So I am standing in an Edinburgh bus stop explaining my idea to my friend Mo. I have known Mo since I was seventeen, and I love him dearly, probably more than 99.9 percent of the world, and one of the reasons I do, to paraphrase the old childhood verse, is because his name begins with an M (just like mine) and just like me he is as malleable as moonlight, with a mercurial personality that is capable of metamorphosis at any moment. Also, he, like me, has more than one name. Most of the world calls Mo Mike, because his real name is Michael. (Mo was short for Morris, the cat from the old Nine-Lives commercials.) Mo’s Chinese name is Ming. Meanwhile, most of the world calls me Mei, except for credit card agencies and the government, which knows me as Yuching. My mother’s family calls me Ching, my little brother calls me Jie. To Mo, who is from time to time my older brother, I am Sister, Mei, Mei-mei (the Chinese word for little sister), Short Person, and Brat.
Mo knows my habits better than my mother. He knows that if I do shots of cheap whiskey in a pub at one o’clock in the morning with a bunch of sexually ambivalent actors, then fun will ensue. But he also is privy to the subtler machinations of my make-up; that, for example, the only way to wake me up is to let me sleep for thirty-five minutes longer than the time I’ve requested to be woken. Since we have known each other, Mo has been my third cousin, first cousin, my brother, and my best friend, depending on who we are introducing each other to, and our moods. 99.9 percent of people who know us both believe that we are related by blood. They are wrong.
In any case we are standing in the midst of the ice-cold pelting rain that makes Edinburgh in August the special place that it is. “It’s cooking the book. Literally,” I say, my teeth chattering. “I mean, there are plenty of blogs out there where people cook their way through recipe books, Julie and Julia, etc. But while I read recipe books, I don’t cook from recipes. What I do, often, is cook something that’s inspired by whatever novel I’m reading.”
“Hm,” says Mo. He lights a cigarette, offers me one and lights mine. Mo remains the one person in my life with whom I smoke even though, as the years have gone by, we do it less frequently. “Okay.”
“Like when I was reading the Wind Up Bird Chronicle, I made a lot of spaghetti. And I was sort of off meat after the flaying scene. Or after Brideshead, I was really into caviar.”
“Yeah,” he says, “that was unfortunate for everyone.”
I am here in Edinburgh only for a day and a night. We have not seen each other for six years. He lives in China and I am based in New York. It is a little “wack,” to borrow Mo’s word. The bus comes and like the tourists we are, we scramble to the top of the double decker bus and sit up front as the rain sluices the windows and the shops wind underneath us.
“God, I love this city,” says Mo. “Everything’s so old. In China, nothing’s old, which of course is ironic.”
There is the pewter sky, and the Gothic stone facades, and just yesterday, we took a cab and our driver was a skin and bones crone who literally croaked when she called us luv. In my mind, she was Miss Havisham with a heroin habit, but Mo is taken with the whole Scottish thing, and thinks that she was reading newt innards in the front seat. We just couldn’t see it.
“What would you cook after reading Trainspotting?” he asks me after a long pause.
“Actually, I haven’t read it,” I admit, and pause. “And I haven’t seen the movie.”
“Sister, that’s just wrong.” Mo believes that my culture is sorely deficient in gaps. I have not seen Tropic Thunder, and I couldn’t read later Phillip K. Dick.
“I know.” I read The Acid House and Ecstasy when I was a teenager and decided Irvine Welsh was not for me. Irvine Welsh writes in what my (actual) brother Yar calls “retard-speak” which he defines as “anything written in vernacular or a made-up language, with no quotation marks.” Retard-speak books include A Clockwork Orange, Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang and Real History of Tristan Smith, and the complete works of Cormac McCarthy. Mo likes retard-speak books. I do not, because I am too dumb. I was really, really proud of myself when I got through A Clockwork Orange.
I say, “But I know what Trainspotting is about, and I’d imagine that it doesn’t exactly stimulate the appetite.”
Mo says, “Actually, I think there’s quite a lot of sausage and chips.”
I say, “But probably not in a good way. Actually, if I read Trainspotting, I’d probably make a salad. Which, in the context of my idea,” I add brightly after some thinking, “is completely valid.”