“Jende ma? Wo hen dwo xiangxin. [Really? I believe you very much]. Dzai Meigo, womendo jia jiege Sh-ASS-ta. [In the United States, we all call this Sh-ASS-ta],” Robert replied. “Keyi ma? [May I please have some more?]”
“Dwei, dwei, dwei. Hebei [Of course, of course, of course. Drink your cup.],” was the answer and the bottle, wrapped in yellow crinkly cellophane was again proffered with as much flourish as a loincloth wearing Chinese fisherman could flourish which was a lot. “He, he, he. [Drink, drink, drink].”
“What is this shit?” Sara asked over her cup and stubbed her bootleg Winston cigarette into the eyeball of one of the many scattered fish heads, fish parts, fishing gear, and generalized trash of this fisherman’s shack.
“This is the best black cherry champagne in the world,” Robert told her.
“I got that part. I’m asking you what kind of shit I’m drinking.”
“It’s probably soda pop dosed with pure grain alcohol and antifreeze.”
“See? That’s all I wanted to know,” she said, kicking another fish-head out of kicking range. The champagne was only marginally better than the baijiou they had been drinking up to that point.
“Wo xihuan niede difang,” she directed to her host. “I like your place.”
Using her best Chinese manners, Sara spat out the low doorway to show the host how much she liked it there by not spitting on his floor.
The host beamed because he liked it, too. He’d built it himself out of driftwood and industrial waste. With its beach-front location and views of the harbor, it was quite a bachelor pad and who knew how many young Chinese women had been tempted into its confines. How many young Chinese fisherwomen had actually given it up in there was questionable, but certainly some had been tempted, especially if the host kept the world’s best black cherry champagne lying around all the time. Surely it was not just for foreigners because the last time foreigners had been inside this little seaside hut was never. The host kept looking at Sara’s legs, revealed as they were by her Capri pants.
“He likes you,” Robert said.
“He likes my legs,” she answered. “He likes you as a human being. He likes you as a dead foreign devil ghost barbarian frenemy .”
“As well he should. I sort of set the standard,” Robert agreed.
“You do? I mean, you do.”
“You do. I mean you do try,” she replied. “But when’s this other guy supposed to get here?”
“Niede pongyo lai shemma shiho? [When is your friend coming?].” Robert asked the host.
“Lai kuaide, kuaide, kuaide. [He’s coming quickly, quickly, quickly].”
“Ni shuo iyangde dou shiho keshi ta bu lai. [You say that all the time but he doesn’t come.],” Sara almost snapped the words but her lips remained wrapped around her cup. Maybe the host didn’t hear her as he kept his eyes fastened on the shack’s open door.
“Ta lai xiendzai. [He’s coming now.],” the host said. And the mystery guest was, indeed walking up the beach followed by a small entourage of children and young men. The guest seemed much older than young, though, and Robert and Sara had been promised he spoke English.
“He says that all the time, too.”
“What else have we got to do but sit in a smelly beach shack waiting for someone who speaks English?”
“We speak English.”
“But, we’re not Chinese.”
“Got that right. Give me some more of this excellent black cherry champagne.”
As Chinese men and boys began to squeeze into the low, narrow doorway, the host began slapping most of them back and shooing them out with rapid-fire dialect that sounded neither welcoming nor warm.
The guest looked at each of them, the host and Robert and Sara, in turn with a sickly grin on his face. Robert and Sara were used to sickly grins on Chinese people’s faces and wondered what was going to come next.
“Wode pongyou [My friend],” the host explained while gripping the guest’s forearm until it turned white. “Ta jiang ta shuo Ingyue. [He says he speaks English.]”
“Hmmm. I thought the host said he did speak English. Now it’s just a claim?” Robert said.
“What did you expect? We’re in the middle of the Neibu Zone ,” Sara answered.
“Jieshi wode pongyou, [This is my friend].” said the host. “Jia Xiaotou. [He’s called Small Head.]”
Both Sara and Robert snorted and burbled the Chinese equivalent of “pleased to meet you”—“Hau, hau, hau” or “good, good, good.”
And then there was silence.
But there was always more black cherry champagne, the best in the world.
“Ummm…weishemma jia Xiaotou? [Ummm…Why is he called Small Head?]” Sara asked.
“Bu zhidao [I don’t know.],” the host answered but he did. Robert and Sara imagined everyone knew why that guy was called Small Head.
Small Head, whose head wasn’t small at all, just grinned.
“Bu zhidao,” the host repeated.
“Keshi, ni tou bu shi xiao. Bu kan hen xiao. Bu hen xiao. [But your head isn’t small. It doesn’t look small. Not very small.]” Sara pressed.
“Keshi, dagai limian [Maybe inside],” Small Head replied.
“Ahhh,” said Sara.
“Ahhh,” said Robert.
“Ahhh,” said the host.
“Ahhh,” said Small Head.
“He doesn’t speak English, does he?” Robert asked.
“I don’t think so,” Sara replied.
“What are we going to do if he tries?”
“Play along. We are guests here.”
“Purdy pardy arda pardaciple,” Small Head said.
The host looked anxious.
“There it is,” Robert said.
“There is what?” asked Sara.
“There’s the English.”
“Ardy ard ah pard ah pardapard,” Small Head continued.
“Well, he’s got the rhythm right.”
“Yeah. It’s practically iambic pentameter.”
“Shemme jiang? [What did he say?]” the host asked.
“Ta shuo, ‘Pardy ardy ardy pard ah [He said, "Pardy ardy ardy pard ah."],” Sara snorted.
“Shemma yisi? [What is the meaning?]” the host asked. “Ta shuo shemma? [What did he say?]”
“Well,” Robert answered. “He said, ‘Hello, my new friends.’”
The host and Small Head looked blank.
“Robert,” Sara said.
“Only two of us here speak English.”
“Oh, right. Ta shuo, ‘Nihau, wode xin pongyou. [He said, ‘Hello, my new friends.’]”
“Very good. Very quick,” Sara smiled.
The host and Small Head nodded and smiled together, one meaning “I never would have believed it” and the other “I told you so.”
“Jixu [Continue],” said the host.
Small Head turned his head away from the host, cleared his throat, and shot a grateful glance at Robert.
“Pard ard pardapard,” he began. “Paradarp prada prada darp darpa prad pra para darpapard.”
“Oh ho,” Sara giggled. “That’s a tough one.”
The host looked to Robert.
“A-fucking-mazing,” Robert answered while holding his cup out for more of that excellent black cherry champagne. The bottle was getting low and that was not good. Perhaps there was more stashed around somewhere. Or some baijou or even just some pijou [beer].
Robert took a deep breath.
“Ta shuo, ‘Wode pongyoude fangzi shi hen how ye iyangde fangzi dzai Meigo.’ [He said, “My friend’s house is very nice and the same as the ones in America.]”
“Damn right it is,” Sara said draining her cup, and holding it out for more. “You’re getting pretty good at this.”
“Parda parpar pardy darp,” Robert answered.
“Pardy par you, fucker,” she giggled.
“Pardy pard parp paparpard,” Small Head joined in.
“Puh puh puh puh,” the host contributed.
They all laughed like maniacs except the host whose face began to flush more than the alcohol had already flushed it which was a lot.
“Not even close, man,” Robert told him but in English. “Not even close.”
“Careful not to make him mad,” Sara warned. “I think he’s still got some more of that shitty champagne.”
“Pardpar parpy par par par,” Small Head added.
“That’s what I say,” Sara agreed.
(Click on the title or the book cover for more information)