Dew Drops

The Boy with the Fish


The moment I saw a picture of him when he was three, I decided he was going to father my future children.  He was holding a fish and examining the little creature so intently like a scientist over a microscope on the edge of discovering a new organism. He was glued to the deck staring at the fish, with his lips pursed forward, and everything else around him had fallen into oblivion.   There was only the intensity of his curiosity for the fish in his little hand.

We had dated unexpectedly for a couple of weeks before we parted ways to our respective countries after graduation.  It was supposed to be a quick romance squeezed in between packing and departure.  But when he pulled me out of the dance floor at the graduation ball, put his arms around my back and stared into the back of my eyes to say “I don’t want to go back to the party; I just want to be with you”, I knew things had gone out of track.  I glimpsed the intensity in his eyes.

So we broke the agreement and let ourselves get in touch after the departure.  He even persuaded me to pay him a visit. “Just once,” he said.  And alas, I saw that picture of him with the fish and that intensity in his blood, and I accepted his marriage proposal with a key ring right on the spot.

He started his own business.  Everyday and every night, he did the business, talked about it, dreamed it, breathed it, and became it.  He dreams big and lives in the sky and I keep my feet on the ground for both of us, I told myself.  I lived his intensity in creating his enterprise and maintained steady through that roller coast ride.

He has been struggling with anger since the collapse of his business.  He has been fighting with demons.  The anger occupies every cell of his brain and even seems to have gone into his hair since he let it grow.  It beats the gravity and grows up towards the sky.  It has exploded into a gigantic atomic mushroom sitting atop of his head.  Like his hair, he is desperate to rise to his space in the sky.

He started to play tennis.  He plays with pros; he plays with aficionados; he plays with the walls.  He got everybody in the family playing it too and soon our daughter was competing in provincial school tournaments.  When he is not playing, he is watching world tennis champions playing on video, in slow motion sometimes to study their movements.  When I see him watching tennis, I see the boy observing the fish.  Sometimes he comes home fuming with frustration when he couldn’t steer his mind to play a good game.  He has not found his sky yet.

We woke up on a Sunday morning and were contemplating the tree branches outside our window for a few quiet minutes.  I asked him: “Suppose there was an apocalypse and you wake up in a totally strange place to start a new life, what would you do as the very first thing?” I was expecting something like checking out what place this was and who lived there.  But he immediately said: “Get up and look for a tennis court!”  A wave of relief and hope washed over me.  The boy is still with his fish and his dreaming intensity.  I can almost see him sailing through the blue sky.


Dew Drops

A Good Deal to Marry a Butcher

I grew up in China in the seventies. My family ate meat on Sundays. The butcher’s big stump of cutting board was in the back of the market after you walked through little piles of dirty potatoes covered with soil and bok choy with leaves perforated by worms. There was always a line-up in front of the butcher, who was hacking a pork with his heavy knife. You just gave the butcher your ration coupon, and he knew how many grams of meat to cut for you. If you were lucky, you arrived at the time when the butcher reached a pork’s leg. If you were not lucky, you got in front when the butcher was dispensing a pork belly. There was no privilege to pick which part of the pig you wanted. The butcher tried his best to ensure that all buyers took home a mix of skin, fat and lean meat. However, a slight angling of the knife when cutting the meat could make a big difference in how much lean meat you got.

My father used to say: “It would be a good deal to marry our daughter to a butcher, so the family can always eat good meat. “

We ate chicken once a year. My mother would buy a live hen weeks before the Chinese New Year to make sure we had a chicken for the festivity. My father would circle ropes around the legs of our little table in the kitchen to make a chicken coop underneath it. It was the children’s job to feed the hen and fatten it before the slaughter. The kitchen would smell of chicken droppings before the New Year.

On the New Year’s Eve, my mother would boil a big pot of water, sharpen the knife, grab the hen’s wings and neck with one hand and slid the sharp knife through its neck with her other hand. She would hold the hen upside down to drain its blood in a bowl, tuck its head under its wing and let it cool down in a corner.   Sometimes the corpse still twitched a little. Then Mom would throw the chicken in the hot water and start plucking the feather. The big feathers were easy to pull out. The fine hair all over the body was a piece of work. My mother would give me a pair of tweezers and I would have to spend an hour or two before seeing the skin smooth and hairless. Then my mother would cut the chicken open. All insides of the chicken were edible and to be made into different dishes after much washing, chopping and salting. My mother let me pick the best feathers to make shuttlecocks to play with.

Years later, I left China to study abroad. The first time I walked into a supermarket, I was mesmerized by the abundance, the variety, the impeccably organized display and the gleaming cleanliness. That night I wrote to my parents: “Mom, you won’t believe me. Here you don’t have to kill a chicken and gut it! Everything has been done for you. Even more, you can just buy chicken breast or thighs! And pork meat! You can just buy pork chops, four or six of them, all lean and cut the same size, packed up neatly in a box, ready for the frying pan! Oh Mom, I wish you were here to see it! And Dad, I don’t have to marry a butcher to eat good meat!”

Dew Drops

Scenes in the Gym

“Seize every day & live a good life.” The advice of the gym’s founder is painted in big white letters across the black beam from wall to wall. The ground floor below the beam houses the muscle exercising and weigh lifting equipment.   Above the beam on the wrap-around open concept second floor stood all the cardio exercise beasts: elliptical machines, treadmills, stationary bikes and rowing machines.

On the ab crunch machine sits the young and fit Amy early in the morning, with her arms up holding on to the weights rocking back and forth.  Two strings of hair that were left out of her pony tail hanging in front of her red face. Her abdomen is so lean and flat; there doesn’t really seem to be anything to crunch.   Amy works long hours assisting in a legal firm. With salad packed in her bag, she starts her day fresh in the gym, long before sun rises, and get out of there even more fresh before the lawyers arrive at the office.

