18. Stupid White Sister’s Three Suns (蠢白妹的三个太阳)
To tell you the truth White Sister, one of the New Grain bunch in Pine River Village, is not stupid. She’s twenty-three this year and was a migrant worker for six or seven years. She didn’t make much money, but she was able to avoid working in the rice paddies all that time, which really made her happy.
Avoiding field work was the reason she’d left the village to find a job. She was afraid of, oh, leeches, mud forks (a kind of stinging insect that lives in the mud), and the fiery sun, so as soon as she graduated from junior high, she took off for Dongguan in Guangzhou Province with some other girls from the village.
Speaking of the sun, there’s a funny story about White Sister. It’s the reason the New Grain people laugh at her for being stupid.
It was when she was seven years old. She’d just been in school for half a year and her brain was starting to wonder about things. She was always asking about this or that.
Her father took her to visit relatives during the Spring Festival that year. First they went to her Grandma’s home in High Mountain Dyke on the second day of the New Year. It was a gorgeous day with a high sky when they set out, and it was still a gorgeous day with a high sky when they arrived. White Sister asked her father, “There’s a sun where we live in Pine River. How come there’s a sun where Grandma lives, too?
Her father was busy playing cards with his uncle. He casually said, "Oh, there’s two suns in the sky.”
White Sister just said, “Oh."
On the third they went to her Great Uncle’s place in Round Other Town. It was also a sunny day. This time White Sister didn’t ask her father, but just thought there was a third sun in the sky.
They got back to New Grain in Pine River on the fourth. White Sister ran over to their neighbor Fuzzy’s house and said to his daughter Swallow, "I’m telling you, Swallow, there’s a total of three suns in the sky, this one here where we are, one at my Grandma’s place and one where my Great Uncle lives.” Even before she’d finished speaking, some adults playing cards nearby laughed and yelled “Stupid White Sister." After that, the nickname “Stupid” was added in front of her name.
But White Sister isn’t stupid. The proof of that is, she went was off to work in Dongguan for a stretch of six or seven years, and she stashed most of the money in an account in her own name.
Early this year, after the Lantern Festival, the other girls who’d run off came back south one by one. White Sister’s family had urged her to hurry up and get going, but she wasn’t in any hurry. She went to see her Grandma and her Great Aunt, and before you know it a dozen days had gone by.
When she did come home, the family thought she’d had enough vacation and would now move back south. Instead she went to the bank and withdrew her savings, more than twenty thousand Yuan. She used the money to acquire ownership of two storefronts, one in High Mountain Dyke and one in Round Other Town. She called several of the other girls back and opened shoe stores.
Although she’s now a woman of means, however small, the name "Stupid White Sister" has stuck with her because she once said that there are three suns, one in Pine River, one in High Mountain Dyke and one in Round Other Town, while in fact since ancient times there has been only one sun in the sky.
19. The Birds Liu Jianyong Envied (被刘建勇羡慕过的鸟)
All told, Liu Jianyong is a lazy bum. Living as he does in the seclusion of his home at Upper Hemp Ridge, number 133, some of the people who’ve lived upstairs or downstairs from him for the better part of half a year have yet to see him. They don’t know he lives in the building, and of course he doesn’t know they live there, either. He’s never even thought of getting to know what people are his neighbors.
He wakes up every day at probably eight o'clock, and lays on the bed after he wakes up. Sometimes he takes a book from the bedside table to read. Other times he doesn’t look at anything, just squints and daydreams. Still other times, he simply goes back to sleep.
Every day lots of birds twitter outside his balcony. It’s the twittering of those birds that wakes him up from his post-eight-o’clock slumber. And when he’s daydreaming, it’s frequently the twittering of those birds that inspires him to continue daydreaming.
It was said above that he didn’t want to know his neighbors, and as for those twittering birds, he never thought about getting to know them, either. Two seven-story paulownia trees flourished outside his balcony, and he thought the twittering birds roosted somewhere in the leaves where he couldn’t see them. He’d moved to this place in April when the paulownia trees had already fully leafed out. That first day he’d kept company with the birdsong and, while he was daydreaming, he’d composed the following poem:
All birds sing in the morning
For the start of each new day.
In the light of the dawn,
In the warmth of the breeze,
The birds do focus their love.
