Gu Pingsheng ups the sweetness in this chapter … literally! It’s been years since I’ve had White Rabbit candy. I want to try red bean flavour, too.
Chapter 8.1 – To “Wash Her Hands and Make Soup” (1)
Since the semester had now entered into the weeks of final examinations, most classes were finished.
Tong Yan had spent this entire week inside the library. She and Gu Pingsheng both tacitly agreed that as much as possible, they would not have any noticeable interactions when they were at the university. People would talk, and gossip could be a frightening thing. She had never encountered such a situation yet, but she could imagine the consequences.
Her mobile phone suddenly lit up. A text message had noiselessly come in: Done your reviewing? TK
6:10 p.m. The time the two of them had agreed to. Everyday, from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 to 6:00 p.m., she needed to review and study, and text message communication between them was banned.
She picked up her mobile phone. Because she had been copying out concepts and notes, her fingers felt a little fatigued and weak. Still in this state, she began very slowly to type on her keyboard: Mm. Done studying now. What are you doing?
I’m waiting for you to finish studying. TK
Where are you?
Behind you. TK
Tong Yan paused in surprise and automatically turned her head to look back. Sure enough, she saw him sitting three rows behind her at the end of the table, except he was not looking in her direction. Instead, he was half-propping his head up with his hand while looking at the textbook the class prefect was holding up to him …
In the same instant she turned around, the class prefect also caught sight of her and said a few words to Gu Pingsheng. Then, Gu Pingsheng turned his head as well, his eyes filled with mirth as he looked at her, and nodding at the class prefect, he also spoke a few brief words.
Only after the two of them had walked over to where she was and had seated themselves next to her did Tong Yan grasp that their dear, respected class prefect was carrying out a great and worthy undertaking: attempting to find out final exam questions. From the moment he had taken his seat, Class Prefect had repeatedly signaled at her with his eyes, and the meaning behind it was very clear. He wanted Tong Yan to team up with him to try to get Gu Pingsheng to reveal in the conversation as many examination questions as possible …
“Tong Yan.” Class Prefect flipped through the Civil Procedure printed study material she was holding. “Tong Yan Wuji, don’t study procedural law now. The National Judicial Exam is a long ways off still. We have this rare opportunity where we’ve run into Teacher Gu. Let’s ask a few more questions about this semester’s Commercial Arbitration.”
Tong Yan stole an inconspicuous peek over at Gu Pingsheng. His right elbow was resting on the table, and leaning sideways against it, he also took a glance at her.
“Teacher Gu, I personally feel that this particular concept is especially important.” Grinning, Class Prefect set down Tong Yan’s study material and continued with their previous topic.
“It is very important.” Gu Pingsheng also picked up the Civil Procedure study material and looked over the notes Tong Yan had written inside. While Class Prefect was waiting in eager anticipation, he added, “Actually, if you carefully review, you will discover that everything I talked about is very important.”
Tong Yan giggled in secret, watching as the class prefect opened and closed his mouth speechlessly and looked at her with a gaze of helplessness.
She had no choice but to put on an innocent, harmless front as she gave Gu Pingsheng an embarrassed smile. “Sorry, I still haven’t gotten around to reviewing for Commercial Arbitration …”
Class Prefect was utterly crestfallen now. Seeing that he had spoken to Gu Pingsheng for such a long time, yet still had not managed to glean any useful information, he very glumly gave the excuse that he needed to go for dinner and then left the both of them.
He set down the study material and then nonchalantly picked up her notebook.
“Preparing for the National Judicial Exam?”
She first gave an “mm-hmm” but then quickly added a nod of her head in answer. “I didn’t register to take it this year. I’m thinking of taking it in my fourth year of university. After spending four days reviewing for final exams, today I wanted to switch up what my brain was thinking on, so I pulled out Civil Procedures to read.”
He continued looking over the various notes she had written.
She had spent an entire afternoon studying already, and now her brain was rather sluggish. Sprawling herself over the table, she rested her head on her arm and watched him.
“In general, how many times do you need to read each article of law?” He pointed at the book of laws that was as thick as a brick.
