Chinese Stories in English
4. Stiff Neck, A
6. Certain Sense, A
7. Crude Person, A
Stories by Lao Ma (Ma Junjie), Page 1
Indexed at laomaruc的博客, http://laomaruc.bokee.com/, page 1, translated from pages cited below
2. I Don't Give a Whit (满不在乎)
I'll tell you the truth. Me, I don’t care about anything. Things like fame, benefits, power, money, and other things outside myself, I’m not at all interested.
Money? I care about that the least! If you don’t believe me, go ahead and ask my better half. I don’t keep a penny out of my monthly salary, I hand it all over to her. I don’t want the hassle; don’t want to worry about it.
When I first started working, my pay was only forty bucks. Even with that little bit of money, I still loaned two-fifty to my workmate Zheng Laizi. He’d decided to borrow one buck from me to buy his kid a sausage, but I gave him two-fifty without another word. I wasn’t reluctant to do it. It was because I was fed up with this poor good-for-nothing throwing money around like he was rich. He was broke and he still wanted to eat sausage. He'd've been better off buying a pound of bread.
In the end, what happened was, it was three years before this punk paid me back the money that could’ve bought a pound of bread. I didn’t even ask for interest. So how about it? Do I care about money? A two-fifty debt over three years, anybody else would’ve been in his face about it long before that.
Power? I care even less about that! One time ten years ago, my company had me pass out movie tickets to employees as a bonus. Exactly one hundred tickets, all in my hands. Who should they be given to, who shouldn’t get any? Should some people get more and some less? I had the final say on all such questions.
When you get a hold of a little power, people’s attitude toward you changes instantly. Some'll nod their heads and bow slightly; some'll be all smiles and grins; some'll hook their arms around your shoulder; and some'll put food on your plate and offer you cigarettes. There’s all kinds of people.
I wasn’t motivated by the power. I gave tickets to whoever deserved them, and gave them as many as they deserved. Anybody else could’ve put those movie tickets to great use, but I don’t care about power!
Fame? I don’t care about that, either. One day… let me think.… Oh, right, it was the day of my twenty-first birthday. A committee of our union was going to nominate someone as Union Dynamo. You should know that the Union Dynamo would get a Certificate of Merit, and, hey, who wouldn’t go for one of those? I said at the time, what's a certificate, anyway? I met all the conditions to qualify, but if the guys didn't recommend me, I wasn't going to make a fuss about such a small thing. How'd it turn out? Everyone saw where I was coming from, and out of respect for my views, they didn't choose me. Did I care? Nope!
Power, money, fame, I don't care, so why would I care about benefits? During the New Year's holiday in previous years, the company's sometimes handed out apples, white pears, rice, noodles, cooking oil, pork and other things as bonuses. I've never cared whether I got a little more or a little less. I remember particularly clearly those five pounds of apples they give me for Spring Festival in 1989. Each apple was smaller than the ones they gave to Old Sun in our section. What do you think? Did I say anything? Did I make a stink? Did I complain to the boss? No! Why not? Because I didn't care, that's why!
People, this life isn't easy. Just let loose of things. Carrying baggage around will wear you out. I'm not blowing smoke about this. I really don't give a whit.
Say, who's springing for the meal today? I'm not getting the check!
3. The Last Few Years (前些年)
A distant relative of mine came to visit. I was obliged by convention to invite him to dinner.
When anyone from my home town comes as a guest, I have to address them as Elder Paternal Uncle, Younger Paternal Uncle, Maternal Uncle, Paternal Aunt, Younger Paternal Aunt, Maternal Aunt, Elder Brother, Elder Sister, or some other honorific commensurate with their age and sex. There aren’t a lot of real relatives among these guests – on the contrary, a lot of them I’ve never been within ten feet of before – but no matter what, as long as they can communicate in my hometown dialect, or call me by my nickname or by the pet name my family uses, I have not the slightest hesitation in looking on them as a close relative.
The guy who came to see me this time calls himself my second cousin on my father’s side. I knew this person when I was a kid, but I never knew he was actually a cousin.
