Li Chuan’s Past (沥川往事) : Chapter 7 6


fish

Phew…this was the longest chapter yet. It’s clear, in this chapter, that Li Chuan has feelings for Xiao Qiu and vice versa. Of course it helps that he takes the initiative…a lot. 😀 Things will be heading down the fast track soon after this chapter, hold on tight.

[Chapter 7]

With riding the subway and then transferring to a bus, it took me one and a half hours to get to the dorm. Since there were exams today, everyone had gotten up early. In our dorm room there was often someone who stays out the whole night. Except for me and Xiao Rui, everyone else was from Beijing. They often went home. Plus, Xiao Rui had relatives here, who often took her in for the night. Even though I didn’t have relatives here, no one asked me about it. Everyone was used to me returning every night.

“It’s so close to exams, yet you still had to work late last night?” Ning An An came over and asked me.

“After work, I went to see a movie overnight.”

“You planned it in advance, didn’t you?”

“I’m too tired, I want to rest a bit.”

“Can I sit next to you during the listening portion?” Ning An An quietly asked, “My walkman broke, and I haven’t been able to listen to tapes recently.”

“Don’t blame me if you don’t pass.”

“I’ll go buy breakfast for you. That’s right, we’re having a party in the dorm tonight. The Ge Ges (older brothers) in 301 will all be coming.”

It was another “friends dorm” activity.

“Do we need to buy anything? Should put in some money?” I didn’t have work tonight so hastily joined in on the social activities.

“You weren’t here last night. We’ve already collected enough money. The dorm has also been cleaned. Feng Jing Er said to assign you to get the hot water.”

“Ok, ok.” I tried to fit in.

“Xiu Ge Ge came to look for you many times.”

“I was working at night.”

“It was in the morning.”

“Oh, I didn’t run into him.”

“He got hot water for you.”

“How can I accept that from him.” I then remembered I had already washed my face.

“He asked if you didn’t have time to get hot water at night.”

“I already get it in the morning.”

“He’s a Ge Ge. Ge Ge needs to take care of Mei Meis (younger sisters).” Ning An An finished.

“Since when have you become a matchmaker?”

“I was bribed.”

“How were you bribed?”

“He treated me to a meal.”

“It was that easy? I’ll treat you to two. Don’t be a go-between for us anymore.”

I hadn’t slept for a whole night and didn’t have much energy. The entire day of exams went surprisingly smooth. It was just that every time I blinked, I would see Li Chuan standing by the refrigerator all alone, bending down like a gymnast to get milk. Even after many years, every time I thought of Li Chuan, the first image that flashed in my mind was this. Then, my heart would feel as if it was being pinched by an invisible hand. I would be unable to breath from being sick at heart. After I finished my last exam, I went to the water room to get two pitchers of water and slowly walked back. I hadn’t reached the dorm yet before seeing Ning An An flying towards me.

“What is it?”

“There’s a beautiful male looking for you. My god, how can he be that handsome?” She made an exaggerated posture. “You must ask him to come up to the dorm room to sit for awhile and let us carefully savor him, ok?”

“He’s really looking for me?” Li Chuan won’t have such free time. But I still hurried my step.

“Feng Jing Er, the others, and the Ge Ges are all surrounding him. Can you please tell him that it’s the designated time to get hot water. If he continues standing outside the female dorm, something bad might happen. Three girls with hot water pitchers have already crashed into others due to staring at him…”

I laughed, thinking she was kidding. When I got to the dorm, I saw that the ground was glistening. Several pitchers had indeed been spilled. I saw the guard sweeping up the mess with a broom while swearing.

The person standing by the door in a white collared shirt and jeans was indeed Li Chuan.

“Hi.” He greeted me through the crowd.

“Hi.”

He walked over and took the pitchers from me. “Done with exams?”

“Done with exams.”

“Did you do well?”

“It was ok.”

“Xiao Qiu, please invited Classmate Wang up for a drink of tea.” Xiao Rui gave me a look.

It had been just a few minutes, yet they already knew his name. Xiao Rui was infatuated, almost like a rapist.

