While dining out one evening, Kam locks eyes with the lovely Wai Hing and is immediately smitten. Determined to make her his wife, Kam is finally introduced to her through friends and is soon fascinated by Hing's modern ways, her outspokenness, and her independent spirit. Caught between his intractably traditional parents and the equally strong-willed and indomitable Hing, Kam discovers that the attributes that originally attracted him to this beautiful young woman may well sow the seeds of destruction within his family and deny him any chance of future happiness.
Against a tumultuous backdrop when Western ideas were invading the Far East and clashing with long-held beliefs, a man and a woman must decide which is more important-values and cultural differences or true love.
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Conflict in the Home
By Tan Kheng Yeang
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2010 Tan Kheng Yeang
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Teahouse
Groups of laughing, chattering people sauntered with leisurely indolence and grace in and out of the spacious halls devoted to pleasure and conversation. In vain might the inquisitive observer trace any shadow of care on their warm faces, which shone with as brilliant a flame as the brownish walls, proving, beyond any possibility of dispute, that here at least there was perfect harmony between man and his surroundings. The well-proportioned rooms were adorned with a picturesque array of red and green lanterns, which in themselves were sufficient to inspire any reasonable man not hopelessly engulfed in the morass of worry and discontent with feelings of freedom and gaiety.
Moving from table to table, urbane waiters pushed tiered trolleys furnished with all manner of delicious viands. Pretty waitresses from time to time stepped forward and filled the teapots with hot water or brought warm towels to departing customers so that they might leave with their hands as clean as when they sat down. These damsels formed an essential part of the establishment, their duties encompassing as much of the ornamental variety as the useful. For a great part of the time, they stood in an attitude of impassive elegance, silently scanning the proceedings from various vantage points. What thoughts, if any, coursed through their minds could not be divined. Blue blouses with high collars and sleeves stretching a bare three inches below the shoulders and trousers of the same celestial hue covered their slim, lithe figures. White rubber shoes tipped their feet, and their aprons were so stainless and pure that their use was a confounded problem to exercise the wits of the curious.
All the tables possessed their full quota of patrons, and the moment a seat was vacated it was promptly reoccupied so that the quantity of heat, scientifically described as molecular motion, it absorbed considerably exceeded what it emitted, with the net result that its colossal hordes of unfortunate molecules were in a chronic state of extraordinary commotion. It was a matter for conjecture whether the new occupant found the warmth left by his predecessor a pleasurable sensation. Besides the large central halls, there were smaller closets containing only a single table each; these secluded spots bore an extra charge and, as a rule, were made use of by mixed parties of men and women. Confucian restraint and placidity were characteristics very little in evidence: noise and jollity shot through the atmosphere.
Round a square table, which was placed near a window on the right side of the front room on the second story and from which could be obtained a comprehensive view of the humming street below, sat four men, who were certainly not yielding an inch to the others in the matter of enjoyment.
"Have another dumpling," politely remarked a young man dressed in brown, addressing a stout, middle-aged individual.
"Thanks, Siu Kam," replied that person, whose name was Mak Gaw Lok. He kept a general store that had maintained a consistently flourishing trade for such a long time that any decline in business would have seemed to his friends the act of a particularly malignant demon. "I wonder how many have rolled into my stomach."
"No need to count them," interposed a lawyer, whose face, though it still bore its usual air of portentous gravity, now betrayed a distinctly perceptible flush. "I'll have one too."
He stretched his hand toward a porcelain plate, got hold of a dumpling about the size of an orange, and began to peel off its glistening skin, on which was stamped a tiny, red circle, signifying to a connoisseur the fact that this particular specimen contained fried pork. Other varieties were distinguished by different marks or sizes or shapes. When the outer creamy layer of flour was removed, the lawyer gingerly placed it on a small plate beside him. Then, breaking what he had in his hand into two more or less identical portions, he ate them ceremoniously, moving his mouth as little as possible in his excessive gravity.
Yuen Siu Kam, he who was dressed in brown, was twenty-seven years of age and was just a bit short of five feet six inches tall. His face tended toward the square and his mouth toward the large; his chin bore little trace of a beard, and a razor was well-nigh a superfluity as far as he was concerned. His meticulously groomed jet-black hair was parted on the left. His neck sat well on his shoulders, and his arms drooped from them with undeniable grace; though they did not reveal any bulging biceps sticking out like huge eggs and insistently shrieking for the admiration that is supposed to be the legitimate due of such phenomena, they were by no means flabby. His figure was slightly on the thin side, and his movements were of a leisurely character, conveying the impression that his will was not particularly strong. His expression was usually gentle and would often light up with an ingenuous smile so that he could not be charged with exhibiting an impassive exterior beneath which lurked mystery and subtlety. From his appearance one could easily discern that he was neither of a forward nature, reeking with the desire to be extremely modern, nor anxious to cling desperately to his ancestral ideas and customs. Doubtless he had reached the conclusion that, for the sake of being in harmony with society, he should follow its fashions to a considerable extent and avoid coming into violent collision with it.
