returning home, remembering

March 27th, 2008

Xiao Han has returned home, and one of the resulting essays, on meeting old friends and classmates from times long past, is worth a read. This is his introduction:


The scholar residing by the clouds says:


It’s nearly ten days since I arrived home, and in these few short days I’ve seen a lot of beautiful scenery, a few things, a few people, especially twenty-odd high school classmates I haven’t seen for twenty years, and my friends from neighbouring families, so I couldn’t help noting down a little about a few people.


I’ll just write a few things one after the other, some things are my own feelings, shuttling between reality and past events, some things, on the other hand, are stories happening in society right now. In a word, nothing is arranged, nothing is planned, some things are just whatever comes out my mouth.

The essay is dated 26 March, 2008, the title 乡行散笔之一/The First Note From the Trip Home:


Meeting Again Twenty Years On


 If Zhao Lin hadn’t reminded me, I’d have already almost forgotten Jiang Wen [note: not the famous actor/director], I think I haven’t seen her for at least 20 years, haven’t heard any news of her, yeah, almost completely forgot her.

赵琳的提醒,又让我的思绪回到少年时 代。记忆中的蒋雯是个一天到晚笑盈盈的美丽姑娘。在我脑海中,她有一个定格的形象,穿着一件鹅黄色的衣服,瓜子脸上,两颗大眼睛,古人所谓睛如点漆的便 是,总是散发着柔和与善意的笑媕,说她樱桃小口并不过分夸张。她在北边的旧楼房与南边的新楼房之间的水泥路上,款款地走着,不急不慢,或许手里拿着什么, 我记不起了。路的两旁,一边是校园里杂色的草地,一边是小水塘边的春柳,在明媚的阳光下,她款款地走着……

Zhao Lin’s reminder sent my thoughts back to when we were little. Jiang Wen was a pretty girl who had a big smile right through the day. I had an image of her fixed in my mind, wearing light yellow clothes, two big eyes in her melon seed face, eyes like spots of paint, as the ancients said, always with a gentle and benevolent smile. To say she had a mouth like a cherry was no exaggeration. She would stroll along the concrete road between the old houses to the north and the new houses to the south, neither in a hurry, nor slowly, maybe carrying something in her hand, I don’t remember. On one side of the road was the motley lawn of the schoolyard, on the other side were the willows by the pond, in the radiant sunlight she strolled…


This is about all the impression I have of her.

赵琳说她在临海,可能在台师。说她妈妈 ——我记忆中一位能干贤惠的阿姨——多年前劳累过度病逝。听说这些,我很感慨,甚至伤感,记得她妈妈一直是一见我就夸我的和蔼长辈,虽然我记忆中她因为劳 碌而体瘦,脸上的风霜并没有夺去她年轻时候的所有美丽,可是时光如电,这位阿姨竟然已不在了。那么多年没见过蒋雯了,确实挺想知道她过得怎么样了,不仅仅 是好奇,更是因为她留在我心中那份美好的回忆。

Zhao Lin said she’s in Linhai, maybe in Taishi. Said her mum- in my memory a capable, virtuous aunty- died from overwork. Hearing this, I was very emotional, even a little sentimental, remembering her mum would praise the kindliness of my family elders as soon as she saw me. In my memory, although her body was lean through hard toil, the winds and frosts had not taken any of her youth’s beauty from her face. But time is like lightening, and this aunty has already passed on. Having not seen Jiang Wen for so many years, indeed I really wanted to know how she’d been, not just out of curiosity, but also because she’d left such a happy memory in my heart.


 I told Zhao Lin,  if you find out how to contact Jiang Wen, you must tell me. But it was on this trip of mine to Jiaojiang, I suddenly got this itch, and asked a friend in Linhai to inquire for me, in the end it really was Heaven helping me, in less than half an hour, my friend in Linhai had found her phone number. It was already too late to think further, there was only one thing to do, phone-


 Me: “I’m XX, is this Jiang Wen?”


Jiang: “I’m sorry, you are… ? You’re… Can you tell me a little more?”


Me: “We were neighbours in Tiantai, you lived upstairs, I lived downstairs. Back then we’d often play together, you smiled all through the day. My dad is XXX, do you remember?”


