We finally get to read about Gu Pingsheng’s perspective and thoughts. And then, there’s also what happens after Shen Yao’s blunder.
Chapter 7.1 – The Person I Like (1)
This was his first Christmas Eve in Shanghai.
Although he had grown up in a Catholic school system, this was only because the teaching in it was more strict and rigorous and not because he was a true Catholic. Gu Pingfan, on the other hand, was a devout believer through and through, and tonight, she would most certainly be going to church to celebrate Midnight Mass. Hence, he had very early on arranged a time with Gu Pingfan to go shopping together.
But, he had not expected that there would be so many people.
Looking around at all the young women’s fashions that were near and far, Gu Pingfan asked somewhat uncomprehendingly, “What are you here to buy?”
He pondered momentarily. “Young women’s clothing.”
Gu Pingfan’s eyes swept him up and down. Just as she was about to throw out a couple of mocking sentences, she suddenly understood. “It’s for that student of yours? Tong Yan?” While she was speaking, she stepped out of the way of several girls who looked to be students.
“Your build is really similar to hers, and your taste is also passable …” He did not deny anything and merely felt that, standing here among this crowded swarm of young women, he seemed to stick out. “Help me buy some clothing that would be fitting. I want to give them to her as a Christmas present.” Raising his arm, he glanced at his watch. “I’ll wait for you in the Coffee Bean downstairs. Twenty minutes?”
On the surface, he seemed to be asking for a favour and his tone was gracious and courteous, but it left absolutely no opportunity for refusal.
Gu Pingfan was accustomed to this manner of his that he had always had since he was a child. She could not even be bothered to say anything and instead, proceeded directly to dutifully force her way into the horde. He went downstairs to the Coffee Bean, which was also packed with people, and ordered a cup of Earl Grey tea.
Luck was on his side for when the tea was ready and carried out, there happened to be someone in the corner leaving. Near him, a young couple wearing school uniforms was laughing happily, when unexpectedly, the boy pulled out a box. When the girl opened it, whatever was contained inside caused her to instantly throw her hands over her mouth and, with an exaggerated expression on her face, let out a high-pitched squeal.
“Ten minutes.” All of a sudden, a bag obstructed his view. Grinning, Pingfan stated, “A down jacket and a scarf. Both are in a style I like. Seeing that you praised my taste, I bought them based on my preferences.”
Pulling the paper bag open, he glanced inside. The items were, yet again, a royal blue color. “How is it that all this time, you’ve made no progress? You’ve liked this particular color for seven, eight years now, haven’t you?”
Gu Pingfan took out her wallet to go buy some water. “That night when you came back, you said that Tong Yan looks really nice in this color.” Once she said this, she stood and went to buy a cup of coffee before returning to where they were sitting.
Their seats were in the furthest corner, and when Pingfan came back carrying her coffee, she nearly tripped over all the additional chairs that had been stuffed haphazardly in the space. After overcoming numerous obstacles and countless perils to finally take her seat, she looked at Gu Pingsheng, who was leaning back in his armchair, and suddenly she pursed her lips and eyed him over.
Detecting her gaze, Gu Pingsheng tilted his head slightly to the side and motioned for her to speak plainly if she had something to say.
“You and your student …” She mulled over her word choice but ultimately decided to be direct and to the point. “Are you guys together now?”
After a very brief silence, he answered, “We just started.”
Gu Pingfan raised her brows. With a sip of her coffee, she suddenly brought up a topic that, all this time, they had never talked about and could even be said to be taboo.
“I was talking to a few of the cardiac surgeons in Ruijin Hospital a few days ago and mentioned your mother’s name. I never thought they would still remember this once well known doctor in the field of cardiac surgery.” She took another drink of her coffee and continued, “So many years have passed, yet even completely irrelevant people still remember Auntie [maternal aunt]. TK, you haven’t forgotten in the slightest bit, have you?”
Without answering, he picked up his teacup. The tea was a little cold.
“Even though you’ve never said it, I’ve always sensed that you love your mom very much,” Pingfan said. “Auntie graduated from Penn, so you insisted on going to Penn to study. I know very well that at the time, you actually had even better options to pick from. Auntie was in cardiac surgery, and in the end, you went into cardiac surgery, too … And even your name, TK. Tongke. Gu Tongke. Everywhere in your life, there’s shadows of Auntie.”
Still, he did not speak.
Finally, Pingfan seemed to feel, too, that this topic really was not a pleasant one.
