​​         Chinese Stories in English   

Stories 12


                                             1. The Lovable King of Math                    by Zhao Chunliang (Sentimental, ♥♥♥♥)
                                             2. Old Chang and the Leather Shoes     by Zhao Chunliang (Sentimental, ♥♥♥)
                                             3. Our Chowhound Roomie's Story       by Xing Dongdong (Humor, ♥♥♥)
                                             4. Our Section's Humorous Teachers   by Di Qiu (Humor, ♥♥)
                                             5. Why Come South for School?             by Eastern Brother (Humor, ♥♥♥)


1. The Lovable King of Math (可爱的数学王)
Zhao Chunliang (赵春亮)

            When I was in junior high, the first math teacher assigned to us was a dry old pedant. She was a graduate of No. One High School in the old county, and it was said that she was the most learned of all the teachers in our state-run school. In addition to doing math problems, this fiftyish woman with short hair cut off at her ears could also speak Russian. She could do the most difficult rolled-tongue sounds almost perfectly. We never heard her, though, because she was always serious in front of our gang of bad students and never said anything that didn’t have to do with her teaching.
            The Old Pedant had a habit. The first thing she did when she came through the classroom door was write a phrase in heavy colored chalk in the upper right corner of the blackboard: “Touch the Skin”. Then she’d hang a "garrison tool" that she’d brought with her next to the words. The so-called "garrison tool" was a do-it-yourself classroom switch made from two slender pieces of bamboo pulled from a broom and tied together with a red string. It would produce a sharp, numbing pain when it hit you. The color of the chalk used to write the phrase changed every day, red today, green tomorrow, sky blue the next day. It got our attention, even shocked us. The phrase and the switch beside it had us always trembling in math class, fearing that the switch would touch our delicate flesh.
            Despite this, our class’s math grades were awful. This couldn’t be tolerated by our parents, since it was during a campaign to "learn math, physics and chemistry well, and show our achievements to the whole world without fear." They weren’t willing to let their children "squat at home" afraid to face the world, so they buzzed around like bees and went to the school’s principal demanding that the Old Pedant be replaced. Under such pressure, she tearfully bid us adieu.
            We were surprised the day our second math teacher took over and we concluded that the principal must have run out of soldiers. He went ahead and sent in an old sot who was even older than the Old Pedant. The chunky old sot seemed to never be awake and would pace slowly on the podium with his eyes half shut. He was always clawing at his waist and swinging his butt because his half-section belt wasn’t holding his pants up.
            The old sot took the podium that first day and said in a clear voice, “I’ll be teaching you math from now on. First let me introduce myself. My surname is Wang, the one that means ‘king’. As for my given name, there’s no need for me to tell you, because it’s taboo for you to call me that to my face, right? Too rude! Besides that, I oughtn’t to tell you. If you rotten eggs ever found out that my given name is Art Virtue, wouldn’t you have to keep yelling ‘Art Virtue King’ all the time behind my back?”
            We roared with laughter. As we slowly quieted down, I heard Make Friends Yang say in a pinched voice from the back row, “He’s screwy!” and the laughter flared up again.
             “From now on,” Art Virtue King continued, “call me the King of Math to distinguish me from the other teachers with the same surname. You all hear me?”
            “We hear you,” we answered in unison. The earth-shaking sound of our own voices startled us. When had our group of “world-weary old souls” ever been able produce such volume before?
