Pacific Odyssey:

Book II: China

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

Beginning the Long Journey Home

   

 

Zhaou Haifang led Diego to a large dining hall with lavishly set tables built low to the ground.  There were at least three-dozen people in attendance, apparently high-placed officials who sat at the tables apart from the royal nephew.  Everyone bowed as they passed on their way to Qing Kang Zhu’s table, one that was a bit smaller than the rest.  It was near a back wall, which was entirely covered with a tapestry showing a mountain scene complete with a lake and a small village in the foreground.  Diego bowed to the prince. 

“Ah, you are looking so much better, Diego,” Kang Zhu said with a smile.  Zhaou Haifang gestured to an empty place near the prince and Diego settled himself down on the cushions provided.  The doctor sat nearby.   

“Much better, your highness.”  

“Good, then you will be able to appreciate all that will happen this evening,” Kang Zhu said exuberantly.  Diego couldn’t help but wonder what His Highness had in mind.  “May I present my wife, Liu Mei Ling.  We were supposed to marry during the time that I was in California.  My Imperial Uncle had sent a ransom, but he and Mei Ling both had felt I would never return home.  Our reunion was sweet and our marriage all the more special because of you and your friends.”  

Diego blushed at Kang Zhu’s pronouncement and bowed to the young lady.  “It is an honor to meet you, Your Highness.  And I only did what any real Californiano would have done.”  

“Nevertheless, I am most grateful for you having saved my honored husband and allowing him to return home to me,” she answered with a demure smile.  “For I fully believe that the vile European captain would have kept the ransom and killed my husband-to-be.”  

Somehow, Diego didn’t doubt that she was correct in her assessment.  Something pricked at his memory.  He turned to the prince, but saw that he was busy talking to someone else.  Turning back to Mei Ling, Diego addressed the young woman.  “Your Highness, may I ask you a question?”  

“Of course.”

“Perhaps it is my ignorance of Hanyu names, but when he was in California, your husband wrote a note explaining how he was kidnapped.  In it he said his name was Tsin Tsin.  But the priest gave a different name, one much closer to that which was pronounced here.”  

Mei Ling laughed softly.  “The name he put on the note was a nickname.  Very quick to write.  In his agitation, he did not put his full name and title.”   

“I see.  Thank you, Your Highness.”  

“Surely you have longer names in Cal-for-nee-a than just Diego Zorro,” the princess added, smiling. 

Her happiness was infectious; he smiled with her.  “Zorro is somewhat of a nickname as well.  It means ‘fox’ in my language.  It is the name I am known by when I wear the black clothing.  My real name is Diego de la Vega y de la Cruz.”

 

“See, my people are not the only ones with many names.”  She laughed.  “And how appropriate for a nickname!  I suppose that no one knows who this crafty fox is in your homeland,” she replied, her eyes twinkling. 

“Only my father and servant,” Diego admitted.   

“And there is a reason for wearing this disguise, other than to save kidnapped princes?”  

“Sometimes justice can only be given . . . um, in disguise,” Diego answered, having trouble finding the right word.  He had wanted to say ‘anonymously.’  Then he told her a bit of his background. 

Mei Ling bowed slightly.  “Thank you for your confidence, Diego the fox.”  Again she smiled, and her eyes held the sparkle of joyful existence.    

Diego smiled, feeling that the prince had been very fortunate indeed, in the matters of marriage.  He thought of another question, but he felt awkward asking it.  As though reading his thoughts, the princess asked, “There is something on your mind?”

“Please excuse me if this is a taboo subject….”

“I will tell you if it is, Diego,” Mei Ling said gently.

“I had noticed that all Chinese women had their feet bound . . . that is until I came here.  You do not,” Diego said hesitantly. 

“Do you approve of bound feet?  Most do in China.”  She looked at him expectantly, but her face otherwise devoid of expression.  

