The sweetness and languidness of the last several posts may have lulled you into forgetting that Zhousheng Chen and Shi Yi’s world is a little more complicated than most normal people’s. Still some squeal-worthy moments in this update 😉 but there’s also…
Chapter 12.3 – To Have Ever Been Free From Worry? (3)
Inside were warm-colored wall lamps while outside were lanterns. She was seated near the window and had, at first, been able to see a string of lanterns that were level with her eyes, but now, the man before her obstructed that scene from her view.
One day prior to and through to one day after the Ghost Festival, the lights of the Zhou household were to remain on during the night.
Three consecutive nights of complete illumination through the entire night.
This sort of place seemed as if it could block out time.
One was unable to distinguish which dynasty, which era one was in. Uncertain what was one’s surname and given name.
“I want to give you a gift. What would you like?” His voice was somewhat deeper.
It was the effect of the lighting, or perhaps the effect of this late hour, for much of his strong scholarly air was concealed. The majority of his face was framed against the glow of the light behind him, and it gave her such a feeling of familiarity. In actual fact, besides those clear eyes, there were no other similarities.
“Why do you suddenly want to give me a gift?”
“I’m not too sure,” he smiled faintly.
“Not too sure?”
“What I mean is, I am not too sure the reason why.”
Shi Yi could not help laughing at this. In her light, resonant voice, she teased him, “You want to give me something but you don’t know the reason?”
“Perhaps it is because of instinct.”
He seemed to be choosing his words, and after a brief pause, he carried on, “Towards the woman he likes, a man’s… instinctive behavior.”
Shi Yi shifted herself slightly and softly replied, “Just give whatever you want to give.” Objects that had a physical existence were simply things of the world. They came not with you when you were born and they left not with you when you died. The importance to her was not what he would actually give her.
This one sentence he had spoken was already enough.
She was wearing a nightgown and the neckline was somewhat low so that even the slightest shift in her body would reveal a beautiful sight within. He was sitting on the edge of the seat, his body leaning inwards over that chaise lounge so that it was touching one side of her waist. In that brief moment of stillness, his eyes slid from her face to her bosom, then continued down until they reached the curve of her waist. Shi Yi felt lightheaded from his gaze, and amid that silence that made a person feel uptight and restless, she moved her fingers a tad. At first, she had only wanted to dispel that uncomfortable feeling of heat in her body, but in the end, like her hands were being guided by something else, she reached, instead, to stroke his face.
She did not know whether he wanted to do it or just wanted to look.
She could not tell what he was thinking.
“I’ll give you jade as a gift. What are you used to wearing?” He finally raised his eyes to look at hers.
“Why jade?” But after thinking about it briefly, she understood. “That’s true. Your family is rather traditional.”
He gave a chuckle. His hand slipped into the neckline of her nightgown and slid down her back, his arm easing the gown down until more than half her body was uncovered. “Have you read Shuowen Jiezi [“Explaining Words and Analyzing Characters”] before?”
“I’ve read a bit, but I can’t really remember…”
The clasp of her bra was undone so that it now slipped down and hung from her arms.
He leaned forward until he was stretched out on top of her. “’Jade is the beauty amongst all stones,’” he quoted in a quiet voice. “Very appropriate, therefore, to give to you.”
Her bosom was pressed against his shirt, directly contacting its material and giving an unacccustomed chafing feeling. The space was rather tight on that couch for their two bodies. When she could bear it no longer and uttered a sound, they happened to hear Lianhui and Lianrong talking in the courtyard outside of their window. The two girls’ voices abruptly cut off, and in that same instant, he also sealed her lips with his own.
The two girls down below immediately could guess what was occurring upstairs.
All voices dispersed.
There were only the song of the cicadas, an urging rhythm, and the intimacy of two bodies brushing against one another.
“There is a beautiful girl who brings harmony to the house and with her husband [shi you mei ren, yi jia yi shi].” Beside her ear, he interpreted her name.
There is a beautiful girl who brings harmony to the house and with her husband.
Her name – this was what it represented to him.
The following morning, when Shi Yi awoke, Zhousheng Chen was already gone.
