Li Chuan’s Past (沥川往事) : Chapter 40 9



Every night the outdated fridge in the kitchen would produce a dull humming sound. Some part of it had become damaged, the compactor would activate at every ten minute interval. I informed the landlord about this many times, but he refused to send anyone to repair it. The reasons being, one, it activating all the time doesn’t mean that the fridge didn’t work. It was exactly the opposite, the fridge was was still cold. Two, the cost of fixing the fridge was too expensive, might as well buy a new one. But he wasn’t rich and didn’t intend to spend that money.

I was unable to sleep with the humming and could only examine the patterns on the ceiling. I repeatedly went to the fridge to look for stuff during the middle of the night thinking that, if I was full, I would become sleepy. That wasn’t the reality. I felt worried with a stomach ache, and felt panic in the pit of my stomach. I tossed and turned in bed until sunrise.

For the next two weeks, I didn’t receive a single call from Li Chuan. Every time I called him, a nurse would pick up and repeat the same thing: Mr. Wang is undergoing treatment, it’s inconvenient for him to answer the phone. I sent René a text. René told me that Li Chuan’s sickness was unstable. He was sometimes well and sometimes unwell, frequently running a high fever. He also had a strong reaction to the medications, so couldn’t leave the hospital at all. One of René’s best attributes was that he was honest. If there was something he felt that he couldn’t say, he would conceal it, but he wouldn’t lie on purpose.

I suffered from insomnia for two weeks in a row and got a migraine. This ailment was one that I would also have when I used to write papers or translate overnight. But as soon as the stress was removed, the symptoms would immediately disappear. It wasn’t like that this time. When it started, half my head was numb as if I had pulled a muscle. When I got off work on Tuesday, I had a splitting headache. I bought a bottle of aspirin and went to a blind man owned massage parlor in the district that was on the way.

The massage mister’s surname was Xu and had been in this district doing this business for seven years. Everyone in the neighborhood, especially the elderly, knew who he was. Mr. Xu came from a small town in Hunan to work in Beijing. Other than being blind in both eyes, he looked tall and strong, and an image of talent. Relying on this massage skill, he rented a one story place in the neighborhood to do his business. He didn’t work intensely. When he was tired, he would close shop for several days and go out to drink tea and rest. He didn’t have ambitions for the business to become big, so he didn’t earn too much money. But he was excellent at his trade. His service was thorough and customers often came again. The more than ten hours worth of slots in the day would be completely filled. In fact there were many massage shops surrounding the neighborhood and people didn’t think he was really that special. But because he charged less, many people went to him. However, last year, unexpected news broke about him in the neighborhood. He took a wife, a woman who lived in the neighborhood. Even though the woman had divorced before, she was pretty good looking and was younger than him. Plus she was a university teacher. Everyone felt that Mr. Xu’s luck with women was quite good.

“Relax, relax your shoulders. I’ll massage your shoulder first and then the neck, then the head…You can close your eyes for the whole process.” Mr. Xu said to me in a hypnotizing Hunan accented Mandarin.

“I’ve recently been suffering from insomnia. Having headaches.”

“Have you taken medication?”

“Do sleeping pills and aspirin count?”

“That’s fine. If it’s serious, you should go see the doctor.” He said, “You haven’t been here in a long time. It must be half a year already.” So he could apparently recognize my voice.

I saw that each of his elbows had a black callus the size of an egg on it. He’s probably seen more than ten thousand people these few years.

His fingertips were soft, and sometimes quite hard, massaging along my meridian. I was just about to close my eyes when I suddenly saw a dog kennel on his window ledge. There was actually a small dog being raised in it. A chihuahua.

I wasn’t too interested in the dog, but I knew that Emma liked dogs. She was also raising a chihuahua and said that it was quite expensive. It was also expensive to groom it every month. It’s not that she couldn’t afford it, but she would often complain about it during lunch and say that this type was finicky and difficult to wait upon.

I couldn’t help but ask him, “Ah, you have a chihuahua?”

