Translate: An | Edit: Sae | Proofread: Anasofi
Jiang Cheng had his arms crossed, legs stretched out far, and was feeling a bit unpleasant.
The skill level of the ones who were previously on the court was so-so. If he was wearing basketball shoes, he and Pan Zhi could probably take them on 2 to 5 with no problem. But looking at them play was actually quite interesting—there was a sense of superiority from watching above, as well as pride in the lofty ambitious spirit that got him there.1
But as Gu Fei and his two friends walked onto the court, the entire atmosphere changed.
Because Gu Fei’s basketball skills were… very good. If this was situated in his previous school, Gu Fei would definitely be the kind that bathed in the glory of a massive audience of squealing girls during a citywide high-school tournament.
Therefore, watching a game like this no longer brought Jiang Cheng a sense of superiority.
He felt no particular aversion toward Gu Fei, but there were definitely no good feelings either. At a time like this, his inner thoughts were conflicted between ‘hey, this sucker is quite skilled’ while another side of him forcefully corrected this thought; ‘quite skilled my ass, he’s just a show off flower trellis…’2
“This guy is quite good ah,” Pan Zhi said, without the tiniest bit of tacit understanding. “How did you guys meet?”
“He’d be quite ordinary if he was in our previous team,” Jiang Cheng said.
“Oh, you’re on the basketball team?” Not waiting for Pan Zhi to respond, Li Yan opened his mouth from the other side. His tone tinted with provocation, “How ‘bout we have someone from the other side sub off and you go on?”
Jiang Cheng turned his head and eyed him: “No.”
“No?” Li Yan was startled, probably thinking that he would delightfully accept the challenge, not actually rejecting it so quickly. “Why?”
“Guess,” Jiang Cheng stood up and started to walk towards the exit of the gymnasium.
Pan Zhi stretched his back and followed, leaving behind a couple of confused people.
“You and your nameless anger,” after exiting the gymnasium Pan Zhi shrunk his neck. “You have some sort of enmity towards that guy?”
“I’ve only been here for three days,” Jiang Cheng said.
“That’s true, the time is too short to raise any issues with someone,” Pan Zhi sighed. “Everyone is unpleasant to the eye for you right now anyhow.”
“You seem okay,” Jiang Cheng looked at him.
Pan Zhi smiled: “Ay, for real though, how do you know that person? From second-year?”
“… neighbor” Jiang Cheng answered.
“In the same building as you?” Pan Zhi asked.
“From the street adjacent,” Jiang Cheng answered simply.
“Ah,” Pan Zhi responded.
In truth, he could feet that Pan Zhi found it difficult to grasp this concept for the moment. They all grew up in an enclosed housing estate3 where neighbors came in two types: the ones from the same building unit, and the ones from the same housing estate. The previous one was based on a relationship with the nod of a head, the latter was based on the sweep of an eye.
The street adjacent—this sort of neighbor was something they had never really come into contact with.
Jiang Cheng lightly sighed. There was a false illusion that he was there to participate in an episode of “Metamorphosis.”4
“Is there a mountain here? Let’s go see the snow” Pan Zhi clapped his palms together.
“Mountain climbing in this cold weather? Are you not afraid that your brain will get frozen, it’s not that agile to begin with,” Jiang Cheng stated. “And have you never seen snow?”
“It’s a lot bigger than the snow we have ah,” Pan Zhi swung his arm over his shoulder. “Cheng’er5, big brother will take you to get a breath of fresh air. It’s just a change of setting, what’s the big deal. It’s just a change of parents, what’s the big… this is kind of big, how do I want to word this…”
“Sure, let’s go climb mountains,” Jiang Cheng was amused by him as he waved his arm. “Go to hell, what’s the big deal.”
After a game on the court, Gu Fei felt that his body was comfortably warm and that the drowsiness from these past two days had finally vanished. He pulled on his coat and turned around to look back at the people on the court whose eyes were filled with joy because he had finally decided to leave: “Thanks.”
“Don’t want to play anymore?” A person asked, probably out of habit.
“Well, how about we have another game?” Gu Fei said.
No one uttered a sound; their faces were filled with embarrassment.
Gu Fei smiled and zipped up his zipper: “Let’s go.”
