​​         Chinese Stories in English   

1. Shortcut (捷径)

      She was quite pretty, singularly beautiful.
      Beauty is controversial, especially beautiful people.
      She was controversial, too. All the people who knew her said she was beautiful, with no dissenting voices, but their specific descriptions of her vary widely. Some say her mouth was charming and some say her eyes were intoxicating. But some think both her mouth and eyes were imperfect, while her body and the shape of her face were devilish and would make your heart pound.
      Those who saw her will never forget her. She graduated from college over a decade ago, but when our classmates from back then get together, we still can’t stop talking about her. Back in college, in fact, because she existed, we male students spent lots of sleepless nights in bull sessions lying in our dormitory beds.
      As unique as her beauty was, so was her thinking. This was another aspect of her charm. All through college, countless young men pursued her recklessly. No less than ten of them are lovesick for her to this day, and a number unsuccessfully attempted suicide after being rejected by her.
      All the way through college, right up to graduation, she never hooked up with a boyfriend. This made many of the young men feel bewildered and in need of solace.
      I was her classmate, and we’re also from the same town. Our relationship was quite close in all areas except love, closer than she was to anyone else. My nickname is "Quasimodo", the only character that weak-minded people who have read "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" are able to remember and cite. They call me that, probably not from admiration for the type of person I am, but solely because they’re judging me by my appearance. She was not Esmeralda, but she had close contact with me – we sat close together during long conversations.
      Her thoughts on marriage incensed me. She said she wanted to marry a middle-aged man, aged fifty or so. It was because she loved her father so much. Thus she felt that men of that age were the most mature and the most attractive. She also said that middle-aged men are about at the peak of their careers, a time when they're most eager for a young woman's love and worship. This is their weakness, but also an opportunity for women. She vowed to find such a man and she didn’t care what others might say. She had no greater ambition than to avoid slaving away day and night for a few hundred yuan in wages, a ninety-square-meter flat and a world of hustling and bustling.
      She also personally told me that she intended to marry twice, to have two husbands. That’s because, in view of the disparity in ages, her first man would not accompany her into old age. She didn’t want to play the role of the other woman who destroys someone else’s marriage. That was her moral bottom line. As I understand it, she wanted to have two inheritances and to enjoy double the security.
      She wanted to get married as soon as possible after graduation. She was confident that God would give her the opportunity since she was possessed of superior qualifications – beauty is a woman’s most bounteous trousseau. Aside from which, she also had class and style.
      Her desire was realized less than a year after graduation. She married a financial officer, the branch manager of a certain provincial bank. This financial shark had previously served as the mayor of a certain city, and then taken the plunge into business as chairman of a conglomerate. His record of service, experience and qualifications, as well as his power and strength, made her proud of him.
      It’s said that her father opposed the marriage to his utmost. Because his future son-in-law was one year older than him. The fellow called him "Young Brother Grandpa”, which deeply distressed him. But it was a matter of life or death to his helpless daughter, as no one else was worthy of her hand. Also, the object of his daughter’s desire purchased a luxurious home for his future "Young Brother Grandpa”, whereupon her parents turned a blind eye and agreed to the marriage.
      She had one foot in heaven. Every day, with a cat in her arms and a dog on a leash, she’d go in and out of famous shops that sold luxury goods. She enjoyed good health in addition to her beauty, and her life felt like floating on air. Her only ambition was to maintain her youthful presence, so that after a few years she could find favor with another successful man.
      Before two years had passed, she was dead. She committed suicide by jumping from a building.
      According to our classmates who knew her well, her husband was being disciplined by being “
shuang-guied” on suspicion of some criminal act, and it seems that she was implicated as well. The pressure as too much for her and she suffered a mental breakdown. Perhaps her guards left an opening, but in any event she jumped from the twelfth story while hugging her 5-month-old son.
      The logic of life is not easy to grasp. That’s what some people lament.

