The Bamboo Palace is owned by Victor and his wife Mai. Victor is the owner’s English nickname, which was chosen when he first arrived in America more than thirty years ago, obviously for its victorious meaning. Since then, people have gradually started to call him Brother Vi due to his rising reputation in the immigrant community. However Bamboo Palace is falling on hard time in 2020 due to the pandemic. Patrons evaporate and restaurant businesses plummet everywhere. For many Asian restaurants, the situation is even worse.
“Brother Vi is very optimistic. I know. He can survive anything.” Lu said to Armei and Pammy during their dinner. There’s a 25% capacity rule in New Jersey to slow the spread of the virus, but it is hardly needed. There are only three or four tables, each with four or less customers.
Armei and Lu can’t afford to eat out, but Pammy invites them and promises to pay. Pammy’s husband has an overpaid job in the financial industry, but he has no time to help Pammy with family issues. Pammy’s English is no good and she often asks Lu’s help whenever she needs to negotiate with some services on phone. Lu would help her do a three way call and translate for her. Armei helps Pammy too. Without Armei, how can Pammy get discount Japanese cosmetics and those free gifts?
Long time ago, Lu used to work as a waitress in Bamboo Garden during the weekend. She knows the owner and his wife. This is the story Lu tells about Victor’s life.
I tell you Brother Vi can survive anything. He grew up during the Vietnam War and knew how to survive privation of any kind. When the war finally ended, Vi didn’t experience the peace and prosperity he had expected. Instead he and his family’s meager property was confiscated and they were forced to embark on a refugee boat, which was attacked by pirates and shooed off by various governments. Just as Brother Vi thought all hopes were lost, they were rescued and sent to live in a malaria infested refugee camp in Hong Kong. They stayed there for years. Just when he thought there’s no hope anymore, he and his family was permitted to come to the U.S. and was settled in Texas. His family was content to work on a shrimp boat there, but Vi wanted something else. One day he took off and came to New York. After the travel and food cost, he arrived with only twenty dollars in his pocket.
He could go to work for a clothing factory, but he really didn’t want to. What’s the point of leaving Texas’ shrimp boat, if he replaced it with a job in a clothing factory. It’s the same kind of dead end job, with an extra burden of travel cost. However he has no idea what’s the alternative. He could live meagerly to make the twenty dollar bill go a long way, or he could go to a restaurant to gauge himself silly before starving himself. He did neither.
Instead he got on a free bus to Atlantic City. He has some skills for gambling. As a child, he learned several tricks in the underground gambling house in his neighborhood. In Atlantic City, he didn’t have much success. However he often saw rookie Asians there trying to gamble but not knowing how. He told them what to do and took a cut out of their gains. Then one day he saw Mai, who was depressed and tried to gamble everything away before killing herself. Her husband just ran way with one of the waitresses, taking all their savings with him. Mai could go to the police, but she didn’t want her family secret to be revealed in the investigation.
“What family secret?” Armei asks.
“You don’t know who she is, but as an anthropologist, I did a thesis on Southeast Asia after WWII. When I heard the rumors about her, I realized who she is.” Lu says.
“Show off.” Armei thinks. Lu likes to show off whenever she has the faintest chance. She’s an anthropologist. What a joke. She can’t find an anthropologist job. If Armei has not introduced Lu to the after school training center in Edison Township, Lu would have been jobless. The owner of the training center often comes to Armei’s cosmetic store–not really her store but rather Armei works there as an assistant–for products. It is on account of Armei that Lu was hired and it’s on her account Lu hasn’t been fired. At least Armei thinks so.
“You mean Mai is a dethroned princess?” Pammy asks eagerly. “From where?”
“More interesting than princesses or royalties. Look at her. She even looks like her father.” Lu says.
Armei and Pammy look around and stare at Mai, who’s standing behind the cashier’s counter, packaging a take out for a client.
“There’s a legend who’s nickname is ‘Big Mountain’ living in Malaysia during and after WWII.” Lu says.
Armei and Pammy look at each other in confusion. They don’t know what Lu’s talking about. Lu knows a lot of useless information. That’s their general consensus.
Big Mountain was a double or triple agent. He’s a royalist, a capitalist, a communist, a revolutionist, a left winger, and a right winger. He lived in the jungle and knew the jungle in and out. Whenever he was betrayed and captured, he would swear loyalty to his captor. It ended up he simultaneously worked for Vietnamese, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japanese government as well as being an important figure of the guerrilla. Mai is his youngest daughter, who he sent to America, before Malaysia government finally captured the guerrilla territory and ended the decades long civil unrest.
“Oh.” Pammy says, losing her interest. “How could this be more interesting than a princess’ life? Well, Lu. So what?”
“Victor met Mai and was able to settle down to run this restaurant. Victor can brave the pandemic just as much as he did with other mishaps of his life.” Lu says.