What are friends for? Some news for Yan Yan…
Chapter 3.3 – Are You Truly Real? (3)
When she returned to school, her dormitory was empty of people. Shanghai’s climate was humid. She had left for only seven days, but her clothing inside the closet all looked as if they had been sprayed with water. In the end, she had no choice but to toss them all into a plastic bucket and head to the laundry room.
“Tong Yan!” Outside the window, Ai Mi was gripping the metal security bars and excitedly calling to her. “I’ve got one piece of good news and two pieces of bad news. Which do you want to hear first?”
Last night on the train, Tong Yan had once again stood the entire night, and she was unbearably exhausted right now. Hearing these words, she only had one urge: to take the entire bucket of dirty clothes and smack it upside down over Ai Mi’s head. In the two years she had known her, so long as Ai Mi made an appearance, irrespective of whether it was “good news” or “bad news,” it was always news that meant bad things in store for her.
Sure enough, without waiting for her reply, Ai Mi continued to prattle on and revealed, “The good news is, for this year’s Welcome Gala, an open vote in the school was taken and the nominee with the most votes for male emcee was your faculty’s…” She deliberately dragged out the last vowel. Several girls standing inside the laundry room had perked up their ears to listen in, and now, they heard three words that made their blood boil with excitement. “… Great Beauty Gu.”
Tong Yan was astonished. “He’s a teacher. How can he host the Welcome Gala?”
“Why can’t he?” Ai Mi was grinning like a blooming flower. “Don’t forget, our new university president is known for being a maverick. Didn’t he even chat anonymously with students on BBS? A mere teacher of the Law Faculty of course can be sacrificed, then.”
When Ai Mi spoke the word, “sacrificed,” there were many layered meanings contained in it.
Poor Teacher Gu…
“What about the bad news?”
“Because of the specialness of Great Beauty Gu, the Students’ Union’s fine arts department decided that another experienced emcee needed to be chosen, and on top of that, that person needed to be able to work well and be in sync with Great Beauty Gu… And that person is you.”
“I resigned from Students’ Union after I finished second year.”
“Yup. That’s why the president sent me to come do so mental work and prep on you. You’ve emceed a Welcome Gala, the school’s Youth Talent Competition, and a school Christmas party. You have the most experience. Plus,” Ai Mi gave her a woeful look and said, “you know that an emcee has to be able to handle all sorts of bad things that crop up. Are you really going to be so cruel to make us find a rookie instead, and then Great Beauty Gu won’t be able to come in properly with his lines and will be humiliated?”
She remembered her first time on stage, she had gotten her lines wrong, the microphone had not worked, and the audience had burst out laughing… The most hated incident was the time the performers had knocked over the background scenery flats. She could not even imagine what would happen if Teacher Gu, who could not hear, encountered these types of situations.
“So, for the sake of your master of ceremonies career, the last piece of bad news is, you can’t take part in the play’s rehearsal anymore.” Ai Mi let out a long sigh. “Yan Yan, I’ve done a disservice to you. You can’t even personally be involved in the play you wrote the script for…”
Tong Yan shook her head wordlessly. After some time, she nodded again. Her entire brain was focused on the matter about serving as masters of ceremonies for the evening gala and could not be bothered at all about some stage play right now.
“I’m done saying what I need to say, eh.” Ai Mi was very pleased that Tong Yan had not refused. “Tonight, five o’clock in the main auditorium, we’re having the first meeting. Supposedly your faculty’s Great Beauty Gu just arrived in Shanghai. Such a coincidence, really.”
As she reflected on those few days of interaction in Beijing and that Gu Pingsheng truly had helped her out a great deal, her heart ultimately softened and she gave in.
A significant number of people were already surrounding the doors of the main auditorium when she arrived that evening. People from all the various associations of the school were gathered there and conversing. Inside the main auditorium, the Students’ Union was holding a meeting, and these associations that were going to be participating in the various performances were all waiting to rehearse.
