Fulling Cloth in Autumn

Reid Mitchell
Dec 13th, 2013

Last Friday I had to go to a “Western” restaurant and bar, part of a chain, across from campus to tell Miko good-bye. Miko tells me she is a roaming manager for this company, helping set up new restaurants and troubleshooting existing ones.  She's been at this restaurant for over a year but is finally being exiled to some even more distant suburb of Beijing, a district for the nouveau rich whose children might want to eat bad pizza and strange hamburgers while drinking cheap beer.  I had bumped into her at the adjacent Szechuan restaurant and promised to come buy her a valedictory drink.

So, after I’d consumed two strange hamburgers and several Yanying beers, Miko, a woman somewhere between twenty-six and thirty-two, joined me and we started drinking single malt Scotch.  Miko's English is excellent, which might be why she is a manager of restaurants named after China's favorite American basketball team.  She told me that at university, she’d had little interest in English, and indeed majored in Chinese, concentrating on Classical Chinese poetry.

‘Of course, you can never understand our poetry,” she said, “unless you speak Chinese.’

I agreed, and not just to be polite.

‘You know, it is not just the language, it is the way we Chinese do not express emotions directly.  Emotions such as love.’

I said, ‘You must mean saying things like,

 

‘The leaves fall from the trees

In the eastern courtyard the grass turns brown

Standing at the window wearing no make up

Too tired to wash my hair.’

 

She said, ‘Oh my God!’ – just like a Valley Girl – ‘Which poem is that?’

I said, ‘Who knows? It’s not any poem in particular but it is ten thousand Chinese poems.’

She pulled out a notebook and showed me the lyrics of the songs she has written, slowly translating them into simple English as if I am an idiot even in my own language, or she is an idiot, or we are two Scotch-drunk idiots together.

Then, after promising to send me more lyrics the next day, she called her friends and took a taxi to Sanlitun. 

I do not expect to hear from her again. Meanwhile, despite her boasted Chinese emotional reticence, all the lyrics she showed me last week were unabashed love songs about women with broken hearts.

 

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Reid Mitchell
USA
Last blog date: Jan 5th, 2015

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