Here is another repost (the sequel of yesterday’s) from a year ago when I first started blogging. I’m pulling it from the archives of my old blog site to give it a bit of fresh air here. There will be a few of these in the next coming weeks. They will feature personal essays with poetry to give you a bit more of a colorful look into my life.
25-Years Ago Today Part II
Originally published 15 April 2021
It’s a boy! Don’t miss this exiting climax to the time I was Shanghaied.
#NaPoWriMo2021 No. 15/30
If you missed yesterday’s post, you’ll definitely want to take a moment to catch up with Part I first (I’d hate for you to miss all the warm-up and hit the climax prematurely; sexual innuendo intentional and relevant to the story ahead).
[continued from yesterday] I awoke with a start in Shanghai’s early morning hours. I checked my watch and saw I’d slept for at most two hours. My back ached from the bedrock I was laying on. The apartment was mostly silent. There were no more snores coming from the unknown future in-law in the next room. Just sounds of water running in pipes and some clinking and clattering from the street below as street vendors prepared for the breakfast rush. I lay there, still, needing to pee but to afraid to be a disturbance. As I waited uncomfortably, I fell back to sleep.
The next time I awoke it was to the sound of an argument. At least that is what I thought at the time. I couldn’t understand the Shanghainese words being spoken, but based on the urgent tone and the high volume, I interpreted it as a passionate disagreement. I was wrong, of course. As I would be many times in the future when I tried to apply my cultural reference points as a boy that grew up in the quite countryside of Vermont, to understand the goings on in a Shanghai family. It was just breakfast time and my future father-in-law had just returned from the street below announcing what was on the menu and how much it had cost. At least that is what I imagine he was saying, as there would be many future mornings ahead where that was the script.
I remember being nervous to open the bedroom door. I’d just travelled around the world on a crazy and bold adventure like a heroic knight on a quest to get to this point, but inside I was still the shy little boy I’d always been. The passion of love that had driven me down this wild path mixed with the anxiety of suddenly being in a strange land about to be bound into this family of strangers. But I needed to pee. And so the day began.
I vividly remember breakfast. There was a savory and flaky pastry rich with the flavor of roasted sesame seeds, which would become my staple breakfast soon. They don’t make them anymore like they used to back then. There was something about the mix of dirty fuel, reused cooking oil, and the various aromatics of life on a street that made everything taste better. I’m convinced that the problem with street food today is that it’s just too clean. It’s lost its characteristic flavors. There were other items for breakfast that day. A long oily fried dough stick. Plain rice porridge. Some spicy and salty pickles. Salty soy milk. But as write this it’s the sesame “dabin” that teases my taste buds with there memory. With that aromatic note…I’m breaking for breakfast and to grab a coffee. Be back in a bit.
Hahaha. I can’t believe it. I just went downstairs to grab breakfast and there on the table was a plastic bag of fresh “dabins”. Apparently my father-in-law made a breakfast run this morning. A much rarer occurrence now that he is in his 80’s. But when he does go, he almost always picks up some “dabins” for me. It’s his way of saying he cares.
Anyway, back to the big day. To be honest most of the rest of the day is a big blur in my memory. But there a couple of scenes that are vivid and I’ll focus on them.
After eating more than my fair share of the “dabins” for breakfast my mind turned back to the quickly approaching future. At this point the biggest worry on my mind was not that I was getting married that very day. It was the upcoming health check and the fertility testing requirement, which seemed absolutely crazy to me. Was I really going to have to do that! How does it even work? My mind was spinning with questions about the logistics and visions of all the knowing faces watching me as I handed over my sample. Aw we rode in the taxi to the health clinic/marriage licensing offices, I was silent. My wife-to-be asked me if anything was wrong. No, just tired. I’d said.
I don’t remember much. We waited on lines. There were various checks of heart, lungs, and other body parts. Nothing of consequence. Then the big moment came. I got on the line for the “Men’s Check”. When it was my turn, I walked in to see an old male doctor accompanied by a younger female nurse sitting behind the desk. The room was otherwise empty. No privacy curtains. Nothing. I handed my health check record card to the nurse and looked questioningly at the doctor. He said something and motioned for me to pull down my pants. Embarrassed, but not seeing any options, I complied. He mumbled something and then motioned for me to pull my pants back up. The nurse stamped a box on the card and handed it back to me. That was it. Confused but relieved I left the room with my health card now fully complete. The next line we’d get on would end in our marriage.
I figured it out later. Originally described as a check to “make sure we could have babies”, I had interpreted it very literally as a fertility check. But the real purpose of the check was to prevent same-sex marriages, which were (and are) illegal in China. So all they needed was a visual inspection to verify I did in fact have a penis. And she was also inspected to ensure she didn’t. A very simple matter in the end (although unfortunate that it’s a law that needs to be enforced).
The rest of the proceedings happened in the afterglow of NOT having to had to publicly masturbate. We handed over all of our documentation and payment for the marriage license fee. All was good. We were married. The certificate would be ready to pick-up in a week.
I have no specific memories of the dinner that night. I can’t even recall if we ate at the apartment or in a restaurant.
My final memory of 25-years ago today, was that night. Laying in bed next to her for the first time. Her family now sleeping in the room next door that I’d slept alone in the night before. We’d just made love for the very first time. And to be honest it was pretty terrible. I’ll forgo getting into any detail or excuses. It was what it was. We’d have at least 25 more years to make up for it.
So there it is. I hope your found this ‘lost in translation’ story of interest. I’ll be sharing more in future posts. Just one more note on our marriage. To this day we continue to celebrate April 15th as our marriage anniversary. The truth is that when we picked up the marriage certificate a week later it was dated April 21st (or perhaps 22nd, I’m not sure). We never mentioned this to the family as that would have implicated us having had sex before marriage. That may seem unimportant in today’s context, but back then it was of great importance for the respect of a Chinese girl and the honor of her family.
Ok, it’s time to get onward to poetry. After all it’s our 25th anniversary and we’ve got big plans to celebrate. Please leave a comment below letting me know you stopped by. Considering it an anniversary gift 🙂
[continued from yesterday]
Drunk Love (work-in-progress)
I saw her over the rim of the mizu-wari I was sipping;
She looked and gave a small wave in my direction;
Did she just wave at me?
Nah, it couldn’t possibly be.
Must have been a figment of my imagination
Or perhaps the effects of intoxication.
I had no idea what was about to unfold;
Her attention, an instant aphrodisiac, took hold;
A spark of hope arose within me;
Igniting a wildfire of possibilities.
Sure her beauty was a sight to behold;
But without hope, the spark would’ve gone cold.
The truth was she wasn’t so interested in me;
At least not particularly;
She just thought she’d get some English practice in;
And I looked like a relatively nice gaijin;
But hope, for me, was rare and precious;
And within an empty vacuum, quite infectious.
[…to be continued (someday)]
Sorry to leave you incomplete poetically, but it’s time to get on with my big day. I hope your appreciate the peek into my life and poetic process.