Wednesday, April 13, 2005

 
Working Class Hero
Wednesday morning was one of those moments when I found myself wondering how, and why exactly, I'd come to ... well, come to be cooking an omelette for a retired Communist party mid-level bureaucrat.
I guess it was my way of saying, 'pleased to meet you and thanks for dinner. It's nice that East and West can meet for breakfast.'
The ex-bureaucrat in question was C's mother, who has come to Shenzhen to oversee the construction and design of an apartment room she and C's father are buying. Her length of visit is "not sure" according to C, but one thing that is sure is that she's staying in Lucky Number II for the term. Quarters are cramped but nerves aren't frayed, yet, because I'd only just met her the night before. I'd been able to scrape some time away from work in Hong Kong and get back for C whom I hadn't seen for about 12 days because she'd been away on business.
Her mother speaks no English, but I've had more than a little experience in that regard with my first wife's mother ("Paging Dr. Freud, paging Dr. Freud"), so I just played genial, polite, funny, friendly foreigner who wouldn't dream of defiling your daughter and she returned the favor with a pleasing 'welcome home' dinner of ginger flavored fish, rice, chicken and edible foliage and scrambled eggs mixed with an also edible bitter root plant.
"A typical northern Chinese meal," C told me. It was good and, except for one meal with ex-Shenzhen Daily coworker commie party member Helen, I think the first home-cooked meal I've had here. C doesn't cook to speak of, except for herself, and my only other homestay was with the alcoholic Strawberry King (see Jan. 24, 2004 Everybody's got something to hide 'cept for me and my monkey) and family - wait, he did throw a cold cooked chicken, feet, head and all on the breakfast table - but that doesn't really count.
C's mother is old enough to have gone through the Cultural Revolution, and though I knew kinship-political connections had kept her and her family out of the fray, I asked through C about it. Her mother mainly remembered a family friend - a newspaper editor - who'd been imprisoned for 13 years for the crime of forgetting to wear a Mao badge one day and then joking about it.
"We have a saying when something is stupid to do that it's like looking for a donkey when you're riding a donkey," C translated. "He forgot his pin and then went to put it on and said that wearing it was like looking for a donkey when riding a donkey. It was like calling Mao a donkey. He was in jail for 13 years." Her mother looked sober during the telling but brightened up when I said I felt supportive for him because we had shared a common job. "A lot of journalists have big mouths," I said. "Sometimes we get into trouble."
She laughed and returned to watching a Chinese TV soap opera, something C said she's done a lot of since arriving in a city where she knows no one except her daughter.
I asked about her old job.
"She organized events and wrote reports for the Party for 33 years," said C. "She was very, very good at writing reports. Like me. I think I have a report writing gene from her. But mostly she drank tea and read newspapers and went shopping during working hours."
As I rolled her omelette and tried not to break it, I thought about how I'd grown up with so many alien fears, among them the Red Menace. It was nice to know that about four decades later I'd come face-to-face with one of them and that she'd spent most of her time slacking off and writing officious bogus reports as part of the People's effort to repel US Running Dogs like me. And now here I was in the belly of the beast and we were cooking for one another.
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