​​         Chinese Stories in English   

New Legends: Things About Used Cars
Cao Jingjian

"While the layman just watches the show, the connoisseur studies the artistry." And buying a satisfactory second-hand car involves a lot of artistry....

      Branch Liu had recently quit his job and gone into business for himself. He needed a car for the business and was going to buy a used one.
      One day his father-in-law handed him a business card and said, "Buying a second-hand car is a task that requires some technique. People who don’t understand that are already beaten. I’ve found a knowledgeable person to help you out." Branch took the card and read it. On it was written, "Myriad East Car Repair Department, Two-Tiger Feng".
      Branch immediately dialed the number on the card. This guy Two-Tiger accepted the challenge on the spot and explained that he would be free the next day, so the two agreed to meet then at noon at the South Ring Road used car market.
      Right on time, Branch met Two-Tiger the next day. He was a swarthy fellow with small eyes and a solid physique, his entire body a picture of strength and agility. Before long the two were getting along quite famously.
      When Branch stated the price range he was thinking about, Two-Tiger immediately and readily said, "No problem!" Branch also wanted to clarify what he was looking for a little more, but Two-Tiger patted his shoulder and, pointing to a tool kit he was carrying with him, said: "Rest easy, Bro’, leave it to me."
      Just then Branch noticed that Two-Tiger was missing a section of the little finger on his right hand. “Say, Bro’, what’s with your hand?”
      At first Two-Tiger stared blankly, but then he shook his head and smiled. "It’s nothing,” he said. “There’s some danger in the car repair business. I hurt it by being careless during a previous stint fixing cars. But don’t underestimate me because my hand is disfigured. If you don’t believe me, go ask around and see exactly what kind of reputation I have among car repairmen in our city." Branch listened and didn’t say a word, but he was starting to have misgivings, “Is this guy reliable?”
      Two-Tiger didn’t seem to feel Branch’s hesitation and cheerfully urged him to get on with picking a car. The two circled around the market until Branch was cross-eyed from looking.
      Fortunately Branch had Two-Tiger with him. On the basis of cost-effectiveness, Two-Tiger ultimately helped him choose two used cars that had been manufactured by joint ventures between Chinese and foreign companies. These two cars were similar in both external appearance and interior appointments, and looking at the mileage, they both had been driven more than fifty thousand kilometers. The prices were about the same, too.
      Branch began to go through all the details again: Which was the best buy? Then Two-Tiger laughed and said: "Watch me!" He walked around one of the cars, opened the hood and gave it the once-over. Then he pulled Branch to one side and whispered, "This car is too old. You shouldn’t buy it.”
      Skeptical, Branch said, "You’re wrong. I looked at the odometer and it showed only a little over fifty thousand kilometers, and the tires are quite new. How can you say it 's too old?”
      Two-Tiger smirked. "You don’t understand how things are done in this business. Everything in a second-hand car can be faked. Take this one, for example. First they changed the tires, then they turned the mileage back a hundred thousand kilometers or so. These two things only add up to two or three thousand Yuan. But just now I figured from the wear and tear on the other parts that this vehicle has been driven at least 150,000 kilometers.”
      Branch’s eyes opened wide in surprise, and Two-Tiger laughed. "And there’s more bull than that! Look,” he whispered, pointing to one corner of the car, "this car is actually a combination of scrap parts that were fixed up and pieced together!"
      When he finished speaking, they’d already made their way back to the other car. By then Branch had started to admire Two-Tiger.
      It wasn’t long before Two-Tiger was really on a roll. He started the car, opened the hood, and fixed his little eyes on the engine. Suddenly he smiled and said to the seller, "Your car’s tail pipe has some problems. Take a good look at it." The seller listened to him and, at the same time he was saying that wasn’t possible, he was turning around to investigate.
      Faster than you could say it, Two-Tiger brought a stethoscope out from his bag. He put the earphones in, wrapped a towel around the other end and pressed it onto the engine, and started listening.
      The seller came around from behind the car after a moment. He pushed Two-Tiger away and yelled, “What are you listening for? I won’t sell to you. Humph, playing games trying to distract me!”
      Two-Tiger laughed. "Don’t be angry, Bro’. If you won’t sell then I won’t buy, is all. This car’s engine has some problems, though. You’re not hoping I’ll shout them out loud here, are you?"
      The seller’s expression immediately turned into a smile. He handed Two-Tiger a cigarette as he said, "It seems I’ve met someone knowledgeable today. Please don’t shout out your findings."
      Two-Tiger shook his head and left with Branch. Right away Branch asked, "I say, Brother Feng, you’re not a doctor seeing patients in a hospital. So why do you carry a stethoscope?”
      Two-Tiger answered, keeping his voice low. “A car’s engine has certain sounds that you can’t hear with just your ears, so I have to rely on this stethoscope. As a matter of fact, when I used it to listen to that car’s engine just now, the valves sounded really funny.”
