Kiki Guangjoe

or, how I stopped worrying, and learned how to love again

by Kevin Stebner

Dating a bipolar sociopath taught me survival skills they don’t offer in college, or the military. For the two years I was with Jessie, I never knew who I was coming home to, or going out with. At times it was incredibly exciting, since every day—often times every minute—was a new thrill, or a new drill. The menu ranged from having sex on the freeway, to screaming she was going to kill herself; straddling the railing on the Mississippi River bridge, or coming home in a drunken rampage. Nothing was too extreme or too insane in her mind’s eye. But falling asleep with the afterglow of making love, only to wake up with a knife to my throat, was destroying my soul. So, I changed my phone number, the lock on my door, and fought to survive the mares that tormented my nights. I had had enough of her sociopathic rollercoaster.

   I told myself I’d rather spend the rest of my life alone than get on that ride again, so I traded amorous endeavors for avian desires. I was an aircraft mechanic at Northwest Airlines, and loved wrenching on those metallic birds. My rivet-bucking buddy, Johnny Gauer, tried to convince me to give the school of love another try, but I wasn’t an apt pupil. I explained to him that Psycho Girl wasn’t my first failed relationship; only the most masochistic. Some had been my fault, others not so much, but I held no grudges. I just wanted peace. I just wanted to learn how to love again.

  He recommended an online dating site. I said “Johnny, I don’t have a computer. Besides, isn’t that for has-beens?” Thinking Hell, maybe I’m a has-been, too. But Johnny persisted, saying “Earth to Stebner—it’s two thousand and two, and you don’t have a computer?” So, I gave in to instinct, bought a PC, and discovered cyber dating. I got off to a bad start.

  Blame it on Jessie, but I’d become hypersensitive to any trait a woman exhibited that reminded me of her. Charming voluptuous curves? No thanks. Sports fanatic? Time out. Gun-toting Army Reserve gal? Duck and cover. Storm chaser? I’ll take a rain check. It was as though I was afraid to have fun any­more, for fear of meeting another Jessie ‘Bates’. To complicate things, the women I reached out to on the ‘mating’ sites sel­dom responded. They could probably sense my chipped shoul­ders and the dystopian attitude I had acquired. One gal responded eagerly, though it would be a chaperoned date, as she was doing time at the Shakopee Women’s Prison for check forgery. I was ready to give up online dating, when I learned a guy on our crew had married a lady from Thailand. He said it was the best thing that ever happened to him, and gave me the name of the Asian dating website he met her on. I reluctantly took his advice and checked it out.

   On the American dating sites, there were typically fif­teen or twenty profiles out of a few thousand that were a match to my profile. But when I logged on to ‘Asia’ and clicked on China, I received two million, seven hundred fifty-four thousand, three hundred and twenty-seven matches. “Good grief!” I narrowed my search by province, then by city. Places unfamiliar to me, like Wuhan, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Fusian. And familiar cities Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tai­pei. It was overwhelming, so I just looked around and picked some ladies to reach out to. The next day, responses came flooding in.

There was Judy C, a thirty-three-year-old from Beijing, whose tag line read “I want to be the happy fish in the sea”.

Alicin618 was a newspaper reporter who tagged “My friend always call me Kidney Sheep Woman”. Something lost in transla­tion there, but I’m sure it’s a compliment in their culture.

Color_of_Wind was from Beijing, but studying “parfume” in Lyon, France. She tagged “Life is not measured by the breath we take, but by the moment that takes our breath away.”

And then there was Kiki154. She wrote “I am so happy to heard from you. I come from traditional and good Chinese family in Guangzhou. Twenty-eight-year-old, but am a failure in the feeling, so live helpless and alone. It is far from happy nest. I long to find my love and marriage. Is not a game player. I hope so you email if you have same goal as me. Sincere wishes, Kiki154.”

  She stood in ivory platform sandals, slim jeans, and a sleeveless pink top. She looked fit and feminine, with a slight tilt to her head, hair draped to one side. A calm lake and dis­tant gazebo served as a backdrop and framed her perfectly. I was smitten. Something in her words touched my heart, and I began to tremble. The cliché adage about things that were too good to be true ran through my head. I wasn’t a praying man, but I put my palms together and said “God, I don’t want to rush headlong into anything, but I want to at least meet her. I’ve got to find out if she’s real.”

