Chinese Stories in English
4. Rain Man
5. Extras in America
6. City vs. Country
7. Men and Birds
Midis Page Three
1. Lighting the First Stick of Incense (上个头香不容易)
by Zhou Haiwen (周海文)
The Fifth Day of the Spring Festival is a good day to pay one's respects to the God of Wealth, so Little Wang decided to set out on the afternoon of the Fourth to make sure he'd be the one to burn the first stick of incense [at the Phoenix Mountain Temple]. He'd spend the night at Phoenix Mountain Forest Park.
The park is a fair distance from the city and the buses are crowded. It's too expensive for one person to take a taxi alone, though, so Little Wang asked a cab driver to wait while he held up a sign saying "Share a Ride to Phoenix Mountain". Before twenty minutes had passed there were three other men willing to share the ride. He didn't realize it until he asked – all four of them were going to rush to the temple bright and early the next day in order to burn the first stick of incense.
Little Wang's eyes swept over these people as he tried to probe for information. "There'll be a lot of pilgrims offering incense to the God of Wealth tomorrow. I wonder whose hands will hold the first stick."
The biggest man in the cab sneered at him. "Phoenix Mountain Forest Park opens at 7 o'clock," he said with a look of disdain. "Phoenix Temple is halfway to the top, at least a mile and a half or two miles on a mountain path. We'll see who runs the fastest."
A small guy, picking his teeth with a toothpick, said, "I don't think it'll be necessary to run the fastest. We all have our own methods."
The other fellow, sitting in the back, chuckled softly but didn't say a word.
The four men agreed to share a cab back to the city the next day. They'd get in touch by phone when it was time.
Little Wang started thinking about his own plan. He decided it would be better to stroll around a bit to see if he could find a trail he could use to start up the mountain in the morning without waiting for the gate to open. As it happens, he met a distinguished fellow that afternoon, a local horticulturist, who told him about a shortcut. There was a path straight up to the Phoenix Temple on the other side of the mountain. It was a rather steep climb, but would get him there in half the time it would take on the main road.
The next day, Little Wang deliberately started out half an hour early. When he arrived at the temple, there were no tourists around. The incense he held in his hand was undoubtedly the first of the day. Soon he was strolling leisurely back down the mountain.
At noon the four men were together again, sharing a taxi. The big man looked despondent, with his head hanging down. "I really got shafted today," he sighed. "There were hundreds of pilgrims. As old as I am, I still ran the fastest, but when I got to the temple, I saw there was already some incense stuck in the burner in front of the god of wealth. Someone beat me to it, damn it all!"
Little Wang chuckled in self-satisfaction. "Hey, Bro', I lit that stick of incense! I took a shortcut and went up the mountain half an hour early, and that's why I got there before you. If you want to be the first one to light the incense, you've got to choose the right path."
Then the little fellow laughed. "I got on the mountain at five a.m. The gate guard is my uncle, and he opened the back door ahead of time for me. By the time you got to the temple, my incense was already all burned up. If you want to light the first incense, it's really important to have contacts."
Now the fellow sitting in the corner laughed: "Stop arguing, you guys. The first stick to get lit was mine. I know a gentleman who works as a janitor in the temple. He's the one who opens the temple door every day. I gave him my stick of incense last night. If you want the first stick of incense to be yours, having someone on the inside is the only way!"
And finally the cab driver laughed. "You can forget about it. That gentleman who opens the temple door is my dad. I gave him my incense the day before yesterday. I figure he lit mine first, around four this morning."
Little Wang was really distressed. "And what does that mean? You can worship the God of Fortune if you've got the right father?"
He'd gotten this bit of folklore by word of mouth, and he'd made up his mind to do it.
He'd begged a basket of fugu blowfish from somewhere and was quietly taking them into his home.
In three years of famine, the grain he'd brought in had just covered the rent. The five people in the family depended on his one pair of hands for support, and he'd carried them from last winter through the moonlight nights of February and March of this year. It had really been tough. And now there was nothing they could do but starve!
But – how could they stand the suffering?
When the family saw the basket he'd brought with him, they were as delighted as if they'd received a gift from the angels.
The kids danced up to him.
"Daddy, Daddy! What is it? Let's eat it!"
Such a scene, the heartbreak made tears fall from his eyes!