She sat alone in that small dining hall, leisurely eating her breakfast. Lianhui and Lianrong accompanied her, conducting themselves gingerly and carefully. During breakfast the previous few days, she had chatted casually with both of them, but because of last night… She was a little embarrassed and did not speak much to either. When she set down her spoon, Lianhui cleared the table and finally broke the awkwardness. “Today is the Ghost Festival. There will be water lanterns being released.”
“You release lanterns here?” She had never released water lanterns during the Ghost Festival before. She had only, once or twice, seen lanterns that were lit on land during the Lantern Festival.
“Yes,” Lianrong laughed. “Every year.”
Humans were yang, ghosts were yin. The land was yang while water was yin.
Lanterns on both water and land were a picturesque scenery. Unfortunately, in the over-bustling metropolis that Shanghai was, these customs no longer existed. She remembered, during every year’s Ghost Festival, at most, the recordings for the day would finish earlier and everyone would utter routine lines such as, “It’s Ghost Festival. Hurry home earlier. Don’t run around outside for no reason.” That would be it.
“Second Young Master and Second Young Madam arrived earlier on.” Lianhui remembered something. “Second Young Madam is with child and will not go to release lanterns.”
Lanterns that were released to light the way back to the underworld.
It was taboo for a pregnant woman to participate, to avoid negatively affecting the unborn child.
Shi Yi suddenly thought of the woman who had so unexpectedly lost her life the last time she was here and felt rather uncomfortable. But, it seemed as if everyone was rather indifferent about these sorts of things, including even Lianghui and Liangrong, who, when they spoke about Tong Jiaren’s pregnancy, only used a completely narrative tone that utterly lacked any joy. She had, at first, wanted to ask a couple more questions, but in the end simply gave an “mm” in acknowledgement.
She remembered Zhousheng Chen’s words:
In this manor, there were a total of 68 courtyard wings and 1118 rooms. There were many people, and the types of people were varied as well.
And so, it was best to ask little and speak little.
Surprisingly, he did not return that evening and also left her to have dinner alone in that little courtyard wing.
She knew that his mother had arrived together with Zhou Wenchuan and his wife, and it was likely out of worry that his mother would make things difficult for her that he made such an arrangement. Luckily, there was still Zhou Wenxing, who always seemed to turn up at just the right time to help settle her heart. She arrived after Shi Yi had finished her dinner specifically to go release floating water lanterns with her.
“My mom won’t be going tonight to float the lanterns,” Zhou Wenxing smiled, exposing her canine tooth. “You don’t need to be nervous.”
With an “mm,” Shi Yi inquired, “Is she not feeling well?”
“Maybe. Not too sure. She still looked okay at dinner.” Zhou Wenxing thought for a moment. “Maybe she just doesn’t want to go.”
While the two were still speaking, they had already set the lanterns in their hands onto the water.
A breeze was blowing over the surface of the water, and the flame of the floating lotus-shaped lanterns flickered, shadows fluttering one over another.
People of the Zhou family, young and old, stood all along the riverbank. Three to five of them would gather together in casual conversation.
Originally, she had not wanted to take a boat but Wenxing had been insistent, so she did not say any more.
Wenxing sat along the edge of the boat, and as she became excited about what she was discussing, she could not contain her low chuckle. “One year during Ghost Month, I went to Singapore. There was an open-air concert. The big star celebrities were up on stage singing, but there were some seats that were empty… I ran up really happily and sat down there…” She laughed as she told her story and then was unable to hold back her coughing. “Later, when my classmate pulled me out of my seat, I learned that those seats were reserved for the ghosts to sit…”
She looked happy, but for some reason, her coughing was becoming more and more fierce.
Shi Yi patted her lightly on her back. “The wind is strong. Should we go back to shore?”
“Mm, sure.” Wenxing’s face was a little pale as she breathed rather laboriously, gently pressing her hand against her own chest.
Shi Yi touched her hand to Wenxing’s wrist.
The pulse was rapid and also very weak.
She was not knowledgeable and only sensed that this was very bad. And seeing Wenxing’s complexion confirmed this thought.
“Pardon me for troubling you. Let’s go back to shore.” Shi Yi turned around to look at the person propelling the boat with a pole.
