Proofreaders: happyBuddha, Kai, m@o, Marcia
Dear Prince, I must leave you, but I will never forget you, and next spring I will bring back two beautiful jewels in place of those you have given away. The ruby shall be redder than a red rose, and the sapphire shall be as blue as the great sea.
–Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince
“Good evening. This is the News Simulcast for Friday, May 19th 1989, the fifteenth day of the fourth lunar month. In today’s programme, we look at the important speech by Premier Zhao Ziyang at Tiananmen Square in Beijing reaching out to the student protesters to stop fasting; the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, Mikhail Gorbachev, returns home after completing a state visit to China and has left Beijing on a private jet last night…bzzz…bzzz…We will now go into more depth on…bzzzzzz….”
Xu Ping hit the 19-inch colour television with his wet hands as the signal kept disconnecting. He grabbed the two antennae behind the television and wiggled them around for a while, but the only thing on the screen was static.
“What happened to the TV?” he muttered to himself.
A series of popping sounds from the pressure cooker forced Xu Ping to stop the inspection and rush back to the kitchen.
Pork ribs and potatoes were being braised in the pressure cooker, and as the small ventilation knob spun around, a mouth-watering scent wafted out.
Xu Ping took a deep breath and removed the cooker from the gas stove.
The rice was already done. Xu Ping took out a bundle of baby bok choy from the green plastic vegetable basket and washed it a bit before stir frying it with some garlic. The drops of water still on the vegetable splashed into the boiling oil and exploded like firecrackers.
“Xiao-Zheng, dinner!” he shouted as he piled the baby bok choy onto a plate.
When he opened the pressure cooker, a wave of steam came rushing forth, clouding his glasses. He took a step back only to bump into a warm body. He almost tripped but the person grabbed ahold of him.
Xu Ping knew without having to look back that it was his brother who, although three years younger, had already grown taller. The boy’s frame was no longer adorable as it had once been. He was like a seedling that had grown into a small tree, while still immature, the future that lay ahead was clear to see.
Xu Zheng was definitely their father’s son.
Xu Ping wiped his glasses with a corner of his shirt. “Don’t stand behind me like that without telling me again, okay? I could’ve stepped on you.”
“I called you,” Xu Zheng spoke slowly. “You didn’t hear.”
Xu Ping replaced his black glasses back on his nose and wiped away the sweat on his forehead with an arm. “Let’s eat. We’re having ribs and potatoes tonight.”
The brothers sat down at the round dinner table, and Xu Ping picked some food into his brother’s bowl.
“…you are still young, dear students! The road ahead is long and you should live on healthily to see our country reach modernization. You are not like us who are old. The state and your parents put in hard work to raise you to be university students. You are now nineteen, maybe twenty years old, and to be sacrificing your life like this…I did not come for a discussion today. I came to ask that you think about this rationally….”
An old man wearing a Mao suit was speaking into a red loudspeaker in a thick Henan accent.
Xu Ping listened carefully to the leader’s entire speech with chopsticks in midair. He turned to his brother. “Did you fix the TV?”
Xu Zheng was spooning a piece of potato towards his mouth when his brother interrupted him. The potato fell back into his bowl.
Xu Ping chuckled and gently patted his clumsy brother on the head.
Xu Ping put down his utensils and picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“Hi, Xu Ping? It’s Dad.” A familiar, deep voice said on the line.
Xu Ping covered the receiver and told his brother to lower the television volume.
“Dad, how’s shooting going?”
“Good, good. We’re still taking exterior shots in Yan’an. I had nothing to shoot today so I took the day off and came to the post office to give you a call. How’s everything at home?”
“We’re doing good. Just eating dinner now, actually. Braised potatoes and ribs. So when are you coming home, Dad?”
“In a few more days. The director wanted to reshoot a few more scenes after this. You know I’m old pals with Wang, and I told him my son’s taking the university entrance exam. He immediately agreed to let me shoot my parts first so I can head home right after we finish.”
“Don’t rush it, Dad,” Xu Ping replied with a smirk. “It might be a supporting role again, but this one’s our great Premier Zhou Enlai. You’d better give it a hundred and ten percent and not let him down.”
“Let him down?!” Xu Chuan snorted. “I am a Golden Rooster winner, thank you very much! I was just too skinny to play the great President Mao back then, or else I would’ve definitely been the leading role!”
Xu Ping broke out in laughter.
