Bu (Hao) Quet


Sunday morning the door bell rang and Thing 3 answered it. “Flowers!” she exclaimed. “Mom, there are flowers for you!”

Lady Tea, my BrIt chick friend and a former Brazilian expat princess herself , had sent a stunning bouquet of stargazer lilies all the way to China from the wilds of Canada. British, she is still an expat but has relinquished the title of Princess as they do not exist in Canada. No mani/pedis, massages, or shopping there – just the usual drudgery of housecleaning and cooking, the tending to three small children. “Loads of love,” the card said in English, no misspellings.

I was so shocked that I nearly burst into tears. Aware that I might frighten Thing 2 (“What? You’re not happy?”), I reigned in my emotions. I have sent out my new address and phone number, via the internet, no less than 4 times in an attempt to remain in contact with friends and family – most of the time some strange gobbledy gook came out, no doubt a result of the unique internet experience in Asia. Previously, I had had no idea that, like a letter in a bottle, my little missal was received on foreign shores; the bouquet was evidence.

Fanned out in a lengthy spray the length of my arm, the white lilies were accented with a delicate yellow flower and three red peace plant stems. All of this was wrapped up in layer after layer of stiff, pale green paper, held together by an elaborate bow. I set about arranging them, cutting off the stems to fit in the one vase I have that is large enough to hold them all.

Thirty minutes passed when the door bell rang again. “Mom, more flowers!” I went out onto the porch where I was greeted by the same two gentlemen who had delivered the first bunch. A guard from the front gate accompanied them. Instead this time there was no card or form to sign as they shoved another bouquet into my hands. After several minutes of chattering and pantomiming, it dawned on me that they wanted my old bouquet back. Now, let me just say right here that the new bouquet was just as pretty. It was a different kind of white lily, more like an Easter lily, with purple stasis interspersed, each stem wrapped in cocoa colored paper, only slighter different than the first bunch.

I tried explaining to the gentlemen, my fingers scissoring through the air, that I had already cut off the stems. Inviting the man with the ear piece, sort of like a secret service agent of floral arrangements, into the kitchen, I knew that my hunch was right as a look of horror spread on his face. He wanted me to return the flowers, to pick up the bouquet and pass it to him. And that’s when I started saying my by now familiar refrain, “Bu hao.”* Eventually, he picked them up himself and left, handing them to the other motorcycle deliveryman outside at the curb. I took some photos of the flowers leaving as I continued my bu hao monologue. Were they going to regift them?

Everywhere I have lived there is a saying, “Only in XXX.” XXX is whatever country I happen to be living in. One would think there would be no surprises left, but no. I am enjoying the second bouquet as much, if not more, than the first one. The fragrance is heavenly. Lady Tea is a friend indeed. Now, if I could just get my vocabulary past “bu hao”.

* bu hao = bad



Filed under Birthdays, Life, Misunderstandings, People

3 responses to “Bu (Hao) Quet

  1. moodringmama

    This is hilarious – I can totally see this scene unfolding. What if Lady Tea had given you a birthday cake and you had already eaten a slice? Would the secret service agent man have still taken it away??? I have a pretty good idea what the answer to that is . . .

  2. 425Heidi

    I am glad you are back in China. I missed the crazy bu hao stories. Baltimore was just too civilized!

  3. leezer


    Happy (late) birthday by the way. NOw you and I will be the same exact age for precisely three weeks when I will once again be older.

    I understand Chinese misunderstandings. We had a number of these. It may sound like a cop-out, but there are so many differences culturally between what Americans think of as rude or unacceptable and the Chinese. Just ask me about the live Scorpion in the Gatorade bottle that they tried to give my six year old daughter. They were a little offended when we didn’t want it.

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