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2. Temperament (脾气)

      "Don’t say any more, the matter’s settled! I accept responsibility if any problems arise! Is everyone on board with that? Has anyone not got it? You’re rambling on like a bunch of old ladies about this shit. Does anyone not agree that I have the final say? This construction project will be performed by the GP Company. If none of you has a different opinion, I see it as settled. The meeting’s over!"
      That was the Secretary’s temperament. He made the big decisions and was not afraid of the responsibility.
      "You’re just talking useless stuff. What do you call character deficiencies? Does he beat his parents? Has he raped someone’s wife? And what do you call low level? How high does the level have to be before you consider it high? He can read the words in front of him and he can do addition and subtraction. I think his cultural level is more than enough for a bureau chief.
      “What did you expect him to do? Write out Das Kapital? Research the "theory of relativity"? There’s a lot of guys with doctoral degrees. They’re as useless as shit! Does a cadre have to have an MPA, a Master's in Public Administration? Get rid of the ‘M’ and the ‘A’, and don’t you just have a 'P' left?
      “Being able to speak well, and write and do calculations, doesn’t necessarily mean you can be a bureau chief! Dumb PhDs, dumb PhDs, they’re doing well if they can put their shoes on the right feet and put one foot in front of the other to walk without running into telephone poles, and if they don’t mistake their sister-in-law for their wife. If you want my opinion, there’s no need to waste time by going back and forth over this, just do what I say.
      “If you want my opinion, you couldn’t pick anyone more suitable for the job of Urban Control Bureau Chief than Old Hu. Just do it. Don’t say the masses have opinions about whether to move or not. Which masses? Have you solicited comments from the ones who don’t have an opinion, or from the ones who hold opinions in support of Old Hu for bureau chief? The problem comes right from your own organization! What views? Have I said anything wrong? That’s the temperament I have and I can’t change! I’ve told it straight, and if there’s nothing else, proceed to the next item."
      That’s the kind of personality the Secretary has. He’s straightforward. He chooses the cadres, and he doesn’t shy away from promoting those close to him.
      “What are you blathering on about? I think you need to work on your shortcomings. Talking about money right to my face. You know, I really hate it when people ask me for money. I’m more distressed and more worried than you are when the people are having a tough time. Are you the only party cadre, the only one whose heart is devoted to the masses?
      “What kind of example are you setting when you come running here to me? Aren’t you capable? So think of a way to solve this problem yourself. You come here and upset me. What's capable about me giving you money?
      “Aside from the fact that I don’t have any money, I wouldn’t give it to the likes of you even if I did. You think of a solution for your own county. I’ve beaten this to death. I’m not giving you a penny! Don’t give me any more of that, with your long face like you’re crying at a funeral. I’m not dead yet! I’m really fucking disappointed! Get out of here, now! That’s the temperament I have and I can’t change! Didn’t he see I’m really busy? Come on, come on, come on, let's get on with our drinking!”
      The Secretary has this characteristic. If he says one, it's one and only one. If he says no, he means no.      "Drink, drink, drink! I don't know how you haven't drunk yourself to death! Look what a disgusting little thing you are, got yourself a bunch of young missies. Ptui! Don't piss on the floor or you'll see yourself in the reflection. You even fool around on me all day. Public fucking servant.... You won't come home like this ever again, if you got any sense."
      Only the Secretary's wife has a bigger temper than he does. There's nothing he can do about it. His father-in-law is the senior leader in the province and he's spoiled his daughter.
      "D-d-don't be mad. My d-d-dear, it's j-j-just m-m-my temperament. I can't ch-ch-change...."
      The Secretary's behavior in front of his wife is the same as his subordinates' behavior in front of him.

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3. Doctoral Dissertation (博士论文)

