​​         Chinese Stories in English   

Lust, Caution and Fancy Rings*
Eileen Chang


      “I’m late for our date!" He leaned forward from the waist, as if bowing, and mumbled the apology.
      She only glanced at him and got in the car. The driver returned to the front seat and Mr. Yi told him "Ferguson Road". It was the apartment they’d gone to last time.
      “There’s a jeweler’s near where we just were," she whispered. "A small diamond fell out of my earring and I’d like to take it to get fixed. I could’ve walked over there while I was waiting just now, but I was afraid you’d come and not be able to find me, so I sat there waiting like a fool. I waited a long time.”
      "Sorry, sorry,” he said with a smile. “I really was late today. I was on my way out when two people came to see me. I couldn’t avoid them." He leaned forward as he spoke and told the driver, "Go back to where we just were.” They’d already passed by one intersection.
      She pouted. "It’s so difficult for us to see each other,” she whispered. “And we can’t say anything when we’re at your place – I should go back to Hong Kong. Would it be OK if I asked you to buy me a better class boat ticket?"
      “Why go back? Do you miss your husband?”
      “We’re having an affair and you think I’m longing for that man – He makes me so mad I could die!”
      She’d told him she was getting revenge on her husband for going with a taxi dancer.
      He settled back in his seat and crossed his arms with one elbow poking the side of the bottom half of her tit, the fleshiest part. This was his usual trick, appearing to sit upright while copping a little feel on the sly. She started to feel a bit numb.
      She turned to look out the window to make sure they didn’t drive past it again. The car drove to the next intersection before making a big turn to head back. Another U turn from the Righteous Cookie Store, across the street to the Peace Theater, the only clean, two-reel cinema in the city. Its dark red-and-yellow bi-colored brick façade gave off a warm feeling like knitted wool. The entire structure was recessed inward to form the spacious entry, a new moon cut from the street corner. Across the street was the Victorious Commander Cafe, where she’d just been, the Siberian Leather Store and the Green Room Ladies Fashions. Those two shops had four large display windows side by side, and luxurious wooden mannequins posed in a variety of positions behind neon lights. The small shop next to them was much less conspicuous. But for a signboard saying “Jeweler” in English in the window, you wouldn’t know it was a jewelry store.
      He turned to the driver and told him to stop. They got out and he walked behind her into the store. In her high heels, she was a half-head taller than him. She wouldn’t wear heels so high except he didn’t seem to care, at least not obviously. She’d found that large men tended to like petite women, while shorter men liked women who were taller. Maybe it was some sort of compensation mentality. Knowing that he was watching, she arched her back to impress him with her flexibility. With her thin waist, she looked like a slithering dragon swimming through the glass door.
      An Indian clerk wearing a Western suit came up to greet them. Although the shop was small, it was high-ceilinged and well lit, but with none of those recessed lights twinkling like ice caves. There was only one short glass counter toward the back, on which were displayed some "birth stones" – which bring good luck according to the horoscope sign of one’s birthday – and some “semi-precious stones" such as pseudo topaz and red sapphires made of gemstone powder.
      She took a pear-shaped, teardrop earring from her handbag. It bore a leaf formed from small diamonds, but one of the diamonds had fallen out.
      The Indian looked at it and said in English, “One gone from tip.”
      She asked how much it would cost for a replacement stone and when she could pick it up. Mr. Yi said, "Ask him if he has a better ring." He’d studied in Japan and wasn’t willing to speak English. He always acted like a high-level official waiting for someone to translate for him.
      She paused a moment before asking, "What?”
      He smiled. "Weren’t we going to buy a ring to celebrate our time together? How would a diamond ring do? A good one."
      She paused again, then smiled at him ambivalently and asked the clerk, “Do you have diamond rings?”
      She was whispering.
      The Indian looked up toward the ceiling and howled something that sounded like an exclamation in some Indian language, startling them. Then he led them upstairs.
