Friday, May 27, 2005

Dont' Read While You Eat, Part III

In his seventh year, Huang Jing Liao, called “Little Fish” by his sisters after the legend “The Carp Jumps the Dragon Gate”, commenced study for the test which had to be passed to become a government official. Every other day Jing Liao walked to the river, took a ferry to the other side, then walked a mile to Bing Lai Village. Here along with a dozen hopeful scholars he was taught to read, write and memorize long historical documents. Often he would be accompanied by Second Sister. Second Sister, who since the death of First Sister during a Fever Time, was really First Sister, chose to retain the title of Second Sister in honor of the true First Sister’s memory. Second Sister attended the Martial Arts School of the village. Mother and Father Huang hoped that a fierce fighting girl would be less attractive as a wife, thereby insuring someone would be left to work the farm in their old age.

Initially, Second Sister and Jing Liao paid for they education with small surpluses from the farm. Later Second Sister paid for her schooling with money won in fights with boys in the marketplace. Jing Liao wished he could attend the Iron Rabbit School of Martial Arts, but alas he future was set, besides as a boy he could not attend. Iron Rabbit taught a style called Wing Tsun, which at that time was predominantly a woman’s form. All the same it was what he wanted to do most and took every opportunity, real and fabricated, to watch through the hole in the fence. He loved watching the girls practice. A casual observer might think Wing Tsun one of the ugliest Kung Fu styles, with toes turned inward in goat riding stance and constricted movements. Jing Liao found that if he looked into the empty space of the movements and softened he eyes he could see dragons. This, he felt, was important and indicted a thing to pursue.

Walking back from the ferry in the evening he always badgered Second Sister to show him some Wing Tsun, and she would, in return for some knowledge he had gleaned from his school. In this way Jing Liao learned Buddha Hand, Monkey Palm, Three Prayers to Buddha, Beggar’s Palm, Sticky Hands and Skirt Kicking, and Second Sister learned to read and write. On the days he did not go to school Jing Liao did not work on the farm, he had special dispensation; he had to study. The family’s Little Fish got the best of the food, was praised to the Heavens and received daily foot rubs. But still his sparkle began to recede. He even lost interest in watching the girls practice at the Iron Rabbit School; he no longer took pleasure in chasing the fat black chickens. His wrists looked like sticks, dark shadows pooled beneath his eyes and one day he could not get out of bed. Frantic, Mother Huang made him congee* cooked with special roots and berries. Youngest Sister tried to amuse him with her implausible stories. Still after three days he did not seem better. Little Fish was ten years old.

Outside in the purpling dusk a stranger to the family was walking along the road that led by the farm. His feet did not stir the dust and he burbled to himself, under his long beard, like a spring tree frog.

*Rice Soup, 1 part rice to 6 parts water, simmered for a minimum of 3 hours.

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