      Study Law Hu got a hearty laugh from reading the newspaper article.
      He was pursuing a doctorate in criminal psychology, so he usually paid close attention to all kinds of articles about criminals. He was careful to collect relevant information about such matters, including news reports.
      Study couldn’t stop laughing even after he finished reading this story. It talked about the police arresting a thief who was engaged in picking pockets on public busses. A search of his person found necklaces, wallets and credit cards, as well as a small notebook.
      This thief had a habit of keeping a diary in which he recorded the number, type and dates of his own activities in pickpocketing valuables over a relatively long period of time. Thus interrogation by the Public Security Department was not needed, as they could ascertain all his activities at a glance. Study had heard a lot of dumb criminal jokes, but he felt this was particularly funny because it was a true story.
      Study had been racking his brains for a topic for his doctoral thesis. Once he read this item, a lightbulb flashed before his eyes. He decided the direction of his research would be confined to this area – the history of the crime of theft.
      After a year of writing day and night, he defended his thesis at the oral examination and passed. The mentor and the examining experts ascribed a very high evaluation to his paper and generally agreed that: "The thesis topic is inherently worthy of recognition and commendation, with profound and important significance"; "The resources are complete and accurate, the position solidly held, the viewpoint unique and the ideas original"; "Case selection is exquisite and the chain of reasoning is clear, logically tight and very convincing"; "Innovative both theoretically and in methodology", and so on. A month later, Study Law Hu put on a PhD’s hat.
      Dr. Hu’s thesis was selected by a publishing house and was distributed to the public that same year. As a book it differed from the usual dry, monograph-style volume. From its theme to its content and style, it was strongly readable and captivating. Sales in the marketplace were huge. Not only law students liked it, but practitioners, prosecutors, public security workers and non-professional readers were willing to read it as well.
      Just as Dr. Hu was reveling in the excitement of success, a newspaper published an article that made his head ache – "Knowing and Breaking the Law: From PhD Theft Researcher to Master Plagiarist – Critiquing Study Law Hu’s Magnum Opus". The article detailed a large number of instances where the accomplishments of others’ research had been plagiarized in Dr. Hu's thesis. People were shocked.
      The PhD’s hat that Study Law Hu had been wearing for such a short time was taken away. The school decided to cancel his qualifications as a doctoral degree holder. This was a prudent measure taken by the Qualifications Committee on the basis of an in-depth investigation. The academic community was in an uproar.
      People were even more shocked when, after another month, the Public Security Bureau arrested Study Law Hu. After reading the thesis, a Case Specialists Panel had determined from the cases cited therein that the author was himself the suspected criminal in a number of major burglaries which had occurred in that city a few years previously. The victims of these thefts were all officials in governmental economic departments. The attention of the Anti-Corruption Bureau was drawn to them because of their families’ losses from the thefts, that is, because the losses suffered by the owners of the stolen property greatly exceeded their legitimate incomes, so that "the sources of their huge quantities of assets were not clear”. If not for the thief’s help, these corrupt officials might still have remained in high office. But the burglar had never been captured.
