​​         Chinese Stories in English   

Stories by Lao Ma (Ma Junjie), Page B
劳马(马俊杰)的故事,B页

Translated from Genius 幽锐小说精选,
https://genius.com/Lao-ma--annotated

3-10 Experiments
3-11 Rebukes
3-12 Shame

3-04 Certificates
3-06 Encouragement
3-05 Rich People

3-04 Certificates (证书)

      I squeezed up to the interview desk at the job fair with my face covered in sweat.
      “Have a seat!” The employee responsible for recruitment at the company motioned for me to sit down.
      I glanced at the small name tag on her chest. It said, "Director of Human Resources".
      “Your ID?”
      “Right here!” I hurried to hand it over.
      “Do you have a Temporary Residence Permit?”
      “I do.” I took a small booklet from my shirt pocket.
      “Certificate of Graduation?”
      “Yes.” I took it out in a hurry.
      “Diploma?”
      “Here.” I handed it over, too.
      “Do you have a Civil Service Qualification Certificate?”
      “Yes, of course.” I pulled it out from my bag.
      “Did you bring an English Language Level 6 Certificate?”
      “I did. I'll find it for you.”
      “Have you taken the test for an Accountant’s Certificate?”
      “Yes. This is it.”
      “Why don’t I see a Health Card?”
      “I have one. You see, everything in my bag got smashed flat.” I scratched my head in embarrassment.
      “Give me your Unemployment Certificate, your Permit to Change Occupation and your On Duty Card all together.”
      “Okay, okay.” I flipped through the stuff in my bag one more time.
      “You have your Marriage License, One Child Card, Medical Treatment Certificate, and Driver License, right?
      “Yes, yes, yes, I got them all ready. I was afraid of missing anything, so I prepared everything in advance.”
      “Doesn’t it seem like something’s missing?” The Director of Human Resources frowned. “Right, where’s your Hygiene Permit?”
      “Hygiene Permit? Well, yes, yes, I'll get it out and show it to you.”
      “I almost forgot, do you have a Chef Certificate? Second class would be okay.”.
      “No, I don’t.” I let my breath out all of a sudden. “However, I do have a second class Athletes Card.”
      “Well, do you have a Cosmetology Teaching Certificate and a Psychological Counseling Certificate?” She was getting a little impatient.
      “I, I, no, no I don’t. Will a Veterinarian Certificate do?” I knew I was about to miss out on another opportunity.
      “If you don’t, so be it. You’re hired.” She reached out her hand to congratulate me.
      “What will I be doing, specifically?” I was trembling as I asked.
      “You’ll be a janitor,” she said coldly.
      “A janitor?” I couldn’t believe my ears.
      “Yes, a janitor. But you won’t just be sweeping up trash,” she explained. “You’ll be cleaning windows, as well!”
      “Are any other jobs available?” I gave it a try.
      “None at all! We’re a property management company, and we mainly hire maintenance personnel.” She was positive about it.
      “Do janitors have to have so many certificates?” I didn’t quite understand.
      “Of course. We need versatile, high-quality janitors.” She was quite proud.
      “Can I handle this position without a Cosmetology Teaching Certificate or a Psychological Counseling Certificate” I really was worried about my abilities.
      “Oh, you misunderstood. For now those two certificates aren’t needed. I was just asking for a friend. She wanted me to get someone with those two certificates to go and apply for a position as a nanny.

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3-05 Rich People (富人)

