2. Prediction (预言)
It didn’t snow once the whole winter. Obviously, the temperature was on the high side.
On the third day of the New Year, new buds started to show on the poplar trees in the park. Spring had dropped in on us like a premature baby.
The townspeople felt joy at avoiding the bitter cold, but inexplicably, they also felt irritable and upset.
Some old people gathered in a garden in the median of a road. They shook their heads while they waved their fans, and sighed as they issued a prediction that would make people’s hair stand on end: The warm winter was a bad omen, one that hadn’t been seen for a hundred years. A disaster would befall the earth, and the end of the century would also bring the end of the world.
This ambiguous prophecy gradually evolved into a specific warning. A rumor that an earthquake was about to hit spread overnight into every corner of the city.
The residents reacted almost uniformly. Right away there was a run on provisions. The shops were jam-packed, and the length of time that goods stayed on supermarket shelves grew shorter and shorter. First such foods as were amenable to storage came into short supply, and then daily necessities such as toilet paper, towels, ropes, batteries and the like sold out. Still later, almost anything that could be sold in a store was snapped up indiscriminately.
A minority said this was a conspiracy. Unscrupulous businessmen were using the natural phenomenon of atypical weather as a manipulative sales-promotion scheme. They were cleaning out their overstocked warehouses by means of the rumored earthquake. But most people didn’t believe it, because profiteers haven’t the means to control or manipulate natural phenomenon.
Governmental departments kept silent about this until later, when some departments and units began to organize earthquake relief exercises. The government supported and encouraged grassroots political agencies, enterprises, schools, military units and other organizations to use this rare opportunity to carry out disaster awareness education. They aimed to raise the populace’s disaster relief awareness by using various methods to popularize basic knowledge and skills of preparedness.
Such educational programs were implemented speedily, changing the populace's long-time blasé attitude toward disasters. However, the government's actions confirmed the rumors that an earthquake was imminent. People stopped panic buying and began to flee.
Those with money were in the forefront of people getting their valuables to safety. Everyone had determined that destruction of their homes was but a moment away. Ordinary people rushed to their banks to withdraw sums that, while small, were the distillation of a lifetime or half a lifetime of blood and sweat. Then they gathered their belongings and spent long hours fleeing to the outskirts of the city.
Some people hoped for an authoritative statement from the Seismological Bureau, but this idea was soon destroyed by an attitude of distrust that had long been forming in people's minds. Everyone generally agreed that the Seismological Bureau would never tell the truth at such a time. Moreover, more and more people spread a rumor that the staff of the Earthquake Monitoring Department had left the city some time before.
One journalist, a recent university graduate, beat the odds and ended up sitting before the Secretary of the Seismological Bureau for an interview. He wanted to request the Secretary to please give the public an authoritative clarification of the situation.
The reporter first expressed serious doubts about the rumors concerning an imminent earthquake. This made the Secretary quite angry.
The Secretary pointed out that one could chose not to believe him, but one could not ignore the facts. Many indicators showed that a disastrous earthquake was unavoidable and that it might happen at any time.
The reporters face paled and perspiration dripped from his forehead. He settled down and asked the Secretary to enumerate for the public the scientific bases for concluding that an earthquake disaster was imminent.
The Secretary cleared his throat, then spread out his fingers and counted off. "First, relying on their experience, many old people have determined that there are bad omens for the year; second, the public has made a run on commodities and the store shelves are empty; third, many people have begun to flee to outlying areas; fourth.... but that is enough to show that the occurrence of an earthquake is a certainty."
3. The Widow (寡妇)
The "Widow's" last name is White, so people use the name Widow White as a form of address. The Widow doesn’t wear a skirt, though, because he’s a man. The nickname "Widow" for a man doesn’t sound nice, and is cruel as well, but people call him that anyway, so he’s forced to accept it.
Widow White is a bit over forty now. Growing up he always lived at home with his four elder sisters and their mother, a widow who respected the obligations attendant on that status. Thus his personality, mannerisms and even some of his physiological characteristics are like a girl’s. In fact he’s almost indistinguishable from a born female, except that he pees standing up.