After walking out of the gymnasium, Liu Fan bounced up and down a few times. “How boring, I suggested going to the recreation center and renting out a court, but you insisted on coming to your school.”
“How much more interesting do you want it to be?” Gu Fei asked.
“What’s the fun in playing ball with a bunch of high schoolers?” Liu Fan replied.
“You only graduated from high school two years ago,” Li Yan gave him a look.
Gu Fei stuck a middle finger in front of Liu Fan: “If you can win me one-on-one, you can say that as freely as you’d like.”
“Fuck,” Liu Fan slapped away his hand. “Let’s go eat something, I’m hungry.”
“I’m not going,” Gu Fei looked at his phone. “I’m going home.”
“Back to the store?” Li Yan asked. “Isn’t your mom looking after the store today?”
“I’m taking Er Miao to her physical examination. I went to get the bill a few days ago and made an appointment for today,” Gu Fei said. “She needs to be coaxed for quite a while when it comes to going to the hospital, it wastes time.”
“We’ll go over tonight to hang out for a while,” Liu Fan said.
“We’ll see,” Gu Fei pulled out his motorcycle keys. “I’m going ah.”
“Don’t you always just leave without a word,” Li Yan said. “Your enthusiasm today is quite difficult to get accustomed to.”
“You’re just one to look for trouble.” Gu Fei turned and left.
When life lacked interest, time tends to pass slowly. But even at the slightest addition of interest, it passed like the unpreventable flow of waterfalls.
The little bit of relaxation and joy that Pan Zhi brought with him quickly passed away.
“Are you really not going to bring back your pile of food?” Jiang Cheng stood in the waiting lounge of the coach station and looked at the rolling messages on his phone.
“If I said I will, are you going to return back to the hotel and deliver it to me?” Pan Zhi asked.
“Don’t take it seriously, I just had nothing better to say.” Jiang Cheng looked at him.
“I brought that food for you to eat since I was afraid you wouldn’t be able to find a place to buy it for the time being,” Pan Zhi sighed. “So, are you going back or should I come again on May 1st?”6
“I’m not going back,” Jiang Cheng said. “I already said I would never go back again.”
“Who knows what you’re being so stubborn about,” Pan Zhi said. “Then I’ll come over. I’ll bring those guys from class to hang out as well, how about it?”
“We’ll see when the time comes,” Jiang Cheng leaned against the sidewall. “It’s not like we were that familiar with each other anyway. After a few months of not seeing one another, it’s doubtful any of them will be willing to come. This isn’t some tourist site either.”
“En, then we’ll decide later.” Pan Zhi nodded his head.
The two became silent for a while. Pan Zhi, who was originally sitting, suddenly stood up and stared intently into Jiang Cheng’s eyes.
“What do you want!” Jiang Cheng was taken aback by his action and pointed at him. “Don’t use your mouth! I’ll slap you.”
“Let’s give each other a hug.” Pan Zhi opened his arms.
“Fuck.” Jiang Cheng was a bit speechless but still opened his arms and embraced him.
“Don’t forget me,” Pan Zhi said. “I’m serious.”
Jiang Cheng sighed lightly: “Come visit me on May 1st, then I won’t forget.”
Pan Zhi smiled: “Okay.”
During the few days before school was about to start, Li Bao Guo cooked one meal in total—he was not home for all the other meal times.
At first, Jiang Cheng attempted to boil some noodles for himself, but as he entered the kitchen and saw a pile of pots, pans, plates and bowls in a mess of wild disorder as well as spice jars coated with a layer of grease, all of his interest to cook immediately disappeared.
For those couple of days, he used the takeout app and ate from every restaurant within a kilometer radius that he had an interest in just from looking at their names. He ate just like that until the new school term finally began.
Jiang Cheng was quite surprised when his new homeroom teacher called him the day before.
“Your father wasn’t answering his phone,” the homeroom teacher said.
This was not too surprising—his hearing wasn’t good, and he was always on the gambling table. Jiang Cheng passed by the apartment that Li Bao Guo played cards in a couple of times, and every time, he could hear the noise and excitement upstairs pass through to the ground level.