            “Okay,” the King of Math said, “one more time, everybody!”
            So naturally we shouted again, even more loudly. The King of Math nodded in satisfaction and said, “Very good. Now we can start the lesson.”
            Gradually we discovered that the King of Math wasn't just a screwy old bird, he couldn’t see very well, either. One day in class he worked a sample problem and then started to quiz us about it. He bowed his head and searched carefully around the lectern for the seating chart affixed there. He looked a long time, then stood up straight and said, unhurriedly, “Spring Tiger Zhao, please answer the question.”
            Laughter instantly filled the classroom. Although my middle name is written similarly to “tiger”, it’s actually 'light'. Nevertheless I stood up immediately because, after all, no one in the class was named Spring Tiger Zhao. One student loudly corrected the teacher. “King of Math, his name is Spring Light Zhao."
            The King of Math lowered his head and checked the seating chart closely once again. Then he let out a long sigh, "Oooh", and said, “Sorry, Spring Light Zhao, I read your name wrong. Please excuse. Now, Spring Tiger Zhao, please answer the question.”
            The entire classroom was filled with laughter once again. From then on I had my name changed by the King of Math. For the next two years, my name was Spring Light Zhao in other chasses, but in math class it was Spring Tiger Zhao.
            Still later we noticed that poor vision wasn't the King of Math's only problem. His hearing was deficient as well. Forest Mountain Liu, who sat at the same desk as me, liked to eat snacks in class. I say “snacks”, but in fact he ate sweet potato bits that had been boiled and dried in the sun. At the time our families were quite poor and reluctant to throw away even the butt-ends of sweet potatoes, so the adults would cook and dry them and put them out to nibble on. Those things were tough and hard to chew – you had to hold them in your mouth for a while to slowly soften them up before you could eat them.
            One day while the King of Math was lecturing on the Pythagorean Theorem, Forest Mountain was sitting below the podium avidly sucking away on sweet potato butts. Without warning the King of Math said, “Next, I’d like Forest Mountain Liu to stand up and recite. Please tell the class what the Pythagorean Theorem is.”
            Forest Mountain stood up like he was in a trance. He couldn’t do anything with the sweet potato bit in his mouth, so he just stood there puffing his cheeks, pursing his lips and moving his mouth, unable to say anything. I thought, “How embarrassing for the guy.”
            But who could’ve known? After Forest Mountain had been moving his mouth for a while, the King of Math praised him. “Very good,” he said. “The student answered very accurately, even if his voice could’ve been a bit louder.” Forest Mountain sat down red-faced amid a roar of laughter. From then on he was cured of his bad habit of snacking in class.
            We were always happy in the King of Math’s class. We never worried about making mistakes because he made plenty of his own. He could fill the whole blackboard with a solution to a problem before realizing, when he got to the end, that he’d made an error. But then, when he checked it over with us, he was able to find which step of the solution was wrong very quickly. Then he’d use the opportunity to teach us, painstakingly and to great effect. “Notice that this figure is in error. Let’s recalculate it, okay?”
            Because of this, we were always very studious in the King of Math’s class. We couldn’t help it. We had to constantly be on our toes with him to keep him, as best we could, from making too many mistakes. Surprisingly, by the time one semester was over, this strange old bird with his poor vision and hearing had brought our class’s grades up to number one in the whole school.

* * *

            I've seen the King of Math twice since graduation. The first time was fairly soon afterwards, when I was home for a visit. He was retired by then and was walking leisurely down the street, and I went up to say hello. When I asked him whether he remembered me, he thought about it and then said, "I do. You're Spring Tiger Zhao".
            The second time was at our twentieth junior high school reunion. I didn't see the Old Pedant at that party, but the students had indeed invited the King of Math. He was nearly eighty but still looked like he wasn't entirely awake, and his mannerisms were obviously screwy. I went over to propose a toast to him, and asked with a smile, "King of Math, do you remember me?"
            He looked at me for a long time, and then shook his head. I said loudly, "I'm Spring Tiger Zhao." He gave a long sigh, "Oooh", and after some time asked, "Huh? I remember there was a bad boy in your class named Spring Light Zhao. Why isn't he here?"
            Everyone laughed themselves silly.

2015年中国幽默作品精选,关河悦选编,第197页
The Best of Chinese Humorous Writings, 2015, Guan Heyue, Anthologist, p. 197
Translated from version at
http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_81d1c9810102w5ys.html
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2. Old Chang and the Leather Shoes (猪皮皮鞋和老常)

Zhao Chunliang (赵春亮)

            I've been sentimental about pigs for a long time. It goes back to my first pair of leather shoes.
            I was admitted to a teacher's school and went to the county seat to begin my studies. I was sixteen and had cloth shoes on my feet, which I'd been wearing for a long time. My mother had made them. They had strong cloth soles, black uppers and an elastic collar, and they wore quite well. But then I saw that my classmates were all wearing white athletic shoes. I was envious and made up my mind to live frugally and save up the money to buy some.
            Every day at noon I sat next to Old Fan, a classmate from Original Sun County, and his home-made pickled bean paste. I spent a rough time chewing on steamed bread, but finally saved enough money to buy the shoes. I couldn't wait and bought a pair of Flying Leap track and field shoes.
            But one pair of athletic shoes clearly can't meet the needs of life. I was really into playing basketball at the time. My game wasn't too good, but I'd get worked up by the cries of "run" when I was on the court. After a game, my feet would be soaked in sweat and stink like nothing else. So I needed another pair.
            As a direct side effect of these shoes and all the exercise, my appetite increased, so buying a second pair took even more effort. I had to spend even more days looking at bean paste while I gnawed on bread. Then, after I finished the morph from cloth shoes to athletic shoes, I got greedy. By hook or by crook, I had to have a pair of leather shoes that I wouldn't have to spend time scrubbing.
            Speaking of leather shoes, I have to mention Old Chang, my roommate from Long Ford County. This guy looked innately eccentric. He had thin hair and a face as long as a donkey's, and was so long-waisted and short-legged that his arms could reach the ground with only a slight bow. More importantly, he was erudite and well-spoken. He knew everything there is to know about astronomy and geography, and was also knowledgeable about practical matters.
            At the time Old Chang was like a life guide for all of us in our dorm room. He'd often take us out to a market on weekends, deep into the vendors' stalls, where we'd diligently practice the finer points of haggling. It got so that, when the vendors saw us coming, they knew we'd just haggle and not buy. They detested us and we were no longer welcome, almost to the point where they'd close up shop and call the police to "educate"* us.
            Of course, we did have money we could fish out to buy things. What I remember most are some blue jackets. We dodged and ducked and slashed and haggled in mortal combat with the shopkeeper until he was covered with bruises. At last he cried that he couldn't go any lower. Old Chang finally showed the soft heart that he usually kept hidden and turned his spear on his own pals. "These jackets are a bargain," he said. "They'll look great on you all."
