We get two different perspectives on life and love. Who can say who is right or wrong? Of course, there’s some lovey-dovey between Mr. and Mrs. Gu, and at the very end, there’s also a shocker for Tong Yan.
Chapter 18.2 – What Life Looks Like (2)
Shen Yao was determined to go abroad, so naturally she did not put much heed on her internship. After she had had her parents find a court to affix a stamp of verification on an internship evaluation form, she had begun enjoying a well-nurtured life during this fourth year of university, all the while spending it in Hunan, where she kept her boyfriend company.
Tong Yan had not expected that when she told Shen Yao about her fracture, Shen Yao’s first reaction had been to guffaw. “Finally, I have an excuse to go to Beijing to meet my future father-in-law and mother-in-law!” And then shortly after the winter break had begun, she had hustled straight to Beijing.
After ten days passed, she finally managed, before the start of the Lunar New Year celebrations, to make a visit to see Tong Yan.
“Have a bit of sympathy, okay?” Tong Yan lay belly-down on the couch, aimlessly flipping through television programs. “I’ve been recuperating for nearly a month. When I sit on a chair to eat, I need to put three or four foam seat cushions down, and it still hurts. You don’t even think about comforting me; all you know is to use me as an excuse.”
Shen Yao crouched beside the couch and peeled a mandarin orange for her. “Come wintertime, do you Beijingers just eat mandarin oranges, peanuts, and melon seeds? When I’m with Cheng Yu, no matter whose house we drop in on to visit, there are always these things.”
“It seems so.” Tong Yan thought about this for a moment. “But it seems not quite right, either.”
“Do you know that he told me to wash dishes in his home and tidy up the place? He said it was to leave a good impression with his dad and mom …” Being the delicate and helpless young Shanghai girl that she was, this form of torture had left Shen Yao feeling very defeated. “You know my family has a housekeeper who does all that stuff. He said that most families don’t hire a housekeeper, especially in Beijing, where the girl does the housework and takes care of the entire family, old and young alike.”
Giving an “mm-hmm” in response, Tong Yan took a segment of orange from her. “It’s the custom of the North. Did you think everyone was like your mom, everyday just going shopping and chatting with people and stuff? You didn’t even find yourself a guy from the Northeast … Just be content.”
“Well, what about you and Great Beauty Gu?” Shen Yao laid her head down beside Tong Yan’s face and looked at her.
“I do the cooking, I do the laundry.” Tong Yan mulled this over and discovered that she truly did meet the requirements. “It seems I do the majority of things.”
“Then you should just be a full-time wife. Hasn’t he already taken a job out in the real world? After a few years, when he’s gotten by well and has become one of the big bosses, do you think he’s even going to care about your puny salary?”
Sprawled on her stomach, Tong Yan also looked at her. It felt as if they had returned to the times when they were still in school and the two of them would squeeze onto the same bed together, whispering face to face to one another. “My wish is that I can provide for him, to allow him to just stay home and read, or if he wants to, he can go teach a couple of classes at a school and that’s it.”
Shen Yao gawked wide-eyed at her. “You’re really going to keep him like he’s a beauty?”
“I’m just worried that he won’t let me keep and provide for him.” Tong Yan sighed, “I’ll tell you something honest. His health is actually not very good. Back when he was doctor, he got sick because he was trying to save people, and that left some side effects. That’s why it’s not really suitable for him to get too tired out.”
This was the first time she had ever mentioned this to Shen Yao. Perhaps it had simply been too long and she needed a place to let it all out, like a tree hollow that she could talk into, to just voice out everything in a jumble.
Shen Yao let out an “oh” and fell silent for a moment. Abruptly, she straightened herself, startling Tong Yan with the action.
“That time you were pressing after Zhou Qingchen, asking about the long-term side effects of SARS and stuff, that wasn’t because of Teacher Gu, was it?”
Tong Yan gave an “mm.”
Shen Yao completely rose to her feet, pacing back and forth around the living room for a long time before returning to the side of the couch and sitting down again. “Yan Yan, have you ever thought about breaking up? Don’t tell me you’ve never thought about it.”
