Kelly Hui, twenty-four-year-old daughter of Papa Hui (founder of Bashful Goose Snack Company and China’s richest man), strode through the Jiangsu government building’s entrance, gave her name to the teenage security guard, and plopped herself down on a rickety chair. The meeting she was waiting for, certain to be a snore-fest, was tragically the most exciting work-related thing she’d done since her father had made her the Head of Corporate Social Responsibility—a department in which she was the sole employee—two years before. To be fair, this was also the first work-related thing she’d done in that time.
She rummaged through her Hermes bag, found her iPod, stuck her earbuds in her ears, and put on a Radiohead song. She tapped her foot in rhythm on the floor. She listened to another song, and then another, and then another. Swatted at a fly that buzzed around her head. Glanced down at the time—ten past—and sighed loudly. The guard, a scrawny kid who couldn’t have been more than seventeen and who, Kelly thought, probably spent most of his day secretly masturbating under his little podium, looked up. That’s right, she thought, flipping her hair over her shoulder, store this one away for later.
Then she thought: Did I really just invite a teenage peasant to deposit my image in his spank bank? Did I really wake up at seven a.m. to ride all the way out to this craptastic Communist-era building with no air-conditioning to meet with a government official who is probably just going to ask me for some sort of favor but who can’t be bothered to show up on time to do so? Did I really study my ass off at USC to head up a non-existent department in a polluted city that doesn’t even have a California Pizza Kitchen? Did I really think Papa Hui was going to set me up in a decent job, train me to run the company, and then, ha, leave the company to me? Do I still think that? Do I still hold onto this false hope? Why? Why am I here? What am I doing? Is my iPod going to run out of battery?
She began to sweat slowly, drop by drop, and then profusely. Breathed in, out. Removed a tissue from a small pack in her purse and dabbed her forehead. Turned off her iPod. Just as she yanked the buds from her ears, the guard barked her name.
She rode up in the wobbly metal box of an elevator to the eleventh floor, where a serious-looking middle-aged official with an unnaturally lustrous head of hair met her. He led her down the dim hallway. A sour stench, not unlike that of rancid meat, hung in the air. She held her breath, and wondered why these assholes couldn’t bear to spend a little money sprucing up their workplace; heaven knows they spent enough on their cars and women and watches and weird medicinal foods.
“How is your father?” the official asked. He stepped briskly in his crocodile-skin shoes.
“Healthy as an ox,” Kelly answered, and wasn’t that the truth. At almost sixty years old, his cholesterol was lower than hers, his skin showed not a wrinkle, and he’d jetted off to Cuba the previous year to have his heart preemptively replaced with that of a twenty-two-year-old. “Yeah, he’s sure going strong,” she added in a tone that did little to hide her disgust.
The official paid this tone no heed. “Good to hear,” he said. They entered his dusty closet of an office. He sat down behind a cheap laminate desk and gestured for Kelly to sit across from him. The chair creaked under her weight. I know I’ve packed on a few since L.A., she thought, but come on.
The official cleared his throat into his hand, obviously a rehearsed gesture that provided him an opportunity to flash his Rolex. “Now, look, I respect your father a great deal, and I don’t wish to waste any of your time, so let’s get down to it, shall we?”
Kelly nodded. Here it comes.
“As I’m sure you’ve heard, our great province recently made national headlines for having the chunkiest children in all of China.”
Yeah, she’d heard and vaguely remembered; it’d been the talk of Jiangsu [Social Media Website] for a few hours, until some other headline came along and then that became the talk, and then another headline, and on and on.
The official continued. “Obesity has many causes. For instance,” he counted them off on his fingers, “Pregnancy, laziness, capitalist greed, drinking too much cold water, being born under an inauspicious moon. But doctors agree that the most prominent cause of obesity is consumption of fatty junk foods.”
