Saturday, June 6, 2015

Three Loves Seven, Chapter 24, Part 4 - "When a Mythic Quest Turns into an Ego Trip"

Dear Gentle Readers,

The chapter of events of Seven-Seven in the Year of the Dragon (2012) will end with this chapter. To refresh you, Xiao Mei has a heart-to-heart talk with her mother about a dream that's been bothering her--a dream of an incomplete chase. Lum thinks it's just anxiety about her upcoming departure to go abroad to school and tells her to go see Clete and ask what going away to college is like. Not wanting to have repeats of the dream, she goes to him immediately and starts a conversation over on Lee and Ling's territory, the northwest sector of Dog Island.

They talk about college life but Xiao Mei really thinks the dream is about something else. It's about the Quest she has been given and she wants someone who knows something about the outside world to give her advice, and she wants to ask you-know-who, but can't decide how to do it.

So we pick it back up

... as the story continues ...

So he waited and said nothing. I wanted to say something. I wanted to tell him everything. I wanted his true opinions about things. But it was so hard to open my mouth. All I could hear were my mother's warnings about not disclosing things because it could bring us harm.

For the Professor's part, he just patiently sat there waiting for me to get over my ambivalence. He massaged his right leg for a bit, and then decided to break the silence.

     “I remind you that I found out the secret of everybody’s birthday today and the world did not end.”
     “I guess not.”
     “It makes it really easy for me to remember when to send them birthday cards. Do you want me to sign a confidentiality agreement?”
     “Professor, don’t be silly.”
     “Do you think I would ever act to hurt you?”
     “Only if it would help me eventually.”
    “Now that's a realistic answer. I'm proud of you. You're doing great. OK. Don’t tell me everything. Tell me just enough to help you.”
    “My mother DID send me to talk to you, so I’m sure it’s OK to tell you some things. Well, the Cousins, as you call them, are awaiting the arrival of a man who will bring the Island salvation and prosperity. They have been awaiting him all their lives.”

The Professor sucked in his lips and pursed them, hard, almost as if he were biting them. I knew he was restraining himself greatly. I opened my mouth, but he motioned me with an upturned hand to stay quiet as he thought this through. After a minute, he relaxed his face, gave out a sighing whistle.

