Our “ordinary” professor of chemistry brings surprises. After this chapter, can anyone still call Zhousheng Chen “ordinary”?
Chapter 3.2 – The Zhenjiang of Old (2)
The following morning, Zhousheng Chen came as promised.
The moment she opened the door, Shi Yi was once again stunned. The person before her was surprisingly wearing a pair of rimless glasses. Inside his black suit was a silver-gray dress shirt. Very serious and formal. This Western-style attire emphasized his tall build even more.
With her hand still against the door, Shi Yi forgot to move out of the way. The two of them stood there staring at one another.
Everyone else was being treated as if they were just decorations.
He smiled as he looked at her. “Is it an inconvenient time for me to come in?”
She made herself as much as possible act normally. Curious, she stretched out her hand and waved it in front of his eyes. “You’re nearsighted?”
“I have slight farsightedness.”
Laughing, she murmured, “Farsightedness? Isn’t that just ‘old eyes’ [presbyopia]?”
Standing behind him was the same driver, who, as usual, had come along with him, as well as two men and two women.
When they heard Shi Yi mutter this, they all wanted to laugh but instead, they only politely bowed their heads to hide their expressions.
Zhousheng Chen did not seem to be bothered by this. He scrutinized her and remarked, “You did not sleep well?”
Puzzled, she answered, “No.”
With his finger, he drew an arc under his own eye. “Right here on you seems to indicate that you did not sleep well.”
Out of courtesy, he spoke in a very low voice.
Unfortunately, these words still managed to go straight into the ears of the people behind him. Shi Yi was slightly embarrassed that he had exposed the fact in front of these strangers that she had tossed and turned the whole night.
Very luckily for her, her parents had just walked out from the living room to where they were, and it gave her the opportunity to escape for a little while.
As the actual masters of the house, Shi Yi’s Little Uncle and Aunt also came out to greet the guests. From the moment he entered the house to when he at last sat down and took the tea presented to him, everything Zhousheng Chen did was above reproach. Even her father, who had previously been somewhat displeased, started to display an approving smile. The whole time prior, Shi Yi had merely watched and observed, and only now was she able to set her heart at ease.
“The body, hair, and skin are all received from the parents.” This was something that was etched deep into her heart, so she of course hoped that her parents would truly like him as well.
From the looks of it, besides finding the five people standing behind him rather peculiar, her older generation family members all seemed to have a very good impression of him.
“Because of health reasons, Mother is unable to journey outside, but she has asked me to express her regards.” When Zhousheng Chen said this, the middle-aged man behind him had already placed a box, six or seven feet in length and made of yellow rosewood, on the table. “This is a gift for you, Uncle.”
The box was opened, and inside were nine miniature, traditional-style screens standing side by side.
They were mainly made of green jade except for the bases, where the jade was a pale white color. Everyone was somewhat astonished by this gift. Shi Yi carefully looked them over several times and discovered that the most incredible part was the raised scene that had been carved into the screens: migrating geese of autumn filling the sky; pavilions, terraces, and towers; palace maids, each one distinct and unique, inside the tall buildings, some sitting, some lying down, their beautiful hair piled high on their heads.
“How many palace maids are on these?” Her little cousin-sister was unable to contain herself and asked quietly.
“There are exactly 999.” Zhousheng Chen turned his head slightly so that, out of courtesy, he was looking directly at her cousin-sister. “It is said that if a person has no fated affinity with it, he or she will not be able to count all of them. Should you get the chance, you could try.”
Mother wanted to decline the gift and repeatedly told him that he was being too kind.
Unfortunately, Zhousheng Chen had already laid out the circumstances in his favour, stating that it was an expression of his mother’s regards. That very generous mother was not able to come, so how could they possibly tell him to bring the gift back with him again?
One after another, gifts were laid out in front of them.
Eventually, the entire room grew rather quiet. Only when Shi Yi’s little cousin-sister was curious would he very simply state the name of these items, and unless he was asked, he would not at all describe their origins or history and instead, presented them as if they were normal gifts. From a set of six blue and white “qing hua” porcelain goblets with designs of pines and plum blossoms on them, to a gilded turtle-shaped ornament made of silver, to the white, glazed meiping vase with an incised floral design against a pearl-like pattern background. Each elder in the family had something, no one was forgotten.
Even her little cousin-sister was presented with a jade pendant, so brilliantly green it was scary, carved in the shape of a peach.
The astonishment Shi Yi felt was not the least bit less than her family members.
However, she had to pretend that she knew about all of this and understood Zhousheng Chen’s background. Even when her mother threw frequent questioning gazes at her, she would only smile unperturbedly and nod her head, indicating to her mother that she should accept them.
These extremely cultured and shocking gifts caused every elder present to start speaking more formally and properly.