      Branch kept nodding his head as he listened. "This car’s no good, and that car’s no good,” he said, sounding discouraged. “So where am I going to go to buy a car, huh?”
      "Heh, heh, don’t you worry,” Two-Tiger replied. “A good car is the kind you happen upon when you least expect it, when the fates dictate it." Just as he finished saying that, he suddenly burst out, “Hey, Little Li, what’re you doing here?” He was shouting and waving at a young man standing by a corner.
      The young man called Little Li also noticed Two-Tiger. He came over and, pointing behind him, said, "Yeah, I’m here to sell a car." Branch saw that he was pointing at a car behind him, the exact same model as the one with engine problems they had just looked at.
      He went over and looked at it with interest. He couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed as he looked, though. Although it looked acceptable at first glance, on closer look the odometer showed the car had been driven 150,000 kilometers.
      When he heard how much Little Li was asking, Branch shook his head. He thought to himself, “How does he have the nerve to ask so much for a car with such high mileage?”
      Who could’ve guessed that, without even talking to Branch about it, Two-Tiger would start negotiating the price as soon as he heard what Little Li was asking. "Little Li, you know we’re friends, so how about knocking five thousand off the price?"
       Little Li looked reluctant. He said: "You guys wait a second.” He took out a phone and walked off to make a call.
      He came back a moment later leading a middle-aged man. After he was apprised of the situation, the man nodded his head and said: "OK, we have a deal at that price. Go with them and do the paperwork, Little Li. I have something to do. Just remember to bring the money back with you." Then he left.
      Branch had wanted to say something, but Two-Tiger had pulled on his shirt surreptitiously and whispered, "Don’t say a word! This car is an absolute bargain. Take my advice and you won’t go wrong. Pay the money right away, before the guy can back out of the deal!" Then he led Little Li to the business office to do the paperwork.
      And that’s what happened. In a fog, Branch followed Two-Tiger into the business office.
      But after paying the money, the more Branch thought about it the more he felt something wasn’t right. He became even more uncertain when he saw Two-Tiger and Little Li laughing and talking cheerfully. Immediately on alert, he suddenly remembered that he had a cousin with a carwash business in another town. When Two-Tiger and Little Li went to the toilet, he took the opportunity to give his cousin a call.
      As soon as his cousin heard what had happened, he immediately started cursing into the phone. "My stupid little cuz, man, how could you be so dumb? I’m certain that guy Two-Tiger Feng set it all up in advance and manipulated you like a puppet. He ended up giving you the most broken-down wreck. How did you get so screwed up? A car with 150,000 kilometers on it is about ready to fall apart!”
      Listening to his cousin, Branch began to think more and more that he must have a screw loose. Just as he was putting his phone away, he noticed Two-Tiger and Little li coming back. Little Li was speaking softly as they walked, "Let me buy the drinks this evening!”
      Branch waited for Little Li to go, then his face turned dark. "Brother Feng,” he said, “this car’s got over a hundred thousand clicks on it and it’s about ready for the scrap heap. I got taken paying so much money.”
      At first Two-Tiger was stunned but then he laughed. "Just now we were shopping and were in a rush, so I didn’t give you much of an explanation. There’s some things you don’t understand. I’ve known Little Li for ages. This car actually has only fifty thousand kilometers on it. A few months ago he came to my shop and had me add a hundred thousand kilometers on the odometer, ha, ha.”
      Branch couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Are there people stupid enough to make the number of kilometers higher?”
      Two-Tiger quickly made a gesture for him to be quiet. “Yeah, of course there are,” he whispered. "You don’t know it, but this guy Little Li was the driver for the former Director of the Water Authority. The other guy you met just now is their Office Manager. Rumor has it that the new Director didn’t like the old Director’s ride, so he gave them the authority to bring it here to the market and dispose of it.”
      "Oh," Branch nodded, but he was still puzzled. "Well, what was the reason for his scheme to add mileage on the odometer?"
      Two-Tiger stared at him. “What was their scheme? Their scheme was to cheat on their office’s gasoline subsidies!” At this point Two-Tiger sighed. “From this business, their Director’s cheating on the gas subsidies, I knew that he wasn’t a good egg. Sure enough, he was caught out a little while ago and was dismissed!"
      "So that’s what happened. Two-Tiger, you really understand a lot of things!" Branch gave Two-Tiger a thumbs-up as he said that. He’d recovered his good spirits.
      Two-Tiger just nodded his head. He raised his hand and said: "Bro’, I’ll tell you the truth. My finger didn’t get cut off by accident while I was repairing a car. Truth is, a while ago someone asked me turn back an odometer. Then he sold the car to a big boss, and one of the boss's family happened to get in an accident. The boss was a bad dude. He checked around and found out what I’d done, then hired someone to trick me and beat the crap out of me. He also cut my little finger. Since then, I’ve sworn off those kinds of deals. In car repairs, honesty is the best policy...."


To get Chinese text by return email, send name of story to jimmahler1@yahoo.com