Hope you all have a wonderful Easter. 🙂
So, tell me, did you expect this hobby from Zhousheng Chen?
Chapter 2.3 – This Life’s Previous Incarnation (3)
If it were Hong Xiaoyu in her place, she would merely feel that this thing called “Wu songs”, just from hearing the name alone, must certainly be something very elegant and cultured.
However, she knew better. For example, Wu songs mainly were sexually suggestive, amorous poems or songs in elegant language and were for private enjoyment in the bedchambers. So, even though they had appeared approximately the same time as the Classic of Poetry, they…… Anyways, in short, they absolutely would never appear in any school textbook.
She coughed lightly and changed the subject. “Those experiments that you do, are they hard work and exhausting?”
“Not bad,” he told her. “It depends on the situation. Where I am, there are very few girls who work there.”
“Why is that?”
“It is hard work.”
If she probed any further, it would become another conversation between a layman and an expert, and she very smartly did not continue asking along this topic.
When they actually started eating the midnight meal, there was not much verbal communication between the two of them, but it did not feel awkward, either.
“To remain silent during dining, to be wordless during slumber.” This was her practice since she was young.
Hearing it said this way made it seem as if she was very well-mannered and cultured, but in the eyes of her many relatives, this was very eccentric. For example, during the New Year or other festivities, the adults would arrange to have the teenage children all sit together at a round table off to the side, but amid the loud laughter, only she would wordlessly finish her meal and drink her soup. Then, she would set her bowl and chopsticks back down in their proper place and quietly sit there, waiting for everyone to finish their dinner before she left the table.
In the beginning, people would praise her for behaving sensibly and maturely, but gradually, she became referred to as the “weirdo” by her cousins, and in secret, she had been judged to be a very arrogant little girl.
Back then, she still had not learned to be smooth and discreet.
Later, as she gradually grew older, she constantly needed to adapt to society. For example, in the school cafeteria, she needed to fit in with the all the other girls and chat while eating, or after she started working, during the occasional social dinners, she had to carry out conversation with people.
After so many years, this was the first time she encountered someone with the same habit as her.
And the happiest part about this was, that person was Zhousheng Chen.
During the entire course of the meal, his only additional action was to pick up the wooden chopsticks in the box of cakes and pastries and personally select a piece of drunken crabmeat paste for her before changing back to his own personal chopsticks and continuing to eat. Shi Yi smiled at him, suddenly feeling that this scene was very familiar. Many of those memories were fragmented and scattered already, but his every movement gave her a feeling that she had experienced this before.
Zhousheng Chen drove her back to her community compound but did not ask the chauffeur to drive in. Instead, he got out of the car and walked with her to downstairs of her apartment building and told her, “The next three months, I will be commuting back and forth between Zhenjiang and Shanghai.”
“Yes, Zhenjiang. Is that odd to you?”
“Well, no. My father’s ancestral hometown is Zhenjiang.” She gave a little laugh. “Even though I don’t go back there often, hearing its name still feels a little close to my heart.”
He also chuckled. “What a coincidence.”
“Yes, such a coincidence.” She thought about it and still decided to ask out of curiosity, “Are you still not used to using a personal mobile phone?”
“Not particularly used to it, no.” He laughed. “I can be reached any time at the number in your mobile phone.”
And then, they both were quiet.
The security guard on night shift was sitting in the main lobby of the building. He knew Shi Yi. Such a beautiful girl. But this was the first time he had ever seen her with a man and could not contain the interested gaze he cast over at them.
“I’m going now?” Eventually, Shi Yi was the first to break the silence.
She turned around, but as she was pulling out her card key from her bag, the glass door had already opened with a click. She paused briefly in surprise, and only when she heard the security guard’s voice from the other side of the door calling out to her in greeting to go in did she realize what had happened.
Shi Yi suddenly turned back again, gazed right at him, and said once more, “I’m going now.”
She could even visualize the look on her face, how reluctant to part from him she must look.
Zhousheng Chen’s expression softened slightly. “Goodbye.”
She saved that phone number but did not ever contact him.
She surmised, it was likely because she had apprehensions about that “fiancée” she had heard about by chance. In her twenty odd years of life, from being a young child to now an ordinary woman, she had at least learned to be realistic.
Her desire was only to see him again.
This wish that once had only one ten-thousandth probability of coming true, had actually been fulfilled, and if she made any more demands, those would just be wild, inappropriate fancies.
Not long after that night, it was the Qingming Festival.
Her paternal grandfather had passed away last year and was buried in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu, so this year’s Qing Ming Festival, they naturally would have to return there to sweep the gravesite. Shortly after five o’clock in the morning, her father drove over with her mother to her home to pick her up.
A bleary-eyed Shi Yi sat in the back seat, resting herself on her mother as she drifted in and out of sleep. Three hours passed, though, and they were still stuck in traffic on the Shanghai-Nanjing Expressway. She had been dozing from when the sky was still dark all the way until the sun was shining radiantly. The whole time, her mother had carried out casual conversation with her, likely because she feared that if the two people in the backseat both fell asleep, her father, the driver would start to feel sleepy and it would be dangerous.
