Please welcome ze boba! She’ll be dropping in, once in awhile, to translate and be a huge help to me :). – LilZah
Signs are already starting to drop, indicating that the sweet moments between Li Chuan and Xiao Qiu might be coming to an end. So enjoy them while you can!
My face burned as I heard these words, as if I took another slap from my dad. I secretly prayed, Li Chuan and my dad better never meet in this lifetime.
Getting out of the car, I didn’t forget to hang a Nikon camera in my neck. Li Chuan used this to photograph landscapes. He often takes photos, but never of himself. But today, I falsely claimed that I wanted to photograph the archway at Jin Ma Lane for him, but I secretly planned to take a couple’s photo of Li Chuan and me.
First we went drinking at the Tuo Feng Pub, it looked very festive inside. Li Chuan got a beer, but did not allow me to drink. He said I wasn’t 20 yet, I could only have juice. I picked pineapple juice, but then he said pineapple juice was too high in sugar, it was unhealthy. Orange juice was better. After we finished our drinks, it was already dark out. Returning to the archway, I grabbed a passerby, and asked him to take a photo of us.
“He doesn’t understand photography,” Li Chuan said softly, “why don’t I take the picture, quality guaranteed.”
“You already took a lot of pictures of me, now I want a couple’s photo of us.” I emphasized, “Couple’s photo.”
“Can I take a couple’s photo of you and this archway?” He frowned, “I don’t like to be photographed.”
“No. I just want our couple’s photo. Us – you and I – together.” I sulked, uttering this word by word.
“Fine.” He nodded helplessly.
The passerby took a professional-looking pose, asked us to lean in closer, then, in a string of flashes, took five or six pictures.
I said, “If you please, sir, please take one from a little farther. I want this whole archway.”
He backed up holding the camera, farther and farther back, and suddenly turned around and took off running.
I know Li Chuan’s was a professional camera, extraordinarily expensive. Guess the man saw the value of camera, and also that Li Chuan wasn’t very mobile, and took his opportunity.
“Stop!” I shouted, immediately taking after him.
That man weaved through the crowd, and quickly ran into a narrow alleyway. It looked like he was not very familiar with the route, hesitating as he passed every intersection, whether to turn. I chased along, into a quiet street, that man stayed about a hundred steps ahead of me the whole time. I ran what felt like the distance of two bus stops, that guy glanced back several times thinking he’d already left me behind, but I followed him like a shadow, and kept closing the distance. He turned to enter another alley. The alley had plenty of exits to other roads, but gradually, the alley seemed to approach a dead end, suddenly, it came to a fork. He hesitated, was probably deciding whether to go a different way. Just in this slight hesitation, I already caught up to him. He stopped, his hand holding the camera, and said, “Don’t you come over here, you’re by yourself here. Don’t doubt that I will wring your neck.”
I said, “Who says I’m by myself, there are two policemen right behind you.”
There were two people behind him, two men, taking very loud steps, I shouted, “Catch the thief!” Those men came running over, one of them was in so much of a rush he stepped in and broke a flower pot, the man with my camera couldn’t resist glancing back.
In this instant, I remembered an important move from martial arts in gym class before, and aimed a kick to his groin!
With an “ow” he knelt to the ground, and fainted. I yanked back the camera, and took off running. Only now did I realize because of my run, I was covered in sweat and wheezing. My heart was pounding excitedly.
In just a few steps, I got to the street, a black car sped over and stopped in front of me, the door opened, and came Li Chuan’s voice: “Xiao Qiu, get in!”
I ran into the car, and the car sped off.
“Are you injured? Yes or no?” Li Chuan asked dragging me in front of him.
“How did you snatch back the camera?” He handed over his own handkerchief for me to wipe my sweat, and continued to ask.
“I kicked him, he fainted.”
“No way? That easy? One kick and he fainted? This is the level of professionalism for thieves in Kunming?” He said, “So useless, can’t even succeed at robbing a camera?”
“Hey hey, whose side are you on?”
“I’m in a roundabout way calling you a heroine.”
“That’s more like it.”
We returned to the archway at Jin Ma Lane, where we took the picture earlier, and got out of the car.
Li Chuan looked at me, said, “Are you tired from running? How far did you run? Two kilometers?”
“That sounds about right.” I was still wheezing.
“Want to go for another run?” He said, “Just now, right here, someone stole my wallet.”
“Ack?! What?! You, lost your wallet?” I shouted, “What a crappy place?! So many thieves? Where did you lose it? Which way did he go? What else did he steal?”
I looked at him, noticed he was smiling faintly.
“Li Chuan, I know you don’t care about cash. But credit cards and debit cards, people can just swipe up to their credit limit.”
“Just messing with you, just see how worried you look.” He helped brush my hair behind my ear, “Next time something like this happens, you let the camera go, you can’t leave me here.”
