Issue #2: “Nǐ kǒu kě ma?”, Chen Chen

“Nǐ kǒu kě ma?”
               (Xiamen, China 2008)

I sit with my grandmother & watch a Coca Cola commercial on TV, another tie-in with the Beijing Olympics. My grandmother doesn’t watch the TV so much as me. Again she asks if I have a girlfriend yet, as if I’ve found one here in the family village, in the last couple of weeks. I tell her (again) I’m too busy with school, though it’s the middle of summer break & I’m busy staring at the screen, at the Chinese runner everyone in China is rooting for. Liu Xiang. He’s in almost all these commercials. Drinking Coca Cola, crossing the finish line. When the commercial ends, my grandmother asks if I’m thirsty, “Nǐ kǒu kě ma?” I nod, still watching the TV. She comes back into the room, apologizing. “We’ve run out of Coke,” she says. Then: “But we’ll be sure to get some tomorrow, first thing.” I tell her in my best Mandarin not to worry about it, that I don’t like Coke that much anyway. She smiles, “That stuff’s no good for you.” She pours me a cup of tea, instead. Smiles, handing it to me. I return the smile, drink. We turn back to the TV: a sport neither of us recognizes. “Is it good?” my grandmother asks, during another commercial break. “Yes,” I say. “Are you sure?” “Yes.” Smile. “It’s one of the best teas of our region. At least, that’s what your uncle says.” Smile. “Yes.” My grandmother fidgets with a canister of tea leaves. “Oh if only I could speak English!” She looks right at me. “I can understand everything you’re saying, though.” She doesn’t seem to hear. “If I spoke English, then I would know what you really want.” My hands clasp together, sweaty, on my lap. I keep staring at the TV. “Don’t be so shy,” my grandmother says, “you’re seeing someone, aren’t you? She can be a foreigner, grandma doesn’t care. I just want you to be happy.” Look, on TV, the same ad again: the track star’s effortless happiness, his stupidly handsome face.

tealeaves

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more of Chen Chen’s work here.

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