Chinese Stories in English
6. See Lao Ma E, #6
7. Author’s Self-Portrait
1. See Lao Ma E, #4
2. See Lao Ma E, #5
3. Do Not Love
4. See Lao Ma E, #7
Bonus Stories by Feng Jicai
8. Ultimate Theft
9. Young Arrival
10. Big Strong Zhang
3. Do Not Love (别恋)
As far as appearances are concerned, Mr. Wei is impeccable. He has thick eyebrows and a wide mouth on a craggy and well-defined face, and a build as tough and stocky as a tiger or bear. His heart and mind, on the other hand, are quite at odds with his appearance.
He comes from a military family and has himself served, but although he’s seen the world, he remains narrow-minded. He’s especially bothered by his wife. She makes him feel insanely jealous.
Mrs. Wei is petite and charming, a very inviting woman. Mr. Wei is giddy in love with her.
Since the day of their wedding, he has had no intention of letting his wife have anything to do with male creatures for the rest of her life.
The first thing he did was have her transferred from a kindergarten to a maternity hospital – his reason was to prevent the kindergarten children’s parents from drooling over their child's teacher. He figured maternity hospitals are all cut from the same cloth and are relatively safe. Contrary to his expectations, though, this one had an old man who kept the boilers lit, and Mr. Wei's heart began to tighten again. Although the fellow was an old man, he was, after all, a man. So, because of her husband’s constant nagging, Mrs. Wei resigned from her job and stayed home to specialize in housewifery.
Whenever a milkman, paperboy or utility bill collector came to the door, Mr. Wei would deal with them personally. And he would greet them with a fierce scowl on his face and would speak as loudly as if he were drunk.
His wife was lonely and wanted to get a cat and a dog. When choosing the pets, Mr. Wei acted like a border control guard and exercised strict control over their sex.
Half a year ago, a bachelorette moved into the condo opposite from the Wei family. She often chatted with Mrs. Wei when she wasn’t busy. Mrs. Wei's mood became happier every day, and Mr. Wei also calmed down a lot.
Mr. Wei works for a large company. He has many duties and was often asked to travel on business. For some time after their marriage, he’d feared that being too busy with his work would lead to problems close to home, so he’d made up various excuses to get out of business trips. His boss had his own opinions about that. Now, though, his wife having an unfettered female neighbor across the hall took a load off his shoulders. When he went on a business trip, he could have his wife live with the neighbor across the hall, so she’d have a companion and someone to take care of her.
His wife enjoyed dressing up more than she had before. Her face often revealed her excitement.
Every time Mr. Wei came back from a trip, he heard his wife say how wonderful her girlfriend was, just so wonderful, and how the two could talk and talk and talk. He was very happy for her. When he came home from a trip, he brought gifts especially for her to give to her girlfriend.
When their neighbor caught a cold, his wife took good care for her day and night. Mr. Wei was put out by that and felt that his wife was treating the neighbor better than him. If the neighbor was a little late getting home from grocery shopping, his wife looked dispirited and kept watching the grounds for her. Mr. Wei thought that was strange and wondered what the heck his wife was so worried about.
If the neighbor encountered any little thing she found disagreeable, his wife would commiserate with her and take the blame on herself.
Mr. Wei was upset and thought his wife had water on the brain.
About a month ago, his wife suddenly announced that she wanted a divorce. Mr. Wei was dumbfounded and yelled at her that she’d better tell him clearly, did she have something going on the side, and what young stud had caught her eye.
At first his wife bore in silence all the filthy obscenities he dished out. Her determination to get a divorce remained unchanged.
Mr. Wei softened. He knelt on the floor and begged her. He said everything good about her that he could think of and implored her to explain it to him. She remained silent and indifferent.
“Please tell me, no matter how much it will torture me. Just tell me who the bastard is,” Mr. Wei promised her, “and I won’t stand in your way.”