      There’re lots of rich people these days, but, boy! Finding someone poor is really tough.
      I have a friend who lives in the “Wealthy Families” residential community. It’s said he traveled all over China in order to find one poor person. He went to the old revolutionary base areas, to places occupied by ethnic minorities, to remote borderlands and to places known as poverty-stricken. He made a herculean effort and spent a ton of money before finally hiring someone to work for a year. He’d wanted to hire someone for life, but the little poor guy wouldn’t do it for love or money. He said other people had queued up to hire him for life three years ago, but he couldn’t forget what was right just because he saw a chance for profit.
      The poor little hiree sat specifically at the community’s main gate to beg. That was the job he was required to do by his employment contract.
      Every day as they came and went during the morning and evening rush hours, the rich people who lived in the community couldn’t forget to toss some money into the big plastic bucket that was placed in front of the beggar. Sometimes the money would get thrown in bill by bill, or sometimes bundle by bundle. The beggar knelt there, kowtowing nonstop to the pedestrians who passed by.
      The beggar was quite excited about the job when he started out. He arrived at his post promptly every day. As time went by, though, he got numb. He didn’t approve of this job, either, in spite of the abundant income. He started taking a day off every three or five days, or taking time off for no good reason.
      This really annoyed the homeowners of the “Wealthy Families” community. They had money to throw but nowhere to throw it, which made them feel oppressed to the point where they grew blisters on their hearts. They all turned against him and cursed him as a "beggar" who lacked a sense of professionalism.
      The "beggar" couldn’t stand the frustration. He simply lay down his burden and quit the job, threatening to return home. This stunned those hoity-toity rich guys. They knew that it’s harder to find a poor man than a virgin these days. They had no choice but to humbly implore the beggar, and beseech him urgently, in the hope that he would be able to stay on, because rich people need the poor to set themselves off against.
      The fat cats took turns trying to persuade the beggar to change his thinking and made him all kinds of attractive offers. Finally, at long last, the poor little man had to force himself to agree. He did raise two conditions, however. One was to give him two-day weekends to rest up, and the other was to stop throwing only paper money into his bucket.
      That latter condition was because, if he went for a long time without hearing anything, it was easy to get drowsy and nod off. He wanted them to throw things like gold, silver and jewelry into the bucket, to make noises that would perk up his ears. The rich people sighed, and each of them indicated they would abide by the poor man’s demands.
      At the same time, however, they hoped that the beggar would dress a bit more shabbily and look a bit more piteous, and say words of misery that could break people’s hearts. The beggar agreed to do so.
      For the next half a year, "clank-clanks" and "bang-bangs" could be heard continuously at the community’s gate, and the hired "beggar" kept kowtowing endlessly to the pedestrians. His hair was always disheveled and his face dirty, his elbows poked out of his ragged clothing, and his mouth chanted mantras like, "Take pity on me, I haven’t had anything to eat or drink for almost three days,” and "I'm starving to death, can’t you see how skinny I’m getting". Occasionally one could also hear some things a pedestrian said back to him, like, "No food for three days, that’s really something. If I had your willpower I wouldn’t be as fat as I am!"
      My friend told me this story when he asked me out for dinner. He looked me in the eye and swore it was absolutely true, without the least bit of exaggeration. After dinner he felt in his pocket and said that when he’d come out the gate, he’d given all his money and even his wallet to the beggar. So I picked up the tab. The meal only cost me a few hundred yuan.

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3-06 Encouragement (激励)

      Twenty years ago I was really depressed.
      Most people my age were about to graduate from college, but I was still in the same refresher class where I’d been studying year after year to take the college entrance examination. As in the idioms "repeated defeats in continuous fighting", meaning to persevere, and "continuous fighting with repeated defeats", meaning a refusal to face facts, only a veil of personal and public deception separated confidence from reality.
      I finally gave up my futile efforts, and floundered under the disappointment and recriminations of my parents and loved ones. Like a masochist, I chose to engage in the hard labor of digging coal in a small coal mine, trading my body and sweat for the basic requirements of survival.
      Illegal extraction methods were forbidden, and I dragged my gimpy boss through the swamp of government regulations. Burned by the vicious sun and attacked by strong winds, my appearance looked much older than my actual age.
      One by one, my classmates began to show their prowess in the business world or in government circles. I became alienated from them by envy.
      They held a class reunion one year. It was on “May Day" – the International Labor Day holiday. I responded to the invitation and attended after an intense ideological struggle. It was quite clear in my mind that the reunion was a way for the successful ones to show off, and they needed a failure for contrast. I was willing to take on the role of the pitiful one.
      Everyone was flaunting it like they were in the center ring of a martial arts contest. The winds of their braggadocio got fiercer and fiercer as if they were afraid not to give it full play. I tucked myself away in a corner and got my fill of the uniform cold shoulder of my classmates. Just when I was desperate to leave, he – the richest of the successful people in our class back then – walked over to the accompaniment of people calling him “boss”.
      He was a senior manager at a large company in Shenzhen. He’d just found out that a friend of his was sick and in the hospital. He hadn’t brought much cash with him when he came, so he didn’t have enough money on hand to go visit his friend, and he sincerely hoped I could lend him a thousand yuan. Only half believing him, I went home and got the money to give to him. He paid me back soon afterwards.
      We meet again a few years later. It was at a high-level forum for entrepreneurs. In front of the entrepreneurs in attendance, he said into the microphone, “Old Ma helped me out. He loaned me a thousand yuan when I most needed it.”
      I was so moved I had to wipe the tears from my eyes. In my heart I shouted to him, “It was you who helped me. If you hadn’t asked me to loan you that thousand yuan, I would have thought I was completely worthless, and I never would have made it to where I am today.”