The villagers used to call his mother "Widow White" behind her back*, but after her death the "title" passed to him. It evolved from a nickname into a formal name, from a term whispered behind his back to a form of address said to his face. Everyone knows who's being referred to at the mention of the name Widow White. As for his real name and the name given to him when he started school, even he can no say with certainty what they were.
The Widow White's voice is quite soft, and much more diffident than the harsh noises that come from the mouths of the village women. Back in the day when the commune's literary propaganda team would perform snippets from the model plays, he would act the parts of the revolutionary heroines Li Tiemei or sister A-Qing. While he didn't look too beautiful, his reading of the spoken parts and his singing were remarkably reminiscent of a real woman. Anyone who judged only by the sound of his voice wouldn't think he was a man.
The way he walks and his habitual gestures leave women rueful and men entranced. One year on the evening of August 15, while he was taking some moon cakes to his sister's place, a wild punk with a big belly suddenly grabbed him from behind. The guy nibbled at him and kissed him, and tore his new clothes in two. When he finally twisted away and broke free, the sex fiend shouted that he'd been fooled and spat all over the ground.
Widow White is dexterous and has a good hand for needlework. Older girls and young wives are always seeking his advice when they take on difficult projects like knitting sweaters. On summer days, the women sit together in a group under the big willow tree at the east end of the village enjoying the cool air and joking while they do their needlework. Eight or nine days out of ten, this pseudo-widow sits there with them. It's obvious that the women of the village have long regarded him as one of their own.
Once when he was young, or more strictly speaking, when he was a young man, a team leader publicly humiliated him by saying he had nothing to play with in the crotch of his pants. The fellow goaded the commune members who were working in the fields at the time, men and women alike, into pulling down his pants. Laughing and jeering, the whole bunch of them held him down in a wheat field and grabbed his crotch one after the other. The team leader stood off to the side, laughing loudly. Later some people said they'd caught his stick and others said they'd touched his hole. He cried until very late that night.
When I went home for the Spring Festival last year, I heard some of the villagers saying that Widow White had gotten married. His wife is a true widow with a half-grown son. Her first husband was one of the village leaders. He'd taken a tractor up into the mountains the year before to get some stones. The tractor tipped over on the way and he was crushed to death under the stones.
The villagers also said that the boy Widow White 's wife brought with her takes after his stepfather in everything from appearance to personality. It really is like the old saying goes, "If you're not one with the family, don't come in the door." Now if someone comes to their door and shouts, "Widow White", the whole family of three can answer at the same time.
[Chinese women typically don't change their names when they marry, so Widow White's mother was only called by her husband's surname behind her back – Fannyi]
4. Inside Information (底细)
The owner of the condo next door has had her mind moving down some kind of single track lately. She's been persistently encouraging me to buy a condo.
I just have to bump into her and, no matter the time or occasion, her first sentence will be: "How about it, don't you want to buy a new place?" Without waiting for me to answer, she'll follow up by peppering me with the innumerable benefits of owning a condo.
At first I always smiled politely or said "good, good, good", or "yes, yes, I will" perfunctorily, and I never really let her get to me. Gradually, though, she got more insistent. She'd chase after me in hot pursuit, asking when I wanted to buy, in what area, how many square meters, how many bedrooms and baths, what sort of exposure, and other questions to which I simply could not make up the answers. Still later she became a bit impatient and actually demanded to know why I hadn't moved yet.
I'm thinking it's really weird. The place I live in now isn't spacious, but I don't feel it's too cramped, either. Besides, whether I buy a condo is purely my own affair, and what does it have to do with her? Does she run a real estate agency? Doesn't seem like it. We went to the same school, and someone with more patience would probably find out for sure.
Or maybe my child is too noisy. Him playing the piano or blowing his trumpet might affect her rest, so she wants to force me to move out. But that's not right, either, because, first of all, I have no children, and second, I don't have a piano or a trumpet. The wife and I usually whisper and couldn't be bothering her. So what's she up to? I just can't puzzle it out.
