It's amazing how quickly the memory of long school breaks goes. It hasn't been that long since my first college graduation, but looking at the school calendar and seeing three whole weeks between the end of fall term and the start of spring term kind of blew my mind. I mean, sure, it's not all that time without any responsibilities for a lot of folks at school - they've got jobs and the like - but it still seems like an absurdly long amount of unscheduled time.
Of course, it wasn't completely mine. Even if I wasn't a little prepared for a change of scenery after that play and finals, it was probably past time to really get to know "my" family and friends. The only ones who really made an impression on me back in August and September were my mother Chen-ai and grandmother Yu-ling, with everything else kind of a jet-lagged blur.
This time would be different, sort of like meeting people that one has become friends with online in person for the first time. It was literally that in a lot of cases for me, or very close to it, considering how many words I might have exchanged with people at the birthday party. I've been keeping up with most of Yuan-wei's old friends on-line and spent a lot of time digging deep into their online histories in my last week at Boston University before break - it was actually kind of a good way to take a break from studying for a certain subject but not totally putting my brain into another gear - and felt pretty good about it.
And with reason! Without "must get to party right fucking now!" going on, and just being generally more relaxed in this less-unfamiliar skin, I was able to panic less and just deal with situations at my own speed. It was still weird shifting into Cantonese-mode - binge-watching John Woo movies on the flights only helped so much - but I wasn't a complete deer in the headlights. I'm doing better with Mandarin, too - weekly classes and new movies from Beijing playing in Boston have helped.
I could sort of feel how it had grown easier as certain parts of the trip repeated - get off the plane, not strain so much listening to announcements, smile and maybe even flirt a little going through immigration, recognize the driver and engage in more authentic small talk on the way "home". There's something really assuring about the second time through; "they're gonna catch me" is still in the back of your head, but you can tell that voice to shut up, because the Inn doesn't work that way.
The fancy parts of the city looked fucking amazing as I rode by; though there are a fair number of foreigners and Christians there, Christmas blends into winter solstice celebrations and nobody gets too worked up about religious authenticity or whether things are too commercial, so decorations can be ridiculous and ostentatious and nobody cares. "My" family home had a monster-sized tree, and it was decorated with the careful balance and symmetry that says someone was hired to do it, but, hey, it's not like I need to be worried about some lost family tradition.
Chen-ai seemed a bit warmer this time around, although it's still kind of a weird relationship, maybe. Only having a brother, I don't know what sort of things mothers and daughters do together, but she seemed more curious about my life in America than anything, asking if I'd met any nice boys, being kind of teasingly naughty about how attractive they were. Maybe I should have been grossed out, but I wasn't, at least no more than when when I thought about how much I enjoyed being on the receiving end these days.
Not that I really get attracted to guys yet - I met one of the original Yuan-wei's high school boyfriends, and I liked the guy for hanging out with, but his twin sister was the one where my brain said ''that's attractive", though not with the "I want to fuck her" kick to it. which is good, because Bingbing is one of the best friends I inherited, and I'm guessing she wouldn't be down for that.
I wound up spending a lot of time with Chen Bingbing, both because she thinks we've been besties since the age of six and because she is transferring to an American college for this semester and wanted to practice her English. It's really good - she and Yuan-wei, along with the other friends I spent time hanging out with, went to English-language schools, although their good English isn't my good English.
We partied a lot - Bingbing seemed kind of horrified to hear that most places in America have a minimum drinking age of 21, so we kind of made up for that in advance. I highly recommend a weekend in Macau at one of the big hotel/casino luxury suites if you're ever young, Chinese, and of means.
That would have been a great New Year's Eve, but I felt a bit weird about partying big that night. We'd had a ceremony to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the death of Lee Siu-wong, Chen-ai's husband, who I guess would be my biological father now, the previous night, and it would have been weird to go nuts the next day.
That memorial was a bit strange, one of the times I really tried to act outside of school stuff. I mostly try to just be myself in day-to-day life, because even if I'm not much like the original Yuan-wei in certain respects, folks are going to have to get used to the new me because I'm not going to spend the rest of my life pretending to like things I don't or shit like that. This, though, was really specific and unavoidable, and as much as I don't really miss "Daddy", I don't think I'm quite such a jackass to disrupt things by acting that way.
So I tried to do what they teach in class, reaching into myself for something that brings out the same kind of feelings. I don't know whether I'd say it was hard or easy, because I spend enough time trying not to think about how I'm not likely to see my own Dad again except by some sort of co-incidence where he won't fucking know who I am that it takes a bit of effort to let that out, even without considering how much it's going to hurt. I guess I did all right - I was crying as I lit the joss-sticks and bowed toward Siu-Wong's picture - but it did make me question the idea of making a living doing this, even if the movie-star part looks awesome.