      A partition painted a cream-color separated the back part of the shop, and a door beside it opened on a small, dingy staircase. The office was on a loft between two floors, really just a shallow balcony overlooking the store for easy supervision. Two mirrors of different lengths hung on the wall on the left side as they entered the loft, with colorful flowers and birds and gold captions painted on them: "The future looks bright as Mr. Bada opens his business," and "Chen Maokun congratulates him on his happy aspirations." They were gifts for the store’s opening. Another, larger mirror lay horizontally on the floor leaning against the wall. It was colorfully painted with a phoenix and peonies. The balcony’s ceiling sloped obliquely, so there was no space to hang it on the slab wall.
      There was a desk along the ebony railing in front. On the desk were a telephone and a lit desk lamp. Beside the desk was a coffee table with a typewriter covered by an old varnished cloth. A stocky Indian man stood up from the round-backed chair and greeted them. He had a large black face and a leonine nose.
      “So, you want to look over the diamond rings. Sit down, sit down." He walked toward the corner of the room, moving as slow as molasses, and leaned over to open a safe covered by an old piece of green carpeting.
      What kind of jewelry store was this? Mr. Yi’s expression didn’t change, but Manila was rather embarrassed. She’d heard that some shops those days were just fronts for commodity speculators or black-market money changers. Wu must have chosen this place for its location close to the cafe. She’d thought just now, while she was on her way up the stairs, that he’d be an easy target going back down –he was such a gentleman. He’d walked in front of her up the stairs, and when they went back down to the shop, he’d be in front next to the counter.
      If there were two customers in front of the counter – just two men picking out cheap jeweled cufflinks or pins, or trinkets to give to girlfriends – they would block the way out. They couldn’t deliberate too long, not like women would dawdle over a purchase. They’d have to keep a tight grip on time – they couldn't come in too early but couldn’t loiter outside, either. His driver was sitting in the car and would be suspicious. They’d want to come straight in right away, or at most check out the window display at the leather goods store a couple of yards behind the car, one storefront away.
      As she sat beside the desk, she couldn't help but turn her head to look back downstairs. She could only see the display case. Its glass shelves were empty, all bright and uncluttered, and even the neon light tubes inside them hadn’t been installed. She could see the lower half of the car parked outside the window.
      On the other hand, if two men came into shop together, it could seem a bit out of the ordinary. It might draw the driver’s attention and might even make Mr. Yi grow suspicious if he saw them from the loft. He might delay going downstairs, and even a slight slowdown would be bad news. So maybe they wouldn't come in at all, and instead intercept him at the door. That would make it even harder to manage the time. They couldn't just run up to him because the sound of running footsteps would alert the driver immediately – he only had the one driver, but the guy might be a bodyguard as well.
      Perhaps the two men would approach from two sides. One could be with Refined Lai in front of the shop next door, the Green Room Ladies Fashions, looking at the display window. The girl would have taken a fancy to fashionable clothing she couldn't afford and her boyfriend could stand there waiting as long as she wanted. The boyfriend would be impatient waiting, though, so he could have his back to the window and be looking all around.
      Her thinking about these things was fuzzy because she knew they weren’t related to what she was supposed to do. She wasn’t to concern herself with them. Right then, because she didn't know what would happen next, she inevitably felt like she was sitting on a keg of gunpowder in this small loft and would soon be blown sky high. Her legs were a little weak.
      The shop clerk had gone back downstairs.
      The manager and the clerk, one black and one white, didn’t look like father and son. The lighter one’s face was covered with a gray stubble of a beard, and his thick eyelids drooped as though he were half asleep. He wasn’t tall but was quite robust, and may have functioned as both a clerk and a guard. The counter being so thick and the display case empty as it was, they perhaps feared robbery during the day – for the evenings, they had iron bars on the door. Did they have some things in the shop that were worth money? Probably nothing more than some US gold-standard bills and silver coins.
