DRAGON'S DIGEST

三味书屋

The World of Chinese - - Editor's Letter -

ONE

Muzi gave me a slap un­der the bright sun, end­ing our re­la­tion­ship. I pre­tended to be calm and cool as I watched her walk away, get in a car, and dis­ap­pear.

I thought it was the sun mak­ing me dizzy, and def­i­nitely not that my heart couldn’t with­stand this at­tack. I stum­bled a bit as I walked and leaned against a pole to call Huang Zi­jian, telling him I’d just had a breakup. He told me to come over for drinks, that it wasn’t the first time, that good girls are hard to find, so just get used to it. I ripped into him and he told me that it was good to vent.

Sit­ting on the sofa at Huang Zi­jian’s place, I didn’t feel like drink­ing at all. All the sum­mer sun­light was mak­ing me drowsy.

I asked him if there was any way to get rid of bad luck. He put down his phone, and told me to stick out my palm. Ap­pear­ing thought­ful, he said dra­mat­i­cally: “Ah, look­ing at your fate…you’re gonna die alone, man.” I punched him. “Non­sense!” Huang Zi­jian sighed and shook his head: “Un­less you find some­one with a fate sim­i­lar to yours, it’s not go­ing to be easy.” As he fin­ished speak­ing he started laugh­ing loudly. I ig­nored him, rais­ing my feet to curl up on the couch and fall asleep.

Huang Zi­jian re­ally thought he was the next Huang Dax­ian1.

TWO

Huang Zi­jian in­vited me out to Ma Yau Tei2, a place where artsy youths gath­ered. There was cheesy mu­sic play­ing ev­ery­where, and the whole area was packed with DSLR cam­eras, cafés, and flat-chested girls. Re­ally not my kind of place—not my vibe, or, in Huang’s words, I lacked suf­fi­cient hip­ster cre­den­tials. I just couldn’t un­der­stand why any­one would spend 50 yuan to send a post­card to their fu­ture self, or that it’s a great idea to put on a sailor suit with a short skirt and go take pic­tures in an aban­doned fac­tory.

This was where Huang Zi­jian ran his game. He got a set of Daoist robes from some­where and set up his lit­tle stand in front of a café/book­shop, and put his name­plate on a desk—huang Dax­ian. Busi­ness was great, as he had be­come fa­mous on­line as a hot young for­tune-teller. He’d switch back and forth be­tween Western and Chi­nese astrol­ogy, and brain­less girls would laugh fool­ishly and nod, say­ing “Oh, you’re so good!”

I had to hand it to Huang. He un­der­stood the key points of the busi­ness, man­aged to put to use all the psy­chol­ogy he’d spent four years study­ing, and found a place where sim­ple­minded peo­ple con­gre­gated. And of course he was quite hand­some—how could he be any­thing but pop­u­lar?

Ev­ery time he did his thing, I wanted to kick him to the ground. Huang told me I was just jeal­ous. Damn straight; I was jelly on jelly. I couldn’t stand him be­ing en­cir­cled by th­ese girls like they were try­ing to have his ba­bies. I told him, “Huang, stop scam­ming peo­ple. Just go and be a star or some­thing!”

As soon as I fin­ished speak­ing, he threw down his phone and dashed for the toi­let. “Ah, no, I can’t be a star. I’d con­sider Toi­let God, though.” In univer­sity, Huang Zi­jian had an­other nick­name be­fore Huang Dax­ian: Prince of Poo.

At this time a girl with glasses walked over to me. She looked at the plaque, then at me. I let out a silly laugh as I looked at her: “Lady, do you want your palm read?”

An ugly look ap­peared on her face. “Lady? Se­ri­ously? You’re a ‘lady,’ your mom is a ‘lady.’” I’d said the wrong thing, yes, but I didn’t think she’d be so sav­age. This was when Huang Zi­jian came swag­ger­ing out, and knocked me off the bench, clear­ing his throat. “Oh, we’ve a beau­ti­ful woman here. Do you want to know about your ca­reer, or per­haps your mar­riage prospects?” Her ex­pres­sion be­came much more pleas­ant. “I’ve seen you on­line”. She took out a busi­ness card from her bag. “I’m a lifestyle re­porter for the City Herald, I want to in­ter­view you.” Huang Zi­jian put on his most charm­ing smile. “Sure, an in­ter­view is OK, but first you gotta sup­port my busi­ness, you know…” She ex­tended her palm im­me­di­ately.

1 A fa­mous fourth-cen­tury Daoist, said to have turned into an im­mor­tal.

2 Ref­er­ence to Yau Ma Tei, a trendy area in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

“Come on, when we’re done, come to the café with me for the in­ter­view.”

Well, shit. The dif­fer­ence in her treat­ment of each of us stung.

