2-01 The Runaway (私奔)
Mrs. Hu went crazy with anger and smashed all her furniture. The neighbors wanted to go over and calm her down, but for the life of her she wouldn’t open the door.
She buried herself under her covers and cried for two days and two nights. She finally got up just to eat a package of instant noodles.
She was so thoroughly broken hearted because her husband had run off with the young nanny they’d hired.
The neighbors all wanted to be the first to comfort her, and they all listened enthusiastically to her venting.
“That damn shameless bastard! He sees his chance and forgets who he is! And the older he gets the less decent he’s become. Last year he fooled around with a typist and she had a kid. All he has to do is see a pretty young girl and he can’t walk straight. The girls in that broken-down place he works, he can’t leave them alone. I’m through haggling with him." She wiped the tears from her eyes.
"Would you guys say I’m easy? For the last few years I’ve kept this house under my thumb. Inside, outside, was there anything I didn’t worry about? We’d be in a pickle if there was something I didn’t think of. If it wasn’t a cat getting sick, a dog would break its leg, or maybe even a fish would die. I couldn’t get away from things to worry about.
“I ran around to all my contacts, all my acquaintances, to find a suitable nanny. I don’t know how many people I gave a try-out to, but none of them were up to snuff. Finally I found someone suitable and he takes off with her. You tell me, is he missing a sense of morals?
“There’s a lot of sluts in this world. How come he had to steal that one right out of my hands? This is torture by a thousand stab wounds! Think about it, you guys. He ought to be killed!" Mrs. Hu gnashed her teeth. It sounded like mice squeaking.
"Your husband will come back." The neighbors all said that to console her.
"All I want is for him to die! I just can’t take losing that little nanny. She was really a good one. I spent years looking for one I liked. Tell me, you guys. How could I not feel the pain?" She started sobbing again."
“Calm down, Mrs. Hu. You’ll hurt yourself crying like that.” The whole group was worried about her.
"If you really want to help, find me another nanny right away. Or better yet, get that one back here for me. These cats and dogs of mine like her so much! When she’s not around, my precious little babies can’t even eat. Look, you guys, they’ve gotten so skinny!" She cried even more painfully.
Each of the neighbors said they would definitely find her and bring her back, since Mrs. Hu had offered a large reward for this and since she always kept her word. As for her husband – an old man who had been a section chief – hey, he was better off dead! That’s what Mrs. Hu had said.
2-17 Helper (帮手)
The smuggling case that occurred in F City was an especially serious one. It had decision makers at the highest levels on the alert.
The leaders’ instructions were extremely harsh. The Disciplinary Inspection Department was required to get to the bottom of the matter at once, without regard to who might be involved. The perpetrators would all be punished severely, no matter how powerful they might be or how high their positions.
A task force was immediately set up and rushed to F City.
The first group of disciplinary inspectors to be sent out found nothing. Their conclusion was that the situation described by the informer was seriously inconsistent with the facts. A case of smuggling had not been established.
The second batch of disciplinary inspectors sent to F City conducted a more arduous and meticulous investigation. They spent a longer time at it, but in the end their conclusions were basically identical to the conclusions of the previous group.
Reports and materials from the local citizenry and from people in the know once again made their way to the decision-making levels. They cited numerous facts to prove that the first two groups of special investigators sent out had accepted special favors from local officials to one extent or another. They had been corrupted and had stuck their toes into the waters of criminal activity. In fact they had become conspirators in the crimes, or at least they were acting as umbrellas protecting the officials suspected of smuggling.
This stubborn cover-up in F City had to be lifted. The determination of the highest level officials could not be shaken. Thus a third group of inspectors was carefully selected after rigorous testing and immediately went to F City. They vowed they would bring the true facts of the smuggling case to the surface.
The results were obvious. The “lines of defense” of the F City Communist Party Committee, municipal government, customs, tax and other departments were pierced one after the other. The scale of the smuggling case, the seriousness of the circumstances, the odiousness of its impact, the breadth of its reach, the number of cadre and the high rank of personnel who had participated all made people bristle with anger. When the facts were made public, the entire nation would of necessity be shocked.
Should the investigation continue in depth? Yes! The attitude described above was still firm. The task force had been fighting continuously for more than two months. They’d worked hard, without stopping, almost from dawn to dusk every day.
Too many officials were implicated. Almost no one could be found who wasn’t involved.