     “OK then. Let’s start. Has he been here before?”
     “What’s his name?”
     “They don’t know.”
     “What does he look like?”
     “They don’t know.”
     “Same age as them . . . and you.”
     “OK, well that cuts it down. Where is he from?”
     “His legendary title is ‘The Prince of Southern China,’ so probably from there.”
     “Deep south of China? It’s a big place. The Chinese consider Shanghai to be southern, but I don’t. Is Southern China defined?”
     “Let’s start by going with that literally. Problem with that is China has not had a royal family or nobility since the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the beginning of the 20th century, so there are no more princes there. Do you think we’re talking metaphorically about Communist Party elites?”
     “NO. That would be silly.”
     “Rest easy then. Your quest is over.”
     “How’s that?”
     “There are no real Chinese princes, southern or otherwise, and metaphorical princes are not allowed, so nobody exists in that definition.”
     “That gets rid of the problem too easily. How about modern-day descendants from imperial royalty?”
     “I’ll bet you most of them were executed by the early Republicans or Communists or that they have gone so deep into hiding over probably, what, seven generations that they don’t even who they are now. But let’s hold that very slight possibility open.”
     “But what’s left then? Is the quest over again?”
     “You rejected Communist elites as the metaphorical prince. Is it just the Communists that you reject? But let’s go back to the metaphorical princes that you would accept? Like a very rich, very powerful, highly cultured man my age, who is not a Communist? Does that sort of sound like the guy who exists in your mother and aunts’ imagination?”
     “I would say yes.”
     “Well, identifying the 100 richest most powerful men in the southern provinces of China is not too hard. If I put Sally on that project she’ll come up with a list with names and addresses in about a week. The hard part then would be meeting them. They probably all have people restricting access, just like you guys do here.”
     “Who’s Sally?”
     “My executive assistant back in L.A.”
     “Is she special to you?”
     “She’s like my right hand.”
     “Do you like her?”
     “I like her well enough. She works for me. If she goofs off, she’s out the door.”
     “You like her, like as a woman?”
     “She’s an employee. No, I do not fraternize with employees. She’s pretty if that’s what you’re asking. Glamorous is more the word I’d use, but she’s 18-20 years younger than me and NOT someone you would get serious with. She’s working on landing her third husband after the ink’s barely dry on her last divorce. Age-inappropriate and definitely NOT my type. She’s an excellent assistant, however. What’s with asking all this stuff?”
     “Just curious . . .”
     “Man, you and Qin Qin. Why do young girls care about this kind of thing?”
     “So what kind of woman is your type?”
     “The ones that catch my eye? I like ’em my age, shorter than me, and lighter than me. That’s about it. Oh, and able to keep up a conversation. But even those things are negotiable.”
     “You’re not very discriminating then?”
     “I wouldn’t say that. I have not remarried anyone since my first wife, now have I?”
     “Guess not.”
     “When you get down to it, I’m a one-woman man.”
     “Do you have a picture of her, Rico, like, in your wallet?”
     “You remember her name.”
     “I do.”
     “It’s my turn to say ‘Don’t go there.’”
     “I’m sorry. I just wanted to get an idea …”
     “Xiao Mei, we’re way off your topic. So what does ‘Island salvation’ mean?”
     “We don’t know.”
     “Probably know it when you see it. Prosperity seems clear enough. Lots of money or lots of harvest. Agreed?”
    “I would agree.”
     “OK so we’ve identified this guy as much as we can at this point. So what is your job as The Questor regarding him?”
     “Well they been waiting for him to arrive but he never does. So they’re commissioning me to try to go out and find him. I’m to go to school and learn a trade or profession with which I can survive in the world and then start my quest.”
     “Here’s my observation as an outsider. I’m telling you if they’re waiting for someone to come, he’ll never get here because it’s hard to get on your Island. I mean IMPOSSIBLY HARD. I don’t know how or why I fell through the cracks. But I could tell even now, some of your aunties are regretful that I made it on. It’s hostile here. They should just lighten up their immigration and tourist visa policy and improve their chances from zero to at least a million to one.”
     “They are afraid of an imposter showing up. So they think if they make it really hard, only the one who is supposed to come will make it through. But to help the process they’ve commissioned me. I am supposed to go out and find him.”
    “So, you go to college, get situated with a job someplace likely after graduation and just start looking?  In your spare time? Is that it?”
     “I think so.”
     “Pretty vague. What’s he going to do once you find him? You’ve got to get him here, right?”
     “He will claim his long-lost princess and daughter.”
     “So there’s a marriage component. And adoption too I assuming. Otherwise all the Seconds’ fathers would be candidates? I mean, those nine guys would all be on my short list.”
     “I can’t say anything about that, but none of them are on the list.”
     “Fair enough. So there’s going to be a competition for this fellow once he gets here? Is your Mom included in the contestants?”
     “I guess so.”
