Lily and Chen Arrive at a Decision: Male and Female, Status, and Indirection

By now, of course, Chen was thoroughly receptive to Lily's idea of starting a business of their own. . . . But he could not immediately fall in with a proposal to which he had previously been at best indifferent, on which he had poured volumes of masculine pragmatic cold water. Too respectful of Lily's cunning to execute such a sudden turn-around, Chen awaited an opportunity to be converted with a realistic amount of stubbomness and resistance. The stick once grasped again by Lily would come out of the mud with a satisfying feel of adhesive suction being overcome. But Chen had to wait. And wait. Lily was being infuriatingly uncooperative. If he hadn't known better, much better, Chen might have sworn it was deliberate.

A serene smile played around Lily's dimples as she did her housework around a Husband rendered almost apoplectic by the effort of enticing his wife into argument without betraying his motives and simultaneously keeping his own temper when she failed to rise to his lures.

"That idea of yours, you know, going into business by ourselves, it's absolutely ridiculous, of course. Absolutely ridiculous, Lily."

Lily would keep polishing the table, smiling in a superior way, or most irritatingly switch on the vacuum cleaner and swirl the nozzle insolently between Chen's feet like some surrogate mechanical penis.

"Sometimes I wonder if you have any sense at all, Lily." But Lily had not abandoned her long-cherished ambition. She, too, had decided on indirection as the best policy, although for different reasons. Chen had just happened to catch her in one of the passive phases of her campaign. The inactivity was calculated; she wished to concert her assaults on the bastion of Chen's male obstinacy in waves rather than commit herself to a once-and-for-all showdown. At the moment he seemed so set against the idea there wasn't much point in resisting him, thought Lily, following tactics evolved in people's war. Here, as in other things, she showed herself out of sympathy with the head-on Hung gar traditions so proudly espoused by her father, that persipacious man whose decision to discontinue her teaching might not have been so arbitrary after all.

As both of them, husband and wife, worked in their separate ways to the same goal, each effectively frustrating the efforts of the other, they resembled miners, each driving a gallery to join the tunnel the other was projecting from the opposite direction, but at a slant, so they would never meet. Things might have gone on in this thoroughly unsatisfactory way for a long time until one day their initiatives happened to coincide, had Mui not intervened. She provided, so to speak, the connecting branch between their workings. . .

"Look at all those little shops selling lupsup to the Westerners," said Mui, thereby, if she only knew, endearing herself both to her brother-in-law and younger sister. "The cooks in those places are no more trained cooks than you or me, Lily. Some of them were just cooks on ships and lots of them haven't even done that."

"Yes, yes, Mui, you're quite right," Chen agreed enthusiastically. "Those people have had no practice at all. You and Lily could start up a counter tomorrow without any difficulty."

"No difficulty," Lily agreed.

"I don't know why you haven't suggested it to me before," Chen concluded; then wondered whether he might not have gone too far. This could have knocked the breath for a reply right out of Lily. Chen hadn't, however, allowed for the degree of obtuseness of which his wife fully believed him capable; for her phlegmatic resignation to and acceptance of an extent of male insensitivity and plain stupidity would have deeply wounded him had he been aware of it. Not that there was anything personal about it. (Perhaps it was well he would never plumb it.) Lily just looked significantly at Mui before saying mildly: "I think that's a very good idea. We should think seriously about it." Then with equal pride in their part in stage-managing a satisfactory preliminary state of affairs, both decided to leave well alone for the time being. [Chapter 10, pp. 78-80]

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