Photo Credit: Yao Yao

A Tale of Mint

New city, new girl, new lies: A short story translated from Hong Kong-based writer Cheng Jiaoyang

Ming no longer called herself Ming—she’d changed her name to Mint.

After her name changed, so did her life, as if she had awoken from a dream; never had she imagined that her name could have such an exotic English harmony to it. She felt that the person that she was, and the person she felt she was in Hong Kong—the international metropolis in which she lived—were now more in sync. She loved this new name, and of course, its creator, Leo.

Leo’s name was Leo, and not something like “Li Ao”, because he was an “ABC” (American-Born Chinese).

“Well, then, did you meet in Lan Kwai Fong?”

As Mint told the story about Leo to her friend, she was immediately met with this quick assumption.

“How did you know?” Mint asked, mouth hanging wide open. Her exaggerated facial expression resembled that of a TVB actress.

“Everyone knows that the ABC crowd are obsessed with it”, said her friend casually, as her fingers flew over the massive screen of her smartphone, left and right. “You didn’t know? This is how Hong Kong is…”

“Of course I know LKF, this is my city!” Mint quickly replied, her eyes affixed on her friend’s long fingers, nails covered in stick-on crystals, as they flew over the surface of her phone like some kind of ballet on ice. As quickly as it appeared, her uneasy expression was gone from her face.

Of course, Mint and Leo had in fact met in Lan Kwai Fong.

That was Mint’s first time going to Lan Kwai Fong. She flew solo, in order to avoid the risk of someone finding out she was a club virgin. She didn’t want anyone to doubt her Hong Kong credentials.

That night, Mint carefully put on “smoky” makeup, along with the rouge on her cheeks ever so popular among Hong Kong girls, and, wearing a bright-blue tight tube dress and sexy peep toe heels, walked into a bar where the beat was pumping loudest. Taking a step in, she looked around to see people hugging and kissing left and right, white girls two heads taller than her, a Sikh boy with his hair in a wrap, and a few nerdy looking guys, sadly admiring the beautiful ladies from afar. She walked over to the bar, took a seat, and successfully shot the bartender a seductive glance. Mint felt like this was the kind of place she was born for and that she had simply arrived 20 years late.

However, after sitting for half an hour looking at the drink menu without being able to pick anything, her inadequacy and embarrassment became clear.

When the Filipina waitress came around with her torch on for the third time, shining her light on Mint in the darkened room, Mint could only yell past the loud music of the bar: “I’m waiting for someone! Wai—ting!” Besides this, she couldn’t think of any other excuse. She couldn’t dream of telling the waitress that she had never had alcohol before.

“Miss! If you don’t—buy—anything—you can’t—sit—here!” The waitress also had to yell over the music to be heard, as the silver light emanating from the torch hovered over Mint like a burning flame. This made Mint even more embarrassed. No matter what, she couldn’t bear the thought of losing face in this public venue. Thus, in front of all these people, making a run for the door was not an option.

In this noisy and dark bar, worried that people had their eyes on her and obsessed with the notion of not losing face, Mint was of course bringing this upon herself. Still, who could say for sure that not a single person was watching her?

“Hi! Hiii!” A man yelled, appearing out of nowhere, squarely seating himself in front of Mint. He quickly rattled something off to the waitress, but, it being far too loud for her to hear, Mint only saw the waitress quickly scribble something on a notepad in her palm, and then rip off a piece of paper to hand to the man as he held two red notes in his hand. Finally, the waitress extinguished her torch. Mint couldn’t see where she went.

“It looks like it’s your first time drinking in a bar, so I ordered a non-alcoholic cocktail for you to try out.”

It took a second for Mint to understand what the man was saying, because he was speaking English. Mint switched to English, too.

“Oh, yes, thank you, but you misunderstand me. I am really waiting for someone!” This is how Mint was—must have face.

“Well, then, while you wait, would you allow me to buy you a drink?”

Mint said nothing, neither accepting nor refusing.

“Actually, the people that work here are pretty dumb, always watching people seated at the bar, but never taking a look at the dance floor.” The man was fine with expressing himself despite Mint’s silence.

“I mean, look—” He raised his left hand, showing Mint that in it he already had a glass bottle.

