Apologies for those who read this ahead of time. A slip of the finger published this before its usual posting time and before I got the edits complete. (This proves I should not attempt editing past midnight.) :p
Oh gosh, this one hurt even more than the last one, especially that text message from Gu Pingsheng.😦
Final Chapter (4)
He never did return again.
When it was time for her graduation ceremony, Tong Yan went back to the university.
She had arrived in Shanghai one day prior and completed all the necessary formalities for graduating from the school. That night, she stayed at Shen Yao’s home and arrived at the university the following day.
Of the twenty-three students in her class, twelve were admitted directly or by recommendation into other universities for graduate studies. Five or six of the remaining students had received offers from the prestigious schools they had desired. Shen Yao’s wish was fulfilled, and she truly was accepted into Yale.
Zhou Qingchen, on the other hand, was not going to continue studying and rather, had obtained a job working in the Singapore government. Jingjing, hence, had unexpectedly become like the swallow that had flown up to the top of the branch and transformed into a little phoenix [a woman who has transformed from rags to riches], busily accompanying him to carry out the formal procedures and paperwork while incidentally also making her own preparations to go abroad with him.
Graduation was a fork in the road of life, but there were no road signs.
After July, everyone would begin embarking along his or her own road, moving towards utterly different lives.
Very early on, during the internship period, the dormitory had basically been half emptied.
The beds were empty, their deep green metal frames as well as wooden bed boards bare and exposed, just as they had been when they first entered university. The shelves were also bare, a layer of dust cloaking them. Shen Yao stepped in but strolled only one circle around the room before she broke down, left, and began going to every other place to find people to say goodbye to.
Unable to sit there in the dormitory room, in the end, Tong Yan could only head over early to hang around in front of the auditorium, waiting, with nothing to do, for the ceremony to begin.
The previous night, she and Shen Yao had squeezed together on one single-size bed to sleep, and now she finally felt that her lower back was a little sore.
She sat down on the steps and drew her legs up to her chest, resting her chin on her knees as she watched the people going in and out of the main doors of the auditorium to prepare for tonight’s graduation celebration.
She remembered the previous year’s celebration had been outdoors, and she and Shen Yao had stood crammed against the entrance of the library, joining in on the excitement. Time had passed with a whoosh, and now it was her turn.
Apparently, the previous couple of days had been gloomy with continuous rain, but today the weather had cleared. The morning breeze blew in her direction, carrying a touch of moisture on it. Her arms were wrapped around her calves while his name repeated over and over again in her mind.
So much time had passed, yet she could still remember, that day, the weather had been very nice. The morning sunlight had shone in through the window, and he had been completely enveloped in its glow. Casually, he had held the chalk and written his name: Gu Pingsheng.
Four or five people walked out from inside the auditorium, all of them junior schoolmates who were part of the Sunshine Theatre Society.
And there was also Ai Mi, who had already started a job at a television station.
After the numerous commendations of “congratulations on graduating,” Ai Mi stayed and sat down side by side with her. “So, what will it be? Is your future one of a great lawyer or a judge? Or maybe a prosecutor?”
“Don’t know.” Tong Yan genuinely did not know. “I don’t want to do anything that has to do with law. I really, especially don’t.”
If it was possible, she truly wanted to be willful and give up what she had majored in.
Because it was connected to him.
“You were in the liberal arts stream. If you don’t work in your field of study, you’re not going to be worth much when you head out into the real world, right?”
“It seems that’s the case.” She pondered seriously for a moment. “Other than reciting and memorizing from books, there’s not much I know how to do. Now that I think about it, the sciences and engineering are better. At least you’ll come out with specialized knowledge or skills.”
“You know how to sing.” Ai Mi laughingly reminded, “And what’s more, your singing is particularly nice to listen to. Go take the Putonghua Proficiency Test. I’ll put in a recommendation for you to do an internship at the TV station.”
She gave an offhand answer, continuing to rest her chin on her knees and stare vacantly ahead.
Beginning tomorrow, she would start again to consider matters about the future. Today was the last day of being a student.
The graduation ceremony lasted for two hours, and wearing her bachelor’s gown, she stood at the very back, her shirt inside completely dampened. When at last the conclusion of the ceremony was announced and all the graduation caps were flying into the air, Tong Yan’s first action was to remove her gown to allow herself a breather.
Her sweat-soaked, short-sleeve shirt clung to her body. As she bowed her head to pull out a tissue, Shen Yao, who was standing behind her, sudden gave her a hard nudge on the arm.
