​​         Chinese Stories in English   

4. Bottom Line
5. Thank You

3. Navigation Markers

Raindrops (Page 04)
Stories from Chinese Mini-Stories 2018 《中国年度小小说》任晓燕 秦俑 赵建宁 选编
Text at page noted after story; translated from the webpages cited below.

1. Those Who Fix Aircons

2. Big Fish

1. Those Who Fix Air Conditioners (修空调的他们)
Hou Deyun (侯德云)

      It’s almost midsummer and there’s nothing but orange high-temperature warnings on the weather forecast. Truth is, it wouldn't matter even if the forecast were all red – it'd be OK as long as we had electricity and the air conditioner wasn’t broken. But if the aircon went on strike, people in the building, and especially those of us on the top floor, might feel very much like roasted sweet potatoes.
      This broken air conditioner of mine was already eighteen years old, the same as my aging condo. Eighteen isn’t too old for a high-quality home, but an air conditioner that old is on its last legs and, according to my limited knowledge of electric appliances, it was time to scrap it. Getting a new one would be a real pain, though. Besides, this old unit had already been used for eighteen years, and it’d probably last a few more if it was repaired, wouldn’t it?
      So, stubbornly nostalgic and depending on luck, I phoned for a repairman. Three young men carrying a bunch of tools came right away. In my mind I gave them names based on their skin colors: Whitey, Blackie and Dusty. Dusty looked to be the youngest, and when I asked him if he was twenty years old, he acted shy and said he was. We chatted a bit and I learned he’d only been doing this job for two years, while Blackie and Whitey had been doing it for five. Their small crew had contracts with a lot of aircon companies. Since they didn’t work specifically for any one company, they had extensive hands-on experience with many types of air conditioners. They worked themselves to death in the summers.
      They came inside to check the aircon and I poured them some tea. Whitey got a call and shouted into the phone, “Sorry, we won't be coming! You can give us 600 and we still won’t come! We can’t arrange it! No can do!” Then he told the other two workers, “It was that guy on the 18th floor again. We aren’t going there, not with his attitude. We wouldn’t go there no matter how much money he gave us.”
      Blackie was silent for a moment, then said, “It's too high, and the place where the outdoor unit sits is so slippery you can’t even stand on it.”
      “What about me?” I asked.
      Blackie smiled immediately and said, "Yours is OK. Look how thick the cement slab your outdoor unit sits on is. It’s fine."
      Dusty stayed inside to do whatever he was told, while Whitey and Blackie headed up to the roof. I asked if they had a safety rope and they both said, “Yeah, sure, don't worry. And this floor isn’t a problem.”      Still, I followed them up to the top of the building. After they found an anchoring place, Blackie tied the safety rope on it, climbed over the wall, and slowly descended. Whitey and I looked down from above.
      Figuring three meters or so per floor, the roof of a five-story building is fifteen meters high. That doesn’t seem like much when you’re on flat ground, but it really is high when you stand up there looking down. There was no place to hide from the scorching sun and sweat poured off me like rain. I'm not afraid of heights, but right then, watching Blackie and Whitey hard at work in mid-air, I felt a little dizzy for some reason. For a moment I actually felt it’d be nice to stay in my fifth-floor condo, even if the aircon was broken. I stumbled back there and took a couple of sips of tea before I recovered.
      Dusty was leaning halfway out of the window, discussing the situation with Whitey and Blackie. They concluded that the starter was broken and had to be replaced. Also, the outdoor unit was too dirty and needed cleaning. The unit was out of freon as well, so they’d have to add some. “And you must’ve known when you called in for repairs, right?” he continued, “you’ll still have to pay at least thirty bucks for the house call, even if you don't repair the unit.”
      “I know, I know. Go ahead and fix it,” I said. Dusty started to quote how much for this and how much that would cost. “Yeah, OK”, I said. Finally Dusty paused again and said with some hesitation, “There’s also a fee for working at height. Sixty yuan.” I said, “All right, all right.” Dusty smiled brightly and said, "OK, I'll go up and tell them." At that he hurried off, a little excitedly.
      I made a few phone calls so I don’t know what they said up there on the roof. I just heard them laughing. They seemed very happy. Only then did I realize what Dusty had meant when he said, "I'll go up and tell them." It was just one sentence, wasn’t it? After agreeing on the price, why not just give them the news through the window? Why would he go up on the roof to tell them? The superficial reason was that he was embarrassed to give them the news about the price right in front of me. But what was the real reason? Did he want to congratulate them a little bit? Or take credit for the work they’d done? Maybe they’d gouged me with that fee for “working at height”? Sixty yuan divided among the three of them would be twenty yuan each, no more than the price of a bottle of beer. Would that be worth so much delight? Maybe they were laughing because I didn’t negotiate the price? Sometimes when I buy fruit or veggies on the street, I grit my teeth and bargain with the vendors, but I hadn't wanted to negotiate with these guys -- slowly descending from the roof of the building on such a flimsy safety rope. I still feel uncomfortable every time I think about the situation.
      They came back down to my condo to wash their hands when the repairs were done. I offered them some tea but they refused. I insisted and they took a couple of sips. The atmosphere in the room cooled off quickly.
      “Is my air conditioner really old?” I asked. “Have you ever seen an older one?’
      Whitey answered calmly, "It’s all right. Any air conditioner that holds up is a good one. We’ve repaired a bunch of air conditioners that were as old as we are. They’re still good with a little fixing up. That outdoor unit of yours weighs over eighty pounds, but the newer models only weigh a bit more than sixty.”
      “The heavier, the better?”
      “Heavier means it’s made from more solid materials. If you used one pound of flour to make three loaves of steamed bread, and another pound to make five loaves, would they be the same?”
      Sweat was still flowing from their brows, so I gave each of them a moist towelette. They wiped their faces, then folded the towelettes into neat squares and held them in their hands. After we’d exchanged pleasantries I escorted them out the door. They could still be heard laughing loudly all the way down the corridor. It occurred to me that, maybe, they think customers like me, who cut to the nub without the slightest hesitation, are just stupid rich.
      Well, that's okay with me, too. Very much okay.

