It’s still January 1 where I am, so happy New Year to everyone! Wishing all of you the best in 2016!
I’m sure most of you caught the strange, awkward atmosphere between Tong Yan and Gu Pingsheng the last couple of chapters. This can be considered a turning point chapter, or at least, a turning point in mindset for our Teacher Gu.
Chapter 5.3 – The Real You and Me (3)
The alumni party that evening, simply put, was actually just a small, private gathering. More than twenty people were present but only five or six were fellow alumni of the University of Pennsylvania.
“TK, China is still the best. Everywhere you go, there’re black hair and black eyes that give you this near and dear feeling. And there’s also the Chinese language, with all its multitudes of variations.” Luo Zihao put his arm around Gu Pingsheng’s shoulders. “Nong ho. Le se va?” [“Hello. Pretty awesome, eh?” in Shanghainese dialect]
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t understand the last part of that.” He was sitting on a sofa near the balcony.
Luo Zihao was his good friend since childhood. After graduating from high school, Luo Zihao was accepted into Yale University, but less than one year later, he withdrew himself from the school. At the time, Yale was planning on forcibly discharging a Chinese female student from the university on the grounds that this particular student’s English was not as good as an American. As someone who had a strong sense of patriotism, Luo Zihao immediately joined in with the protesters of this. When it was finally arranged for the individual with the grievance to transfer departments and continue her studies to obtain her doctorate degree, he, however, withdrew from the school with just a wave of his hand. He then turned and went to the University of Pennsylvania and ended up staying there.
And then, he met Zhao Yin and got engaged to her. And then after that, his affections shifted to someone else. All his talk about not wanting to return to China simply was his guilt speaking. He wanted to wait until Zhao Yin had married before he dared come back. But he did have some merits, considering that all the former torments and troubles between them had come to a point where now, when they met, a single smile exchanged between them had erased all the love and grievances of the past.
Outside, the rain was still coming down furiously, but out on the balcony, silhouettes could be seen.
From here, looking out through the floor-length windows, the Garden Bridge was seen sparkling down below. The silhouettes on the balcony were a pair, and occasionally they would embrace one another and other times, they would separate again. He suddenly remembered that pair of eyes in the taxicab this afternoon.
“Let me ask you, how come you and her still aren’t together yet? I miss the great land of my fathers — my homeland’s water, my homeland’s clouds. I’m just waiting for you guys to blissfully tie the knot and then I‘ll be able to truly come back to my home country with honours.”
“With whom?” he asked.
“Zhao Yin.” Luo Zihao handed him a glass of wine, but seeing him shake his head, he immediately waved down someone for a glass of iced water for him. “Didn’t I already tell you a long time ago? At the start, she had actually liked you, but she had no choice but to settle for second best and, in a moment of blindness, ended up choosing me. The end result, however, was us breaking up and going our separate ways. As her former boyfriend, I’m going to be very responsible and tell you, she’s been single these last three, four years.”
Luo Zihao’s parents were northerners, and hence, he spoke very quickly. With some difficulty, Gu Pingsheng managed to keep up with the pace of all of his words, and then, he smiled and did not say anything.
“Don’t just be silent.” Luo Zihao’s hand that was not holding his wine glass naturally wrapped around Gu Pingsheng’s shoulders, and when he saw Gu Pingsheng turn his head to the side to look at him, he continued, “You returned to China and on top of that, came to Shanghai. Isn’t that just showing your ‘desire to love but with a pretense of refusal’ [you like her but you’re pretending to reject her]?”
“Have you ever seen me ‘desire to love but with a pretense of refusal’?” Gu Pingsheng automatically ignored the random, useless tidbits in his words.
Luo Zihao felt around in his pocket for his cigarettes, and clamping down on one between his lips, he stated in a muffled tone, “My heart is feeling plagued with guilt. You guys are the true match made in heaven.”
In this sort of lighting where he practically could not see facial expressions and words being formed, Gu Pingsheng did not want to discuss this with him. Back when he had not yet withdrawn from the University of Pennsylvania, he had once specifically attempted to communicate with Luo Zihao on the topic of male/female relationships.
His memories of that occasion were indescribably painful. Environments mould people, especially their views on marriage and relationships.
Leaning back into the sofa, he watched Luo Zihao speak for another little while before turning back to look out at the nightscape.
The couple that had been outside earlier was nowhere to be found. Thoroughly bored, Luo Zihao patted him on the arm. The instant he saw Gu Pingsheng turn towards him, he started to continue with his jabber again.
“So, the children of my motherland nowadays, are they fine to teach?” He was starting to ramble randomly, searching for anything to talk about.
“Their aptitude is quite good.”
“Any whose looks are quite good, too?”
And there he went again … Not even three sentences and he had jumped straight to his main topic again. Gu Pingsheng’s interest was waning.
“Out of all the women in the world, Chinese women are still the most beautiful. When you look at them, it’s like you’re looking at a subtle ink-and-wash painting. Their noses aren’t too high, their mouths aren’t too big, and their eyes aren’t like you’re looking at a skeleton’s skull, where they’re so deep and sunken that if you saw them in the middle of the night, you’d think you were seeing a ghost.” Luo Zihao’s patriotic spirit erupted forth once again. “Did you know? Wait, no, you should know. I’ve said before the type of woman I like the most. For her eyes, the separation between the whites and her black irises should not be overly distinct. Right here,” he said, using his unlit cigarette to point at the inner corner of his own eye, “needs to curve deeply inwards. When she smiles, her entire eye will curve into a crescent shape. So wonderful.”
Tong Yan. He could only think of her. She seemed to be the type that Luo Zihao was describing.
“Have you ever fallen for your own student?” he suddenly asked.
“Oh yah. Can’t hold back your own feelings, you know?” Luo Zihao was about to launch into another recollection, but Gu Pingsheng had already risen to his feet. “Eh? You’re not going to listen?”
Luo Zihao was not exactly sure what this odd quirk of his was, but he especially enjoyed talking about women with this person who was overly cautious about male/female relationships and intimacy. He was certain that his own preferences were towards that soft and fragrant opposite gender, so why was he so stubbornly absorbed with Gu Pingsheng on this particular matter?
“I just remembered, I need to go back to the school to grab a book.”
“In this downpour? You’re going back to the school? Isn’t your school out in the suburbs?”
Before Luo Zihao had finished speaking, Gu Pingsheng was already politely bidding his farewells to the other people, and then quickly, he left.
When Tong Yan returned to her dormitory, she received a phone call. It was from her father.
Since entering university and leaving Beijing, she had not received a single call from her father. The general theme of this call was to borrow money from her. She presumed Grandmother had told him that she had found a part-time job, so in the ears of her father, that became another source of money.
The entire time, she was not willing to say much, and after stating that she still had classes to attend, she hung up the call.
Inside the dormitory room, there was only herself and Wen Jingjing. Jingjing was facing her computer screen, chatting online, and her typing was lightning-fast. As Tong Yan listened to it, she felt more and more miserable until finally, she left the room and strolled idly around the campus to help take her mind off her cares.
Due to the rainstorm, there were not many people out on the walkways. It was pitch dark, and everywhere was water. Later, the downpour simply became too heavy and even her skirt was basically soaked through, so she had no choice but to take shelter in Teaching Building No. 5. This was a newly built teaching building that was not open for students to use at night, and as a result, none of the lights in the building were turned on.
Closing her umbrella, she exhaled a lengthy sigh, and by the light of the moon, she said aloud to herself, “What should you do, Tong Yan?”
She really was not so strong that she could overcome any obstacle.
She merely made herself choose to selectively ignore some of the unfairness of life.
The sound of the rain was very loud, and she could not even hear her own murmurs to herself. But this noise also unexpectedly gave her a somewhat sense of security. She suddenly stepped out into that curtain of rain and yelled to herself, “I’m going to make money, lots and lots of money–––“
Before she was finished, she had already burst out into chortles. Tong Yan, can you get any better than that?”
The rain was truly intense, and in mere moments, she was thoroughly drenched through. Her mind also immediately cleared.
“Alright, Tong Yan.” She retreated back beside the column inside the entrance hall of the teaching building, and grinning, she reminded herself, “We need to pass physics first.”
With the mention of physics, her thoughts suddenly turned to Gu Pingsheng.
She could still clearly remember his eyes from several hours ago inside the taxicab, including the expressions they had held, from an inquiring look until they finally became tranquil. Throughout that whole process, however, he had wordlessly held his gaze on her.
What had he been thinking?
“What are you doing here?”
All of a sudden, a voice could be heard coming from beside her. Letting out a piercing shriek, she leapt away from the column that she had been leaning against. Her heart seeming as if it was going to pound its way out of her chest, she could scarcely believe her eyes.
It was Gu Pingsheng.
Many years later, as Tong Yan thought back upon this rainy night and this scene in Teaching Building No. 5, she would still find this very remarkable.
While your heart was silently thinking of a person, he suddenly appeared before you.
“… Teacher Gu?” Tong Yan’s breathing was ragged, and her chest was starting to ache from the fright she had received.
“I need to head over to the administrative office to grab a few books.” Gu Pingsheng’s hand was also holding an umbrella and water was dripping down off of it. “From afar, I thought it looked like you in here, so I came over for a look. What are you doing here so late?”
“I’m not doing anything …”
While he spoke, he pulled out a package of tissues from his pocket and held them toward her. “Why wet and rained on even though you have an umbrella?”
Feeling slightly embarrassed, Tong Yan took the package from him, pulled out a tissue, and wiped at the water on her face.
“This campus is too big. At such late hours, try not to go to teaching buildings that have nobody in them,” Gu Pingsheng told her. “It’s really dangerous.”
Nodding, she said, “I’ll head back, then.”
“Anything pressing you need to do?”
She looked at him puzzledly. “No.”
“If you don’t have anything pressing, then wait until after I’ve gone to Administration to get my books, and then I’ll walk you back to your dorm.”
She was taken aback for an instant. Gu Pingsheng’s expression was natural and at ease as he explained, “From here to Administration is just a three minute walk. It’ll take twenty minutes to get to your dorm, and there won’t be many people along the way. It’ll be safer if I walk you back.”
There really was nothing Tong Yan could say to that, and obediently she followed him to his office.
She had had several weeks of tutoring sessions with him here and was very familiar with each one of the furnishings in this place. When Gu Pingsheng went to get his books, she even started to think about the fact that she would not be having any more sessions with him and felt a little sad because of this.
“Teacher Gu,” she addressed him, putting on a nonchalant front as she looked at him, “why did you suddenly stop tutoring me?”
Smiling, Gu Pingsheng closed the glass door of his bookshelf and with his back to her, he answered, “My health has not been very good lately. All my additional time outside of class time, I need to go to the hospital, and I was worried this would hold up your tutoring progress.”
He spoke very simply. Tong Yan had not expected at all that this would be the answer. She very much wanted to ask further but did not know as whom and from what status could she do so.
The two of them left the Law Building, and then along the way, because they were each carrying an umbrella, there was not much exchange between them. When they reached the downstairs of her dormitory building, Tong Yan closed her umbrella, ran up the steps, and turned back to look at him.
Under that very wide, black umbrella, Gu Pingsheng was wearing a clean, white, button-up shirt, and nothing at all wrong with him could be perceived. Maybe … what he meant by “health has not been very good” was simply a cold or flu? Or maybe it was … an excuse?
But subconsciously, she was willing to believe that he had been telling the truth.
“Hurry and go in.” He could not help laughing. “Remember that there’s Commercial Arbitration tomorrow morning. Don’t be late.”
Perhaps due to the humid weather, his voice was surprisingly gentle and soft.
She gnawed lightly on her own lip and, with some hesitation, thought for a while before saying, “It’s quite hard to catch a cab from the school’s west gate. There are more cabs over at the east gate.” She paused briefly before finally saying what she most wanted to say. “Teacher Gu … Be careful on your way back.”
“Alright.” Gu Pingsheng gazed into her eyes as he said, “Goodbye.”
When she was back in her dormitory room, Tong Yan was still in a fluster, simply because of the one sentence she had said.
Back during middle and high school, dating was not allowed, but her whole heart and mind had been set on throwing herself into her early-age dating.
Now, she was in university and at last could rightfully and openly date, but she discovered that she had fallen for her own teacher … Tong Yan, can you get any better than that?
 侬好, 来噻伐. Luo Zihao was talking about how wonderful and varied the Chinese language can be. He suddenly switched over to speak in the Shanghainese dialect (which, my readers of Beautiful Bones, is a Wu dialect), to say hello, and then complimented himself on how awesome he was. Unlike Mandarin, which is the official dialect of China and has a standard system called pinyin of transliterating Mandarin into the Latin alphabet, Shanghainese has no such system. The phonetic Romanized spelling I used here is just one version, and you may see different transliterations of Shanghainese.
 In 2005, a grievance was brought against Yale University for discrimination against a Chinese national. Xuemei Han, who at the time was in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology deparment, had been asked to leave the university, her funding taken away for “bad academic standing” despite having passed all requirements and language tests. Protests occurred at the university, and in the end, Han retained her fellowship funding and was transferred over to the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. You can refer to here and here for more information.
 外白渡桥 “Waibaidu Qiao”. The Waibaidu Bridge, more commonly known by Westerners as the Garden Bridge, is a landmark piece of architecture in Shanghai. Built in 1906-1908, it was the earliest all-steel bridge in China and is also a symbol of old Shanghai.
 欲迎还拒 “yu ying huan ju.” In a literal sense, this translates as “desiring to have/take/welcome [someone] but yet rejecting.” It describes a situation where one has feelings for a person, but because one is not willing to directly express those feelings, a façade of rejection or refusal is put on.
 水墨画 “shui mo hua.” Ink-and-wash painting is a traditional form of Chinese painting done with a brush and ink. Ink of varying consistencies can be prepared, depending on how much water is added, and therefore, shading, contrast between brightness and darkness, texture, coloring, etc. can all be accomplished with the ink.
I’ve been trying to not colour your perspectives of this novel and call attention to things because I personally was impacted by how nonchalantly details about the characters were slipped in and only after the fact did I realize the importance of that detail.
However, I am going to draw attention to this one line from this chapter: “Environments mould people, especially their views on marriage and relationships.” This was Gu Pingsheng’s thought, and it very much holds true in this novel for our leads, especially for Gu Pingsheng. Keep it at the back of your mind as we progress through the story together.
I’ve said before I can relate to Tong Yan, and it’s in more ways than one. She says that she is not strong enough to overcome every obstacle … And it’s true. No one is. One of my favourite quotes comes from Hua Xu Yin, chapter 11.2 and was translated beautifully by hamster. “Crying doesn’t mean you aren’t strong. After crying your heart out, you can still stand up and know which way to take or what things to do …” That is what courage and inner strength are to me. Faced with burdens that she truly should not have to bear, she allows herself a moment to relieve her feelings, to get them all out, and then she stands up and takes life one small step at a time again. The next step: pass physics. Tong Yan is written realistically. She has flaws, some of which you will see later, but whether it be out of survival mode or any other reason, she undeniably carries an inner strength in her.
As for Teacher Gu, a couple things:
“ ‘Have you ever fallen for your own student?’ ” He’s acknowledged it to himself.
“She could still clearly remember his eyes from several hours ago inside the taxicab, including the expressions they had held, from an inquiring look until they finally became tranquil, but throughout that whole process, he had wordlessly held his gaze on her.” Something went through his mind that caused the expression in his eyes to shift and change until it finally settled and became tranquilness, peace, like he had arrived at a conclusion. And that whole time, he had gazed at Tong Yan. Shift in mindset, yes? What do you think he was thinking? 😉
1 of 1 Prologue
15 of 66 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogue segments