There are so many things that I love about this chapter. I’ll let you read through without me spoiling it for you, and you can read my comments at the back end if you’d like. 🙂
Chapter 8.1 – Inevitable Times of Parting (1)
This place was more peaceful and quiet than expected.
Shi Yi was very glad that, although his mother had requested that she accompany her the whole time, she did not speak again. Shi Yi was genuinely reverent when she offered up her incense. With palms and fingers pressed together prayerfully, she knelt on the kneeling cushion, which already had two deep permanent indentations on them, and bowed three times worshipfully to Buddha.
Raising her head again, she looked at the smiling Buddha statue. It was said that, how one’s eyes viewed Buddha was different when comparing one who believed in him as opposed to someone who did not believe or a good person as opposed to an evil one. Compassionate, merciful, smiling, and numerous other descriptions, but in her memory, the Buddha always had a slight smile and that never changed.
She suddenly wondered, why was it planned this way?
She remembered everything, but Zhousheng Chen did not remember any of it.
When Shi Yi knelt down, she had forgotten about her knee that was still recovering, and only after she was rising back to her feet did she feel some pain. A hand came and supported her by her upper arm, helping her back up. “If there is a next time, you do not need to do that just so you can wear a cheongsam. You actually also look very nice wearing a tracksuit.” He still remembered, that day he had taken the short rest at her home, when he stepped out of the guest room, Shi Yi had been wearing a light blue tracksuit as she sat cross-legged in a slightly darkened room and watched television with a headset on.
In particular, before she had noticed him, she had a little gesture where she would cover her mouth as she laughed at those scenes in the television drama she was watching.
Even now, he could still clearly remember that image.
“It’s okay. I didn’t completely remove all the bandage, so there should be no problem.” She asked quietly, “I didn’t see you just now?”
“I am an aetheist,” he lowered his voice and answered her, “so I stood outside the main hall of the temple and enjoyed the scenery.”
The two of them walked out of the main hall. An ancient temple of a thousand years. Even simply standing in that place allowed peace to gradually settle into the heart.
“But I very much believe in Buddhism,” she laughed. “What should we do then?”
He turned back to glance at the Buddha in the main hall. “I completely respect that.”
“What do you see?” She was curious.
“What do I see?”
“I mean, when you look at him, what does he look like to you?”
Because of Shi Yi’s question, Zhousheng Chen looked slightly longer at the statue. “Compassion.”
She gazed at his face from the side, not saying a word.
For some people, even if they had forgotten everything and their voice and appearance had changed, who they were within them would not change.
At that moment, a shadow of the past seemed to superimpose itself on the him who was before her right now. That shadow had once said, Shakayamuni gave up his wife and child to embark on the ways of Buddhism because of the compassion he felt towards living beings. She clearly remembered these words of his, and hence, she never once blamed him for what he had said: “never forsook the world, only forsook Eleven.”
Noticing her silence, Zhousheng Chen lowered his head and looked back at her. “What’s wrong? Is that not the same as what you see?”
“Not really the same.”
“What is it that you see?”
“He’s smiling,” she said softly. “It looks like he really likes me so that’s why he’s always smiling.”
A look of surprise flashed across his face and then quickly became laughter.
His gaze fell from her eyes down to her ring finger. Her fingers were very slender and creamy in skin tone, and it looked very nice when she wore that type of ring.
There was a mottled, white stone balustrade where they were standing. He seemed to be concerned that the sun was beating down on her and lead her into a shaded place. Their location was relatively secluded. The whole time, he kept her company and conversed with her, as if he was worried she might be bored. After so many days of spending time with him, she perceived that Zhousheng Chen should actually be someone who was not very talkative, especially when it came to making unnecessary small talk.
Apart from when he was with her. When they were together, he would always think of things to continue to talk about with her.
He was making great efforts, this she could tell, and so, she too was willing to work hard and make the effort for him.