She had not even had the chance to react before Shen Yao was already dragging her to the outer perimeters.
From this particular angle, they had a view of all the teachers of the Law Faculty as well as the dean. He really was standing there beside the dean, watching the elderly gentleman speak. He was dressed in a very simple, casual button-up shirt, his complexion fair and the outline of his facial features distinct, his expression still collected as before. In this way, she stood and gazed upon him from afar. Each subtle motion, in her eyes, was infinitely magnified.
Whatever Shen Yao said afterward, she did not hear at all.
Soon, the more than three thousand people in that courtyard began to disperse, and the scene was even more crowded and hectic than the train station. Embraces of farewell, photographs taken together and signatures being signed, tears and laughter as well as wild, senseless fun.
The once most-popular teacher had returned on this day of the graduation ceremony, and naturally, memories were evoked in many people.
Apart from Shen Yao and her, almost everyone stepped up in their bachelor’s gowns to take a photograph with him as a keepsake.
The esteemed, elderly dean of the Law Faculty had hence become a supporting role, standing beamingly to the left of all of the students, while Gu Pingsheng was inundated with various requests and obligingly accommodated memento photographs.
Her classmates all thought that Gu Pingsheng had purposely come today to be with her, so naturally, they also presumed that Tong Yan was keeping such a far distance to avoid rousing negative attention. Several classmates who were relatively more acquainted with her had, after fulfilling their photograph wish, even approached Tong Yan and expressed their “apologies” for occupying Great Beauty Gu.
In the end, she was the one who left first.
Without any place to go, she stepped into the auditorium to watch the final rehearsal for the night’s celebration.
She was a former master of ceremonies, so of course no one would stop her from entering.
When it was time for the Sunshine Theatre Society’s act, she was backstage and standing behind the immense stage curtain, watching seven or eight students use an artistic type of voice to act out a scene of graduation and departure from school. The audience seats in front of the stage were largely empty, with only some of the cast and crew sitting in them and observing.
A few people coming from the side stage curtain at the back unexpectedly looked in her direction and politely called out, “Teacher Gu.”
Tong Yan suddenly grew nervous…
Behind her, someone answered, “Thank you for your hard work.”
It was not his voice.
Even her hands had gone somewhat weak, but she was thankful that it truly was not him.
The teacher behind her seemed to be the new supervising teacher for the Students’ Union and did not know Tong Yan, only communicating in low tones with those students about the plans for the evening celebration. While she continued watching the onstage people whom she knew rehearse the play, an alert all of a sudden rang out from her phone.
She lowered her head and glanced at it. It was a text message from Gu Pingsheng:
I had originally wanted to say a few words to you, but I realize now that that is not a very easy thing for me to do. Student Tong Yan, congratulations on your successful graduation. TK
“Who has their mobile phone turned on backstage? Don’t you know the rehearsal rules?”
Since this was the rehearsal for a stage play, there was a sound system and speakers on stage, and the sound of these words was enough to disturb everyone.
The eyes of all the people backstage turned toward her. As she stared at her mobile phone, Tong Yan dimly realized that she had committed a wrong. Lifting up the stage curtain, she confessed apologetically, “I’m sorry, Teacher Du. It was me.”
“Oh, it’s Tong Yan.” When Du Half-A-Beat saw it was her, his face quickly transformed into a smile. “Our school gala emcee of previous years. I think this is your graduation year. So how about it? Are you heading into graduate studies?”
Shaking her head, she exchanged a few words of pleasantries with this teacher whom she had collaborated with for several years.
That night, she directly departed from Shanghai without going to watch that graduation celebration that belonged to her.
Her ticket was for a sleeper berth on the train. In the middle of the night and unable to sleep, she stepped out into the corridor to take a seat on one of the chairs there. Text messages were coming in incessantly from Shen Yao, telling her how many people had jumped into the lake as a way to commemorate this graduation and how many people had posed with the statue of Venus to take a photograph. This way of bidding farewell to one’s era as a student was truly both wild and heartrendingly poignant.
The rumble of the train speeding over the tracks was mechanical and rhythmic.
She read and read until she fell asleep, sprawled on a little table. When the sky was beginning to lighten at five or six o’clock in the morning, Tong Yan awakened. The corridor already contained early risers who were starting to move about. She had just pulled out some toiletries from her bag when she received a call on her phone from Pingfan. Pingfan’s voice was still friendly as before, and she did not say very much, only that she was coming to pick her up at the station.