      Study Law Hu confessed to the crimes. He regretted it deeply and reproached himself: "I never, definitely never, I never should have written that thesis!”

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4. Shapeshifting

            With one drink under his belt, Old Heh felt a bit of regret.
            He hadn’t had anything to drink for some time. The doctor told him not to. He couldn’t resist it, though, when friends got together and urged him to have one while they dawdled around and discussed the world’s problems. He was very thin-skinned, especially when he was drinking, and he had to keep up appearances whenever they pressed a drink on him.
            After he had two more, his legs felt weak and his head was spinning. He remembered the doctor's orders and became more and more nervous. He worried that his old sickness would recur and he wouldn’t be able to handle it.
            He’d had a stroke six months previously. His face got all twisted and his eyes got crooked. He was terrified and vowed that after he was better, he’d never touch the stuff again. He didn’t think he’d forget his promise at today's party for his old friend's birthday, as soon as people started to egg him on. He was upset and worried that he’d have another stroke.
            Old Heh made up some excuse and left the table early. He wanted to go home and hide out for a while, to work off the wine with a couple of cups of tea. While he was swaying from the private room to the restaurant’s lobby, he suddenly discovered that his face was changing shape. His head was swollen, his face was round as a pumpkin and his eyes were narrow slits. He was scared silly. He rubbed his nose and it felt different, too. He slapped his face and it hurt, so it hadn’t yet gone completely numb. He stood there in a daze for a long time, then slowly moved his feet.
            “My God,” he thought, and broke out in a cold sweat. His legs and body felt thick in some places and thin in others, becoming longer for a while and then shorter. “You shouldn’t drink. Why the fuck didn’t you remember, the doctor warned you over and over to stop. He said you absolutely can’t drink any more. If you do, you’ll have only yourself to blame.”
            His tears started to flow, and his crotch was getting wet, too. He felt his time had come. He wondered if he’d ever see his wife and kids again. If he left her and the young ones in the lurch, what would become of them? He hated himself for not having prospects for the future. He hated even more his old buddies who had nagged him into drinking. “They totally wanted to kill me!” He couldn’t keep from bawling right there in the restaurant lobby.
            A young man in a head waiter's uniform came over. "Sir, may I ask you to leave, so as not to affect other guests as they come and go."
            "Leave? Do you think I can move? Look how my legs are deformed! Call me an ambulance, right now!" Old Heh's will to live was strong.
            "You're okay, sir. You may have had too much to drink. Your legs are normal. Please don't keep standing here in front of the funhouse mirror admiring yourself." Without waiting for Old Heh to calm down, the young man used all his strength to push the huge distorting mirror standing in the lobby out of the way.