One of course needs to serve drinks when entertaining guests. Second Brother (as I’d decided to call him) had a capacity for liquor that told me two things at once about his identity – first, that he was indeed part of my extended family, and second, that he was definitely like an older brother to me.
Every now and then while we were at table, I questioned him about how one or another of my childhood friends was doing. I’ve been away from home for many years and my homesickness manifests itself in many ways. Whenever someone from my hometown comes to visit, I always ask about this and about that, without regard to whether I’m boring them. In fact, I’m already familiar with a lot of the things I ask about. It’s purely a case of "inquiring when one already knows the answer".
"I’ve heard that Bright Scar from the old village made a fortune and built a small, two-story Western-style house...." I often feel happy for my playmates from those days when they’re doing well.
“Sheesh, he’s an asshole. If I hadn’t been turned off by that businessman’s trickiness a few years ago, I’d’ve started doing some big deals myself. Forget about two lousy floors, ten or even twenty floors would’ve been nothing for me. You know, I’m a guy with lots of ideas for making money. I’m just lazy about working for it.... That broken-down two-story place of Bright Scar's is gunna fall down sooner or later...."
"I've heard that Black Egg from the back ditch has become a township official...." I grew up admiring Black Egg's daring spirit.
"Sheesh, he's the head asshole. If I hadn't been turned off by those officials a few years ago, I'd've climbed that ladder myself a long time ago. Forget about being a minor department head in the township, nothing could've kept me from being in the city or provincial government. You know, I'm the kind of guy that's good at being an official.... Black Eggs, the level he's at, sooner or later he's gotta come down...."
"I've heard that Fatty Three from East Station has had twins, a boy and a girl who are growing up to be very spirited...." I had a good impression of Fatty Three.
"Sheesh, that one's got nothing to flaunt. If my black cat of a wife hadn't run off with a b.s.-ing "Southern Po' Boy", she'd've had six in the nest, three boys and three girls guaranteed. What's so great about Fatty Three? His wife, with that face of hers, she's short two laps compared to my wife. And her pair of double-bangers, sooner or later they're gunna get sick and die...."
"I heard that Double Dog from the west side is very filial. He bought a condo in the city for his father and mother...." I think Double Dog's filial piety is an example to us all.
"Sheesh, and that's worth bragging about? My old man and old lady fell to their deaths a few years ago while they were up in the mountains digging stone so they could get on with building me a house. But if they hadn't, I'd’ve taken them on a tour overseas a long time ago.... Sooner or later Double Dog’s father and mother will get kicked out of the house by their daughter-in-law and have to go out and beg for food...."
"I’ve heard that for the last few years, uh, the last few years.... that you seem to have been away from our hometown for the last few years...." I was starting to vaguely remember something.
"Hey, the last few years, if I hadn’t been locked up in prison...."
4. A Stiff Neck (落枕)
I slept in an irregular position one night, and in the morning my neck hurt – a stiff neck. I looked in the mirror with my head tilted, it was ugly! When I tried to straighten up, it hurt. What could I do? Go see a doctor. There was a hospital nearby, right outside my door.
I took a number, registered, made an appointment, paid the fee, filled out the forms and set up a medical record. I was covered in sweat from the effort and forgot about my neck pain.
The doctor shouted. It was my turn.
A nurse came over. She took my temperature, weighed me, and measured my height, my waist, and even the circumference of my head.
A doctor of internal medicine came over. He pressed on my stomach, tapped my shoulder, took my blood pressure, and swiped a stethoscope around my chest.
A doctor of external medicine came over. He pinched my hands, rubbed my head, and also knocked on my knees a few times with a small hammer.
A doctor of Chinese medicine came over. He checked my pulse, lifted up my eyelids, and lastly had me stick out my tongue.
A psychiatrist came over. She asked some questions, chatted with me, and then wanted to know whether I had a girlfriend. I was worried that she wanted to set me up with one of her patients, so I hastily told her that I even have a child.
The doctors got together and rambled on incoherently, what they call a "consultation" in their obscure jargon. The topic was, bottom line, who would pick up the tab at dinner, but the conclusion was that I would have to stay in the hospital for treatment.