Jiang: “Yes, yes, I was always smiling, still the same now. Aiya, I’m really sorry, my memory is really bad these days, there’s a lot of things from before I can’t remember, you’re XX… ah…. XX, I think I remember…”


Me: “How are you these days?! I’ve heard you’re in Taishi.”


Jiang: “Ah, yes, I’m in Taishi.”


Me: “I’m going to Jiaojiang to see an old friend today, every year when I go back I visit him, tomorrow I’m coming to Linhai, I would like to see you if that’s ok?”


Jiang: “Alright, I’ll be waiting for your call tomorrow.”


Me: “Good, I’ll see you tomorrow.”


Jiang: “See you tomorrow.”


I hung up.  I immediately called Zhao Lin to tell her I’d already found how to contact Jiang Wen. Needless to say, we were both equally excited. About half an hour later, my cellphone rang, it was Jiang Wen.


Jiang: “I’ve figured out who you are. Just now Zhao Lin talked to me about a few things, I remembered them all,”


Me: “Yes, yes…”


Jiang: “I remembered, you could really work back then, really like an adult, but didn’t speak too much… “


Me: “Ahh, that’s right.”


Jiang: “I remembered a whole lot of things, when we meet tomorrow we’ll talk about it.”


Me: “It can’t be easy to keep your Tiantai dialect after such a long time.”


Jiang: “Ha, recently a few primary school classmates have been calling me, so my dialect has come back to me.”


Me: “It seems you see me as a primary school classmate, hehe.”


Jiang: “Well, you are.”


Me: “Alright, tomorrow I’ll come to visit you.”


Jiang: “Right, see you tomorrow.”


Me: “See you tomorrow.”


We hung up. I sat in the car thinking of many things from when I was young, when I was in No.2 Middle School, a big group of kids from teachers’ families watching TV together, playing sandbags, hide-and-seek, playing elastics…. I didn’t join in too many of the girls’ games, but quite a few girls joined in us boys’ games.


临海的朋友很好客,三位朋友整整陪了我 一整天,中间还惊动了仙居的两位朋友。由于其他事,我直到下午5:30才见到蒋雯。在一个加油站附近,我们远远地通着电话,我见她一袭白格子黑底的衣服, 向我走过来,我也向她走过去。走到近边不到两米远的时候,我笑问道:“还能认出我吗?”

My friend in Linhai is very hospitable, three friends accompanied me the whole day, and in the middle we disturbed two friends from Xianju. For other reasons, I didn’t see Jiang Wen until 5:30 in the afternoon. Near a petrol station, we phoned from far away, I saw her black suit with white spots coming towards me, I also walked towards her. When we were a couple of metres about, I smiled and asked, “Do you still recognise me?”


Jiang Wen smiled and said, “I know, I know, how could I not recognise you? You haven’t changed.”

接着我们找了一个茶馆,相对坐下,她要 了一个菊花茶,我要了个立顿红茶。她倚在沙发的右侧靠手上,黑色的手提包放在左边的沙发上,她一边吸着茶,一边平缓地说起小时候那些事,说起她是1986 年全家迁来临海的,也说起她妈妈——那位善良能干的阿姨得病去世的经过,每年清明节左右,她都会梦见她妈妈;又说到小时候捉迷藏、玩各种游戏…说到当时那 些一起玩的发小们现在都在哪里,过得如何;说起她爸爸、她的两个弟弟的生活……

We found a tea house and sat opposite each other. She ordered a chrysanthemum tea, I got a Lipton black tea. She leaned on her arm on the right side of the sofa and placed her black handbag on the left of the sofa. She sipped her tea as she gently talked about things when we were little, said that her family moved to Linhai in 1986, and also talked about her mum- that kind-hearted, capable aunty who died of illness, every year around Qingming she dreams about her mum, also talked about playing hide-and-seek and all the games… talked about all those childhood friends and where they are now and how they’ve been; talked about her father and her two younger brothers’ lives….