Beads of sweat burst from Kelly’s forehead, and a tremble seized her hands—this was why he’d called her here. Of course. He was going to blame the Bashful Goose Snack Company for childhood obesity and try to force them to pay what would surely amount to a hefty fine, and Papa Hui would be furious at her for agreeing without his consent to attend this meeting. His majesty would, of course, refuse to pay the fine (he viewed all fines as bribes, and not paying bribes was one of his “core principals”) and then the government would shut the whole empire down, and then what would she do? Return to America and attend graduate school on high-interest student loans? Stay in China and be forced to move in with her newly-impoverished family in a one-room hovel in the countryside where she’d be pecked to death in her sleep by that damn goose?
Sweat oozed from her skin, and she could feel the color draining from her face and her mascara bleeding into her stinging eyes, and she reached into her bag to dig for another tissue, and she considered just running away, hauling ass for good, but she feared if she stood she would faint and—
The official, looking concerned, pulled a bottle of Evian from a pack under his desk and handed it to her. She unscrewed the dusty cap and took a big gulp.
“Now, don’t worry,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is to shut anyone down over this. After all, I myself know that the occasional Bashful Goose Chocolate Cream Filled Snack Cake or, say, the rare Bashful Goose Fried Corn Dough Ball in the context of an otherwise healthy diet is a perfectly reasonable indulgence.”
“In fact,” he went on emphatically. “Bashful Goose treats are my personal favorite brand of snack food. When my wife and I got married many moons ago we decided to forgo the wedding candy and instead serve our guests Bashful Goose snack cakes. Now you may ask, why tempt fate in that way? Why throw caution to the wind in the face of such dire potential consequences? But to that I say, you must do what you love, and to hell with tradition and superstition and the rest of it. And, I’ll tell you, my wife and I are still together to this very day.”
Ha, Kelly tried not to snort, and exactly how many mistresses do you have? How “together” are you, really? She couldn’t quite bring herself to speak these thoughts aloud though; in all her days, she had never seen a government employee appear so visibly excited about anything.
The official stared past her with dreamy eyes, thinking fondly of either his wife or processed balls of carbohydrates. The tiniest bit of drool gleamed in the corner of his mouth and then Kelly knew for certain which one it was.
“Cool story,” she said dismissively. Her sweat production slowed. She glanced down into her bag at her iPhone, at the time. She had a hair appointment in the afternoon, and if the official kept on like this, she wouldn’t make it and she’d be left to go about her life with ratty-looking extensions until Stefan, who was quite booked up these days, could find another slot for her. “Now, what is it that my company can do for you?”
The official ran his fingers through his own gorgeous head of hair. His Rolex reflected a flickering beam of fluorescent light. “Well, it’s safe to say that all of us here in Jiangsu Province have lost a fair bit of face in this obesity crisis, wouldn’t you agree?”
Kelly nodded. Sure, yeah, cut to the chase.
“And so we in the government have decided the best way to save face is to save our children from being swallowed up by their own hungry mouths! And that is where you come in.” With flourish, the official yanked opened his desk drawer and removed an old, clunky Dell laptop, which he opened to reveal a slow-loading Power Point presentation. “We would like to invite you, the Bashful Goose Snack Company, to donate funds to start our province’s very first Government-Certified weight loss reeducation center!”
Thoroughly convinced of the rightness of it all, and with a couple of hours left until her hair appointment, Kelly ordered her driver to deliver her to Bashful Goose Headquarters, where she would ask Papa Hui in person for the funds. The city went past in a blur, all skyscrapers and steamed bun shops and trees and Volkswagen taxis. She sprawled out in the backseat of her Audi, stuck her earbuds in, and hit play on a guided meditation track she’d downloaded. Prompted by a soothing female voice, she tried to focus on all things good and pure: This project and what it could mean. The state-of-the-art fitness facilities, the virtual reality weight-loss visualizer, the flown-in European chef. Rehabilitating the province’s fattest kids as an act of charity, as an act of kindness, as an act of selflessness. Proving herself capable to the old coot, proving to him that she should be the one to someday run the company.
And keep focusing on those positive things, keep focusing, the voice said, stay with it, stay with it.