"Eat!" He answered in a whisper. It was infinitely frightening! He felt fear for the lives of his children, as well as a raging tide pressing down on his heart, leaving him unable to breathe.
He told his wife to cook the blowfish for them to eat, and made an excuse for himself to go out for a bit. It wasn't that he was unwilling to die, unwilling to eat the blowfish. He just couldn't stand seeing the horror of his family dying, and he went out for a bit to avoid it.
The afternoon passed by, but he still hadn't come back. The kids had been hanging around their mother, wanting to eat the fish. But his wife really loved and respected him – she'd been with him through good times and bad – so she didn't want to give the kids even a tiny bit to taste before him.
As the sun was sliding into the west, the blowfish was still cooking on the stove. He came home. It was like his feet were treading through a fog. He imagined his family's dead bodies lying on top of one another, weakening his will to go in.
But he'd come prepared for this and was determined to get on with it, so he mustered up his courage. The first thing he saw was his children at the doorway, their bright eyes shining, and he heard a torrent of noise welcoming him home.
"How come they're not dead yet?" He thought.
"Dad! We waited for you so we could eat together!"
"Oh!" He understood then.
There was a scramble at the table to grab a share of the food. No one in his family had tasted fish in a long time, so naturally they were quite excited.
When he finished eating, he went and laid down quietly in bed, patiently waiting for the arrival of the Grim Reaper.
But it turned out that cooking for a long time had dissipated the poison in the blowfish. The family had staved off starvation another day.
He woke up and exclaimed: "Really, is even death too much for me?" Tears poured from his eyes.
百年百篇经典微型小说, 100 Years, 100 Classic Mini-stories, 2nd Printing, March 2012, P. 4
Also published at http://wenku.baidu.com/view/e52300204b73f242336c5f63.html
3. My Secret Nobel (得了诺奖就是不说)
Wang Shuo (王朔)
I got a Nobel Prize. I just didn't say anything about it. I'm a man of few words, like the dollars in my bank account.
I go out as usual. The sun feels good, and I feel good. Jeez, the bird didn't shit in my head, it must know that I got a Nobel Prize! I sigh. In this world the walls always have holes in them. Like, even nude photos always get out. I'm weighed down by grief.
I decide to eat breakfast. Old Qin says you can get gallstones if you don't eat breakfast. I got a Nobel Prize but I don't want to get gallstones. I'm not a greedy person at all. I eat a bowl of hot and sour soup and two fried fritters. They taste of recycled cooking oil, which suits me fine.
What should I do next? This is a very deep problem, quite suitable for consideration by a deep person like me. I stand there thinking for a long time, until a sweeper lady looks at me with pleading eyes and asks: "Sir, can you move a bit so I can sweep here?" Even the street cleaners know I'm a "Sir". Getting a Nobel Prize really does make a big difference. It seems I'm destined to be enshrouded by the shadow of "Sir" for the rest of my life. I'm weighed down by grief.
As I'm walking around, I remember what Little Dao said. "Look at this beautiful world! It may be the last time you see it, or maybe not, but who cares?" Then I see: the traffic is still jamming up where it always jams up, the decrepit buildings are still decrepit, the condemned ones are still condemned, those who should be shot get shot, and what should be protested is protested.... The world still looks like the world, and it seems that some people still don't know I've got a Nobel Prize. I'm very gratified.
I like to be alone. Being a loner makes me feel like I stand out from the crowd. This kind of feeling is profound. It's a kind of "STYLE", as they say in English. In Chinese it's simply a "manner". It can boost my confidence.
Because at bottom I have low self-esteem. I have no stimulating experiences I can flaunt. I've never eaten caviar or put on Versace clothes or worn a Vacheron Constantin watch. I don't have a slender body or a charming face, my teeth aren't white and I speak Mandarin with a funny accent. I'm even afraid to ask a pretty girl for her phone number.
I know myself: Even getting a Nobel Prize won't build up my confidence very much, because I don't have a Beijing residence permit and, besides, I can't afford a house there.
People on the street say you can buy a house with the Nobel prize award. What depresses me is that I didn't know how to get a passport. I solved that problem in no time, though – there're ads all over the place for agencies offering to help people through the bureaucracy. I'm very gratified.
