The lead female character Xiao Qiu (小秋) gets settled into the big city and is inching closer to meeting our handsome male lead in this first chapter. While not much happens in this chapter, it’s a great introduction to what kind of person the female lead is through her actions and conversations with others. She doesn’t look for trouble, but is also someone who won’t easily back down. It’s why I’m not only fond of the male lead, but also the female lead. She’s not the typical super headstrong female lead nor the one who always needs to depend on a man. This sets her up quite nicely with the male lead, in my opinion.
The day I left for college, Father sent me to the train station. Carrying my luggage, we sat through a whole three hour bus ride before arriving in the provincial capital. The bus was half an hour later than what was scheduled. By the time I hastily rushed to the platform, there were only fifteen minutes left before the train left. Father was not fond of farewells, he especially didn’t like last minute farewells. After he put all of my luggage away, he got off the train with great speed.
“Don’t think too much about saving money, on the first of next month, I will send money to you.”
I contained my tears and nodded.
“Remember to open a bank account and deposit the money you have. Don’t lose it as soon as you get there.”
“Xiao Qiu, we are going from a poor place to a big city. We might be poor, but we don’t lack ambition. Remember Daddy’s words, a person must behave appropriately, and furthermore, must have integrity.”
Growing up, Father had probably repeated the integrity speech several hundred times. It was as if he was living in the Ming dynasty. In actuality, Father taught at the middle school in the small town we lived in. He himself was a university graduate from the city. The year they were being assigned jobs, he voluntarily went to the countryside, and then got married to my mother. Thus, he stayed in the countryside permanently. Now he looks old beyond his age. His beard had already greyed.
“I know, Daddy.”
He smiled and said, “I’ll leave now, I still have a class in the afternoon.”
Then, he rapidly disappeared. He disappeared so quickly, not waiting to see my tears.
I sat in the crowded train for an entire day. After getting to Beijing, I followed the directions on the “Admissions Notice” and took the bus for several stops. At last, I reached S University. This was a teachers’ college. My scores were actually more than enough for Peking University, but for some reason, Peking University didn’t admit me. I was admitted to my second choice, S University. I originally applied for International Economics, but the International Economics Department also didn’t admit me. The Foreign Language Department admitted me. Even though my foreign language skills were strong, I never thought to pursue it for a career. Because of this, I entered the gates of S University in a dejected mood. After waiting in lines and completing the registration paperwork, I went back and forth through the greenery for a good while before finding my dorm.
The door of the dormitory was open. There were six bunks, the three bunks on the bottom were already piled with luggage. Three girls sat on the side of the beds chatting and laughing. One of them, a tall girl, turned her head to glance at me, and asked, “Are you a freshman?”
“Foreign Languages Department.”
She raised her eyebrows, “Which language?”
She pointed towards one of the upper bunks and said, “The bottom bunks are already taken. The upper bunks are still empty. Pick one.”
She was very pretty. A high-bridged nose, large eyes, pale white skin, and the way she held herself exuded an indescribable sense of leisure.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Xie Xiao Qiu.”
“I’m Feng Jing Er. This is Wei Hai Xia. This is Ning An An. We are all locals.” She pointed to the other two girls wearing fashionable outfits, saying, “We are your roommates.”
Locals meant Beijing residents.
“Hello.” I said. Wei Hai Xia and Ning An An nodded at me.
“In a bit, a Shanghainese girl will also come. She already arrived and went to make up additional paperwork.” Ning An An pointed to a pile of luggage by the door. After a while, she recalled something else and said, “There is another bed that will always be empty. That is Liu Xuan’s place. She’s (School) President Liu’s daughter. Her family lives at the school, so she’ll live at home for probably most of the time.”
“Did all of you already know each other before?” I asked softly.
“We all went to the same high school.”
I didn’t say anything else. With the greatest speed, I opened my luggage, climbed up onto the bed and started making my bed. My luggage was quite simple, my bed was made quickly.
Wei Hai Xia looked around and asked, “Hey…didn’t you bring a mosquito tent?”
I shook my head, “No, it’s almost winter. Are there still mosquitoes?”
Wei Hai Xia laughed lightly, “The tent isn’t for keeping out mosquitoes. The tent is a world. Inside is your solitary retreat. You must need some privacy, right?”
I became aware that her words did not come kindly. Immediately straightening my back, I looked into her eyes and said, “I don’t need any privacy.”
The three looked at each other, conversing silently with their eyes.
In the end, Ning An An laughed, “Even though this room is on the fourth floor, there’s still a lot of dust. It’s still better to have a mosquito tent, it’s cleaner to sleep in. With everyone having a mosquito tent, the room will also look neater. What do you say? Oh right, what’s your name again?”