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5. Eau de Cologne

            This guy Zhao Two certainly isn’t a simpleton. He went from elementary school straight through to his doctorate all in one swoop. And he got his doctorate from a school in the United States.
            Ignore the fact that he stutters. He doesn’t speak Chinese too well, but his English is quite fluent. He sounds like a gurgling brook.
           Zhao Two was born in the countryside, in a remote place so poor that rabbits wouldn’t even stop there to piss. He was in lousy physical condition as a child, malnourished, sickly and weak. He had a large head on a small body, which threw him off balance. It often happened that he fell flat on his face when he went outside, and got scratched by a cat or bitten by a dog or pecked at by chickens. The villagers, including his relatives, laughed at his strange appearance, and his family uniformly agreed that he was a burden.
            Aside from this, the child had the type of shortcoming that keeps parents awake all night from worry – he loved reading. He got 100 on a test when he started school, and from then on never dared score even a 99. But 100 points in school wasn’t worth even one work point for the family, so his father always cursed him and said he’d never amount to anything.
            Zhao Two passed the middle school entrance exam after he got out of grade school. He nagged his parents half to death to let him go to the city to attend school. He cried for three days and three nights straight. Finally, in exchange for twenty head-slaps and five yuan from his parents, he was able to go into town.
            When he graduated from high school, he once again pulled the wool over his family’s eyes. He reported for the college entrance exam without telling them and took first place in the county and third in the province. His parents seemed to have been struck by lightning. They promised to present a united front and break their son’s legs – they absolutely couldn’t let this monster eat away the family’s assets. Zhao Two, however, was quite gifted. That summer he simply ducked out and didn't go home. He begged, borrowed and even stole enough money to travel to Beijing and entered the capital alone.
            When a son’s grown up, he doesn’t listen to his parents. There was nothing they could do about it. They’d been counting on their son to earn work points for the family, but it looked like that wasn’t going to happen. Zhao Two had to have money to stay in school, though, and the little bit of financial aid that the school gave him wasn’t enough, so he had to ask for help from the family.
            Once again, his parents united. After they’d shouted curses in the direction of Beijing for three days and nights, they started to think of ways to scrape up some money for this “evil creature”. They sold chickens, ducks, geese and dogs, and they sold pigs, sheep, cattle and donkeys. They ended up selling off their four-room tile house and moving into a vacant, broken-down shed at the edge of the village that had been used for the melon fields.
            Zhao Two went to college and on to graduate school. His parents started going to the county hospital every few days to get the only red liquid they had in their bodies constantly pumped out and turned into money. Their son later left China for, he said, specialized study to get a doctorate. His parents lost all hope and got themselves ready to sell some more blood to buy some rat poison to take and end it all. Fortunately, someone who knew about such things told them that Americans have money and would take care of their son's expenses while he was studying there. Half believing it, the old couple breathed a sigh of relief and didn't mix rat poison into their rice.
            Over the next few years, Zhao Two really didn't ask for any money from his family. That mountainous burden was off his parent's back, but as they say, things in this world are sometimes beyond human ability to figure out. The old couple hadn't eaten well or dressed warmly enough while they were selling blood. They'd been vigorous enough to run to and fro every couple of weeks, but by the time their burden had been removed, they had no energy left. Before five years had passed in their new circumstances, his father had gotten sick and his mother had died. Only the old man was left now, and he'd spent the last year in bed.
            The old man was rejuvenated when his son came back from America for the New Year's holiday this year. He'd told his fellow villagers last year that if his blood-sucking son ever came back for more money, he'd have to think about what to do.
            Zhao Two arrived at home on New Year's Eve and his father was very happy. When the son said he didn't bring any special New Year's fixin's with him, the old man said the family had everything they needed and there was no reason to spend money on pointless expenses. The old man was afraid his son wouldn't believe it, so he took the New Year's fixin's they'd prepared and showed him one by one:
            "Here's three-root radishes, and there's two-stalk cabbages; this is fifty kilos of white flour provided by Village Relief, and that's ten kilos of soybean oil sent by the township government. I knew you were coming home for New Year's, so I also marinated a jug of salty tofu."
            The son took two small, beautiful bottles from his suitcase and told his father, "These are called 'fragrant water of France'. I wanted to give them to momma, but she's gone. You keep them."
            The old man complained about his son spending the money, but also excitedly asked, "If I mix this stuff with the salty radish, will it add flavor?" When his son said no, the old man was disappointed and moaned, "Too bad it's not fragrant oil of sesame."
            Zhao Two only stayed at home for one night and then left. Just before leaving, he took a stack of green paper from his suitcase. "I'll leave some money for you."
            After he was gone, the old man sent the two bottles of cologne to his wife's grave. He was afraid the villagers would joke that his son didn't know the difference between fragrant water and fragrant oil. He also took the bills his son left and stuck them on the wall one by one. He was afraid the villagers would joke – he knew they would – "How could this be money?"
            He'd already gone to the village that first day and tried to buy a bottle of booze in a shop. He wanted to cure an itch – he hadn't dared drink a drop of the stuff for years. The old ladies in the shop laughed until tears came to their eyes.
            "Your son is stupid," they said. "We've known that since we were kids. How come you're being stupid now, too? You sold your blood for half a lifetime, and you've accepted this kind of money in return?"

