Gawd, it’s torture sometimes when your favourite author is a foodie. Why do I translate at night? I often end up going to bed hungry. >_<
So much in this chapter. We get more of Gu Pingsheng’s perspective, some wonderfully sweet couple moments, and at the very end, something to make our heart twinge yet again.
Chapter 10.3 – Wanting Only to Be Together (3)
After Gu Pingsheng hung up his phone, he continued sitting in the brightly lit and vibrant lobby. Around him, there were many people who had stepped out midway for a cigarette. He was sitting in a very comfortable, relaxed position on the sofa, watching the hotel’s fireworks display.
Countless streaks of white light launched up into the sky and in an instant, exploded into a wide display of brilliance.
What was Tianjin like? He still had not yet visited that city.
Gu Pingfan came over to him, took a seat, and patted him on the back of his hand. When he turned toward her, she smiled and said, “Just now, [paternal] Granddad asked about your girlfriend. I didn’t mention that she was your student. You know … he is quite against romantic relationships between teacher and student.”
“I know.” He was not overly concerned. “I used to be against this type of relationship as well. Remember, you once asked me, did I fall for Tong Yan because of the similarities to my mother? In fact, it was the exact opposite. It was because of my mother that there was a period where I wavered over whether I should begin this sort of relationship.”
During that time, he had used a period of two weeks to avoid her.
He had even privately asked Zhao Yin to take over her tutoring lessons. He had thought that everything had been well arranged, that perhaps his heart had merely by chance been stirred and so long as he avoided her for a longer period, he would be fine. In any case, it would be better than coming along and disturbing her life.
But on that afternoon, when he had sat down beside her and told her that he would no longer be tutoring her, the disappointment that could faintly be seen in her eyes had, just like that, caused his heart to soften.
He remembered, that day, sitting there beside the window, she had been facing the rays of sun shining in through the glass. Her features had been blurred, except her eyes, which had been so arresting. At the time, he had not known about her family and her past relationship, but he had sensed that she must have met with many unbearable disappointments and pain in her life.
Yet even so, the feelings he saw inside those eyes were still warm and sincere.
So sincere it was as if she had never before been hurt.
Gu Pingfan handed the cup of hot water she was holding to him. He took it from her and said thank you but did not drink from it.
“The results, this time, from your check-up were not very good. Do you have any plans for going back to the U.S. for your surgery?” Gu Pingfan decided to nonetheless try to persuade him one more time. “Even though there are a lot of clinical cases of this in China, I still feel you should choose the place that provides the better medical environment …”
“It’s fine,” he interrupted Gu Pingfan’s words. “I want to have my surgery in Peking Union.”
Gu Pingfan fixed her eyes intently on him for some time until finally, she breathed a lengthy sigh. “Fine. You can sometimes be really annoying. On the surface, you seem easygoing but in reality, you are so stubborn it can be scary. Just like how you’ve always refused to accept using a hearing aid, and no matter who talks to you about it, it still makes no difference.”
“Thank you, Pingfan.”
Smilingly, he gave his thanks to her, stopping all of her words that, outwardly, seemed to be complaints but in fact were expressions of her heartache for him.
The start of school happened to fall before the Lantern Festival.
Grandmother was very sad to see her go and had made yuanxiao [glutinous rice balls], both the fried and the boiled type, in advance. She had eaten them for two whole days and by the end, felt that she was about to turn into a rice ball herself.
Only when she had towed her luggage out the door of her home did she finally pull out her mobile phone and look at the flight information he had sent her.
She had never been on an airplane before, and when Gu Pingsheng made the suggestion, she had hesitated over whether to decline his offer. If she became too dependent on his money, this would make her feel that they were not equal in their relationship.
However, when she had very solemnly and properly expressed her reason back to him in a text, Gu Pingsheng had not been too concerned and had quickly returned her message: Even if we save the money for the flight this time around, it’s still all going to be yours in the future. Don’t worry too much about it.
At the time when she received this message, a grin had covered her face for an entire afternoon.
He was always able, with just a few words, to make her ponder on the meaning behind them and then, afterwards, feel as if she was brimming with happiness.
Tong Yan was afraid she would be late so she had estimated an hour and a half for her to get there, but the unexpected result was that she ended up arriving very early.
At boarding gate 10 of Terminal 2, she pulled out her mobile phone from her pocket, but right as she was lowering her head and typing a few words, she felt her entire body being enveloped into an embrace until all the surrounding chill and cold was isolated from her.