I'm dejected again pretty soon, though. I hear that you have to give an acceptance speech before they hand you the prize. My English isn't very good, and my Chinese isn't too swift, either. The crux of the matter is that, from childhood right up to now, I've only ever won one prize – I hit a blue in the Double Chromosphere Lottery. It was picked by a machine. I'm really thankful to that machine.
I'm not the sort who's afraid to face difficulties, though, so I go and watch acceptance speeches given by a bunch of people. Heaven helps those who help themselves, and I end up piecing together a perfect speech. I decide to practice it again right now, so I don't get stage fright when the time comes: "I thank China Central TV and my parents. I thank my country for nurturing me, and I thank the Party and the people for their concern. I've decided to donate my entire prize to the Chinese Red Cross. Finally, what I want to say most is – The Diaoyu Islands belong to China!"
Just as I'm practicing with my rich and emotional voice in full sway, a crowd of people comes running up. Some of them have videocams and some have lights, and there's a pretty girl with a microphone who asks me, "How does it feel to win a Nobel Prize?"
She gazes at me, her eyes limpid and warm.
I'm a little shaken and my mind goes blank. Maybe I'm not used to this manner, yet. I have a feeling this question might be the most terrifying in the rest of my life. After a long pause, I mumble, "Is it OK… if I… don't answer?"
传世经典微型小说108篇 108 World-Wide Classic Mini-Stories, page 273
武汉长江文艺出版社;高田宏,方莹,孙琳主任编辑 Gao Tianhong, Fang Ying, Sun Lin, Eds.
Translated from version at http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_48d0b60901016qqm.html
4. Rain Man (雨人)
Cui Yongyuan (崔永元)
[Fannyi's note – There are several factual inaccuracies in this essay. Fannyi chose to translate it because it epitomizes the significance a typical Chinese essayist accords to factual accuracy.
The real life Rain Man, whose name was Kim Peek, was considered a "megasavant" but was not autistic. He refused to enter casinos because he believed they were immoral. The statements made about his reading abilities appear to be correct, however. The movie actually won four Oscars, including one for Best Original Screenplay (not Best Screenplay). Barry Marrow was credited as the co-screenwriter (not the screenwriter).]
I've seen many master craftsmen and they were all very interesting. Take Barry Morrow, for example, screenwriter for the movie "Rain Man", which won the Oscar for Best Screenplay.
We arranged for him to stay in the Kunlun Hotel in Beijing. He was restless and ran out to do some filming. He saw a Rolls Royce in the street, shot some film, but then suddenly turned the lens in another direction because he'd a noticed a rickshaw driver off to the side. He’d been peddling a cartful of goods as hard as he could when a box fell off onto the ground. The people nearby were all honking their horns, but no one got out to help him pick it up.
Later, I asked Barry "What is a movie?" He said it's just a movie. Most movies are about ordinary people who have ideals and pursuits but can't attain them. They chase after their desires but fail, then chase and fail again. They risk their lives in pursuit of their goals and still fail. Then finally, just as they're running out of hope, they get what they wanted.
Barry's "Rain Man" tells the true story of a person suffering from autism. He saw the autistic fellow in person and he was even stranger than the character portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the movie.
Barry was reading in a library at the time, sitting in the row just in front of the Rain Man. He heard a continuous "swish, swish" of turning pages and turned around to look. He thought to himself that the man must have had no upbringing and was surprised when the Rain Man acknowledged him with a polite nod before continuing to read. Barry was curious, so he went over and asked: "What are you doing, sir?" "Reading," the Rain Man replied.
"Can you really read that fast?" asked Barry.
"Yes. This afternoon I read this many books, this big pile."
Barry felt that the fellow was just too annoying, making noise and disturbing people, and then making such far-fetched claims. He wanted to test the Rain Man, so he pulled a book out of the pile, opened it and read a sentence. The Rain Man was able to recite from memory the text which followed.
Later, after they became good friends, Barry came to understand the Rain Man's reading habits. He took 8 seconds to read a page and could remember it for a lifetime. What he hated most was when the librarian said they were about to close. All he could do then was use both eyes to read two pages at once.
Rain Man's ability to calculate was also amazing – when he'd go to Las Vegas to play roulette, he'd put a pile of chips down on one place. No matter how many times you spun, it would definitely stop on the place he'd put his chips down – because he'd worked it out. Later, the casino wouldn't let him play. All he had to do was go and he'd find several people to go with him. He could play any game he wanted and they'd give him the money he needed.
