Friday, June 5, 2009

Tales of the Black Ox Prince and the Wandering Maiden (1)

Once upon a time in a land far away lived a fair maiden with snow-white skin and mouse-brown hair. She lit her lamp and wandered the world looking for a man worthy of her hand in marriage. She tried the men in Latin America, but they partied too hard and liked to fight (with her). She tried the men in Germany, but they were too cold and rigid. Finally, she landed on the isle of Formosa where she stayed and worked awhile. And there she met the Black Ox Prince...

Starting to clear the barbecue and game field.

Working after dinner to clear the barbecue and game field:

Liu Yuni (far left) can lift the hoe all the way over his head.

Lazy boy/large eater (center) can't even get his hoe up above his knee.

Wandering maiden looks at lazy boy in disgust.

Foreman's children also help clear the land. (Click to enlarge for a comparison of the physiques on the various men... need I say more?)

Barbecue time. Note the women tending the fires and the wandering maiden on her swing.

Many of the universities went back into session during the last week of August. One exception was National Taiwan Institute of Technology (now National Taiwan University of Technology). Liu Yuni was a student at this school, and because the university was geared towards technology, many students did summer internships. Classes didn’t begin until mid-September at that school. Liu Yuni got a group of his close school friends to come up for the last three weeks of summer to do the final clearing of brush before the surveyors went in. I continued to go up every day to cook and work. The foreman just gave Liu Yuni money for groceries and stopped going to the property. I rode the bus from Taipei every morning at 6 am and took the last bus home every evening at 7 pm.

On the third day of this arrangement, as I was walking into the property from the bus stop, I heard the sound of a quacking duck (Vespa horns are really worthless). Liu Yuni came from the market in the opposite direction with two loaves of bread and a jug of milk on his floor board. He asked me if I wanted a ride. Since I still had another twenty minutes of walking ahead of me, I hopped on, and we putted off to the property. The other men were just finishing breakfast, and they were eating the last of a loaf of bread. I asked why Liu Yuni had gone out for bread since they still had some. He replied that the bread was now gone, and they usually had peanut butter sandwiches and milk for a bed-time snack. That seemed reasonable, so I began getting ready for my day. Things went pretty much as usual; I worked until 11, made lunch, went back to work in the afternoon until 5, made dinner, and then started out for the bus home.

The next morning, as I was walking in from the bus, Liu Yuni was there again on his motorcycle with another two loaves of bread. He gave me another ride in. The other men had already finished eating, and I didn’t see any bread in the kitchen, so I assumed they had had a large midnight snack. I put extra rice in the cooker for lunch and dinner, thinking I was not giving them enough to eat. I also added extra meat to both lunch and dinner. They all ate until they were stuffed.

The following day, I again heard the duck-quack horn and was picked up by Liu Yuni with two more loaves of bread. I was slightly suspicious, but I didn’t say anything. That day when I was making lunch, I searched all the bins and boxes in the kitchen. I found four moldy loaves of bread in a box under a pile of cooking implements. So they weren’t eating sandwiches all night. That set me to thinking. And I formulated a plan. The next morning when Liu Yuni came with yet more bread to pick me up, I asked him what he was looking for in a girlfriend. He said, “Someone like you,” and proceeded to get so embarrassed that he almost steered us off the road into a grove of bamboo. That day at lunch, I pulled out the moldy loaves of bread, and told him that I didn’t mind getting rides to and from the bus station, but he didn’t need to waste money buying unwanted loaves of bread. His friends all had a good laugh. From then on, I cut six miles walking off my days. I knew that Chinese girls were not supposed to make the first move in a relationship, so I decided to see what he would do next.

For another week, he ferried me to and from the bus station, but he said nothing more about why he was doing so. It came down to the last week of summer work, and then I would need to go back to my translation group in Taipei. And still Liu Yuni said nothing. We had three days left; Andrew Marvell’s words were twisting themselves in my dreams: “If we had world enough and time, / This coyness Yuni were no crime…” I knew I had to nudge things along, but what was a girl to do?

His friends were also up to something. They kept developing sudden urges to run back as a group to the cabin to “use the restroom”, leaving the two of us alone together. Finally, as we were digging bamboo shoots for the soup that evening, and all his friends had abandoned us, I asked Liu Yuni what his parents would think if he had an American girlfriend. He blushed bright red under his dark tan and said, “If they don’t agree to our getting married, we’ll just elope!” I had to bite my cheeks to keep from laughing. I said, “Oh, but we haven’t even gone on a date. Isn’t it a bit early to talk about eloping?” Since I had had the bad experience with that other potential suitor whose mother had forced him to look elsewhere, I insisted that Liu Yuni at least show my picture to his parents before we took things any further, especially since he was already thinking of eloping.

The next morning he told me that he had ridden home after depositing me at the bus station. His mother had said, “Your horoscope says you will marry a girl from far away. I thought you would marry someone from down South, from Kaohsiung. Aren’t there enough girls in Taiwan for you to find someone? Why do you have to go out with a girl from America?” But because the horoscope said he was going to marry someone from far away and because his father was just recovering from a business failure, his parents did not object to our dating. Liu Yuni said the next step was for him to talk to General Manager and ask for permission to court me. I thought this was a little much, but he said that since I didn’t have any male relatives here in Taiwan, and because his English wasn’t good enough to speak with my father over the phone, he was going to speak with General Manager, who stood in loco parentis for me.

The foreman came up on the last night of summer and brought delicious boxed dinners from a nearby restaurant. He asked all the men in this last group of workers about their school and their career plans. When he learned that Liu Yuni should have graduated the preceding June, but had failed two sections of English and was staying in school for an extra year to complete those required units, the foreman asked me if there was a way I could give English lessons. I was quite happy to oblige. The foreman offered Liu Yuni a job living on the property as a caretaker five nights a week. Liu Yuni had English class at school every Tuesday and Thursday evening, and then I would tutor him in English at a coffee shop near my apartment after his classes were out. Of course, the foreman knew nothing about our plans to start dating; he was just trying to help a promising young talent in construction arts. We did not feel the need to enlighten him.


Linda McLaughlin said...

Astrology rocks! I love it. :)

Teresa said...

Yes. That was not astrology as you know it. His maternal grandfather knew how to use the I Ching to cast horoscopes. That was in his birth horoscope. I think that was one reason the family was so accepting of me.

Cloudia said...

Thanks for sharing this sweet story - and your friendship with us readers. Aloha
ps: Been studying the I ching for 40 years - just scratching the surface!

Teresa said...

Hi Cloudia,

Yes, the I Ching is rather difficult to get into. 40 years study is quite impressive.

Glad you liked my story. It is fun to go back and reminisce.


murat11 said...

Great story. Seems the Black Ox Prince also had the independence of mind you were looking for, too.

Teresa said...

Yes, Murat. I would say independence of mind is one of his defining characteristics.