“What?” Mint finally had something to say.

“I bought it at 7-11, nine dollars a bottle,” he said, laughing, “I’ve had it the entire time on the floor and nobody’s pressured me to buy anything. Are they dumb, or what?” He tilted his head back and took a swig, letting out a satisfied sigh afterward.

Mint finally laughed. She found herself thinking the man was very interesting, yet down-to-earth.

Suddenly, the silver light reappeared, and with it, the waitress, carrying two drinks. One was icy green, and the other orange-red. Borrowing the utility of the silver light, Mint quickly looked at the man’ face—he was handsome, with eyes like a Korean pop star, and a high nose like that of a European or American celebrity. Best of all, he had two cute dimples.

She was dazed as the light went out, and wondered if this were a chance meeting with someone who might be right for her.

“Ah, that’s that…” The man took a sip of his drink. “Try yours, I think it’s a good drink for girls as it’s a bit sweet.”

Mint didn’t speak, just taking a small sip from her glass. She knew nothing about liquor, and thus wanted to keep quiet.

“So, what do you think?” Of course, guys want to have their opinions and tastes validated.

“Eh, you know. Good, same as always.” Mint sucked on the straw, very satisfied with her response.

“Well, it seems like I really know your taste. Oh no, could it be that you really are waiting for me?” The man chuckled.

This quickly brought Mint back to her previous lie, and she choked on her drink, but didn’t dare try to cough it out.

“Why isn’t whoever you’re waiting for here? Have you been stood up?” The conversation had taken the turn she feared. Was he giving her a way out, or had he really believed her?

No matter what, she didn’t want to be seen as a country girl who’d never been in a bar before. She knew that the more she spoke the more complicated it would become, so she simply chose to refuse to confirm or deny the content of her lie, and continued to playfully sip her drink through the straw.

“Hey, hey. Let’s go dance!”

Mint heard the nearby voice and discovered that the bar was now packed with people, a number of whom were flocking from the dance floor to the bar.

“It’s getting crowded here, do you want to go to dance?” The man extended his invitation to her.

When it came to dancing, Mint wasn’t entirely inexperienced, but her only real memories of it were when she was selected for the aerobic dance squad in her middle school years. However, this was Mint’s secret—no way could she let it be discovered that she’d never danced in a bar. She would then be seen as a country girl, visiting a bar for the first time—no, she could never let that happen.

“Ok…” And with that Mint got out of her seat, and followed the man to squeeze into the crowd to the dance floor.

Luckily for her, after all those years of aerobics and dance, Mint’s limbs were still quite flexible, she had great balance, and could walk well and flit about gracefully even in high heels. Most of the people in the bar could only move to the music, so by contrast Mint was more than just fine. Her movements and figure looked great on the dance floor. She was moved by the intense beats and driving energy of the music, and found herself excited—pumped up, as it were.

“Hey! What—is—your—name?” The man suddenly bent down to speak into Mint’s ear. However, the bar was so noisy, it was a struggle to making anything out.

“I’m—MING!” She said without thinking. However, she was instantly filled with regret—she’d already been in Hong Kong for a few months, yet still hadn’t gotten the hang of using an English name to replace her Chinese one. This could easily make people suspect she wasn’t from HK, and that would be a disaster!

“What—‘Mint?’ Your name is Mint?” the man yelled.

“Yes, yes! My name is Mint, Mint!” Ming was delighted with herself—she was no longer Ming, she had now become Mint. She couldn’t help but allow herself a chuckle.

“I’m—Leo! Don’t forget, L—E—O!” The man laughed loudly as he finished, as if the two of them had traded good spirits along with their names.

“And then? Did he save your phone number?” When she got to this point in the story, her male classmate cut her off.

“Yes, yes, he did!” Mint quickly replied.

“And has he called you?”

“Uh, no he hasn’t…”





As he saw her smile fade, he quickly asked:

“Well, how many days has it been?”


“Oh, then that’s fine!” The boy quickly continued. “Three days is normal, he’s not going to want to scare you off by contacting you too quickly and looking clingy! Right?”


“See, if he wasn’t into you, he wouldn’t buy a drink, right? And then he asked to dance with you, and most importantly he asked for your phone number.” Her classmate smiled slyly.

