As of this coming Friday, it will be the New Year! That also means, I will be back to two updates a week, so yes, there will be an update this Friday evening, N. American time (Saturday morning for anyone separated from N. America by an ocean).
Ah, Teacher Gu is just too nice, a lamb for the slaughter in Shen Yao’s eyes. Actually, this is one of those chapters where you’ll probably come back to and understand behaviours after you’ve read a little further.
Chapter 5.2 – The Real You and Me (2)
Gu Pingsheng was not very familiar with Shanghai, so Shen Yao immediately volunteered to lead the way.
When they were near their destination, Tong Yan finally recognized that they were on Huaihai Road near Shen Yao’s home, and she whisperingly asked, “Why’d we head over here to Huaihai Road? Are you trying to viciously swindle Teacher Gu with this meal?”
Her impression of this place: Expensive. Very expensive.
“The places open at three in the afternoon. I want to go home and change. Too bad you’re ten centimetres shorter than me; otherwise I’d lend you a pair of pants to change into.” With a wink at her, Shen Yao said, “The great beauty is offering himself up. If I don’t swindle him, it’d be such a waste.” Once she finished saying this, she turned around and addressed Gu Pingsheng, “Teacher Gu, my home happens to be nearby. Would you like to go there for a bit? I’m not dressed very warmly, and I want to go home to change.”
Gu Pingsheng had just taken the change the taxi driver had handed him. Casually slipping his wallet into the pocket of his trousers, he glanced over at the lane she was pointing to and gave a nod.
Shen Yao’s home was an old, four-level house that was built prior to the Liberation. On Huaihai Road where “an inch of land is an ounce of gold,” its value was already sky-high.
They opened the narrow, red front door. On the first floor were the kitchen, dining area, and a bedroom. The two of them walked up the old mahogany staircase, following Shen Yao past the bedrooms on the second floor as she took them directly to the living room on the third level.
“Wait a moment.” Shen Yao made a cup of tea for each of them. “I’ll be back really soon.”
After saying this, she went back down the stairs with sounds of “thump, thump, thump,” leaving the two of them in the living room.
Since this was an old house, the room was not large and could only hold one sofa.
Side by side, they sat on it. Utterly bored, she could only focus her attention on the DVDs that had been thrown haphazardly on the table.
The topmost disc was Black Book, directed by Paul Verhoeven. Tong Yan remembered she had watched it before on Shen Yao’s computer. It was about a Jewish woman who infiltrated the Germans as a spy during the Second World War but ended up falling deeply in love with a Nazi officer. In the end, when the Second World War ended and the Germans were defeated, she could only watch as the one she loved was executed. It was the inspiration for Ang Lee’s film, Lust, Caution.
“You’ve watched it?” he suddenly asked.
“Yes.” She picked it up and looked it over. It was the German edition. She reckoned Shen Yao used it to practice her languages. “It’s really good. I watched it before on Shen Yao’s computer. When I finished, I was really touched, and it made me reflect on how the Jews truly were worthy of pity. So many of them died in World War II, but actually, they are a very smart and hardworking people.”
“Yes, the Jewish people are very smart.” He told her, “Before, when I was studying for my master’s degree, the person whose grades were better than mine was Jewish. Chinese people are also very smart. When I graduated from high school, there were more than two hundred people in my year, of whom nine were Chinese, but Harvard accepted only one person — a girl, Chinese. The person accepted into Yale was also Chinese. The other Chinese students went to Columbia, Cornell, and Duke, all very good schools.”
There was one other one. He went to the University of Pennsylvania.
She silently added that in her mind before replying with a smile, “So, smart nationalities have to endure relatively more trials and hardships.”
She was actually still talking about that movie, but she suddenly felt she seemed to be referring to him.
“Actually, for old movies, my taste is very uncultured. I like Legally Blonde.” Hurriedly, she changed the topic.
Leaning back into the couch, he pondered for a moment. “A story about a girl who cares only about clothes and dressing up, but because her boyfriend gets admitted into law school and breaks up with her, she miraculously gets accepted into Harvard Law School wearing a pink Barbie dress and goes to win her boyfriend back?”
Promptly, she corrected him, “The boyfriend is just a jerk. She and her university teacher end up together. I love this movie, and I’ve watched it more than ten times. Back then, I vowed I had to study law …”
She abruptly cut herself off. An old-fashioned grandfather clock suddenly sounded a deep, dull chime, reminding them of the time.
What sort of stupid topic was this? … Today was definitely not a day suitable for having a conversation.
“It would seem idol dramas sometimes can also be inspiring.” Gu Pingsheng soon rose to his feet and stepped out onto the balcony. “When we got out of the car just now, I noticed that this place looked very familiar. Is there a road nearby called Yandang Road?”
Secretly breathing out in relief, she immediately stood also. “It’s just on the opposite side over there.” She pointed out the window. “The perpendicular one is Yandang Road.”