  We emailed back and forth, and I learned that she was reaching me via a translator at an internet café, which was why her profile name had a number attached to it. Meanwhile, I took a crash course in Mandarin, learning everything I could in preparation for the journey. I also bought a copy of Chinese in Plain English, by Boye Lafayette De Mente (and who better than a Frenchman to teach Chinese to an American?). I booked my flight, and took Kiki’s advice on what hotel to make reserva­tions at for a three week stay, then renewed my passport and flew to the Chinese Consulate in Chicago to get a Visa. I was racing against the clock, hoping she wouldn’t drop me in favor of another guy. After all, I was a lowly aircraft mechanic, and there were probably millionaires out there vying for her hand.



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  I arrived at the airport three hours before my flight's scheduled departure, checked my bags, paced the terminal, then ate at McDonald's on the Gold concourse. An NWA Pilot and Asian flight attendant sat across from me.

“Where you go tonight?” she asked, noticing my NWA employee badge.

“Guangzhou, China.”

“Why you go to Guangzhou? See girl?”

“How’d you guess?”

“How you meet—internet?”

“Yeah. Her name's Kiki. We met a few months ago and really hit it off.”

“Don't go!”

“Why not?”

She shook her head and muttered something in Canton­ese. Then she took a deep breath.

“The number one is you go to Guangzhou and get the SAR virus. You will cough and puke you gut until you died.”

The pilot listened in.

“The number two is girl you know from internet come to airport and has special taxi waiting. Don't get in taxi! She take you to house where men beat you, then take you kidney and liver out.”

“C'mon, I don't think this woman would do that...”

“The number three one is you get to hotel and girl tell you go take shower from long flight. Don't take shower! When you take shower men come in and rob you—take you passport and clothes and everything. You can't go home again.” Thomas Wolfe’s epic flashed in my brain.

“Look ma'am, I appreciate your concern, but the lady I'm going to meet is really nice. Here's her photo.” I opened my wallet and showed them.

“Pretty girl.” The pilot said.

“That not you girl.” She looked at my hands. “You North­west mechanic, right?”


“I know other mechanic go to sexy girl in China. He never come back alive.”

“Let the guy go to China, Sue. I think he can handle him­self.” The pilot spoke up for me.

“Suit you self, then. But get own taxi at airport. No get in special taxi.”

“Okay, yeah, I guess that's good advice.” They got up to leave.

“No special taxi!” Shaking a finger at me as they walked away.

  The lady had a point. What the hell was I doing traveling to the other side of the world to meet a woman in a communist country? I had no one watching my back over there. I couldn't even speak the language bar a few essentials, and if I did get rolled, there was a good chance I would be killed, or maimed for life. The warnings from my friends and family echoed in my head. “Don't take your bible,” “Never trust a commie,” and now “No special taxi.” What was I to do, throw in the towel and forget the whole thing? Hell, my luggage was already checked.

  My mind drifted back to women I’d dated that I never wanted to think about again. There was the Human Torch, who must have been born inside a tanning bed, her skin so dried, scarred, and thickened by the radiation that she looked like she was about to molt. Then there was The Lesbian; a blind date I met in a newspaper personals ad. She reminded me of Lou Costello—as in Abbott and Costello—and insisted on picking me up at my place. She drove me to a bar in Minneapo­lis and circled through the parking lot about four times, as though she were looking for a certain car. It didn't take long for me to realize that her ex-girlfriend was inside, and that I was, in some sick, twisted way, her revenge date. It felt weird to be a lesbian's bitch, but it got a lot weirder when she slapped my ass in front of her ex.

I dated a woman named Anna, whose last name may well have been “Rexia.” Standing five feet eleven inches tall and about seventy-two pounds, she was a marathon runner who looked like a living skeleton, with her emaciated body and a face so cavernous I worried her eyeballs would fall out of her skull if I stopped the car too fast.

I scolded myself for thinking of women that way. It was raucous and chauvinistic of me to do so. A gate agent announced that my flight was boarding. I got up and paced back and forth, not knowing what to do. My knees were weak and I wanted to vomit.

Do I drive home and Walter Mitty the rest of my life away, won­dering what might have been? Last call for boarding was announced, and I continued to pace. But what if she is real? Just what if? I asked of Kiki154. I've got to know. I've got to find out, even if it does mean getting rolled and left for dead. I'm going.”


