Episode XIV - A Perfect Call

(A young staffer from the National Security Council wishes to see the President.)

"Come in, son.  What is it?"

"Excuse me, Mr. President, but a question has come up at the NSC that only you can clarify."

"Well, I'm used to being the only person that can solve problems, so come in and have a seat.  And relax, there's no need to be nervous."

"Yes, sir.  I mean no, sir.  Or yes, sir.  Or no, sir.  Ummm...."

"What's your name?"

"Fu On Yu."

"Say that again?"

"Fu On Yu, sir."

"Now, wait just a moment.  I said you could relax, not insult me."

"No, sir.  I am not insulting you.  That is my name - Fu On Yu.”

"Well I'll be.  I don't remember seeing you earlier today.  This is the second shift of the day, right?  So you work the second shift?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well then, who has the first shift?"

"Correct, sir."


"He has standby duty."


"First shift, sir."


"Right.  Who has first shift, sir."

"Why are you asking me?  I don't know the NSC staffers."

"I'm not asking you, sir.  I'm telling you.  Who has the first shift."

"OK.  So who has the first shift and what is on standby."

“You're getting it, sir."

"And the name of the person who has night duty?"

"I don't know."

"Is that because you're new to the job?"

"No, sir. We are trained to know everyone's name from the very beginning."

"Then who has night duty?"

"No, sir. I don't know."

"Well, I sure as hell don't either.  Remind me, did you tell me why you need to see me?"

"Not yet, sir.  And, don't be concerned, I don't mind if you call me by my middle name."


"In Chinese culture, sir, surname comes first, followed by first given name then second given name.  So my name is Fu On Yu, "Yu" being my middle name."

"OK.  Let's get to the point, Yu Fu Fu On Yu Yu Fu Yu. or whatever your name is.  Why are you here?  No.  What is it...  No. Who sent you?  No.  Tell me the thing that is needed to tell me.  Whew!"

"Certainly, Mr. President. I thought you would never ask.  You might recall that you had a phone call yesterday with President Xi of China.  A direct transcript of the call was made, but we have lost the audio of the call."

"Yeah, and... What of it?  It was a perfect call."

"No doubt it was, sir.  However, the respective Presidents on the call are not identified.  We cannot determine which speaker is you and which is President Xi.  I am here in the hope that you can figure this out."

"I'll certainly try.  Should be pretty easy.  Do you have the transcript with you?  It wasn't a long call."

"I have it right here, sir."

"Then why don't you just read it."

"Yes, sir.  Here is the verbatim transcript of yesterday's call with President Xi of China.  President Xi's part of the conversation is translated from Mandarin."

"Hello, Mr. President.  It is nice to speak with you again."

"Hello, Mr. President.  Yes, it is nice to speak with you again."

"I hope you are well.”

“Thank you.  I am very well and you?"

"Thank you.  I also am very well."

"Can we talk  about the trade deal?"

"Yes, we can talk about the trade deal."

"I think we need to move quickly."

"I agree.  The quicker the better."

"And about the virus."

"Yes, of course about the virus."

"I think it would be good if we both stopped blaming the other for all of our problems.  There is plenty of blame to go around."

"Agreed.  We stop blaming the other for all of our problems."

"And no more discussion of labs - Wuhan or American military.  Right?"

"Right.  No more discussion of labs - Wuhan or American military."

"On the important issue of a vaccine.  Our vaccine efforts are going quite well.  And we have decided that, if we are the first to develop a vaccine, we will share it with the world based solely on who needs it first.  What about your vaccine efforts?"

"They are going quite well also.  And we have decided that, if we are the first to develop a vaccine, we will first give it to all of our citizens and then sell it to the rest of the world."

"Thank you for a productive call, Mr. President."

"And thank you for a productive call, Mr. President."

(End of call)

 "So you see our problem, here, Mr. President.  Can you figure out which is you and which is President Xi?"

(The President looks at Fu On Yu incredulously.)

“We actually pay you a salary?  Even a five year-old can figure that one out!  It really makes me wonder how they find guys like you to hire.  What’s your background, young man?”

“I have a Ph.D. in Chinese history, focusing on the leadership succession in the Chinese Communist Party.  And I speak fluent Mandarin and Cantonese.”

“Huh.  Then we have something in common.  I also know a lot about Chinese history.  And I love fortune cookies.  Can’t get more Chinese than that!”

“Actually, sir, fortune cookies as we know them have no place in Chinese culture.  Our best understanding is that they were introduced into the US by Japanese immigrants.  Chinese restaurants in the US seized upon them as a marketing gimmick because desserts were not part of typical Chinese cuisine.”

“Show off!  Who asked you anyway?”

“He didn’t, sir.  He knows as much about Chinese culture as I do.”

“OK, then, smarty pants.  Who was the President of China before President Xi?”

“Correct, sir.  Hu.”

“No, I’m asking you.  I want to know.”

“Hu was the previous President of China.”

“I told you I don’t know!   Let me try it a different way.  Tell me the latest transition of power in China.”

“Hu Xi, sir.  Hu Xi.”

“How the hell do I know who she is?  The next president of China is going to be a woman?  Really?”

“I doubt it, sir.  Very unlikely.  But not impossible.  Best woman candidate is Nu Lian-Dong Yu. Then it would be Hu Xi Nu.”

“Isn’t that always the case.”

“We’ve had a very interesting conversation, sir.  Anything else?”

“I would like to know what we’re talking about.”

“You’d like to know about wat.  Certainly.”

“Yes, what.”

“OK, then.  Fortunately, I minored in cultural history of the ancient Khmer kingdoms.  The largest religious site in the world is the one at Angkor.  It was originally built as a Hindu temple to the god Vishnu in the early 12th Century by the Khmer King Suryavarman II, in present day Angkor.  Beginning in the late 12th Century, it was gradually transformed into a Buddhist Temple.  One of the first Western visitors to the temple was Antonio da Madalena, a Portuguese friar who visited in 1586 and said that it “is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world.  It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of.”  Shall I continue?”

“Not really.  I have a headache.”

“Well then, I’ll call it a night, sir.  If you need any further help this evening from the NSC, just pick up the phone and ask for What I Don’t Know."

“Me neither.”

(Fu On Yu leaves the Oval Office while the President just shakes his head.)

Ready for more?