The movie "Rain Man" won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Screenplay. Barry thought they should be the Rain Man's award, so he gave a trophy to him. Six months later, he went to see Rain Man and found that the Oscar statuette trophy no longer had any gold on it. It seems that the trophy had become a children's toy. "Rain Man" had allowed so many kids to play with it that the Oscar had faded into white. This must be a first in the history of the Academy Awards.
[Remainder on net, not in book.]
The charity project we operate is called "Give Kids Another Meal". Barry Morrow shed tears when he saw it, saying, "I'd like to bring that faded gold statuette to China so all these rural school children could have their picture taken holding it."
Each person's pursuits are unique, and the happiness each attains is unique as well. But what is certain is that the happiness that comes with success is mostly fleeting. Happiness comes from inner pursuits.
2013 Annual Humorous Writings of China, from Comedy World Magazine, Ding Si, Ed., p. 242
Translated from version at http://www.douban.com/group/topic/44059905/
5. Film Crews Beg Extras in America (在美国，剧组求着群众演员)
by Chen Ye (陈晔)
I was in New York, wandering around aimlessly, when suddenly I happened to see an Asian girl rushing toward me, waving a piece of paper. "Sign, sign, please," she said in English. Did she take me for a star?
The girl started to talk while I was still trying to figure it out: "My name's Amy. You're Chinese, too, I think, so I won't have to take the trouble to speak English. It's like this. We're shooting a TV show." I looked where she was pointing and, not far away, a group of people was standing around a bunch of cameras.
"Just now we got you in the shot. So, you need to sign this, to show that you authorize having your face appear in our show."
I was obviously not mentally prepared for this. In my mind, being an extra was the exclusive province of those drifters in Beijing who squat outside movie companies like the Beijing Film Studio, China Theater or the August First Film Studio.
Amy evidently didn't know what I was thinking. She saw I was hesitant and proceeded to say, "Hey, seeing as how you're Chinese, I'll give you this. It's $50 U.S. Our boss says absolutely not to pay anyone unless they're dead set against signing the contract."
The next scene hadn't yet started filming when I finished signing the "authorization", so Amy and I began to chat on the sidewalk. She said her job was to keep an eye on the monitor. If someone other than an actor under contract got in the scene, she had to rush over right away and ask them to sign a "release". If they didn't agree, she would cry and beg. If they still weren't willing to sign, she could fish out the 50 precious American dollars.
As we parted, we friended each other on Facebook and Twitter. Amy doesn't generally go online, but when she does, she sends out a flood of stuff. Like, "White male, gray clothes, carrying a bag, on Fifth Avenue at 3:00 p.m. November 5, anyone know him?" After she sends it out in Chinese, English and Spanish, if nobody replies, she'll ask people to forward this: "If we can't find this person, we'll have to scrub the scene. Reshoots are expensive, so please, everyone."
青年文摘, Youth Digest, April 2013, 1st Semimonthly Issue, P. 27
Also published at http://www.dhzw.net/show.aspx?id=32679&cid=130
6. City People vs. Country People (城里人和乡下人)
By Qin Lin (秦林)
Strange Definitions of City People
A person who lives in the city is one who:
.... lives in the same block of buildings for years and still doesn't know his neighbors' first or last names.
.... buys a car when he has the money and cuts hair when he doesn't.
.... makes plans for the divorce when he's getting married.
.... thinks weeds that even hillbillies won't eat are good food.
.... speaks English better than he does Mandarin.
.... doesn't care whether his wife gives birth to a boy or a girl.
.... sits in a sleeper car on the train.
.... is on the verge of death because of the various types pollution he's made himself.
.... swaggers around town wrapped arm-in-arm with his love object.
.... from birth has a strong and unbreakable attachment to annoying noise he calls music.
.... is bidding farewell to brothers and sisters.
.... wants a bungalow when he lives in a high-rise, and wants a high-rise when he lives in a bungalow.
.... gave up the turmoil of eating fish and meat relatively early.
.... takes five days every week to make the money he spends the other two days.
.... has feet whiter than his face because he wears leather shoes and socks all year round.
.... lives in homes that keep getting bigger and bigger, with bedrooms that keep getting smaller and smaller.