The last name of the homeroom teacher was Xu. Based on the voice, he sounded like a middle-aged man with quite the enthusiasm. This allowed the slight anxiety that Jiang Cheng felt towards the new surrounding to lessen by a few degrees.
It started snowing in the morning of school registrations—exactly like Pan Zhi said. There was never a chance to see such heavy snowfall before.
It actually felt quite exciting.
Upon entering the school gates, he paid attention to the surrounding students and felt as though there was not much difference. Equally being high school students and likewise numerous unrecognizable faces, but the feeling of unfamiliarity and strangeness was exceptionally heightened.
He even paid special attention to detect Gu Fei’s face among the students, but he was not there.
“Jiang Cheng, that’s quite a good name.” The homeroom teacher, Uncle Xu, was indeed an uncle7, and an uncle with a highly plausible chance of having drunk alcohol in the morning. “My last name is Xu, full name is Xu Qi Cai, your homeroom teacher and I teach you guys language. All of your classmates call me Lao Xu8, Xu Zong9.”
“Lao Xu… Zong.” Jiang Cheng bowed slightly in a very well-disciplined manner. There was something wrong about those titles that just didn’t feel quite right.
“Let’s chat first, the first period is language class and after the individual review session, I’ll walk you over.” Lao Xu pointed towards the chair on the side, “Have a seat.”
Jiang Cheng sat down.
“Transferring to another school during the sophomore year is quite rare,” Lao Xu smiled. “Especially transferring here… I took a glance at your previous report cards, your grades are exceptionally good, ah.”
“They’re okay,” Jiang Cheng replied.
“Not just okay, it’s very good. Don’t be so modest,” Lao Xu started to laugh but sighed afterward before he very quietly said: “It’s quite a shame that you had to transfer here.”
Jiang Cheng didn’t reply and just looked at Lao Xu.
His previous homeroom teacher had also said, “What a shame, the quality of the teaching faculty and origin of the students are lacking…” but now Lao Xu was also saying something like that, which took Jiang Cheng by surprise.
“I see that your score in science is better than your score in humanity,” Lao Xu noticed. “Why did you choose to be in a humanities10 class?”
Jiang Cheng found this question difficult to answer—because both his father and mother had hoped that he would choose the science stream. He did not let this response that was filled with a crazy, stupid, teenage rebellious nature escape his mouth. Even though he had already done it, saying it out loud still made him feel that he was extremely idiotic.
He hesitated for a while and finally said: “I liked our homeroom teacher, he taught humanities.”
“I see,” Lao Xu was startled. “I hope you will also like me. It would be a bit troublesome to transfer to the science stream from here on.”
“Oh,” Jiang Cheng stared at his face.
After looking at each other in the eyes for a while, Lao Xu began to laugh. Jiang Cheng soon followed along and laughed—this homeroom teacher was actually quite interesting.
After the warning bell for the first period rang, Lao Xu stuck a file envelope under his arm, fished out a USB and dropped it in his pocket. “Come along, I’ll take you to the classroom.”
“En,” Jiang Cheng swung his school bag over his shoulder and followed him out of the office.
From what Lao Xu was implying, Si Zhong was not exactly a very good school. The school campus was quite big, it was just that the building layout was a bit unique. The other classes were categorized by grades, only the second-year and third-year humanities stream were singled out and put into an old, three-story high building with the stairs in the middle as the dividing line—on the left were the second-years, on the right were the third-years.
Jiang Cheng felt as he was close to becoming a fan of fatalism; he could even end up in a run-down building after transferring schools. The floor was unexpectedly tiled with wooden floorboards… floorboards that were so ancient that their natural colors were lost to scratches, which made people feel as though stepping on them would make one fall from the third floor all the way to the first.
“This is an old building,” Lao Xu explained to him. “Don’t look down on its age because its design is very logical. The teachers lecturing in these classrooms don’t need to use a microphone or raise their voice, the students in the last row can hear very clearly.”
“Oh,” Jiang Cheng nodded his head.
“Our class is on the third floor,” Lao Xu continued. “You can’t see very far from this height, but there still is quite a view in the direction of the field.”
“En,” Jiang Cheng continued to nod.
