Courtship from a chemistry professor’s perspective……
Chapter 4.1 – Story in the City (1)
She was very quiet, listening to the slow, steady beat of her heart.
Zhousheng Chen smiled.
She unexpectedly heard, outside of their room, the sound of shoes stepping on the wooden floors. There were not many private rooms on this floor of the restaurant, and therefore, the number of people being served was limited. Throughout the entire meal, footsteps such as these had only been heard two or three times.
However, this last time, they came to a halt right outside their door.
A hand pushed open the door, and a little face poked out from behind it. It was a young boy. “Big Brother.” There was a look of surprise on Zhousheng Chen’s face. When the door was opened completely, there was not only a little boy but also two young women, both wearing cheongsams and shawls, following after him. Shi Yi noticed that the lower abdomen of one of the girls was protruding slightly, and it was apparent she was pregnant.
She was taken aback by this girl’s age. Judging from the teenage girl baby fat that had not yet completely disappeared, she likely was not even twenty years old yet.
The unexpected visitors caused the quiet room to become livelier.
“Why have you come out as well?” he asked them.
They exchanged a look and then the little boy quickly rushed to explain, “The Cold Food Festival has made us have no appetite. If it’s not cold dishes, it’s more cold dishes, so we decided to come out together and feed ourselves a big, sumptuous meal.”
They were all very well-mannered. Besides greeting her when they first met, their gazes did not excessively land on her. When they saw the golden lock on her chest, though, they appeared rather shocked but then very quickly concealed their emotions.
Shi Yi moved to sit beside Zhousheng Chen, giving her spacious seat to the pregnant woman.
During the brief introductions, Shi Yi tried to commit the names to memory. One was his younger cousin-sister, Zhou Wenfang; the girl who was pregnant was his elder cousin-brother’s wife, Tang Xiaofu; and the boy who had entered the room first was called Zhousheng Ren.
She had not expected that there would be another boy with the surname Zhousheng. According to Zhoushen Chen, he was the firstborn son of the firstborn son, so therefore, in this generation, there should be no other person bearing the same surname as him.
Then, why was this boy also surnamed Zhousheng?
The word, “son” popped into her mind, and her eyes quickly swept over the two of them. It would seem that they should be about thirteen to fourteen years apart in age. Zhousheng Chen seemed to see through her thoughts and rather amusedly informed her, “He is my younger brother.”
When he said this, the little boy did not show any peculiar reaction.
The two women, though, noticeably quieted for a brief moment but very quickly started a conversation on another topic.
From what they were saying, it seemed this was the first time the girl named Tong Xiaofu had come to Zhenjiang.
She seemed as if she was very unaccustomed to the old manor, grumbling repeatedly that when she went to sleep at night, she would always be afraid that ghosts would appear. Zhou Wenfang said disapprovingly, “If I was you, I would use the fact that I was pregnant to just get out of that place.”
“I’ve already used the fact that I am pregnant to not participate in offering sacrifices to the ancestors. If I didn’t stay there, I would probably be reprimanded by the elders.”
Zhou Wenfang exhaled lightly. “Good thing it’s only once every four years. If I were to actually live there, I would honestly go crazy.”
Zhousheng Chen listened for a while, but then his eyes shifted to the lake outside the window, seeming as if he was watching the rain, yet also like he was lost in his thoughts.
Shi Yi glanced at him, speculating what he might be thinking about.
Suddenly, he turned and looked straight at her.
Such direct eye contact. There was not even enough time for her to move her gaze away. Blinking, she smiled embarrassedly, “What are you thinking about?”
“The experimental results they sent over this morning were not very ideal,” he replied simply. “I suspect a mistake must have been made in the experimental procedure.” She responded with an “oh.” She had asked again about a topic she did not understand.
Oh, Shi Yi, serves you right for this awkward silence.
With a warm smile, he carried on, “So I was thinking, I should conclude all the matters here as soon as possible and return to Xi’an, otherwise, I am worried all the work that had been done earlier would be wasted.”
She nodded, recalling in her mind the image of him wearing his white laboratory coat.
Very clean and serious.
On the way back home, she asked if the little boy was truly his younger brother.
He shook his head. “Strictly speaking, Xiao Ren is my younger cousin-brother. He is my paternal uncle’s son.”
“Then why does he also have the surname Zhousheng?”
“When I was five years old, my father passed away and I was the only Zhousheng remaining,” he told her. “For the Zhousheng family estate and business, my uncle carried on the Zhousheng surname and hence, his son, Xiao Ren is surnamed Zhousheng as I am. However, the requirement was that he be given in adoption to my mother.”
She nodded her head. Such complicated relationships.
“My engagement can be considered the signifying of my coming of age. Uncle and Xiao Ren will then change their surname.”
Such complicated relationships……
Shi Yi followed along with his explanations and formed an opinion on such a family.
“Your mother only has you, her one son?”
