Chapter 10: Dating a Martian (4)
Chen Mo was distressed.
What do I do about dinner? Did she really call me over just for the soufflé? Dinner, oh dinner, what to do!
Miao Yuan watched Chen Mo immersed in his writing and thought, You really won’t treat me to dinner today?
Miao Yuan glanced up at the clock. Momo also signaled to her with taps on the wrist, reminding her that if it was too late, she wouldn’t sub for her. Miao Yuan took a deep breath and scurried up to Chen Mo.
“Chen Mo, are you hungry?”
If you’re hungry, I can just treat you to dinner, all right? Miao Yuan thought sadly.
Chen Mo raised his head in relief, and capped his pen. “What do you want to eat?”
If she hadn’t spoken up, he would have been done with his year-end review.
“Um, let’s eat paomo1!” Miao Yuan proposed to Chen Mo’s rare astonishment. Paomo was a lamb stew with chunks of steamed bun in it.
Chen Mo had mulled over where to bring a girlfriend to eat on a first date, but after brainstorming for half a day, he came up empty-minded. Thus, he planned to go along with Miao Yuan’s decision and was fine with whatever she picked. To avoid being strapped for cash, he had made a detour to the ATM earlier today to withdraw 500 RMB2.
She had looked at him, eyes twinkling, and said, I want to eat paomo. Chen Mo tried searching her eyes for signs that she was joking, but failed. It was a sincere request. She wholeheartedly wanted him to treat her to paomo. Chen Mo sighed, thinking, Okay, I’ll oblige.
As a transplant, Miao Yuan wanted to try the most authentic local dishes. But behind this reason lay something more profound. She wanted to try the food of his childhood.
Even so, Chen Mo still drove her to Prosperity & Fortune3, a fancy, renowned restaurant. After all, the diner he liked as a child was a little unbefitting for a first date. When he went with Lu Zhen last time, even he didn’t dare put his sleeves on the table.
It was dinner time and Prosperity & Fortune buzzed with chatter. Chen Mo ordered two paomo and also planned to order stir-fry. Miao Yuan was surprised and said, “If you think you won’t be full, I can share some since I can’t finish a bowl.”
In the end, Chen Mo didn’t order the stir-fry. Truthfully, it was overpriced and didn’t even taste good.
Soon, two empty bowls were served with four small steamed buns.
Miao Yuan asked, “Do you have something important to do in a while?”
Miao Yuan beamed. “Then let’s take our time tearing the buns apart.”
If done slowly, pinching apart two buns could take half an hour. Miao Yuan was proud. Why did she want to eat paomo? Because you can tear the buns!
Though they normally spoke over the phone, it couldn’t compare to right now, with Chen Mo laughing and talking in front of her in the flesh.
It was as cold outside as it was toasty inside. The dense aroma of mutton wafted through the restaurant as white, smoky steam. It made everything seem as though it had been separated by a film, giving a sense of detachment from reality. The din from all sorts of Chinese accents livened the atmosphere.
I shouldn’t be enjoying this, he thought. He had learned to savor solitude this year. Alone under a pile of snow, he made an art of stillness. He could wait a whole 24 hours just for a chance to open fire at his target, which was not even guaranteed to appear.
He felt like a fish in water then. But now, he watched Miao Yuan smile as she lowered her head and struggled to tear the bread. Her cheeks were tinted red from the steam and her eyes glimmered while she talked about the sundries of life.
Chen Mo’s heart softened. As the saying goes: The smoke of a stove fire signals the mortality of life. Indeed, this was a more normal life.
When their bowls were filled with a small mound of bread morsels, Chen Mo began to pour in the broth.
Miao Yuan leaned over to take a peek, and exclaimed, “Wow, how did you tear it so evenly?”
The five millimeter chunks seemed nearly identical. Chen Mo looked at this amused. He had grown used to a soldier’s strict life, and had unknowingly torn the buns in a tidy fashion.
“I can just tell that mine won’t be as good as yours,” Miao Yuan said, envious.
When the bread finished soaking in the broth, Chen Mo pushed a bowl toward Miao Yuan. The bread inside was meticulously even.
With a taste, Miao Yuan knew it wasn’t the one she tore and her heart swayed with pride. I’ve set my sights on such a gentleman!
The next few days, Miao Yuan wallowed in regret. Supposedly, there were no more residential committees, which discussed who should serve as the military’s model. If there were, she would undoubtedly be on the list of model members.
Lately, Snail Miao’s fingers would act on their own—pour a bit of this, add a bit of that. Everything came out like heaven.
Momo teared up. “Your name might as well be Love!”
Miao Yuan simply laughed, too lazy to mind her.
At the end of the year, Chen Mo would be overseeing his team’s martial arts competition. Miao Yuan was suddenly inspired, saying, “I’ll bake some cakes as the prize,” to which Chen Mo went along and accepted.
The day of the competition, Miao Yuan lugged a large paper box storing five chocolate pear pies. She had underestimated the number of people in the team and now felt a pressure loom over from the neat row of uniformed members. She hadn’t anticipated such an atmosphere and had originally planned to let only the outstanding members have a slice. Even so, there weren’t enough, leaving many downcast and drooling.
Some soldiers sweet-talked, loudly roaring, “Thank you sister-in-law.” Miao Yuan was greatly alarmed, and turned to look at Chen Mo but only saw him immersed in conversation. He looked calm and indifferent. When some were about to heckle her, the instructor stood up and intervened.
When Miao Yuan returned to the cafe, she grabbed Momo’s arm, shaking it. “Hey, he should know…” She paused. “He should know that I’ve liked him since a while back. Why else would someone be so free as to treat him so well? He should know, right? But why doesn’t he even hint at knowing?”
Momo deliberated. “Have you heard of the Three Don’ts with men? Don’t take initiative, don’t reject, and don’t take responsibility.”
“I haven’t!” Miao Yuan was dumbstruck.
“Then go find a chance to pressure him.”
Miao Yuan decided to take Momo’s advice and thought, Whatever the outcome, so be it. She wanted to see if he really was her sort of guy and if the little grassy patch of love she had been nurturing was really to her liking. If it wasn’t, she’d unroot it. But strangely, she felt sad.
Miao Yuan chose a day before the dinner rush to give him a call. No one answered and disappointment iced her heart a numbing cold. Thankfully, before it reached zero degrees Chen Mo returned her call.
“Are you free tonight?” Miao Yuan blew her nose. It wasn’t faked. She really didn’t know what to do.
“No.” Chen Mo’s reply was unexpectedly blunt.
“Ah…” Miao Yuan fell into despair.
“Do you need me for something?” Chen Mo guessed.
“Yeah,” Miao Yuan nodded. She was on the verge of crying, tears nearly leaking out.
“Then I’ll go find someone to cover for me.”
With those words, her tears magically evaporated.
“Where are you right now?” Chen Mo had the phone to his ear as he went to find Cheng Hui, the police instructor.
“In front of your workplace,” Miao Yuan said, loitering around the outer walls of the People’s Armed Police Detachment. She picked at the wall’s crackled paint till the fallen chips speckled the ground.
“Find some shelter from the wind and wait. I’ll be right there.”
Miao Yuan stared blankly at her phone for a few seconds before taking a deep breath and putting a hand on her chest. Like I said, my party’s and army’s years of experience tell us that all enemies are but paper tigers! We must be courageous and dare take up weapons and fight! Political power grows out of the barrel of the gun4!
Miao Yuan waved both of her arms, showing her determination. Chen Mo ran out from the large gate when he spotted a tiny figure waving her hands in the wind.
It’s so cold yet she has such energy! Chen Mo lamented.
Miao Yuan went stiff. When she turned around, her energy dissipated and was replaced by an expectant yet wronged expression. She looked at Chen Mo and said softly, “It’s my birthday today, can you keep me company to eat cake?”
“It’s your birthday today?” Chen Mo was vexed. It’s over. He didn’t prepare anything at all.
Two days ago, his ex-captain even went out of the way to call him for a lecture. “Every wife needs to be pampered, but you have to do it well and with timing. You can neglect her for 362 days, but there are three days when you have to be on your best behavior. Those days are Valentine’s, Christmas, and her birthday. In any case, that brat Lu Zhen’s ideas are useless. Listen to me instead. I’ll take care of you man!”
Chen Mo thought, It doesn’t matter how highly you think of me. I’m doomed to slip up on the first of the three days. However, he hadn’t yet considered what he would do on this first day.
- Paomo is a hot stew of chopped-up steamed leavened bread or steamed buns (known regionally as mo or mantou, cooked in lamb broth and served with lamb meat.
- ¥500 RMB: $80 USD: $100 CAD
- Like all places mentioned in My Youth Begins with Loving You, Prosperity & Fortune Restaurant is an actual restaurant in Xi’an. It’s famous for its paomo.
- “Political power grows out of the barrel of the gun” is a slogan coined by Mao Zedong suggesting that in order to take political control, the armed struggle is an absolute necessity.