2. Time Gone By (岁月)

            I called out, "Please come in!" when I heard the knock on the door.
            An old fellow came in, walking slowly in small steps and leaning on a cane. You could tell at a glance it was the residual effects of cerebral thrombosis, a classic case.
            "Old Niu,” he said, “I heard ... you got ... promoted…. I’ve come … to congratulate … you.” It was difficult for him to speak. He spat out the words, and none too clearly.
            "Ah, thank you, please sit down." I responded politely while, at the same time, searching my brain for this face, which I was apparently supposed to recognize.
            "You ...your ...  office is ... really spa ... cious." He sat on the couch and looked around.
            I handed him a teacup and he gestured for me to put it on the coffee table. His hands were trembling and he wasn’t brave enough to take the cup from me directly.
            “How are you?” I asked. I was looking for clues to determine the identity of my visitor as soon as possible.
            "Can you ... tell? I’ll be ... done for … soon." His face was twitching as he spoke, and a bitter smile deformed his face a bit.
            "Oh, don’t say that. It’s still a long way to the end zone!" I kept thinking he looked familiar.
            "Elegance ... wanted me to ... come see you ... long ago." He struggled to nod to me.
            Elegance, my God, I remembered! The old fellow sitting in front of me was the father of my college classmate, Healthy. Elegance was Healthy’s wife, and she was also my classmate. In college, Healthy’s father always came to our dorm every time he was travelling on business. We always joked with Healthy about how much he and his father looked alike. We told him he was the picture of his father when he was young. But time is ruthless, and the years are not forgiving. Healthy’s father had grown old and become like this! I felt sorry for him.
            "Is Elegance doing well?" I asked.
            "Yes ... yes, but... it’s really... hard ... on her. You see ... how I am ... an extra ... burden on her.” He smiled bitterly. It was hard to look at him.
            Yes, her life must be quite difficult, I thought to myself. But caring for the husband’s parents is a duty that a daughter-in-law must fulfill. Elegance was the “Flower of the Campus” when we were in college. A lot of the guys lost sleep over her, and I was one of them. We were all truly jealous and puzzled when she married Healthy. Long ago I heard that her family burdens were rather heavy, but I didn’t expect that her father-in-law would be in such poor health.
            "When did you get sick?" I asked with concern.
            "Oh.... the last ... two years ... I spent all day ... and night ... writing things ... for a job … appraisal … I was … too stupid...." He was so emotional he was stammering.
            A job appraisal? I couldn’t figure that out. Old as he was, what kind of job appraisal could he have been going through? I kept my thoughts to myself.
            "Well, how is Healthy? He was always in awesome health. I saw him four years ago and he was still like a young tiger."
            "You ... you ... you’re ... something else. You become a … government official ... and you don't … recognize me ... Paa!" He stood up quite unsteadily, and staggered toward the door....
            That’s when it hit me. "Healthy...." I hugged him.