This revived Mint’s spirits. She firmly believed that Leo must be interested in her—otherwise, why would he come up to her in the bar? Of course! She was sure to meet him again.

Mint knew and believed in the phrase “attitude determines everything”. A week later, she was proven correct.

When she finished class at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, she saw that she had a missed call on her phone, and the name displayed on the screen was “Leo.” She was surprised and overjoyed, and turned to one of her female friends beside her.

“Leo called me, but I didn’t hear it—what should I do?”

“Oh, the ABC? Aaaaah!” Her friend almost screamed. “Hurry, call him back!”

Mint made no sound, but suddenly felt incredibly shy, so she sent Leo a text message.

It was the smart choice. The two exchanged messages rapidly, and the dialogue between them grew. This caused her friends to define her relationship with Leo as “ambiguous,” and the news quickly spread.

“Mint, how are things with that ABC?”

Similar questions became daily topics of conversation between Mint and her friends.

Mint fully enjoyed sharing the details of her ambiguous relationship with her friends. After all, not every Hong Kong girl had the opportunity to go to Lan Kwai Fong, and not every girl who went to LKF had what it took to meet an ABC. Of course, Mint wasn’t from Hong Kong, but this was her secret, which she couldn’t tell anyone.

In this way, Mint’s life became even more interesting. When she awoke every morning, the first thing she did after opening her eyes was to check if she had any messages from Leo. If she didn’t, she’d immediately send him one herself. Time flew as she continued to exchange messages with her ambiguous partner.

“Hey, Mint, finals are coming up! Don’t play on WhatsApp in class!”

Mint’s classmate was calling her out, but Mint impressed herself with the cleverness of her own reply.

“I’m sending him messages in English—this is how I practice!”

After this golden quote was posted on Facebook, it received more than 100 likes. Everyone concluded: “Mint is just Mint—different from the rest.”

This wasn’t the first time Mint had gotten likes. One time, on the way back to her dorm, she was accosted by a group of people.

“Mint, we’re reporters from the campus newsletter. Can we take a few pictures of you so that you can grace the cover of the next issue?” The speaker was a small, short male student who spoke quickly.


“It’ll be really quick, and you don’t need to prepare or anything. We just want to capture your everyday appearance.”

“My everyday appearance?” Mint hesitated.

“Yeah, you don’t have to worry, because even your everyday self is outstanding!”

Mint lowered her head to look at her beautiful lime pumps, and felt great. She replied: “OK!”

A month later, a new issue of the newsletter appeared with Mint’s picture on the cover. Normally, copies of the publication sat on a rack in front of the Students’ Union office all month, but this month, they were gone almost as soon as they were placed there. The reason was simple: the stunning Mint which everyone had their eyes on from near and afar was now on the cover.

Her classmates saw Mint on the cover, half-smiling in all her glory, and began researching her style.

“I think she has a kind of ‘Euro-American’ vibe”, a girl in a tight, fluorescent-green tank-top opened the conversation.

“I don’t know, maybe it’s how she chooses colors?” A girl in a long summer dress replied.

“Right, look, how she employs both complementary and clashing colors…it’s like a combination of the Caribbean Sea, the Californian sunset, and the verdant green of the Hawaiian palm trees!” The speaker was a literature student.

“Well, you could say it’s like…a traffic light?” A boy pointed to the picture of Mint saying, “A red top, yellow trousers, and green shoes! This is her calling out the Hong Kong government on the traffic situation!”

“Yeah, that makes sense…”

After that, the campus was full of color. Both boys and girls began to go for clashing colors, and Mint became a source of fashion advice for all. In the girls’ dormitory, there were always people accosting Mint with brightly colored clothes in hand, saying:

“Hey, Mint, today I’m going to do this or that, which of these should I wear?”

One day a group of students came along, looking to talk about social issues with Mint. They were a group of hot-blooded youth activists whose leader was the boy who had made the “traffic light” interpretation of Mint’s color combination. They had started a publication of their own, the Minty Bullet. They wanted Mint to serve as their main commentator, sharing her opinions each week on a major issue.

