by Weike Wang
from the November 19, 2019 issue of The New Yorker
I first heard of Weike Wang when her story “Omakase” showed up in The New Yorker last June. The story received mostly positive comments here and went on to win a 2019 O. Henry Prize. I’m glad to see her work back in the magazine and I’m anxious to hear what you think.
Here’s how it begins:
In Beijing, he boiled the water. It was August, so the hottest month of the year. He put the water into a thermos and carried the thermos on a sling. He called himself a cowboy because he thought he looked dumb. Other people in the group carried a thermos, too, though his wife did not. Their tour guide was Felix. Like Felix the Cat, Felix said, and he replied, O.K. He had been to Europe before, the six-hour time change was fine, but when thirteen happened something yellow crusted around his eyes. The bus was air-conditioned. He dozed off, woke up, and by then his wife had finished his cowboy water. On the Great Wall, he had to run, since she was sprinting. She had come here long ago with a cousin. She was trying to show him a specific spot. This spot, when they got there, was where she, admiring the mountains, had learned from her cousin the word for “cool.” To not know that word, shuang, until she was thirteen, did he know how that felt? But you knew it in English, he wheezed, no oxygen left. She made a face. They sprinted on.