Of course, since she had graduated from university, eight or nine times out of ten, the topic of their conversations would be about marriage.
“Have you had a boyfriend lately?”
“No.” Shi Yi leaned against her mother and grumbled, “No, no, no.”
“You haven’t met anyone you like?”
She did not say anything.
Her mother sensed there was something peculiar. “You have?”
“Yes,” she replied with a little laugh, “but he may be getting married soon?”
Her mother’s brows furrowed. “Did you meet him through work?”
Her father also threw a glance at them through the rearview mirror.
Shi Yi finally perceived that her words sounded very similar to those usual household dramas where the beautiful woman sticks her foot in someone else’s love relationship. Hastily, she shook her head and assured, “It’s just someone I know and have some good feelings towards. Apart from that, there’s nothing at all.”
Her parents felt slight relief after hearing this.
She tilted her head against the window and listened to her mother continue to lament that having a beautiful daughter required a lot of attention. From when Shi Yi entered middle school, her mother had started to worry that the teenage males of the community would harass her, so she would personally drop her off and pick her up from school. Fortunately, besides reading and playing the guzheng, Shi Yi did not have any other particular interests.
As a result, her mother only needed to guard against the outside bandits and did not need to fret whether her daughter would run off with a bad boy.
“Sometimes, your mom is very self-contradictory.” Her father chuckled and added, “She worries that your criteria for choosing a man is too high and you won’t get married, but also that you are too pretty and will be deceived by the rich and powerful men out there into doing something that’s not wise.”
Shi Yi’s lips turned up in a smile. “That won’t happen. I don’t like money.”
An individual who has seen life and death and the reincarnation cycle would not be ensnared in the least by any of these things, otherwise, that trip into the King of Hell’s court would have been in vain.
When the car reached the tollbooth, they finally could see the reason for the traffic jam. Three entire tollbooths were shutdown to the public, with one of them being completely unused while all varieties of sedans were driving through on the two lanes of the two outside booths.
“Special privilege vehicles?” Mother asked Father.
“They shouldn’t be.” Her father suddenly remembered what Little Uncle had told him. “Oh right, I remember. Shi Feng mentioned these ten days, some rich businessman have been coming and going in Zhenjiang for some sort of investment project.”
Mother grew even more baffled. “What sort of big investment project can be done in Zhenjiang?”
“They’re not investing in Zhenjiang, it’s just the location of their meeting.” Father explained in simple terms. “China’s labour costs are the lowest in the world, so many multinational corporations want to build factories in China and then sell the product overseas. That’s why, along the Yangtze River Delta, the most thriving sector is manufacturing.”
Shi Yi laughed, “And that is the story behind ‘made in China’.”
“Basically.” Her father was a university teacher and naturally, was relatively more concerned about this sort of thing, so when he spoke about it, his points were logically argued and reasoned through. “However, these last several years, the labour wages have risen sharply and many corporations are starting to pull out of South East Asia. That’s why one after another, many little companies are starting, to close down. It’s estimated, in another five years, the manufacturing sector is going to go through an earthquake-like phenomenon and things will be turned upside down. Large numbers of workers will lose their jobs and factories will close. And if the Yangtze River Delta’s economy is shaken up, it’s inevitable that it will affect the entire nation’s economy.”
“Sure, sure.” Mother was getting a headache just from listening. “What does this have to do with the traffic jam?”
“That’s the reason why someone has invited all these big businessman to invest, ah,” Father answered with a laugh. “That’s the attraction of economics. If you predict the catastrophe that may happen several years from now, then you need to think of a way to mitigate it before the catastrophe actually happens.”
“Such foresight,” Shi Yi said in assessment of the situation.
“Not only do you need foresight, you need true strengths or assets that can attract more investment,” Father stated in conclusion.
With an “oh,” Shi Yi added, “And you need to have a magnanimous heart to save the nation’s economy.”
“Yes. A magnanimous heart.”
This dialogue between father and daughter managed to thoroughly amuse her mother.
During the space of their conversation, several black sedans from far away had driven over to where they were. The speed they were travelling at was not fast, not at all the speed that should be used when driving on an expressway, but still, there were cars that courteously made way for them.
Those few cars passed through the only toll exit that had been left unused.
The cars and their license plates whipped past. Shi Yi did not get a very clear look, but she kept having a sense that they looked very similar to Zhousheng Chen’s vehicle.
They continued talking in this way the whole journey until they finally slowly shuffled off the expressway.
When they reached the public cemetery, it was already past nine o’clock. What should have been a less than three-hour drive had ended up consuming four hours. It did not take long to sweep and tend to the tomb, and her parents’ main reason for coming was to get together with her uncles on her father’s side. Little Uncle, who owned a few factories, was the most well-off in terms of financial situation, so naturally, he took on the task of hosting the friends and relatives.
The elders and older generation were all in the living room chatting. Feeling bored, Shi Yi went into her younger cousin-sister’s room.
The little girl was still in high school, and it was the time in the day for studying diligently for her. When she saw Shi Yi, she was thrilled and dragged her over to help her with her essay topic. Shi Yi glanced it over. The topic had to do with the Qingming Festival. Very appropriate for the season.