The people who previously knew of the “LKF affair” developed new appraisal of Mint, and those out of the loop were now looped in on the Mint phenomenon. Mint’s fame on the campus rose further and now people weren’t just talking about how she knew an “ABC”—or rather, people gradually forgot about the ABC, and more attention was focused directly upon Mint.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Mint and Leo was developing steadily. They had moved on from just text messages, and sometimes would have long calls before bed. When people heard Mint sweetly speaking into the phone, they would remark, “Oh, Mint’s practicing English again!”

Even though the development of the relationship was stable, Mint and Leo hadn’t decided to formalize anything. Mint actually wasn’t in any hurry, as she thought that keeping things ambiguous further lent to her status and position as the “Queen of Lan Kwai Fong”. Of course, she still immensely valued Leo and her feelings for him, for if there had been no Leo, she never would have become the center of attention on campus.

Just as Mint’s fame was bringing her all kinds of good fortune, an odd incident occurred: a large amount of panties went missing from the girls’ dormitory.

On the one hand, the incident could just be viewed as a simple case of clothes going missing. On the other, however, people were also prone to inflate it to crisis-level proportions; there was supposedly a pervert loose on the campus! In response to calls by militant campus feminists and hot-blooded youth activists, the free speech board was covered with posters that read “Protect Panties, Punish Perverts!” These bright yellow posters were emblazoned with bold red text, reminiscent of Mint’s characteristic “clashing colors” scheme.

The hot-blooded youths recommended an expedition to the campus security center to review surveillance tapes, but were quickly shot down by the outraged feminists—the panties were inside the dorm, and in the interests of student privacy, there would be no cameras in there. After reading a detective novel, they decided to adopt a technique from within the book: profiling. That is to say, look for people with a history of lecherous behavior, and target them as prime suspects. Through their inquiries, they came by a reliable piece of information: on April 1, 2010, a student from the mainland switched the signs for the male and female lavatories, causing a large number of male students to accidentally walk into the female lavatory, eliciting many screams. This extremely perverse behavior was seen by these feminists as an invasion and assault upon a private space for females. The hot-blooded youths eagerly submitted this information to the chief commentator of the Minty Bullet, and prompted Mint to write a warning to hidden perverts: you will always be found out in the end.

However, to the great surprise of the hot-blooded youths, Mint refused their invitation.

“If I write this, it would create a misunderstand—wouldn’t students think that all mainlanders perverts?” Mint said, eyes wide.

“Well, that is a possibility, but they do have a previous record.”

“Previous record? It was an April Fools’ Day prank, have you never done that?”


“So you Hong Kong guys are allowed to put on ridiculous costumes for Halloween, but us mainland Chinese can’t play little pranks on April Fool’s?”

Mint stood there crossly, face full of rage, not yet having realized the slip of the tongue she had just made.

“Us mainland Chinese?” The hot-blooded youths asked suspiciously.

“Uh, I meant, from the point of view of a mainland student, they would say something like that…” Mint backpedaled quickly, trying to cover for her mistake.

“Uhh…” The hot-blooded youths stood in place pensively.

When the next issue of the Minty Bullet was issued, where a picture of Mint was normally on the cover, this time was image of the “Protect Panties, Punish Perverts” sign, but the text had been changed: “No more columns by Mint.“” Mint was no longer the cover model, but she was still the subject of the lead article. The contents were roughly as follows:

We have discovered that the recently popular “Queen of LKF”, Mint, is under suspicion for the Panty Raid. When the editors of our publication approached Mint to discuss the matter, she flew into a rage, defending the Toilet Sign Switcher, claiming that it was just a joke, and, more worryingly, that she is in fact from the Chinese mainland. She is a liar. In our research, we found a line from The Biography of Sherlock Homes, in which a similar case is discussed. The fifth line of page 108 reminds us: he that commits a fault thinks everyone speaks of it.

Mint, hands trembling, threw the copy of Minty Bullet to the ground, and as it made a loud smack upon the ground the fright made her entire body tremble. At that time, the door of the girls’ dormitory burst open, and a group of girls in their pajamas, unkempt and disheveled, waving their bath towels and rushed towards Mint, encircling her, howling:

“Give back my panties!” “That was new!” “Mine was Calvin Klein!”

Mint, pushed back and forth, ran out of oxygen, and fainted.

A few days later, when she tried to sneak back to the dorm unnoticed, she was once again encircled.