Diego gulped, not sure what the best answer would be, but then he decided that he could only be honest.  He also decided that even though the status of women in China was well below that of women in California; the prince had married a woman of unusual independence and forthrightness.  “Your Highness, I do not understand this foot binding practice.  It seems harsh and senseless to me, even though the reasoning has been explained.”

“I concur with you, Diego.  The family to which my honored husband and I belong, the Ch’ing family, came into and conquered a land where this practice had been going on for over eight hundred years.  Manchu women do not do this to themselves,” she said.  Diego bowed his thanks for her openness. 

At that moment, Kang Zhu clapped his hands and the doors at the end of the dining hall opened to admit about a dozen men.  Most had instruments of various kinds, flutes, long-necked guitars, drums of different sizes, while the other members of the group wore multi-colored clothes and carried vibrantly hued flags, banners and other things.  The band set up just below their table and began playing.  Some of the music was slow and haunting, making Diego feel very relaxed.  Then they would play fast, rollicking tunes while the other members of the troupe, obviously dancers and acrobats, performed in the middle of the hall for them. 

All the while foods of various colors, shapes and tastes were being served at each of the tables.  The meal could only be termed a banquet, of a proportion more prodigious than any of the big fiestas he had been to in California.  Diego was astonished to see that not only was there huge quantities and varieties, but that the food was laid out on the plates almost like art work.  There were even some vegetables carved in the shapes of animals and birds.  Indeed, I think that even the king of Spain would term this huge, he thought.  Diego had never seen so many different dishes, and didn’t think he had eaten so much in his entire life. Some were hot with spice as most food was in California, while some were sweet and sour at the same time.  Kang Zhu suggested that he dip the food that resembled a rolled up tortilla in a yellow paste. Diego complied and almost choked when the spicy paste hit his tongue, which felt as though a hole had been burned in it.  “Ah, your Highness, that is food that could bring the dead to life,” Diego commented, using a compliment common in California.  Kang Zhu looked puzzled until his guest explained the saying, then the prince laughed, Diego joining in his host’s laughter.   

“Diego, I remember that you had some dishes that did the same thing to me,” he said, still laughing.  “I believe that you called them chilies.    

“That is true, Your Highness,” Diego said, enjoying himself more than he had for weeks.  The meal and the entertainment went on for some time, punctuated with much talking and laughter.  Kang Zhu’s wife excused herself before the end of the meal and Diego couldn’t help but notice, as she left with her attendants, that she did not hobble, nor did her feet look like little round ‘flowers’ peeping out from under her skirts.            

Shortly after the meal, it was announced that representatives of the British Trade Commission and the hongs they dealt with desired an audience with His Highness.  Kang Zhu looked at the physician and said,  “I told you they would come.  Diego, if you will follow my servant you can watch the proceedings in secret. ”  Diego sat in the next room, peering through a curtain, where he could see and hear the meeting without being seen by the British delegates.            

Diego almost laughed out loud at the list of crimes against him.  Most were real, but exaggerated, and some were way out of proportion.  Kang Zhu sympathized, but said that he had already had the bandit executed for stealing Imperial property. As a horse thief, Diego translated to himself.  The execution had taken place the previous night, Kang Zhu explained, shortly after the bandit’s capture.  Then the body had been thrown into the ocean, he added.   Diego could almost hear the visitors grind their teeth.  The British representative said something in English to another member of the delegation that Diego wasn’t able to completely discern.   

Visibly paling, one of the Chinese visitors addressed the prince, “Your Highness, our business partners want to know how they can be sure that the bandit is truly dead?”  Diego thought the visitors were treading on very soft quicksand, asking such a question of Qing Kang Zhu.   

“Have you dealt with the Europeans so long that you are stupid?” Kang Zhu demanded of the leader of the Wu Shan Hong, the Five Mountain Company.  They openly sold tea to the British, but it was rumored that they also dealt in opium.  “That you would presume to question the Emperor’s nephew?” 

