1. Ancestors (祖宗)
Most people swoon when they hear Old Wu’s manner of speaking.
Who is Old Wu? No one can figure it out. He is whoever he says he is, and no one dares check his record. To hear him tell it, his records are stored in some safe in the National Archives and marked as “Top Secret”. The guards who look after the safe are all modern martial arts masters who enjoy the pay and benefits of high-level officials. There’s at least a squadron of them.
Old Wu has everything he needs. If you’re talking money, it’s simply toilet paper to him. If you were meeting him for the first time, you’d take him for the director of the agency that prints money, or maybe the president of some big commercial bank.
Talk about influence, Old Wu has awesome power. You need only mention someone famous and he’ll snort out of his left nostril, and then you’ll get the lowdown about the big shot’s background straight from Old Wu’s mouth. He won’t just recite the work experience, interests and hobbies of the official at whatever level – he can imitate their posturings and mannerisms vividly as well. Of course, these people all seem to have some sort of relationship with Old Wu. They’re all relatives, or friends, or his father’s underlings, or relatives of his children’s spouses, that kind of thing.
There’s nothing he can’t do. He’ll say he’s the one who recovered Hong Kong for China, and you really don't dare disbelieve it. At most you’ll discount it and recognize that he gets half the credit. You’ll be convinced because he can explain the entire recovery process to you patiently and in seamless detail. Along the way he’ll also tell you that his grandfather's grandfather fought beside Zheng Chenggong in 1662, when he drove the Dutch from Taiwan into the sea.
Old Wu is a raconteur with a true gift of gab. You might be considered a storyteller or have won champion debater awards, but when Old Wu starts talking, you’d best put your mouth to some other use. Up against Old Wu, all you can do is sit there dumbly, or at most throw in a few hems and haws.
He’s a burly figure, and good-looking. He claims to be a descendant of the legendary warrior Wu Song. If you’re interested, he’ll tell you his family history in rather vague terms. Through the fog you’ll learn that the family traces its ancestry matrilineally. Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty, the only woman to have ever ruled China as emperor, is an ancestral aunt, but the storied cuckold Wu Dalang was adopted into the family and wasn’t Wu Song's biological brother. Zhoukoudian, the site near Beijing where the Peking Man bones were found, was actually a shop operated by his family.
I had a serendipitous opportunity to get to know Old Wu over a decade ago, but afterwards I was ashamed to show my face. Lacking self-esteem and afraid to suffer Old Wu’s disdain, I made myself scarce and started living incognito.
That fortuitous meeting with Old Wu really shook me to the core, because I saw the ancestor that Old Wu dazzled me with. The wind was blowing sand around that day. With some trepidation, I was following Old Wu into his mansion’s spacious living room when an object-d’art in the center of a curios cabinet on the east wall excited my curiosity. Old Wu solemnly held a stick of incense up before the "treasure" and bowed deeply. Then he turned around suddenly and announced to me, as I stood there with a bewildered look on my face wondering if I’d done something wrong, “This is my ancestor!”
I calmed myself down with some difficulty, held my breath and, still a bit flustered, squinted at Old Wu’s ancestor – an ugly-shaped, rough-surfaced lump of dirt enclosed in a glass box. Old Wu told me earnestly that it was his grandfather. Back in the day he’d inspired awe by fighting a tiger for the sake for the great Wu family, chasing the beast by himself all over the world at the risk of losing his life and career, and finally beating it.
As it happened, while he was still away on this mission, his family had been looking all over for him. They’d searched from the winter through the spring and, in an ancient forest, an informant provided the final clue. He’d personally witnessed the horror of a man being eaten by an animal, but because he was far away, he didn’t dare assert that the animal was a tiger. The whole family rushed sobbing to the place the informant pointed out and attempted to call the hero’s soul back from the dead. They ended up meticulously gathering a lump of animal feces, convinced that it was the hero’s remains. From then on, the feces had been enshrined and worshiped by the family for generations as a symbol of their glory.
Old Wu’s story made me feel deep veneration for this unappetizing "treasure". At the same time I had an inexplicable urge to knock Old Wu for a loop, but unfortunately my strength wasn’t up to my desire.