“There’s no need.” I was worried about him going up the stairs. Plus he was carrying two pitchers. “We’re going to the dining hall.”

“Don’t go to the dining hall. There’s a party at night. Food has already been prepared.” Feng Jing Er said kindly. She was always neither cold nor warm to me, and I could never make sense of it.

“Classmate Wang, give us some face.” Wei Hai Xia was pulling out all methods.

This crowd wouldn’t give up even if they finally kidnapped Li Chuan upstairs. The stairs in the female dorm were even steeper than those of the movie theater. I let everyone else go up first and then accompanied Li Chuan up the stairs one by one, alone.

He insisted on carrying my water for me the whole way, “Why didn’t you wake me up in the morning?”

“It was too early, you need to sleep more.”

“Don’t leave stealthily like that again.”

“Why not?”

“What if you went missing?”

“Li Chuan, ” I looked at him, “remember, even if I was to disappear, it has nothing to do with you. — You have no responsibilities towards me.”

He originally was continuously walking, but when he heard this, he suddenly stopped. Then he put down the thermos bottle, turned around and headed down.

“Hey! Wait!” I quickly chased after.

He ignored me, continuing his decent.

I blocked his path, “You know that I was speaking the truth.”

He looked at me coldly and silently for a moment, “You don’t know anything about this city. And you don’t know anything about me.”

“So what? This is just a city, you are just a person.”

“Then why were you willing to go with me yesterday?”

“Because you wouldn’t hurt me.”

“How do you know?”

“Do you think it’s only dangerous in the city? Let me ask you, between the city and the country side, which one is closer to the wild beasts? Us countryfolk have more of an intuition to be wary of danger.”

He was just about to make an argument when half of Xiao Rui’s face appeared through the staircases above. “Hey, how come you still aren’t up here yet? Someone already carried up your pitchers. Wang Ge Ge, hurry.”

Li Chuan furrowed his eyebrows, “Wang Ge Ge?”

“We call everyone Ge Ge here. Come, come sit for awhile. There’s a party in our dorm tonight. Just eat a little, don’t eat too much. Then go to the dining hall and I’ll treat you to a big meal.”

He reached over and grabbed me.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. His hand was cold, like the winter weather.

“You’re blocking someone.” Apparently, someone was coming up the stairs. Then, there was a crash, the girl coming upstairs shrieked.

It was another pitcher.

He continued to upstairs, still going one step at a time. It looked exhausting and I couldn’t bear to watch. “It’s too bad there’s no elevator here.”

“Otherwise it would be more convenient for you guys to carry water up.” He said.

I thought of something else and asked, “You live so high up, what if the electricity in the high rise goes out.”

“Light candles.”

“What if there was a fire alarm?”

“Stay in the house without coming out.”

“What if there was really a fire?”

“I’ve never seen a real fire.”

The dorm room was filled with people. Everyone fought to give him the best place to sit.

“We never knew Xiao Qiu had a friend. No wonder she comes back so late every night.” Xiao Rui poured him some tea.

“We are only acquaintances.” Li Chuan and I said in unison.

“Hey, Wang Ge Ge, where did you buy your jeans? What brand is it? It’s so stylish.” Ning An An asked.

“Yeah, what brand is it? I know all the brands you can get in Beijing. This must have been purchased abroad.” Xiao Rui said, “Levi jeans don’t have these pocket borders. Your collared shirt is also really nice looking. Pairing with a blue tie would make it even better.”

Li Chuan looked at me with pleading eyes. I silently let him suffer.

“What department are you, Xiao Wang?” Xiu Yue asked. (Here, adding Xiao in front of the name is like changing his name to a nickname. The same happens with names such as Xiao Ye from the café.)

“I am not a student. I’m already working.”

“You’re already working?” Xiao Rui studied his face and shook her head. “No, no, you look like a graduate student.”

“Which field are you in Mr. Wang?” Xiu Yue asked again.

“Building construction.” (I’ve been just translating this as architecture, but since they ask for clarification here, I went with a direct translation.)

“Is it civil engineering or interior design?”

“Architecture.”

