My eyes were swollen like huge walnuts for an entire week. Whether others believed it or not, my official explanation was that my eyes had been stung by a poisonous insect. I never went to the dining room to eat in order not to become a laughing stock. If I had to go out, I would put on sunglasses and wrap myself with a scarf, bundling myself up tightly. If I had to speak, I would use my greatest efforts to appear cheerful, “Hi Xiao Ding. I just went and had a bowl of fish soup in the restaurant next door. Do you want to go together next time?”…Of course he would not go. He had to feed himself and his elders at home. Let go of the chance to have three free meals at the high-end hotel in order to pay for himself at a small time restaurant? No way. When I ran into Su Qun in the corridors, I called to him and purposely said affectionately, “Mr. Su, do you want to go for a stroll in the shopping mall? Buy some local specialties home to your wife? I’m familiar with the route, I’ll go with you!” He glanced at his own wedding band, waved his hands, “Thank you for your concern, I’m too busy to go.”
If I ran into Li Chuan, I would turn around and walk away. The less I saw him, the less I was angry. I could live for a few more years.
During this week, CGP employees finally turned in all the documents before the deadline. René’s model was also completed. Originally, he had still hoped that I would take him to Yandang Mountains. But when he saw Li Chuan’s gloomy face and my large walnuts, he was too scared to bring it up. It was Ji Chuan who took him to play two days later. When he came back, he brought me a bag of puffed rice candy. That night, René knocked on my door and give me a glass model. I took a look, it was Li Chuan’s “pebble.” He made it out of glass and wires. There was a small light bulb embedded inside. The light shone through hazily, making it extremely lifelike and extremely beautiful.
“Annie, this is for you. Do you like it?”
“I quite like it, thank you.”
“Annie, listen to me. Li Chuan isn’t purposely trying to offend you.”
…So, it was so that he could seek an audience for Li Chuan.
“René, you seem like you are familiar with the situation, right? Then tell me, why did he offend me?”
“Go ask him yourself. Ask quickly, he’ll be leaving after tomorrow’s presentation.”
“He won’t be leaving. He will be staying in Beijing.”
René looked at my face, not believing me, “How can that be? The plane ticket has already been purchased.”
“If you don’t believe me, go ask him.”
René’s expression suddenly became very solemn, “Did you have him stay behind?”
“Can you change your decision? Li Chuan must return to Switzerland.”
He wanted to say something, but stopped himself, “If you want Alex to be well, then you’ll let him go back to Switzerland. You can go to Switzerland to visit him, I’ll pay for the ticket. You can live at my home for however long you want.”
I tried to read into his words. After awhile, I nodded, “Fine, I can persuade Li Chuan to return to Switzerland. But, you have to tell me what really happened to him.”
“I can’t tell you.” He hung his head in dismay, “If you are thinking of Alex’s well being, then you’ll let him go back…That’s all I can say.”
“René,” I said, “before you came to Wenzhou, did you already know who I was?”
“I knew Leo. Leo is Alex’s older brother…Yes, I knew who you were. I’ve even seen your picture. It was large, it hung in Alex’s bedroom. You are Alex’s first girlfriend. Before Alex knew you, he was a virgin. I made fun of him everyday. Annie, I’ll invite you to Zurich, okay? My place is really close to Alex’s. You can ski in the winter. Have you ever seen Alex ski? With his one leg, he’s even better than those with two.”
I can’t do it. I was being moved. Wahh…
“But, Li Chuan said he didn’t want me anymore.” My tears circled around in the rim of my eyes again, “I won’t go to Switzerland. But, I can help you persuade him to go back. In any case…seeing him here everyday, ignoring me, causes me heartache.”
“No! Don’t be heartbroken! It’s okay, everything will get better. Believe in God!” René opened up his arms and embraced me, comforting me.
When I raised my head, I saw that Li Chuan had just came out of his room.
I pulled my arms out from René’s embrace and said in a small voice, “René, Li Chuan is looking at us.”
René stuck out his tongue, grimaced at me, and said, “I’m done for. Alex won’t let me get away with this.”
I took the model and closed my door. Sure enough, I heard Li Chuan and René start arguing in the corridor in French. So depressing. Why didn’t I just suck it up that year and choose French as my second foreign language? Then again, if I really studied French, then Li Chuan would switch to using German to argue. I would still not understand.