His wife raised her head and told him, enunciating each word. “I do have someone else, but it’s not a young stud. It’s my sister across the hall.”
5. A Set-To (叫板)
[Adult language. Read at your own risk – Fannyi]
He looked sad sitting in a corner of the tavern, like a beggar who’d lost a sum of money.
The person sitting across the table from him was his best friend. They were called "Iron Brothers", meaning they had the kind of relationship where, in life-and-death situations, each had absolute faith that the other would take care of his wife and children if necessary. His friend was there that day in response to his request to come over and console him.
To be honest, he wasn’t one to bother other people at the drop of a hat. The closer he was to relatives and friends, the less willing he was to burden them. The principle was innate in him and he’d abided by it scrupulously for many years, but this time was an exception. He felt his ability to carry on was in doubt unless he found a close friend to counsel him. He’d thought up a lot of ways to extricate himself from the present earth-shattering, seemingly interminable situation, but all to no avail.
His friend had learned of his inexorable distress over the phone yesterday. As a friend, he had to respond; it was an obligation he could not shirk without dishonor. Moreover, comforting people in trouble, and helping them see the light at the end of the tunnel, was his professional specialty. This friend had been working as a psychological counselor in recent years and had seen many situations like this. Indeed, this friend already knew how to comfort him, and what methods to use to give him a sudden flash of inspiration.
“Ohhh.” His prolonged sigh sounded like the cue actors in Beijing opera use to tell the musicians to start playing. He took another sip of his drink. “Tell me, how could she abandon me?”
“Why couldn't she leave you? You think she’s a pet animal? If it wasn’t for her kindness, she would’ve been gone a long time ago.”
“How can you say that? You mean I don’t deserve her?”
“You don’t know yourself very well. How could you ever keep up with her?”
“What kind of thing is that to say? In what way don’t I match up with her?”
“It’s a true thing to say. It’s called the truth. What about you is better than anyone else? Take a look in a mirror. You’re no more than an army general in the clouds – not a real person either inside or out.”
“Crap!” His friend’s words had clearly gotten to him. Coupled with the fact that he’d already had a few drinks, his rough, dark face turned red in the dim light.
“Look at your face. It looks like a dried cow patty that’s almost burnt up in a stove. What pretty girl would go for that?
“Looks aren’t worth a crap. A man's gotta have talent.”
“Talent? What ‘talent’? You sure don’t have a tael’s worth of talent*. You haven't started a bank, and you’ve never heard anyone call you ‘Big Money’. You don’t even necessarily have the talent to make half a tael. Have you ever been a scholar or won a Nobel Prize? You’ve just written a few lousy books, right? Pick anyone whose been to college and they’ll have written a lousy book. And you think it’s something.”
It seemed like the cat had got his tongue. It obviously wasn’t from the effects of alcohol, but because his friend had made him angry.
“I, I, I....” but he couldn’t complete the sentence.
“You what? Forget it, ‘bro’. Don't take it so hard. As the saying goes, a man who’s not content with his lot is like a snake trying to swallow an elephant. Or, toads shouldn’t hanker after swan meat. Or another one, if you don’t have a diamond drill, look for another line of work. Besides, you did have a taste of the swan meat, so why eat yourself to death? She stayed with you for two years, which is wonderful, and you don’t know when you’ve had your full share. How many men are chasing after her? Do you know?”
“I don’t know which bastard hooked her, but I really want to put a knife to his throat.”
“You’re like a dung beetle sneezing – the shit goes flying. Such brave words! With the little bit of ability you have, you can’t even kill a mosquito unless you’ve got a fly swatter, and you want to kill a person? What a joke.”
“Don’t say that useless stuff. Anyway, I'm going to get her back or die trying.”
His friend thought that the "disparaging with belittling remarks” method was having little effect, so he switched to another angle – using the "disgust method" to comfort him.
“Another thing, what’s so good about her, good enough to get you hanging within an inch of your life?”