Text at p. 14. Translated from 搜狐 at:
https://www.sohu.com/a/257275151_670985
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2. Big Fish (大鱼)

Batur (巴图尔)

      Shadir felt a little hungry at noon, so he took off his loincloth and got out a piece of naan with two pieces of fried fish. He reclined against a poplar tree that was lying on the ground and enjoyed a piece of naan, a piece of fish and a sip of water. The fish was from a big fish, three or four kilograms, that he’d caught yesterday morning. His wife had fried it in oil for today’s lunch. At first he didn't want to bring any naan, but his wife said he only caught a big fish every few days, and if he ate it all himself, the rest of them would have to eat the naan. She was right.
     Everyone knows fish is delicious, but there isn’t a lot of it. If they all eat other stuff along with it, no one goes hungry, and that’s a good thing.
      There aren’t many big fish in the Little Sea (lake) these days, and one day's fishing won’t yield enough for the family to eat for one day. It didn’t use to be like this; a morning of fishing would be enough for the family to eat for three to five days. Nowadays, people from the city are always driving up in their cars, dragging their fishing nets to grab a few netfuls and then leaving. This really upsets Shadir. These city people are so evil-minded, taking away all the fish they catch, big ones and small ones alike. If this continues, there won’t be any fish left in the Little Sea before long. The people of Lop Nur have made their living by fishing for their entire lives. Once the fish are gone, what will they do to survive?
      Shadir was very laid back when he was young. He could eat for several days after fishing just once, and the rest of the time he could go to the desert poplar forest to catch wild rabbits. He can't do that anymore. He spends the whole day paddling around the Little Sea in his little coracle. He needs to catch at least a one-kilo fish, but sometimes he goes the whole day and might not catch one. A few years ago he wouldn’t keep any fish under one kilo – he’d wait until they got bigger and then catch them again. Lop Nur people had been doing that since ancient times. They wouldn’t keep the little ones, neither to eat nor to sell in the bazaar (“market” in the Uyghur language).
      City people call the Little Sea fish “wild caught”, and they’re very pricey when sold in the city. He’d never wanted to sell his catch in the city. That was anathema for the people of Lop Nur, so of course he wouldn’t do it. City people came to the Little Sea all too frequently, however. Two days out of every three, they’d be dragging their fishing nets in the water, taking all the fish, big and small. That isn't fishing, it's just exterminating!
      Sadir thought about it while he sat there eating. He remembered how things were in his youth. When his father was still alive and in good health, the two of them would occasionally go fishing together in the Little Sea. Fish were both big and plentiful back then, and the big ones would often take off with his purple willow harpoon. He and his father would have to search for a long time before they found those ones again. “You’re lucky such a big fish didn't drag you into the water or flip over the coracle,” his father would say.
      Once his father also said, “When you come across such a big fish, don't expect to bring it in with the harpoon. It's better to set your sights on it and knock it out first, or else you won't be able to get it aboard.” He turned the harpoon around, aimed the handle at the fish, then raised it up and hit the fish hard on the head. The fish struggled a bit before going belly up. Shadir hauled the fish into the coracle and realized that it was almost as long as his body.
      “I haven't seen such a big fish in many years,” he thought now. Remembering these things, he stretched out his hand to stroke his goatee and muttered that such good days would never happen again.
      City people have gone wild these days, crazy for food from an unpolluted source. More and more of them come to the Little Sea to fish, but there are fewer and fewer fish to catch. Nothing can be done about it. Once the fish that the Lop Nur people depend on for survival are gone, they’ll have nothing to eat except naan.
      Shadir let out a long sigh, wondering what would become of the Lop Nur people. The Little Sea that their ancestors had depended on for generations was shrinking bit by bit, and there weren’t many fish left, either. If things went on like this, it wouldn't be long before they’d have to leave their homeland.
      Shadir set out a lot of traps in the desert poplar forest, and he walked along the route where he set them every day while he was grazing sheep. He’d caught three or four hares a day recently, which wasn’t bad. Hare don’t taste as good as fish, but you have to eat them despite the flavor because there are no big fish to be caught in the Little Sea anymore. “I'm afraid we really can't stay here any longer,” he said.
      But just as he was about to leave the area, the government turned the Little Sea into a reservoir and stocked it with many fish fry. Also, Shadir has become a reservoir manager. His wife was nagging him about having some fish to eat, but he’d never catch any in the reservoir. Instead he ran to the bazaar to buy a big fish. He threw it in front of his wife and said, "So eat. No matter how big or how many fish there are in the reservoir, they’re not ours. We Lop Nur people used to make a living by fishing, but things are different now. Times have changed, the environment has changed, and our living habits must also change.”
      His wife looked at him without saying a word.

