There is no place like Leng'gangcheng, an Akarean poet had once claimed, centuries ago. No place can rival her in beauty and character, the city where East meets West. Harschburg, as it is known today, was certainly a unique place in the traditional Kanadiaans homeland of Fischerstaat. While it had been part of Candanadium ever since federation in 1783, the nine-hundred year old Akarean-founded city was still distinctly a blend of two very different and unique cultures. Traditional Akarean roofs vied for space with the steeples of Eostrist churches and the pillars and stone and stained glass of traditional Kanadiaans architecture. While the shantytowns and mud shacks by the harbour had been replaced by a modern skyline of glass and steel, like most cities in Candanadium, the spirit of Leng'gangcheng lived on in the Old City, affectionately called Little Akarea by its residents. Here, Akarean Mandarin was the language of choice, taking precedence over both the local Kanadiaans and Oseanian. This is what made Harschburg such an attractive city to new immigrants to Candanadium, especially Akarean ones, who made up almost 50% of the city's one million residents. If one ignored the Oseanian and Kanadiaans signage, downtown Harschburg could feel like central Lao Shaodu, or even a suburban ward of Fujing.
Here, the Akarean sun flew as high as the tri-maple of the federation and the leaping salmon of Fischerstaat, and more often than not, the streets were named for Akarean emperors and cities. An ethnically Candanadian face was almost a rare sight in Little Akarea, and the Akarean tongue dominated everyday life, with the occasional Kanadiaans or Oseanian phrase tossed in. This was one of the few places in the entire country where one could get authentic Akarean cuisine, and Fujing Avenue, the main street bisecting Little Akarea, was home to more than a handful of Akarean restaurants.
One of these such restaurants was the Golden Dragon, a dingy-looking Akarean takeaway shop wedged between an Akarean grocery teeming with the fruits and spices of the orient and a real estate agent's office. It was here that Markus Soong found himself on many an afternoon, sitting behind the cash register, chomping on a piece of bubble gum while doing his Kanadiaans homework, taking the occasional order for fish curry noodles or beef stir fry. Markus had been born Soong Tan-yue in the coastal city of Hai'an seventeen years ago, but he had little to no memory of the place, having been brought to Harschburg by his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Soong Lin-fang when he was barely two years old. Dr. Soong had had a successful career in Hai'an as a general practitioner, and had a sizable amount of money saved away. He had always dreamed of giving his family a brighter future, and with housing prices through the roof in Akarea and an increasingly competitive job market, he had thought it wisest to bring his wife May-hong two year old Tan-yue to Candanadium, where nobody lacked for space or a job. What Dr. Soong did not know, however, was that Candanadium had no shortage of doctors.
The traditional Candanadian education system featured three different kinds of high school for different kinds of students. The most prestigious was the Gymnasium, which emphasized the sciences, the humanities, and the literary arts, for the brightest and most gifted of students. Then there was the Hochschule, which provided a mix of practical skills and course in the humanities and literature. Lastly, there was the Realschule, which prepared students for vocational schools and put a heavy emphasis on practical skills. The educational system was tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of each and every individual student, and students went into higher education with a very good idea of what they wanted to do in the future. This meant that Candanadium had a good supply of top-tier professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and engineers, but also a steady supply of experienced craftsmen such as electricians and plumbers. That, combined with the fact that Dr. Soong's Akarean medical licence had no value in Candanadium, essentially dumped the Soong family back at square one. The prices in Harschburg had seemed astronomical to the Soongs, and they found out soon enough that their savings would last them until the end of their first year in the country. This forced the Soongs to work various odd jobs in Little Akarea, often for less than minimum wage, just to put rice on the table. Eventually they had saved up enough to open a small restaurant on Fujing Avenue, and from then on, the restaurant was the family's lifeline. Dr. Soong and his wife were now confined to working in the kitchen, and starting at age twelve, Markus had been obliged to help man the cash register whenever he wasn't at school.
