(posted Wednesday, December 28, 2005)
Stopping to light incense at his small ancestral shrine, the hero known as Crimson Tao glanced nervously at the talismans dangling throughout the room. These small slips of paper scrawled with verses would betray the captain’s strongly superstitious nature and some of the more… ideological… guests would not appreciate his clinging on to the “old traditions.” But this meal was supposed to grant some protection against evil spirits – the talismans could come down, for one night.
The other Chinese members of the CCCP began to arrive. First was the child soldier, Shen Fai-long. “Ni hao, Shen tongzhi,” Sun said with a deep bow as the comrade entered his home.
Shen mirrored the gesture. “Thank you for inviting me to this Dong Zhi festival, Captain.”
“I am honored that you have chosen to attend.”
Shen looked around the apartment for the first time and smiled. “I am reminded of home.”
“As am I.”
Sister Shuma, Shi Jia-ning, and the commissar People’s Blade, Xiao Fei Li, arrived together.
“Wan shang hao, shuai, tongzhi.”
People’s Blade returned the captain’s smart military salute, and then exchanged bows. With a giggle, Shuma followed the commissar inside.
Like their Western counterparts, the Chinese Winter Solstice festival included an exchange of gifts. Though every guest (besides the commissar, who is never to be instructed by a mere captain) was told not to bring any gifts for their host, Tao brought out hidden presents for his countrymen.
For the younger comrades, these gifts included bound volumes of the works of Sun Tzu, the I-Ching, and quotations of Mao, as well more modern personal offerings reflecting the capitalist environment these heroes sought to protect. Amid youthful cries of “xie xie”, Tao presented his commanding officer with her gift – an er-hu carved by an old friend of Kai’s from Shanghai.
The traditional meal consisted of Long Thread noodles, red bean rice to chase away evil ghosts, and tangyuan in curry broth for good fotrune and harmony. Without thinking, Sun Kai removed his mask at the table, exposing his Tsoo facial tattoos to his guests for the first time. Freezing in panic, he glanced up to see how his comrades would react. To his shock, no one commented – or even seemed to notice. Tao smiled. In this city, with these allies, why would they?
“I did not know that you were a musician, Tao,” Fei Li commented, idly picking the strings of the er-hu after the evening highlight of Tao and Xiao trying to keep their bottles of Tsingtao away from an overly energetic Jia-ning’s miniature gravity wells. Three gazes followed the commissar’s words and fell on a di-zi resting on a shelf over the incense burner.
Kai smiled. “If a soldier studied only war, what use would he be in days of peace?”
“Play for us!” Shuma laughed.
Moments later, the staccato notes of the flute flowed through Kai’s rendition of “Blue Flower.” Even without his mask, his tattoos plainly visible, Tao concentrated on putting his entire soul into the song. The cascading sounds of the di carried through the apartment building, offering a sense of calm and joy to all who stopped to listen.
For the first time since he could remember since leaving China, Tao was happy. Even in this capitalist wasteland called Paragon, there was still a place somewhere that could feel like home.