We get to spend some time with Xiao Qiu’s family and see how they react to Li Chuan. He’s such a charmer, how can they resist? 😉
Kumming is known as the city of spring. In actuality, it was still really cold in winter. But it was a different type of cold than in the north, it was cold and moist.
Li Chuan and I wore the same clothes: Grey turtleneck sweater, jeans, traveling shoes, and a dark blue jacket. Li Chuan said, with this outfit, on the streets, we’d be seen as a couple with one glance. If the inseparable cane in his hands could be removed, Li Chuan would look like a cologne advertisement model in any outfit. As for me, on the streets, I’d be seen as narcissistic, flaunting as if I was good-looking. But compared to Li Chuan, I was just average. I nearly didn’t have the nerve to walk together with him.
Because I was worried about Li Chuan getting an allergic reaction again, under my imploring, Li Chuan didn’t put on his prosthetic leg. He planned out each day’s itinerary on his blackberry: Go to Guandu to eat spicy rice noodles soup, go shopping, go to Daguan Tower after getting back from Auntie’s home, Lotus Garden, and if we still had energy, climb West Mountain. At night, head to Jin Ma Lane, then to Tuo Feng Pub to drink, and then go to LDW to eat rice noodles. One of Li Chuan’s habits is to make a “To do list” every morning after washing up. He was constantly examining all kinds of schedules: weekly schedule, monthly schedule, yearly schedule, five-year plan. He felt he was a very well planned person.
Li Chuan had another habit, that was to be lazy about learning Chinese. For example, on the road, if he saw any English characters on a sign, whether it was just phonetic or not, he would not memorize the Chinese. I asked him, what is LDW?
“Lao Dian Wei!”(老滇味 Famous restaurant in Kunming) He was proud of himself, thinking himself more Yunnan than me. I give up.
My Auntie looked at me while holding the grocery basket. Her expression was quite complicated. Uncle couldn’t make a decision, and just smiled. I know he was easier to handle. The remaining two, cousin and her husband, watched with folder arms. The boy, Dou Dou, glanced around.
“Auntie, this is Wang Li Chuan. My…” I licked my lips, “friend.”
Li Chuan gave a slight nod, “Auntie, hello.”
I must say, at this moment, Li Chuan’s gaze was deep, manner was reserved, had a noble air, and his speech was broad and level. It gave others both courage and pressure.
My aunt looked him over. After a long time, nodded, but didn’t say anything.
Instead, it was my uncle who said, “I understand now. It was for him that you lass caused havoc with your dad. Leaving home on Chinese New Year’s Eve.”
I stressfully nodded, “Uncle, I bought your favorite glutinous rice tea.” I searched for something easier to break the tension with.
“Aiya, you’ve spent a lot of money again.” Uncle chuckled in spite of Auntie’s ashen face. It seemed as he wanted to say a few more words to ease the tension. He had just opened his mouth when Auntie broke him off, “Xiao Qiu, it’s quite cold outside. Come inside to sit.” She instructed my cousin-in-law, “Xiao Gao, help Xiao Qiu carry her things.”
Nothing in her words indicated she was inviting Li Chuan in.
Immediately, my neck became a bit stiffer and put my arm through Li Chuan’s, “No need, Auntie. Li Chuan and I still have some things to take care of. I’ll come greet you for Chinese New Year another day.”
After my mom passed away, Auntie had particular authority in our family. My dad often saw her as the reflection of my mom, and was both close with her and respected her. However, I didn’t escape on a bike for more than ten hours from Gejiu for Li Chuan to stand in front of my aunt in humiliation.
Li Chuan lightly twirled my fingers and said unenthusiastically, “Xiao Qiu, it’s hard for you to make a trip to Kunming. You should visit with your aunt. I’ll come pick you up in the afternoon.”
And then, he smiled calmly at everyone, saying, “I wish everyone a happy new year.” After saying farewell, he released my hand and headed towards his car. The driver had, at some point, quietly came out and opened the car door for him.