A beautiful and flirtatious woman in Old Wu’s home (apparently his wife, given the way he introduced her) winked at me and, pursing her lips in the direction of that ancestor, whispered in my ear, “Don't listen to him spouting off. It's a lump of dog shit.”
I never went back to Old Wu’s home, and I’ve never seen him since. A few days ago a friend happened to mention that Old Wu had recently been arrested and taken in on suspicion of defrauding several rich women out of their money and assets on the pretext of proposing marriage. That’s when I recalled this business about him and his ancestors.
2. Query (疑问)
I returned to my alma mater for the first time in twenty years. Every blade of grass and each tree seemed still to be laughing at the confusion of a second-rate student from back then.
The school’s gate had been rebuilt, and I felt the changes in my alma mater. The philosophy department had moved from a single-story building to one with multiple stories. I heard that from the gate guard. The old guy was the son of the old man who watched the gate when I was a student, I guessed. It was because the two of them were practically cut from the same mold, and the old man from twenty years previously couldn’t have lived to the present.
There’d only been a few changes in the campus. All the buildings remained as dilapidated as they’d always been, a scene showing that there was still a serious shortage of investment. That’s how universities should look – they can't be dressed garishly like little girls in the prime of life. In my mind I went over vocabulary that I’d used in classroom discussions back then: undemonstrative, dignified, down-to-earth, rational.
I’d been selected for admission to the Department of Philosophy by happenstance, a situation not so different from the other thirty students in my class. The obtuseness, dryness, tediousness and unintelligibility of philosophy, coupled with the clownish vulgarity of the teachers, rubbed most of us students so wrong that our eyes constantly twitched. Four short years felt like an unbearable eternity to us, and graduation was like retirement from a mind-numbing job or a release from prison for most of my classmates, except for those who’d been lost to attrition during the course of our studies. (Two had become schizophrenic, two had to go home and farm to save their lives, and three had flunked out because they were always going to the wrong classroom and sitting in on either accounting or journalism classes).
At the graduation ceremony, the dean of the department raised a topic that excited the students and made the teachers sad: "What would the world be like if not for philosophy?" Not a few of the students got so excited they shed tears. How they wished that this hypothesis had been put forward at least four years before as the start of an authorized experiment.
The teachers in attendance also burst into tears. This kind of hypothetical question was undoubtedly a most serious attack on them. If there were no philosophy, the world would no longer exist. They would’ve arrived at this conclusion even if they had to violate logic.
The fundamental problem of all philosophy, especially modern philosophy, is the relationship between thought and being. The arguments are so amenable to slogans that even the lowest IQ students, and the ones who skip classes all the time, can recite them backwards and forwards.
The “thinking/being" problem stood prominently at the forefront when I graduated. You’d be placed in one of two camps depending on your answer to this question: materialist or idealist (believing that external reality is a product of consciousness). The urgent need to make a living caused many of my classmates to give up thinking and turn to solving the problem of survival.
I travelled alone throughout China doing business, working temporary jobs, buying and selling goods and trading stocks, and gradually the material basis for my survival solidified. However, the question "What would the world be like if not for philosophy?" often gnawed away at me like a difficult riddle.
When I walked into the Philosophy Department’s office that day, the faces of the office workers made me feel like a stranger. I asked about one teacher, a fellow who’d been my classmate back then. The answer I heard sent my mind buzzing. "He died a long time ago."
"Died! What happened?"
"Nothing happened. He died from cirrhosis of the liver.
I was stunned to silence for quite some time before timidly asking, "Has X died as well?"
"What are you are saying? He’s alive and well. Are you putting a curse on him by mentioning his death?"
"Oh, I’m truly sorry." The stone in my heart had finally landed. "Well, then, is he still in the department?"
"Yes, but you can't see him. In fact, we can't see him, either. He’s in business off-campus. He comes to school when he has a class but disappears right afterward."
I went back outside and walked aimlessly around the campus. In my mind I kept going over that riddle: "What would the world be like if not for philosophy?" The college students scurrying by me were rushing off to classroom buildings for their third or fourth period classes. Their faces didn’t show the confusion that ours had back then – perhaps they weren’t philosophy majors. They were also much better dressed than we’d been.
A sign from an association hung over the entrance to the Academic Activity Center. It read: "What is philosophy? – A New Century International Symposium". This is a feature of colleges: Whenever there’s an activity of this sort, anyone can join in any time they want.
