Contest: The Gong Fu Kid

Martin Phipps martinphipps2 at
Tue Jun 15 20:38:52 PDT 2010

                             THE GONG FU KID

  "Mom, why do we have to go to China?"
  "Because I have a job there at the American embassy."
  "And why isn't dad coming?"
  "He's going to stay here in Hollywood and pursue his dream of becoming a movie star."
  "So why don't we stay here with him?"
  "Because he's not a movie star yet.  Jaden, don't worry: as soon as your father gets his big break and becomes a movie star he's going to send for us and we are all going to be together again and living in a mansion in Beverly Hills."
  "Are you sure, Mom?"
  "Of course."
  "Because I sometimes hear you and dad arguing."
  "That's just how we discuss things.  We can be very loud sometimes."
  "Fair enough.  But what am I going to do in China?  I don't even speak Chinese."
  "Don't worry: you're already enrolled in the Beijing American School."

Two weeks later...

  "So, Jaden, how was your first day of school."
  "Oh?  Why's that?"
  "It's supposed to be an American school but almost all the students are Chinese!"
  "So nobody wants to talk to me!"
  "Jaden, you're exaggerating!  There must be somebody who wants to talk to you!  Why do you think they are going to an American school?  It's because they want to learn about American language and culture!"
  "It's because their parents want them to learn about American language and culture.  They hate it!  So they hate me!"
  "Jaden, all you need to do is find one friend at the school and help him with his English.  Then the other students will want to be your friend because they will realize that you can help them too!"
  "I dunno."
  "Jaden, please."  His mother sighed.  "The truth is I don't know if your father will ever get his big break.  That means this is it for us.  Please, try to make this work."
  "Okay, mom."

The next day...

  "Hi, I'm Jaden."
  "What's your name?"
  "Su zi."
  "Su zi."
  "Okay.  Look, Su, my mom works at the American Embassy.  I was wondering if you needed any help with your English."
  "Sorry.  What?"
  Jaden sighed.  "Can I sit down?"
  "Look, I'm here in China because my mom has a job here.  You're here to learn English, right?"
  "My mom wants me to learn English."
  "Okay.  And my mom wants me to make fried\nds with people here.  So how's about I help you and you help me?"
  "I help you?"
  "I don't think so."
  "Why not?"
  Su zi sighed.  "Look at yourself!"
  "What's wrong?"
  "Your hair is a mess!  Your T-shirt.  What does it say?"
  "May ta lee ka?"
  "It's a band."
  "A band?"
  "They play music.  Heavy metal.  You know?"
  "What about eating?  Can you eat with chopsticks?"
  "I can use a foork and a spoon."
  "What if you go to a restaurant here.  Not at school."
  "I guess I can eat with my fingers."
  "Wrong answer."
  "Look, okay, I get it.  So maybe I need you more than you need me.  Fine.  So will you help?"
  Su zi thought for a moment.  "Do you have classes this afternoon?"
  "Then we can go meet Han Laoshi."

That afternoon...

  Su zi and Mr. Han spoke in Chinese.
  >>Mr. Han?<<
  >>Yes, Su zi?<<
  >>My friend here needs to learn traditional Chinese skills.<<
  >>Because he's living here.  He's a new student at our school.<<
  >>He came to live in China but he doesn't know our ways?<<
  >>He's here with his mother.  She is working here.  Please, Mr. Han, can you help him?<<
  >>You like this foreigner?<<
  >>Mr. Han...<<
  >>Very well.  I'll do it.<<
  >>Thank you, Mr. Han!<<
  "What did he say?"
  "He said he'd do it."
  "Do what?"
  Mr. Han spoke to Jaden.  "I will teach you gong fu."
  "Kung fu?  You'll teach me how to fight?  Cool!"
  "Not kung fu," Su zi said.  "Gong fu."
  "There are five principles of gong fu: food preparation and eating, style and fashion, language and culture, home decor and..."  Mr Han curled his nose.  "Personal hygiene."
  Jaden whispered to Su zi.  "What exactly does Mr. Han teach here?"
  "Home economics."

That weekend...

  "Mom, this is Mr. Han.  He's one of the teachers at the school."
  "Oh!  Mr. Han!  It's so nice to meet you!"
  "This won't do!"
  "What won't do?"
  "The colours are all wrong!  The furniture doesn't go at all with the room's decor!"
  "I had the furniture brought from America."
  Mr. Han sighed.  "We have a lot of work to do."
  "Look, I'm sorry but what gives you the right...?"
  Jaden interupted.  "Mom, please, he's trying to help."
  "No, Jaden, your mother's right.  I apologize.  Of course you wanted some things from your home country here in China."
  "Thank you."
  "But the room doesn't have proper feng shui."
  "Feng shui?"
  "You don't just place furniture anywhere in a room.  There must be balance.  Here.  The chairs.  They are all facing away from the door."
  "A good home is one that welcomes guests.  You must be facing the door at all times so that you can welcome people in."
  "It's also a bad idea to keep your back to the door in case someone has been paid to kill you."
  "I learned that from watching NCIS:LA."