But at that, Kelly’s thoughts shot to the reason why she was listening to this stupid hippie’s amateur track in the first place, and why she normally avoided going to her father’s office at all costs and why her life, her miserable excuse for a life, had long ago taken a turn for the pathetic: the goose, that bashful goose.
THE LEGEND OF THE BASHFUL GOOSE
From the Bashful Goose Snack Co. Official Website:
One afternoon, many years ago, when our great nation had officially opened up but most of us still toiled in her fields, Papa Hui, our company’s dear founder, found himself strolling around the willow-lined Three Horse Lake in his hometown of Old Watermelon Village.
Yes, Papa Hui stepped forward, crunching autumn leaves beneath his feet. But philosophically, he found himself at a standstill, at a crossroads in his life. He had just paid off the 20,000 yuan loan he’d taken out to open Papa Hui’s Snack Shop, Old Watermelon Village’s first grocery-like store. In this way, he was a free man. But, as the saying goes, when life removes one set of chains, it usually, and happily, snaps a new set into place: The local doctor had just confirmed that his beautiful young wife, Mama Hui, who had missed her visiting Aunty for the second consecutive month, was indeed pregnant with the couple’s first child.
With a child on the way, Papa Hui pondered as he strolled, can I really just go on selling dusty bags of State-Owned-factory-produced snacks? Don’t I owe the next generation something more, something better? Is there a kingdom I can build, he mused, worthy enough for this child to someday inherit?
Tangled in thoughts, Papa Hui hadn’t heard the footsteps that had been following him for some time—until now. Startled, he whirled around, but whoever, or whatever, it was ducked behind a willow branch. Nevermind, Papa Hui thought, it’s just some devilish child playing pranks, maybe one of those Wang children, whose parents had miraculously avoided fines or forced sterilization despite their blatant violations of family-planning laws.
Papa Hui, tickled by the thought of one of those little buggers hiding, cried out, “Bashful child, come out, come out!”
But no child emerged; no child answered these shouts.
He slapped at a mosquito that landed on his arm. A breeze rustled the willows, and a dark cloud moved across the sky.
Papa Hui’s thoughts took a sinister turn. He contemplated other potential pursuers: Another aspiring snack shop entrepreneur who hoped to kill off the competition. A weirdo from a neighboring village who had decided to take a step up from torturing field mice and try his hand at murdering thirty-something-year-old men. The Gang of Four. The Hong Kong mafia. An escaped convict. A Soviet spy. And if, he thought, it is someone dangerous, what then? Who am I to fight off such an enemy? I am no one; just a simple man; I am no one.
Resigned to this fate, he turned back around, his helpless body trembling, his shoulders slumped in defeat, and continued on his walk—towards what?
And again, he heard the footsteps. He paused. A sliver of golden sun peeked through the clouds, and shone down on him. Enveloped in this light and warmth, a sense of braveness flooded his body. I am not no one, it struck him, I am a father-to-be, I am the boss of Old Watermelon Village’s most successful snack shop, I am a husband, I am a man, I am a Chinese, I am someone! He shook out his trembles. He pushed back his shoulders. Bursting with pride in his own humanity, which he felt then for the first time, he charged towards the nearest willow branch and, with both arms, swept the leafy limb aside. Nothing. He swept aside another droopy branch, and another, and another, until at last he found his pursuer.
Papa Hui, looking down at the little devil who’d caused him so much fear, couldn’t help now but laugh. “Bashful goose, come out, come out!” he said, and the goose did come out, and it followed him home.
“Good night, bashful goose!” Papa Hui called out the window that night to the bird. Mama Hui just rubbed her belly and rolled her eyes.
From the other side of the window, nestled in the dirt, the goose honked in response and bashfully covered its face with its wing, in what is now the bashful goose’s most famous pose, pictured in our great company’s logo.
The next morning, our dear founder Papa Hui set off to begin his first debt-free day at the snack shop.
“Good-bye, Mama Hui!” he called. “Be safe!”