.... uses rock climbing, tower jumping, river rafting, and other spend-to-buy-danger behaviors to balance out his life of boredom.
Strange Definitions of Country People
A person who lives in the country is one who:
.... doesn't usually wear makeup, but looks like a monkey's butt when she does.
.... gets arrested and interrogated when riding a bus because he's mistaken for a thief.
.... spends his days ridiculing city people's houses for looking like chicken coops.
.... when asked to pay taxes, says money will be the death of him.
.... spends money to buy city people's high-end garbage.
.... figures that dirt is a commodity which can be sold to city people.
.... reads the word 'taxi' as 'tax' the first time he comes to the city.
.... wears a western suit with the buttons buttoned up and a crookedly tied tie.
.... prefers quantity over quality in his smokes and drinks.
.... grows bitter melons to give city people a taste of suffering.
.... will make his wife keep having kids until she either has a boy or gets too old.
.... thinks pajamas are one of the luxuries of city life.
.... if he ever happens to ride in a luxury car, has to look all around for the door handle.
.... starts getting ready for bed as soon as it gets dark.
.... believes that continuing the family is ten times more important than being in love.
.... still hasn't learned what corruption is.
.... reads the 'washroom' sign in the city as pointing to a place used exclusively for washing one's hands.
Translated from 分节阅读10. Also at http://www.xzbu.com/5/view-4471938.htm
7. The Romance of Men and Birds (人鸟传奇)
by Chen Fenglan (陈凤兰)
There's a show on television called "Man and Nature". I saw this episode on it once: two Maasai boys with cloaks wrapped around their upper bodies were walking through a desolate grassland in Africa. They would stop from time to time and make an irregular "chir chir" sound while looking up and down, searching for something.
After a bit they seemed to hear something. They stood still and cocked their ears to listen intently, then dashed over to tree with a large canopy of leaves. They looked up and saw a small brown bird hopping up and down, "chir-chiring" in response to their calls.
When it saw that the young men had come, the little bird promptly flew down from the tree and landed on the grass in front of them. The two teenagers stepped ahead quickly to keep up with the bird, and the bird then "whooshed" forward a few more meters. It looked like they were playing a game of human-bird tag, with the bird flying and the boys chasing, the bird chirping and the boys answering.
Finally they all came to the foot of a tree, a big green monster with coarse, cracked bark. One crack, several inches wide, went snaking up from the base of the tree toward the top, looking every bit like someone had gouged it out with a blade. The bird's cry changed suddenly from the earlier "chir chir" to "ch-cha ch-cha".
The two young men stood under the tree looking up, examining the canopy. After a moment they wrapped their cloaks around their heads to avoid being stung by the bees. Then they set fire to a stick and smoke immediately began to curl upwards. One of the boys shinnied up the tree trunk in two or three spurts. I couldn't see clearly until the camera moved in for a close-up, but there was a huge beehive hidden in the crack, with a dense layer of African bees crawling on it. It seemed as though the drone of their trembling wings could be heard across the entire prairie.
The boy stuck the smoldering stick into the crack. Seeped in the smoke, the bees fluttered their wings rapidly, trying to escape. The boy probed deep into the crack with his arm and, before long, brought out a shiny, clear gold piece of the honeycomb.
The two boys pried the honeycomb open at the base of the tree and the glistening honey flowed out. I expected the two kids to gorge themselves, but first they broke off a big piece and put it on a large rock off to one side. Like it was following orders, the bird that had just been "ch-cha-ing" in the tree swooped down and buried its head in the delicacy. The two boys smiled knowingly, and only then broke off pieces to put into their own mouths. They were grinning with enjoyment, and I could imagine what sweet ambrosia that honeycomb was.
That was the first time I had seen such cooperation between humans and birds. It was really a beautiful, romantic tale.
Later I did some research and learned that these birds are called "honeyguides", a really descriptive name. They seem to have an instinct, a talent, to smell the source of honey, but they can only get a positive reward by cooperating with people. I was curious; how had this cooperative behavior with humans come about?
Pavlov said that a conditioned reflex requires a prolonged stimulus, and further, strengthening and consolidation after the reflex pathways are formed. So how does a species of bird form cooperative procedures with humans? It was certainly not the creation of any single honeyguide, but a mutually beneficial result of collaboration between honeyguide populations and human beings over a long period of time. So, how many generations over many years are needed to form this kind of interdependent symbiosis? Those are both unknowns.
