Shi Yi gets a visit from an unexpected person. Anyone able to guess who? I’m very fond of that person…
Chapter 10.2 – Like Your First Adornment (2)
The décor of their accommodations for the night could not be considered beautiful and fine.
It was more similar to the homes of ordinary folk.
She was not certain whether it was because of the pingtan she had listened to after dinner or because of the atmosphere of this place but she suddenly was reminded of their time together, before he had left, in Zhenjiang. It had been brief but also mysterious. At the time, she had only been anxious about trying to get along with his strange family, but now that she recalled that period, she increasingly wanted to sigh.
His existence in such a family, was it destined?
A wealthy, powerful family hidden from the rest of the world.
She slept until some time past three o’clock in the morning, when that image of transcribing down tea names repeatedly began appearing in her mind. After tossing about in bed, she arose. She deliberated for a long time until, finally, she dialed his number, but listening to what seemed like an endless dial tone, she several times considered hanging up the call.
Was he resting? Or still in the laboratory? Or in a meeting?
Raising her mobile phone up in front of her eyes, she stared at the screen that indicated that the call had not yet connected, and her thumb was already sliding over to select the option to hang up. Suddenly, the call was connected… Shi Yi immediately brought the phone to her ear.
“It’s so late. Why are you still awake?” Zhousheng Chen’s voice was somewhat puzzled.
“I had a dream.” She still sounded sleepy. “It was the same dream, over and over again. I knew I was dreaming, but I couldn’t wake up and could only watch it happen.”
“Those water towns all have their own tales.” She was not certain where Zhousheng Chen was. There was a slight echo accompanying his voice coming through the receiver. “I have heard some of them. Most contain some mentions of being haunted or bewitched, but I do not really believe those. Perhaps you did not get enough rest during the day?”
The dreams had all been the same. They were all about him and her, and Shi Yi did not find them frightening. As a result, when she awoke, she only had an urge to hear his voice, as if she needed to confirm that he truly did exist, that he was in the same time and space as she was.
“What did you dream about?” he asked.
“I dreamt that I was copying out the famous teas of each of the dynasties,” she answered in soft voice. “Can you recite them out? I mean, teas from the Tang dynasty?”
“Almost. I do know some.”
“For example?” He gave a chuckle. “You would like me to recite tea names to coax you off to sleep?”
“Mm-hmm.” She had originally been lying on her back, but now she turned to the side and changed to a more comfortable position. “I want to hear.”
“My wife should be one of the Top Four Female Voices, right?” he teased her. “I am just someone who does research, and there really is nothing special about my voice. I am afraid you will start to dislike it after listening to it for a while.”
“I won’t,” she laughed. “Never in this life will I dislike it.”
On the other end of the phone call, he grew silent for a moment. And then, he called her name.
Shi Yi thought he wanted to say something.
Unexpectedly, though, he really began reciting the tea names to her. Meng Deng; Zi Sun; Divine Spring Water, Small Bundle; Bright Moon in the Jade-Colored Mountain Stream; Budding on Fang Mountain; Tea of Lake Yong Holds Essence; White Dew of West Mountain; Yellow Shoot of Huo Mountain…
For some of the names, individual words were slightly different than what she knew, perhaps as a result of how they had been recorded down, but she did not speak up to correct him.
She sat up and leaned against the wooden headboard, looking out the window at the sparse lights. The architecture and design of this place carried an ancient feel. In that life, the Cui family of Qinghe and Chang’an were both north of the Yangtze River. What did Jiangnan look like then? She did not have much of an impression, and had only learned from the poetry of Li Bai and Du Fu that Jiangnan’s “maidens were as snow.”
And several hundred years later, she was sitting here, listening to Zhousheng Chen recite to her from the other side of the ocean some rather pointless tea names.
There was nothing special about his voice that was worth mentioning.
He was reciting very slowly, but he was very patient. She discovered that the best trait of Zhousheng Chen was his patience. She did not know whether he was like this with everyone, but at least from when they first met to the present, he had always been like this with her.
