Saturday, August 17, 2013

Taiwan tale

Unlike my previous tales, this latest twisted braingwrong wasn't inspired by my surroundings, but it was similarly the product of me taking it easy and giving my imagination arguably too much freedom.

I've sometimes thought about going back to Taiwan, which was my entry point to Asia almost three years ago and is basically an easier alternative to Real China, but this hasn't been a likely possibility since I got a girlfriend whose country seems locked in a perpetual feud with the ROC. It seems even more difficult for us to get into than Japan, and I'd rather just go back there. I wouldn't go alone; I'm not that guy any more.

This started out as a morality tale about a god-fearing, self-abusing Filipino, but switched to Taiwan for its more convenient access to pandas. This is the second time I've written about a disturbed guy with a panda fetish, but I'm confident this doesn't say anything about my own perversions - these idolised, notoriously frigid and iconically Asian creatures just seemed the most fitting victims for my disgusting characters.

Still, I'd prefer you didn't read this. Especially from chapter 三 when it gets seriously horrible. Once you've read it, you can't unread it.

Little Death

For those of us unfortunate enough to have been spared a lengthy terminal illness, or who opt against the self-assurance of suicide, little thought may be paid to what our final words will be before departing this life. If we had a little warning, we could use our final moments to express sincere gratitude to the significant people in our lives, to clarify potential ambiguities regarding the division of our estates, to look back on our achievements, or even to leave on a positive note - a cheery ‘thank you and goodnight’ to lift the spirits of the bereaved and hopefully make their memories of our passing less painful down the years. Most of us don’t get this chance.

This moment of morbid realisation and last-second admin was denied to Tsao Shu-hui, or Yuan Yuan (圓圓) to her friends back home in Taipei, whose path through life stopped dead just 20 years and nearly 8,000 miles away from her city of birth. Yuan Yuan’s friends suspected something was wrong when the compulsive blogger’s running commentary of the marathon ended abruptly before its climax. These superficial status updates in frozen feeds took on significant status simply by virtue of being her last, preserved in time, however worthily, for as long as the servers hold out.

If the news of the bombing and identification of its victims hadn’t broken internationally, this lax approach to updating might not have been enough to alert Yuan Yuan’s friends to the fact that something was wrong. They may have chastised her lack of updates and tardy replies to their interrogations, never suspecting the terrible truth. But once Tsao Shu-hui’s fate was made public, an arbitrary victim of a pointless act who had the bad luck to be standing where she was, there was no ambiguity. Yuan Yuan’s feeds were filled with tributes and outpourings of grief from her friends, acquaintances and, when privacy settings permitted, people she had never had the chance to meet, who wished to express their sincere sorrow on behalf of the human race.

One of these anonymous messages stood out from the rest, for two reasons: it was a warning, rather than an elegy, and it was sent two minutes before the explosion even took place. It read: ‘圓圓 run get out of there now

Yuan Yuan ‘liked’ this. It was the last thing she ever did.

Wu Xiao-sǐ had short notice of his impending arrest when he heard the cavalry thundering up the stairwell. They couldn’t have come at a worse time, and neither could he.

The adolescent froze in shock and post-orgasmic confusion, losing a full second before he got hold of himself and let go of himself, tugging his jeans back to waist level and hastily cleaning the mess around him. This momentary delay combined with lousy prioritising meant he didn’t even have time to close the incriminating video player on his monitor before the FBI and NPA officers exploded into the sweaty room and his face was forced onto the bed, where it landed in the crotch of an oversized panda plushy. It wasn’t the first time he’d gone down there.

‘Woo Show See,’ the American informed him, with stubborn resistance to affecting anything resembling a Chinese accent, ‘you are under arrest for possible conspiracy in the terrorist bombing...’ An NPA officer translated the terms and conditions into Mandarin as the American continued, unnecessarily as Xiao-sǐ was fluent in English. Though he decided against boasting of this ability when the American noticed the events unfolding on his computer screen.

‘What the fuck is this?’ the man wondered out loud, though even with the amateur camcorder operation and blurry 240-pixel resolution of the video, there was very little room for ambiguity. ‘Boy, looks like we got us one sick fuck.’