She raised a solitary finger, proudly stating, “Once. I have a very good memory. For the more complicated ones, I’ll copy it down while I read, and for the most part, I won’t forget it for the next three or four years. If I come across something really important, I can even immediately state which specific book it came from and which page.”
There was amazement in his eyes, and she smiled even more proudly.
This sense of pride was different from the one that came from competition between fellow students. It was more similar to the time when, after memorizing her multiplication tables up to nine times nine, she, as a very young child had recited them to several mathematics teachers in the primary school Grandmother was teaching at, and then, she saw the smile within Grandmother’s eyes. The desire to be outstanding was only because she wanted the ones closest to her to be proud of her.
“Born to be a liberal arts student.” He made no attempt to hide his commendation.
Tong Yan smiled gently, bringing her hand down to secretly place it on top of his that was resting on his thigh. The instant she made contact, though, his hand turned over, caught her hand in his palm, and held it there firmly.
Behind him, there were still several male students who were studying. Even though, from this particular angle, the table was blocking their view so they could not see, she still felt extremely anxious. This action had originally been done in a half-joking manner … Gu Pingsheng was behaving as if nothing had happened, and with one hand, he continued to flip through that book filled with various laws.
“Which month is the exam going to be taking place in next year?”
“September.” Tong Yan’s heart was beating somewhat erratically. She tried to pull her hand back, but it was in vain. “Haven’t you taken it? It’s the same time every year … Shouldn’t have changed, right?”
He shook his head. “I’ve never taken it, and there seems to be little need for me to take it, either.”
Tong Yan remembered then that he was simply a university professor, and it seemed there was no requirement for him to have passed such a thing.
“I obtained bar admission to practice in three different states in the U.S., but now that I’ve come to China, there isn’t much use for that.” He seemed to think of something humorous and, with a chuckle, added, “Pingfan also had bar admission for two American states, but when she took China’s National Judicial Exam, she didn’t pass on the first try either. I think she had to take it twice.”
Tong Yan tried hard not to laugh but still was unable to contain her giggles. “Are you trying to help me not be anxious? …”
The entire time, he carried out a casual conversation with her. Subtly, Tong Yan shifted her fingers. She seemed to see him smile at this, but there was no indication that he intended to loosen his hold.
Normally, very few people would chat inside the library, but perhaps because it was dinnertime, both far and near, there were people conversing and laughing in low voices. Distractedly, she sat for another several minutes before finally begging for mercy. “Weren’t we going to have dinner? I’m hungry.”
He gazed amusedly at her. “No more putting up a fight?”
“No more …” She raised her white flag in surrender. Regardless of whether they were competing for the one with the greatest inner composure or the thickest skin, she was completely trounced.
The two of them deliberately went to a place that was relatively further from the university, and only when they were nearly finished eating did she at last state the equivalent reward she wished to have for her one week of longsuffering studying. “I’ve been studying the whole week. I shouldn’t have anything to do tomorrow.”
It had been a full week since they had seen each other, so Saturday, she could just rest and spend some time with him. But in the end, though she believed she had thought through everything, she had not considered the possibility that she would merely be changing the location of where she would be studying. While she memorized from her books, he sat beside her and read.
He suddenly stretched out an arm to nonchalantly unwrap a milk candy, and holding the wrapper with the candy still on it, he fed the milky white sweetness into her mouth. “After we have dinner tonight, I’ll take you back to the school.” He seemed to notice that Tong Yan was happily enjoying the candy, so he unwrapped another one and popped it into his own mouth. A short while later, he said approvingly, “It does taste quite good.”
She threw a glance at the wrapper still in his hand. “What flavor did you eat?”
“I think it’s red bean.” He unfurled the wrapper and took a quick look at the name. “Since she was a kid, Pingfan has always liked eating White Rabbit candy. I remember that they were all white-coloured. I never knew that there were red ones now, too.”
She, too, had eaten them since she was a child, but she had never tried red bean flavor before … Turning around, she searched through the glass dish on the desk for a long time before giving him a resentful look. “You ate the last one. There’s yogurt and original flavour here but no red bean.”
Smiling, he leaned against the edge of the desk. “No problem. You still have me.”
After saying this, he pulled her over to himself, encircled her in his arms, and, lowering his head, began with great earnestness to help her “flavour” her lips …
They had both just finished eating milk candy, and their lips and teeth were coated with a saccharine sweetness. How could she possibly distinguish any flavour?