Text at p. 17, Translated from 壹读 at:
https://read01.com/NyAdkBO.html#.XSMw_ugzb4Y
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3. Navigation Markers (航标)

Shen Ming (沈明)

      Dragon River is the main navigable channel out of the mountains. It’s narrow at first and then widens out. Large amounts of bamboo, wood and stone used to drift down the river from the mountains along this channel. It’s also the main floodway from the mountains. A huge amount of water flows through the river during the flood season every year, rushing down hundreds of miles until it reaches the plains, where the surge gets reined in.
      Rapids Basin, an eight-kilometer stretch of the river, was largely inaccessible in the past. The sandy beach is sectioned off by boulders and the rapidly flowing river gets divided into many small streams. They snake along like folding rulers, at times coming together before separating again to continue downstream.
      It’s shallow there during the dry season, and that’s when the river is most dangerous. Other things aside, the direction each stream might take is a mystery and the strength of the current capricious. Some channels look like they’ll flow evenly at first, but then might merge with other streams and become so turbulent that boats which can’t be controlled will capsize and people die; others seem to put on a show of strength at first, but further along, the water might seep into the sand and rocks, leaving boats grounded and unable to move. And the streams are always unpredictable when hit by flooding. Sometimes, after a few nights of heavy rain, a stream that was OK for the previous boat will be changed beyond all recognition for the next one. When the rains are heavy, one can say this Dragon River is like the Monkey King’s face -- unfathomably changeable.
      Pine Tree Li was a Section Chief in the Navigation Administration for the Dragon River Waterway. After he became chief, he advocated setting up and garrisoning a navigation marker station in Rapids Basin. However, high mountains and narrow roads made it difficult for the average person to get there by any route other than the waterway itself. During construction of the new station, bamboo, wood and stone materials were transported downriver from the mountains to build cabins for the garrison. The administration then assigned people in rotating shifts to watch over the station. The duty staff not only had a hard time traveling to the station, they also got lonely and bored staying there half a month. In bad weather, keeping the station supplied required them to work with some urgency. No one wanted to be assigned a shift there.
      Pine Tree had been quite popular before he became the section chief. Everyone had had good things to say about him. Afterwards, because duty at Rapids Basin was so despised, everyone in the section, including his own family, cursed him behind his back.
      When he was 55, Pine Tree told his boss that he no longer wanted to be a Section Chief. He volunteered to go to Rapids Basin to watch over the navigation markers. He said that he was the one who caused the problem, so he alone should be allowed to bear the responsibility. No one objected at the next staff meeting. Everyone felt that this was the only way to go.
      His wife, Sister-in-law Li, also happened to retire that year, so the couple packed up their belongings, left their home in the Navigation Administration compound and became full-time attendants at the Rapids Basin Navigation Station. Pine Tree asked the Chief Rafter to bring them food and other necessities on the way down from the mountains, and in his spare time he cleared land around their cabin to grow vegetables. He raised chickens and ducks, too, and so was able to be self-sufficient. He lived in the mountains year after year and had little contact with the outside world, relying on a radio only to listen to weather forecasts. His daughter, who also lived in the mountains, collected his wages and what all and held them on his behalf. Truth is, they had no use for such things living in the mountains.