I walked into the conference room with some misgivings. People were talking enthusiastically, but what they were saying didn’t attract my attention.
I gave the venue the onceover. There were a few familiar faces – my teachers from back then. Some of them had their ears cocked, listening, and some were relaxing with their eyes closed. My old class advisor was actually snoring. I was about to turn and leave when someone tapped my shoulder heavily. Oh, it was a classmate from back then who’d stayed at school after graduation to teach.
Without waiting for him to speak, I peppered him with a question of my own. "Twenty years, and you’re still discussing what philosophy is?"
"Yep. We discuss it often, and will keep on discussing it in the future,” he said with a smile. “It’ll still need to be discussed a hundred years from now."
That made me angry. I wanted to smack him.
"What? If you haven’t even figured out what philosophy is, it’s just irresponsible to keep recruiting students. What I studied twenty years ago was philosophy, but twenty years later you’re still arguing incessantly about what philosophy is. I’m going to ask for damages."
"You’ve got nothing. You always were a second-rate student." Twenty years on and my classmate, who was now an associate professor of philosophy, was laying another verdict on me.
"So, if philosophy went missing, what would happen to the world?" I pressed him, ignoring the harm to my self-respect.
He tossed out an answer icily. "Not very much."
3. The Everything Card (一卡通)*
In this cardified era, anyone who doesn’t carry several cards with them is so behind the times.
But packing too many cards is a hassle, too. Bottom line, one has to know what each card is for. You can’t get cash with a store purchase card or make a phone call with an ATM card; a phone card won’t let you borrow books and a library card can't be used at a bathhouse. Many people have encountered this sort of thing. You’re asking for problems if you bring the wrong card.
But experts always respond to consumers’ needs. Our hassles and inconveniences leave a bad taste in their mouths and keep them awake at night, so they’ve finally invented the "Everything Card." Now, with only one card in my hand, I can travel anywhere in the world without fear.
Indeed, this card of mine is almost my everything. As long as I don’t lose it, I’ll be OK even if I get lost myself.
I put the water and electricity on my card, and books, meals, my son's tuition, my wife's cosmetics and jewelry and fashions, and even gifts to honor my mother-in-law. It’s both an electronic wallet and proof of my identity. I use it to open doors, I use it to shop, and I and use it to pay innumerable fees. There’s nothing it can’t do, and its wonders never cease.
But the biggest benefit of using the card isn’t convenience. In my experience, the card greatly minimizes the pain of spending money. When I use cash to pay a bill, the banknotes stick to my fingers and it’s always tough to let them go. My heart shrivels a bit with each note I count out. When I finish counting, I start to sweat, my face loses color and sometimes my legs get weak.
Swiping the card will eliminate this kind of adverse reaction for the most part. The physical notes don’t exist and turn into mere numbers. No matter what I buy, I don’t feel the pain of spending money, just a happiness like getting something for nothing. The biggest difference from using cash is that I used to be able to buy or not buy, that is, to resist the urge to buy. Now, using a card, I take home even things I shouldn’t buy, as long as the card doesn’t get "maxed out".
The "Everything Card" is a convenience that makes my life easier. Of course, I’m referring to times when there’s no "virus".
A few days ago I caught a virus-like cold. I coughed, sneezed, got teary-eyed, ran a fever and generally ached all over. I don't know if I infected the card, but anyway, on my second day taking an “Every Symptom” medicine, my "Everything Card" wouldn’t work for anything. They said there was a problem with the system, that it had been infected by a kind of virus with a savage name.
First the power was cut off, and the water stopped at the same time. No water and no electricity means your life is paralyzed. My throat was parched but the toilet and kitchen smelled to high heaven. I wanted to buy medicine but couldn’t pay for it. I wanted to buy food but they didn’t accept cash. I’d entrusted my entire everyday life to a small card, and now I was really stumped. I had to get by without eating or drinking. I could only hope that the system’s doctor would kill the virus and I could get back to a normal person's life.
When the system's problems were resolved, I couldn’t find my "Everything Card". It took a lot of effort, but finally, under the guidance of a fortune teller, I was able to pick the “Everything Card” out of the toilet’s drainpipe.
[The title of this story in Chinese is a homograph for “a cartoon”– Fannyi]
4. A Few Words (一句话)
"Good morning, Boss!"
I’d just gotten to work and didn't know where he’d popped up from.
"Yeah, morning. You wanted to see me?"
"It’s nothing important. I know you’re busy and I really hate to disturb you. Look, you’re so busy I’ll just say a few words, just take half a minute of your time, OK? Oh, right, I was so happy to see you that I forgot to introduce myself. I’m from our school’s mailing room, last name of Wang, the Wang with three cross strokes and one down. You just got here and definitely don’t know me. The old boss used to know me well. You don’t know, but I helped him out a lot with family stuff."
"Whatever you wanted to see me about, just say it."
"Oh, it’s actually just a little thing. What kind of big things can little people like me have? It’s just an annoying little thing. Bothering you with such trash can really add to your burdens. May I sit down while I talk? I’ll just sit here, huh? Look, you really should get a new sofa. This one squeaks when you sit on it. Oh, it is new. The quality of products these days is really despicable. We bought a mop at home a few days ago and, boy, was it disgusting! Three days and all the fronds fell off, and then the whole head! Go ahead and get the phone. Don’t let me interfere with your work.
"Well, back to it. Seeing how busy you are, you probably even forgot to eat breakfast? The newspaper said it’s easy to get gallstones if you don’t eat breakfast.... OK, OK, I’ll tell you what I wanted to talk about. Where was I? See how my memory is? Oh, right, the mop. Wasn’t I talking about the mop?
" OK, OK, I’ll get on with it. Just a few words. You really are busy. You’ve still got to go through documents and act on memos, I’m truly embarrassed to take up so much of your time. OK, right, let’s do this. You look at your documents while I state my business. That’ll be good, and neither one of us’ll be wasting our time. I’m just afraid to have the boss worrying about one guy’s problems.
"On the other hand, I could pour you a cup of tea and you can listen to me while you’re drinking it. Judging from the sweat on your face, the room’s a bit hot. Wouldn’t you say the weather today is really out of whack? Only a few months into the year and it’s so hot a man can’t breathe. Here’s your tea.
"Oh, you’re taking medicine, too. Aren’t you feeling well? No matter how busy you are at work, you’ve got to take time to rest. Your body is your own, and you can't be too generous with it. Back when I was at the factory....
"What’s that? Time for lunch? Isn’t that something. A few words and I’ve been talking all morning. I’m so embarrassed. I’ve wasted your whole morning, so how about I buy you lunch. It’s not like I’m treating you, it’s just evening things up, isn’t it? Nothing to worry about, just having a bite to eat together. I know you haven't tried many exotic delicacies, but don’t be polite. Spend more time with me and you’ll know, that’s just what a straight shooter I am.
Let’s go for a little bite. There’s a stews and roasts place kitty-corner from the front entrance, just down the alley and turn east. The food tastes OK. We can get a little bottle of rotgut, like Erguotou, and that’ll do it. If you don't give me the honor, you’ll be treating me like an outsider. If you don't go, I won't, either. Besides, you have to eat lunch, don’t you? And I’m not trying to get any favors from you. Ah, that’s not right. I came to see you to get your opinion on something. I’m such a knot-head. How could I have forgotten?"
I couldn't take it. I used all my strength to push and shove him to the top of the stairs and give him a flying kick. I’d rather forget about being an official than have to endure that kind of torture. He rolled down the stairs, but I didn't care. Tossing him out and letting him be an invalid for the rest of his life was the best thing to do.
5. A Happy Life (幸福生活)
My wife and I didn’t realize that a problem had come up in our lives until we listened to the psychologist’s lecture.
Our life at the time was quite unhappy, but if not for the psychologist’s patient and well-meaning analysis and demonstration, the two of us would’ve remained completely in the dark. It turned out we were fooling ourselves in thinking we were so happy. We were in fact conning ourselves. Our life was a mess and had become downright intolerable.
Beginning the day we heard the lecture on psychology, my wife and I spent several nights discussing the questions of what happiness is and what it would take to be happy. My wife had never maintained such a high level of agreement with me. We each believed we should follow the expert psychologist’s ideas, and work hard to change the status quo and live a truly happy life.
First, the expert psychologist had told us that happiness is a subjective feeling which lies in perception. My wife and I did everything we could think of to find happiness. For example, when we ate candy, we consciously understood that the sensation of sweetness was happiness. My wife took the lead in exclaiming, "Really sweet! Such happiness!" Her emotion infected me. I felt I really had some understanding, through personal experience, of what the expert called "positive joy". For a few days we consumed at least two pounds of candy a day, until a physical revealed that my blood sugar indicators had gotten too high.
Second, the psychologist had told us that happiness lies in comparison. The idea of "recalling bitterness to understand sweetness" is truly efficacious. Thinking about the hard times of the past, our present happiness is boundless. Did Genghis Khan ever watch TV? No, he only knew about "shooting arrows at eagles"*. Did the Queen Mother, Empress Dowager Cixi, ever play games on a computer? That’s also a “no”.
I had to crawl ten miles a day to get to school when I was in elementary school. Today I get in the car right outside my door, and sooner or later my legs will be as degenerate as my appendix. When my wife was in junior high, she stole thirty cents to get a face mask to protect her from the bone-chilling wind, and her father (that is, my father-in-law) almost knocked her teeth out. Today she smears on lipstick that doesn’t even keep her warm, let alone protect her from the wind, and what she spends just on that would be enough for us to keep two sows.
We’d lie in bed and, as though it were a competition, each of us would try to be the first to recall the miserable days of our past. Happiness would arise spontaneously. On several occasions we were so happy that we cried on each other's shoulders so loudly that we disturbed the neighbors. Each of them walked away with astonishment on their faces when they learned that we were crying from happiness, and they’ve never again bothered themselves to even give us a “howdy-do”. Happiness can make others envious, as we came to understand full well during this period.
After we’d been really, really happy for a time, we began to realize that we lacked sufficient stamina for such joy. It wasn’t a sustainable development. We made a special trip to the expert psychologist to seek his advice and he once again gave us guidance. He taught us the final strategy for finding happiness. He said we’d attain eternal happiness with this formula: devotion and charity to others.
My wife and I decided to follow the expert psychologist’s advice to the letter. First we adopted an "orphan" who’d been begging on the roadside. Within a few days the brothers and sisters of the "orphan" had gathered together with us, and a few days later the "orphan’s" parents and other relatives joined the crowd. My wife and I moved from our bedroom to the living room, then from the living room to the toilet, and finally we were on the street, homeless. Happiness was with us all the way.
Nowadays you may be able to see us in a cave under a bridge, or in the bushes by the side of the road, any old place. We’re going to continue to maintain a happy attitude. We’re each prepared to donate a kidney to someone in need a few days from now, and then we’ll continue donating organs that other people can use. Happiness will be with us always.
*[A metaphor for being stuck in the past, based on a quote from Mao Zedong. See here – Fannyi]
6. Interests (兴趣)
My son is ten and a half years old and very fat. Except for his love of watching animated cartoons, he hasn’t yet taken an interest in anything. We get quite anxious as parents when we see the children of our neighbors and colleagues around us studying piano or voice. It seemed that insuring his ability to survive in this life wouldn’t be easy, unless we could harbor one or two “consummate stratagems” this year.
What to study? This was a big problem and we couldn’t let ourselves think the answer was obvious. Educators advise that it’s necessary to start from the child’s interests and explore their potential and strengths. We couldn’t make a snap decision.
Studying voice (singing) would have been the most hassle-free and the least expensive. No paraphernalia is necessary. Our child cried long and loud when he was born, so we couldn’t say he lacked the innate ability. When he started primary school, one day when he came home after class he saw that the ice cream in the refrigerator was all gone. He howled like a pig being butchered and scared the neighbors. They were all impressed by his powerful voice.
My wife and I agreed that would do, and the more we thought about it the more confident we became. We believed not only that the child’s voice was good, but also that his portly body would be a plus, à la Italy's Pavarotti. This realization excited us for a few days and we ran all over looking for an instructor. Finally one singer agreed to give it a try.
When we arrived at the teacher's home, this brutish child wouldn't open his mouth for anything. As soon as the teacher opened his own mouth to sing, the boy was convulsed with side-splitting laughter and made the teacher blush bright red. His mother (my tone-death wife) felt we’d lost so much face that she poked her son in the back as hard as she could. He finally opened his mouth and screamed loud enough to wake the dead. The teacher nodded with satisfaction and said, "OK, the kid’s all right. There’s no doubt he can yell for the cops if he ever runs into trouble."
But he couldn’t count on being a star singer for a career. Even if he had the voice, he couldn’t have his mother on stage with him to poke him in the back.
Practicing acrobatics also had possibilities. We consulted experts, though, and they said that the steel high wire was too thin to support the weight of someone like my son. Also, he couldn’t bend at the waist for acts like juggling jars with his feet. We had to give up that idea.
Playing the piano? That was a joke. Our son's fingers are so short and thick, it’s the same whether he opens his hand or makes a fist. He couldn’t count on that for a career, either.
"Judo! With your son’s stoutness and body type, if he studies judo, his innate talents will mature the day after tomorrow." That was a colleague’s suggestion. People said it was a good idea, but the boy’s mother wouldn’t go for it. Her patriotism is so great that she can’t control herself when she thinks about the Japanese. Heck with it, all you can do is pull a knife on the Japanese.
It’s our son who knows his interests and specialties the best, anyway. We recently discovered that he wants to be a gourmand. He started by sampling a cream cake.
7. A Smiling Face (笑脸)
A smiling face is the best letter of recommendation. Graceful got hired by our company on the basis of this inborn recommendation letter.
She’s beautiful, after all, and with the addition of a charming smile, she becomes even more charming.
A smile conquers all, and Graceful realized a smile’s power early on. When she was a child, if she and her sister did something wrong together, it was always her sister who got chewed out. Her sister’s fate was closely related to her sad-looking face, a face which practically become a portrayal of her life. Just after she got out of junior high, their parents deprived her sister of the chance to continue her schooling. Citing, “Look at the way she looks” as the reason, they forced her sister, who was only one year older than Graceful, to go to work on the farm. Graceful, on the other hand, smiled her way to the city to attend high school.
The teachers and other students all liked Graceful. Her smile was like a flowing red flag hanging in the classroom or on the playground. Her class won many awards, which all seemed directly related to this smiling face.
She kept smiling throughout her time in college, and there was laughter along with the smiles. Her smile and her laugh made it difficult for many of the boys to sleep at night. They couldn’t even think about eating or drinking tea. The women felt hatred in their bones for Graceful's "foxlike" smile– some of them even used the most vicious language to quash the angelic brilliance of her smile, explaining in detailed terms that it was “sinister” and “licentious”. Graceful laughed it off, and no one ever saw her annoyed or angry.
Before graduating, Graceful was chosen to be the Image Ambassador of her department. This honorary title was based on the unanimous opinion of the majority of students, especially the males. Many of the students wanted to take a picture with her in addition to the class graduation photo. They hoped to take this innocent and unaffected smile with them as they went off to faraway places.
Graceful’s smile won many new customers for our company. Our colleagues admitted that her sincere and unadulterated smile meant profit. The boss was also aware of her smile’s value and instructed the human resources department to train all employees to make it their model, so as to develop opportunities and win honors for the company.
The result of the training wasn’t ideal. An imitated smile lacks sincerity and some employees’ natural expressions became affected. People from top to bottom began to resent Graceful, especially the young girls who were already glamorous. They often had their bonuses reduced by the boss because their overly hot imitations of her smile distorted their faces. Graceful’s innate smile became an accursed symbol for our colleagues, curbing their enthusiasm for the job. The young girls who had formerly been favored often hid their faces and shed tears because of the boss's indifference.
The employees came together as one and vowed that, from then on, they would keep their faces wooden and refuse to smile. Let Graceful keep her dopey grin for herself!
The boss was also carried away by Graceful’s smiling face. He repeatedly tried to get what he needed from her smile, but she always rejected him with a laugh. His dignity and authority and even his desire suffered. He began to doubt the practical value of Graceful’s smiling face.
One day some creditors beat the boss soundly in his office. He knelt on the floor begging for mercy and shouting for help. They stopped only after Graceful heard what was happening and rushed into the office. The boss was laying stiff on the floor and struggled to raise his head. The first thing he saw was the face that always had a smile on it. He was incensed and shouted at the top of his lungs, “Get out!”
Graceful got fired, but she left the company with a smile.
8. Scalded (烫伤)
After the intimacy was over, he especially wanted to return to his wife’s side. She hooked both arms around his neck and said with a smile, "Don’t you want to keep me company for one night? We can enjoy ourselves to the full and have another go."
"Oh, no, you don’t understand. I just thought of something I’ll need early tomorrow morning. I forgot it at home." He was lying.
"You really want to go? You have the heart to make me sleep in such a big bed by myself?"
"I’ll come back tomorrow night, for sure. You have this bed all to yourself to roll around on." He smiled as he spoke. He finished dressing and kissed her hurriedly.
Walking down the street in the middle of the night, he once again thought of his wife. He didn’t know why, but he missed her terribly today. He considered her much more gentle and considerate than anyone else.
“Ah, it’s just an obsession. How could I have gotten tangled up with her. All things considered, she can’t hold a candle to my wife. Damn it all, I shouldn’t create problems for myself. Diana was an outstanding beauty, wasn’t she? But Prince Charles cheated on her anyway. I really don't understand it. Hell with it, I won’t see her again. My wife hasn't found out yet, so I can just break it off and avoid getting myself into trouble.”
Suddenly he remembered what he’d told his wife on his way to work that morning. He had an operation at the hospital and wouldn’t be coming home that night. “If I go home now, what am I going to tell her? It doesn't matter. I’ll just say the operation was an easy one and afterwards I had a drink with a colleague. I don’t know how many lies like that I’ve told the last few years. They come so easily, and she never suspects. She’s truly a lovely, gullible wife.” He smirked, but didn’t feel quite right about it. He really was a bit thirsty, so he walked to a small bar that stayed open at night.
He didn’t drink often and couldn’t hold his liquor. One bottle of beer and he could obviously feel it. “Go home, go home,” he said to himself. “Go to sleep snuggling the wife.” He swayed on home.
The lights were already off at his house. He didn’t want to alarm his wife because, one, it would affect her rest, and two, he was afraid she might have a "need". He remembered people saying that a man likes to hear a woman say "I want it", but the scariest thing was a woman saying "I want more." He quietly laughed to himself as he tiptoed into the living room. He decided he’d make do with a night on the sofa, or more precisely, half a night.
The loving feelings he’d just had prompted him to walk carefully to the bedroom door and open it gently. Never before had he wanted to see his wife’s beautifully sleeping body as much as he did at that moment. “Damn it all, I really am drunk! How could there be two people lying in that bed? One’s the wife all right, but who’s the other one? Is it me? Has to be. No, wait, I’m standing here, aren’t I? Damn booze!” He wiped his mouth with his hand. "Man, that hurts!”
The noise roused the people on the bed. The "he" sat up at once, and he himself also seemed to have woken up. In a flash he seemed to understand everything. He picked something up and flung it, a teapot, and it happened to smash down on the stomach of the "he" in the bed. "He" screamed, grabbed his clothes and fled out the door. He stood there dumbly. His wife lay on the bed, also stunned, embarrassment and anger on her face. He didn’t flare up, just put on his coat mechanically and left the house.
“I don’t know where to go. Anyway, I can’t ever go back to that house. What the fuck was that?” He felt panicky and wandered aimlessly along the street. “Call her up, go back to her place.” He talked himself into it, but no one answered the phone. “Damn, nothing good about that woman,” he muttered through clenched teeth. “Is she sleeping with someone else? I’ll shout at her and see what she says. If she doesn't answer, I’ll keep yelling at her, hound her to death.”
His phone rang. It was her voice.
"Sorry. I’m at the hospital."
"What happened? What did you go to my hospital for?"
"I'm fine. That guy of mine was hurt."
"Wasn’t he on a business trip? Did he get hit by a car?"
"No, that's not it. He got scalded. Strange to say, his plane was late today. While he was eating in the airport restaurant, a little girl bumped her hand against a teapot that was sitting somewhere. Mister nice guy rushed over to help and slipped awkwardly."
"Where was he burned?"
"His belly. He was holding the teapot when he fell and he sure enough he got scalded. Rotten luck! Hey, can you come to the hospital and have a look at him."
"Pah! He deserved it. I’d rather see if that girl at the airport restaurant got burnt." He hung up angrily.
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