed there. I may as well have been dropped among Martians. I wanted to ask more about this simultaneous birth event, but that moment had passed and I would just look like some kind of weaseling idiot.

After I thought more about it, I realized Lee successfully deflected the topic and not given me a definitive answer. They had not confirmed to me that they all had the same birthday. I remembered what the Sea Witch had told me about learning their birthdays. She was apparently a part of this great coincidence too. Even though the moment had passed, I suppose I had gotten the confirmation I needed.

As we walked back the costumes and the props back to the Shrine, I caught up with Qin Qin and Lian.

     “Hey Fire Princesses,” I called out. “I missed out on hearing something important there didn’t I?”
     “You were present Clete. That’s all that matters to me,” said Lian.
     “I’ll write it up for the Annals. You can read all about it later.”
     “Yeah, but are you going to write in High Court Manchurian or Chinese?”
     “If I do, then you’re going to have stick around until I can teach YOU either then won’t you? Dr. Wong?”
     “Who taught you all goddamned these hardball tactics?” I said.
     “I learned from the best in the biz. Do me a favor Doc Doc, just for Seven-Seven?”
     “Sure, what?”
     “A little more play acting.” She took the costumes that Lian and I had in our arms. She put Lian’s hand in mine. “I’m going to carry everything, and you are going to pretend to be my parents and walk in front of me as we go back to the Shrine. OK?”

I had to think only for a second at what a good Cantonese father might do in this situation. I stopped Lian, looked her straight in the face, and started:  “What kind of a disobedient child are you raising!? She is forward and presumptuous and a disgrace! Such rude questions to be asking in public! Wife, I am mortified! And you, demon child, I expect you to pour me a glass of wine when we get home,” I complained. It only seemed natural. Lian, of course, obligingly gave me the culturally appropriate response of a good Cantonese wife, which the bounds of good taste forbid me from reporting here.  (And here I thought only Lee could muster that much intensity.)

And, oddly enough, my “daughter” absorbed all of it with admiration and affection. What a twisted kid—she would have to be to be mine.

© Copyright 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.