That China Girl

{May 2, 2011}   Nine-won-one

So Dad called from work this morning. I hear Mom scream in the kitchen, “turn on the TV!” And then she’s running into the living room, scaring Pippin who starts barking like crazy — not to mention poor Li Ayi who was just coming in the door with a her vegetables in pink plastic bags (which still look like the one’s my neighbor at home uses for dog poo, but that’ a whole other story).

But Mom grabs her and hugs her and says, “He’s dead. He’s DEAD! Osama Bin Laden is DEAD!” That’s when I get it, that okay this is a big deal. Even though Li Ayi is still looking a little confused. By now Mom has the TV on, and surprise — it’s not about China so CNN isn’t blacking it out. And there he is with his creepy fake holy-man face and collapsing pancake hat (no, not the white turban you see here, but the other hiking in the Tora Bora mountains one). Then Li Ayi looks and points as another picture flashes on the screen, which is of course of the Twin Towers on fire and a plane hitting them. Li Ayi shakes her head and says, “Bu hao!” which even I know means bad.

“No, it’s good!” Mom actually has tears in her eyes. “Hao, hao, very hao.” Li Ayi sort of looks taken aback by this. Or maybe like she thinks Mom is crazy because why would this American lady be happily pointing to a picture of a terrorist attack on her country?

“Mom I don’t think she understands that he’s dead,” I say, but Mom shushes me and turns up the sound as some old guy on CNN starts pointing to a map and explaining how they got him. Li Ayi looks a little relieved that Mom has gotten quiet and takes her vegetables and heads out to the kitchen, probably wondering about the crazy Americans she works for.

I know, I’m not a moron. This is a huge huge thing. I mean, I was only like five when it happened, but even I remember. Everybody always talks about how it was this picture perfect beautiful day. Blue skies. Great weather. But I wasn’t enjoying any of that. My Mom was still working then, except she was doing it from home because she’d been sick and she was really PMS-ing or something because every time she saw me she was yelling. I was sick too, or else I would have been at kindergarten being tortured by that weird kid who liked to kiss people. So I was just one more annoyance for her, especially after I dropped my comb in the toilet and it wouldn’t flush and all of the sudden there was poo (this seems to a theme) running onto the bathroom floor.

“God dammit, Taya! Now I have to call the plumber! Why don’t you just go watch cartoons or something!”

And so I sort of disappeared into the TV room and started watching “Dragon Tales,” wishing I could be whisked off somewhere magical too.

The phone and the doorbell must have rung at the same time. I remember Mom had the phone to her ear as she was showing the guy our toilet. Then she ran into the room and grabbed the remote without even asking. One minute we were riding on dragons and the next I was looking at burning buildings and my Mom wasn’t saying anything.

I don’t know how I knew it was Dad on the phone. For awhile she just held the phone to her ear and I don’t think he was talking either. Then she said, “Okay. I love you too,” — (which I’d never heard her say to him before) and put the phone in its cradle. She came over to where I was sitting and I got a little nervous thinking I was in trouble again, but instead she pulled me onto her lap. She didn’t say anything, but I remember she was shaking. We just kept watching those planes over and over. I peeked up at her once to see if she was crying and that’s when I got a little scared. She looked mad, madder even then when she’d yelled at me about the toilet. Her faced looked really tight and gray.

Then in walks the plumber. “Mam, I found the comb,” he says. “But I think you’re going to need a new one.” And he’s freaking carrying the toilet bowl. I mean, literally, he has this big white hunk of porcelain in his arms. Then he looks at the TV and I’m suprised he doesn’t drop it.

“What the hell?”

And my Mom, who I expected to lose it, starts explaining what she knows, which at that point, like all Americans, wasn’t much of anything. Pretty soon the guy is sitting next to us in a chair. The TV people are starting to figure out stuff and we’re hearing words like “hijacking” and “terrorists.” The plumber, this big sweaty, white guy with this really thick Boston accent says, “Why would anyone want to hurt us? What have we ever done?”

My Mom doesn’t say anything. Her face is still tight and she wont’ take her eyes off the TV. But she looks like she knows.


So now she’s watching the TV again — only in China, this time. It’s not too long before people start knocking at our door. In walks Mrs. Gately from next door, her ayi, some random Chinese guy — probably their driver, and another American lady, who I think Mrs. Gately introduces as Judy Storm, or something similarly fitting.

Everybody is talking at once and we’re all watching the TV. Then on comes the president and Mrs. Storm gets in a dig about him before he starts talking — telling us how they took out Osama Bin Laden. I’m not normally into death and army stuff, but it is pretty cool! Li Ayi has joined us and she’s talking to the other ayi and the Chinese guy and I guess they’ve explained it to her because she’s not looking at us like we’re crazy anymore. Even when they show a bunch of Americans cheering on the screen, “we’re number 1” and waving American flags.

Mrs. Gately leans over to my Mom and the three women start reminiscing about where they were on THE DAY. Mrs. Storm was in Germany at some sort of party. But Mrs. Gately was here in China. She gets all quiet as she tells my Mom that when the towers came down, the Chinese were cheering. She even remembers a taxi driver laughing as he told her about the attack.

That seems to put sort of a damper on our joint celebration. The Americans are sitting in a circle lost in their memories. I look over and Li Ayi is deep in conversation with Mrs. Gately’s maid and driver. They’re no longer watching the TV, but laughing at something the driver is saying. Were they cheering ten years ago?

We’re still new here, but I wonder if I’ll ever get this place. Li Ayi let me ride her bike last week. She seems to like us.

But still….it’s difficult to know who your friends are sometimes.


[…] forget Rule #2, as well.  Finally, it’s her nature to  go on and on, AND ON (like when her parents told her about Bin Laden’s death and she remembered back to 911.)  That means Rule #6 is pretty much shot as […]

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