Authors: Lucy Yam
Soaking comfortably in the tub, she marveled at the fast development of China.
She had grown up in a mountain village not unlike this one. Bathing was done in a wooden tub and they had had to boil hot water for it. As the caldron was small, the most they could have was half tub a time. Knowing that the water was heated by solar panels she had seen earlier in the yard, she was even more impressed. Solar technology wasn’t even available in most of the parts of United States. She had thought that the showy Olympics ceremony in Beijing was a sham but now she began to believe that China had indeed progressed. And thank goodness for progress, she thought as she felt her limbs relax. And slowly fell asleep.
She started in the tub when the phone rang. She struggled up and picked it up.
“Sharon, have you fallen asleep?”
“Oh, yeah, I’m fine, I’m getting up!”
While Charlene was waiting she quickly put on clean t-shirt and jeans and they went down to dinner together.
The aroma of Sichuan berry peppers, a local spice, welcomed them as soon as the got to the courtyard.
Sadama was waiting for them at the door of the dining room. Seeing them she took Charlene by her arm and helped her in to the dining room. Lit by skylight, the dining room had the style of a Moso living room, with
warmed by hearths lining the walls and a dozen round tables in the center. The pillars were painted in red and there were mural paintings of Buddhist gods on the walls.
Nobul was sitting on a
playing with Binma.
One of the round tables was covered with a half dozen plates topped with delicious looking food.
A bronze bowl the size of a wash basin was sitting in the center and inside was the sizzling fried fish that Nobul had mentioned earlier. The sight instantly made Sharon aware of her hunger.
The child came in shortly, followed by a tall woman holding a plate in her hand.
“Hello,” the woman said to Sharon as soon as she placed the plate on the table, “I’m Namu. Nobul’s cousin. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, and thank you for making a sumptuous dinner for us.” Sharon stared at the woman, who looked about the same age as herself, had healthy, glowing skin and extremely beautiful facial features similar to that of Nobul’s but with a touch of femininity.
The woman smiled, “I’m just helping out. Sadama made the fish. I merely chopped and cooked the simple vegetable dishes.”
The “simple vegetable dishes” consisted a plate of squash sautéed with dried shrimps, pickled eggplants steamed with sweet rice, and boiled cabbage with dressing made of sesame oil and soy sauce, and green chili fried with Sichuan berries.
“All the vegetables are fresh from their own garden,” Charlene explained as soon as everyone settled down at the table, “200 percent organic.”
Sharon had some white squash. Indeed, it was sweet and juicy and it had a fragrance that wasn’t present in the squash she had had from the supermarkets.
While she was tasting the vegetables Sadama had piled up her plate with food, “Don’t just eat vegetables. Have some home-made bacon and sausages. We raised the pigs and fed them with our potatoes. No chemical or fattening food. Also the fish were from the lake. Urcher, Nobul’s brother got them early this morning especially for you.”
“Really?” Sharon was moved by the hospitality, “Shouldn’t we save some for him?”
“Oh don’t worry about him. He eats the fish all the time.”
Soon Sharon was so busy chewing that she had no time to speak. All she could do was to nod and make sounds of approval.
After dinner they chatted in the dining room. Sharon earned the affection of Binma by answer his questions about the airplane she had taken.
“Is it as big as this house?”
“Yes it is.”
“Wow!” The boy cried, “It must look like a really, really big bird!”
“Yes. A giant bird!” Sharon laughed.
“And it’ll make uncle Nobul’s plane look like a fly.”
“You have a plane? Where is it?” Sharon asked the big man who was laughing.
“It’s a helicopter in Chengdu. I use it for business trips only.”
Sharon raised her eyebrow. This guy could be called a mountain elite.
“I want to be a pilot when I grow up.” Binma announced very seriously.
“Daydreaming again.” Namu, who had just come out of the kitchen, said, shaking her head.
“Well, he’ll also learn how to make it true. He’ll become the first Moso pilot in the nation.”
Namu rolled her eyes and smiled at Nobul.
There was an unmistakable affection in Namu’s eyes as she was looking at Nobul and it was not an affection among siblings. Sharon saw it and was instantly possessed by a strange sensation.
After they had said goodnight to everyone the two sisters went to Sharon’s room and sat on the balcony to chat. A couple of lampposts illuminated the shore. Further above the lake the moon had pierced through the thick clouds. The water shimmered with silver. The night was peaceful except the moaning of some domestic animals nearby.
“This is so nice!” Sharon sighed with content as soon as she sat down on a bamboo armchair. She had spent vacations or weekends on waterfronts in LA, but such privacy and tranquility were a first.
“I’m glad you like it here.” Charlene said, “I was worried that you wouldn’t.”
“Are you kidding?” Sharon said, “Not liking such a luxurious hotel?”
“Well. You’re, I mean, we both are pretty spoiled.”
“Yeah, I know. To tell you the truth, I was imagining you living with no indoor bathroom.”
“I was imagining that too. But I guess I got lucky. My friend Steve emailed me a few months ago and told me the condition of his field site in New Guinea Island. The natives built a shed for him to live and they a
te nothing but cassava everyday: boiled cassava, baked cassava, cassava soup, cassava cake, cassava
The mosquitoes were abominable and he left in a panic after someone in his host family had gotten malaria. He stayed there for less than a month. I think he’s going to Korea instead for his research.”
“Poor thing.” Sharon shook
her head while imagining Steve being
attacked by mosquitoes in the jungles of New Guinea.
She had seen him once, a very cute Korean American who had a feminine look.
Of course, t
here are inconveniences here too.” Charlene said, “The village still relies on well water, so water might be in short supply,
especially when there are too many tourists around. And in extreme bad weather it would take awhile for the water to be heated. There are occasional power outages, but still, it’s much better than I expected. I wouldn’t mind living here for two more years.”
“Two more years?” Sharon cried. “Are you kidding? Isn’t it almost time for you to return home?”
“Yes I am kidding. Two more months is what I mean, sister.” Charlene laughed.
“You don’t have to stick to the one year plan, do you?”
“No, but I haven’t finished what I had planned to.”
“You can come back another time.”
“It doesn’t make sense to do that if I could finish it this time.” Charlene sounded defensive.
“But what about your health?”
“I’m all right, Sharon! Please!”
Charlene threw her head back and suddenly became stiff as she murmured, “Ah, here it comes.”
“Are you all right?”
Sharon stood up at once and put her hands on Charlene’s shoulders.
A moment later Charlene took a deep breath. “Yes I’m all right. It’s just another attack. But it’s getting weaker and weaker every time it occurs.”
Sharon didn’t want to upset her sister. She looked at Charlene with solicitous eyes.
“I’m sorry to worry you like that Sharon. But give me a week or two and see how it goes. If the symptoms don’t go away completely, I’ll go home with you.”
A rumbling of engines followed by the voices of a child and a woman broke the silence of the night. A moment later through the space of the railing Sharon saw Nobul’s bike passing by, with Namu in the back, holding Binma in front of her.