“Of course I haven’t.” Tong Yan also sat up, leaning sideways against the couch and trying as much as possible to avoid placing pressure on her tailbone. “Friend Shen Yao, you are currently in Gu Pingsheng’s home. You need to think twice and then twice again before you speak.”
She was joking, but Shen Yao was serious. “I can still remember a little bit of what Zhou Qingchen said. What if, in the future, Great Beauty Gu really does have heart failure, and there are problems with all his internal organs? What are you going to do? Wait on him everyday? Okay, fine, let’s just say that’s the case. But you’ll still have to spend money on medical treatment for him, and moreover, it will be never-ending. You sell your home, you sell your car until in the end, you have nothing left to sell, then what? Sell your body?”
“Why are you looking at things so negatively?” Tong Yan laughed, her eyes on Shen Yao.
“The reality is, things are already so negative.” Shen Yao gaped disbelievingly at her. “These last few days, I’ve been going with Cheng Yu to his family’s home, and when I discover many lifestyle differences where we are at odds, I will waver a bit and wonder whether I can be a part of that family for my entire life. That is still only a possibility for me … But yours is already a reality, just that the situation will manifest itself slowly. Do you know what a bottomless pit is? It’s a bottomless pit, yet you’d still dare jump into it?”
Tong Yan could see that Shen Yao’s emotions were stirred up as she spoke, so she simply waited until Shen Yao had completely finished venting them out.
Seeing that Tong Yan did not say anything, Shen Yao at once fell into a mode of self-criticism. “Of course, what I’m saying here is spoken very much as a realist. I’m being unfair and wrongful against Teacher Gu. He rescued the dying and saved the wounded, and I am still stabbing him in the back.” Once her self-criticism was finished, she instantly switched back into her friend-protecting mode. “But you’re my friend, and I must take your side.”
“Done talking now?”
“Okay, then it’s my turn to talk.” Tong Yan pointed out the window. “Everyday, there’s a possibility that we will encounter all kinds of disasters — car accidents, fires, plane crashes. I’ll not be afraid of taboo and just say something: who knows, when I go out tomorrow, whether I’ll be struck by a car and die? So none of the matters of tomorrow will affect my decision today.”
A cry of “Sh*t!” slipped from Shen Yao, and pulling Tong Yan’s arm, she scolded, “Ptooey! Touch wood!”
“Actually, I’m a person who is especially lacking in love, so as long as it’s a love that I can grab ahold of, I will never let go of it, even if you beat me to death.” She leaned herself on Shen Yao and rubbed her cheek against her shoulder. “If one day you end up like him, I don’t mind supporting you either. You don’t eat much anyway, and so long as you don’t buy brand name clothing and bags, I’ll be okay.”
Shen Yao let out another shout of “Sh*t!” and patted Tong Yan on the back. “You’re the expert at bringing on the sappy feelings. I’m about to cry because of what you said.”
Shen Yao had originally wanted to wait until Gu Pingsheng came home before she left. They had not expected, however, that even after eating dinner with Tong Yan and Grandmother and sitting around some more until nine o’clock, she still would not get to see him. Cheng Yu’s repeated calls came, three or four times urging her to hurry, until Shen Yao finally stood to take her leave. As she walked up to the front door, she seemed to all of a sudden think of something, and in a quiet voice, she asked Tong Yan, “Do your parents and grandmother not know about Gu Pingsheng’s condition?”
“They don’t know, and I don’t want to let them know.” Tong Yan made a motion, like she was wielding a sabre. “I will strangle all possible opposition when they’re still in the cradle.”
“You just laugh. Go ahead and laugh. The time will come when you will be crying.” Once Shen Yao finished saying this, she immediately spat out another couple of “ptooeys.” “I’m not going to curse you. What kind of darn ‘crow’s mouth’ [always stating misfortune, like it is challenging Lady Luck] was that?”
