Eat Your Congee

© 2013 iheartpandas


Theme: Goldilocks & the Three Bears

***

by Laura Gene

“BaoBao, eat your congee! 15 fen zhong we go school,” said Grandma Xiong.

“But it’s too hot! I burned my tongue, Wai Po!” whined Britney Xiong who was sitting next to JinJin. JinJin accompanied her everywhere.

Grandma scurried over from the ironing board to grab the soup spoon and proceeded to blow on the congealed rice concoction.

“Ew! You spit all over it. I’m not eating it now.”

“For Buddha’s sake – you help her?” Grandma motioned to Grandpa Xiong who was deep in thought staring into the bottom of his bowl.

“You have this, BaoBao,” he said.

Grandpa switched the bowls stealthily like a street magician working the shell game. Britney scooped a mouthful of the sticky tasteless stuff. Immediately she began smacking her tongue against the roof of her mouth, sucked dry by the big bite of rice. JinJin stared straight ahead with lifeless eyes.

“Bleah! Wai Gong likes it too dry,” slapping her hand on the rustic tabletop while she pushed her chair away in an 8-year-old’s fit of righteous indignation at sub-par congee.

Grandma filled a cup from the water dispenser and poured it into her bowl.

“No, now it’s just soupy. Can’t I just have some Rice Krispers? Pleeease?”

Grandma grabbed the hidden box of generic cereal from the back of the pantry and filled the bowl to the brim.

“Happy? We need to leave at 6:40. You eat fast, pleeease.”

Britney swung her legs back and forth below her chair, sharing her tiny victory with JinJin. Her elbows propped on either side of the cereal bowl as she awkwardly funneled popped water-logged rice grains into her face with a ladle spoon.

JinJin was Britney’s nickname for a knock-off Barbie doll her MaMa secured at the children’s toy market. Babe Dolls, as they were called, didn’t look like Britney with her pinch-able round rosy cheeks and deep-set lidded eyes; the dolls were always blue-eyed with straw-colored hair and perfectly peach skin. She thought JinJin was beautiful; she wished she could look like JinJin. She was enamored by the West, or rather the “evil” West with “their corrupt ways”, as her Wai Po liked to remind her. Britney ignored Wai Po most of the time.

Grandma and Grandpa stayed home to take care of Britney while her parents worked to provide for the household, and, consequently, took her to school to allow her parents to be well-rested. Work didn’t start until 10:00 after all. Each morning Britney would stuff her backpack with textbooks and spiral notebooks until the seams were stretched and the zipper could barely close; JinJin always managed to squeeze her way in there too. Scholastics were extremely important to everyone, except maybe Britney. She hated school. She hated the long days – 7 in the morning to 7 at night – every weekday; she even had a half-day on Saturdays. She didn’t like that it left her little time to play with JinJin. Although her abhorrence to everything “school” was poorly hidden, she still managed to do fairly well, at least by Western standards. For her parents, anything less than perfection, or first place, was unacceptable. So most parental follow-ups on her studies ended in a long drawn-out lecture about how she needed to – no, must – do better. Great was never good enough. But JinJin never cared about Britney’s grades which always made Britney happy.

Every day her parents asked for her papers, tests and homework so they could review their outcomes.

Monday: “What is this BaoBao? A ‘B’? You can do better than that.”

Wednesday: “A 95 in English? I thought you loved the West. American this; British that. Why do you do so bad BaoBao?”

As the week dragged on, their words of so-called constructive criticism, did not abate.

Thursday: “So disappointed in you BaoBao. How could you fail us? It is Chinese history. You should know our land and people.”

Saturday: “You study harder. Tomorrow you should study more. Be a good student. And a good daughter.”

She knew her parents worked hard to pay for her to go to school, so she did try pretty hard, though maybe if she was being honest, it wasn’t her best.

Once in a while, which usually meant every other perfect score, MaMa would take her fancy shopping. Britney always brought JinJin with them for a second opinion. The family did not splurge on much, but exceptions had to be made for bribery towards a good education. MaMa first took Britney to little boutique shops.

“These dresses feel icky, MaMa. These make me hot.” MaMa would try again with a visit to the fake markets.

“Here Xiao Bao. This shirt is nice. It has English,” MaMa suggested holding it up in front of her chest.

“Ugh, MaMa!” she stamped her foot. “It says ‘Keep Clam and Stay Awsome’. It’s not spelled right.”

They spent several hours bagless until Britney wore her MaMa down and finally took her to the designer mall downtown. There, Britney inevitably found plenty to her liking, but obsession struck her on the third floor in the shape of a boxy vinyl colorblock purse with a double “C” clasp. Brand names were learned along with the English alphabet: Armani, Bottega, Chanel, Dior… Britney identified it immediately. The purse did not look as expensive as it cost; Britney didn’t care.

“MaMa, I really want this one.”

“But you can get that at Fake Market. It’s same-same.”

“It’s not the same though. It’s real real. It’s so nice MaMa. Pleeease?”

Her begging usually resulted in her walking down the road with a tissue-wrapped something in a glossy branded bag. Little did Britney know the label sewn inside the purse read “Made in China”.

Britney decided her new Chanel bag would be the perfect transportation for JinJin to ride in style. MaMa didn’t like JinJin. Britney thought she was just jealous because she and JinJin were so close.

“Why you carry her everywhere?” asked MaMa. “You give her to me.”

“No, MaMa!”

“Now Britney – or I will take bag back.”

Britney gave in and took JinJin out of her comfortable abode and handed her over.

Without hesitation, MaMa threw JinJin over the mall railing to the marbled tile floor below.

“You are too old for a doll.”

Britney grasped at the glass railing to peak into the depths below, afraid about what she’d find. To her surprise, she saw JinJin still in one piece, albeit clutched in the arms of another child who was running across the atrium into another store.

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