Basking in a moonlit night, the dome of the igloo contrasted with the night sky. A barely discernable glow from the crack in the snow house was the only indication that human life forms were here. Three hundred meters away, the last house on the southern side of town began to flicker on; the sun had set an hour before. I called out to the human inside, “Xiaoping, Xiaoping!” He answered with a shout of gratification. His revered guide had returned from town with fresh supplies of candles to heat the new edifice that would be his home for the night.
Xiaoping had built an igloo. Originally from southern China, Xiaoping Li had traveled to Canada in hopes of a new life. Born and raised in a city-factory, he knew nothing of the North, only that Eskimos lived in igloos. For some strange reason that knowledge grew into something that can only be born from a child’s dream: to build and sleep in an igloo. He fascinated me with the fact that he was born in a city that was dedicated to producing chemicals for the world.
The city-factory’s surrounding farm lands fed the inhabitants. They worked for a company that provided everything to its employees, provided they live in the city, toiling away at the factory manufacturing millions of tons a year of chemicals to be shipped to countries with more stringent environmental-control measures.
The school produced chemists and scientists, all ready to work for pittance. Food was rationed out and even sex was regulated. You could have only one child per family. So everyone tried to bear sons, as each family (living in a country that had little human rights, let alone women’s rights) aspired to have a number one son to rule the family fortune. In a community where rationing everything was normal, where meat was doled out one pound per family per month and everyone’s wages were less than minimal, a dream to escape and be free constantly stoked Xiaoping’s wish to sleep in an igloo.
Finally, he arrived in Canada in 1986, where his skills of chemistry were set aside for English lessons. Learning how to adapt to the True North Strong and Free was not much harder than the factory culture lifestyle he had endured since birth.
How did he end up with me, you may ask? The Internet, of course. Channelled through the Mandow Agency and the modern day miracle of e-mail, we struck a deal. He would arrive in town at the end of the month and I would set him up with a local Inuit elder.
On the 28th of February, I got a call from an airline agent at the airport: “Are you expecting some shopper from China?” Damn! I thought he told me he would show up at the end of the month. I then quickly caught on that Valentine’s month hath only 28 days. I revved up my killer sled to the maximum and arrived at the airport in record time. After taking him home, we quickly misunderstood each other for a while, and then settled in with some dim sum. They reminded me of pizza pockets and I told the kids to munch away. After a bit of sticky rice, slurred with caramelized sugar, we planned the big event.
The next afternoon, in a storm of little proportions, the snow was cut and the igloo made. Now came the brave part, to sleep alone in the little snow hut. I prepared my client with instructions in case he woke up frozen or couldn’t take the cold and I left him in the night with the little emergency two-way radio.
He called and asked for a dagger to fend off wild animals, and I retorted, ‘You’d be much safer from the nocturnal wild life if I gave you a condom.” And I let him sleep…