My wife and daughter had taken the afternoon and evening off. Recognition flights. Recognition flights for mum and daughter surveying personalities and shops, developing character and taste, and previewing which future paths to take and which latest movies to skip. I usually receive a full report upon return. From both. My wife will reflect on the topics discussed; My daughter on the items not bought. Nonetheless, a good time, not the least because they’re leaving the men to themselves.
It is during these imposed men’ s nights that my son Asher and I drive around -with Asher behind the wheel, be it on my lap; that we go for a walk in the neighborhood; that we photograph the man on his bike, the ducks hanging head-down from the tree, the small red butt sticking out the split in the baby’s trousers, or that we play chess. Later on in the evening we get our huge Chinese chopping knives out and fix our favorite dishes while sweating away in our too small kitchen. For reason no one has ever been able to explain, kitchen counters in Chengdu are very low, even for the Chinese. They keep forgetting to build drawers. I have to stand legs wide when I do the dish wash like a giraffe drinking water from a well. I convinced my wife that this is not healthy for me and we agreed to delegate the dish washing duty to our kids. The kids were for obvious reasons not in on this meeting.
It was during an orange chopping session that Asher dropped the question: “Dad, what does the F-word mean? Some kids in my class know it but I don’t…” There are those questions you know will come at some point in time, but when they come you feel desperately ill prepared. Here hidden away under the shadows of the most eastern Tibetan hills, sex, drugs and rock’n roll are still centuries away. Though HIV and drugs aren’t unknown in China, it isn’t on people’s radar as much as in The West and teenage-moms are virtually unheard of. Kids here seem to stick to their innocence and do their homework a bit longer and are not worried about boyfriends or condoms or clean needles. I guess you can call it one of the blessings of a family-oriented society where two parents, a handful of grandparents and a busload of uncles and aunts pressure the one and only child to perform and eventually provide. Or is it the blessings of an internet policy that prevents half the ‘morally corrupting’ sites available in http://www.freeworld.com to be seen? Maybe it is just due to lack of catchy TV stations to watch.
But it wasn’t so much the sexual aspect of the topic that troubled me. I’ve worked enough with kids as well as parents who habitually used these words in every sentence -for as far as they were able to speak complete sentences anyway- explaining to them the origin and the meaning and the use of this abbreviation and the word. No, it wasn’t so much the meaning that troubled me as much as the time it would take to do so. As a hard working dad, I needed some personal wind-down time. So I planned an escape.
“No dad, I don’t know any S-word. I mean the F-word.”
“Sure you know the S-word; you’re teacher uses that every day in class! Doesn’t she always say: ‘as soon as I say the S-word, you can start’?”
“That’s not the S-word, that’s the G-word, dad.”
“Aha, I see.”
“Yes, the G-word, and it stands for ‘go’.”
A thoughtful silence followed. I desperately needed some time to think. All I wanted was to quietly read my book. For a moment I flirted with the idea to delegate this question. “Why don’t you ask your teacher tomorrow?!” but I couldn’t. Wasn’t this our men’s night? Wasn’t this the ideal stereotype question fitting an evening as this? Still, I needed time. “I’ll shower first, we’ll discuss this later -go and play after you’re done here.”
I found him playing in the living room with his favorite cars; causing traffic jams and accidents on the Cheng Guan Kuai Kong Road. I was just about to feel relieved when he looked up to me – and I knew: the question would come again. And so over dinner that evening, father and son were talking about eggs, seeds, stems and testicles, slowly painting a simplified picture of the complexity called reproduction that even scientists have not yet fully unraveled, just because of the F-word. Before we reached the heart of the matter though, Asher had lost interest and turned to more urgent and pressing issues: how to solve his traffic jam and what chess piece to move. I suppose it had been sufficient enough for a ten year old. Just as I sat back and picked up my book, the doorbell rang; mum and daughter had returned.