oh, what a tangled web 2.0 we weave,
when again we practice to deceive.
--- Sir Walter Scott, modernized by Niniane
When I visited Shanghai two years ago, my niece Tingting owned a pet rabbit that she played with every day:
During my recent visit, I realized after two days that there were no traces of the bunny.
"What happened to the rabbit?" I asked my uncle.
"We left it on the balcony during the winter, and it froze to death one night. When the nanny went to feed it in the morning, it was dead."
"Oh!" I clucked my tongue to indicate my pity. "How did Tingting take it?"
"We didn't have the heart to tell her that it died, so we said it escaped to go find its mommy."
"What? Eventually she's going to realize you lied!"
My uncle shrugged. "It's for her own good."
I walked away. Later I joked to Tom, "I'm going to find Tingting and say, 'Remember your bunny? The cute bunny that you loved? It froze to death! 兔子死了！ The rabbit is dead!"
Tom raised an eyebrow, not laughing.
The prior week in Beijing, my mother's friend "Beth" called my brother and I nearly every day to invite us to her research lab in Tsinghua University. We don't have much in common with her. Out of fear of stilted conversation, we begged off several days in a row.
On Saturday, Tom and I visited my young friend Lu, who is back to studying at Tsinghua after the conclusion of his Google internship in the fall.
He took us to the student cafeteria:
which had surprisingly damn good food.
The next day, Beth called our hotel room again, and we could no longer put it off. We went for a tour of her lab. Afterwards she insisted on taking us to lunch.
Despite Tsinghua being an enormous campus with a dozen cafeterias, she led us to the exact same cafeteria.
If we revealed we'd just eaten there, she would realize we turned her down to eat identical food with someone else. To avoid this scenario, Tom and I pretended we were going through the experience for the first time. "Ah, so this is the Tsinghua cafeteria." "This food is damn good!"
Driving back to our hotel, Beth mentioned the cafeteria, and I blurted out, "I know, we just --"
Tom immediately made an incoherent noise from the front seat, talking over me. He swivelled his head to look me in the eye, giving his head a single slow shake. I nodded, my lips shut.
After getting dropped off at our hotel, Tom said, "That was close!"
"Yeah," I said.
"It's a good thing we have a connection between us. When I turned around, you could see my eyes saying, 'STFU!' My left eye said 'ST!' and my right eye said 'FU!'"
In China, I find it's harder to let the truth set you free.