Soft Boiled Egg

Wah, Sir, you marry a dictionary and still speak so bad!

The package delivered to Mr Jones David, contained DVD’s. He signed for them as David Jones, and the Chinese delivery man read the signature as Jones David, seeing only what he wanted to see and David, long term Hong Kong resident, no longer bothered to correct this all too typical error.

He ripped open the packaging, discovered plastic covers and no labels, and could understand why they had been so cheap. The DVD’s he ordered were usually the latest English sitcoms. The jokes nowadays fell flat but he relished the words despite their satirizing a world that he now knew little of. Buried in the boondocks of Shatin City Plaza Three, he buzzed about the six hundred square feet of flattage like a bluebottle in a beer mug - not that one got bluebottles in Hong Kong. He wondered if real life was elsewhere. Maybe Jones David lived it? As David Jones froze in the air-conditioned shopping malls he imagined Jones David, international playboy, living a life of languid elegance featuring French Chateaus, halls of sunlit marble and gold statues, where dinner jacketed men raised their champagne glasses to the pale totty in the flowing gown and teetering heels. David Jones, school teacher, however had to put up with clanking lifts, brown water out of the shower, bags of rubbish in the corridors, and security grills locked tight before the doors as if they were in a top security prison rather than a housing estate.

“Drama,” proclaimed David, “Holds a mirror to the world. Discuss!”

He loved to throw in the word “Discuss.” His class were bemused teenage Chinese, whispering to each other hoping one or the other would translate Sir into Cantonese.

“Come on now, this is what we do in school, we discuss things.”

This was not what they did in school. They learnt things. Give them a list of facts, or not facts, it mattered little which, and they would recite it.

He had never been particularly racist. When working in a Peckham comprehensive, black, white, muslim, Jedi, it was all the same to him. Fourteen separate languages were spoken in his London Comprehensive, among them Ethiopian, and he had thought it amazing; such diversity, such a wide range of cultures and experiences to draw upon.

Swapping that for Hong Kong was supposed to be no more than another multi-cultural experience proving his superior liberality, only better. Except David came for the girls, or at least one girl, who happened to be Chinese, and for some reason felt there were more opportunities in Hong Kong. What she meant was there were more relatives in Hong Kong. In the UK she had been an exotic and pugnacious little sex machine. She was living pornography: “Oooh, you Gweilo, so big!” He had never been a racially stereotyped sex object before - or any kind of sex object for that matter. It worked for him. He was smitten, and would follow her anywhere. So here he was, in his six hundred square feet with the girl, the four year old daughter, a parade of sisters, brothers, cousins, and other people’s babies, while he worked in the local secondary school. And his Porn Queen became Bitch Wife Number One, controlling the bank accounts, doling out the pocket money, plotting school enrolment for the daughter and insisting he give her a son - only now she said: “I’m ready. Be quick.” And forgot all the erotic niceties.

They, them, the Chinese, had Shanghaid him, enslaved him, put him to task. He was required to give his genes to the pool and receive nothing in return. The money was slightly more than at home, but a con essentially: living conditions were crap; pensions were non-existent; political rights a joke even for the Chinese. Perhaps in the good old days when the white man ruled, David might have felt some pleasure. His role as devil man or white ghost, depending on who translated Gweilo for you, would have included a sense of power even if it had only been an illusion. Now, however, he was merely an immigrant, a minority, afforded little respect, given little leeway by a community where multi-culturalism was nothing more than a meaningless bullet point in some Civil Service department’s PowerPoint presentation, a left over from British rule and suspiciously a Western plot.

“Wah, you marry dictionary and still speak so bad!” joked his in-laws at his attempts to speak Cantonese. He spoke it as well as they spoke English but they dispirited him. “You become boiled egg now, white outside, yellow inside, ha ha haaa!” The Chinese ended every sentence with an embarrassed giggle… He could not say that. His “Racism Awareness Training”, RAT for short, made him say, “The Chinese that I know, end every sentence with an embarrassed giggle.”

“Come on! Drama! The mirror reflecting our experiences. Is this true?”
“It like a dream!” came the one quietly mumbled reply. A full ten minutes of coaxing had produced this one short sentence from one shy girl in white socks, spectacles, with a pink Hello Kitty barrette in her hair.
“Very well. Give me examples.”

Back in the UK, even among the Chinese in the class, there would have been a fight over this distinction. Someone would have said, “Bollocks”. Another would have yelled out that The Matrix - much favoured teen film incomprehensible to adults - was fucking spot on, like we all live in this big computer, programmed to feed the bastards who run the place. Someone would have done some funny voice about having a “cunning plan” - at least they would have ten years ago when the sit-com that catch phrase came from ran. Now, they would probably be yelling “I’m the only gay in the village,” the catch phrase from the latest award winning BBC comedy that David had just caught up with.

Here in Hong Kong, there was silence. “Come on, give me examples of drama as a dream and explain why this is not a reflection of reality and what it is a reflection of?”
“Just a dream, that all.”
“Is that all? Then why do people write it? Why do people fight for it? Why are we inspired, enthralled, impassioned by it? Why do we take our identities from it?”

