Arton always speaks with his daughter in a tone that is a mixture of politeness, humor, and whining. Yilan has always enjoyed conversing with her father, basically following her father’s train of thoughts and agreeing to his ideas. However recently Yilan has started to see a psychiatrist and has experienced a change of view.
When their conversation touches on some of the things her mother left behind, Arton wants Yilan to take it. When talking about the facial cream, her father tactfully adds a little joking remark,
“Yilan, apply some cream, will you? You are getting more lines at the corner of your eyes. I have said the same thing to my new wife Fi. Oh, those winkles on her face. Your mother has much less winkles than Fi.” Arton says.
Yilan is silent. Yilan has always tried to stay away from her relatives’ obsession with looks, especially women’s looks. Also her parents had always had strained relationship and her father’s declaration of affection can only be explained as a wish to conform to social norms or just plain politeness of trying to find something to say with Yilan. And at the ripe age of over 60, his father still cannot get over women’s looks.
“You know Fi has so many shoes, for what?” Her father Arton continues.
“Well, if she enjoys it…” Yilan says in her usual playful tone. Now she begins wonder if the playfulness is to try to cater to her father’s wish rather than her own.
“Well, I believe in moderation, not indulgence.” Her father Arton said. If only her father could use his clever mind on something useful in life, Yilan would be so happy, but in this direction, Yilan is out of luck. Her father is very philosophical, but unfortunately his philosophy and wisdom are often applied for a negative purpose.
Then the conversation veer towards the lunch gathering they are going to have for the coming weekend. Her father starts to make polite remarks.
“A really nice guy. I mean Fi’s brother. Well, if he doesn’t chew his food so loudly…” Her father says with a little laugh.
Yilan’s usual habit is to say, “I would make sure to sit far away from him during feeding time.” However Yilan doesn’t feel like being a sidekick to her father right now and doesn’t feel like saying anything.
“Oh, your cousin Pai and her boyfriend would drop by this weekend to join us for lunch. Well, what’s the point of Pai coming for lunch? I mean Pai doesn’t eat anything just to avoid gaining weight. She is such a pretty girl but … I remember you were really jealous of her. Well, every woman is jealous of her. It is understandable.” Arton says to his daughter.
“I have never been jealous of Pai…” Yilan tries to explain, but her father gives her a look as if to say, “the more you deny it, the more I am convinced that you are.” Despite Yilan’s three decades of deliberate shunning of makeups and nice clothes and hairdressers, her father has presumed and convinced, without any supporting evidence, that Yilan is a woman who is obsessed with improving her own looks, envious of better looking women, and unable to make friends with Pai.
“I am not jealous of Pai. I am not her friend because she and I have very different interests. I am more bookish while she is anything but. We don’t have anything in common.” Yilan tries to explain, but she can see that her words are falling upon deaf ears and her father veers away to something else.
“The gift card you sent me for the wedding, you know, I gave it to Fi since she wanted to buy a new outfit.” Arton says to his daughter.
“It is for you, Dad. You should buy something for yourself.” Yilan says, but instinctively she realizes that her father did this and said this deliberately, trying to drive a little wedge between the two women. What Yilan just said is exactly what her father wanted her to say, showing that she is a little unhappy that Fi is encroaching on something that’s not belonging to her.
They stop by a commemorating plaque on which a battle was fought here about 800 hundred years ago when the Mongolians tried to invade Southeast Asia. There are several ancient characters and several unusual names.
“Fi doesn’t know how to read this. Actually she can never read one full sentence without a bit of glitch. And her text messages are never without errors for any given line.” Arton says.
“Why do you say these things?” Yilan suddenly finds herself raising her voice to a high volume, that is quite unlike herself.
“What? Well, calm down. What is it? You women are so … erratic.” Arton looks at his daughter in mild astonishment.
“Mom was highly educated but you fought with her every single day. I thought it was because you dislike that kind of women. Now I thought you should be happy with Fi who doesn’t have much education and doesn’t care for it.” Yilan half screams.
“Goodness, calm down, will you? I am only having a little family talk. What’s your problem? Are you under stress recently? You are not quite your usual self.” Arton looks at his daughter, a little concerned.
(to be continued)