Sunday, January 27, 2013

Chinese Mission.

In December to March, Mr Loie made the annual summer tour of the goldfields, and was away 81 days in all. He visited 56 places, with a population of 930 men, of whom he saw 813. He held 76 meetings, with 726 in attendance altogether two meetings were held ,in one place on several occasions. He walked 626 miles of the 1832 travel! led, and' distributed 1300 tracts. Thirteen pupils were enrolled at the Sunday school, with an average of 8.5 in attendance. The teachers are Mesdames (Lo Keong, Gordon Macdonald, Misses Lait)gand Watson, Messrs H. White, P. Dick. W. Dennison, G. Macneur, N. Black, and Weir, 1 ,yho deserve the committee's thanks for another year's assistance. The English class on Wednesday evenings, from 8 to 9, has been held as usual, and also on Tuesdays part of the "year. A service is held every fortnight fon the Climes& inmates of the Old Men's Home. On April 8, after eight months' probation, John Wykeen Chan, Mark Yowloi Chan, and Joseph Yowoa Kaan were baptised. Our membership is now 11. Mr Loie was ordained an elder of the church on July 1, after due election by the congregation. Dr Bannerman conducting the service after a sermon ia Chinese by. Mr Don. Two very successful social meetings of the Chinese and their friends were held durin" the year. Mr Don gave four lantern exhib? tions in the church to Chinese during the winter, each of which was closed with some New Testament scenes fully explained by Mr Loie, thus some who rarely attend the Lord's Day service had the Gospel preached to them. During the 12 months the church door collections amounted to £21 19s 9d, besides which special collections were made for South Afoican nurses' fund, £7 0s 6d; Indian famine relief, £3 12s sd; Wesleyan Mission Church, Victoria-,- Hongkong, £6 ss;— making in all £38 17s 8d for the year. Canton Village Mission.— Our student afc Canton, Mr William Chan, made good progress in his second year till the summer vacation in July, since which the college has been closed owing to the trouble in China. Mr George Macneur had three months' steady study of the Chinese language in the beginning of the year, and made good progress. During the hall and university session he has taken the classes in .apologetics, exegesis, and junior mental science with marked success. Mr Don has addressed many of the congregations for the purpose of the C. V. Mission, and reports almost unanimous approval of the ministers and peoplfe. The young peoples' Bi^e classes and societies of Christian .Endeavour are taking a very warnJ interest in the new mission, and have contributed during the year £95 18s lid to its funds. Mission Bursary. The mission bursary has been awarded this year to. Mr Mawson v M.A., student in divinity, who studies with a view to the mission field., 'Ecumenical Conference on Foreign Missions. The committee were invited to serid a delegate to the above conference, held in New York in April last, but was not in "a position to make such appointment. The convener, however, forwarded a detailed account of the missionary operations of this church; a like report was transmitted by him in connection with the proposed publication, of. a geography^ of the Protestant missions under the auspices of the students' volunteer movement for foreign misj sions. usual grants to the training seminary at Tangoa and the hospital at Ambrim, and to the Maori mission." The Rev. E. Miller seconded the adoption of the deliverance. Addresses on mission work were then given by the Rev. A. Don, the Rev. T. F. Loie, and Mr G. Macneur. The Rev. James Gibb desired to add tiie following to the deliverance: "That the synod expresses its warm, appreciation of the J services in the cause of missions by the Presbyterian Women's 'Missionary Union, and especially records its gratification at the interesting and enjoyable meeting in the Choral Hail last Wednesday evening." The suggest-ioa was agreed to. A further suggestion that the "committee be authorised to take into consideration the appointment of a medical missionary- to the Canton Mission was also agreed to," and the deliverance was adopted.PRESBYTERIAN SYNOD. Fifth Day Friday. Otago Witness , Issue 2436, 21 November 1900, Page 32

Rev Don

Births Don On the 11th August, at Dunedin, the wife of Rev. A. Don, Chinese missionary, of a daughter. Otago Daily Times , Issue 9835, 5 September 1893, Page 5 Don On Sunday fifth May at Chinese Mission Manse, Walker street, Dunedin Rutherford Cumloi Don. Otago Daily Times , Issue 11728, 9 May 1900, Page 7

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Place to Stand

A Place to Stand by Kim Rutter (3rd =) I’d never really thought of China much. It kind of didn’t come up around Hunter’s Corner, not once Wong’s Vegge Shoppe closed down and the hos moved in from across the motorway, and the pakeha families started leaving and I had to concentrate a bit harder on avoiding the repercussions of being the wrong sort of brown at a school where being the right sort mattered. It’s different now of course, especially down in old Papatoe with the Vietnamese bakery and the Indian dairy and the acupuncture clinic and the noodle shop duking it out with the loan sharks and the Polynesian bargain bins, but back in the day we were pretty much it in terms of local slopes, and I hated it. I was sitting on the back door step, spine against the jamb and chin on one knee while my grandmother squatted on the kitchen floor and pounded garlic and chili and dried little fishes into a fetid paste that looked and smelled and inevitably was going to taste like baby shit. With each blow of the stone pestle, she railed against the moral failings of South Auckland tarts in general and me in particular. “Skirts up here!” Thump. “People see everything!” Thump. “Ai yah!” Thump. “You get disease!” Thump. “And baby!” Thump. Not that I’d ever given her cause to worry, you understand. The bros at school weren’t exactly lining up for my special blend of plain. An explosion of black coarse hair, styled with a home perm best described as Warhol meets Einstein… don’t judge - it was the eighties, okay? Sheesh, give me a break. Hooded eyes, dirty dishwater skin and freckles sprinkled liberally over a lumpy six foot package. “Sturdy welsh legs” said my da. “All the Evans women have thighs like pit ponies.” Thanks Dad. Did I mention the glasses? It was a package that meant I didn’t have to work particularly hard to defend my seventeen year old virtue, and to be honest, I was pissy about it. So I there I was, wedged in the doorway, gnawing on the cuticle of my left thumb and brooding about the fact that a freakish ability with calculus is a stereotype, not a consolation for a lack of any boy action, and when I tuned back in she had segued into a nostalgic reminisce about the challenges of birth control in a post-war kampong. “..only one condom between them. Your aunties had to wash it after each use and hang it on the line to dry.” “PorPor, stop it! I’m not listening! Lalalalala, my fingers are in my ears, not listening….” Surprisingly she did stop. And when I looked up she was crying. “Lin, I want to go home.” The ferry cast of from the Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal at half past five in the morning. The journey was going to take five hours; across the South China Sea, past Macau and up the Pearl River to Taishan, in the heart of Guangdong, which I guess put us on a slow boat to China. We nearly missed the boat of course (story of my life really). I had severely underestimated the amount of time required to extricate a slightly bewildered and extremely crabby old lady from a budget hotel in on the Island and get her and her luggage to Kowloon before dawn. (What is it with elderly Asians and awkward parcels tied up with raffia string anyway? Why can’t they have suitcases like everyone else?) When I finally muscled her up the gangway and into the main cabin, PorPor attempted a desultory scold and then, exhausted by several days of screaming at immigration officials, lay down on a faded blue vinyl banquette and immediately began to snore. I slumped next to her and took stock. Obviously, I hadn’t expected home to be Taishan (famous, according to my slim English language guide book, for being the birthplace of Chinese volleyball). I thought home for PorPor was Singapore, where according to family legend my father met my mother at a dance at the Tanglin Club on a stopover en route to a fabulous engineering career with Shell in Indonesia. He was a scholarship boy from the valleys, off to make his fortune out East. She was a party girl in the mold of Holly Golightly, demonstrating makeup in a department store during the day, watching too many American movies at night and looking for excitement and romance and a happy ending of her own. He was instantly swept off his feet by her exotic World of Suzy Wong glamour. She thought he was Gregory Peck. He thought she was as beautiful and delicate as a porcelain doll. She thought he was rich. Within the space of a week they had sold the last leg of his first class ticket to his respectable job (courtesy of his soon not-to-be employer) and fled reality by signing on as crew on freighter (second engineer and cabin maid respectively). They lasted as far as Auckland, where she was put off for slapping the captain when he politely suggested she actually do some work. By this stage of course she was pregnant and hating it. Both of you, what were you thinking? Mum, had you never heard of birth control? Or did you jam your fingers in your ears during the shared condom story too? Anyway, Dad stepped up, knuckled down and got a real job. And when the baby came, and things got really ugly, they sent for her mother. So roll on seventeen years, and if you had asked me, and many did (no, I’m not part Maori, not part Samoan, not even part Spanish, though I quite like the idea of flamenco dancing and castanets; no, I’m not denying my turangawaewae, just don’t have one, but thanks for asking) I would have said that I was Eurasian, and that crazy Asian lady was my grandmother and yes, she’d lived with us all my life. But I wouldn’t have told you about the county of Taishan in the Sze Yup province of Canton where flood and famine and war and disease and poverty had been endemic for one hundred years. One hundred years where men had left the province and travelled to Malaysia and California and Australia and Canada to work for money to send back home. I wouldn’t have told you about the hard winter in one small house, in one small village, when the mother died, and the big sisters died, and the little brothers died and the overseas money stopped arriving and the uncles and aunties had no more to give. That was the winter when the brother dressed his little sister in her warmest clothes and put her in a hand cart covered in a quilt and started to push. And I wouldn’t have told you how those two got to Singapore, or how the brother kept his little sister fed and safe until she grew up and got married and had daughters of her own. I wouldn’t have told you how the brother, in the time just before the war, was stricken with homesickness and went back to the village and then was trapped, first by the Japanese and then by the Communists and was never heard from again. I wouldn’t have told you that there was a trail of tears that led directly from Papatoetoe back to that village in Taishan, because I didn’t know, not until PorPor started to cry that day in the kitchen in the old house in Carruth Rd. The ferry slowed and rolled slightly as it left the sea and started to follow the Pearl River up into the delta. PorPor slept on, twitching from time to time with the movement, in the manner of an old dog chasing rabbits in her sleep. I went topside and leant over the rails on the foredeck and looked across the water at China. When I was small, one of my aunties sent us a present from Singapore. It was a small glass box with a black lacquer frame (slightly cracked on the back, but you really couldn’t tell), and inside was the most beautiful Chinese scene I had ever seen, painstakingly carved out of cork. There was a mountain, a pagoda, a bridge, two cranes and some willows; fashioned in the minutest detail and clearly the work of an artisan without peer. That box had pride of place in our house, even after Mum shot through, and it wasn’t until I was searching the Hong Kong discount souvenir shops the previous day for a present for Dad that I realized just