Chinese Stories in English
6. Bonus: Story: Habits of Thought Determine One's Position
3. The Burning Bridge
4. Iron Sheeting on the Camphor Tree
5. A Sigh
Long River (page 08)
Stories printed in Best Chinese Mini-Stories 2017, plus Bonus Story
Text at page cited after story; translated from the webpages cited below.
1. Secret Recipe
1. Secret Recipe (秘方)
Cao Chunlei (曹春雷)
Silver Pillar was thinking about the splitting up the family. To be precise, it was his wife who wanted to do it. She kept running on and on to him about it. “Can you tell me if there’s anyone in the village who’s been married for so long and is still living with his parents?” Silver was a pushover, so he went to his father. He stammered when he told the old man about it.
Dad was so happy it hurt. "OK. It's time." He set about divvying up all the stuff that should be divided between the two brothers, Gold Pillar and Silver Pillar. Eventually only two restaurants were left, the old one in the south end of the village and the newly opened one in the north end. Dad had been the manager in the older one and did the cooking as well, while the new one had been managed by Gold. The old place was next to a big road, with lots of traffic and an established customer base, and business was booming. The new place was located off the beaten path where there were few diners. How should he split the restaurants up?
Silver wanted the old place – his wife had talked to him about it long before and told him he had to get that one. He mentioned the idea to his father, hemming and hawing all the while. Dad stared at him said: "How would that be right?"
But Gold, who was also there, said: "It’s OK. If Silver wants the old place, I'll take the new one."
Dad looked at him. "Have you thought about it and discussed it with your wife?"
"Yeah. Just do it," Gold answered bluntly.
Silver was quite happy to take charge of the old restaurant. Dad told him: "I’ll give you only one month running the place. Learn it well and I’ll let it go and not concern myself with it from then on. Your brother has already learned my craft. Whether your two restaurants make money or not is your own business." Silver readily agreed.
Silver studied cooking under his father. People from miles around sang the praises of Dad's skill, especially his "pot-sticker chicken", a stew incorporating ingredients from the mountains which was indeed sticky, as well as crispy and savory. Most diners came in just for this chicken. Silver was a clever fellow and quickly learned how to make it. After a month, Dad took off his apron and walked away without consulting anyone. Silver was now both the boss and the chef.
Two months later, Silver noted sadly that patronage had dropped off significantly from when Dad was there. Some customers said, “Your pot-sticker chicken is nowhere near as good as your dad’s.” What had happened? He’d learned the dish from Dad’s own hand, and the first time he made it, Dad had tasted it and approved. He also heard that patronage at Gold’s place was growing rapidly, with crowds of people coming and going every mealtime.
His wife said, "Your father wouldn’t have held something back, would he, and only given the secret recipe to your brother?”
Silver rolled his eyes at her. "Nonsense!"
But as the number of guests coming to his door continued to drop off day by day, Silver also became suspicious. He went to see Dad and beat around the bush for a long time before making himself clear. Dad's voice suddenly increased by eight octaves. "What are you saying? I have another secret recipe that I gave to your brother and not you?"
Silver didn’t dare say anything. Father and son both remained speechless. After some time, Dad finally opened his mouth and said: "Come on, let's go to your brother’s place and see how he makes chicken stew."
At the north-end restaurant, Silver and Dad watched Gold stew a pot of chicken. Dad then had Silver take the ladle and make another pot. They brought them out together for the guests to taste. They all said, "The two pots taste almost the same. Can't tell which is better."
A guest who’d just eaten at Silver’s place piped up, “Silver, the chicken you stewed here is lots better than what you make at your place.”
Silver couldn't figure it out. Did that mean that his cooking skills mysteriously improved when he came to this restaurant? He followed his father back to the kitchen, where Dad smoked for a while before saying, "Your brother uses the best ingredients. Forget about the other stuff, I’ll just talk about the cooking oil and the chicken. Your brother uses peanut oil that he presses at home. He also uses free-range chicken that is delivered to his door, and all of them must have brightly colored feathers. You, you use oil bought from a peddler and you only buy the cheapest chickens you can get. I even heard that an old lady in Crotch Mountain, the next village over, had some chickens that were about to die from chicken fever and you bought them anyway. Is that true?"