Later, her aunt took advantage of the opportunity when she went to pour some water to pull Shi Yi into the kitchen and very anxiously asked her where they should go to have lunch so that Shi Yi would not lose too much face. Shi Yi was unsure whether she should laugh or cry at this question and answered softly, “You don’t need to worry about lunch. He said his mom wants to invite me to lunch, so I will be leaving with him in a little while.”
“Oh, that’s good.” Her aunt breathed out in relief, but then quickly felt a little embarrassed and apologetic. “It’s not that I don’t want to be a host to your boyfriend. I really have never entertained someone like him. I honestly don’t even know what he would normally eat.”
What did he eat?
Shi Yi recalled their time together in Xi’an. Nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, they had even eaten at Mi Family Paomo.
But if she said that now, it was obvious her aunt would never believe her.
Zhousheng Chen repeatedly expressed his remorse over his need to leave with Shi Yi first and not stay for lunch. Even her parents started to feel flustered and over and over again told him that was the proper thing to do, that they had not prepared a gift for his mother for this occasion of their first meeting and they were truly apologetic about it.
As Shi Yi listened to them talk about being apologetic for this and sorry for that, she finally could not endure it any longer and lightly tugged at Zhousheng Chen’s clothes. “Alright then, shall we go? Wait for me a few minutes. I’m going to go change into something a little more formal.”
He gave a faint nod.
Shi Yi had originally had an outfit prepared, but now, she was starting to feel apprehensive again. In a quiet voice, she asked him, “Your mom, what does she like girls to wear?”
“Anything will be alright,” he said. “You need not put rigorous thought into it.”
“That’s not right.” Shi Yi was rather distressed. “This is showing respect for her. After all, this is the first time I am meeting her.”
She said this out of anxiety, and it actually came out like she was pouting coyly.
Hearing this, Mother smiled and left her bedroom.
However, because of her mother’s departure, the atmosphere in the room grew awkward again.
Shi Yi discovered that her manner of speaking sounded like she was very dependent on him.
“Last night, they prepared some traditional Chinese cheongsam. My family is rather traditional and the young women tend to wear these.” He smiled at her, not intending to force her in any way. “If you do not mind, I can tell them to bring the garments in.”
Of course she did not mind.
For no reason other than that she wanted his mother’s first impression of her to be perfect –– very much wanted it.
Moreover, after that night’s late night meal and today’s gifts, she could generally guess what type of family background he came from – a very traditional family, one that even possibly had many rules that hindered people, like shackles. Similar to the nobility and aristocrats found in history, their food, attire, dwelling places, and articles for use would all follow a set standard or model, but this was not because of a desire for aesthetics or excellence. Rather, this was merely because they were traditions passed on from previous generations.
Shi Yi marveled, how could there still be such a family in present day society?
It was as if they were separate from the ways of the world.
Perhaps she would soon find out the answer to this.
The two middle-aged women who had come with Zhousheng Chen started to methodically pull out from the hand-carry cases they had brought with them a cheongsam as well as some modern equipment. As Shi Yi watched them iron the cheongsam, she could not help sighing, “Such high standards.”
Zhousheng Chen smiled at her without saying anything.
He left the room shortly, giving her space to change her clothes.
One of the women who was assisting her in changing suddenly addressed her with a smile. “Miss Shi Yi, please don’t take offense. This time, we are too rushed. Should this have been at the home and the ironing had been done so shoddily, the chief household steward would have deducted our wages.” Following along down one side of the cheongsam, she started to inspect where the fit might not be quite right because after all, there was a difference in making a dress simply based on measurements and actually trying the garment on in person.
Shi Yi inquired curiously, “When at home, then, what do you do?”
“The old saying is, ‘30% tailoring, 70% ironing’,” she laughed. “Very painstaking and detailed.”
The woman did not speak anymore as she very skillfully took in the waist that had been a little loose. The other woman was very carefully opening up another deep red, wooden box and helping her put on jewelry.
Hanging over her chest was a jadeite necklace, encircling her wrist was a jade bangle inlaid with gold, and on her fingers were two rings. Each one of these had a simple, classically elegant feel. Shi Yi was not particularly fond of wearing jewelry and only had a pair of small diamond stud earrings on her earlobes. The woman who was helping her with the jewelry consulted her whether she wanted to change them. She did not really take it to heart. “Do his parents not like these types of things?”
The two women exchanged a glance and answered with a smile, “Yes, she is not fond of this type.”
“Then let’s change them.” She removed the stud earrings,that were sparkling with small glimmers of light, herself and put on a pair of drop earrings made of jade, the green colour so gleaming it seemed as if it was going to drip water.
When Zhousheng Chen had been in the room a moment ago, he had said he would not force her to do anything she did not want to. The two women, therefore, had the impression that Shi Yi was a very difficult girl to serve and were rather surprised by her easygoing nature. After she was adorned in the entire outfit, she looked at herself in the mirror.
Like time had turned back one hundred years.
When she exited her room and walked into the living room, her mother was even more astounded. Fortunately, her mother was understanding and sensible and did not question the matter.