how valuable it really was. And now, as I peered out over the river it became clear that its worth as an accurate representation of its country of origin was suspect too. Or to put it another way, where was my damn pagoda? Where were the willows? Where were the bloody cranes? I felt cheated. All I could see was farmland and industrial buildings and fiendishly ugly houses, all jumbled together in a town planner’s nightmare. There were plumes of black smoke escaping from factory chimneys, and concrete drains discharging into the river. After about an hour, I did see a mountain, or what was left of one. It was being quarried, and all its natural contours had been chiseled away to leave straight terraces of bleak exposed rock. Workers in coolie hats swarmed all over it, carrying rubble in baskets, and then it was gone. I went inside to forage for breakfast. I have always had trouble talking to foreigners. Bleeding accents, fractured grammar, pulverized idiom – I feel like I’m a first responder triaging conversations in the aftermath of a teenage suicide bomber, trying to pull the least injured words from the rubble so some kind of meaning can survive the devastation. I know I’m behaving badly. I talk slowly, in words of one syllable, and very loudly, apparently under the delusion this will make my meaning clear. Afterwards I’m left with post traumatic communication syndrome and something that feels suspiciously like a dash of survivor guilt thrown in for flavor. So instead of feeling grateful when the skinny little guy with teeth like slabs of Milky Bar and polyester walk shorts a size to small tried to catch my eye, clearly excited by the chance to practice his English and help the big nose order food, I cut him dead and lurched on with my rudimentary Chinese. I was under the impression I was asking for chicken rice but the general hilarity all round the dining room when I’d finished ordering didn’t fill me with confidence. I repeated myself, and the steward rushed off, sniggering slightly, only to return a few moments later with a live chicken, which he presented to me with a flourish. Options were few at this point. I drew myself up to my full height, wrapped my dignity around me like a shroud, thrust the steward some yuan and stalked out with my chicken tucked under my arm. “Wait, wait! Chicken girl! Hang on a mo!” Well, that was unexpected. Walk-shorts-guy from the dining room was jogging after me, waving a bag and talking Australian. “I thought you might like… I guess you and the chicken are probably still a little hungry, right?” I glared at him, but took the proffered bag. Pork buns. My favorite. “So what’s with the accent?” Okay, too rude. “And thanks for the buns.” “No problem.” His name was Kenny Ng, and he lived in Melbourne, and he was making a trip to inspect his family Christmas tree light factory. It was lucky I met Kenny, as it turned out. He was the one who told me that the ferry didn’t actually go to Taishan, and that we’d have to clear customs in Gong Yi and then take a bus for another hour or so. He also offered to look after the chicken. I liked Taishan. I liked the little crocodiles of school children with their red neck kerchiefs. I liked the heroic revolutionary statues and the giant pictures of Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong and the guy with the eyebrows who turned out to be Li Peng. I liked the old colonial style shop fronts and the street of cobblers. I liked the wide avenues full of bicycles. I liked the men and women, mostly older, in their communist pajamas. What I didn’t like was the way they stared. Not the furtive, corner of the eye glances I got in the street back home either, or the aggressive “what you looking at” stare the cool guys at school had perfected, but real head turning, jaw dropping, crashed-my-bicycle-I-was-staring-so-hard staring. Those cute little school kids would peel off their crocodiles and skip behind me down the street waving their arms in the air. Plump housewives would call out to get me to look their way, and when I did, they’d laugh. Youths with squints and surface-of-the-moon complexions would sidle past me and whisper sotto voce suggestions that I was secretly relieved I couldn’t understand. PorPor however had no time for Taishan. First thing the next day she had me on a bus to Chunglao If Taishan was the county big smoke, Chunglao was, she was pretty sure, the market town closest to the village. The problem was we didn’t even know if the village still existed. The solution turned out to be simple. I merely stood, gormless and large, at the spot where we got off the bus and sure enough every one with nothing better to do was inexorably drawn in my direction to find out what my business was. At which point PorPor pounced and asked for news of Lee Chien Ming of the Lee Toi family village, born in the year of the Fire Rooster. No one knew, but someone knew someone who might, and someone else ran to the school to get the headmaster (to this day I have no idea why) and then we had an entourage and we were on our way. Looking back on it, I can see it was my fault. I should have asked her, what did she think she was going to find there, seventy years after she left? I should have known, as we drove past crumbling entrances to dilapidated villages she couldn’t recognize, and as she dredged her memory for words in a dialect she hadn’t spoken since she last saw her brother, that she was searching for a home and a family and a country that only memory could find. I should have tried to prepare her for the moment when we finally found a place that seemed to fit, and an old crone (who was probably younger than her) tottered out of an enclave of rotting hovels and claimed to remember. But I didn’t. So I held my grandmother’s hand as we walked up the shallow hill to the overgrown grave that may or may not have belonged to Lee Chien Ming, and we cried together. And then she wiped her nose on her sleeve, and took a deep breath, and closed her eyes. “Finished here.” she said. “I want you take me home.” And I did.


GHOST by Karen Tay (Winner) The ghost of Thanh’s sister came to stay on the second day of Tet. She took up residence again in the little-girl bedroom that had been locked up since last spring, and could be seen floating down the hallway past the witching hour, small naked feet dripping ghost water on the pristine beige carpet. Thanh had not seen his sister since the day her spirit succumbed to the waves at Piha. He slipped into a feverish twilight world on the evening a fisherman hooked out her body, swollen with salt water, the folds of flesh white and gelatinous from her long soak. The corners of her eyelids, her fingertips and toes were nibbled raw. She had been in the ocean for three sleeps. By the time Thanh recovered enough to sit up and eat some plain hot congee, spooned into his reluctant mouth by one of Ma’s church friends, Phuong was already dressed and buried, with her new next-world name of Sophia. The dead Phuong-Sophia spoke much less now that she was a ghost than she had in life. In fact, she said nothing at all in the first few days, content to just hover in doorways and thresholds. While the adults peeled open banana leaf parcels and dug into square sticky banh chu’ng stuffed with fatty pork and lotus seeds, Thanh and his friends played with sparklers in the backyard. Phuong-Sophia would peek over shoulders or sit cross-legged in silence. In the second week of her stay, Thanh screwed up enough courage to take the rusty iron key from his mother’s dresser drawer and unlock the door to her bedroom. He found her sleeping sideways on the narrow single bed with its lucky red sheets, thumb in mouth. “Phuong,” he hissed at her. Then when she didn’t move: “Sophia”. His sister didn’t blink or yawn. She took her thumb out of her mouth and sat up. “Em trai – little brother” she said in her soft voice. “What time is it? I’m hungry.” Thanh’s Ma slapped him when he tried to tell her about Phuong-Sophia. She thought he was being disrespectful. “Don’t tell me your stupid stories. If you have so much time to waste, you should be opening your books more. Her round arms went up into the air, whapping down on a lump of white dough. A little bowl of sultanas sat nearby, for the scones. Ma was perpetually tired. She was at the bakery from sunup to sundown, causing some of her customers to joke that they must be open 24 hours. The shop closed at around 5pm, but she would surreptitiously sell steamed pork buns and greasy fried ban xeo through the back door to late night drunkards. Thanh’s Ba, who left the raising of children and other household matters to Hung, referred to his wife as ‘the boss’. Besides, he was perenially exhausted himself – working six-day, 12-hour shifts at the plastics factory. All he wanted when he arrived home was a cup of strong, dark Vietnamese coffee, sweetened with condensed milk and accompanied by a few Tim Tams, before washing his feet and hopping into bed. “Mind your mother, son,” he said tiredly to Thanh whenever he tried to complain about her strictness. “She’s a little hard on you, but it’s for your own good.” So Sophia stayed Thanh’s secret. He found that it was easy enough to feed her. Hung would cook dinner the night before and leave instructions on what to heat up to her husband and son in the morning. Thanh’s father usually worked late and would bring his share of dinner to the factory in old cookie tins. Thanh would take his own meal – something simple like fried egg vermicelli (his favourite), or more typically, stir-fried greens and garlic, caramelised pork stew (his least favourite), a small fried fish and always some kind of soup, up to his sister’s room. He’d set the plate down before Sophia and she would put her face next to the food and sniff like a cat, ingesting aroma. When she was done, Thanh would pick up his chopsticks and dig into the meat or fish, drowning his rice in a sea of soup and leaving the leafy yucky greens till last. They played together too. Most of the time it was Monopoly – Sophia had been obsessed with the game before the accident. She always chose the little scottie dog, and Thanh would be the top hat. Or they would pretend to be camping, something Ma never let them do because of the dirt and disease. They would make a fort out of sheets, pitching them up like a tent, hollow and white in the glow of the torch. “What was it like? When you died?” Sophia was in her second year of intermediate when she died. Ma gathered the flowers and teddy bears left by her friends and teacher, secretly burning them so she could scatter the ashes at sea. In the spot where she guessed her daughter might have drowned. Popular. It was a word that applied to pretty, sassy Sophia, who had been her school’s best goalkeep at netball and was so brainy she didn’t need to brown nose anybody. Thanh wished popularity could be inherited, then maybe his sister could pass on hers, like jewellery or toys or something. “I don’t really remember.” Her face scrunched up. “It was real cold in the water and I swam for a long time, but my legs got tired and then heavier and heavier.” Thanh waited, but Sophia didn’t finish her story. Instead, she rattled the dice in the palm of her hand and released. “Sixes. I get to roll again.” A new girl started at Thanh’s school. She was half-Samoan, half-Chinese, with long, dark curly hair, eyes that tipped up at the corners and thin, strong brown legs. Jeanna Ting was a little beauty, but she was also more than that. Within the first week, she had also stood up to the class bully when she was cornered in the girls’ toilet. The bully, a little shit with a stomach as wide as she was tall had demanded that Jeanna hand over her schoolbag for a sticky-fingered inspection. She refused. When the bully howled with rage and reached for her, Jeanna reacted fast. She ducked low, pinched the bully’s knees together with one wiry arm, reached up under her skirt and dug her fingers into the girl’s pubic bone “Touch me again and I’ll break your pelvis,” she said fiercely. Nobody quite knew what a pelvis was, but the bully ran away howling and Jeanna’s star soared. Girls fought to sit next to her. Boys left fake tattoos, chocolate bars and cheap $2 shop trinkets outside her locker. Thanh worshipped Jeanna, whose father was a solicitor and mother owned an art gallery on K’Rd. She always kept a piece of grape Hubba Bubba inside her cheek to chew on when the teacher’s back was turned. Her wild curls, smooth