Silver lowered his head and admitted his shortcomings, but Dad suddenly changed his tune. "Speaking of a secret recipe, though, I really do have one that I didn't pass on to you. "
Silver jerked his head up. His eyes shone. Dad got a pen and wrote on a cigarette package for a few moments. "Here it is. Take it."
Dad's calligraphy was flamboyant, like dragons and phoenixes dancing in the air. Silver recognized the words after a while: "Your heart must be in it."
Text at p. 157; Translated from 检察日报 at
[Fannyi once ordered stewed chicken at a restaurant in Liuzhou. After a few minutes, the waitress emerged from the kitchen and apologized. “Sorry for the delay,” she said, “but the chef had to go out back and kill your chicken.” Never had that experience at KFC. The stew was great, by the way, but the restaurant was torn down shortly thereafter as part of an urban renewal project.]
2. Tricks (绝招)
Lu Bin (吕斌)
I followed Captain Guardian Wang into the courtyard. The door was open, so we entered the house. The man who came out of West Room gave us a strange look. Captain Wang explained to him, in a rather lukewarm tone of voice, "We came for a look."
The man eyed the two of us suspiciously. We had indeed come to look around. After reconnoitering the murder scene yesterday, Captain Wang had arranged for Major Crimes personnel to perform various on-site and laboratory tests. Today, though, he said to me, "Let's go to the scene for another look." I asked him what we’d be looking for, but he didn't say.
Captain Wang looked at the scene in East Room, where the woman had died. The man had followed us and we asked him. "How come there are so many caterpillars in this room?"
"We locals call these things ‘wet bugs’. They come up easily in wet places. You didn’t see then when you reconnoitered the scene yesterday,” the man continued, “but the wet floor attracted them."
Captain Wang didn't seem to understand. He whispered, "Then why are there no caterpillars on a lot of the floors that’re wet?" I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the man was startled and didn’t know what to do.
The Captain lead me to the West Room again, where the man lived, to look around. I couldn't see anything unusual. He didn’t say anything and led me out through the courtyard.
He didn’t say anything on the way back to the precinct, either. He was never one to talk much. When I reported in at Major Crimes, Director Zhang said to me, "Guardian Wang’s a good man. He has tricks for handling cases. Stay with him and you’ll learn a thing or two."
Colleagues had privately told me some interesting facts about Captain Wang. When he was a youngster, they said, some kids stole corn from a family’s garden. He was puzzled and asked his mother “They’ve got corn in their own gardens, so why steal from other people?”
His mother got mad and said, “Why else? Children are a scourge.” He frowned and still didn’t get it.
When he was in vocational school, a girl from the next class whispered something to him one day before evening study hall. She told him to go to the south side of campus after study hall so she could talk to him about something. He caught up with her at the door to her section’s class and told her, in front of the other students, "Whatever it is, tell me all about it right here. It’s pitch black and really spooky on the south side of campus after evening study hall.”
"I didn't want to tell you anything at all," the girl said angrily. She turned and went back to her seat and ignored him after that.
He was still thinking about the incident when he returned home on vacation. He asked his mother, "What could that girl have wanted to say to me?"
“When a girl wants to talk to you without other people around,” his mother thought to herself, “what could she want to talk about except love?” Out loud she said angrily, "She wanted to kill you!"
The day after our visit to the East Room, Captain Wang said to me, "Let's go to the scene for another look-see." When we got there, he looked in both the East and West Rooms. He casually glanced at the man's clothes, then asked him cordially, "Did you change your clothes?"
Once again, the fellow was startled and seemed at a loss. “No, I didn’t!” he denied, carefully scrutinizing his clothing.
The Captain also looked at the man's clothes carefully. "How is it that they look fresher to me than before?” he muttered. “Not fresh like they’d just been washed, though.” I looked at the fellow's clothes and they were the same ones he’d been wearing. Neither the style nor the colors had changed.
Captain Wang wandered from room to room with me in tow. He didn’t say a word, and I thought it was quite strange. What was the use of all this casual looking around?
