Chinese Stories in English
1. By Accident by He Yan (Sentimental, ♥♥♥)
2. Humility by Chi Zijian (Essay, ♥♥)
3. Hometown Flavors by Cuttlefish Gulp (Sentimental, ♥♥)
4. Serve as Section Leader? by Zheng Xiaoliang (Humor, ♥♥♥)
1. By Accident (一不小心)
He Yan (何燕)
One of Old Ge’s rules of living was to go out on the path in front of the village after dinner, follow it up the slope to the high point on the levee, and cast his eyes over both banks of that section of the river. The difference is, while he used to walk up the levee, now he sits in a wheelchair and gets pushed up. Every time on the way up the slope now, Old Ge can hear his son Young Ge behind him huffing like a water buffalo pulling a plow.
Once he gets Old Ge settled in, Young Ge heads back down the levee to take care of his own things. This time Old Ge felt bitter watching Young Ge's silhouette bustling around, his back arched like a cat's, and when he feels bitter, he smokes his water pipe. Made from one section of bamboo, its chamber is as big around as an arm, with an opening for tobacco on the outside and clear water inside. Before, when his business was going full steam, Old Ge didn't smoke a water pipe. He smoked expensive brands of cigarettes like Great China and Soft Jade Creek.
After the expansion of the Nine Islands River Administration, Old Ge had made use of the village’s unique advantages – the river in front, the mountains behind and the hot springs within – to vigorously promote a tourist resort. Initial construction of the resort was split into two phases: first, developing the village’s unique resource, the hot springs; and second, building a hotel. When phase two was finished, Old Ge promoted the resort in newspapers and on television, but the promotions were ineffective and cost recovery was minimal. Old Ge therefore took responsibility for a few hundred acres by the river, where he planted an orchard and some veggies for a U-pick agricultural park.
The third phase of construction had not yet begun when there was an accident and Old Ge was deprived of the chance to ever stand again. His son was working outside the village, and Old Ge had the young man come home to manage the resort and take care of him. His son is a bookish sort, though, and not good at business. The bitterness Old Ge felt was like the river waters along the levee, always flowing forward.
Old Ge picked some water grass from the side of the embankment and poked it into the opening of his pipe. Only after making sure that no tobacco residue was left did he pinch some fresh shreds of tobacco from his pouch. He rolled the tobacco tightly between his thumb, index finger and middle finger a few times, then stuffed it into the opening. After tamping down a few shreds that stuck out, he flicked his lighter until it flashed. While touching the flame to the tobacco, he put the pipe's mouth in one side of his mouth and alternated between pursing his lips tightly and then cracking them open a bit. As he puffed away, droplets of water in the pipe followed along with the gu-dang, gu-dang rhythm. The tobacco suddenly flared up and smoke rings puffed intermittently from half of his mouth when it cracked open.
Old Ge burst out coughing. Down below, Young Ge straightened his arched back, stood up and turned around to come up on the levee. Old Ge waved, gesturing for him to stop. The tobacco was home-grown – every family in Warm Springs Town grew their own. They called it “home” grown, but in fact it was grown on the sides of the ridges between rice paddies, alongside vegetable gardens, in courtyards or in front or behind the houses. Anyone who wanted some grew it, and those who didn’t left it alone.
Tobacco is like mustard, with bunches of large leaves. Wherever you are, you can pick yourself a few large leaves and lay them out the sun to dry. After you tear the dried leaves into shreds, you’ve got yourself something to smoke. More diligent people will rub the shreds between their hands a few times to get rid of the stems and make a somewhat better class of tobacco. That’s what Old Ge was smoking.
Old Ge had plenty of time after he found himself in a wheelchair, so he always rubbed his tobacco until there wasn’t a trace of stems. Such highly concentrated tobacco can easily choke the smoker. Further, Old Ge always took deep, quick drags, so choking on the smoke was a common thing.
Old Ge had Young Ge go to the bank for loan to get going on the third phase of the project, but Young Ge was like a sullen plow-ox in the village: he’d only move a little bit for each stroke of the whip. He went to the bank several times without getting a loan, and he didn’t want to go any more no matter what you said.
One time he brought back several packages of seeds for rapeseed plants. He said he’d plant them on the land they had contracted for to keep it from going fallow. Old Ge blew his stack. “Warm Springs Town isn’t like the big city where you worked,” he said. “Most of the people here grow their own greens. Where are you going to sell all this rapeseed?”