Some officials started to waiver under the terrific onslaught. Many voluntarily came to the task force to confess their crimes frankly, hoping to get lenient treatment.
Wang Two, the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Quality Control, Bureau II, after a fierce ideological struggle, decided to rid himself of this burden as soon as possible. He hadn’t had a peaceful night’s sleep for more than twenty days. He knew he’d violated the criminal law and that the consequences would be serious. His wife endlessly enumerated his failings and complained that he didn’t know what was best for himself.
His spirit was about to collapse. He made up his mind that, rather than live in a constant state of anxiety, it would better to voluntarily confess, to get it over with and have a resolution. With clenched his teeth and furrowed brow, he went into the place where the task force was staying.
The lobby and corridor were crowded with people. This was the final day of the grace period set for confessions. He kept his head low for fear that he would run into someone who knew him, but he still couldn’t avoid an awkward situation. Someone came over uninvited to say hello to him, and when he lifted his head, he noticed several of his coworkers and friends among the people standing in line behind and in front of him.
His turn finally came. His face pale and his legs trembling, he walked up to the task force cadre’s desk. He stammered out his name, his employer and his job.
"Go ahead, tell me what you did wrong." The inspector sitting behind the desk asked in a loud voice as he took notes.
“I took a 30,000 Yuan bribe." He almost cried as he said it.
"How much? Thirty thousand?" The man repeated.
"Yes, thirty thousand." He was so scared he almost couldn’t breathe.
"Really?" The task force's inspector stared at him
"Really!" Wang Two was gnashing his teeth.
"Ha, ha, I’ve finally met a clean cadre." The young inspector rubbed his hands together excitedly.
Wang Two sat there, stupefied. His ears were buzzing. He opened his mouth, but his throat was so dry it could have caught fire. He couldn’t say a word.
A senior investigator came over and patted Wang Two hard on the shoulder. "What’re you still sittin’ here for? You’ve gotta get going an’ help us do our job. We’ve been lookin’ for a helper for a long time, but there’s no one but fucking corrupt officials around here, and we can’t trust ‘em! You’re the only honest one, and that meets our requirements! Stay here and investigate cases with us!"
That day Wang Two became an assistant to the task force.
2-18 The British Pound (英镑)
The Department Head, Old Chen, had a poor impression of England. He cursed the place almost all the time he was there.
Except for the fact that they still wore suits and ties, he felt that the English had gone back to being peasants. The era of the Industrial Revolution had long ago become a distant echo. What was left for the people was only a dim recollection of the turbulent times of their ancestors.
Old Chen said, “England is indeed old-school capitalism with a special twist of socialism, trying to beat socialism at its own game. If we drive on the right side, they have to drive on the left, so the steering wheel is installed on the exact opposite side as ours. Even the electric outlets are weird. Don’t even think about plugging in the plugs you brought from China....”
But the British pound was what Old Chen found most unacceptable. He said that the pound was more deadly than any other “weight” in the world. One pound could kill you.
Old Chen didn’t usually like to spend money even in China. He wouldn’t go shopping with his wife because his heart couldn’t take seeing her going up to the cashier and handing over money. His wife knew he had that fault, so she went by herself even to pay small bills like the water and electricity.
In his whole life, Old Chen had never acted as a host, and he’d never joined the Communist Party. He was concerned about the money he’d have to spend as a host, and the dues he’d have to pay as a Party member. His political options were changed by this.
His employer had put up the money for this trip abroad. His airplane ticket was provided, and his room, board and transportation costs while abroad were covered by a lump sum of seventy-five pounds a day. His employer would not pay any extra expenses, but he could keep any portion he did not spend.
Old Chen loved calculating and was quite agile when it came to figures. He immediately realized that seventy-five pounds was not an inconsiderable sum when converted into yuan. It was equivalent to 1,125 yuan, so ten days was more than ten thousand yuan! He would have preferred it if his employer had just given him the money and he didn’t have to go abroad, but of course, who’d give you money not go abroad?
Several people had come on the trip with Old Chen. They’d arranged to stay together in the hotels, which distressed him. His thinking was, can’t you sleep just the same whether the conditions are a little better or a little worse? Having a bed is nice, but why two to a room? At thirty pounds a day, these were very much at the lower end of English hotels, but in his eyes it was undoubtedly like throwing money into a river, and that hit him right in the pit of his stomach. He told the people he was with that if they wanted to stay in hotels, so be it, but for his part he’d sleep more soundly under a bridge or in a corridor!