When many of the third year students who were also key people in the Students’ Union saw Tong Yan, they had gleeful grins from delighting in her misfortune. “Tong Yan Wuji, I already said it, our Students’ Union president, dear, respected Mr. Zhou Qingchen wouldn’t just let you off the hook. See? You’re back again.”
The evening breeze blew ever so gently. Everyone’s wicked cackles sounded out ever so delightedly. She put on an expression of misery on her face and stepped into the auditorium.
The university’s main auditorium consisted of two levels and could seat 3500 people.
Since it was only an internal meeting of the program committee and things were still in the rehearsal phase, the lighting for the seating area inside remained dim. Off of the stage, there were only twenty-odd students, but surprisingly, many teachers were present.
The instant she stepped in through the back door, she spotted Gu Pingsheng standing in the middle of several teachers. He still wore a simple, white button-up shirt paired with casual, warm-brown trousers. Because of the distance, she could not make out his features or expressions.
Imperceptibly, his presence caused people to unwittingly take notice of him.
Tong Yan suddenly felt this was remarkable. Within the last seven days, she had traveled from Shanghai to Beijing and back again, and Teacher Gu had done the same. They had had brief interactions in Beijing, and then, after returning here, he was still the teacher who stood upon the podium and she was still the student who was plagued with anguish over university physics.
“Tong Yan.” The main floor seating area was open and empty, so when this name was hollered out, the sound rippled through the auditorium and echoed continuously.
Tong Yan hurriedly walked down past row after row of seats until she was in front of the stage. “Teacher Du.” This was the supervising teacher for the Students’ Union, the one known as “Du Half-A-Beat” because everything he did and said was always slow by half a beat.
Tong Yan glanced over at Gu Pingsheng, but before she had a chance to greet him, she heard Du Half-A-Beat say to him, “This is the female emcee that we have trained up these last two years. She is very experienced and is also one of the top students in the Law Faculty.”
He merely smiled and replied, “I know. She is my student.”
Immediately, she went along with his words. “Teacher Gu, long time no see. Did you have a good holiday?”
Gu Pingsheng gave a nod and looked placidly at her. “Very good, thanks.”
“Oh, right.” When Du Half-A-Beat heard this, he at last realized with a start, “Teacher Gu, you’re a teacher in the Law Faculty. You happen to be teaching Tong Yan this semester?”
Gu Pingsheng nodded. “Yes. Such a coincidence. This semester, she is in my class.”
Behind the two of them, all the students and teachers had expressions of relief, as if a weight had been taken off their minds.
Gu Pingsheng’s specialness had made them feel, from the beginning, that they were making an unreasonable demand of him. But if the two masters of ceremonies had already had several weeks of interaction, then this certainly was as if Heaven had created this wonderful opportunity and intended on helping them achieve their desire. Later, after hearing an explanation from Du Half-A-Beat, Tong Yan finally understood why Gu Pingsheng had agreed to this. This year was the university’s 110th anniversary, and in celebration, the school was going to hold an evening gala, a concert, and a grand party and reunion of its exceptional alumni. Due to the significance of this particular year, the Students’ Union decided to combine the Welcome Gala with the university’s Anniversary Gala celebration.
With such an occasion, it was no wonder they were able to persuade someone of Teacher Gu’s level to participate.
“Tong Yan.” Du Half-A-Beat personally twisted open a bottle of spring water and handed it to her. “Normally for this type of evening gala, we should hire a professional master of ceremonies, but the president’s wish is that we stay in touch with the people. So, the anniversary concert and alumni reunion party will be hosted by a professional emcee, but by giving the responsibility of the evening gala to the student body, the event will be more memorable.”
Tong Yan understood now. She had been duped into a trap.
Since she and Gu Pingsheng were to be the masters of ceremonies for that night, they needed to attend all the rehearsals, and this included appraising each association or private group’s program. The two of them sat in the last row and watched the stage from a distance. Aside from the evaluators in the first row and the performers on stage, this auditorium that seated 3500 people was empty.