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Guangzhou, China. A quaint little village of thirteen mil­lion people, nestled on the banks of the Pearl River Delta, and just a stone's throw away from the islands of Hong Kong that lay in the South China Sea. This is the city the British call Can­ton, and whose people are the Cantonese.

We touched down at five AM. I made my way to baggage claim by following the other passengers, as none of the signs were in English. I found my luggage and did the same march to Customs, where a stern official questioned my motive. At least he spoke English.

“Fiancée.” I lied. My response did not elicit an emotion, but he waved me through.

I searched the terminal for a payphone, as Kiki had told me in her email to call her when I arrived. There was a bank of phones in the lobby, but my credit card would not work no matter what buttons I pressed. It offered no English, only a succession of Chinese that scrolled across the screen. Finally, an Asian businessman who spoke English loaned me his IP phone card and helped place the call.

It rang four times, and then, she answered.


“Kiki, is that you?”

Wei? Kef-in? Hell-o?”

“Yes, Kiki, I am at the airport.”

“Okay, I...I doan lo Eng-le to say...”

And I struggled to remember the words for “where are you” in Chinese.

“Um…Zai na lei?” I recalled. She responded back in Man­darin, but between the bad connection and my ineptness in Chinese, I could not understand her. I waved to the business­man.

“Sir, could you please help me?” He came over reluctantly and I gave him the handset.

“Wei?” He spoke in the Cantonese tongue. And then his face lit up.

“You go met girl here?”

“Yes, Kiki. Is she here yet?” Their conversation continued. He smiled and laughed and tapped a shoe. Then he hung up the phone.

“Ha! You crazy man! You come to China met girl?”

“Yes. Is she coming to the airport?”

“You sagua! You no can say Zhong-wen, but come met girl to Guangzhou?” He danced in circles, slapping a hand on his knee.

“Yes, is she coming?”

“Ya. Her be five minute. She taxi stick in traffic.”

He relayed the story in Cantonese to the others who had gathered around. They broke into laughter, pointing at the stu­pid American. An old couple covered their mouths in a failed gesture of politeness as they mocked me for traveling clear across the planet to meet a woman I couldn't even talk to.

  I walked away from my hecklers and realized for the first time the full human predicament of my situation; I could not read the signs in the airport, or understand the IP phone card system, or carry on a simple conversation with the woman I’d come to meet. I was completely out of my element, and it was all my own doing. I stood in the middle of the airport lobby and watched people come and go, thinking What the hell have I done?

And then I saw her. And she saw me. And she ran as fast as she could in her ivory platform sandals, handbag on her shoul­der, and long shiny hair flowing as she made her way. I held out my arms.


“Kef-in! Kef-in!” She called out as she ran, perhaps five feet two, ninety-five pounds, with radiant skin and a beautiful smile. Two other girls ran alongside, laughing all the way. I caught her in my arms and twirled her around. We clung to each other like lovers that had been apart too long. The heck­lers clapped, and when I set her down, she looked at me with bright eyes.

“Wel-come! Wel-come to China!” We held hands, and she swung my arm back and forth, giddy with excitement. “This Miao. Wo peng yoh, um, friend. And this one Mei.”

Ni hao ma.” I offered. They talked and giggled with hands cupped over mouths, and then the businessman called out “She say you very handsome man!”

Bu shi, bu shi” (meaning “No is”). The crowd dispersed and left us standing in the lobby studying each other. I couldn't believe my luck; she was perfect in my eyes, with her kind smile and shiny face. She had a few pimples that did not seem to match the rest of her complexion. Perhaps they were caused by the stress of anticipation. Perhaps she had been as anxious as I had been about this day; about the “hope so” of finding love. I gathered my luggage and we went outside to the taxi staging area. Heat and the stench of sulfur burned my eyes.

“Come, come...” Kiki signaled, walking away from the row of taxi drivers waiting for a fare.

“Wo yoh qi-che.” She said. And then I remembered the flight attendance’s advice:

“No special taxi!”

“No, here, this one.”

Bu shi, wo men de yoh zu qi che.”

“No, I'm taking this taxi to the hotel.” I demanded. Miao flagged off their driver and I opened the door of the cab I chose. I thought to myself I've passed the first test. Just three more weeks to go.