I filled out some more forms, registered, paid, and went through some procedures. I'd squandered most of the day and just wanted to lie down and catch my breath. Then a nurse came over and demanded to take my temperature, weigh me, and measure my height, waist, and even the circumference of my head.
After that, the doctors of internal medicine, external medicine, Chinese medicine and psychiatry came in, one after the other. They pressed on my stomach, tapped my shoulder, took my blood pressure, pinched my hands, rubbed my head, knocked on my knees, checked my pulse, lifted my eyelids, asked questions and all that stuff. The program and the substance were exactly the same the next day, the third day and the fourth day.
By the tenth day I'd asked over and over to leave the hospital, all to no avail. So I put my head down on the bed, propped my feet up against the wall (what's commonly referred to standing on one's head), and made faces at all the doctors of internal medicine, external medicine, Chinese medicine and psychiatry, as well as the gynecologists, ENT specialists and the rest of them.
The doctors once again got together for a "consultation", that is, to have a chat because they'd discovered a small restaurant that just opened and served boiled fish. They eventually agreed that the infection had metastasized and spread from my neck to my brain.
They decided to transfer me from the department of internal medicine to the psychiatric ward because they felt that my problem was becoming more mental, and maybe even a little too mental.
During the process of changing wards, when the nurse left to get a thermometer, I took advantage of the brief interlude to dress up in a disguise and make some cosmetic changes in my appearance. As nimble and flexible as a cicada casting off its shell, I finally escaped from the hospital.
Since then, I have completely changed my bad habit of sleeping in an untoward manner. A stiff neck is a serious problem, not only because your neck hurts, but also because it can affect your brain if you don't take care of it. I sure did learn that lesson.
5. Maturing (成熟)
Old Tang was about to turn eighty, but he was still as immature as ever.
It sounds like a joke, but that was the grave and somber evaluation of Old Tang by Old Zhou on behalf of the organization. Old Zhou was five years younger than Old Tang, and logically he shouldn't have had such an opinion, but it's what he said at the branch meeting.
Old Tang's son and daughter were both retired, and his two grandsons, one by each child, had already graduated from college. The old grandfather just couldn't accept having an "immature" evaluation dropped on him.
Old Zhou had always been Old Tang's superior and his supervisor, even though he was five years younger. Before retiring, Old Tang was treated like a deputy bureau administrator "in parentheses", but Old Zhou was the real deputy director.
The Ministry had almost a hundred retired comrades, all of whom lived in the same dormitory compound. Old Tang and Old Zhou lived there as well, with rooms in the same passageway.
Logically, after people retire from the job, they should no longer deal with each other in strict accordance to the workplace's protocols of rank. Old Tang and Old Zhou should thus have been equals, but the reality was not that way.
After they retired, Old Tang and Old Zhou still lived in the organization's compound. They were also assigned to the same branch of the Communist Party, of which Old Zhou was the Branch Secretary. Thus, whenever Old Tang saw Old Zhou, he used the polite form of address as he always had, while Old Zhou didn't use the polite form with Old Tang even though he was five years the man's junior.
Lao Tang's tenure in the military, at the Ministry and in the Party were all two years longer than Old Zhou's, but Old Zhou's position and treatment had always been higher than Old Tang's. When Old Tang worked at the Ministry, he'd had a reputation as an eccentric; that is, he was the sort of person who didn't have the pull to get a good position, was never good at using the bureaucratic jargon, and always conducted himself in an atypical manner. He loved to joke around, and although he was somewhat senior in the Party and at work, and had more education, he was never able to climb the ladder to a higher position. Thus, there was some logic behind Old Zhou's evaluation of him as "always immature".
Old Zhou also had two children, a son and a daughter, but not much peace of mind. His son had taken the plunge and gone into business. He made a mess of things and was locked up on suspicion of economic crimes. His daughter was a doctor at first, but later resigned to open an entertainment company. Old Tang said privately that she was on the fringes of economic crime as well.