Very quickly, the person responded and began turning the boat around in the direction they had come.
“Sister-in-Law, I’m really dizzy sitting here.” Wenxing’s voice was unsteady.
Hurriedly, Shi Yi stretched out her hand to help her move towards the inside of the boat to sit, but the boat suddenly pitched several times. Losing her footing, she fell forcefully to one side. In that instant when she was thrown off balance, she only had time to let go of Wenxing before she abruptly plunged into the river.
Completely submersed into an icy cold. And darkness.
She did not know how to swim and swallowed several mouthfuls of water, already drowning.
This moment seemed as if it was several hours long. All the lights were up on the surface of the water. Water invaded her from every possible direction. And the feelings of sinking and darkness. Before she lost her awareness, she could only force herself with all her might to hold her breath…
Until, her consciousness gradually slipped away…
There was no longer any water around her. She was half-crouching as she leaned against the side of the bamboo chair, truly feeling the touch of the arms of the chair against her.
Every edge, every segment. So distinct.
The person before her was resting in the bamboo chair of the study. Sunlight shone through the windows, and mottled shadows fell on him. In that mix of half light, half darkness, his eyes were clear like water as he raised his head.
And he was looking at her.
In those eyes was her own clear reflection.
She wanted to reach out her hand to touch his face, but mid-motion, she stopped, not daring to get any closer…
That ancient picture quickly dissolved away.
Her head pounded excrutiatingly, and her stomach hurt terribly.
From the scene of brilliant sunshine to the darkness she was now in, she struggled back to consciousness. In her hazy vision, she could make out Zhousheng Chen.
The front of his shirt was wet, and he was completely kneeling before her, both hands pressed against the ground as he called her name: “Shi Yi.”
“Mm…” With all her might, she tried to answer him.
“It’s good that you’re awake now.” His voice sounded a bit tight, and it was also raspy. “Don’t talk.”
She was very obedient and once more closed her eyes.
Soon, her awareness grew dim again. It seemed like someone was administering oxygen to her.
Somebody was speaking, something like “acute hypoxia-ischemia” or along those lines. She wanted to hear more clearly, but it was already very difficult. She only knew that he was beside her. That brief illusion a moment ago was too wonderful and had been so real it was frightening. In those memories of her past life she had had during her childhood, she had always been a spectator. Only this time had she personally experienced and taken part in the scene… had her heart taken part in the scene.
It was to the point that, even before she slipped off into unconsciousness, she somewhat wishfully thought, could she have another of those illusions?
Even if it was only for one time.
When she gained consciousness again, it was already day.
She opened her eyes. Her vision was blurry for a while before clarity gradually returned. Judging from the sunlight, it should be approaching noon.
“You’re awake?” Zhousheng Chen’s voice asked her.
She tugged the corner of her lips upward and in a tired voice, gave an “mm.” Turning her head as she sought out his voice, she saw him seated near the edge and leaning backwards in bed. He was still wearing the same light blue button-up shirt that he had put on the night before, and his dark eyes quietly looked down at her.
His voice low, he told her, “Last night, it was Wenxing who pulled you out and saved you. She is still sleeping. I need to leave for a short while and will be back in ten minutes.”
Such poor health, yet she had still jumped into such frigid waters to rescue her?
Shi Yi’s brows pulled together in a frown, and her heart suddenly started beating a little more rapidly. “How is she doing?…”
“Her swimming abilities are strong, but she fell ill from the cold,” Zhousheng Chen answered. “You are probably slightly more severe and will have to do some follow-up treatments.”
“Her health isn’t very good…” She did not continue with her words because she knew Zhousheng Chen was merely trying to comfort her. The state of Wenxing’s health was not optimistic. “You go ahead. I feel much better.”
Very quickly, Zhousheng Chen called for someone but it was not Lianhui and rather, was an unfamiliar girl.
In a very serious tone of voice, he quietly gave some instructions. After the girl nodded her head silently, indicating that she would remember all he had told her, he left the room. Shi Yi also used this time to close her eyes again and rest for a while.
The next time she heard the sound of the door, it was Zhou Wenxing and Zhousheng Chen coming in together.