“Yes, yes, I was wrong. O Your Highness, I must protect you first.”
“That’s right.” He looked at me, his gaze as serene as the moonlight.
I hugged the camera, immersed in the happiness of victory: “Li Chuan, our couple’s photos are in here. I’m not letting anyone steal this.”
“What if there weren’t our photos in there?” He asked.
“This is your camera, not mine, who cares if it’s stolen. Even if it’s expensive, it’s not like you can’t afford to lose it, right? Besides, my life is also very valuable, no?” I said full of righteousness.
“I’d say you’re muddled in the head and dumb, but sometimes you’re also not too dumb.” He sighed, “I just pray that God watches over me, please don’t let me ever get on your bad side, or I’ll get a kick from you too.”
My hands reached over, wrapping around his waist: “Mm-hm, I’ve always been gentle and sweet. I just became ferocious this once, and you had to see it.”
“Always been gentle and sweet? Not really? The first time I met you, you splashed coffee all over me. The second time, you climbed a wall in front of me. The third time, you assaulted campus security. I feel like you’re a violent woman, violent and horny, truly very terrifying.”
Even though Li Chuan always humbly claims his Chinese is poor, actually, his vocabulary is quite large, and very practical, his speech left me speechless.
To stop him from continuing along this line of conversation, I hurriedly interrupted, “Li Chuan, I’m hungry, I want to eat rice noodles.”
“Didn’t you just finish eating dumplings? You’re hungry again so soon?”
“I was worried Auntie was making you uncomfortable, I was so worried I lost my appetite. I used to love eating dumplings.”
“Then let’s go to LDW.”
“Lao Dian Wei.”
Lao Dian Wei looks like a state-run operation. To get food, you have to first line up at the little counter on the side to purchase tickets.
I asked Li Chuan: “You’ve eaten here before?”
“No. I saw ads. People say the taste is very authentic.”
“Crossing bridge rice noodles are on the second floor, the staircase is so slippery, let’s not go anymore.”
“There are fewer people upstairs, you should go up first to find a spot.” He lined up for the ticket counter. The line was long, there were about ten people.
Seeing him in crutches the people in line all offered, “No need to line up, just go directly to the window to make your purchase.”
Don’t know who it was that also added: “Priority to the disabled.”
The people all spoke the Kunming dialect, I’m sure Li Chuan only understood somewhat. He put on an indifferent attitude, and lined up at the very end.
After we got our tickets, we went upstairs together, and found a spot near the side. Shortly, the server brought over rice noodles, and a small dish of stewed chicken. I asked Li Chuan: “You only got one bowl of noodles, you don’t want to eat?”
“I’m already full from eating at Auntie’s.”
“How about, you eat some cold dishes?”
Actually, along the whole way walking with Li Chuan, men and women all turned to stare at him. Stared until he was very uncomfortable. Even now that he was sitting, I can still feel lots of eyes staring at him. I couldn’t care less that the noodle soup was boiling hot, I tried to finish the rice noodles very quickly.
“Don’t eat so hurriedly, watch you don’t burn your mouth. We don’t have to rush for anything tonight.” He advised.
Whether crossing bridge rice noodles were good or bad is determined by a few things. First is good broth, second is the freshness of the ingredients, third is the smoothness of the rice noodles. Sure enough, the soup was supreme, I drank half the bowl in one gulp.
Then I said: “I can’t, I can’t drink anymore.”
“Then just leave it here. No one is forcing you to finish.”
“It’s so bad to waste, I’ll go to the bathroom first, I’ll keep drinking when I get back.” Speaking, I stood up to look for the bathroom. He grabbed me, “Don’t go, I’ll help you finish.”
He moved the giant bowl toward him, drank the soup spoonful by spoonful, and finished the whole thing.
I smiled looking at him: “If I’d known, I would have saved you some noodles, now there’s only soup left.”
“Xiao Qiu, have you been to Macau?” He suddenly asked.
“Right after the Chinese New Year I have to go back to Macau, investors have an important meeting I have to attend. Come with me, please?”
“How long will we stay in Macau?”
“Two days. After that, you go back to Beijing, I will go to Shenyang. Shenyang is too cold, don’t go.”
“Why do you need to bring me, I’m not your secretary.”
“My secretary, everyone calls her a peerless beauty, do you want to meet her?” He smiled mysteriously.
“Your secretary is a guy.” I remembered that earlier time, it was his male secretary who told me news of his hospitalization.
“That’s my assistant. I have a female secretary, also acts as my translator.”
“You? Need translation?”
“In business negotiations I only speak in English, and let my secretary translate. Each word could mean thousands, can’t have any mishaps.”
A week later, I flew to Macau with Li Chuan. In that week, he was sick for three days, ran a fever, laid in bed in the hotel every day. After he recovered, he worked fanatically and completed three diagrams.