After seeing Shen Yao out the door, she continued lying on the couch with her stomach down and fell asleep several times while watching television until the sound of the front door being unlocked was finally heard.
Gu Pingsheng stepped in through the door, turned on the light in the entryway, and changed into his slippers. In the glow of the light, moisture could be seen on his hair and coat. When he walked over to her, she took his hand and led him to sit down beside her. “It’s snowing outside? Is it heavy?”
“It wasn’t very heavy yet downstairs of my office building, but by the time the car reached Chang’an Avenue, large snowflakes were already coming down.” Gu Pingsheng’s expression was one of great pleasure.
“Is this your first time seeing Beijing’s snowfall?” She touched his hair with her hand. “It’s quite wet. Hurry and take a shower.”
“I saw it once in Beijing, when I was about five years old.”
“Five years old? You were five and you still remember it so clearly? I have no impression of anything I did before I was six years old.”
He laughed, “My mother gave birth to me outside of the country. That year when I was five, during the Lunar New Year, was my first time coming back to China to see my real family. That year, my [maternal] grandmother was still alive. She loved to laugh, whereas my [maternal] grandfather is a very stern person. I remember that year, on the fifth day of the new lunar year, snow started to fall in Beijing, and for once, Grandfather actually left his study and took me outside to build a snowman.”
She was always particularly afraid of hearing him talk about “the past” or “before” or similar. Every time he brought that up, it would cause her to feel pained, as if those things had happened to her personally. And so, from when he had said that he was born outside of the country, her heart had begun to clench. Luckily, oh so luckily, it was a very heartwarming topic.
It was a pity that, even though she wanted to hear more, it was too late in the night already.
Gu Pingsheng finished his shower, and with his entire body radiating warmth, he slipped into the bed, stretched out his right arm, and encircled her in it from behind. “Are you asleep?” The lights were off, and she could not be bothered to turn them on. Gingerly avoiding her injured area, she turned over to face him.
She used action to demonstrate that she was not yet asleep.
With his two hands, he guided her until she was straddled across his body. Tong Yan could feel his palm cupping the back of her head, and in a very natural motion, she leaned herself down until she met him. Extending her tongue, she touched it briefly against his lips.
She had thought this was simply a good night kiss, but to her surprise, he had intentionally done this … There was no verbal communication at all, and the only thing she could feel was that the heat from his body could burn a person. Their lips and tongues came together initially with intensity and then later gradually pulled apart to, sometimes heavily, sometimes gently, brush against one another.
Never would they grow weary of such pleasure.
She abandoned herself into it, falling into a half-dreamlike, half-awake state as they kissed, until in the end, his two hands lifted her waist up. While she was still dazedly wondering how they would do it, he had already positioned himself and plunged directly into her from below. She could not contain the cry that slipped out from her, but immediately, she pressed her lips together again, not daring to let out any more sounds …
After several seconds, she heard Gu Pingsheng tell her in a voice that seemed as if it was both laughing and sighing, “Don’t move about … Be good and just lie there.”
When she crawled out of bed the following morning, she truly did not have the energy to make breakfast, so slacking off, she went downstairs, bought some jianbing, steamed stuffed buns, and soy milk, and brought them back up.
The person selling jianbing downstairs recognized her. While making her order, the woman kindly reminded her that the Lunar New Year was fast approaching, so all the vendors who sold breakfast would be returning home to celebrate. She exhorted Tong Yan that she must prepare breakfast everyday or else she would only go hungry.
Tong Yan assured her she would and said, “Don’t put cilantro in this one.”
“Yes, yes,” the older woman making the jianbing chuckled. “I know. Your husband doesn’t eat cilantro.”
“It’s not exactly that he doesn’t eat it.” Tong Yan sighed, “He says that cilantro is the hardest to wash thoroughly clean, so he usually just doesn’t eat it unless I personally wash it. He was once a doctor, so he’s relatively more fussy. When he used to drive, he was the same, refusing to open the car windows all year round. That’s why it is actually rare that I come out to buy anything to eat. Usually, I cook everything myself.” A sweet sense of joy filled her as she said this.