A flock’s outside my window,
They only sing and don’t speak.
None of them have come alone,
And none will leave alone, either.
They like to share their joy.
I really do so envy them
As I watch them flap their wings.
I know they do it not to fly,
And certainly not to hover.
It’s because they love each other.
He’d always thought that birds lived fast lives, flitting here and there. Until the day before yesterday in the afternoon, that is, after a couple of autumn rain showers.
He was awakened by the birds, got up reluctantly and came out onto the balcony. As he stretched, he noticed that the leaves which used to cover the paulownia trees were already thinning. The birdsong continued, but the birds? He didn’t see any.
He turned back inside to get the telescope he’d bought when he was watching ball games but hadn’t used for a long time. He took another look at the tree, but there still weren’t any birds. There was still a lot of twittering and chattering in front of him, though. But where were the birds?
He trained his telescope on the building not far across the way. Several birdcages were hanging outside windowsills on the fifth floor. All the twittering came from inside those cages.
Liu Jianyong put the telescope down. He remembered the poem he’d written for the birds, where he’d said, "I really do so envy them."
20. Dull Feelings (感觉迟钝)
Old Wang of Hundred Virtues Terrace has had dull feelings on his entire journey.
When he was three years old, he went outside to play in the snow and got his cotton shoes wet. His mother hugged him and put him beside the fire to let him bake, but his shoes started to burn and he didn’t even know it. His mother smelled them burning and rushed in from the other room. She took off the shoes and saw, boy, oh, boy, there was a big huge burn-blister on the big toe of his right foot. She scolded him anxiously. "You could’ve died. Couldn’t you tell it hurt?!" It only started to hurt after this scolding. “Waa, waa,” he couldn’t stop crying.
When he was a little bigger, if he got in a fight with someone, he wouldn’t cry in front of people no matter how much he got beat. He just felt numb. But he always cried after he got home and could hide somewhere away from people.
It isn’t only Old Wang’s sensitivity to pain that’s dull. His senses of taste and smell, and his sensitivity to cold and heat, are dull as well. Fortunately his hearing is normal and he can immediately discern what others are saying. His intelligence is normal, too. He was steadily promoted through grade school, high school and college. He got raises at work and had no problems finding dates or getting married. His dull senses haven’t prevented him from doing anything. No one has ever noticed any superficial difference between him and them. Not until recently, that is, when the weather turned cold.
When he was a child, Old Wang always wore whatever shirt and pants his mother told him to. Even after he grew up his mother always advised him, and that’s what caused the trouble.
This summer his mother passed away. His wife knew that he wasn’t afraid of pain, but she’s been blind to the dullness of his other senses from the time they started going together right up till now. The weather’s grown colder day by day, and last month people started wearing jackets, but Old Wang still wore just a shirt. When his wife asked him whether he was cold or not, he said he wasn’t.
People had noticed that he’d been practicing qigong since his mother died. They thought he was building up his strength and that his health was improving, so that he wasn’t concerned about being cold. But on October 20th, after another autumn rain, the temperature in the evening dropped to three degrees Celsius.
Old Wang and his wife were under the blankets making love, and as they went at it, his wife felt hot and lifted up the covers. But he, on the other hand, less than a minute after she lifted off the blankets, his late-arriving sense of cold pierced his body. He started trembling uncontrollably....
That was the first time they’d ever been incompatible in their sex life. In the ten days from the 20th to today, Old Wang has thought about doing it with his wife several times, but down there he’s never been up to it.
21. Good Deed on a Rainy Day (雨天做好事)
It was raining again. Early in the morning it’d been really nice and looked like it would be a fine day, but in just the time it took to play a game of chess there was a pitter-patter outside the window. Li Ping turned off his computer and went out to the market to buy some things. It wouldn’t do to wait until it started raining hard to go shopping.
The rain had come on suddenly and lots of people on the street didn’t have umbrellas with them. Li Ping came out from his alley and saw the migrant worker who often hauled coal in this area. He was around thirty years old, and his body leaned forward from the effort of hauling coal. He was obscured a bit by the drizzling rain, but the coal on his cart was covered with a thin sheet of plastic from which the rain water dribbled off.
Li Ping is a nice guy. Normally when it rains he loves volunteering to share his umbrella with people who don’t have one, so this time he didn’t hesitate. He pressed forward several steps and caught up with the coal hauler.