The question of meals was easily resolved. Old Chen had got instant noodles in advance. He brought forty-five bags with him, enough for three meals a day. Boiling water is needed for instant noodles, but Old Chen had thought of everything. He brought three “immersion heaters” with him from China.
Things didn’t turn out well, though. The electric outlets in the hotels where he stayed had square holes and the plugs on his heaters didn’t fit. He got so mad he was foaming at the mouth and simply gnawed on the dry noodles. Then he'd drink some tap water, because he’d asked around and was told that the cheapest mineral water was one pound a bottle.
"That’s too expensive. The English live up to their reputation as thieves. Back in the day they went all around the world shooting people and plundering, and they’re still at it. One pound is equal to fifteen yuan, and that’s outrageous for a drink of water!” I’d rather die of thirst than drink their ‘golden water!’” he swore angrily.
He took a Berberine tablet for fear of getting sick to his stomach from drinking tap water. Taking Berberine and then drinking water became a daily assignment for him.
For Chinese people, the cost of living in England certainly is expensive, for one simple reason. The comparative value of the British pound to the Chinese yuan is 1:15, that is, the pound is fifteen times more valuable than the yuan. In general, this means that the price of goods in England is several times higher than in China. Old Chen brooded on this continually and was indignant about it. "These son-of-a-bitch economists put out this crap all day, but what basis is there for saying the pound is so valuable? They’re all full of shit, doing all the heartless things they can do just to hurt us Chinese people for the sake of imperialism and capitalism!"
Staying at hotels, eating out and so on would sometimes require paying a tip. This is customary in England and one or two pounds is sufficient, but it was the custom that Old Chen could least tolerate or observe. He said: "What’s the basis for giving a tip? When I pay for a room or a meal, cleaning the room or serving the food is part of the job they’re supposed to do. Custom? What stinky custom? For the life of me, I’ve got to change this bad habit of theirs and get them to have a serve-the-people spirit. If you want to give a tip, go ahead, but I won’t. You can’t think they’ll throw me in jail if I don’t give a tip!"
After being abroad for half a month, and cursing the whole fifteen days, Old Chen ended up saving several hundred pounds. The first thing he did when he got home was run to the toilet, take off his pants, and pull those pounds he’d saved out from his most secret place. Then he ran bare-assed and excited up to his wife and stood there shaking.
His wife misunderstood and thought that half a month away from home had brought out a peculiarly strong physiological need! Old Chen kept waving the pile of money in his hand at his red-faced and astonished looking wife. "Hey, take a look. These are British pounds! Real fucking heavy British pounds!"
2-19 Living the Good Life, One Hundred Percent (幸福百分百)
Under the auspices of a semi-official organization, a study group comprised of fifty-odd specialists was going to launch a survey dedicated to the question of senior citizens’ feelings toward their well being. The sponsoring organization was a national association, and the persons taking on the work of the study group were university professors, associate professors, lecturers and their graduate students.
The purpose of the survey was a timely and accurate understanding of the current living conditions of the elderly in the urban population, in order to provide first-hand, factual materials to policy makers as a basis for their strategic decisions and thereby improving the relevance of their problem-solving. "Getting a feel for the situation is the first step in scientific policy-making." The responsible party in the sponsoring organization repeatedly stressed that point. His tone of voice was extremely sincere when he said it, a typical case of "earnest words to express heart-felt wishes."
The research team agreed on the survey’s methodology thoughtfully and carefully in accordance with the sponsoring organization’s wishes. Countless seniors are spread throughout the cities and villages, so it would have been impossible to take a satisfactory census, and further, the study group’s funding was sharply limited. The survey thus could only be completed by means of random sampling. To facilitate the sampling, they decided to proceed by selecting twenty communities in four large cities. Ten seniors were selected at random for door-to-door interviews in each community in order to get the most authentic information.
The study group divided into four teams which went to the four major cities without delay. One problem faced the teams: Without letters of introduction or oral notifications from any higher authority, the community Neighborhood Committees would not grant them admission. They accordingly went to the next level above the Neighborhood Committees – the Street Administration Offices – to ask for help. The Street Administration Offices then requested that the teams go to the leaders at the District level to ask for their comments, and the Districts asked each city's Civil Affairs Department for instructions. Only after expending a week’s time were the credentials finally straightened out and the procedures completely fulfilled.
The survey teams, which were led by professors or associate professors, tried to start working in five communities selected at random in each city. But the cities said they were strangers, unfamiliar with the lay of the land, who could not even say the names of the Neighborhood Committees. It was like the blind men who each touched a different part of an elephant and could not agree on what it was. The cities said, “Even we can’t figure out how the Neighborhood Committees are arranged. It would be better if we recommend one district you, and you get in touch with them for assistance.”
The Districts welcomed them warmly. After listening to the survey teams’ thoughts, the relevant leaders also believed that their idea would be problematic. Some of the street leaders were dilatory or were fully occupied with public business, so they wouldn’t necessarily be able to receive the survey teams well. The Districts thus designated some Street Administration Offices with relatively strong administrative abilities to take on the responsibility of providing assistance to the survey teams. Similar considerations led the Street Administration Offices in turn to recommend Neighborhood Committees with outstanding achievement records to the survey team experts. Everything was superbly well thought out.
Given the sensibilities of their superiors and the trust placed in them, the Neighborhood Committees treated their guests from afar with the greatest attention and consideration.
The Neighborhood Committee’s working conditions in the places they went could be said to be first rate. The conference room walls were covered with things like awards, pennants and slogans, as well as copies of various rules, regulations and policies for serving the convenience of the people. Almost all the responsible people in the Neighborhood Committees were middle-aged women. They invariably presented smiling, hospitable faces and continuously urged the experts to have some tea, eat some fruit or nibble on some melon seeds.
When they learned the survey teams' intentions, each of these ladies indicated they would actively cooperate. "It’s no problem. Forget about ten old men and women, it won’t take even a minor effort to find you twenty or thirty. You can spare yourselves the effort. We’ll just tell them to come here."
When the teachers and students in the survey teams said they wanted to go door-to-door and initiate individual interviews, the committee chairpersons still indicated most enthusiastically that that would be even less of a problem. “I'll take you around and sit in with you for each interview.”
Some of the people in the survey teams quietly shared their opinions about this and decided that such methods would not necessarily enable them to understand the actual conditions. The teams politely declined the good offices of the neighborhood cadres and insisted on conducting home visits on their own.
“How could that work?” The neighborhood chairpersons made their disagreement with such practices clear. “You don’t even know these people’s names, or who lives in which condo on which floor. You could knock on the wrong door in those pitch-black hallways and if you don’t do it right you’ll have people thinking you’re bad guys! Your way won’t cut it.”
“Can we take a look at the roster of elderly persons in the community? We want to do non-probabilistic sampling,” the lead professor suggested.
“What? What did you say?” The Chairperson of the Neighborhood Committee had never heard that terminology.
“Oh, I mean, we want to choose ten people at random from the roster of elderly people, and then interview them,” the professor explained. “What do you think of that idea?”
“Why, that’d be good!” The chairperson had a worker bring a booklet bound in hard leather right away. She opened it up and placed it before the professor. “Look, all the old men and women in the community are in here. Go ahead and choose the ones you want.”
Thereupon the teachers and students in the survey team gathered around. Pointing and nodding, they selected the names of ten seniors.
“Oh, this one won’t do. Been senile for a long time. He doesn’t even recognize his wife, and won’t be able to answer your questions.
“This Old Lady Hu isn’t fit, either. She’s incontinent and soils her bed with shit and piss. Basically no one goes in her room because it stinks worse than a public toilet!
“And this guy, Old Man Qu, he can’t talk. Went dumb when he was young, and he’s so deaf now he couldn’t even hear a canister of coal gas when it exploded. Almost killed himself last year.
“This one, Uncle Huo, is even less suitable. Hasn’t lived here for a long time. His son and daughter-in-law took over his two-room condo and kicked him out.
“These here are bad choices, too. One of them died toward the end of last year from gas poisoning. Didn’t find the body until they opened the place up in the spring, by which time it was already decomposed. Another one accidentally fell down the stairs last month and died.
“How come these two people’s residence permits haven’t been revoked yet? They ought to have been taken off the roster. Little Wang, you do sloppy work!
“And this one, he likes to pick through the garbage. He sleeps in the garbage dump every day. You’ll never be able to find him....
“It’d really be better if we helped you with your picks. It’s not your fault. You’re outsiders and aren’t familiar with the situation here like we are. We really care about these people!”
So the survey team made other selections which, for one reason or another, were all unsuitable for an interview.