I got a memo from Captain Wang when I came in to work the next morning. The man who lived across from where the death had occurred had run off. We needed to go out and bring him in.
We used technology and tracked him down at a hotel right away. As soon as we entered his room, he knelt down and said to Captain Wang: "I’ll talk! I’ll talk!"
That surprised me. What did he have to say? He hadn’t killed the woman, or at least we hadn’t found any evidence against him.
Captain Wang said grimly. "I have one question: why did you run?"
"Blood was left all over the floor when I killed that woman,” the man said. “I splashed water on it and wiped it clean. It smelled like dead fish, and a ton of caterpillars came crawling out from the floor all around the room. When your people checked the scene that first day, the caterpillars hadn’t come out yet and nobody asked about it. I was surprised the next day when you came and asked why there were caterpillars on the floor. I thought you knew what had happened. A day later when you came around and kept looking at my clothes, and asked if I’d changed them, I was even more surprised. I thought you knew what I’d done. Blood got sprayed on my clothes in several spots and I was afraid you’d find it, so I went shopping and bought some identical clothing to change into. I thought you couldn’t tell. Who could’ve known you’d notice? When I saw I couldn’t fool you no matter what I did, I got scared and took off.”
“Why did you kill her,” Captain Wang asked mildly.
The man knew it was too late for regrets. He said he and the woman had both come to the city from the countryside to get jobs. They rented adjacent rooms, one to the east and one to west, and he developed warm feelings for her because they lived so close for a long time. He expressed his feelings to her many times, but she didn’t care for him and he got upset. When she was home alone, he took advantage of the opportunity and raped her. She was going to call the police, so he killed her.
We arrested the fellow and, while we were escorting him back to the precinct, I kept mulling over what Director Zhang had said to me when I reported in: "Guardian Wang has tricks for handling cases.” I kept thinking, what tricks had he used in this case?...
Text at p. 167; Translated from 微型小说选刊 at
3. The Burning Bridge (燃烧的桥)
Xu Baojin (许保金)
The night was as thick as lacquer while Old Fang sat silently in the courtyard. He was puffing away on a long-stemmed pipe filled with home-grown tobacco, and the now-bright, now-dark glow reflecting on him showed that his face was as dark as the night. The sound of snoring came from his son Charger Fang's room, adding a touch of life to the otherwise deathly quiet in the courtyard.
"Bang, bang!" Old Fang knocked the ashes from his pipe bowl with two heavy blows. He stuck the pipe in his pants behind his back and strode out of the yard as though he’d come to a sudden decision, and walked off in the direction of the village’s west end.
There was a river at the west end, and the sound of rushing water could be heard from far away. The little river wasn’t wide, just ten meters or so, but the narrow stream went through Square Forest Village like a sword cutting through leaves. To the west was West Square Forest, with East Square Forest to the east. Old Fang lived in East Square Forest.
The little river had been flowing like this as far back as Old Fang could remember. People on each side could see the blackheads on the noses of people on the opposite shore and could hear the tunes they were humming. If they wanted to visit friends or relatives on the other side, though, they had to travel almost two miles south in order to get across.
One day Old Fang discussed his desire to build a bridge over the river and collect a toll fee with the Village Director. It would make life easier for the villagers and also increase their incomes. The Village Director listened to him and agreed completely. "It’d be a good thing. The village would support it, and the commodity markets, too, if the charges could be reasonable. It’s just, what would we need to charge for this public bridge?"
The wooden bridge lay quiet and lonely across the river at night. When Old Fang reached out to caress the guardrails, his rough palms rubbing against the wood made a sound like sandpaper. He felt tears flowing from his eyes and was sad. Images and incidents from the past bubbled up and surged past him like the water under the bridge.
The village director's words had been like a magic pill that reassured Old Fang. He directed Charger to throw off his lethargy and get to work. Piling, framework, planking... Old Fang and Charger had worked hard for two months. Old Fang was bent over at the waist and Charger's sunburnt face was peeling. One of their donkeys had died from exhaustion, they’d worn out one flatbed cart and they’d spent over ten thousand yuan, but the two of them had finally built a wooden bridge over the river.
