Stressed out: forty degrees Celsius.
My classmates are out at Oishi Shabu Buffet, where everyone has their own pot and the food comes on a moving track. Convenient.
Meanwhile, the nine of us crowd around one single Hot Pot. Shoulder to shoulder, piling over one another to reach the food. Ridiculous.
Crowded: forty five degrees Celsius.
You must spend the festival with your family, mother told me as if I needed telling. That is pretty much the same for every Chinese festival: spend the festival with your family. In the summer, I was home for Duanwu while my friends went to a water park; in the autumn, I was home for Zhongcheou while my friends went barbecuing; in winter, I was home for Dongzhi while my friends went ice skating.
Now it is spring and I am still home. Sigh.
Disappointment: fifty degrees Celsius.
"The lotus root is too hard" my sister complains. I help her dump it back into the pot. My sisters are only ten and eight, so mother put me in charge of cooking for them. For every batch of food I work on, they take sixty percent.. somewhat like taxes. I refill their bowls with dollops of sacha sauce to go with the lamb, salmon, gong wan, nian gao, and tofu.
As I watch the food bobbing in the merry broth, my mind flickers to Lee Wei. He had been extremely courteous to me recently. Not the creepy kind, but sincere and genuine. Sometimes I wonder if anyone else realizes how mannered and humble he is. He is charming in his own quiet way.
But now, all I can see is Lee Wei with his friends and mine. Girls and boys settled along the shabu bar. Long pink nails on Lee Wei's shoulder. Another chopstick offering Lee Wei beef. Ugh. It makes me shudder to think that it might be happening. Surely, he must be modest enough to turn them down. Yes, he probably has his two best buddies on either side of him.
Lee Wei is not trashy. Of course.
"I don't want bok choy" my sister states.
"Me neither" another pipes in.
Mother of bok choy, children are so difficult.
Picky eaters: fifty five degrees Celsius.
Everyone is going somewhere today except me. I never demand to have something, but when I do my parents still refuse. It is so unfair that I tackle my homework obediently but still have to stay in this birdcage of an apartment, while my friends are close to flunking but still get to go out every single weekend.
It isn't like I won't be back for dinner. Geez, I need a life!
Boredom: sixty degrees Celsius.
When the meat is fully brown, I serve them to my sisters. But only two slices of the ten I cooked are in the pot. The remaining slices are split between my parents.
And they left nothing for me. Urgh.
Bitterly, I start another batch of meat.
Weariness: sixty five degrees Celsius.
What a way to spend the New Year. I bet my friends are having fun at MegaBangna. Comfortably spread across the Hot Pot bar with meaningful chatter. Unlike what I get.
Father and Uncle are yakking about some car they saw at the mall. Mother and Aunt are competing over stories of who grabbed the best discounts last night at the supermarket. My sisters are squealing about something. My little cousins, only five and six, are tugging at my aunt's shirt to help them at more food. Their thin whines irk my mood.
Feed your xiao-pi-hai already.
Noise: seventy degrees Celsius.
"Some eringi" my sister demands.
"It is finished" I say. Her lip trembles and tears well up in her eyes. Oh gawd, mother. I give her mine, which she treasures on one side of the bowl to be saved for last. Phew.
"Where is my lotus root" my other sister inquires. Gaaah, tamade! Is there even a moment of peace? It takes a while to dig through all that food, hunt it down, and fish it out.
When I turn back to the meat I started earlier, it is in the process of disappearing down my cousins' throats.
Gan. I ditch the whole plateful of meat into the pot.
Responsibility: seventy five degrees Celsius.
After an "Asian amount" of projects and assignments, all I want to do is chill. But no. My parents have to throw a party in this tiny apartment for Chinese New Year. The sounds bounce off the narrow walls and low ceiling, piercing and hammering my brain, giving me a headache. Through all the noise, I imagine Lee Wei hanging out with his friends and mine. It pains me to think that he might be enjoying their company. The girls' company. Well what do I expect; he doesn't even know of my fantasies of him.
Oh, Lee Wei..
Intense worries: boom to ninety degrees Celsius.
Father slurps his soup and Uncle gulps with a snort. Ugh. I fight the urge not to retch. The overpowered air conditioning makes my soggy food go cold. Bubbles of oil congregate. I add a dash of scalding hot soup to heat it up.
After lunch, they probably go for a movie. Hopefully Lee Wei sits next to his usual buddies. There is no reason not to, is there? I chew on my sister's bok choy without tasting any of it.
"Tofu" my sister commands. "The yellow one."
"There is no more." I give her a white one. She eyes it with a frown before reluctantly accepting it. Good.
"Aaah, it's too hot!" My sister wails.
"Then wait, girl. Deal with it."
Complaint: ninety five degrees Celsius.
The expectation, the stress, the disappointment, the crowd, the responsibility, the boredom, the noise, the laughter, the whines, the weariness, the slurps, the snorts, the sogginess, the worries, the Lee Wei, the demands, the complaints..
The tamade, the gan, the mother of Buddha! My pot of anger has been boiling for to long. Screw you all, I'm raising the lid and releasing the steam. This serving girl game is over. I lay my chopsticks down with a clatter and storm out.
Pissed off: a hundred degrees Celsius.
Mother calls out, "you didn't have dongfen yet, your favourite!" Please Mother, when did I ever say that was my favourite?
I would have flipped the table along with the scalding hot broth.
Where in the heavens are my flip flops, today is hard enough as it is! Tears leak from my eyes. The shoes are piled all across the doorway. Someone ought to clean that up, and it will definitely not be me. I grab a pair of socks from the box and wear my sneakers over them. To make sure no one follows me, I slam the door hard.
Aggression: two hundred degrees Celsius.
Huff. Much better.
The sounds are muffled.
This silence is soothing.
Now.. where do I go from here?
This condo a is zoo-ful of people I know. The last thing I want is for someone to bug me about my red nose and puffed eyes. There is no good going down, even worse to meet someone in the elevator. Even if I get past, the basketball boys are likely to be on the court.
Instead, I have a better idea.
I take the stairs up. A stairway to heaven. There is a sanctuary up there. Even at the top level I keep climbing, and push down the handle of a heavy door.
The open air is a relief.
It is a warm cloudy sky. The breeze helps me vent off my heat. Seeing all the other buildings beneath my feet gives me a sense of control. A traffic jam is collecting up at a U-turn. My single braid sways a little on my back and my shirttail flaps gently around my hips, but my feet are firmly planted into the smooth rooftop.
I try to lift my mind from today's lunch. Whenever I think of myself back in that wretched dining room, my nose goes sour and my eyes go blurry again. Breathe-
Failure: two hundred and five degrees Celsius.
I spin to that familiar voice.
Gasp. Lee Wei.
"W-what are you doing here?" I stammer.
He stands just one meter away. "What are you doing here?"
I ignore the questions just as he had to mine. "Why are you not at MegaBangna with the others?"
He shrugs. "I guess there's no point in going."
"Why not? Your friends are there."
"They are there to flirt, so there is nothing for me. I want no part in their silly games." He kicks aside a crumble of cement block. His disinterest in going to MegaBangna somehow consoles me a little.
Lee Wei: three hundred degrees Celsius (the good kind of heat).
My puzzlement is still not resolved though. "But why are you here?"
"The same reason why you are here maybe? Why are you here." He looks to me for my story. Umm.. that I had a bad day? That I was tired? Disappointed? Worried? About him? How do I.. Wh-what do I tell him?
"I was.." I trail off.
We just stand there dumbly.
One petite girl and one lanky boy.
Then he softens. "Hey, you upset about something?"
Drat, he notices my red rimmed eyes. But still..
Attention: four hundred degrees Celsius.
A roaring plane crossing directly overhead excuses me from answering him. He says something which gets lost in the rumble.
I cup my hand to my ear. "What?"
He takes my hands in his. Afraid to discourage his advances, I hold onto his.
All I can think now is how the wind ruffles his hair like a breeze on a grassy plain.
Giggles. Random thought.
He smiles too.
And pulls me onto his feet.
Close contact: five hundred degrees Celsius.
When the plane has drifted off to the distance, we resume conversing. "It is pointless without friends" he tells me. "Or you".
I lace my fingers into his. "Now that you are here, I don't want to go anywhere" I murmur into his neck. He tugs me gently onto him.
Bodily contact: a thousand degrees Celsius.
"I thought that Spring Break will be a drag. Probably be begging for more, next thing I'll know" he chuckles. "Good thing this rooftop view is such a solace."
I look up at him in surprise. "You think so too?"
"Ya. Why did you think I was up here?"
"Oh." Now it is my turn to return his consideration. I lower my gaze a little. "Is there something you are particularly worried about?"
His arms slide up to my waist. "I'm not worried anymore" he says with a positive tone.
"You are here with me."
I prickly blush creeps into my face. "Really?"
"Ya. I was worried that the other guys will have captured your heart before I did, if you had went to MegaBangna today."
Cheesiness: five thousand degrees Celsius.
"Oh." I say out of surprise. "Don't worry about them. Those jerks ditch one relationship after another."
"And you? Why are you up here?" he asks with a raised brow.
"It doesn't matter either."
My arms slide up to his shoulders. "I was afraid that a girl will have harassed you too closely for my liking, if you had went to MegaBangna today." I confess.
He turns my face to his. "Oh, we have been so silly to have been worried sick about each other."
"But maybe we wouldn't be this close then."
"Above all, it has always been about you and me."
Kiss: a something degrees Celsius.