“That’s right.” He said proudly, “isn’t it cute?”

“Expensive, right?!”

“A bit, several thousand dollars.”

Heavens! I calculated in my mind. Several thousand dollars. How many people did he have to massage to make that money back.

“Did you wife buy it?”

“I bought it. She liked it, so I bought it. We take strolls every day together with it. This dog is too small, it nearly got lost last time.”

His face was brimming with happiness.

I sighed heavily and asked, “Brother Xu, when you were dating your wife, did you chase after her?”

“She chased after me, chased after me closely.” His mouth curved and using a joking tone.

“Then did you chase her even a little?”

“Nope, and I still haven’t yet. I am not from here and am a blind person. I’m satisfied with making a living with the money from my own trade. I didn’t even dare to think about a wife, child and what not.”

“Then that means you kept on rejecting her?”

“Mmm…pretty much like that. Later on, we became closer and then didn’t distinguish between who was chasing after who.”

“Da Ge (Older Brother), I’m also chasing someone. He won’t accept no matter what.”

“Then perhaps that person isn’t willing…”

“No, he’s sick and doesn’t want to involve me.”

“Then did you try hard to chase after him?”

“I tried hard. I’ve thought of every method, but he still won’t pay attention to me.”

Mr. Xu’s hands stopped and he stood in front of me, staring at me from those empty hold in his eyes, “He won’t pay attention to you, but don’t tell me you won’t pay attention to him? I think that you must not have tried your hardest.”

What counted at trying my hardest towards Li Chuan?

Besides stopping at the massage shop, I headed directly home and rummaged out a passport from my drawer.

A few months ago, when I was still at Jiu Tong, Tang Yu Lan, who liked to make money on the side, helped me set up a passport. She said that she had personal connections to several travel agencies and that if I had time, whether I would be willing to be a tour guide and make some money on the side. I could visit Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand along the way. I had made money on the side several times, but I hadn’t gone to Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand a single time. So the passport had never been used. I made a call to Tang Yu Lan, asking her to get a visa to Switzerland for me.

That afternoon, under her direction, I filled out a few forms and bought a round trip ticket for Zurich. It hadn’t been a week before my visa was approved.

“What are you going to Switzerland for? There are many places to play in Europe. I can recommend a tour group for you. Thirty thousand dollars for seven countries. How about that?” Tang Yu Lian urged me on the phone.

“‘I’m going to see a friend.”

“For just two days and a night? Isn’t that too short? It’s 7000 for a round trip plane ticket!”

“Work is intense. I can’t stay long. I still have several translations due when I get back.”

“Alright, remember to exchange for some swiss francs at the bank, not euros. Some stores don’t take euros. Do you want me to help you book a hotel?”

“Can you give me a couple addresses? I want the cheap ones, near the airport. If I can’t find another place to stay, I’ll stay at the hotel.”

Going abroad was a huge deal to many people. But going abroad for two days was just liking going to Jiuzhaigou Valley (famous Sichuan location) to me. I simply packed a few changes of clothing and got on the Beijing to Zurich plane. I left at 5:30pm on Wednesday and got there at 6 in the morning Zurich time. Before leaving, I had sent a text message to René’s MSN to inform him of my take off time and flight number, and, if it was convenient, whether I could trouble him to pick me up from the airport. Even though Ji Chuan and René were both avoiding me during this time, every time I sent a text message, René would reply. Even if it was a very short reply. If René didn’t get the text message, it didn’t matter. I consider this as a self guided trip.

Actually, I simply didn’t count on being able to see Li Chuan. I just wanted to get a quick look at the city Li Chuan lived in and I would be satisfied.

At daybreak, the plane crossed over the early morning mist, forests and hills and arrived on time to the Zurich airport. I didn’t have large luggage and only had a small carry-on suitcase. I followed the huge group of people and sat on the trolley going from terminal two to terminal one and went through immigration.

