This blog has such wonderful readers. My little outburst of frustration with myself brought such unexpected but wonderful encouragement last post. Thank you, all. 🙂
Oh, geeky Zhousheng Chen. And, some interesting dynamics going on in this update…
Chapter 12.2 – To Have Ever Been Free From Worry? (2)
The seventh month of the lunar calendar was Ghost Month.
Because of the specialness of this month, the Zhou family had a nighttime curfew restricting people from entering and leaving the premises, so it was not appropriate for Zhousheng Chen to travel back and forth between Zhenjiang and Shanghai during the late night hours. Shi Yi, therefore, requested a month of vacation time and went to stay at the old manor house in Zhenjiang. Mei Lin’s approval came not without sighing, as she teased Shi Yi that she might as well simply go and live the life of a rich, young mistress of the household and not bother staying in Shanghai anymore. After all, the big city with its glitzy glamour, revelry, and people bedecked in extravagance was not suitable for her young scientist.
She laughed, not saying anything in response.
Although the last several weekends, she had gone back with him, eating and staying together, she still had the sense that her existence there was like air.
Perhaps their family truly placed much value on recognized statuses. Even Xiao Ren, who had a very good relationship with her, would only politely address her as “Miss Shi Yi” in the presence of other people. The only fortunate piece was, his mother had been out of the country during this period.
The mobile reception there was poor, so she could only go online at night or use the landline telephone to call her family and friends.
During the day, when she grew tired from reading or writing and Zhousheng Chen was not present, she would simply sit and stare blankly outside.
The books on the table were all very hard to come by.
They were all out of print books that were stored in the library tower’s collection, most written in traditional Chinese characters in vertical columns from top to bottom, and some were even handwritten copies. She felt a slight aversion toward the library tower, so he would accompany her to select some books to bring back, and when she was finished, they would then go exchange them for others.
Roughly ten days later, some young people arrived at the manor, and then the atmosphere became somewhat more amiable.
That afternoon, Zhou Wenxing and Mei Xing were to to arrive together. At the time, Zhousheng Chen and Shi Yi were strolling leisurely down the stone steps of the mountain. Thick layers of green leaves blocked out a large portion of the sun’s rays, and there was water nearby and a breeze so it did not feel hot.
When she grew tired from walking, she would sit down.
There were very small fish inside the brook. Not many, but there happened to be a group gathered there at the bend in the stream.
Above the surface of the water, several dragonflies hovered back and forth.
She watched them, allowing her mind to empty as she sat on a large stone, viewing this as a time to rest. Zhousheng Chen was standing beside her, and after a brief moment of silence, he glanced at his watch. “Wenxing and Mei Xing should be here.”
When he said “should be here,” that meant they would definitely be making an appearance within two minutes.
People who had an acute sense of time and punctuality would naturally restrain others around them to this standard as well, including her, who had developed a habit of being punctual now.
Sure enough, they very soon saw a black sedan making its way up the winding mountain road, and before long, it came to a stop on the side of the road not far from them. The vehicle door opened and Mei Xing stepped out first from within, followed by Wenxing. The two of them passed under the towering trees and halted their steps on the other side of the brook. Tilting her head to the side, Wenxing called out with a giggle, “Eldest Sister-in-Law.”
Shi Yi smiled, “He just said that you guys should be arriving and then you really did show up.”
“My big brother is very strict when it comes to time.” Wenxing pretended to heave a sigh. “Made the chauffeur all stressed out, too, so that he didn’t dare be late.”
Was this an accusation? Or pouting?
She felt, every time she saw Zhou Wenxing, she treated Shi Yi as if they were very familiar with one another. She was one of the few people in this family who was warm and kind to her. Shi Yi gave a brief nod in greeting to Mei Xing and then began laughingly chiming in with Zhou Wenxing to accuse Zhousheng Chen of having harsh, rigid views on time.
The accused, however, did not seem to mind in the least.
“The dragonflies, fireflies, and bugs are especially numerous here.” Seeing that Shi Yi was looking at some dragonflies, Wenxing bent her knees into a half-squat and reached out to try to pinch a dragonfly’s wings. “I used to come here a lot when I was young. I’d often catch these for fun.”