and oiled and kept in a perfectly brushed ponytail with rainbow coloured elastics, smelled like spring rain. And though she had any number of grazed knees, cuts, small bumps and bruises like anyone else, she also had the coolest plasters of superheroes like Wonder Woman, Batman and Iron Man. Her cousins sent them to her all the way from America. “You got a new friend at school, eh?” Thanh was picking at his meal. Fried chicken pieces, julienned green beans fried in egg and rice. Chicken and ginger soup today, thick yellow slices floating on top with the fat and skin. He looked up from his food. Sophia was toying with a hunk of hair, sliding it between her small white teeth like floss. The wet, pointed tip looked like a watercolour brush. “Yeah, I guess. Her name’s Jeanna.” “Oooo Thanh’s got a g-i-r-l-f-r-i-e-n-d!” “Shut up!” He could feel his cheeks grow hot, redden like Ba’s face after he’d had a glass of wine. “Ooooo you l-i-k-e her!” “Not even.” Sophia’s cat-like eyes narrowed, she pursed her lips as if about to blow a bubble. “Well, you better not forget me, em trai.” Thanh looked at her then, really looked at her. He realised something that had been bothering him lately: Sophia was growing more diaphanous. He could see the cream coloured curtains with their little blue flowers straight through her hips. Her face and neck looked normal, solid, but she was definitely dissipating from the feet up. “I won’t,” he mumbled, prodding the top hat forward on the board. “Cause you know what Ma would say, if she found out you were friends with someone like that.” “Who’s gonna tell her then? You’re dead.” Sophia wasn’t upset though. She just stuck her tongue out at him. He could see through the pink to the back of her throat. The students of Room 5 were having a Cultural Exchange Evening. They were paired up – with each couple instructed to write a song, a poem or a story about their culture. “We would love to hear more about Vietnam, Thanh,” said Mrs Harrison. She always pronounced his name as ‘tan-h’, as if she had run out of breath at the end. Most of the kids in class said his name the same way, and he had never bothered correcting them. Ma always said there was no point making a fuss if it wasn’t going to change anything. Mrs Harrison was always careful around Thanh. There were no other Asian children in Room 5 apart from Jeanna, who was only half and Mohammad, but he was Muslim and his parents were from Malaysia. Thanh was polite to her, mainly because he knew he’d have his ears twisted and his legs smacked with a ruler when he got home if he was rude. But he hated her. Once, when he’d been sent to the staff rooom to deliver a note during interval, he overheard her talking to some other teachers. Mrs Harrison was wearing a purple velvet top and matching skirt, looking like a large stuffed grape. “…the boy’s name was Dick Shih! I just about killed myself keeping a straight face. Bloody hell! Of course, he was picked on from day one by the other kids. Poor thing. But I can’t say I blame the children. His parents should have checked first before they named him, but they were you know, fresh off the boat. Oh, hello Thanh.” She had taken the note and read it while waving one hand dismissively at him. It did not come as a surprise to Thanh that when it came to pairing up the students, she put him with Jeanna. There was a slightly nervous moment when it seemed that she would choose Mohammad instead. In the end though, Mohammad went with Cindy Ropati and Thanh got Jeanna all to himself. The night before the cultural performance – they were going to sing a mash-up of the Chinese and Vietnamese national anthems, Thanh came down with the flu. It was the real thing, complete with aching body parts, a high temperature, blocked nose, headache and swollen lymph nodes. If he had been even slightly better, Thanh would have insisted on going to school. But he felt so sick that he didn’t even fuss when Ma dosed him with the strong bitter tea that relatives had brought in especially from Vietnam. He just quietly sipped the scalding brew, brought to him in Ba’s special green Milo mug (free with purchase), grateful that the flu had tamped down his taste buds, then lay back in bed and slept. He dreamed. Oh how he dreamed. He was a baby again, in his mother’s womb. Floating in a warm soothing ocean of amniotic fluid. Then he was a goldfish, his fishy mouth opening and closing in gasps as he swam down the birth canal, gushing out into the world in a flood of red salt. Ba tiptoed into the room at one point. He must have come home early from the factory to check on Thanh. Ba touched his forehead and his hand felt like an icy imprint. There was Ma’s voice, less shrill than usual. She was speaking in Vietnamese, but so fast that Thanh couldn’t follow except for the occasional phrase. All he knew was that he wanted water. Big long gulps of it, so cold that the glass frosted over. He was so thirsty. He was a thirsty bear. Yogi Bear in the desert. How he loved Yogi Bear, with his pert green tie and jaunty little hat. An auntie had dropped off a bundle of her daughter’s old things a couple of years ago. Among the well-worn possessions was a video player and tapes of the hungry bear. Thanh was addicted for a time, watching and rewinding the tapes over and over again. A voice dropped out of the blue sky and boomed at him. “I’m smarter than the average bear!” His tongue darted out again, tasting moisture from an ice cube someone was slowly rubbing between his lips. “My children’s mother.” Ba gently touched Ma’s shoulder. She had been sitting on the hospital bed for far too long. Days. Her body gave off an unwashed smell. He did not like hospitals. Their scent of futility reminded him too much of the crowded Cho Ray Hospital in Saigon, where his mother had been taken after she was run over by a train while crossing the tracks on her motorbike. The train was carrying a load of white tourists to Nha Trang, where they would ride a river boat down the Song Cai and clap their hands as they watched amusing water puppet shows put on by illiterate children who had dropped out of school to earn American dollars. Ba’s mother had died in that place that stunk of disease long before you entered the doorway. They had amputated both her legs, first below the knees, then higher and higher as gangrene set in until the doctors finally admitted defeat. There was too much poison to excise. Her body was nothing but blackness. His wife did not respond. She was too busy telling beads on the rosary. Hail Mary. Our Father. Glory Be. Ba did not know if he believed in the western god – he had been raised Buddhist by his grandmother, who was a practising vegetarian, so devout she would step over an ant on the ground rather than crush it. He knew something about women though. So Ba stayed by his wife’s side, without touching her again, as they both stared at their son’s inert body. As if they could raise him up by the power of love alone. “Em trai.” What a sorrowful little voice! All the cheer leached out of it. “Chi gai – big sister.” He was calling out into a yawning dark cave. Thanh’s eyes were unseeing as a bat’s. His hands and his body curved into a fetal position. He was hanging upside down from the roof. “Where are you, chi gai? I can’t see.” It was a physical impossibility to move his limbs. They were rock-heavy. He had been dreaming of running through the desert again with his friend, Yogi Bear. The bear had called out: “Hey there, Boo Boo!” They leaped over sand dunes, feeling the scorching grains give beneath bare brown feet. But then Yogi had disappeared and a dark and frightening fog spread over the land, blackening everything. “I’m here, over here.” A sliver of light floating through the nightscape like a wedge of silver cake, then Sophia’s face looked oval and shinypale. “Oh. Thanh.” She gummed a hand to her face and sobbed. Tears leaked out noiselessly from between her fingers like small gems and sploshed to the cave floor, leaving a trail of light. “Help me get down.” He was hollering, he realised, but his ears were buzzing so it was hard to tell how loud he was being. Why was she just standing there? Sophia took one step toward him, stopped and shook her head. “I’m so sorry, em trai, I can’t.” “Why not? Don’t be a dick!” If Ma was here, she would have pinched his mouth for that, but Thanh felt he was justified, under the circumstances. “You’re too far gone, my brother,” she said. Her still-liquid eyes were caressing beacons in the black. “I can’t follow you now.” Thanh drew his last breath as the clock stopped at quarter past midnight. His parents and Sophia were there by the bedside when the doctor turned off his life support. Ba and Ma were grey, faded. They had aged 20 years in the three seconds it took for their son to exhale his last breath. He was dead, but not gone. Thanh floated on the ceiling of the hospital, looking down at his body. So small and skinny. Bushy black hair spilling onto the antiseptic pillow. Ba had gone to get cheap filter coffee from the cafeteria. Ma was on the phone outside to her prayer group, informing them that their daily supplications hadn’t worked and Jesus wouldn’t save her son after all. Only Sophia was in the room. She sat silently by his body, holding his steadily cooling hand tenderly in her own. “Thanh.” He wanted to go down to her, but wasn’t sure how to navigate his new body. It was like a cloud, with his head stuck in the middle. “Thanh.” He concentrated hard, again. Then just like that, he figured it out. By squeezing his thoughts into one, he could pull himself together, sparkle down to his sister in her slightly too-big pink sneakers. The toes stuffed with newspaper. Ma always bought shoes a size too big. She said they’d grow into them. “Am I really dead?” Sophia answered by sniffing and wiping her nose on her sleeve, leaving a sticky snot residue. “Cooooool.” He let out a long whistle. It was pretty neat, if you thought about it. There was a twinge of regret about Jeanna Ting. He would have liked to see her grow up, pictured the dark exotic beauty she would become. Thanh thought, no, was sure that he would have liked to go on a date with Jeanna. Steal a kiss at the end of the night. “You think it’s cool, right?” Sophia didn’t seem to be as excited as he was. Perhaps she was jealous. It would be just like his sister to think that she had some kind of first dibs on being dead. Like how she always thought she was smarter because she was older. She took a deep breath, bent her head down and kissed him with trembling lips. On the forehead. Ba walked in at that moment, carrying a half-empty cup. He regarded the scene in the room, and fumbled with the zip of his blue and white polyester parka. “Phuong.” The name sounded crabby in his mouth, washed-out. Phuong looked up just as Thanh realised he’d lost his train of thought and was weightless, back on the ceiling. His father and sister looked like miniature dolls. “Let’s go home, daughter. We have a funeral to prepare.” My little brother Thanh died just after Tet. The doctors said it was bacterial meningitis, the worst kind, or so I heaard. My parents don’t talk about it much. I guess it’s not the Asian thing to do, to share your feelings nonstop. I know Ma blamed herself for thinking it was the flu at first, and making Thanh drink that stupid herbal mix. Death by bitter tea. The night before he slipped away from us, I had the craziest dream. I was swimming in the ocean at Piha, where we had gone for our last family holiday together the previous spring. My arms cut through the water in long, even strokes. When I looked down at my body, I saw that I was wearing a long white ao dai. The colour of mourning. Little fish were swimming around me in a circle, in all shades of the rainbow. There was light shining on the water. I felt safe and protected, as if nothing could hurt me. I stayed in the sea a long time, my feet treading water, the skin of my fingers and toes pruning like the sour lips of an old woman. In our culture, we choose a new name for those entering the next world. Ma might have converted to Catholicism, but she was traditional at heart. She wouldn’t send her son to the afterlife without a way to go on. Come what may. We thought about it a long time, debating over whether to give him a Vietnamese or western death-name. In the end, I was the one who spoke up. The name itself was crystal clear in my head, as if Thanh himself had whispered it in my ear. “Yogi,” I said.

A Thousand Toilet Ladies

A Thousand Toilet Ladies by Wai Ho (2nd Place) “Excuse me! These are the Women's toilets”, she instructs, in that too loud tone that white people use when they're talking to someone coloured, as if the darker your skin colour, the worse your hearing. A part of me wants to say “Solly solly, I no Engrish” and push past her. Instead I say “Yeah, I know”. Her whole stance shifts like a computer screen turning pixels into an image, as she takes another look at this pre-pubescent Chinese boy incorrectly in the Women's loos, and sees an masculine looking Chinese girl in her mid teens instead. “Oh oh, I'm so sorry”, she flusters, breaking my gaze. “It's ok”, I assure. This interaction happens to me on a semi regular basis. The toilet door with a blobby stick person wearing a cape, always a gaunlet through which I'm challenged within every few weeks. “Miriam! Why do you like those Samoan boys?! Ai yah! They are so naughty, and not very good at school”, Mum intones, folding the washing and yelling to the kitchen from the lounge, “And you should concentrate on study, not have boyfriend, you are too young!” I roll my eyes at my sister, just before she huffs out the kitchen not bothering to respond to one of my mother's many commentaries on life. “Mum! You can't say those kinds of things, they're just racist stereotypes. You know all the stuff that gets said about Chinese people; Triads, people smuggling, eating cats and dogs, all drive BMWs and good at maths and table tennis”, I say, setting down a cup of Earl Grey next to her neat piles of washing. “And Miriam is 16 Mum, plenty odd enough”. “Wa? You are good at maths, and we like to play table tennis on Sundays. And why can eat chicken and baby lambs but not dog? Silly gwai lo, dog is like steak”. Mum pauses, blowing on her tea “You know Hannah, when we ate food that was too hot, your Paw Paw would blow air in our mouth to cool it down”. She looks thoughtful, then jumps almost without pause to the previous topic. “No 16 too young for boyfriend! Must study harder. Hannah you know, when you marry, you must marry a white man”, she looks at me pointedly, one arm still within a out-turned cardigan. Miriam pulls a quizzical face at me. She's returned to the conversational hub in the lounge, and is ignoring mum, signalled by white earphones in her ears. I know Mum doesn't notice, but I can see those earphones aren't attached to anything. It's a tactic that works though, maybe I should try it.. “And you!”, she says waving a rumpled pair of pants at my brother, who's behind Mum's clothes towers in the hope she won't see him. “You stop always play video game, that's why you are so stupid. Never study. You go study!”. “But I've nearly got 10 000!”, complains my brother still playing, the tinny videogame music joining his protest. “No need 10, 000, what for? Only silly monkeys jumping on crocodile! Go study now!” she orders, pulling the game from my brother and sitting on it. “Ah ahahhaa Muummmm! You killed me!”, yells Caleb waving his arms. He glares at her before stalking out. The sad muffled mechanical death tune from under my Mum's bum, of a monkey being eaten by a crocodile, affirms his proclaimation. “Yes the white man is better than the Chinese. The Chinese is only think about money! And the white man does not hit their wives”, Mum concludes looking satisfied by the way she's snapping a pillow case flat. Pillow cases conform nicely to her structure of how the world should be, “Arrggh!”, yells my sister and stomps out. I think I should suggest earplugs to her, rather than earphones. “Muuuum”, I groan, “You've been watching too many rom coms. White men hit their wives too, that stuff 's chronic in this country within all ethnicities. And I told you anyway, I'm not getting married. I like girls”. “Hmm”, she grunts, “I don't understand you all. My children are like foreigner”. I'm sitting at small formica table with faded geometric shapes that look like they're hiding from me. I'm with Aunty Ida, who isn't really our Aunty. She's a family friend of our parents, and we've always grown up calling all our parents friends Aunty and Uncle so and so. I'm helping her peel the mountain of potatoes and kumaras that will be turned into the carb component of the quinessential pakeha roast. “You know when we first came here from Penang in the 70's, we didn't know what to expect. I thought about hills and sheep and old English buildings like Cambridge or Oxford. I didn't know what to think when we got here, and we were so shocked when all the shops just closed at five o'clock!”, she says, quartering a large kumara. “And they didn't even open on the weekend. What were we meant to eat late at night?! No shops open, no night markets and food stalls. We came here because we think more civilised and progressive, but then we see all the bland colourless food and think, oh dear”. “Well you must have gotton okay with the food Aunty Ida”, I say, dangling my legs from the plastic stool I'm on, “I mean now you have a takeaway shop that sells roast meals”. “Yes yes yes”, Aunty Ida says chuckling, “First we have Chinese takeaway shop because we think our food is more tasty and the Kiwi will like much more than yellow and brown food. But now we have Roast shop because four item on menu much easier than 75! Hahahaha. Actually, Roast is very good, I can see why Kiwi like”. Us kids are bunched close to each other round the dining table. Dad is pacing and glowering as he reads our report cards. It's like an unhappy family dinner, but without the the dinner. Mum is perched on a stool on the other end of the table, on a muttering monologue about how Kiwi teachers are too nice, and they say a child's work is good even when it's not. “How are they to improve if the teacher will not even tell them their work is bad and they have to do better”, she complains to no one in particular. Miriam looks like she's imitating those painted people who busk on Cuba St, pretending to be statues, then they move suddenly and scare you. Well, they scare little kids, not me. Caleb is making tiny scupltures that look like little pointy curly buildings, out of a blob of blu-tack I tried to stick to one of the ends of his dreadlocks without him knowing. He's actually trying to ignore Dad but I can see it's not working. He squashes his whole city of buildings with a clenched fist everytime Dad says something about him. I'm trying to transport myself somewhere else. I fail, so I switch to imagining dark angry cartoon clouds with lightning strikes, over Dad's head. Then comic symbols in a thought bubble, for the swear words he's probably thinking about, upon reading my brothers report card. I offered to change the grades for him using those scratch-on letters you can get from the stationary shop. I doctored many of my friend's School Certificate results to save them from the hidings they'd have gotton otherwise. Works a dream, no one suspects. But my brother thinks it's silly that we're expected to get all A's, when B's are fine. I think so too, but then I did get all A's. “We came here to give you a better life, a better chance, more opportunities,” yells my Dad waving the report card in my brother's face. “And what do you do?!”. I'm about to point out that what my Dad has just asked is a “rhetorical question” : one that isn't really meant to be answered, but is stated moreso to make a point. We learnt that in English last week. But then I think now is probably not the best time. “You waste your time skating and drawing pictures. Pictures!!!”. Dad pauses and stomps round in a semicircle a few times, then stops, planting himself over my brother. “You must study hard, SLAP, get good grades so you can get into university and get a good job. SLAP The Kiwi can waste their time, SLAP draw pictures, SLAP play at each other house, SLAP party all weekend. SLAP You cannot! SLAP SLAP SLAP We are Chinese! we must work harder than them to get the same opportunities!”, Dad yells, punctuating each sentence on my brother's head. Caleb holds himself stiffly trying to ignore the slaps, then shudders, like a dog's pelt when you lightly tickle just one of its hairs. He forcefully stands, his chair toppling backward, and shoves Dad away from us. The blinds make an agitated metallic declaration as Dad flounders onto them. The room inhales into itself and freezes. The colours ping off each other, and the straight lines seem almost too sharp, cutting your eyes. Tense and alert, almost anticipating the reign of rage that will unleash from Dad at my brothers physical defiance. Growth spurts must happen suddenly, as Caleb is now the same height as Dad. I can see my brothers fists clenched as tighly as the words that spit out his mouth, “I don't even want to go to university! That's what you've always wanted. And we're not even really Chinese! We were born here, unlike yous!” Miriam is curled into herself like a shell sitting on the edge of a table, sobbing softly. I put my arm around her, shielding her from the prickliness of Dad's angry hands and shouty eyes. My brother storms out, a vibrating ball of barely controlled fury. Words thump noisily through my arteries, past my ears, and choke making lumps in my throat. “It's different now Dad, we don't just have to make money. We can choose do other stuff. You're suffocating us with your Chinese rules”, I tell the floor. “You say you came here to give us opportunities, but you just want us to make us do whatever you want” , I finish quietly, not meeting his angrily confused eyes. “And you can't hit kids in New Zealand anymore, it's illegal!”, shoots my sister, as quickly as she hunches back into her shell like a poked snail. The blinds are playing a discordant harmony with the furious hum of thick silence. Dad looks strangely about to implode, and at the same time, deflated like a saggy wrinkly balloon. Mum is looking pinched and quiet. The blinds finish their crude song and I take my sister's coiled hand, slowly shuffling her out the room with me. My parents ascending tirade in duet starts up and follows us out, “No respect for elders.. learning bad habits from the Kiwi children... no discipline, teachers should be allowed to hit pupils, too relax, must follow Chinese tradition”. Nothing we all haven't heard so many times before. I pull back the hood of my hoodie as I step inside to a spicy fragrant warmth. Pad Thai, Bee Bung or Pho, so many choices. I see the lady from the toilets. two people ahead of me at the counter. Bah, why does she have to be here. Usually only Asians come here. The hot butch girl, the whole reason I always come to this place even though it's further from the bus stop, saunters out from the kitchen and takes over from the guy at the counter. She has this cute kinda bowlcut, but in an edgey ironic way. And she's real big and solid, strong looking, like she could wrestle bears. If people wrestled bears. This time I really am going to talk to her, not just order my meal. The toilet lady is taking ages.