How do the Maasai indigenous people maintain a relationship of mutual trust between birds and humans? In the birds' contented pecking and cheerful chirping, we can perceive the happiness of enjoying delicious food and the delight of being compensated for one's labors. The indigenous people understand these emotions, as do the birds. Trust is an interchange between one heart and another, a blending of affections. The local people know that if you don't leave a piece for the bird when you get the honeycomb, it will lead you to a lion's den the next time.
In truth, the Romance of Men and Birds is a game with rules. If the humans and the birds both follow the rules, then the cooperative relationship will continue long-term. If the humans do not follow the rules, the birds lose only a delicious meal, while the humans [risk being led into the lion's den and] could possibly lose their lives.
We need the Romance of Men and Birds, but we need even more a Romance of People and People, trust and harmony among men. Only then will we have lives that are sweeter than honey.
青年文摘Youth Digest, June 2013 #11, 1st Semimonthly Issue, p.33
8. Sweet Words of Men in Love Affairs (男人在情场上的花言巧语)
White Mountain (白山)
Statistics show that men love to tell the following lies as a matter of course:
•"You're the one I want to be with." – He already has a girlfriend or a wife.
•"I'll absolutely never tell anyone." – Except people he knows.
•"I'll call you." – This is the best way to end a conversation. Will he actually call you? In the next life.
•"I don't care about your past." – As long as you haven't done anything bad.
•"You're the only one for me!" – You're the only one clueless enough.
•"Really, I can't stop thinking of you." – What about yesterday? Or the day before? And tomorrow?
•"I'll fill our lives with romance forever." – You can be sure that a man who says this has been mature enough for love or marriage for less than three years.
•"I'll always be true in love and marriage." – These days, finding a man who'll be absolutely true is no easier than winning the grand prize in the Sports Lottery.
•"I'll take care of you and stick by you my whole life." – These words sound so nice, but have a useful life only slightly longer than cut flowers.
•"I'll absolutely never lie to you!" – But he won't tell you the truth, either.
•"How could I live without you?" – Take a look after a few days, and see if he won't be living just fine?
•"Not tonight, I'm tired." – He wouldn't be that way with others.
•"You're so good to me, I'm really not worthy of you!" – This is the magic formula of a man asking for forgiveness.
•"I mean it this time." – Another of his pet phrases.
•"Believe me, I've broken up with her."– Broken up? More like glued together.
•"I'm devoted to your happiness." – Stop and think. If you want to hear him tell the truth, you'll have to wait until he grows up.
•"You're the only one who understands me!" – No, you don't understand him at all.
•"If I put in extra hours at work, isn't it just for your sake?" – Accepting social invitations from other women is such a pain.
•"Your beauty is filled with intelligence that can't be captured by a camera." – Because the cameras we use are stupid.
•"I'd go crazy without you!" – He'll get over it when he doesn't want you anymore.
•"I'll never make you live a lie." – This is Hollywood movie dialog, and a promise he'll never be able to make good on.
•"I work so hard for the sake of you and our family." – Don't tear up, he's primarily out for himself.
Translated from 分节阅读, also available at http://www.readit.com.cn/m/pwsh/m/133501.shtml
9. The Year He was Eight (他八岁那年)
Solitary 122 (孤独122)
The year he was eight he met an 18-year-old gypsy fortune teller at a migrant carnival, a maiden who was girlish and bashful. She accepted the copper coins from his palm, and whispered to him that if he wanted to meet the woman who would be the greatest influence on his life, he would have to go to the farthest end of the earth.
Every minute from then on he pondered exactly where the end of the earth is. Is it the world’s deepest ocean trench? Probably no human could survive there. Well, is it the highest mountain? He started physical training for that, and climbed the mountain when he was eighteen, but all he discovered was that there is no limit to the mountain’s cold and desolation.
He consoled himself by thinking that nothing is ever that easy, but since he knew his fate, he had to go for it. Many times in his heart he pictured what she might look like. Maybe she lives above the Arctic Circle, a young Eskimo girl with skin like milk and honey. He had a native intelligence and could figure things out by analogy, so he had no trouble getting sent to the North Pole to do research. But after a few years he quietly retreated from the bitter cold of that place.