This question seemed to be more effective than disparaging him had been. He jumped out of his chair instantly, almost knocking over the table, and stuck his finger in his friend's face. His whole body shook with anger.
“You’re not in a position to say that. You’re not qualified to judge minute details about her appearance and make thoughtless remarks.... She’s the most beautiful and attractive woman in the world. Get it?
“What beautiful? That pair of goldfish eyes – she has to hold her head up when she walks for fear her eyeballs will fall out. And there’s that little mole on her chin.”
“Mole? It's a beauty mark.”
“And when she starts talking, it’s like she’s trying to charm you. ‘I just love you so much all the time….’ Just a silly little girl from the northeast trying to pretend like she’s Miss High and Mighty from Taipei.”
“But I like the coy way she talks. And she’s all smiles when she speaks. It’s so charming.”
“Charming? When she smiles she shows the gap in her teeth on the lower left side that she’s never had fixed.”
This got him agitated again. He gestured with his hands in front of his chest and shouted at his friend. “Anyway, she’s a hundred times better than your wife. Your wife isn’t even up to her feet.”
“Her feet are the ugliest. At least my wife doesn’t have corns on her feet.”
“How do you know she has corns on her feet?” His eyes were red as coals in a fire.
“Nothing strange about it. Don’t some people even know she has a spider-shaped birthmark on her leg?”
“Who? Tell me who knows that.”
“Lots of people do.”
“Mother-fucker!” He overturned the table and rushed out of the bar – “I’ll kill her!”
*[The character for ‘wealth’, 财, is pronounced the same as the character for ‘talent’, 才, and is written with the character for an ancient currency on the left and the character for ‘talent’ on the right. We’ve incorrectly translated 财 as ‘tael’ in a vain attempt to preserve the pun) – Fannyi]
7. A Man Ahead of His Time [Author’s Self-Portrait]
I’ve never felt old. That’s because I have an older brother, and he’s only in his forties.
My surname means “horse”, and “old” is a respectful form of address for adult males, as in “Old Chap”, so my classmates gave me the name "Old Horse*" when I was in the first grade. It was a joke and didn’t imply I was a little old man. They just wanted to imitate adults and act grown up, as children tend to do, according to theories produced by psychologists’ research.
From grade school through high school, students passing by my front door in the morning often called out, "Let’s go to school, Old Horse!" This really annoyed my dad because, at the time, most people still called the old fellow "Young Horse" – “young” also being a respectful form of address for youngish people.
My classmates in college, like those in the lower grades, also called me "Old Horse". There were many male students in my section, and we all addressed each other as "old this" or “old that”. I was the only one that the girls called “old”, though. The teacher in charge of our section was a kindly, amiable old lady who followed my classmates’ lead and called me "Old Horse". It was an easy way for an affable teacher to get in with her students.
I stayed at the college to teach after I graduated. My students called me "Teacher Horse" or just "Teacher", as is customary in China, and none of them added the word "old". On the other hand, for people who’d been my teachers before had now become my colleagues, it was natural for them to regard me as "Old Horse".
Obviously, there was some deceptiveness in this. My appearance and deportment easily caused misunderstandings. I incited laughter whenever I announced my true age in certain forums, as if I were a "dirty old man" deliberately adopting a false reported age as a clumsy technique to fool people. As time went by, I began to feel guilty and my face would burn blazing hot under people’s titters of bemusement, like I’d been lying in public. I’ve always acknowledged that being honest is more important than being young, but when I told the truth, people I’d just met were always left with the impression that I’d been dishonest. I was forced into giving exaggeration a try, so I added extra years to my actual age until people were satisfied. The age they eventually accepted as my real age was almost double my actual age.