At that moment, my uncle suddenly called out, “Wait, Mr. Wang. It’s hard for you to make a trip to Kunming. Please come up and have some tea with Xiao Qiu.”
Zhu Zhu Jie seized the opportunity to say, “That’s right, that’s right. We bought so many groceries. Have a simple home cooked meal with us.”
My aunt glared at these two meddlesome people.
Everyone walked to the gates of the dormitory. My aunt looked at Li Chuan and said, “Mr. Wang, it’s difficult to walk upstairs. Do you need someone to carry you on their back?”
“No need, Auntie.” Li Chuan said, “Please head up first.”
Even without the provocative tone in her voice, what Auntie said was true. Her home was on the seventh floor. The stairs were narrow and steep. At every turn, there was junk piled up. Even an ordinary person had to turn their body this way and that to get through. It was this type of condo that, if my uncle hadn’t been a senior model worker in those days, they wouldn’t even have been able to get.
The family was familiar with the route, after a few sounds of footsteps, my aunt, uncle, cousin, Dou Dou, and cousin-in-law were gone from sight. Only Li Chuan and I were left to go up, slowly, step by step. On the third floor, Li Chuan leaned against the wall and rested a bit. He said, “Don’t always follow behind me. What if I fall, won’t you fall with me?”
I said, “That’s why I follow behind you. If you fall, I can stop you.”
He didn’t say anymore, used his crutches to tap the staircase, indicating that I go up first.
I had no choice, I could only go in front of him. Accompanying him up.
At the sixth floor, I saw that his shoelace had loosened. I was just about to stoop down to help him tie it. He stopped me, “I’ll do it myself.”
“You’re going to fight over this with me too?” I stared at him coldly and efficiently knotted it tightly.
“Last time, you made it this tight, I had to use scissors to cut it open.” He whispered.
I stood up and asked, “You didn’t throw away that pair of shoes, did you?”
Of course. This person never looks at money like it’s worth anything. What was I quibbling about?
When we got to the seventh floor, Auntie’s family had already gone into the condo. Only Uncle was waiting at the door for us. Li Chuan quickly went up and held open the door. I went into the condo, passing in front of him. Then, he entered, helped me take off my jacket, and then handed his jacket along with mine into Min Min’s hands. Everyone glanced at his handicapped body and their eyes dared not linger. I saw Min Min’s body startle a bit. Everyone else tried their best to cover up their surprise.
“Sit here, Li Chuan.” I pointed to the only single-person couch with an armrest in the living room. I didn’t explain anything before guiding him towards it. In fact, it was my aunt’s personal chair. She always liked to sit there to knit sweaters and watch TV.
In public, Li Chuan would insist on wearing his prosthetic leg because if his body didn’t have the support, it was hard for him to sit steadily. If he didn’t have his prosthetic limb, it would be painful for him to sit more than ten minutes in a solid chair.
Who would have thought that Li Chuan would quickly become aware that it was a special seat and refused to sit in it, “I’ll just sit in that chair.” After saying this, he walked to a wooden chair and sat down.
Cousin poured tea for everyone.
Auntie took a drink and asked, “Mr. Wang, when did you come to Kunming?”
“He took a plane this morning.” I said for him.
“Mr. Wang, how old are you this year?” She glanced harshly at me and asked.
“You’ve really got a tight grasp on Xiao Qiu, now that you’ve caught her.”
“You flatter me. The early bird gets the worm.” Though I say this guy doesn’t understand Chinese, his response was pretty quick.
“Hehe.” Cousin and I laughed together, nearly spraying out our tea.
“Mr. Wang…Li Chuan, right? Where are you studying? Are you classmates with Xiao Qiu?” Uncle asked.
“Hey, you idiot. One is seventeen, one is twenty-five. He’s older than our Xiao Qiu by eight years. How can they be classmates?” Auntie scolded him.