A fine, delightful pedestrian leisure street that, if you followed it down, consisted completely of vintage dark gray, Western-style buildings. She remembered Miao Miao had once said that her wedding photographs in which she had worn a cheongsam had all been taken along this road. It was a pity that the rain was pouring down in torrents, and they could not see any sort of view or scenery besides umbrellas of all colours floating within the misty rain …
“Then this should be the place. Her family’s financial situation must be quite good, considering that she lives here.”
“Her grades are quite good, too.” Tong Yan sighed, “Since I’ve been in university, I’ve come to understand something fundamental: not every person who comes from an underprivileged background will end up astounding people with just a single achievement, and those with privileged backgrounds are not all ignorant and incompetent either.”
See? Those inspirational novels weren’t always true.
His right hand rested on top of the railing, and he turned back again to continue staring out at the endless streams of traffic beyond the balcony. “In terms of learning and studies, passing is something that can be accomplished by hard work, but to truly be able to astound everyone in just a single achievement, that does indeed depend on individual talent.”
“Are you just describing yourself?” she muttered under her breath.
He seemed to detect that she was speaking, and catching her off guard, he turned to her and asked, “Were you talking to me?”
Instantly feeling guilty, as if she had been found out, Tong Yan smiled sheepishly, “Yup. I’m hungry. Teacher Gu, what sort of food are you planning on treating us to?”
He suddenly chuckled, “I’m guessing that’s something I don’t need to think about. She should have already thought of the place where she will significantly lighten my wallet in order to reward you.” As he said these words, his eyes once again shifted to fall on the sights outside.
She suddenly recalled how, during their dormitory’s late-night conversations, they had discussed Gu Pingsheng’s handicap and praised it. It was so good how, when he spoke to you, he would look directly at you and would focus his attention on you only.
But, if he did not want to talk to you, it was very easy to do as well.
He needed only to move his gaze away.
Sure enough, Shen Yao lived up to everyone’s expectations by heading straight for Yandang Road and selecting a steakhouse.
The restaurant was a small, standalone Western-style building. No thought was even necessary to know that this place would indubitably be expensive. Before she even stepped through the door, she questioned Shen Yao, “Didn’t you say you wanted to have Chinese food?”
“It’s no problem. I’ll order you two orders of mushroom soup. I guarantee you that those will warm you up.” Shen Yao squeezed her hand with a look that seemed to say she was doing this for Tong Yan’s good. “Women need to eat beef. It’s good for the body. This place isn’t too expensive, just two hundred yuan on average per person. In Shanghai, that’s definitely not expensive. Trust me …” She stole a glimpse at Gu Pingsheng after saying this, then carried on, “Plus, I’m the one who’s swindling the teacher, not you. What do you have to be scared of?”
Walking ahead of them, Gu Pingsheng closed his umbrella and handed it to one of the hosts of the restaurant.
As she stared at his back, Tong Yan silently said the question in her mind: Why shouldn’t she be scared? He was now her biggest creditor. Have you ever seen someone who not only did not return money owed but also tried with all her might to swindle her creditor?
When the menu was in her hand, she utterly wanted to cry. Just a random mushroom soup was 138 yuan. How could it possibly be an average of 200 yuan per person?
He started with ordering appetizers first and then did not stop, as if he really was a lamb resigned to being slaughtered … Each time he said the name of a dish, Tong Yan would immediately peek at the menu and then throw a vicious glare at Shen Yao.
“T-bone, eight ounces.” He looked over at Tong Yan. “This young lady here will have a filet mignon, five ounces, cooked medium well. Shen Yao, what are you having?”
Her eyes speedily swept over the menu she was holding. A filet mignon was seventy yuan per ounce, and she, alone, was going to eat five ounces?
Under Tong Yan’s dagger-like glower, Shen Yao calmly stated, “Filet mignon, eight ounces, cooked medium rare.”
“You’re a blood-thirsty animal?” In a rare instance, a joke was heard from him before he closed his menu.
Shen Yao gave an embarrassed little grin. While he was confirming the sides and desserts, she whispered to Tong Yan, “Teacher Gu made a joke, did you see? When he jokes, the look in his eyes just melts your soul.”
Gritting her teeth, Tong Yan fumed at her, “Otherwise what? You want him to hug his wallet and cry?”
“I’ll add another order of filet mignon, eight ounces, cooked medium,” he told the server.
Tong Yan and Shen Yao exchanged a glance. Who else was coming?
“Zhao Yin — your Teacher Zhao — lives around here, too.” After the server had left, he provided them with a reasonable explanation. “So, I asked her to meet up with us.”
Tong Yan understood now. Picking up her glass, she took a drink of her hot water.
“Goddess of Nightmares?” Shen Yao’s question slipped past her lips. “You’re kidding, right, Teacher Gu? If you’d told us she was coming, we would have just taken care of our own lunches.”
Gu Pingsheng looked amusedly at Shen Yao. “You’ve had to re-take physics, too?”
“No.” Shen Yao shook her head. “The crux of the issue is, our school’s Teacher Zhao Yin was involved in revising the entire school’s physics learning materials, which all the students have to use. So, Teacher Zhao is absolutely the whole school’s Goddess of Nightmares …”
Two glasses of red wine were brought over, and he motioned that one should be set down in front of him and the other by the empty plate beside him. “It would seem I’m teaching the wrong subject. I’ve never seen all of you so scared of me before.”
