I’ll add in any personal comments using [ ]
Please few free to correct me in the comments section if you spot any mistakes!
The first few pages are some quotes/short sentences:
When I was 5 years old
When I was little I always had a dream
To be like soap bubbles
Lightly dancing in the air
Floating until I’ve reached the moon
See the stars twinkling around me
When I was 8 years old
My childhood’s sweetest memories
Always had to do with different types of sweets, mom said I couldn’t
eat too much lollipops, so I found the old grandpa in the alley way to spin
a sugar candy instead, a little tiger
When I was 10 years old
Too many years have gone past, I’ve forgotten many of the news on the blackboard bulletin,
Except for a few wisps of warm memories, I sincerely wanted to draw things from those years
but I couldn’t draw out the same memories to those in my mind.
When I was 12 years old
English, used to be the subject that gave me incomparable pain, every time I think about it
I would get a headache, because I couldn’t pronounce the words properly, I used to secretly
write Chinese pronunciations to the English words in the textbook, I was shouted at so harshly.
So many years,
I’ve always been learning one thing,
to not look back.
To only regret the things I haven’t done,
not the things I have experienced.
Every step in life,
has a price to pay,
I have the things I’ve wanted to have,
Lost the things I didn’t want to lose.
But for everyone on earth,
who isn’t like this?
Preface: Covered in rain and wind, I come up from the sea.
May 12th 2008, there was a 8.0 magnitude earthquake in Wenchuan [Sichuan]; Shaanxi, Gansu, had aftershocks from a magnitude of 6.0 to 7.0.
That day, Luo Qi Qi, who was in San Francisco, drove to work like usual, arriving 30 minutes earlier at the office. She drank milk while checking her email online. Suddenly, she saw a news article of the Wenchuan [Sichuan] earthquake. Astonished, she opened the link, confirming that the news was true. After a few minutes of numbness, she realised that Sichuan was on the border of Shanxi- if Sichuan had such a big earthquake then Shanxi would definitely also be affected. Not caring that it was before dawn in China, she phoned home but no one picked up; she tried calling her dad’s cellphone, no one picked up; tried mom’s cellphone, no one picked up; tried her little sister’s, still, no one picked up.
Qi Qi phoned her parents’ numbers again and again, but as the sound rang with no one picking up, her hand started to tremble.
Her Chinese colleague Xiao Ling’s parents were in Chengdu [Capital of Sichuan]; with no one picking up her continuous calls, Xiao Ling leaned on the desk sobbing uncontrollably from pain.
For the entire morning, Luo Qi Qi did nothing other than phone home again and again while refreshing the news site, but as the earthquake had just happened, even the magnitude of the earthquake was still unconfirmed. The reports online had so little information that it was pathetic.
To properly understand the shock wave Shaanxi Province had suffered, Luo Qi Qi searched up the Chinese map. She used a ruler to measure the distance between Xi’an [capital of Shaanxi province] and Wenchuan, and after calculating the actual scale of the distance, she phoned her university friend who was currently researching crustal movements at MIT to inquire about the laws of earthquake transmission. By the time work ended, she had become half an expert on earthquakes.
That night, her call finally got through. Her dad said: “everyone’s fine, the house is fine, though the ceiling is a bit cracked and the television’s a bit deformed from all the smashing and shaking. But you don’t have to worry, Yuan Yuan has been with us the whole time.”
Qi Qi inquired about all their relatives and after confirming that everyone was fine, proceeded to warn her little sister to be cautious a million times. Just as she was about to end the call, her little sister said: “Phone me after 10 minutes, I have something to say to you.”
After 10 minutes, Luo Qi Qi phoned her little sister’s cellphone: “What’s wrong?”
“Sister, have you ever thought about how many years it’s been since you were last in China? You’ve gone to America, not the moon! After the earthquake yesterday afternoon, we were too afraid to sleep at home so we slept out on the streets for the night. Mom and dad kept talking about you. Even the president of America has to go home to visit his mom right? Are you so busy with work everyday that you don’t even have the time to visit home? I know you send back lots of money- our parents’ house, the car I drive were all bought from your money. If it wasn’t for you, mom and dad may still be living in a 1970s apartment. But did you know that dad has cirrhosis? Have you accompanied mom to the hospital before? If we were in the middle of the earthquake, have you considered that you might not see us again…” Luo Yuan Yuan let out a sob.
Luo Qi Qi didn’t say anything. After a while, she said: “I’ll try to arrange for a vacation as soon as possible and come back to China for a visit.”
Luo Yuan Yuan laughed while crying, “that’s better, mom and dad will definitely be very happy.”
Although it was decided that she was going to have a break, she couldn’t walk away from things at work. By the time Luo Qi Qi had arranged everything, it was already September.
All the Chinese people around her were carrying big bags and small bags, but she was only carrying a medium sized suitcase. From San Francisco, it only took 10 hours or so to fly to Beijing.
Luo Qi Qi absentmindedly thought, 10 hours, back in the day it was only a quarter of the time taken to get to Beijing by train. The distance of the Pacific Ocean wasn’t that far after all.