Zhousheng Chen arose to his feet from the sofa. Her relaxed, nonchalant manner from just a moment ago had disappeared, and she watched him a little anxiously, her self-confidence reduced to a meager amount. On the other hand, her little cousin-sister very softly, as if she dared not speak in a loud voice, murmured, “I’m going to go crazy! So stunningly gorgeous.”
Amused, Shi Yi glanced over at her, but, with a twinkle in her eye, her little cousin-sister teased, “Beautiful maiden, I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about the stuff you’re wearing. They must be worth the value of half the country, ah.”
Her words caused everyone present to burst out in chuckles.
But what she noticed was the undisguised praise and admiration in Zhousheng Chen’s eyes.
In the car, Zhousheng Chen personally handed her a solid, circle-shaped necklace made of pure gold, which even had a longevity lock hanging from it. It was apparent that the value of this piece could not compare to any of the ones she was wearing, but she could also sense that this necklace was very important. Shi Yi put it on, and with her hand covering the little golden lock hanging from her neck, she asked softly, “Is your family involved in politics?”
He shook his head. “Zhousheng family rules state that descendants falling within the Zhousheng surname must not hold a political office.”
“Within the surname? You mean, within the direct line of descent?”
“The scope is even narrower than that.” He explained in simple terms, “Each generation, only the eldest son in the direct line can take the surname of Zhousheng.”
“What about those in a collateral line of descent?”
“They are surnamed Zhou.”
“So what you’re saying is, if your father had two sons and you were the eldest, you would have the surname Zhousheng? And your younger brother would have the surname Zhou?”
For a brief instant, a subtle change flashed across the expression on his face, but very quickly, he smiled, “More or less.”
She gave an “oh” and then continued to ask, “Then, business? A family where generation after generation is in business?”
Otherwise, how could they accumulate such great family wealth and estate?
Contrary to her expectations, though, he shook his head yet again. “The older generation’s views are rather old-fashioned, and they do not approve of us, the younger generation, going into business.”
She could not think of anything else.
“It is very complicated.” He wordlessly and slowly smiled. “Most of it is wealth accumulated by the previous generations, so the younger generation does not really need to do anything in particular. Hence, most have chosen to do things that they like.”
“Like you, for example?”
“Is my occupation very special?” He laughed, “I have a younger cousin of a different surname whom I am a little more acquainted with. He is a nuclear engineer and furthermore, he does not have allegiance to any particular country –– a very dangerous and legendary sort of person. There are many unusual people in my family, but most of them, I am not very well-acquainted with. Since I entered university at age fourteen and started my studies of chemistry, most of my time has been spent in a laboratory. My life is actually extremely dry and monotonous.”
Shi Yi listened to him, fascinated. Even though Zhousheng Chen said this, she still felt he was the most special.
To her, Zhousheng Chen was unique, whether it was in the previous life or this life.
身体发肤，受之父母. A very famous line taken from 孝经 Xiao Jing [Classic of Filial Piety], a classic of Confucian philosophy on filial piety, which is a virtue of respect towards one’s parents and family elders (grandparents, uncles, elder siblings, etc.) This line means that your parents are deserving of your filial piety as they were the ones who gave you life and your body. Because your body was a gift from your parents, you should not do anything to harm it.
青花 “qing hua.” This form of porcelain has a long history in China, dating back as early as the Tang dynasty. A design is drawn with a blue pigment, usually cobalt oxide, onto white pottery, then covered with a transparent glaze. The piece is then baked at high temperatures.
白釉珍珠花卉纹梅瓶. A meiping vase or bottle started out as a bottle to contain wine but evolved to so that it became a vase to display branches of plum blossoms, hence it’s name, “meiping”, which means “plum blossom vase.” The 珍珠 or “pearl” in the description of this particular meiping is describing a specific design where many small, circular patterns are etched into the piece, often as a background to the main design. You can see it on the picture of the meiping I provided in the main body of the text. Here is also a zoomed-in picture of a different “pearl design.”
旗袍 “qipao.” A form-fitting, one piece dress. If any of you have watched movies or dramas (e.g. The Bund) set in Shanghai in the Min Guo period, you will be familiar with this dress that was made popular during that era, although this piece of clothing was actually modified from the dress of the Manchu women during the Qing dynasty.
 倾国倾城 “qing guo qing cheng.” Literally, this means “downfall of a country and city.” This idiom describes beauty that can cause the ruin of a country or a city. (Really, Really Miss You readers, I expect you to recognize this right away. Can we say, “unrivalled allure”?)
 百岁锁 “bai sui suo.” Literally means a “100 years lock.” The longevity lock is given usually to a baby, although adults can have them as well, as a blessing of health, good luck, and long life. They can be made of jade, silver, gold, etc. They are usually kept as keepsakes.
1 of 1 Prologue
9 of 56 Main story segments
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