The day it opened, extra-long, swastika-shaped strings of firecrackers exploded “pow, pow, pow” at the head of the bridge. People from East and West Square Forest Village rushed over to see the goings-on. They walked across the bridge and back, as excited and delighted as if they’d never seen a bridge before in their lives.
"You’ve done a good deed for your fellow villagers this time, Old Fang, and built up some great karma."
"It’ll be a much shorter trip to get to your East Square Forest from now on."
"It’ll save us a lot of effort to get to your West Square Forest, too."
Seeing the high-spirited exuberance of his fellow villagers, and hearing their unending praise, Old Fang's heart was sweeter than if he’d eaten honey. It seemed all that effort hadn’t been a waste!
After a three-day free trial, Charger hung a wooden sign at the head of bridge stating the tolls per trip: half a yuan for a pedestrian to cross; one yuan for a bicyclist; one and a half yuan for motorcycles and electric scooters; and two yuan for empty flatbed carts. Heavy carts and other vehicles were prohibited.
The unpleasantries started when Charger actually began collecting money at the head of the bridge.
"Don't you know me anymore, Charger, my good fellow? I'm your Fifth Auntie. Is it because of the money that you don't even acknowledge your own people?" The woman pointed at Charger's nose and scolded him sharply.
"OK, Old Fang. You have the gall to take my money when you wouldn’t’ve been able to build the bridge without my approval back then? I don't care about the half a yuan. Here, take it,” the Village Director said facetiously. “Let Charger exchange it for paper money for you." His cutting remarks were laden with sarcasm and gave Old Fang goose bumps that didn’t go away for days.
By the time they’d been collecting fees for only a month, everyone in East and West Square Forrest Villages had taken offence at the old man and his son. People who used to talk and laugh when they saw the Fangs now acted as cold as bitter enemies.
Old Fang and Old Agreeable ran into each other walking through the village. Old Fang took it on himself to start a conversation, but Old Agreeable turned around and ignored him. After they’d passed by one another, Old Fang heard Old Agreeable making a “Tch, tch” sound. Old Fang had collected a half-yuan toll from him the day before, causing Old Agreeable to yell at him, “If I hadn’t grabbed on to you that time when we were kids, you’d’ve fallen out of that tree and killed yourself. You ingrate!"
Today when Charger was collecting a toll from Young Strong, Strong said, "You think too much more of money than you do of people, Charger. I used to help your family in the fields, harvesting wheat, and I didn’t ask for a penny. Today you want me to buy this road so I can walk on it. Are you a fucking a bandit or a robber?" He lifted his foot and, "crr-ack”, one of the railings was instantly broken in half. "Plop, plop", the pieces fell into the river, and Charger's heart sank "plunk, plunk", too. Tears rolled from his eyes, “shish, shish”, and fell into the river under his feet. Strong walked on across the bridge, cursing.
At dinner, Charger deliberately had a few extra drinks. He shouted drunkenly at Old Fang, "I’m gonna set fire to that bridge tomorrow and burn it down! I won’t do anything that just gets me cursed at!"
"Arf, arf...." A dog’s barking came from West Square Forest. A person’s shadowy figure was walking quickly toward East Square Forest. When the figure brushed by Old Fang on the bridge, the person spoke. "Old Fang, if you collect a toll even at night, your heart’s just too black, isn’t it?"
As he watched the figure head off into the distance, Old Fang made up his mind. He unscrewed the lid of the plastic jug he’d brought with him and splashed the liquid on the bridge. The pungent smell of gasoline covered the bridge immediately. "Fsst," Old Fang struck a match, and his hand trembled as he threw it down on the bridge. "Boom," flames erupted high into the air, roaring ever more loudly, “crackling” as the planks and the railings burned....
The river turned red with the reflected light of the blaze. It looked like the sunset had fallen into the river. The glow also turned Old Fang red as he stood on the shore. The tears that flowed down his cheeks shone brightly under the glare.
