Authors: Paul Yee
HOUSE OF ANANSI PRESS
Copyright Â© 2011 by Paul Yee
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This edition published in 2011 by
of Anansi Press Inc.
110 Spadina Avenue, Suite 801
LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA CATALOGUING IN
Money boy / Paul Yee.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â jC813'.54
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â C2011-902086-6
Cover photograph by W.Y. Park / Getty
Design by Michael Solomon
We acknowledge for their financial support of our
publishing program the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts
Council, and the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund.
English poetry crawls across our super-wide TV
in easy words that I understand.
I'll learn this ancient play from the movie
I'll get high marks on tomorrow's English quiz.
I'll surprise my teachers and my friends, who
expect me to score another goose egg. I haven't read the play yet, not even in
Chinese. That's how Mila Pei gets good grades. She reads everything in Chinese
on the Internet as well as in English from our textbooks.
The movie starts. Men and women flirt at a picnic.
One man is shirtless. The women's blouses hang low and wide below the neck. In
the trees, birds are chirping. The actress reads more poetry, as slowly as
before. She's talking about finding love!
Did our teacher finally pick a play that we
immigrant kids can understand?
The actors start talking. At first they speak
slowly. Then they speed up. Rot! Mila chuckles at a joke. What was it? She
chuckles again. This time Wei Zhang joins her. Those two are lucky. They had
English-language tutors since primary school, back in China. Not me.
I lean forward to listen harder. I need to do well
tomorrow. Otherwise my report card will cause trouble with Ba.
Mila's cellphone buzzes. She yawns and opens a
text. She is sprawled over the sofa, feet on the coffee table. With a giggle,
she thrusts her cell at Jenny Wang. Jenny's eyes widen.
“His clothes, where are they?” she squeals in
Scandal! It's Kevin, Mila's boyfriend. We rush to
“Personal!” Mila jumps up and grabs her cell.
“Private! For my eyes only!”
She skips through the tangle of legs on the floor
but Wei springs up and throws his arms around her. He reaches for the cell,
squeezing her tightly. Mila screams and twists like a wild animal. Her blue hair
sprays out like a shiny umbrella.
My theory is this. She wears her hair long in order
to keep her shoulders and chest warm. Her tight tops always show lots of bare
flesh. One look at Wei's face and you know that he's rolling in turned-on
The cell shoots from one end of our family room to
the other. The guys hoot in surprise when Jenny catches it. Sprinting to the
foot of the basement stairs, she shouts in triumph. Chubby Kai Ren tackles her
to the carpet. Their arms and legs are windmills. His gym socks are blinding
Mila rushes to Jenny but my stepbrother Jian loops
a long arm around her. They topple backwards, laughing. If Kevin saw this, he
would crush Jian like a potato chip.
“Save me, Ray!” Jenny calls out to me. “Save me!”
She curls up, tucking the cell to her chest.
I need to jump in. Otherwise I'll stick out like a
maiden aunt at a wedding. I grab her wrists and pull her close. It's easy to
play along. Touching and grabbing like this goes on all the time, right under
our teachers' noses.
Jenny bites me. I press my lips to her cheeks and
inhale her perfume. I hope to get aroused. Nothing.
“You vampire!” I hiss. “Want to drink my
“Give back my cell!” Mila hollers.
“Quiet!” Jian hisses suddenly. “Quiet down!”
He clicks the mute. The surround sound falls silent
while the movie keeps going.
My father is at the foot of the stairs, scowling.
Rot. He shouldn't be home. On weekends, the
restaurant is busy so he's needed there. That's why my friends came over. That,
plus the fact that no one else owns a TV as super wide as ours.
At least he caught me wrestling Jenny like a horny
My friends greet him as if they are at a funeral.
Mila and Jenny adjust their tops. I straighten the sofa cushions. Ba always
complains that my friends horse around too much and leave the house in a
With his crew cut and bright red North Wind
tracksuit, my father looks like he never left China, or the twentieth century.
Ba sticks to Chinese labels. He says he's proud of China.
So then why did he quit the army? And the police
force? He's still fit from those jobs, which makes my friends afraid of him.
Ba sucks in a breath. His eyes widen. I glance at
the TV. My jaw drops. Naked soldiers laugh and toss each other into a giant
outdoor tub, then splash and dunk each other. Inside the palace, women rush from
bed to bed, undressing and dressing, pulling on skirts and blouses.
Isn't this supposed to be a serious play by
“That,” Ba thunders, jabbing a finger at the TV.
“What is that?”
“English homework,” Kai replies nervously. “We're
reading a play by Sha-shi-bi-ya. It's called . . .”
He stops and looks around, but no one knows the
play's name in Chinese.
Much Ado about
,” he says in English.
“This play, it uses old-fashioned English,” Wei
adds, “so it's very hard to understand.”
Jian clicks the remote to restart the sound.
Luckily, all the actors are now fully dressed and talking and bowing formally to
each other. And there's western classical music.
“Sha-shi-bi-ya is worth studying!” Ba declares. “He
is one writer who is admired by both British and American people! But you should
watch a high-quality version of his work, not this!”
This know-it-all kills me! My father never read a
serious book in his life.
“This version is high-quality!” Mila retorts. “It
was filmed in Italy. Look. The images are very sharp!”
“They are sharp due to my big screen!” Ba
My mind hears “you stupid egg” at the end of his
Ba grumbles all the time about kids who talk back
to adults, girls who totter on high heels, guys who tint their hair, and teens
who return to China because they are too lazy to learn English.
In other words, people like my friends.
“Stay for lunch!” Ba calls, blocking the stairway
with one hand. “Your homework, you can do it here. There is plenty of food,
tasty dishes from the restaurant.”
My friends politely shake their heads. They fish
for their notepads and pens and load up their backpacks. Ba's bossy way,
shouting as if people are army recruits, caused his fitness studio to fail two
months ago. His clients were rich Chinese who wanted to be pampered.
“Look!” Ba hoists a shopping bag. “Special gift for
my son, Jian-wen.”
What? Usually Ba calls Jian “my wife's child.”
My friends shout “Ooh” and “Wow” just from seeing
the brand name on the box.
“Net-book!” Jian crows. The glossy silver case is
smaller than a textbook.
My father isn't a generous man, so I know what's
going on. Jian and I are both in grade eleven. Ba is pressing me about
university and then medical school. His tactic is to surround and push from all
He'll have to shove hard. I'm an average student.
Below average. Very much below average.
“Many models are cheaper,” Ba boasts. “But I want
quality. Korean electronics are the world's best!”
Jian plugs in the power cord. Out chimes the
“My handbag is bigger than that!” Jenny laughs.
“The battery lasts eight hours,” Ba brags. “None of
your westerner classmates has this model, is that not so?”
“Look at the keyboard,” Wei adds. “Almost
Ba pulls out a camera.
Wow! The old fart made plans for this little
“Jian, show this to your father and grandparents,”
he says loudly. “They will be delighted.”
This isn't about Jian's family. Ba will send the
photo to my mother in China, to show Ma how hard he pushes his sons at school.
He wants to prove that he is a better parent than her.
Ba tells my friends, “I told those two, if they
passed summer school, I would reward them!”
“That was months ago,” protests Jian, always the
too-nice guy. “No need for this.”
“I keep my word,” Ba declares. “I am an honest
This honest man brags that he runs a restaurant,
when in truth my stepmother Niang manages the front, the kitchen and the books.
Ba and Jian smile into the camera flash, holding
the open net-book between them like a sports trophy.
I force myself to grin. I cross my arms and clench
my fists to my armpits. If I storm out of the room, then my friends get caught
in a petty family fight. If I stay, then my mouth must stay shut. If I show even
the tiniest bit of envy or interest, I'll land in Ba's trap.
“You want a net-book?” he'll say. “Then study
I failed summer school. Jian and I took the same
course: Chem 11. At the start, I tried really hard. Then the weather got hot and
humid. The school had no air-conditioning. The teacher spoke in a high-pitched
voice. My brain melted. No matter how many times I read the textbook and the
workbook, nothing made sense, not even when I found matching terms on a Chinese
science website. Bonding this and displacement that â who cared?