On the other hand, Old Tang's son and daughter had gone abroad to study, one after the other. One had moved to Canada to live and the other had remained in the United States.
Old Zhou's wife passed away ten years ago. Old Tang had taken it upon himself to set the widower up with a new wife, but Old Zhou turned him down in no uncertain terms. He said, "How would that look? Don't you realize that people would laugh at me?"
Old Zhou stayed closeted in his home reading newspapers after he retired, except when he went out for a stroll. He had little contact with other people.
Lao Tang couldn't just take it easy. He spent his days out and about, participating in neighborhood singing and disco dancing groups for seniors. Old Zhou had sought out Old Tang to talk specifically about this, but he only said one thing: "You're this old and still not mature!"
Two years ago, Old Tang's wife also crossed over. He couldn't take the loneliness and straightaway started looking around for a new partner.
Three months ago, Old Zhou got sick and was in the hospital. Old Tang went to see him carrying fresh flowers and a fluffy electric teddy bear. He said: "Us old guys, in our generation we spent our lives making revolution, not like these little brats nowadays who go play around at the drop of a hat. I bought you a toy. You can enjoy it when there's nothing else to do in the ward."
Old Zhou said, "You're an old man who's never grown up!"
As he was leaving, Old Tang told Old Zhou: "I've got a new position – I'm a groom! The woman's only fifty. When you get out of the hospital, you can drink a wedding toast with me." Old Zhou frowned and sighed, "Ha, you're really something! We're both old, but I couldn't make such a fool of myself!"
Not two months later, Old Zhou went from the hospital to the crematorium. Old Tang felt terrible. He made a point of leaving a bag of his wedding candy* at Old Zhou's grave to pay his respects. "Ah, Old Zhou," he sighed, "Old Zhou! What were you so worried about? Your life matured much too fast!"
*[Fannyi – Newlyweds traditionally give candy to the guests at their wedding reception.]
6. A Certain Sense (某种意义)
I dared say my boss was a sly old fox.
I dared say, further, that even outstanding hunters couldn’t outfight my boss.
You should know that I’d been working under him the better part of my life, but even now I still have the feeling that I was kept in the dark about some things.
There’re so many examples, I can’t think of one at the moment. There are a lot of things like that all the time. They happen every day, but if I ask you for real evidence, you’ll draw a blank.
So, okay, I’ll just talk about the pet phrase that was always hanging out of my boss’s mouth. That’s the best way to illustrate the problem.
Before he made a judgment call about something, he always added the phrase "in a certain sense" to the sentence. Do you understand? That is, whether it was spoken or in writing, he always added a limiting phrase, namely, "in a certain sense".
He said, “In a certain sense, cronies can be promoted or rehired.”
He said, “In a certain sense, there are some things where it's okay for one person to have the final say.”
He said, “In a certain sense, errors are difficult to avoid when making policy decisions.”
He said, “In a certain sense, one can understand some illegal activities.”
My boss thought that, in a certain sense, the loss of state assets was inevitable. Similarly, in a certain sense, graft and corruption were rational, buying and selling officials had a positive effect, and prostitution and gambling were unavoidable.
His "in a certain sense" made me lightheaded and dizzy, but he just said that, in a certain sense, my reaction was normal.
On behalf of all my colleagues in the organization, I once asked him exactly what sense he was talking about when he said "a certain sense". He pounded the table and shouted at me, "In a certain sense, ‘a certain sense’ refers to any kind of sense!" I didn’t dare inquire any further and could only withdraw, blaming myself for my stupidity. I thought about it over and over and realized that, in a certain sense, I'm basically some kind of fool.
Later my boss was "shuangguied", that is, at a prescribed time he had to go to a prescribed place to be subjected to investigation by the anti-corruption organ of the Communist Party, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
Regarding the appearance out of nowhere of this sudden change, many of our people think that, in a certain sense, it was just a matter of time.
7. A Crude Fellow (粗人)
I stayed at the school to work in the office after I graduated from college.