There weren’t many tourists in the airport, making it seem very spacious. The square shaped seats, ice-cold marble floors, and black modern sculptures gave off an alienated feeling. The grey central steel beams supporting the ceiling gave one the feeling of going into outer space. Fortunately, one could see a huge red wall when going up and down the escalator. A warm, clear light shined in the restaurants. There were even a few glass walls with vines growing up them, making me feel like I was back in the East.

I smoothly passed through immigration. The entrance of the terminal was filled with people picking up others, holding up their signs.

I didn’t see René.

I waited for more than three hours at the entrance of the terminal and still didn’t see René’s shadow. I started to reproach myself for being reckless. I thought that since I sent a text message to René, he would definitely get it. It’s possible that René was busy or could have forgotten to turn on MSN. Plus, he was a night owl and would sleep until noon before getting up.

It was almost noon, my stomach rumbled with hunger. I went to a nearby small restaurant and bought a sandwich. I didn’t dare eat in the small restaurant for fear of René not being able to find me when he picked me up. So I stayed at the terminal entrance.

I continued to wait until one in the afternoon and finally couldn’t stand still anymore. I went to a telephone booth and gave Li Chuan a call.

The phone was picked up after two rings.

“Guten tag.” It was an elegant deep and low male voice, That was unusual. It wasn’t a nurse. Surprisingly, Li Chuan picked up the phone directly.

“Li Chuan!”

“Xiao Qiu?” The last syllable rose with the startled tone.

“Uh-huh, it’s me. I have something I need to find René for. Do you have his cell phone number?”

“Yes,” he said, “René and Ji Chuan are in Italy. What do you need him for?”

I felt foolish, “René…is in Italy? I…don’t have anything…it’s just something for translating.”

“He just left yesterday.” He paused and said, “If it’s to do with translating, it’s the same if you look for me.”

“It has nothing to do with you. Bye, talk to you next time.” I was about to hang up.

“Wait!” A shout come from the other end.

“What is it?”

“Xiao Qiu, where are you?” He asked gloomily.

“Where else would I be? Beijing, CGP office.”

“Why does the caller ID say Zurich airport?”

It’s over, I was caught! Wah! I flatly denied it, “That’s not possible. I’m clearly in Beijing. Your phone has a problem. I’m hanging…”

“Xie Xiao Qiu, you’re not allowed to hang up!” Li Chuan impatiently interrupted me on the other end and asked coarsely, “Are you at the Zurich airport?”

“…uh-huh. I am here for sightseeing. I’ll be leaving tomorrow.” I couldn’t help it but my voice lowered, “I’m not here to look for you.”

“Do you have a pen on you?” He said, his voice becoming exceptionally calm.


“Write this down: XXXXXXXX. This is my cellphone number.” Then he said a strand of German, pronouncing each letter out for me, “This is my house number. There’s a spare key under the mat under the flowerpot on the right of the door. If I don’t find you, call my cellphone or go directly to my house. Have you got it?”

“Li Chuan…don’t come look for me. I…”

“I’m asking you, did you write down what I just said?”


“Do you know how to get to my house?”

“Ride…ride the bus?”


“Ride…the subway?”


“Take…take the taxi?”

“That’s more like it. Do you have swiss francs on you?”


“Give the address to the driver and said to him ‘Fahren Sie mich bitte zu dieser Adresse’ (Take me to this address). He will take you to my front door.”

“You’re saying it too fast, I can’t write it down. Can you say it again?”

“Forget it, don’t take the taxi. Be careful of swindlers. After thirty minutes, if you still don’t see me, then call me every five minutes, okay?”


“Are you at the terminal entrance right now?”


“Don’t go anywhere, I’ll come get you. Reckon it’ll take thirty minutes.” Li Chuan threatened me on the other end, “If I don’t manage to pick you up and didn’t get your call, I will call the police. Understand? If you disappear, there might be unexpected misfortunes. I’ll immediately jump from a building, understand?


He hung up.

I loosened a breath, went to the small restaurant and bought a huge cup of ice cream. I had just remembered that I had been anxiously waiting for six hours at the terminal entrance. My two legs were already aching.

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