She contemplated for a moment, then outlined the major points for her younger cousin-sister.
Setting down the pen, she noticed that on the corner of the desk, there were a number of invitations.
They were for the same event her father had mentioned on the way here with an extremely impressive list of invitees. An overwhelming majority were multinational companies and some did not even have any connection whatsoever to the manufacturing industry. Normally, Shi Yi did not pay much attention to these sorts of things, but the stamped image on the invitation caught her eye.
A coloured image created using the traditional woodblock watermark technique, imprinting it from a carved wooden block.
An imprint art created specifically for the invitation –– imprinted manually, by hand.
However, the one Shi Yi was holding in her hand was just an ordinary machine-printed version, not an original one. At least, it was not one of the invitations that would have been personally handed to those top bosses of the financial world and was merely a duplicate for noncore invitees.
But what caught her attention the most was, in the middle of that image, written in Lesser Seal Script, the character, “Zhou.”
It was “Zhou”, not “Zhousheng.”
Why, then, did she think of him?
Shi Yi thought of the Zhousheng Chen from that late night. So understated, yet so unique from everyone else.
“Cousin-sister, phone.” Her little cousin-sister’s head was down, working on her homework problems, and without looking up, she said, “Your mobile is ringing.”
She pulled her thoughts back and picked it up to look. Her heart suddenly felt like it was floating.
Her younger cousin-sister was present, so she was too self-conscious to clear her throat first and instead answered the phone directly.
“Miss Shi, good day.” It was the voice of the chauffeur from that night.
“Good day.” She seemed to have grown accustomed to this way of things already.
Zhousheng Chen quickly took the phone. “My apologies. I am not very familiar with how to dial on a mobile phone.”
She gave an “mm,” and answered, “It’s alright.”
“You’re in Zhenjiang?”
“Just arrived not long ago. How did you know I am here?”
He chuckled, “When you passed through the expressway tollbooth, I knew, but I just did not have a spare moment then to say a few words to you.”
吴歌 “Wu ge.” A rather simplistic geographical explanation of the area historically known as the Wu Area is that it mainly encompasses Jiangnan, the southern area of the Yangtze River Delta (see footnote  in Chapter 1.1). The unique Chinese dialects from this area are called “Wu dialects” and are mainly spoken in Shanghai and the provinces of Jiangsu (where much of the novel takes place) and Zhejiang. “Wu songs” is historically the generic term for the folk songs that emerged long ago from this area and were passed down orally. Recognized as giving insight into the regional culture, they largely are about romantic love. Of course, the author has explained in more detail what that means.
诗经 “Shijing.” Oldest anthology of Chinese poetry, compiled around the time of Confucius. Known as “Classic of Poetry,” “Book of Poetry,” ”Book of Songs,” “Book of Odes,” etc. The study of the poems within this book is most certainly in Chinese education.
镇江 Zhenjiang city of the Jiangsu province is approximately 260 km away from Shanghai, or about a 3 hour drive.
清明节 “Qing Ming Jie”. Literally means Pure Brightness Festival. Sometimes called Tomb-Sweeping Day. 15 days after spring equinox puts this festival on a day somewhere between April 4 – 6, usually. A traditional festival in which a day is taken to pay respect to ancestors and sweep their tombs.
古筝. A traditional Chinese plucked, stringed instrument, with 16 or more strings. Sometimes called a Chinese zither.
阎王殿 “Yan Wang Dian.” Yama, who is known as “Yan Wang” or “Yanluo Wang” in Chinese mythology, is the King of Hell or god of death. He passes judgment in his court on every single soul who passes through hell after they have died in the mortal world and determines their reincarnation or punishment.
特权车 “te quan che.” Vehicles bearing government or military plates in China have special privileges. They are not subject to road traffic laws, (most) tolls, and parking regulations.
小叔叔 “xiao shu shu.” Father’s younger brother. The 小, which means “little”, implies that he is the youngest brother of the family, often significantly younger.
堂妹 “tang mei.” Younger female patrilineal cousin. Shi Yi’s father and this cousin’s father are brothers. In Chinese culture, cousins who share the same surname (i.e. their fathers are brothers) are closer in blood than others, and they are called 堂 “tang” siblings. They would address each other as brother or sister. This cousin also calls Shi Yi just “jie” which means “older sister” or “tang jie” which means older “tang” sister. In the novel, I will use “cousin-sister” to describe their “tang” sister relationship.
套色木刻水印 “tao se mu ke shui yin.” A form of wooden block printing. An image, sometimes an entire duplicate of a painting, is carved into a wooden block. Watercolor paint is carefully painted onto the wooden blocks before an imprint is taken by hand off of it. It was originally a way to duplicate art, including various forms of Chinese brush paintings. This is so eye-catching to Shi Yi because it would be a labour intensive and expensive process to create this just for an invitation, as everything is done by hand.
 小篆 “xiao zhuan.” Lesser Seal Script. An archaic form of Chinese calligraphy, standardized under the rule of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. Compare the surname, Zhou in Lesser Seal Script (left) to the common Regular Script (right) of nowadays.
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