Tong Yan took a sip of her water and inconspicuously tilted her head to peek at Gu Pingsheng. And then, completely unprepared for it, her eyes locked with his.
“Teacher Gu, have you emceed before?” she instinctively found a topic of conversation.
“I did when I was in the University of Pennsylvania. It wasn’t for the university’s anniversary celebration, though. It was a party hosted by the School of Medicine.” Gu Pingsheng’s eyes were on her as he spoke. “But that was a long time ago, when I was still a student in med school. And it did not have all these…”
“All these rules and restrictions?” Tong Yan understood what he meant. “Yeah, it’s a real pain. The university’s school-wide galas are getting bigger and bigger with each time. I feel like they’re practically like the Spring Festival Gala.”
As she finished saying this, she seemed to think of something and immediately began flipping through the program flow for that evening. Oh man, they were so dead!
Dismally, she tilted her head to look at him. “Yup, just like the Spring Festival Gala. We’ll be reading out all the various messages of congratulations and good wishes from alumni around the world…” The scene even floated up in her mind of the three lasses from her dormitory all chortling hysterically in the audience as she read those.
Gu Pingsheng also found it amusing. “If you don’t want to read them, you can give them all to me.”
She gave him a grateful smile and then continued to focus on studying the gala’s program for the evening.
After a little while, she suddenly seemed to remember something and tapped his arm.
When she saw Gu Pingsheng turn his head to the side to look quietly at her, she actually hesitated, but in the end, she still could not refrain from asking, “Teacher Gu, you studied medicine in Penn. Why, then, did you go back to Beijing to do your internship?”
“My mother, at the time, was a surgeon at Peking Union Hospital.” This was a seldom seen time where he actually was not looking at her when he spoke and had simply turned back to watch the stage. “Back then, I went there to do my internship only because I wanted to spend time with her.” He did not look at her again, which was a polite indication that this topic had come to a close.
Her head lowered, Tong Yan carried on looking through the event program, but after staring at it for a long time, she still was not able to remember a single word of what was written.
“Tong Yan.” Zhou Qingchen had appeared at some unknown time and suddenly called out to her. “Did I hear right? Teacher Gu studied medicine at Penn?”
With an “mm-hmm,” Tong Yan asked, “Why?”
It seemed this Students’ Union president was studying medicine, right? It seemed that’s what it was. But her impression of the University of Pennsylvania was limited to what Shen Yao repeated everyday about it, about some business school there.
“The number three-ranked medical school in all of the U.S.…” Zhou Qingchen’s face was flushed, and the look he had was one of a person who was about to meet his idol. “An illiterate like you would never understand. Tong Yan Wuji, do you even know how hard it is to get into Penn’s med school? In order for me, in a roundabout way, to accomplish saving the nation, I even have to first study some darn laws to get a visa before I can get into that med school… Hurry, let me chat with my future senior fellow schoolmate. Future schoolmates, you know.”
She was taken aback for half a second before she abruptly sat up straight, deliberately putting herself between the two of them. “I’m warning you, Zhou Qingchen, don’t you go harassing my teacher.”
She was now certain that period in his past when he had studied medicine was something Gu Pingsheng did not want to talk about. Therefore, she was determined that she would not allow Zhou Qingchen to ask anything that might bring up those memories. And so, after Tong Yan’s desire to “protect her own” had flared up for a full minute, Zhou Qingchen was finally driven away.
Gu Pingsheng happened to turn back right at that moment, and seeing a student glumly leaving, he asked, “Does he need us for something?”
Tong Yan put on an innocent smile. “No, he just came over to ask us whether we wanted to order boxes of takeout to eat.”
春晚 “Chun Wan.” The common abbreviation for 中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会, The Chinese Central Television Spring Festival Gala (or New Year’s Gala) is the yearly special New Year’s program shown on Lunar New Year’s Eve. Its viewership is in the hundreds of millions.
1 of 1 Prologue
9 of 66 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogue segments