“Aren’t I older than you by eight years too? Eight years is very good. Very lucky.” Uncle didn’t back down. (Eight is a lucky number in Chinese as it’s similar in sound to prosperity.)
Li Chuan said, “I’ve already graduated. I am an architect in Beijing.”
Auntie nodded, “Architecture is a good profession. Mr. Wang, where is your hometown?”
She was starting to investigate him.
“Beijing? Homes in Beijing are very expensive! Last time, Xiao Yan’s mom went to visit relatives and came back telling us that a simple two bedroom condo sold for one million. How much would you say a Beijing person has to make per month so that they are not a slave to their mortgage?”
“Auntie, Li Chuan has a pretty good income in Beijing.” I said in a few words to stop her.
“You know that money is not the most important thing when two people are together.” Auntie changed the topic, “The important thing is that a man has to know to take responsibility.”
She was implying something. Li Chuan kept silent accepting the education.
“Mr. Wang, you are twenty-five years old. You ought to find someone who’s similar in age with you to be your girlfriend. Xiao Qiu has just started college and hasn’t begun anything yet. Her looks and knowledge are like a high school student. She doesn’t have good judgement. Mr. Wang, you have to help her.”
“Children should not interrupt when adults are speaking.” Auntie stiffened her face.
Li Chuan avoided the important stuff and dwelled on the trivial, “Auntie, Xiao Qiu is both capable and opinionated. Her ability to live independently is great. I don’t feel like I need to help her with anything.”
It’s too bad that he didn’t know that my aunt and my dad were best friends. She never flinched in the wake of my dad’s stubbornness. Otherwise, why would a tough old man like my father respect her so much. One year, my brother wanted to spend summer vacation at Auntie’s home. But it was actually because he wanted to watch “The Return of Condor Heroes.” With one word of my dad’s, that summer vacation, my brother not only didn’t get to watch “The Return of the Condor Heroes”, he didn’t even get to watch the news.
“Speaking of ability to live independently,” Auntie changed the topic and brought out her strongest weapon, “Mr. Wang, with the state your body is in, you need someone else to take care of you. As elders, how can we be at ease in handing over a seventeen year old girl to you?”
I’ve never hated Auntie before, but because of these words, I hated her a little. I started to gnaw on my fingernails. Whenever I was angry and couldn’t vent my anger, I would always subconsciously bite myself.
Li Chuan moved my hand away, was silent for a moment before saying, “Auntie, in life, there are disasters and happiness all the time. It’s hard to anticipate it. I don’t need Xiao Qiu to take care of me. I will take good care of Xiao Qiu. Please don’t worry.”
He didn’t change his tone at all and was neither servile nor overbearing. Auntie opened and closed her mouth, but had nothing to say. She signaled at Uncle with her eyes, having him speak.
Uncle muttered to himself for a moment before saying, “Li Chuan, do you like to eat potstickers? We’re making potstickers today. Wife, go slice the vegetables, okay?”
Auntie took this opportunity to head angrily into the kitchen. Uncle patted his shoulder, “Don’t mind her, your aunt is normally very benevolent.”
Li Chuan smiled lightly, “What do you mean? What Auntie said was the truth.”
Ever since we stepped foot into here, I had been looking for an excuse to take Li Chuan away from her. But my Shanghainese cousin-in-law, hearing that Li Chuan was an architect, immediately started chatting with him, “Mr. Wang what kind of architect are you? I am from Hong Du Properties and am pretty familiar with those in this profession. Which company do you work for?”
“It’s a Swiss company, CGP Architects.”
“I’ve heard of it. I’ve heard of it. Mr. Wang, your foreign language must be very good. I’m not too familiar with the situation in Beijing, but they have a branch in Shanghai and has an extremely good reputation there. It’s exterior and landscape designs are especially famous. Since they have so much business, we couldn’t even get a team despite offering the money. There are two awesome foreign architects in the Shanghai branch. It’s a pity they don’t know Chinese and a translator is needed to speak to them. It costs five-hundred yuan per hour.” Cousin-in-law turned to look at me and said, “When Xiao Qiu discovered that her major was English, she was extremely unsatisfied. Take a look, learn English well and you can also make big money.”