“I also have a younger brother and sister. They are twins.” The look in his eyes suddenly became more gentle. “But unfortunately, their temperaments are both rather peculiar, and they never return to the family home to participate in ancestor worship. When the chance arises in the future, you will see them.”
Zhousheng Chen accompanied her back to where she was staying. As the two of them stood at the doorway saying goodbye, she hesitated. She wanted to ask him what needed to be done next. She did not know, though, with his mother’s obvious disapproval, how and to what extent their relationship would continue to develop.
The lighting glowed an amber color. There was no heat emitted, but it gave a nice sense of warmth.
She did not want to part yet, and he did not immediately leave.
In this moment, the two of them truly appeared as if they were a pair of lovers who had spent the entire day out on a date and now were reluctant to bid farewell to one another.
He asked her, “When are you parents planning on leaving Zhenjiang?”
“Probably the day after tomorrow.”
He pondered for a moment. “If I arrange for the engagement ceremony to be in Shanghai one month from now, will that make them uncomfortable?”
“Shanghai?” she exclaimed. “Not in Zhenjiang?”
The instant the words slipped out, she regretted it.
She sounded like she really could not wait anymore.
He chuckled. “We don’t have sufficient time. And also, this afternoon, you already heard my younger cousin-sister and cousin-sister-in-law mention that they only come once every four years for the ancestor worship ceremony. Therefore, there is no need to hold it here.”
She answered with an “mm.”
Still feeling somewhat uneasy, she tentatively asked, “Your mother’s opinion really doesn’t matter?”
“In this matter, there is only one woman’s opinion that is worth accepting,” he told her, his voice carrying a joking tone that was seldom heard. “That woman is you.”
Such a comfortable, pleasant-feeling way to answer, and his tone was very confident as well.
“I gave this to you, and it represents my stance. No one else has the right to interfere.” He stretched out his hand. With his finger, he gave a tap on the solid, circular necklace made of pure gold that was on her chest and then followed its slender curve until he reached the gold lock, which he took into his hand. “Each person who bears the surname Zhousheng is fashioned one of these upon his birth. Inside of it, there is a piece of jade and on it is inscribed my birthday.”
His hand was right at her chest.
Shi Yi’s hands were behind her back, grasping onto each other, and her grip was actually rather strong from nervousness. She raised her head to speak but abruptly plunged into that pair of pitch black eyes that, although they were reflecting the light, seemed still so deep and fathomless.
She stared up at him.
He, too, gazed right at her.
Then, she heard him say, “Prior to the official betrothal, this piece is to be given to my fiancée. And you accepted it, so therefore, your legitimate status is established.”
Behind her, her two hands had tugged and twisted each other so much that they hurt.
“Do I need to wear it everyday?……”
“No.” He could not help laughing. “You just need to accept it and put it away.”
When he finished saying this, he let go of the golden lock.
She breathed out in relief.
He had actually discerned her nervousness from the beginning and amusedly, he said, “Good night.”
She turned and opened the door.
Twisting her head back, she saw that he had already walked into the elevator lobby. His figure was very tall.
As a “ding” echoed out lightly, he cast a glance over in her direction and then, with a slight nod of his head, stepped into the elevator.
Afterwards, when her mother asked her about the occasion of meeting his parents, Shi Yi merely brushed over the topic. Instead, remembering what he had said to her, she sincerely consulted her parents on their opinion and whether they would mind that the engagement be held a month later in Shanghai.
This was a very sudden decision, but thankfully, the impression he had left with her parents was very good.
Neither proud nor frivolous, but courteous and respectful.
Just from these virtues, he had received high scores from the older generation.
The morning they left Zhenjiang, Zhousheng Chen had come to see them off. He arranged a time with Shi Yi for them to try some formal attire, and then, he personally handed to her parents a booklet that introduced in detail the location of the engagement ceremony as well another four alternate locations.
After Shi Yi was seated in the car, he even leaned over and lowered his head to say goodbye to her.
“Once you are on the expressway, you need to fasten your seatbelt,” he instructed her.
She quickly pulled the seatbelt strap and dutifully buckled it.
On the journey home, her mother sat beside her and flipped through that booklet. To their surprise, she discovered it had all been done by hand and the characters were written in very proper regular script. She sighed to her father, “That boy, he is so attentive.”
“Much more than just attentive,” her father laughed. “This boy has done all the customs and etiquette to a ‘T’ without even a bit of impatience or arrogance, like a person who does scientific research.”
A smile could be seen at the corner of Mother’s lips as she looked over at Shi Yi. “Usually, when the two of you are together, do you find it boring?”
Shi Yi considered briefly. “No.”
“You don’t?” Her mother was amused. “Everyday, three calls come in promptly: seven o’clock in the morning, eleven o’clock midday, and ten thirty at night. Every time, the call won’t be more than three minutes long. Is that a bit too rigid?”