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  We arrived at the Hotel Landmark Canton. I tried to pay the driver from the backseat, but Kiki pulled me out of the taxi, handing the money to him through the side window. I later learned that unscrupulous cabbies are slight–of–hand art­ists who will swap your bill for a fake one, then accuse you of passing it to them. “Shang shang shou zu!” She said. “Watch the hands.” We entered the lobby and I followed the girls to the front desk, where Kiki began talking to the clerk in a terse voice.

“They ask if we marry.”

“What did you tell her?”

“I say 'yes we marry'. They lo let we if lo marry. We is.... how you…'sugar on yue’ people?”

“Uh, sugar on yue? Yue is moon, like xing xingde moon?” I pointed skyward.

Dui, we is sugar xing xingde moon people.”

“You told them we're honeymooners?”

“Is okay?”

“You don't waste any time, do you? Okay, we'll be honey­mooners.” I kissed her forehead.  The female clerk smiled.

  My inner voice asked “Could I marry this woman? Well, what the hell did I come all the way over here for, then?” I guess I was thinking long–term relationship first; maybe a year or three, and if that worked out, then get engaged, but this was moving fast. A couple of emails back and forth and a cab ride through town was hardly the foundation for lifelong marriage. She seemed terrific, but I'd been disappointed more times than I cared to think; Jessie just the most recent salacious regret. What had I gotten myself into?

    A clerk rubber-stamped my Visa and handed it back with a terse look. Then a concierge led the four of us to the elevator, and up to the twenty–fourth floor, where we were escorted by another. The room was small but well–appointed, with an excellent view of the Pearl River and Haizhu park below. The Queen–sized bed – or perhaps I should say Empress–sized bed, had an elaborate headboard. We sat down on the mattress. It was as hard as the floor.

“Oh my god!” I lifted the bedspread to reveal a thin pad on top of a plywood box section.

“Goodah, huh?” Kiki said, sounding pleased with it.  I didn't know what to do next. I was wiped out by the twenty–six–hour journey and just wanted to sleep. I thought up a scheme that I would politely ask the girls to leave, think­ing we could get together tomorrow – if I lived to see it.

“Okay, you girls go now?” Signaling with my palms towards the door. Kiki reached in her handbag and removed a device that looked like a calculator. She typed something into it.

“Sour. Sour. Sour.” A monotone digital voice announced each time she hit the button. It was a pocket translator.  

“You sour, Kef–in. Then we go zao fan.” She pointed to the bathroom.

Zao fan – that's breakfast.” A voice in my head rang out “The number three one is men come and beat you. No take shower!” “Let's go to breakfast now!” I patted my stomach.

 I tried to buy some time, thinking that if there were a gang waiting to roll me, they'd just have to wait until I had something to eat. A last meal, of sorts.

  We walked to the Dong Jiang Tea House; a six–story tall restaurant just down the street, and facing the Pearl River. A hostess greeted us and we were escorted to dozens of aquari­ums on the first floor, where the girls chose squid and prawns and other slimy looking things I’d never seen before. A hostess rubber–stamped our ticket, then we ascended the marble stairs to the top floor. It was six–thirty in the morning, and every floor was bustling with people.

   Kiki pointed to the open kitchen where chefs in white button–front smocks and tall toque blanche hats worked their woks over gas–fired grills. Blue flames sucked air and sounded like distant jet engines. The noise was chaotic as people shouted their requests to the sweaty chefs. A stainless–steel buffet aisle separated the kitchen from the dining area and was stacked with bamboo baskets engulfed in steam. Kiki took me over to look.

“Is dim sum. You like?”

“Oh, this is dim sum? We call these potstickers in Minne­sota. Yes, I like.” We chose some, and another hostess rub­ber–stamped our ticket. Then we were escorted to our table, and the seafood and dim sum all arrived at once, while yet more hostesses served green tea and large bowls of rice. Kiki rinsed my dishes and chopsticks with the hot tea, pouring it over a large bowl, then hers, as did the others. A fresh pot arrived immediately to replace it.

“Sorry my Engl–le lo goodah.” Kiki removed a book from her handbag. “I go Eng–le school lao.” It was a textbook with study lessons, pages filled in with pencil.

“How are you do–ink?” She pointed to the words. “I am hung–er.” She searched for phrases. “How is you fly fei–je, Kef–in?”

“Ha. Thanks for asking. It was a very long trip.”

  Then the ladies talked amongst themselves while Kiki put dim sum on my plate faster than I could eat it; my inept­ness with chopsticks humoring them. I looked around to notice that people were staring; pointing fingers and murmur­ing like they had never seen a white man. It was unsettling, but I decided to ignore it, thinking “After all, I am having breakfast on the other side of the world with Kiki154, the bright morning sun is shining through the windows, the scent of fresh dim sum is in the air, and best of all, I am far.”


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  The days that followed were like a phantasmagorical dream I want to relive. The noise and heat and swarms of peo­ple in Guangzhou inebriated my senses. I was completely lost and helpless, but for the affection and protection Kiki afforded. Thoughts of getting mugged or skewered for my organs left my mind. I could trust her. She showed me the town, and the beautiful parks within. There was Baiyun San (White Cloud Mountain), Yuntai Gardens, Nine Goat park, and Buking Lu (The Road to Beijing). We walked everywhere and drank bubble tea in the one–hundred–degree heat. She shaded me with her pink parasol and patted my sweaty fore­head with her kerchief. There were restaurants, restaurants everywhere, with healthy steamed dishes that cost almost nothing in American dollars, always greeted by pretty host­esses in traditional Cheongsam gowns. We laughed and mimed in slapstick jokes, as there were few words we could share. But I felt more relaxed with her than any woman I had ever known. And I wanted to know her more. I wanted to know her soul.

  On the third evening, we shopped the open mall of Shang Xia Jiu Lu (Up Down Nine Road) and bought longan fruit, then returned to our hotel room and settled in. She turned on the television, and a man was reporting the local news.

“Hey Kiki, why does the guy say “Guang–joe?”

Dui. You say Guang–zaow. Is lo goodah. Bu Guang–zaow, is Guang–joe, sagua!

“Guang–joe? I like it.”

Dui! I is you Kiki Guangjoe!” She jumped up and kissed me.

“My Kiki Guangjoe.” I whispered in her ear. We crashed onto the rock–hard mattress and consummated her name.

  We embraced in the glow and shared intimate words, learning each other’s tongues by tasting their meaning. The sunlight was bright on Kiki’s face, and I’d never seen anyone or anything so beautiful. At that moment, my senses were height­ened to the point that I thought I could fly. My bitter heart was gone, and I felt truly loved by this woman. The distant sound of the television interrupted our tryst, and Kiki took notice.

Chang Cheng–de–le.” She announced. “You like Chang Cheng–de–le?”

“The Great Wall? I’ve always wanted to see it. Have you been there?”

“Lo. I is lo money people. I lo see Chang Cheng de–le. I lo see na li but Guangzhou.”

“Well, let’s do it. We could fly up to Beijing and see all the sights.”

“Really? Oh, fantast! I really like take go Buking wit you.”


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 We booked passage with a tour group, and flew north on an Air China Boeing 737. Our reservations were for the Bei­jing Grand Hotel, just a few miles west of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. But when we arrived, our driver passed by the gold pillars and red–carpet entrance, to a not–so–grand hotel in the alley. The dozen or so passengers protested, but our tour guide keyed her megaphone (the het­erodyne nearly blowing my eardrums out), and was able to calm them down.

“That okay lo problem.” Kiki said, patting my arm. “She say room is goodah, and we gone all day long see Buking.”

 But when we checked in, the clerk flagged us, demand­ing to see our marriage license. Kiki argued, and our tour group huddled around, seemingly fascinated by the conflict. The clerk and Kiki were yelling back and forth, and our entou­rage chimed in with defiance. The noise was deafening. Our tour guide blasted her megaphone again, and everyone shut up. Negotiations resumed, and then the clerk and Kiki nodded politely to each other.

“She say we get stay, but has two bed.”

Our entourage clapped for our little victory. Two of the men, as thin as chopsticks and likely brothers, patted my shoul­der and shook my hand.

“Xie xie ni. Thank you.” Was all I knew how to say.

   We were escorted to our room, but when I tried to tip the lady Kiki intervened, and explained as best she could that to tip someone in China is to tell them they are no good at what they do, and must need extra money to survive. Our room was sparse, but clean and air conditioned. The beds were about two feet wide, and when I laid down, my arms hung off the sides, and my feet hung off the end. After freshening up, we met our group for dinner at the all–inclusive restaurant; our gang again protesting, and when I asked Kiki she said “Buk­ing fan (food) lo goodah. Guangzhou fan shi hen hao de la.”

“What’s the problem? I think it tastes great.”

“Bu hao. Lo goodah.”

  Our entourage nodded in agreement with her. They began conversing with my ‘wife’, and though I couldn’t under­stand their words, the chopsticks and cigarettes pointing my way made it clear who they were talking about. Kiki translated as best she could, back and forth, telling them I owned a house in Minnesota where the sky was blue and the air was fresh, and that I had two cars. She bragged that I was an aircraft mechanic; that I could fix anything, and that I was “number one smark man”. She was exaggerating, of course, but it made for good fodder.

  I would like to have known about their lives; what it was like to survive the Cultural Revolution and The Great Leap Forward; what they thought of Mao Zedong, and the current leader Hu Jintao, and also of communism today, but every time she translated my questions, the Chopstick brothers responded with a pensive “Bu hua” (No talk). It was late, and our eyes were tired, so we said “Wan an” and went to our room.

 We showered and toweled off, then I pushed our beds together.

“Hao paw!” Kiki said, crisscrossing her fingers.

We got comfortable, and the drone of the air conditioner played like background music.

“Husband, you like China?”

“I like being with you, darling. You make everything fun. But I can’t get over how many people are here. Everywhere we go is just inundated with people.”

“That why China is one chilled law.”

“I’m sorry, I should have asked you earlier, do you have a brother or sister?”

   She went on to tell me she had a brother and a sister, and that she was the eldest child. China had a one child policy, but you could have two children if you lived in the country, as Kiki did growing up. Still, that didn’t explain why their family was allowed to have three kids. She elaborated in her own brand of English, that they weren’t allowed. After her brother was born, mom got pregnant again, and when word got around to the town constable, she was taken to the hospital and forced to have an abortion. Kiki was six years old, and witness to it. The doctor walked by her with her eight–month old sister fetus in a pail, and she could hear her screaming.

  When her mother got pregnant again, she escaped the village to the mountains, where a trusted midwife hid her for many months. The baby girl was raised by a family who had no children. The authorities didn’t find out about it for a few years, but they were not done exerting their rule. Her father lost his job as a cook for the government–run utility company, and was shunned from employment everywhere. They were impoverished, and bill collectors stripped their house of every belonging. Father had to flee his reputation, and walked hun­dreds of miles north in search of work. Mother went to Guangzhou and worked sixteen–hour days in a sweatshop. Kiki and her brother were raised by grandmother, where they nearly starved for lack of protein, as the old woman had little to spare.  

  She went on to say that in her village being born a girl was bad luck, as only boys could bring honor and power to the family. She once saw a new–born girl being drown in the river by a ‘cursed’ mother.

“That why I lucky girl.”

“Lucky? I don’t call that lucky. Damn unlucky if you ask me.”

“Lo. I bery lucky. Wo de mingzi shi Xuezhen (My real name is Xuezhen).”

“I don’t understand.”

“Xuezhen (pronounced Shway–jhen) is Pure Snow. I born bai pifu (white skin). You know, Guangzhou ren shi ande pifu (dark skin). So I is lucky angel girl. Is why mama no died me when I borned. She say one day I make family zun gui (honor­able).”

“Geez…so, is your sister still alive?”

“Oh, my sister number one beauti–ful. You doan low. We come back Guangzhou you see she. I lo tall. Sister bery tall and beauti–ful!”

“Well you're beautiful to me. And you get more beautiful with every story you tell.”

“Thank you, Honeymoon.”

 I cradled her in my arms. She was asleep in minutes, her slow breath upon my chest. I studied her hands in the faint light that came through the window. How could a woman who had witnessed such atrocity be so kind and compassionate? How could that constable justify forcing mother to abort her fetus? Was it to make an example for the rest of her village, or to rule by fear simply because he had the power to do so? The woman must have suffered terribly. Kiki curled into the fetal position with her back to me. I took my journal from the nightstand and penned conflicting thoughts:


 I don't understand Kiki's world. Each story she tells is a window to her soul. She's a mystery to me, and I want to learn everything about her. I want to marry this woman; I can feel it – she's the one. But I know I'll be judged by people back home, for doing so. How the hell did I get into this situation? She tricked me into loving her, that's what she did. She tricked me with her beauty and her kindness and her honesty. She is an absolute joy to be with, and her heart is gold, whereas Jessie's was bitter cold.