      But then she saw the manager bring out a black velvet cloth. It was about a foot long, with one end slightly narrower than the other, and diamond rings were sticking out from hemmed slits. She leaned over the table to look, and Mr. Yi edged closer beside her to see the rings.
      The manager noted that neither of them had been impressed by the rings, so he didn’t select one for them to look at. He put them back in the safe and said, "I have this one as well." It was a pink diamond about the size of a pea, in a small, dark blue velvet box.
      She thought, “Don't they say that pink diamonds are valuable but seldom available?”, but she was stumped for words. She couldn’t help feeling that a burden had been lifted from her shoulders.
      So it was this unremarkable shop that would let her regain some face. Why else would she have brought him to this dilapidated place –just an amateur gold digger, a little Cantonese girl who’d come to Shanghai and turned into a “lady”. But now, when the shots were fired, that entire image would immediately be shattered, and what would it matter whether she had any face or not? She knew that clearly but didn’t take it to heart. Her whole spirit was into holding back. The primarily thing was not to let her true feelings show, for fear that her expression would change and he’d notice.
      She picked up the ring. He looked only at her hand and whispered, "Ah, yes, that seems better."
      The back of her neck felt chilled. The two display windows downstairs with the glass door stuck between them were crystal-clear. They opened out behind her like a two-story floor-to-ceiling window that could shatter at any time. On the one hand, this was a sleepy little shop, within which the sounds of the city could be heard only faintly – there weren’t many big cars on the road during wartime and it was rare to hear a horn honking. The intoxicating warmth of the air lay as heavy as a quilt on her face. Half of her was asleep and in the midst of a dream, but she knew something would happen soon and was vaguely aware that it wasn’t just a dream.
      She turned her ring finger over and over under the desk lamp, looking at it closely. On this dark loft, the bright backlight from the windows and door were like a movie screen showing a black and white action film. She couldn’t stand a bloody scene, and the interrogation of the spy under torture might be even more ghastly. She’d been afraid to watch such scenes even as a child – she’d once fallen downstairs from the front row of the loge seats when she turned to avoid one.
      “Eight carats” the manager said in English. “Try it on."
      His comfortable aerie was certainly memorable. The large mirror leaning against the wall reflected her feet traipsing through the peonies. The loft was a market from the Arabian Nights where one could stumble upon strange treasures. She turned the pink diamond ring on her hand from side to side to look at it. It was a much lighter shade than her rose-red nail polish. It really wasn’t too big, but it shone like an alien star with a quite sufficient brilliance – red enough to make one feel it was magical. Too bad it was just a little prop on the stage and would make one melancholy before long.
      “Isn’t it glorious?" Mr. Yi asked
      “Magnificent.”
      “As long as you like it, that’s all that matters.”
      “Eight carats. I don't know if it has any defects. I can't see any.”
      They only cared about their own whispers and giggles. She’d gone to a school on the mainland where they didn’t focus on English like they do in Hong Kong, even though it was one of the earliest commercial ports in Guangzhou. She always spoke in a very low voice at times when she couldn’t avoid speaking English. The Indian boss saw that his words weren’t getting through, so he cut short his usual spiel and stated his terms succinctly: “Eleven large gold pieces, due tomorrow. If they’re underweight you’ll make up the difference, and I’ll return any overage.”
      This was something only seen in the Thousand and One Nights. Even quoting the price in gold was straight out of the Arabian Nights.
      She was a little worried it was too fast. They probably wouldn’t expect us to come out so quickly. She knew from her stage experience that speaking lines was the best way to fill up the time.
      “How about having him make out a receipt?" she suggested. She imagined he’d want to send someone here tomorrow, who could bring the receipt to pick the ring up.”
      The manager was already making one out. She took the ring off and returned it to him.
      They couldn't help feeling relaxed after the deal was done. She and Mr. Yi sat side by side, leaning back in their chairs. At that moment it seemed like only the two of them were sitting there together.
      She laughed softly. "Everything’s done in gold pieces these days, and they don’t even take a deposit."