Young Ge wasn’t concerned and paid no attention to the old man. He hired people to broadcast the seeds. Old Ge said “The locals prefer to use camellia seed oil, so if you have to plant something, it should be camellias.”
Young Ge wasn’t persuaded, but there was no use in Old Ge being angry. After all, he'd put himself into that wheelchair.
After he planted the rapeseed, Young Ge planted lotus. After the lotus, he planted camellias, and after the camellias, tobacco. In this way he filled up a few hundred acres of wasteland with various crops, one after the other.
There's no need to mention that the land by the river was fertile and the supply of water was adequate. After twenty days the rapeseed was growing respectably. Looking around, you’d see a large expanse of luxuriant growth, fresh and green. The rapeseed was several inches tall and Old Ge was pressing Young Ge to sell it, but the young man always said, “No hurry. No hurry.”
At sunset Old Ge happened to notice that the field of rapeseed by the riverside was turning a golden color. He rubbed his eyes and looked more carefully, and saw that the rapeseed was already producing small buds. He cursed, "If we don’t sell that stuff right away we won’t get our bloody costs back!"
Young Ge still said there was no hurry. Old Ge got so mad he cursed his son. “Intellectuals are ninety-nine percent useless! The ancients got it right when they said that if you read too many books, you’re throwing your brain in the lake.”
Two or three days later, spots of golden rapeseed flowers decorated both banks of the river. This time Old Ge pressed Young Ge more urgently to hire people to harvest the stuff right away.
Just then some passing vehicles stopped by the dyke and people piled out. Talking and shouting, they brought out their phones and their cameras and “click! click!” shot photos of the rapeseed flowers non-stop.
Old Ge was puzzled as he watched the people.
More people started coming to look at the flowers.
Old Ge only then noticed how picturesque the golden rapeseed was, set against the dusky green of the mountains behind the village and the emerald green of the river. Seen from the levee, the rapeseed flowers formed a blanket straight from the river towards the horizon.
An endless stream of people came from all directions to look at the flowers. People even drove over from Zhanjiang City in Guangdong province.
Business at Old Ge’s resort got really hot during the month or so the rapeseed was in flower.
When summer came, another scenic view, the lotus, burst forth. The aroma of the lotus enticed people from miles around and they came in a steady stream every day. Old Ge’s hands were chaffed from collecting parking fees as he sat in his wheelchair.
In autumn, the camellias sprang out.
The visitors were interested in the tobacco leaves as well as the flowers. They liked to take a handful with them when they left, saying it was environmentally friendly.
Old Ge was bewildered, of course. He’d spent all that money on advertising and hadn’t got the resort to take off. How could his son have got it going by accident?
China's Best Micro-Fiction 2015, Yangtze Arts Publishing; Liu Bifang, Sun Xiaoxue Eds. P. 73
Also at http://epaper.gxylnews.com:8080/epaper/ylrb/html/2015/08/10/B04/B04_68.htm
2. Humility (谦卑)
Chi Zijian (迟子建)
[This essay was published in a magazine of "amusing stories" and in a collection of "humorous writings". For Chinese readers, the humor perhaps comes from the overly florid vocabulary (particularly the overuse of ' cheng-yu') by which the author parodies pseudo-intellectual essays. The following translation is woefully inadequate. – Fannyi]
On a crispy clear autumnal day while I was in the second year at teacher training school, a male student suddenly went mad. First he smashed the windows in the third floor corridor to smithereens with an iron bar. Then he dropped down to the second floor and used the iron bar in the same fashion wham! bang! on the glass there. Students fled from the classrooms like birds flying into the wind at the twang of an archer's bow. As cockily spirited as the Monkey King wielding his Everywhere Undefeated Staff, he rose against the machine in the entire building with passion and fervor, sweeping away all obstacles.
We stood outside the classroom building listening to the frightening, nerve-rattling sound of glass breaking and staring nervously at the door, getting ready to beat a hasty retreat as soon as he came outside. Since he was crazy, we could not be sure he would not think our faces were glass and smash them as he went by. The school leaders, teachers and security personnel had not a clue what to do. Because he had that iron bar in his hands, with its strong capacity to kill or maim, nobody dared go into the building to try to restrain him. He just kept on smashing all the windows, sounding like a song of triumph, until no pane was left unbroken. Then, fully stimulated and with the air of a hero, he came walking out. As soon as he showed himself in the doorway, security personnel who were hidden there rushed up and detained him.