Li Chuan brought me to see the construction site, a large empty space near the ocean.
“Here, we will build a large resort, invest a few hundred million. Our offices will manage all the design and construction. Exterior, interior, gardens.”
“Mm, looks like a great location. Bright and open.”
“Wait three years and see, it will be full of the buildings I designed.”
“Li Chuan, I worship so you much!”
“I also.” He said.
I looked at him stunned.
“You give me so much inspiration. Design and love are the same, they both need passion.”
The ocean breeze was quite cool, he embraced my waist, we faced the ocean, leaning together close.
Returning from the construction site, in the hotel lobby, I saw a tall woman quietly sitting on the sofa. Cashmere blouse, navy wool skirt, small ears wore a pair of small pearl earrings. Stunningly beautiful profile.
The woman saw us and stood up: “Mr. Wang.”
Her face was delicate, with an indescribable sense of class and beauty. Seeing her, one would be reminded of The Classic of Poetry or lines from Song dynasty verse.
“Let me do the introductions,” Li Chuan said, “this is my secretary and translator, Miss Zhu Bi Xuan. This is Miss Xie Xiao Qiu.”
We shook hands and smiled.
In Zhu Bi Xuans’ eyes, was hidden a shred of hesitation. As Li Chuan spoke, he held my hand the whole time.
“What’s the matter?” Li Chuan asked.
“A few documents need your signature. Also, the final translation of the tender needs your review.”
“You can review the English. Leave the French and German for me.”
“He took the pen, sat down, read the documents at lightning speed, signed at lightning speed.
I and Zhu Bi Xuan, smiled at each other very cordially.
“Miss Zhu studied in the English Department?” I asked.
“Beijing Foreign Language University English Department. Miss Xie? You also study English?”
“Yeah, I’m at S University, freshman.”
“Your department’s Professor Feng is an expert on D. H. Lawrence, when I was working on my dissertation, I studied his works.”
“Yes, his reputation is great. I plan to take his class next year.”
“Does Miss Xie like Macau?”
“I like it very much. Is this Miss Zhu’s first time in Macau?”
“No, because of this project, I have come many times with the architects.”
I feel like the way Zhu Bi Xuan speaks, from start to finish, carries an air of experienced professionalism. What sounds like easy conversation, is actually perfectly cautious and safe, not a single risky word. Unlike me, awkwardly rubbing my foot on the carpet the whole time as I speak, like a punished child.
Li Chuan finished signing the documents, stood up and said: “The Xun Da Corporation banquet, Mr. He will attend in my place.”
“Um … their Chief Officer Ke has said many times, Mr. Wang must be present, he wants to take three hundred drinks with you, no leaving until everyone is wasted.”
“Exactly because of this, I’m sending Mr. He, he can hold his alcohol.” Upon more thought, he sighed, “Never mind, I didn’t attend the last meal, they didn’t hold a grudge. If I still don’t go this time, they would suspect my sincerity. I should go. What time is this?”
Li Chuan came back completely wasted at 9, rushed straight to the bathroom, and bent over the toilet to vomit.
I stayed by him and held him, said: “How are you so dumb. Did you really take three hundred drinks with them!”
He vomited for a full ten minutes, then crawled up and took a shower. On one leg, he couldn’t even stand steadily with a crutch.
“Sit down, I’ll help you wash up.” I felt so bad for him.
“No.” With strength from who knows where, he shoved me out the door, and slammed the door with a “bang.”
A moment later, the sound of water started. A quarter hour later, he finished washing, and sobered up, put on pajamas and crawled under the covers, all the time sighing: “Sigh, it’s so difficult doing business with people here. To win a contract, you smoke with them, drink with them, eat with them, do everything short of sleeping with them. The upscale banquet hall, the room clearly says “Non smoking,” but everyone inside is smoking. How can it be like this!”
“You have a profit to make and you’re still complaining, think of the poor kids in the impoverished regions.” [This is the Chinese equivalent of “think of the starving kids in Africa’]
“I donate to Project Hope every year.” [Project Hope is a Chinese public service project aimed at bringing schools to poverty-stricken rural areas in China.]
He pulled me under the covers: “Every shot I took, I thought to myself, let this finish soon, let me get back to Xiao Qiu.”
“No way, so cheesy?”
“I couldn’t bear to let you stay all alone in a hotel room.”
“I’m not lonely,” I said, “After I ate, I took a swim, then I played video games, and then, I went and watched a movie, a holiday comedy, starring Ge You, it was really good. I just got back, and you returned.”
He hugged my waist, turned toward me, I lightly ran my hand over him. Then, he turned on the TV with the remote:
“That Holding Hands [a classic romantic TV drama from the 90s], what episode did we watch until?”
Li Chuan is a bit different from other men I know. He doesn’t really like to watch soccer, or to watch other sports programs. He liked to watch drama series, romance or martial arts or history are all good. The drama crying type, the longer the better, he never turned down any. His reasoning was, drama series can help him learn Chinese, especially colloquial dialogue. Rather there’s no point in watching sports channels, he just needs to make sure to exercise for his own health.
Searching back and forth, switched through several tens of channels, still couldn’t find Holding Hands. Finally we landed in the middle of a Japanese drama series. An interlude song was playing, in Japanese, he heard, said: “I’m changing, it’s a tragedy, let’s not watch.”
I said, “Don’t you say you don’t know Japanese?”
“No matter how little of it I know, it’s still more than you.”
“My second concentration is Japanese.” I said in Japanese.
Then, he said a sentence in Japanese, I stared at him with wide eyes, surprised that I couldn’t understand. I thought, shouldn’t be some synonym of bakayaro [a Japanese term, commonly known in China, meaning something along the lines of “retard” or “fool”].
“Basho’s verse.” He said, “Are you completely convinced?”
“Is there any baseline for your excessive modesty?”
“No. If I were you, at your level, I just won’t tell people I have a second concentration.”
I jumped up, made a move as if to pinch him.
He threw his hands up in surrender: “Next time you have trouble with your Japanese homework, I can help you, free of charge. Really. Forgive me!”
The next day, we bid farewell at the airport. I went back to Beijing, Li Chuan to Shenyang. While waiting for him to return from Shenyang, winter break ended. I still worked at the old place. My dad still sent me money, 100 yuan a month, double the amount as before. He did not write to me. The letters I wrote him, he didn’t return. I felt, my dad was strongly perceptive of me, he seemed to know what I was doing. Also, he knew I would be like him, no matter which road I went down, I would only keep going further, would never turn back. So, he didn’t even try to persuade me.
After Li Chuan came back, he stayed at his loft in Long Ze Garden for ten days. These ten days, we lived together every day, stuck together like glue, we lived those days like a married couple. Our couple’s photo hung on the wall. Even though that thief stole our camera, his photography skills were actually not shabby. My favorite picture, there are distant streetlights in the background, Li Chuan is turning back, to brush away a strand of hair from my face. In that instant, with his side turned toward me, his face filled with caring and love.
Afterward, he returned to Zurich, Switzerland, his home, to visit his sick grandmother.
He was there for a week, called me every other day. Then, he said, there are some other things going on at home, he needed to stay some more time. After a month, he said, he needed to go skiing with his brother. At the ski slopes, there’s no phone signal.
He stayed in Switzerland for a full two months.
Monday, I went to the airport to pick him up, I saw that he was emaciated. His face was obviously more angular.
“Hi!” He spotted me in the crowd, we embraced tightly.
“How come you lost weight?”
“I didn’t think so. Rather you got fatter.”
“I’ve been eating well.” Before he left, he insisted on leaving me money. I didn’t take it. I went back to work at the cafe. This semester I didn’t take too many classes, I could work for several more hours, so my income was good.
“Your ears are healed?”
He walked out to the street, inspected my newly pierced ears. I saw Zhu Bi Xuan’s pearl earrings, I really liked them, while idling around Long Ze Garden, Li Chuan took me to the jewelry store downstairs to get my ears pierced. He said my complexion was fair, won’t look good in pearls, I would look better in rubies. Those the color of roses. So my ears are wearing a pair of ruby earrings. Before Li Chuan left, he rubbed my ears with alcohol three times a day, afraid that they would get infected. But my ears were still swollen.
“Doesn’t hurt anymore?”
“Doesn’t hurt a bit. I’ve even taken them off several times myself.”
“Didn’t they say, you can only take them off after six weeks?”
“Ge ge, you left for two months, the six week mark passed a long time ago.” I knocked him on the head.
He smiled, a sliver of sadness hidden in his smile.
“My treat today.” I said, “Let’s go eat sushi. At that place we went to last time.”
We got in a cab, he said, “Since you’re treating, let’s go eat rice noodles. That sushi place is too expensive.”
All the way there, he wasn’t talkative.
While we were eating, he was also not talkative.
After the meal, he drove me straight to my dorm.
“What happened? Li Chuan?” My heart was heavy.
“Some matters at home, rather bothersome, some business things. In addition, my grandfather’s health is not good, he’s in critical condition.”
I rarely hear Li Chuan bring up his family. But I know he’s very adored in his family. Every time he mentions his family, his face was always filled with feeling.
“Didn’t you say your grandmother was sick? Your grandfather is also sick?”
“Sorry, I misspoke. My grandmother is really sick.” He said, “I might have to go back to Switzerland soon, I’m waiting for a phone call.”
He watched me, his face full of thought.
“So,” I said holding his hand, “You came back specifically to see me?”
Under the tree shade outside my dorm, he held my face in his hands, lightly kissed it: “Yes.”