In the Danger Zone
Wu Mei found the new assignment challenging. They were breaking ground for the accounting firm with a new Asia based hospital system contact and it was a steep learning curve for the both of them. From time to time the consultancy would bring in experts in different fields of study from around the world to expose their new client to world best practice, and in the process Wu Mei learned many things not covered in her MBA or CPA studies. It was a whole new field for her and she drank in this new learning as she assisted these experts while researching current processes of the healthcare system to compare with world best practice.
Wu Mei noticed Cheng and she worked well together. She thought of the quote she’d learned among others in elementary school as they studied their Communist heritage. Working like lips and teeth together she mused. While she was careful not to be seen with Cheng after work had been completed for the day, unless it was in company with the team working on the current project, she was greatly irritated with what she perceived as the Embassy spying on her private life.
While the Wu Mei who left China would understand the need for this and feel it appropriate, this was a different Wu Mei who’d been away from China for several years now. She was beginning to yearn for a life without continual oversight and warnings when it was perceived she was wandering from conventional cultural norm. She reflected on the many times Cheng had invited her to take dinner with his parents at the yacht club after work. Each time she’d pleaded need for rest after the stressful day work they were doing. Cheng accepted this, but she recognized there was chemistry at work between them and each time he asked it was more difficult to refuse. She wanted to experience sailing the waters between Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. She wanted to experience what it was like to try golfing. She wanted someone to show her the fun places on the Island and she wanted to visit the beach at Sentosa to compare it with the beaches of Sydney which she’d greatly enjoyed during university studies.
So it was that one day while they were taking a lunch break at corporate headquarters Cheng again asked if she’d like to spend the next Sunday sailing on his yacht. The consultants had already accepted his invitation he added hopefully. Wu Mei put another chopstick morsel of noodles in her mouth to give her time to think of a response. She turned to see if there was anyone else in the room with them then turned to face him.
“Cheng I’ve watched you and think you’re an honourable man. Are you?”
Cheng sat up in shock and looked at her carefully. His face clouded over in sudden irritation at a perceived insult. He returned to his noodles sullenly.
“I’m sorry Cheng, can I trust you with a secret then?”
Cheng relaxed, perhaps she’d not intended to insult him after all. “Of course” he said coldly.
“I ‘ve not been able to accept your kind invitations before because I’m being watched by the Embassy. I’m not supposed to socialize with those not on their restricted trusted list. Unfortunately, you’re not on it. How can I accept your invitations without their knowledge?”
Cheng’s attitude changed. He smiled and said, “I know!”
Wu Mei gasped in surprise. “You knew all this time?”
“Of course,” he said matter-of-factly.
“So you are a spy then?” Said Wu Mei in surprise.
Cheng’s smile turned into laughter. “Of course not, I’m Singaporean and I’m loyal to my country. I don’t have any interest in politics and told them so long ago.”
“But they told me you’re from Taiwan! What do you mean you told them so long ago? Have you worked with our Embassy before?”
Cheng finished his noodles and placed the plastic bowl carefully in the recycle bin. Then looked at Wu Mei.
“I was eating at a hawker stand one day when a pleasant man stopped to chat with me. He was very personable and related his experience being brought up in Malaya. His father had been part of the Communist underground during the Japanese occupation. That was long ago. He asked me about my ancestry. I told him I’d been brought up in Singapore. He wanted to know where my father had been born. I told him China but he kept pressing and eventually our family flight to Taiwan before moving on to Southeast Asia was discussed. He asked me what I thought of Communism and I told him I had no opinion. He then told me of the tremendous improvement China had made under Communist rule and I agreed, I’d seen that in my travels. He offered to put me in contact with people he knew who had business to transact which could yield me millions of dollars. Of course that interested me and I accepted a dinner invitation. Two other people joined us at that meeting which I discovered later were from the Chinese Embassy. One of them threw an envelope on the table and asked me to count it. I glanced around and put the envelope on my lap to count it. There was USD10,000. I handed it back and they shoved it into the middle of the table. They said there was much more available if I was interested to be in partnership with them in their business. Seeing I looked interested they told me what their business was and then I understood they wanted me to spy for them. I politely declined and the meeting broke up. Soon I began to receive threatening letters telling me I should not discuss our meeting or unfortunate things could happen. I’m not political so I ignored it all and confined myself to this work which I enjoy very much.”
“Cheng I’d very much like to go sailing with you this Sunday and I suppose that should not get me into too much trouble if I tell the Embassy in advance the whole team will be together and it is a requirement.”
The Embassy was not happy with the arrangement and quizzed Wu Mei for some time about her feelings for this man Cheng and if they’d discussed anything of a personal nature together. Wu Mei insisted this was a business event she could not afford to miss without it affecting her working relationship with the team.
But when a string of visits followed with the team to places of social interest there was a sharp response from the Embassy and Wu was contacted. He was soon on the phone to find out if as the Embassy had reported Wu Mei and Cheng were developing a relationship. Wu Mei denied this and assured her father the project had only weeks to complete before she was to return to Australia for her final CPA exams and the last stages of her work experience in Sydney. On that assurance Wu advised the Embassy to relax their observations, but of course that didn’t happen.
The remaining weeks went by quickly and soon Wu Mei was laying aside the problems she’d had to solve over the past two months and trying to determine how she’d manage to fit into the suitcases she’d brought with her from Sydney all the extra samples of South East Asia she’d purchased. Eventually she decided on larger luggage to make that possible. She was proud of what had been accomplished in her work and it was with a mixture of anticipation and sadness she contemplated a return to Sydney.
Cheng’s depressed face had tugged at her heart as they cleared her desk together and moved files to his office. The Singapore office still hadn’t settled on a replacement. They’d contacted Sydney to see if the Sydney Office would release Wu Mei to them but Sydney was adamant. Their work had fallen behind and they needed her back, besides that, she had to finalize her CPA requirements before she could return to China. She had mixed feelings about that too. China was where her heart and family were, but part of her heart was in Sydney, and now she realized part of it would remain in Singapore too.
She’d no sooner reached her corporate guest room when the phone rang. She picked it up expecting her father Wu would be on the line to wish her bon voyage. It was Cheng. In a hushed voice he asked if she’d accompany him to dinner one last time, then he’d personally take her to the airport for the late night flight.
Wu Mei felt an excitement she’d been holding back during her time in Singapore. Her brain sounded warning bells, there’d be no point in encouraging a relationship which could go nowhere, her heart said yes. She listened to her heart and said yes. Then she sat on her bed and cried until looking at the clock she realized she needed to wash and apply make up to hide the evidence.
At dinner with luggage packed safely into the car for the airport both of them sat dejectedly picking away at their food. Each sought to avoid eye contact so the other would not see their distress, but feelings need no eye contact to be communicated.
Taking a road that would place them in proximity to the coastline Cheng on sudden impulse turned in to a parking spot near an ocean view.
Wu Mei made no comment.
“Look at that, I love this country!” Cheng was looking out over the coast with the moon playing on the ocean in spite of city lights and winking lights of ships waiting their turn to dock competing for attention.
He turned to Wu Mei. “Is there any chance for me?”
Wu Mei tried to compose herself but tears rolled down her cheek. “I wish I could say yes Cheng, but you know how difficult that would be for both of us. It could alienate me from the family I love and you would not be happy in China even if it could be worked out. I think we’d better go to the airport.”
She sobbed loudly as Cheng started the car and headed back to the expressway.
To be continued.
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