      “I never carry cash for purchases when I go out.”
      She’d been with him in such situations and knew he always had an aide pay the bills. The privileged classes never had to dredge money out of their own pockets. He hadn’t brought an aide today, of course, to maintain secrecy.
      There’s a saying in English, "Power is an aphrodisiac." She didn't know if it was true. She was completely passive, or mostly.
      There was another adage: “The way to the man's heart is through his stomach,” meaning that men love to eat, so when they encounter a woman who can cook and lavish them with food, they’re easily hooked. Some guy had an answer for that: “The way to the woman's heart is through her vagina. She’d also heard of a famous scholar in the early years of the Republic of China who was proficient in English – she couldn’t recall the name – who she knew had authored a famous saying in defense of Chinese polygamy: "You only need one teapot for several teacups. Why would you have one teacup for several teapots?"
      As for a woman's heart, she didn’t believe that famous scholar’s contemptible saying. She didn’t believe the other sayings, either. Unless it was a hard-up woman getting old and going broke, or a loose widow. As for someone like herself, hadn’t she been disgusted by Extra Day Liang originally, and even more disgusted by him afterward?
      Of course, that may have been a different situation. Extra had always been unpleasant and spoiled. He lacked self-confidence and was ashamed of his inferiority. And he’d been a little afraid of her.
      Well, then, did that mean she was a little bit in love with Old Yi? She didn't believe it but couldn't categorically deny it. Since she’d never been in love, she didn't know what being in love was actually like.
      From the age of fifteen or sixteen, all she’d done was defend herself against various kinds of propositions. It’s not easy for such a girl to fall in love, because her resistance has got too strong. For a while she thought she might like Abundance Kuang, but later she hated him, him and the others as well.
      She’d worried a bit the two times she’d been with Old Yi. She had to be so careful about everything, how could she have had time to ask herself what she felt. Even after he’d gone back home, she was still on pins and needles, a state of constant tension. They’d stayed in bed until late at night and she’d gotten back to her own room only with some difficulty. She’d only fallen soundly asleep after gulping down a sleeping pill. Extra had given her a small bottle but told her it would be better not to take any because she’d need a clear head in the morning if something happened. But she couldn't get to sleep without taking one, even though she wasn’t the type to suffer from insomnia.
      Only now, in this moment when the tension was stretching into eternity, with a single lamp glimmering in this small, interior loft while white sunlight shown through the doors and windows downstairs, with this fellow from India beside them but still feeling that they were alone, intimate yet restrained in a way they never had been before, even at that moment, she would never have thought that she loved him. But—
      He wasn’t looking at her and the smile on his face contained a hint of sadness. He used to think he’d never have such a happy encounter after hitting middle age. It was the magic power of his status that made him attractive, of course, but that was acceptable, because his status was in large part inseparable from who he was. Also, for women, presents have to be given when due, but giving them too early would be like disrespecting her. Knowing that it was his status that made him attractive, being with her didn’t make him feel intoxicated by his own attractiveness. He was inevitably startled by it.
      He was an old hand at shopping with women who liked to buy things, someone there just to wait their pleasure and not otherwise be noticed. His smile at that moment was a bit sad but not in the least sardonic. His profile under the lamplight, with his gaze directed downward and his eyelashes resting on thin cheeks like the wings of a beige moth, looked rather tender and piteous to her.
      “This man really loves me,” she thought suddenly. Her heart pounded as if she were losing something.
      It was too late.
      The manager handed him the receipt and he put it into his pocket.
      “Get out of here, fast," she whispered.
      He briefly had a blank look on his face, but quickly understood her. He got up, grabbed the door and went out. No one was in his way, but he had to grab the door frame with one hand because he needed to reach for the bannister as soon as he stepped out. The stairs were dark and narrow. She heard him gallop down the steps two or three at a time, an irregular clomping sound.
      It was too late. She knew it was too late.