      Altogether, Pine Tree and his wife lived in the mountains a full twenty years. At first the river functioned mainly as a channel for exporting bamboo, wood and stone materials from the mountains, but this gradually lessened in importance due to restrictions on exploiting those resources. In the end, graded waterway configurations were canceled on the upper sections and the river was no longer managed except as a floodway.
      These matters were actually decided in the eighth year after Pine Tree went to live in the mountains, but no one in the section considered them material, so no one came to the mountains or sent a message to inform him. Thus, he at first had no idea that facilities along the upper reaches of the river had been dismantled, so he kept on managing the navigation marker station conscientiously. He did notice that fewer and fewer boats and rafts were running the channel, but he felt that he still had a responsibility to ensure their safety even if only one per year passed by.
      After the restrictions on Dragon River resource exploitation were implemented, the area along the river became a scenic area for tourism. Rapids Basin turned into one of the tourist spots, and the number of people coming there to go rafting started to grow. A rudimentary, winding mountain road brought tourists to the area, from where they’d head downstream on rubber rafts. Pine Tree got imperceptibly busier as Rapids Basin became a tourist hot spot. During the dry season, he had to survey the various channels, set out navigation markers and keep people from straying into dangerous streams. During the flood season, he collected meteorological and hydrological data and issued flood danger warnings. The Chief Rafter paid no attention to any of the things he did, though, so Pine Tree put on his old navigation officer uniform and tried to reason with the guy.
      Someone filed a complaint against Pine Tree on his 75th birthday. A large amount of materials was sent to the relevant departments in support of the complaint. They said Pine Tree, though retired from his position as a waterway management official, had continued to occupy waterway assets for an extended period. He and his wife had hardly used any of their salary for twenty years and had occupied a publicly-owned bamboo house without paying a cent of rent. They also reclaimed public land on a hillside for personal use to farm and raise poultry. The navigation facilities on the upper reaches of Dragon River had been dismantled more than ten years previously, and Pine Tree had taken over the waterway as his own property and denied access to others with no benefit to the public.
      The relevant departments sent a cadre specifically to talk to Pine Tree, who only then learned that the upstream facilities had been shut down. He was stunned and told the cadre: "I... I should’ve retired. It’s just that I was concerned about Rapids Basin." A few months after he’d had these thoughts about his past and his future and moved away from the area, a longish article in a local newspaper reported on the deeds of a person on the river. It said a retired waterway manager who’d been quietly watching over an abandoned waterway in the wilderness had voluntarily rescued six people and helped save countless items over a twenty-year period. It said the source material for the article had been provided by the relevant departments in defense of the old fellow.
      A major accident occurred in the Rapids Basin rafting area the very day the report appeared in the newspaper. Two rafts entered the rapids by mistake and capsized, killing two people and injuring three more. The contractor for the rafting area was taken away by the public security department.
      Pine Tree and his wife returned to the mountains. Before setting out, he transferred his house to his daughter. This time, he got a letter of appointment from the local government saying he was obligated to keep at it and not look back. It was his duty.