  I'm as foolish as I've ever been, flying to the other side of the world to find love. Well, I found it. But how do I marry her? And how do I ask her? Hell, I don’t even have a ring to offer. Stupid me. If I leave China without proposing, it would hurt her terribly; She’s been hinting the whole time with her “Honeymoon” and “Hao Paw” and “Husband” talk. If I don’t, I could lose her forever. Any guy would be lucky to find her. I’ve got to do it. I’ve got to find a way. And soon. I hope she will have me.


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  The morning light peered through the drapes, and I woke to the sound of her soft voice singing in my ear.

Ju, ni de bizi liangde kong (Pig, your nose has two holes).

Ju, ni yoh piaoliang liangde erduo (Pig, you have cute two ears).

“Did you just call me 'Pig'?”

“You is my pig man.” She bit at my nose. “I is tigger girl!”

She grabbed her cheap translator from the nightstand and typed.

“Joe–diac. Joe–diac.”

“Oh, right, the Chinese zodiac.”

“Is number one goodah you pig, I tigger.”

“Why is that good?”

“Tigger – eat – pig!” She climbed on top and kissed me.

“I think I’m gonna like this Chinese zodiac!” We wrestled between the sheets, and I tickled her ribs.

“Ting! Ting de le! I will died!” So, I stopped.

“What joe–diac you in America?”

“I'm a Capricorn. I was born in January.”

“Is good star to born under?”

“Pretty good. Jesus was a Capricorn. So was Elvis.”

“Who Elbis?”

“You know, the singer, Elvis Presley? Elvis the Pelvis?”

“I lo low Elbis.” I stood up on the bed and impersonated him with “You ain't nothin' but a hound dog”, gyrating my hips like he used to. Only, I was naked. She went hysterical with laughter, pointing at my “Coo–coo–jay”, saying “Is bery cu–de!”

Just then, the phone rang with our six o’clock wake up call.

“So, where we off to today, Tigger?”

She opened the travel itinerary and said “Jin tian wo men de chi Tiananmen Guang Chang, he Yiheyyuan. Two–morrow is Tian Tian, three–morrow is Ming Shishan, four–morrow is Chang Cheng de le!

“Three–morrow? Do you mean the day after tomorrow?”

Dui. Ho tian is three–morrow day. How you say three–morrow?”

“We don’t have a word for three–morrow, or four–mor­row, or whatever. So, they’re saving the Great Wall for last?”

  “Shi, sagua!” She stood up and began dancing around the room, singing a song about the elusive Chang Cheng de le, and waving her arms like a butterfly.

I thought “What a strange person. But I am absolutely crazy about her.”


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   I soon learned that Mao Zedong was more than just the first president of the People’s Republic of China. He was revered as their father, their savior, and their inspiration. His likeness was everywhere in Beijing. We actually saw him, pre­served inside a crystal sarcophagus in Tiananmen Square, and across the street his portrait festooned the entrance to Forbid­den City. Statues of him were all over town. We couldn’t get away from the guy, so every time we bumped into him I sang the Beatles song“…and if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, You ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow...” which certainly wasn't true for me; I was carrying pictures of Mao in my wallet on the one hundred renminbi bills, and I was making it with the finest lady I'd ever known. She smiled as I serenaded her.

The Ming Tombs were more than I could imagine. Nes­tled in the mountains north of Beijing, it encompassed thirteen mausoleums of the emperors of the Ming Dynasty, each deep inside a cave, and distanced from the other tombs in Jundu San. Our trusty tour guide left her megaphone on the bus for this venue, clearly out of respect for the dead.

 We were exhausted from the daylong journey and just wanted to get back to our hotel, but our driver pulled into another tourist trap, and Megaphone Girl keyed her mike. After an ear-piercing ten–minute oral dissertation, we piled off the bus.

“She say is number one tall Buddha in whole whirl.” It was plated in gold leaf and dressed in red robes and jewels, and stood more than forty feet high. The courtyard was packed with people, and the air was rich with the scent of jasmine and sandalwood.

“Please I get xun xiang? Is good luck in China.” We bought the incense and lit it. She approached the alter and knelt with a dozen others, offering a prayer to the Buddha. People chanted mantra's, and I wondered what Kiki was praying for. Was it for us? For the “hope so” of spending our lives together?  For mar­riage?