      The manager was startled. He knew the man’s behavior was suspicious but could only sit there, just bending his body to look downstairs. With the sound of leather shoes clomping on varnished bricks, Mr. Yi burst into his line of sight, pushed open the door and shot straight out like a cannon ball. The clerk followed right on his heels, and she worried that that pale Indian bodyguard would stop him and ask what was going on. Delaying him for even a moment could be tragic. He didn’t stop him, though, probably because he noticed the official car. He just stood in the doorway watching him, his silhouette as menacing as a tiger or bear. The car started with a screech as though it had been scared awake – Bang! Was that the car door closing or a gunshot? – and it angled away from the curb and sped off.
      If there’d been a shooting, it didn’t seem like there’d only be one shot.
      She calmed down. It hadn’t been a shot that she’d heard.
      When she let out her breath, her whole body weakened as though she’d been sick. Steadying herself, she stood up and collected her coat and handbag. "Tomorrow," she said, nodding and smiling. Then she muttered, "He forgot something, had to leave in a hurry before me."
      But the owner had already put a loupe in his eye and rotated it to adjust the focus. Only after he’d verified that the ring hadn’t been stolen and replaced by a fake did he smile, get up and walk with her to the door.
      She didn’t blame him for being suspicious. For one thing, they’d been too straightforward just now when talking about the price. She hurried downstairs. The clerk paused to look when she came down but didn’t say anything. When she was at the door, she heard the owner upstairs and the clerk downstairs shouting to each other.
      Just her luck, there was no rickshaw outside, so she walked toward Seymour Road. The operatives and their support must have run off. Of course, they’d known their plot had been blown when they saw him rushing out of the shop alone and getting in his car to escape. She once again trembled with fear. Maybe the lookout was at the back door and had missed them, but they must still be nearby. What would actually happen if she ran into them? They’d be suspicious, and there was no way they wouldn’t want to know every detail about what happened, and then they’d do her in.
      She felt it was rather odd that it wasn’t dark yet, as if she didn't know how long they’d spent in the shop. The sidewalk was buzzing with activity and there were plenty of rickshaws on the road, but they were all occupied. A river of cars flowed by. She seemed to be separated from the pedestrians by a layer of glass, as though she could look but not touch, just like the mannequins wearing leather jackets and bat-sleeved, soft silver woman’s apparel in the display windows. The people were as cool and unconcerned as the mannequins as well. She was the only one on the outside, flustered and panicky.
      She had to be careful. She didn’t want the charcoal-colored car to pull up behind her and come to a stop with the door open and a hand sticking out to drag her inside.
      The parking spaces in front of the Peace Theater were empty, and since it wasn’t time for the show to let out, there were no rickshaws waiting. Her steps slowed in hesitation. She turned her head and did indeed see a bicycle-rickshaw approaching slowly on the other side of the street. While it was still some distance away, she could see a tricolored paper pinwheel – red, green and white – sticking out from the handlebar. The driver was a tall young man who, on that day, was her Knight in Shining Armor. He saw her waving and pedaled quickly into a U-turn to cross the street. The pinwheel flew straight up and spun round and round as he picked up speed.
      “Yu Garden Road,” she said as she got in.
      Fortunately she’d met with the group only a few times during this trip to Shanghai and had never told them she had a relative living on Yu Garden Road. She could go live there for a few days and see what developed before deciding what to do.
      She heard a whistle before the rickshaw arrived at Jing’an Temple.
      “Road block,” the driver said.
      A middle-aged man in shorts with a whistle in his mouth held a long rope stretched across the street. A second man in shorts held the other end on the far side of the road. They held the rope taut to block the road. Another man was swinging a small bell listlessly. The road was wide, and the sound of the tinfoil-clad bell rose and fell through the air. She’d have thought it was far away if she hadn’t seen it.
      The rickshaw driver didn’t give in and pedaled right up to the rope before stopping. He spun the pinwheel impatiently to get it turning again, then turned back to smile at her.

***


      Three women in black cloaks were sitting at the mahjong table now. The newcomer, Mrs. Liao, had charming white pockmarks on the bridge of her nose.
      Mrs. Ma smiled. "Mr. Yi’s back."
      “But Manila isn’t. She said she’d treat us. That’s probably why she didn’t come back!”
      Mrs. Yi said, “It’s her obligation to treat! – but waiting until this time of day to eat, I’m starving!”
      Mrs. Liao laughed. "Mr. Yi, your wife has had a good run of luck. She’s agreed to treat us tomorrow."
      Mrs. Ma smiled and said: "Your wife keeps her word better than you, Mr. Yi. You agreed to treat us the last time you won, but so far it’s just been an empty promise. Aren’t you embarrassed? Getting you to spring for a meal isn’t easy."
      “You should treat us, Chief Yi,” the other black-cloaked woman said. “You don’t come when we offer to treat you."
      He just smiled. The maid poured him some tea and he flicked his cigarette ash in the saucer, then looked at the thick woolen curtain on the wall.
      “With that thing covering the entire wall,” he thought to himself, “how many assassins could be hidden there?” He still had a slight case of the jitters. “I’ll have to remember to have it taken down tomorrow.” His wife certainly wouldn’t want to, though. Such an expensive thing, how could anyone just put it away and not use it?
      It was all her fault – this problem now, wasn’t it because she was careless in making friends? Anyone would be shocked when they thought about it. The trap laid with this beautiful woman was two years in the making, since Hong Kong. It was quite well arranged, but at the last minute the beauty changed her mind and let him go. So, she did love him. It was the first time in his life that he’d had such a close female friend. He’d never expected to meet someone like her after reaching middle age.
      Maybe he should’ve kept her around anyway. Wasn’t there a saying, "Spies don’t distinguish between families"? Besides, she was just a student. She was the only operative they’d had in that Chongqing group, and she’d let him escape. That was the only fly in the ointment of their campaign.
      The assassin had been in the Peace Theater. He’d likely come out in the middle of the show and would’ve gone back in after the murder. He’d had his ticket stub to bluff his way out after the area was cordoned off. After he’d done the deed, some kid who’d been waiting while he went out for a cigarette would’ve let him back in when he pulled out his ticket stub. It’d probably been arranged in advance that the rickshaw drivers waiting to pick people up would ignore him. Probably there were always people slipping back into the theater. But those dirty punks couldn’t stand up to interrogation and had told all at the first sign of difficulty.
      Mr. Yi stood behind his wife and looked at her tiles. He put out his cigarette and took a sip of tea, but it was still too hot. He ought to go bed early – but he was too tired to relax for the time being and didn’t have the slightest desire to sleep. It really had been a tiring day, sitting beside the phone waiting for messages, and he hadn’t even had a good dinner.
      He’d made a phone call as soon as he was out of danger and had the entire area cordoned off. The net had been pulled tight and they’d all been shot dead before ten p.m.
      She’d hated him at the end, but as the saying goes, "A strong man has to be ruthless." If he wasn’t that strong a man, she wouldn’t have loved him.
      He hadn’t had an alternative, of course. The Kempeitai, the Japanese Military Police, were still waiting in the wings. Wang Jingwei’s second in command, Zhou Fohai himself, was also a special agent and oversaw the Ministry of the Interior as a secondary institution. Zhou paid close attention to him, and how embarrassing it would be if he should one day find out that an assassin’s snitch had been an honored guest in the Yi household. Would it do for the number one brain in intelligence work to be such a muddle-head?
      He needn’t fear that Zhou would find fault with him now. He could be confident that he’d done the right thing in killing them to prevent them from divulging any secrets: they were just students, not like spies who could’ve been kept alive to extract confessions and intelligence. If he’d dragged it out, more outsiders would’ve found out about it and said that patriotic college students had wanted to assassinate a traitor. The impact would not have been good.
