“I love this house when it’s in my dream and it’s being built. Once I live here, it’s a very different story.” Armei says at the dinner table. Armei and Pammy and Lulu are good friends and also their husbands get along with each other. For this Saturday, the three families get together.
Armei and her husband Arhu admired this house in South Brunswick township for a year when it was being built–that was years ago when many new development were happening. And as soon as it came to the market, they bought it. After finally acquiring the dream house, their admiration faded into complaints: the living room is too spacious and the modern ceiling is too high–draft too severe; heating bill too high; air-conditioning cost unbearable; mortgage gorging money every month like a hungry monster; the new development area with not many trees around; the school here not very competitive. Fortunately Armei and Arhu’s kid is still in primary school to make them worry about the school too much.
Pammy, her husband Pan, and her son Sam are sitting on one side of the table, chewing Armei’s tasteless dumplings–Armei’s cooking skill is atrocious and Pan, who’s used to Pammy’s excellent cooking, complains silently. To compensate for the lack of taste, Pan pours the chili sauce profusely on his plate.
Lulu says, “Everything looks better from a distance. You know the ancient capital of Mongol Empire–Xanadu? The Mongolians dragged the best craftsmen in the world to build this wonderful city of palaces at the southern end of the steppes, to mimic splendid palaces in Asia and Middle East. They were, like us, dreaming of nice things and wanting to possess them. However after the palaces were built, they couldn’t stand living in them. They erected their old ger–a kind of sturdy mobile tents covered with animal skins–and lived their life in their familiar tents, leaving the grand and expensive palaces uninhabited. Much ado about nothing. What do you think?”
Everybody stares at Lulu, who’s so nerdy and scholarly that she’s almost pedantic. Lulu is an anthropologist, who can’t find an anthropology job. She ends up working in the local training center as a tutor. Actually she got a job offer from a university in Australia, but her husband refused to go with her since it’s going to be impossible for him to find a job there. So finally, between career and husband, Lulu chose the later. And they stayed in New Jersey.
Nobody knows how to responds to Lulu’s story since nobody has any idea about Mongolian history. Pan often thinks Lulu is the epitome of those clever women who do non-clever things. Her impertinence of mentioning Mongolian history is the conspicuous manifestation of her foolishness. Still, she has her points, her wisdom, and her knowledge.
Sam is the only one who shows interest, but he is momentarily distracted by Pammy who’s trying to tell him about something. So Sam gives a delayed response, “Cool. I have a history report coming up and I think I can use this story. I am going to entitle it, ‘The Futility Of Empires’.”
“Sometimes dreams are just illusions.” Lulu echoes.
When the dinner is finished, Pammy says to her husband Pan, “Can you talk with Lulu? She is telling stories that are completely inappropriate for Sam. I mean now Sam thinks having dreams is just a way of wasting time and deceiving oneself.”
Pan chuckles, “Oh, don’t be so serious. It’s just some casual talk. Also it’s Armei who broached this topic by talking about her house. It’s Armei’s fault… Well, how about we talk with Sam to get him to look at this issue in a more reasonable, well balanced way?”
Pammy says, “Pan, you really don’t see what’s happening? Sam is a teenager and he hasn’t been listening to us for at least a year now. If we talk with Sam to disregard what is said, he’s going to hold it like a treasure just to oppose us. Also Lulu is knowledgeable about things and Sam looks up to Lulu. He always likes Lulu’s stories, no matter how weird those stories are. So you will talk with Lulu, won’t you? Ask her to give some positive influence to Sam and refrain from negative stories?”
Pan considers it and grins uncomfortably, “Why can’t you talk with Lulu? She is your best friend.”
Pammy says, “I can’t. I like Lulu too much to say this kind of thing. If she is annoyed with me, I will be very sad. You are not her friend. You won’t mind if she is annoyed with you, right?”
Pan is unhappy with this, but he reluctantly agrees with his wife. Pammy urges him to go to talk with Lulu twice, but Pan tells her to wait a little bit.
“You have to do it before we leave.” Pammy prods him.
When Pammy is cleaning up in the kitchen with Armei and Lulu, the three husbands get together in front of the TV in the living room.
Pan tells Armei’s husband Arhu the whole thing and asks for his advice. Arhu is a worldly businessman, while Pan is a trained scientist who works as an analyst in a financial company.
“That’s so easy to do.” Arhu says, “Armei asks me to do this kind of things a lot, like talking to our kid. She wants to be the sweet mom and wants me to be the disciplinarian. If it is something I want to do, I will be happy to oblige, but if it is something I don’t want to do, I will do it in a way that’s not really doing it.”
“What do you mean by that? You either do it or not do it.” Pan says.
“You are a typical scientist. Hahaha. Life is full of grey areas. Nothing is so clear cut.” Arhu laughs. “Let me show you. You just talk with Lulu about Mongolian history, and praise her. And then you merge everything in the conversation, including your own opinion about some prudish people who always want to be positive. I see you are still puzzled. Let’s go talk with Lulu together and I’ll show you how to do this.”