He was actually still quite young and handsome at the time, elegant of manners and physique. But he was very much a loner. He kept all the love, laughter and tears from the time he was eight in reserve for the timeless beauty whose image was in his heart. He turned to archeology next, and roamed through the museums of the world. He thought he might be able to read the secret location of the end of the earth in a piece of broken pottery lost and forgotten by humanity.
Later he always avoided them, those intelligent and beautiful women who would tempt him. He felt he had a duty to them, to himself, and to her, for she was still the only one. But after he had rejected them, one after the other, and drifted through endless research and endless deserts, he gradually got older. Many years spent constantly on the move, passing from place to place with no one caring for him, ate away at his health. He ended up lying in a paupers hospital in a strange place, waiting to die.
Even lying on his sickbed he still couldn’t put it aside. He persisted in pondering the question of the end of the earth. He was in a gorgeous and prosperous city, which certainly wasn’t at the end of the earth, but there was no way he could get up to continue looking.
Until a woman who was even older and more decrepit than he moved into the bed next to his. He saw at a glance that a remnant of beauty still glowed under the dirt on her face: it was the gypsy girl from the migrant carnival years ago. He cried for the first time in his life, and begged her to point out the direction to the end of the earth.
She opened her eyes and stared blankly for a week, lost in thought. The next Tuesday morning she said softly: “My child, I’ve remembered who you are. But, what I told you back then, it was just a joke!”
She never thought that joke would become the only true prediction of her life. That afternoon his candle burned out and his world came to its end. His eyes couldn’t close, though. They continued staring at that woman who had been the greatest influence on his life.
10. Thank That Grave (感谢那座坟)
Xu Xinyang (徐新洋)
The motor rumbled. Heartbeats pounded. The villagers, nervous and frightened, had given Old Wang a job. He had to go seek out Liu, the mayor of the village:
"Mayor Liu, the villagers want me to give you their reaction. Sunny Hill is just a pile of rocks. Digging there gets us nothing and the vegetation's been destroyed. If there's a heavy rain we'll have mudslides. If you plant trees they won't live. That year when the higher-ups wanted us to go up there to green the place and develop the mountain, not one of the trees we planted is still alive. All we got was planting holes in the farmland and ruined houses."
The mayor said, "Uncle Wang, luckily you were one of the village cadres before you retired, so you must have an understanding of development. There certainly are difficulties with Sunny Mountain, and that's why the higher-ups are concerned! The leaders have praised the county commissioner, and this is reflects the higher-ups' leave-no-stone-unturned attitude towards greening our homeland. It's hard to get funding for anything else, but this is easy to fund."
Since Old Wang had had no luck with the mayor, he went to the county commissioner:
"Commissioner, the villagers want me to give you their reaction. Sunny Hill is just a pile of rocks. Digging there gets us nothing and the vegetation's been destroyed. If there's a heavy rain we'll have mudslides. If you plant trees they won't live. That year when the higher-ups wanted us to go up there to green the place and develop the mountain, not one of the trees we planted is still alive. All we got was planting holes in the farmland and ruined houses."
The commissioner said, "Luckily you were one of the village cadres before you retired, yes, really lucky. You must have an understanding of development. Planting trees is…. We've got to find a way to keep them alive! The leaders have made their decision, and it reflects their leave-no-stone-unturned attitude towards greening our homeland. It's already been funded."
This really shook up the villagers. Old Wang heaved a sigh.
Suddenly Old Wang said, "I know what to do."
The people were surprised. "What?"
Old Wang said, "I thought of that grave on Sunny Hill. It can help us."
The people said, "You've gone crazy from worry, right? You want us to go burn incense and pray to ghosts!" They walked off angrily.
The next day all was quiet. The wasteland on the mountain was still, with only a few flowers and a few chirping birds.
The people stared blankly at Sunny Hill, having forgotten who was buried in that grave.
Old Wang reminded them that the grave belongs to an old man who is watching the goddess Niuwa. The year he started watching the goddess, his son got appointed to a high level position. The son remembered his father up there watching the goddess, and asked Old Wang's wife to hold the annual memorial services at the grave. She normally passed the duty on to Old Wang. He had the son's phone number….
The people said, "We really have to thank that grave."
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