When the coal hauler no longer felt the drizzle on his head, he looked up and saw Li Ping's umbrella. Warm tears came to his eyes and he said, "You needn’t go out your way. I’m fine. I’m used to being soaked."
"No problem, we’re going the same way. You’ve delivered coal to my place before."
The migrant worker hauling coal didn’t say any more, and the two of them walked down the road a ways. All of a sudden Li Ping spotted the college coed who lived downstairs in his building. She was standing in front of the Da Fa Supermarket avoiding the rain.
He had some equivocal feelings on seeing this coed. Most times he usually preferred to share his umbrella with ladies who didn’t have one. This time, though....
He hoped that they’d arrived at the coal’s destination. “Sir,” he asked, “where are you hauling this coal to?”
"Oh, we’ll be there soon. The Dependent’s Compound at the Provincial Health Department."
The migrant worker coal hauler hadn’t understood the meaning behind Li Ping’s words. There was nothing Li Ping could do. He had to keep walking farther and farther away from the girl.
22. Long-Haired Peng Bo (长发彭勃)
A young man from the south came to the Agricultural Abundance community near Chaoyang Hospital at the beginning of the year. Whenever he entered or left the courtyard, the people who came upon him were all smiles. He was willing to clean up the common areas of the courtyard and, indeed, he often took it upon himself to do so. That was a rare thing for this courtyard.
As for the other young fellow in the courtyard, forget about cleaning the place up. If you told him not to litter he’d blow his stack. That’s why, before too long, the people living around the courtyard knew that the newcomer was a good guy. They loved to waive at him and say hello.
The young man’s surname was Peng; he only had one given name, Bo. In the beginning his hair wasn’t long and he looked very spirited and handsome. A few months down the road, his hair had grown. Where at first it had just covered the tops of his ears, it later covered his ears entirely.
Uncle Liu, who lives by the courtyard, asked him, "Hey, Young Peng, are you busy?"
"Ha, ha. Yes, Uncle, I am!"
"Well, you ought to find the time to cut your hair. It’s covering your ears."
"OK, OK,” Peng Bo replied, and then he walked away.
Two days later Uncle Liu saw Peng Bo again and his hair was longer than ever. He thought the young man really was too busy to get a haircut, so he didn’t say anything about it. He just smiled and said hello.
The days went by fast, and Peng Bo's hair seemed to grow fast as well. Uncle Liu said something to him a few times, but the young man didn’t get his hair cut, so Uncle Liu stopped mentioning it. Young people do their own thing, he thought.
Unlike the other long-haired fellow in the courtyard, Peng Bo still liked to smile as much as he did when he first moved in, and liked to maintain the common areas. That’s precisely why the older men and women around the courtyard were dismissive of the other young fellow and not of Peng Bo. Aside from Uncle Liu, who kept after him to get a haircut, Uncle Li, Auntie Shi and the others all said he was quite agreeable. But his hair kept getting longer and longer.
After the National Day holiday, Peng Bo wasn’t going out as early or coming home as late as he had previously. At first no one noticed. Later Auntie Shi was the first to discover the changes, and she went and knocked on the door of Peng Bo’s rented room.
"What happened? You didn’t go to work?"
"Oh, I resigned."
"Resigned? Well, how nice. Why?"
"My boss at the company said I could either get my hair cut and stay on, or let it grow and be gone.”
Auntie didn’t understand "How could you be so dumb?” she asked. “Why not get a haircut?”
After a moment’s hesitation, the young man took a photo from a drawer and handed it to her. It was a picture of a middle-aged woman who looked very much like the long-haired Peng Bo.
"This is my Mom. She passed last year. The people back home said I’d look like her if I let my hair grow long. I really miss her, so...."
23. False Advertising (虚假广告)
Tom, Dick and Harry had arrived in Changsha and become thieves a couple of years ago. Whenever their families back home asked them what they did in Changsha, they’d say: "Solicit advertising, uh, for a television station!" They were generous about sending their dirty money home, and on the message line of the remittance sheet they’d write things like: "Take care of your health, Mom and Dad" or "Be strict with our kids, Honey”.
Tom was the one who wrote "Take care of your health, Mom and Dad". He was twenty-four and hadn’t started his own family yet. Dick and Harry had three eleven- or twelve-year-old kids between them.