It turned out that the young man was a student in the Department of Mathematics. He was a refined, normally soft-spoken fellow, a diligent student who had a humble smile for everyone he met. I had never spoken to him, but had seen him around and had been favored with a nod of his head followed by a humble smile.
His sudden madness incited a tumultuous uproar on campus. Some said it was brought about by a love affair, others said it was the pressure of his studies, and still others said it was his dissatisfaction with society. In short, everyone had their own opinion. I felt it would be pitiable if his madness had been brought on by love, but absurdly ridiculous if it were the pressure of his studies. Our school was so casual that you were sure to graduate no matter how muddle-headed you were, so there was no point in working yourself into bitter tears.
As for dissatisfaction with society, I did not know what kind of setbacks he had suffered in his life. In my opinion, though, there is neither a true heaven on earth nor a Buddhist paradise anywhere in the world, so dissatisfaction with the evils of society is a commonality. But if your sense of justice gets to the point of driving you crazy, does that really show that you are a full-fledged Defender of Truth? As I see it, Defenders of Truth should first of all be strong, resolute persons.
My classmate's parents picked him up and took him to a mental hospital. The school had to ship in a truckload of glass, which glaziers cut and installed piece by piece. They spent two full two days working at it. The bright shine of the new glass made people feel that things had just been washed, and gave the corridors a blinding glare. We joked as we walked in these corridors, enjoying the view of the back country and the streams outside the windows, and completely forgot about our classmate who had gone mad.
It was only when we were about to graduate that some people happened to mention him. The ambiguous reasons for his madness got everyone to talking about it again. They felt sorry for the guy and said that, if he had not gone crazy, he would be on his way to a career just like the rest of us. Whosoever of my classmates who had had dealings with the guy had nothing but good things to say about him. They believed his best point was his humility and that he was a good person.
While they were all stressing his "humility", I had a sudden flash of insight: I thought that maybe his "humility" was what had driven him mad. Imagine a person suppressing his own likes and dislikes all day out of concern for how others might react. His nature and instinct would certainly suffer under layers of obstruction. Sooner or later the day would come when he would not be able to take it any longer and would go crazy.
The term "humility" is defined in the Modern Chinese Dictionary as "modest, not arrogant (more often used for juniors addressing elders)".
I think the parenthetical note is particularly important. Since humility is more often used by juniors addressing their elders, is it not abnormal to manifest "humility" in dealings with people who are one's own age? Excessive humility makes people think of some despicable thing with its tail between its legs. People should mostly laugh or curse openly and frankly when dealing with those of their own age. I think the most important reason for that fellow's madness lies in the frightening humility he displayed so extensively toward his peers. He seems to have left himself hanging in the air, unable to move either up or down, an awkward position which, over time, destroyed his soul, and that is how he ended up summoning the courage to treat the glass with no humility whatsoever by smashing it to pieces.
Humility is actually a character trait that has gone through a process of being disguised. It comes across as a bit too convenient. It is an invisible killer which suppresses the healthy development of individuality. In modern life, due to the conflict between intricate and complex interpersonal associations and competing interests of every description, humility sometimes becomes an effective way to protect one's own self, that is, as a feigned humility or pretended helplessness from which one may gain an advantage. It is because of what has always been called the "constrictions of ritual" that we Chinese consider humility a virtue.
We always feel much more comfortable when the person conversing with us stands there trembling with fear, submissive and overly cautious, bowing and scraping, than when the person stands there looking down on us with a condescending expression, gesturing arrogantly or even domineeringly. Thus false humility is a vigorous trend running rampant in society, a kind of hypocrisy in which everyone feels free to participate.
True humility harms the self (as was the case with my classmate who went mad) and thus invokes pity; feigned humility harms others. What true humility aims to do is to force you into madness. This is something that I have only recently come to understand deeply.
Not long ago I went to a very famous tourist spot to attend a session of a certain convention. The organizers were really helpful and warm when receiving the participants. It was very moving. Whether it was food or lodging, they made everyone feel very comfortable.
The fellow among them who greeted us had a very humble expression. After a while he asked us if our accommodations were all right, and then later whether the food was to our liking. Such meticulous concern can sometimes leave a person with feelings of awe or trepidation. When these people talk to you and preface everything they say with "I am sorry," before long you are bound to be confused and start thinking that you have made some sort of mistake, even if they are only telling you things like what time you are going to get up for breakfast in the morning, or what scenic viewpoint you are going to visit in the afternoon. This cannot help but make people wonder at the strangeness of it all, and feel there really is no call for such politeness.
I have always been shy about my ability to write calligraphy with a brush, so my heart started pounding when the time came to sign autographs. Sometimes the awkwardness is relieved if the person organizing the signing party has made a soft, carbon-strand brush available, but this had to be one of those times when only a common brush was laying cross-wise by the ink stone.
Seeing the Four Treasures of the Chinese Study as instruments of torture can send a chill down one's spine. Vain creature that I am, I will often leave a bustling signing party early and head for the hills, terrified that my handwriting would be an embarrassing loss of face.
This day I would have liked to slip away like that, but would you not know it, that fellow with the humble face found me. "These people at the reception have no ill intentions. They just want you famous celebrities to sign your autographs. It is a way of respecting you, so how can you look so askance at them?"
I told him the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, like I was facing the most formidable inquisitor, but it was all to no avail. This man had probably already decided that I was playing at being a "celebrity". I was really wronged! Not only did he think I would be flattered by calling me a celebrity, but also that no one attending the convention would want to offend the organizers like that.
So it occurred to me that all the humility I had previously seen was only murderous ferocity behind a layer of false gentility, and this point was borne out by subsequent events. When I was at the scenic viewpoint explaining some facts to a reporter from a certain news agency, I said I was not unfamiliar with the scenery and did not feel it was anything special. I was immediately set upon by the other humble types: such a voluminous manner of speaking, so self-righteous....
So, really, what did they want me to say? I finally understood, they wanted to recast me as a humble person, just like them. They wanted me to smile at that tired old scenery and recite gutless lyrics. They wanted me to join them in obsequious obeisance toward all of those who had greeted us (regardless of how much you disliked their temperaments). Only in this way, probably, would I become a person that they would consider perfect, right?
But I do not want to be that kind of humble person, because that kind of humility would drive me crazy. My life may not be brilliant, but it is down to earth. I yearn for love and am passionate about literature, and I do not want madness. Besides, I believe that if I have a truly free spirit, my enthusiasm and my imagination will never wither away. Only in this way will I be able to face myself and God.
Recommended by A-Zi from Essays of Chi Zijian
(Original title: On Humility)
2013 Annual Humorous Writings of China, from Comedy World Magazine, Ding Si, Ed., p. 245
Translated from here, also available at https://www.ruiwen.com/wenxue/chizijian/197920.html
3. Hometown Flavors (寻味)
by Cuttlefish Gulp (吞墨鱼)
There was this guy Moneybags, who'd done very well in business. He never figured on contracting a terminal illness when he was only fifty. There was nothing the doctors could do.
Moneybags took it in stride, though. He felt he'd been through some good times in his life, and some bad times, too, and had always made the best of it. There was one little thing he still wanted, though: to taste three ordinary foods from his old hometown – Smashed Cucumber, Nine-Piece Tapestry, and Little Fish Pot-Stickers.
For Smashed Cucumber you just crush cucumbers into small pieces and add chopped green onions and ginger. Then you sprinkle on some salt and drizzle with vinegar.
What they call Nine-Piece Tapestry, really you just remove the dross from snake meat, chop it into several segments and boil it in water until it's done. Then you pour on some spicy red sesame oil, so that it comes out of the pot as bright red as brocade, which is why it's called "Nine-Piece Tapestry".
As for the Little Fish Pot-Stickers, first you gut and scale willow fish; stick some around the sides of a wok with some batter made from sorghum flour; put the rest of the fish in some water in the bottom of the wok and, when it boils, shove everything together and you're done. Moneybags' mouth would water whenever he recalled the flavors of these three dishes!
When Moneybags' wife heard what he wanted, she found famous chefs, selected the best ingredients, and pulled out all the stops to make those three recipes. But each time she put a dish down in front of him, Moneybags would shake his head and say it wasn't right. She fretted until every last man jack in the hospital ward knew what was going on. Finally Moneybags smiled wryly. "No matter where you are," he said, pointing toward his tongue, "the hardest thing to do is to fool your own taste buds!"
Just when everyone was in a state of desperation, the hospital's Chief Handyman, Old Boss Wang, came around and said he was willing to give it a try. All anyone could see was this almost sixty-year-old, silver-haired guy with rough hands and big feet, not looking at all like he could cook. Moneybags' wife saw something in him, though, and told him to go ahead! But Old Wang made a small request – he wanted some bamboo and wood cookware.