Tong Yan received quite a fright, and her heart pounded fiercely several times before it gradually settled back down.
“Why are you here so early?” Gu Pingsheng’s voice was by her ear.
It had been more than twenty days since they had last seen each other. There was a remarkable sense of unfamiliarity mingled with a slight, unexplainable stirring of her heart.
A saying silently rose in Tong Yan’s mind: absence makes the heart grow fonder…
“Why aren’t you saying anything?” He followed up with another question.
She hurriedly turned around. His face, which had come into her view, carried a smile. He was really, truly before her eyes.
“I’m suddenly not really used to this.” She smiled a little embarrassedly. “Don’t know how to describe this feeling …”
Gu Pingsheng took her suitcase from her and, putting on an air of seriousness, he smiled, “I know. Just now, I saw you walking this way from inside, and my heart started beating a little faster.”
A “huh?” slipped from her lips, but before she could react, her hand was already enclosed in his and they had stepped through the large glass doors.
When the two of them were on the plane and Tong Yan was sitting in a well-behaved and proper manner next to Gu Pingsheng, she at last began to adjust to the fact that Gu Pingsheng was indeed there beside her.
Gu Pingsheng discovered, as he was leaning over slightly and fastening her seatbelt for her, that her eyes were on him the entire time.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
Tong Yan blinked her eyes deliberately and told him softly, “I missed you. Really, really missed you. I missed you for twenty-something days.” Her voice was very quiet, to the point that she was nearly mouthing the words.
With an “mm,” he answered, “Me too.”
Possibly because the plane was going to takeoff soon, there were not many people left walking about in the aisle. Only a few flight attendants were walking up and down, checking passengers’ luggage and patiently reminding each person to fasten his or her seat belt.
Tong Yan was leaning back against the window while he was turned sideways so that he was facing her.
Out of the blue, she remembered, that first time in the cinema, it had been at this same angle when his sudden kiss had ended their simple teacher-and-student relationship … Or perhaps it had been even earlier. From the moment she had fallen for him, their whole relationship had changed.
“Why did you all of a sudden change courses?” she asked the question that had been on her mind all this time.
“Because your grandmother wishes that, at the very least, I would not be the direct instructor of your course and the person who decides your actual grades.” After saying this, he added with an innocent expression, “But I don’t feel I would have used my position for personal reasons and to help you.”
His voice had also purposely been lowered a little.
Tong Yan gave an “mm” in agreement. “You’re always the most fair and impartial …”
He turned his lips upward in a rightful smile. “What would you like to do when we get to Shanghai?”
“What would you like to pray and ask for?”
To pray for safety, peace, and wellness. To pray that all the people she loved would be safe, peaceful, and well.
But she did not tell him this. She merely pretended to mull over her answer before saying, “To pray that I can always be together with you. That no amazingly gorgeous girl will appear and fall for you, say, for example, a pretty blonde girl or something.”
He intentionally played along with her and joked, “If that’s the case, it seems there’s really nothing for me to ask for. You probably won’t ever meet someone better.”
She could not help laughing at this, but still, she nodded in sincerity and agreed, “I think so, too.”
Since they had taken a morning flight, it was only one o’clock in the afternoon when they arrived at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport.
However, although it was still so early, when they reached Jing’an Temple, there were not many genuine worshipers remaining who were there to offer incense, and many of the people inside were actually foreigners. This was her first time inside this temple that was situated in the city’s core, and by the time she had gotten her incense, she discovered that this place was, in fact, very small. There were only the few large, main halls, and if you were to stand in the main courtyard in the center of the temple and look up, you would be able to see Jiuguang Department Store next to the temple.
Merely a single wall.
Inside the wall was the heavy aroma of incense while outside the wall was Shanghai’s most bustling road.
She stepped up to the burner, intending on lighting her joss sticks in it, but beside her, several foreign tourists surrounding it had occupied the upwind position. As a result, she only managed to stand there for several seconds before she was choking from the smoke and tears were forming in her eyes. With the back of her hand, she hastily wiped a couple times at her tears, then glanced miserably at Gu Pingsheng, who immediately understood and took the joss sticks from her hand.
When those several foreigner girls saw him approaching, they cordially made room for him straightaway.
Glumly, Tong Yan watched him. After he returned to her side, she gazed at him at last and said, “I finally understand that ‘Pretty Lady’s Bane’ is not a reputation that goes undeserved.”
He handed her a bunch of joss sticks and, ignoring her teasing, gave a long sigh. “On this sacred site of Buddhism, shizhu, please conduct yourself respectfully.” Then after saying this, he placed the joss sticks between his palms and pressed his palms together. Facing the main hall and the statue of Buddha, which stood a dozen or so metres tall within, he closed his eyes.
The afternoon sunlight fell upon him and cast a faint shadow on the ground.
So peaceful, and also so reverent.
Tong Yan even forgot to present her wish and simply stared at the side profile of his face until he had opened his eyes again. When he lowered his head to look at her, she curiously inquired, “What did you ask for?”
Gu Pingsheng did not answer her and merely indicated with his eyes that she should not neglect this time in which the incense was burning.
By the time they stepped out through the temple doors and were once again standing on the side of the vibrant and affluent thoroughfare, she was still preoccupied with what he may have prayed for. Rather absentmindedly, she followed him as they strolled, and even after they had come to a halt, she was not aware of where she had now arrived at.
“What would you like to eat?” Gu Pingsheng was eyeing the glass display case before him with great interest. “Takoyaki [octopus balls]? This grilled squid here looks quite good. Want [Hiroshima-style] okonomiyaki, too?”
“I want to eat that.” She pointed at the octopus balls. “Six of them. That way, you and I can each have three.”
Gu Pingsheng thought for a moment. “The number three is not auspicious. How about eight instead? So four each? Hmm, that’s no good, either.”
“Then let’s buy twelve.” Tong Yan rapidly ran through various combinations in her mind. “Six for each of us.”
Listening to them, the cashier could not hold back a snicker and cast a couple of extra glances at them, unable to understand why this handsome fellow and pretty girl were so superstitious that they needed to be so particular, even when simply eating octopus balls.
As normal, Gu Pingsheng bought lots of food. The two of them found some empty seats and sat down, dividing up these foods that, to Tong Yan, were fascinating and bizarre.
“This one is really tasty.” Tong Yan was very pleased with her choice. “The one that you chose with the grilled squid is basically a variation of a Shandong jianbing, and it tastes a little fishy, too.”
Smiling, Gu Pingsheng watched her eat. Some time passed when he suddenly said, “My wish I prayed for earlier was that I would be kept safe and healthy, that I would have the ability to continue taking care of you.”
These words sounded very strange, but they instantly caused Tong Yan to remember what that auntie who was a doctor had said. She did not utter a sound and merely stopped, waiting for him to continue what he was saying.
“During my internship in Peking Union, some unfortunate circumstances occurred. What you can see is that I lost my hearing, but there are many other issues that you cannot see.” He seemed to really like the octopus balls as well, and with a bamboo skewer, he randomly stabbed one and put it in his mouth. “Osteonecrosis of the femoral head. Bone death in the head of the femur caused by lack of blood supply. Advanced stage. Surgery is needed to replace the hip joint with an artificial one.”
Tong Yan gazed at him, still not speaking.
During the winter break, she had already looked up the long-term side effects of SARS, and she was mentally prepared for any symptom, including this femoral head osteonecrosis he was speaking of now. The use of mega-doses of hormones may have saved a life, but they also brought with them boundless pain and suffering for the second half of that life.
Hip pain, back pain, knee joint pain, buttock pain, and groin pain …
Since he said it was advanced stage, then that meant he must have already experienced these symptoms of the earlier stages. Although artificial joints are a form of treatment, the long-term effectiveness of this surgery is not ideal. More specifically, after the initial replacement, when the implant has experienced ten to twenty years of friction and wear and is starting to loosen, further treatment will be even more difficult.
She did not study medicine, so she could only read some information off of the Internet. But, she was very glad she had learned of these things in advance so that at this time, she could remain so calm.
She believed that Gu Pingsheng was like her, that he did not need anyone’s unnecessary worry and only wanted a surrounding that was free of any pressure on him so that he could go resolve the things that he, himself, needed to resolve.
“So next term, I am not changing courses but rather, I’m preparing to take a leave from teaching for one semester.” He was munching on that octopus ball, and his voice was somewhat indistinct. “I thought over it for a long time. I should tell you plainly and make all these things clear to you.”
After he had said all that was to be said, he seemed unable to find anything to do. With his bamboo skewer, he speared the final octopus ball, but before he could pick it up, Tong Yan had already snatched it from him.
Crinkling her nose, she complained in a displeased tone, “You’re already starting to fight for food with me. You be careful that when you’re old and can’t walk, I won’t take you outside to get some sun.”
