Chapter 35: Confused
When Lan Shan gets home that night, she finds to her dismay that she is starting her period as Qiao Feng has predicted. Besides being embarrassed that a man can be so accurate on something this personal, she also wonders if her earlier breakdown can be due to hormonal changes? If so, it would seems that science can be more amazing than magic.
The next day, there is a bowl of red dates porridge on the dinner table which is known to help a person recover from blood loss. Of course, Lan Shan has not mentioned anything about her period to Qiao Feng, but he has cooked the porridge having firmly believed in his earlier diagnosis. Lan Shan realized that although Qiao Feng looks mild-mannered, he is unusually stubborn. Once he has set his mind on something, there will be no turning back even if someone uses nine ox to pull him back. That is assuming of course that there is someone stupid enough to try, to which Qiao Feng would probably nag, nag, and nag the unfortunate brook death.
So she says nothing and simply enjoys her red-date porridge.
Qiao Feng looks at her expectantly. “How is it? This is my first time cooking this dish.”
His porridge has just the right degree of fragrance, sweetness, softness, viscosity and feels wonderful in her tummy. “It tastes wonderful!” After savoring several bites of the delicious broth, her licks her lips unconsciously. When she raises her eyes from her food, she sees that he is staring at her and she points to his full plate. “What has come over you? Come and eat.”
Qiao Feng jerks out from his reverie and starts to eat.
Teasing him, Lan Shan asks playfully. “Say, do you think I’m like a delectable meal?”
Qiao Feng does not reply and continues eating. Giving up, Lan Shan turns her attention back to her food. From the corner of her eye, she sees a black and white blur zooming across the room and is about to reach her feet. She jerks her feet up “Oh my god, what is this?”
“Fear not, it is just Schrödinger.”
Huh? Since when has Schrodinger changed? She bends down to peer at Schrödinger curiously and the cat chooses that moment to lift his head so that she can see that he is wearing a panda costume with a large black and white hood that nearly covers all his face, including his eyes. He bends his head down and meows in annoyance.
“I thought that you will like it.”
Lan Shan understands in that moment that he has did it in order to cheer her up. A sweet fullness well up in her chest as she eats her red dates porridge and looks at Panda- Schrödinger. “Little Feng Feng, I get the feeling that you are going to replace Xiao You Cai in my heart in the very near future.”
To which Qiao Feng concludes on her character – this is a lecherous woman who places sex over friendship.
Something niggles at Lan Shan and she asks a question that has been bothering her for a while. “Qiao Feng, how is your relationship with your brother?”
“We are quite close.”
“If so, why doesn’t he come here and…. play?”
The question feels all sorts of weird but Qiao Feng answers her matter-of-fact. “He usually comes on weekends. You are usually not around on weekends which is why you seldom saw him.”
That leaves Lan Shan with more questions, but it is not appropriate to ask him at this moment so she left the subject as it is.
* * * * * *
After giving the matter serious thought, Lan Shan feels that it is not appropriate for a female subordinate to buy her male boss clothes, so she decides to buy Song Zi Cheng an ashtray instead. The ashtray is made of solid black material with gold lining and some diamonds – fake ones of course – at the side. Even if he chooses not to use it as an ashtray, ornate bowl is also quite suitable as a decorative.
Song Zi Cheng did not come to the 4S shop these few days so Lan Shan calls him to invite him out for dinner and during the meal, she presents the ashtray to him Song Zi Cheng is very happy with his gift. Actually, it does not matter what she gives him; he is happy as this is the first time she is giving him a present.
After they had dinner, they left the restaurant. The city is bustling with people and traffic and Lan Shan pats her tummy as she lifts her head to the sky. Being in the city, one can never see many stars. This is unlike her hometown where one can nearly see the whole milky way as they blanket the earth like scores of diamonds by this time of the year. If one is feeling weary or vexed, all one needs to do is to simply lie on the ground and let the starry sky suck all the woes away. Lan Shan is a little pensive; is she missing the stars or is she missing home?
She is surprised when Song Zi Cheng asks if she is missing the stars. Song Zi Cheng smiles – when a girl looks upwards at the heavens, she is probably looking for stars, else what else can she be looking for. Planes? When he smiles, he does not resemble his usual, aloof self and his eyes are like dancing. Now that, she thinks, is quite like the stars in a night sky.
Song Zi Cheng: “You will not be able to see any stars here. If you wish to see stars, we can go to Mi Yun.”
His “we” implies a certain degree of intimacy and Song Zi Cheng is quick to prevent her defensive walls from erecting at this casual mention. In his experience, there are 2 types of beautiful woman. One is the extremely vulnerable kind; so long as you are a man, she will take you to bed. The other type, like Lan Shan, is the extremely weary type against anyone who tries to approach her, so he quickly adds. “It is a pity the weather is not suitable for star gazing tonight.”
Lan Shan nods and thinks to herself that she is going to bring Little Feng Feng to see stars at Mi Yun.
* * * * * *
The next day, Song Zi Cheng places his ashtray in his office. Although his parents are rich, he is not the idle type and has chosen to start his own business and make it successful from his own efforts. However, no one in his family seems to care for whether his business be successful or not, he will have to return to take over the family business one day.