     “And is there a time frame in which you have to get this job done?”
     “No, not really.”
     “Oh well then. Relax. You have the rest of their lives to do this job. They’re my age, 54. So we’ll all probably make it to 80 at least, so you’ve got 26 years.”
     “I think they were hoping it would get done sooner than that.”
     “Is it possible that the Prince of Southern China is supposed to become the spouse of one of the girls YOUR age? You’re all adults and technically able to marry. Maybe they got the generation wrong, and YOU will go forth and find Mr. Right and YOU’LL be the lost princess he rightfully claims?”
     “That COULD be it, but the Firsts have a hard time letting go of an idea about themselves that makes them think it’s one of them.” I shut up and hoped he would go to the next question.
     “OK. You’re going to HAVE to tell me more about that.”
     Damn it! “You know how earlier today, Ling told you they were all born on December 21?”
     “That was considered a prophetic sign that he would appear to that generation.”
     “Wait, so this a really old prediction? A prophecy?”
     “Yes. Ancient.”
     “Which is why Qin Qin, the Guardian of Prophecy has such an interest in this too? Which is why all these criteria are so fuzzy. Why was she asking me about my birthday?”
     “She was date-testing your Prince qualification. According to the legend the Prince will have a complementary birthdate. You’re not quite a match.”
     “Well, thank God for small favors.”
     “Quote for an old TV show. Too much to explain.”
     “I think she seriously wanted offer her mother to you. Totally outside of this legend. She thinks a lot of you.”
     “I’m flattered. She doesn’t know me that well though. I have too much baggage to be a catch for anyone. Look I’m going to give you my advice. Ready for it?”
     “I’m going to help you make a good informed decision about a college choice where you will have the best chance of success. Go to school, get a good job, settle in a nice country where you can do the work you want and hopefully marry and raise a family with a good, faithful husband. When you have your first child, ask for your mother come live you and help take care of her grandchild. She will come. I know Lum will do that in an instant.”
     “That’s it. Have a great life.”
     “What about the Prince? Where do I find him?”
     “Honey, listen to me. That’s your Mom’s life to live. NOT yours. SHE needs to get out there and start looking for Mr. Right herself. I refuse to believe such smart, capable, independent women like your mother and aunts are living a Cinderella fairy tale waiting for Prince Charming to stick a glass slipper on their feet and take them to La La Land. Xiao Mei deserves her own life to meet her own potential. As much as you love and care for her, YOU DO NOT live out Lum’s life or fantasies. Don’t be bound by some airy-fairy, ill-defined oracle that God-knows-who dreamed up when they had too much to drink or smoke.”
     “But if I use the Island’s resources to go to school, I’m obligated to do what they want.”
     “OK. Plan B. Come to L.A. Study engineering. Become an intern with my company and I’ll hire you after you’ve got your BS. I’ve got that much faith in your ability. Agree to do that and I’ll agree to advance you a student loan.”
     “But what if I’m not very good at engineering? How could that be good for you?”
     “You’ll be fine because I’ll be teaching you too. It’s good for me because I’ll recruit a top-notch student at a price I can afford. Man, when Northrup or Conoco walk in to the engineering job fair, they suck all the oxygen out of the room. I hate those bastards. Trust me when I say I can find funding for you. If you’re feeling guilt, just disclaim the Dog Island tuition grant for someone else to use.”
     “But they’re counting on me! They chose me as the Questor!”
     “Honey! It’s a wild goose chase. You’re going to waste your valuable intellect and life on a load of superstitious crap. Even if you identify a suitable rich, old, Chinesey guy, how do you get to him and how do you convince him to come here? Weren’t you even a little embarrassed even stating this case to me?”
     “It DID seem odd when I was explaining it to you exactly as you asked about it.”
     “Plan C. You’re basically finding a husband for someone like your Mom right? Go to school, but just start looking around to find guys whom you’d find acceptable to marry your mother.  She’s beautiful, she’s talented, she’s a great cook, she does productive work. Won’t be hard finding willing guys to sit back and retire here on the “C-minus-grade Hawaii” if your mom is giving him nude backrubs every night and serving him an organically grown dinner. If you had to find a husband for your Aunt Qi, on the other hand, THAT would be impossible. Pick the best one for your Mom and present him. All these criteria are pretty fuzzy. The definition of “salvation” and “prosperity” and “prince” can all be talked around and MADE to fit. Everybody will already want to believe whatever choice you make just because you have the title Questor, and they’re all ready to bring the project to a close and move on. And they’re happy it’s NOT them that had to do it. And if you’ve done your job right, you’ve matched your Mom up with a man that will make her happy. Just don’t go with the first guy you identify.”
     “Why not?”
     “You know how they say to always throw away the first waffle?”
     “No. What’s a waffle?”
     “Cancel. The first guy will be wrong because you’re working through bad assumptions and you are blinded by a lot of romantic thinking.”