Text at p. 35. Translated from 海博学习网.
Also available at
https://www.sohu.com/a/251999544_670985.
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4. Bottom Line (底线)

Sun Chunping (孙春平)

      Dawn’s somewhat panicky voice woke Forrest from an intoxicatingly sweet dream. “Hurry, go listen to the telephone,” she said. “It’s a recording.”
      Forrest sat up reluctantly, rubbed his eyes and asked, "Why’re you messing around with the phone?"
      “When I saw its little light keep flashing, I couldn't help it,” she replied.
      “What’s the recording say?”
      “It sounds like an old lady. I can’t understand what she’s saying. She seems to be asking for help.”
      He and Dawn had gone a bit overboard the previous evening, and Forrest’s eyelids seemed to be glued shut. He turned over to go back to sleep, muttering, "It's not our phone. How many times have I told you not to mess around with it."
      Strangely, though, he couldn't get back to sleep when his head hit the pillow. The words "asking for help" kept ringing in his ears, louder and louder, like firecrackers going off on New Year's. He rolled out of bed, went to the big bedroom and grabbed the landline receiver. When he pressed the playback button, sure enough, it was the familiar voice of Mrs. Feng.
      "Precious daughter, I’m eighty percent sure you won't get this call, but I’ve got to say this even if you won't hear it. I’ll die if I don’t. I’ve just asked some kind person to lend me their cell phone, so I'll keep it short. In early April, your cousins said that your uncle was sick and I came back to my hometown in the Northeast. They tricked me into going to the hills just outside of town to stay in an old house abandoned by farmers.
      “Two of them took turns staying with me every day. They said they were keeping me company, but in fact they held me prisoner and forced me to hand over the deed to the property your grandpa left. They also wanted my mom and dad’s will. You know your grandpa’s house, it was in the notarized will. Your grandpa bought houses for your two uncles when they got married, but he and your grandma felt they hadn’t done right by me, so they left the house they lived in to me when they died.
      “I told your uncles, you can take me to court if you think the will is a phony, but they know there’ll be no negotiating once a lawsuit is filed. Their intent is to take advantage of the current high real estate prices to make a pretty penny by selling the place. That’s why they’re doing this.
      “They’ve kept me fed these last few days in the hills, but you know what the weather’s like here in the Northeast this time of year. It's okay during the day, but it's deadly cold at night, deadly cold. [Cough, cough....] I have a cold.
      “Actually, I didn't want to call you. I could’ve just called 110, the emergency number, but I didn’t want to reveal the skeletons in our family’s closet, so you'd better get going and fly over here. It’s better for you young people to talk over these messy family matters.
      “But I can't remember your phone number. Every time I call you, I always do what you told me. I always just press the number one button on the phone. Who would’ve thought someone’d take me out into this wilderness? [Cough, cough....] I won’t say any more. Get over here right away or you might never see your mom again.”
      Forrest held on to the receiver and sat there in a daze. Old lady Feng’s shadow kept flashing before his eyes. He knew the old woman's name and could even recall her daughter's name. He was a carrier for an express delivery company and when she was living here, a lot of mail from her daughter passed through his hands. Of course, sometimes the old lady had outgoing mail, and she’d ask him to come here to get it. He thought about how anxious she was up there, hundreds of miles away. Had whoever was watching her taken a nap or been busy checking their messages on WeChat...?
      Dawn yelled at him from the corridor. "You heard it, too. I didn't lie to you, did I? I went to the restaurant. Some milk and bread has been warmed up for you. Don't forget to eat.”