“Our school…” Lao Xu continued to talk as he walked. When he glanced upwards as he turned on the corner of the stairs, he suddenly shouted: “Gu Fei! You’re late again!”
This name caused Jiang Cheng’s eyebrows to jump up in surprise uncontrollably. He also raised his head towards the top of the stairs only to see a person who was sluggishly walking upwards turned their head—there was even a bag of milk dangling from their mouth.
Even standing against the light, Jiang Cheng could still recognize that the person was indeed Gu Fei and not just someone with the same first and last name.
“Good morning, Xu Zong.” Gu Fei still had the bag of milk inside his mouth, which made his speech come out unclear. He swept a glance in Jiang Cheng’s direction—probably holding a similar feeling to Jiang Cheng—he was already no longer surprised by this form of encounter.
“You’re late and yet still wandering around, why aren’t you climbing up?!” Lao Xu pointed at him, “School just started and you’re already slacking!”
Gu Fei didn’t reply. He instead turned around, took a few large strides up the stairs and disappeared down the third-level hallway.
This Si Zhong was indeed incomparable to the one that he had previously attended. The bell indicating the start of the class had already rung and the teachers had also entered the classrooms, yet the hallways were still filled with students who had no intention of heading into their classrooms. Instead, they simply continued to lean against the banisters to chit chat with each other as if nothing happened.
The second-year’s side of the hallway consisted of a heap of lazy and scattered students. Jiang Cheng turned to the other side of the hallway to look at the third year’s, they were also in the same damn state. He paid attention a bit longer but didn’t see Gu Fei who had just come up.
Lao Xu entered the classroom closest to the stairway, Jiang Cheng followed suit and peered into the classroom from the doorframe. There was a sign that read: Second Year (8).
8, not bad, there was finally something that could bring him luck—even though he wasn’t quite sure how this 8 could make him wealthy.11
There were also many people standing in the hallway outside of Classroom no. 8, however, no one budged even after seeing Lao Xu had entered the classroom. Contrariwise, having seen that Jiang Cheng also entered the class, they followed in probably due to curiosity and hopes of catching a good show.
Lao Xu stood in front of the podium on top of the small platform and looked down at the dozens of people who could not quiet down this entire time; he seemed to be patiently waiting for everyone to silence.
During this process, Jiang Cheng stood beside the podium and received all types of glances and hushed disputes.
He felt very uncomfortable. Normally, if someone was to stare at him in such manner, he would simply stare back with a “what are you looking at”12 expression and not cower or let it affect him. But with a class of more than a dozen all staring at him simultaneously, he felt somewhat at a loss—too many targets would result in a loss of targets as all the faces connected into one piece.
The God of Irritation tousled in his body, but he restrained the fire13 within and looked over at Lao Xu. Lao Xu was still wearing a tranquil expression on his face as he continued to stare at the dozens who were incapable of muting themselves.
He suddenly felt as though the judgment he previously had on this homeroom teacher was an error—he was not pleasantly good-natured. He ought to be the kind that had no deterrent power over his students and tried to never offend anyone.
A while later, this circumstance did not show even the tiniest sign of coming to an end. Jiang Cheng, who was facing the bitter struggles from the verge of exploding, could honestly no longer refrain himself. He asked: “Are we waiting for them to all be quiet?”
Lao Xu turned his head to look at him.
And at that exact moment, the dozens of people, who were buzzing like the devil had whispered in their ears, completely calmed down all at once.
Once Jiang Cheng’s anger surfaced, it became difficult to control. He would normally try to suppress it before the fire reached its pinnacle, but if it could not be contained then ‘who gives a fuck’.
To him, having to stand there like an idiot for at least three minutes, while being stared at and widely discussed by numerous people, was virtually the same nature as having a bag of explosive igniting between his two legs.
The dick had already exploded, the world is without me.
“Okay, let me introduce…” Lao Xu clasped his palms together and smiled.
“Jiang Cheng, transferred over,” Jiang Cheng interrupted his speech in a calm voice. “Can I sit down now?”
Lao Xu was taken aback for a moment.
When someone in the classroom whistled, the class immediately erupted into a moment of chaos that mingled with a few loud voices: “Quite a badass ah!”