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6. Being Cussed Out

            In front of the entire class, the Provost hit the teacher, Mr. Meng, with a head-splitting barrage of curses.
            “What do you think you are? If you say you're a pig, the pigs will all be unhappy. Say you're the same as a dog, the dogs will all complain.”
            Mr. Meng stood decorously beside the podium. His face turned from yellow to red, then from red to white.
            “You think you’re a big plate of gourmet food, but in fact you’re not even as good as a PBJ sandwich. And your morals? You don’t honor your mother or even your grandmother. You’re still out catting around when the sun’s about to come up. You don’t work hard at your profession and you don’t think about advancement. You’re expected to be a model for your students, but instead you let them go to the devil. You’ve got to be responsible, understand? Are you deaf?!"
            Mr. Meng repeated over and over, “Yes, yes. I understand...." The sweat was dripping straight down from his forehead....
            "You understand shit! I can see you’re saying you understand when you really don't. It's green onions stuffed in a roast pig’s nose – just for show. You stammer through your lectures and make a mess of everything you do. You can’t get to school on time but you leave early like you’re a big boss. You act like a sheep with your wife and like a jackal with your colleagues. When your leader isn’t around, you’ve got no ambition and act like a peasant, one without the ability to even truss up a chicken...."
            Mr. Meng clenched his fists. His eyes bulged almost out of their sockets.
            "What are you staring at? You're pretty brave, brave enough to stare at me. I'll piss on your eyes and we'll see what they look like then. Pah! Dead fish eyes! Disgusting! Tell me, how's your wife able to stay with a dink like you? Hey, you really turn people off nonstop, a flower stuck in cow shit. No, cow shit's better than you. You can dry it and burn it to cook with. Dry you out and all that's left is a smelly bag of skin. Yeah, all you can do is eat, a typical eat-n-drinker, a dolt that knows nothing but yum-yum eat it up, yum-yum drink it up. There's no hope for you in this life…."
            Mr. Meng started to sway back and forth, like he was sifting chaff.
            The provost spent a full half hour attacking from different angles. If he hadn't got a frog in his throat, there's no telling how long he would have kept at it. After a coughing fit, he left and slammed the door behind him.
            The classroom was absolutely silent, not even a bird peeping, as they say.
            "Pah! Pah! Pah! You're the one who's full of shit!" Mr. Meng eventually calmed down and growled in the direction of the long-gone Provost.
            "Ho," the classroom erupted in laughter.
            "What're you laughing at, you bunch of retards! You sound like you're wailing at a funeral. Was it your father that died, or your mother?" Mr. Meng pointed directly at the students' noses.
            He put his hands on his hips and his veins bulged as filthy vulgarity issued from his mouth.
            "You little bastards are all cretins. No, it's more accurate to say that a third of you are dummies, a third are morons and the rest are punks. Mark off your own checklists and see which third you belong in. Do you know why you're dummies or morons? It's inherited. You're all the products of incest…."
            Some of the students were foaming at the mouth, and some were covering their ears.
            "Some of you little bunnies think you can play games with me, but you haven't got a chance. I've seen it all. Give it a try if you're not convinced. I'll have you flat on your backs, or eating dirt, looking all over the ground for your teeth…."
            A male student jumped up….
            "What're you doing? You want to throw away your life…."
            The kid gave his teacher a vicious look. You could hear the clicking as he gnashed his teeth. He moved over to the door and, "bang," kicked it open….
            "Get out of here, you coward!" Mr. Meng jumped up and down and gestured at the kid's back. "I'm giving you a zero!"
            “You're airheads, mops, piss-pots, all of you.... If you don't get knocked around every three days, the roof comes off and you need a spanking. Everyone's looking for a fight. Thieves are better people than you. Beggars are richer than you. Patients in a hospital are healthier than you. Crocodiles are more beautiful than you."
            Three girls started to bang their heads against the wall at the same time....
            “It really doesn't embarrass you to hit your heads against the wall. The wall is public property. Can you afford to pay for the damage? If banging your head on the wall could make you better looking, my wife would've started doing it a long time ago....”
            "Whap," another girl slapped her desk, turned around and left the classroom.
           "Little witch, don't you want your grade? I'm failing you!" Mr. Meng shouted after her at the top of his lungs.
            "None of you are any better than flies, crabs, mice, mosquitoes, stinkbugs. I hate it that I can't swat you one by one with a flyswatter and then flush you all down the toilet together...."
            No matter what, the students still sitting in the classroom showed no reaction. Some of them had been mad, of course, but they'd long ago stifled their anger.

            “Okay, class, that's all for today's practice session in anger management while being insulted. I'm sorry, everyone. The grades were pretty good overall, and most of you passed. After class, please practice some more in groups of two. Next class we'll have students cursing each other. OK, class dismissed!"
            Mr. Meng walked away smiling.