She gave a hidden sigh. “What I’m actually trying to say is, you need to think through carefully. Is it also because of your mother that you are having a teacher-student romance? Here, it’s not like it is overseas. You know very well that teacher-student romances are not really accepted. Or maybe it’s because that girl’s name is Tong Yan?” Speculating, she asked her final question. “Maybe, it’s because what she’s gone through is very similar to your own experiences?”
The white ceramic cup that had already been raised to his lips inexplicably paused.
Watching while he continued to drink his tea, Gu Pingfan came to the thorough understanding that this was merely a one-sided discussion. Just as she was about to abandon the idea of carrying on this conversation, he unexpectedly gave her a response. “Are they playing any songs here? If they are, which song is it now?”
Gu Pingfan paused in surprise. She listened for a moment, but then shook her head and said, “I can’t tell. It should be a really new song. Most of the stuff that kids listen to nowadays, I’ve never heard.”
“Every time I meet new friends, I will have this same feeling: unfamiliar. I’ve never heard their voice before, and probably, will never have the chance to hear them.” He looked into Pingfan’s eyes and said, “You and I grew up together, so when you talk to me, I can still remember the expressions and tones you use when you speak. Now that I think about it, only a few years passed between when I fell sick to now, but even Zihao’s voice, I’ve nearly forgotten already.”
This time, it was Gu Pingfan who remained silent.
“As for female voices, there are actually not many that I remember. But that day, when I saw Tong Yan again, I could still clearly remember her voice.”
More accurately, it was her voice when she was thirteen, fourteen years old.
“It was a sense of familiarity.” As he spoke, a few of his fingers tapped rhythmically and lightly against his cup. Perhaps, in the beginning, it was all because of this rare sense of familiarity.
His tone suddenly changed. “And then? Who can clearly say?” His hair obstructed the view of his eyes. Beside the window, under the soft glow of the sunlight, his smile was warm and harmless. “If it was possible to clearly explain that feeling, God would not have used the story of a rib to humour mankind and describe love.
Gu Pingfan laughed indignantly, “Don’t be disrespectful about my faith.”
“No disrespect at all intended,” he said. “I very much agree with a part of what you believe in.”
“Such as?” She looked at him in amusement.
“Such as, marriage is a gift from God, and it is sacred. Or, such as, God created sex and gave it as a gift to mankind, but only in marriage is it the most intimate expression of love. Outside of marriage, any type of sexual act is wrong.” Truly spoken as someone who came out of a Catholic school. He had not even needed to think it over. “These are things I sincerely believe.”
When it was nearly 5:30, only he remained.
He remembered the times that Tong Yan had told him, and he had intended on waiting here until 5:30. Unfortunately, plans are made to be disrupted. Luo Zihao was in Xintiandi and doggedly sent him multiple text messages and emails, insisting that he had to see him in person.
Gu Pingsheng was not very familiar with Shanghai and had planned to take Tong Yan over to the Xintiandi district to have dinner there anyway. Unable to endure Luo Zihao’s hunt down of him in text message form, he headed over to Xintiandi first.
He had reserved the table at Din Tai Fung Restaurant far in advance.
“The stuff here is pretty good.” Luo Zihao had just taken a seat when he caught a glimpse of the paper shopping bag beside the table and the obviously feminine colour clothing inside … “TK, are you meeting up with Zhao Yin?”
“Could you please keep me out of whatever is between you and your ex-girlfriend?” He waved down someone and requested a drink menu.
Luo Zihao grinned at him. “Don’t tell me it’s for a date with your girlfriend? Have I seen her before?”
The server brought over the drink menu, and Gu Pingsheng motioned for it to be handed to Luo Zihao.
“I think you haven’t seen her yet. But, she will be here very soon.”
Luo Zihao nearly burned his fingers with the cigarette butt that was between them. It felt as if an entire lifetime had passed since they had last seen each other. Otherwise, why had things changed so greatly?
Since receiving the text message, she felt as if she had done something bad.
But all along the way, Shen Yao would whisper in her ear, begging her to stay with her for dinner and not giving her any chance at all to refuse. In the end, with a guilty conscience, she had no choice but to send a message to Gu Pingsheng telling him that she might be a little late. Very quickly, he returned her text: No worries. I’ll wait for you. TK
Clutching her phone in her hand, she began in her mind to calculate out how the time would work.
They would arrive in the city core a little past six o’clock. If she ate a little faster or perhaps left halfway through the dinner, she should be able to get to where he was by some time past seven o’clock.