3. A Cherished Wish (夙愿)

            "I don't want to be an official. I always pass the opportunity along to others." That’s what Teacher told everyone he happened to meet. Whenever the opportunity arose, whether he was lecturing in class or attending a meeting, he’d bring up once again the subject that he’d discussed hundreds of times before.
            He passed away after enjoying seventy-five years of life. The last time I heard him express his views on the subject was about a year before his death, when he was seventy-four. It was his birthday and I remember it quite clearly. Several classmates and I went to wish him well, as we had in previous years, and we presented him with a huge cake.
            Teacher was quite excited. He rebuked us for being too wasteful while he was cutting the cake, and criticized us when we had drinks. "All you officials,” he said, “shouldn’t think you’re anything special. The truth is, a lot of people are more able than you, and have more staying power. They just weren’t willing to choose an official career." We nodded and said yes, but we didn’t think it was quite right for Teacher to call us minor section chiefs and small department heads "officials”.
            "Take me, for example." Whenever he opened his trap, Teacher would use himself as an example and speak from personal experience. "When I was in high school,” he said, “the teacher would’ve had me be class monitor, but I wouldn't do it. Let someone else have the honor. So he chose someone whose grades weren’t as good as mine. When that class monitor graduated, he was recommended for a government position as a communications officer. Later he became mayor. When he retired, he was Chairman of the People’s Consultative Conference for the prefecture. He stepped on a lot of toes."
            "I could’ve gone into the government when I graduated from college, but I didn't want to be an official. You know that. I insisted on staying at the school to teach. All my classmates who went into government upon graduation ended up as Department Directors or Bureau Chiefs, and two even became Deputy Ministers. They were all powerful, hey!"
            "In July 1962, my Department Director wanted to have me serve as Office Manager in addition to my teaching duties. I said that wasn’t one of my career goals and I wasn’t up to the job. He gave the position to Old Dong from our teaching and research section. Old Dong later gave up teaching and slowly climbed the ladder to the position of Director of School Secretaries. His assigned housing was much bigger than mine, and his salary was higher, too."
            "After the 'Cultural Revolution', namely, in August 1977, the school’s Organizational Department called me in for a talk. They said the Academic Affairs Office was short a Deputy Director and they hoped I could consider it. I thanked them tactfully and declined, giving the opportunity to a colleague. This colleague’s skill level wasn’t as good as mine, but he was rather enthusiastic about his work. He held the position for a number of years, then transferred to another school and became a Deputy Dean. He was treated much better than I was."
            "In April 1983, the principal personally volunteered me for the job of Vice Chairman of the Trade Union. The position really wasn’t considered low-level back then. I hesitated a long time before giving it up and suggesting that the school promote more young people. The Vice Chairman who replaced me has now been promoted to Chairman. He enjoys the benefits of Deputy-level officials in the school and has made three trips abroad."
            "The old cadres at the school wanted to hire me as a consultant when I retired. I didn’t accept, even though the position had no official rank and pretty fair benefits. Hey, I’ve never been willing to be an official, ever since I was young. It’s no one else’s fault, just no way I wanted to. I wasn't interested in an official position. Besides, one can't think only of oneself; one must leave good things for others, don’t you all agree? I’ve often said that, haven’t I?"
            "Yes, yes, yes," we all chimed in. Each of us wanted to be first to praise Teacher's noble character and unquestionable integrity, his indifference to worldly rewards, and his decision not to seek fame and fortune in the bureaucracy. Teacher was happy, even if his happiness was a bit forced.
            All us disciples came forward to offer our condolences when Teacher died, and we also helped the family with the funeral arrangements. Teacher’s wife told us that, toward the end, he’d repeatedly urged the organization to be sure to write in his obituary that he wasn’t willing to be an official, and that he’d refused the opportunity to be an official on numerous occasions. The personnel department felt that was awkward and ultimately failed to complete the text. Teacher’s wife wasn’t pleased and privately asked me whether the position of Chairman of the Funeral Committee could be held by the deceased. I shook my head. She sighed.
            In order to fulfill the long-cherished wishes of my greatly respected teacher, I have written this retrospective account to honor his memory.