Yesterday after I got off work, she had the nerve to follow me into my condo to continue making her pitch. I was really annoyed and told her straight out, "I can't afford to buy another condo. Even if you sell this one for me, I still couldn't afford it."
The neighbor lady was more put out than I was and pressed me. "How can you not afford it. You're just crying poor. Earning as much money as you do, and your wife knowing how to manage quite well, you've got at least 260,000 in the bank."
Hey, that really startled me. In fact have saved 260,000, and even my wife isn't clear about how much. "How do you know?" I asked unhappily.
"I figured it out, you know? You think you can fool me?" she asked confidently.
"You figured it out. Have you become a wizard?" I was being sarcastic.
"Let me count it out for you. You got your professorship the year before last, precisely two and a half years ago. Before that you were an associate professor for seven years. You salary was low back then, so I didn't count it for much. You couldn't have saved more than thirty thousand yuan.
"After you became a professor, your basic salary for the first year was 1,080 yuan per month; plus a supplemental allowance of 640 yuan; a 5,000 yuan performance bonus every six months; 20 yuan a month for being on call, that's 240 yuan a year; a telephone subsidy of 80 yuan a month; a 45 yuan per month commuting subsidy; the cost reimbursement for having only one child – oh, right, you don't have any children, so we can't count that.
"Deducting utilities of 78 yuan per month, rent of 115 yuan and 118 yuan withheld for the housing reserve fund (see Item #4 here) left you with, well, you must be clear about that.
"At the beginning of last year, your basic salary rose to 1,420 per month. Your supplemental allowance and performance bonus totaled 26,000 yuan per year and the other items remained unchanged, except withholding for the housing reserve fund increased by 30 yuan a month.
"But that just scratches the surface. Since the beginning of last year you've given a total of 113 lectures outside the school at a minimum fee per lecture of 800 yuan up to a maximum of 6,000 yuan on one occasion. The average lecture fee is between 1,200 and 1,500 yuan, right? So how much did you earn in and out of school?
"Last year you compiled two exam counseling tutorials. At a 12 percent royalty the publishing company paid you 100,000 yuan after taxes. Am I right?
"I know you have costs. In the last two years you've traded up to a 29-inch color TV, but that was only 3,100 yuan plus delivery fee of 10 yuan. You bought a VCD player for no more than 1,800 yuan. The Sony CD player was a gift from your students, I heard, so it didn't cost you anything. For a year and a half you've basically eaten all your lunches and dinners at the free school cafeteria, and not eating at home saved you a lot. You bought two suits for not more than 300 yuan to wear when you went overseas so you'd look presentable. You gave your wife a fake gold bracelet not worth 60 yuan for her birthday. Your largest expenditure was your kind-hearted gift to your pregnant, unmarried graduate student so she could go to a hospital for an abortion. Even with the fees for post-operative care, that only cost you 4,000 yuan, maybe a little more...."
"I'll buy a condo, I'll buy a condo...." I couldn't take any more. My forehead and back were covered with sweat.
I discussed the matter with my wife that evening and we made a decision. We had to buy a new condo and move out of this one. I don't dare imagine how my neighbor knew all those things. The good thing is, she fortunately doesn't work in the Tax Department, which leaves my mind much more at peace.
5. The Net (网)
Nowadays, if you have nothing else, you still must have a computer. And you don’t need to learn anything else, but you must learn to go online.
The year before last, I suddenly realized that the times were ruthlessly passing me by because I didn’t know anything at all about computer technology that everyone else was familiar with. I couldn’t access the Internet to inquire about such things, and I couldn’t even chat online. My life had come to a dead end.
When I tried to ask someone for information, they always told me to go online and that the Internet had everything I needed to know. On one occasion I couldn’t tell for sure which bus I should take to get to the store I wanted to go to. More precisely, I was walking down the street, lost, and could do nothing better than ask someone for directions. I asked three different people and they all suggested that I go online to find the answer.
Finally I had to ask a traffic cop. He pointed to a touch-screen computer on the side of the traffic kiosk and said, "Go look it up yourself." All I could do was return home the same way I’d come.