           Urged on by his silver tongue, our whole gang got stupid and we each forked over the money to buy a jacket. From then on, a bunch of blue clouds would occasionally waft across the campus – us buddies from the dorm. Later we realized that Old Chang was the only one of us who hadn't bought a jacket. We wondered to ourselves whether he'd been a shill for the shopkeeper.
            Naturally, my idea of getting a pair of leather shoes didn't escape Old Chang's notice. One day he told me mysteriously about a shoe vendor in Dream Circle Market who had just received a shipment of fashionable shoes. They were affordable and all sizes were available. If I was interested, we could get our buddies together and go have a haggle. We would surely return triumphantly.
            What he said was very tempting and I completely lost the ability to resist. Old Chang waived his hand and a bunch of us set off majestically for Dream Circle Market, intent on making a killing.
            The bargaining was nothing to write home about. We were veterans and made short work of it, as goes without saying. The key factor in deciding whether to buy was determining the quality of the leather. Old Chang shook his head and took out a lighter, pulled a bit of the material from around the eyelets, squatted down and lit it. He leaned close and sniffed for all he was worth. After his nostrils were thoroughly blackened, he stood up and said, "It's leather! Pigskin! Thick pig skin!"
            Naturally he couldn't be wrong, so I fished out the money and was about to hand it to the vendor when Old Chang waved his hand. "Not so fast!" He took the money and counted it carefully. Then he handed it to one of our buddies to count. In this way, under the watchful eye of the owner, the other seven of us also counted it and confirmed that there wasn't a nickel too much. Only then did he hand it solemnly to the vendor.
            The vendor took the money and stuffed it into his pants pocket without a second look. Old Chang hurried to remind him, "Count your money, boss!" The vendor shot him a glance and said, "I've counted it eight times!"
            I was excited for a long time after I got back to the dorm with the shoes, and events proved that the shoes really were all right. They were a bit bulky, but otherwise I had no problem with the quality. I wore them until I got out of school and got a job, and they kept their luster and shine all along.
            That's why I'm so sentimental about pigs, and it's largely because of Old Chang, so naturally I have feelings for him as well. After graduation, though, we all went our separate ways. We got jobs, got married, had children, and were so awfully busy that we didn't have much contact with one another. I only heard what Old Chang was doing at our annual roommates' reunions.
            He'd gotten a teaching job at a middle school in Long Ford County after graduation. I didn't really know if he was doing well, I just knew he'd paid for a girl to go to school, all the way until she graduated from college, and she'd repaid his kindness by becoming his wife after graduation. His strange appearance had turned out not to limit him after all.
            After winning the fair maiden, he saved up his salary and his favors until he didn't have to work at teaching jobs any more, and then took the plunge into business. First he ran around the whole country visiting people. In school, he'd told us mysteriously that he was in touch with some high mucky-ups who preferred to remain out of the public eye, and how could he rush into business without some solid contacts?
            When Old Chang spoke, his long face would get even longer. We'd fall silent when we heard him, even if we couldn't tell whether what he was saying was true or not. He'd made his mark in the world by telling the undoubtable truth, which made him a good salesman. He bought a lot of real estate in New Town City. And not long ago he called me on the phone to ask about the real estate market in Huixian. He was getting ready to stick a toe in the water.
            I heard that a lot of officials have been investigated recently for collusion with business people to seek illicit payoffs. I don't know whether Old Chang is involved. It makes me worry about him.
            Despite the worry, my feelings for Old Chang and that pair of pigskin shoes are still clicking, even though many years have passed.
*[See
here for Fannyi’s own experience with “education by cop”.]