The Office Director was an old revolutionary who didn’t have a college diploma. He didn’t usually talk much. If he did on occasion get chatty, he’d always mix some harsh-sounding, dirty language into the conversation. The younger comrades were afraid of him, but looked down on him a bit as well. Working in a college without having any higher education is really kind of absurd.
According to a colleague, the Director had been in the Liaoshen Campaign during the Liberation War. He was wounded and later became the squad leader in a senior officer’s guard detachment. When he was demobilized he was sent to the college to work. He's a crude fellow, a little too casual, who’s addicted to smoking and loves peanuts. He’s never drank, though.
Salaries for the school’s teaching staff remained low during the first two years of the 1980s. Although I was a college graduate, I earned a salary of only forty-six yuan per month my first year. I got fifty-four yuan the second year after my probationary period ended. There was just the basic salary and no “extra money”. Prices at the time weren’t as outrageous as they are now, and as a bachelor, I could live on a monthly income of fifty yuan or so.
When winter came after I’d been on the job a little over six months, I got ready to go home for New Years. The director called me into his office the day before the vacation started. He took an envelope out from a drawer and handed it to me. "It’s New Years, and the Department’s giving everyone a little money. Take this, but don’t tell anyone."
Back then, giving bonuses seemed to be stuck somewhere between legal and illegal, so my heart started to thump – not from fear of the boss but from excitement. I’d been worried about not having the money to buy something to take home to my parents, but all of a sudden that problem was swept off to the wayside.
Back in my office, I snuck a peek in the envelope when my office mates weren’t around and counted the money. Ten bills, ten yuan each, for a total of one hundred yuan. It was really fantastic.
At noon that day, as I was headed back to work after lunch, I saw the Director in the distance coming out of a small shop by the roadside, carrying two bottles of liquor in his hands. He didn’t see me. Just before quitting time he came into my office and put the liquor down on my desk. In his rough voice he said, "Take this booze home to your dad. I remember you said he likes to take a nip."
"No, no, please don’t. You keep it.”
"I don’t touch the stuff. Someone gave it to me, and if I keep it it’ll be wasted." I didn’t know what to say, because I’d clearly seen him coming out of that store. I accepted the gift.
When the Director turned away and left, my office mate old Mrs. Zhao took the opportunity to say something I’ll never forget. “That crude old fellow,” she chattered, “can think of details at times, but he’s uncultured and incompetent. I’ve heard that other departments pass out a little something to cover our expenses at New Years, but we don’t see even one red cent." My heart jumped to my throat when I suddenly recalled the hundred yuan in that envelope, but I didn’t dare utter a sound.
When I came back from home after the vacation, I couldn’t believe it. The Director had died of a heart attack the previous week.
Old Mrs. Zhao told me: "The old Director really didn’t have an easy life. He had to take care of his parents as well as his children, and his wife was sick. He usually scrimped on food and lived frugally, but things were still really tight for him. Then he goes and dies.... "
I didn’t want to hear any more and quietly ran off to the rest room. I turned on the faucet and couldn’t stop sobbing.
8. Simulation (模拟)
The Chief of a Finance Department wanted to sign up for the graduate school admissions test. This made Dean Fan happy as all get out.
“This is a heaven-sent opportunity. The school’s finally caught a big fish, a cash cow delivered to us by the God of Wealth. The school’s got to hold on tight to this one.” Dean Fan was in ecstasy.
As Dean of the university, Professor Fan’s hair had almost turned white from worrying about money these last few years. The lack of money was like a lack of oxygen – it was difficult even to breathe without it. Funding for the school was seriously inadequate and the campus was going to the dogs. People had been complaining bitterly right to the Dean’s face that, “This isn’t a university campus at all, it’s just an exhibition hall to educate people about class struggle.”
The individuals Dean Fan had in the campus administration were in even worse condition. They made fun of themselves, saying "From a distance we look like beggars, up close we look like we’re in a hospital, but when you ask around, you’ll find out we’re school administrators after all.”
Fundraising was as difficult as climbing up to the clear blue sky. At home Dean Fan's wife often called him the Chief Honcho of the Beggars Union – one of the most knowledgeable and most respected of "panhandlers."
