Sze Tho Kong Chian aka Casey
Only two kinds of people can talk without inhibitions- strangers and lovers. Everyone in between is just negotiating.
A Chinaman is best to keep his mouth tight shut if he wants mangoes. Otherwise, they will grow from a bushy tree hanging inside his pants.
Sze Tho Kong Chian
MANGO FOR A BOOK
The book had the unusual beginnings in my garden where I laboured to fill up an enormous land depression so I could grow a mango tree.
When Sprint Highway first proposed a 4-lane highway just 30 feet away from my backyard, I smelt trouble. I greeted the proposal with mixed feelings only after they had erected a sound barrier. It was a relief the retaining wall kept down the never-ending drone from the vehicles. Better, it also divided the no-man piece of land between the highway and my home a secluded enclosure. I had always fancied I had green fingers. A black gold mango tree was thought the solution to the big gapping hole dividing the highway and the house.
The only problem was the land was not mine. It belonged to the government. But the impression that it belonged to me was very important. You see, I am Chinese. We Chinese, we are used to grabbing every opportunity when others are not looking. After that, we justify it as ours to keep. Never mind the land is not mine, but the mangoes--they can’t be government owned, can they?
Wei Sheen had covered the crater with 50 wheelbarrows of topsoil, but we needed another 150 wheelbarrows to level the ground. Then in a whiff, my eldest son left for Kansas for further studies. He left a poor man with a bad back to complete the garden. Still, I was determined to have juicy mangos from my very own tree. Emotionally, I had to have that tree. I was looking for a proportionate trade-off for the noise from the dusty highway. Besides, a tree would cut down the noise to my bedroom at the back of the house. It was also the only way I can get back at the government for building a highway 30 feet away from my kitchen. If I have to cope with the dust and noise, I should be paid with mangoes. In fact, the sweeter the mangoes, the better the revenge, emotionally.
Also, I was putting on some weight. Gardening would make me sweat things out. It could be an alternative therapy in response to the punishing hours at office.
"It’s hard work this," I curled my lips. "I’d l rather be writing a book." Maureen, my wife, didn’t raise her eyebrows.
Instead, she hard-pressed me. "And what would you write on? Gardening?"
I gawked at the big hole. Thinking how unintelligent I had been covering a massive land depression with a spade, I joked, "on emotional intelligence. If I were any smart, I’d know this is absurd to begin with. Now that we ‘ve started, I just don’t want to waste all that 50 wheelbarrows of soil we’ve rolled in for nothing."
I was half expecting to hear laughter, but she was silent. Then she mused, " You should."
"You’re kidding, of course."
"No I am not. That’s a challenge. This gardening bit I can do, anyone can do. Writing is your passion; this is work. You think too Chinese. There is no such thing as free mangoes on government land. One day, they’ll take back the land. And your mango tree too. Think long-term, not short-term. Stop wanting everything for free."
What’s wrong with thinking this way? If I can have free mangoes on free land, that would be like heaven on earth. Grab all you can now, milk everything before they take it back. So what’s wrong with that? My Chinese brain tells me I should make a go to get the most out of this, especially when the land was not mine. If someone would give me free mangoes without me slaving away, that is even better. So although, I was respectful at the insight of my wife, I had other ideas of my own. Unknowingly, she had literally swung a spade at my head and woke up a Pandora’s box: what if I can get mangoes without sweating? I thought.
"Quid pro quo?"
"Quid pro quo!" She looked as if I were a crossword puzzle so I offered an explanation. " Quid pro quo is Latin for ‘you scratch my back. I scratch yours’."
"I didn’t know you know Latin?" she taunted.
"I don’t. I picked up that phrase from Dr Hannibal in the movie,
The Silence of the Lamb. In that movie, the cannibal doctor made a trade-off with Jodie Foster. He would give her something if she would give him back something. It is a trade-off on an emotional level."
"Oh," she replied, unimpressed.
I chucked my spade down and looked her in the eye. "Why don’t I do a quid pro quo with you?"
The Chinese are renowned at taking gambles. They like to win and even if they lose, they will gamble always with the hope of winning. It is difficult to find a Chinese who does not enjoy a game of chance.
"Tell you what. If you can fill up this giant hole and plant my mango tree, I will write the book. I will write on emotional intelligence and bargaining."
Getting the upper hand is an old Chinese trick. Let someone do your dirty work for you first; you have plenty of time to figure out how to deliver your end of the bargain later. With luck, they will not remember what you have promised earlier. Getting away is another trick. You just pretend you have forgotten. You hope to be forgiven for poor memory.
"You mean emotional intelligence and negotiating, don’t you? I’ll bet you never finish it before I fill up this crater. I’ll guarantee a bud grated mango tree which shall be sweet as honey."
The torture of another 150 wheelbarrows of soil looked delectably wicked. Besides, the thought of winning another bet was just too good to pass. My hands told me to stop working.
"Besides, more emotional intelligence is good for you. Anyone reasonably intelligent would know this is an impossible task and avoided this in the first place." I fixed my eyes at her, almost looking up to her. Then the clincher came.
"It will be good therapy. Beats sweating out on a silly mango tree."
She is right, of course. Beats sweating out on a big hole for mangoes. Anyone with a bit of intelligence would know that if you wanted mangoes, buying them is faster.
That afternoon I fell silent. That hole in my head became bigger than the crater in the garden. Was it mangoes I wanted, or something else? No, it wasn’t fruits I wanted; in fact I was more worried about becoming a fruitcake, so I was uselessly managing stress by plunging at soil. That realization was a much need self-talk. Think smart. This could be a good bargain. Later that afternoon, I threw the spade down and said, " You’re on."
"Quid pro quo?" she suggested.
"Yes quid pro quo!" I walked away, took a bath and toyed with the idea on how I could beat her. Then I went to bed early. The next morning, I started pounding away at my laptop. I thought I had negotiated a reasonable deal. I will be doing what I like and still have my mango garden. No doubt, the writing ordeal would be long, but it would be at least pleasant, and not as annoying as being in the garden with mosquitoes buzzing about as workmates. Besides, who said I would finish the book before she finishes the garden? Maybe I would be lucky and get away with free mangoes on free land and no book to show. The thought did cross my wicked mind and I typed slower.
Two weeks later, I woke up to strange noises outside the window. I ripped open a sticky windowpane and shouted below. There were two strangers below and they looked like casual hired hands to me. And they had soil on wheelbarrows. "What are you doing?"
"Your wife. She hired us to fill your land."
Frantic at being outfoxed, I darted downstairs half-naked in my sarong, only to find an assured woman sipping coffee over breakfast. I garbled "this is not fair! This is not fair!" in protest.
Maureen was laughing away sheepishly. " You never said anything about me filling up the hole. I only took the bet to get it done. You never asked how. If you like, you can always hire a ghost writer to finish the book." She knew me well enough to know this suggestion would gash at the feeble links in my ego. The economics wouldn’t be right because the cost would be too high. Also, If I backed off the deal, she knew I would ‘lose face’, a situation of immense embarrassment only a Chinese would understand. ‘Losing face’ is to lose personal honour and of great consequence if you are wearing the pants in the house. In Chinese homes, men wear the pants. So it was expected for her to assume I would respond with some emotional astuteness. And she was right in that assumption.
"Ghost writer? Can’t believe you actually could suggest that. Do you know how much it cost to have someone to write a book for you? It will cost more than your two workers out there for sure! I will finish the book. You better give me honey sweet mangos when I finish!" In my exasperation, I had committed more than I originally planned for. I had put a foot into my big mouth and about to swallow my tongue in for absentmindedness. It was a regret too late. The bait was taken. I had fallen victim to an old trick, which confirmed me a sucker for a ride, with honour I must now defend.
Maureen smiled. I wondered who was a better negotiator that day—she, the book and I, my mangoes. She threw down a challenge and I swallowed it like some unsuspecting gold fish.
The wife—sometimes they are wiser than you think. They know how to set emotional traps for their husbands by challenging their egos. Mostly, they don’t fight fair. What’s important to them is that they win. And they win by saying less and thinking more.
So I dragged my feet away in defeat but chin up in being challenged. I was not going to let a tough-minded negotiator stand in my way.
So this book was born from an urge to win as I negotiate my way through defeat. For Maureen, she sensed early victory. She knew I would get in touch with my emotions of self-fulfilment and not hide behind a mask of normalcy. For me, I simply hate to lose when I can win. Besides, there’s too much ‘face’ at stake if I lose.
ABOUT THIS FOOL FROM ACS
Sze Tho Kong Chian read economics before studying communications. He is a half-baked consultant in the areas of change management and emotional intelligence. He is not emotionally intelligent and has been tricked by his wife into writing his first book. It will hit Petaling Street without copyright in 2003.
When not dumb, he has long been interested in the nature of perception, thought, and learning, with an observant curiosity in children. Casey has served on children’s advisory panels for the disadvantaged, gifted, and those terminally ill with cancer. He thinks he is disadvantaged, gifted and terminally ill with cancer, that’s why. He was a founding member of the National Gifted Children’s Association of Malaysia as Vice President. He is trying to relive his childhood now that he is bald and fat. He has a mango for a brain, so that’s not unexpected from someone who grew up in ACS, Seremban.
Don’t let him fool you. His second book is about spicy sex stories. It will be not be about balls hanging from the tree or mangoes. It will be about his useless bunch of friends from school.
Watch out for his second book.
Sze Tho Kong Chian; good for nothing as always, so not important to know his background.
Wife: Maureen Khoo; musician and also looking after that idiot above.
Children: Sze Tho Wei Shen; doing masters degree in Kansas and full-time faculty member at Southwestern College
Sze Tho Shan Lin; Senior at Southwestern College Kansas specializing in photography; wants to go Hollywood to shoot movies for a living
Sze Tho Wei Zian; Form 3, Hartamas Secondary School; wants to be a doctor to look after his father who could be brain damaged before 60
Voice/Fax: 603 62033448
Hand: 019 668 7748
MSN Messenger: email@example.com
ICQ No: 179-465-271
Casey In Paris" Walking 7 hours to reach this darn Tower almost killed me!" - Paris1992 Casey Outside Harrods:" Shopping for Christmas on a shoestring budget." - London 1994 Caseys Quartet: " Performing as a family for my mother-in-law's 80 birthday" Kuala Lumpur 2002 Casey Kids:"My 3 children on a boat to Pulau Babi Besar, off Mersing." Johore, 2002 Maureen: " My wife in Bali after the Bali bombing. She survived by shopping and not drinking." Bali 2002 Incredible Hulk:" This is the castle where the raunchy German King once lived." --Munich 1993 Maureen and Partner: "On our regular pilgrimage to Pulau Babi Besar to hunt pigs." Johore 2000 “My eldest boy, on the cello and phone, when not surfing the net or crashing the car.” Kansas 2003