“Tea from East White Mountain of Wuzhou; Keemun Square Tea Cake; Thin Tea Cake of Qu River; Yellow Bundle of Qimen; Striated Tea of Ya Mountain; ‘Pillars of Heaven’ Tea; Little River Bundle; Tea of Jiukang; Fire-Riding Tea; Dogwood Window…” He paused for a moment. “That is about it. It is just these ones. Would you like to listen to another dynasty?”
“Mm.” Shi Yi hesitated, wanting to ask him if he was too busy.
All of a sudden, a very faint sound could be heard outside of her room door.
It sounded like something metallic falling to the floor. She had heard this sound earlier before as well, but she had been too eager to hear him speak and had ignored it. “Shi Yi?” Zhousheng Chen suddenly called her again. “Is there something the matter?”
“I think I heard a weird sound…” she whispered, and then she comforted herself, “It wouldn’t be what you said, that ‘this place has its own tales’, right?…”
He chuckled, and in a slight teasing tone, he reminded her, “You are a Buddhist, and you do not do bad things. Why should you be scared of gods, demons, and ghosts?”
“I don’t know. It’s my nature, maybe?”
She thought over this point carefully. Indeed, someone who had passed through reincarnation should not be fearful of the dark or terrified by gods, demons, and ghosts.
Zhousheng Chen said a few more words.
Very seldom was Shi Yi the one who initiated a phone call, and he, too, unexpectedly began chatting with her on his own accord about his research work. As Shi Yi attentively listened to him, she walked over and closed the windows until they were tight. When she went over to check the door, she heard some footsteps.
She fixed her attention upon the sound, trying to hear it more clearly.
“Are you still afraid?” Zhousheng Chen seemed as if he was by her side and could see the shifts in her mood.
“A little bit…” In a lowered voice, she explained, “I think maybe someone really likes this water town setting. I just heard some footsteps.”
“Sometimes, the more frightened a person is of something, the more the person wants to get close to that thing.” Zhousheng Chen’s voice carried a reassuring strength, and there was a deliberate gentleness in it to comfort her. “Do not open your door. Go back on your bed and try to sleep. If you cannot fall asleep, I will keep you company and talk to you.”
She was truly a little frightened, so obediently, she climbed back into bed. “Am I holding up your work?”
He gave a laugh. “No.”
Zhousheng Chen talked with her for a long time until gradually, the sounds disappeared. Shi Yi slept until past nine o’clock, when she was awakened by Hong Xiaoyu to go to breakfast together. When she asked Hong Xiaoyu whether she had heard any strange noises the previous night, Hong Xiaoyu replied with surprise that she had not and also turned to look at Du Feng, who was beside her, asking him if he had heard anything.
Du Feng merely picked up some food with his chopsticks and shook his head.
Seeing their responses, Shi Yi felt even more fearful after the fact, and before the afternoon’s final rounds, she quietly told Mei Lin that she wanted to change rooms. Gnawing on her pen cap, Mei Lin laughed gleefully, “Even if I change it for you, you’re still going to be scared. How about these next two days, you come stay in the same room as me?” Shi Yi, of course, gladly accepted the offer.
Mei Lin asked her why she had not called her when she was up in the middle of the night from fear of ghosts. Shi Yi thought about that telephone call that had accompanied her the whole time until the sky had started to brighten with the light of dawn, and a veiled little smile touched her lips. Her head was slightly lowered, and even Mei Lin, who was the same gender as her, was unable to take her eyes off of her because of this smile. She murmured to herself, “I’m willing to bet that you can make a man have the urge to give up everything for you.”
Shi Yi reached over and gave her a nudge, signaling to her that the competition was beginning.
The two of them then sat up in a proper manner and watched the performance of the finalists.
Zhousheng Chen’s call promptly arrived at noon, and he asked her what her arrangements were for the night. Hearing that she was going to be staying in the same room as Mei Lin, he felt reassured. Some time past three o’clock, when the competition’s program had been completed for the day, she suddenly received a phone call – – a very unexpected phone call.
