Eleven short stories about modern China, written by a disillusioned and humorous Westerner observer in February 2020. The stories display a wide range of genres (satyrical vignettes, supernatural tales, essays, journals), appealing to even the most demanding reader; and what's best, they're short. Yellow fever: "Slang term used to mock non-Asian males who have a clear sexual preference for Asian women." (urbandictionary.com). Why is the author concealing himself with a pseudonym? In adopting a nom de plume I merely intend to safeguard myself from retaliation: not being blacklisted by the Party is one good point when your life is in the irritable and sweaty hands of Chinese government. The guy looks to be in trouble.
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People commonly travel around the world to see rivers and mountains, new stars, birds of rare plumage, queerly deformed fishes, ridiculous breeds of men – they abandon themselves to the bestial stupor which gapes at existence, and they think they have seen something. This does not interest me. (Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling)
I thought it would be civil to ask him for his story. He whistled loud. ‘Never had one,’ said he. ‘I like fun, that’s all.’ And he skipped out of the forecastle. (R. L. Stevenson, Kidnapped)
Purposes of The Yellow Fevered: to provide another self-indulgent account of a Westerner’s experience in China; to make a self-assessment; to consider, after many a year spent in the East, Chinese culture and influence; mostly to idle, pleading old bloke Wenchang Wang (文昌王, the Chinese god of literature, apparently) for forgiveness. In adopting a nom de plume I merely intend to safeguard myself from retaliation: not being blacklisted by the Party is one good point when your life is in the irritable and sweaty hands of Chinese government. If I failed to notice some fundamental aspects of modern China, or if my remarks turn out to be mere delusions, I'll find consolation in the fact that Marco Polo, as Bertrand Russell points out, never noticed Chinese women's small feet. Daphne Arfarda, February 2020, [email protected]
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Si l’homme, dans ses entreprises, agit indépendamment, il erre. S’il se soumet, il atteint sa fin.
Charlie must have been obnubilated by hunger or dullness when in his office, after having carelessly corrected the students’s papers (pointless remarks, dangling evaluations: the art of getting along), he had the unwanted feeling to ask Polly for a quick lunch together. Once he realized the lapse of reason, his tedious and disregarded assistant had already accepted the invitation, cheerfully; unleashing unpleasant consequences on the months to come, and impelling my gossipy self to narrate them.
Polly, whose Chinese name I have frankly forgotten, was a depressed twenty-six year old teacher-assistant at a somewhat semi-private university in the remote city of Fenzhou — a place I won't better pinpoint cause you aren't ever going to hear about it anyway. Her workload was five times higher than foreign professors but her income was one third of a basic expatriate's salary, and she was constantly exploited and mistreated by the management. She was gloomy, tired and frustrated. And yet her job, at that time, was but the last of her sorrows; a most dreadful and impious suffering burdened her soul with unbearable gravity, staining her very existence in front of society: she was still unmarried.
In that province, and in that county among many, the bride’s family receives a dowry at the act of marriage, and sometimes a very consisted one, because the younger and more attractive the girl, the higher the dowry. Unfortunately for Polly she couldn’t compete at all within the market: too careless to be desirable, too proud to be licentious and too old for Chinese marriage standards. She experienced every day the blows of social ineptitude: though her female students were just slightly younger than her, they all seemed at her antipodes, wearing short tight trousers and western-like neck-opened dresses, or elegant perturbing skirts (so much for Confucius). Either Polly had no taste for clothing, she didn’t care at all, or she behaved perhaps in a sort of stubbornly suffered rebellion; whatever the reason, her appearance was insignificant, when not slovenly, at the eyes of men. Moreover, her relatively remarkable education (she had a Master's in Something) was an utmost repellent to Han bachelors, resolutely unwilling to marry a woman who had pursued a higher degree than they had. Rules preserved since thousands years, that Polly could not escape. Her family wanted her to get married as soon as possible no matter the husband (well, as long as he could provide a dowry, of course, even though not so high in Polly’s case) and such a pressure ashamed reedy Polly, for nothing was ever happening in her life. Yes she had had a boyfriend, some time before, but she shamefully broke up after many a quarrel concerning her fiancé’s inclinations for gambling, drinking, stealing, even beating her (some men have a sixth sense for finding submissive women like Polly, and have no inhibitions in restlessly exploiting human feebleness, and wallets); obviously her father, that fervent raison d'état chap, had never approved of the break up! Insecure, ingenuous and soap-operas addict, a perfect victim for boyfriends, managers and colleagues, Polly was a character of memorable tragic stature; worthy, if not of a better life, at least of a better and more sympathetic narration than I can provide. But such is the way, for Polly.