Shen Yao had not expected that this meet-up would work out so smoothly and, hence, had not made reservations ahead of time. She simply said that she wanted to take good care of the two guests who were visiting from the north and let them try some Shanghai cuisine, so she chose the Din Tai Fung that was in Xintiandi. However, the result was, when they arrived at the restaurant entrance, they discovered that there were already nearly one hundred parties waiting to be seated. Merely looking at the crowd gave Tong Yan a slight headache.
They were about to leave when Shen Yao unexpectedly stopped. “Tong Yan, look. It’s Teacher Gu.”
Her heart gave a sudden lurch, and she was thrown into a slight panic. She turned, and through the full-length glass wall, she saw Gu Pingsheng sitting at table that was in a very conspicuous location. Coincidentally, he also caught sight of them at that same moment.
Shen Yao waved furiously at him through the glass, so she could only follow Shen Yao’s lead and raise her arm mechanically in a show of greeting. And then, she watched as he pulled his gaze away again and continued his conversation with the person across from him.
“Your teacher looks like one of those types that’s a ruffian in the guise of a gentleman,” Cheng Yu laughed. “He doesn’t look like he’s a teacher of law.”
Shen Yao linked her arm through Tong Yan’s. “The first time he showed up, I was shocked, too. He completely overturned my impression of what someone who studied law should look like. Forget it. There are just too many people here. I’ll take you guys to eat somewhere near my home. I forgot that today was Christmas Eve, and if you don’t have connections or friends at a place, there’s no way you can get a spot.”
Shrugging, Cheng Yu said, “I’m easy. On your turf, I have to listen to your orders.”
Tong Yan’s thoughts were in disarray. Countless excuses crossed her mind, but still she could not find a reason for her to leave.
Therefore, she could only, with a disquieted heart, follow Shen Yao back down the stairs. Because it was a holiday, they were unable to wave down a taxi, and they walked for a full thirty minutes before they arrived at the destination Shen Yao had mentioned.
“What are you thinking about?” Shen Yao asked her in a low voice after ordering their dishes, “How come you’ve been all distracted since you saw your boyfriend? I think he seems pretty good. Quarrels add a little spice and enjoyment to the relationship, but when it’s about enough quarreling, you need to be reasonable and give him an out.”
Sipping her chrysanthemum tea, Tong Yan replied softly, “He’s my ex-boyfriend. And now, he has nothing to do with me.”
“Ex-boyfriend?” Shen Yao’s eyes widened, and immediately, she stretched out her hand and grasped Lu Bei’s in it. “That’s not easy for you, eh. In a situation where your future is uncertain, you still had the courage to cross 1400 kilometres and chase her all the way to Shanghai. I support you!”
Lu Bei likely had never before seen someone who could joke and play around so much. He exchanged a look with Cheng Yu, wanting to laugh but keeping a straight face.
“Oh right. ‘The longer you have to wait for something, the more you will appreciate it when it finally arrives.’ That’s a pretty good line.”
Lu Bei paused blankly for a moment, then looked inquiringly over at Tong Yan.
Under the table, Tong Yan yanked on Shen Yao’s arm, but before her warning message could get out, Shen Yao had already blurted, “It wasn’t you who sent that text? Said you’d wait for Tong Yan?”
“Tong Tong?” The expression on Lu Bei’s face was rather strange as he looked at her.
With her lips pressed together, Tong Yan hesitated for several seconds before finally stating, “Yes, there is someone I like now.”
A stillness fell over the private room they were in. Shen Yao slowly came to a realization of what she had done.
Cheng Yu suddenly gave a light cough. “Shen Yao, come out and keep me company while I have a smoke?” In a rare instance of astuteness, Shen Yao immediately followed him outside and left the other two persons alone.
The entire time, Tong Yan did not look at Lu Bei, and he did not speak either. His hands gripped his cup forcefully, as if he was using all his strength.
She continued drinking her chrysanthemum tea. “Maybe, if you just give it a try, you’ll discover that she’s … not a bad person. Not wearing your wedding ring, not living together, coming here to find me on Christmas Eve — all of these change nothing. You are married. How can you, a student at China University of Political Science and Law, not know marriage laws?”
After barely managing to put together such a sentence, she was unable to say any more.
It had been Fang Yunyun who, back then, had come in and separated the two of them. Tong Yan could work hard on forgetting Lu Bei, but she could not make herself smile and wish happiness on Fang Yunyun. If it had not been for that car accident, what would this Christmas Eve have been like?
No more words were spoken between the two of them, and soon after, she left that private room, telling Shen Yao, who was outside the door, that she had matters to take care of and needed to go.