At Xi’an airport, after collecting her luggage and walking out, she heard a high pitched voice of someone calling “sister, sister.”
A prettily dressed girl was frantically waving her arms at her.
After 4 years of not seeing each other, they may have become strangers but as her little sister hugged her, the familiarity that came with being related by blood came back.
Yuan Yuan was the same as before, she liked to talk. As she drove, she couldn’t stop talking; she asked about things in America and chattered about life in China.
Then, she excitedly said: “Oh yeah, the other day, I went to the tax bureau with my colleague. The worker there was cold and emotionless. Later, a man suddenly came out. I didn’t recognise him but he recognised me and asked ‘Is your sister Luo Qi Qi’. I said ‘She is’ and he made the worker help us finish our affairs smoothly and without a hitch. We wanted to thank him but he declined our thanks, saying ‘it’s just a small matter that didn’t require any effort; I’m old classmates with your sister.’ I told my colleague in the past that you were an outstanding person right from when you were little but she didn’t believe me, thinking that I was boasting. After that encounter, she believed me. ”
Luo Qi Qi pretended to be tired and closed her eyes. She was an outstanding person right from childhood? Was her memory too good or were other people too forgetful?
The car stopped outside the building. Qi Qi didn’t have the familiar feeling of home- she didn’t even know what floor their apartment was. Like a guest, she let Yuan Yuan take the lead.
The food her mom prepared was amazingly extravagant, as if she wanted to make up for the 4 years of food Luo Qi Qi didn’t get to eat.
Luo Qi Qi was only responsible for eating, not talking. As long as Luo Yuan Yuan was there, the dinner table would never be lonely; she talked about her leader’s embarrassing moments, her colleague’s gossip, making the whole family laugh over and over again.
Her mom tried to probe around as she ate, saying “Qi Qi, if you meet the right guy, you have to set your heart on it. No matter how successful a girl’s career is, she has to form a family. Set an example for your little sister or else when she’s older, she’ll righteously say ‘my older sister doesn’t have a boyfriend either’.”
Yuan Yuan scowled at Qi Qi, in a small voice that everyone on the table could still hear, she said: “You’re the smart one, staying overseas, you don’t have to listen to any of this nagging, next time I get annoyed by this nagging, I’ll come seek refuge with you.”
Mom and dad laughed: “You took the level four English exam three times in university and barely managed to pass, yet you want to go overseas?”
“We’re Chinese, why do we even need to take English exams? If you don’t pass, you’re not allowed to graduate, crazy! How come we don’t see UK universities learn Chinese?”
“Then aside from English, your major subject…”
“If you say anymore, say anymore and I won’t eat!”
Yuan Yuan arrogantly glared and mom and dad were immediately the same as in the past, completely surrendered: “Actually there is no need to learn English, it’s hardly ever used in everyday life, only people who need to use it should go and take the exam.”
Luo Qi QI smiled as she listened, enjoying these small bits of happiness.
After they ate, Yuan Yuan lead Qi QI to look inside her room.
The house was bought by Luo Qi Qi after she had gone overseas, she spent over 400 thousand dollars on it and her parents covered the cost of the renovations. As this room was saved for Qi Qi, no one had used it at all. The desk, bed, bookshelf were all brand new and contained no memories of the past. Only the books on the bookshelf looked familiar.
Qi Qi took ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’, sat at the edge of the bed and flipped through it.
Claiming the credit, Yuan Yuan asked: “How is it? I’ve preserved your treasures perfectly for you.” She opened the cupboard beneath the bookshelf, “The sealed box that you personally signed is here, I’ve never opened it to look inside.”
Qi Qi silently gazed fixatedly on the box. Yuan Yuan laughed and said: “Have a good rest, after you’ve rested, I’ll take you to eat street snacks. ”
Qi Qi took out the box but didn’t open it, only using her finger to gently stroke the signature on the box. The signature was written on the graduating day of her senior year in high school. She was only 17 then.
After all these years, she couldn’t actually remember too clearly what exactly the box contained. She quietly sat for a while, then put the box back into the bookshelf cupboard beside her bed.
After taking a shower, Luo Qi Qi sent Shen Yuan Zhe, Yang Jun and Lin Yi Ran an email. They were the only remaining friends she had from middle school. After going overseas, she lost contact with them and was now unsure if the email would be of any use.
She was obviously very tired but perhaps due to the time difference, perhaps due to the box which bore the weight of the past, she tossed around and was unable to sleep peacefully.
The next morning, as she was brushing her teeth, the phone rang.
“Qi Qi, the phone call is for you.”
She hastily spat out the mouthwash, ran over and picked up the phone: “Hello?”
“Luo Qi Qi classmate, your voice has changed a lot.”
This style of speaking couldn’t be the staid Shen Yuan Zhe, “Yang Jun, you’re in…” She looked down at the caller id, “You’re working in Beijing?”
“Yeah, and you? Is your visit back home temporary or long term?”
“Temporary, but the time is quite long, I have one month.”
“When did you come back, are you going to visit Beijing? When I meet up with Lin Yi Ran, we always mention you cold and heartless bastard. Back in the day our triangle relationship made people so envious! ”
“That’s great, when I go to Beijing, you can treat me to dinner.”
“Sure, as long as you come, I’ll accompany you to eat whatever you want.”
“Looks like you’re rich now.”
“Go to die, no matter how much money I have, I still can’t compare with the US money you earn.”
“Didn’t you know the US dollar is depreciating? Do you have a girlfriend? Have you had any luck with Tong Yun Zhu?
Yang Jun only laughed, after a while, he replied: “I currently don’t have any girlfriends at present.”
“Classmate, listen to my advice. You have to keep your options open. Since you do computing, don’t you know that important files need backups?”
Tang Yun calmly asked: “Classmate, what about you? Do you have a boyfriend?”
Luo Qi Qi resentfully replied: “I don’t currently have one either.”
Yang Jun laughed loudly, “Lin Yi Ran is already married, her baby is nearly one already. It’s a girl and looks really like her, a complete little Lin Yi Ran.”
“That’s great! I allow her to bring her family along to our triangle relationship feast.”
“Sure! Since you’re not the one who’s paying for it. Oh yeah,, what are you planning to do this in this trip? Have you thought about going back to your hometown?”
“The main plan is to keep my parents company, I haven’t thought of anything else yet.”
“Hey! You’ve only just come back, wait another 2 weeks and you’ll really understand what it’s like. My relationship with my parents is definitely much sweeter when it’s a distance. ”
Luo Qi Qi only laughed but didn’t say anything.
Yang Jun said: “I’m going to hang up now, I’ve emailed all my contact details to you, if you need anything, you can find me anytime. We’re childhood friends who grew up together so if you try to be polite and courteous with me, I’ll be angry.”
“Give the phone to your mom, I have to greet her.”
Luo Qi Qi handed the phone to her mom and heard her delighted laughter as she repeated: “Oh, so you don’t gave a girlfriend yet?”
Luo Qi Qi shook her head smiling and went back to brush her teeth.
After staying at home for 2 weeks, Luo Qi Qi started to understand what Yang Jun meant.
She wasn’t enemies with her parents but it was clear that they weren’t as attentive as the first few days. Mom started going to dance sessions in the park again, dad often went to find his chess mates, they stopped asking her this and that.
Luo Yuan Yuan however, was still loyal. She would still try to find time to spend with her sister but she too was probably at the end of the patience: “Sis, when are you going back to America?”
Luo Qi Qi smiled: “Next week I’ll be leaving Xi’an.”
“Going to Beijing?”
“No, I’m going back to the place of our childhood, then to Beijing to meet up with classmates and finally, back to San Francisco. ”
A week later, Luo Qi Qi successfully completed her task of visiting family, and with her parents and little sister’s farewell, left Xi’an.
After a two hour flight, Luo Qi Qi arrived at her destination.
As soon as she stepped out of the airport, she was hit by the heat waves. It was at least hotter than Xi’an by 2°C. The wind was strong and made her hair fly about messily. As Luo Qi Qi walked, she couldn’t stop looking left and right, much like the tourists around her, not looking at all as if she had once lived in this city for 10 years.
On the taxi, Luo Qi Qi looked outside the car window in a trance. The changes to the places were too great, she wasn’t able to seek out any feeling of familiarity.
The taxi driver asked her: “Miss, are you here for travel? What attractions are you interested in?”
“No.” After a pause, she continued: “I grew up here.”
The taxi driver had wanted to promote his tourist chartering services but instead, had met a native person. He smiled: “You look like you haven’t been here in a long time right?”
“Wow! That’s long enough!”
“Yup!” Yup, it’s been a long time.
After arriving at the guest house, the sun had already set.
After Luo Qi Qi had taken a shower, she lay on bed, tossing around, unable to sleep.
After coming back to this city, she had been in a trance the entire time and was still faintly excited.
As she wasn’t able to fall asleep, she got up. Standing on the balcony, she looked into the distance at the city’s tiny lights but wasn’t able to see which one of lights was her home.
After all these years have passed, this place still held on to her heart.
Psychologist Dr Sigmund Freud believed that a person’s actions are affected by their childhood influences so all causes have to be traced to the place where life first started…
And that is the end of the prologue!
The prologue shows us current day Luo Qi Qi but the rest of the book jumps back to her past.
Luo Qi Qi felt rather detached and distant from her family. I would think that after a few weeks, you would get used to living with each other and be comfortable so it definitely made me a bit taken aback when her sister was described as ‘at the end of her patience’ and directly asked her “When are you going back to America?” Maybe Luo Yuan Yuan meant well and this is just her direct way of speech but hey!! This house was bought by Luo Qi Qi and is every part hers as yours!
Anyhow, I really enjoyed translating this. However, there were a few proverbs and phrases that I was unable to translate directly into English. And for the sake of making the sentence make sense, I had to alter a few words too. If anyone’s curious why I used so many commas and colons, I’ve been trying closely following the grammar and style of the writing.
Hope you enjoyed reading this!