The Story of How Liz (Yen Yi) and John Met

John Smith sailed to my home country, China. I was in the marketplace near the harbor when, all of the sudden, I noticed billowing sails against the azure sky signaling the arrival of a ship.

“Look, Baba, a ship!” I cried to my father.

My father was carefully arranging sacks of rice into a more attractive display. “Ah, it’s probably just another shipment of food exports,” he replied dispiritedly, preoccupied with the sacks.

My excitement was no less than its initial height, though. “May I go see who it is, anyway, Father?”

“Oh.. okay,” he said. “But take this basket of rice with you to sell just in case.”

I grabbed the basket and dashed toward the docks, my curiosity growing with each fleeting step. Pushing through a crowd which had gathered, I was just able to make out the red, white, and blue flag positioned on the mast. The British had come! Who was it this time? Determined to see who had come from the famed Great Britain, I moved closer, brushing aside more people in my path repeating “Excuse me, excuse me.” At last I was near the front. A little bridge from the ship to the land had been lowered and a group of men were descending to the ground. They looked like the average Brits, some tall, some shorter and stouter, some red haired, others brown headed, which was pretty special to my eyes accustomed to black hair, dark eyes, and yellow-y tinted skin. Suddenly a man came swinging down from the main mast on a rope, his mouth stretched into a large smile of enjoyment. Curious, I stared at his golden locks swinging in the breeze and his high brow, good looking features, wondering who he must be. As the man landed, a stout dark haired man slapped him on the back and said appreciatively, “John Smith! You always were one for showing off.”

“Not at all,” John answered good naturedly. “Just having a little fun. Besides, it was the fastest way to get down.. I’ll let you guys take the slow, boring way for me!” To myself, I smiled at his reply, then watched as he and the others finished descending the way to the ground even as the crowd began to disperse, quickly bored now that they knew who the strangers where. Suddenly a tall, thin man charged towards me, who was oblivious to his movement, and pushed past me, knocking me to the ground.

“Hey!” I cried, frowning as I started to pull my upper body off the ground. My new white outfit was now soiled with dirt, I noticed in dismay as I studied the sleeves of the dress.

“Watch where you going,” the man growled. His eyes were beady and slanted severely, tapering off into his cheekbones. He wore a high blue cap and a silken robe, very aristocratic clothes that were rather out of place for the harbor and the marketplace.

“I should watch where I’m going?? You were the one who bumped into me,” I said, indignant.

“Young lady, hold your tongue,” ordered the man. “Don’t you know who I am? A very high advisor to the king.”

I scowled at him, then realized that my basket was gone. “Where’s my basket? I had a basket of rice right in my --” There it is! My eyes picked up my basket lying a foot away on the ground. In horror, I noted that it had been upturned, the fresh grains my family had worked so hard to harvest spilling everywhere. I stood up and rushed over to it. “My rice! Look what you did!” I shouted accusingly to the king’s advisor, who had turned to leave.

He turned back around and started towards me. “Oh, what a pity,” he sneered with false sympathy. “Another pound of the peasant’s rice wasted. A real shame.” He walked near the basket and his slippered feet lifted to crush the spilled grains.

Suddenly a booted foot kicked the king’s advisor slipper away. “Now, is that anyway to treat one of the king’s citizens?” asked a deep voice. In astonishment I looked up. It was that man, John Smith!

“Well I -- she--she bumped into me ...and talked back to a man of importance, a girl like her!” retorted the man.

“Hmm,” said John disbelievingly. He looked over at me and smiled. “Well, if you’ll go along your business with the other Britains I’ll just take care of this myself.”

“But, but,” spluttered the man, not happy with this turn of events.

“Go,” ordered John sternly. “Or your diplomatic talks may come to nothing.”

The man quickly shuffled away in his slippered feet, casting a slight unhappy glance back over his shoulder before seeing the other man. “Thanks,” I said softly, my eyes gazing down at the ground bashfully.

“No problem,” John said cheerfully. “Now why don’t we see if we can salvage some of your rice?”

As I bent down near my basket he joined me, even resting his nice navy pants on the dirty ground to help me. I was a little embarrassed. An attractive, highly positioned man like this aiding a silly little peasant like me with my rice! “You don’t have to do this,” I told him. “I mean, I know you want to be gentlemanly, but...”