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3-07 Reflections on the Situation (情况反映)

      I wrote an article, "Reflections on the Situation". I prepared it to send to a newspaper in Beijing.
      I spent a whole week writing this article. One must be objective and factual when reflecting on something for one’s superiors or the media, and must not exaggerate in the slightest. That’s why I prepared so fully. I checked various types of data and examples by repeated verification before setting pen to paper, and I compared the documents I cited with the leaders’ speeches. Only after ensuring that everything was accurate did I print out the material and put it in a large manila envelope to send to the news company.
      Writing this "Reflections on the Situation" was something I did purely on my own. It wasn't a task assigned to me by my organization or my bosses. I felt that, as an ordinary grassroots cadre, it was my responsibility and obligation to give the higher authorities and the media my reflections on some of the phenomena that occur around me and that should be of concern and attention to others.
      I'd wanted to send this material directly to the central government’s leaders, but later I thought it I over and decided that that wouldn’t be appropriate, because they’re constantly busy with the affairs of state. In a nation of such vastness, so many important events are happening every moment of the day. In contrast, my reflections on the situation were too insignificant, so I really didn’t want to bother them or take up their valuable time.
      Besides, my "Reflections on the Situation" was too frivolous, too trivial, and written without due attention to proper wording. It was lengthy and rough, being composed of more than fifty thousand words. There was nothing for it, though, because I hadn’t the skill to revise or polish it. I could only send it off to the news company. If the newspaper's great reporters and editors could spare the time from their busy affairs to fan through it, or give it a glance, and if it enticed their concern, I would be gratified. I certainly hadn’t expected them to publish it in full, or even an abstract.
      Oh, yes. There is one other thing. I have to solemnly declare that what I wrote was not a complaint, formal or otherwise, or any other sort of document in contemplation of litigation. I dare say that the material I wrote was as factual as my name. That's why I very properly put my mailing address and my true name at the bottom of the literary materials. But something that I never dreamed would happen, did.
      After two months, I received a newspaper that the news company mailed to me. To my surprise, my "Reflections on the Situation" had been published in the newspaper's "Supplement" section. Moreover, it was serialized over half a month.
      I was scared to death. Not only was my name published in the newspaper as the author, it also appeared for all the world to see in the materials I'd written, without any technological attempt to deal with it. But what made me feel even more at a loss was, the newspaper had taken the stuff I wrote as a novella and carried it in the "Good Reads" column. So I had abruptly and miraculously become a "writer", and a "hot writer" at that.
      The newspaper company phoned and arranged for me to write an original discussion column. They also wanted to do a full-length special interview because my "work of fiction" had created such a sensation among their readers after it was published. They wanted a peek at the private life of a novelist.
      I didn't sleep soundly for several months straight. I hid out at a friend's house, feeling anxious and desperate, but my friend thought I was a murderer who had absconded to avoid punishment. He was afraid of getting involved, so he turned his back on me and called the police. The police came with sirens blaring and arrested me, and packed me off without allowing me to explain.
      Fortunately we live in a society of laws where the majority is able to get things done in accordance with the rules. The police at first viewed my story as a madman's dream, a phantasmagoria, a satire directed at the state's mechanisms and the IQs of Public Security personnel. In the end, though, they accepted my realistic explanations. They not only let me go, they even asked me to autograph their Record of Investigation as a memento.
      The "novella" entitled "Reflections on the Situation" was republished in numerous newspapers and magazines. Surprisingly it ended up as a gold medal selection in that year's annual fiction awards. I didn't dare go home that whole time, and even today I still live with relatives in a distant location. I don't dare take part in any "grand awards ceremony", either, and still less do I want to stir up any new hassles for myself.
      I engaged in a self-criticism session with my wife over the phone. Every mistake that was made was my own fault. I asked her to forgive me and not tell our children the truth. She's been under a lot of pressure for some time because of me. She's had to face reporters and critics swarming like flies, and to tell endless lies like "He can't be interviewed because he's contracted a contagious disease", or "He's never furnished a picture since his face was injured when he was a child". She finally precluded the media from any further attempts at speculation.
      I feel profoundly grateful for my wife's fear-no-evil attitude and magnanimous spirit. What has disgusted her most throughout her life are "writers". I don't understand at all how writers and immoral swindlers came to be connected by an equals sign deep in her heart. I've sent her a message through an acquaintance that, once this windstorm blows over, I'll turn over a new leaf and never again write malodorous trash like "Reflections on the Situation".