     “None of these seem like an authentic solution.”
     “Mary, I mean Mei . . . you were not given an authentic problem. Look, I realize I'm telling you to act like an American daughter. We're individualistic. I GET that. It's foreign to you. You guys kind of have remnants of that Chinese collectivist thinking just like my family, but you're different too. I haven't put my finger on makes you all tick. Do you REALLY believe this screwball legend?”
     “I must. It’s what has organized my life here.”
     “OK. I must and I WILL honor that. You will not find your path by reason. Reason takes you to what I just laid out for you.”
     “But what do I do then?”
     “I’m going to tell you something my Dad told me. When everything else is equal or unacceptable and you don’t know what to do, go to a quiet place and just sit, be quiet, and listen, and pray. Like maybe under a tree. The answer will come to you.”
     “I had the same reaction. He said ‘If it was good enough for the Buddha, why not you? Why are you so special?’ I recently spent some time with the Sea Witch and that’s exactly what we did together. She reminded me what a blessing emptying your mind is. New ideas can’t come in if it’s crowded in there.”
     “I can’t believe you’re giving me the exact same advice Mother did.”
     “I gotta love her then. Smart woman. By the way, tell her I’d REALLY like her to prep me another bath and massage before I leave. I never felt so rejuvenated afterward. If she opened a spa and did that in La Jolla or Sedona, she could send you to the Sorbonne. All you guys are wasting your time here. Go for my Plan B. THAT one I can make happen. You need to sleep on this stuff. Let’s talk some more after that, OK?” He got up, bent, slapped his ankles, and then winked at me.
     “I guess it is good advice. All of it. You’ve  given me a lot to think about.” It looks like I AM going to have to sleep in The Grove after all.  He walked me back to the access road. “Do you really think my mother is an attractive marriage prospect?” I asked.
     “Mary! You know better than to ask subjective questions the answer to which you will doubt later. I’ve taught you better than that. Hmm now that I think of it, if you come to school in L.A., I have just the guy. Arn Weinstein, neuroscientist. Rolling in cash. He leases his Beemers for work so he’s always in a new one. Always had a thing for short, Asian chicks. Your mom’s a dead ringer for his ex. She’ll have to cut her hair and learn to use makeup though. AND, we always can get a phony ID with the right birthdate for you over at Pico Union, so rest easy on that OK?”
     "What is an 'Asian chick'?"
     "An attractive female of a certain facial type, and a certain slim body type, with straight black hair who has eyes that look more or less like yours or mine."
     "That does not sound very distinctive. Isn't that a lot of people?"
     "Not in America. I'm speaking of a visual fetish activated by all kinds of historical social inequities between European Americans and people of east Asian ancestry in the States."
     "That seems strange to me."
     "It's as simple as this. It's perfectly normal to want to have sex with your equals, no question there. To want sex with the king or queen is not only normal, it's aspirational. To be the king or queen and want to have sex with the help, though? You're probably working out something perverse."
     "I would NEVER offer my mother to such a man."
     “A lot of people would not be on this earth but for such obsessive attractions. I wonder if there would be ANY African Americans otherwise now that I think about it. There are worse bases on which to start a relationship. I know happily married people who got their start only because they started to look good to each other after four drinks in a dark barroom at 1:55. Besides, most women I know think Arn's a pretty good catch.”
     “But Professor, that is just well … ewww.”
     “I agree with you, but I counter that taking your nation’s foundational myth to such a level of personal enactment by your whole family, mind you, is a group fetish of the highest order.”
     “That’s just rude! You are an awful man. I’m sorry I told you anything about us.”
     “That’s great.”
     “What is?”
     “You finally blew your cool with me. I got to see you mad. We’re progressing.”

I admit there were a lot of things in that conversation that I did not understand. What I hated most of all was some of the dishonesty he was suggesting, but maybe I still wasn’t acquainted with him enough to know when he is joking. We walked back down to his cottage. He extended his hand. I ignored it and just gave him a hug.

     “Thank you for being honest with me.”
     “You will find what you’re looking for. It will become clearer the more you search, because the question changes. That’s the way it works.”

I did not then go to The Shrine or The Grove as mother suggested. I went instead to the tree that my mother planted when I was born. It is in a circle of nine trees planted in the southwest sector. I climbed up into the notch and found that it was tall and sturdy enough now to hold me. 

I did dream my dream and it progressed, but it did not resolve any issues. When I caught up with the person I was pursuing, he turned around and looked me square in the face. It was Professor Wong.

© Copyright 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.

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Be truthful and frank, but be polite. If you use excessive profanity, I'll assume you have some kind of character flaw like Dr. Wong. Tks!