Lunch was in a restaurant at the foot of the mountain. Zhou Wenxing walked beside her and explained to her in a low tone that because her mother was a devoted believer in Buddhism, many years ago, she had built this place specifically for serving and hosting the members of the Zhousheng family and their friends.
Naturally, their meal was a vegetarian one.
When lunch was finished, one of the guests who had come today heard that the girl whom Zhousheng Chen was soon to be betrothed to was present, so right then and there, he wrote a piece of calligraphy artwork. Zhousheng Chen did not know the man, but his mother considerately informed them that this person was a friend of Zhousheng Chen’s father and calligraphy written by his hand was of great worth.
This gift was presented so unexpectedly that when Shi Yi received it, she realized that she had nothing on her she could give in return.
In a whispered voice, she asked Zhousheng Chen what she should do, but he was unconcerned. In a low tone, he comforted her, this type of situation where a piece of calligraphy was created and presented on the spot was not common, and even if she had no gift to reciprocate, it would not be viewed as being unmannerly. She contemplated for a moment, then addressed the uncle with a smile, “Uncle’s calligraphy is something that money cannot buy. Although Shi Yi’s paintings cannot compare, I would still like to offer one up in return. I hope Uncle, you will not reject it.”
Her tone was respectful and polite, and when this uncle finished listening to her, he gave a cheerful laugh and immediately relinquished the place behind the writing desk to her.
Their discussions were taking place up on the second level of the restaurant. Earlier, in order to enjoy the sight of this uncle’s calligraphy, many of the Zhousheng family’s guests who were present had stood up to watch. Now, upon hearing that the future wife of the Zhousheng family’s eldest son was going to create a painting right then and there, they were even more curious.
What sort of painting skills would this girl, who came from such an ordinary background but had such remarkable beauty, possess?
Zhousheng Chen had not expected that Shi Yi would so calmly state that she would paint.
He was very familiar with her past, so familiar that he could clearly remember every one of her classmates’ and friends’ names, from when she was in kindergarten up to university. The information he had about this period of her life did not mention that she had ever studied traditional Chinese painting under anyone.
He stood beside the writing desk and watched as she picked up the brush and pondered briefly.
In her mind, Shi Yi was remembering what she had once been most skilled in, those things that he had once taught her with his own hand, those still lifes he most loved. And then, very naturally, she brought her brush to paper.
Initially, it was reed, a single stem with many leaves.
Layer after layer was painted without pause, as if she had painted this same thing countless times. So adept was her brush technique it was astonishing.
When she had finished painting the base of the reed, the tip of her writing brush paused briefly. The brush was cleansed in water, then dipped lightly in ink before dabbing it against the edge of the ink plate to remove some of the excess. The brush was brought back to the paper again and it was now a lotus flower painted in the “boneless” style. Gradually, on that paper, a single stem of a newly blossomed lotus flower was brought into being.
Those who were not knowledgeable would say that this painting was truly elegant and beautiful.
The exceptions were that particular uncle and his few friends, whose expressions slowly changed from encouragement given by an elder to approval and, finally, to undisguised amazement and praise.
It was a painting of a lotus flower and reeds. Her brushwork was free, light, and graceful while her style gave a sense of purity.
She was worried that she was holding up everyone’s time and had deliberately worked faster. When she finally completed the entire painting, that uncle could not help shaking his head and sighing, “Such a pity. It’s a pity that this was painted a little too hurriedly. However, it is still a wonderful piece worthy of being placed into a collection.” The uncle told her in a nonchalant tone, “Miss Shi Yi, do not forget to put your signature on it. I will most certainly treasure this in my collection.”
She nodded. Once again, she cleansed the brush, then signed her name on the painting.
As she was about to set down the brush, the uncle unexpectedly became inspired and asked if she would mind if he wrote a poem to complement the painting. Shi Yi, naturally, did not object to this. The uncle took the brush, and from it flowed two lines of poetry. Out of respect for the painting’s artist, though, he refused to sign his name beside the poem.