“D o e s t h i s d i s h h a v e M S G ”, she enunciates slowly and loudly, while gesturing wildly at a shiny picture on the menu. “No MSG”, says Hot Butch Girl, cutting the words with her dismissive smirk. “You know you really should have these menus in English”, Toilet Lady says, arching an eyebrow condescendingly, “After all, you are here in New Zealand”. “The English menu's on the otherside”, Hot Butch Girl says, taking the menu from her and turning it over. “And seeing we are in Aotearoa New Zealand”, Hot Butch Girl continues, firmly holding Toilet Lady's nolonger- arched gaze “Exactly how fluent is your Te Reo Maori”. A number of things quickly happen after the language shoot-off. The older guy bustles out the front, rapidfires a bunch of words and arm waves at Hot Butch Girl scolding her, who then, chastened, stalks into the kitchen. And all while Toilet Lady is doing huffing and blowing, and waving her arms too, not like Older Shop Guy was, but kind of like if you were doing a very gentle and timid chicken dance. That kind of arm waving. Toilet Lady orders a beef Pho. I order a Bee Bung from Older Shop Guy, double checking as I always do, that there won't be any coriander in it. Our meals arrive quickly as usual. Steaming happily in their colourful plastic bowls. Toilet Lady is looking around for the soy sauce that is usually on the table along with the chillis and other condiments. I have been trying to be nicer to old people, so I reach over and give her mine. “Oh, thank you”, she says, her smile crinkling her eye corners. “What a polite young man”, she tells the soy sauce being sprinkled into her broth, and glaring in the direction of the kitchen. Toilet Lady doesn't recognise me from earlier. She probably thinks all Asians look the same. I suppose that's kinda ok in a way, I know my Mum thinks lots of white people look the same and can't really tell them apart. Or maybe it's an old people thing, maybe they just stop noticing stuff. I've finished my Bee Bung and am reading, when a voice says to me, “Why don't you like coriander?” It's Hot Butch Girl. I put down my book, but it catches the spoon sticking out of my empty bowl, which then caterpaults out and knocks over the chilli sauce. I flounder around setting things back up while she watches and tries not to laugh. I decide to pretend that wee slapstick incident just didn't happen. “I've never liked it, makes me gag. My dad and brother can't eat it either. I mean I wish I liked it, people seem to like it.” I realise I'm rambling so I stop. It's nerve-wracking trying to think of cool things to say. I can't think of anything. “What are you reading?” she asks, looking at the chilli sauce offending item. “Sandman. I'm up to book three and there's ten I think. Though I think Neil Gaiman is working on a prequel.” She picks it up looking at the pictures. People call them comics because they have pictures but they're actually graphic novels. I take the opportunity to look at her. White plastic smiling crossbones dangle from her ears, and I like how her T-shirt stretches across her shoulders. “Hey I liked what you said to that lady. I wish I could think of quick things to say”. “Yeah, you get a bit of that working here”. The awkward pauses between us. “I better get back to work”, she says glancing over at the kitchen “Before Uncle has another go at me”. “Oh, yeah, choice. Um.. Hey I could lend you the first Sandman if you wanted to read them, they're really cool”. She stops and looks at me, for a few more seconds than people usually look at people. She makes it hard for thoughts to get to my brain. “Sure”, she smiles, “Bring it next time, I usually finish at 9 if you wanted to get a bubble tea somewhere after”. “Oh, ah, yeah cool, that would be awesome”, I tell the apron knot on the back of her waist as she walks away. She waves over her shoulder without turning round. I place my book carefully back into my bag and head out into the raucous weather. The door tinkles shut behind me. People are huddled like shuffling rocks waiting for the bus. A giant grin is plastered over my face even as the wind tries to take my hood off. I don't even care if a thousand toilet ladies think I'm a boy.

The Red Cardigan

The Red Cardigan by Lee Murray The Red Cardigan Things with Rawiri are getting serious, so I drive out to Lower Hutt to talk to my grandmother. I should’ve rung first, because when I get there Por Por is out - taken the unit to Petone to pick up some wool for her latest knitting project. Only my aunt is home, watching her favourite soaps and eating peanuts. She can’t help me. At 62, I doubt she knows the first thing about men. Worse, she’s in one of her belligerent moods. Katy Yee has been menopausal for the past two decades. I decide to wait anyway and make a pot of tea. From the kitchen bench, I see Katy Yee switch the My Sky to RECORD. Then, carrying her peanuts in a green plastic bowl, she waddles through to join me. ‘If there was a war between New Zealand and China,’ she says, as she manoeuvres herself into the window seat behind the kitchen table, ‘which side would you choose?’ I bristle. She’s being a cow, as usual. She knows I can’t answer that. Whatever I say will be wrong. She pulls the bowl closer and goes on cracking her peanuts, waiting all who-me and innocent for my answer. ‘Which side? New Zealand or China?’ she prompts, popping another nut. She rolls it to the back of her mouth. It cracks when she bites down. ‘The winning side,’ I say, passing her tea across the table. This isn’t the answer she wants, so it annoys her. ‘No, no! You have to choose.’ ‘I can’t.’ The Red Cardigan, Lee Murray 3 ‘You have to!’ Katy Yee insists. ‘There’ll never be a war,’ I say. ‘We’d be crazy to get into a fight with China. There are over a billion people there.’ Katy Yee brushes stray bits of peanut shell off the table into her hand. ‘Yes, but if there was a war. What then? Who would you choose? Would you pick New Zealand or China?’ Any side you’re not on. I hate these kinds of arguments. ‘Let me think about it a bit,’ I say. I get up and rinse my cup, leaving it on the dish rack to dry. Then, I step into the hall. ‘Wei-Ling? Where are you going?’ Not Wendy, but Wei-Ling: my Chinese name. ‘Chee-saw,’ I reply, but I don’t go to the toilet. Instead, I go outside, get into my car and drive away. Better to glare at the road. It’s not that I don’t like the occasional good fight. I do. I’m an occupational therapist: there’s always someone worse off to go into bat for. But Katy Yee’s question was purely rhetorical. As far as my aunt is concerned, there is only one right answer. I’m half-Chinese and when you are Chinese, even the tiniest titre, you are always Chinese first. It’s like the other day. I’m at the fruit-shop, standing at the counter while the fruit-shop lady passes my purchases over the scanner. Inside the paper bag, my apples tumble about, getting bruised. I’m digging for the change in the bottom of my purse when the fruit-shop lady asks: ‘So where are you from?’ ‘From here.’ She looks puzzled. The Red Cardigan, Lee Murray 4 ‘Where?’ ‘Here,’ I say. ‘Wellington.’ The woman scowls now, as if I’m being deliberately obtuse. ‘Yes, but where were you from before?’ I hold out the change, impatient. A week doesn’t go by where someone doesn’t take a look at my flattened nose and the colour of my hair and ask me where I’m from. I stifle an urge to say, ‘Solly, me no speakee English.’ Geez! I should be used to it. In the seventies when I was growing up, my brothers and I were the only Chinese kids at our primary school, so we took a fair bit of ribbing: ‘Hey, you wanna Chinese burn?’ ‘You know Bruce Lee? Yeah, well you better look out aye, ‘cause I’m the Boss!’ ‘Ching-chong chinaman sitting on a rock, along came a nigger and shot him in the cock!’ That one always got a laugh. There’re extra points in it if you can insult two racial groups in a single sentence. And then there’d be someone who’d pretend to be blind like Master Po, who’d stare at me all glassy-eyed and say: ‘Ahh Grasshopper, how is it that you do not see?’ The thing is, people look at me and all they see is this short Chinese woman. Yet on my mother’s side, the Chinese side, I’m a third-generation New Zealander, and on my Dad’s side the family got here even earlier, in the late 1700s. That’s a pretty good Kiwi pedigree. I was your regular Weet-bix kid, raised on fish and chips and L&P. Spending half my life shoeless and wearing boardies. I know about players not The Red Cardigan, Lee Murray 5 releasing the ball, and the off-side rule. Hell, I can even sing the national anthem in Māori. ‘I’m from here. New Zealand,’ I spit back at the fruit shop lady. That accent, I wonder where she’s from and how long she’s been here? Less than five minutes, I shouldn’t wonder. Straight off the bloody boat. Disgusted, I grab my bruised apples and leave. Fruit shops feature largely in the family history. Not surprising really, since by the time my grandfather got here in the early 1940s, Southland’s gold fields had been pretty picked over. My grandfather opened his first fruit shop in Christchurch, got his brother out from China to help him, and for a time the pair of them lived in a shed at the back of the shop. Later, when he’d moved to Wellington and opened a second, bigger fruit shop, my grandfather sent home for a wife, who came out to join him. The brothers are both gone now. Of that generation, only my Por Por is left, and she’s nearly ninety. I don’t go straight home. Instead, I drive around for a while, cooling off, thinking of all the things I wish I’d said to my aunt. I’m no good at thinking on my feet. If the perfect come-back line occurs to me, it’s always hours later. Of course, I’d never have the balls to say anything. Too much Chinese in me. All that respect for your elders crap drilled into us as kids. New Zealand is a meritorious society, but only if your mother isn’t Chinese. In the afternoon, I weed my vegetable patch and dream of Rawiri and me. I turn the soil, breathing in its masculine scent, admiring the curvature of my spade as it The Red Cardigan, Lee Murray 6 slips into the earth. The feathered carrot tops tickle my legs as I pass though the rows, making me laugh. For a time, the regular thud of my spade penetrates the soft drone of the motorway in the distance. My cabbages are almost ready to harvest, their globes of pale green like boulders in a river. I spray them with the hose, leaving a trail of moisture beads. Just before I put my tools away, I turn over an outer stem to discover a lumpy caterpillar hidden in the crevice. Lucky I found him: he’s almost invisible, but by tomorrow, he could’ve devoured the whole cabbage. Later on, Rawiri picks me up in his ute and we head out to his parents’ house in Porirua. Rawiri’s cousin, Julie, just graduated as a nurse so the family is having a party to celebrate. Apart from his mother, who was once my patient, I haven’t met any of Rawiri’s family. I’m like a gawky teenager on a first date. My hands are sweaty. I wipe them on my jeans. Judging from the cars parked on either side of the street, the party is already in full swing. The house is a fifties state house: the rare two-storied sort. I notice the paintwork on the weatherboards is fresh. A bunch of kids’ toys are tidied away to a corner of the yard. We’re met at the door by a thin man with a hooked nose. Rawiri claps him on the back. ‘This is my girlfriend, Wendy. She’s Chinese. New Zealand-born. Wendy’s grandfather was a military strategist for Chang-Kai Chek. Wendy, this is my uncle Angus. My father’s adopted brother. They fished the Kaituna River up at Maketū together as boys. He’s a pretty good fisherman, but not as good as me.’ The Red Cardigan, Lee Murray 7 ‘Nice to meet you Wendy,’ Angus says, taking my coat and hanging it over the newel post at the bottom of the stairs. ‘Don’t you listen to this cheeky so-and-so, will you? No way, he fishes better than me.’ They’re still laughing when a woman, the same blocky build as Rawiri, rushes at him from the other end of the hall. ‘Vania!’ ‘Hey, you made it!’ She gives his nose a tweak with her fingers. He pushes her away, laughing. ‘Yeah, ‘course. So where’s our graduate?’ ‘My sister - the nurse - is in the kitchen stuffing her face. You’d think nurses would know something about cholesterol, wouldn’t you?’ ‘This is Wendy.’ ‘Hello Wendy. Where are you from?’ I don’t believe it! ‘Here.’ ‘Actually, Wendy’s from Taupō originally,’ Rawiri says. ‘Went to school there, didn’t you Wendy?’ I raise my eyebrows, say nothing. Rawiri goes on. ‘She went to Mount View. Near Tauhara.’ ‘Yeah?’ Vania says. ’You must know the Loughlins? They’re from up there.’ ‘No, sorry I don’t.’ Her face drops. Uncle Angus, still hovering near the door, says. ‘You’re from Taupō? What about the Otenes? Do you know them? Barney and Carole?’ I shake my head. ‘Sorry.’ There’s a shout from upstairs. The Red Cardigan, Lee Murray 8 ‘Hey, Aunty Vania! Darren’s locked himself in the toilet. He won’t come out and I’m bursting!’ Vania and Angus excuse themselves to sort out what’s going on upstairs. When they’re out of earshot, I turn to Rawiri. ‘Why do you always do that?’ I hiss. ‘Do what?’ ‘Introduce me like that. Like you have to make up an entire family tree for me. Hey, meet Wendy, she’s Chinese, but it’s okay because she was born here and guess what, she’s got some famous ancestors. It’s like you have to make a special exception for me.’ ‘Is that what you think?’ ‘No, that’s what you think.’ He drops his voice. ‘Don’t be like that, Wendy, please.’ His lifts his hand to touch my cheek, but I jerk away. ‘Like what? Chinese?’ ‘You’re over-reacting. It’s just our way. You’re my girlfriend, Wendy.’ I nod as if I get it, but I don’t. I feel out of place. Foreign. I slide my coat back off the newel post. Maybe I can slip away later. I’ll walk into town. Get a taxi back to my place. But Rawiri must sense I’m about to make a run for it, because he places his hand in the small of my back and guides me away from the front door, into the living room. The furniture is pushed back to the walls, and the room is heaving with people in various permutations of the chicken dance. We stand together at the edge of the chaos, Rawiri rubbing his thumb over mine, not letting me go. Suddenly, someone The Red Cardigan, Lee Murray 9 starts a chain. There’s a flurry of jostling and shouting. The little ones run to get on the end. Arms reach out, beckoning to anyone not already in line. ‘Come on, Rawiri! Bring your girlfriend! Join in.’ As the line moves past us, a smiling girl grabs me around the waist. My coat is hiffed into a corner. There’s no getting away now, as I’m pulled into the heart of that twisting twirling taniwha. At the front of the beast, like the Pied Piper, Rawiri wends his way through downstairs rooms, a stream of lively whanau following along behind. The next day, Sunday, Por Por phones me. ‘I hear you come to see me, but I not here,’ she says. ‘Yes.’ ‘I here now.’ So I drive out to Lower Hutt again. When I arrive, my aunt glowers at me. Probably miffed that I declined to answer yesterday’s groundbreaking survey. ‘Katy, do the washing, please,’ my grandmother says. Obedient, Katy Yee goes off to do it. She might be the world’s oldest, crankiest virgin, but she’s still a dutiful daughter. I sit on the floor at Por Por’s feet, while she takes up her knitting, already halfway through the back of what will eventually be a tiny red cardigan. She raises her arms slightly, holding up her handicraft for inspection. ‘Cardee-aa,’ she says, putting her Cantonese intonation onto the end of the word. ‘For friend baby,’ she says. She drops her arms again. ‘So what the matter you?’ ‘There’s nothing the matter. Not really.’ The Red Cardigan, Lee Murray 10 My grandmother purses her lips and continues her knitting, the clink of her needles marking time. After a while, we hear the back door open and the crackle of the wicker basket as Katy Yee steps out the back to hang out the washing. Por Por stops her knitting, the needle halfway into the foxhole, and waits for me to speak first. ‘It’s Rawiri,’ I say. ‘Ra-willie?’ she says. ‘The one I see from your work? Come hospital visit his mother?’ ‘Yeah, him.’ ‘Yep,’ Por Por says, her dark eyes twinkling. ‘That one, big trouble.’ She’s making a joke. Rawiri weighs about 130kg. He makes Ma’a Nonu look skinny. ‘It’s getting serious between us.’ You think she’d be like other grannies, drooling in delight, already planning the names she’ll give our future babies. But no, she sits quietly, holding the beginnings of a cardigan in her bony fingers. Then, tilting her head, she asks, ‘You scared after last one?’ She means my marriage to Craig. It didn’t work out. We were young and stupid and we argued a lot. Two years in, he started staying out late after work, which made us argue more. In the end, we split over cultural differences: his allowed cheating on your wife, and mine didn’t. I’m over it now, but it hurt at the time. ‘It’s not that.’ ‘Hmm,’ she says, tapping one of the needles against her teeth. ‘This Ra-Willie, he nice man?’ The Red Cardigan, Lee Murray 11 I nod. ‘Good job?’ ‘Uhuh.’ ‘Nice body aye?’ ‘Por Por!’ She gives a naughty giggle. ‘Okay. I serious now. What matter?’ ‘He’s Māori.’ ‘Aah,’ she breathes. She nods knowingly. ‘Same-same.’ I sigh in relief, feeling the tension in my shoulders dropping away. It’s not that I’m racist. I swear, it’s not like that. I work for the District Health Board. You can’t go two steps in any direction there without coming face-to-face with the Treaty of Waitangi plastered on the wall. I know all about cultural sensitivity. The thing is, if you have the smallest drop of Chinese in you, you’re Chinese. But Māori: sometimes they’re even more Māori than Chinese people are Chinese. I tell her about the party. ‘Hmm,’ my grandmother says. She slides her knitting into the basket beside me. Then she turns to me and places her hand on my head. ‘Let me tell you story, Wei-Ling,’ she says. I lean over and put my head in her lap, the way I always do when she has something special to tell me. The empty washing basket on her hip, Katy Yee passes in the doorway, but then my hair falls over my face and I can’t see her anymore. A moment later the television goes on down the hall. Por Por smoothes the wisps back behind my ear, waiting patiently while I wiggle myself comfortable before beginning her story. The Red Cardigan, Lee Murray 12 It’s a tale from just two weeks ago. In her staccato English, Por Por tells me about a Chinese bakery newly-opened in Lower Hutt, one selling loaves of soft sweet white bread, so light that it bounces back when you squeeze it between your fingers. The Good Luck Bakery, it’s called. Following the scent of almonds and a display of bean curd cakes wrapped in coloured paper, Por Por steps into the store. At the rear, behind the counter, a fat-cheeked baby plays in his high chair. Already he is the boss here, banging his cup against the platter. His mother is younger than I am: in her early thirties. Tired lines around her eyes suggest the cheeky baby is the boss at home, too. Drying her hands on her apron, she calls to her husband. ‘There’s a customer.’ Immediately recognising the rise and fall of her own mother’s tongue, my Por Por orders herself a fresh bean cake in that language. In Hakka. ‘Yuiet baeng, m’goiy.’ The woman’s eyes widen. ‘Come quickly!’ she cries. ‘Come!’ Her husband, his arms dusted in flour, comes running from the back of the bake-house. ‘What is it?’ he says. His wife points at my grandmother, who is munching on her bean cake. ‘She’s one of us.’ They close the store for an hour. Make tea. Tell stories. My grandmother bounces the baby on her knee, sharing cake crumbs with him. I sit up and brush my hair out of my face. The Red Cardigan, Lee Murray 13 ‘They closed the store just because you speak Hakka? But heaps of people speak Hakka.’ ‘Not so many here.’ We’re quiet for a bit, both reminded of the time after the war, when Por Por took Katy Yee and returned to China, where they scoured the Wai-Yeung province looking for her family. My mother says they were gone for a year, searching. Eight brothers and two sisters, all gone. No cousins. No aunties. They found no one. I imagine the pair of them going from place to place, knocking at doors, politely asking people where they came from, asking about grandfathers and uncles and brothers, about wives and cousins and school friends, looking for any small connection, desperate for a clue to the whereabouts of her family. Por Por leans over and pretends to be busy rummaging around in her knitting bag. I take her hand in mine, suddenly surprised by its papery texture and the spidery veins I find there. ‘So you agree with Rawiri then? That I’m over-reacting?’ Por Por shakes her head. ‘Why you always look for reason, Wei-Ling? It just a story,’ my grandmother says. She smiles. ‘You make some tea?’ Then, taking up her knitting needles again, she winds the lucky red wool around her index finger. I watch for a moment as she carries the strand over the needle, making a new stitch, one loop woven into the next. The familiar chatter of her needles follows me through into the kitchen. (ENDS 3066)

The story of New Zealand's first naturalised Chinese migrant

The story of New Zealand's first naturalised Chinese migrant - Karen Slade Karen is a Nelson history writer with nearly 30 years' experience working in newspapers, radio, journalism training and freelance writing. She is a trained journalist who, since 2002, indulged her love of history and concentrated on researching and writing local history. In April 2012 she launched three hard cover volumes of a commissioned family history, her research taking her back to 18th century Scotland and the reasons for the family's migration to New Zealand in the early 20th century. In February 2010, Appo Hocton, New Zealand's First Chinese Immigrant, Nelson 1842-1920, was launched at The Nelson Provincial Museum. During 2008 and 2009 she researched and wrote local history stories for the top of the south history website, The Prow (


PRETTY MUCH By Matthew Ng-Wai Shing I didn’t feel clean. Who doesn’t feel clean after spending freaking 10 minutes in the shower? Most girls probably. What a waste of time those girls are, spending 8 hours a day in the bathroom or whatever. How fussy do they think we are? Sure Lucy was all done up last night. But 8 hours of make up or not, I would have still gone down on her. She’s a slammin’ hottie. My bed was still a mess. I looked down on the storm of sheets as I pulled on clothes. Boxers, trackpants, t-shirt, hoodie. I guess I should probably clean them now – the sheets that is – but how? No way was I gonna use the washer mum gave us. Not for these. She’d ball her eyes out if she knew I’d filthied her second best washing machine with the dead skin cells of a white girl. I don’t know why but I get guilty as sometimes. It’s the craziest thing. Last week, the bus driver gave me too much change. It was only like 30 cents or something. I spent the whole bus ride anxious as. In the end, I was too embarrassed to give it back, so I just left it on the seat for some idiot to find like it was fucking Christmas. How the hell was I gonna get this stuff clean? There were a couple of laundromats around the place. Or maybe I could get it done at Jinny’s mum’s place. God I was hungry. I can’t think to save myself when I’m hungry. I went back into the kitchen hoping to find some food for thought. Liam was still slouched over the dining table, totally submerged in his iPad. “Jackie Chan,” he spouted as I headed to the pantry. Wow, he must have seen my reflection. “Man, are you kidding me? It was like the first one we said.” “Oh yeah.” All morning we’d been trying to think of famous Asian dudes who had got with white girls. But we gave up after Tiger Woods. Now we were just trying to name famous Asian guys. So far we had Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Jeremy Lin and that guy from Glee who just dances. “Where’s Jinny?” “On the phone with her mum.” He pointed down the stairs towards a bubbling of Chinese I hadn’t noticed before. Shit, I didn’t know she spoke Chinese. “Shit, I didn’t know she spoke Chinese.” “Yep, and it’s fucking annoying. Speaking of which…” The babble of Chinese got closer and a short Asian girl with long dyed hair appeared at the top of the stairs. The broken stream of Chinese stopped; Jinny swivelled the phone away from her mouth to speak. “Honey?” “What.” Liam took a couple of pokes at the screen to pause it. “How about Genghis Khan?” “Oh yeah he totally counts, that guy was a boss.” I intercepted. “What?” She shot me her confused face. “She’s talking about dinner fuckwit.” Oh. That Genghis Khan. “So?” She pressed. Liam replied with a shrug. She turned to me. “What do you think Nath?” Genghis Khan huh. Man, that guy probably got gangs of chicks. I bet you a million bucks he was a dick in real life though. People like that always are. You can’t have that much shit without being some incredible asshole. Liam gave his screen another poke. “Who’s going?” I asked. “Family dinner.” “Yours or his?” Tilting my head at the re-submerged Liam. “Mine.” “Definitely no. That place is a scam for white people. Like when they serve sweet and sour pork at yum cha.” It really was. “Star Café it is then. I’ll get mum to book for six-thirty ok? And please don’t wear a singlet this time Liam.” Without another peep she turned on the Chinese again and marched back downstairs. Liam was far too engrossed in a video of some kid microwaving an orange to say anything back. I went to the pantry to get food. I was crazy hungry after all that, but there was pretty much nothing on my shelf so I stole a Shrewsbury from Liam’s. He’d never know. I’m a cat-burglar when it comes to stealing biscuits. Mum used to plant stale ones on the top so we’d eat them first, or hid the good chocolate ones in a Tupperware container behind the rice. I learnt to be sneakier. I went back to my room. It was still a trash hole. And I really needed to clean my sheets. You know, I never clean my sheets automatically. And when I say automatically, I don’t mean that I don’t use a washing machine – it’s not the fucking dark ages. I mean like, ever since I’ve started doing my own washing, I’ve always had to remind myself to do it, otherwise I just forget. It’s tragic. Damn, I totally forgot to ask Jinny about washing them at her place. Lucky I had gangs of free minutes left. I got out my crappy brick phone and dialled her. “Hey, what’s up?” “You off the phone?” “Yeah, do you want it?” “Nah, just checking. Hey, are you going back to your mum’s today?” “Not until dinner. Why?” “Oh, I, uh, was wondering if I could do some washing over there, maybe.” “Nah, it’ll be dark by the time I’m there. What’s wrong with the machine your mum got us?” “Nothing. I just don’t feel like it.” “Oh ok. Random.” “Yeah.” “Is that it?” “Yeah.” “Ok, bye.” The phone beeped as she hung up. Damn. I couldn’t use mum’s washer, I really couldn’t. I’d never be able to look at her straight again. Goddamn I’m stubborn sometimes. I guess it’s going to have to be the fucking laundromat. I head-butted my duvet onto the floor, separating it from the top sheet. The bottom sheet was one of those elastic ones so I had to go around and peel back the corners before it unhooked from the mattress properly. I grabbed a rubbish bag from the kitchen and threw my sheets inside, along with whatever was in my washing basket. I didn’t wanna look like some hobo walking down the street, so I stuffed the black rubbish sack inside my Nike gym bag. Once I had got out onto the driveway, I had to work out which one to go to. There were gangs of laundromats around my place. You can always tell how poor a place is by the number of laundromats around. Or the number of fish and chip shops. Man, if you studied it enough, I bet you could work out the price of a house just from the number of fish and chip shops around. You’d probably make the news. The closest laundromat was probably the one by the motorway. But the one at the roundabout had a bakery on the way so it was really a no-brainer. I was about halfway to the bakery when I felt a gang of zizzes in my pocket. I had to switch the bag over to my left hand to check the text. It was good because my right arm was starting to get secretly tired. You won’t believe me, but sheets are heavy as. It was a text from Lucy. Would you look at that. I must be really good in the sack or something. Hey hun hows ur morning goin? C u 2nyt? Xoxo Since when were we hunning each other? I put my phone back in my pocket. This is my secret trick for texting girls. Never text them back straight away. If you make them wait a little bit they’ll start missing you like shit. I didn’t even know if I wanted to see her again tonight. I mean I did, but I’d probably be in trouble if she became anything. My laundry bag had switched hands at least 4 more times by the time I reached the bakery. All this walking in the sun was starting to make me feel sticky and gross. The bakery was sitting directly across the road from a primary school and right next to a fish and chip shop. I saw a gang of chubby brown kids playing coin rugby in the shop window as I walked past. Bastards never had a chance. I could hear a loud banging noise coming from the bakery. It sounded like my Por Por cutting up boiled chicken with her massive cleaver. The sound got louder as I stepped through the string of coloured ribbons that hung in the doorway. A little Chinese boy was standing at the back of the stuffy little shop. He was watching his dad kneading the shit out of a gang of dough. The dad was short, with a white oil-spoiled cap, an