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3-08 Secret Formula (秘诀)

      I never imagined that Old Yu had such a low capacity for alcohol. With two cups of the hard stuff in his stomach, he started getting fuzzy-headed.
      "Forget it! Forget it! We ought to switch to beer, anyway." I hurried to tell him that when I saw him shaking as he tried to pour another cup.
      "No problem! I'm happy, today." His face was red, and he was really excited.
      "Old Yu, you've done pretty well for yourself these last few years. Made some money, got an official position – Assistant Department Chief with a big company. You have a secret formula or something?" We'd been in the Army together, and I really never thought he'd see this day. Most of the guys from our unit had been laid off.
      "Yep." He had a silly grin in his face, and his eyes were slits.
      "You know…." Under the influence of the booze, his expression of vain satisfaction elicited sincere envy in me. "There's a saying, I don't know if you've heard it. 'Behind every successful man is a woman.' My wife is the woman behind me."
      My ears perked up and I listened carefully to this pearl of wisdom from Old Yu.
      "She's really a good one, a hard one to find in this world. My success is half – no, more than half – due to her support.
      "She's always lecturing me, 'A man's got to have a sense of responsibility, and professionalism.' Listen to me, this is really weighty stuff. 'A man can't have unhealthy habits.' So I don't smoke or drink.
      "I'm happy today because the boss promoted me to Assistant Department Director, and I get to see you, an old friend I haven't seen in ages. That's the only reason I'm lifting a glass. I kid you not, I haven't touched a drop in over twenty years.
      She's very demanding of me. She always takes me with her to collect the money on payday. She basically never lets me touch any money because she's afraid I'll screw up. She's made me cultivate a good habit, frugality. Right, you're going to have to pay for our meal today. I don't have a penny on me.
      "Take a bus? I don't take busses. I ride a bike to work every day. My wife only gives me twenty cents in case there's an emergency and I need air in my bicycle tires.
      "She tells me not to have anything to do with women. She says women are no good. Of course she's not a woman – that's not right, I meant to say she certainly isn't no good. That's an akward thing to say, don't you agree?
      "When I get home every day, she checks in my pockets and in my manpurse. And she uses a magnifying glass to look closely at my clothing and see if there's any long hairs. Then she sniffs it with all her might. She says a woman's scent can be poisonous. I've never disappointed her.
      "She totally cares about my career. She often makes sure that the boss understands my thinking and my attitude toward the job. Sometimes after she's been talking to the boss she doesn't come home until quite late, and looks exhausted. She worries about me, and I'm grateful to her with all my heart.
      "She repeatedly warns me that a man must be ambitious and diligent, and put the job first. That's why I work overtime a lot. I'll even stay late at the office when there's nothing to do, because I'm afraid the wife will look down on me if I come home early.
      One time I had a cold and a really bad headache, so I snuck out of work to come home and lay down for a bit. When I quietly opened the bedroom door, I got scared almost half to death – I couldn't believe my wife and my boss were lying on the bed together. I broke out in a cold sweat and my heart was pounding but, can you guess what? My head didn't hurt anymore and my cold was better.
      "Boy, oh, boy, my wife really did put it right. You can't leave anything to chance, and you can't loaf on the job. What's more, that boss of mine really does run a tight a ship, and he's got incredible foresight. He knew I was going to leave early that day so he hurried over to my place to thwart me.
      "It was a good thing he didn't see me. I closed the door and tiptoed out of there, and hightailed it back to the office.
      "Tell me, how about that wife of mine? She's good. One in a hundred, a thousand, a million…."
      Old Yu got more excited the more he spoke. Tears started to form in his eyes as he picked up another cup of booze.
      "Come on, let's drink another toast." I picked up my cup, too, and there seemed to be a teardrop hanging from my eye.

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3-09 Uniforms (制服)

      Filial Son Sun says he's been an organization man his entire life.
      He says there was no need to check his personal files. You'd just have to take a look at whatever clothes he was wearing to know that he was one of a group, one of an organization. The clothing could prove it all.
      When he was in kindergarten, the children all wore the same little smocks. The school's name plus a red flower and two green leaves were printed on it. The meaning was that they were the flower of the motherland.
      He wore school uniforms from primary school through secondary school. They had words on them, too, namely the school's name. He had to wear them all day long, even though they were ugly. No matter where he went, people immediately recognized where he came from.
      Once in a bookstore he surreptitiously stuffed a copy of "
Red Crag", the revolutionary novel, under his shirt. The uniform allowed someone to tell on him to his school, because the school's name was printed on it.
      Another time he was passing by a textile factory after school. There was a fire, and he followed the bucket brigade to help put it out. Because the school's name was printed on his uniform, someone was able to send a special letter of thanks to the principal.
      That same summer he accidentally fell into a drainage well. A passer-by saved him, bandaged his head and brought him back to the school, also with the help of his school uniform.
      Filial Son Sun joined the army after he graduated from high school. Putting on that green uniform made him even more of an organization man. Those days people called him "Little Sun" or "Comrade Little Sun".
      When Little Sun took off the military apparel, he put on a police uniform and went from "Little Sun" to "Big Sun". He was a cop for ten years after being discharged from the army, and that uniform earned him the envy and respect of his classmates, friends and neighborhood residents.
      He took early retirement from the police and became "Old Sun". He hadn't been retired for long before he put on another uniform, that of a security guard. He stood at the entry of a hotel opening the door for guests or directing guests where to park their cars. That uniform greatly reduced Old Sun's not insignificant sense of loss and perked up his spirits.
      Old Sun couldn't change some bad habits he'd developed when he was a policeman. He punched a guy and injured him, which got him arrested and sent to jail. He says he wore a uniform in the prison, too, one with a serial number on the shirt. The quality wasn't as good as his police uniform, though, and it wouldn't hold a crease.
      Old Sun wasn't in prison long before he was released to seek medical treatment. He says he's still wearing a uniform in the hospital, namely, the patient robe issued by the hospital. He's in a terminal care hospice. He has liver cancer.
      Currently Old Sun's greatest wish is that he'll be able to wear a uniform in the next world. He says he's spent his life in organizations and is used to it. If he's not wearing the same clothes as others, he'll think he's a different sort and he won't know how to feel.

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3-10 Experiments (试验)

      Some people always want to keep up with the latest fashion but are always out of date. I'm a lucky fellow in this respect, believe it or not, because I'm right up on almost all the new things. This is not to say that I want to keep up with the latest fashion. It's just that my luck is better than others', and I'm always able to catch the neatest experimental and groundbreaking things.
      Just after I was born, the doctor in the hospital said "Babies learn the basics of swimming in their mother's amniotic fluid." He threw me into a bathtub to demonstrate his point and almost suffocated me to death.
      At the age of three, the Health Department wanted to make a vaccine against some infectious disease, and they got a group of children to do a test. I was honored to be one of them. The needle went in, and my arm swelled up bigger around than the mouth of a bowl. Every hair on my head fell out, and to this day I'm still shiny bald.
      I was put in an experimental class in elementary school. Stuff that they said even Ph.Ds. didn't understand got poured into us. Most of the class was in a mental hospital before two months were out. I was one of that group, too.
      When I was in high school, the principal suddenly announced that our class would be using some experimental educational materials. We took a city-wide test at the end of the semester and none of us got a passing grade, so me and the rest of the class all got put back and had to repeat the year.
      It was because of this extra year that we got the opportunity to attend "college" without having to take an examination – we were all sent to a remote area in the countryside to study the bitter lessons of the vast world. Our grades were calculated by the thickness of the calluses on our hands.
      Under the ingenuous instruction of our farmer teachers, I broke my hand. It was in a quarry when I was holding a drill, and Second Idiot from the family I was staying with smashed it to smithereens with a cannon hammer. At the time, I was the first of the Helping Hands Test Group selected by our Team Leader. So I graduated from this program and was sent back to the city.
      On the first day that I was working as a laborer in a workshop, the factory initiated what they called the "overload work method". I didn't shut my eyes for three days and nights, and with only one hand I accomplished as much as a normal person would have taken half a month to do. I was hailed as a "One-Armed Hero" and the factory's director wanted to shake hands with me to serve as an encouragement. The only unfortunate thing was, when he stretched out his hand he had to pull it right back. I only had one hand and it was busy wiping the tears from my eyes!
      Since our superiors considered it important, our factory served as an experimental "Pure Class Team" unit. They said the program would be promoted throughout the entire country once they gained experience. We were very excited about it, and our leaders and laborers all worked hard for three months. In the end eighty percent of the workers were accused of various crimes and left their positions. I was luckier than they were. I only lost a leg in this experiment.
      Later on, we were back in the factory again. Before long we began serving as an "Optimal Organization" in an experimental reform program, I bore the brunt of the program as the "Typical Optimal". The workers lined the streets at the main gate to welcome me. The scene was quite touching.
      I'm in the hospital now. It's also an experimental hospital which specially accepts patients who, like me, have been through a lot of experimenting and who have nowhere else to turn. The doctor said I've contracted every disease he's ever seen, studied or heard of. He's going to use me as a test subject and give me a variety of newly discovered drugs to treat everything at once. Therefore lots of doctors come to examine me every day, including doctors who are taking refresher courses, medical students and bunches of visitors. The medical profession is concerned about me and I enjoy all-encompassing care and treatment.
      I surreptitiously asked my attending physician exactly which diseases I have. "Can't you tell me the names of some of them? I'm really curious."
      The doctor became impatient and advised me not to worry. "Wait until the autopsy," he said, "and then everything will be clear."
      I'm grateful for the hospital's thoughtful consideration. I've asked them to use me for another test. If they can do the autopsy while I'm still awake, the results will surely be better.

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3-11 Rebukes (呵斥)

      I've always wanted to leave something for the younger generation when I'm about to say goodbye to this world.
      I'm all washed out. All I have left is a gold mine with abundant reserves, that is, the dazzling, golden land I've often seen throughout my life in my dreams. But when I wake up it's flown away with the crows. As an old man well into my eighth decade, life experience is the most valuable asset that I can pass on to the younger generation. I don't want to take it into next world, so I'll leave it here with you now, omitting nothing.
      I think that, of all the ways humans have to educate one another, the "rebuke" is the most common and most effective. Before today, I hadn't been conscious of this hidden secret and profound truth.
      "Don't Move! It'll stick your hand!" This was my first rebuke. It came from my mother's mouth not long after I was born. At the time I merely wanted to waive my little hand to try and reach far enough to get a shiny safety pin.
      On my first day in kindergarten, the teacher warned me in a loud voice, “Stand against the wall! Watch your ass!" She was staring at me with a ferocious look on her face because I’d knocked over a bowl of rice. "You are not allowed to eat. See if I don’t bust your doggy legs!"
      In primary school I liked my teacher a lot, so I gave her a pet name, "Big Eye Thief". I never expected, when I said it out loud, that she not only wouldn’t appreciate it, but would also misunderstand my intentions. She went crying to my parents to complain. They bawled me out with almost the same words at the same time. It’s a good thing I never had a dog, so they couldn’t bust my dog's legs.
      "You screw-up! You just don’t give a shit!" This was information that my father conveyed to me when I was in high school. He always said it in a ferocious tone of voice. At the time, I really hated my desk mate – a witch who had developed at an earlier stage than the other girls. She always made me feel uneasy. Whenever her arm crossed over the mid-line of the desk and bumped me, it always gave me a strange feeling, especially if it was summer. So I got a needle to use to counterattack. I used it several times and it never failed to elicit an "ouch". It made me "painfully" happy.
      "You're a bum! You'll never get anywhere!" When I'd just gotten out of school and entered society, I didn't want to be a "model worker". I had my heart set on being cool. My raison d'etre was to wear clothes that my parents would think were weird; to not get up in the morning and not sleep at night; and also to make them mad.
      "No one can stand you!" I found a job after a good deal of effort. The foreman kept his eye on me all day long – he even made a note of the time if I made a trip to the toilet. His constant rebukes included: "You want to get paid? Then get to work!"; "Lazy bastard! Sheesh!" and "You punk! You need someone to pick you up and put you away?"....
      "I'm saying you're stubborn and won't admit your mistakes. Just wait and see!" Soon after I got married, if I came home late sometimes, my wife would always yell stuff like that at me. A few decades later her theme was: "Sheesh, you're a good-for-nothing loser! You've got no character! Get out, get out of my life! I never want to see you again! You're a son of a bitch...." Of course, she also had moments of introspection, such as: "I must have been blind! I've had enough bad luck for eight lifetimes, getting married to you!"
      "You're old and confused, and the older you get the more unreasonable you are! You're making a disgrace of yourself!" When the wife died six years ago, I thought the neighbor, Old Lady Xia, was a good one. She'd been a widow most of her life and observed the traditional virtues. She was quite alone, with no sons or daughters. I wanted to move in with her but my son wouldn't allow it.
      "Sheesh, you're old and you won't die. You can't do any work at all. All you know how to do is eat other people's food!" My daughter-in-law was in the kitchen, cursing the cat at the top of her lungs. She's a good person. If she hadn't had objections about my cat, I never would have moved into this nursing home.
      "What are you spaced out about? Did you piss your pants again?" Thanks be to this voice. Without it I don't know when I'd be able to write. "Hurry up and stand against the wall, dry out in the sun, you old × ×!" I'm a little hard of hearing. I don't know what the nursing home manager called me. An "old something", probably "old ancestor".
      Tell me, am I right? Rebukes are really one of humanity's glorious traditions!