   I stood back and took it all in. I hadn't seen blue smoke that thick since the Grateful Dead concert I went to back in nineteen eighty–nine. And the deity looked taller and even more divine as I stepped away from it, rising out of the haze like a calming spirit. She said it was the largest Buddha in the “whole whirl”. I didn't know if that was true, but by compari­son, Minnesota could only claim to have the world's largest hand–spun ball of twine, and I wouldn't want to burn incense anywhere near that thing.

   We finally made it back to our hotel, had a quick dinner, then showered and met in our freshly-made beds. They had been separated as usual by the cleaning lady, and each night I pushed them together again, hoping I wouldn’t get arrested. But what were they going to do, cut my liver and kidneys out? The TV only offered one channel, which ran a one-hour loop of tourist propaganda. It was the same program I saw in our hotel in Guangzhou, and the Great Wall segment was running, showing film of it in the wintertime and covered in a blanket of snow.

“Honeymoon, you see snow in America?”

“I’m from Minnesota. I’ve seen snow before.”

“I lo see snow. Is beauti-ful?”

“Your name is Pure Snow, but you’ve never seen it?”

“Lo. Guangzhou shi hen re de (very hot). I lo see. I hope so one day you take me America see snow.”


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  Chang Cheng, or so it translates to English, the Great Wall, is aptly named. John Glenn could see it from outer space when he orbited the earth in 1962. Ten years later President Nixon nearly had a heart attack climbing its rocky steps. Built on the backs of thousands of slaves over the course of two mil­lennia, and stretching more than four thousand five hundred miles if you count the many arteries that bleed off it, the wall could not stop the influx of marauders who sought China’s riches. Beyond its walls, some found gold, some found silk, and some found jade. But I found the greatest treasure of all.

  We arrived at the Badaling section just north of Beijing, after a vertebrae–crushing ride up the mountain in our rickety old tour bus; the Chopstick brothers screaming in agony the whole time. It was a gray, foggy day, and I first caught glimpse of it through the trees as we climbed the narrow road. Once above the tree line, it appeared again, like a medieval fortress that commanded the horizon. Dozens of tour buses were parked at the entrance, and when we climbed out, we were instantly greeted by merchants selling souvenirs. Kiki pushed them away from me, saying “Guangzhou you buy hen pian yi (very cheap). Here lo goodah!” But I had a plan.

“Kiki, I want to buy my mom something from the Great Wall.” I said, and picked out a pretty pearl ring from the woman selling jewelry.


  I followed Kiki up the stairs. The grade was deceptively steep and no two treads or risers were of the same dimension. Some steps were over a foot high and Kiki struggled to make the grade, pulling herself up with the rusted handrail. Other people struggled with the incline and it was apparent that long legs were of great benefit on this draft, so I took Kiki's hand and pulled her up with me.

“The foot is tong de le (hurt).” Kiki slapped her thigh.

“Just a few more to go, Tigger.” We rested at a watch­tower, and I massaged her legs. Then we walked along the expanse of the landing, and I ran towards the next flight of stairs about a football field ahead.

“Lo more. The foot shi hen tong de le.

“This wall is great. I could run on this thing forever.” We snapped some photo's, but then I realized there was no one to take a photo of us together. We were alone. All alone, out of reach from our tour group and the people that gave up the climb.  

My brain screamed “Now, Stebner, just do it, dammit.” I moved in close and held her hand. Then I got down on one knee and took the pearl ring from my pocket. I struggled to remember the words I had been practicing. Hands trembled, and my mouth went dry with anticipation of getting it right.

“Ni yuan yi jia gei wo ma?”

“Jia gei? Me?”

Dui. Ni yuan yi jia gei wo ma? A smile flooded her face, and she jumped up and down.

“Yes! Yes, wo jia gei ni! I is marry you!”  

I slid the ring on her finger.

“I know it's not a proper ring, but when we get back to Guangzhou we can buy a diamond, okay?”

“Yes, wo fei chang ai ni!” She wrapped her arms around me. I lifted her off her feet.

Wo ye fei chang ai ni, Xuezhen. I am crazy in love with you!

“I low you go say marry me! I low, I low!”

“How could you know?”

“I has the number six feeling!”  Her words echoed across the Great Wall.