Seeing that he had even specially ordered red wine, Shen Yao’s nosy nature completely exploded forth. “Teacher Gu, may I secretly ask you just one question of gossip? Is Zhao Yin our future shimu [teacher-mother]?”
Tong Yan had all along been listening to their conversation, and after Shen Yao asked this, she cast a glance at Gu Pingsheng. Indeed, they were true best friends. Shen Yao asked the same question she had also once posed to him.
“I recall, at the beginning of the school year, I gave each of you a chance to ask me any question. That doesn’t mean, though, that you can ask me any question at any time and any place.” A smile was on his face the entire time he said this.
“Oh, got it.” Shen Yao swiftly turned her head away, and with her hand propping up her head, she murmured to Tong Yan, “That’s indirectly admitting to it.”
Tong Yan did not utter a sound. Sensing that he was looking in their direction the whole time, she only nibbled on the edge of her glass and continued to hold her silence.
The instant Zhao Yin arrived, she and Shen Yao dared not joke around anymore, and setting down their glasses, they respectfully greeted her, “Teacher Zhao.” Ever since Gu Pingsheng had handed her over to Zhao Yin for her tutoring, she had fixed times twice a week when she would go to Zhao Yin’s office. However, though she could not offer an explanation why, she simply could not get close to this female teacher.
Since it was not a workday, Zhao Yin’s attire was considerably more casual than normal. But although it was casual, in subtle and indirect ways, there were indications that great care and attention had been paid. It was apparent that Shen Yao had experienced psychological trauma from Zhao Yin as well. The atmosphere, which previously had been lively and fun, had now grown quiet after this additional person joined them.
Overcome with boredom as she ate, Shen Yao offhandedly asked Tong Yan, “I still have to go back to the conference venue this afternoon. How are you going to get back to school?”
Without even needing to think, Tong Yan replied, “Take Line 1 of the metro, transfer over to light rail, and then walk the rest of the way back.”
“It’s heavy winds and rain out there. After you get off the light rail train, it’s still going to take fifteen minutes to walk to the school’s main gates, and then from the main gates to the dorm, it’s at least half an hour. You were freezing for the whole morning already. If you walk back like that, even if you don’t die from it, you’ll end up making yourself half-crippled.”
“I’ll be returning to the school this afternoon. You can come with me,” Gu Pingsheng suddenly spoke up.
“Sure.” Shen Yao accepted the favour on her behalf first. “Thanks, Teacher Gu.”
Zhao Yin lightly touched Gu Pingsheng’s hand. Waiting until he had turned his head toward her, Zhao Yin reminded him with a smile, “Don’t forget the alumni party tonight.”
Shen Yao immediately pinched Tong Yan’s arm and whispered in her ear, “Look, she’s touching his hand.”
Tong Yan wanted to cry in exasperation, but because she could not allow herself to show any expression here, she simply hissed back, “That’s because Teacher Gu can’t hear.”
With wide eyes and her voice still lowered, Shen Yao countered, “It’s not like you’ve never dated anyone before. Is the hand something you can just touch if you feel like it? Would you touch Teacher Gu’s hand? At most, you’d just pat him on the arm.”
Tong Yan suddenly remembered, at Juyong Pass …
“Oh right, you have touched Teacher Gu’s hand,” Shen Yao was still carrying on.
Tong Yan’s heart gave an intense jolt, and she pressed her lips together nervously.
“You guys held hands that night at the gala,” Shen Yao clarified. “But that doesn’t count.”
Gu Pingsheng could not hear, but that did not mean Zhao Yin was deaf, too. Although Shen Yao’s voice was very light when she spoke, Tong Yan put on a serious manner and gave her a glare, warning her silently that she should not continue with her senseless chatter.
 淮海路 “Huaihai Lu.” Huaihai Road is often referred to as the most beautiful road in Shanghai. It is a very busy road with offices, food, entertainment, and shopping, including luxury brands such as Hermes and Louis Vutton as well as high-end department stores.
 解放 “jie fang.” This is literally translated as “the Liberation,” and is the term used in China to refer to October 1, 1949, when Mao Zedong proclaimed the creation of the People’s Republic of China. This signaled the end of the civil war known outside of mainland China as the Chinese Revolution of 1949 between the Communist Party and the Nationalist Party (also known as Kuomintang). In mainland China, this war is referred to as the Liberation War.
 雁荡路 “Yandang Lu.” Yandang Road is a side street off of the main Huaihai Road, and both are in the former French Concession of Shanghai. It was one of Shanghai’s first pedestrian streets. The boutiques and cafes and tea bars as well the restored historical architecture evoke a European atmosphere.
 旗袍 “qipao.” A form-fitting, one piece dress, commonly called “cheongsam” in English although occasionally, you may see it referred to as “qipao. This piece of clothing originated from the dress of the Manchu women during the Qing dynasty and was gradually modified over time.
 师母 “shi mu.” Literally means “teacher-mother.” The wife of one’s teacher.
1 of 1 Prologue
14 of 66 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogue segments