Tong Yan could surmise that she was coming regarding matters related to Gu Pingsheng, so she did not refuse her.
Pingfan’s vehicle was stopped opposite the railway station, separated by a road. Though she had thoroughly prepared herself mentally, when she saw Pingfan, she still felt extremely awkward.
Pingfan could detect her apprehension, and after she was seated in the car, she quickly said, “Don’t put too great a load on your mind. I told you before that no matter what choice you make, I will understand.” Saying that, she pulled out a stack of printed documents from the back seat and handed it to her. “TK personally wrote this up and requested that I bring it to you.”
Tong Yan took it from her. It was a home purchase contract. The seller was Gu Pingsheng, and the buyer, of course, was her.
“When I got this, I was actually very perplexed. Why did he not choose to gift it, and rather, he made it a sale?” Gu Pingfan’s tone was intentionally light, and with a smile, she jokingly mocked him. “He said that it is relatively complex to gift it and would require that he is present before it can be conducted. A purchase and sale transaction is much simpler. You only need to sign your name and then I can help the both of you carry out the remainder of the procedure.”
As Pingfan stated this, she was already handing a pen over to her. Tong Yan did not take it .
“Yan Yan, he is doing this because he is respecting you. In our hearts, we already view you as his wife. Even though the two of you have to separate, this is also something that he must do. And trust me, if you won’t accept it, he will certainly also persist and just change to find a different way to give this apartment to you.” Pingfan set the pen on top of the document and smiled, “You know that he’s really stubborn. It’s pretty annoying.”
“Let me think about it,” she answered.
“Also, I’m going to open a joint account and transfer all the money you kept with him into the account that you and I will jointly own. I will, right off the bat, provide my authorization for any withdrawal and use of considerable amounts, so in reality, I’m just a safeguard that’s there in name only.”
Pingfan continued with all her explanations, regardless of how large or trivial the matters were.
The air conditioning inside the vehicle blew against her skin. So cold. His every arrangement was very well thought-out and did not have a single flaw.
After Pingfan finished saying everything, her eyes were already noticeably reddened. Spreading her arms, she wrapped Tong Yan into her tight embrace. “Alright, I still have a lot of other things I need to do. That little bro of mine who spares me no worry has never let me just relax.”
Tong Yan hugged her back. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t say that.” Pingfan told her, “Although the ending wasn’t good, we still were once family, after all.”
Family. She had once so greatly yearned to have a whole, intact family.
If he possessed a healthy body, how wonderful that would be.
She would unquestionably cast off all heed regarding matters of her family and shamelessly attach herself to him. After all, Gu Pingsheng genuinely was very outstanding and would be very capable of earning money to support the family anyway. But the reality was, his health was so poor. Perhaps there were only twenty years remaining in his lifespan, but as a result of throwing himself into work, it would be shortened by another five or ten years or even more.
This kind of consequence was one that she dared not even think about.
The best now would be if he could leave and go to any other place, one where he did not need to have too much in savings and also did not have too many burdens weighing down on him.
Even without romantic love, for the many people in his family who loved him, he would still take good care of himself.
 “飞上枝头变凤凰” is a line from the poem 《圆圆曲》Song of Yuanyuan by Ming dynasty official and poet, Wu Weiye. This line describes a woman, originally of the lower classes of society, rising abruptly into the upper class, like a lowly swallow that once wallowed in the mud but, after managing to fly to the top of a high branch, has now become a glorious phoenix.
 普通话水平测试. The Putonghua Shuiping Ceshi (PSC) or the National Putonghua Proficiency Test is the official test in China for native speakers of Chinese that tests for oral mastery of standard Mandarin. Certain jobs in China, such as radio and television broadcasters, teachers, etc. require a minimum level of achievement in this test.
Everyone repeat after me: Hoju only translates stories with happy endings.
Let’s talk Tong Yan.
From the very beginning, I’ve been saying that this story is grounded in reality. The situations — especially Tong Yan’s — are things that can happen to real people, the characters have their flaws and hence, their decisions may also be flawed.
The author modelled the character of Tong Yan based on the real life experience of someone she knew. (Gu Pingsheng, however, is purely fictional and was created to honour the real angels in white coats of the SARS tragedy.)