“Nowadays, the Beijing headquarters has hired several native Chinese architects. They are quite outstanding and communication has been made more convenient. That’s right, cousin-in-law, what specifically do you do in estate management?”
“Planning, Director of Planning.” He handed over a business card. “In the future, if we have difficulty finding an architect in Shanghai, can I come to Beijing to find you?”
“No problem. I’m sorry, I don’t have a business card, but this is my number. In Beijing, I’ve met Mr. Fang from your company before and even had a meal together.”
“Which Mr. Fang?”
“Fang Yuan Hua.”
“That’s the CEO.”
“So, Mr. Wang, you are so well-connected.” Cousin-in-law’s grin stretched across his entire face while looking at him. It was clearly written on his face that he liked him. Zhu Zhu Jie’s boyfriend’s surname is also Wang, named Wang Yu Min. He and Zhu Zhu worked in the same real estate company. Yu Min was like Zhu Zhu, only having gone to night-school at first, after making some money, he then went to Yunnan University for a program. This kind of program was easy to get into but tuition was very high. But after finishing school, there was no degree certificate, only a graduation certificate. So it still wasn’t an official diploma. Auntie wasn’t happy with it and wouldn’t let them date for a long time. At the time, Auntie wanted to introduce her colleague’s son, a Tsing Hua University graduate, to Zhu Zhu. The two tried for a bit, but Zhu Zhu didn’t like him and broke up with him. Auntie was hopping mad. This was the first time Yu Min had come to visit. He brought a whole bunch of expensive presents and looked pretty nervous. To his surprise, Wang Li Chuan came along and because Auntie’s main target. He could heave a sigh in relief.
“Mr. Wang, what a coincidence. I’m at Jia Hua-Hong Jing, also a real estate company. I am in sales and in my spare time I also sell life insurance.”
“Really?” Li Chuan said, “Why don’t I buy Xiao Qiu’s insurance from you. She always gets lost on the streets.”
“This kind of under the table business isn’t something to pawn on one’s own. If Mr. Wang really wants to get it, you should get it at Ping An Insurance.” Yu Min laughed, “Just now cousin-in-law said that Mr. Wang’s company headquarters is in Switzerland. Our company has a majority shareholder that is a transnational investment company from Switzerland also called CGP. Do they have any relation with your company?”
Li Chuan said, “There is a relation. Our office belongs to this investment company.”
Yu Min sighed, “Our company’s performance hasn’t been very good these past two years. I’ve heard that CGP wanted to sell their shares. The rumors have already spread, but I don’t know if it’s true or not. Mr. Wang, have you heard of this in Beijing? If it is so, Zhu Zhu and I should leave as soon as possible.”
Li Chuan shook his head, “I haven’t heard of it. CGP has many investments in the country, I’m not too clear on the specifics. How about this, if the rumors turn out to be true, give me a call. I’ll help you think of something, okay?”
“Thank you so much.” Yu Min asked for Li Chuan’s number.
During this pause, my aunt returned from the kitchen with a calm and collected face. Uncle saw this and said to us in a raised voice, “Li Chuan, our Xiao Qui got first place in the college entrance exam for Gejiu county. Her overall score was also ranked highly in Yunnan province. Her dad has placed high hopes on her. You young people can’t allow dating to interfere with studies.”
“Uncle, Li Chuan often helps me study English and also helps me correct my homework.” I promptly defended him. “I don’t have anyone to rely on in Beijing. He’s helped me in all the difficulties I’ve faced. He’s always available.”
I said this with a motive. It was to move my Auntie.