And then... well, fuck, it's why I took a break from writing this for a bit.
It was a few days later. I had stayed the night at one of Yuan-wei's high- school boy-friends' when I got a call asking me to come down to the police station. I had no idea what to expect - had Chen-ai been pulled over or had I inherited parking tickets of some kind? - until they took me to see a detective named Yee who made a little small-talk and then showed me a video.
It was taken on a phone - I've apparently been taking enough film & television classes that the vertical aspect ratio was the first thing that bothered me - and it showed the original Yuan-wei (or me, as far as the cops were concerned) going into some sort of sweet shop and telling the other person (the voice was distorted enough that I couldn't tell if it was male or female) all about the sort of candies and stuff they had in America that this store imported. At first, it was just weird - I kind of felt like a guy again, watching some girl who would never actually talk to me be knowingly cute in a YouTube video, and I kept having to remind myself that I shouldn't feel angry or turned on because I could do all that now.
Until she got to the Fluff.
Marshmallow Fluff is a pretty solidly northeastern thing. I think. It's what it sounds like, a gooey marshmallow paste that you can spread on bread. The Yuan-Wei in the video was talking about how one of her local classmates had dragged her to Somerville's ''Fluff Festival" in the fall, and the most popular use of the stuff was the "Fluffernutter", a dead simple sandwich of Fluff and peanut butter on white bread. She was saying that it's the most bland-but-too-sweet and thus the most American thing you can imagine - "but so good!"
Then the off-screen voice said that was too bad, because it meant I couldn't have one in the house because of my dad, and "I" joked that at least he would die happy. Then the Yuan-wei on the screen bought a jar of the stuff and some Reese's Cups which she said she would have to finish before she got home, and it was the end of the video.
I didn't really need Inspector Yee to do the "obviously, you knew that your father had a severe peanut allergy" exposition straight out of a fucking episode of Law & Order to see what was coming. And let me tell you, I didn't need to draw on any other sort of scary experience to be terrified.
"Inspector Yee, I would never-" I actually found myself stumbling for the right Cantonese words for what I would never do, but he seemed to be able to infer it.
"Not even by accident, just forgetting something was in your purse?"
I yelled "no!", but then something started rolling around in my brain. What if this was the wrong answer, and Yee was asking the question just so that I'd trip up? Cops do that, right? What if anything I said contradicted anything else they had learned, or even what Yuan-wei had said during any original investigation of Siu-wong's death?
So I went on the offensive. "Who sent you this?"
"Don't you remember?"
I was able to think quick. "No! I hung out with a lot of folks after coming back from my first semester abroad last year, and probably showed weird American things to most of them!"
I guess you could say I successfully sold the performance, because Inspector Yee did back off a bit. I pressed a little, saying that the only reason that somebody would send them this is because they wanted to hurt me, and I deserve to know who is trying to stab me in the back.
The law doesn't exactly look at it this way, of course, and even though the family I've become a part of is pretty well-off, it doesn't appear that we're quite so connected that the cops' first thought when things look suspicious is to try to sweep it under the rug.
Or maybe it is and I just haven't learned how to pick up signals that a public official is fishing for a bribe like I can recognize a guy being interested in me. There's a fucking one-percenter problem.
It put a bit of a pall over the rest of the trip, as you might imagine, as my brain went into overdrive looking for any sign that the people I hung out with didn't really like "me". I felt a little relief when I saw Bingbing hold her phone horizontally when taking a video a few days later, but worried about Chin when she didn't. It's a really stupid thing to try to parse, but there you go.
I'm not even really sure I should be writing about this now. I denied having anything to do with Siu-wong's death, but I can't help but wonder - what if that's not the case? What if the original Yuan-wei made a mistake and that's why she's so willing to live out a life that is such a step down from all this? I may just be speculating about this, but if Inspector Yee or someone else at the HKPD stumbles over me saying that, it reads like some sort of confession from a girl who has had some sort of fucking breakdown.
Still... The video. I went to The Changeling a few days ago and mentioned this to Ashlyn, and she told me about her own stalker/"influencer", the one they called Pygmalion. She says it's been a few years since she felt she could chalk up anything happening in her life to that, but that he isn't the only one out there who likes fucking with us. So this is just a question - does it sound like anybody any of you know, or do I just have some sort of enemy on the other side of the world?
- Jordo / Yuan-wei
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