I withdrew into my room to prepare tomorrow’s translating materials. After a week of examination by the specialists, there had been a consensus reached on the plan to rebuild C city district. The four companies, who passed the preliminaries and were competing for the win, all depended on the ten o’clock morning final ruling conference tomorrow. At the conference, the chief architect of each design company will have thirty minutes to make their final statement and answer any questions. After that, they’ll leave and the specialists group will hold their final discussion meeting to determine the final candidate.
The statement for those thirty minutes were written in English by Li Chuan. I then translated it into Chinese. I altered some of the words so that the entire thing would be read in a more colloquial speech, more poetic and kept more with the esthetic customs of the Chinese. Li Chuan had had training on recitations before and had even been an announcer in his school’s radio station. He was best at reciting Shakespeare. No matter what he held in his hands, whether it was product manuals, news stories or business reports, he could read them with a great voice and expression, causing others to tear up. When we lived together before, he would often entertain me with this. He would use medieval English to read Niu Huang Ji Du Wan’s (Chinese medicine) manual, making me laugh till I rolled on the ground. All of our communication was through email. It was all discussions on business. At the end of Li Chuan’s there would sometimes be a parting “take care” added, as if to give it a human touch. None of my emails had a parting added, nor a signature. Things were as it stood, no words were needed.
The final presentation finally came.
Li Chuan’s statement was the last one. Before that, many people were moved by Xiao Gang’s dazzling “monarch style” design and were very impressed. As the appointed translator, I was arranged to sit next to Li Chuan just in case there were questions he didn’t understand when the judging panel questioned him. I heard Li Chuan use a calm and clear voice to say, “…CGP is accustomed to placing the lasting preservation of modern architecture in high respect. Our design is faithful to the rational structure and diversity, and combines distinctive local characteristics. We do not use decorative parts to show the short lived post-modern style. We also aren’t trying to impress the audience by creating passion. In the design, we’ve integrated the Taoist belief of going back to the basics and seeking to reproduce the spirit of Chinese classical poetry of the landscape in the mood…”
Li Chuan memorized everything I had written down, word for word. I’m sure everyone here was moved by his cadence, and voice and expression. I sat on the stage, taking note of Xiao Gan’s expression the entire time. Even an amateur like me could hear the problem in Tian Xiao Gang’s design. He had spend a lot of time on designing the exterior of the theater, making the theater stunning underneath the sunlight. However, Li Chuan placed his main attention on the lighting since the theater’s activities were at night. Li Chuan explained while turning off the indoor lighting. René’s model glistened and illuminated from the tens of small spotlights. It was like a fairyland, completely embodying the nighttime effect Li Chuan desired.
Afterwards, it was questioning time. The first few questions were very simple. I practically didn’t have to translated. Li Chuan used concise Chinese to explain one by one. Right after, a judge asked, “Mr. Wang, may I ask, your design of the theater is just that of a goose egg-shaped shaped building. How does it embody Taoist believe and the spirit of the landscape?”
This judge is known as the “killer” in the architectural world. He had great prestige in this industry and was known to be harsh and to the point. He had just asked a difficult question to the first presenter — that is, Jia Yuan Corporation’s Tian Xiao Gan — silencing him for two minutes. Only after two minutes did he reply and the response was not completely up to people’s expectations.
I heard Li Chuan say, “Judge, sir, I was inspired to design this goose egg-shape when I was carefully reading the poetry of Xie Ling Yun, the landscape poet of Eastern Jin dynasty.”
His expression was completely calm, but I could hear some anxiety within his tone. It was obvious he was worried that this person would become too entangled with this question. After all, Li Chuan grew up overseas. After all, everyone knew that he wasn’t well versed in classical Chinese poems, especially the obscure Xie poetry that used allusions and rhetoric.
“Then, Mr. Wang, may I ask, which of Xie Ling Yun’s poems gave you the inspiration?” That “killer” looked at him and asked while half smiling.
