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cooking duty

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“So,” Yu Liang spoke after a long silence. “This is the place where we can better our cooking skills?”

“Mm-hmm.” Shi Guang nodded, cheerful. “Don't worry. I've told Xu-ge about this. He said okay.”

Yu Liang shot him a puzzled look. “What do you mean he said oka—”

A bell sounded from within the temple and echoed throughout the forest. The sun hung high above them, blazing. The old man Yu Liang had once spoken to before when he was searching for the monk who played Go on 21x21 board was quietly sweeping the dead leaves on the ground, unperturbed by neither the hot weather nor the two boys in front of him. He merely beamed and nodded at them when they made eye contact, before he proceeded with his work.

Shi Guang had complained to him about their repetitive menus over dinner the other day. He had then went on and on about how he's not going to “live off instant noodles and ramen and udon and whatever food that can be delivered to this place until we die or something” to him. Sure, their mothers loved bringing over side dishes for them once in a while when they came to visit, but then again, those dishes could only last for at least a week before Shi Guang devoured them all.

Truth be told, Yu Liang was also getting tired of instant noodles and food delivery. Aside from the unhealthy aspect of the food, they're costly and no matter how loaded they were at the moment, they couldn't rely on it forever.

And so, the conversation began.

Yu Liang asked Shi Guang whether or not he knew how to cook, but the latter quickly shot the same question back at him in response.

“I know at least a bit,” Yu Liang defensively told him. He had stuttered, however, when Shi Guang asked what kind of food could he cook, to which had the other doubting the validity of his words after that.

Well, he could at least make tasty instant noodles, heat the dishes, cut up some vegetables and cook a pot of rice thanks to his time staying with his foster parents in South Korea for six years. After all, he was the only one between them who had stepped into the kitchen more than once and actually touched some of the utensils there, unlike a certain someone.

“I have an idea! Give me a few days and I'll take you to a place where we can work on our cooking skills,” Shi Guang had said excitedly, though without any further explanation.

Yu Liang had genuinely believed they were going to meet their mothers for a cooking lesson or something. Or to the kiln to seek advice from Hong He since that guy knew how to cook. He didn't expect Shi Guang to take him to Lanyin Temple instead.

“What's the meaning of all this?” he asked, baffled.

“Meaning? What meaning?”

This.” Yu Liang nodded at the temple.

“Oh, well, I told you before, didn't I?” Shi Guang placed a hand on his shoulder, looking all confident. “This is the perfect place for you to learn cooking. Did you know that other than practicing his Go skills, Hong He also learned how to cook from the kitchen master here? Tell you what, it's worth it. We can kill two birds with one stone here.”

“Wait a second. What do you mean by “the perfect place for me to learn cooking”? What about you? Am I the only one who's gonna stay here and do that? I thought we're in this together.”

“Me? I don't know how to cook. Why should I learn it? But don't worry. I'll stay here as well and accompany you. I can help Lazy Master with his sutra depository.”

“No, no, no,” Yu Liang quickly refuted. “If you don't know how to cook, then it's all the more reason for you to learn it. What? Am I supposed to be the cook of the house forever?”

“Why can't you? Hong He never complains about this before. Why are you so fussy?”

“It's not about me being fussy, it's about us living together under one roof. Sharing the responsibility together. Taking turns doing the chores and all that.”

“If that's the case, then let's do it like this. You do the cooking, I do the cleaning. As for laundry, we can use the coin wash across the street. How's that?” Shi Guang suggested, wiggling his eyebrows.

Yu Liang's frown deepened.

“Dage,” Shi Guang said, sighing, “if you let me do the cooking, I'm afraid the house will burn down. Really. I once burned the frying pan when I fried an egg. Hong He swore at me for ruining the pan. Ever since then I've been forbidden from entering the kitchen. Tell you what, I am that bad at cooking.”

He wasn't sure whether he could trust Shi Guang's words on this or not. But it's not like he could do anything either since he knew full well how stubborn Shi Guang could be when it came to stuff like this.

They exchanged a look with each other for a little longer before Yu Liang rolled his eyes hard and sighed in resignation. He let Shi Guang drag him into the temple and toward the kitchen where they met Master Kidney Bean first before the temple cook. Done greeting each other, the young monk inquired their reason for coming here and merely smiled upon hearing Shi Guang's answer.

“That's new,” said Master Kidney Bean. “Normally people come to this temple to better their skills in Go. This is perhaps the first time people have come over here to better their cooking skills.”

“S-Sorry to trouble you,” Yu Liang said and bowed his head at Master Kidney Bean.

“Not at all. May I know how long are you two going to stay here?”

“One week!” Shi Guang answered without hesitation. When Yu Liang gave him a nudge, he just arched his eyebrows questioningly at him. “What? It's not like we have any competitions this time around. And don't worry, you can practice while cooking too. Everybody in this temple knows how to play Go, isn't that right, Master Kidney Bean?”

Master Kidney Bean nodded sagely, the kind smile never leaving his face.

A middle-aged man whom Shi Guang called Cooking Master showed up behind them just then, looking bright and cheerful. Shi Guang immediately told the man about their wish — or rather his wish — coming here in the first place and was delighted when the man agreed without a second thought.

Soon enough, Yu Liang was dragged into the kitchen and before he knew it, he was sitting at the table full of vegetables, peeling potato after potato with utmost attention. Shi Guang was nowhere in sight. So did Master Kidney Bean.

Shi Guang, you jerk.

A long sigh escaped Yu Liang's mouth. For the rest of the week, he secretly plotted his revenge against Shi Guang while helping out Cooking Master in the temple kitchen.

***

Yu Liang set down the food, stole a furtive glance at Shi Guang and then suppressed his smirk.

“Dage, can't you cook something other than these temple food? We've already had it last week. I'm not having the same menu for dinner again this week,” Shi Guang complained at the sight of the stir-fried vegetables, sinking further into the couch. “I need something with strong flavor. I need my protein, my meat. My tastebud is gonna grow numb if this goes on.”

“You can always make instant noodles, or order food from outside if you don't like what I make,” Yu Liang said and sat down on the stool across Shi Guang, not even one bit fazed by the other's whining.

“But we need variation, you know. Variation! You already know how to cook, so now you can go look for different recipes from internet and try making them instead of the usual temple food. It's not like we don't have computer in this house. Even Hong He did this whenever Lin Can came over!”

Yu Liang stared for a moment, deadpan. “So?”

Shi Guang huffed, speechless. “You really are heartless! Did I do something wrong to you? Did I offend you or-or your ancestors? Why do you have to let me suffer this way?”

“Remember when you ate all of the meat my mom prepared for us? Consider this your karma.”

“But that's so long ago! You still can't forgive me for that? Eh, Yu Liang, you really are petty, you know that?”

“I know. You only noticed it now?”

Shi Guang was blank and quiet for a second before he grabbed and clenched one of the pillows on the couch, and let out an angry muffled screaming, as though doing so could help him channeled all of his exasperation toward Yu Liang.

“Eat,” Yu Liang casually ordered and placed some vegetable into Shi Guang's rice bowl. “Oh, before I forget. If you want me to cook you something other than these vegetables tomorrow, then help me out in the kitchen, too.”

“What?”

“Help me out with the cooking, too, if you want to eat something different.”

“But I thought we agreed on the chores already? You do the cooking and I cleaning? Why are you singing a different tune now?”

On hearing that, Yu Liang shot him a serious look and leaned forward a bit. “Listen. First, I never agree with that. You're the only one who thinks that way. And second, let me remind you again. We're living together in this house now. And as housemates, we should share the responsibility together. We should at least take turns with the chores and always be considerate with each other. Let's practice some common decency, shall we?”

“But Hong He—”

“What Hong He? You're living with me now. Don't bring him into this conversation.”

“Eh, Yu Liang, this house is not even yours. Why are you acting like a landlord all of a sudden, huh?”

“Because I also pay the rent. And since you're making me the cook of the house, the kitchen is now practically mine. You can do whatever you want but you're listening to me when it comes to food. I'm not living here with you to be your housekeeper. Understand? Now eat. When you're done, help me wash the dishes, you slacker.”

Shi Guang blinked. “What did you just call me?”

Slacker,” Yu Liang repeated on his request, enunciating each character clearly, perfect with the intonation.

Shi Guang opened his mouth, but closed it shortly after when no words came to him. He heaved an audible sigh instead and reluctantly picked up the chopsticks and the rice bowl. “You know what? You sound more and more like my mom. Aiyo, what on earth did I do in my past life to deserve this? You're quite nice to me before I become your official rival. Now that we're in good terms and living together, why do I feel like you're becoming meaner to me each day? Where did all your kindness go?”

“If you don't want to eat, then it's fine—”

“Hey, hey, what are you doing?” Shi Guang quickly retrieved his rice bowl from Yu Liang. “I'm eating this, okay?” He made a face at him and proceeded to stuff his mouth with some rice and vegetables.

That did shut him up for good. However, the silence only lasted for a few seconds before Shi Guang started talking again, this time to nag about the dinner menu for the second time with his mouth full.

Yu Liang didn't have any more energy to care about Shi Guang and his little complaints. So, he focused on his food instead and tried tuning out the other's voice by recalling one of his favorite Maksim Mrvica's piano compositions.

All was good afterward. At least for Yu Liang.