“Then why don’t you have a seat. You can sit over…” Lao Xu looked to the last few rows. “Over there, Gu Fei, raise your hand.”
From the first row to the very last row, one head after another all turned to the back as if they were playing a game of ‘hot potatoes pass-it-on’—Jiang Cheng’s eyes followed down the same path until…
He saw Gu Fei, who was sitting in the very last row with a foot on the edge of the open front school desk14 and half a fried bread stick15 still in his mouth.
Jiang Cheng suddenly felt a strong, powerful force shouting throughout his body, encouraging him to write a novel titled: “The Trickster King——Every Coincidence in This World Belongs to Me.”
Gu Fei raised his hand in a very perfunctory manner.
Jiang Cheng also sat in the last row in his previous school, every week the class would cycle through a seat change to ensure everyone had a chance to sit in the front row. Except, he would always exchange his chance in the front to sit in the back every time.
He liked the back rows—quiet, undisturbed and effortless to both sleeping and sneaking out the back door.
Yet this particular back row did not make him very comfortable.
The tables and chairs were not aligned, the area was small also, his back was almost stuck to the wall, and not a single person was quiet.
There were people talking nonstop, playing on their phones, and someone was also sitting beside him calmly eating his fried bread-stick.
Jiang Cheng was a bit dumbfounded. Although, aside from his grades, there was not a single thing that made him likable to the teachers at his previous school, nonetheless, he did attend a school that was able to compete with other model high schools in enrollment rates and key rates. This sort of class atmosphere that was as if one was simply drinking tea and chatting, he had for sure never experienced.
He took out his textbook. As he flipped open the pages and got ready to listen to what Lao Xu had to teach, he could feel himself being watched like a psychopath in the eyes of the people sitting around him.
Gu Fei didn’t actually talk with anyone; he didn’t sleep either. He simply lowered his head and pulled out a pair of earphones, stuffed them into his ears and started listening to music.
A boy from the desk in front started to bump their desk in the back, every bump was accompanied by a turn of the head and a call: “Da Fei.”
The desk wobbled.
The desk wobbled again.
“Hey, Da Fei.”
The desk wobbled a third time.
Jiang Cheng stared intently at the words in the book and debated between the choice of slapping the guy on the head with his palm or slapping the guy on the head with his textbook, in the end, he reached out and pulled out the earphone in Gu Fei’s ear.
When Gu Fei looked at him, he stared back without saying a word.
“Da Fei, hey, Da Fei.” The person in the front bumped the desk again.
“En,” Gu Fei uttered a reply and continued to stare at Jiang Cheng.
Jiang Cheng also met his gaze in an indifferent, matter-of-fact manner.
“Lend me your camera for use. I’ll return it to you tomorrow,” the guy in the front said.
“No,” Gu Fei turned away his face.
“Fuck, don’t be stingy ah. I just want to take a few random photos,” the person said.
“Fuck off,” Gu Fei simply finished off the conversation, stuck the earphone back in his ear and continued listening to his music.
“Just for one night,” the person bumped the desk again. “I’ll return it to you tomorrow morning.”
The desk shook.
“God damn it. Da Fei, Da Fei…” the person continued to bump the desk.
Jiang Cheng could not understand why this conversation had to be carried out during the duration of class—why it had to be carried-out by bumping at the desk, why the person was so persistent even after being rejected, and he also could not understand why Gu Fei was unwilling to lend a camera, why his attitude was so arrogant, and why he was able to endure the state of his desk falling into a course of epileptic seizure.
With that, he raised his leg and harshly kicked the chair of the person sitting in front of them.
The sound was quite loud, and a bang reverberated.
The person violently crashed onto his desk from the force of the kick.
“The fuck?” The person turned his head around fiercely.
Meanwhile, the students around them turned their gazes toward the direction of the loud bang.
“Can you please not bump the desk,” Jiang Cheng looked at him and said in a placid tone. “Thank you.”
The person probably hadn’t returned to his senses when he opened his mouth but no words came out.
1 “会凌当绝顶” – “there’s a sense of superiority from watching above; the lofty ambitions and spirit that got him there.”