One Sunday afternoon, I thought I’d go find my neighbor Mrs. Zhao for a chat. I’d had this habit for many years, as had many other people who lived in the building. On summer nights we often sat in the central gazebo in the commons in front of the building to enjoy the coolness and talk about domestic trivialities. The atmosphere was quite cordial.
On that afternoon, however, I knocked on Mrs. Zhao's door for a long time before she opened the security door a small crack, stuck out her head and told me that if I wanted to chat, I should go to the chatroom.
"Where's the chatroom?" I hurried to ask.
"On the net. Turn on your computer and you'll see."
With that, she took the big, heavy security door and slammed it shut. I stood there dumbly for quite some time before I understood what she'd meant.
When I saw people I knew, there were no longer any questions like "How's it going?" or "What's up?" They were replaced by "You been on the net?" It was like they were code words for a secret connection. When my neighbors moved, they left me their "net address" instead of their real address. They didn't say polite things like, "Give me a call or write me a letter when something's up." They all said "Send me an 'ee-may-er' if something happens." My God, what the heck is that?
My coworkers all told me I had to buy a computer for my child because otherwise the poor thing's intellect would suffer. So I sold our refrigerator, color TV, nightstands and some other things and finally bought a computer. My boy was so excited he spent the whole day with his head stuck in the computer and didn't even come out to eat
Before long he'd gone from Future Times back to The Era of Empires, and then delved into The Stone Age. Playing those games not only broadened his horizons, it also gave him the courage to skip school. He'd sneak back in the house after I'd gone to work and immerse himself in "stone tools", "empires" and other virtual worlds. When final exams came around, he failed them all. The school sent us a warning that he'd be kicked out.
I had to resort to violence. I punished him physically and strictly forbade him from touching the gaming software any more.
My son turned to chatting and making friends on the internet, and he soon found himself a girlfriend. Pining for her made this ignorant little child go all day without eating of drinking, his eyes glistening with tears. He almost fainted when this young miss, who was known as "Meow Kitty" on the net, showed up at our front door. She turned out to be a forty-plus widow with grey hair.
In a fit of anger, I smashed the computer. My son lost his senses at the same time. He ran all over like he was on drugs, looking for the computer. Then what I'd feared would happen, did.
I got a phone call from the police precinct the day before yesterday. My son was in custody and they wanted me to come and fill out some paperwork.
An officer at the Detention Center told me what had happened. My son had broken into someone's residence and sat in front of their computer playing around for a whole day, until the owner came home from work and discovered the unfamiliar intruder and called the cops. As my son told it, he'd originally planned to steal the computer, but he couldn't resist the urge to sit right down and get on the net. He started playing on the computer like he was scratching an itch, and then the owner caught him. The cop said he would have to go to a Reform through Labor Camp this time, because it was the third time he'd done this.
6. The Fools (傻子)
After thirty years I finally understand why the Zhou family were called "fools".
From the first day I started to take note of things, I knew that a family lived on the street behind us – the Zhou Fools.
It wasn’t just one or two of them. The whole family was nicknamed the "Zhou Fools". That’s what folks called them, for no apparent reason.
The Zhous weren’t really a family of fools. None of them, neither adults nor children, were snot-nosed, or drooled, or went running naked down the street. In contrast (and I’ve kept statistics) except for the Zhous almost every family in the village where I lived had one or two members who were stupid nitwits, or maybe even a whole nest of them.
But the harsh nickname "fools" was imposed on the Zhou family. They seemed to take it in stride, because whenever someone in the village called them that, the whole family would answer to the name. None of them expressed any disagreement at all, much less protest.
Old Zhou Fool is around seventy-five this year, a bit older than my father. His wife died a few years ago in the city, and they brought her home to bury her in the family plot on the west side of the village.
When he was “Young Zhou Fool” he had seven kids all told, four sons and three daughters. The fifth one, namely “Fifth Zhou Fool, is a son. He and I were in primary school and junior high together. In high school he was recruited as an air force pilot. After going through repeated medical examinations, he put on the Red Flower Badge as a member of the Chinese Army. He was the first person in the history of our village to "climb the stairway to Heaven". This Zhou Fool, my classmate, is still in the military, a training officer with the rank of Senior Colonel.