The inner life of Charlie, on the contrary, was much tranquil, simple, if not mono-thematic: beside the teaching job, which he faced with idle and defiant incompetence, he was exclusively and by any means looking for dates. He frequented male company only if he thought it might eventually and rapidly facilitate female acquaintances, and his devotion to the cause was so overwhelming that his engaged or married male colleagues preferred not to invite him at any social gathering along with their ladies, for they feared to experience awkward moments. Mind you, not that Charlie was brilliant, charming or particularly fond on the art of seducing: he was a short and stocky Aussie ESL teacher in his forties, always wearing the same wasted leather jacket whether attending a class, a compulsory official meeting or a supposed-to-be-classy evening date. His plump company was agreeable for its simple and substantially honest attitude, unselfish and disregarding towards any pushing or unscrupulous ambition; you could trust him, in a way; it would be fine to have a coffee with him, I guess, if only someone could stand Chinese coffee, while tea is probably too long a ceremony to be endured with our émigré dandy. Fact is, people knew that Charlie simply couldn’t avoid narrating of the disturbing details of some recent dates, with photographic evidences when available: ‛Now look at this one and rate her, out of ten. Yeah, I’d say seven-point-five too, but after last night she arose to nine, man’, winking to the photo, proud, blessed. In melancholic times, such as a quick talk in early drowsy mornings before the school bell, he would recall distant yet unforgotten romances of the past, such as the “Bolivian laundress” he met when working as a “cocktail singer for an Aussie cruise ship in the Philippines”. Apparently his sojourn in China had one and only ambition, and nobody was interested in knowing the hidden sides perhaps populating his mind and free time. Don't misunderstand me, I like him: he was Charlie, and it was fine.
Polly and Charlie were in disinterested and polite terms since the very beginning of their work rapport, and shared only the time that was strictly necessary to be shared, during lessons or in their office — a large grey room disputed by mice and men, where teachers would take long naps (the “office hours” mentioned in the contract). Charlie never set an eye on Polly, while Polly was rather annoyed by his slovenly sideburns and his loafing and informal attitude towards the students, even though she scarcely had teaching experience and couldn’t yet really accuse him of unprofessional misconduct. Why did Charlie invite her for lunch? boredom, challenge, masochism, Todestrieb? And why did Polly accept? Well, fate is always lurking, you know, and ready to break out; no matter our inclinations, our faith, our will; and the Gods plot our misadventures for us then to take pleasure in recounting them; I mean, fellow reader, what can I tell you? Let's step back to our heroes.
On the way to the campus canteen, Charlie focused for a moment on his present state and finally realized he possibly had no wish to spend a boring lunch with his assistant. She was already chatting of the job, the school, the weather, the colleagues. . . oh no, please. . . Her limping English was tolerable that day, and the accent even fairer than Charlie’s rigmarole, but he simply couldn’t play the part of the gentleman, neither by silently nodding at her speeches: in truth he couldn’t stand the dismal boredom of conversing with an unattractive woman. That's it. On that point, our Charlie was firm against compromise; or perhaps, to say it candidly, he couldn't stand women tout-court. Anyway, facing the canteen entrance (an appalling sight, with trash all over the floor, as usual in forlorn Chinese suburban campuses) he invented a pretext to rapidly escape the danger, and it would all had worked properly if he hadn’t made an innocent but remarkable mistake: saying goodbye and apologizing for the unforeseen, sudden duty, he quickly and lightly gazed his mouth over Polly’s right cheek. This to be the blunder, as we’ll see, the poisoned pawn of the whole matter. Our hero then disappeared, following the distant silhouette of a girl he had noticed some moments before. Polly petrified as if under a spell, her pupils dilating, her thoughts breaking, her heartbeat rearing: a man had kissed her, after a long time, and she wondered if that was a cordial western social manner or the beginning of something obscure yet promising; life finally opening a new chapter. Whether Charlie truly liked her or not, for a glimpse she felt appreciated, and couldn’t resist in finding herself desired: that glimpse had to be protracted.
There was one faithful confidant in her life: her mother. Whenever Polly was eager to have a chat, she would phone mama and spend hours with her. Jesus. The arguments were the most obvious: job, salary, cuisine. . . and marriage. Polly told her what had happened with the foreigner, asking what to do next. On the phone she was direct, pragmatic: impressively unlike her real-life behaviour, a family talk was like business, or a war-briefing in blockbuster movies. It happened that her mother had lived in Singapore for a few years in her youth and never failed to boast about her knowledge of western people's customs, habits and football teams; wise and experienced, she found the daughter’s tale absolutely unremarkable, but couldn’t lose that business opportunity, though feeble and probably futile; she imperatively ordered Polly to deepen the subject. Charlie is the lucky shot I knew would have happened, thought Polly, and maybe I’ll soon get married. Married, hence free!
Days passed, and Polly did not experience any further attention from Charlie’s side: but she resolved to think his love was shy, therefore true, therefore all was well. In a dozen Chinese social-networks, she would coquettishly publish aphorisms about blissful love, sacred bonds and merry chains, so to make her acquaintances gossiping. Did she finally have a sweetheart? Nobody knew, nobody could congratulate her, yet she was delighted just the same, by reverie. The countenance became luminous, inasmuch that even her eyes seemed to glitter from the depths of her black-rimmed, bold, Shostakovich-like glasses. Colleagues and students couldn’t but notice a change in Polly. Even the micro cactus on her apartment’s windowsill seemed cheered up, from the campus road view, as she was feeling her triumph getting closer and closer: all this despite no evidences of it were manifesting. Far from declaring herself to Charlie (obviously she was afraid of this realm of bliss to cease), she justified her conduct by thinking it was the man’s duty (mais oui, the man's!) to start the courting game. Yep. Tragedy was approaching, full battle dressed.
Just when daydreaming became so meaningful in her life that she started looking for a double-bed accommodation (pink bedspreads, tall pillows, kittens, more kittens, kittens ad libitum
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