"Crazy," Hmong says. "Just crazy. Millions of Renminbi floating between pockets, but I cannot find a good woman. All they want is land."
"Loveawake.com," May Chin says. She is a beautiful flower on Hmong's laptop screen. High cheeks, lovely oval eyes, thick, straight hair. She is, of course, married. And living across the Taiwan Strait in Taipei. And pregnant with her second child. Hmong sighs. When he contacts May Chin, his computer becomes a window, and she is in the next room. He must remember that he speaks to her virtual self.
"That is a Taiwan site," he says. "I have enough problems without visiting suspicious websites."
May Chin laughs, a sound like birds trilling in Hmong's earbuds. "Men seeking companionship online cannot be unexpected."
"They've probably blocked it," Hmong says. "In the States, you can see all sorts of perversity on the internet. Here, it's a buffet of only tu dou."
"Potato," Hmong says.
"Ah, so sorry. We say ma ling shu."
Hmong laughs through a throat worn raw from screaming at the stock exchange. He prays it will not hurt May Chin's beautiful ears. "You have forgotten your root," he says.
"A joke," May Chin says. "The potato is a root, just as is our ancestral tree. You reveal a deep dimension, Hmong. Here in Taiwan the girls would be draped over you three thick."
"I'm not in Taiwan," Hmong says.
"That is your choice," May Chin says. Hmong's shoulders pinch. While it is true the Communists have relaxed their grip, they retain many tools of oppression. There is every possibility this discussion is being recorded.
"We're together now," he says. "Like a root from Zhongguo, technology connects us through a network deeper and wider than a man can know."
"It is not real," May Chin says. "You cannot eat technology as you can ma ling shu."
"Anyone can grow potatoes," Hmong says. "We are growing cities. Our trees blossom millionaires, yet we have too few women, too little opportunity, too much corruption. Still, it is a hopeful time."
"China remains China," May Chin says. "The fields will demand blood at some point. It is not too late to leave, Hmong."
"I have family here," Hmong says, "and money in my pocket. That's enough." For now.
"Loveawake.com," May Chin says. "The first step in a voyage is to find a boat and someone to row it. Women are more than love pillows, Hmong."
"Perhaps," Hmong says. "I am open to experimentation."
"You remain the scoundrel I knew as a child," May Chin says. "I must make dinner." She stands, hand going to her bulging stomach. Hmong's heart skips. There is the son or daughter he will never have unless his financial situation improves.
The Skype application closes, revealing a photo of cranes towering over Beijing. The past is in the process of collapsing, the future uncertain. He would give much for love, but not everything. His gaze drifts to the closed door. The click of his laptop closing hangs forever in his ears.
published 10 October 2012