I’ll be home for Christmas…

December 3, 2006 at 11:27 am | Posted in Records of a Tiny Village | Leave a comment

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

If only in my dreams…

En Chang looked out of his office window to the bustling streets of the city as the radio on his table played on. It has been 5 years since he left the village for this job in the city. The job paid well, and the benefits were good. The civil war raged on, but the city was firmly in Republican hands. His participation in the Revolutionary Youth Party in college had helped him land this administive job. “We always have need for good young revolutionaries,” was what his superior said.

5 years since he had left the village. He could not go back. The village lay deep behind Imperial lines. There was no way for a member of the Republican government to safely make it past the frontlines. En Chang had been able to keep up with events at home thanks to Ah Eng who had graduated from St Bart’s and moved home to start a village newspaper. How Ah Eng managed to do it with Imperial blessings is a wonder, but who knows. They were old neighbours and En Chang, being older and “wiser,” used to take Ah Eng on adventures, like fishing or scouting out the girls at the next village (because everyone new the girls at the next village were prettier). So every now and then Ah Eng would smuggle a copy to En Chang.

This year though, there was a chance that En Chang could go home to see his parents and siblings. The Republican 5th Western Army had routed the 7th Imperial Legion. This meant that Coral City had fallen to the Republicans, and that put the village behind Republican lines. For once he could go home and catch up with Ah Ko and that crazy nut-loving Jun. It may be a little awkward though… En Chang was a staunch Republican, and he knew that most folks in the village didn’t care or were nominally pro-Imperial. He suspected Ah Eng would harbour Republican sympathies having studied at St Bart’s but he wasn’t so sure about his other friends. He knew Chun Ming had gone off to serve in the Imperial Army and was now a Captain at the Western Frontier. Perhaps Chun Ming could be convinced to swtich sides. God knows the Republican cause could use experienced warriors like Chun Ming. Fighting half-hearted Imperial troops was nothing compared to fighting savage nomads.

“Translator Lin, I have bad news for you,” En Chang’s superior spoke out loudly as he entered the room and took his coat off. “Eh? My leave is not approved?” En Chang asked a little down hearted. “Yeah. Absolutely and totally rejected,” his supervisor replied. “Oh… Well that is extremely upsetting. I had hoped to go home Supervisor Zhang…” En Chang replied now totally dejected. “Ha. Ha. Silly boy, with bad news I come bearing a Christmas present,” his supervisor half laughed, half spoke. “You’ve been promoted. Political Commissar Lin. That has a nice ring to it. Plus a military rank of Major to match. Ha. Ha. I dare say you now outrank me. Seems the Army boys out at Coral need some good old fashioned book thumping Republicanism. And the slackers upstairs decided you were the sucker, ahem, revolutionary for it. So you can go home often, plus you do not need to report to Coral until the second week of January. Go home and get packed. I don’t want to see you in here tomorrow, you political running dog,” En Chang’s supervisor boomed over the radio jovially. Everyone in the room rose to congratulate his promotion to political commissar.

Outside the snow fell heavily. Carol singers could be heard in the background…

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

If only in my dreams…

Unsettled Accounts

July 29, 2006 at 9:24 pm | Posted in Records of a Tiny Village | 8 Comments

Ah Ko stared out his window seemingly lost in his thoughts. I called out his name once more, attempting to shake him from his thoughts.

"Hmmmm…"

"Ah Ko what were you thinking of?"

"My younger days. Days of youthful vigour and folly. And of a lost love."

"You're not that old Ah Ko. You're only three years older than me. You love to exaggerate."

We laughed. We were not that old. I had just turned 27 and he was 30. Hardly the old men Ah Ko made us out to be. I knew of the lost love he mentioned. He was ribbing me. Ah Ko was happily married to Jing Lian with three wonderful kids, Guo Ming, Guo Cheng and Siu Feng.

I had just come back from the city for a visit. A visit to my old village. I was decided to stop by for a visit enroute to my new posting in the Western Frontier. Ah Ko was my first playmate and also an older brother of sorts. We had explored many places in our youth. My wanderlust never stopped and I drifted off to the city and eventually abroad. Ah Ko, on the other hand, settled down, married a wonderful wife and started a family.

The lost love Ah Ko mentioned was of my lost love. Not his… He and Jing Lian were in love since we all were children. Nothing would have stopped that marriage, not even their traditional parents. It was a good match anyway. No misgivings from either of their families. 