It was so good this way. Every time, when it was nearly their set time, she would stay away from everything and all matters to wait for his telephone call.
The subjects of their conversations were also very simple.
She had never thought that she could have regular contact with him like this.
There was no uncomfortable feeling whatsoever, and in fact, she took pleasure in those calls.
Zhousheng Chen truly was doing as he had said, regarding their relationship as a research direction, and was extremely patient in performing every necessary step. No matter how busy he might be, he would still ensure that there was three phone calls each day for them to keep in touch. Each morning, he would have someone deliver different flowers.
He was physically in Zhenjiang, yet it seemed like he was in Shanghai.
Because he was aware of her unique working hours, every time she needed to stay at the recording studio and work late into the hours of the night, he would always have a late night meal delivered to her promptly at eleven o’clock. In addition, he would thoughtfully prepare a portion for everyone else who was there at the workplace, too.
In the end, even the recording engineers who had worked with Shi Yi for five or six years started to grow curious, and as they gobbled their steaming hot late night meal, they would ask Shi Yi whether she had a boyfriend or was it just a suitor.
Shi Yi answered that it was her boyfriend and then did not offer any further explanation.
One night, her manager, Mei Lin came to check on the work and also chanced upon the late night snack that had been “sent with love.” Rather surprised, she surveyed the smile of happiness in Shi Yi’s eyes and felt as if a lifetime had passed between her and this girl. In the dozen or so days that she had not seen her, how did she suddenly get a doting boyfriend who never showed his face?
Mei Lin had an impatient temperament, and under all forms of threats and briberies, Shi Yi finally revealed that he was a chemistry professor.
“A scientist?” Mei Lin’s views on life and values were completely overturned. “You would actually like some scientist who spends all day in a lab?”
Laughing, Shi Yi held her cup of Hong Kong-style milk tea in her hand. “He has a high IQ, ah. I like people who are very intelligent.”
With a shake of her head, Mei Lin laughed somewhat disbelievingly.
She continued in a soft voice, “And, we are going to be engaged very soon.”
Mei Lin was dumbfounded for a full five or six seconds before she patted her on the wrist and exhaled a long breath. “Good thing you’re just getting engaged or else I think I really would have died from shock. Engagement is a tactic that those rich playboys like to play all the time. You need to be very careful that you do not take it too seriously.”
Shi Yi ignored her mocking and instead, asked her in a serious tone, “What do you think? If someone does not lack anything, what could you give him as a gift? I’m talking about an engagement gift.”
“Does not lack anything?” Mei Lin immediately attached her attention onto the most important point.
“He is a person who seems like he is not too interested in anything at all.” Shi Yi consciously avoided what was a sensitive topic.
“A professor in chemistry who is not interested in anything……” Mei Lin was completely hopeless on this. “I know absolutely nothing about chemistry. As far as I’m concerned, your boyfriend is not all that different to me from an alien.”
“Forget it, I won’t ask you.”
“Alright, alright. And I won’t ask you anymore either. You’re not an artiste that needs to show her face anyway, so I don’t need to worry about you getting photographed by the paparazzi.” Mei Lin grinned, “Here’s some good news for you. You’ve been nominated for an award……”
She glanced at her watch. Another minute and then he would be calling.
So long as it was a workday, the nighttime phone call would be changed to 11:30.
“Let me make a phone call.” She interrupted Mei Lin’s words, shoved her back inside from the balcony, closed the glass door behind her, and pulled out her mobile phone.
He had gotten a mobile phone specifically for her sake, and in his contacts address book, there was only her name.
If she thought about it, was this not extremely romantic as well?
Beneath the balcony of the studio was a pedestrian street. During this changing of seasons from spring to summer, the Chinese parasol trees were already starting to look lush, with large, green leaves bursting forth, carrying with them a fresh scent that filled the air.
The time jumped from 11:29 to 11:30.
Suddenly, her caller ID lit up her screen. The three characters, “Zhousheng Chen” seemed especially prominent against the dark of the night.
小楷 “xiao kai.” 楷书 “regular script” or “standard script” is a script style in the writing of Chinese charcters. Nowadays, it is the most widely-recognized script style – legible, balanced, and proper, where all the strokes are distinct from one another. (I personally like to think of it as akin to “printing” in the writing of English words, as opposed to different forms of “cursive writing.”). Zhousheng Chen used小楷 small regular script, which means the characters are written less than 2 cm in width or length.
I know lots of you want to know when Zhousheng Chen truly falls for Shi Yi, but sometimes, love is a process. While ZSC may seem unromantic, he has chosen Shi Yi, and to him, that means he will put effort into this relationship, even if what he does is formulaic. But I agree with Shi Yi. Coming from Zhousheng Chen, his thoughtfulness and effort and the fact that she is the only person who gets this special treatment from him is romantic in and of itself.
1 of 1 Prologue
11 of 56 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogues