Amanda Lee Koe




  • an excerpt from Ministry of Moral Panic


an excerpt from Ministry of Moral Panic

HE doesn’t look exactly the way he does on the telly, and it surprises her that this surprises her, because, obviously, showbiz is showbiz, and she’s twenty-one; she’s come of age, she knows better.

In a way, he has always been the leading male presence in her life. After her father left, her mother never stayed with one man for more than two years a pop, but the Channel 8 Chinese drama serials were always on at 7pm and 9pm. With his popularity, she could count on him to be on every other new show, it was a matter of two months at most—the TV station works on a 30-episode basis, generally. He’s barely gone to seed at all though he’s verging on fifty now.

The King of Caldecott Hill clicks his fingers at her. She’s been idling. She can’t move, she’s seven again, watching him on the telly when her mother waltzes into the living room with a new man, just as the then fresh-faced King of Caldecott Hill announces to the baddie with the awful perm—yes, the same unfortunate dude who always plays the baddie—“我就以这十块钱赢你这家赌场!” (I will use ten dollars to win your entire casino!) He’s in a white shirt with a silver bowtie and a matching cummerbund. Her mother says, Say hi to Uncle, and she ducks her head to keep watching—

Irrashaimase, she says automatically as she approaches him. 

I’ve always wanted to know, what does that actually mean?

He speaks in Mandarin, she is so relieved by this. She’s heard the Channel 8 celebrities of his generation speak in English on talk shows, she’s felt embarrassed for them.

It means, ‘welcome’. Can I take your order, sir?

He looks at her for a moment, perhaps ascertaining if she knows who he is. She wonders why he’s alone—his wife is in local showbiz too, a second-tier actress.

Do you have any recommendations?

I’ve heard the salmon oyako kamameshi is good.

You’ve heard, but not tasted?

No, sir.

Well, your manager should see that his staff knows what their dishes taste like. It’ll make you a better waitress.

She says nothing. She wants to say, But I don’t want to become a better waitress; I want to believe I will do more with my life.

Very well, I’ll try it either way.

She scribbles down the order, gives a small bow and makes her way to the kitchen.

© Epigram Books

by Amanda Lee Koe
from Ministry of Moral Panic (2013)
published by Epigram Books