2015年中国幽默作品精选,关河悦选编,第184页
The Best of Chinese Humorous Writings, 2015, Guan Heyue, Anthologist, p. 184
Translated from version at
http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_81d1c9810102vbk6.html
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3. Our Chowhound Roomie's Story (吃货舍友养成记)

Xing Dongdong (邢东东)

            In this era when people will do anything to be attractive, all the buddies in the dorm particularly admire Old Two. After two years in college learning who knows what-all, he'd eaten his way from being a Korean-style “boy idol” to being a Japanese-style "Sumo wrestler". This made a sincere fan out of Number One, who didn’t get fat no matter what he ate. He stuck himself to Old Two’s ass all day long to find out his weight-gain methods.
            Eventually one day Old Two blurted out his "secret formula": "First, you’ve got to be a thoroughgoing chowhound."
            Number One smirked when he heard that. He shot back, "Gimme a break! Everyone already knows you’re the definition of a big eater."
            Number One’s characterization certainly wasn’t letting anything out of the bag. Old Two’s capacity was obvious to any of the dorm buddies who cared to look. Once all us guys went to a buffet. While we were eating Number One nodded his head and whispered, "Have you noticed? Those two babes at the next the table have been looking at me ever since we got here. Am I going to get lucky?”
            Sure enough, there were two women at the table and, while one of them wasn’t exactly eye candy, they did keep looking in Number One’s direction. I went along with him. "Doesn’t matter what she looks like. Good or bad she’s still a woman!" Number One rolled his eyes at me.
            We didn’t expect what happened. Pretty soon, the two women finished eating and got up to leave. We heard one of them say, when they got to the door, "Can you guess how much that fat guy at the next table ate? Four plates of meat, two plates of vegetables, one of watermelon, two pieces of cake, and he’s still eating...."
            So it was Old Two they’d been looking at. Talk about getting blindsided!
           There are guys in our dorm from Lychee Fruit Township, White Pear Township and Roast Donkey Township, so every year when school starts, we say we have an endless supply of good eats. That first year we weren’t particularly familiar with one another, so we were shy about eating each other’s food. Later we realized everything we were politely declining was going right into Old Two's mouth, so the dorm had a good "Kong Rong" who could make everything completely disappear.
            Once when we came back to school at the beginning of the year, a timid brother who was living in our dorm temporarily saw the spectacle of us diving into the food. He ran out of the room clutching his chest and told everyone, "Oh, mother, these cavemen are just too scary."
            But, while we could all pig out, we knew that Old Two could really eat and we'd sometimes leave him an extra helping. One time I grabbed myself two pieces of roast donkey, but I can't eat that much, so I held one out for Old Two. I fully expected him to say thank you and couldn't believe it when what he actually said was, "My good brother, if you give me both pieces, tomorrow I'll introduce you to a girl. How about it?"
            Everyone laughed and Number One said, "Hey, Bro', you trying to cheat the little child? He gives you a piece of his roast and you have the gall to ask for it all! Act human and be a little more generous, huh?" While he was speaking, Number One grabbed the piece of donkey I'd given to Old Two.
            Old Two wasn't embarrassed at all. "Bro', I'm sorry," he said, "but you’re better off giving that piece to me! You didn't see, but I’ve already taken a bite out of it!" Whether he'd seen it or not, it would've been oh so tough for Number One to snatch the food right out of Old Two's mouth!
            We had more wolves than meat in our mechanical engineering department. It was hard even for the cool and handsome ones to find a girlfriend. Old Two actually grabbed the first one. Wouldn’t you say that's strange? Perhaps it's an example of the old saying, "Stupid people have stupid luck."
            Everyone later agreed that the reason for his success was that both of them were fat. So maybe the appropriate saying would be, "Birds of a feather flock together."
            I truly believe that Old Two was so happy the day he got himself a girlfriend that he might have forgotten home and family. I never figured that he'd just sigh and go looking for something to eat when he got back from his date. I made fun of him: "You went and gave your good eats to your girlfriend. What a 'good Chinese boyfriend' you are!"
            He was wolfing down some instant noodles and said, "I can't help it if I have a 'good Chinese chowhound' for a girlfriend, huh!"
            "Your girlfriend can eat more than you?" I asked.
            "How can I put it? Anyway, the password at the restaurant next door, the English word 'WIFE', she can reel it off like it was one of her family's assets."
            "Seems like you two are really 'good Chinese partners'! You can't starve yourself and ruin your health just because you're going with someone, though. It'd be okay to have her eat noodles but leave the soup for yourself!"
            "I don't want to talk about it. The problem is whether she can ever leave anything on her plate?" Old Two sounded like he was getting used to saying that.
            It seems like the day when Old Two's skinny-as-a-ghost body will reappear is just around the corner!