Upon saying this, she, in a very natural motion, popped the little ball into her mouth.
She had long since lost her initial mood for eating, and now, everything seemed somewhat tasteless.
While she was pretending to be smug, he suddenly moved in closer to her. And then, amid the bustling crowd of people, he cupped her head in his hands, lowered his face, and kissed her.
A long, deep kiss. Tong Yan had never thought she would be so bold, that in a busy place where people were coming and going, she would do this with him …
When they had at last pulled apart, she did not even dare look at the reactions of the people around them. Grabbing his hand, she kept her head down, and they wound their way through numerous tables and chairs. Only after they had completely left that place behind did she slow her steps.
 元宵节 “Yuan Xiao Jie.” The Lantern Festival or Yuan Xiao Festival takes place on the fifteenth day of the first month in the Lunar year, and marks the end of the Spring Festival (a.k.a Chinese New Year’s festival) with the first full moon of the year. Traditionally, lanterns are lit and put up as decoration or carried around during the night.
 元宵. Yuanxiao are a “dumpling,” usually sweet, rolled (not wrapped) into a ball form from glutinous rice flour. A filling is first formed into a sphere and then dropped into glutinous rice flour where it is shaken and rocked back and forth until it forms a ball covered in the flour. Fillings include sesame, red bean paste, almond, etc. and are a traditional food of the Lantern Festival.
 小别胜新婚. This more accurately translates as “the reunion after a short parting is better than even a honeymoon,” but carries the same meaning as the English saying, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
 静安寺. Jing’an Temple, which literally means “Tranquility and Peace Temple,” is one of the most famous temples in Shanghai and is located in the heart of the bustling core of the city. Some of the buildings date back to the late 1800s and the temple holds the largest jade Buddha statue in China.
 The Spring Festival encompasses the first fifteen days of the Lunar New Year. Many people will head to the temples to burn incense and offer their worship, asking for good luck and blessing for the upcoming year.
久光百货. The Jiuguang Department Store’s flagship store is located beside Jing’an Temple and occupies a total of ten floors, hence, it rises up next to the temple (and is an interesting juxtaposition of the modern, commercial Shanghai against the old, traditional Chinese culture). You should be able to spot it in the photographs of Jing’an Temple, above.
 施主 “shi zhu.” The way a monk would refer to any person who has not dedicated his or her life in monkhood. Hence, Gu Pingsheng is being playful when using this to address Tong Yan in this Buddhist temple.
山东煎饼 “Shandong jianbing.” A popular street food. Traditionally, a whole grain, thin, crepe-like outer layer is used to wrap inside of it leek, various vegetables, meats and sometimes, even various other delicacies such as seafood. There are many spins and variations on this street food nowadays.
There’s so much in this chapter that manages to stir something in me.
We now heard from Gu Pingsheng, himself, why he had once suddenly ended his tutoring with Tong Yan. Reasonable and logical, if you think of it from his viewpoint at the time, but that brief mention of his mother once again shows that her experiences and death have had a deeper impact on Gu Pingsheng than what most would initially perceive.
There are some sweet little moments in this update. (My heart also skipped a beat when Tong Yan said to him, “Really, really missed you” … reminded me of my other favourite couple.) But the one I really loved was Gu Pingsheng’s text, “Even if we save the money for the flight this time around, it’s still all going to be yours in the future. Don’t worry too much about it.” You read about couples who are serious but take it slowly, enjoy the moment, and don’t give themselves pressure by planning the future. You read about couples where the relationship is regarded as one with marriage as the ultimate purpose. But to Gu Pingsheng, marriage is not a “purpose,” it’s a given for him. If it is still a “purpose,” the relationship is serious but the couple is still seeing if they are fit for one another. However, from that statement you can tell that, to him, Tong Yan is already the one he will spend the rest of his life with, unless she is the one who chooses to back out.
And so, with that degree of seriousness, he needs to be completely frank with her about his health. Though outwardly, he seems to be calm and we also don’t get to see his perspective when he reveals his health condition to her, I can imagine that he must have been inwardly anxious. In essence, he is giving her a choice, to know the whole truth before deciding whether she truly wants to be with him. And Tong Yan’s response — not to cry, not to comfort, not to smile and pretend to be optimistic, but to trust him that he will take care of everything, to accept that reality, and to look forward to the future with him and include that reality of his health in her dreams. How beautiful. If I were Gu Pingsheng, I would be so overcome with emotion I’d give her a hot kiss in the middle of the street, too! 😉
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