Though the Soongs' financial situation was less than ideal, Markus had never had trouble at school, having breezed through elementary and middle school with ease. It was then no surprise for him nor his parents that he was accepted to the famed Harschburg Kanadiaans Gymnasium with a full scholarship. Of course, it was also no surprise for him that his parents had pushed him harder than ever to spend more time on his studies, in the traditional Akarean fashion. Between school at the Gymnasium and manning the cash register in the Golden Dragon, he had little, if any, time to himself, rarely, if ever, getting a full night's sleep, especially with his parents often arguing deep into the night, in the dingy little apartment above the restaurant. He didn't find his studies particularly challenging, so he had made a small fortune in writing the essays and completing the worksheets of his classmates, for a hefty price. Most of the students at the Gymnasium were from wealthy Kanadiaans families and were, more often than not, set for life thanks to their parents, and would often slip him a ten- or twenty-thaler note after class along with the day's homework. He found no joy in the work, but it earned him money, and that was what was important, since he couldn't exactly ask his parents to pay him for his work at the Golden Dragon.
The Golden Dragon. To Markus, those three words were the bane of his existence, in any of the three languages in use across the city. He longed to go out there and make a life of his own, in the wide country that stretched from sea to sea, but he was mentally and morally, if not physically, tied to the cash register at the Golden Dragon. While he sat there doing his Kanadiaans homework, his mind often drifted away, to the snowy Mirksai of Belkhomir, the lush Juppertal, or the glamour of New Konigstadt and Port Newcastle. Although he had never been to any of those places, they seemed more real to him than the familiar and hated sights of Little Akarea. That was, coincidentally, what he was doing this February afternoon, under the ratty yellow fluorescent lights of the restaurant. A menu hung above him, and various trinkets and knickknacks from the old country hung on the wall, the tacky wallpaper peeling in some places. The portraits of both the Akarean Emperor and the King of Candanadium hung above the door. Quan Ah looked down at him disappointingly every time he took his seat behind the register, but King Richard I von Magnar's gaze had always seemed kind, almost fatherly to him. He stared back at the both of them, lost in his thoughts, ignorant to the chime of the bell that hung on the door handle, indicating that someone had come in to the restaurant. He was only snapped out of his trance by a gruff voice, speaking in the old tongue of Akarea.
"Ey, boy. Two fish curries to go, but give me flatbread instead of rice, and some herbal tea."
"Hm? Oh, uh, eight thalers, three kreuzen and forty-five. Will that be by cash or card?" He replied in a mixture of Akarean and Kanadiaans that he used with his parents and most customers while pressing a few buttons on the cash register.
"What's the matter with you, boy? Did your parents not teach you the language of your ancestors. Are you too ashamed to speak Fugwoyu?" There were many people like the man in front of him in Little Akarea, mainly of the older generation, who found pride in refusing to learn either language of the federation, stubbornly clinging to the old ways and the old tongue. They had always seemed like idiots to Markus, stupid old farts who couldn't get used to change.
"I prefer to 入乡随俗, follow the ways of the local people when I enter a village. Will that be cash or card?" Markus replied in Akarean, using a traditional idiom familiar to most in Akarea, with what some would call a shit-eating grin on his face. The man's face turned as red as Mrs. Soong's sour and spicy cabbage soup.
"Is that how you talk to your elders? Where are your manners?" The man was visibly fuming. Dr. Soong had poked his head out of the kitchen, hearing the commotion. As soon as he saw what was happening, he put on his best apologetic smile.
"I'm so sorry, sir, my boy does not know his place. I have not taught him well, and I deeply beg for your forgiveness." He offered, bowing and holding out an open hand in apology. "Would I be able to make it up to you by offering you a 50% discount?"
"Discipline this boy. He has lost the ways of his people. You'll have no business from me until he learns his place." The man stormed out of the restaurant, almost ripping the door off of its hinges. As soon as the man was out of sight, Dr. Soong's apologetic smile vanished, and he whacked Markus on the head with his open palm.
"Foolish boy! What have I told you before about being respectful to your elders? Have you gone deaf, ah?" He slapped Markus across the face. "Don't even think about going out this weekend. Your insolence is going to cost us our business." He slapped Markus again.
"It's not my fault that I can think for myself, old man." Markus snapped back. "He understood what I was saying just fine, he was just being an Arschloch. I don't care how old and grey he is." It was Dr. Soong's turn to turn red.
"Don't you get lippy with me. I'm taking your phone for the week." He held out his hand. "Hand it over."
"In your dreams, you wrinkly shit. I work my ass off at school and down here, and this is how you thank me? You don't even pay me, for Eostre's sake. How about you get your act together?" Dr. Soong exploded.
"You think you can talk to me like this, ah? I brought you to this country and I work from dusk till dawn to put rice on the table. You think you know what hard work is? You think it's easy, raising a sorry excuse of a son like you?" A flurry of punches and smacks came Markus's way. He could feel tears pooling in his eyes as he raised his arms in defence. Of late Dr. Soong's temper had become more and more volatile, with business at the Golden Dragon at an all-time low.
"I'll go to the police and you'll never see the light of day again. I'm not a diaper-shitting three year old, nor am I your dog to boss around. It's about time you treated me that way." Markus said in defiance.
"Go ahead, go to the police, who will pay for your meals, ah? Where will you live? You think you're so tough? You don't know a thing about the real world. You're a green boy who thinks he's hot shit because he attends a fancy Gymnasium."
"Fuck you. Once the army take me, I'm not coming back." Markus grabbed his pen and his mathematics notebook and stormed away from the cash register, making for their apartment.
"Get back here, you stupid turtle! I swear by the Emperor I'm going to smash that phone of yours. Worthless little ingrate, you-" Markus slammed the door separating the apartment building and the restaurant shut. He stomped upstairs and ripped the door of their apartment open, to find his mother sitting at the dining room table, startled.
"What's wrong, Tan-yue? Where's your father?" She looked up from the Kanadiaans language textbook she was studying diligently.
"Shut up, I don't want to talk." Markus snarled back, going into his room and locking the door. He dumped his notebook and pen on the desk overflowing with books and schoolwork, shaking and panting in rage and fury.
He grabbed the nearest thing he could find, an old hockey stick, and broke it in half over his knee, and used one end of the stick to push his laptop and all the books and papers off of his desk, scattering them across the floor. He grabbed his backpack, unzipped it, and dumped its contents over the sea of books and papers that had become the floor of his room as well. His heart still racing, he pulled out the bottom drawer on his nightstand, where he had kept six or seven stacks of ten- and twenty-thaler notes, as well as a few coins and a stray fifty, the fruits of his labour. He threw the banknotes into his now-empty backpack and stuffed the coins in his pocket, and pulled out the drawer on top of that to grab his Candanadian and Akarean passports as well as a fake driver's licence that he had bought in secret when he was fifteen that listed his name as the 20-year-old Francis Wong of Fischerfurt. He had used the licence to get into a few bars and other places that were off limits to the average Candanadian fifteen-year-old, but he had never thought it could come in handy again. He tore his cellphone charger out of the socket and tossed it in his bag as well, as well as a few balled-up shirts, trousers, socks, and undergarments. The last thing he took was two packets of crackers and his half-full water bottle. Now, he was ready to do what he wanted to do. Before he left, however, he threw the chair before his desk at the window, instantly shattering the dirty glass. The chair landed with a loud crack on the pavement beneath, three of its four legs snapping cleanly in half.
He opened his wallet and looked through the contents. He had his Harschburg transit card, his student ID, his real driver's licence, as well as his library card and a five-thaler bill. He snapped it shut again and raised the hood on his jacket, storming out of the apartment, leaving his mother speechless and stunned. He practically ran downstairs and slammed the door to his apartment building shut while hailing a taxi that happened to be passing by, which promptly came to a halt outside the restaurant, giving him a clear view of his father's fuming face. He gave his father one last obscene gesture with a triumphant smirk on his face before hopping in the taxi.
"Where-" Markus interrupted the taxi driver before he could even finish his question.
"The train station. As fast as you can." He said while folding up his student ID and driver's licence and throwing them out the window.
At last, Markus Soong was free.