Tong Yan’s decision was highly discussed, not only in the comments here but also amongst Chinese readers as well, with varied reactions ranging from, “What in the world? She should just cut the ties with her father and then problem solved. Who cares about the addict? She’s just too weak,” to “How heartbreaking. I don’t know if that’s what I’d do, but I understand,” to “I would do the same. What other alternative did she have?”
I, myself, tend to the middle one. I actually don’t want to discuss right or wrong, though, and instead, “Why?” Why is this decision completely consistent with the character that Mo Bao Fei Bao has been presenting to us over the last 20+ chapters? (If you read my review in SSB, I shared very similar thoughts there. Just wanted to place them here, too.)
Tong Yan and Gu Pingsheng have a wonderful relationship where they care about one another and wish with all their heart to take on the other person’s burdens. However, they do not wish to put their own burdens on the other person. There’s several examples of this. During their separation, in chapter 13.2, “Gu Pingsheng, as before, would send her an email every two or three days, but never in any of them would he talk about his medical condition and recovery. And every time she replied, she would also only write things like, the weather was getting hotter, her schoolwork was really light and easy, or similar. Privately, though, she kept a diary of everything that had happened over these last several months, and when he returned, she planned to pull it out to show him and say, ‘Look how strong and positive a person Mrs. Gu is.'” See how she did intend to share, but only after she pulled through it herself. Also, in chapter 15.2, “It would be just like when he was in the United States when Pingfan’s secret video recording of him had shown that he was already lying in the hospital, but the next day, he had still sent her a video of him out sightseeing and having fun, using this to try to obscure her perception and mislead her … So, it would seem that he was ‘only desiring to partake in life’s sweetness together and unwilling to share the bitterness.’”
So, it is not inconsistent for Tong Yan’s character to not tell Gu Pingsheng about seeing her father that day in the park and the resulting decision because “ever since she was a child, she had been the type of person who would only report good news and would hold back any news that was unpleasant” (chapter 6.2). She acknowledges herself that this is a fault of hers.
Also, remember the discussion that they had in the bedroom, where Gu Pingsheng said he was selfish because, despite knowing that his health was poor, he still insisted on being with her. What did Tong Yan take out of that? “His words seemed to settle down into the depths of her heart. So long as she was not occupied with anything, her thoughts would turn to these words of his. According to his logic, she knew that her family had many issues, but she still decided to drag him into the messiness of it all. If he had been healthy, perhaps he would have had the strength to bear all of this with her, but to make him, who was already in this condition, face this together with her, wasn’t that even more selfish?” (chapter 16.2) A guilt settled into her heart and ate away at her from that moment. And that guilt was only confirmed when she felt that, because of her, he had faced a terrible humiliation in paying off her father’s debts in front of his own student. So, that guilt must have flared up again when her father approached her in the park. It felt like a never-ending cycle, and to her, wasn’t she being selfish if she continued to let him face this with her? She knew he would be selfless and tell her it didn’t matter, but to her, that did not mean she should be selfish. So, she did not want to let him know the true reason behind the break-up.
Lastly, I mentioned this in my reply to some comments, but have you noticed the pressure that Tong Yan has been bringing more and more onto herself? She wants more than anything to care in every way possible for Gu Pingsheng, but to teach yourself first-aid, to learn driving, to learn about herbal foods, to learn massage… Why? Because of worry for his health. She has never voiced that worry to Gu Pingsheng because she probably doesn’t want him to feel bad, but she is very stressed. Grandmother’s health, Gu Pingsheng’s health… things that she cannot control, but she feels she needs to shoulder them. And she’s only 22! She’s terribly mature for her age and sometimes we forget, but she is actually so young still. As Gu Pingsheng and Pingfan said, she is “…still a kid. Being frail and vunerable are expected” (chapter 20.2), and it is normal for someone at that age to not be able to look at every angle. Hence, when her father came, it was like a straw that broke the camel’s back. She can’t think of anything except that this cycle is unbreakable. And if she can’t get out of it, the least she can do is shove him out of it.
So, were there better ways for her to deal with it? Possibly. Do I agree with her choice? Maybe not. But to be honest, I don’t know if I, myself, could have done any better. Her feelings are very human, and every human being will react differently in such a situation when your mind is not clear. But what I can say for sure is, the author has created a very well thought-out, consistent character (and one that you can relate to and feel for, if not agree with). While, at first, the break-up may have seemed unexpected, when you really think about it, you will see that her reaction is within character.
1 of 1 Prologue
65 of 66 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogue segments