Huang walked out of the café all smiles, wav­ing good­bye to the girl, and told me as he put his hand on my shoul­der that he wanted to treat me to a meal. I asked why, and he asked, “Do you even have to ask? Don’t you see I’m about to blow up on the scene?”

THREE

Ac­tu­ally, I didn’t want to go to that meal at all; I didn’t even want to leave the house. I was still feel­ing the ef­fects of the breakup, and I had a huge amount of code to write for my com­pany’s pro­grams. I’d al­ready worked late into the night for days in a row, and I was ex­hausted. Huang Zi­jian or­dered his fa­vorites: pep­per chicken, duck’s blood in chili sauce. He of course took a selfie to post to Weibo be­fore eat­ing, and then read com­ments from fans over the course of the en­tire meal.

“All right, Huang. I want to go home.”

“Wait, wait up, wait a mo­ment!” His fin­gers were all over his phone and he hap­pily gnawed at a chicken leg. “A celebrity tagged me, wow!”

I dipped my head de­ject­edly as I gath­ered up my things and got ready to leave.

“Wait, wait up, I’ve got some­thing to say to you.” “Then say it!” Huang pulled me back to my seat. “You know how bor­ing your life is? Be­sides look­ing at your com­puter screen and mak­ing pro­grams, can’t you en­joy some things in life, like a nice meal?”

“Wow, I stuck around for that? I’m out.”

“Wait up, man. I’m not done.” He turned his head around and called out to the waiter. “An or­der of spicy cray­fish, ex­tra spicy, thanks.” He turned back around to talk to me. “You know you, yeah? You never smile. How can you be like this? You should live hap­pily. If you have a con­stant sour look on your face, how can those around you be happy?” “I want to go home.” “You want to know the key to why you’re alone?” “En­lighten me.” “You’re what, 160, 170?” “I’m 174, man!” “Ok, cool, I mean I knew it was un­der 180. How much do you make a month?”

“Come on, you’ve known me a long time.”

“About five grand, I think. Hold on, let me take an­other selfie.” “You’re a mo­ron.” “See, you’ve got no self-con­fi­dence. You’re not tall enough, you don’t have enough money, but for­get those things. The key is you don’t be­lieve in your­self. How can you ex­pect others to like you when you don’t?”

I looked at my re­flec­tion in the glass. Was I that lame? Noth­ing Huang had said was in­cor­rect. It started to rain out­side, and Huang re­marked that when peo­ple aren’t happy the weather co­op­er­ates to match the mood. At a time when others aren’t smil­ing upon you, the heav­ens still un­der­stood you.

FOUR

A week later, I was headed to Ma Yau Tei to see Huang Zi­jian and tell him that I’d thought it out, that I was gonna try harder and up my game, when I ran into the young girl that had in­ter­viewed him. She was sit­ting in front of an art gallery wip­ing away tears, her recorder and note­book both on the ground. “Hey, lady, are you ok?” I re­al­ized I’d made the same mis­take again as soon as I spoke the words.

“What do you want? You’re so an­noy­ing, just leave.” She pushed me to the ground, and as she saw me fall, she cried even harder. “Don’t cry. Tell me what’s go­ing on.” “There’s noth­ing to talk about. I’ve messed ev­ery­thing up, I looked for a month and still have yet to find an in­ter­view sub­ject. I poured my heart into it, and then the story was re­jected by my boss.”

“Same here. I was killing my­self churn­ing out code for my com­pany for the last month, but I made two er­rors, the pro­gram didn’t work, and my boss went to town on me.” “Oh, so your life sucks, too.” “Yes. And my girl­friend just broke up with me, so I’m worse off than you.” “Yeah, you’re pretty bad.” “Huang Zi­jian said that I was doomed to die alone.”

“He also said my work is go­ing to go great! He’s such a liar, a scam­mer!”

“Well yeah, I mean, it’s not like he can ac­tu­ally see the fu­ture. He’s just some guy.”

That day Juanzi and I be­came friends. I hadn’t thought that our com­mon dif­fi­cul­ties might unite us. We were both up­set with Huang Zi­jian. Juanzi told me that I was ac­tu­ally bet­ter than Huang; at least I was grounded in re­al­ity. I shook my head as I replied. He doesn’t need re­al­ity, I said, his palm-read­ing game works well enough. Juanzi said, yeah, well, re­cently girls have been go­ing crazy for this stuff. I had a flash of in­spi­ra­tion, and grasped Juanzi’s hand, de­mand­ing: “What did you say? Say it again!” Juanzi said: “I said girls go nuts for this kind of stuff.” I laughed loudly, and Juanzi looked some­what con­fused.

FIVE

That day, I went back and bought a big stack of books on palm read­ing and astrol­ogy and spent a week

“Your brother?” “Yeah, dude, he’s a PM at BQIT.” I al­most did a spit take like in the movies. “What?!”

“Yeah. You have to be­lieve in your­self.”

“Juanzi, this meal’s on me! Don’t even try to pay.”

That night, we walked around the Bund3. Juanzi talked about how she felt pretty worth­less, that af­ter grad­u­at­ing she’d switched jobs a num­ber of times, al­ways be­ing squeezed out rather than fail­ing, none of her bosses lik­ing her. She talked about how if she hadn’t run into me that day, she wouldn’t have been brave enough to con­tinue work­ing at all. At home, her brother was al­ways more com­pe­tent than she was, and she al­ways com­pared poorly against him, but she al­ways wanted to prove her own worth through hard work.

“Do you un­der­stand that kind of feel­ing?” “Oh yeah!” “Re­ally?” “Ever since I was a kid my mother al­ways liked to com­pare me to Huang Zi­jian, all kinds of stuff. Oh, he aced that test, oh, look where he got into univer­sity, check out his girl­friend, you know. I’ve al­ways lived in his shadow.”

“You know, I ac­tu­ally feel a bit bet­ter af­ter hear­ing that. I don’t know why, but ev­ery time af­ter I talk to you I don’t feel so tired.”

“Yeah, well ev­ery­one who runs while hold­ing back tears will have some other guy just lap­ping you, over and over.”

“Liu Kangkang, I want to drink. Drink with me!”

We chat­ted all night, walk­ing around Shanghai with beers in our hands, from the Bund to Xin­tiandi to Huai­hai Road. When we were tired out, we found a con­ve­nience store and hung out there un­til sun­rise, en­joy­ing each other’s com­pany.

Look­ing at the feed­back forms in the con­ve­nience store, I sud­denly said to Juanzi: “I need to do some­thing.” “What?” “Po­ten­tial mar­ket re­search.” “OK. I’ll help you.”

TEN

In or­der to check out po­ten­tial mar­ket data to an­a­lyse for a re­port, Juanzi and I ran around Nan­jing Road like crazy with our phones, find­ing peo­ple to test the app out. I found a few girls on the street, but when I called them “lady” and asked if they wanted their palms read, I was torn a few new ones. Juanzi was, by com­par­i­son, more suc­cess­ful. She man­aged to get girls, guys, even a few for­eign­ers. She’d say, smil­ing, “Hey hand­some/beau­ti­ful, I’ve got some­thing that’s gonna rock your world. Wanna try it?” In one af­ter­noon, she got feed­back from hun­dreds of peo­ple. “Wow, you’re on fire!” “Don’t fall in love with me!” “Uh, that’s not what I meant. That’s not gonna hap­pen.” “You’re the worst” “Uh, sorry.” “Liu Kangkang, you re­ally aren’t any fun at all.” “I…” “I’m go­ing home.” Af­ter Juanzi left, I called up Huang. He said to me “I’ll come pick you up in my car. Come to my place and check out my new con­sole.”

“Car? Con­sole? Huang Dax­ian’s struck it big, eh?”

“Yeah, I read my own for­tune a few days ago, bought a lottery ticket, and won half a mil.” “No kid­ding.” “Yes, kid­ding. How could you be­lieve that? I spent all the money from sell­ing my web­site. I gotta start over.” “You mo­ron.” “Screw you.” “I’m sure you’d like to.” “Okay, enough. Any­way, what’s up with you and that re­porter? “What do you mean what’s up?” “Mate, you’re not se­ri­ous. You think you guys are just friends?”

“Well…aren’t we?”

ELEVEN

On Mon­day, Huang had me take a half day off, and took me over to BQIT. I gave the po­ten­tial mar­ket re­search re­port to the PM, and Juanzi’s brother was all over me with praise. Huang Zi­jian said “Sir, you do know we can’t sell you this.” I stared wide-eyed with shock at Huang, but he kept go­ing. “We can work with you, but we’re to re­tain the copy­right.” I thought Huang Zi­jian was cer­tainly in­sane. Some­thing like this could eas­ily be copied im­me­di­ately by any­one with ba­sic tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise. This wasn’t a good strat­egy.

Juanzi’s brother laughed. “Nice. You do know that we could eas­ily just copy your prod­uct and screw you guys over.” “Yeah, you could, but we’d sue you.” “…” I thought Huang Zi­jian was most def­i­nitely in­sane.

“You’ve got balls, homie. You want to de­velop this thing to­gether, then?”

“Yeah.” Huang was over the top. He knew I wouldn’t speak, so he just went in his own di­rec­tion. “OK, where do you work now?” “Uh, can’t re­ally tell you that.” “What­ever. I’ll give you a 40 per­cent raise, if you come work for us?”

I couldn’t be­lieve my ears. Forty! In my time at my cur­rent job, my to­tal raises only amounted to 500 yuan! Huang Zi­jian grasped my hand, and said calmly: “We’ll have to think about it.” “What’s the dead­line?” “Three days!”

The wa­ter­front along the river in Shanghai.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.