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3-12 Shame (丢人)

      I’d never seen him so depressed. He felt like he was totally useless.
      I tried to encourage him, but he stubbornly waved me away. He didn’t want my sympathies.
      "You shouldn’t stand there talking when you really don’t understand what I’m going through,” he said. “If you were in my shoes, could you keep from freaking out? I’m telling you, encouraging words don’t work, no matter who’s saying them. Whatever they’re saying is just so much hot air, and it hurts my ears, makes me uncomfortable. You understand?”
      There was nothing I could say to that. All I could do was nod courteously.
      "Brother," he said, "I’ve totally lost face. This face of mine isn’t even as good as a monkey’s. My wife ran off with someone. She ran off with a temporary boiler worker in a distillery. So tell me what you think happened to this face of mine. It’s so lost it might as well be dead.
      “These last few days I’ve hated that I couldn’t just find a hole in the ground and drill myself into it. I haven’t got the face to see anyone.
      “You’re my good buddy. You be the judge. Isn’t that the way things go? Every day when I’m at work, I wish I could just bury my head down in my crotch because I’m afraid of seeing anyone I know. Who wouldn’t make jokes about me?
      “Talk to me! Don’t just sit there by yourself like a dummy."
      “Why would anyone make jokes about you? That’s plain nonsense.” Truth is, I really felt sorry for him.
      "Who’d tell jokes? Don’t interrupt me. Baldy Liu in the General Office looks down on me and he doesn’t even try to hide it. See how courteous the guy is? If his wife hadn’t taken the initiative, how could anyone be as in with the in-crowd as he is? Ever since his wife went to bed with Assistant Director Sun, just look at the guy, walking around all day with his spoon-bald head raised high and his chest puffed out like a rooster. Even getting on the elevator he has to go first. What’s so fucking great about him? Just because his wife is shacked up with an Assistant Director who’s about to retire? If the Director had met my wife first, how could his wife have had a chance?"
      I sat there in a trance, my head buzzing.
      "Fuck, my wife really didn’t live up to her potential. She just had to hook up with a boiler worker. No class at all. I must’ve been blind, screwing my life up with her." He fished a small flask from his pocket and sucked hard on it.
      “You’ll get another chance. Your wife won’t be perverse enough to stick to the wrong course. She ran off to the countryside with that boiler worker, but it won’t be long before she comes back." I tried to encourage him with schadenfreude.
      "No such chance. Would any Department Director be interested in a woman who’s been with a boiler worker? Forget about it, I’ve no hope in this life. I can only be a go-fer in the mail room. Not like you, bro’. You’re okay. You’ve got opportunities, I think." He was feeling better than he had just now.
      “Not me. I don’t know your wife. And besides, even if you were willing, that boiler worker guy wouldn’t risk it with me!" I didn’t dare take it any further, so I got up and ran out.”
      "Ptui!" I heard him spit in anger behind me.


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3-07 Reflections
3-08 Secret Formula
3-09 Uniforms