My lost love… Hui Min… I suppose that was one of the reasons that drove me to leave the confines of my childhood memories and wander the country. We were childhood friends and teenage lovers. Hui Min and I. We were the perfect couple in everyone's eyes. She was younger than me. My sister's best friend. We often hung out under the almond trees, playing silly childhood games. Ah Ko, Jing Lian, Hui Min, my sister and I. I am sure there were more, but my memory of those days are ever more distant.

I was young. I made many mistakes, and one made Hui Min leave me. Actually she did not leave me. I left her. I left her heartbroken when I told her to leave. We had miscommunicated. I had overreacted. The next thing we knew was her tearfully running out of the house with my sister, and I was on the first boat to the city. I had chosen to leave. Away from the village which I felt now held bad memories. I had left in a huff of anger, and now I return ten years later, hoping to make things right again.

"I'm guessing you'll be wanting to see her again," Ah Ko queried.

"Yes. That was one of the things on my to do list."

"Come now. We all know you came back for her."

"I suppose I'm that transparent. I have always been that way, haven't I? Thick and obvious. I was hoping age would have tempered that."

Ah Ko laughed. We laughed. Hui Min and I still wrote to each other, and when I came home to see the parents, we met up. Still there was a tension between us. I had numerous lovers, and she too had moved on. It was only when I had moved to the capital that I came to realise that I had let something so good go. I had resolved to get a posting near home and ask her for another chance.

I also knew that Hui Min had a lover. A German who had come to the village in search of a place to build a factory. He had been recalled to Germany, but I knew they still wrote each other. Yet here I was, an interloper. Attempting to steal her away from her lover.

How would she react to me? I do not know. I know each time we met, there was still a tension and also an intimacy between us. She was my first love and I was hers. That's one thing that we could never erase. We both knew still had feelings for each other. This time I had come back to apologise, even though I knew it was too little too late. I had to do this and I had to beg her for another chance. If I had known then what I now knew, I would have stayed. Too late for regrets, but not too late to get it right. Not too late to try again.

Who knows how this will end? I leave it to providence. It was providence that led her to me, and it was providence that kept us in touch throughout all these years. I could never forget her no matter how hard I tried, and just when I thought I was over her, she would send me that letter or show up. Heaven was not about to let me give her up and it is time for me to be pro-active. 

It is now or never… 

Cool, and surprisingly Warm

February 25, 2006 at 11:54 am | Posted in Records of a Tiny Village | 1 Comment

Jun was walking past rows and rows of trees, slowly admiring the each and everyone of them. Jun had been to the grove many many times. When the nut trees were flowering, when they were bearing nuts, and when they were bare. Each time he walked through the grove it gave him a different feeling.

This season had been a surprisingly cold winter. Jun could almost see the trees shivering, although he knew it was the just strong North wind blowing. Jun inspected the bark of the younger almond trees. They had hardly seen many years in their lifetime, but they bore the marks of the harshness they had to suffer in their younger days. The village had gone through some tough times, and the trees bore witness to that.

Not many people knew, but the almond is from the rose family. It also is a close relation of the peach. No one ever believed him when he took his dusty botanical tome of the shelf and showed them, they would say, “It’s a nut, Ming Jun , how can it be a rose? Peach? Silly Jun.”

Jun was always partial to those almond nuts. When he was young, his grandfather used to sit with him in the middle of the grove and talk about everything under sun. Those times though past, still evoked a warm feeling in Jun. Despite the cold, Jun felt warm amongst the trees.

“Just like a grove full of roses…”

Love Letters

February 23, 2006 at 1:03 pm | Posted in Records of a Tiny Village | Leave a comment

“Through Grace we are saved.”

Ah Eng walked under the gates of St Bartholomew’s College. He had left the village to come to the city to study Philosophy and English at St Bart’s. He always thanked his lucky stars that he had won a scholarship to study in the city’s best school.

“Eng, have some of these. These are yummy,” Jack, his classmate and best friend, shoved a bag of roasted Almonds into his hand. “Oh yeah. Mei stoped by earlier. She was looking for you,” Jack added. Ah Eng’s mind wandered to the letter he had written to Mei just the day ealier. The letter he had hurriedly placed in her hands as she was rushing off to her dance class.