Her hands were very thin, which should be a result of having a congential heart disease, and this caused her whole being to appear somewhat gaunt and fatigued.
Shi Yi had not noticed this the last time she had seen her. This time, her physical state and energy level were noticeably much worse.
“Hey, my little beauty, during Ghost Month, you can’t catch dragonflies,” Mei Xing warned her with a grin.
“Why?” Zhou Wenxing was perplexed.
Mei Xing chuckled quietly but did not continue to explain.
Zhou Wenxing bit down on her lip, and in an irate voice, she muttered, “You’re just picking on me for growing up outside the country and not knowing all your heretical beliefs.”
Hearing their banter, Shi Yi broke out in laughter. “It’s just a taboo thing among the common people. Commonly, it’s believed the dragonfly and katydid are actually the ghosts and spirits of the deceased. That’s why, during Ghost Month, it’s… best not to catch them and bring them home to avoid having some ‘good friends’ pay you a visit.”
One day, when she was still a child, she had been sweeping ancestral tombs and had been educated by a few aunties about this. Hence, she clearly remembered her lesson.
“Ah?” Zhou Wenxing immediately retracted her hand. “I normally come back here either during Qingming Festival to sweep tombs or during Ghost Month… And I usually catch a bunch and bring them back with me for fun…” With a trace of dread, she could not help pressing, “What’s a katydid?”
Before Shi Yi had a chance to answer, Mei Xing was already telling her, “It’s a bush-cricket. I remember when you were a kid, you would always play around with them.”
Zhou Wenxing’s face became even paler.
Shi Yi was worried that they had truly frightened her so she assured her with a smile, “Don’t be scared. We’re just saying this for fun.”
Actually, she, too, was frightened of these sorts of folk legends, so she certainly could understand what the girl was feeling at this moment.
She was about to carry on consoling her, but Zhousheng Chen was already shaking his head as he gave a long sigh. “The katydid, also colloquially known as “deng ting” [“lamp fuel”] and “fu lao” [“to bear and toil”], is an insect belonging to the order Odonata and suborder Anisoptera. They are often found flying near water. After mating, the female will lay her eggs in habitats of vegetation near a source of water. They have no connection whatsoever to souls and spirits.”
This was the explanation of an atheist.
Mei Xing could not resist bantering with him. “Hey, great scientist, ‘that which is real is reasonable.’ For me, I believe in Buddhism and reincarnation.”
Crouching down halfway as well, Zhousheng Chen very deftly pinched another dragonfly’s wings and with a flippant smile, he used facts to refute him. “At present, it is laying eggs. Afterwards, there will be larvae, the dragonfly nymphs, and eventually, they emerge from a final moult as a mature adult. And then, there is another round of breeding and reproduction. A very strict and complete process, don’t you agree?”
Mie Xing mocked him again with another couple of sentences. The two of them had known each other since childhood and were accustomed to this type of bandying of words.
To say Zhousheng Chen did not have his own faith was not completely correct.
His faith should be in science.
As Shi Yi listened to their dialogue, she tapped the surface of the water with her fingers. Icy-cold. Pleasant.
Had the “he” of hundreds and thousands of years past, as he lay drunken upon the battlefield, ever believed that one day, he would be standing in a dense, shady mountain forest conversing about a world that was made up of physics and chemistry? Or perhaps, what she remembered was merely a distorted illusion?
A fine grape wine, a jade cup that glows in the night,
As I ready to drink, the pipa on horses calls out in summons.
Should I lay drunken on the battlefield, laugh not, I pray,
Since days of old, how many return from war?
Those poems and verses still endured, but the poet and the persons described in the poem were already a part of history.
Being the person that Zhousheng Chen was, with him present, that eerie, ghostly atmosphere from a moment ago was naturally broken, and Zhou Wenxing’s mind felt much more at ease. Nevertheless, although she was studying medicine, she ultimately had the mindset of a young girl, and combined with having grown up in this type of old, traditional family, she was still rather fearful about ghosts and supernatural things.