I was a little depressed and even afraid – afraid that a younger woman wouldn’t want me and I’d have to spend a lifetime with a woman who was on her second marriage. Thank the heavens, I eventually did get married. Now when I have strangers visiting me on occasion, they always ask me unthinkingly, "Is this your daughter?" Either that, or they’ll flatter me to my face: "Your daughter is just so beautiful!" I’ve gradually gotten used to it and no longer rudely correct their mistake. I just nod stiffly and agree. Truth is, my wife and I are the same age.
Colleagues and friends certainly didn't have any misunderstandings on this point, but they did whisper behind my back. If they didn’t say I must’ve had a trick up my sleeve or just plain got lucky, they said my wife must’ve had some kind of disease, or they were convinced she was unable to bear children.
That rumor was debunked soon after we were married when a blessed event added a son to our family. He looks like me and like her as well.
Not everyone thinks I’m old, actually. My wife thinks I’m young. Except for her, though, some people still see me as older. Once, when I went to pick up my son from day care, a teacher who was acquainted with me but didn’t know me well came over to pay me a compliment: "You truly are blessed, Teacher Horse. So young and you already have a grandchild?"
I lived in a multi-story building, and when I went up or down in the elevator, polite children were always greeting me spontaneously: "Hello, Grandpa!" I couldn’t stand having my life shortened like that, so I hung a placard on my chest on which I’d written neatly: “Calling me ‘grandpa’ is not allowed!" It didn’t work. As soon as I got in the elevator, a little girl looked me up and down, smiled sweetly with a twinkle in her eyes and said: "Hello, Gramps!"
Bah! I ripped the placard off, flustered and exasperated. I was afraid someone else would call me "Grandma" or "Granny", which I would like even less.
I regularly talk about history with my students in class. A poorly behaved student once taunted me: "Your memory is really awesome, Teacher. You can still remember things from ancient times so clearly. Have you seen dinosaurs?"
I kept my rage under control. "No," I replied coldly.
“Then your father must have?"
I let my anger loose and shouted at him. "I was classmates with your ancestors, but we never saw dinosaurs."
The guy was disappointed and, after thinking for a moment, said: "I get it. You’re probably from that place where Peking man was discovered, Zhoukoudian."
I really don't feel like I’m getting older. I truly enjoy listening to popular songs, going disco dancing, playing soccer and doing other things that young people like to do. Don’t blame me for never having tried the extremely stimulating sport of "bungee jumping" from high places. The staff at the recreation area refused to let me jump for love or money – they said it was for my own good. If I really wanted to risk my life needlessly, they insisted, I should have my children come and put their John Henrys on a waiver. To hell with that! I quarreled fiercely with them. As I was about to leave, a young missy tossed off a comment: "What a grumpy old man!"
In my wife’s eyes, I’m younger than anyone. She’s often said to me: "You’re not old at all. The ones saying you’re old are the real oldsters. They’re farsighted or have some other kind of vision problem and still they say you’re old. Don't listen to their nonsense!”
She’s right, I’m not old. However, when there’s a need for any work around the house that requires climbing, like hanging curtains or changing light bulbs, she always rushes to the fore. To dispel my doubts, she explains: “I’m not worried about your limbs being old. I’m just afraid you’re clumsy as a teenager and will have another accident.”
Spring came, and the flowers bloomed and the grass turned green, and people felt an itch in their souls. I took the graduating seniors from all the sections in our department on an outing. When we were climbing up a hill, the female students walked in front and behind me like an escort. All those beautiful girls hanging free and easy on my arms, and they all took pictures with me. I got so excited my heart pounded.
I had the photos developed and printed out a big stack to show to my son. I was flaunting the girls’ youth, knock-out good looks and attractiveness, and he agreed. My wife would definitely say the same and would feel a touch of jealousy.
But after she flipped through the pictures, she looked up and, watching me carefully, sighed sadly. "Gee, it looks like you really are old. So old that girls can even let their guard down around you. Look at their faces, how completely secure they feel being next to you."
That night, before I lay me down to sleep, I looked in the mirror at this “man ahead of his time" and hadn’t a word to say.