“Mint, we’re from the Newsletter. We want to ask you, what is it that motivated you to steal the panties?” It was the same thin boy from before, speaking quickly as ever.

“I…I didn’t! I really didn’t…” Mint yelled, unable to stand the situation.

“Mint, please calm down. If you really didn’t take it, then why did you get so angry? You said that you were a mainlander, what’s with the inconsistency? Were you not in a proper state of mind? Or is it that the hot-blooded youths have the right idea, and that you are guilty? If you don’t mind me asking, how do you explain this?”

“No, my state of mind was fine, it’s just that I… I…” Mint was unable to speak.

“Mint, confronting one’s own mistakes is a brave thing to do. We at the Newsletter aren’t like the Minty Bullet, we respect human rights. We don’t set out to smear people, we’re just trying to give everyone a fair picture of the situation, and call on everyone to help mentally disturbed people like you—”

Mint forcefully pushed the thin student away, and took off.

At night, Mint, alone in her dorm room, wrapped in her quilt, sent Leo a message: “I’m so hurt…”

Afterwards she thought about whether she had made a mistake. If she hadn’t concealed her identity at the start, then she wouldn’t have been misunderstood. However, if she hadn’t done so, would Leo have been willing to be her friend? Would she still have been able to become Mint?

“What’s wrong? I have time tomorrow, do you want to meet up?” And so under these circumstances, Leo extended his first date invitation to Mint.

Mint’s eyes overflowed with tear when she saw the message. She tightly gripped her phone, and re-read the message to make sure that she hadn’t misunderstood any of the English words, and then replied:

“Sure, see you tomorrow at Wind Cafe, Mid-Levels.”

The next day, Mint arrived 15 minutes early to the cafe. Having cried the previous night and undergone so much stress recently, her thoughts were scrambled. The prospect of seeing Leo again made her even more nervous. It wasn’t easy to hide her problems anymore. She found an empty seat and sat down, immediately feeling uncomfortable. She put her bag down and got up to get a magazine from the bar to put on the seat next to her to save a place for Leo, and to keep away the waiters who might come to hassle her about ordering something. However, as soon as she stood up, she was overtaken with fear that someone might steal her bag, and thus she sat back down.

She gripped her dark-brown pleated skirt with her hands and felt as if she was about to fall apart. She inhaled deeply, and got up, hooking her foot into the leg of the chair as she slowly made her way to the bar, dragging the chair along with her. She arrived at the bar, snatched up a magazine, and kicked the chair along her path back, sitting down when they arrived back at her table. She flung the magazine upon the seat next to her, and felt relieved.

Mint’s behavior had attracted the attention of a number of other patrons, but she paid them no mind at all, which was unprecedented. She really was falling apart. She thought about her few months in Hong Kong, how she’d been pretending to be someone else the entire time. And that person wasn’t Ming, nor Mint. She’d lost both Ming and Mint. Maybe it was her fault. Dishonest people always pay the price in the end, and today her time had come. Her peers misunderstood and hated her, and she was unable to bear it. She thought that all that she had left was Leo, who had always been good to her. He was an honest, nice guy—if she continued to lie to him, it would be an even bigger mistake, and she wouldn’t be fit to be with him. So…

“Mint!” Leo appeared. Under the warm yellow lights of the cafe, Leo’s dimples shone with soft light. He wore a blue sweater, grey trousers, and looked great in them. Mint, by contrast, had dark bags under her eyes, and looked like a sea of discontent.

“Hi…” Mint said, full of unease. When a girl likes a boy, she is unable to pretend nothing has happened, nor act naturally to get on with the boy.

“What’s wrong?” Leo nonchalantly picked up the magazine from the seat and sat down next to her.

“Well, some people…have misunderstood me…” Mint didn’t know where to start.

“What do you mean?”

“Uh… actually…it’s my fault…you know? Actually…uh…actually, I…” Mint was losing it. Should she reveal her secret or not? She hesitated.

“What exactly is going on? Tell me, I’ll listen.”

At this time Mint finally clearly heard Leo’s voice. It was so warm. His American English was so free and easy. Without the noise and grime of the bar as a backdrop, he appeared so upstanding and honest—a truly nice guy.

“Actually, I lied to you.” Looking into his sincere eyes, Mint revealed her secret. She thought, no matter what, she could not be a phony anymore. If Leo decided to cut ties with her, she would have no regrets, because it was she who made the first mistake.

“What do you mean?” Said Leo, eyes widening.

“I lied to you. Actually, I…that day…I…I wasn’t waiting for anyone…”

“Haha, you thought I didn’t know?” Leo said, blinking cleverly.

“So, yes, I don’t really go to bars often, that was my first time…I’m actually a very simple girl, I never knew how to do my makeup before university, and nobody chased me…I am no ‘Queen of Lan Kwai Fong’…”

Leo didn’t say anything, but simply looked at Mint, thinking about the abruptness of it all.

“So, I was afraid I would be made fun of in Hong Kong, so I bought many fashion magazines and books about how to do make-up. I spent two months of my summer break studying them…”

“Wait…you came…came to Hong Kong?” Leo interrupted Mint.

“Uh…yes. Actually…I’m doing a mainland ‘3+1’ program—you wouldn’t understand. It means… Three years of undergrad in the mainland, and then for the final year, we switch to a campus in Hong Kong…”


“Yes, I’m Cantonese…from Guangzhou. I lied to you, and to others. I pretended to be a local HKer. I’m sorry…I’m so fake…” Mint’s words caught in her throat and she was unable to speak further.

“So you say…you’re from the mainland?” Leo appeared to care about this point.

“Yes…are you surprised? I lied to you; if you’re angry, you don’t have to see me anymore…” Mint dipped her head deeply, not daring to look into Leo’s honest eyes, making her look even worse and more fake…

“Ah ha, well I’m from the mainland, too.” He smiled, and laughed aloud as well.

It took a few seconds to react to what Leo had said, because this time, he was speaking Putonghua—non-standard, and with a thick regional accent.

“Wha…what?” Mint struggled as her hands froze and her brain cleared up.

“Haha, turns out we are fellow-townsmen! You should have told me, then I wouldn’t have had to speak English…”

“Then why do you speak English all the time?” Mint raised her voice accusingly.

“Well, my Mandarin isn’t that great. It might be hard for you to understand it, let alone the Hong Kong people…I’ve got no choice but to speak English!” Leo waved his hand, making a frustrated gesture.

“But you said you studied previously in America!” Mint still held onto a thread of hope that Leo was overseas Chinese, and continued to drill at him with questions.

“Yeah, well, after I took my high school exit exams in China, I went to America for university, and now I’m on an exchange program to Hong Kong, but I really am a mainlander!” Leo spoke frankly, not hearing the consternation in Mint’s voice.

Mint was speechless. Unable to say anything she just sat there, thinking that Mint in the end was simply a pipe dream of a personality.

“What’s wrong? I wouldn’t cut off contact with you over something like this. We’re practically from the same place!” As Leo spoke, he pulled out a card from his pocket. “Look, this is my mainland citizen’s ID—”

Mint cast a glance at the blurry picture on the card, with the Chinese name “Li Ao.”

In an instant her mood changed from confusion to fury. Oh, she had fire! All of this had happened because Leo was making a fool of her!

“Why is Hong Kong now full of you mainland Chinese? Jackasses!” Mint flung Cantonese profanity at Leo, while pointing harshly at his nose.

In an instant, all eyes in the cafe were on Mint.

Leo’s smile froze, and he blinked. “What? I don’t even…”

“You nutter!” Mint threw caution on her image to the wind, as she ripped into Leo, who sat there mouth open and eyes wide, not knowing what to say. She left him behind, and hurried out. As luck would have it, her three-inch heels gave out on the rough ground under her feet.

“Piss right off!” Mint leveled another volley of insults at Leo, as the surrounding crowd began to chatter quietly among themselves. Mint burst into tears, but she could not care less. She ripped off her shoes as she yelled “Get fucked, you MK1 asshole!” and then took off barefoot, running across the marble floor of the shopping center.

A kid along the way, seeing the crazed Mint running barefoot, shouted, “Ah—it’s Cinderella!”

“A Tale of Mint” is a story from our issue, “Internet Celebrity”. Become a subscriber to read and other great content from our archives!


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