Wenxing told Zhousheng Chen that she would keep Eldest Sister-in-Law company and assured him that he could go. Waiting until, in the room, there was only Shi Yi, herself, and the young girl attending to them off to the side, Wenxing took a seat at the edge of the bed and said softly, “ Sister-in-Law, you scared me to death. Last night really scared me to death…” She had lightly applied some make-up, which was a rarely seen occurrence, but her complexion still looked pale and unhealthy.
“I’m sorry.” She reached to take Wenxing’s hand, forgetting the intravenous needle that still remained on the back of her own until she felt a sharp pain and had no choice but to pull her hand back. “I should have been a little more careful. I ended up causing you to jump in to save me.”
“Good thing I’m a good swimmer.” Zhou Wenxing’s eyes suddenly grew red. “When we got ashore, your heart had stopped…”
She was somewhat shocked by this. She had not expected that the situation had been so grave.
“We were all terribly afraid. Big Brother’s face was white. When they were resuscitating you, he didn’t say anything at all, and all he knew to do was to keep calling your name beside you…… It’s all my fault. I had to insist on taking some boat…”
 说文解字”Shuo Wen Jie Zi.” This title literally is “Explaining and Analyzing Written Characters.” The oldest Chinese dictionary, dating back to the Han dynasty, but its focus is not really to provide meanings and pronunciations but rather, to describe the etymologies of the characters, breaking them apart to explain how they came about or the rationale behind why they are written as such.
时有美人，宜家宜室 “shi you mei ren, yi jia yi shi.” The characters for Shi Yi’s name, 时宜 are embedded in this line, and hence, this poetic line is Zhousheng Chen’s interpretation of what Shi Yi’s name should mean and who she is to him. The last four characters are actually an idiom derived from a classical poem and compliments a woman’s virtues.
 The traditional belief is that during the 7th month of the lunar calendar, Ghost Month, the spirits of the deceased return to the land of the living. During Ghost Festival, the 15th day of Ghost Month, the custom was to float lanterns, usually shaped like a lotus, on the river that would serve as guiding lights to lead the ghosts back to the underworld.
 上元灯节 “shang yuan deng jie.” This literally means “lantern festival during the first period. “ It takes place on the 15th day of the first month in the Lunar year, and marks the end of the Spring Festival (a.k.a Chinese New Year’s festival) with the first full moon of the year. Traditionally, lanterns are lit and put up as decoration or carried around during the night. This festival has dates back ~2000 years ago, and has had various names throughout history. You may be more familiar with the name, 元宵节 Yuan Xiao Festival.
 I suspect most of you are familiar with the concept of yin and yang already. Very simplistically, yin and yang represent two halves that actually form a whole. This is illustrated in the Chinese characters themselves, which refers to the natural phenoma of the sun. 阴 yin is actually referring to the lack of sunlight during night while 阳 yang is the sunlight during the day.
That one line that provides Zhousheng Chen’s interpretation of Shi Yi’s name is, first of all, an amazing line in the novel, and I just cannot capture it. It’s poetic and concise, and coming from Zhousheng Chen, is a sweet compliment. While in modern times, to say that a woman “brings harmony to the house and her husband” would not be a common compliment anymore, it is very appropriate for Shi Yi, who has more traditional values (no revealing clothing, etc) and gives off an almost ancient feel.
Like Eleven of the past, Zhousheng Chen has not really experienced familial love besides with his sister, and Shi Yi not only brings love to him in their relationship but also together with her, they create a family. With Shi Yi, his family is complete, and he, as a husband feels harmonious – he belongs.
Also, the first four characters, 时有美人 means “there is a beautiful woman” or more accurately, “the times have a beautiful woman. Remember the line “All my life, I longed to be kept carefully by someone…” that was quoted in chapter 11.3 at the pingtan theatre? The title of the book from which this line is taken is 时有女人 “The Times Have a Woman/Women. Think it’s a coincidence that what Zhousheng Chen said differs from the book’s title by only one character? Do you think the author might deliberately be tying this back to Shi Yi’s expression of love, that she would love him by “keeping him from weariness, keeping him from suffering… keeping him from being alone”? That by “keeping” him, Shi Yi made him feel harmonious, to feel that he belonged.
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