“Ah, you are a building architect?” Xiao Rui said. She looked very excited today. I didn’t know why.

“You can consider it that.”

“My brother is also. He’s at Tongji University.”

He said, “I changed my profession.”

“Changed your profession? The what did you do before?”

“At university, I was in economics.”

Feng Jing Er’s eyes brightened,”Economics? Lu Jie is also in the Economics Department. Lu Jie, come here, someone’s the same field as you.”

Lu Jie had been sitting to the side, silently drinking coffee. He had always been the center of all the girls’ attentions, one who was loved by the masses. After seeing today’s situation, he looked listless, “Really? The Economics Department at our school is just so-so. My dad used to be at Fudan University, now he’s at Renmin university. Mr. Wang, which university did you attend?”

“University of Chicago.”

Lu Jie took a deep breath and his eyes filled with suspicion, “University of Chicago? From what I know, the Economics Department at the University of Chicago is the best in the world.”

“It can’t really be considered the best.” Li Chuan said, “MIT and Harvard’s are all pretty good. Yale and Princeton’s are also alright. Doesn’t England also have a London Economics University?”

“My dad visited the University of Chicago before and met Professor Becker. Which year was it that he got the Nobel Prize in economics?”

“That…I don’t quite remember.” Li Chuan thought about it for a bit, “Ninety-three? No, Fogel was ninety-three. Becker was ninety-two.”

“Economics at the University of Chicago must be the best.”

Li Chuan smiled but didn’t reply.

Feng Jing Er took the opportunity to ask, “Then Mr. Wang, how did you apply to get in? Did you also take the GRE?”

“GRE is certainly very important.”

“Economics at the University of Chicago has such a great future, Mr. Wang, why did you change professions?”

“Hmm…personal reasons.”

“Mr. Wang, do you have an email that’s convenient to contact you at? In the future, if Lu Jie has questions about applying for graduate school, can he ask you for guidance?” Feng Jing Er persisted and handed over a pen.

“Of course.” He took the pen and wrote down an email address.

“Wang Ge Ge, you don’t have a business card?” Xiao Rui stuck out her head from the top bunk.

“No, I don’t use business cards.”

“Mr. Wang, you must still have a lot of acquaintances at the University of Chicago, right?” Feng Jing Er indicated for him to eat peanuts. Seeing him shake his head, she then gave him a peeled tangerine.

“I can’t really say acquaintances…I was merely a student.”

“I heard that to apply for graduate school, the academic advisor is most important, is that correct?”

“It is quite crucial…it’s also based on grades and letter of recommendation.” He knew how to protect himself, so his answers were very short. “Wife” Feng Jing Er consulted with him for around an hour. I didn’t interrupt at all.

Xiu Yue seized the opportunity to talk to me, inquiring about what my hometown was like.

“Does it rain a lot in Yunnan?”

“Yes.”

“Do you guys eat mushrooms everyday?”

“No.”

“Then what do you guys eat the most?”

“Rice noodles.”

“That’s right, speaking of Crossing the Bridge Noodles. Yesterday, I was just looking it up online. There are several Yunnan restaurants that are quite good in Beijing. The one closest to us is…”

He didn’t continue speaking, because I was completely inattentive.

At this time, Ning An An, who had been silent the whole time, interrupted and said, “That’s right, Xiao Qiu, tell us how you and Wang Ge Ge met?”

Feng Jing Er gave an annoyed glance at her. An An’s voice was too loud and cut into the conversation she was having with Li Chuan.

“He frequents the café.” I said.

“Just that? That’s not romantic at all. Give us some more material!”

We are only — so-so acquaintances.” My entire face was red.

How to explain, indeed, generally speaking, if it wasn’t a boyfriend then he wouldn’t be easily admitted into the female dormitory.

Li Chuan tactfully stood up, “Thank you for everyone’s kindness, I still have some matters to attend to. I’ll take my leave, you guys enjoy yourselves.”

Ning An An called out, “Wang Ge Ge, come often! We have a dance party every week.” After she said that, she remembered that he couldn’t walk conveniently and perhaps couldn’t dance, she hurriedly added, “Sorry, that wasn’t on purpose.”