In the end, they were only able to go along with the Neighborhood Committee’s recommendations. Ten people’s names were confirmed, and the survey team members visited their homes one by one to ask their questions.
All ten of these people were healthy and in good condition. Further, they all had positive mental attitudes and were satisfied with their lives in their golden years. Their well-being showed in their words and mannerisms. They consistently praised the existing government policies regarding preferential treatment of the elderly, as well as the meticulous care and concern shown them by all levels of government, especially the community Neighborhood Committees.
Each of the four survey teams summarized the results of their investigations and reached the following conclusion based on scientific analysis: the portion of urban elderly who feel they are living the good life is one hundred percent.'
2-20 Important Matter (重要情况)
Section Chief Zhang said that he would report any important matters to me, so I had to stop the work I was doing just to make time for him to come into the office for a face-to-face.
"You’re looking good, Boss! You’ve had some good news, haven’t you? Good news makes a man feel and look good!" Honey dripped from his lips as he walked into the office.
"Ah, uh," I smiled perfunctorily and gestured for him to sit down.
"Seems like I guessed right, you really have had some good news, a whole houseful of good news. I heard you bought into a fund last year and made a fortune, more than two million. You should be treating, eh?" He started bullshitting even before his butt hit the chair.
I frowned. “You flatter me.”
"That fund last year, it made some slick moves and went up in multiples. Lots of people doubled their money. Damn, I’ve got no vision and no luck. Not like you. Yeah, you leaders stand tall and can see far. You can grasp the situation and seize the opportunity.
“Oh, right, speaking of opportunities, I hear you’re getting a big promotion. The wheels are getting the evaluations ready. Why didn’t you let us little guys in on the good news so we could congratulate you and buy you lunch?" A gluttonous look crossed his face.
"Well, that, uh...." I tried to interrupt him tactfully.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah! That, that, that wonderful wife of yours. I’m talking about your new wife. They say she’s especially young and pretty. When are you going to let us have a look, to catch a glimpse of her beauty, satisfy our craving to see her?
“There’s a saying. How does it go? Right, ‘A gold house hiding a beauty.’ If you keep hiding her out of the sun she’ll get fuzzy with mildew. Sheesh, listen to me talk, saying your beautiful wife is a cream cake. The metaphor isn’t wrong, though, because cream cake is sweet! Who wouldn’t want a bite?”
“Not like my wife. She’s just a bran muffin. You’d grind down your teeth biting into that, and kill your throat if you swallowed. I’ve been thinking about getting a new one for a long time, but there’s no way. That woman is a demon, a female tiger. If she found out what I was thinking, don’t even imagine that she couldn’t choke me to death. With this physique of mine, I’d never be able to outfight her. All that would happen is that I’d get trounced.
“No way I can compare to you on this. You’ve got power, money and charm. Any young girl that sees you, wham, they throw themselves at you just like that. I’d say, you really don’t need to lock that beauty away in a gold house. You should parade her around with flags a-flying.”
All the bullshitting was out of character for this guy.
My expression was turning ugly. I started looking down at a file, no longer paying attention to him.
"That ‘gold house hiding a beauty’ thing, I’ve been focusing on the ‘beauty’ part and not talking about the ‘gold house’ part. When a man has that admirable quality, as soon as you mention it women’s eyes will shine and their legs will go soft. Boss, I’ve heard that your new place is really luxurious but also really tasteful.
“Did it set you back a bunch? Everything’s more expensive this year, but housing prices have rocketed up. That new place you got must have cost more than a million, at least. It’s gone up again, though. The farther you go into the future, the more room there is for the value to appreciate. Who’s to say, three or five years from now, if your place hasn’t gone up to eight or ten million, that really won’t do!
“Truth is, you not only have powerful abilities, you’ve got vision, too. I’m not kissing up to the boss, I really do admire you. You’re not like some people who show one face to the world but the reality is different." It didn’t seem to bother him that my expression had changed. The horse pucky just kept on coming.
"How’s your son? What country did he go to to study? Look at my memory. I’ve got it, England, yes, England. Everyone says the colleges there are pretty good. Not like some of the colleges here in our country, that do more harm than good to the kids. Having the kids go overseas to study is a good thing, I agree. It’s just that the tuition might be a little high, more than ordinary people can afford.
“That darn British pound is too highly valued, too, fifteen or sixteen times higher than the yuan. What’s the basis for that? It’s obviously to take advantage of the Chinese people! You’ve got the means, though, boss. I think that money was well-spent, really worth it.
