Another weekend was here. It was an unusually fine day for the Scottish standard, with warm sunshine and bright blue sky. In an effort to make up for our previous unpleasant exchange, Mo called me from a phone box, suggesting cinema that evening.
Never one to bear grudges for long, I was in a fabulous mood, having just finished tutoring Chinese to Neil that afternoon. He had paid me twenty pound cash for a two-hour lesson. It made me feel unbelievably useful and super rich. Neil was an RAF pilot and had recently broken his leg in a car accident, grounding him for months. “I want to go cycling in China and climb the Great Wall in five years’ time.” Neil had told me enthusiastically, “Learning Chinese would be part of my preparation.”
“Wonderful.” I was over the moon, more than happy to help him in achieving his dreams.
“Sure,” I cheerfully agreed to the night out with Mo, adding that we go for a meal first. “My treat. We’ll meet at the Canton Express, the Chinese fast food restaurant opposite Odeon. You know the one? I’ll see you there in an hour’s time. Bye!” I put down the phone, wearing a huge smile. Eating out would be a welcoming change for a struggling student; I adored the idea.
A quick dress-up in a new red cotton top from the Top Shop and a pair of faded jeans, and a swift touch of matching lip-gloss, I was on my way. 45 minutes later, I was in front of the designated restaurant on the ever so busy Sauchiehall Street.
He was five minutes late; I had been waiting for twenty minutes. Never a patient soul, I hated waiting for anyone or anything. By the time Mo appeared, my temper was on the verge of bursting. I watched him peering around, wearing a worried expression, as if he was doing something unlawful and afraid to get caught.
Then he saw me. Without that sparkly smile he usually gave me, he came closer: “Are you sure you want to eat here?”
“Yes, why not? Do you have a better suggestion?” My voice rose, my impatience increased after I sensed his reluctance.
“No, I just thought… well, it’s quite… I mean, I have never eaten out before, I mean, since I arrived in Glasgow.” His face reddened with embarrassment, and a wee touch of agitation that he was forced to come clean.
I knew what was troubling his brain. Money worries, and perhaps the fear of being spotted by other Chinese? On a Saturday evening, it was unlikely to meet other Chinese students and scholars, too busy packing Chinese take-away meals, waiting hungry customers. On my part, I had already set my heart in ‘indulging myself’ and I was starving. When my stomach sang, there was no reasoning good enough to talk me out of feeding.
Ignoring him, I barged into the restaurant, straight towards the counter. He trailed behind. The waiter said something in Cantonese, of which I did not have a clue. I assumed that he was asking for my order, so I told him what I wanted in English. In a small and uncertain voice, Mo placed his order.
I picked a small table at the corner. Mo sat nearby. I refused to look at him, nor in the mood for conversation. Typical of Cantonese efficiency, the food arrived quickly. We ate in silence, like two strangers. This incident has completely spoilt my appetite and ruined the high spirits, I thought bitterly. It reminded me of times when I had constant rows over money with my ex husband. Life was too short; one thing I could not stand was mean, tight-fisted men.
On putting down the chopsticks and leaving my half-eaten Chicken Noodle soup on the plate, I approached the counter. “Ten pounds for two, please.” The waiter looked at me, and then Mo, in secret amusement. I knew what he must be thinking. It was not the first nor last time he witnessed couples in a silent war. Giving the other half cold shoulders in public was common place. Not only did we Chinese believe in ‘giving face’, we were also expert in ‘tearing away faces’, ‘slapping’ or ‘shaming’ others in grand style. Nothing less would do.
No more cinema, fun night out of the window. Silently, Mo trailed behind, standing a few yards away while waiting for the Tube train. On arriving at my flat I quickened my steps and headed to the top floor, wishing that he would just disappear. On entering my antic room, Mo took out a Scottish ten-pound note from his wallet, throwing it at me, landing on the table between us.
“Who do you think you are?” he hissed. “Don’t you forget that like me, you are Chinese!” His arms waved excitedly; his voice maximising its volume. No more sweet talk.
I turned to look at him, his handsome face twisted in a fury. Strangely, my voice turned dead clam: “What are you talking about? I told you that it was my treat.” I pushed his note across the table.
Rage took hold of him. He started barking, like a mad dog. “Do you think you’re superior? Remember, you’re no different, you’re also Chinese.”
I held his stare for a brief moment. “Yes, I AM CHINESE.” I emphasised each word. Why did he have to remind me of that simple fact? My temper kept rising and my contempt growing.
“Take your bloody money and leave me alone!” I turned my back to him, shocked and disgusted at his reactions.
Without another word, he stormed out of my flat, slamming the door behind him.
The tension was at last let loose; his accusation began swarming in my head, his voice lingering, like a fly. Uncontrollable flood of tears rolled down my cheeks. Coherent thinking evaded me. Darkness engulfed me.
In the small hours of that cold morning, unable to fall sleep, I sat up on my bed and took out my notebook.
Ever since I came to this country, I have been forced to reinforce my identity as a Chinese person, especially when people mistook me as a Japanese. In fact, not only did I have to tell people that I was Chinese; but also I had to specify that I came from Mainland China, not Taiwan, nor Singapore or anywhere else on earth. Of course, I am damn sure that I am Chinese and I’ll always be. That will not change.
Mo’s words cut me deep. It hit me hard on a sore spot. What is he accusing me of? Of treason? Does he think I’m too westernised to behave in a typical Chinese way? Just because I wanted to eat out and spent a little money, does it mark me out as non-Chinese?
On reflection, perhaps he felt offended because I paid. What an unbearable shame for a Chinese male, to allow a lady to splash out! If that were the case, I feel sorry for him. Has all these years promoting equality come to this? What’s the bloody big deal?
The next day, Mo called, as if nothing had happened. He wanted to see me again.
“It’s over, Mo.” I said, simple and final.
He called again and wrote letters. I ignored them. Apologising was an alien concept, hence absent in many Chinese communications. Contrived explanations were redundant. Besides, what could he possibly apologise for? After all, everyone was allowed his or her own opinions. Mo had his value system and I had mine. His did not make him more Chinese, nor his views more valid than mine.
“You’re also Chinese.” Every now and then, that remark would ring in my ears, disturbing my peace of mind.