I walked Lu Chuan down. When we got to the bottom of the stairs, I asked him, “Do you really have things to attend to? Come eat dinner in the dinning hall before you leave, ok? I have to treat you.”

“I don’t have anything. I just didn’t want to have everything pried out while sitting there. Is the dinning hall far? Do I need to drive?”

“It’s just in front. The first floor is the student dinning hall, second floor is a restaurant. Everyone says their dishes are tasty. I have never gone to the second floor.”

“Then let’s go to the second floor.”

We got to the second floor and found a seat by the window. The waitress came and handed over menus. Her eyes were concentrated on Li Chuan, “What would the two of you like to drink?”

“What do you want to drink?” He asked me.

“Coke.”

“One cup of coke, one cup of mineral water.”

“What dish would you like to order? Male classmate?” The waitress said in an intimate tone with her eyes focused on Li Chuan as if he were the only customer.

“What do you want to eat?” Li Chuan looked at me.

I swept a glance at the menu and made made a quick decision, “Chili chicken, stir-fry cucumber.”

The waitress took it down and then looked at him again, “Male classmate, what about you?”

“Celery with lilies.”

“Is that it?”

“Xiao Qiu, do you want anymore?”

I glared at him, “Are you normally a vegetarian or do you want to save me money? With a dish like celery with lilies, I might as well cook it for you.”

“I don’t normally eat much meat, it’s true.”

“Do you eat fish?” At the café, he would always eat tuna sandwiches.

“I quite like to eat fish.”

“Then I want a steamed bass.” This meal was to thank him, there had to be good dishes.

“Bass varies in price depending on weight.”

“Then bring a medium sized one. And two bowls of rice.”

“A small one is enough,” Li Chuan added.

“Okay.” I sighed.

It was still early for dinner, there weren’t many people in the restaurant. The dishes were brought out quickly.

I took a sip of the coke and started to eat the chicken.

“When I was leaving this morning, I met your friend.” I said.

“My friend?”

“He said he was called Ji Huan.”

“Oh. He lives on the forty-second floor. I kept running into him in the swimming pool. And after that we became acquainted with each other.”

“Do you like to swim?”

“I quite like it.”

“I like it too. I was even the four hundred meter freestyle champion of the county’s youth sports competition. My house is by the river. In the summer, I swam every day. It’s too bad the school swimming pool is only open in the summer. I can only switch to running every day.”

“No wonder you look like you have so much energy. You complexion is always rosy.” He gazed at my face.

“All kids from the country side are like this. Eat, why aren’t you eating? Eat more.”

He was eating, except he only moved his chopsticks every once in awhile.

“Don’t worry, I will finish eating my share.” He still continued to eat slowly. He chewed very slowly as if he had problems with digestion.

“I’ll stop speaking so that you don’t have to keep answering and not eating.”

After awhile, I saw that he was still eating slowly and asked, “Don’t force your stomach. If you can’t finish, I can take it to go as my lunch for tomorrow.”

“Is there a refrigerator in the dorm room?”

“No. It won’t go bad overnight.”

“It will definitely go bad overnight.”

“I’ll put it on the window sill where it’s cool. The temperature at night is quite low. It’s nothing.”

“It’s not salted fish.”

He ate a little while longer. I helped him eat and finally finished the celery with lilies. And then we ate the fish together.

“The fish tastes good.” He started to speed up, “What are you doing tonight? Dancing?”

“Not dancing.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t like group activities. Even though I always try to fit in, I would rather read a book alone under my covers while listening to music and eating snacks.”

“Or go watch a movie by yourself.” He added.

“Correct.”

“The mosquito net with two white pieces of paper stuck on it is your bed?”

“How do you know?”

“All the other beds had the characteristics of city girls.” He said.

“What characteristics?”

“There was at least one doll by the headboard.”

I thought it was funny, “How come I never noticed this?”

“What do you have written on the pieces of paper?” He asked.

“It is impossible to have the yang without the yin. Be completely content with one’s lot,” I said. “It’s from the ‘Book of Changes.’ My dad was a language teacher.”