“Some people don’t do what’s best for their children, even after they become officials and earn a bunch of money. That really doesn’t count as being successful. No matter how important other things might be, there’s nothing as important as your children. You still might say I’m buttering you up, but really, you’re quite far-sighted. You get your boy fixed up, and everything will go well for you for the rest of your life. I’ve got to learn from your example and send my little girl out of China in the future, even if I have to tighten my belt to do it." The things he was saying were getting more and more improper.
I slammed the file down on the desk, scaring him so much he started to shiver.
"Are you drunk today, little man, or did you take the wrong kind of drug?" I pointed at his nose and asked him that through my teeth.
"No, no, not at all. I haven’t had anything to drink and haven’t taken any drugs." He scratched his head.
"Then you were bitten in the head by a dog, weren’t you?" I stood up from my chair.
"Heh, heh, how could a dog bite me there?" He scratched his head again.
"Then what did you come here for today?" I was shaking with anger.
"To make a report, of course!" He replied.
"A work report, of course!"
"What work report?"
"What important work?"
"I forget." He grinned cheekily and patted his head.
"Get the hell out of here, far out of here. Get going! Scram!" In a fit of anger, I picked up a pencil holder and threw it at him.
The little guy reacted faster than a monkey. "Whoosh," and he was out the door.
I didn’t recover from my anger for a long time. I was thinking of ways to take care of that bastard. Before I could think of a good way, though, my door opened a crack and Section Chief Zhao stuck his long face in.
"Sorry, boss. I thought of that important thing I wanted to report to you. The new head of our department who started work yesterday is my dear uncle."
3-01 Scandal (绯闻)
In the beginning, no one wanted to believe that old Miss Lu from the Materials Section and the department director could be having that kind of romantic affair.
Until the day the director’s wife rushed into the Materials Room in a snit, pointed at Miss Lu and let loose a torrent of abuse. Every dirty and malicious term in the book poured out onto Miss Lu, confirming that the rumors were true.
Miss Lu walked out of the room with swollen red eyes. She’d tried to defend herself as best she could, but her mannerisms had revealed her as an adulterous.
The teachers in the Department talked about it and made guesses as to how the situation had come about. Those who couldn’t believe it when they’d first heard the rumors started to waver in their former opinions. They thought the world was just too weird, that such an incredible thing could have happened.
Miss Lu was getting on in years. After she’d graduated from college she’d stayed on in the Department to work in the Materials Room. She was introverted in temperament, a woman of few words. Aside from that her looks were just average, and one might even say she was a bit on the ugly side.
Nobody showed much interest in her. Most of the time, as a practical matter she was just the person locked in among the bookshelves, keeping all the abstract cards and book catalogs straight. She rarely dealt with people, and none of the male or female teachers in the Department showed any inclination to step forward and be friendly toward her. So how had she happened to get into this kind of romance with the department director? It was really puzzling.
There was another interesting layer that was hard for people to believe. The director was a Ph.D. who had studied abroad. Not only did he have consummate academic skills, he also carried himself gracefully and had elegant tastes. The beautiful women who admired and pursued him, both teachers and students, didn’t lack wondrous talent and excellence. He never recruited female graduate students and it was said that he was afraid of creating those kinds of problems for himself. And of course, as long as his wife was around, even if he’d had the idea of doing something he didn’t have the courage. Nevertheless, he’d gone for Miss Lu.
The teachers in the department puzzled over the matter but couldn’t figure it out. Some of the younger female teachers and graduate students were quite angry.
They agreed uniformly that this was a classic scandal. Since Miss Lu was per se ugly, some of the female teachers and grad students who had been interested in the director reacted to his behavior with bitter hatred, while others scoffed and jeered that someone with the stature of a Ph.D. who had studied in America was nonetheless like that. Most of them were disgusted with and hostile toward Miss Lu, and were jealous and envious, but they could never forgive or feel sympathy for her.
Miss Lu kept her head down, trying to avoid as much as she could the various feelings and complex looks being cast at her. She scrubbed her face in the restroom, returned quietly to her desk in the reading area of the Materials Room, and went silently to work at her job as usual. The laughter that occasionally came from the next room or the corridor didn’t affect her normal work.