Back then, when Auntie married from Gejiu to Kunming, even though Uncle was a blue-collared worker, Uncle’s parents were cadres in the factory. Her mother-in-law was extremely opposed to their marriage. She didn’t show up at all until the wedding ceremony.
Auntie’s expression softened a little. She glanced at me and said, “Mr. Wang, I heard that you bought Xiao Qiu a first class ticket to come back home this time.”
“There’s no need to sit in first class at her age. Aren’t you afraid of spoiling her?”
“Auntie, Xiao Qiu lined up for two days and two nights and couldn’t manage to buy a train ticket. I saw that she was too tired and wanted her to sleep more comfortably.”
“Ah, you are really considerate of our Xiao Qiu.” Auntie handed me an apron and told me, “Xiao Qiu, help me slice vegetables. Slice the napa.” Normally, with two daughters there, Auntie wouldn’t have me help with such things. I know she wanted to use the opportunity to discipline me.
Li Chuan promptly snatched the apron over, “Auntie, why don’t I help you slice vegetables? I’m more skilled at slicing vegetables than Xiao Qiu.”
“Wow,” Auntie smiled, “you look like someone who has been pampered since childhood, yet you still know how to slice vegetables.”
“My culinary skills are not too bad. If you don’t believe me, ask Xiao Qiu.”
“That’s right, if making salads and boiling potato soup are called culinary skills.” I said with arms crossed.
Li Chuan leaned over and muttered in my ear, “I’m making a breakthrough here. You need to cooperate.”
“But Auntie, Li Chuan’s vegetable slicing skills are awesome. Let him slice all the vegetables for today.”
“Hey, you child. So insensible. He’s a guest.” She turned around and found that Li Chuan had already entered the kitchen.
Li Chuan and I sliced all the ingredients up for my aunt and then seasoned all the meat for her. Everyone then sat in the living room to make potstickers. It turns out my older cousin-in-law was from Shenyang and Wang Yu Min was from Henan. They both loved to eat potstickers. Wrapping potstickers required two hands. Even if Li Chuan sat down, he still needed a hand to continuously support himself in order to sit straight. Li Chuan couldn’t wrap potstickers, and so didn’t take part in the work. Everyone saw that he had been standing for an hour just now slicing vegetables, so just took it as if he was tired and didn’t take offense. Everyone chatted while wrapping.
After a while, my cousin’s son, Dou Dou, raised his hand and asked, “Uncle Wang, why do you only have one leg when everyone else has two? Where is your other leg?”
I’m sure everyone present, including me, wanted to know the answer to that but restrained themselves out of courtesy. Everyone was too embarrassed to ask. Now, finally someone had asked. Everyone looked a little embarrassed.
I promptly replied for him, “Ah, Dou Dou, that is a good question. It’s like this, once, when Uncle Wang was swimming in the ocean, he unexpectedly came across a shark. It took a bite, nipped one of his legs off, and swallowed it. So, now he only has one leg.”
I thought this answer was pretty good and had characteristics of children’s fairy tales.
Dou Dou pulled on his ear, thought about it for a bit and asked, “Uncle Wang, is that true?”
Li Chuan shook his head, shook his head again, and then again, “No, of course not. Dou Dou, she’s just joking. It happened like this. When I was younger, I went to play in the forest with my parents. My dad told me that when we were outside, I had to always keep Mom and Dad in sight and couldn’t wander off. But, your Uncle Wang was too mischievous and didn’t listen to his parents. I left without permission to climb the mountain and got lost. I came upon a grizzly bear. This huge grizzly bear opened up his ferocious mouth and snapped one of my legs off. That’s why your Uncle Wang only has one leg. Tell me, what lesson should you take away from this story?”
Dou Dou said pitifully, “To listen to your parents and don’t things without permission. Otherwise a huge grizzly bear will bite off one of your legs.”
“That’s right,” Li Chuan patted his head and praised him, “What a smart child!”
Everyone relaxed and laughed together.
