The Pagoda

( 1 )

Overview

Mr. Lowe lives the simple and happy life of a shopkeeper. A Chinese immigrant to Jamaica in the 1890s, Lowe revels in the lush beauty of his adoptive land. But the past confronts Lowe in everything he does, and so his history reveals itself-the tale of his exile from China, his shipboard adventures, an unwanted pregnancy and the arrangement that was made to avoid scandal. The arrangement placed Lowe in a marriage of convenience with a mysterious widow, Miss Sylvie. Lowe and Sylvie's relationship is complex, ...

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Overview

Mr. Lowe lives the simple and happy life of a shopkeeper. A Chinese immigrant to Jamaica in the 1890s, Lowe revels in the lush beauty of his adoptive land. But the past confronts Lowe in everything he does, and so his history reveals itself-the tale of his exile from China, his shipboard adventures, an unwanted pregnancy and the arrangement that was made to avoid scandal. The arrangement placed Lowe in a marriage of convenience with a mysterious widow, Miss Sylvie. Lowe and Sylvie's relationship is complex, vivid, erotic, and full of secrets. Sylvie is a light-skinned black woman who, in the course of their three decades together, gives up three dark-skinned children for adoption. But Lowe's secret is much more startling, and remarkable-Lowe is actually a woman who began cross-dressing to pass as a man because it was illegal for Chinese women to emigrate. This is the story of the destruction of a far-away world: the burning of Lowe's shop and the demolition of his masks; and the creation of a dream: the building of a pagoda where culture and the past are accepted and acceptable.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Saturated with kaleidoscopic, erotic description and driven by a keen awareness of race and class, this lush historical work opens a door to an exotic, imaginary world."-Publishers Weekly
"A haunting, almost hallucinatory work that seems destined to propel Powell to wider recognition."-Chicago Tribune
"Brilliant writing and the careful sculpturing of characters enables us to experience the crossing of boundaries. . . . Powell has achieved something wonderful-a postmodern tale and a darned good yarn."-Ms.
Wendy Sealy
In The Pagoda, Ms. Powell vigorously engages Jamaica's then socioeconomic climate by portraying a figure who gets caught in the cross fires of a feuding Asian and African population. It is this tension which Ms. Powell skillfully dramatizes throughout her narration of Lowe's difficult life.
Quarterly Black Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set in Jamaica in 1893, Powell's anguished if not entirely persuasive third novel (after A Small Gathering of Bones) tells the story of Lowe, an aging Chinese shopkeeper whose 35-year marriage of convenience to a lesbian octoroon named Miss Sylvie becomes a marriage of love as the couple faces the secrets in their pasts. After 12 years of estrangement between Lowe and their daughter, Elizabeth, he decides to write her a letter explaining the hidden origins of their family (which involve his stowaway immigration from China to Jamaica on a slave ship during the 1850s). Before he can finish the letter, however, his shop burns down, killing Cecil, the white man who smuggled him into the country and sexually abused him, but who also set him up in business. Freed of his secret debts to Cecil, Lowe seizes the chance to start his life anew. On the property where his shop once stood, he builds The Pagoda, a school and meeting house for the other Chinese on the island--but not before facing up to the loss of his livelihood, his estrangement from his Chinese heritage and the overriding secret of his family life. Saturated with kaleidoscopic, erotic description and driven by a keen awareness of race and class, this lush historical work, despite distant and uneven characterization and mysteriously disappearing subplots, opens a door on to an exotic, imaginary world where sex roles and racial tensions are tossed aside in the struggle to belong and, at the same time, to cling to ancestral traditions.
Library Journal
Powell's (A Small Gathering of Bones) third book is a complicated historical novel about a young Chinese woman who escapes her marriage by stowing away on a ship to Jamaica. She is unaware that the ship holds 500 kidnapped or otherwise coerced Chinese men bound for forced labor there. Because Chinese women are not allowed to emigrate to the New World, Lau A-Yin disguises herself as a man. For reasons that are gradually revealed to the reader, she maintains that disguise for the next 30 years. Powell explores gender identification, family relationships, and the influence that both fate and freely made decisions can have on the course of an individual's life. She also describes a relatively undocumented historical episode--the immigration of Chinese men to Jamaica to provide the cheap labor needed for the survival of the sugar plantations after the emancipation of the slaves. An unusual story, it will keep the reader engaged. Recommended for public and academic libraries. -- Rebecca A. Stuhr, Grinnell College Libraries, Iowa
Michael Pye
The Pagoda feels more like. . .a technical exercise from an astonishingly fluent writer who may be suffering a temporary passion deficiency.
New York Times Book Review
June Unjoo Yang
...[B]egins with a premonition of disaster and then delivers on it....offers tons of meticulously researched labor history and period details...
The Women's Review of Books
Kirkus Reviews
Like actors who wear masks not only to hide their identities but also to create new ones, the characters in this luminously rendered third novel (Small Gathering of Bones) by Jamaican-born Powell are not what they seem. The story is set in the Jamaica of the late 1800s when poverty was endemic, whites were in control, and racial tensions were exacerbated by the presence of indentured East Indian and Chinese laborers. Married to white Miss Sylvie, the Chinese Lowe, who runs a small store, had always been good to his customers. But one night as he started to write a letter to his daughter, Liz, the shop was burned down with a white man, Cecil, trapped inside. Depressed, Lowe couldn't continue the letter, of course, a letter intended to tell Liz the truth about her birth and the past. Now, Lowe's life has no purpose, and his long masquerade seems even more futile as he finds himself recalling his childhood in China and the closeness to his father that ended when he was a teenager and his father betrayed him. He recalls how he became a stowaway, and how he was rescued, only to be raped by Cecil, the ship's captain, who discovered that Lowe was really a woman. In Jamaica, she again became Lowe, a man, set up with a shop and wife by Cecil. Lowe's despair eases only when he decides to build a pagoda for the island Chinese, but he now finds Sylvie has her own secrets to share. As confessions and confusions multiply, Lowe has an affair with Joyce, a black woman, but Sylvie, haunted by her past, runs away. Now Lowe, missing Sylvie, whom he realizes he truly loves, finally writes to Liz. Suffused with grief and regret, the letter tells his story and reveals his conviction that he's neverlived fully but 'always through some kind of veil.' The ending is quiet but an appropriately elegiac counterpoint to the preceding emotional turmoil. Impressively conceived.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156008297
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 11/1/1999
  • Edition description: 1 HARVEST
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 620,650
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Patricia Powell was born in Jamaica in 1966. She received her B.A. from Wellesley College  and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Brown University. She is Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Fiction at Harvard University. The Pagoda is her third novel.
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First Chapter

Chapter Three

Before daybreak, and with just a tip of his wide-brimmed hat to Miss Sylvie, who watched from the back door with eyes that seemed to be begging him not to go, not to leave her there alone and so soon, he climbed onto the saddled mule and was rumbling over winding, endless muddy dirt roads with the night at his shoulders and the cool morning air in his nostrils. He could not help her now; his own cauldron of grief was too deep; he had to look for help, look outside himself. Lowe rode quickly, keeping to the shadow of huts and lean-tos lining the hillside, slowing at bridges, mindful of rotting planks as he crossed beds of rivers and creeks, now dry and empty but notorious for rising up, overflowing nearby roads and washing away huts strewn along low-lying areas. He passed district after district, the markets like skeletons without the shouting, quarreling people, only rats and stray dogs and cats prowling through the garbage. He passed churches standing solemn and solitary without the singing, roaring congregation that would descend in less than three hours. It was Sunday, and the short steady clips of the mule's shoes were the only sounds that woke the quiet.

    He rode past the bolted doors of unpainted, box-shaped concrete houses with corrugated zinc roofs, his trousers wet with the beast's sweat, until the sky started turning a shimmering rosy hue, and then the world took on life. He passed people, their donkeys laden with buckets of water, who nodded hello or called out "Mr. Chin." He began to smell coffee, pick out fingers of smoke from the pointed roofs of kitchens, smell frying, hear muttering voices. He passed naked children playing in the fine red dirt; thin white lines of smoke that rose from burning rubbish dumps; fat black carrion crows circling overhead; mule-drawn carts; listless donkeys; people drinking coffee from enamel mugs in the blackened doorways of houses and dunking in hardened pieces of bread.

    He rode past yellowing pieces of white clothes hooked up on wire lines, and others spread out on jutting rocks to bleach. Now he rode past herds of cows; vegetable plots knee-deep with weeds; hills browned by drought; grass blackened by bush fires; endless fields with tall wire fences, empty now on a Sunday but on any other day flooded with workers. Amid all this, For Sale signs littered the countryside as deserted estate houses and factory buildings lay broken down in financial disaster, turning back to bush, in the wake of Emancipation. A pack of crotchety and emaciated dogs with powerful drooling jaws rushed at the mule, followed it for a while, grew bored, then disappeared.

    Up and down, up and down, the road ribboning through wild and untamed hillside, he replayed again and again in his head how they must've done it, the gang of them, stumbling round the foundation under the cover of night, sprinkling the ground with kerosene. He saw the sea of brown faces he'd seen every night since he'd had the shop huddled in a corner, talking softly and plotting. He knew that like the church hall, protest groups were founded right there on the piazza of his rum bar in the dead of night and in hushed tones. That the labor unrest sweeping through the countryside and the workers' rebellion strikes against landholders paying them little to nothing and overwhelming them with work had started up right there with the glassful of rum cocked in their hands and the heads close together.

    But he never thought they'd turn on him, though it was common accord for them to burn down the Chinese people's shops. Common accord for them to loot. The more militant types intending to clear his people out of the country. Still, he never thought they'd turn on him. But they must not have known Cecil was inside. Poor Cecil. Or maybe they knew! Poor Cecil. With his eyes wide open like that. He must've leapt awake to the oil drums exploding, his heart giving out immediately. He must've jerked awake to columns of smoke, blazing bars of fire, his heart giving out at once. For there were no bruises, according to the coroner, who inspected him carefully before filling out the certificate. Still, it was strange, his gray eyes wide open like that, wide open and surprised and staring out as if bemused by the turn of events.

    Indeed it was a strange turn. Cecil had brought him there, had given him the shop, and now both Cecil and the shop were gone. But strangely enough he was relieved. Though he was flooded with conflicted feelings and earnestly wished that all could've been settled with the daughter before his passing. But he didn't miss Cecil. He felt clean and unburdened from the shop and from Cecil's plans. Yes, he missed the rust of routine that had protected him all these years, for now he just felt naked and empty and listless. But somewhere deep in him he knew that for the first time he could sort out what it was he wanted to do with his life. That fate now, in the middle of all this tragedy, was handing him the reins to his own life. He could rethink again those reasons that had brought him to the island and try to live out some of his dreams. He longed to unburden himself. He longed to walk free, without hampers saddling his shoulders, thwarting his pace. But he wasn't sure how. There was still the daughter to contend with, his marriage to Miss Sylvie, and the fabulous masquerade that was his life.

    The mule slowed as they entered a stretch of idle lands, and he thought briefly of investments, then shoved it aside. The savings, and there wasn't much now, was for the daughter. Plus the idea of employing farmhands frightened him. It was hard enough asking a woman as old as Dulcie to boil him a pot of tea, hard enough waking and asking Omar, his age-mate, to feed and saddle the mule. He was always envious of how commands steamed effortlessly from Miss Sylvie's velvet lips, but he knew they came with the authority of near-alabaster porcelain skin. The coppery mass of hair that fell to her waist. With him it was a different story. He was the outsider. The foreigner. The newcomer. He had the burned-down shop there to show, to remind him of his place there on the island.

    At this his eyes filled up, and he dug his boots deeper into the animal's gut. He had to see Kywing and the others. He yearned for the music of their frenzied dialects, the euphony of clicking tiles as they played games, and his mouth watered in anticipation of stews Kywing would prepare, embryonic chickens with tender bones in peppered soup, pressed duck and tiny bottomless cups of tea. He longed for vestiges of his family mirrored in the men who came, in their gesticulations and corroded faces, in the Morse code of their languages, which he didn't even understand anymore, but anything to remind him that he wasn't alone there on that wretched island. And then he longed just to see Kywing and his family, with whom he had grown close over the years.

    Lowe rode on through the light of haze and heat, stopping now and again to water the mule, keeping away from the centers of towns, eating the lunch Dulcie had prepared, as he traveled endless winding roads that led to new districts, his face darkening under the onslaught of sun strokes.

    All over the countryside church bells tolled, summoning sinners to worship. He heard feverish preaching and incredible pandemonium as hymns broke out and the possessed shrieked into the tin roofs. He passed the cluster of buildings sprawling along the hillside that made up Good Hope Estate, with its mills and its boiling and curing houses, and not too far off the thatched-roof barracks where the Negro people had once lived, and still farther off, the hundreds of acres of caneland, deserted now on a Sunday, just dry cane stalks and husks stretching to fill the horizon. Had it been yesterday, the yellowing stalks would've been peppered with glistening bodies: free Negroes; indentured Indian and Chinese laborers pouring in daily by the boatloads; Irishmen fleeing famine--hoeing, plowing, weeding, shielding themselves underneath wide-brimmed hats.

    But though it was Sunday and no one was there, Lowe could still hear voices rise and fall to a tune that tiny trembling streams of wind had carried from afar, a song sung in an attempt to ignore assault from the never-ending backbreaking labor; singing to relieve pain in their twisted limbs, stomachs tormented from hunger, skins baking under a fiery sun; anger seething like trapped steam from lips. Sometimes breezes brought the whistling whip on its way to bite and cut and to dig away at the burned and desecrated flesh. But those sounds were no longer common, as there would be fights, murders, torchings carried out at night, households charred, heads wiped off by machetes and lined up by the gate for shiny, metallic flies to attack in the morning.

    Lowe rode on, not a hut in sight, just a long, hopeless stretch of thorny acacia trees, an endless range of green hills then gray hills fading into the spacious white of the sky. Drowsy from the heat and from fatigue, he dozed to the steady lackadaisical clips of the mule's shoes, until braids of smell--musty charcoal from wood fires, pungent coconut oil, pickled pigs' feet--shimmered by his nostrils, lulled him to life, and he knew it would be only a matter of minutes and Kywing would be at the iron gate of the stucco house he had built behind the bakery.


He dismounted and let the mule loose in the pen across the road, where one of Kywing's boys would attend to it. He approached the house slowly, his head bowed, his heart broken, his shirt soaked with sweat, his hat in his hand. Sharmilla, Kywing's wife, was waiting. Her majestic arms, swaddled with silver bangles and some gold ones, jangled as she hugged him, the great cascades of her flesh and her sweet-smelling essences hemming him. "Man, we not safe here at all. Not safe at all." Her eyes, rimmed with black, glistened with tears, and Lowe grunted, his face a network of grimaces that meant nothing and everything.

    He nodded and shook his head at intervals, not quite ready yet to stir up his grief. Though he wanted nothing more than to have lain there basking in her embrace, nothing more than to have her stroke his head and behind his ears and smother him with sweet tenderlings murmured in his chest. His suffering was so deep. His brokenness so complete. His confusion so enormous. Plus her embrace was never like Sylvie's; it wasn't full up with the same kind of yearning, as if some grave thing had been taken away, so that now she had to walk round with her arms outstretched and aching, and anything she touched she had to hold close, almost to the point of strangulation, just to make sure it didn't disappear.

    But still he extracted himself neatly from Sharmilla's embrace and stepped back to admire the florid embroidery on the collar and pockets of her sleeveless cotton frock, and she broke down in laughter, showing the brown roots of her molars, and he laughed with her, wanting only to forget and to distract her curling eyes from lolling along the arches of his limbs, from reading him, a smooth-spined text.

    For it was as if she knew exactly what lay behind the costume, though it was nothing she said, nothing she intimated, it was only in the rhythm of her eyelids, tugging at the brush of false hair that trembled above his lips, bursting the buttons of his striped short-sleeve shirt, stripping down his shorts, and so he could never linger long in the snugness of her embrace, never engage her for any length of time. It was always there between them, the overwhelming self-consciousness, the palpable silence, the charged glances. Once, for a brief and furtive moment, he thought perhaps she desired him, but he found the idea so worrisome, so marked with frustration and distress, that he wiped it completely from the shelves of his mind.

    From his bag Lowe brought out the little surprises he had carried for the waiting children, twelve in all, who had turned out to greet him, stiff and shy in their starched and bristling Sunday shirts, the stunning frocks, their hair marbled and glistening from scented pomade. He handed out the colored bottles to match the assorted glass of their eyes, pairs of rubber catapults, and gifts from one of Miss Sylvie's husband's old trunks, wet with mildew and rotting in the buttery: three bloated copies of Pilgrim's Progress, with passages underlined in ink; a miniature birdcage, rusty and empty and with the gate missing; a magnifying glass with a jagged crack; an atlas with the pictures faded and the names of countries inked in Latin.

    Behind them on the veranda, Kywing watched with a long gloomy face and a wide shaggy nose, and shook his head slowly, khaki trousers shimmering in the afternoon glare. Lowe climbed the short flight of concrete steps up to the shade of the veranda. He rested his wide-brimmed felt hat on the floor by his feet and sat down on the Morris chair with the arms peeling. Around them, the insects hummed, wild with the heat. Sharmilla bellowed, and one of the boys appeared with a piping-hot glass full of jasmine tea on a tin tray enameled with bright-red apples. Then she disappeared into the maze and clutter of the house, her slippers dragging on linoleum floors, and Lowe knew she wasn't far.

    "Burn down flat, flat, Lowe! Nothing!" They dipped cheeks, then lapsed into island speech. Lowe's Hakka and his Cantonese had long since atrophied, from both lack of use and mindful forgetting, as his only company had been the villagers those early years and he'd so badly wanted to start over. Kywing's face was stern, and he wore a mustache much like Lowe's, a thick black brush of bristles, but unlike Lowe, who never touched his at all, except now and again to check if it was still there and to readjust it by winding the sharp edges thoughtfully, Kywing fingered his at all times, plucking and twining and smoothing as he paced the length and breadth of the veranda.

    Lowe shook his head, eyes bright, remembering his neighbors dousing the building in the dense dark of the morning.

    "And Cecil, gone too!" Kywing's hands, pale and bony, sprang off his face and clapped at invisible mosquitoes and flies, then he yelled at one of the girls to bring the bottle. The girl came and she had one of the books underneath her arm and she smiled at Lowe and Kywing slapped a handful of the juice on his neck and throat and the smell made Lowe's eyes slowly leak. "They going to turn us mad in this place with they hate, Lowe, seriously." He stopped his pacing to drink from a glass of white rum and light a cigarette from a half-empty pack that lay on the flaky arms of the other chair. Then his voice grew softer, and his meandering and fondling started up again. "Sorry bout Cecil, man, I know he mean much to you. I know."

    Lowe didn't say anything. He wondered what Kywing really knew. He had never told anyone about the hell he lived on that ship after he was caught; how Cecil locked him up inside that cabin that barely had air, barely had light for weeks and months.

    Kywing's voice changed and it grew confidential. He wasn't much older than Lowe, but the mustache, which drooped alongside the edges of his face and covered his fine lips and broken teeth, gave him an ancient look. "How much you need to start over, Lowe? We have something wrap up inside. How much?"

    Lowe looked up. Suddenly he was alarmed. He hadn't even been thinking of another shop.

    "Well, maybe you shouldn't start so big again, Lowe. I mean they might burn it down again. And then you just lose everything again. And with the business so little, they don't want insure us. Look what happen to Woo Lee. Look Wong T'in. They asleep in the back. They set them on fire. And the fellows they catch get off light, light. You think maybe you housekeeper, what her name, Dulcie, have something to do with it? Or her son, the young boy there. You can't trust nobody. Not even people inside you own house."

    And at that Lowe started, for just the idea that the fingers of death trembled so close to his throat was unbearable. He shoved away the thought and brought again to mind the voice of the caller, and he wondered why now, why after thirty years, and not before, when he had just arrived there, when he didn't know them yet and was so much more vulnerable to their onslaughts. Why now, after he had turned godfather to so many of their children, had trusted goods to so many of them so they wouldn't starve.

    "Well, if you want start big again, maybe you should move. Come down this way. More of us here."

    Still Lowe said nothing, and Kywing grew desperate. Then he reached over and grabbed Lowe's knees. "I know, man, it hard as hell. And on top of that with Cecil gone. And still nothing yet from the police." He paused and together they said nothing. Together they coughed timid ahems to clear their lungs. Together they took deep breaths that swelled the caves of their stomachs. Then Kywing started up again. "You must have something save up? I mean all these years you working. What bout the wife, Miss Sylvie? She must have something."

    "I need to think a little, Kywing." Lowe's voice erupted sharper than he intended.

    "Man, you crazy!" Kywing clapped at more invisible mosquitoes and wiped his face over and over with the soiled white towel at his shoulder. "You have to just open up another shop, quick. You have to pretend things not so bad. You can't show them we weak. You have to just accept it as bad luck. Man, you can't stop to think. They going to murder we in this place."

    But Lowe didn't hear him; he was thinking of how the Chinese killed themselves over the shops, all so they could send money home, return rich like the dreams that had brought them. They slept back there underneath the counters on top of long-grain-rice and unbleached-flour bags. They didn't buy shoes, didn't buy new clothes, they had the shop open from daybreak till the last customer emptied the bottle of white rum and stumbled out into the darkness. They had everything stored underneath the counters and could marry goods when things were scarce. A cut of butter with one pound of salt fish. One box of detergent with one ball of blue. And how the ungrateful people heaped abuses on them.

    "Mr. Chin, big gill of coconut oil."

    It didn't matter, his name.

    And when their lives hit rock bottom, they came waving their fists. "Chinee, you shortchange me again! You sell me the rotting meat again!"

    "Chinee, you thief me again!"

    As if a little manipulation wasn't often the nature of trade.

    Sometimes a woman would come hollering with a red rag tying up her head, two half-naked thin-limbed children locked onto her hips, their stomachs bloated out with arrowroot, the arms and legs white and spotted with disease. "Chin, I don't eat since Tuesday gone." By then it was Friday. From underneath the counter he handed over half a pound of dried cod and two pounds of rice, for somehow they had become his people too; these women who cursed and haggled him one day and the next laid out their woes, begging for advice on their wayward husbands and lovers. Yet now the shop was there burned flat to the ground. Everything gone!

    Lowe broke out into a hard dry sob, and just as abruptly, he stopped. For during those fleeting seconds he allowed himself to rise up from the dregs of his despair; he could see that it was indeed a blessing, this massive destruction. That indeed he could try out another kind of life altogether. Not one that his father or Cecil had routed out for him, but one he could weed out for himself. And then it came to him. And then he knew. "Look, Kywing," he cried out into the blazing heat, his eyes suddenly bright and bursting, "what about a school?"

    Kywing didn't say anything at first. He wasn't an attractive man. He also wasn't a sharp thinker. And his mouth turned disappointed and hostile. "A school, Lowe." He said this quietly, slowing down to look closely at Lowe, whose mind had erupted into a torrent of fantastical ideas and schemes. He would rebuild the shop into a school! A school for the Chinese children born on the island. A school and meetinghouse where they could hold weddings and celebrate festivals. All over the country a multitude of schools had sprung up. Mico Teachers Training, Munro, Mannings. Down by his way alone, five more missionary schools, two trade centers, and a teacher training college. Why not one for the Chinese so they could learn Commerce and Geography, Elements of Astrology?

    "But that won't bring in any money, Lowe."

    "Well, maybe not right away, Kywing." He tried to keep his voice even. It was his first dream. He saw it withering away. He thought of his father and all his bottled-up fantasies. He thought of Cecil and of the mangled bodies in his dreams. He thought of all those years he had so successfully and piece by piece erased himself. He didn't even have language!

    "Well, that is damn nonsense, then, Lowe. I mean we not learners here, man. We didn't come to turn learners." Kywing lowered himself next to Lowe on the bench and began to separate, into small neat bunches, the hair on his face. "We just come here to catch we hands, sell a few things, catch we hands." He softened his voice. "Some of us going back home, as soon as the contract finish. Even my big boy there, talking this nonsense bout law, bout sacred and universal history! And the bakery there!"

    "But, Kywing, maybe I could teach." He didn't like the whine of his voice, and so he coughed to clear his throat.

    "But, Lowe"--he laughed out loud, and Lowe's face burned--"you not a teacher man, you not a scholar. How you wanting to teach?" He clapped Lowe on the shoulder. "You always ambitious, that's what I like about you. Ambitious."

    "Well, maybe Wong Yan-sau." He'd been a schoolteacher in Kwangtung Province and now ran a bakery not far from Kywing.

    Kywing hissed. He leapt up from his seat next to Lowe and started pacing again. "Look, Lowe, just take my advice and start again with fifty. All right, Lowe. A Chinese school and meetinghouse, man. Then they would really chop we up in this place."

    In the background, Kywing's wife scolded one of the children, then they heard a cuff, followed by shouts and a loud wailing, and Lowe knew, as if by intuition, in just that slap she had delivered, that Sharmilla had endorsed his plan. Kywing got up and yelled for one of the children to bring more drinks, signaling an end to the conversation. But Lowe's flurry of designs had just sprung to life. Every day now, boatloads of Chinese came. Maybe interested members could pool together what little money they had saved up and offer out loans, give out scholarships encouraging the next generation to take up law and medicine, public speaking and drama, and liberate themselves from shopkeeping. And just so the children would remember, maybe somebody could teach them Cantonese and Mandarin, so they could read literature. If they were still interested in business, then maybe they could form their own wholesale association, and then members could promote business and protect rights.

    Further in the future, he saw this club, this benevolent society writing its own newspaper, reporting on events affecting Chinese both here and abroad. There would even be an obituary section and another announcing weddings and births, and still another reporting on those murdered in cold blood by the warmongering people, on those whose shops they looted and burned down, on those opening up new businesses. He would call it . . . And he thought for some time, until he arrived at the title of one of his father's short stories. The Pagoda. Later he would add on one or two extra buildings, a home for the aged, maybe even a kind of sanitarium for the ones maimed on the estates, those who couldn't work, too poor to pay the passage home. Maybe even a cemetery, where Chinese people could visit their ancestors, instead of those public plots where the government dumped poor people. Kywing handed him a tumbler of carrot juice, and Lowe turned it to his head, drinking with both feet stretched out ahead, as the future loomed bright with promises.

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    Posted November 8, 2012

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