“Thwap!” the head of a sturdy knife came cut into the stump. An old man tossed the body of the fish into one pile and pushed aside the head with his knife.
“Will you eat dinner with us tonight?”, his wife, the motorcycle rental woman, tilted her head at me.
“No! I will not eat dinner with you. My brother and I are cold and tired. You owe me money for the battery. Give me the money and I will leave.”
Guilin Fish Shack
Night has fallen over the small river town of Guilin in southern China.
All four of us are in the shack adjacent to the used motorcycle lot hoping to settle our business. Or are am I simply there to not lose face? She has returned all the money except 50 yuan charged for a new battery.
My motorcycle had broken down. It had to be towed back from the river into the town mechanic shop.
The mechanic ran a mom and pop shop. I wasn’t sure if all the children there were his or just his friends. But either way I was able to snap a picture of them. They were curious. They probably hadn’t seen many foreigners in their life. I still think they were some of the cutest kids I have seen in my life.
Halfway between the town and Guilin the motorcycle broke down again. I pushed it through a tunnel and up a hill on the side of a highway.
I pushed it into a migrant workers camp on the side of the road. I told them it was out of gas. They tried to suck gasoline out of the managers care before they realized I had just flooded the engine. Something like that. It was all in Chinese and I can’t remember it clearly now.
But what I can remember is the sound of the ax coming down on the fish. The sincerity in the women’s voice as she asked us to come in for dinner. Was she trying to put me off the scent? What kind of Chinese mind games was she playing…
We Yelled At Each Other
Maybe it was the smell of fish. Maybe it was the fact that I had been humiliated in the parking lot of a migrant worker’s stack housing. Maybe it was the way they turned their X’s into S’s in that corner of the realm.
So I yelled at her. And she yelled at me. We yelled at each other until we were both red in the face and it was clear that neither could yell any longer, there in a small shack in the her fishing village.
Of course I ended up losing my 50 yuan. I had no chance.
I walked out of the shack tired. My clothes were damp from the light rain that had fallen as I had cruised back into town from the migrant workers camp. I smelled like fish.