A chance encounter with him. Will anything come out of it?
Chapter 1.2 – The Unfathomable Past (2)
Hong Xiaoyu also sighed, “Truly, such a coincidence,” and cast a rather meaningful glance at Shi Yi.
In terms of appearance, Shi Yi was most certainly amongst the finest. Her facial features and outline seemed as if they had been painstakingly drawn with a pen. Her beauty was not the least bit intimidating, but it was different from the man’s ordinariness. In particular, when she looked at you, her eyes were very bright. After you had truly been out in society and had viewed countless beauties, you would realize that a true beauty’s eyes will always be bright and not clouded over.
The most important point was, Shi Yi was very conservative. She would never wear anything that would reveal her shoulders.
A very traditional, yet beautiful girl was simply a rare treasure.
Hong Xiaoyu turned her gaze back to this man.
Ah, just let it be. As long as her good friend liked him, a man’s face was not that important.
“Such a coincidence indeed.” As the man spoke, he picked up a pair of disposable chopsticks, pulled them apart, and began rubbing one chopstick against the other to remove any wood slivers that might be protruding. “You are here in Xi’an on vacation?”
“Xiaoyu is here to do an interview,” she replied. “We are planning on taking advantage of this business trip to have fun here for a few days as well.”
Their videographer who had been eating away with his head lowered the whole time smacked his lips, put down his chopsticks, and very amiably handed him his business card.
The man took the card, then felt around with one hand in his pant pocket, but after searching for a while, he still was not able to find anything to give in return. “My apologies. I am not used to carrying such things on me all the time.” He gave a brief introduction of himself. “Zhousheng Chen. Associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, College of Chemistry. Currently, I am at the Xi’an branch of the Institute of Organic Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences in the polymer research laboratory doing a knowledge exchange project.”
The string of what seemed to be specialized and complex nouns caused the videographer to have a whole new level of respect for this man.
“Shengchen [birthday]? Nice name,” he commented with a chuckle. “Call me Xiao Shuai [Little Handsome]. I’m Hong Xiaoyu’s co-worker.”
Zhousheng Chen smiled politely, “It is actually the two-character surname of Zhousheng and single character name of Chen.”
Xiao Shuai replied, “Oh, oh. Mr. Zhousheng.”
Shi Yi could not help laughing. This surname was truly uncommon, and it was not surprising that someone would find it peculiar.
Xiao Shuai seemed to feel that it was extremely improper of him to have gotten someone’s surname wrong, so in a very serious tone, he tried to find himself a way out of this awkward situation. He commented to Zhousheng Chen, “In my opinion, that sentence Shi Yi just said is really quite good.”
Hong Xiaoyu did not wait for Zhousheng Chen to answer and instead, jumped in to mock him. “Do you know what it means?”
Xiao Shuai had no way to back out now, so he could only continue to argue, “Of course I know, but it is definitely a concept that you can only grasp mentally and is hard to explain.”
“Don’t try to grasp it mentally. I’ll tell you where this sentence came from.” Xiaoyu asked him amusedly, “Have you heard of Lasting Words to Awaken the World?”
Xiao Shuai gave her a blank look.
“You know what the Three ‘Yan’ and Two ‘Pai’ are?”
Xiao Shuai thought it sounded familiar.
“High school history books should mention them. Books from late Ming dynasty containing short stories.” Xiaoyu pulled out a set of chopsticks that still had not been broken apart yet and used it to knock against his bowl. She grinned, “The meaning of this particular sentence is, people nowadays only see someone’s outward attributes –– you know, their bills of money, cars, and looks –– and cannot see inner qualities.”
Xiao Shuai gave a long “ooooooh” and even the ending sound of that vowel seemed to change in pitch. “Much admiration for you.”
“The one you should have admiration for is Shi Yi.” Hong Xiaoyu purposely gave Zhousheng Chen a glance. “All of this stuff, she forced me to read ever since we were young.”
Zhousheng Chen astonishingly understood the intention behind her words and smiled.
Xiaoyu thought his smile was one of praise and recognition. Shi Yi, though, recognized that his smile was because he had seen through Hong Xiaoyu’s little ploy. Hong Xiaoyu knew that Shi Yi was interested in him, so needless to say, she was trying to find indirect ways to praise her and allow Zhousheng Chen to take notice of her.
However, Hong Xiaoyu did not know that Zhousheng Chen truly already had a deep impression of Shi Yi.
They had met half a year ago at the Guangzhou airport. At the time, the two of them were at the entrances of separate security checkpoints in the process of being scanned by the metal detector, and they each set off the detector’s alert. While she was removing her shoes so they could be inspected for metal objects, she saw him.
Just this single glance, and she knew it was him.
The face was different, the voice was different – all of those outward attributes were completely different from that person in her memory, but she just knew that it was definitely him.
Security had finished checking him. He picked up his laptop computer and walked quickly towards the exit of the security checkpoint. All Shi Yi could remember was, at that moment, her mind was completely blank as she chased after him in her bare feet.
She did not dare miss her chance with this person and so she very naturally forgot what type of circumstance and surroundings she was in.
Therefore, the first look he had of Shi Yi was actually very comical.
Behind her were airport workers chasing after her, seeming worried she might be a gangster, but her eyes were only focused anxiously on him. “Wait for me. I need to have a word with you.” She really had not been in the mindset to think about looking to see what Zhousheng Chen’s expression had been at the time.
That was the first time she had ever felt that there was some use to her appearance. For example, the way the airport employees behaved toward her could be considered to still be courteous, treating her as if she had just run into a friend of many years and had gotten slightly carried away. As she put on her shoes, she would cast glances at him out of the corner of her eye, fearing that he would leave.
Fortunately, Zhousheng Chen really did not leave and waited for her the whole time.
That first meeting was very intrusive and abrupt.
Later, she had no explanation for her actions and could only say to Zhousheng Chen that he had a strong resemblance to a friend of hers. Regardless of whether he believed this or not, as long as he was not too averse to it, then it was fine. However, when she even more intrusively asked for his mobile phone number, he actually used the reason that he did not have a mobile phone to reject her request.
At that time, she had felt very awkward, but fortunately, he had offered up his email address.
From their first meeting until now, it had been more than half a year, and the two had not seen each other again. All their interaction had been through email. Moreover, there had been nothing special said within those emails. Zhousheng Chen was in polymer organic chemistry while she was a voice actor, two careers that would absolutely never cross paths anywhere.
As a result of this, Shi Yi developed a habit of logging into her email account everyday.
There were several times when Hong Xiaoyu had spotted her doing it, and there had been no end to her mocking. Hence, this time, when she had known she was coming to Xi’an on business and had heard that Zhousheng Chen was also here on an extended business trip, without any additional explanation needed, she had pulled Shi Yi along with her. Last night, as Shi Yi exited the airport, she was still hesitating over whether she should arrange to meet up with him, and if she did, what excuse she could use. She never expected that they would chance upon one another here.
Zhousheng Chen had very good eating habits. From the moment he picked up his chopsticks, he had not spoken again.
Hong Xiaoyu tried several times to catch Shi Yi’s eye, but she managed to avoid her gaze.
“Teacher Zhousheng.” A young man, who had come jogging in from the restaurant entrance, closed his umbrella and headed over in their direction. “Next month when I am paid my wages, I should just buy a mobile phone for you. I’ll be responsible for topping up your minutes and charging your phone, and my only request is that you keep it on twenty-four hours a day for me.” It appeared as if he had been running hurriedly the whole way as the bottoms of his jeans were drenched. “I ran around to several different places. If I hadn’t seen the research institute’s vehicle, I don’t even know how long I would have had to continue looking.”
The whole time, as he walked into the restaurant, his eyes had been fixed on Zhousheng Chen, who was eating, and had not paid any attention to Shi Yi, whose back was towards him.
When he drew near, he could not help being taken aback. The young man never would have supposed that sitting opposite of Teacher Zhousheng was such a beautiful woman. He stammered for a long time before he finally managed to recover his voice and continued saying, “So, uh…… Teacher Zhousheng, the seminar, I think we’ll probably be late. I’ve been looking for you for half an hour…… I think we’re late.”
