Sometimes, it is good to tell a lie (China)

I am in my favourite cafe in Shamian Dao, the little island in Guangzhou. They have tables out in the open, right next to the river. I often end up here reading, writing, or just watching the brightly lit boats go by. The people working here recognise me from my past visits over the years, that makes me happy. A girl working at the cafe asks me for a favour. She wants me to translate a text message from a foreign admirer, a customer who dropped in earlier in the day. I try with my terrible spoken Chinese. He is asking, “Can I meet you tomorrow?” The girl (in horror), “Bu yao!!.” (“don’t want.”) She adds something else which I do not understand. From her tone, I understand that she does not want to meet the man outside of the cafe. Now, I have the difficult task of messaging back to the hopeful man on the other side. I toned down her response and type “Sorry! Very busy tmrw…cannot meet.” I see “hot coke with ginger” on their menu. It feels like a translation error. Once in a hotel in Sichuan, Ou showed me a dish “Fried Indian with rice”. Out of curiosity, I ordered the “hot coke with ginger” drink. It turned out exactly what it said - hot coke with ginger. Supposedly cures cold. The nice thing about this cafe is that they let me stay well past the closing time. Jenny, the ever-smiling young woman who runs the place, dropped by for a chat. She is one of those youthful and bright-eyed people you meet all across China, working and studying part-time, some language, management or IT subjects. We talked about her job, her school and my travels. I ask Jenny about her childhood days. She tells me about learning English phrases via foreign cartoons on TV and later enacting the scenes with her friends. Ou once told me that the first English phrase she learnt to say fluently, “prepare to die”, was from an American cartoon. Jenny stares at the river. I can tell that she is thinking of her hometown. She says that she will go home to Guilin for the new year and I should come and visit her . She will show me all her childhood places. She asks me if I have been there before. Guilin was a city I visited in my very first trip to China. I am not sure if I will be in China around the new year, but it will be fun to help Jenny’s remember her childhood. Plus there is all that new year food. I lie “Guilin, oh I have never been there. It is in Yunnan province, right?”