A Bottle of Sesame Oil

In 1991, after three years of home-sickness, I quit my newly-found job with the City of Toronto, left Canada for China, with a remote hope of settling in China.  During my stay in China, one of the many events that persuaded me to return to Canada was my experience with a bottle of sesame oil.

A Bottle of Sesame Oil

One evening, Baba suggested that he and Mama and I visit Houde, the head of the chemical plant, to deliver a bottle of sesame oil. 

“I don’t want to go!” Mama replied, still riled by the fact that Houde had demoted her from lab supervisor to the mail delivery clerk, which subsequently forced her to retire early.

“Aiya, you got to look ahead la,” Baba persuaded.  “The benefits for retirees, for the future years, will all come from the words from his mouth.”

“You want to go, you go,” Mama refused adamantly.  “I won’t bend for that retirement benefit.  Not much money.  Not much room for him to play anyway.  A bottle of sesame oil, hhenng, is nothing to him.  Do you not understand?  Look at his wife, the gold rings on her neck, wrists and fingers.  They don’t need this bottle of sesame oil from you.”

“Ai… I know.  But if Xiao Ping holds this bottle when Houde opens the door, the weight of this gift will be different la,” Baba said gently. 

“Don’t get him into this messy submission!” Mama was disgusted by this idea.

The small bottle of sesame oil, in a liquor bottle, stood on the concrete floor in pale light.

“Mama,” I cleared my voice and said softly, “I don’t mind.” 

I knew how much trouble they had gone through with the plant authority over the years.  As the economic system reformed to more capitalistic, the manager of the plant, like a head in any work unit in this country, had come to unprecedented unchecked power and privilege, a status equivalent to that of a Tu Huang Di — Local Emperor in the feudalist system.  (This was a unique by-product of China’s social economical reform.) 

In my temperament, I would never bow to a Local Emperor.  But for Baba and Mama and a less antagonized future for them, I would do whatever I could.

“Okay.”  Baba said, “I’ll carry the bottle.  At his door, you’ll just carry it for a moment.”   After a long silence, Mama agreed.

A few minutes later, I saw the most golden decorated woman in my life.  Houde’s wife, who had once apprenticed under my mother, then took over my mother’s supervisory position, wore several gold necklace, a few gold wrist bracelets jangling, and almost a gold ring on each finger.  She greeted my mother at the door with a tacky smile.


I wondered how could I work in China without bowing to such a local emperor or empress.  It will be very hard for me to keep a job, I thought. 

I missed Canada, where employees giving gifts to bosses was nearly unheard of. 

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 at 12:51 am and is filed under Canadian, Chinese. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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