      Old Lady Feng's condo is a nice place in a community in Sanya City. It has two bedrooms and a living room, and the building has an elevator. She said her daughter in the United States bought it for her grandparents to live in during the winters, so they could avoid the cold weather. Grandpa was unlucky, though, and passed away two years ago.
      Once when Forrest came for the mail, the old lady asked him to sit in the living room for a bit. She put on her reading glasses and started to write something, chattering away while she wrote. Forrest thought, “Do old people talk a lot, or is she just too lonely at home by herself?”
      One day, Forrest saw keys thrown down on the dining table. His heart jumped. He remembered once when he was sitting by the side of a road eating a box lunch with some other carriers, he’d complained that living in midtown was so noisy it was difficult to sleep at night. One of the guys said, "That's because you don’t think outside the box. If there’s one thing Sanya has a ton of, I’d say it’s a lot of vacant condos, especially in the summer and fall."
      “How expensive is the rent?” Forrest had asked.
      “Am I your landlord?” The young guy smirked. “Fact is, if you house-sit for people for free, they might even thank you.”
      A few days later, when he went to Old Lady Feng’s place again, Forrest had something in mind. He carried some clay in his breast pocket and used it to make an impression of the key.
      In fact, he not only got the condo – you could say his girlfriend Dawn "happened along" for the time being, too. After he moved into Mrs. Feng's place, Forrest often went to a restaurant just outside the community for a bite to eat. One thing led to another and he got to know the server, Dawn. Eventually she asked him, “Do you live in this community? In your own condo?”
      “It belongs to a relative,” Forrest replied. Dawn leaned closer and whispered, "Couldn't you take me to see the place?"
      When Dawn came into the condo that day, she looked around and then sat on the bed in the north bedroom. “So, from now on, I’ll sleep here and you sleep in the south bedroom. Is that OK with you?”
      “That won't work”, he answered. “My relative made it clear before I moved in. No one’s allowed in the south room.”
      Dawn also smirked. "Understood. So I’ll squeeze into this small bed with you, OK?"
      Forrest is from the western part of Liaoning Province, while Dawn is from Gansu. It seems that people who leave their hometowns to look for work are like that – as many times as there are coconuts in Hainan, if they like each other they’ll move in together. If it works out, they’ll consider making it a long-term arrangement, but if not, they’ll just waive bye-bye. It might seem strange, but it’s no big deal.
      The day he heard Mrs. Feng’s message, Forrest asked his boss for some time off and didn't leave the condo for a whole day. He cleaned the place thoroughly, then straightened up his and Dawn's clothes and packed them into their respective suitcases. When Dawn came home late that night and saw what he’d done, she stood frozen in the center of the room.
      “I’ve forwarded the old lady's message to her daughter,” he told her. “Someone might show up here in a day or two, or at most three to five days. We’ve got to leave tomorrow morning.”
      “Don’t you know the police will find you, even if you run to the ends of the earth?”
      “Honest people don't do anything underhanded,” he replied. “I’ve left my phone number under the phone. Don't blame me. I can take advantage of a situation when the opportunity comes along, but I’ll never in this life refuse to help someone who needs it.”
      Dawn was silent for a moment. Then she asked, “Where will you live?”
      “Let's go find one of my friends from work and squeeze in with him.”
      Dawn's eyes filled with tears. “Let's rent a studio apartment,” she suggested. “Don't worry about the cost. We’ll go Dutch from now on, OK?”

Text at p. 38, Translated from 就爱文摘网 at:
https://www.92wenzhai.com/m/view.php?aid=18296
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5. Thank You (谢谢)

Jin Ziwei (津子围)

      Strong-Willed Wang stood at the boarding gate. He was mentally prepared for a flight delay but hoped the plane would take off on time.
      Two uniformed men came towards him. He could tell what they were doing and waved at them. The two men approached Young Pang and Sunrise Wang*, who were seated on chairs, and tried to sell them travel cards. Strong-Willed thought to himself that the uniforms could easily cause people to misjudge them. People who weren’t in the know wouldn’t be able to tell whether they were airline employees or airport staff, just like many people can’t tell the difference between police officers and auxiliary constables.
      Strong-Willed often flies on his official duties, so he’s completely familiar with the goings-on at airports. More than ten years before, when Strong-Willed applied for a credit card, he got a bundled airline membership card as well. He hadn’t realized it would later be upgraded to a gold card. He flew so often that he’d racked up a large amount of miles and, before he knew it, he’d become Gold Club member.
      Among the many benefits of a gold card, the most obvious one is that you can redeem flight miles for free airplane tickets. During the May Day long weekend, his wife and kids had gone to
Jiuzhaigou. This was a small reward for the extensive time he spent away from home, a bonus, and it would’ve been a waste not to take it.
      Another benefit is that you can enjoy VIP treatment like the first-class lounge and the priority boarding lane. Strong-Willed couldn’t go to the lounge to drink coffee and eat snacks on this day, though, because the other two guys didn’t have gold cards. Since they were traveling together, it wouldn’t be seemly for him to act like he was something special.
      As it happened, the flight was delayed for two hours. By the time Strong-Willed and the other two boarded the plane, Young Pang looked gloomy and Sunrise Wang was red from the neck up. They were greeted by the professionally sweet smile and gentle welcome of a stewardess as they passed through the cabin door, but Young Pang ignored her and Sunrise Wang rolled his eyes unsociably.
      The three of them were seated next to each other in row 39, seats A, B and C. Young Pang was in seat A, next to the window. Sunrise Wang was in C, the aisle seat, and Strong-Willed was between them in seat B. Strong-Willed said to Sunrise Wang, “You sit in the middle and I’ll take the aisle seat.” Strong-Willed was the largest of the three and he could stretch out a little more comfortably when sitting by the aisle.
      They took their seats as the plane started to crawl down the runway. Strong-Willed glanced at Sunrise Wang and realized that Sunrise was sitting in his seat. The stewardess would come over momentarily to greet the Gold Club members individually, and if she spoke to Sunrise Wang, who knew how he’d react? Would he play along and say he was Mr. Wang? In normal circumstances, the stewardess would have a notecard informing her how to show courtesy to any Gold Club members in the economy section. Actually, though, few Gold Club members sat in the economy class, and the stewardess' courtesy notification was also formal, just telling you the plane’s ETA. Despite this, Strong-Willed felt good whenever he was treated so courteously. It made him feel special.
      Strong-Willed thought he wouldn’t play along today, but he did want to see if the flight attendant only recognized the seat the Gold Club member was supposed to be in, and not the person. Of course, he also wanted to see Sunrise Wang's reaction. It might add some spice to an otherwise boring journey.
      The flight attendants began to serve food and drinks to the passengers after the plane leveled off. Because the flight had been delayed, it was already time for lunch, but the flight attendants only served a snack -- a hot dog. Young Pang grumbled with some dissatisfaction: "Airplane food keeps getting worse. It used to be a good meal, then it was just something to fill you up, and now it's just enough so you won’t go hungry."
      The stewardess heard what he said and hurriedly explained that this flight did not provide a full meal because the flight delay was unexpected. She gave Young Pang an extra hot dog, then enthusiastically asked Sunrise Wang: "Mr. Wang, do you need one, too?"
      Sunrise Wang was nonplused for a moment, then said: "Okay, thank you!"
      Strong-Willed laughed to himself and glanced at Sunrise Wang. He could see that the man seemed to be enjoying it very much.
      In fact, Young Pang only ate one of the hot dogs. He gave the other to Sunrise Wang, who passed it to Strong-Willed. Strong-Willed said, "I've had enough."
      “It’s OK. I can ask for more if it’s not enough,” Sunrise said confidently.
      Strong-Willed didn't say anything. He even looked forward to the stewardess coming back to speak to "Mr. Wang" in seat 39B about the landing. He wanted to see what would happen.
      But the stewardess was busy, first delivering drinks, then delivering meals, and then cleaning up the trash from the meal boxes, so she was slow in coming to attend to "Mr. Wang". In the past, Strong-Willed never paid attention to this and didn't notice the tik-tok of time, but now that he was looking forward to something, time actually slowed down. “They wouldn’t skip this practice, would they?” Strong-Willed thought. “Maybe they would. It’s possible they might skip it occasionally.”
      An announcement reminded passengers to put away their tray tables, fasten their seat belts, open the sunshades and return their seatbacks to the upright position. Strong-Willed knew the plane was starting to descend. He closed his eyes slightly.
      A faint smell of perfume and the stewardess was stand beside Strong-Willed. She leaned over and said to Sunrise Wang: "Hello, Mr. Wang. The plane will land around 1:50."
      Sunrise nodded quickly: "Thank you!"
      Strong-Willed was downright happy. He noticed that Sunrise Wang had looked very serious the whole time. When they got off the plane, Sunrise smiled at the stewardess who was seeing them off at the cabin door. "Thank you!" he said distinctly.
      Young Pang and Sunrise Wang were in front as they Walked through the waiting area. They were handcuffed together.
      Strong-Willed gave Sunrise Wang a swift kick in the rear end. "I didn't expect a punk like you to turn into a cultured person today. You even know how to say thank you!"
      Sunrise Wang turned around and solemnly said to Strong-Willed: "Thank you!"
*The two surnames, “Wang” in pinyin, are written and pronounced slightly differently in Chinese, which is why Sunrise Wang was nonplused at the way the stewardess addressed him.

Text at p. 44. Translated from 作家津子围的博客 at:
http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_92afb5f30102xid7.html