      He wasn’t optimistic about his side’s situation, and who knew what would happen to him personally? Now that he’d had a soulmate, he could die without regrets. He felt that her shade would always be a partner to him and comfort him. Although she hated him at the end, and those feelings were strong, they were just an emotional reaction, irrelevant to what she really felt about him. Their relationship was primal hunter versus prey, or tiger versus the ghost of someone it had killed, the ultimate possession. She was born to be his, and in death her ghost was with him.
      “Please treat us, Chief Yi, please treat us!" The three women in black cloaks got louder as they became more insistent. The noise was getting out of hand.
      “You promised to treat us to dinner, after all.”
      Mrs. Yi smiled. "Mrs. Ma was supposed to treat us, too,” she said. “I wouldn’t bring it up except she wasn’t here for several days.”
      Mrs. Ma smiled. "Mrs. Yi comes to her husband’s rescue! Mr. Yi, your wife loves you so much it hurts."
      “Bottom line, will Chief Yi treat us or not?”
      Mrs. Ma looked at him and smiled. "Mr. Yi should treat us." She knew that he knew she meant he should host a reception to celebrate his taking a concubine. Both of them had ducked out today, and the woman hadn’t yet returned even though it was late at night. He’d been a little distracted when he came back, his face showing some happiness he couldn’t suppress. He looked younger, too. It seemed to her that it was his first time.
      He reminded himself to tell his wife to be careful about what she said. "Mrs. Mai" had had some problem at home and had rushed back to Hong Kong. His wife was the one who’d let the wolf in the door. He’d got some intelligence about Mrs. Mai after she’d moved in with them. He’d thought it was suspicious and sent people to track down her roots. They’d found a Chongqing spy network and were investigating it when he got word that the Japanese Kempeitai had got wind of them as well. He had to take action earlier than he’d planned or they’d have taken over the investigation. They would’ve found out his wife had made a path for the spy and endangered him. He’d have to put the fear of the Lord in his wife so she wouldn’t make trouble for him and he wouldn’t have to listen to Mrs. Ma’s nattering anymore.
      “Treat us, Chief Yi, treat us! Your wife’s sticking up for you won’t do you any good.”
      “The mark’s on you, Ma’am. You said you’d treat tomorrow.”
      “There’s more to it. Mr. Yi’s a busy man. Tell us what day you have free. Any day after tomorrow will be fine.”
      “No, treat us tonight! Take us to that German place!”
      “Ugh! The food isn’t any good there.”
      “What’s the big deal about German barbeque? It’s just cold appetizers. A Hunan restaurant would be better for a change of pace.”
      “Or The White Butterfly! Mrs. Ma didn’t go yesterday.”
      “The Ancient Rose is a cozy place. I haven’t been there in a long time.”
      “Didn’t Mrs. Ao take us there once?”
      “Mrs. Ao, Mrs. Xin and Mrs. Liao are all from Hunan. They did the ordering for us.”
      “I’ve never gotten used to those Southern dishes! They’re all too spicy!"
      “Men ought to stay away from those spicy Southern dishes.”
      “They do produce spicy young things down there, don’t they?"
      He quietly left the room while they were still laughing heartily.
      (1950)***

Translated from 努努书坊 at: https://www.kanunu8.com/book3/7114/155391.html
A more professional translation can be purchased
here.


*[The title is a pun. The two characters (色戒) can be read as either “Lust Caution” or “Flashy Rings” – Fannyi]
**[The translations of conversations should be taken with a large grain of salt. While most of the text is in Mandarin, the dialogs are often in other languages unfamiliar to Fannyi. He took a stab at translating them with a little help from his friends and a lot of wild guessing.]
***[A motion picture (in Chinese w/English subtitles) based on this story, directed by Ang Lee, is available for rent or purchase
here. If you don’t want to pay the big bucks, the first one-third of the movie (in Chinese w/Chinese subtitles) can be viewed here and the second third here, both free.]

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