My moral corruption began before I entered junior high school at Ho Ping. Exactly one year before becoming a high school freshman, I transferred to the most prestigious music program in Taipei, Dun Hwa Elementary school. My mom thought I was getting the most elegant education in the world. Quite the contrary. The first day of class at Dun Hwa showed me an alternative to innocence.
Before putting my weighty book bag behind me and sitting down in a wood seat carved over with obscenities in white-out, I overheard one of my new classmates asking her neighbor a question that alarmed me.
− Have your breasts started developing yet?
Startled, I glanced at the speaker, a diminutive girl with sweet bangs cut straight across her neat forehead. She looked too normal, clean, and decent to have said what I thought she'd said. I must have heard wrong. The Girl with Sweet Bangsí friend met her query with silence.
− Oh come on, I know they have − your breasts are growing, right? Otherwise, what are those bumps under your uniform shirt, huh? Huh?
The girl with bumps under her uniform shirt slouched and started hitting her friend, blushing.
− None of your business, none of your business.
− Hey hey, there's nothing to be bashful about. It's only natural, no?
− Shut up! You're so rude. And you're repelling our new classmate.
− Oh no; weíre frightening the new girl?
− You frighten everyone.
Realizing that I was gawping and that they were both looking at me now, I smiled back good-naturedly, trying to shrug off any concerns I had about their oddness. They grinned back to me and sort of waved, to be friendly.
I started to occupy myself with organizing two stacks of textbooks neatly in my new desk. The dark wood of the desk was marked with dents, bruises, and carved over with graffiti, little sketches, popular lyrics. It smelled damp; years of spillages and dirty washcloths had discolored and marred its surface. Its unbalanced wobbliness took some trial and error to fix with pieces of folded up notebook paper wedged under two of the four wooden legs.
Just as I was getting acquainted with my new seat and desk, beginning to believe everything was going to be fine, that I would adapt and fit into this new environment after all, a boy (one out of the four boys in our class of twenty-seven students) sitting next to me turned and addressed me. He had been quietly observing the new girl for a while.
− How about you? Have your breasts begun developing yet?
Is this a standard question to be asked in this class? Even so, he was a boy, hence not allowed to ask me that. I made to hit him, and said before landing my raised hands on him,
− I hope you've got insurance.
− Condoms [same as insurance in Chinese]? Sure, Iíve got plenty.
He reached into his pockets. Too terrified to come up with a rejoinder, I stood up and left the classroom. Were these new classmates of mine all so filthy-minded? Are these the kind of people who pass those difficult and selective musical examinations?
There's a Chinese saying: those who associate with the red become crimson; those who consort with the black become raven. In no time I was one of the little musician-perverts. It only takes a few weeks to learn that kind of vocabulary, and a few months to learn that particular brand of unbashfulness.
Every instrument in our orchestra, from the surplus of flutes to the singular double bass, we made out to be phallic or resembling a vagina. We could squeeze from our violins and oboes what we imagined resembled the sound effects coming from animals, or even humans, engaged in coitus. We knew nothing about sex, really, since we were chaste Asian teenagers, but we played at being something more than what we were.
We spent much time sitting in the music rooms, telling yellow jokes around a grand piano. The Girl with Sweet Bangs, Wenling Zou, became my best friend. We told jokes together, adding details to each otherís juicy tales. She was always asking me to go to the girlsí restroom with her and trying to see inside my uniform shirt. But I guess everybody needs a hobby. I didnít know which was worse, Wenling who was curious, often verbally so, about every other girlís budding bosom, or a kid called Allison I used to know in Pennsylvania who was always holding open the neck of her t-shirt and peering down at herself, thinking nobody knew what she was doing.
When I graduated from elementary school I brought little music and much perversion to my junior high school class, and they soon honored me with the title Yellow Empress, queen of smut. While in the English language blue can indicate porn, as in blue movie, its Taiwanese equivalent happens to be yellow. I was the class expert on racy-ism, royalty in the family of the teenage depraved. As a group we often sat together, sharing sexy jokes and provocative phrases we read from books and comics. We marveled together at the prim-looking math teacher who was pregnant. How could she have had sex? But she must have. She's big. Yune Ling, who seldom joined us because she was every bit a prig, would squeal with disgust whenever she overheard something we were saying. She, incredibly to us, never believed that adults really had sex, not her parents, not our math teacher. Somehow she was able to suspend from belief the most logical conclusion. Sex was simply too beyond-her-imagination and out of character for these people.
We tried to do things out of character, too.
One damp afternoon, two of my friends and I found ourselves holding on to the backs of three senior high school bad boys as they tore down windy Mu Cha roads on two noisy wheels each, yelling at each other. Their scooters may seem wimpy compared to Harley-Robinson motorcycles, but the boys thought themselves cool as anything and we girls were thrilled. Wan Jen, our model-like class beauty had a Big Brother from Mu Cha Vocational Senior High School; he had asked her to bring some friends along to his classmateís birthday party, so here we were, zipping down the road to a stranger's house.