He cherished truth and an easy existence.
"This lichee tea," he said, apparently intending the remark for the edification of his companions, though his eyes were on the beverage in question, "is remarkably good."
"I dare say so," replied the lawyer, "but I prefer Ceylon tea with milk and sugar."
"The tiger roars; the duck quacks," smiled Choi Ching Kee, an unobtrusive, pallid schoolmaster with round shoulders and bulging eyes. "Every man has his own taste. For me the ordinary, bitterish, unflavored tea suffices. The infusion from the green leaf, dried in the sun, is all I want."
"The four of us seem to have four different tastes," put in Gaw Lok, emitting three short coughs, which he intended for a laugh. "Give me the fine chrysanthemum, the golden blossom. I drink a huge bowl every night before retiring. How it soothes the throat!"
The lawyer, whose name was Wong Tak Cheong, assumed an awful expression and seemed disposed to thrash out the point with formal eloquence, probably using arguments of a learned character. He opened his mouth to deliver his harangue, but due to one of those inexplicable impulses that insidiously determine man's conduct, though often not present in the field of his consciousness, he closed it again and bent his head over his cup. His argumentative nature was proverbial, and Gaw Lok heaved a mild sigh of relief when he surprisingly left the field after showing unmistakable signs of wishing to do battle.
"What a superb blessing is tea!" declared Ching Kee with emphatic conviction. His sallow face was all aglow with poetic enthusiasm, and his long, thin fingers lovingly caressed a tiny cup full to the brim with the liquid. "I can think of nothing more beneficial to man. I often wonder how our ancestors managed to pass the day agreeably before the discovery of the leaf. They were compelled to drink more wine, which is harmful and not so stimulating. Tea has made us a nation of peaceful, contented people. It is inexpensive and is ever at hand. Its influence on our life and conduct is enormous."
"Very true," murmured the merchant, Gaw Lok. "The one who first singled it out from among the plants as a thirst-quencher and taught its use must have been an immortal."
"Tea is one of the greatest gifts heaven has given us, and its discovery, after that of agriculture by Shen Nung, the Divine Farmer, is the greatest. Rice makes for existence; tea makes for happiness. Existence without happiness is not exactly desirable," said Ching Kee with a touchingly benign smile.
"No man in his senses would contradict you," asserted Gaw Lok with evident satisfaction. "The peasant has been said to have seven causes of anxiety every day: firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy, vinegar, and tea. Without a doubt the last is his greatest solace."
"I must confess," said Tak Cheong, a look of disdain flitting across his solemn countenance, "that the praises you two shower on it are too excessive. Modern science tells us that it contains a substance called caffeine that is nothing more nor less than a poison and acts badly on the nervous system. Every time you drink a cup, you are swallowing a certain amount of poison. If you take too much, you are deliberately killing yourself. I shall not be surprised if, at the rate you are going, you soon pass out of the world altogether. As for me, I drink only a little, and that must be very dilute." He drew himself up in his chair to show that he was in no danger of quitting the world for a long time to come.
"With all due respect to your esteemed learning," replied the unconvinced Ching Kee mildly, "I cannot believe in your statement. I have never heard of anyone who was killed in that way yet, and although I am not particularly strong, I trust I shall live to a venerable age." "Many substances are not as innocent as they appear," interposed Siu Kam. "Coffee also contains caffeine, and the delicious cocoa produces similarly injurious effects with what is called theobromine."
"What are we supposed to drink then?" asked Gaw Lok in a faltering tone. "I never imagined before that what so many people regularly take could have the slightest harm. Shall we confine ourselves to water only?"
"Water contains germs that can kill a person in a day," replied Siu Kam, not very encouragingly. "It's a wonder to me how, when almost everything we eat and drink is dangerous, there are people who live up to three score years and ten."
"In such a case," said Gaw Lok vastly relieved, "I shall continue to stick to the pleasant drink." He looked round the room with a broad smile and was very much delighted to find the people at the other tables gulping away with all their might, quite unconscious of the momentous discussion that he had just heard and that had so shaken his peace for a moment. A smart waitress caught his eye and immediately stepped forward to pour hot water into his pot. After a couple of minutes he filled his cup with the infusion and drained it off slowly, placidly passing his hand over his abdomen to express his satisfaction, which was a treat to behold.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, "what shall we take next? I feel quite hungry. I suggest stuffed duck." Prosperity was stamped on his figure, and he had no desire to look thinner.
"Excellent," said Siu Kam. "Add steamed carp and abalone soup and we'll have a splendid repast."