“Ai!” the spokeman cried out, kowtowing repeatedly.  “Please accept my most humble apologies, Your Highness.  My question was most stupid.”

“Yes, it was, but because the British had much against this bandit, here is his cape.  This can be taken to the British leader in Guangzhou to show the veracity of what I have said,” Kang Zhu said, handing the black cape to a servant, who in turn handed it to the visiting delegation.  “Now if you have no further business with me, tell this European what I just told you and then leave.”

They bowed and begged Kang Zhu’s pardon, then left.                

When Zhaou Haifang came to get Diego, he found the Californiano still laughing at the discomfiture of the representatives of the British envoy.

 

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The Imperial Captain was a patient man, but it seemed to him that Diego de la Vega wanted to learn all about wushu in one evening.  His curiosity was insatiable.  Whenever his men executed a certain maneuver, he stopped them and asked the purpose of each foot position, hand position and the movement of their bodies.   Much to the chagrin of the royal physician, Diego even started practicing some of the basic defensive blocks that the captain and another guard demonstrated.  

“No, I have not worked diligently trying to restore your health this day to have you reinjure yourself tonight!” the physician declared emphatically. “You must be careful, Diego,” he added, his tone more conciliatory.  Turning to the captain, he admonished, “And you must not work His Highness’s guest too greatly, nor reinjure the shoulder.”  The captain smiled knowingly and nodded.  With a sigh, Diego acquiesced but the men still spent almost hour discussing the use of the hands to incapacitate an armed enemy.   

Diego thought of numerous times when the aide of wushu might have prevented needless death or injury.  Feeling his left arm bound tightly across his chest made him acutely aware of his limitations, but he still wanted to learn as much as he could before he began his journey home.             

When the captain tried to explain to him that this was a discipline of the mind as well as the body, Diego paused and pondered a moment. “Captain, I believe that I understand what you are saying.  The wushu is not just hands and feet, not just using power to hurt someone or to beat them.  It is how you think as much as how you act.  For instance, I have a sword and I feel I am good at its use, but my mind has to be focused.  I am not as effective if I am angry or afraid,” Diego explained.   The Captain of the Guard nodded his understanding.  The caballero continued, “And though I feel I am good with the sword, I do not use it unless I have to and almost never with the intent to kill.  Am I making sense?”  

“Yes, Diego, with wushu one must discipline his mind before using his hands and feet.  Your mind must be centered on the wushu, it must be clear of unwanted thoughts.  You cannot have anger and be a good student of wushu.  Kung Fu, which is a part of wushu, has as its heart the idea that one should avoid injury to his opponent at all costs.  Let us work on the breathing exercises which will help you focus your energies, and condition not only your mind but also your body to use the wushu. 

Diego nodded and followed the instructions implicitly, breathing deeply, listening to his heart slow to a steady, strong rhythm.  When they finished, Diego looked at the Captain.  “This is similar to the warm up exercises that I learned when I was taking fencing classed in Spain, but I feel even better than I did there.  I feel very calm and relaxed.”  He paused and searched for the right words to describe what he was feeling.  “But I also feel as though I have energy, as though I could ride with the vaqueros all day or face my fiercest enemy.” 

“Yes, although you must remember, sometimes our worst enemy is that which is within us,” the captain said.

Diego pondered for a short moment.  “Yes, I think I understand what you are saying,” he concurred. 

“And what I am saying is that you must get some sleep.  Even though you are much better then you were this morning, even though you slept during the middle of the day, your body still requires more sleep to restore your vital energies,” Zhaou Haifang said testily. 

Diego nodded.  He did feel tired. Very tired. It was not the despair-laden exhaustion that he had experienced in his flight from Canton, but a good kind of tired, the kind that came from enjoyable work or fulfilling experiences.  Following the doctor to his room, the caballero submitted to another examination.  He had a cup of tea with the physician and then lay down.  Diego didn’t remember the doctor leaving. 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen
Chapter One
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