Dearest Mei,

                 Since our serendipitous meeting that night at the Youth Forum, I have found it hard to take you off my mind. Every waking moment of mine is spent anticipating a glimpse of you. Whether it’s you rushing off to class, or to a meeting with your friend, I wait by my window just for a glimpse of you.

                Everytime we talk my heart beats a little faster, a small smile spreads across my face. This feeling of serenity washes over me whenever we talk. You take me away from all the problems and troubles of this world. In your eyes I see a tranquil garden, and I can only imagine where your tender carasses will take me. 

                I know you’ve always seen me as the happy-go-lucky, silly kid, but if you look deeper you will find a soul that understand the very nature of your soul. Just look harder and you will find me waiting right there for you.

Yours,

Ah Eng

“Eh? Eng? Are you ok?” Jack asked as he threw an Almond at Ah Eng. “Oh nothing. Yeah. I wonder why she’s looking for me,” Ah Eng replied somewhat dazed. “Ha. Ha. Women. Who knows what the hell they want,” Jack quiped.

Jack and Ah Eng passed under the gates of old St Bart’s, munching on Almonds.
“Through Grace we are saved.”

Old Man He

December 28, 2005 at 12:45 pm | Posted in Records of a Tiny Village | Leave a comment

Old Man He looked out his window and his eyes drifted to the River. For as long as recorded history the River has always run its course just north of the village. Every monsoon season it left rich alluvial soil on the fields when it flooded the banks. Sure it was a hassle for the villagers when it flooded, but it was also the lifeblood of the village. The River also served as a means of transportation. Just deep enough for boats to navigate its choppy waters. Yet the River was also a dangerous place with young children being swept away in its currents and never seen again.

Old Man He’s thoughts lingered on a memory some fifty odd years ago. He was a young man then, filled with hope and promise for the future. Yet on that faithful day the future would abandon him, and the River would be a bane to him.

Back then Old Man He was a fisherman. He lived off the River and what it could produce for him. He wasn’t particularly hardworking or clever, but he got by. It was a living. His real motivation in life was his sweetheart, a girl by the name of Mei Feng. She was the sweetest, prettiest girl in the village, and he loved her as she loved him. Fate, however, had other plans for the lovely young couple.

Old Man He had a temper back then, and a temper it was. One day the two of them had a quarrel, as couples are wont to, and he made the mistake of striking Mei Feng and letting his temper get the better of him. From that day forth, their bliss was turned to blight. In her eyes, he was no longer the charming fisherman she could rely on. Now he was just another man, with his flaws, with his weaknesses. He was no longer perfect.

It did not take long for Mei Feng to leave Old Man He, and despite his pleading and begging, she had made up her mind. She was going to leave him and the village behind. She still thought of the village fondly and cared deeply for him, but she did not have the strength to keep trying. Old Man He was mortal afterall, and would continually fail. His humanity would be the specter that huanted her. He was not the perfection that Mei Feng had initially thought he was.

So at the end of the nut season, when the River was at its highest, Mei Feng boarded a boat headed to a far away port city. Far from this village that held such bad memories. Old Man He tried to stop her for one last time, but he knew deep down inside that the magic was over and the love had died. He still loved her, and he told her so. She acknowledged that and told him that she would write to him ever so often, to check up on her fisherman. The love was dead for her, but not the care, the concern or the fact that she still connected deeply with Old Man He.

The River had taken away the one thing Old Man He loved the most. Fifty years ago Mei Feng left on the slow boat and drifted away. They communicated, they talked, but the seasons came and went, and their lives went in seperate directions. She loved the city, stayed there and started a family. He left for the local township by foot, even though the River would have been faster, learnt carpentry and returned to the village to be a carpenter. Old Man He spent most of the last fifty years building useful objects for the people of the village, but he never used the River again. The only time he did, was when he helped the central government build a bridge across the River so that a ferry would not be needed to get to the other side. That was his revenge against the River. Was it right for him to hate the River such? Probably not. Yet all the same, each day he would look upon the River and curse it.

“Uncle He, is my chair fixed?” My question jolted him from his thoughts. He smiled at me, lit up his pipe and nodded. I took my chair, walked out and headed for the River banks. Under a willow I sat on my newly fixed chair, reading my book and listening to the calming rhythms of that old River.

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