Before they left, Zhou Wenxing even gave a proper bow in the direction of the dragonflies and murmured something along the lines of “have been disrespectful to you elders, but please do not be mad.”
During Ghost Month, when the Zhou family had meals, a table would be left empty but on it would be placed the same dishes that were being served to everyone else.
Zhousheng Chen also needed to represent this generation of the family and fill every wine cup of that empty table as a symbolic offering of filial respect to elders that had passed on.
Shi Yi had not thought anything of it in the beginning, but after the scene from this afternoon, she found that he really was a paradox. It was not surprising that he had directly stated to her that he ultimately would not live his life within this family.
Owing to Mei Xing and Zhou Wenxing’s arrival, their nighttime activities were finally a bit more lively.
Mei Xing was sitting and chatting with Zhou Wenxing and Shi Yi. Zhousheng Chen was also sitting with them, but his eyes were on his computer, browsing over material she could not understand at all. She sat close up against him, and Zhousheng Chen’s hand naturally held her waist in a half-embrace as he continued to look over his own things.
She did not want to disturb him, so she simply took on the role of a listener and listened as the other two persons conversed.
Mei Xing was someone who had a knack for words, and at the same time, he knew very well how to frighten people. After a while, the topic switched and became all sorts of stories on ghosts and phantoms, and he even “thoughtfully” linked them to the old manor house’s buildings.
“That library tower ––“ Several places had been mentioned already, and finally, he was bringing in the library tower as well.
“Stop, stop!” Zhou Wenxing had been resting herself against Shi Yi, and she immediately sat up now. “You can’t talk about the library tower.”
Finding this strange, Mei Xing asked, “Why not?”
“My sister-in-law really likes that place.” Zhou Wenxing was earnest in her desire to prevent him from continuing. “If you talk about it, what will happen if she is scared to go there after that?”
Surprised by this, Mei Xing glanced over toward Shi Yi.
She mulled for a moment, then in a serious tone, agreed, “It’s better not to talk about that place. I’m scared I really won’t dare go there after.”
“I’ve read quite a few of the books in there, too.” Mei Xing lamented, “It would seem no one has been inside for a look in many years.”
Shi Yi thought about this. Indeed. Even though, it was cleaned immaculately, it did not contain even the slightest feeling of life.
Zhou Wenxing sat crosslegged on the couch, and in passing, lifted up the teacup in front of her to take a sip. “Since you like classical literature, it would have been better if you had been born into our family. From what I can see, out of all the brothers and sisters in your family, there actually aren’t many of you who like that sort of thing.”
Mei Xing broke out in a laugh. His eyes were deep. “Yes, true, there aren’t many.”
“Early last month, the question that you sent out, was anyone able to solve it?”
Zhou Wenxing reminded him, “The one you sent to everyone in a group email. There was a string of ci poem pattern names. Afterwards, I asked you what did you mean to do with it, and you told me secretly that it would be a preliminary test question in the future for selecting a wife.”
Hearing this, Shi Yi remembered the riddle she had answered for Zhousheng Chen.
She paused briefly in surprise and stole a glance at Zhousheng Chen from the corner of her eye.
Clearly, he had not heard the discussion and was still looking over the material he was holding.
Mei Xing coughed lightly. “That was a joke.”
“No one had the answer?” Wenxing asked probingly.
“Um… there was someone.” His fingers unconsciously hammered against the wooden armrest of his chair. “Your sister-in-law.”
“Shi Yi?” Wenxing was astonished.
Shi Yi hurriedly explained, “I was just helping Zhousheng Chen arbitrarily answer that.”
Tilting her head slightly to one side, Wenxing quietly said to Mei Xing , “Compared to my big brother, you don’t even come close. Don’t even think about having your eyes on my eldest sister-in-law.”
She was making a joke, but Mei Xing gave a cough and used his eyes to indicate to this little sister not to speak imprudently.
Shi Yi also felt somewhat awkward and shifted her body slightly.
“What’s the matter?” Zhousheng Chen detected her movements and finally moved his eyes away from the computer.
“I’ll go make you a cup of tea.”
“Let Lianhui go make it?” he suggested in a low voice.
“It’s fine. I’ll go.” She moved his arm away and personally went to make tea for them.
When the time was approaching nine o’clock, only the two of them remained.
It was still the same mode of spending time together they were accustomed to, with only occasional conversation during their rest period.
Shi Yi was still brooding over the dismissal he had shown during the day to the idea of deities and the supernatural. She was reading rather restlessly on the chaise lounge, her mind troubled. Possibly because she had turned over too many times, she attracted his attention.
Zhousheng Chen walked over, sat down on the edge of her chaise lounge, and with a hand supporting him on each side of the chair, he asked her softly, “Something weighing on your mind?”
“No.” She blew out a breath. “Just thinking some senseless thoughts.”
“What are you thinking about?”
“I really believe in things like gods and Buddhism. Would you be unhappy about that?”
He smiled in sudden realization. “You asked me this question before. In May.”
Such a good memory. It would seem it had, indeed, been during her first visit here, that time she had accompanied his mother to offer incense.
At the time, he had stood outside of the temple’s main hall without any intention of entering, and then he had told her that he was wholly and completely an aetheist.
She looked at him, pondered for a moment, and then switched the topic. “Such an unpleasant thing for you. Everyday, to have to pour wine for your… ‘elders.’”
Zhousheng Chen let out a chuckle. With his finger, he gave her a little tap on her face. “No matter how you may persist in your own principles, you can never escape from those relationships that exist between people. Sometimes, conceding a small step for those around you is not considered unpleasant.”
She gave an “mm” in reply, allowing him to gently caress her face with his hand.
“Besides, it is simply pouring wine.” He lowered his head and moved closer to her. “Compared to pouring chemical reagents in the laboratory, this is much easier.”
A little bit of self-mockery, a little bit of jesting.
 鬼月 “gui yue.” The seventh month of the lunar calendar is regarded as Ghost Month and the fifteenth day of that month is the Ghost Festival. Unlike Qingming Festival where living descendants go to pay respects to elders who have passed on, during the Ghost Festival, it is believed that the deceased return to the mortal world. The Ghost Festival also pays respects to all deceased family members, including those of the same or younger generation. In 2011, the year this story is taking place, the seventh month of the lunar calendar began on July 31 of the Gregorian calendar.
 竖版繁体 “shu ban fan ti.” Traditionally, Chinese characters were written in vertical columns read from top to bottom, right to left. 繁体 “fan ti” characters or “traditional” chinese characters are currently used in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan whereas Mainland China uses simplified characters. Simplified Chinese characters were created in the 1950s and 60s by decreasing the number of strokes a large number of traditional characters as a way to increase literacy. Nowadays in Mainland China, printed books mainly use simplified characters that are read horizontally from left to right. Vertical columns of traditional characters are rare to be found being printed there.
存在即合理 “cun zai ji he li.” This is a translation of a quote from German philosopher, Georg Hegel. The full English translation of the quote is “What is reasonable is real; that which is real is reasonable.” Or alternatively, “What is rational is actual, what is actual is rational.” Very simplistically, the idea is that what logically follows from reasoning is real.
 顛倒夢想 “dian dao meng xiang.” What I have translated as “distorted illusion” is actually a concept taken directly from the Buddhist Heart Sutra (心经). Simplistically, it is talking about wrong perceptions that you believe in but can end up trapping you..
夜光杯 “ye guang bei.” Literally, “night glowing cup.” A cup produced of a fine jade that glimmers under the moonlight when filled with alcohol.
琵琶. The pipa is a traditional Chinese instrument. In the scene depicted by the poem, it is being used as a battlefield instrument, and the poem is referring to a person mounted on a horse, using the pipa to summon the soldiers.
 This famous poem is called 涼州詞 “Liangzhou Verse” by Tang dynasty poet 王翰 Wang Han.
1 of 1 Prologue
38 of 56 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogues