Hmm … Probably a bit of an uninteresting chapter, but it does give more insight into Tong Yan’s character by providing a foil. In the romance department, wait a bit. The next chapter or two will see some progress. ❤
Chapter 6.1 – Quietly Advancing and Retreating (1)
Today was Friday.
After this weekend, there were nine weeks remaining. Sixty-three days.
The entire week, it had been raining on and off, and the classrooms were damp and chilly.
She clasped her hands together to warm herself and then started to copy down Gu Pingsheng’s notes on the blackboard.
Gu Pingsheng had very beautiful blackboard writing. When she was in primary school, she had intensely practiced her calligraphy, and she recognized that he was writing in slender gold script style. At the time, she had only felt that this particular script was free and unrestrained and carried its own type of charm.
“Those who like to write with this type of script are usually people who tend to display their abilities ostentatiously.” Her calligraphy teacher had once stated this.
But in no way could he be associated with the idea of “displaying his abilities ostentatiously.”
At this moment, his right hand was in the pocket of his trousers and his left hand was loosely grasping the white chalk, fluidly writing out a row of Chinese characters while using English to give the introduction for today’s class.
Gu Pingsheng was the only teacher this semester willing to teach his course as a bilingual one. Even those teachers who had returned from Japan still persisted in writing their blackboard notes in their out-of-practice English.
In fact, when the university was enrolling students after their college entrance examinations, specific attention and importance had been placed upon their grades in English. At the end of her second year, there were only three people in their class who had not yet passed their CET-6 English tests yet. He did not at all have to go to such trouble for so few people. But, in these small, insignificant details, he still always put careful thought and consideration.
“Liu Yi.” After finishing the introductory words for today’s class, he turned around to look at the class prefect. “Where’s Shen Yao?”
The class prefect choked on a response for a long while and turned his eyes to Tong Yan. Those girls in Tong Yan’s dormitory room were all experts at playing hooky. Most Fridays, they were not around. Who knew where they had gone today?
“Teacher Gu, Shen Yao’s rehearsing with the school orchestra and requested a leave of absence from today’s class,” Tong Yan braced herself and fibbed.
“What about Wang Xiaoru?” Gu Pingsheng’s voice was very neutral.
“Wang Xiaoru … had something suddenly crop up in her family and also got a leave of absence.”
His eyes scanned over the classroom once, quickly distinguishing between those who were simply sitting in to listen and those who truly belonged to this class.
“Wen Jingjing did not come either?” His gaze was on her again. This time, even the students who were simply sitting in on the class were starting to whisperingly discuss this.
Tong Yan gripped her pen, not even able to avoid his gaze. She was the only one from her dorm room who had come to class, yet she was the one who had become the target of attack …
She could feel that her cheeks had grown a little hot. “Wen Jingjing is sick.” She really wanted to stress that this one was the truth and she was genuinely sick.
“Next Monday, have the three of them head over to Administration and go to my office.” His tone remained unperturbed.
Tong Yan’s heart dropped. Oh man, they were in trouble this time.
After class, the class prefect, who had also broken out in a cold sweat of fright, walked over and said to Tong Yan, “Even a rabbit will bite when it’s cornered. Teacher Gu can already be considered to be really good-tempered, and your dorm still managed to force his anger out.”
Class Prefect was brandishing a textbook in his hand and nearly hit Gu Pingsheng, who was walking by.
Gu Pingsheng merely raised his arm slightly to block the incoming book, but Class Prefect’s temper was in the midst of flaring and he immediately whipped his head around and barked, “Class meeting, now!” And then, the classroom fell into total silence.
Those who had only been sitting in on the class froze in shock before quickly grabbing their books and leaving.
Gu Pingsheng was also slightly taken aback, and in a soliciting tone, he asked him, “Need me to participate?”
“N-n-no.” Class Prefect immediately shut down his firepower.
With head lowered, Tong Yan packed up her own books. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him walk past her desk and then out of the classroom.
She went to the library to study and did not return to her dormitory until the sky was dark.
This morning, as she walked out the room, the curtains had been pulled shut, and now, they were still as they had been when she left. She called out “Jingjing” once, but nobody made a sound in response. Feeling slightly concerned, she removed her shoes and climbed onto Wen Jingjing’s bed, only to discover that she was still asleep with her covers pulled up completely over her.
She stretched out her hand to touch Wen Jingjing’s forehead. Burning hot.
As she retracted her hand, it brushed against the pillow. Why was it so wet? Had she sweat that much?
Tong Yan patted Wen Jingjing awake, helped her change her clothes, and got her off the bed.
Finally, after an arduous bicycle ride, she brought Wen Jingjing to a hospital off the university campus. This was one of the university’s designated hospitals, and because it was not in the core of the city, there were very few people there at night.
The doctor on duty was very young but very attentive, and at the end, when Wen Jingjing started her intravenous treatment, that doctor even specifically came over to check on her and ask a few questions about her condition. As Tong Yan watched him, she suddenly wondered, if Teacher Gu had not changed careers, would he have been like this as well?
Inside the intravenous treatment room, there was only a mother and son pair — a forty plus year old son with his old and feeble mother.
If Grandmother suddenly fell ill in Beijing, what should she do?
She all of a sudden felt a sense of unease. Every so often, this type of unsettled feeling would arise in her, and she would not be able to shake it off.
“Yan Yan, thanks.”
She pulled her attention back. In her arms was a small bag of mandarin oranges she had bought outside the entrance to the hospital. Pulling out a larger one, she peeled it and stuffed it into Wen Jingjing’s hand. “You had such a high temperature. Why didn’t you text me?”
Wen Jingjing held onto the orange and after some time, finally said, “Yan Yan, Jia Le broke up with me.”
Tong Yan paused in surprise. “Haven’t you guys been together for six years?”
She remembered that boy. Very plain and unassuming, and when he smiled, he looked a little shy.
“He’s in his fourth year of university this year and looking for a job. He’s really stressed out, and we were always fighting.” Wen Jingjing told her, “Yesterday, he was quarrelling with me over the phone again, and then he said my family doesn’t have much money and I still have a pair of twin younger brothers in high school waiting for us to provide for them …”
She did not finish and Tong Yan did not press further. Tong Yan had more or less discerned the situation in Jingjing’s family. Thinking that this topic had come to a close, she lowered her head and continued peeling oranges.
“I feel like life is particularly unfair.” Wen Jingjing spoke up unexpectedly. “My English isn’t good. I finally was approved for doing a double major with the second major in Japanese, but I couldn’t even pass my midterms. But just look at Xiaoru. She never goes to class but can still effortlessly get first-class scholarships. Yao Yao’s the same. In the entire class, she’s the only specially recruited literature and art student, but she does even better than me in all the academic courses.”
Tong Yan raised her head to look at her.
“And then there’s you, Yan Yan. Every time I see you emceeing or singing, I’m so envious.” Wen Jingjing’s complexion was showing the paleness that comes after a fever has subsided. “Even Teacher Gu treats you so well. I would always see him in his office browsing through physics teaching materials, and then I found out later that he was tutoring you in physics.
“Yan Yan, where I’m from, I was the only one who got into a top-ranked university. But now, my old classmates are all starting to apply to master’s programs abroad while I’m still here struggling to get through my undergrad. I have two younger brothers who are going to be taking their college entrance exams soon. They’re actually not very mature or sensible, and their grades are really bad … Yan Yan, when I think about all this, I feel like even if I continue with my studies, it won’t change anything. Even if I endure all the way to the end, the result will still be the same. Where I came from is where I’ll still have to go back to.”
The intravenous treatment room was very quiet. Wen Jingjing was not speaking loudly, and her tone could not get any flatter than it already was.
Tong Yan split apart her mandarin orange and ate a segment. Due to the cold weather, the orange was ice-cold inside the mouth when eaten. It was sour and icy and really could not be considered tasty.
She had never once poured out her heart like Jingjing was doing to anyone before, nor had she ever dared to. The pain and sorrow that had been accumulating since she graduated from primary school, that feeling that she had completely lost her dignity and self-respect, and that family that caused her heart to quiver in pain simply from thinking about it — how could she possibly speak out about these?
“My ex-boyfriend’s parents are both high school teachers. Because he was pampered on and spoiled, he never put any efforts into school and was extremely rebellious. But, he was especially good to me. One winter, there was a day where my stomach hurt so badly I couldn’t even walk. Without saying a word, he ran out and bought me a bowl of noodles from somewhere by the front of the school and forced the person to sell him the bowl that the noodles came in, too. That day, it was really cold, and just like that, he walked with a bowl of noodles in his hands from the front gate of the school all the way to the door of my classroom. I’m guessing he probably had been walking really hurriedly because the soup had sloshed out and his hands were covered in it. But no matter how good our relationship had been, we still ended up breaking up.”
She remembered, that bowl of noodles had cost something like six yuan. At the time, she had thought that was so expensive. But later, when she went to eat it again, it did not have that same taste anymore.
 瘦金体 “shou jin ti.” Slender gold script is one of the many different types of Chinese calligraphy. It was developed by Song dynasty Emperor Huizong and was named as such because the thin brush strokes of this type of calligraphy resembled twisted gold filament. This script has been described with adjectives such as “floating,” “flowing,” “artistic,” and “dancing.”
Wen Jingjing and Tong Yan are both young girls who have been left with the short end of the stick for many things in life. Both have realized the law that, no matter what sort of life you may have, life goes on. They have both been abandoned by important people in their lives, whether it be her parents in Tong Yan’s case or the boyfriend she was with for six years in Wen Jingjing’s life. They both have to bear incredible financial burdens and support their loved ones. For Wen Jingjing, it is her family and two younger brothers who will require her provision for them to go through school. For Tong Yan, it is an elderly grandmother whom she is trying to finish school to provide for. Both girls actually have low self-esteem, but Wen Jingjing lays it bare while Tong Yan hides it very successfully.
The difference to me is, choosing to complain about life’s unfairness but then just accept her lot. I’m not arguing that the path that Jingjing chose is wrong, only that her attitude is negative about it. Nor am I arguing that Tong Yan is a saint or views life as rainbows and daffodils. She said herself last chapter that she merely chooses to selectively ignore some of the unfairness of life. But I believe that because she realizes that even in life’s unfairness, life still goes on, then, like we saw in the last chapter, though she will allow herself to experience those moments of pain, she doesn’t let herself throw in the towel and give up hope. She may not have wild hopes and dreams for the future, but she has not written off her own future either. She will pick herself up and keep going, one step at a time.
Actually, I re-read what I wrote above, and I realized I may have come off sounding harsh on Wen Jingjing. I am not saying Wen Jingjing is making a bad choice, either; she is merely making her choice. In the c-novel, “Elite Lover,” it said somewhere, and I paraphrase, that oftentimes, you simply cannot categorize life as being “successful” or “unsuccessful.” It is simply “life.” Wen Jingjing’s choice is to let things be and go back to her lifestyle that she believes had previously been laid out for her. Many people have probably done similar things and lived happy lives. What will deem it to her as “successful” or “unsuccessful” is only her perception. At the moment, it sounds like a future she is not happy with, but who knows what she will think in the future? I believe she is here in the story not to make Tong Yan look better or worse but only to contrast and emphasize the differences so we better understand Tong Yan.
(That’s it on Tong Yan for now until you all read further into the story.)
1 of 1 Prologue
16 of 66 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogue segments