I wouldn’t say this is actually the most accurate translation – this verse 会凌当绝顶 (hùi líng dàng jùe dǐng) actually comes from a famous historical figure in China – Dù Fǔ 杜甫 (a poet) and his chapter on “望岳” (Wàng Yùe). Dù Fǔ stands on top of Mount Tai (泰山 – ) and describes the grandiose scenario below as well as expressing the ambitious and fearless characteristics of the poetic (himself) of being able to climb to the summit. There are many ways to understand this verse, but in this context, you can think of Jiang Cheng thinking “I’m the best” while watching these rookies play. View atop Mt. Mount.
2 Flower trellis 花架子 – meaning he’s only paying attention to beauty and form to show off his handsomeness
3 Housing Estate – apartment complexes are usually developed in a group by real estates. A housing estate contains a number of buildings based on the same design, grouped together within some sort of enclosure with shared gardens, underground and aboveground garages and such. Can be understood as a community of people living in the same “neighborhood”. It can have diversity in residential forms but with a shared unity in planning. Inhabitants receive a diversity of community functions such as commercial centers, recreation centers, and schools – all of which are located nearby and easily accessible by the people of this community. First floors of buildings facing outwards are usually rented out and designed as storefronts. Neighbors from the street adjacent would literally mean people from another housing estate like this. These are areas that have undergone strict urban and landscape planning whereas the place that Jiang Cheng moved to probably has no sense of this due to the age it was constructed in.
4A type of reality TV show where people, usually celebrities) are brought into an environment in which they have never come into contact with and have very little knowledge of and lives in that lifestyle for a few days to experience and learn a different aspect of life.
5 Cheng’er – he added it to sound cute as the 儿 (Er)- son: non-syllabic dimi. suff. But Erhua – the pronunciation of “er” after rhotacization of syllable finals. It is most common in the speech varieties of North China, especially in the Beijing dialect, as a diminutive suffix for nouns, though some dialects also use it for other grammatical purposes. The Standard Chinese spoken in government-produced educational and examination recordings features erhua to some extent, as in 哪儿 nǎr (“where”), 一点儿 yìdiǎnr (“a little”), and 好玩儿 hǎowánr (“fun”). Colloquial speech in many northern dialects has more extensive erhua than the standardized language. Southwestern Mandarin dialects such as those of Chongqing and Chengdu also have erhua. By contrast, many Southern Chinese who speak non-Mandarin dialects may have difficulty pronouncing the sound or may simply prefer not to pronounce it, and usually avoid words with erhua when speaking Standard Chinese; for example, the three examples listed above may be replaced with the synonyms 哪里 nǎlǐ, 一点 yìdiǎn, 好玩 hǎowán
6 May 1st – International Workers Day/Labour Day in China and the Northern hemisphere. Public holiday. Commemoration of the achievements during the labor movement. Regarded as “May Day” but not with the same meaning as the traditional May Day spring festival.
7 “Uncle” – 大叔 a new term that seemed to have emerged among the younger generation when referring to middle-aged men around their 50s. I think there’s an air of amiable closure to this term? Some finds it disrespectful? ; on another note, in Asian culture calling someone, Uncle/Aunt/, etc. doesn’t necessarily mean that they are related to you but it’s more of a term of respect for those older than you or are near your parent’s age
8 “Lao Xu” – 老徐 Old Xu
9 “Xu Zong” – 徐总 Boss Xu
10 High school in China is separated into a science stream and a humanities stream where after choosing to be in one or the other, the majority of your courses will focus in those chosen area.
11 8 八, pronounced “bā” in Chinese rhymes with “fā” meaning “get wealthy” which has long been regarded as the luckiest number in Chinese culture.
12 “What are you looking at” (你瞅啥) a kind of provocation: In the Northeastern region of China, there are two ways to provoke someone with your eyes. One is to look at someone blankly (both eyes staring fixedly on them) and the other is to look at them with your eyes narrow (use the corner of your eyes to look at them with disdain). If you know that the other person is looking at you with contempt and want to say something, you can just say ‘what are you looking at!’ which means, ‘are you looking down on me!’
13 Fire – he’s holding back his anger
14 Open front school desk
A friend sent me this photo of when I was studying in China; I was not kind to these desks.
15 I love eating these! T.T