“Mmm…” He praised me, “You are quite scholarly.”

“What do you call ‘Book of Changes’ in English?”

“‘Book of Changes‘, some people also call it I-Ching.”

“Speaking of Book of Changes, can you do fortune telling?” He asked.

“No, languages cannot be used to tell fortunes. Martial arts cannot be used to buy rice.” I used the chopsticks to poke at the fish head and decide that that part could be eaten.

He smiled, a silent slow smile, “Then, Xiao Qiu, are you willing to come to my place to swim tonight?”

“If you finish eating this fish, I’ll go.”

He methodically cleaned up the bass, leaving behind a messy pile of bones that were so clean, they could be used as specimens.

The waitress came over with the bill. I took out my purse. With quick reflexes, he had handed over two one-hundred yuan bills, “Thank you, keep the change.”

“Hey, who let you pay?” I shouted.

“You are a student. One who’s working part time.”

“I said I would be treating today! Waitress, please return the money to him!”

He retrained my hand, “In the future, when we eat together, I will always pay. Let’s make it a rule, clear?”

I opened my mouth to refute it, but was stopped by his gaze.

“I won’t argue about it with you today.” I said, secretly happy on the inside. So there would be more opportunities to eat together in the future.

He dropped me off at the staircase of the dormitory and waited for me to get my swimsuit. The party in the room was at it’s height. I quickly went to greet Ning An An. Feng Jing Er came over to ask in a low voice, “Are you coming to the dance tonight? We are all going. The men bought tickets. If you don’t go, Xiu Yue will be alone.”

“I’m busy.”

“Where’s Classmate Wang? He didn’t accompany you here?”

“He’s not coming…it can’t be said that we’re friends. We are only acquaintances is all.” I tried to correct it again.

“I’m going to say something, don’t feel bad about it. When you are broken-hearted later on, don’t blame me for not warning you.” She said in a light tone, “Don’t fall too deeply. The two of you, cannot work.”

I didn’t ask her why. I took my backpack and headed down the stairs.

Li Chuan was still waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. We walked ahead together. Someone had thrown a tangerine peel on the ground, I nearly slipped, but was caught by him just in time, “Be careful.”

“I never look at the ground when I’m walking.” I said.

“I actually constantly look at the ground. I’ll help you look.” He said, “But, you have to to hold my hand the entire time for that to work.”

After he said this, he held onto my hand as if it was only to be expected of him. As if, he had to constantly look after me to prevent me from falling down.

“Today I found a closer parking spot, no need to walk to the school gates.” He pointed to a small red building nearby.

I looked at him, struck dumb.

“What’s wrong?”

“You parked your car there?”

“Mmm. Is that wrong? The parking lot there is big and empty.”

“You’re dead. That’s the presidents’ office. All three presidents’ cars are parked over there.” I said. “You keep walking slowly, I’ll go over to investigate and see if your car has been towed.”

“You go, I’ll rest here for a bit.”

The school was designed like a park, there were benches everywhere. He found a wooden bench and sat down, he face was a bit pale.

He had had an amputation, walking so far with an artificial limb must have been exhausting. I didn’t leave him. I sat down with him and took out a bottle of water from my bag, “Do you want a drink?”

He shook his head.

After sitting for moment, he stood up again to continue. At that very moment, I saw a black Mercedes-Benz speeding over. When we got to the parking lot, the Benz had already sped into the parking lot. I saw Li Chuan’s car and then wrung his hand.

“What is it now?”

“Classmate Li Chuan, couldn’t you find a better place for you car? The spot you parked in is the president’s.”

“That spot should be a handicap spot.” He said.

“This isn’t the United States, classmate.”

That Benz stopped in front of us as if it was waiting for us to drive the car away and leave the spot.

I quietly said, “Li Chuan, get in the car. Let’s leave quickly.”

It was too late. The car door opened, an elderly gray-haired man got out. He had a briefcase in his hands.

“He is President Liu.” My hand was trembling.

“He is a president, not a ghost. What are you afraid of?” Li Chuan held onto my hands and smiled towards the elderly man, “Hello, President Liu!”

I was speechless.

“Hello, you are –”

“Wang Li Chuan. This is my younger cousin, Xie Xiao Qiu. First year student.”

With a reddened face, I said, “Hello, President Liu.”

“Student, were you looking for me for something?” President Liu politely shook Li Chuan’s hand and then shook my hand.

I remained silent, pinching Li Chuan’s palm at the same time.

“It’s just this. Xiao Qiu is new here and hasn’t completely adjusted to the life here. She feels that there are still things to be desired with the facilities at our school. She wanted to put forth a proposal to you.” Li Chuan spoke with frank assurance, paying no attention to me.

Li Chuan, old chap, you are throwing me into a pit of fire like this.

“Oh, we hold the opinions of lower year students with great regard at this school. Thank you, student. Are you willing to discuss this with me in my office?”

“That…she’s a bit nervous. Why don’t you just chat here? Classmate Xie, you and the president chat. I will go and back out the car. Sorry, President Liu, I was only temporarily parking there.”

“Don’t worry about backing out. There are plenty of parking spots here. My driver will find a place to park the car.” The president held himself with such elegance the whole time.

My heart was beating three times fast and stammered out, “President, I think that the period for getting hot water for the girl dormitory…is too short. The water only comes three times a day, it’s not enough to use. I heard the school does this in order to save water.”

“We are in the process of talking about this problem. I believe there will be a new decision next month.”

“I came here for school from a remote region. The school’s dining hall has such high standards that the price is too high. We can’t afford it.”

“Mmm.” The president said, “Your older cousin seems to be very well-off. Let him subsidize you a bit so that you can study harder and strive for a scholarship.”

“In order to pay for our daily expenses, those of us with difficulty have to work part-time jobs. We don’t have time to study, so we can’t get scholarships. I believe…I believe…that the schools scholarship system has a problem.” I was going for broke, damn it!

“The system has a problem?” The president narrowed his eyes.

“The scholarships should be split into two categories. One type should be financial aid, to help those students with hardships to study. The other type should be scholarships. It should all be based on competition, using scores to determine ranking.”

“The school has always had financial aid for students in hardships. Did you never apply for them?”

“My father is a village teacher, his income is very low. He was a university student in Shanghai. When he was young, he responded to the (Communist) Party appeal, gave up his city life, and volunteered to help with development in Yunnan. Yet, his child is all grown up now and has come to Beijing study, but she still needs to work part-time in order to struggle to earn a living. Don’t you think this is a bit unfair?” As I spoke, I became more and more filled with conviction.

“Student, which department are you from?” The president asked.

“English Department.”

“Then use English to write a proposal. Write it and we still hold a meeting to discuss it. I will notify you of the discussion results.” The president’s face held a smile the entire time, “I still have a meeting, I will take my leave.”

The president walked away. Li Chuan stood by the car door with arms crossed lightly laughing at me.

I gritted my teeth in rage, “Wang Li Chuan, we’ll see how I get back at you!”

“Look, didn’t you speak very well? This is called a seedling. Give it a little sunlight and it will germinate.” He continued to make fun of me.

“That proposal, I won’t write it.”

“You should write it, I’ll help you correct it. I will only correct the wording, you fix your own grammar mistakes.”

“You can write them?”

“I frequently write them. In the architecture business, we have to write a tender document every time we make a bid. The format is about the same.”

“I think that Chinese isn’t your native language.” I took a blow at him.

“Is my Chinese not good?”

“That’s not it. You don’t know how to use chopsticks.”

“What do you mean I don’t know how to use chopsticks? I frequently eat sushi overseas, and always use chopsticks for it.”

“Occasionally using it and using it all year round have their distinguishing qualities.”

“What distinguishing quality?”

“This distinction come from when you eat fish. You can’t just cut it into two halves with your chopsticks as soon as it’s served. You ought to finish eating one side and then flip it over to eat the other side.”

“Good thing I never eat a whole fish at banquets. I only eat fish pieces since it’s annoying. Next time you teach me.”

“Only if you treat.”

“No problem.”


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