Blog of literary hijinks and the dudnering whirl of expatriotic vitriole.

5.24.2006

There was the story of the rice. The rice was the center of activity and the rice pot, the sun around which the restaurant revolved. It was made to last at least four days, provided you kept the lid shut. Threatening this lifespan in any way was a stab into the very heart of the Mayflower, and therefore, into the heart of mama. In the madness of lunch hour rush, the busiest time of day, or dinner, the lid would stay open and the rice would begin to dry and turn yellow and hard as little stones, sticking irremovably to the sides of the pot. It is well known that the Chinese use a paste made of rice and water that can hold a bamboo hut together for a hundred years. Mama would give you this look of ageless exasperation like, “Don’t you see what you’ve done? Are you going to be the idiot to clean it off the dishes everyday for the rest of your life?” She would linger over the inedible rice, raising her eyebrows accusingly to her sons who fled from view, as if to say, “At last, it’s come to this.” And for a second the tremulous sadness locked up inside her would break loose and her opaque eyes would melt, turning as transparent and tranquil as a glacial lake, the detritus of her perpetual labor and exile visible far below the ruffling surface, her anger and distrust of this incredible life and its ridiculous language, her longing for the lands of her family and friends, to hear the dipped, washing sound of her real name in Cantonese, smell frying duck skin and plumb sauce wafting in the daily market air. Strangely, instead of feeling ashamed as the others had, he had been comforted by watching her in these vulnerable moments, to follow, one by one, the tears drip down her cheeks. He had felt briefly like an insider, as if he shared somehow in the secret trials of this strange family. But soon, the tears dried and the meanness returned, along with the usual barrage of husky shouts and exigent orders, as if nothing had happened, or at least, only the most natural thing, like the sun coming up, which was beautiful for a moment and which seemed to go on and on, because of its beauty, and had now only risen into the sky to light the ordinary workings of the day and was no more.

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