I only head Li Chuan reply, “Everyone, please don’t laugh at him. I am a gentile. Even though I strived to study Chinese, my Chinese level isn’t at the sufficient depth to completely understand the exquisite classical Chinese poetry. Therefore, in order to complete this time’s design, I asked my translator Xie Xiao Qiu to translate the poem into English. Please believe me when I say that even when translated into English, Xie Ling Yun’s poem is still elegant upon reading. I remember that I got the inspiration from these two verses:
(English) Cliffs are steep, mountain ridges
Islands wind around, sandbars are
joined one after another.
White clouds embrace the secluded rocks,
Green bamboos charm the clear ripples.
I felt that the first description of the two verses was very suitable to the geographical situation of C city district in Wenzhou. It directly inspired my design. After saying this, he turned towards me and said, “Miss Xie has a very deep understanding of classical Chinese poems. I’ll ask her to tell everyone the original text in Chinese.”
Damn it! Just like that, he threw the scalding hot sweet potato into my hands!
I stood up with my two swollen walnut eyes and smiled towards everyone, “Mr. Wang is reciting from this poem by Xie Ling Yun, ‘Passing My Ancestral Estate.’ The original verse is ‘High mountains spread for miles and miles; The stream is dotted with isles on isles. White clouds embrace the boulders steep; Green ripples lull bamboos to sleep.’” [Credit: Golden Treasury of Chinese Poetry from Han to Sui]
Li Chuan picked up from where I left off and continued, “Thank you, Miss Xie. My design is precisely this secluded rock. This glossy grey surface can reflect the clouds in the sky, embodying the verse ‘White clouds embrace the secluded rocks.’ It also uses the name ‘Clear Ripples’ Villa so that it can pay homage to landscape poet Xie Ling Yun who wrote this exceptionally famous saying in Wenzhou, ‘By poolside vernal grasses grow; On willows sing birds manifold’. [Credit: Golden Treasury of Chinese Poetry from Han to Sui]
He had just finished speaking when everyone unexpectedly started clapping! I saw Tian Xiao Gang’s face turn black.
After each person had made their statements, everyone returned to the lobby to wait for the final outcome.
After fifteen minutes, the chairman of the panel of judges, Mayor Xie He Yang, came out of the door and directly went over to grasp Li Chuan’s hand, “Mr. Wang, the panel has unanimously decided upon CGP’s design. Congratulations.”
It was within everyone’s expectations.
Li Chuan shook his hands, smiling. I followed Li Chuan closely the entire time, after that that Mayor Xie would speak Mandarin that Li Chuan didn’t understand.
After exchanging a few more greetings, Xie He Yang walked with Li Chuan to the doors and then suddenly asked, at the door, “Mr. Wang, have you ever been to Nan Xi?”
“I’ve never been.”
“I was born in Nan Xi’s He Yang ancient town. I am a descendant of Xie Ling Yun, so I felt extremely close with your plan. Of course, my own opinion couldn’t sway the vote of the other judges, but your statement allowed to once again understand the charm of our everlasting Chinese culture.”
“Thank you, Mayor. I am also a Chinese descendant, I am extremely proud of the culture of my ancestors.”
I could not have imagined what was said afterwards.
Xie He Yang said, “That day at the New Year’s Day banquet, thank you for taking care of my mother. She still talks about you now.”
“My mother’s surname is Hua. She is a retired professor of Zhejiang Academy of Art.”
That old lady with dentures!
Li Chuan received the congratulations of everyone in the car. He humbly said that it was the result of the collaboration of everyone.
After returning to the hotel, he especially came to thank me, saying that my translations helped him a lot. That he wanted to give me a bonus.
I thought about it, and then suddenly asked, “I translated so many Xie poems, how come you had such a deep impression of this one?”
He smiled for a while and said, “Because you rarely make spelling mistakes. But in this one, you made a mistake.”
I had used Word to auto check my spelling. I sent it to him after making sure there were no red lines.
Thus, I was not convinced. I crossed my arms and with wide open eyes, said, “Really? That’s not possible. Which word was misspelled?”
“‘Ripples.’ You wrote it as ‘Nipples.’ It caused me to ponder over it for half a day. What did bamboo and nipple have to do with each other.”
Embarrassed. I was too embarrassed, “No way! Definitely no way!” How could I make such a vulgar mistake?!
“Why couldn’t it happen?” He said, “You’ve never had innocent intentions.”