The students gave me a basket of flowers when they graduated. They were quite beautiful. The ribbon read: "Wishing our highly respected Teacher Horse a long and healthy life!"
*[The author’s pen name translates as “Workhorse” and is pronounced the same as “Old Horse” – Fannyi]
Bonus Stories by Feng Jicai (冯骥才)
From Extraordinary People in an Ordinary World (俗世奇人)
8. Ultimate Thief (绝盗)
The land between the Old City District and the Foreign Concessions was the wildest area of the “Tianjin Garrison”, which is how the Japanese referred to the City of Tianjin. The population was extremely varied and evil ran amok. In the 1920s, a young man and woman came to the area to get married and rented a small room right on the street. They filled the place beautifully with a new bed and wardrobe, as well as traditional wedding gifts of red and green pots and pans. They also stuck a wedding couplet on either side of the door facing the street. When the young couple went out to work early in the morning on the day following their wedding, the neighbors did not yet know their first or last names.
Three days later, not long after the young couple left for work, a flatbed delivery rickshaw shot out of the east like it was flying. The driver was a lean, hard-bodied old man with black skin and yellow teeth. He seemed to have two iron balls stuffed in his calves. You could tell at a glance that he was a rickshaw driver who’d been pedaling for many years. Two boys, all of seventeen or eighteen, squatted on the bed of the rickshaw holding wooden poles, broad axes and hemp rope. All three of them, including the driver, seemed intense, as though they were looking to capture a foe.
The old man peddled the rickshaw straight to the newlyweds’ door and slammed on the brakes. The two boys jumped down and ran to the door to look, then turned to the old man and said, "They’re not home, Dad, and the door’s locked!" A foreign-style lock was indeed hanging on the bar across the door.
The old man blew his top. His eyes were open so wide that they looked completely white, and the blue veins on his head and neck bulged and pulsed. He jumped off the rickshaw and cursed: "This unfilial beast! He ignores his parents and comes here to make a fucking palace. Number Two, Number Three, break the door down for me!"
The two boys raised their axes in response and smashed the lockstone off the door. The door opened wide and a roomful of goods glowed before their eyes. The old man was even angrier at the sight. He pointed at the unoccupied room and jumped around, shouting loud enough to wake the dead:
"All right, you gutless animal! I’ve loved you and hugged you and fed you and spoiled you since you were a child. I raised you to manhood, you ingrate. Now when your ma’s sick all over and we don’t have money for a doctor or medicine, you won’t give us a penny! You get yourself a little hussy and hide away here to live the life of Riley. Your mother is dying! And you’re enjoying the good life? I'm calling you out, always enjoying yourself! Number Two, Number Three! What are you standing there for? Get all the things in this room and take them home for me! If you take your older brother’s side, I’ll break your legs!"
Both boys pitched in. They packed up the bedding and clothing in suitcases and bundles and piled them on the rickshaw.
The neighbors ran out and gathered around them to watch. They only learned about the newlyweds’ background when they heard the old man cursing. Naturally no one stepped forward to help out a thankless wretch who didn’t even care about his dying old mother. Besides, the old man was in such a roaring rage, popping off like firecrackers at New Year’s and continually jumping up and down, anyone who tried to stop him was going to be in a fight to the death!
When just about everything had been moved onto the rickshaw, the two boys asked, "We can’t lift this big bugger, Dad. What should we do?"
The old man’s voice hit them like a clap of thunder: "Smash it!"
All hell broke loose. Eventually they even threw the glassware out of the room before they stopped. The old man still wasn’t done being angry and shouted, "We’ll see you tomorrow and settle this! "Then they paraded off without a second thought for the mess they’d left behind.
The door was left wide open and unattended the rest of the day. The neighbors stayed far away. No one stepped forward, but no one went away, either. They were waiting to see the show when the young couple got home.
The newlyweds returned from the west side that afternoon, laughing and talking. One look at their door and they stopped cold. They came over to ask the neighbors what had happened, but the neighbors who’d been standing there all along suddenly went their separate ways. One middle-aged man did come up to speak to them. He was obviously dissatisfied with the youngsters who were so lacking in filial piety. He told the groom:
"Your dad and your brothers came over this morning. They did this. Go to your parents’ house and you’ll see!"
The groom was even more stunned when he heard that. He couldn't help shouting out, "What? My dad? My dad died when I was three years old, and my mother died the year before last. I only have one sister and she married a guy in northeast China. What brothers?"
"Huh?" The man was startled, but what had happened that morning was so vivid that he couldn’t wrap his brain around what the groom was saying. "That was obviously your father!" he said.
The young couple went to the police right away to report the incident. But the case dragged on for a full ten years without finding that "dad."
Tianjin Garrison saw some really weird cases of theft, but this one counts as number one. A thief went to far as to act as someone’s "dad"; the loss from the theft wasn’t stated, but being portrayed as an unfilial "son" added insult to injury – a bitter pill that one can’t talk about. Even if you couldn’t keep yourself from telling people about it, you wouldn’t elicit any sympathy. You’d just make people laugh, or maybe even worse. More loss, more bitterness, more extreme – more evil!
Translated from Baidu 百科 at:
9. Young Arrival (小达子)
There was nothing outstanding about his appearance – a short neck and short legs, gray eyes and gray skin, and flabbier than a roasted sweet potato; more shadowy than a shadow when standing, more wispy than a wisp of smoke when walking – people said he was born to be a thief. And they were right! Young Arrival had artful eyes and quick hands, so if you stuck a banknote on your belly, it’d be in his hand in the blink of an eye. And guaranteed you wouldn’t even know it; you’d still feel like the thing was stuck to your skin. But his most outstanding talents were on the tram. If you’d run into him there, you absolutely didn’t want to lean up against him or everything you had with you would be gone.
As an example, take one of those kids that wears Western suits. Once he gets on the tram, it’s a sure thing he can’t run away! Since those kids are so fashionable, they all tuck their wallets into the pants pocket behind their butts. That pocket doesn’t have a flap and a narrow sliver of the wallet sticks out. But it’s delusional to think someone could just reach over and pull out the wallet. The pocket is small and the wallet is bulging, so it’s a tight fit. The nerves on the butt are no less sensitive than those on the face, so as soon as the wallet moved, he’d notice it.
But our little punk has his tricks. When the time’s right, he’ll lean on the post next to the door. When the tram stops, right at the instant the kid is getting off, his hand would brush the kid faster than an electric light and he’d pinch the wallet between the tips of his index and middle fingers. When a person’s getting off the tram, their center of gravity and attention are directed downward, so Young Arrival didn’t need to pull the wallet out of the pocket – it came out on its own, comfortably and without any sensation.
But don't go thinking that Young Arrival owns the world of trams just because I’ve told you that.
One day he was on a tram when a middle-aged man got on at the White Hat Government House Station. A pure gold pocket watch chain – a rather thick one – dangled dazzlingly on the outside of his black wool formal robe. Young Arrival stood still until the tram was approaching Pear Station, then leaned forward.
The tracks there make an S-shaped curve and the tram always wobbles when it gets there. Young Arrival took the opportunity to lean against the man's body. In a single move, the watch was in his hand and his hand was back in his own breast pocket. Bunches of people got off when the tram arrived at Pear Station. He squeezed into the crowd, got off the tram and left the scene quickly.
He was walking along, thinking about his gains for the day, when all of a sudden he noticed that the person walking in front of him looked a lot like the middle-aged man on the tram just now. He hesitated, and at that moment the man turned around. It really was that guy; the strange thing was, something was shining brightly on the man's chest – that thick, sparkly watch chain was still dangling right where it had been! Did that mean he still had his watch?
Young Arrival touched his breast pocket without thinking and was shocked – it was as empty as ever. He’d been stealing from others for half his life, but this was the first time he’d tasted how it felt to have something stolen from him. What made him feel even more that his world had been flipped over was – he couldn't for the life of him figure out what method this guy had used to get the watch back from him.
When the man saw Young Arrival staring stupidly, he showed his teeth in a smile. There was a hint of deprecation in the smile, as if he were saying "You’re too clumsy to be doing that!" Then he shut down his smile and turned away.
From that day on, Young Arrival never again got on the tram.
Translated from 读书369 at:
10. Big Strong Zhang (张大力)
Big Strong Zhang, formerly known as Gold Jade Zhang, was a gallant military man serving in the Tianjin Gate area. He was called “Big Strong” because of his boundless strength. Men of all ages in Tianjin Gate liked and admired him and sang his praises. But Tianjin people have their own ways of praising people. There was one thing about Big Strong that everyone was aware of at the time. No one knows of it now, though, so I’ll write about it below——
The Hou family operated a shop selling stone materials out of the back of their house. It was called “The Aggregate Store”. The main gate had a big granite lockstone as heavy as sin, and the handle was made of granite as well. The following words were inscribed on the top of the lockstone:
“Whosoever lifts this lockstone will rewarded with one hundred ounces of silver”
The Aggregate Store had installed the lockstone solely to demonstrate that the materials it sold were solid and durable.
However, no one had been able to lift it since it was put in place. No one had even been able to move it the slightest bit. Tell me, how heavy is that? It was better than being connected to the ground. No one could pick it up unless they could also lift the earth up over their head!
One day Big Strong came to the rear of the Hou’s house. He saw the lockstone and saw the words inscribed on it. He leaned over and tested the lockstone a bit with his hand. He gave it a gentle nudge and surprisingly it moved. It was easier for him to move than a bamboo basket, which brought many people over to gather around and watch. Right then he grabbed onto the handle, straightened up his waist in one powerful move and easily lifted the big lockstone up into the air. His arms were straight and a broad smile was on his face. It was easier than holding a bouquet of flowers!
The crowd hooped and hollered and jumped around. Big Strong kept holding the lockstone and didn’t put it down. He waited until the Aggregate Store’s boss came entirely outside and saw clearly what he’d done before putting it back in its place. The boss smiled and said:
"So Master Zhang is here. Hurry, please come inside. Have a seat and a cup of tea.”
Big Strong heard him but replied sternly, "Don't mess with me about what’s written on your lockstone, Boss. Whoever picks it up gets a reward, a hundred ounces of silver. So hurry off and get me my money. I’m really busy!"
Who would’ve expected that the Aggregate Store’s boss would ignore what Big Strong was saying? After Big Strong finished, the Boss said slowly: "Master Zhang, you only saw the words on the top of the lockstone. There’s another line on the bottom. Did you see it?"
Big Strong was startled. He’d been so focused on celebrating just now that he hadn't seen any words on the bottom. And not only him, nobody else had seen them either. He turned his head around, thinking it was nothing but the boss trying to hoodwink him to get out of paying the money. He thought Big Strong would have expended all his strength on the first go and wouldn’t be able to pick up the lockstone a second time. So he stepped up and did in fact lift it over his head again. He looked up and saw there really was another line inscribed on the bottom. It read:
“Only this doesn’t count if Big Strong Zhang picks it up”
Reading the lines from the top and bottom together, they said:
“Whosoever lifts this lockstone will rewarded with one hundred ounces of silver, only this doesn’t count if Big Strong Zhang picks it up”!
When the crowd saw that, they all started to laugh. It turned out that the Hou family had long known that he was the only one who could lift that bugger up. They’d written those lines out of admiration, to praise him —— And of course, Big Strong Zhang understood what they meant.
He threw the lockstone down, laughed out loud, and swaggered off.
Translated from 读书369 at:
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