A Goal Above the Rest

February 28, 2011
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My name is Chung Miao Fong. I live with my with my daughter Grace and her two children: Bei and Kai, my grandson and granddaughter. We own a teashop. It is a lot of work but it is what we do and what I have done for 40 years. We all work in the tea shop to make ends meet. We do all right. The teashop is divided into two sections. In the front is the area where we serve food and do business. The rear of the building is our living quarters. It is a bit cramped but we make it work. The children and their mother all share a bedroom and I sleep on the futon in one of the front rooms, which I prefer. We use the kitchen of our teahouse for our day to day needs as well as for the business. We live off of the money we make each day. One of the advantages to owning a teashop is that the pantry is always stocked. If profits are low one week, we sometimes eat into our merchandise, but it always seems to work out.
Recently, Shanghai has been busier than ever. China hosted the World Expo a few weeks ago. It was a chance for us to show the pride that we have in our country, our people, our culture, and our great city of Shanghai. The government began construction around the city in 2008, in preparation for the Expo. The month before the expo opened was chaotic. Streets and sidewalks were being cleaned and decorated. Figures of Hai-bo, the mascot of the Shanghai Expo, had been situated all throughout the city.
We had more customers at the tea house this past year. Normally only two of us are needed to run the shop. Recently, we’ve needed seven-year old Bei’s help to run errands and pick up groceries. We are working as hard as ever. We haven’t had a lot of time to see the progress in our city. My grandson Bei is intrigued by all the changes being made as the exposition prepares to open. For one whole day, Bei sat in front of the teahouse watching the movement of cars, trucks, and people.
One spring day when Bei was supposed to join us in the shop, he followed the traffic to the Expo. He noticed there were more exotic-looking foreigners than usual. There was a fence surrounding the entire building with only one gate that the people were entering through. He told us what he experienced that night over dinner. There had been a large man at the gate dressed in a bright yellow jacket who would not allow anyone to pass without a small slip of white paper. “It seemed as if the pavilion was a black hole sucking in people without end or limit,” reported Bei. “There were such loud noises coming from the building. The awes of the people blurred with many other noises including the occasional, sudden noise that sounded kind of like ssshhhhhHH... POW-pow-POW!” Bei waited there behind the fence for hours until the noises stopped. After he told us of his trip, his mother exclaimed, “Bei I don’t want you running around on your own! That pavilion is nearly a two kilometers from home, and I need you here to watch Kai while Gong-gong and I run the shop. This is the most business we’ve had in years.” But we knew that the idea of going into the pavilion himself would not leave Bei’s mind. Bei was determined to experience exactly what every other person who had entered that pavilion had experienced that day.
Two days later, Bei went back to the pavilion. As the wind pestered the trees just outside the gate there, he noticed a small paper blowing about. After chasing it around for a few minutes, Bei finally caught up to the slip. It was the same kind of chit people were using to get into the Expo. Bei excitedly took it to the teashop to examine. For an hour, he fiddled with the sheet attempting to change the date written on the front. No matter what he did, it never looked quite right. When he gave up on the idea of reusing the slip of paper, Bei decided to find out more about the exhibit that he so desperately wanted to see.
The next day at 11:00, the starting time of the show, Bei headed to the fenced-in pavilion. When he arrived at the site, he asked the man in the yellow jacket what his job was. The man responded, “I work for the government to ensure that this exhibit is safe and that only those with tickets get in.” Then Bei asked, “What is in the exhibit?” To which the security guard retorted, “For five hundred yuen I’ll tell you and even let you into the pavillion.” As Bei began to walk off, the man called out, “You better hurry kid, this exhibit ends in two weeks.” Bei made up his mind that he would set out to make five hundred yuen.
It wasn’t going to be easy to make five hundred yuen in under two weeks, but Bei had already set his mind on it. He knew that his mother wouldn’t give him the money, especially now that he hadn’t been helping for days. Bei intended on buying lots of firecrackers and selling them for six yuen each. But before he could do this, he needed about sixty yuen to buy the firecrackers. Mmmm, would his mom give him the money? “No!” It was almost painful to hear, but he had already anticipated this to be her answer. She told him she would loan him twelve yuen for each day he worked at the teahouse and helped to watch his sister. His mother Grace was in a great mood because of the recent increase in business. To borrow sixty yuen he would have to work five whole days. His window of opportunity was already beginning to shrink, but he was determined.
Once Bei recieved the sixty yuen from his mother, he bought a pack of firecrackers from a vendor. He walked to the other side of town with his bag full of 125 little sticks each about the size of a crayon with ornate gold patterns printed on the red paper used to hold each together and began to sell. By sundown, he had only sold four firecrackers, including one which he sold after haggling with a man. He now had twenty-three yuen and eight days left to buy a ticket for the World Expo. Things were not looking good. The next day he was back on the street selling firecrackers; surprisingly, he was able to sell six, all of which to tourists from outside of China. He was up to fifty-nine yuen. The boy began questioning whether he could raise 500 yuen in time. To make things worse, Grace was furious that he hadn’t been helping at the teashop, “Our family and our business are your top priority, the expo comes second! I don’t want you leaving the house tomorrow unless I tell you to.”
The following morning, Bei was stuck inside. While he was watching Kai, the thought of earning money would not leave his mind. Kai would say to him, “Play yoyo with me!” Aaaiii, she always wanted to play with her yoyo. She wasn’t strong or coordinated enough to use it yet, so she liked to watch Bei play with it instead. As the day went on, Bei grew more and more frustrated. And so Bei plotted to leave and sneak into the expo the next morning. He would leave before anyone was awake in his home.
Bei arrived at the gate before anyone was there. He inspected that gate where the guard had been. There was a chain around the gate. But there was some give to it - the gate moved a little when he pulled or pushed on it. He was very small and thin. Perhaps, just perhaps . . . He tried to squeeze through and did! Bei waited behind a garbage bin for two hours until he started to hear some commotion. He peeked out. There was the security guard back into his normal position. He noticed people beginning to arrive. He waited there for hours and then the show finally began...
By the time he got into the exhibit, the show itself didn’t really matter anymore. Bei was satisfied annihilating the curiosity he had previously possessed. Bei enjoyed the show, but it was not worth the punishment he received from his mother. After devoting almost a month wondering aimlessly, it felt good to know.

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