itchy looking moustache and a complexion somewhere between pie crust and donut. He was wearing an old, filthy looking navy polar fleece, speckled with all kinds of wonderful shit. Good thing he had gloves on. “Can I howp you?” I got out my wallet. Ten bucks. Better make it count. “G’day mate, can I get a mince and cheese pie, a passionfruit donut, and a pizza bread.” “Any drinks for you?” “No thanks.” I never buy drinks. They’re always so expensive and packed with sugar and shit. And people who buy bottled water are just dumb. I swear to god that every time I see someone buy a bottle of water I die a little bit. “Where you from?” He asked as he pulled my pie from the warmer. God, I hate that question. It’s like, if I tell him I was born here, he’s gonna ask where my ancestors are from or something. But if I say I’m Chinese he’ll go on about how I don’t sound Chinese and all. “Oh, I live just up the road.” “No, where are your parents from?” Fucking hell. I really couldn’t be bothered with this routine. I don’t wanna be disrespectful or anything, but when you’re like me, you’ve had this conversation with a million other idiots. Sometimes you want to go and explain it all to people, but sometimes you just want to go and eat your pie. “Sorry, I’m in a bit of a hurry.” I gave him the best smile I could find. I felt kinda bad for him. The guy was fobby as hell. Goong Goong and Por Por would have been in the same boat when they opened up their fish and chip shop. That kid in the back didn’t know how good he had it, even though he was probably still getting teased a gangload at school. He rang up my stuff on the till. $2.80 – pie. $1.20 – passionfruit donut. Fuck yes. $2.00 – pizza bread. $6.00. Sweet. “Oh, can I also get a giant cookie?” It was a bargain at a dollar. He slipped one into a brown paper bag. “Thanks.” I put my note on the counter and slipped the change into my pocket. “You have very nice day” he smiled. “Cheers mate, have a good one.” I loved wishing people to have a good one. The coloured ribbons washed over me as I went out. The bread thumping started up again, but I didn’t really notice: I was far too focussed on Operation Breakfast Slash Lunch. The roundabout wasn’t too far away now, which was good because my shoulders were slaying me. I skipped across the road so I could walk in the shade of the trees from a golf course that stretched out on that side of the street. The sick thing was that all the houses on the other side of the road were all kind of shit. On one side sits this flash as golf course with brushstrokes of grass, manmade lakes and water fountains. And on the other side lies a gang of tired houses with unkempt lawns and beat up letterboxes. Imagine waking up in the morning, looking across your raggedy as lawn and seeing gangs of old white people strolling through paradise and smacking the shit out of little white balls everywhere. It was enough to break your heart. The pie, donut and half of the pizza bread was history by the time I got to the roundabout, which was absolutely flocked with people. They were all piling into the second hand clothes shop next to the laundromat. There must have been a sale on or something. A board underneath the shop sign read: CLOTHES – CURTAINS – SHEETS – SHOES – $2/kg No way. They were selling clothes by the kilo? Man, that’s cheaper than apples. People were just pulling shit out of mountains of clothes and tossing them on the ground like trash. It was total anarchy. I dragged past, staring like I was at the zoo. I would have stayed longer if I wasn’t feeling so gross from all the walking. Although my shoulders probably would have given up if I had waited any longer before stepping inside the laundromat. An electronic bell announced my intrusion. We used to love going in and out of shop doors when I was a kid. If you didn’t make the buzz go, you were invisible. The place was about the size of a classroom, lined with massive washing machines and dryers. You could see the clothes spinning round and round like wheels on a train, humming away noisily. People had placed their empty plastic baskets outside them to make sure no one else got confused and took their shit. A pair of Polynesian mums were folding their dried stuff on a table in the middle. A Maori lady had commandeered three consecutive heavy duty 22kg machines. She was sorting several rubbish bags of clothes into the three holes with the same efficiency and concentration I had exercised during lunch. The place reeked of steam and clean clothes. I went up to the wiry Indian guy behind the counter. His son was playing with a vacuum cleaner behind him. “What do you want?” “Uh, can I wash my clothes please?” I showed him the rubbish bag I had concealed in my gym bag. “I haven’t been here before.” I added. I always sound like a fucking idiot when I talk to strangers. I have no idea why. “Take number six.” He pointed at one of the smaller machines that no one was using. “Ok, sweet.” “Three dollars.” “Oh, right.” I fished the coins out of my pocket. Three bucks. Perfect change. It was my lucky day. He walked me over to the machine. “Put your clothes here.” He pointed to the hole in the front, before pulling out a small plastic drawer above it. “Put your powder here.” Powder? Shit, I had totally forgotten about powder. “Uh, I don’t have any.” “We have plenty of range here. 90 cents each.” Fuck. I didn’t have any cash left. I knew I’d regret getting that fucking cookie. How am I supposed to wash my sheets if I don’t even have washing stuff for it! Shit, it was way too far to go all the way back home to get some. I was thinking so loud I almost didn’t hear the waifish voice behind me. “I have.” I turned around to find a fragment of a lady, wrinkled like a roast kumara, holding out a Signature Range ice cream container full of white washing powder. “Oh, thank you. That would be awesome.” Another fucking luck out. I should go buy a lotto ticket. And I should get her one too. Except you need money for that. I piled my sheets in, caked with last night’s grime. Ugh. The Indian guy put some special coin in the machine and got it going. “You stay here. 30 minutes ok.” I couldn’t tell if it was a question or not from his accent, so I just nodded. I took a perch by the entrance, next to the lovely grandma who had bailed me out. “Hey, thanks a lot.” “It’s ok, it’s ok,” she smiled. Are you hungry? I’ve got this cookie if you want. “Nah!” She wobbled her head. “Too hard for my teeth.” She pulled back her lips like a chimp to reveal a checker board of silver fillings, tapping on them with her long ivory fingernail. “See?” I laughed. I couldn’t handle it, I really couldn’t. At that moment, it was probably the funniest thing in the world. Her lips moved back into a toothy grin as she leaned back on her chair. I watched a gang of clothes churn round in the machine behind her. For some reason it made me think about molecules, like the ones you see on washing powder ads. Tiny little blue and white balls, kicking out all the evil green ones that are festering in the fabric. Where were all the green balls supposed to go? They obviously can’t go back to where they came from. I suppose they get flushed down into the sewer, pop out at some beach, and poison a dolphin or something. Some of the lucky ones probably manage to cling onto some other poor piece of fabric and resettle, meet a particularly nasty female green ball and make lots of evil green ball babies. And nothing is really properly clean ever again. But what does clean mean anyway? I know me and mum have very different interpretations of the word clean. I guess about 30 minutes later, the wiry Indian guy came up to us. “Washing’s done,” he said, looking at me. “You want dry?” I would’ve loved to, but I was out of coin. And no way was I letting my new friend shout me. “Nah, I’ll just hang it out.” “Ok then. Have a nice day.” “Cheers.” I got up and piled my sheets back into the rubbish bag, which was then potted into my gym bag. I picked out the eyes of the old lady as I headed to the door. I gave her a wave goodbye and got a toothy smile and a hand wobble in return. The walk back wasn’t nearly as hard as I’d feared. In fact, the sheets seemed to be even lighter than before which I know from physics can’t be true. But that’s what it felt like. Maybe it was because I was going downhill. Actually, the strangest thing was that I didn’t feel dirty anymore. You won’t believe me, but the smell of free washing powder will do that to you. Jinny was outside my room when I got back, trying to get something down from the top shelf of the linen cupboard. “Hey.” “Hey.” “You need a hand?” “Nah, almost got it.” “Hey, I didn’t know you spoke Chinese.” “Oh yeah, it’s like my one gift to my parents.” “You taught yourself?” I asked. That shit’s not easy to learn. I’ve thought about trying to learn it at least a million times. “Nah, they taught me.” “Oh. Well, isn’t it more like their gift to you then?” “It’s not like I had a choice. When I was growing up they wouldn’t talk to me if I spoke to them in English. You can’t imagine how much that sucked.” “‘Spose I can’t.” “So, you meeting up with your lady friend tonight?” “What? Oh, you mean Lucy?” “Who else would I be talking about dopey?” She laughed. “Yeah, of course. Yeah… nah, I think I’m gonna head back home tonight. See the fam bam and stuff.” “Ugh, I can’t even talk about my family right now. This dinner’s been driving me up the wall. Ah, there we go.” She pulled down a thick rectangle of baby blue sheets. “So, where have you been all day?” “Ended up going to the laundromat.” “Oh yeah? How was it? I’ve never been to one.” “It was nice.” “Nice,” she smiled as she walked off, clean sheets in hand. I went back into my room and pulled the bag of damp sheets out of my gym bag. I found that cookie lying at the bottom of it. I took it into the kitchen. Liam was still on the iPad. He hadn’t moved an inch. “Hey, I nicked one of your biscuits before so I got you this,” placing the cookie on the dining table. “Shot bro.” He grabbed it and took a meaty gnarl out of the side. “Hey dude, check out this drunk Wizard getting kicked in the nutsack by a Ninja Turtle. It’s fucking hilarious