It was Zhousheng Ren.
She recalled, the way this adopted brother of Zhousheng Chen had treated her could be considered very friendly and he had been even more affection to her than Zhousheng Chen’s actual brother by blood, Zhou Wenchuan. The boy had told her on the phone that he happened to be free these next several days and wanted to spend some time with her, his future sister-in-law. Although Shi Yi found this rather peculiar, she did not turn down his request.
In regards to this form of address where he called her “future sister-in-law,” she had mentally prepared herself very early on.
So long as Zhousheng Chen’s mother did not recognize this marriage, even Uncle Lin, who was always by Zhousheng Chen’s side, would have to continue addressing her as “Miss Shi Yi.” Perhaps this was one of the rules in that large family clan. She and Zhousheng Chen cleary lived in present day society and were legally recognized as husband and wife, but within that family, it was not acknowledged.
Regarding this, when Shi Yi thought about it, she would sometimes feel aggrieved.
However, she would only indulge briefly in this mood and then she would let it die out. To her, there was nothing more important than Zhousheng Chen. From the moment he asked her to marry him, she had set herself on being with him for the rest of this life.
The status and recognition by others were not important.
Zhousheng Ren arrived around dinnertime. Apart from two young girls, the people accompanying him were all men. Unlike the time they had met in Zhenjiang, this time he was out on personal business, and he was much more casual, wearing simply a pair of light blue jeans and a white, short-sleeved t-shirt. He looked like an ordinary boy who had just graduated from middle school.
Shi YI was beside a little stone bridge that was relatively close to the entrance of this scenic area and was standing in a shady area as she waited for him.
She had not expected that he would be striding in in such a conspicuous manner. Walking right up to Shi Yi, the corner of his lips turned upward in a smile as he addressed her as “Big Sister Shi Yi.”
“You walked straight in?” She found this somewhat unusual.
After all, this scenic area was not open to the public yet and was only allowing in those, like her, who were part of this contest as well as the media.
Zhousheng Ren nodded. “Mother had worried that there might be some problems, so she purposely arranged for people to prepare the way for me.”
He said this with all seriousness and seemed rather like a shadow of Zhousheng Chen.
Shi Yi laughed, “When you talk to me like that, it makes me think I’m looking at your big brother.” Reaching out one of her hands, she gently touched the boy’s forehead. “You’re sweating? Are you really hot?”
The boy was growing fast. He was nearly as tall as her.
Perhaps because none of girls of the same generation in the family would dare do that to him, he seemed to be dazed for a short moment, but very quickly, he smiled and nodded.
She had seen Xiao Ren a few times prior and knew that he did not enjoy speaking, so she did not say much either.
Sure enough, the Zhou family had made preparations. The person managing this scenic area had beforehand readied the place that Xiao Ren and his entourage would be staying in. When Shi Yi went with him to his loft suite, the two girls had already speedily organized everything and had even changed out the entire tea set.
Xiao Ren seemed to not have a habit of drinking tea. After the two young girls had left the room, he pulled out two cans of cola from the small refrigerator within the room, opened them up, and poured Shi Yi one glass. “I heard the people of the Mei family mention that Big Sister Shi Yi is very skilled at making tea?”
Shi Yi took the glass from him. “I’m not bad at it, I guess. It’s just a little hobby of mine.”
“Big sister, you seem like… someone who was born to marry into our family.”
“You think so?” Shi Yi laughed.
“You think not?” Xiao Ren lay on his back on the wicker chair and examined Shi Yi with a serious expression.
She knew Xiao Ren was referring to her abilities in the traditional arts of qin, chess, calligraphy and painting as well as her love for classical literature. “Maybe it’s because I have a preference for classical literature…”
Shaking his head, Xiao Ren interrupted her, “It’s not simply that. I heard about what happened to you guys in Germany… Big Sister, were you scared? If you see gun fights, bleeding, people dying, and… many other extremely ruthless things, would you be scared?”
The boy’s voice was very clear and resonant, yet he was asking such questions.