2015年中国幽默作品精选,关河悦选编,第153页
The Best of Chinese Humorous Writings, 2015, Guan Heyue, Anthologist, p. 153
Translated from here, also available at
https://www.yamibuy.com/en/goods.php?id=80509
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4. Our Section's Humorous Teachers (咱班都是幽默大师)

Di Qiu (荻秋)

            I don't know if the school did it intentionally, but all of the teachers for our section* put a little humor into their lessons. It might be the yuk-it-up type, or subtle jokes, or dry wit or crass humor – sometimes you'd have to wonder whether to take it seriously or not, and you'd almost forget you were in a classroom.
            One way a teacher's sense of humor can show itself is by satirizing students who don't know an answer. Our physics teacher said, "You don't understand pendulums? That tree out there, go hang yourself from it and you'll get it."
            Our language teacher said, "You guys are the fast section? Going fast to the next world."
            Our geography teacher said very seriously, "Such a simple point and you still don't get it? West River doesn't have a lid on it, so why not go there for a swim?" To be honest, I've lived a long time and really have never heard of a river with a lid.
            Our math teacher certainly wouldn't speak so coarsely, but his satire was still unique. I remember when school had just started. The strange thing was, when we did an assignment wrong, he wouldn't write anything on the workbook covers. He'd just draw two weird designs on them. One was a circle with a line in the middle; the other looked like the Arabic numeral "3", but much thicker.
            One of our classmates couldn't suppress his curiosity and got up the courage to ask about it. The teacher cleared his throat and said, "I wrote this problem on the blackboard. I drew an eye to say that you come to class but don't look. I talked about this other one quite clearly. I drew an ear to say that you come to class but don't listen." So the drawings were eyes and ears – but, dear teacher, did you learn to draw like that from the PT coach? Why draw them so abstract?
            But it was the [lectures in the] classroom that were really brilliant. The humor gushed forth in torrents as incessant as the Yangtze River.... On the first day of class our history teacher's lecture was filled with an elaborate string of references. Really extravagant hype sprayed from his mouth with the spittle.
            Someone who was interested kept careful count: he quoted forty-five famous people with lines like "In all of time, no one has ever been immortal," and "Be born in misery, but die in peace and happiness". Every time he opened his mouth a quotation came out. After that it seemed like a parenthetical phrase could have been added to the weather forecast whenever it predicted the humidity for our region: "Except in the history teacher's classroom [where it's always dry]."
            But as serious as this teacher was, his wrap-up on the final day of class was: "What good does it do to study history? It's most important function is to tell us who is dead." When the whole classroom erupted with laughter, he went on to say: "Don't think what I just said was a slip of the tongue. You see, when you've studied history, will know:
Qu Yuan jumped in a river and died; Napoleon was sullen from being shut up in exile and died; and Zuo Quan went into combat and died. Through these people's deaths we can learn that what we call people's deaths, while some are as light as a feather and others as heavy as a mountain [they're dead just the same]. Of course, some of our contemporaries aren't dead, but so what, you shouldn't worry, because very soon...."
            I spoke earlier of the physics teacher with the pendulum exercise. When it comes to matters that are easier to understand, he turned the world upside-down. In one class, when we were reviewing circular motion, he was talking about centrifugal and centripetal movement and gave this example: "Take two people who are married. The wife asks the husband to give her ¥2,000 yuan per month, but her husband only gives ¥1,500. She's unhappy, of course, and her heart moves farther and farther away from her husband, right? This is called centrifugal movement. When the man gives exactly ¥2,000, the distance between their two hearts remains unchanged. That's circular motion. When the man gives ¥4,000 yuan, his wife's heart will grow closer to him, and that's centripetal movement. Has everybody got it?"
            How could we not get it? But in the end we were more interested knowing whether the teacher's wife's heart was moving centrifugally or centripetally.
            Finally, I can't fail to mention our lead teacher, the one in charge of our section – our politics teacher. One time near semester's end, he saw we were all looking nervous and decided to joke around with us. "Coinciding with the annual celebration of final exams, my humble shop is offering a special promotion. So, my honored guests, you need not be too alarmed."
            We roared in approval, and someone shouted: "Mr. Shopkeeper, exactly what is your special promotion?"            He smiled mysteriously. "If you score eighty-eight (out of 150) points on the test," he said, "I'll give you two points, enough for you to pass."
            The crowd "awed" in disappointment and shouted in unison, "Ruthless shopkeeper!"
            The teacher told everyone to quiet down and said, "If you think that's not special enough, I'll do this. If you fail all six subjects, I'll give you a pass in one of them. Is that OK?" That had us all rolling in the aisle.
            If you say our lead teacher didn't love us, you'd be wronging him. I remember when we were sitting for the college entrance exam, he said something very mysterious about bringing a few
zongzi [rice dumplings] back. Then he went somewhere and avoided us, and we didn't know what he was doing.
            Later someone found a dumpling above the door of our section's room that was still warm to the touch, and, very impolitely, ate it right up. Our lead teacher searched all over and questioned people about it. Eventually someone said they had eaten it. Our lead teacher trembled with anger. "That was for good luck, and you went and ate it. You owe me a dumpling."
            The thing is, the name of this kind of dumpling in our local dialect, "high zong" sounds like "high school". The implication of putting one above our door was that everyone would score well and that our school would come out on top. You can't blame our lead teacher for being unhappy when it got eaten.
            So our politics teacher, who had consistently promoted materialism in class, put faith in the dumpling superstition. From that fact you can see how much he loved us. Of course, this has also become a humorous anecdote that still circulates widely among graduates of our school.
*[In a typical Chinese high school or college, students are assigned upon admission to a "ban" (班, group) based in part 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. The term "ban" is often translated into English as "class", which can lead to confusion because one grade level may have several ban, so we've rendered it here as "section". – Fannyi]

2013中国年度幽默作品,《喜剧世界》杂志社选片,丁斯主编
2013 Annual Humorous Writings of China, from Comedy World Magazine, Ding Si, Ed., p. 176
Translated from here, also available at
http://www.85nian.net/lehuo/66916.html
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5. Why Come South for School? (为什么来南方读大学)

Eastern Brother (东哥)

            I am purely a child of north China, but when I received the notice of admission from a college in the south, I went crazy. In the words of actress Song Dandan, "Thank you MTV, thank you China Central TV, and in the future maybe even thank you comedian Xiao Lin TV". Or as [poet] Yang Xiaoyun would say, "College, here I come!"
            When I reported in at the school, I was assigned to dorm room 507. My three roommates all arrived within one short day. After briefly introducing ourselves and sorting out our relative ages, we discovered that, against all odds, we were all from the same town. When four northerners, who are from the same town but didn't know each other, come to this university in the south, you can't say it's not a happy coincidence. So the subject of our conversation as we lay in bed after lights out was: Why did you come south to go to college?
            The oldest of us said: "Going to college here isn't my primary objective. I'm a backpacker, and I came south mostly to travel and learn firsthand about the lives and customs of the people. If you come down here from the north on a tour just once, the travel expenses alone will cost you hundreds of Yuan, and you can only go to a few scenic spots. But if you come down here to go to college, just think of all the travel expenses you can save in four years! I've traveled around to most of the tourist spots in our part of the country at least once. I can make use of these four years to travel around the south, too. I'll be a second
Xu Xiake, the famous geographer and writer who traveled all over China in the early seventeenth century. Besides that, my parents have given me a very important job. They want me to find a southern belle and bring her back up north as my wife, so we can have a northern-southern mixed-blood child to improve our family's blood lines!"
            The rest of us sighed with emotion as we listened to this incredible account of financial calculations and family goals. What absurd reasons! While others feel a sense of loss when they graduate from college and move on with their lives, when the time comes you'll be singing "Home Again" as you go off to do honor to your ancestors.
            The second oldest, a fellow with thick glasses, spoke next: "The reason I came south for university is very simple. It's because I want to get a job down here. A lot of companies these days like to hire locally when they're looking for talent. Industry in the south is technologically advanced, the economy is developed and salaries are high all over the region. Just imagine how much you can buy with a salary of ten thousand Yuan a month! It'll be great! Just like on TV, you swipe your card whenever you want, 'cause you're the man with the cash! What a great feeling. And it's this idea that's kept me going up till now, too."
            The rest of us didn't imagine the happy feeling of swiping a credit card when we heard this crass reasoning. Instead we got an image of a nouveau riche bug. At least his remarks confirmed his position in our room – an apt second. At that moment the oldest reminded him, "You must be planning on getting a southern girl to marry you, too, right?"
            Number Two said: "That's a matter of fate and not something you can seek out. I've just met you three northern gentlemen, and who's to say that I might not meet a pretty northern girl later on?" This remark threw cold water on the older fellow and his dreams.
            Next it was my turn. I said: "I was in a rush to get far away from home. I had to repeat a grade in school, and what's more, I had to take the gaokao college entrance exam three times, once a year for three years. Who says a letter of admission is like a gift from heaven for students who take the gaokao. It's a downright lifesaver for repeat takers. Can you understand, my friends, a life spent stewing for three years like you were in purgatory? Three years!"
            I repeated the words "three years" with emphasis. The three of them, none of whom had experienced having to retake the test, could imagine what it was like. They clicked their tongues in sympathy.
            "The last time I came out of the test hall," I continued, "I was talking to myself. 'Failing once is OK, and failing twice is OK, too, but please don't let me fail again.' I couldn't help repeating that, and who would've guessed, I did in fact pass the third time. I was a phoenix who'd finally reached Nirvana.
            "And you know what else? Time is a medicine that can only treat physical wounds. The only good medicine to completely cure emotional pain is distance. If I'd gone to a college closer to home, I could go visit the folks every few days and they'd constantly be reminded of my painful history! That'd be the pits, but I've been able to avoid it! I didn't research the schools, and I didn't even consider the courses of study. I relied on the knowledge of geography that I learned in junior high school, and in one stroke I filled out the forms for the school we're at now. "
            My dorm mates applauded me when I finished this righteously indignant tirade. There was some envy of my bravery, like Number Two; and some respect for my character, like the oldest. But it was Number Four who made us feel the most resentful.
            He told us, unwillingly: "You guys are all at peace with your decisions. Regardless of whether you're looking for a new life or escaping from an impossible situation, at least registering at this college was something you yourselves wanted to do. In the springtime of your lives, you get to be the masters of your own fate."
            We all assumed he meant that the decision to attend college was one his parents had made for him. We couldn't have guessed that he'd deny it right then and there: "You're wrong. It was my big sister who arranged the whole thing."
            "The fact is, my parents let me make the decision myself. I didn't expect my sister to insist that I register with schools in the
Jiangsu-Zhejiang area. She said that on the online retailer, Taobao, deliveries in this area are free a lot of the time. She's going to have me take delivery of things for her and bring them to her when I go home on vacations. She says she'll save lots of money on postal fees over the four years…."

2013中国年度幽默作品,《喜剧世界》杂志社选片,丁斯主编
2013 Annual Humorous Writings of China, from Comedy World Magazine, Ding Si, Ed., p. 182
Translated from
here, also available at http://www.xzbu.com/5/view-5744411.htm.





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