The first thing she did after she stepped in through the door of their home was to take a chalk and record on the little chalkboard hanging in the living room how much time she had used. The amount of time she spent on bedrest each day was fixed, so she only had that tiny bit of time where she could move about as she wished and even that needed to be strictly recorded for Gu Pingsheng to see.
This all sounded very troublesome, but in reality, when she thought about it, the feeling of having her own private doctor was actually pretty good.
“We’ll spend Lunar New Year’s Day in Beijing”—he had slipped noiselessly up to her, his chin nuzzling behind her ear—“and the rest of the time we will go somewhere for a vacation?”
The warm air that he breathed out tickled Tong Yan. Moving to avoid it, she turned her head and rejected his suggestion, “We finally get a ten-day holiday. Let’s just stay at home and sleep. Don’t tire ourselves out.”
He gave an “mm.” “We can find a hotel that is most suitable for sleeping, and everyday, we’ll sleep until the sun sets and then continue over to the beach to catch some moon rays. We won’t participate in any activities.”
That did sound pretty good.
While Tong Yan was still mulling this over, Gu Pingsheng had already made the decision. “We’ll leave on the day after Lunar New Year’s.”
Tong Yan nodded, still trying hard in her mind to determine if there was anything wrong with this. When he tilted her chin upward, she automatically went along with his action and lifted her head.
“Mrs. Gu, women who think too much age easily.”
“You actually have a lot of male macho-ness. You never give a person the chance to refuse.” She grinned, “But I really like it. Very much like it.”
As the two of them were speaking, the sound of a key being turned in the lock of the front door was heard. It should be Grandmother coming back from her morning exercise. But when the door was pushed open and her eyes turned toward it, she saw two people.
It was Grandmother and her father.
 东北 “Dongbei.” The Northeast region of China refers to the three provinces of Jilin, Liaoning, and Heilongjiang, which together historically were known as Manchuria.
童言无忌 “tong yan wuji.” What Shen Yao actually said after the “ptooey” was the idiom from which Tong Yan’s nickname is taken, which, recall in footnote  of chapter 1.2, means “children’s words are spoken without filters or reservations.” That also implies that if something is spoken wrongly, it can be ignored and you need not fear that it has broken taboos. Here, Shen Yao is crying out in alarm that Tong Yan’s words should be taken like they are child’s words, and so she did not break any taboos and jinx herself. The spitting is like getting rid of those unlucky words that were spoken before declaring “No jinx!” or “Touch wood!’
乌鸦嘴 “wu ya zui.” This literally means “crow’s mouth” or “crow’s beak” and is used to describe someone who is acting as if he or she is tempting fate by constantly speaking about misfortunes.
Something is stirred within me in that conversation between Tong Yan and Shen Yao and my eyes start to sting when I read it. I don’t think anyone can fault Shen Yao for saying the things that she said. In all honesty, it’s the stance the majority of people would take. It takes a person with a special heart to see things from Tong Yan’s perspective (Don’t you admire what she said, that “none of the matters of tomorrow will affect my decision today”?), but there are also people like her out there as well. I feel like this story shows us so well the different sides of the world, different types of people. Despite the secondary characters actually making only brief, occasional appearances, their purpose, I feel, is to contrast Tong Yan (and Gu Pingsheng). From Wang Xiaoru and her “I don’t care attitude,” to Wen Jingjing choosing to find a relationship that can get her somewhere in life, to Shen Yao’s realist approach to love, to Tong Yan. How can you judge whether one person is more right than the other?
The scene struck a chord with me and stirred up some sort of emotions that I thought I needed to write something to get them out, but when I put my fingers to the keyboard, I found that I’m incapable of expressing anything. So please forgive the babbling. 🙂
On another note, boating (intimate) scenes just don’t get any easier for me. They take me forever to translate, even the short one in this update, and I just can’t seem to write them. :p
1 of 1 Prologue
54 of 66 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogue segments