Ximena Blanco is a senior pursuing her B.F.A. in writing at SCAD, with minors in creative writing and business management and entrepreneurship. She has worked in the publishing industry, for editorial magazines, and with children in writing workshops.
“This is not in good taste,” the foreign woman said.
Yu Yan turned to Fei Hong and said in Cantonese, “She says that because she does not know what taste is.”
The Ladies’ Market in the middle of Mong Kok, the most densely populated neighborhood of Tsuen Wan in the Hong Kong province, was supposed to be bustling at this time of night with foreign women just like this one. But because of the afternoon’s typhoon, this Tuesday night it was strangely empty. This foreign woman was tall, robust, and entirely indecisive. Exactly the type Yu Yan and Fei Hong longed for.
“Sit down here,” Fei Hong said in her rustic English. She pulled the foreign woman by the arm and forced her into a stool on her side of the tent.
“No, you come look at this,” Yu Yan said, pulling out a red nylon robe with a few flowers sewed on it from the rack on her side of the tent. “This is luxurious, made just for you.”
The foreign woman got up from Fei Hong’s stool. Fei Hong huffed. She looked outside the tent she shared with Yu Yan to check for more customers. Tung Choi Street was wet. The concrete glistened from the lights of the neon signs perched on the windows of the towering sky scrapers that framed both sides of the road. Fei Hong looked towards the D3 metro exit, just a block away on Argyle Street, but she could see no people coming from that direction. Just tents and more tents like hers, with the same shirts, robes, key chains, dresses, tea pots, chopsticks, pajamas, clay frogs, and Louis Vuitton purses. She thought of her two daughters waiting at home tonight. A few other Chinese women were standing outside their own tents with their arms on their hips, looking towards the metro exit and waiting. Waiting, waiting, and waiting. Maybe if
the foreign woman bought a robe she could buy chicken feet and make soup for her daughters. She stuck her head back inside her tent and grabbed the foreign woman.
“You have pretty yellow hair,” Fei Hong told the foreigner, “must buy a necklace. It has real jade.”
“Oh, dear,” the foreigner said. “I don’t know about a necklace. But what about the robe you’re wearing? Do you have anything like that?”
Fei Hong smiled and turned around. With her meter-long metal hook, she pulled down from the third tier of dresses a robe with embroidered golden dragons dancing in blue clouds and around fiery balls of sun. She showed it to the foreigner, making sure to point at the delicate golden ribbons that tied the robe closed, and said, “900 Hong Kong Dollars.”
“Perfect!” the foreigner said. She started to unzip her fanny pack.
“No, no, no,” Yu Yan pulled the same robe from one of the six racks on her side of the tent. “800 Hong Kong Dollars for mine. And I have blue and black, too.”
Fei Hong grabbed her calculator. She punched in 850, passed it to the foreigner and said, “Now you.”
The foreigner looked at the calculator, and then back at Fei Hong. Fei Hong mimicked pressing numbers and said, “ping, ping, ping,” just like the calculator would.
“Look. Other colors,” Yu Yan said. She grabbed the foreign woman’s blotchy red arm and pulled her to the other side of the tent.
“How about the blue pajamas?” the foreign woman pointed towards a matching set at the far end of the stall. “What are those made out of?”
“Silk, from Sichuan in Mainland,” Fei Hong said as rushed to grab the pajamas and pull them out of the rack. She extended them on top of the table on her side of the tent, covering her display of watches and wallets.
Yu Yan hummed in disapproval and said in Cantonese, “Wang Wei from down the block gets those from Thailand at whole sale. Silk? Sichuan? What are you talking about?”
“This lady with bad taste can’t tell pearl from plastic,” Fei Hong said to Yu Yan. “She will think that this satin is the best of silks.”
“Look at this,” Yu Yan said to the foreign woman in English. “Exclusive robe. Golden buttons.” Yu Yan pulled from another one of her racks a navy blue open robe with beads that formed golden peonies and silver leaves. She pointed at the decorative plastic brooches on the shoulders.
“Pajama and first robe,” Fei Hong said, “800 for both.”
“But do you have the other robe?” the foreign woman asked, pointing back to the navy robe hung on Yu Yan’s side.
“Both robes and pajamas for 800,” Yu Yan said. “Both robes and pajamas. Very good deal. You won’t find anywhere else.”
“You will find right here,” Fei Hong said. She grabbed a robe similar to the one Yu Yan was holding up, but shorter. She shoved it in the foreign woman’s hands and said, “Look, look. Found. Each one for 400 Hong Kong Dollar.”
“Oh, but I don’t think I have that much money,” the foreign woman said. She started walking to the front opening of the long, thin tent. “Maybe if I ask my husband? He was just out looking for a good set of cufflinks.”
“No, no, no,” Yu Yan stepped in front of the woman to block her path. “No need. I lower. 1,000 for all.”
“All three?” the woman asked. “But I only have 900, and we still have to get dinner at Temple Street. What about 700?”
“700?” Fei Hong punched in 750 in her calculator and put it in the foreign woman’s hands. “750 is low enough. 750 for all three and you can go home. No dinner for you.”
The woman laughed and patted her belly. She said, “But I am very hungry!”
Yu Yan shook her head and said, “Too big. No dinner for you.”
A thunderclap boomed nearby. The foreign woman jumped and soft, gentle rain pattered down from the grey clouds. The top of the plastic tent began to sag slightly from the weight of the water.
A stout man with glasses and a shiny head came to the opening of the tent. He screamed at the foreign woman in a language that Yu Yan and Fei Hong did not know.
The rain began to fall harder. Yu Yan looked at the foreign woman and her husband as they ran down the street to cower under the awning of the Lung Fai House building. A few other tourists passed by the street, all headed towards the metro and the bus stops on Argyle Street. Fei Hong sat on her stool and Yu Yan stood with her arms on her hips at the opening of their tent, looking towards the metro exit, ready to wait.