If he couldn’t “worry” funding from outsiders, all he could do was keep on worrying at home. As the funding he was able to “worry” shrank and shrank again, the wrinkles he got from worrying grew and grew some more. Intellectuals love to say weird things, and sarcastic remarks like "Become a professor and die young; don’t become a Dean if you want to live long” often penetrated Dean Fan’s semi-deaf ears. It made him uneasy.
Having a Department Chief with financial power who wished to become a student was a hugely desirable thing. Dean Fan summoned the Assistant Dean of Education to a meeting that very night to discuss the matter and get the ball rolling.
Assistant Dean Sha was a “zombie”, an “ancient fellow” who pored through piles of old documents studying history. He couldn’t remember anything that happened after the Chin Dynasty 2,200 years ago, and was always taking current events as the fabrications of imaginative fiction. He regarded the good news of the Finance Chief’s thirst for knowledge as a nuisance. He was pessimistic and bluntly pronounced a death sentence on the idea: "No way will he pass the admissions test."
Dean Fan was supremely confident and sure of the outcome. "How do you know he won't pass? The guy hasn't taken the test yet."
But Assistant Dean Sha was stubborn and stuck to his opinion. "I know the guy. He came out of the Workers, Peasants and Soldiers School. If he writes ten words he'll get frustrated and write eight of them wrong. If you don't believe it, give him the primary school graduation test. If he passes, I'll eat my hat!"
Dean Fan tittered gravely. "Whether he passes or not doesn't depend on him. We're the key. I asked you here to request your help finding a way, some bright idea to resolve this problem."
"So just give him a diploma and forget the fucking test!"
"Don't get excited, we still have to give him a test. It'd be inexcusable not to. We can't skip any part of the program. So how do you think we should go about it?"
Assistant Dean Sha had to defer to Dean Fan, so in his mind he began to map out an appropriate procedure. "Other subjects are easier to deal with, but the foreign language part won't be easy to do. Maybe you should call a Dean's working meeting for tomorrow with the heads of the relevant departments in attendance as well, and study the matter some more."
"I think not," Dean Fan said after considering the technicalities for a moment. "The fewer people who know about this the better. Otherwise it could easily lead to misunderstandings.
"Tell me if you think this will work. I'll serve as his tutor and be responsible for the professional examinations. You go see the Director of the Foreign Language Department and have him give the man some coaching so he'll be able to pass the admissions test."
The Assistant Dean nodded grimly.
The Director of the Foreign Language Department got everything ready to follow the Dean's wishes. Before he started coaching, he suggested that the candidate should take a simulated test to find out how well he was grounded in foreign languages. That way the coaching could be directed toward the Finance Chief's actual level.
The Finance Chief entered the carefully arranged examination room accompanied by his secretary and the Dean.
The simulated exam consisted of two parts, an oral test and a written test. The oral test was worth 20 points.
The Foreign Language Department Director presided over the mock exam. He wrote some letters on the blackboard: b, p, m, f, j, q and k. This was the substance of the oral test, a request that the candidate read the letters out loud with the correct pronunciation.
The Finance Chief looked over the blackboard slowly, with occasional glances at his secretary standing off to one side. Then, in a voice suitable for a chairman on a stage, he confidently came out with: "bo, po, mo, fo, gou, juan, kai."
The Department Director was scared silly. He stood stiffly in front of the blackboard with a smile plastered on his face, barely breathing. With a tear in his eye, he sought guidance from Dean Fan. "Do we still want to do the written test?"
Dean Fan answered before he'd even finished asking. "Yes, proceed with the test. The way to success is to strike while the iron is hot."
The Finance Chief sat at the table and opened the test booklet. The vast majority of the questions were multiple choice. For example, the first question was: "The number of letters in English totals ① 20 ② 88 ⑧ 26 ④1000." The Finance Chief hesitated a moment before choosing answer ①.
The second question was: "The lower case of the capital letter A is ① a ② △ ③ ∮ ④ Φ. Writing with proficiency, the Finance Chief put a √ by answer ①.
The Finance Chief chose ① for all the following questions without thinking. He knew that this would give him the highest probability of being correct. His secretary had previously suggested this method.
The last question, translation of Chinese into English, was the most difficult. The candidate was asked to render the Chinese for "Who are you?" into English. The Finance Chief thought for a long time, then somewhat impatiently said to the Dean, "What a joke! You're asking a question that you already know the answer to. You don't know who I am? Do I have to answer this?"
Dean Fan leaned over and said, "This is a test. You have to answer."
The Finance Chief understood. He picked up his pen and scribbled, "I am a Department Chief."
The exam finally over, the Foreign Language Department Director indicated that he would follow the school's idea and continue to coach the man for the admissions test.
Dean Fan barked immediately, "I don't see the use of that. Take the score of the simulated test and count it as the results of a formal examination and admit him. His foreign language basics might be a bit deficient, but in the future you'll just have to make a greater effort to teach him. Anyway, there'll be plenty of time for that after he starts school."
The Finance Chief now has the words "PhD Student" printed modestly on his business card, while construction of the expanded classroom building that Dean Fan has long dreamed about is well on the way. It's anticipated that, by the time the new construction is completed, the Finance Chief will be able to delete the word "Student" from his business card.
9. Fidelity (忠诚)
His wife's loyalty had become his only consolation at this time.
Separated by iron bars, he burst into tears and once again asked his loving wife to forgive him.
"I'm truly sorry, I betrayed you...."
"Don't say such things," she comforted him. "Think positive, maybe you'll be acquitted and set free."
"Don't. My crime is too serious!" He beat himself painfully on his head.
"Don't be discouraged. You've got to believe in the law," she whispered.
"The law? When did I ever pay attention to the law?" He cried out emotionally, "It's too late!"
"Who was your accuser?" She asked with concern.
"Who? Who else? It's all that witch's doing!" His regrets came too late.
"Was it Little Beauty? Or Young Sister? Delicate Wave?..." She watched her husband closely.
"Do you know everything? I, I, I've lost all human decency! I turned my back on you.... Ohh!" He buried his head in his hands.
"It's all in the past, now. I can understand how it was." A bitter smile flashed across her face.
"There is one thing," he said, his voice no more than a whisper. He looked to the left and right. The guard was yawning and lounging against the main door. She stared intently at his mouth and read his lips. "It's deposited at the Hong Kong Bank. The deposit book's in the safe at the New Happiness Community on the west side of the city, building eight, number sixty-six. I bought that condo for a singer, no, a song girl. Her name's Joy...."
She wrote it down.
The Public Security officer's cell phone rang. "It's me, Babe." The former mayor's wife spoke in an ever more seductive voice. "He's finally opened his mouth. Now we can fly away together! Hurry, come to me! Thinking about it is killing me!" She was so excited her voice was cracking.
In bed, the two of them excitedly described for each other the happy life they were going to have together. And they carefully plotted the next step in their plan.
Various media outlets reported the earth-shaking news the next day:
"Around eleven o'clock last night, in the New Happiness Community on the west side, a vicious murder took place in building number eight. Two women were killed. One has been preliminarily identified as a greeter in a karaoke bar, and the other as the wife of the former mayor who was arrested not long ago on suspicion of corruption and bribery. According to a Section Chief from the Municipal Public Security Bureau, who was the lead CSI on the scene: 'This case is tied in with the former mayor's case. The two deceased women are the former mayor's shack-up and his wife. They both had obvious scratches from a brawl before they died. We do not rule out the possibility that the former mayor's wife was suspicious and came seeking revenge. The two thereupon got into a fight. The song girl (that is, the former mayor's mistress) killed the wife and then committed suicide.'"
10. Class Distinctions (级别)
I’m the dean of a university with a reasonable reputation. Despite having the word “dean” attached to my name, I don’t feel like an "official". Nor have I ever given serious thought to what class I belong to.
I’ve submitted work reports to the Minister of Education. I’ve also entertained the Governor, the Mayor and officials of various kinds and levels. In my innermost self, though, I’ve never made a clear distinction between high and low.
University deans and government officials are not in the same category, so it’s not easy to make comparisons. As the head of a school, I haven’t made class distinctions for myself. There’s no pomp and circumstance when I travel. To the contrary, I feel relaxed, decent, and at ease with myself. Recently, though, I’ve come to a realization about my class level.
A few days ago, a Deputy County Magistrate came to visit from the county where my hometown is located. He wanted to see me. For my hometown’s sake, I decided to make time to invite this Deputy County Magistrate out for a simple meal. My office manager made the arrangements for a dinner on my behalf and I arrived at the appointed time. The exalted County Magistrate had got there before me and confidently seated himself in the place of honor, the chair traditionally reserved for the host.
I didn’t correct him, but thought it best just to sit down next to him. After we’d exchanged pleasantries and shaken hands with each other, I handed him my business card with both hands, a traditional gesture of respect. The Magistrate’s secretary then handed me one of his boss’s cards.
This Deputy Magistrate wasn’t very old (quite a bit younger than me). I’d heard he had a diploma, and he played his part with style.
The waitress handed him the list of the items we’d ordered in advance for our meal. He frowned as he scanned it and a look of disdain crossed his face. Then he complacently began to order substitutions. After he’d chosen some extravagantly rare dishes, he blew his top at the waitress and told her to go get her boss. He wanted to know why they didn’t have this, that and the other thing he wanted. With a smile, the boss cautiously explained that it was a Sichuan restaurant and they didn’t serve Cantonese cuisine. Only after he’d loudly berated the place a while longer did he turn to converse with me, who’d been sitting there uncomfortably.
He praised me in a solemn tone of voice and said my good work in the capital brought honor to the people of my hometown. He encouraged me to keep up the good work so as not to discredit the hometown folks, etc. etc.
While His Honor the Deputy Magistrate spoke, his secretary took out a small notebook and dutifully made notes of the things he said. Also, a reporter from the county newspaper took photos. Lightbulbs flashed and flashed again, reflecting off the oily luster of the Magistrate’s face.
My hometown is in a county classified as poor by the national government. I wanted to hear news about the wealth our kindly old Magistrate was bringing to the place, but the Deputy Magistrate didn’t fulfill my desires. Instead he regaled me with anecdotes and amusing incidents from his recent fact-finding trip to Southeast Asia, including detailed comparisons of the casinos in Macau and Las Vegas and vividly titillating descriptions of Thailand’s "hermaphrodites". I listened patiently to his enraptured prattling, neither wanting nor able to interrupt him.
He seemed to get tired of talking and picked up his glass of baijiu. I begged off and wouldn't drink. He then proceeded to tell "funny stories" about drinking, one after the other, all vivid and lively. When he finished that, he began talking about the heads of other schools, specifically, grade schools and high schools in our home county. He named names but I don't remember them.
In sum, he meant to say nothing more than that the heads of schools can drink. To abstain from drinking is to forget one's class roots. His implication was that I wasn't qualified to be the head of a school.
I kept looking at my watch, wanting to get up and leave. Each time I was prevented from doing so by this Deputy Magistrate using a tone of voice appropriate for issuing orders.
He began to repeat his instructions over and over again. He wanted me to do a good job and live up to the aspirations of the people in my hometown. He also wanted me to concentrate on cultivating myself, to serve as a model for others, to forge ahead....
I threw up, threw up all over the table. The Honorable Deputy County Magistrate's spirits were dampened, but at the same time he praised me for being an upstanding fellow whose capacity for alcohol was just a little short of maturity. I nodded in agreement and hastily left the scene.
On the way home, my office director didn't understand what had happened. "You weren't drinking," he noted, "so how could you have gotten drunk?"
Using that Deputy Magistrate's tone of voice, I shouted, "Nonsense! You think I was drunk? I was nauseous!"
I finally understand the truth. Compared to a Deputy Magistrate, a university president is lower class by far!
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1. See 3-07 here
2. I Don't Give a Whit
3. Last Few Years, The
10. Class Distinctions