Three Stories One Ending

The Mrs has the sniffles and a mild cough. Yesterday, she was worried enough to broach the matter about getting herself tested for COVID-19. A clear-cut decision, if you ask any doctor. Go! Get the test! I erred yet again. Instead, I suggested her symptoms are of a mild flu. No fever, no loss of smell, no severe sore throat, and no run on the toilet paper at home. Better to rest than to test. But, I did not stop her from getting herself tested. The damage was of course done. I get it, it is not something I have a say in. I am so stupid. Little Sis said so. “Show that you care! Don’t make her feel like she’s a second-class citizen!” That was exactly how The Mrs felt. I thought I did the right thing by reassuring her she is safe, COVID-safe. Instead, she felt I didn’t care. Feelings… I should add to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s very useful quote. “Words are the source of misunderstandings”. Rather, it is “Feelings and words are often the source of misunderstandings”. That is my conclusion. Even with the best intentions, I often get myself in trouble simply because someone “feels” wronged. Maybe it is how I react to accusations. When a very good intention is poorly delivered, it perhaps comes across as insulting or denigrating to the receiver. Accusations fly like sharp darts back at the giver. Rat-a-tat-tat. Tit-for-tat. My reactions are disproportionately strong, loud and fast. For that, I am sorry. I now know it is the ego that is slighted. The ego is the one that causes uncountable damage to our lives. Live and let live. Let go, go with the flow. Be the pebble in the pond, stay down there. Don’t cause ripples. I mistakenly thought my ego was tamed decades ago. Oblivious of my environment, I have allowed it to fester and maybe it has been allowed to prosper. My environment? As a young accountant, I was soon head of the administrative and accounting arm of the factory I worked for. Nine years later, I became my own boss. The Mrs held the title of Managing Director but my environment has been very much my own domain for many decades. I rule it with an iron fist and now I am aware of the damage that does to my ego. Has it always been my way or the highway? In my business, most certainly. I may have said to all my staff I have an “open-door” policy. But that is only because no one ever came to me with a better suggestion. Would I have entertained the idea that someone else knows better? Could I? I surely would. That no one came knocking at my door with a better proposal was certainly true until in recent years. First Son has proven he has many great ideas and he has executed them without fuss and commotion. The business, I know now, will be in very capable hands when I release the reins that I have clutched on so tightly from the beginning. Time to let go, go with the flow. Let the ego die.

Story by Yu Hua

Two nights ago, The Mrs asked me to put on a very well-written story she has been listening to for ma to watch on the big screen. Huo Zuo 活着 ,To Live. Many say the author, Yu Hua, deserves a literary award for it. Apart from Mo Yan and Gao Xingjian, the only Chinese writers to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, no other Chinese has been nominated for that award. Surely Yu Hua deserves it too. Zhang Yimou’s award-winning epic movie is 2 hours long, but it is over 7 hours shorter than the audio book. The movie stars Gong Li. She is enough reason for me to watch it. The story, narrated by a cadre who was tasked with collecting old songs and Chinese legends throughout the land, starts in the 1940’s before communism took over China. It was about the life story of an old peasant who was a travelling singer/puppeteer once upon a time. Prior to that, he was the only son of a prominent landlord in their township. Master ShaoYeh was a gambling addict who very soon squandered the family’s wealth. His father, the patriarch, died from rage and despair on the day the debt-collectors came. The matriarch didn’t survive much longer. To live. To carry on, to survive. ShaoYeh would live on to witness the despair, tyranny of poverty and war, and the demise of many of his loved ones throughout his life. The gorgeous Gong Li leaves him with their bubbly daughter soon after they were kicked out of their vast estate. But I knew she would reappear in the story, she being the star. ShaoYeh, now penniless, is given a set of paper puppets instead of a monetary loan that he seeks from the gambler who cheated him of his family’s wealth. That set of paper puppets is the means by which he ekes out a living as a travelling singer/puppeteer. War comes whilst he is touring the country with his band of musicians. He witnesses deaths by the thousands as the civil war rages. Eventually, he returns to his hometown and is reunited with his wife and their daughter, Fengxia, who is now deaf-mute due to a high fever. Gong Li is dishevelled and supposedly gaunt (although that still cannot hide her natural beauty). She looks shellshocked by the war but she is no empty shell, still with the vigour to support Fengxia and herself by selling hot water in vacuum flasks to the neighbours. Over the next decade, they live through a series of hardships, the death of their young boy being a real tear-jerker. In the book, his death is caused by medical negligence while donating blood to save a magistrate’s wife. But, his death in the movie is due to Shaoyeh‘s unfortunate decision to send him to school despite being without sleep for many nights. He is crushed by a careering truck whilst asleep by the side of a road. Another decade passes and life seems decidedly comfortable under communist rule. Maybe Yu Hua was required to rewrite history or his novel would not get published. In the movie, Fengxia marries an army officer with a very bad limp – a leg injury from the war? But, the movie retains some historical accuracy by showing the public humiliation of the elites, the intellectuals. scientists, doctors, scholars, professional musicians during the Cultural Revolution. One such person who is persecuted is the obstetrician of the local hospital. His absence from the maternity ward means that Fengxia dies during childbirth. The student cadres happily trumpet their success in delivering the baby son but they do not know how to save her. In the book, Fengxia‘s husband’s disability is a grotesque, crooked head, not a crooked leg. He dies in a construction accident and his son too dies an untimely death later – he chokes to death whilst eating beans. Gong Li too leaves ShaoYeh, succumbing to years of illness. ShaoYeh sees through his final years, filled with regret, sadness and loneliness. Life is a trap, either way he loses – had he not lost his family’s wealth, he would have been the aristocrat executed by Mao’s Red Guards.

Gong Li reminds me of Violet, my niece.

My mother related this story to Corinne, a favourite grand-daughter of hers last night. Ma hates the movie. “Why do you show me such a sad movie?” There is no hope, no promise of a better tomorrow. Just two hours of misery, tears and death. “No good!” I was having a cross-conversation with a brother-in-law at the dinner table. He was talking about the idea of doing up an old Kia Pregio and converting it into a camper van. If we cannot travel overseas for our holidays, if we dare not fly in a crammed aeroplane, why not visit this vast continent from the comfort of a camper van? “But, a Kia Pregio?” I asked. So, I found some reviews on-line about the Pregio and read them out. From one reviewer: “A few lemon issues, damn noisy valves, weak sheet metal, large areas dent easily, crappy paintwork, always changing tyres over, no aircond.” From another, “Driving for over half an hour makes you feel like screaming to block out the diesel chatter! Engine is awful, very noisy, gutless.” Hilarious was the third, “Radiators corrode very easily.
Parts are expensive.
Carpets are low quality.
Had an sudden failure with the alternator – it was giving too much voltage to the battery. Sulphuric smell everywhere in the car, the car battery was partly melted by the time I got to it.
Door handles break too easily.
Worst of all no workshop manual. All in all a total lemon , avoid avoid avoid.”

Right at that moment, ma exclaimed. “Bodoh!” In Malay language, it means stupid. We were not sure which story was stupid to her. My brother-in-law chuckled and was sure ma meant the absurd idea about the Pregio was stupid. Little Sis would suggest ma was referring to my idiotic outburst with The Mrs. If you ask Corinne, she will undoubtedly say it was the story “To Live” that was at fault. I still think ma meant me, the urghhling.