Ba cared, and that made it a big problem. Chemistry
is needed for medical school.
At the door, Mila gives me an extra-long hug and
looks at my father from the corner of her eye.
“Nothing is the matter, right?” she whispers. Her
thinking is this. Friends are more important than family because you choose your
That sounds good in theory. But after four years,
my best friends in China aren't so close, even with email to help us.
Grandfather sends me handwritten letters regularly, and I send back hard copy,
using Chinese software. He took care of me when I was in primary school and Ma
the sales clerk hopped from one department store job to another.
Grandfather is nothing like Ba, even though they're
father and son. Grandfather never asks about my marks at school. Instead, he
writes about movie stars and TV award shows that he thinks I'm watching over
All of us have nagging parents, but I have it
worse. Thanks to China's One Child Policy, I'm the only one with a brother who
can make me look bad.
We're eighteen! We're adults! In China, by now we
would have finished high school and moved away to live at college. But here
we're a year or two behind everyone else because we were forced into ESL
classes. And our parents still run our lives as if we are six-year-olds.
Steel has killed many men. Now he's a traitor to
Central after leading several of its armies into battle. In a surprise turn, he
defected to the Eastern rebels.
in China, so I know the landscape from my middle-school geography. The rivers
and mountains that protect the rebels are as real as home to me, just like
today's cities of tall buildings and traffic jams.
Central sent armies by land and sea against us.
Yesterday, when its navy attacked, we catapulted fireballs from the shore and
forced them to retreat.
Now smaller teams will get closer to their ships. I
(Steel, that is) choose Long Range the archer and Monkey, the lightest warrior
in my team, for this mission. Many teams wait for the Go signal.
“Where are you?” Ba yells.
Old fart! Nothing should ever make him wait,
certainly nothing as useless as my on-line role-play games.
“Just a minute!”
Uncle Bei arrived half an hour ago. Grandfather is
supposed to come from China for a visit. Ba sent him airfare long ago, but
Grandfather keeps delaying the trip. He is terrified of stepping onto an
airplane. Toronto has more snow and ice than Beijing, so Ba is building a small
bandstand in the backyard. Grandfather can do his daily tai-chi routines there,
under a roof.
The project has fallen behind schedule. Ba needs to
finish it before the cold weather hits.
My bedroom door pops open.
“Didn't I tell you to quit that game?” Ba shouts.
“Rotting waste of time!”
Messages from Rebel Command are coming in swift and
Ba grabs the power cord. “Want me to yank this?”
I jump up, hands and palms up in surrender. Before
I can even log off, Ba drags me to the backyard.
I curse to myself. It wasn't easy for Rebel Command
to find a time when all the teams could join in. If I don't show up, my Honor
In the drawings, the bandstand looks like a
Chinese-style pavilion. So far it's a birthday-cake frame of eight posts.
But how did Ba manage to pour the concrete and get
each post to stand straight? He never built anything in his life. He barreled
ahead claiming that D-I-Y was the Canadian way. D-I-Y means do-it-yourself, he
Too bad Grandfather won't use the bandstand. He
says tai-chi must be done in the open air where nature's energy flows freely.
All this is a big waste of time.
When I was small and we visited Grandfather, Ba
barely spoke to him. If they talked, they cursed and argued. We left as soon as
the meal ended. Then Ba brooded at home in front of the TV with a bottle of
liquor. Grandfather didn't drink, and nobody drank in front of him. But Ma
needed him to get me to primary school and back, so we visited. I always felt
safe with him. It was his idea to start me in gymnastics while my bones were
Uncle Bei climbs the ladder as Ba ties rope to a
long aluminum scaffold. My head screams at him to hurry.
Uncle Bei and Ba met in the army and brawled their
way through China, getting drunk at every chance, if you believe their tales.
They “served the people,” while the people served them beer. Uncle Bei
introduced his sister to Ba, a meeting that sent our families sliding downhill
toward two divorces.
“That goes on top.” Ba points at the scaffold.