This place was not like the cinema. There was no beguiling lighting, nor a rapidly thumping heart that felt as if it was going to burst through the chest … Here, the two of them simply exchanged kisses, back and forth, enveloped together in that intense sweetness, with sometimes open eyes, sometimes closed eyes, but eyes that were filled only with the other person.
The sky had gradually fallen into darkness, and the entire room had grown dim.
Her lips were pressed together in a smile as she twisted her head away to the side. “I think I should go.”
“I bought a lot of food and ingredients yesterday evening. We’ll eat here at home first, and then I’ll take you back.”
Surprised, Tong Yan asked, “Who’s going to cook?”
With a chuckle, he countered, “You don’t know how to?”
“I do … but it doesn’t taste great.” Who springs a surprise like this on someone?
“No worries. It should taste better than whatever Pingfan cooks.” He finished saying this, but then added, “My cutting skills are very good.”
Who doesn’t know how to cut stuff up?
However, when she saw on the cutting board the julienned potato strips that were completely equal in width, thickness, and length, as well as the identically cut thin shreds of meat, she at last understood what he meant by “cutting skills are very good” …
“I’m used to using my left hand. Before, in order to improve the dexterity of my right one, I would purposely do some training.” Holding a relatively thin, long knife, he began to swiftly pare the skin from a luffa sponge gourd. “Everyday, I’d julienne twenty potatoes. That way, when I performed a surgery, I would be able to use both my left and right hands simultaneously to do things.”
His hands were very quick. Tong Yan thought of the sponge gourds she had pared in the past and how they had all been bumpy and irregular. But the skin of this light green one in his hand had been evenly removed, and it looked just right and completely flawless.
He had readied the ingredients for many dishes, but they ended up only cooking a small number of them.
After imperceptibly testing him by asking him a few questions, Tong Yan discovered that he, indeed, only knew how to do the cutting work and was not so all-competent that he could cook as well.
According to his own words, in the past, when he really wanted to eat Chinese cuisine, he would buy some hot sauce or something along those lines, throw it in with the other ingredients to cook, and that would be his dinner … But sometimes, when he came across Mexican chili peppers, his dinner would be much spicier than the spicy foods eaten in Chinese restaurants.
“At the time, I could taste absolutely nothing, just spiciness. Plus, there are a lot of hot sauces that have pepper extracts in them to make them even hotter.”
Listening to him as he spoke, she was not certain why but she felt that he very much needed someone to take care of him …
But yet, he plainly had so many outstanding qualities.
He was not a wasteful person and ate until all the dishes were completely clear of food before finally setting down his chopsticks.
Deliberately putting on a nonchalant front, Tong Yan began clearing the dishes while looking at him and saying, “From now on, every Saturday, I’ll come here and cook for you.”
He was about to pour her some hot water when he saw her say this, and abruptly, he halted his action.
“But I want to buy the groceries myself.” Though he could not hear, Tong Yan still unconsciously lowered her voice. “The things you bought are all stuff I’m not good at making …”
 洗手做羹汤. The title of this chapter actually comes from the poem《新嫁娘词》 Words of a Newly-Wedded Wife by Tang dynasty poet, Wang Jian. The poem describes a woman, newly wedded, making her first meal for her husband and his family. The English title is a literal translation of a line from the poem, but this line (and hence, this title) is supposed to evoke the joys you feel when cooking for and taking care of the one you love.
 司法考试. The National Judicial Examination is a two-day, unified entry examination required in China by all legal professions (lawyers, judges, public prosecutors, and notaries) and is held each year in mid-September. Since Tong Yan is still only in third year and has her internship the following year before she might be practicing, she has the option to take it but it is not necessary yet.
 奶糖 “nai tang.” A candy similar in texture to toffee or nougat. It is made from heating a basic mixture of milk and sugar, and then allowing it to cool and harden. One of the more popular Chinese brands is 大白兔 “White Rabbit,” which has many flavours including original (milk/vanilla), yogurt, red bean, corn, strawberry, coconut, mango, chocolate, etc.
1 of 1 Prologue
23 of 66 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogue segments