As for the other young fools in the Zhou family, five of them went to college, two of them outside China. The only one of the kids who didn’t go to college was the eldest, namely Big Zhou Fool. He’s now a Brigade Captain with the city traffic police. As my father puts it, "Those people are awesome."
The Zhou Fool family is so foolish they make everyone in the village green with envy. It’s really puzzling. When I was home last year, I found out that Old Zhou Fool, who’d always lived on the street behind us, had moved into the city a few years ago. Before that, the old fellow and his wife had stubbornly remained living in the country no matter how hard their children tried to get them to move to the city. The whole village, and especially the younger generation, agreed that the Zhou Fools were worthy of the name. Some said that "Zhou Fool" refers specifically to the old man, but his wife and children said he was being blamed unjustly.
These days the Zhous are the most prestigious family in our village. The young ones are all talented and show promise.
So I asked my mom, "How come everyone calls them fools?"
She replied, "It's because of his family's intelligence, you know!"
Mom told me that the people in the Zhou family, starting with Old Zhou Fool and including his sons and daughters, are all intelligent. Old Zhou Fool could write and do sums when he was young, so he acted as the village accountant. Later he was almost thrown in prison because of some financial irregularities. He got past it by feigning madness and acting like an idiot – he stuffed cow dung in his mouth and called his wife his sister-in-law.
After that he hid at home all day reading some ancient, yellowing books, except when he did a little work in the fields. Not many people in the village know how to read, and when they saw how strange he looked holding a book all day and muttering to himself, they all felt he wasn't quite right in the head and the name "Zhou Fool" spread.
In fact he wasn't stupid. It's just that back then his intelligence was over their heads, which led to misunderstanding. Forget that everyone called him a fool; it was just because we were foolish ourselves. Foolish people always think it's other people who are foolish, and so call them fools.
So I was finally clear about the story behind the "Zhou Fools". In my own mind I rehabilitated them and corrected the name.
This summer I got a rare opportunity to go to another city for a meeting. The Zhou family's "Fifth Zhou Fool" lives there. Memories of the good old days swelled up in me, so I asked around and found out his address. I knocked on his door but there was no answer.
A young boy in his early teens stuck his head out of the next-door neighbor's door. I asked, "Does Training Officer Zhou live here?"
The kid blinked his eyes mischievously several times. "Training Officer Zhou? I don't know. The guy who lives here is called Zhou Fool."
I was stunned. I smiled and asked him, "How do you know he's called Zhou Fool?"
"Everyone calls him that," the kid said, "because his son was born an idiot. Like they said on TV, 'innately weak-minded'. You understand?"
I nodded without thinking about it, and couldn't say anything for a long time. I stood there in a daze for some time, then plodded back to my hotel.
7. Ahead of the Pack (超前)
All one could see in the consultation area at the college entrance exam was a sea of bobbing heads. Various colleges had set up information tables in the Sports Center Stadium in the provincial capital. Multicolored school flags, student recruiting signs and publicity slogans lined up in rows all around the place.
Every university’s table was crowded. Candidates and their parents had come to find out things like the school’s admissions policies for the current year, the test scores necessary for admission, and which professional degree programs were open. They jostled for position, all speaking at once.
An exceptionally large number of people gathered in front of one prestigious university’s table. The teacher sent by the school stood in the center of the crowd, surrounded by people, patiently answering all of their questions. His voice was hoarse.
A young man was able to push through to the front of the crowd.
"I’d like to ask you some questions, Professor," he said when his turn finally came.
"Sure, go ahead," the teacher said, nodding to him.
"How are the accommodations for undergraduate students at your school? How many people to a room?”
"Eight, but starting next year it’ll be six,” the teacher answered. “In four years we’ll have completely implemented a policy of four students per room, all from the same department."
"Are the fees high?" the young man asked.
"Tuition or dorm fees?” the teacher responded. “Tuition for most degree programs is 5,000 yuan per year. Dorm fees are 1,000 yuan per year."
"Which degree programs at your school offer the best prospects for employment in the future? I mean, like, after twenty years?” The people behind the young man were crowding him so much that he was almost in the teacher's face.
"Professional placement and the employment of graduates in the various professions are introduced in detail in the 'Admissions Guide'. Here's one. They're five yuan each. If you buy a copy of the 'Guide', you can look it over at your leisure at home." The teacher impatiently handed him a copy as he spoke.
"I'm asking about the enrollment situation twenty years in the future." The young man had squeezed in after waiting in line for a long time and wasn't going to easily give up this opportunity to get more information.
"Twenty years from now?" When the teacher asked this rhetorical question, the people around them exploded in laughter.
"Yes. I'd like to know about admissions, professional placement and those kinds of things twenty years from now." The young man was sweating anxiously.
"Are you taking the college entrance examination this year?" The teacher looked puzzled.
"No, I'm a parent," he young man replied shyly. "I'm getting information for my son"
"Your son? You're obviously quite young. How many points do you figure your son might get on the test?" The teacher asked him in all seriousness.
"I don't know," the young man said, scratching his head. "However many wouldn't be good enough."
"Alright, then, go back and ask a teacher to estimate his score. When you see what he's likely to score, choose a school and a profession on that basis." The consultant-teacher turned to start taking questions from the next candidate's parents.
"Hey, Professor, what teacher do you want me to do the estimate for my son?" The young man grabbed the university teacher.
"Go to his high school teacher," the teacher said patiently. "Your son will know which one better than you do."
"How could he? My son doesn't know anything!" Young fellow's tone was rather unfriendly.
The teacher was getting upset, too. "He's taking the college entrance examination and he doesn't even know that! His parents can't see what they should be worried about!"
"He's not taking the exam. I came here to ask questions on his behalf." The young man was very persistent.
"Not taking the test? So what are you worried about. Wait 'til next year's test to come and ask your questions." The teacher quickly went back to answering other candidates and parent's questions.
"Next year? My son won't be taking the test next year, either!" Young man's earnestness made him really hard to deal with.
"Well, when will he take it?" the teacher asked. Then he repeated the question another way. "What year of high school is he in this year?"
"I said it wouldn't be good enough. He'll be two in another six months," replied the young man.
"Huh! Are you trying to make trouble? The child isn't two yet and you come to get him information about the college entrance exam. Maybe it's your head that ought to be examined!" The teacher laughed and made fun of the guy.
"Ha –" Everyone started laughing.
"What kind of thing is that to say, and you a university professor! Getting information early means getting prepared early. What's so funny about that? Given your attitude, my son will never go to your school. You can go to hell!" And the young man stalked away in a huff.
8. A Prophetic Dream (圆梦)
Big Friend Su was awakened by a nightmare at three o’clock in the morning. He was so scared that cold sweat covered his body.
He’d dreamed that a big snake with an intricate pattern had crawled into his office. It had climbed up on the sofa and got into a cashmere overcoat that was lying there. He was trembling as he picked up the coat and tried to shake the viper loose, but it stuck its head out through a sleeve and surprised him with a strike at his face. He ducked, and bumped his head against the nightstand. He woke up with an “oh” as the lamp that had been on the nightstand hit the floor.
His wife was also scared awake. "What the heck are you doing?" she muttered.
Big Friend sneered at his wife’s look of impatience. “It’s nothing,” he comforted her. “I just had a nightmare. I almost got bit by a snake.”
Still groggy, his wife had rolled over to go back to sleep. When she vaguely heard "bit by a snake" she bolted straight up, fully awake.
"A snake? What snake?" She looked at him with fear in her eyes.
"A big one, with a pattern. A red head and an intricate pattern." Seeing the look of fear in his wife’s eyes, Big Friend’s heart started to pound, "thump-thump".
"All right, you lying bastard. All you dream about is women. Snakes represent women in dreams, you know? If you see a snake in a dream it means you’re seeing a woman. Are you looking to have an affair, you heartless beast…?"
"Get outa here! You got it all screwed up. It’s the New Year but everything is still a downer for you. It’s useless telling you anything.” Big Friend buried his head under the blanket.
"You get scared when people talk? If you’re not afraid to do it, I’m not afraid to talk about it. Let the snake bite. No woman like that is any good. Look at the ones in your office. They’re all trash. None of them is worth turning the lights off for...."
"Are you finished?” Bid Friend roared. “It’s all crap!"
"So go to sleep, go back to sleep. When you’re sound asleep you can dream about your beautiful snake-woman again. Why not get bitten to death….” She lay there muttering for a while.
Big Friend couldn’t get back to sleep. He tossed and turned as he went over and over the dream he’d just had. He was alarmed and frightened.
His wife had hit him right in the face with her rough analysis of his dream. That seemed to have some implications. He began to follow his wife’s train of thought, checking off one by one the woman who’d had contact with him.
It’s normal for a man in his forties to occasionally have some untoward thoughts about the opposite sex, or even some improper conduct. Big Friend wasn’t free from vulgarity. As he’d said before, just shaving your beard doesn’t mean you’re a man.
He pictured each of the women who often appeared in his thoughts, bringing back and repeating the details of their interactions like a freeze-frame instant replay. He even made comparisons between their facial features and the triangular red head of the snake in his dream. As he compared them, the snake became a multi-headed viper with different faces.
Who would bite him? “Was it her? No, I was gracious to her, and she has good feelings toward me, too. She made a point of giving me a tie for my birthday.
“Was it her? No, not her, either. I was honest with her. We’re still friends, even though she turned me down.
“How about her? Even less likely. She’s good to me and loves to hear my lines. That time when she rode home in my car, she kissed me so fiercely.
“Or her?.... She’s not like that.
"My God, who cares? It was just a dream, wasn’t it? Not real. This is so silly, so silly....” Big Friend made the effort to pull his thoughts back from that dead-end alley.
Big Friend and his wife didn't leave home until after ten o'clock on January second. He had indeed been affected by his nightmare on the night of the first.
He and his wife had discussed their plans thoroughly and decided to visit the temple on the second. They had to get out and around during the seven-day long New Year's holiday.
When his wife got up that morning, she hadn't mentioned his dream of a beautiful snake-woman the previous night. That made Big Friend feel a lot more relaxed.
An ocean of people circled around the stalls and performances at the temple. Big Friend had never been keen on this kind of so-called temple fair, extremely affected as they are with their hyped up reproductions and counterfeit curios. Besides, he'd been agitated by last night's nightmare and hadn't slept well, so he felt dispirited and listless. His wife, on the other hand, was as exhilarated as if she were on some kind of stimulant. She kept pulling him to squeeze this way and that through the crowd.
After walking around for over two hours, his wife was still in high spirits. She dragged him into the crowd surrounding an acrobatic performance.
Big Friend's front was pressed up tightly against a young lady's back. He could feel her breathing without trying to do so. The scent of her perfume blew into his face. He continued to squeeze forward, or rather, someone behind him was pushing and he couldn't help but squeeze ahead.
"Whap!" Big Friend was astonished by a sharp slap in the face. "Pervert!" The young lady with the intoxicating fragrance had turned around to curse him.
His face was burning. The people around him took up the chant, "He's a pervert! He's a pervert!"
Big Friend was about to throw a fit but his wife stopped him. "Let's go! Let's go! Let's go!"
She pulled him back to their car.
"What a fucking injustice! That girl is inexplicable! She's nuts!" Big Friend was so mad his lungs were about to blow up.
"Alright, alright," his wife said unsympathetically. "Who made you dream about a tryst last night? You got what you deserved!"
"Just my luck. I have a nightmare on the night of the first, and on the second that crazy girl smacks me on the mouth. You don't need to say it, it was instant karma." Big Friend rubbed his face and angrily mocked himself.
"Karma! Hah! It was me behind her that pinched her ass like a sex fiend! And I pushed you into her." His wife clapped her hands, enjoying his misfortune.
"Pow!" Big Friend exclaimed. With no more strength than a suckling baby striking its mother, he slapped his wife's face.
10. Training (培训)
"The Knowledge Economy and the Learning Society are inseparable from knowledge and learning.