In the corner by the seated chest machine, old Mrs. Scape with her short white curly hair finds a little space in mid mornings where she half stretches her arms and moves her frail legs about. Using any of the equipment is beyond her capability, and she could do all these gentle movements at her old age home, but she would not give up the precious moment when she sits down at the bridge table in the evening, and her bridge partner Mrs. Noseley will invariably ask her: “So, what were you up to today, Rose?” And she will reply with a matter-of-fact expression: “Oh, I just went to work out in the gym.” She secretly savours the unspeakable pleasure of telling them that she got out of this death-in-the-air hole to be part of a sweat and youth site.

On the bench press Big John lies at the end of the day with a few hundred pounds of bells stacked on each end of the bar he holds above his chest. He puffs out a big breath while pushing up the monster weight, his tattooed chest and vain-popping arms looking ready to burst. The gap between his fifty-year old face and his thirty-year old body is bridged by a black baseball cap on his bald head. His shift at the nearby supermarket doesn’t spend him enough and he gifts his strength to the bell bars in the gym before he goes home, opens a beer and takes a bowl of chunky stew from his wife to nourish his much treasured muscles.

Then there is Nathan the trainer in his red jacket. His clients keep him there all day from 5:00am to 7:00pm on most days. He holds a notepad where he tracks the routines he assigns to them and the progresses they make. Today he is going to his mother’s place after the gym to let her pamper him with his favourite upside pineapple cake and celebrate his certification of level III personal trainer. Surely she will turn her head to Nathan’s younger brother, who is following Nathan’s suit to become a trainer after years of trying to figure out what to do but not quite ready to give up his sleep-in: “So, when are you going to get your certificate, George?” While George mumbles something, Nathan will take a big bite of his mother’s treat feeling really good.

Dew Drops

Scenes on the Floor

A new world appeared on the floor of my house since I had kids.

My middle daughter always drank milk lying on the floor when she was a toddler. As soon as she was given a bottle, she would immediately lie down on the linoleum floor of the kitchen, or on the wooden planks in the living room, or on the carpet in her bedroom, wherever she happened to be. She would be rocking herself gently side to side, cooing and humming, with her little legs up in the air sometimes, as if floating in some fairyland.   We would go around her and not disturb her in such a state of enjoyment.

There was a time when my first daughter loved all Schleich animals that came in a pair of mother and baby. So we would come across a mother mare and her baby pony grazing on the kitchen floor, a mother rhinoceros and her baby rhino sunbathing on the rug in the living room, or a mother bear and her baby cub roaming around the dining table. We would go around them and let them frolic to their heart’s content.

My son has so far pretty much lived on the floor in his twelve years of existence. He draws on his sketch book lying belly down on the floor. He checks his Instagram lying belly up on the carpet. He knits hats while sprawling himself across a stair with his shoulders leaning against the wall and his feet resting against the railing. We skip over his recumbent body as if he was part of the terrain in the house.

When the boy and his middle sister played together, we would see two bodies tangled up and rolling on the floor, arms wrestling, legs kicking, both giggling or screaming. The sister used to sit on her younger brother while browsing on Snapchat, but as the boy grew bigger, now he is the one who pins his sister flat on the floor, her long curly hair spread out like Medusa.

Santa Claus sent us a Labradoodle dog and a Bengal cat when kids repeatedly wrote to him.   The floor became their battleground too. The dog pounces on the cat and almost gobbles him up before spitting him out of his soft mouth. The cat sneaks upon the dog and jumps onto his face with his claws wide open. In times of truce, the dog lies on the floor resting with the cat spooning by his warm belly and purring tenderly.

I told my husband that when the kids all grew up, I would be sad to lose the world of wonder they made on our floor, so it would be up to us this time to create a new Atlantis on our floor somehow. His face spread wide into a huge ear-to-ear naughty grin, like that of the Grinch when he got his awful idea.

Dew Drops

First Date

After the beer by the fire, the dance in the barn, the frolicking on the grass, the train ride back to the city and more frolicking in my flat, we emerged from the extended party with hunger. We had not eaten in the past twenty four hours. I ran out to the nearest store and got some ready-to-eat roast chicken and spaghetti.

We sat down to eat at my little round table covered with a pale peach coloured table cloth that hung down elegantly all the way near the floor. A soft and tender light glowing through the lamp shade.   A prosperous philodendron plant hanging from the ceiling nearby. It was the first time we faced each other with the prospect of having a conversation across the table, like a first date.

“You want to see a trick?” He asked over the spaghetti in thick tomato sauce, his eyebrows tilting up its ends as if to put a question mark.

“Sure,” I said, thinking that he might pull out a rabbit under his sweater.

He picked up a long spaghetti with his fingers and started to push one end of it up his nostril. The spaghetti string was too soft to be pushed in straight, so he started to snort in to help it through the journey. The red tomato sauce started to get around his nose and his face.   Then he opened his mouth wide, and put in two fingers to catch the end of the spaghetti from his throat.   He caught it, and started pulling the spaghetti out of his mouth. The other end of the spaghetti string quickly flew up from the plate and flipped in the air a little like a little fish tail before he caught it with his other hand to stop it from disappearing into his nose. Now, he had both ends of the spaghetti string that travelled through his nostril, down the throat and out from his mouth.  Holding each end with two fingers of each hand, he began to pull the string back and forth through his nostril and mouth as if playing an instrument. The string was covered with gooey snot from his nose. He had a triumphant smile and red stains all over his face looking at me for amusement.

I was flabbergasted. If this was what he could do on our first date, what would he do next? I considered it and decided to take a second date.