Strange to say, when the three dishes were brought into the ward the next day, Moneybags' face lit up as soon as he inhaled the aroma. He picked up a piece of the Smashed Cucumber in his chopsticks, put it in his mouth and closed his eyes. After a while his cheeks started to pulsate. "Good, good, good, this is the way it's supposed to taste!" He finished off all three dishes in a whirlwind, leaving his wife aghast.
When he was through, Moneybags insisted on seeing Old Boss Wang to ask him for his secret recipe. Old Wang smiled: "We chefs have a saying that good taste doesn't depend on the cook's skill. If these three dishes I made suited your taste, it wasn't because of any ability I have. It was thanks to your wife getting me the proper kitchen tools!" He brought out a wooden spatula, a bamboo knife and a stained old date-wood pot lid from behind his back as he spoke.
"Don't underestimate these sorts of things," he explained. "Using a wooden spatula to crush the cucumbers leaves their clean, fresh taste unchanged. And when you gut a snake with a bamboo knife, the exquisitely savory flavor of the meat isn't affected. Using an iron knife leaves a metallic taste!"
Moneybags nodded his head as he listened. "That's right," he said. "Back in the old days out in the fields, when I picked cucumbers to eat I'd use the wooden handle of my sickle to crush them with some garlic, and they had this deliciously fresh flavor. And that time I caught a wild snake while I was up in the hills collecting firewood, I used a piece of bamboo to clean it. I put it in a clay pot with some water, sprinkled on some mountain peppers and cooked them together. It was surprisingly tasty! What a stroke of luck."
Then he pointed to the date-wood pot cover. "And what's the purpose for using this lid?" he asked.
Old Boss Wang said: "For making Little Fish Pot-Stickers. After the water comes to a boil, you simmer them over low heat. The savory fish aroma that's been absorbed in the lid gets transferred back to them. An iron or aluminum lid can't do that, only an old wooden lid that's been used for many years will do. It's called 'building up the flavor'!"
Moneybags suddenly saw the light. "Of course." He thought about it for a moment, then said, "Master Wang, I have to tell you. I still feel that these dishes don't taste exactly the same as I remember from my hometown."
"They're missing a little something," Old Boss Wang said, nodding his head. "It's the taste of the water."
"The taste of the water?" Moneybags' eyes opened wide.
"People grow up tasting the soil and water of their hometowns, and it's the taste of home, whether it's any good or not! I wonder, have you heard the story of Yang Guifei, the famous Tang Dynasty concubine, and her lychees?"
"Sure," Moneybags said, laughing. "She liked lychee fruits, so the emperor had them delivered by fast horses from far away. Like the poem says:
"The concubine smiled when the steed
"Galloped up in a cloud of red dust.
"Not a soul knew it was only that
"Her beloved lychees had come at last."
But Old Boss Wang shook his head and said: "You don't know the half of it. Lychees are acidic, so Yang Guifei ordered a palace servant to ride a fast horse all the way to Sichuan to get water from the He River, in a tube made from the Moso bamboo that grows there, to use to soak the lychees for one hour before she would put them in her mouth. Salt may be the foremost of flavors, but water is the source of all flavor!"
Listening to Old Boss Wang speak, Moneybags suddenly realized how much life experience the man must have. "Master Wang," he asked, "may I be so bold, have you previously worked as a chef?" Old Wang said calmly, "Yeah, I was a chef, but I quit two years ago. But let's be honest – my great-grandfather was Wang Xizhuang."
Moneybags couldn't hide his surprise: Wang Xizhuang was the leading Imperial Chef in the last years of the Qing Dynasty. Legend has it that he had not only mastered the six flavors – sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, salty, and fresh – but had also defined a new one, "true flavor". People called him the "Master of Seven Flavors". His ability to "discern flavors by misting" made people envious, but no one could match him: Before picking up a spoon or a knife, he'd lay out the desired vegetables on the table and spray a mouthful of water into the air, making a mist, and sniff at it, from which he could tell with certainty which vegetables would go best together, what condiments to use, and how to divide them up after cooking, so that the dishes had the absolute best flavor!
Moneybags was puzzled when he found out Old Boss Wang's qualifications and experience. He wondered why the old man, as a descendent of Wang Xizhuang, had renounced the skills passed down to him by his family and gotten a job as a handyman in a hospital. He looked so completely befuddled that Old Wang hesitated a moment, seemingly uncertain whether to say anything more….
But these three dishes had finally made some things clear to Moneybags: the taste of the water from his hometown was absolutely crucial, and he had not been back home for many years! Moneybags immediately raised up his sick old body with the idea of going to his hometown to try it out. Old Wang agreed to go with him to make more meals for him using his hometown water. The fellow travelers set out right away.
But when they got there, Moneybags was surprised: in what had been open fields, there stood a row of what looked like high-rises, and a modern chemical factory wrapped in a web of electric wires. The village had been crowded onto a little out-of-the-way patch of land.
One of Moneybags' older cousins greeted them warmly and made tea for them. But when Old Wang took a sip of the tea, his brow wrinkled and he poured the rest of it out.
When Moneybags explained why they had come, his cousin's face suddenly turned gray. "You're too late, my friends," he said, spitting out the words. "I remember the time when we villagers could just dig under any old willow tree and a spring of the sweetest water would come bubbling up. Nowadays the trees have all died off, and don't even mention springs. You can pump up the groundwater but it's not fit to drink!"
"No wonder this tea you made didn't taste right," Old Boss Wang realized.
"You got it," Moneybags' cousin said." All the villagers who were able to move away, did," he added.
"How.... How did this happen?" Moneybags felt like he had a huge boulder on his chest.
"Ha, it was that thing that caused the problem!" his cousin said, pointing at the nearby chemical plant. "Since it was built here a decade ago, the taste of the village's water has been changing, and a lot of people have come down with strange diseases. But when the county EPA came to test the water quality, they said it meets the standards." He was getting angrier and angrier as he spoke. "Isn't that just pretending they can't see what's right in front of their faces? Well, you can fool the whole world," he said, pointing at his tongue, "but the one thing you can't fool is your own taste buds!"
Old Boss Wang was getting excited, too. "You're doing good if you can fool everyone else," he said, turning to Moneybags, "but the hardest thing is to fool your own taste buds! Moneybags, to tell you the truth, I've been a mess since I gave up my profession. Everyone says that misting is the crucial part of our Wang family's 'discern flavors by misting' technique, but really it's just a decoy to divert people's attention. The real thing is tasting the water. All water has one of the six flavors, either sour, sweet, bitter spicy, salty or fresh! But I hadn't realized that the misuse of agricultural fertilizers and pesticides in recent years would change the taste and texture of vegetables, or that the taste of water would change even more. If I'd kept on cooking under these conditions, I'd just be ruining the 'Master of Seven Flavors' reputation, wouldn't I?"
While he was speaking, he was wiping the tears from his eyes. "Moneybags, that day I heard you say, 'The hardest thing to do is to fool your own taste buds,' I felt right away that I'd found a kindred spirit, so I decided to help you taste the true flavors again. I didn't expect to find your home town polluted, so there'd be nothing I could do for you. Ah, in such a big world, true flavors are hard to find!"
Moneybags face turned pale. He staggered away a few steps, muttering: "I've sinned, I've sinned! I.... I've done so much evil!"
He died not long after that. He left a will that he'd written on his deathbed: First, he ordered that his companies no longer discharge or use water illegally; second, no matter what the cost, that the chemical plant in his hometown was to be acquired and transformed into a waste water treatment plant, so that his home town would once again be a land of green mountains and clean waters. The EPA experts would not have the final say in setting water quality standards, but rather, Old Master Wang would be asked to taste the water personally – the most difficult thing in the world to deceive is the taste buds!
Stories Magazine, July 2013, Second Semimonthly Issue, p. 27
Also Published at http://tieba.baidu.com/p/2516930926
4. Serve as Section Leader? (当班长？你们懂的！)
Zheng Xiaoliang (郑小亮)
Serve as Section Leader? You know what that means!
Our section at school was getting ready to elect a leader. The Director of Sections had chosen the candidates using a list of three "outstanding students" nominated by our teachers. The three were, respectively, Little Strong, Little Flyer and Little Flower.
Our lead teacher, Mr. Zhou, had adopted an original approach. He informed us early on that, "Aside from the organizational skills of a leader, a Section Leader needs a certain level of social skills. Therefore, this election can be similar to the choosing of a U. S. president. You can ask people to vote for you, but I'm telling you beforehand, bribery is absolutely not allowed!"
All three students really wanted to be Section Leader. Mr. Zhou's words had them quietly enthusiastic about the election and they were itching to have a go at it.
One day Little Strong, taking advantage of the other two candidates' absence from the classroom, campaigned for votes. "My fellow students," he said, "when it comes time to elect a Section Leader, cast your ballot for me. Unless I've missed my guess, the Director of Sections and Mr. Zhou are both absolutely leaning toward me to serve as Section Leader. It will do you no good to vote for anyone else."
While he could see that the other students didn't quite believe him, Little Strong laughed cockily. He lowered his voice and said, "I guess it's all right if I tell you. Mr. Zhou has two private automobiles in his family, doesn't he? He drives to and from school every day, and this year he's gotten in all fifteen speeding tickets, ten parking tickets, and five tickets for running a red light, all of which were caught on spy-cams. Heh, heh, my pop handles these things for the traffic patrol, and two days ago Mr. Zhou came to our place to see him…. I won't say any more, but you guys know what that means."
The students "oohed" in unison. "Yes, that is the way things work," they all thought. "No wonder Little Strong is so confident."
Little Flyer and Little Flower had come into the room some time while he was speaking. They were both incensed at Little Strong's unexpected use of such a despicable strategy get people to vote for him.
Little Flyer sneered. "So he has a father who works for the Traffic Patrol," he said. "What's so wonderful about that? He's just 'leaning on the old man', is all. My Dad's no slouch, either. He wouldn't let me talk about this in class, but I don't care about all that any more. I think you all know he's the Presiding Surgeon at the Township Hospital. Every day there's a long line of patients waiting to see him…. This year Mr. Zhou has been in to see him six times with a cold, five times with a headache, and three times for diarrhea. And Mr. Zhou doesn't get treated like everybody else, either. Every time, all he has to do is make a phone call…. I won't say any more, but you guys know what that means."
Once more the students all "oohed", but with a bit of uneasiness this time. Both these fellows' fathers were a cut above average, and they'd both helped out Mr. Zhou. But when all was said and done, who'd helped him the most? For the time being that was really hard to say.
While everyone hesitated, Little Flower coughed a couple of times. Little Strong and Little Flyer both doubled over laughing. "What, are you going to ''lean on the old man', too?" The whole section roared at that. Her dad worked selling seafood and dried foods on the street. He obviously couldn't compare with the other two fathers.
Blushing, Little Flower said, "You know something? Mr. Zhou likes the seafood and dried fruit at my Dad's stand the best!"
The students laughed some more. "That makes no sense. That stuff's the same wherever you buy it. You mean he doesn't have to pay at your Dad's stand?"
"It's not that he doesn't have to pay," Little Flower said with a mysterious smile. "He's got a secret motive…. I can't keep it a secret any more. At first I couldn't say anything, and none of you know about it. Mr. Zhou's in love. Do you know who the girl is? It's my aunt, my Dad's little sister…. I won't tell you the rest, but you guys know what that means!"
Afterwards, she did say one more thing. "Think about it. These days there are a lot of men in their late twenties who're still single and can't find girlfriends. Mr. Zhou has been chasing after my aunt really hard. So you guys know what that means – who he'd favor to be Section Leader."
A peal of laughter resounded through the classroom. Lots of students rushed up to tell her, "Don't say any more, Little Flower, I'm voting for you to be Section Leader.”
*[In a typical Chinese high school or college, students are assigned upon admission to a "ban" (班, group) based on their demonstrated academic ability. With minor exceptions, all students in the ban take the same classes at the same time for as long as they are at the school.
One student in the ban acts as the group leader or banzhang (班长) for a term of several months to a year, when another is selected for the job. In some schools the leaders are appointed by the faculty, in others they may be elected by the students from faculty-approved candidates. The leaders' primary duties are maintaining discipline in the ban and acting as a liaison between students and faculty.
In the ninth and tenth grades, Fannyi attended a school in the U.S. with this kind of system. Students were assigned to an "A Room", "B Room", etc., upon admission. We had no "group leader", however. The students stayed in the same classroom all day and the teachers rotated. In Chinese schools (in our limited experience) the ban changes classrooms every period.
The term "ban" is often translated into English as "class", which can lead to confusion, so we've translated it here as "section". The term "banzhang" is sometimes translated as "monitor", which has led to horror stories about foreign teachers being "monitored" by the Communist school administrators, so we use "section leader". See also this discussion. – Fannyi.]
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