No one had expected that the future wife of the Zhousheng family’s eldest son would have such painting skill.
As a result of this highly esteemed uncle, the Zhou famiy members and longtime friends present all seemed to view Shi Yi with a newfound respect and even one by one started to jokingly say that they would personally pay a visit to her to beseech for a painting. She was not skilled in socializing and found it even more difficult to handle his family’s various manners of speaking and expressions. Eventually, she simply did not know what to say anymore and started casting frequent looks over at Zhousheng Chen, using her eyes to plead to him for help.
He seemed to find this quite amusing, but seeing her looking so pitiable, he found an excuse and left first with her.
After they were sitting in the car, he recalled her painting and also that expression of unease on her face even though she was being praised, and he still could not help chuckling as he looked over at the person sitting beside him.
Shi Yi detected his laughter and grumbled, “Stop laughing at me.”
“It is very funny,” he replied with a laugh. “The painting clearly was very nicely done, but you are acting as if it was humiliating. Very funny.”
“You think it was good, too?” She looked at him.
“Extremely good. Under whose tutelage did you study traditional Chinese painting?”
She froze at his question but quickly covered up her emotions. “I don’t have a teacher. Somebody just gave me some albums of paintings. I liked them, so I shut myself up in a room and practiced as a way of passing the time.”
He made no secret of his surprise at this.
“I’m really talented, am I not?” She continued to lead his thinking astray.
He could only shake his head and sigh, “It can only be explained by talent, then.”
She smiled. In the ten years of devoting her heart to learning painting, she was most proficient in painting the lotus.
And he was that lotus flower.
By the time they returned to the old manorhouse, it was the afternoon, when the bright sun’s strong rays beat down from high above. Zhousheng Chen told her to go back to her room to change first while he sat down in the open-plan study on the second floor and finished up the final handover work required for the knowledge exchange project in Xi’an. When Shi Yi stepped out of the room after following his instructions and changing into a tracksuit, she saw that he was on the phone talking about subjects she did not understand.
However, at the end of the conversation, he suddenly handed the phone to her, telling her that He Shan wanted to say goodbye to her.
Shi Yi took the phone from him. He Shan’s voice was heard, sounding rather excited and also somewhat anxious. “Um, yeah… Shi Yi… Wait, no, it should be Shimu [‘teacher-mother’].” Shi Yi gave an “mm” in answer and cast a furtive glance at Zhousheng Chen as her cheeks grew slightly warm.
“Such a pity that Teacher Zhousheng needed to leave suddenly. But ‘one who is teacher for one day is regarded as father for a lifetime,’ so Shi Yi, you are forever our Shimu, too.” He Shan laughed, “Hehe, you know? Teacher Zhousheng is our idol, that type that you just look at him and get the impression that he’s one of those scientists who would never get married and have children. We all felt that it would be so weird if he got married. But once it was put in our minds that that person was you, we also thought you guys were a perfect match –– the smart scholar and the beautiful girl, ah.”
He Shan continued on with his prattling.
Listening to him, Shi Yi could not hold back a grin.
Seeing her smile, Zhousheng Chen, with great interest, sat down in front of her and watched her talk on the phone.
Shi Yi silently mouthed: He is so longwinded.
He smiled, stretched out his arm, and patted her lightly on her forehead.
It was a very natural motion, but once his hand touched her, he did not want to move it away. Slowly, it slid down from her forehead and followed the contour of her cheek until it touched her lips. Shi Yi did not move, allowing herself to feel his motions and stare into his deep black eyes.
With his eyes, he sought her permission.
Shi Yi wordlessly closed her own eyes.
He gazed carefully at her for a moment.
When he was young, he had recited “Master Lü’s Spring and Autumn Annals”, in which it was written, “The charms of beauty; gleaming teeth; the music of Zheng and Wei –– these are pursued for the pleasure they bring”.