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​7. Invite the Gods

      The twenty-third of December by the lunar calendar, in a month with only twenty-nine days.
      Under a custom which had been passed down for hundreds of years in that town, every household conducts an "Invite the Gods" ceremony on this day.
      The ceremony is simple. Each family burns a pile of papers on an open space outside their home, lights a few sticks of incense and sets off a string of firecrackers. This counts as sending a written invitation to their ancestors and the various gods to come for a visit. Then they go inside and are served steaming hot "Invite the Gods" dumplings to eat.
      The third day of lunar January is "Send Off the Gods" day. Each household repeats the "Invite the Gods" ceremony to see their ancestors and other supernatural visitors off to their respective jobs.
      Old Bloomer Zhu was a man who didn’t pay particular attention to the custom. He’d never gone in for those kinds of things, things that seemed downright laughable to him. He had no sons or daughters, and had lived in this town with his wife the better part of his life. He’d never believed in such tomfoolery even if others made a big show of it.
      He’d retired this year after working almost a lifetime in a small photo studio in the town.
      For some unknown reason or another, this year on the twenty-third of December Old Bloomer broke precedent and performed the Invite the Gods ceremony in all seriousness. He lit incense, set off firecrackers and recited prayers forcefully and convincingly. Like most people in the town, while he invited all the various ancestors and gods into his home for the New Year, in his heart he was looking forward to a gracious appearance by the God of Wealth so that he might be better off during the coming year. There are a lot more laid-off workers these days, and his pension isn’t generous.
      On the twenty-ninth of December, as it was getting dark, someone knocked on his door. Old Bloomer had been in the process of picking up his rice bowl, and the knocking startled him so much he almost knocked it over. When he’d been working in the photo shop, there weren’t usually many people who’d come to his home to get a picture taken. He didn’t have any relatives in town, either – just a sister who’d been married off to a faraway province when he was young – so very few people ever came to call. Anyone who knocked on his door was likely collecting for the electricity or garbage.
      Old Bloomer opened the door. A tall man in his thirties was standing there, holding a travel bag in his hand.
      "Hello, Uncle. I’m Little Plug." The visitor spoke first.
      Old Bloomer was so stunned he couldn’t say anything for a long time. When he finally came around, it really was his sister’s son Plug standing before him. His sister had only came home once after she got married – when their mother passed away, she’d come back with her son to attend the funeral. Plug had been five or six years old that year.
      His nephew’s arrival made Old Bloomer quite happy.
      Plug said he’d wanted to come visit his aunt and uncle for years, but he was so busy at work that he couldn’t find the time.
      He took out two stacks of banknotes and said it was a gift of twenty thousand yuan to express his filial piety to his aunt and uncle.
      Old Bloomer and his wife had never seen so much money. They were so happy they both started to tremble all over. The old man muttered to himself, “There really must be something to this ‘Invite the Gods’ stuff. If I'd started burning a few sheets of paper and lighting some incense a few years ago, like my neighbors, there’s no telling how rich I’d be now.”
      Old Bloomer hated that he couldn’t go to the store in town right away and buy all those good things to bring home. He’d happily stock up on New Year's specialty goods and buy a pile of chicken, duck, fish and pork. He wanted to take this wealthy nephew out for a stroll through the town, but the young man said that after working hard all year, he just wanted to lie around at home and not go out.
      On the night of the thirtieth, Old Bloomer and his wife ate New Year's Eve dinner with their nephew and watched the Spring Festival Gala on TV. Their nephew said he’s had a bit much to drink and went to the south room to sleep.
      Just before midnight, a crime alert was broadcast on TV. Old Bloomer was jolted out of his groggy sleepiness by a notice of a murder and bank robbery. The robber was his own wealthy nephew. He distinctly heard the young man’s name announced.
      The old couple didn't close their eyes all night. What should they do? Report him? He was their own nephew. Don't report him? Harboring a criminal was a crime! Old Bloomer hoped that his nephew would disappear immediately. How could this be possible? The next day would be the first day of the January.
      Old Bloomer was on pins and needles for three days, stewing over this. On the third of January, Send off the Gods day, he burned more papers, lit more incense and set off more firecrackers than anyone else. He prayed for the blessings and protection of the gods to have their uninvited guest – the "God of Wealth" – leave soon.
      Their nephew had no intention of leaving, even though the warm reception he'd gotten from his aunt and uncle had changed. Their every word hinted that they wanted to chase their guest away, but they dared not say it directly because to do so might prove fatal. Old Bloomer sighed deeply. "Oh, may it please the gods to send this god off easily!"
      Two days later, at sunset on the fifth of January, Old Bloomer was scared so badly by a knock on his door that he peed his pants. He knew it wasn't good, that the police had come to make an arrest. Before he'd quite recovered his senses, his nephew tapped his head with a pistol and gestured for him to open the door. He hid behind the door as he pulled it open.
      As soon as the door opened, Old Bloomer heard someone say, "Hello, Uncle. I’m Little Plug." While the sound of the voice was still echoing in the room, this "nephew" pounced in suddenly from outside and slammed Little Plug to the floor, pointing a gun at his head. More shadows rushed in from out of nowhere and they had Little Plug in shackles in just a few moments.
      "Thanks, Uncle," the "nephew" who'd spent the New Year with them said as he lay on the floor, laughing.

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Stories by Lao Ma (Ma Junjie), Page C
劳马(马俊杰)的故事,C 页
Translated from laomaruc 的博客

3. Doctoral Dissertation

4. Shapeshifting
5. Eau de Cologne

6. Being Cussed Out

7. Invite the Gods

1. Shortcut
2. Temperament