Shen Yao was somewhat dazed, not expecting that this would be the end result of her matchmaking all along the way …
On the return trip, Tong Yan walked at a faster pace and arrived at the door of Din Tai Fung in less than thirty minutes. The entire way, she had wanted to text him, but she did not know what she should say.
He might have already left? If he had, what should she do?
It was eight o’clock already, but the loud drone of voices still filled the restaurant. That table was very noticeable, and he was still there. His friend had already left.
His coat hung across the back of the chair beside him, and he wore only a light gray, cotton button-up shirt. From her angle, she could see the brilliantly colourful glow of the lights of the Xintiandi district shining up from the outside ground level. And he, with his back facing this scene of floating lights and fleeting shadows, was holding a book in his right hand, half-resting it on top of the table as, one page at a time, he flipped through it.
 The name of Gu Pingsheng’s mother was 顾童柯 Gu Tongke. Pinyin rules would have the pinyin of her given name, 童柯 written as “Tongke,” but individually, the pinyin of the characters are “Tong” and “Ke.” Hence, Gu Pingsheng selected his own English name to be “TK,” after his mother’s Chinese given name.
 The first character of Gu Pingsheng’s mother’s given name 童柯 Tongke is actually the same character as Tong Yan’s surname, 童. Gu Pingfan is speculating maybe the similarity of Tong Yan’s name to his mother’s given name might have something to do with Gu Pingsheng’s attraction to her.
 鼎泰丰. (Note: the standardized pinyin of this is actually “Ding Tai Feng” but the restaurant chain’s official name is Din Tai Fung.) Din Tai Fung is a restaurant chain originating from Taipei, Taiwan but now has branches in many countries. It was made famous by its xiaolongbao soup dumplings. The Din Tai Fung in Xintiandi of Shanghai has a chic interior in its second floor location. Its “luxury” dumplings and other menu items come with a corresponding relatively hefty price tag.
Notice that Gu Pingsheng took his mother’s surname? And his opinions on marriage and sex … “Environments mould people, especially their views on marriage and relationships.” Remember this line from chapter 5.3.
Just thought I might toss in my 2 cents on Shen Yao.
When I first introduced this novel, one of the things I mentioned was that the characters in it feel real. Whether it be Tong Yan or Gu Pingsheng, or even Lu Bei or Shen Yao, they have their strengths and qualities that you can admire, and they have their flaws.
How would I summarize Shen Yao based on what we’ve seen so far? Straightforward, simple-minded, unaware, frank, loyal.
Gosh, yes, Shen Yao is utterly oblivious at times and definitely is unaware of what’s going on around her. Perhaps there’s a degree of self-centredness, but I also believe it’s because she is someone who is not very emotionally intelligent, for lack of a better way to describe it. Her inconsiderateness really stems from her inability to step back and assess the whole situation. At the very least, it’s not out of malice or even self-gain, just acting on the emotions that she feels at the moment. You can see here that she was quite shocked and mortified once she realized the mistake she had made. Still, that doesn’t lessen the awkwardness that one feels when she does things like what she did to Tong Yan. In all honesty, if it were myself in Tong Yan’s place and Shen Yao did that, unwittingly or not, to me, I’d have probably lost it on her (then gone back to apologize after).
There’s a line in an old HK drama, where someone was describing a girl very similar to Shen Yao, and it goes along these lines: “I like straightforward, simple people. Even though sometimes, they can make you feel very awkward or put you in very awkward situations, what they do and say are always real.” There is a flip side to Shen Yao’s oblivious, simple-minded nature. She is genuine. Tong Yan has been basically discarded by both her parents and, regardless of the reason, the boy she once loved left her. Once again, “environments mould people, especially their views on marriage and relationships.” (See what I mean when I said this line I said this idea might keep popping up?) Tong Yan seeks sincere love and care (which she doesn’t get from her absent mother), someone who has no ulterior agenda (like her money-seeking father), and stick with her (which Lu Bei was not able to do), simply for the fact that she’s Tong Yan. Shen Yao is loyal and will hang out in the freezing cold with her when she has to stand duty at an outdoor reception table. Shen Yao will climb into bed and share the joys of her heart with her, and though Tong Yan may be tired and wanting some private time, I think she treasures the moment of closeness because she doesn’t get that from many people.
So, yes, Shen Yao’s actions are annoying at times, but Tong Yan is willing to accept the awkward negative side of them because what comes with it is the simple, genuine relationship that she craves. (That, in itself, can be both a positive trait and a character flaw for Tong Yan. 😉 )
1 of 1 Prologue
20 of 66 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogue segments