The truly idle one is Tan Zi. He is not a bright bulb and tends to make more blunders than help so his family has only one hope for him – stay out and be idle. He likes to visit Brother Cheng’s office and when he is here today, he spots a glittery, new ashtray. The dish is rather ornate with 3 glittering stones and is totally unlike what Brother Cheng would normally go for. Picking up the clean bowl, he starts to throw it up in the air for fun.
When Song Zi Cheng looks up from his documents, he is furious to see him playing with his ashtray. “Put that down!”
Tan Zi is distracted by his yell and did not catch the ashtray, which lands on his foot. “Awww. This hurts! My toe is broken!”
Song Zi Cheng is more concerned if his ashtray is broken and pays Tan Zi little heed. Tan Zi is confused when Brother Cheng looks at the ashtray like a secret lover and asks. “Brother Cheng, who gave you this ashtray?”
At his silence, he adds. “Don’t tell me it is Blue Beauty.” At Song Zi Cheng continual silence, he exclaims. “Aha! I am right! Have you made progress Brother Cheng?”
Song Zi Cheng places the ashtray near his tea set and shoots him a look. “You, shut up. And don’t touch my ashtray again.”
Tan Zi is very happy at the news – he now has an excuse to ask his goddess out for lunch. He knows jolly well that Su Luo does not like him and that she only tolerates him when he has news for her regarding Song Zi Cheng, but Tan Zi is contented to be a sorry bastard in her case. Who ask him to like her so?
So he spends 20 minutes telling Su Luo a story of how “Lan San has given Brother Song an ashtray” and at the end of the tale, asks. “Luo Luo. What do you think is Lan Shan’s intention in giving Brother Cheng an ashtray?”
Su Luo is looking none too chirpy and replies coolly. “She is hoping that he will think of her whenever he smokes. Seems like she is quite devious.”
Tan Zi suddenly sees the light. “So that is why! I say, it is really difficult to guess a woman’s mind. But looking at these two, they are like the proverbial drum and stick – one beats and the other willingly gets beaten.”
When her face darkens, he trails off. After a while, he gathers his courage and tries again. “Luo Luo, there are many good men around. Why are you so hang up on Brother Cheng?”
Su Luo does not reply but her eyes redden as if she is going to cry any minute. Tan Zi aches to see her so but one thing he likes about her is her steadfastness to love. Even if he is not the one she is steadfast about.
He drives her home after the meal and she posts on her Weibo while in the car: Had I know that the heart would break so, I would rather we not have met.
Chapter 36: Missing Home
Lan Shan has not expected to see Su Luo at the spa. She looks much better than the last time she has seen her and she figures the lady must have sorted out her thoughts (on Song Zi Cheng).
She is happy a beautiful woman like her has finally seen the light and greets her politely. “What a coincidence.”
Suo Luo shakes her head. “It is not a coincidence, I have waited here to see you.”
Lan Shan does not know what she is up to. “If you are thinking of buying a car, you can just call me.”
“I am not thinking of changing my car at the moment; I am here to speak to you.”
Lan Shan is curious what other things they can talk about besides cars but she agrees to meet Su Luo for a talk at a nearby cafe after her massage.
To Lan Shan, Su Luo may not be a bad woman, but she is definitely not an easy customer. She suspects Su Luo may have been spoilt rotten by the men in her life and Lan Shan would rather she keep her distance. Furthermore, since she is not thinking of getting a car from her, Lan Shan sees no reason to humor her beyond what is necessary. When they are seated at the café, Lan Shan speaks her mind. “Ms Su, let us not beat around the bush. Whatever matter that you are looking for me, please speak your mind.”
Su Luo rests elegantly in her chair. She is so easy on the eyes, even the waiter looks twice at her when he serves them their drinks. “I only wish to remind you not to place false hopes on Song Zi Cheng. He is not someone whom you can deal with.”
Before she can talk further, Lan Shan holds out a hand to stop her. “Hello. I think you have misunderstood. Boss Song in my boss. That is all there is.”
“We are both woman, you really should not be so quick to deny.”
Seeing her stubbornness, Lan Shan rubs her temple. “So? The long and short is that you are unable to get over your relationship with our Boss. If so, please chase him back. Why do you bother with me as I have nothing towards my Boss?”
Su Luo continues as if she has not spoken. “There is this woman. She graduated from a second-tier university, traveled North, has no hu kou (local residency rights), and sells cars for a living. Her biggest asset is probably her looks but she is already 28 so how long do you think her beauty is going to last? To such a woman, marriage is probably upmost in her mind and I do not believe you are as relax as you seems to be.”
Before Lan Shan can interject, she continues. “Please believe me, you have chosen the wrong target. Song Zi Cheng is a complex man, and….”
Lan Shan finally had enough and slams her hands on the table. At the curious glances shoot their way, Su Lan looks at her reproachfully for her rude behavior while Lan Shan counters. “But Song Zi Cheng is someone who has ditched Su Luo, and if such a beautiful woman like you cannot hold on to him, what are my chances? Have I missed out anything that you with you say? If not, can I leave now?”
Su Luo looks a little helpless. “Whether you believe or not, I am saying this for your own good.”
Lan Shan nods. “I am sure you are. But let me return the favor: there is no big deal being ditched by Song Zi Cheng. I see that you are a big believer in “a woman cannot live without a man” or “a successful marriage is a woman’s greatest triumph” so let me urge you to find a rich man quickly and get married.”
“Oh, and you mentioned that I am 28? Are you not 28 too? Do not bother denying it for I can tell it from your face. Let me also say that you are neither my dad or my mom, and I really do not need your concern.”
At Su Luo’s furious expression, Lan Shan waves cheerfully. “Bye-bye!”
When she is at Qiao Feng’s place that night, Lan Shan has to roll a few times on his prized rug that she loves so much before she can feel better. As she flops on her back and looks at the ceiling, she suddenly realizes why she had been so furious at the café earlier. Although the truth hurts, Su Luo has not misstate the facts.
A migrant worker in a city of 20million is like a speck of sand in the sea. Minute and humble, weak and rootless. She has no relatives here, no house, no car, no boyfriend, and the work she tries so hard to do is looked down upon by a lot of people. Without an anchor, she is only a homeless spirit. So although she has stayed in this city for 10 years, gotten used to the food, adopted its accent…. at heart, she is only a guest in this city.
Such is the price of leaving home.
While she is lost in thoughts, Qiao Feng comes out from the kitchen with a pretty glass bowl. In it are a bunch of freshly-washed, green seedless grapes each about the size of a finger. He sits down besides her and feeds her one. Lan Shan opens her mouth, curls her tongue around the fruit and munches automatically. “Hmm, this is so sweet.”
“En.” Qiao Feng nods in agreement and pops one into his mouth, before feeding her another.
“Qiao Feng, I’m really curious. Why is it that everything in your house taste so good? Your rice is superb, your fruits are superb, even a salted duck egg taste superb. Is it because your family house has good fengshui?”
Qiao Feng shakes his head. “No. The reason is because my stuff are all organic food.”
“I don’t believe you. Even the salted duck egg?”
“I nearly forgot your grandpa probably rears his own ducks and make his own salted duck eggs. But then how about the peach. Or grapes? Or kiwi, or pistachio nuts?”
He nods. “They all are.”
Lan Shan roll her eyes. “Ha! Do you think your grandfather operates QQ farm?”
Qiao Feng shakes his head. “No.”
“Which is why you might as well say that your food are special foodstuff that is offered for tribute. Really, you should have thought of a better excuse even if you are trying to bluff me.”
Qiao Feng opens his mouth as if to say something but he stops when Lan Shan opens her mouth wide for another grape: “Arrrr…”
He pops a grape into her mouth before asking. “What is wrong with you today? You don’t look good when you came back.”
“I have nothing to say besides the fact that I met a lunatic today.” Remembering Su Luo’s words, Lan Shan gets pensive and flips over to her side. “Little Feng Feng, if I go home one day, will you miss me?”
Lan Shan is a little disappointed. “I see.”
He adds. “I will see you the next day so it doesn’t matter.”
“You misunderstood me. I am saying if I return to my hometown.”
Qiao Feng stares at her. “You… you are going back? When are you coming back?”
She flops back onto the rug and stares at the ceiling. “If I pack my bags, I may never come back. Maybe when there are special occasions or festivals, I may pop by your place for a a meal or something, ha.ha.”
Qiao Feng is silent for a bit before he frowns. “Why do you want to go back? Isn’t it nice here?”
She sighs. “You don’t understand.” No matter how good this place is, this is not her home. When the spirit is only a guest in another city, the sense of wandering can become pretty unsettling.
Qiao Feng falls silent as he contemplates what she has just said. Both bask in the silence until a loud knock interrupts them. The knocking is not on Qiao Feng’s door and sounds muffled as if it is coming from next door. True enough, someone calls out a few minutes later. “Is Lan Shan at home?”
Lan Shan gets up to get the door and finds a courier man with a document for her, which she signs on before returning to Qiao Feng’s living room. Qiao Feng sees her taking out a red invitation card from the envelope before she gives a cold smile. “My, is today the day where all the lunatics decide to get together for a party?”
Comments by Moonblossom:
First, I am very curious who is the “Him” writing to Su Luo. Is it a new character? but why do I get the feeling that her friend is Qiao Feng? Maybe it is the cat face and the way it is written – it reminded me of the way he encouraged Lan Shan to finish his leftover Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish – but if so, it means he knows Su Luo and I don’t like the idea of him being friends with Su Luo. She is too spoilt!
After this chapter I feel a bit sad for Lan Shan. The term 北漂 (bei piao) or “floating north” refers to the many migrant workers in Beijing who have moved North to find work. It is a big social topic in China as it is a source of strain to Beijing resources and the migrants’ welfare can be pretty bleak. Lan Shan is quite fortunate to have found her niche selling cars but she faces discrimination for her job and is emotionally empty. I hope Qiao Feng gets a wake-up call that Lan Shan may not remain his neighbour forever. She is such a natural complement to him, he better buck up to make sure she doesn’t just leave one day when the loneliness overwhelms her.