4. Gift-Giving (送礼)

            Old Li says, “The lore of gift-giving is huge. There’s a lot of reason in it.
            “The history of gift-giving is lengthy. It has its source in ancient times and flows continuously to the present.
            “The scope of gift-giving is quite wide. It’s practiced all over the world, from China to foreign lands.
            “The methods of gift-giving are many and varied. There are fantastic customs of every description, delightful and marvelous, wonderful and diverse.”
            Old Li has sent a lifetime of gifts and has studied the lore of gift-giving his entire life. If you had him set up discussion topics on the theory and art of gift giving, he’ll be able to propose an entire series of lectures.
            Old Li and I were classmates when we were little, and now we’re colleagues who grew up together. When we were in the same classes at school, he couldn't out-score me on tests; now we’re colleagues at work, and he can’t out-perform me on the job. It’s only in the area of gift-giving where I am far inferior to him. He spends a ton of money on gifts but gets more in return. His academic qualifications are not as good as mine, but he got promoted before me. He’s not as capable as I am, but he has a higher position than I do. His character is inferior to mine, but he’s advanced much farther than me. He’s younger than me but was allocated housing before I was. I’m not comparing myself to him, I’m just drawing contrasts so as to initiate a self-criticism.
            Old Li recently took early retirement and moved to the coast, where he contracted to operate a business. As a technical cadre, I was able to work for two more years. He occasionally condescended to come to my humble abode and visit for a while. He’d get to talking about gift-giving and would speak inexhaustibly. From history to current matters, from theories to skills, everything he said was logical and really opened my eyes. Considering that some of those things involved specific persons and matters, he was not in a position to talk about the details, but he could bring out the essentials in general terms. It was hugely enlightening for me.
            Old Li said that the giving of gifts depends on the recipient. One must get a feel for their interests and hobbies, so as not to send ice to someone who hates cold or fire to someone who hates heat. One must adapt to their tastes and learn to send hats in the winter and fans in the summer. He said one must grasp the timing when giving gifts, study strategies and techniques, and pay attention to the method of giving the gift so as to be natural. One must let the recipient know the intention that motivates the gift, but make it superficially appear not to be a gift so that the recipient has no excuse to refuse it.
            Old Li said that there’s a direct relationship between the size of the gift and the size of whatever it is you want done. It’s not worth it to give too much and useless to give too little; it’s best to give the exactly appropriate amount. He said there are many patterns for giving gifts. People will send anything: Some send money in a disguised form, such as a store voucher, gift cards or the like; some send food, clothing or other useful items like cigarettes, wine, tea, blouses, hats, shoes and whatnot; some send accessories such as necklaces, bracelets, brooches or similar items; some even send love, or jobs, or diplomas, or honors, etc. This is another realm entirely, something that we ordinary people don’t have the basic skills for.
            Old Li said….
            Old Li talked until I was dizzy. He made me ashamed of my inferiority and I felt like I’d wasted my life.
            Coincidentally, I recently had to go see our Department’s Director about a difficulty I was having. Old Li’s words had alerted me and I’d prepared a gift for him.
            In accordance with Old Li’s admonition to plan carefully when giving a gift, and after repeatedly contrasting his basic principles with his various techniques, I decided to give the Director a complete
Jinhua ham, which is made from a pig’s entire thigh and smoked by various techniques of the trade. This gift would be completely in line with Old Li’s gift-giving precepts in that it was tasteful, not irreverent, moderately pricey (compared with what I was seeking), a specialty product of our hometown (i.e., obviously natural and not easy to refuse).... Anyway, I thought this gift was appropriate, and more so than anything else.
            I chose the best time to go to the director's home – when the director wasn’t there and his wife would welcome me warmly. I seemed to remember Old Li saying not to overstay one’s welcome when giving a gift at home, so I simply explained why I’d come, put the thing down and got ready to take my leave. The expression on the woman’s powdered face changed greatly when she saw my gift. She said they weren’t able to accept it no matter what. I wouldn’t take it back for love or money and scampered off. I’d run all the way downstairs when I heard a “thud”. The ham had fallen from above and almost smashed my noggin. I broke into a cold sweat from shame. I took to my bed when I got home, so sick I couldn’t get up.
            Old Li came to see me, and I described what had happened in an unemotional tone of voice. He heard me out, then laughed incessantly and chewed me out for being such a blockhead. I stared at him, not understanding, my head in a fog.
            "What kind of gift was that?” he asked. “It was obviously an insult! The Director’s wife didn’t think your gift was frivolous. She was magnanimous enough that she didn’t beat you within an inch of your life. You jerk, why didn't you use your brain? Where do the Director and his wife usually take their meals? In the – Islamic – dining – hall. When you gave him a ham, you were just looking for a fight, weren’t you?!
            I’d really been hoist on my own petard. I broke out in a cold sweat once again. I’d have to apologize to the Director and his wife once I got well, but where would I start!

5. Written Comments (批示)

            The mayor’s written comments had people scratching their heads.
            It was an important document, signed and issued by the leader. The Mayor’s handwritten remarks in the blank spaces were somewhat scribbled but clear enough to be deciphered.
            When the Bureau Chief received the document with the Mayor's comments, he thought long and hard but couldn’t make heads or tails of it. “Big words westward journey? Three, reform....” He toiled away for half the day before a flash of insight solved the mystery.
            The Chief immediately convened a meeting for cadres at or above the department level to convey and study the spirit of the Mayor’s important comments.
            First he made a self-criticism and reviewed the many shortcomings in his work. He believed that the mayor’s comments were “highly targeted and deserve our serious reflection and deep understanding.” He said: "'Big words' refers to overstatements in the planning we’ve reported to our superiors. We were boastful and talked big, and our attitude didn’t reflect the principle of Proceeding from Realities. Nor did we follow the leadership’s instruction to Seek Truth from Facts.”
            He continued, “There are two levels of meaning to 'westward journey'. One is a demand that we dare to innovate, like the Monkey King
Sun Wukong in the novel Journey to the West. No matter how many twists and turns we encounter, we should seek to advance and grow from them. The second level of meaning instructs us to continue to learn from and adopt the spirit of Tang Seng in that same novel, who feared no hardship and overcame all difficulties on his way to the Buddhist Paradise to obtain the sutras. I propose that our bureau do further research. We should organize trips for our cadres go to the developed nations of the West to observe and study, and thereby broaden their horizons.
            "As for the 'three', it’s easy to understand. We must never forget the requirements of the '
Three Represents' in any job we do. Namely, the Party represents: one, the development trends of advanced productive forces; two, the orientations of an advanced culture; and three, the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people of China. Further, we must always insist on the 'Three Benefits' from beginning to end. Namely, we must work toward the benefits of: one, developing the productive power of a socialist society; two, increasing the overall national power of a socialist nation; and three, raising the people's standard of living.
            "And 'Reform'. We must not just pay it lip service. We must keep our feet firmly on the ground and advance one step at a time. Reform is a process, and we must do our work in a spirit of reform…."
            The Bureau researched the matter and decided that the circumstances surrounding the understanding, propagating and implementing of the Mayor’s comments should be reported to the Mayor in the form of a brief.
            When the mayor saw the brief, he couldn’t help but laugh.
            "No wonder I couldn't find that note! Turns out I jotted it down on the document that the leader signed and issued."
            He remembered that a few days before, his grandson had called out of the blue and asked him to buy a movie ticket for three in the afternoon on Sunday. The movie was called "Westward Journey" and was being premiered at the "Reform Theater".
            The mayor then picked up a pen and wrote on the brief: "Mistake acknowledged and corrected, swift as the wind and as decisively as thunder. This kind of spirit is worth promoting. Deputy Mayors please read and circulate. Also, relevant news media please report on and propagate it."

6. Friends (朋友)

            My friend Old Pan is a communications master. He really knows his way around in society, like a fish in water.
            He views making friends as a long-term investment and is quite willing to spend time and energy at it. He approaches friend-making as a business activity, but it isn’t easy to see that his motive is profit. It’s absolutely brilliant.
            I’m the only one in his circle of friends from whom a profit can’t be expected. Whenever I hear him say how much one of his friends has helped him, I always feel I should apologize to him. We’ve been friends for so many years, but I’ve never done him any good. I, on the other hand, have benefited greatly from our association and have had my eyes opened numerous times. I really have no way to repay him, however, so my feelings of gratitude have gradually become feelings of guilt. Sometimes, I really hate that I can’t just donate a kidney to him and be done with it. He’s strong as an ox, though, and besides, if you listen to him talk about his love affairs, you’d even believe he has seven or eight kidneys of his own.
            To be clear, when I said I’ve benefited from our association, I meant I’ve gotten a lot of free meals from him. Old Pan doesn’t skimp on costs when he treats his guests. The wine flows free, and even considering the high capacity booze-bucket that I am (four liters won’t do), he’s never felt I was drinking too much. In fact he keeps insisting that I go out for drinks with him and his other guests. For this reason if no other, Old Pan is a friend indeed.
            That he never stints on the booze shows the great confidence he has in me. There’re no low-grade types among Old Pan’s friends. If they’re not managers they’re CEOs, or if they’re not department heads they’re bureau chiefs. He pays me a great honor when he lets me drink with them, and I often feel a sense of grandeur. Last Sunday, he put on a banquet at a five-star restaurant. This meal really opened my eyes.
            Old Pan did the introductions. The person sitting in the place of honor was the princeling son of a VIP – the owner of a large, nationally renowned investment company. Born into a high-ranking cadre’s family, this Mr. Big was an extraordinary raconteur. Even his movements in picking up food with his chopsticks or picking his teeth with a toothpick showed impressive
style. He casually mentioned the names of several people who’d eaten with him that week and almost scared the living wits out of me. My God, he’d even played mahjong with so-and-so and shared a sauna with so-and-so. Lord, I don’t even dare name those people unless you first get me an insurance policy against accidental death. What’s more, he’d even gone dancing the night before with a certain person’s precious daughter. It almost broke my heart.
            The next thing they discussed was some of the big construction projects he’s investing in. I don't understand business, besides which I’d had a lot to drink, and I couldn't figure out what kind bullshit projects they were talking about. But one thing I remember, this Mr. Big wanted to rebuild the Great Wall, to refurbish the parts that have fallen into disrepair and put on a fresh coat of paint. I really gained some first-hand knowledge out of that.
            From the moment they’d started, everyone at the table had been flattering him. After drinking a few bottles of
Wuliangye, they all forgot their places and began to play the finger-guessing game in competition with this Mr. Big. I don't know how it happened, but there were a few of Old Pan’s other friends eating with us that day, and they were busy drinking away when all of a sudden they all stood up. Unsteady on their feet as they were, they rushed Mr. Big and pressed him down onto the floor.
            Old Pan and I got a little anxious. It shouldn’t come to that among friends just because of a few drinks more or less. We hurried over and pulled them off Mr. Big, afraid that something unfortunate would happen. But those friends of his really didn't care whether they were making a spectacle of themselves. They not only pushed me down, but also pressed Old Pan down on the table and handcuffed him and Mr. Big together. They weren’t afraid of anything. Messing with Old Pan would’ve been brave enough – they were all drunk as skunks, anyway – but how could they dare lay hands on Mr. Big? That was just asking for it, right?
            Next, these buddies got a cop car from somewhere. They pushed and pulled the high-born Mr. Big toward the cop car, yelling at him all the way: “Behave yourself!”; “Where you gonna run?”; “You’re a fraud and a cheat!”; “Are you tired of living?”
            Old Pan was released the next day. I guess he’ll never again boast about his good-buddy friends in my presence.

8. Don't Worry (你放心)

            Anybody who ever had anything to do with Section Chief Hu knew he had a motto – "Don't worry". No matter what it was, if you asked him to do it, he'd agree without a second thought: "Don't worry, I'm on it."
            This whole-hearted attitude toward work made him the apple of several leaders' eyes. The words "don't worry" got him a very quick promotion to section chief. It was also those immutable words "don't worry" that got him stuck in the section chief's job with nary a hope of promotion.
            His nickname was "Agreeable Hu". He answered enthusiastically when his superiors called him that, but his underlings could only use the nickname behind his back. If he learned they'd called him that, he became absolutely disagreeable. His coworkers and friends made fun of him and said, "He only agrees to do and doesn't actually do." He tittered and shot back, "Stop your blabbering. What's happened before doesn't count. From now on, whatever needs doing, don't worry, give it to me."
            As long as the orders were clear, he often jumped to the head of the line, thumped his chest and declared, right in front of the Department Director, "Don't worry. You don't need to bother yourself with that." And then, if you did stop worrying enough to let him do it, it was a sure thing that you wouldn't stop worrying.
            Agreeable Hu had two unique attributes, and giant ones they were. First was "putting things off" – he was a famous "off-putting machine". Saplings to be used for tree-planting in the spring, he had them delivered the next autumn. And electric fans needed in the summer, he'd be guaranteed to have them installed the next winter. If you sent him to buy medicine for a sick person, you were in for a huge mess. The medicine he'd deliver on time would surely be the wrong kind, and by the time he bought the right stuff, the sick fellow would be long gone.
            His second unique attribute was "mix ins". He could take any good thing and mix something inappropriate in with it for you. If you spoke of the East, he'd talk about the West. If you complained about him being slow, he'd talk himself into being a rocket. He was three years at fixing leaks in the unit's housing, but as of today, when it's raining outside, the people inside have to open their umbrellas. If you asked him why the repairs weren't finished, he'd start out with his wife's toothache and talk straight through to the Sino-Japanese War before getting around to the housing repairs.
            As time stretched out and a leader saw he was going to keep flapping his jaws, the leader would stop him right away. "Forget it, forget it. Just stay away from me." Once when he screwed something up really bad, the Department Director got so mad he started looking around for a knife. He was ready to commit premeditated murder, but by the time he found a knife, Agreeable Hu was gone without a trace. It was more than thirty days before he showed up again and found that the Director still had a grudge going – "I knew you didn't want to hear my explanation, so I didn't wait for you to say, 'forget it, forget it, stay away.' I just ducked away to a vacation spot in
Xishuangbanna for a few days. The Director had barely gotten over his anger, and that almost gave him a stroke.
            When staffing was being reduced as part of a structural reform, the Director hesitated again and again but finally stiffened his upper lip and came to talk to Agreeable Hu. He didn't expect Hu would be as straightforward as ever. "Don't worry. You don't need to bother yourself with this." He agreed without a second thought to take an early retirement. The Director was so overcome with joy that he had to spend half a month in the hospital.

10. The Dress (连衣裙)

            His landlady had cut the material and sewn the dress together herself. The styling, color and workmanship were extremely elegant. It was an out-and-out work of art.
            He imagined the effect it would have when his fiancée put it on. It was great. She'd be the most beautiful bride in the world. The dress was the only one like it in the world, and in his imagination, there was no one else like her, either.
            He'd originally wanted to buy her a dress at a specialty apparel shop. He spent a whole day running around with the landlady and her daughter, but didn't find the one-in-a-million "magic dress" he pictured in his heart. The landlady was a fashion designer and suggested that she could personally design and sew one herself. He was both moved and embarrassed. Her enthusiasm and sincerity left him no choice but to accept.
            He'd been living in the landlord's home for the six months he'd been in the United States. The American woman, who was of Italian descent, had taken such good care of him that all his needs were fulfilled. He often showed photos of his girlfriend to their family. The landlady and her husband and daughter all exclaimed how beautiful and sensual his faraway lover was, which he never tired of hearing. Every time he was excitedly modest on her behalf. He remembered the first time the landlady said how beautiful she was, and he said politely, "Where, where."* The unfortunate result was, the landlady had pointed at the photo to the girl's forehead, eyes, nose, lips, right on down to her chest and every other part, praising her beauty in detail. He felt quite smug for several days. He was grateful to this hospitable family from the bottom of his heart and was willing to share his thoughts about his girlfriend with them.
            His half-year career as a visiting scholar was coming to an end, and he regarded this dress as one of the biggest rewards of his time abroad. He missed her so much. He decided to get married immediately after returning home so she could wear the dress at the wedding right away.
            She thought about him day and night, too. Whenever he looked at his e-mail, loving thoughts from faraway China engulfed him. "Help me! If you don't come back again, somebody else will be doing my hairdo” and “Come back, I'm about to fall in love with another." His thoughts were bittersweet. "Baby, I'm coming back now, and I'm going to kiss every part of your body." He remembered how the landlady had understood "where, where". He'd laughed for a long time and only stopped laughing when the landlady's little daughter pounded on his door and asked if he needed help.
            He hated that he couldn't let his girlfriend put the dress on right at the airport. She laughed and said he was going crazy, but promised that she'd put it on as soon as they got home.
            “Wow! It really is incomparable! Radiant!” She stood in front of the mirror, grinning from ear to ear.
            He kissed her impulsively and tried to lift her up high but overestimated his strength. “Let’s get married. Tomorrow. No need to invite any guests, just the two of us. Just wear this dress,” he said. He was almost out of breath from excitement.
            “You’re too anxious. Get married tomorrow? You aren’t going off to the front line to fight in a war. After all.” Her face was turning red, struggling to free herself from his enthusiasm.
            “The day after tomorrow, then, or the day after that. Okay? If we wait any longer, the dress will get worn and dirty.” He was eager to have her.
            “So marry the dress,” she said as she was taking it off. “It’s more important than me, isn’t it?”
            “Don't take it off. Don't. Just keep it on. You’re the only one that can wear it. It’s so stunning.” He was still short of breath.
            “Be patient. There’s a good little boy. Get some sleep and get over the jet lag. We have to prepare things to get married. How could we be so rash. What do you say? I can't do all that running around at once. Lie down and get some rest. I’ll go to work for now, and when I get back this evening we can have dinner together.”
            “What? Go to work? Isn't today Sunday?” He held her hand tightly, not willing to let go.
            “The company has something going on today and the boss asked us to work overtime. I’ll definitely be back for dinner. Get some sleep. Do what I say!”
            He couldn’t get to sleep because of all the excitement. Besides, it was noisy outside during the day and he couldn't have slept even if he'd wanted to. He lay in bed for a while, his mind a mess. He decided to go out for a walk, but where should he go? How about the park? It was where he’d met her, where they’d started dating and where they’d fallen in love. And it was less than three bus stops from where he was.
            He knew every blade of grass and every tree in the park intimately. Every chair and bench held traces of their feelings for one another, especially in the quiet, secluded places that they’d sought out together by tacit understanding. His eyes, as if they had a mind of their own, cast themselves into the relatively concealed places in the shrubbery, places brimming with passion. Lovers occupy a small world that has become their own.
            He smiled. The smile spread in a ripple across his face, then suddenly froze. He couldn't believe his eyes. That dress appeared before his eyes, in a secluded place hidden by flowering shrubs. Was he seeing things? Was it an illusion? Was he overly tired, or thinking about her too much? He pinched his trembling thigh, hard, and it hurt, so it wasn’t a figment of his imagination.
            “Impossible, it can't be her. But that dress, it can't be anyone else's.” He got a little closer and it was indeed her, seen from behind. She was snuggling with a strange man. God, what a thundering shock it was. His eyes suddenly went dark and he seemed to hear her voice in his ear: “Help me, I might give myself to another.”
            He returned to his dormitory in a daze. “It’s over, over and done with. She actually wore that dress to a rendezvous with another man.” He’d lost all hope, and he didn't want to see her again. A sense of complete humiliation and utter failure welled up in him. It was still light outside, but he had no desire to hear any more of her self-possessed lies, so he picked up a bottle of sleeping pills. He decided to go to the next world to dump the jet lag.
            When she came back, she smiled and patted her fiancé, who was dead-to-the-world asleep. She got scared. He was mumbling intermittently, words like dress ... park ... betrayed ... man ... cheat ... done.... the words were gradually muffled by the white foam spewing out of his mouth.
            “God!” She slapped both her unconscious fiancé and her own head. She cried and screamed, “It was my sister! It was because she had to show off her good looks, so she put on my dress and went for a rendezvous with that guy! God help me....” Her voice would tear open anyone’s heart.
*[Ah, the hazards of word-for-word translation. "Where" (哪里) is a polite way of responding to a compliment in Chinese, sort of like, "Oh, where did that come from" in English – Fannyi]


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Stories by Lao Ma (Ma Junjie), Page 8

Translated from Laomaruc 的博客 at pages cited below

  8. Don't Worry
  9. See Lao Ma 05 #6
10. The Dress

1. See Lao Ma D #7
2. Time Gone By
3. A Cherished Wish

​​         Chinese Stories in English   

4. Gift-Giving
5. Written Comments
6. Friends
7. See Lao Ma E #1