Carefully John aided me in upturning the basket. “In my country we have manners and etiquette, and this comes with the territory,” he replied, sifting out the dirty rice from the top of the basket. “But I’m afraid my interests go beyond that.” He smiled again at me, a nice smile rounded off by soft, slightly squared lips and enhanced by nice, bright even teeth. I smiled back, my cheeks growing hot with a small blush that had to be obvious on my light skin. He stood up, gently taking my arm and pulling me with him, grabbing the basket as well.

“Thank you for your trouble,” I said, trying to recover from his heartbreaking smile.

“Not at all, it was a pleasure to do it for a pretty girl like yourself. Now, where shall I escort you?”

“Well, I must get back to my father’s booth.. it’s that way,” I said, pointing in the appropriate direction, attempting to ignore the blush resuming its fever of redness on my cheeks.

John placed my hand in the crook of his arm and steadied the hand with the basket. “Okay,” he said pleasantly. “Now, while we walk, allow me to introduce myself. I’m John Smith. Tell me, what’s your name?”

I hesitated. I had a Chinese name which may be hard for his foreign tongue to pronounce as well as an English nickname given to me by a friend. “Well, you can call me Liz,” I finally said.

“Liz? That can’t be Chinese,” he said. “Is it your real name?”

“If you would like to try to pronounce it, it’s Hua Yen-Yi. Yen-Yi is my first name, and Hua is my surname. That’s how we say our full names here.”

“Yih -- Yea --Yen-Yi,” John said awkwardly, feeling out the syllables with difficulty.

I laughed. “Really, it’s okay, just call me Liz. My two English friends call me that all the time.”

John laughed as well. “Okay, Liz, but one day I’ll learn how to say your real name! You have English friends? So that’s how you can speak English so well,” he marveled, his blue eyes shining admiringly into mine.

“Yes, well,” I responded, my eyes held in his gaze a little confusedly. “I.. they.. taught me well.”

“They must have had a smart pupil,” concluded John, his eyes still locked in mine.

“Yes, well...” my voice trailed off, embarrassed by his continual praise. “Thank you,” I finally said, for what seemed like the millionth time.

We continued walking for a little bit and by the time we had reached my father’s small shop, John Smith and I had become friends. My father, though, eyed my friendly companion with suspicion as I walked up on his arm.

“Yen-Yi! Where have you been? I told you to hurry back,” Father scolded me. His eyes traveled questioningly from my hand resting in the crook of John’s arm to the basket in his hand, then finally studying his clothes and face.

“Father-- I--.” I stopped, embarrassed. I had not meant to defy my father, but how could tell him that my reason for being late involved offending a public official?

John smoothly intervened. “She ran into a little trouble near the harbor and the rice basket got knocked out of her hand. I was nearby, so I lent a hand and then brought her back to you, as it would be unmannerly to help a lady and then not escort her back to her booth.”

Father seemed to relax a little bit at his explanation. “Our family is very grateful to you for helping my daughter with the rice. Thank you,” he said somewhat stiffly but with kindness.

I smiled my thanks to John for helping me out in two tough situations. The understanding man returned my smile then gently released my arm, almost reluctantly I seemed to think, and handed the basket to me. “Here is your rice,” he said, “Have a nice day and I hope to see you again.” He bowed slightly to my father and me and then walked off into the crowds. I watched him go wistfully, hoping that somehow fate would lead us to encounter one another again.

And so, John and I had met. He did more than just hoping to see me again, returning to the rice shop every day under the pretense of needing to buy some rice or a few of the other foods we had to offer. Every day he bid kind words to me and soon, as my father began to loosen up at the sight of him, the two joked around and talked business matters. Eventually, to my great happiness, John was asked to dinner by my father, a sure sign of approval by my family. Oh, it was rewarding to have him sitting next to me, talking with the various members of my family with ease, from my grandmother to my young brother! Not to mention that it was great fun watching him awkwardly trying to manage chopsticks to maneuver the food to his mouth! We all laughed a lot watching him, and John, being good natured, joked along with us at his fumbling way with chopsticks. After dinner John and I spent a meaningful night in the garden, in which it was realized that both of us wanted to be more than friends, as he kissed me (my very first kiss!) From there on we were inseparable, working alongside one another as he helped my family with the farming and the selling of goods, as well as having plenty of fun times together, riding the farm horses, painting (each other, among other things), writing poetry, reading, spending time in the garden, even shopping ( John liked to haggle with the richer shop merchants, if only to annoy them and offend their precious silks with pitifully low offerings)! So, it was no surprise to anyone in the family when at last, by the setting of a blood red sun over the fishing harbor, he proposed to me on an early evening walk.

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