I saw Li Chuan quietly switch his seated position, starting to prop himself up with both arms. His forehead was slightly sweating.
There were around enough potstickers wrapped for two pots. I pulled Li Chuan up, “Everyone keep on wrapping, Li Chuan and I will be in charge of cooking them.”
Li Chuan followed me into the kitchen. He stooped down to find the wok for potstickers.
When he stood up, I placed both my hands on his waist. He hugged me tightly for a sec.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have had you accompany me here. Look at how tired you are.” I quietly said.
“I’m fine.” He looked at my guilty face and patted my face, “Wifey is still the one who is most considerate of me, knowing that I’m more comfortable standing than sitting.”
Li Chuan could stand for a very long time, but I didn’t know that he could stand for this long. We spent an hour to cook all of the potstickers. Auntie was really happy and even made five more dishes, including a fish dish.
And then, everyone sat down and feasted together in happiness.
In the meantime, Li Chuan ate potstickers energetically and then put his effort into playing video games with Dou Dou. We left the factory neighborhood with everyone sending us off. Before leaving, my aunt had already started becoming endeared to Li Chuan. She stubbornly slipped a bag of western ginseng to me saying that that kid was good-looking, had really good manners, and made a lot of money, but looked weak no matter how you looked at him. He must frequently drink ginseng as a supplement.
Exiting the gates, Li Chuan’s car sat there by the curbside.
Just as we got in, Li Chuan’s cell phone rang.
— I sent Dad a New Year’s card. Didn’t he get it?
— Didn’t I say I’ll return home in February? I don’t have time before February.
— Grandma’s in the hospital?
— Then ok. I can’t take out time in the next ten days. I have three designs due. I need to make a trip to Shenyang. Also, the one in Xiamen has been won, I need to meet with the investors about it. I’ll return as soon as I finish work. I’ll try to be back for three days.
— A week? Hmm, a week is a bit difficult. I’ll try.
— that’s right, let me ask you something. You’re investing in Jia Hua-Hong Jing?
— I heard you’re pulling the investment?
— There’s nothing like that? Okay. If it is like that, give me a call first. I have two people here who need to be placed.
— Who? Chen Sheng Lin? I don’t know him. Isn’t your main representative’s surname Meng?
— Switched? You switch whenever you want. I don’t know any of them. Have him contact me.
— The stadium’s design was submitted last week. Didn’t Jim tell you? I worked myself to death to draw that for you. Don’t get me more work this month.
— There’s no need to thank me. Greet grandfather and grandmother for me.
He hung up and looked at me. I pursed up my lips and smiled, “You two brothers have a pretty good relationship.”
“Aren’t you the same with your brother?”
“How much older than you is your brother?”
“I was wondering what your brother looked like. Does he look exactly like you?”
“Oh, we look every similar. It’s just that he has one more leg than me and is more handsome.”
“Is he married?”
“He’s gay. My dad doesn’t know yet. He’ll be extremely angry if he knew.”
“In any case, you foreigners are much more open.”
“I just finished eating potstickers at your aunt’s home and now you’re saying I’m a foreigner.” He got angry.
“Okay, Ge Ge, you are a Yunnan person.” I took his hand and held it in mine.
The car drove unhurriedly. I asked, “Where are we going now?”
“A whole afternoon is gone. I had originally planned to go to Jin Ma Lane, then go to Tuo Feng Pub to drink before going to LDW.”
“I can’t stand you. Please say Lao Dian Wei, okay?”
“It’s LDW. Even their commercials say this. LDW flavored food and drink.” (Lao Dian Wei, 老滇味, literally means old classic flavor)
After saying this, he suddenly embraced me tightly.
“Sorry,” he said softly, “if I wasn’t his handicapped, you wouldn’t have so many grievances.”
He paused and then continued, “I don’t like your dad. He can scold me all he likes, but he can’t hit you. — Don’t tell me your face wasn’t from his slap.”