‘Woo Show See,’ the American man informed Wu Xiao-sǐ once the digital recorder had been switched on, ‘I am Special Agent Gweilo of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation. I’ve been given special dispensation to interview you in cooperation with the Taiwanese National Police Agency. Do you know why you’re being questioned today?’

‘No,’ Xiao-sǐ replied honestly, ‘but I am glad you are here. I have to warn you, all of you, there is a big danger imminent.’

‘Like you warned Sow Shooey?’ Agent Gweilo barked. The adolescent looked puzzled, until the agent pushed the newspaper across the desk. The leading story concerned the Taiwanese student who had died in the terrorist attack on US soil.

‘The girl from the bombing. Yes. I tried to warn her, but I got there too late.’

‘You posted a message to Miss Shooey’s Facebook page two minutes before the bomb went off, urging her to get out of the area,’ Agent Gweilo handily reminded. ‘We’d like to know why you did that, Mister See.’

‘It’s hard to explain. You wouldn’t believe me.’

Agent Gweilo pounded his fists on the wooden table and leaned towards the prisoner, the retina-straining spotlight gleaming off his balding pate. ‘Try me!’ he invited. ‘You were involved, weren’t you? Three Americans were killed in that bombing, including a child. Yet the only one to receive any kind of warning was a foreigner, warned by someone in her own country looking out for her. Why her, Mister See?’

‘There was no time to warn the others,’ Xiao-sǐ lamented. ‘Believe me, I wanted to. I saw all four names printed. I suppose I chose the Taiwanese girl because it was the easiest starting point for me. I intended to warn everyone, please believe me. But by the time I found the correct Facebook account for her, time was almost up.’

‘What do you mean you saw the names printed?’ Gweilo asked.

‘On this very newspaper,’ he impossibly tapped the paper in front of him, published less than 12 hours previously. ‘This is why you won’t believe me. I saw it before it happened.’

‘Oh, swell,’ Agent Gweilo sighed as he slumped back in his seat. ‘These punks see some asshole plead insanity in a shitty cop movie and they think they’ve found their little loophole. You’ve got a lot to learn about American justice, my friend.’ As did the author.

‘Please!’ Xiao-sǐ compelled, ‘I have to warn you about another disaster.’

This got the agent’s attention. ‘You have information about another bombing?’

‘Not a bombing. A typhoon, category five. It will strike Manila in the Philippines at approximately 2AM, tonight. They are not prepared, there is no warning! The city will flood! Thousands will die!’

‘So you’re some sort of...’ Agent Gweilo twirled his fingers through the air as he searched for the appropriate term. ‘Screwball, getting visions of the future?’

‘I can only tell you what I’ve seen. Alert the Philippines, there is still time to save many lives. Even if I am not telling the truth, what is the harm?’

‘You’re going to have to do better than that,’ Gweilo reasoned as he rose for his cigarette, coffee and donut reprieve. ‘I need names and details about the bombing. If you won’t cooperate, you won’t be going back to your computer and your fickle farm animals before long.’

‘Please!’ Xiao-sǐ yelled as the American left and he was escorted to his cell. ‘Oh, you will see! You will see, American! Category five! The Philippines will see!’

Wu Xiao-sǐ did not sleep that night. Some time after 02:00, his cell door was opened and a bleary-eyed Agent Gweilo entered. ‘Alright, screwball. I’ll hear you out.’

The TV news report confirmed everything Xiao-sǐ had predicted. Evidently, there was no way this catastrophe could have been foreseen, even by the most advanced meteorological systems. The unlikelihood of this having been a lucky guess added some credence to the prisoner’s even more unlikely story.

‘I’m a simple man,’ Agent Gweilo confessed, and Xiao-sǐ had no reason to doubt this. ‘I don’t waste my energy thinking about magic forces and shit like that. Sun goes up, sun goes down, tides go in and out, I don’t know the hell why.’

Wu Xiao-sǐ restrained himself from clearing up this oversight in the FBI agent’s elementary schooling. He waited patiently for his turn.

‘But if it’s true - and I ain’t sayin’ it is - that you’ve got some sort of god-given ability to see things before they happen... that would be extremely useful. To both our countries.’ He nodded perfunctorily to the Taiwanese police officers adding colour to the background and helping to make the scene somewhat more plausible.

‘It has nothing to do with God,’ Xiao-sǐ confirmed. ‘My visions are more like those from hell. I am burdened to live through all the nightmares of the world.’

‘But they’re giving you a chance to stop these things from happening. To save lives.’

‘I do not think so. I have always tried to warn people, this is not the first time, not by many times. But it is always too late. Even if I send a warning in time, like I did to that girl, like I warned you yesterday, it does not matter. Nobody will ever pay attention. If these are visions from God, He is laughing at me. This is my punishment.’

‘You mean for that bestiality stuff you’re into? Forget about that, we can clear you of that shit if you’ll just help us. This is fuckin’ huge.’ The agent paced the room restlessly. ‘What can you tell me now? What do you see happening tomorrow, or the next day?’

‘It is not so straightforward,’ Xiao-sǐ explained. ‘It requires a certain frame of mind.’

‘You mean meditation, that sort of stuff?’ Gweilo semi-racistly enquired.

‘No. Orgasm. When I reach the point of ejaculation, it is like I am... taken out of my body. It is only momentary, but I am there, in the site of the tragedy. I see the rubble, the smoke, the raging waters surrounding me. Yet I know I am not there. Nobody reacts to my presence, I do not inhale the ash. I have but a small time to gather as much information as I can - a discarded newspaper, a TV bulletin, the screams of the passersby. Then I am back in my room, and it is time to clean up.’

Agent Gweilo had ceased pacing and was uncharacteristically lost for words. When it was clear that the young man’s admission had reached its conclusion, he sought to clarify a few details. ‘So let me get this straight. You’re... pulling your pud. You splot your goop, and you get a vision of the future?’

‘You could put it like that, yes.’

This tested the agent’s newfound decision to be open-minded, but against his better judgement, reminded of his patriotic duty above all else, he processed the information and decided how best to proceed. ‘Mister Wang,’ he called to no one in particular, ‘bring the kid his computer.’

‘What’s the goddamn problem?’ Agent Gweilo asked, frustrated at the young man’s obstruction to the investigation. They’d set up his computer and opened the relevant folder in his documents, ready for him to take his pick of god’s creations being subjected to inhuman acts by morally dead farmers and women who we can assume were probably not genuine nuns.

‘You expect me to do it like this? With you here?’

‘Oh come on, it’s just jackin’ off with the guys. It’s nothing we haven’t all done after the game, right?’ The American looked around the room but met only uncomfortable silence.

‘I have not!’ Xiao-sǐ screeched. He was under no delusions about his own deviant erotic fantasies, but this was clearly some impassable cultural chasm between east and west he hadn’t been prepared for.

‘It’s not like you have a choice,’ Gweilo informed him, and double clicked a random thumbnail. This brought up a shaky video of a milk maid who had apparently mistaken male and female bovine anatomy and was working determinedly to draw milk from an appendage that didn’t produce milk, at least not for a few minutes. ‘This doing anything for ya?’ the American asked.

‘No,’ Xiao-sǐ lied, stubbornly refusing to participate.

‘For fuck’s sake,’ Gweilo expleted, and fumbled in the prisoner’s pants to take action into his own hands.

‘Okay, okay,’ the Taiwanese youth conceded, and tried to forget where he was.

‘How long now?’ Gweilo asked impatiently, ten minutes into the second video.

‘This situation is not exactly conducive to arousal,’ Xiao-sǐ defended. ‘But since you asked, I am getting there.’

Gweilo leaned in. ‘What do you see?’ All that Xiao-sǐ saw was the German man diligently chasing the hen whose cloaca he was embedded inside. But he was, inexplicably, getting there. ‘Play zero zero six,’ he instructed, and Gweilo opened the boy’s preferred poison. It featured a man, with customary lifeless eyes, going to town on a giant panda in what looked like a zoo. There had presumably been some significant sums exchanged to facilitate this extracurricular meeting, Gweilo theorized, and it seemed to be money well spent.

‘Yes,’ Xiao-sǐ announced.

‘What do you see?’

‘是! 是!’

‘I am standing in a city street. The sky is on fire. Everywhere is lit by the flickering of flames. I see dead bodies. They are nothing more than blackened skeletons. A sheet of paper is blowing in the strong wind. It impacts on my leg. It is burning, but the headline is still legible...’

‘What does it say?’ Gweilo asked, desperate.

‘I do not know,’ Xiao-sǐ admitted, blinking. ‘I am back in the room.’

‘Which city?’

‘I do not know. It was not clear.’

‘Well, which country at least?’

‘I do not know.’

‘Oh, come on! What kind of disaster? Was it a nuclear strike, a meteorite, a fire out of control...?’

‘I told you, I do not know!’ Xiao-sǐ shouted. ‘It lasts for the briefest second. Any time I have needed more information, I have had to enter the state again, and again, to gather more details each time.’

‘You mean you’ve got to go again before we can find out anything?’

‘That is what I mean.’

‘Jesus! Alright, get back to work. How long do you need?’

‘I need some time.’

‘I need a fucking cigarette.’

Thirty minutes later, things were not going smoothly.

‘It is no good,’ Xiao-sǐ admitted, ‘I cannot work under this pressure.’

‘But you’re Chinese, I thought you guys could deal with anything.’

‘Not like this.’ He indicated the tired and shrivelled sinew in his hand.

‘What do you need?’ Gweilo asked, already knowing he wouldn’t like the answer.

After another thirty minutes, the pig was maneuvered into the interview room. Its struggle may have indicated some level of prescience about the fate that awaited it. ‘This is the best we could do,’ the officer told Gweilo, ‘it is not easy to find a farm animal in the middle of Taipei City.’

‘Good work, Wang,’ Gweilo complimented, turning away before he could see the man’s face fall. His name was not Wang. ‘So, what do you think?’ he asked Xiao-sǐ.

The young man met the pig’s curious gaze and smiled. ‘That will do. That will do.’

‘I am back in the burning city. I pick up the newspaper. It is the Taipei Times. This city is Taipei. The newspaper has tomorrow’s date. I read the headlines.

‘I look upwards to see the Taipei 101 building in flames. My attention is now directed to a bank of TV sets behind a broken store window. I recognise the local news announcer...’

‘What are the stories?’ Gweilo shouted, as he saw life return to the young man’s face.

‘I just told you, it was tomorrow’s newspaper. It has the stories from today. The flooding in the Philippines and my arrest. It did not tell us anything further.’

‘What about the TV news? You saw something there?’

‘I... no. There was no time.’

‘Jesus Fucking Christ!’ Gweilo’s patience had expired. ‘This city is under imminent threat and we’re no closer to knowing why. How long until this pig recharges?’ Gweilo was a city boy.

‘No more pigs!’ Wu Xiao-sǐ ordered, giving himself over to this new lease on life. He was finally free to pursue his most intimate dreams in the flesh and fur - the encounters being arranged for him by the police, no less! It was more than he could handle, and like an escalating drug addict, this fleeting taste of ecstasy was pushing him to greater highs. Nothing would satisfy him, he decided, except for perfection. ‘I want to fuck a panda,’ he explained succinctly.

A cacophony of dissent erupted among the police officers present, who had been conspicuously silent until now. Evidently, this request was a step too far even by today’s stretched standards. Despite his general cultivated ignorance, Gweilo had a little knowledge of the symbolic importance of pandas in these countries, and he could see this was not going to be an easy request to grant.

‘Please reconsider,’ he advised the young man.

‘I will not,’ Xiao-sǐ flatly rejected. ‘You need me, and you all know it. Do you want to save this city? Or to miss the opportunity to go down in history as the man who averted a major disaster, the man who strengthened relations between east and west at this critical time? Is what I am asking too great, too perverse that millions should be allowed to die, to save the conscience and stomach of one man?’

‘Wang!’ Gweilo commanded the air. ‘Inform Taipei Zoo that they’re closing until further notice. It’s all happening at the zoo,’ he irrelevantly referenced.

‘Panda enclosure is clear,’ one of the Wangs informed Agent Gweilo.

‘Shur shur, Wang,’ Gweilo responded, in less perfect Mandarin than he believed. ‘Alright, Mister Shee, we’ve locked up the male panda to keep him away from the action, assuming you’d prefer the female of the species as you’re not some kind of pervert or nothing. These guys’ll hold her down, you do your business and tell us what we need to know. I’ll remind you, this is not a fucking game. The fate of the city, maybe the world is at stake.’

‘I want you to do it,’ Xiao-sǐ said. ‘Not the others. I want you to hold her down.’

Gweilo would normally have objected, but it had been one of those sorts of days, so some muttered expletives under his breath had to suffice as they trudged through bamboo remnants towards the cowering creature. After some struggling and not inconsiderable wounding to his face and torso, Gweilo had the panda pinned down, ready for Xiao-sǐ to get to business. ‘What are you waiting for?’

‘It is not right,’ he sighed. ‘I want this to be perfect.’

‘What is the fucking problem, you mad fuck?’

‘I want Sandy.’

‘Who’s Sandy?’

‘My panda. Plush. Since I was a child, she had slept with me every night. I lost my virginity to Sandy. This is not the same.’

‘No kidding.’ The American was finding it a struggle to subdue the powerful creature, so he tried a new approach. ‘This is better! Sandy could never respond to you, could she? She never moaned or struggled.’

‘She did not,’ Xiao-sǐ confirmed.

‘This is the real deal, man! This is the real Sandy.’

‘Sandy has a skirt.’

Wang! Get a skirt over here!’

‘And lipstick. And she has big eyelashes.’

‘Sure, why the hell not? Wang, bring your cosmetic kit.’

It took less time than anyone expected to kit out the panda in a Cosplay outfit, and finally Xiao-sǐ was ready for his perfect moment. Agent Gweilo held the struggling, humiliated bear down as it received the young Taiwanese man’s affections. Gweilo was a proud, meat-eating American who’d never had time for that faggoty Greenpeace shit, but this all had the tangible atmosphere of crossing a line about it. When God chooses his prophets, he sure works in mysterious ways, Gweilo considered, changing his avenue of thought frequently to prevent himself dwelling too long on what was taking place beneath and behind him.

‘Oh 是! Oh, Sandy! 是!’

‘What do you see?’

‘I can see the news report. It is showing the destruction of Taipei and other Taiwan cities, all around the coast. I see a bomb fragment at my feet. It says MADE IN CHINA. The news report confirms this. It was an attack from China.

‘The news announcer is explaining the reason China attacked. China received video footage over the internet of an atrocity being carried out. Gifts from China to Taiwan, symbolising the cooperation between the two nations, subjected to debasement.

‘They are showing us the footage. A foreigner is holding a panda down, a Taiwanese man is entering it from behind. There is tasteful blurring over the area of contact. The Taiwanese man is throwing up his arms and celebrating. He is then motionless, speaking inaudible words to the foreigner, who listens attentively. The Taiwanese man regains his faculties and looks directly into the camera...’

Wu Xiao-sǐ snapped his head to the left and saw the men filming the encounter, who promptly ran through the supposedly vacant zoo. ‘Stop him!’ Xiao-sǐ commanded. ‘Or everything is lost!’

Gweilo released his grip and joined the throng of police officers chasing the men down in futile pursuit. The file upload was already in progress, it was only a matter of seconds until the email would be sent and all hope lost. No longer pinned down, Sandy lunged backwards and threw her aggressor to the floor. She stood tall, menacing and beautiful in her stretched and torn skirt, her unevenly painted lips forming into a deafening roar, her plastic eyelashes batting seductively as she threw herself at the grinning boy for one final, fatal hug. Wu Xiao-sǐ experienced the ultimate climax.

Dave Warburton
Davao, Philippines
July 2012

Influences: Just life in general. The Boston Marathon bombing; Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, the pandas controversially gifted to Taipei Zoo by China; a bit of amateur Chinese wordplay.

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