  "Mom, this is Su zi.  She's a friend from school."
  "Nice to meet you, Mrs. Smith!"
  "A girl.  Your friend is a girl?"
  "There's actually more girls at school than guys.  You didn't say I could only make friends with a guy."
  "Jaden, you're too young to have a girlfriend."
  "Mom, she's just a friend.  You told me to make a friend."
  "Alright.  I'm sorry.  Come in."
  "It's okay, Mrs. Smith.  I understand.  You are both feeling very awkward here."
  "Come sit down.  I've been cooking: fried rice, rice noodles, mapo dofu and chicken ji ding."
  "You cooked all this by yourself?" Su zi asked.
  "Mr. Han helped," Mrs Smith admitted.  If you want to use a fork you can use a fork but we also have chopsticks."
  "Did Mr. Han teach you how to use chopsticks?"
  "He taught us both."
  Su zi looked at Jaden.  "Show me."
  The three of them sat down at teh table.  Jaden picked up his chopsticks and went to grab a tofu square from his plate.  Once he felt he had a firm grip he tried lifting it but it just slipped away.
  "I had it before," he said.
  "Try again."
  This time Jaden got a firm grip on the tofu square.  He started to lift it up but it split in half and both halves fell back to the plate.
  Su zi chuckled.
  "I'm a bit nervous."
  "I'll teach you," Su zi said.  She took one chopstick and stabbed a tofu square.  She then used the chopstick to pick up the tofu square and put it in her mouth.  "See?  It's easy."
  "I didn't know you could do that," Jaden said.
  "It's easier for you to eat like this until you get used to using chopsticks the traditional way."
  "Mr. Han didn't teach us that."
  "He wants you to learn the correct way to use chopsticks but Chinese gong fu takes a long time to master."
  "Gong fu?" Mrs. Smith asked.
  "Skill," Jaden said.  "The word 'gong fu' means skill.  Any sort of skill, not just fighting skill."
  "Oh!" Mrs. Smith said.  "So in Hong Kong movies when one person says that his kung fu is better than his opponent's kung fu..."
  "He means that his skill is better.  Gong fu can refer to any sort of skill."
  Su zi laughed.  "There is always confusion when two cultures meet."
  "How do you do it?" Jaden asked.
  "Do what?"
  "Your English is so good!  It must be very hard for you."
  Su zi nodded.  "I started learning English in kindergarten.  It was never important to me before."
  "But now you want to learn English so you can speak to Jaden?" Mrs. Smith asked.
  "See mom?  We are helping each other."
  "You need to learn Chinese too, Jaden.  And not just because it is one of your classes.  I don't know how long we will be here..."
  "Your mother's right, Jaden.  If you could speak a little Chinese then you would be more accepted here.  Maybe students here would feel better about learning English if you could speak some Chinese.  They are only learning English because their parents want them too."
  "I know."
  "Starting tonight I will teach you Chinese writing."
  "Oh no!  It's too hard!"
  Su zi sighed.  "First you learn to recognize the words.  Only when you become familiar with the words will I ask you to write them.  Okay?"

A few weeks later, at a restaurant in Beijing...

  >>My friend is from America,<< Su zi said to the restaurant owner.  >>I have been teaching him Chinese.<<
  The restaurant owner looked at Jaden.  "Ni zai Beijing duo jiu?"
  Jaden only understood the word "Beijing" but he was able to guess at the meaning of the question.  "Yi ge yue," he said.  One month.
  "Ah!  Ni de zhongwen hen hao!"
  "Xie xie."  Another guess.  He knew "hao" meant good and he assumed he was being complemented for being able to speak Chinese.

  Just then a gang of youths appeared behind them.  "So the waiguoren can speak Chinese?" the leader of the gang asked.
  "I'm trying," Jaden said.
  "You will never learn our ways, waiguoren!" he said.  "Our ways are too difficult for a foreigner to master!"
  "I can only try."
  "Ha!  So what are you, eh?  The gong fu kid?  You think you can learn Chinese traditional skills?"
  "Show us."
  "I don't want to fight you."
  "Who said anything about fighting?  Come.  Sit down."
  They sat down at one of the tables.
  "What do you want me to do?"
  "Order from the menu."
  Jaden looked at the menu.  He recognised characters for tofu and chicken.
  "Laoban?" he said.
  The restaurant owner came over.
  "Mapo dofu.  Ji ding."
  "Yi fen ma?"
  "Liang fen."  He indicated "two" with his fingers.
  "Hao."  The restaurant owner went to get the food.
  Jaden looked at his opponent.  "I hope you don't mind me ordering for you."
  "Very impressive," his opponent said.  "But I also want to see you eat it.  And no fork!  No spoon!  Only chopsticks!"
  "No problem!"
  The food was soon delivered to the table.  Jaden picked up his chopsticks and started eating.  In the past few weeks, Jaden had come to appreciate how sticky Chinese rice was, making it possible for him to pick it up using chopsticks.  The tofu and chicken was also each cut into little squares so that it could be picked up using chopsticks.
  Jaden finished everything on his plate and looked at his opponent.
  His opponent nodded.  "Very impressive.  Your gong fu is very good!"
  "Thanks you.  Does this mean we can be friends?"
  "Hell no!  It just means we won't beat the crap out of you!"  The gang leader motioned to his buddies.  >>Let's go!<<  They left.

  "You did it!" Su zi said.  "You beat him!"
  "Yeah.  I guess I did!"
  "I'm so proud of you!"
  "You know, Su zi, you know what my mom said about me being too young to have a girlfriend?"
  "I'm actually twelve years old already.  I'm just short for my age."

                                 THE END


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