“Back then, everybody played so well, it was only with XXX we couldn’t play, one time she pushed A Ping (her younger brother) on the ground, that’s it, you also thought there was no way to play with her, what you said was right, there was just no way she could play with anyone;”


“After I left I lost touch with everyone;”


“You’re really smart, you really seemed to be more mature than us; Ah, that’s it, playing hide-and-seek, you’d go straight under the bed, behind the bed. That person XXX was really good, ha, you also liked her, she was really not bad, really pretty, really steady;”

看得出来,蒋雯回忆这些事的时候,挺开 心的,她还是那样,没有什么手势语言,静静地坐着,永远微笑。她的声音,她的笑容都没变,眼神或许不再有少女时候那么无忧无虑,但分明依然快乐、善良,眼 神里也都还是笑,还跟小时候那样无邪清澈,虽然可能已经混杂了二十二年的沧桑,掺杂着一个10岁孩子母亲的辛苦和幸福,交融着一个事业发达男人的妻子的贤 惠。

I could tell, when Jiang Wen was remembering these things, she was really happy, she was still the same, with no body language, quietly sitting, forever smiling. Her voice, her smile, neither had changed, maybe her expression was perhaps wasn’t as carefree as when she was young, but clearly still happy and kind-hearted. There was still a big smile in her expression, still as innocent and clear as when she was young, although perhaps the great changes of 22 years mixed in, with the toil and happiness of the mother of a 10-year-old child mixed in, blended with the virtue of the wife of a man with a developed career.

其他朋友在等我们一起吃饭,我们聊了不 到一个小时。其间,我们甚至没时间感慨时光的转瞬流逝,也没时间细细地蓖捋小时候一起开心过的林林总总。在那群孩子里,我们都不是中心人物,只是和大家玩 在一起,大家开心,我们也一样开心;她是个隐忍的孩子,记得她大弟那时候总欺负她,她至多也就是躲开,从不还手,而她现在都忘了;她也是个懂事的孩子,她 妈妈在的时候,家里都是她妈妈操心,她妈妈走了,我想也就她操心了,虽然没问她,但我想这猜测不会错的。

Other friends were waiting to eat with us, we chatted for less than an hour. We didn’t even have time to lament the passing of time in the mere blink of an eye or to finely dissect the many happy times we spent together as children. Neither of us were central figures in that group of children, we just played with everybody, as everybody was happy, so were we happy; she was a very patient child, I remember the elder of her younger brothers used to bully her, at most she’d just get out of his way, she’d never hit back, and yet she’s completely forgotten now; she was also a clever child, when her mum was alive, her mum took care of everything at home, after her mum died, I believe it was her who took care of all that, although I never asked her, but I’m sure I’m right.


I didn’t realise we’re all pushing 40. The world seems to change instantaneously, Linhai also isn’t the Linhai I worked in 15 years ago- and she said, back then she and her mum worked near my work unit, every day I went past there, sometimes even went into their workplace, but for whatever reason we didn’t recognise each other.

吃饭的二个小时里,蒋雯基本上没怎么说 话,只是听我们聊天,她还是跟小时候差不多,除了应酬必须的敬酒,在人多的地方她只是微笑而沉默地应和着,听别人说话。吃完饭,她要回去了,我送她,我们 一起走下楼梯,走出酒店。我叫来出租车,为她打开车门,在一旁看着她上车,她依然微笑着,摇下车窗,与我挥手作别……

Over the two hours we were eating, Jiang Wen basically didn’t speak, just listened to us chatting, she was stil the same as when we were little, apart from the toasts, she just smiled and followed along, listening to people talk. When we’d finished eating, she wanted to go home, I took her back, we took the stairs down together, and left the restaurant. I called a cab and opened the door for her, and from one side watched her get in, she was still smiling, wound down the window, and waved goodbye to me…


On this night lit by many lamps and lights in a Jiangnan city, the taxi slowly set off, taking my friend of 22 years ago, taking my melancholy, taking her away just as when she left when we were little, taking her into the vast flow of cars….


(I’ve changed the names of the people in this story as I don’t know if they want their real names published online)


From home, 26 March 2008

 Wow, my brain is fried after that one. Note to self: Pick articles of a more appropriate length. Really, by the time I’d got half way through this, it had lost all learning value through sheer weight of new words, idioms and constructions.

Also, it’s perhaps a bit too sentimental for my tastes, but there you go, that’s the way it was written and sentimental or not, it was written well. Evocative, I would say, Xiao Han had images, clear images, of old friends meeting in towns that had changed as drastically as they do in China, a sunlight day, parting one damp night lit by street lights and restaurant neon. And the melancholy, well, that’s always going to grab me.




Comments are closed.