“I understand.” Zhousheng Chen slowly and methodically ate another two bites. He put down his chopsticks. “I have matters to attend to and must leave. We will connect again if the opportunity arises.” Shi Yi watched him stand up, and then she felt someone give her a hard kick on her leg.
When she turned around to look, Hong Xiaoyu had already cleared her throat and was saying to Zhousheng Chen, “I hear the cherry blossoms have been blooming beautifully lately at Qinglong [Green Dragon] Temple. None of us are from Xi’an, and since we are all here anyways, why don’t we go together to see?”
Zhousheng Chen’s footsteps halted.
He lifted his head to glance at the intensity of the rain. “It has been raining these last couple of days in Xi’an. When the rain stops, if you still have not left, we can arrange a time.”
“Alright, let’s do that, then.” Hong Xiaoyu put her arm around Shi Yi’s shoulder and said, “When the time comes, we’ll have Shi Yi send you an email.”
He nodded in what could be considered agreement to this.
By the time Shi Yi and Hong Xiaoyu returned to the hotel, the bottoms of their pants were completely soaked.
After Shi Yi took a hot shower, she searched through the room, trying without success to find some instant coffee. In the end, she could only boil some water and, using packaged paper tea bags, steep two full mugs of chrysanthemum tea.
She handed one mug to Hong Xiaoyu, who placed it in passing on the bedside table while looking through her email inbox and pulling some tissue to wipe her runny nose. “From today’s simple lunch, I have finally discovered what could barely be classified as another good quality about Zhousheng Chen: he is manly and not indecisive. Hmm, but that’s not right either.” She lifted her head for a quick glance. Shi Yi had simply pulled her long hair into a messy bun, but even this sloppy appearance of hers was good enough to be in a magazine photo shoot. “Ever since we were young, I only needed to use you as an excuse and then I could get anyone to accept an invitation to go out. If you think of it that way, then he really isn’t that special either.”
Ignoring her teasing, Shi Yi picked up her computer and logged into her email.
When she saw that there were no new messages inside her inbox, she felt an inexplicable sense of disappointment.
She quickly closed her laptop and said, “No matter how good-looking the face is, at most, it will only be nice to look at from age sixteen to thirty-six.”
“I like looking at beautiful things, especially if they are as a pair.” Hong Xiaoyu wiped furiously at her nose. “Plus, it’s beneficial for the genes of the next generation.” Shi Yi’s lips came together in a smile. Her eyes were bright. Truly very beautiful…
They were both cold from today’s rain, so now, they huddled close together under the white quilt to provide warmth for each other.
“Shi Yi, do you really like him?”
“Not exactly.” Even she felt she lacked surety when she spoke. “I just think he seems very special.”
“What is special about him?”
She could not think of any excuse so could only answer, “His name is special.”
His name truly was the most special thing. In her memory, the him of the past had the same name.
“My name is even more special.” Hong Xiaoyu decided to just simply take off her jeans and then pulled the quilt up to cover herself again. “’Xiao yu tian xia [a good reputation that shines throughout the world].’ But how come you don’t treat me like I’m particularly special?”
“That explanation of your name is not a good one.” Shi Yi was deliberately avoiding topics related to Zhousheng Chen so she switched to teasing Hong Xiaoyu instead. “Let me think of one that is more romantic for you so that you’ll be able to marry yourself off in the future.”
Hong Xiaoyu listened delightedly. “Tell me quick, tell me quick.”
“Let me think.” Shi Yi carefully pondered before finally speaking again. “Although it’s a little forced, I’m sure you’re going to like it. Have you ever heard this line from Nalan Xingde’s poem?” She leaned close to Hong Xiaoyu and recited, “Willingly I partake of the Yu Hong grass, drunken for ages and no longer to awaken.’”
“No.” Hong Xiaoyu shook her head. “What is the literary reference about?”
“Legend has it that there is a Yu Hong [Jade Red] Grass that grows only in the Kunlun mountains. If someone accidentally consumes any while gathering it, that person will be in a drunken state and will not awaken for three hundred years.” She deliberately changed her voice to one she used when voice acting and softly spoke her name. “Hong Xiaoyu. Hong Yu. Yu Hong. Do you think your name’s meaning is actually ‘Yu Hong Grass’?”