Amidst the deadly silence he slumped down into his chair and muttered, “Why do I waste my life like this?”

“No one go to theatre, no one watch Hong Kong TV, they read only comic book, play only computer game, never get out the shopping mall,” explained his wife every three months for the past ten years when this happened, “That all they know about drama.”
“They’ve read Shakespeare! We’ve just done King Lear!”
“What that got to do with them?”

If the shenanigans over his father-in-law were anything to go by, Lear had everything to do with them! Chinese families, or at least this one, had rapacious daughters plotting the plundering of the estate, charting the insanity of the old man, and with true filial piety, making sure that he got his portion of salty cholesterol laden soups every day.

“He’s an old man,” they told the mother, “We need to make sure we all get a fair share.”

The sons plotted too, and the sons of the other “wife”, and then the “uncles” of the home village waited to pillage the old man’s clan assigned properties.

If none of this was Lear then what was? But they would not see, they would not make the leap of imagination, and he did not know whether he should care. But it would make his work less dull if they took to Shakespeare, though in Hong Kong nobody believed work should be interesting. In fact, why should anything be interesting? East met West and, as his wife might have said while in London studying for a degree in mathematics, cancelled the terms. She never finished that degree, swapping to an accountancy course after the first year.

“You work, make money,” said his wife, unable to understand his dissatisfaction.

“Stay after class,” he demanded of the one person who attempted to answer his unanswerable question. This proved that to answer a question was to court disaster; the gods would notice you and you would be in trouble.

“I just want to give you this,” he explained, hoping the gesture would encourage her, “You might find it interesting: English comedy show. Next lesson we are going to discuss the difference between Comedy and Drama. So here’s something funny to watch. And you can tell us all about it.”

Sue Peng, Little Peng as the Cantonese had it, seemed to regard it as punishment rather than preferred treatment. It was contamination. But then that was what education was all about: contamination. They were to be contaminated with English, prepared for a world dominated by Chinese forced to pay lip service to the need for dialogue with the powerful neighbour across the Pacific, which in reality they could ignore.

The weekend came with its usual hectic lull. A list of chores was handed to David: go to their parking garage -which of course was no where near the apartment- and get the people mover; use it to pick up two sisters, one brother, the mother; then ferry all of them over to the hospital where Old Wong lay - Gaga at sixty five, a stroke having rendered him incoherent, though, so his family worried, not enough to stop him from moving money to the various overseas accounts that his “other wife” had access to. Nobody had actually met the second wife, but she was believed to have an apartment in Shenzhen. David thought there was probably a very cheap prostitute, if not several, that saw to Old Wong’s needs, but Wong found it more prestigious to let everyone believe in the “other wife.” It made him a big man.

While the horde spent their time attempting to get the old guy to sign a contract, David was to deliver everyone’s children to the various piano teachers, maths crammers, and language schools that every three to four year old needed if they stood a chance of enrolment at a convenient school. All the dull faces that stumbled through David’s classes had been pre-educated like this, though David rather considered it more an inoculation than an education.

“Let them play, let them have fun,” said David.
“No time,” said his wife. “Can play have fun when they got money and no responsibility.”
“Like your father?”
“He selfish man. Never had education. That why we still have to work so hard.”

David never tired of wondering on just how many levels his wife totally misunderstood him. He dreamed of being like his father in-law, but knew that one step in that direction would also land him in a hospital bed, murdered by dimsum, or worse, stripped of all assets, and cast out without any idea where the money was hidden.

If he gave her a son then perhaps, stud duties performed, he would be allowed a little slack. She would lavish her attentions on the boy, beat him into submission and make it impossible for him to forget his old mother and leave her destitute. David could then make more visits home to wallow in the conviviality of The Pub and its endless attack on New Labour, the death of English league football, and the bloody Americans.

“You can never go home,” she told him.
“But you came home!”
“I come home and they say I’m false Chinese.”
“False Chinese?”
“And you now a boiled egg. No-one back home interested in you. They think you been in coma for ten year.”
“I have been!”
“Then what they think of me, coming back here, going back there, and you want Children be like that?”

Contaminated: the dirty little secret of the Gweilo is that he, or she, too is contaminated. Diversity of experience has turned to perversity. What was so exhilarating has become exhausting.

“Chart say I’m ready. Rush back this lunch time.”
“O, horrible! O, horrible! Most horrible!”
“What you say?”
“Hamlet’s father.”
“What that got to do with making a son?”
“Sorry. Mind elsewhere.”
“You hear what I say then?”
“Oh yes. Lunch time fuck. It’s in my palm pilot.”

The class were laughing when Sir walked in. And they did not quieten; restless and evil. A little more like those English comprehensive pupils he now thought of as lively and enquiring. Suddenly he recalled why he really escaped to Hong Kong.

“So, I see you are all prepared for our discussion?”

Sue Peng was not there. He was counting on her.

“And Miss Peng is where?”

More giggles, more whispers.

“Come on now! Tell me where she is? She hasn’t ducked out of this class because I gave her an assignment? Is that it? Is that it? What on earth is wrong with you people?”

He nearly said, “You Chinese!”

“Are you a Gay Lou, sir?”


The similarity between Gweilo, the tiresome name of the Westerner, and Gaylo, the not so Cantonese slang for homosexual, never failed to fascinate the teenage mind. Every year someone would crack this joke.

“Is this part of our discussion on humour?”

More sniggers.

Aah, thought David. He knew the source of the current line of thinking, the catch phrase: “The only gay in the village.”

“Excellent. I see you have been studying the source materials. In English we call this kind of humour, camp. It has a long and honourable tradition. Just as Chinese Drama required men to play the women’s roles, so did English drama. The first Juliet was a boy. Though one should not rush to announce As You Like It a Camp Comedy…”

David looked at the fidgeting, bored, uneasy children. He had enjoyed himself for a moment.

“But of course, all this is a bit complicated for you to understand. So, you tell me the difference between comedy and drama?”

A long fidgety silence was followed by a spotty boy, yawning and murmuring: “Comedy is funny. Drama isn’t.”

David wrote that down on the board and waited as the class pulled out their notebooks.

“And comedy is funny because: one, it has jokes; two, outrageous characters; three, absurd situations…”

Lunch time, he rushed home.

“Hurry up, trousers off,” she said, as he came through the door. “Not got long.”
“I can’t just do it! I have to gather my mental imagery, summon the whores in fishnets, picture the welts of the whips across the slut’s back… ”
“I thought of that.”
She picked up the remote control of the DVD player, hit play, dropped her pants and got down on all fours in front of the TV.
“You can see screen from there. Come on. Must be back at work in half hour.”

The theme tune of the latest award winning comedy from the BBC, began to play. “You see,” said fat little bald albino comedian, as the theme music subsided, “I’m the only gay in the village.” The laughter track cackled insanely at such wit and David lost all interest in his wife’s rump as he wondered what had become of the pornographic DVD she had ordered.

Disgrace beckoned, and he rather welcomed it. He could be drummed out of Hong Kong as a supplier of pornography to children. It did not have the kudos of deportation because of political activism but it would make it impossible for him to stay in Hong Kong. Perhaps a comic memoir of his days corrupting youth could make him a celebrity? Everything was an opportunity if it did not kill you. That was his motto.

“You finish?”
“I haven’t even started yet!”
“Wah, you useless. I got no time. You better be back early tonight before everyone home.”
“Can I go then?”
“No use you staying here.”

It was strangely liberating to return to work where, Adolf, the headmaster, Adolf Cheng, was waiting to see him. He asked David about the rumour that he was distributing gay pornography. There had been a complaint from the parents of Sue Peng.

“Gay pornography?”
“A lot of naked men.”
“All a misunderstanding,” he improvised, wondering if his wife, in all her Chinese perversity, had imagined that filling his head full of erect penises would somehow improve her chances of a boy, “I passed on a British sit-com for them to look at as part of our discussion of the differences between drama and comedy. Apparently there were a few off colour jokes that would probably have been bleeped out on local TV...”
“Oh yes. You know, Full Monty sort of stuff. Very famous British Comedy film about male strippers.”
“Wah,” said the Headmaster, “You not suppose to be funny. Just do the course work.”
“It is relevant.”
“No. Humour not good for the classroom. If her parents understood English, we would all be in real trouble. I tell them you probably buy pirate DVD and didn’t know real content. Next time you only give them serious homework.”
“They believe you?”
“Of course they believe me, I’m Headmaster!”

How disappointing, he thought, that the Chinese respect for authority meant that he could get away with anything short of buggering Adolf. But even that could not be counted on. He would probably end up deputy head.

“You stupid trying to impress little girls!” said his wife.
“I was not trying to impress anyone.”
“And you succeed.”
“I was broadening the curriculum.”
“And they think you want to get in pants of their daughter.”
“On the contrary they think I don’t.”
“Maybe that why you not have son. Not enough hormone.”
“I have hormone.” (How easy it is to slip into the pigeon of everyday.) “But not enough Whore Moans!” he added, just to assert his right of native speakers to word play.

His wife, Plum Blossom Jones, now standing before an altar to Guanyin and a sepia print of Whitby purchased while visiting his ancestral village in Yorkshire, had a sudden flash of inspiration.
“Ooh,” she said, “You get big pocket money this week.”
This was a new one.
“Carry on,” he said.
“I pay you good price.”
“Uh huh…”
“Money back if not satisfy though.”

There was no turning back now. A private account for secret liaisons across the border in ShenZhen - he could get the address from his father-in-law - then he would not be just a Gweilo, but a Feijai, a playboy, a big man - it beat a wet Sunday afternoon in Peckham. As he wife unzipped his trousers, he could feel Hong Kong tightening its grip on him.