December 12, 2003

Sometimes, it is good to tell a lie

I am in my favourite cafe in Shamian Dao. They have tables out in the open, right next to the river. I often end up here reading, writing, or just watching the glowing boats go by. The people working here have become friends. One girl asks me for a favour. She wants me to translate a text message from a foreign admirer, a customer who dropped in earlier in the day. I try with my terrible spoken Chinese.

He is asking, Can I meet you tomorrow?”
The girl (in horror), Bu yao!!.” (“don’t want.”) She adds something else which I do not understand. From her tone, I understand that she does not want to meet the man outside of the cafe.
Now, I have the difficult task of messaging back to the hopeful man on the other side. I toned down her response and type Sorry! Very busy tmrw…cannot meet.”

I see this one item hot coke with ginger” on their menu. It feels like a translation error. Once in a hotel in Zigong, a city in Sichuan, Ou showed me a dish Fried Indian with rice”. Out of curiosity, I ordered the hot coke with ginger” drink. It turned out exactly what it said - hot coke with ginger. Supposedly cures cold.

Cafe by the river on Shamian Dao

The nice thing about this cafe is that they let me stay well past the closing time. Jenny, the ever-smiling young woman who runs the place, dropped by for a chat. She is one of those youthful and bright-eyed people you meet all across China, working and studying part-time, some language, management or IT subjects. We talked about her job, her school and my travels.

I ask Jenny about her childhood days. She tells me about learning English phrases via foreign cartoons on TV and later enacting the scenes with her friends. It reminds me again of Ou. Ou once told me that the first English phrase she learnt to say fluently, prepare to die”, was from an American cartoon.


Jenny stares at the river. I can tell that she is thinking of her hometown. She says that she will go home to Guilin for the new year and I should come and visit her . She will show me all her childhood places. She asks me if I have been to her hometown before. Guilin was a city I visited in my very first trip to China. I am not sure if I will be in China around the new year, but it will be fun to help Jenny’s remember her childhood. Plus there is all that new year food. I lie Guilin, oh I have never been there. It is in Yunnan province, right?”

China People Guangzhou

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