For a moment, Shi Yi could not respond. As she thought again about what had happened in Germany, her heart still quivered in fear. “Yes, I would.”
Zhousheng Ren held the drink glass in his hand, continuing to observe her.
His eyes possessed a calm that a fourteen-year-old teenager should not have.
After some time, his lips pressed together and turned upward in a smile, and he comforted Shi Yi, “Those things I just said were only to scare you, Big Sister.”
李 [李白] “Li Bai.” Li Bai is sometimes heralded as the greatest Chinese poet of all time. He was born in the Tang dynasty and is known as the “Immortal Poet.”
 杜 [杜甫] “Du Fu.” A well-known poet of the Tang dynasty and also a friend of Li Bai. He is also known as one of the greatest Chinese poets.
 Referring to the pale skin tone of the maidens, which was viewed as a beautiful trait.
 倾国倾城 “qing guo qing cheng.” Yet another note on this idiom. My faithful readers should be very familiar with this idiom, which usually describes such beauty that it brings the downfall/ruin of a country or a city. More literally, Mei Lin has said, Shi Yi’s beauty is so great that she is willing to bet someone would even have the urge to “bring the ruin of his country and city” for her. I tie this back to the very end of chapter 9.3, when Zhousheng Chen said that prior to meeting Shi Yi Shi Yi, he had not believed that “the beauty trap” could work. After knowing her, though he understood that someone could fall for a woman so much that he was willing to give up everything, to even bring about the ruin of his country and city, for that woman.
There was an interesting discussion going on in the comments a few posts back. Does Shi Yi truly love present day Zhousheng Chen or is she merely transferring her love for Xiao Nanchen prince over to him? The request for him to recite the tea names for her reminded me of the discussion. If you guys read through comments, you might have read my terribly long reply on that topic, but I’d like to leave some of my thoughts down here as well (you can read more of it in the comments in chapter 9.1).
Xiao Nanchen Prince provided for Eleven the familial love that she rarely had, a sense of warmth and comfort. However, while I’m sure those feelings played into her love for him, I am also convinced that the greatest reason she loved him was because of the man she knew him to be, the man who placed the greater good of the people above everything else — the beautiful bones that were widely sung about during his time.
Shi Yi’s initial attraction to present day Zhousheng Chen is strictly because he is the reincarnation of the man she had once loved. Did she love this Zhousheng Chen? She loved the him that he reminded her of, but probably not the man in the airport or the scientist in his lab coat or even the man behind the voice on the telephone asking her to be his fiancee. But as she got to know him, she realized that the core of who this man is, his character, morals and values — his beautiful bones — has not changed. Just as those beautiful bones were a part of Xiao Nanchen Prince, so are they a part of Zhousheng Chen in this life. She is not transferring her love. He is not a substitute, someone similar doing things that reminds her of the man she loved. He *is* the man she has always loved, his appearance changed, his personality maybe a little different, his interests also different, but the character, morals, and values — the beautiful bones — never changed.
And so, I do not consider her request to him to recite the tea names as trying to create a shadow of the past, to transfer any feelings. She is asking this man to do what he had once done for her, and although he doesn’t remember it, he still is able to give her the *same* feelings, not a shadow, that he had once given her. Those feelings were from a time that may not have been simpler but perhaps, more innocent. Why do we feel like Shi Yi views that past as something so beautiful, that sometimes, you believe she wishes she could just go back there? A time when she had not learned of or experienced treachery, deceit, separation, loneliness and searching. A time when her heart was still whole and had not been hurt by the cruelties of people and life. Just as someone who married her university sweetheart and is still with him now but still reminisces about and sometimes wishes they could go back to their schooldays romance period, not because she does not treasure the times they have now together but because it was more innocent. To Shi Yi, back then, it was just him and her, and although they were only as teacher and disciple, the feelings she had felt were still deep, beautiful, and pure to her and will forever be something she treasures, especially because they had been taken away so abruptly from her.
Of course, these are merely my thoughts, and I would love to hear other interpretations. 🙂
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