The Mu Cha boys picked us up at Ho Pingís side gate; we still wore our white uniforms as we climbed onto their scooters. Mei Su and I did so with difficulty since we were short, wearing skirts, and more modest than Wan Jen. Wan Jen's long legs straddled the black back seat of her Big Brotherís vehicle swiftly, like swinging onto a horse; a glimpse of her pink panties shined momentarily in the damp air.
It was quite a distance to the birthday boyís house. Sudden subtropical afternoon thunderstorms dumped rain on us and the wind howled, making our cropped school girlís hair slap our faces. The boys were racing one another on the slippery roads; I should have been concerned about our safety. Unfortunately, knowing that my uniform was soaked through with rain and had become transparent, my mind went somewhere else.
I suddenly imagined myself grown-up, sexy. I slowly pressed against my driver, Zu. When he didn't appear to mind or react significantly, I mustered enough boldness and shifted my fingers from his shoulders slowly to his waist, which was surprisingly soft and warm. Zu seemed not to feel my hands, only continued to race above speed limit and yell sentences strung together with swear words to his friends, who cussed back. I was enjoying the guilty pleasure of touching an older gangster boyís body in the moist rain, shivering a little from excitement as well as chills the wind brought on. I saw a little shock in Mei Suís eyes when she saw how I hung on to Zu, but I didnít care. Wan Jen was holding on pretty close to her Big Brother too; but then who knows what else she does after school.
We trailed water into the birthday boy Jilanís house. It didnít take long for Wan Jen, Mei Su, and I to realize we were the only girls there, and the only ones who werenít over sixteen. Had we been tricked? Kidnapped? This party didn't look right. There was beer all over the living room table, a large screen television, and a dozen older boys in the room, some of which, rain-soaked, were undressing.
− Hey hey hey, what are you doing, canít you see thereíre little girls here?
Wan Jenís big brother scolded his friends.
− Itís just our shirts, weíre topless not bottomless, nothing they never saw before.
I strongly disagreed that weíd seen anything like naked men; I was in fact rather frightened. Zu didnít take off his shirt, and I thought him more of a gentleman. Since he was standing close enough to me I tugged on his sleeve for really no reason, I thought maybe I could talk to him to make myself feel better. But when he finally turned around he looked at me like I was a pest, which made me shrink even shorter and younger than I already was, and shut my mouth.
− Why donít you girls go into that room, itís my big sisterís.
Jilan led us towards a room at one end of the hall.
− You can blow-dry your hair and clothes in the bathroom, over there. Just don't mess with the lock. It gets stuck sometimes.
− Jilan, what are you trying to do, lure them into your lionís den? Do you plan a special birthday party today, with three underage little chickies? Save some for me − maybe the ponytail one...
Mei Su quickly grabbed her ponytail and covered it with her hands, ducking behind Wan Jen, away from the view of those in the living room. The host swore at his jeering friends and ushered us into the large pink room, shutting the door noisily after us. I could hear the boys yelling and laughing outside, opening beer cans, cursing, pounding their fists and cans on tables.
Wan Jen, Mei Su and I dried our garments as well as we could, in near silence. We shared an unspoken feeling of uneasiness. The possibility of being attacked by the pack of Mu Cha gangster boys outside shifted like quicksand in the back of our minds, but nobody uttered a word on the subject. Instead, we commented on the effect of rain one anotherís hair and clothes, trying to act nonchalant and cheerful. And what the heck, there's a party outside that we had been invited to.
− Little Zao, your hair is sticking out a bit on the right; here, I'll wet it a little and you can blow dry it again.
− Hold on, let me dry my collar first, almost done here.
− Whoíll notice your collar? Never mind that.
Would they notice us? We were just three wet little girls since we walked in the door, they made that much clear. Even Wan Jen, whom we saw as a gorgeous model, adult-like, they dismissed as a mere Little Sister, underage chickie. Or did they?
At any rate, our class beauty wasnít one to be ignored.
− Letís go out and join the party.
Wan Jen dumped the hairdryer, still plugged in, onto the counter. After smoothing her hair in the mirror one last time, she marched towards the door. I tagged along after her long legs and dragged reluctant Mei Su after me. I became hopeful, almost exhilarated. Perhaps we could prove to Zu or even some other boys out there that we knew their kind of fun, too, that we werenít the children they thought we were...
Unfortunately, the guys were already enjoying some other form of entertainment, more stimulating than what we were willing to offer. I caught a pornographic image flash across the screen as we emerged from Jilanís big sisterís room. Something fleshy with a patch of black hair and some contours I didn't have time to recognize as specific body parts, accompanied by strange high pitched whines of a woman. One boy noticed us and yelled.
− Help! Cover the TV − thereíre youngsters here!
A fat, ugly, tough-looking boy stood up, blocking the screen, and looked us up and down while wiping his greasy looking hair to the side of his forehead. Still glaring at us, he turned off the television.
− Hey, whatís the deal here, trying to spoil our fun?
− Turn the thing back on.
− Not with them here, what are you, stupid? That's child molestation, or something like that.
− Ah what the hell, they need the education.
− No, really, stop fooling around, guys. We donít want any trouble. You donít want to upset the little girls, do you.
I was afraid, but still had the presence of mind to wonder if any of the boys had erections as a result of the pornographic video. I had only read about men parts in our Health textbooks. I sneaked looks at some of them to see if their khaki uniforms betrayed anything interesting, but I saw nothing sticking straight out against their pants like Iíd imagined.
− Donít be insulting; speak with more respect, will you? And how old are you yourself, huh?
Wan Jen walked towards the men, hands on her waist. Somehow it didn't seem right to provoke all these guys, since they outnumbered us in number and age so greatly, but Wan Jen was tough − hopefully, tough enough. One guy whooped.
− Sheís got spunk.
− Letís see how just much spunk sheís got.
A skinny carbuncular boy picked up a can of beer, opened it with a loud click, tossed the ring on the floor, and shoved it in Wan Jenís face, spilling some of it on her shoes. His teeth were rotten, as probably was his breath as he moved closer than he should have to Wan Jen.
− I donít drink.
− Oh yes, I forgot, youíre not allowed to drink yet −
Snickers arose about the room. Almost all of them had a can of beer in their hand, and empty cans littered the floor. Maybe they were already drunk out of their minds. I began to believe these people capable of evil; they would possibly lock us up here forever and slowly torture and rape us to death, and dump our bodies somewhere in the Mu Cha wilderness. Then they'd sober up a few hours later and forget anything ever happened; the mystery of our deaths would never be solved...
Oh Wan Jen, she never could resist a challenge. She grabbed the beer offered by the ugly gangster and brought it to her ripe lips. Jilan must have suddenly remembered that it was his birthday and supposed to be fun; he was the first to whistle and clap. Wan Jen choked on her first gulp, but since she had begun and she was so stubborn, and a room full of people were egging her on, she kept pouring it down her throat. They were out of control, screaming and hooting and banging their palms on the table, spilling beer and cheering. Mei Su gripped my elbow in fright.
− Oh, my heavens! What are we going to do?
Mei Su whispered the exact words which were passing through my mind, but I tried to assure her that it was going to be okay, somehow, with a smile and light squeeze of her hand with my own sweaty one.
Wan Jen finished her first drink and dropped the near-empty can on the Japanese-style tatami floor. A few drops of uric liquid splashed onto the carpet. Her face was distorted, yellow, red, and green all at the same time. So that's what alcohol does to you. Her Big Brother took her by one arm and supported her to a big redwood chair to sit down. Mei Su and I waddled over to her like geese, worried.
Would she die of alcohol poisoning? If she did, it would involve the police and we'll be locked up and tortured because they won't believe that we had no part in making her drink the deadly brew. We'd be too nervous to pass the lie detector properly. I tried to remember from a certain murder mystery movie how one could successfully trick a lie detector, but couldn't. In jail, large lesbians would leave bruises on our young, tender bodies, wounds, teeth marks, fingernail scratches, ruptured hymens. And worse yet, our parents would find out that we had lied to them about where we were going this afternoon − oh we shouldn't have ever agreed to come!
Wan Jen threw up all over the floor, pink and mustard and green. Some of it was on Mei Su's shoes and mine, but most of it was on the tatami. It would never come out, the stench or the discoloration. Especially not before the birthday boy's parents come home. Jilan looked displeased.
− Call a taxi and ship these vomiters home.
− Gross! How are we going to watch the movie now?
− Smelling vomit always makes me want to vomit too.
− Don't you dare − stay away from me.
− This sucks.
− Jilan, your partyís over.
The next day, I still couldnít get over the previous afternoonís revelations. I learned that I was still a child to the world of men. Even gorgeous Wan Jen was a joke to those boys who were only a few years older than us.
But then again, none of us girls were unattractive; those Mu Cha gangster boys may have tried something if Wan Jen hadnít puked her hot dog and fried spring onion cake lunch all over Jilanís parentsí floor. We'll never find out because we'll never do anything like that again.
About the author:
Eugenia Chao was born in Taipei, Taiwan, where she grew up.
As an MFA in fiction candidate at Penn State University, her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Bellevue Literary Review, The Cream City Review, The New Review of Literature, and Potomac Review. She also writes for the Middle Eastern dance journal, The Gilded Serpent.
*She is currently courteously, desperately seeking an interested agent for her manuscripts!*
© 2011 Word Riot