After she got off work, Miss Lu returned to her room in the singles dormitory. A trace of a strange smile showed on her face when she looked in the mirror. She felt thankful for the golden opportunity heaven had bestowed on her. A few days before, but for the fact that the director had been in a rush to prepare a paper for an academic conference and had had her look up some documentary materials for him, she would probably never in her whole life have had the chance to get close to him. It was just that rare opportunity which had given rise to her impulse to manufacture a scandal. She’d typed out the romantic story herself on a computer and sent it to the interested parties, including the director’s seriously jealous wife.
Miss Lu smiled happily once again as she looked in the mirror. She longed for the scandal to continue. As the heroine of this story of illicit love and sex, she could continue to be the focus of people’s attention.
3-02 Imaginary Love (虚拟爱情)
Suppose I fell in love with you. Don’t take it to heart, I’m just saying what if. I’d take the following steps.
You don’t know me yet. How could you fall in love with me?
Don’t get upset. Haven’t you heard of love at first sight? Besides, I’ll get to know you real quick. Wasn’t I going to tell you about the steps I’ll take in my elaborate scheme? But first let me tell you some things about myself, so you can get to know me. For example, I was born into a high-ranking cadre’s family, I suppose. After I graduated from college I went in the Army and served in Tibet, and I also went to the Middle East as a military observer. The scars on my face are war mementos. After I came back to China I changed careers and went into business. Now I’m the head of a company. Right now I’m travelling in a first-class sleeper on a train and have just met a young woman of unmatched beauty and elegant temperament. Now you know me, don’t you? And I’m sure you’re moved by my sincerity. So tell me about milady.
Ridiculous. I’d never believe a stranger's boasting.
Yes, I understand your caution quite well. You’re not only pretty, you’ve got brains, too. Girls with both those assets are few and far between.
This is really boring. Your flattery is probably a real turn-on for all the girls.
You’re giving me too much credit. That was just my direct impression of you. Not every girl would get that kind of evaluation.
Interesting. So what's your next step?
No hurry. You must be thirsty. Let me pour you something to drink. I’ll make some tea. I have some famous tea – Longjing – that a leader in Zhejiang Province gave me. It’s pre-Ming Dynasty. Have a taste. Don’t burn yourself. When you’re on the road a long time, getting enough liquids is more important than food.
Thanks. Go on.
Truth is, I don’t have anything to say. I’m not really a talker. Here, wash your face with this handy-wipe. Conditions on Chinese trains aren’t good. When I’m in the United States or Europe for refresher courses, I often use vacation time to travel around on my own. Conditions there are incomparable.
Tell me about your next step. I’d like to hear it.
Well, then, I’m just talking, fooling around. Don’t take it for real. Have an orange, first. I’ll peel it for you.
No thanks. I can’t eat any more.
Eating fruit makes you beautiful. Vitamins are the most essential nutritionals for healthy bodies. Once when I was crossing the Sahara Desert, an orange ended up saving my life.
You’ve been to the Sahara Desert?
Oh, that was several years ago. I was working in the Middle East, wasn’t I? Here, wipe your hands. It’s discomfiting when they’re sticky with orange juice.
Thanks. What business are you in?
Bioengineering, electronic technology, financial bonds, international trade, some other stuff. I’m into almost everything. In fact, I’m not really a businessman. I just do it for something to do. I’m actually interested in poetry and philosophy. One of these days, when I’m not so busy, I’m going to start one of China's largest poetry periodicals and invest in building one of the world's largest academies of philosophy. I’ll gather first-class philosophers from all over the world to explore the issues of human life.
Oops! I'm really sorry, my hand....
Here, let me see. Don’t be afraid, it’s just a scratch. I’ve got a band-aid here. I’ll put it on and everything will be just fine. Your hand is really beautiful. Your palm’s nice, too.
Can you read palms?
It was just an opportunity that I happened on once. I got acquainted with a Great Master of Buddhism and he showed me how. Here, I'll show you. Your light line is a bit dark. Sit over here, okay?
Do I have a good palm? Give it to me straight.
Your palm has something to say. Listen and I’ll tell you slowly…. You’re tired, aren’t you? Sitting in this position for a long time is uncomfortable. Lean on my shoulder. It’s all right….
What a pain in the butt, someone’s knocking on the door. Who is it?
It’s the middle of the night. What were you off doing during the day? Here’s the ticket. Take a good look!
3-03 Buying Neighbors (买邻居)
Real estate developers say the residential ideals of modern people should be completely changed. When you purchase a home, you’re mainly buying an environment and buying neighbors. An exquisite environment and elite neighbors naturally enhance one's stature and the price of the home. Developers want to make money, while consumers want to improve their living conditions, and the two goals coincide – both win by seeking out good neighbors.
