YEAR OF THE SNAKE CONTEST
To Fear Gao
Year of the Snake Contest: 1914 words.
A Chinese circus troup was in town for the Chinese New Year and were performing at Hawaii Theatre. A few of us asked the troup if they would like attend an after closing show party at my house. Several were interested, including Mr. Char, Mr. Siu, and Mr. Bao, the three acrobats. When they arrived at the party, they brought with them one of the largest gaos I have ever seen.
"This gao is truly humongous!" I exclaimed. "How much does it weigh?"
"Oh, maybe fifteen pounds or so," Mr. Char answered.
“Wow!” I exclaimed. “Could I try a little piece?”
"Beware, Mr. Lee, if you did not know it, once you start eating gao, especially a large gao such as this one, you must consume the entire gao upon peril of your life."
"Why is that?" I asked.
"Are you sure you really want to hear this story?" Mr. Char inquired.
"Why of course," I replied. "Especially if it’s a Chinese New Year story. How timely! How appropriate!"
Mr. Char cleared his throat and scanned the audience. "All right, friends," he began, "if you think you can handle it, I shall tell you harrowing Chinese New Year story. Very scary story. When Mr. Siu, Mr. Bao, and I in circus in China, magician tour with us. Very bad man. Not sleight-of-hand magician, this one, but he in touch with forces of dark side. He sorcerer, this man. Him very bad, very evil. He talk odd, act strange, scream at--"
Mr. Siu interrupted. "Excuse me, brother Char, but why on earth are you speaking in that hokey Chinese accent?"
"Oh," said Mr. Char, "I thought it might add to the drama of the story. You know, lend it that extra air of mystery and suspense."
Mr. Siu snorted. "Well it isn't doing anything except making people pay more attention to your accent than to the story. Please desist. At best, your lame accent demeans any people who struggle with another language. Continue, please, using your own voice."
"Very well," conceded Mr. Char, "I shall cont--"
"And why do you employ the archaic ‘shall’?" asked Mr. Bao. "Can't you just use ‘will’?"
A bit ruffled by these "judges," but a consummate performer long-trained not to let distractions sidetrack him, just as when he performed on the highwire, Mr. Char began again.
"Very well. I WILL tell you all that this story indeed takes place at the time of Chinese New Year -- just as now. The Year of the Snake had come round again -- just as now. And everyone celebrated with gao -- just as n--"
"Puh-lese," interrupted Mr. Siu. "Just as now enough already. Please allow me to continue this story."
Mr. Char, visibly flustered but unwilling to detract from the story by getting into an argument over how stories should be told, nodded silently to Mr. Siu, gesturing him to center stage.
Mr. Siu cleared his throat, then bowed his head, silently composing himself prior to leaping into storyteller mode. Suddenly his head flew up, and he glanced into the eyes of several audience members. "Have you ever had a birthday party?" he asked, pointing to Mr. Fong. "Or have you ever had a retirement party? he asked, pointing to Ms. Bunelle. "Or have you ever had a celebrational event such as these where the centerpiece on each table is given away to someone at each table?" he asked, pointing to Mr. Kurosawa.
Mr. Siu was now convinced that he had drawn his listeners in by making some sort of personal contact with them.
He looked around. No one spoke. Apparently none of them had ever been to such a party. Undeterred, however, he went on. "Well, even if you have never attended such a party, imagine if you will that you have. Mr. Char and Mr. Bao and I have. And I can tell you that at every party we have been to, there has never been a more highly prized centerpiece than a nice big wheel of gao. This is especially true in China, and even more especially so during the Chinese New Year season. Believe me, the only centerpiece worth winning, my friends, is gao. Gao and gao period. And the bigger the gao, the better.
“This had always been the case in the little town where our story takes place: A town which has since changed its name to Gaosux, China.
“Nowadays gao is very unpopular there. And if a gift of gao is sent in from outside Gaosux, the gao disposal unit examines it first. The bigger the gao, the more it is feared."
Mr. Kukuinui exploded in laughter. "Fear gao! Surely you jest, my friend. Who on earth would be afraid of a flabby little slab of mochi?"
"You would, my friend," said Mr Siu, "especially if that gao were 6'3", 250 pounds, and able to run the 40 in 4 seconds flat. Believe me, Sir, you would fear an enormous gao with this kind of athletic prowess who was bent on your destruction."
"I rather doubt it," scoffed Mr. Kukuinui, "but please continue with your amusing little tale."
"In the Gaoluk Circus, there was a sorcerer named Ching who," continued Mr. Siu, after cursing Mr. Kukuinui under his breath, "unbeknowst to any--"
Now Mr. Char interrupted. "You tell me I can't use the word ‘shall,’ and you use unbeknowst? What gives?"
"So no one KNEW" said Mr. Siu, not skipping a beat, "that this sorcerer was in love with the bearded lady, which in China is an even more bizarre and, therefore, more highly prized freakish aberration than in other more richly hair-endowed cultures. But the bearded lady rejected the sorcerer, and would soon marry, instead, the circus’s wild panda tamer named Ling. Ling bought Ming -- the bearded lady -- a huge diamond ring. Ming accepted Ling's proposal, and the two decided to wed on Chinese New Year's Day.
"Everyone in Gaoluk was overjoyed. Everyone, that is, except Ching the magician."
"So Ming snubbed Ching because of Ling's big ring?" I asked.
"No," said Mr. Siu, "she truly loved Ling because of the manly way in which he grappled with the vicious panda bears. Ling was a most masterful panda wrangler. Wild pandas were like furry black and white putty in his hands. Those chubby fiends were no match for the masterful training genius of Ling."
"Aye," Commander Williams, USN Retired, confirmed. "I've sailed the South China Sea many a godforsaken time, and never have I ventured upon Chinese soil without some trepidation. For I have often heard the horrible stories of all the poor souls who've met their ghastly ends at the paws and jaws of savage wild panda bears. They are indeed very bad, very dangerous bears."
Mr. Siu nodded solemnly. "Ching the magician decided to reek vengeance upon the happy couple. 'I will give them a combination Chinese New Year and wedding present they will not soon digest,' vowed he. So he steamed them an enormous gao in an enormous steamer on the stroke of midnight, Chinese New Year's Eve. He called upon all the forces of darkness to infuse his recipe for disaster. Thunder thundered. Lightning, er, lightninged all around the enormous steamer.
"Finally the first ray of sunlight licked over the eastern horizon. The huge steamer began to rumble. The rumbling grew louder and louder until it deafened all the residents of Gaoluk. Ching fell to his knees and stretched out his arms toward the heavens. As if in response to his diabolical supplication, one last blinding jagged bolt flew down from the sky, blowing the steamer cover to bits. Ching held his breath. Then a stunning 6'3" 250 pound gao-man arose from the steamer. He was absolutely ripped, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original TERMINATOR movie. But his ingredients were not additives, nor preservatives, nor steroids. His ingredients were all-natural mega-doses of hatred, bile, heartbreak, tears, and nastiness and bad words of every sort.
“Ching clapped his hands together and the gao-man came to him, seething with all things dark and ugly oozing from his mochi pores. The sun had risen higher. Quickly Ching gave the gao-man his Mickey Mouse wristwatch, taught the beast to tell time, and handed it a stolen copy of the wedding invitation. Then Ching drew the hideous mochi monster a crude but effective map to get it to the ceremony that was to be held at the town hall. And last, but of utmost importance in his warped, twisted, diseased, maniacal, sick, unbalanced, and tortured mind, Ching taught the not-so-sweet messenger to speak a little delivery message. This was the tricky part, for the hellish pupil had a slight speech-related difficulty.
“In desperation, Ching finally swept up a handful of pebbles from the ground and crammed them into the creature's gooey mouth. 'Now say it!' he commanded. The seething steamy blob forced out the words: 'Happy Chinese New Year, Ming and Ling. I've come to destroy you. Sincerely yours, Ching the Unhappy.'
"'Yes!' screamed out the momentarily jubilant Ching. 'I think it's got it!'
“Rubbing his hands together, Ching cautioned his ungodly demon dessert to run swiftly and be careful not to swallow. And pointing in the direction of the town, the jilted sorcerer set his monstrous gao-gram upon its mission.
"The beastly gao closed on the town hall like hell on wheels. Smashing through the front door, it collided with wedding guests, sending a shower of gifts in every direction. The not-so-happy bride and groom gazed in terror at the gruesome gao. 'Happy Chinese New Year, Ming and Ling!' bellowed the merciless gao, ‘I've come to destr--'
"But before it could deliver the full text of its hateful missive, the joyless gao froze. Ten of the most ferocious panda bears imaginable leaped upon it, throwing the horrid gao-man to the floor. 'Eat!' shouted Ling. The tuxedo-clad bears dutifully obeyed their trainer's command, tearing the doomed gao apart. Momentarily, all that remained, were the Mickey Mouse watch and a single, forlorn gao toe. The sticky toe quivered. The bride stepped on it, ground it into the floor, then wiped the sole of her shoe on the carpet, leaving a greasy stain. “'Please continue with the ceremony,' she urged politely.
"Thus ends the story of the enormous gao," concluded Mr. Siu. "Happy Chinese New Year to all. Please enjoy the gao."
Mr. Lau plunged his very sharp knife into the slab of gao, and sliced it into bite-sized pieces.
But no sooner had he finished the last incision then the gao slab mysteriously healed itself.
"It's alive!" exclaimed Mr. Char. "Give me the knife."
"Please give me a break!" scoffed Mr. Kukunui. "It's just that this gao is still very fresh."
Mr. Char paid no heed to Mr. Kukuinui, savagely slashing at the gao. As quickly as he cut it up, he, Mr. Siu, and Mr. Bao crammed gao into their mouths. They did not cease their feeding frenzy until the final slice was made, and there was little left for the rest of the guests to eat.
"There," said, Mr. Siu, "no chance of this gao congealing again now that it is confined to our three separate tummies."
"Agreed," burped Mr. Bao. "I declare this mini-monster harmless now."
The other guests were able to try a tiny nibble of the gao, and all agreed that it was quite tasty.
I alone chose not to sample the gao.