The order was given, and while waiting for the appearance of the delicacies, Siu Kam scrutinized the other patrons with a languid expression. From a large group of people there erupted, at regular short intervals, hilarious bursts of laughter; as a florid individual was doing almost all the talking, he was clearly relating some tickling story. "A rare raconteur he must be," thought our hero, "to be able to excite such mirth." In one corner of the room was a withered man with hollow cheeks and a furtive, unsteady look on his dark face; he consisted only of skin and bone. "Doubtless an opium-smoker," said our commentator to himself. "I wonder what pleasure he finds in wasting his money that way. He has lost his health into the bargain." At a neighboring table a party of staid individuals in long gowns was engaged in an amiable wrangle, each extremely desirous to pay the bill and urging the waitress to accept his money, pushing aside the hands of his companions. "True old-world hospitality and politeness," pondered our philosopher, "fast disappearing in our day. We are now all anxious that our friends should do the paying. In many respects our modern behavior is that of the trivial man, not that of the distinguished man." His eyes alighted on a group of dandies who were gazing at the waitresses libidinously and laughing among themselves. "I bet their main preoccupation in life is sex," he uttered, almost aloud.
He looked down into Queen's Road below. Along the principal thoroughfare of Hong Kong motor cars rolled past in a continual stream and pedestrians jostled one another in pleasant confusion. The asphalted street, though neither as wide nor as level as some others, was the busiest in the city and was lined with cinemas, cafés, and shops of various descriptions.
Red neon signs flashed, and innumerable customers swept in and out of the brilliantly lighted buildings. He was still gazing with interest at a curious puppet show used as an advertisement that was taking place in front of a large department store opposite him when his attention was suddenly recalled to his companions.
"Society," the teacher, Ching Kee, was saying, "is nowadays getting worse and worse, more and more corrupt. I feel that much of all that can be classified as good will never come back again. We are living in a most unfortunate age, which I would gladly change for the golden periods of the Han and Tang Dynasties. Ah! Those were real times of greatness and happiness. What peace, simplicity, and culture reigned then! How well were the precepts of our great sage, Kung Fu-tze, applied! All the social relationships were properly maintained with benefit to all under the sky. But present times are different. 'Those conversant with virtue are rare,' said the sage. How right he was!" he concluded mournfully.
"As right as you are," said the lawyer, Wong Tak Cheong, sarcastically. He had been fidgeting with impatience the whole time that the enthusiastic Ching Kee was chanting eulogies to the past. "Your unfortunate quotation was applied by the sage to his own age about twenty-five hundred years ago. Just as you have your mind fixed on his example, so he had his fixed on the legendary emperors, Yao and Shun, who are supposed to be, except for a few centuries less, as far away from him in time as he is from us. I shouldn't be surprised if the two virtuous sons of heaven also found their prototypes in some uncouth barbarians before their time."
Ching Kee was profoundly shocked. "Ai-ya!" he exclaimed in remonstrance: "You shouldn't refer to our sages so inconsiderately. What do you mean by saying that Yao and Shun are legendary rulers? Their existence is as certain as that of the sky. I am more willing to believe that I don't exist than that they didn't."
"I dare lay a bet that they were purely fictitious beings," was the emphatic reply. "In any case their existence is of no concern to the modern world. Whether they actually lived or not is of no interest to me, nor, I presume, to any practical man who has enough to occupy his days." Here he fixed a severe eye on the embarrassed Ching Kee. "We are always harking back to the past. That is why we have not made any progress for centuries on end. Even now, for the first time in our history, when we have the opportunity to cast away the shackles of the past, we still have people like you talking with regret of antiquity."
Ching Kee blushed in confusion; nevertheless, he remarked firmly, "The so-called shackles of the past are not shackles at all, except to those who don't like them. You may regard them as such; to me they are glories, great treasures. To my limited understanding it doesn't seem just that one mode of life should be regarded as a chain and another as mighty free. I don't prize a thing merely because it is old, but whatever is good seems to me more valuable still if sanctified by the experience of the ages. I don't object to antiquity, as you do, on its own account. And I must deny your gratuitous statement that we have remained completely still for centuries. On the contrary, we have made the real kind of progress; gradual, solid progress. Every dynasty has shown progress in some direction. Great philosophers arose in the Chou period; Buddhism was introduced and paper was first made in the Han; the Tang was the Golden Age of Poetry and printing was invented; Sung scholarship is famous; porcelain first made many centuries earlier reached its perfection under the Mings. In fact, we have discovered and invented a vast number of things step by step. What we haven't done is to do away with an entire civilization as we have been busily trying to achieve during the last few decades."
Excerpted from Conflict in the Home by Tan Kheng Yeang Copyright © 2010 by Tan Kheng Yeang. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Contents1. The Teahouse....................1
2. The Mah-jongg Party....................14
3. The Factory....................27
5. The Meeting....................46
6. The Ne'er-Do-Well....................58
7. The Tour....................71
9. The Typhoon....................98
10. The Farm....................107
11. The School....................117
12. The Wedding....................128
13. The Theatre....................138
15. The Dragon-Boat Festival....................153
16. In a Ship....................165
19. The Stall-Holder....................199