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July 23, 2011 / Katie

The Green Tea Party Goes to Town Hall

SCENE

(Gray folding chairs have been arranged in a clumsy circle. Despite the chairs, the room is nearly empty. The white walls lie vacant except for one or two small framed photographs; in each picture a group of men looking festive in matching jackets are gathered together in several rows, a banner strewn across the bottom row that reads: Foochow Village Association No. 5. The hardwood floor has no finish and has been scuffed and scratched beyond recognition, even though the apartment is less than a year old. A group of Chinese men and women enter the room, followed by two young American girls in their twenties. The meeting, conducted almost entirely in Chinese, begins.)

MR. DENG

Hello everyone. Thank you for coming to the board meeting. We have several issues to discuss. Do you want to start?

(He motions to the young women sitting in the corner. Mr. Deng is dressed in a cheap pinstripe suit, probably made by a local knockoff tailor. A loose gold chain dangles around his wrist. He is the manager of a restaurant down on East Broadway.)

SHIRLEY

Yeah, basically we’re tired of strange people coming in and out of the building. They buzz our apartment at all hours. They leave trash in the hallway and smoke and spit in the elevator. It’s disgusting.

NEIGHBOR

I still find people smoking in there even though we have a sign in the elevator that says “No Smoking, No Spitting.” We should make the sign even bigger so that no one can miss it.

SHIRLEY

And the elevator always stinks. The old man you hired to do maintenance cleans it with a ragged mop and a bucket of dirty water.

(Mr. Deng stares back at the tenants, blinking dumbly in the silence. A short, stocky Chinese man with a $6 buzz cut and a black turtleneck stands by the window observing this piece of theatre. His face reads: smug amusement.)

MAN

Fine. We will ask tenants to have their guests take the stairs instead of the elevator if it bothers you that much.

(The other young woman scoots to the edge of her chair, eager to counter this pronouncement. She is not a native Mandarin speaker. Her words, fueled by exasperation, come tumbling out in disjointed spurts.)

KATIE

But, but…those people should not come here to begin with. They come to our building but they do not live here. They play mahjong, then they argue. Everyday I have to go to work and I need to sleep early. I don’t care if they play mahjong and gamble, but they need to close by 11 pm.

(Two lookie-loos, neither of whom live in the building or were invited to the board meeting, stand near the doorway, their faces painted with a kind of deranged glee. They hang on every word, every incensed complaint.)

LOOKIE-LOO 1

Look, the foreigner can speak Chinese!

LOOKIE-LOO 2

Hahaha!

APARTMENT OWNER

We are not operating gambling rings. Chinese people just like to get together and play games. This is just a case of someone having a few friends over for some fun, for a party.

KATIE

Every night? They have a party every night until 3 am?

MAN

How do you know they are up until 3 am every night?

KATIE

How do I know? (She is flabbergasted at this ridiculous insinuation.) I live here. Of course I know. I hear them every night!

MAN

If you don’t like them, why don’t you ask them to leave?

KATIE

If they moved out, I would be very happy. But it doesn’t work that way. How can I ask them to leave if they own the apartment?

(The man shrugs as if he was just trying to be helpful.)

SHIRLEY

Who did you say you were again? Which apartment are you here to represent?

MAN

Apartment 3B.

(3B is one of the gambling rings in question.)

SHIRLEY

Huh. So you should know exactly what we’re talking about.

(The lookie-loos gape at the scene as the two girls exchange words in English and then get up to leave. The second girl can no longer stand their unabashed gawking and makes one last parting remark.)

KATIE

What are you two looking at?

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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4 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Adalena / Jul 23 2011 12:41 pm

    Hi, fellow bookish NYC hapa here. I’ve been following you on twitter and I really enjoy your take on Chinatown life.

    I just learned mahjong this year, (Taiwan rules) and while I’m really into the game I can’t imagine the stinky ciggies and all-night clacking of tiles. It really must make it hard for a working gal to get some sleep! I hope you’re able to resolve this issue, but gamblers tend to be tenacious, especially if the stakes are high.

    P.S. my twitter handle is @5redpandas

    • Katie / Jul 23 2011 12:50 pm

      Thanks for reading, Adalena! I’m always happy to meet (even if virtually) a fellow hapa 🙂 Stay tuned for Part 3 of the gambling ring saga.

  2. kingwho? / Jul 23 2011 12:58 pm

    Great stuff so far, Katie. Really looking forward to the continuing saga! 🙂

  3. Shelley / Jul 24 2011 5:57 pm

    Hmm…this scene is hauntingly familiar.

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