But how many people were truly deserving of the words, “charms of beauty, gleaming teeth”?
Zhousheng Chen quietly leaned in and kissed her, not paying any regards to whether the telephone call had been hung up yet. Being so close to her, he could even hear that young fellow, He Shan still blathering repeatedly, something about “the smart scholar and the beautiful girl.” He could not help laughing as he kissed her. Pulling away from her slightly, he directed his words towards the phone. “Alright now. Send over that dissertation that you wanted me to look over. Proofread it once yourself first. Last time, you had too many English words that were misspelled.”
After saying this, he took the mobile phone she was holding in her hand, hung up the call, and set the phone down off to the side.
“Continue?” he asked in a low voice.
Shi Yi had just opened her eyes, but when she heard him say this, she immediately shut them tightly again.
A crimson color spread slowly from her ears.
Every time he kissed her, he would always first ask her permission. This was clearly such a rigid approach, but right in this very moment, with such a soft tone, it inexplicably seemed to give the illusion that he was being flirtatious. It was a very bizarre, serious way of… being flirtatious.
 In Buddhist beliefs, Shakayamuni was born a prince and had a wife and child, but after becoming aware of human suffering, he renounced his princely status and left his family in a spiritual search for the solution to the suffering. He eventually attained enlightenment and came to be called the Buddha.
 Calligraphy, or the art of writing with brush and ink, is a traditional visual art form in China. Calligraphy is admired and displayed just as paintings are. This guest, who on the spot wrote calligraphy to present as a piece of artwork as a gift, would be like someone taking brush and paint and creating a painting on the spot with spectactors surrounding.
 There is a saying, 礼尚往来”li shang wang lai,” which means “courtesy demands reciprocity.” In Chinese etiquette, when a gift is given, an expectation is that it will be reciprocated, although not always immediately. In addition, the reciprocate gift should be something similar in value.
 无骨 “wu gu.” (More commonly called 没骨.) This literally means “boneless.” This style of painting is also known as “mogu.” In traditional Chinese painting, as opposed to “boned” style where the subject of the painting is first outlined and then filled in later (which is said to sometimes make the painting seem more rigid and formal), “boneless” paintings are composed of color washes with no outlines. “Boneless” painting requires more skill and mastery.
 The lotus flower has been esteemed in Chinese culture. There is an idiom used to describe the lotus flower: 出淤泥而不染 ”chu yu ni er bu ran” that translates as “to have grown out of the mud but yet is not sullied.” The flower grows in the muddy swamp waters, but yet it rises up out of it to blossom into an untainted, beautiful flower. It is symbolic of purity of heart and mind, regardless of the adverse surroundings. It is also intimately connected to Buddhism, as the holy seat of Buddha, and represents enlightenment.
 师母 “shi mu.” Literally means “teacher-mother.” The wife of one’s teacher.
才子佳人 “cai zi jia ren.” 才子 “cai zi” means gifted scholar while 佳人 “jia ren” means beautiful woman. This is actually an idiom used to describe an ideal couple, a pairing of a man with brains and a woman with good looks.
 See footnote  in chapter 7.3. The “charms of beauty, gleaming teeth” is talking about outward appearance so extremely beautiful it is beguiling.
My absolute favourite part about this chapter is the imagery of Shi Yi, head down at the desk, completely immersed in her own memories — of him and what he had taught her — as the painting flows naturally off of her brush. There’s something peaceful and beautiful, like time has turned back, and I can only imagine Zhousheng Chen must have been captivated by her in that moment.
And then, there’s all the other little hints of a growing romance and the efforts the two are putting into it: ZSC always trying to make sure he is talking to her, his amusement and open laughter at her for her embarrassment, her annoyed response and telling him to stop laughing, and a somewhat naughty kiss when she is still on the phone. Ah, on one side, they are still working hard getting to know one another, but on the other side, they are starting to act much more natural with each other. 🙂
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