The three were from the same village. They hadn’t anticipated being thieves when they first came to Changsha. They’d worked off and on doing odd jobs until their next door neighbor, Old Yi from Tranquil Country County, who recycled old electrical appliances, let slip either intentionally or unintentionally that this so-and-so and that so-and-so often stole the color TVs they sold to him, and made bundles of money doing it. After they’d heard more about it, the three steeled their hearts and decided to break into that line. They’d never be coolies again, and never again have to put up with a boss’s crap. They’d steal!
The first time they stole anything, it was from a bachelor who lived two alleys away from them. The three of them cased the place for five or six days, and then dilly-dallied another five or six days, and finally they set to it.
One morning when the bachelor left for work, Tom acted as lookout while Dick and Henry went into the place to get the color TV. When they got it downstairs, an old man came into the building and saw them holding it. He asked, “You are...?" Quick witted, Tom jumped in front of his buddies.
“Dia dia,” he said (which is Changsha dialect for “Grandfather”, a term of respect for an elderly man). “Young Peng from the fourth floor called us and said his TV was broke. He wanted us to take it to the shop to fix it. That’s why we’re here getting it." The old man went on upstairs without saying anything.
The three thieves hurried to carry the TV outside to their flatbed tricycle, then took off like the wind. They fenced the TV to their neighbor Old Yi for two hundred ten Yuan, seventy Yuan for each of them. They thought Old Yi was a chiseler but they couldn’t do anything about it.
Once there’s a first time, there will be a second; and once these three had experience stealing TVs, the experience of stealing other things followed. When they were starting out, they each felt guilty every time they stole something, but after a few times they got used to it and felt like it was a normal thing to do, like they were just doing their jobs. When they had so much dirty money they were afraid to carry it around, they sent it home.
They’d been away from the village for some years. It used to be they’d go home every year for New Years and bring some money with them, but now their families could get remittances from them every month. Some family members thought that was strange and called them to ask about it. That’s when the families were told that the three of them had had some good luck and were hustling advertising, so they could put money in the bank every month. In fact, what they were hustling wasn’t advertising!
They went about their thievery for more than a year without incident. Then the three of them got more undisciplined. At three in the morning on October 24, after a small rainstorm had passed by, they were checking out a job at Hundred Virtues Terrace, number 11. They were clambering up the downspout on their way to the fourth floor, but as they climbed past the third floor, the male occupant was unexpectedly awakened by an urgent need to go to the bathroom. He saw their shadowy figures and shouted, "Thieves!"
Tom, who was farthest up, was so surprised he let loose of the pipe and fell. His two buddies were below him and he almost took them down with him. For two or three seconds Dick and Harry slid down the pipe, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, as more and more voices upstairs started shouting “Get the thieves!” and more and more lights came on. They ran for their lives when they reached the bottom, without turning around to see what had happened to Tom.
The two of them ran home and waited nervously for more than an hour, but Tom didn’t come back. When he didn’t show up, they figured he certainly must have run into a problem, so they changed outfits and slipped outside. They waited until dawn, then snuck back near Hundred Virtues Terrace, number11, where they heard someone say that a thief had fallen to his death. They were scared silly. How could Tom be dead?
The two of them got out of Changsha as fast as they could go. They checked into a guest house in Yiyang, shut the door tightly and talked over what they should do – what they should tell Tom’s family about what had happened to him.
Should they say he was in a car accident?
Should they say he came down with a fatal disease?
Should they say he committed suicide?
If they said he was OK, what about the body?
Where was Tom’s body?
They lay on their beds, their minds completely blank.
Three days later Dick turned himself in. Harry ran off, carrying the burdens of three families with him.
24. The Rose of Sharon Business (与木槿有关)
As evening fell across the lanai, Lin Haiping was covering his home’s potted flowers with plastic to keep them from getting frostbitten – it was already that season. Usually these things were handled by his wife Xiao Gui. She was the real flower person.
When they were dating, while others went to movies or karaokes, Lin Haiping honeyed up to Xiao Gui by going with her to explore flower markets and by taking her to the hills outside the city to look for wildflowers and grasses. Now five years together – two years of dating and three of marriage – had forced him to become a flower adept. When Xiao Gui was traveling on business, he would do the watering, fertilizing, tilling, pruning, getting rid of insects and sheltering from the cold, just like Xiao Gui did.
He was tired, but the potted flowers were happy because of his labors. Some were blooming, and their blooms were beautiful and charming; some weren’t blooming or their flowers had already faded, but all their branches and leaves were healthier than those in other places.
A rose of Sharon was on the left side of the lanai, close to the wall. It had come into Xiao Gui’s life before he had. She kept trimming it back, so it remained the same height every year, with the same number of branches and as many blossoms.
During the summer blooming season, Xiao Gui would always move the rose of Sharon into their bedroom in the evenings. Most of the time, when they were doing it, her eyes would be looking sideways at the plant’s flowers, rather than at the sweating Lin Haiping, He’d long hated the plant because of that.
Whenever Xiao Gui went on a business trip, if it was summer he’d stop watering it, and in the fall and winter he wouldn’t protect it from the cold. The life force was strong in it, though, and neither the lack of water nor the cold killed it. When Xiao Gui came back from a trip during the summer and saw the rose of Sharon withering and gasping, she’d give him a dirty look and wouldn’t let him get close to her.
He repeatedly asked Xiao Gui and her family to tell him about the plant, and they all told the same story: It was collected; workers in the park had pruned a rose of Sharon, and Xiao Gui had picked up a branch from the ground and brought it home. Collected? He didn’t believe it, and he had no reason to convince himself it was true.
The city where Xiao Gui’d gone on this trip was the city where she’d gone to college. She was supposed to be back yesterday afternoon, a Sunday, and early that morning he’d gone to the market and bought a lot of things she liked to eat. As it turned out, he got a phone call saying she needed to go visit a sick friend in the hospital, a friend she hadn’t seen for many years. She’d be two days late getting home.
A friend she hadn’t seen in many years – was it a man or a women? He hadn’t asked. He looked at the potted rose of Sharon and despised himself. "Man or Woman?" A question he would really like to know the answer to, and he hadn’t dared open his mouth to ask it!
He walked into the room. As usual, the uncovered potted rose of Sharon was the only thing suffering from the cold on the lanai.
25. One Duck and Ten Ducks (一只和十只)
As soon as Develop Money came through the courtyard gate at Deposit Money’s home, he saw his own family’s white-head mallard with the other ducks in the small courtyard pond. It had been missing for a whole lot of days, and his narrow-minded wife had been nagging him about it. He’d never expected it to be at Deposit Money’s place, and he’d also never expected that he could spot it in one glance from among several hundred ducks.
"That Deposit Money!" Develop Money was in a temper, even though he’d been invited over for dinner. "That Deposit Money, harrumph!"
Deposit Money was a well-known duck herder in Fully Closed Village. He raised three or four hundred ducks every year. Normally he’d spend the whole day with his ducks, following them wherever they went to find food. They’d traipsed across every paddy in the village. If they were lucky finding food, the ducks and their herder would be home before dark every day.
Today was an exception. Deposit Money wanted to build a new house, and he’d invited the village cadres over for dinner to ask for a land-use exception.
The Village Leader, Power Money, and some other cadres had already arrived. Develop Money could hear the “ha, ha” sounds of them laughing with Deposit Money.
"Why isn’t Party Secretary Money here, yet?”
(“That’s Power Money, the son-of-a-gun. Harrumph! All he knows how to do is eat the herder’s all-duck banquets!")
"He should be here pretty soon. If he isn’t, I’ll go invite him again. You guys go ahead and take your seats. Ha, take your seats."
Develop Money made up his mind when he heard that. He turned around and walked out through the courtyard gate, detoured around the camphor tree and walked urgently back home. His wife was surprised. "Didn’t you go to eat? What’re you doing back here?”
"I’ll tell you in a bit. When the duck herder gets here, say I’m sick." When he finished speaking, Develop Money pulled a quilt up over his body.
"Secretary Money! Secretary Money!" Deposit Money the duck herder was calling from outside the courtyard.
Develop Money didn’t make a sound, so his wife replied, "He, he’s sick. In bed.”
"Sick? He was fine this afternoon! Let me see him."
Develop Money heard Deposit Money come up beside his bed and began moaning.
"You okay, Secretary Money?”
"Oh, man, my stomach’s acting up again,” Develop Money said from under the quilt. “I can’t keep anything down. You go on home. Don’t keep everyone waiting so long."
"Oh, okay, okay. You have a good rest, then. I’ll go now, and come back to see you tomorrow." Deposit Money left, somewhat embarrassed.
Once he’d gone, Develop Money’s wife came in and lifted up the quilt. "What are you trying to pull?!"
“What am I trying to pull? Heh, heh. That duck I lost? I want that old duck herder to pay me back ten ducks for it!" Then he told his narrow-minded wife what he’d seen in Deposit Money’s courtyard. She was so mad that she wanted to go get the duck herder and settle the matter then and there.
"Bah! Stupid woman! You stay right here! That simple-minded duck herder will bring the ducks right to our door!"
The next morning, Deposit Money was indeed carrying two ducks with him when he came over to see Develop Money.
Thereafter Develop Money continued to get “sick” time and again, right up to the time when the duck herder laid the foundation for his new house. By then Develop Money had received ten ducks, no more and no less.
26. Flat Noodles, a Food Stand and a Mahjong Parlor (扁粉、夜宵摊和麻将馆)
It was already one in the morning when He Yu and Zhao Lisan came out of the Internet café. One of their stomachs, it wasn’t clear whose, had started gurgling. They’d both heard it and said, "Let’s go get something to eat.”
There was a small stand selling late-night snacks twenty meters to the right of the Internet café. They had to pass right by it on their way home.
“What’ll it be, fellows?” The owner of the food stand was a man around thirty years old. His stand was quite simple: two tables, a few stools, and a pushcart with two burners, a cutting board, pots, pans and stuff on it.
"I’ll have the flat noodles."
"I’ll have some, too."
"Two bowls of flat noodles."
A woman of indeterminate age came up beside He Yu as the vendor was getting the noodles.
"Gimme four bowls of wontons, boss," she said.
"Right." Just as he was about to grab the noodles, his hand moved seven inches to the right and picked up a ladle. He dished out four scoops of wontons from a pot and put them into his wok.
"How much did you win today?" the vendor asked the woman.
"Lost four hundred."
"You lost four hundred and you’re still treating people?"
"What’s the big deal about treating people?"
"Wait, one bowl without peppers!" A man with a big belly came over.
"Brother Zhu, how much didja win?" The woman asked him.
"A little over nineteen hundred."
"Well, you had good luck today.”
"Pretty good,” the man said. He looked back towards the “swish, swish” sound coming from the mahjong parlor behind him. The place had been a dry cleaners and a barber shop, but two months ago someone bought it, tore down the wall and opened the mahjong parlor.
By this time both He Yu’s and Zhao Lisan’s stomachs were growling, and Zhao Lisan was getting perturbed. "Boss, how about our noodles?”
"Just a minute. Just a minute."
"We were here first ___"
"The wontons will be done in a sec."
"We’re leaving! Forget our order!" Zhao Lisan poked He Yu and the two of them left.
"They’ll get theirs tomorrow," Zhao Lisan said.
A little after eleven the next night, the joint was jumping at the mahjong parlor when three rickshaw taxis pulled up between it and the food stand. A man carrying a video camera got out, along with seven or eight men holding cattle prods in their hands. By the time the food stand operator became aware of what was happening, it was too late to warn anyone. The guy in front knocked open the door of the mahjong parlor with one flying kick.
"Two bowls of flat noodles, boss." The food vendor stood there in a daze as He Yu and Zhao Lisan came up to his stand. They’d just left the Internet café. They sat down and ate their noodles quickly, as though the mayhem going on in the Internet café at their backs had nothing to do with them.
To get Chinese text by return email, send name of story to email@example.com
Chinese Stories in English
21. Rainy Day Deed
23. False Advertising
Medicinal Tea (Page 2)
Living in This World (Nanometer Series) 活在人间 (纳米小说系列)
Webmaster: Chinese Medicinal Tea 楼主：中药茶
[If “slice-of-life” vignettes leave you feeling that something is missing, you can make up your own endings. The website (http://bbs.tianya.cn/post-56-313601-1.shtml) is updated occasionally, so you may have to hunt a bit to find these stories.]
24. Rose of Sharon
25. One Duck
26. Flat Noodles
18. Stupid White Sister
19. Birds He Envied
20. Dull Feelings