Text at p. 169; Translated from 人生屋 at
4. Iron Sheeting in the Camphor Tree (一块铁皮飞到樟树上)
Chen Yaozong (陈耀宗)
Old Wei often stood on his seventh-floor balcony looking at the view.
The residential community he lived in was built on the bank of a river. It was located on Riverside Road in a small city.
From his balcony, Old Wei had a view of scenery in the distance and could also see closer scenes. He watched the river flowing eastward around the town like a silvery snake; watched a small boat from the Dike Management Station as it patrolled and salvaged debris from the river; and watched pedestrians and vehicles in the shade of the trees lining Riverside Road.
That was how he passed his days.
Right now, though, whenever he looked at the scenery nearby, he was troubled by an insidious problem that created a blot on the landscape. It made him quite anxious.
The insidious problem had arisen in his own community. Its exact location was the top floor of the residential building opposite from Old Wei – an existing and potential safety problem created by an iron covering on the seventh-floor rooftop.
He’d noticed the problem while he was looking at the nearby view with nothing in particular on his mind. Perhaps because it had been there for such a long time, the iron sheet looked to be on the verge of collapse, like a doddering oldster. First a small hole had been torn in one corner, and then the small hole had become a big one that became bigger with every new tear. In a thunderstorm or strong wind, the metal sheet made a "clang, clang" sound like it was colliding with something. It was really hard on the ears.
Old Wei couldn't help but be scared. If a strong wind blew in, that torn piece of iron might well fall from the sky, and there’d be hell to pay if it hit someone. He felt he should report the situation to the community’s security office or property manager, but his community didn’t have either, so what could he do?
He figured that the matter mostly concerned the residents of the building across the way, since that was where the metal sheet was. He knocked on their doors one by one, two households on each floor. The ones on the first floor said that the matter had nothing to do with them, and “You need to visit the rooms on the top floor.” The ones on the second through and sixth floors said basically the same thing, and all kicked the ball to the seventh floor. When he visited the households on the seventh floor, they said, "This building is shared by us all. Are we the only two families living here? No one can avoid responsibility if something goes wrong! You should take care of your own business, Old Wei. Why the heck are you messing up your own free time with this stuff? It's like you’re all self-righteous and have got nothing better to do! If that piece of sheet metal is going to fall, let it fall."
Old Wei was so mad he almost had a stroke.
Sure enough, it didn't take long for Old Wei’s words to come true. One day during a violent storm, a large piece came off the part with the hole torn in it. Fortunately it didn’t fall into the residential area. It spun around in the air and flew to the top of a camphor tree on Riverside Road, very near the community.
Old Wei's heart hung on a thread. The section of Riverside Road adjacent to the residential community was a main artery crowded with pedestrians and vehicles constantly going by in both directions. The potential danger from this piece of iron sheeting wasn’t minor, since it could fall from the tree at any time with a good deal of force. Who knew what would happen if it fell onto some passer-by or vehicle? It would be a disaster, and who would be responsible?!
This was no trivial matter and had to be reported to the appropriate department as soon as possible! Old Wei couldn't just sit still.
The Parks Department tended the camphor trees along Riverside Road, so naturally he had to report the situation to them. They responded quickly but their attitude was equivocal. "We couldn’t shirk responsibility it was a problem with the tree, but the thing is, that piece of iron sheeting involves a production safety issue. You should contact the Safety Supervision Department."
But when he went to the Safety Supervision Department, they ignored him. "What are you coming to us for? Iron sheeting falling onto a tree should be handled by the Parks Department or by a department of the municipal government!"
Old Wei almost keeled over from anger. As the saying goes, when you want a job done well, it’s better to do it yourself! He felt he might just as well do that.
To remove the iron sheet from the tree, he’d first have to climb the tree. But what did he know about climbing trees? Besides, that camphor tree was big and tall. How could he get up there?
A very nervous Old Wei, who was sixty-three years of age, was running around in circles under the tree. Someone told him he had to find a ladder. A kind-hearted person brought a stainless-steel stepladder from home and even held it for him while he climbed. At the top of the ladder, it was clear that he was still a long way from the iron sheet, so someone got a bamboo pole from somewhere. For safety purposes, he also got a helmet specially for Old Wei to wear in case the iron sheet hit him on the head.
But even standing on the stepladder and holding the bamboo pole, Old Wei still couldn't reach the iron sheet.
He was getting discouraged by this time, but he still didn't give up. He got a piece of cardboard and wrote on it with a brush – "Be careful where you walk. There’s some metal sheeting up in this tree!" He nailed the sign to the camphor tree to notify pedestrians and motorists on the street.
Despite the "warning sign", Lao Wei was still uneasy. He stood guard on the tree-lined road every day that he had the time. Whenever someone passed by, he’d say "Watch your head, there’s a piece of iron sheeting up in this tree."
But he couldn’t spend every day there and never do anything else, could he? He thought it over and eventually the light bulb went off. The local TV station had a "people's livelihood hotline" program, so why not ask them for help? Often, as soon as the news media reports something, the appropriate departments will immediately take note of the problem and handle it.
He dialed the station’s "people's livelihood hotline" to report the situation and was surprised when he got through as soon as he called. They said they’d send a reporter to do an on-site interview. After waiting a day, though, no reporter had appeared. Old Wei couldn't wait; news, news, it has to be new, so there can’t be any delay! He called the station again the next day to urge the reporter from the "people's livelihood hotline" to get on the ball. If they don’t show up again, the dish would get cold. They promised that a reporter would come over as soon as possible to get together with Old Wei.
The weather changed suddenly at noon that day. A strong wind blew in and lifted the iron sheet from its perch on top of the camphor tree. It glided down and....
The reporter from the station’s "people's livelihood hotline" rushed to the scene accompanied by Old Wei. He saw an ambulance in the distance speeding away with its siren wailing.
According to someone who knew Old Wei, the one who was hit by the iron sheet was the neighbor from the seventh floor opposite Old Wei. It was quite tragic….
Text at p. 172; Translated from 刊参考网 at
5. A Sigh (一声叹息)
Liu Bowen (刘博文)
Auntie Chen tromped laboriously on the soggy mop a couple of times with her fat feet. She eventually stomped the sodden thing flat and, when she was done, glanced at herself in the bathroom mirror.
In the mirror, she saw herself sighing at the end the day's work.
Even if it was a low-volume sigh.
But any perceptive person knows that normal people absolutely don’t sigh under normal circumstances. The word “sigh” is even considered semi-pejorative by the Xinhua Chinese Dictionary.
Thus it’s said that a person starting to sigh deeply for no reason must be frustrated.
And being frustrated means that some annoyance must be weighing on their mind.
Auntie Chen strode out of the bathroom with measured steps. When she got to the corridor, she looked out of the corners of her eyes to scan the crowd that had arrived. “No one could’ve heard me sigh,” she told herself.
With that thought her elderly face, eroded as it was by the years, turned sunset red.
It was a sign that she had something on her mind.
She was unwilling to let people know that, however. Her mother had warned her when she was young, “No matter what’s bothering you, do me a favor and keep it inside until it’s thoroughly digested, to keep from having it bother others as well.”
Leaving aside what her mother had said, she’d learned from three years at the college that not infecting others with one’s bad mood is one of the virtues of a life well lived.
Seeing it was late, and that basically all the students who should be in the dorm had already returned, Auntie Chen stretched and slouched down on the recliner in the doorkeeper’s room. With nothing better to do, she switched on her cell phone.
“Hey, it's snowing, and really coming down!”
Everything that followed that exclamation was like a conditioned reflex.
First Auntie Chen called the school leaders and asked how many days they’d have off. Then she opened the 12306 Passenger Central app to start checking on trains to her hometown.
She sighed again as her fingers slid across the keyboard time and again. Compared to her previous sigh, this one was much longer.
And much more heartfelt, too.
The Passenger Central app glowed fiery red in the background. Two drops of liquid, each the size of a soybean, increased the intensity of the red on the screen infinitely.
“The Spring Festival – how’d it come on so fast?”
She asked herself that question over and over after she put down her phone.
She had no answer.
“Money or no, home for the holidays.” That song played off and on in her mind for the following week. She hummed it while mopping the floors, and while checking to see if the dorm rooms were clean, and even while she was chatting with people. She was beyond distracted.
“I say, Auntie Chen, you’re so absent-minded!” Finally even Six Smooths, the security guard, couldn't tell where she’d mopped and where she hadn’t.
“Your mop tracks are like scribbles.”
What could Auntie Chen say? Counting back, she already had three years scrutinizing this city where she’d planted her feet and been working her fingers to the bone. She could be considered one of the more fortunate of the legions of migrant workers who’d entered the city, since she’d never had to suffer the hardships of working on construction projects. Her fellow villagers had recommended that she come to this university, and she’d gotten a job as an Auntie-in-Charge of a dorm.
Three years, and Auntie Chen had been happy throughout. Her situation the last few days was truly unprecedented.
She knew, from the ads seeking winter vacation workers on the dormitory walls, that the days were getting closer and closer to the Spring Festival. But during these festive days, things that upset her were coming in quick succession.
Incidents of injuries to people in the dorms of universities around the country had been happening one after another. These incidents had not only created storms in the cities of the universities where they occurred, but had also caused alarm in other schools as well.
Auntie Chen had almost collapsed when she received notice that all management staff would be staying on campus during Spring Festival.
Even that simple sigh had been buried under her mood.
If you switched to talking about a young fellow who’d just entered the workplace, you’d guess he’d quit his job to go home for the holiday and never look back. For Auntie Chen, though, the job of Auntie-in-Charge in a dorm had too great a hold on her.
For a person her age, a construction site was a no-go. And all the jobs in the nanny business were held firmly in the hands of young girls. This left no doubt, as far as Auntie Chen could see, that staying here for the Spring Festival was her only option.
So that was that. She’d give her kids and the old folks a call, mail some gifts home and be done with it. She’d felt lousy all week, but now her mood improved a bit.
Fewer and fewer students remained in the dorm. She could hear the clickity-click of suitcases everywhere.
By the last week of January, you could almost describe the dorm as an empty nest. Auntie Chen and Six Smooths were busy mopping the floor and didn’t notice that someone had come in until a pair of leather shoes blocked their way.
When they looked up, it was their Institute’s Dean Cheng. “Aren’t you two going home for Spring Festival?”
“Sure, we wanted to. But you must know about the notice the school sent out.”
“Uh!” Dean Cheng was suddenly stunned. “My I ask, Auntie Chen, where are you from?”
“Me? I’m from over there in Springtime County.”
“Yeah, you’re from the countryside. It's not easy for you. Go on, both of you pack up your bags to go home.”
“Train tickets have been sold out for a long time,” Auntie Chen sighed.
“Don’t be silly, Auntie. Listen to my accent. Where am I from?”
“You’re from Springtime County, too?”
“That’s right, we’re all from the same place. Hurry up and pack your bags and we can leave together. I’m headed home for the Spring Festival, too.”
This time it was Auntie Chen’s turn to be stunned. The instant she looked up, she glimpsed a ray of sunlight rimmed with gold break through the clouds and shine down on the ground in front of the dorm.
“Wow, the last week in January and the sun still comes out. That’s really something.”
She sighed again, but only Six Smooths heard it. It held joy that couldn’t be concealed.
Text at p. 175; Translated from刘博文的博客at
6. Habits of Thought Determine One’s Position
I was 15 years old.
Father and mother gave me and my younger brother some money for living expenses before they left home for a few days. We spent all the money on beer and between-meal snacks.
They came home early and surprised us. Looking at the floor covered with beer bottles and waste plastic bags, father kept a straight face and asked what had happened. My brother burst into tears and said that the money was stolen on the first day. We’d survived these days by selling beer bottles and waste plastic bags from the trash, plus some money borrowed from classmates. I was stunned.
Father choked with sobs while cooking chicken for us. He gave us money to pay the debts right away. Even now I cannot believe how an eight-year-old boy was able to fabricate that story.
So now my brother is a vice provincial governor, while I am a vagrant.
Translated by Zhao Wu (昭武)
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