The second year after his brother came back home, a director from August First got in contact with his dad and offered him a role as He Long, the rebel who joined the revolution with two cleavers. Xu Chuan grew a moustache and learned Tujia with a colleague. He carried around two Mauser C96s that he carved out of wood and practised whipping them out at home, He entertained his son by making gunshot sounds while he did so and by telling jokes in the Hunan language. The movie received acclaim after its release, and Xu Chuan won the Golden Rooster that year for best supporting role. He finally had his big break as an actor at the age of thirty-eight and made it to the big screen.
“Do you have enough to spend?”
“Yeah. Xu Zheng and I don’t need to buy anything expensive, and groceries don’t cost that much.”
“We’re doing exercises every day, and mock tests every three days. Getting into university shouldn’t be a problem if I perform normally.”
Xu Chuan hesitated before asking tentatively, “What schools were you planning to apply to?”
Xu Ping didn’t answer.
“I talked on the phone with your homeroom teacher the other day. She said that your marks on the region-wide mock tests came out, and you need to fill out your application by the end of the month. She told me your marks are really good and the school wants you to apply for a school in Beijing and they asked me to give you support as a parent.” Xu Chuan paused. “Are you there, son?”
Xu Chuan continued after a moment. “For all these years, with your mom gone and your brother like this, this family wouldn’t have made it this far if you weren’t such a good kid. You’re stronger than me, you’re responsible and independent. You’ve never made me worry whether it comes to your brother or your own schoolwork. Dad’s never thanked you for all that.”
“Dad!” Xu Ping interrupted. “What are you saying? We’re family!”
Xu Chuan didn’t stop. “Son, you’re old enough for what I’m about to say. Dad’s not a capable man. I only know how to act. I can’t do business and become a millionaire, but I’ve been working in so many projects these years and saved a few bucks. Maybe not a lot but I can spare a couple grand. I just want you to know, you’re still young and you got a whole life ahead of you. I’m not that old either, and it’s not time for you to shoulder everything yet. Our family might be different, but I want you to have a good life like any other parent. I want you to know that you don’t have to worry when you fill out that application form ‘cause Dad will support you whatever you choose. The world’s a big place, and you should explore it while you’re young, broaden your horizons. Xiao-Zheng has his own life, just as you have your own, and you both are my sons.”
“Geez, Dad,” Xu Ping said with red, teary eyes. “Was that the script you were reading?! I got goose bumps hearing that. The telephone’s not cheap, Dad. I’d rather you buy more souvenirs to bring back.”
“My god, you lil’ rascal. Here I am trying to have a serious talk with you. That was no script!”
Xu Ping nodded with the receiver between his shoulder and ear. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, Mr. Premier Zhou.”
Xu Chuan lost the will to continue and only replied weakly, “Oh whatever, you lil’ rebel. But I do have to warn you, it hasn’t been very peaceful out there lately. Even we’ve caught wind of it out here in the boondocks. Just a bunch of crazy children, I say. Don’t you dare join whatever it is they’re doing!”
“Why would I,” Xu Ping retorted, “The entrance exam’s next month!”
Xu Chuan felt relieved. “You youngsters haven’t been through anything. You don’t know the consequences of political movements.”
“Dad,” Xu Ping asked, “Do you want to talk to Xiao-Zheng?”
Xu Chuan paused before answering, “Yeah.”
Xu Ping put down the receiver and beckoned his brother.
Xu Zheng was a fast eater. His bowl had long been empty, and he was watching the television while sitting upright like an elementary student with hands on his lap. His gaze had not changed and was very focused. Other than the lack of a tail, he looked just like a golden retriever.
“Xiao-Zheng, it’s Dad.”
Xu Zheng slowly strained his neck to look without moving the rest of his body.
“Come talk with Dad.” Xu Ping gently rubbed his brother’s head. “Ask how he’s doing.”
Xu Zheng stared at his brother as he walked over to the phone.
“HELLO!”_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
A typical pressure cooker
Braised ribs and potatoes
For more information:
News Simulcast (also, an article by The Economist)
The speech by Zhao Ziyang (note, the subtitles are not in sync but are accurate)
Video of spinning pressure cooker knob
Golden Rooster Awards
August First Film Studio
Note: The author used a lay term when referring to the language/dialect that Xu Chuan learned, so I could not figure out which language it was. I took the liberty to guess on the basis that He Long was Tujia that the language was Tujia.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
ayszhang: A slow start to Book Two...but next chapter... ;)
I'm flying home (Vancouver!) on Sunday! Will be staying for two and a half weeks. Brother updates should be consistent (unless there are surprises) while TDDUP will have to wait until April.
Both these stories are about to get very political...if you haven't caught the drift already x_x
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.