I particularly endorsed the proposition that buying a home is buying neighbors, and I sprayed a lot of spittle trying to persuade and prevail upon my wife, a woman with a conservative outlook and a complete inability to get the point. To convince her to move, I started with the classic story of how "Mencius’ Mother Moved Thrice" to find a good school for her son. I spent a whole month’s effort and wore my lips numb before I finally got her to believe that having good neighbors is a real asset, albeit an intangible one. Unlike the neighbors we have now, each of whom has disheveled hair and a dirty face, shifty eyes and thieving looks. You could associate with them for eight lifetimes and they’d never become the sort of distinguished persons that people would respect.
So we started looking for a home with good neighbors. What is a good neighbor? They’re people of good repute, of course. The most ideal choice for my wife and I was a place with neighbors like famous singers, writers, scientists and public security officials on all sides, upstairs and down.
I hoped that, under the cost-free influence of the songs of a famous singer, my daughter's husky voice could learn to produce pleasant and enjoyable sounds. We also had the idea that she could associate with the sons of a famous writer, and perhaps receive guidance from the writer personally, so that her talent could come to the fore in some national essay contest without investing too much time.
A scientist neighbor would certainly be an enthusiastic person, and uniquely discerning. With just a little nudge from him or her, my child could see the light and achieve a great awakening. When that time came, you’d see how I’d teach her math teacher a lesson. He once dared to call my daughter an idiot in front of her whole class, and even accused her of being the product of parents in an incestuous marriage.
People would get the logic behind our choice of a public security official as a neighbor without any explanation from me. The pursuit of security, obviously. With a person of power and authority as a neighbor, no one would dare touch us. We wouldn’t even have to install security bars on the windows. Maybe people would even send us presents for trying to break into the wrong place, and we’d have an unexpected source of wealth!
I ran around to famous people’s residences and inquired all over the place about the addresses of singers, writers, scientists and public security officials. Sheesh, no one was willing to tell me. Some people even said I had a brain infection and should try to find a doctor for a neighbor. When I first heard that, I thought it was a great idea, but when I thought about it, I realized they were calling me names. I did have a brain infection, but it was when I was a child. The way I am now, my IQ is higher than the average person’s. If anyone isn’t convinced, let’s compare and see who has the most money, bottom line. Sheesh!
I finally found a place in a residential community called "Eminence Dwellings" and moved in. Although the surrounding homes were still vacant, I believed it wouldn’t be too long before singers, famous writers, scientists and public security officials would be moving in.
Before the month was out, someone moved into the place next door to mine. From what I saw I knew it was someone famous, but I couldn’t say if they were from the art world or the scientific community. I was sure I could tell if only he or she would practice singing.
Sure enough, just as I expected, this neighbor was a musician. Sounds started coming from his place day and night right from the day he moved in. The sounds made the hanging lamp I’d just installed in my living room shake.
I really wanted to get to know this neighbor, but I never saw him leave his place, and I was afraid he’d think it funny if I paid him a visit without careful consideration.
Just as I was sitting in my place, thinking of going out, the doorbell rang. I opened the door and it was my celebrity neighbor. I invited him into the living room right away. Without waiting for me to speak, he asked, “You’re a director, right?”
“Oh, no, no....”
“Well, then, are you a writer?”
“Oh, no, no....”
“Then you must be either a singer or the mayor!”
“Don’t stand on ceremony.” The neighbor took an exquisite notebook from his pocket. “No matter what your profession, please sign your autograph for me. My son pushed me into buying this place on the ground that the neighbors living here are all celebrities....”
Sheesh, I kicked him out.
Later, residents moved into all the vacant condos around me. My doorbell rang many times, and every time it was to have me sign my autograph. I couldn’t do what they wanted, but I was the most unfortunate one. I had wanted to have something like “Neighbor of XX Celebrity” printed on my business cards, but I haven’t been able to get it done it yet.
To get Chinese text by return email, send name of story to email@example.com
2-01 The Runaway
2-18 The British Pound
2-19 The Good Life
2-20 Important Matter
Stories by Lao Ma (Ma Junjie), Page A
Translated from Genius 幽锐小说精选, https://genius.com/Lao-ma--annotated
3-02 Imaginary Love
3-03 Buying Neighbors
Chinese Stories in English