“Xie Xiao Qiu.”
No one asked me which city I was from. They were afraid they wouldn’t have heard the of it before, or that I would be too embarrassed to say.
In the afternoon, I went to the general store and bought a mosquito tent for forty yuan. (‘Yuan’ is the Chinese unit of currency.)
And then bought textbooks for the academic year, spending one hundred thirty yuan. I only had thirty yuan left. The school dining hall was extraordinarily expensive, each meal cost at least two yuan.
When I returned to the dorm, the Shanghainese girl was already sitting inside her mosquito tent. She was called Xiao Rui. Tiny stature, milky white skin, jet black long hair. She sat cross-legged eating chocolate, looking like an elf.
“Tonight the school auditorium will be showing a movie, three yuan a ticket, everyone let’s go. After the movie there’s a dance. Free for ladies. Jing Er, is your bodyguard going to come?” Ning An An said laughing.
“Alright!!” Everyone raised their hands, except for me.
“Do you want some chocolate.” Xiao Rui handed me a piece, “It’s Dove, I don’t eat any other brand.”
“Thank you, I…don’t really eat sweets.”
“Have a piece, give me some face, ok?” She continued to stuff it into my hands.
“Ok, thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Xiao Rui continued eating, then all of a sudden said, “I think it’s only fair that this upper and lower bunk arrangement should change each semester. For example, those who are in the bottom bunks will be in the top bunks next semester. Those in the top bunk will be in the bottom bunks next semester. That way everyone has a chance to be in a bottom bunk, that’s the only fair way. Xiao Qiu, what do you say?”
Feng Jing Er’s face looked somewhat uneasy, Wei Hai Xia gave us an even more displeased look. Ning An An said with a smile, “Next semester is still far off, let’s discuss this in more detail when next semester starts. Perhaps by then, you’ll have gotten used to it and won’t want to move down.”
Xiao Rui took a bite of her chocolate saying, “I will definitely want to move down, I am not used to this right now.”
Wei Hai looked at me and asked, “What about you, Xiao Qiu? Do you not want to be in a top bunk either?”
“I think Xiao Rui’s idea is not bad. I don’t care whether I am on the top bunk or not, the important thing is that it’s fair.” I said emotionlessly.
“Let’s go watch the movie first.” Ning An An picked up her purse and walked out. Everyone filed out.
“Xiao Qiu, are you really not coming?” Xiao Rui asked.
“Sorry, I made plans to meet up with someone from my hometown. Tonight.”
“Haven’t even started studying foreign language, and yet you’ve already forgotten your Chinese grammar. Miss, the time clause comes in the front.” Wei Hai Xia teased. A fit of giggles came from outside the door.
Actually, I had already met up with Lin Qing from my hometown. She and I were from the same small town. She was a History Department fourth year and would soon be graduating. I met up with her in the afternoon. After some small talk, I asked her about tips for living in Beijing.
“It is really expensive to live here. You need to work part-time in order to subsist.”
I agreed vehemently. I promptly told her I had already spent more than half the money I brought. She suddenly remembered something and said, “I know of a café that’s hiring. Originally I was planning on going. It’s somewhat far from school and takes four stops on the bus to get there, so I changed my mind. Do you want to go? It’s a Starbucks, as a waitress, not tiring work. It has mainly early morning and night shifts, the times are flexible. They actually like students from the Foreign Language Department because there are many foreigners there. Tell me now if you want to go, I’ll have to give them a call first.”
It was truly gift from the heavens. I couldn’t stop nodding my head.
She helped me write a résumé and lent me a set of clothes. Before leaving, she handed me a tube of lipstick.
“We are from a small town. Our accents are already backward, if you don’t dress fashionably, more people will laugh at you. Is your Mandarin good?”
“Not bad, my accent isn’t too obvious.”
“Not just curling your tongue, the people here even make a distinction between ‘-in’ and ‘-ing’.” (Southern accents tend to drop the “h” (the tongue rolling part) and the “g” when pronouncing words such as “chi” or “ling”.)
“I will certainly remember that.”
“Try to use as much English in your speech as possible. Don’t always tell the complete truth, don’t arbitrarily reveal all your cards. When you are too honest, you will be taken advantage of. Understood?”
“Definitely, thank you for your pointers.” I made a face.
“Everyone working at the café is an university student, making honest money, so I’m not worried that you will get corrupted. Don’t learn from those bad students from your department and the Music Department who will do anything, including becoming mistresses, in order to keep up with their expensive habits.”
After Lin Qing finished giving pointers, she went out and made a call. Upon her return, she informed me that the café had a three day trial period. I would start tonight. She asked whether I was willing to work the night shift, from six to midnight. There was no other time slots open.
Of course I was willing.