"How can we have knowledge? By learning, clearly! And how can we learn? By taking training classes, clearly. Everyone in the nation is learning; scrambling, striving, crying and screaming to take training classes. So I set one up."
That's what Big Chin Sun said. He said the class he set up was red hot. People almost broke down the door crowding in to sign up.
Big Chin had "squatted" in primary school for several years and never made it to graduation day. If you added the words he could read to those he could write, they'd still total less than a hundred. And he had the nerve to teach others? He sure did.
"Heh, heh," he tittered. "The other guys don't know even a hundred words, do they? Compared to an eminent writer I'm illiterate, but compared to someone who's illiterate I'm an eminent writer. Besides, since I don't know anything and don't understand anything, I know what I'm lacking and how to get it. Doing a training class is like killing two birds with one stone; I teach others and raise my own level of learning at the same time. Do while learning and learn while doing!"
There's a street with a lot of training academies in the county seat. They're all over the place. There's a "Harvard Business School", an "Oxford College", and a "Tokyo Veterinary Undergraduate School". There's also a "UN Global University of Etiquette Training" and others as well. There's a myriad of ads and signs for various training classes, like "Acupressure Techniques", "Comedic Theater Class", "Pull and Hook Lessons", "Pedi-Pinching Skills", "Eighteen Methods of Self-Defense", "Secrets of Getting Rich Quick"....
Big Chin has now run more than a few classes. One of the hottest, with the largest number of lectures, was "Principles of Exaggerating Wealth", which teaches the arts of showing off, swaggering and bragging.
As Big Chin tells it, almost everyone in the entire county, from toddlers to ninety-eight-year-olds, from the County Commissioner to dementia sufferers, has heard about his classes. He says times have changed. In the past people loved to pretend they were poor, but now people love to show off and boast about their wealth. Whether they're conversing or doing something or swinging their arms while they walk, the important thing is to look like they're rich, even if they're just pretending and don't actually have any money.
These days the poor are the most scorned of people. If you're poor, you'll be looked at like you're subhuman when you're out and about. You've got to show off, exaggerate your wealth and swagger. You can't be modest, or let your poverty show, or be low-key. These are the "three dos and three don'ts" and they sum it all up. There's great wisdom in them, and much skill, more than can be fully grasped even after a couple of months of focused training. A bite of rice doesn't make a fat man, and a breath of style doesn't make a rich one.
Big Chin has created a number of courses of study for the training classes he's set up. They're finely distinguished, from Posture while Walking to Tone of Voice in Speaking. Posture while Walking includes How to Protrude your Belly, The Behind-the-Back Handhold and other minutely detailed lessons.
He's also set up a special course of study, Learning How to Hiccup – The Belch of Fullness. It's quite popular. Those who have gone through the training are able to come up with a respectable "satiated burp" even if they haven't touched a grain of rice or taken a sip of water for three days. When you hear them, you get the feeling they've just eaten a sumptuous repast.
It's said that the hiccups of the good students, the more perceptive ones, are not only a delight to the ear but also redolent with an odor very near that of a wealthy person who's been eating fresh seafood. Coupled with posturing actions, like shivers of ecstasy and exaggerated picking of the teeth, they can even put overseas investors to shame.
Right now, Big Chin Sun is very much a celebrity in this county. They say the government has commended him because after his training, the people of the county are well on their away to the Affluent Society. When you walk down the street, your eyes are full of rich people strutting along, patting their protruding bellies.
Of course, Big Chin doesn't live in this county any more. He says he's too rich and the tax collectors were looking at him with greedy eyes, always demanding that he pay more. The local bank was in a tight spot and was chasing after him for a loan, too. Big Chin had to get out of town and hide out for a while.
8. A Prophetic Dream
9. See Story 3-05 here
4. Inside Information
5. The Net
6. The Fools
7. Ahead of the Pack
Stories by Lao Ma (Ma Junjie), Page 2
Available at laomaruc的博客 http://laomaruc.bokee.com/2, translated from pages cited below
1. See Story 3-02 here
3. The Widow
Chinese Stories in English