“Good-bye, bashful goose!” he called, opening the door. “Be good!”
But as soon as he had taken a step out, that bashful goose lunged at his canvas-clad legs. Papa Hui slapped the goose away, but it only came back at him more aggressively. It pecked. It bit. It honked.
“Bashful goose, what’s wrong with you?” Exasperated, Papa Hui bent down and looked directly into those beady little eyes. “Why are you suddenly so outgoing?”
In place of an answer, the goose hid its face behind its wing, honked, and then took off in a waddle-run towards the field that led to Old Woman Wu’s house.
Old Woman Wu once had a reputation as a very skilled baker, and in the old days of revolution and reeducation, had generously baked for the ravenous village children all manner of pies and cakes spiced with creative famine-time ingredients including but not limited to: grass, tree bark, pond algae, and sparrow’s feet. But when her husband died in a railway construction accident, Old Woman Wu devolved from her cheery, anything-is-possible self into a weepy recluse. Her long, once raven-black hair turned gray and the now well-fed children took to calling her “Witchy Wu.”
Papa Hui chased after the goose, running and running across that field, sweat sprouting from his pores, all the while trusting fully, inexplicably, in this goose and where it would lead him.
The goose at last stopped at Witchy Wu’s gate, honking furiously and flapping its wings. Papa Hui bent over at the waist, clutching his knees, panting. He looked up just in time to spot Witchy Wu, throwing open the door, seeking the cause of the commotion that had violently woken her from her mid-morning nap. When Papa Hui’s calm eyes met her frantic ones, they both knew it was fate that had brought them together.
The rest, as they say, is history. Papa Hui joined forces with Witchy Wu, and re-branded the store with a new mascot and a new name. The two tossed out those dusty old packages of State-Owned-factory-produced snacks and began developing and producing their own original snack products to wild acclaim. Villagers simply couldn’t get enough of Bashful Goose Snack Company’s Watermelon Wigglers and Tangerine Crumbly Cakes (one whole tangerine in every bite!), among other delights. The company’s good luck turned to great luck when Papa Hui took a bet on a new form of advertisement—a TV commercial, one of the very first in a nation where the hottest new must-have product was a TV set. The Bashful Goose logo soon became as iconic as Mao’s portrait at Tiananmen Square, and the first Bashful Goose jingle, a catchy ditty composed by Papa Hui himself, became the anthem of a generation with money to burn. Factories were erected to meet the surging demand and trucks were dispatched and the snacks were soon available in all corners of our great nation, from the ports of Shanghai to the grasslands of Inner Mongolia to the mountains of Tibet.
In the late 1990s, Witchy Wu sold her shares of the company to Papa Hui and retired with her many-decades-younger boyfriend, a former Australian soap opera actor, to Canada, where the happy couple still resides today.
Thanks to that fateful encounter with that bashful goose, Papa Hui is now the richest man in China. And to this day, the goose who led him to his fortune continues to follow him everywhere he goes…
ENOUGH ABOUT THAT DAMN GOOSE!
What cutesy, quaint lore, but that wasn’t the goose Kelly knew. In the backseat and now just mere kilometers from Headquarters, hyperventilation seized her.
This so-called “bashful” goose had brazenly tormented her throughout her childhood—pecking at her armpits, biting the backs of her knees, yanking out her hair, shitting in her bed, tearing her homework to shreds, and cleverly framing her for a variety of devious acts (including but not limited to: smashing a precious Ming Dynasty antique vase and clogging the toilet with the jagged pieces, eating four tins of expensive caviar that had been given to Papa Hui by Boris Yeltsin, leaking information to the press about possible insider trading committed by some of Papa Hui’s New York friends, scratching Dr. Dre lyrics into the paint of Mama Hui’s Lamborghini, and purchasing marijuana from a Nigerian drug dealer [how the goose pulled that one off, she still wasn’t sure]).
Adapted from Year of the Goose, by Carly Hallman, Copyright © 2015 by Carly Hallman. With the permission of the publisher, Unnamed Press.