Hong Xiaoyu burst out in amused laughter. “Why are you suddenly thinking and saying such weird things? Wait, no, since you were young, you’ve always thought and said weird things. It is a bit of a forced explanation, but it is very artsy. I like it. From now on, I’ll use this explanation.”
Suddenly, several loud thunderclaps boomed outside the window.
Having received her little benefit, Hong Xiaoyu quickly went back to her old ways. With a grin, she poked fun at Shi Yi. “It seems this rain is going to keep coming down for several days. I don’t even know if we will have a chance to get to see the cherry blossoms at Qinglong Temple.”
“If we can’t see them, then we won’t.” Shi Yi wrinkled her nose and exhaled a long breath. “It’s not as if we will never come back.”
Early the next morning, she was awoken by her mobile phone.
She picked it up. It was a call from the recording studio. Her mind was still groggy when she heard the other end chattering away incessantly about her work line-up. “You are so popular. Do you know how many people are specifying that they want you to do the dubbing? Just from these four days of vacation time in Xi’an alone, do you know how much money you’ve given up that you could have earned?”
She rolled over. Hong Xiaoyu was still fast asleep and was not showing any signs of rousing.
Concerned that she would wake up Xiaoyu, she whispered that she would send over her voice recording plans and then hung up the phone. Quietly picking up her laptop, she placed it on her knee and opened it up. Four emails quickly appeared in her inbox. Her eyes swept over the subjects and landed on one email without any subject line. The sender was Zhousheng Chen.
At 04:36, when I stepped out of the lab, there was no rain. If it is still not raining at 11:30, I will see you at 12:00 at Qinglong Temple.
 The videographer misunderstood the name 周生辰 to be surname 周 Zhou with given name 生辰Shengchen. If you think of it that way, the two characters 生辰 “sheng chen” put together mean “the time of one’s birth” or “birthday”. However, his surname is actually Zhousheng 周生 and his given name is 辰 Chen.
 骑虎难下 “qi hu nan xia.” Idiom: once you ride a tiger, it will be hard to get off. The idiom is trying to say, there are some difficult situations where once you have gotten yourself into them, you will have to stick with them as you cannot back out of them halfway through.
 《醒世恒言》Xing Shi Heng Yan. A book written in the late Ming dynasty by Feng Menglong that is a collection of 40 stories.
 三言二拍 “San Yan Er Pai” or “Three ‘Yan’ and Two ‘Pai’.” The three “Yan” refer to the three books written by Feng Menglong: 喻世明言 Yu Shi Ming Yan, 警世通言 Jing Shi Tong Yan, and 醒世恆言 Xing Shi Heng Yan (which is the one Xiaoyu and Shi Yi are referring to). The two “Pai” refer to two books written by Ling Mengchu: 初刻拍案惊奇 Chu Ke Pai An Jing Qi and 二刻拍案惊奇 Er Ke Pai An Qing Qi, which are known together as Slapping the Table In Amazement I and II. These five books are all from the late Ming dynasty and are collections of stories.
 青龙寺. Qinglong or Green Dragon Temple is a temple that was famous during the Tang dynasty. During this period when Japanese monks were sent to China to study Buddhism, six went to Qinglong Temple. Besides its history, one of its tourist attractions is its cherry blossoms that bloom between approximately March to May.
 晓誉天下. “A good reputation that shines throughout the world.” The first two characters in this saying are the same as the characters in宏晓誉Hong Xiaoyu’s given name.
 纳兰性德. Nalan Xingde was a Manchurian nobleman and official in the Qing dynasty, well-known for his excellence in the literary arts. Some of you Wallace Chung fans may know this historical figure through Wallace’s portrayal of him in the drama, Secret History of Kangxi (Kangxi Mishi).
Wallace Chung as Nalan Xingde. Pic included here for Peanuts and all the other WC fans.
I like how this chapter reveals information about our leads, from Shi Yi’s traditional personality and love of ancient literature to Zhousheng Chen’s precise nature revealed in that email, which notated the time down to the minute.
1 of 1 Prologue
2 of 56 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogues