Friday, June 3, 2016

Till Death Do Us Part - ch25

Translator: ayszhang
Proofreaders: happyBuddha, Lee, Kai, m@o, Marcia

Till Death Do Us Part chapter 25


That year, Japan launched campaigns to strengthen security throughout northern China under the slogan, “liberate East Asia, eliminate Communism in self-defence, and work industriously to increase production.” Consequently, the tension in Tientsin heightened as well.
A massive raid was conducted in spring and once again in late summer. Although Lao-Wu’s cover had not been revealed, the administration arranged for him to retreat from Tientsin in fear for his safety. In the last two years, Shen Liangsheng had transferred several sums of money in support of logistics through Lao-Wu’s connections. The latter appreciated his contributions, but it proved too risky to say aloud during their farewell. He later asked Ch’in Ching to pass on the message: “I don’t know when I will be able to return. You must be very careful in the future. Don’t interact with anybody else. I thank you on behalf of the Party, and Vice Chairman Chou also asked me to thank you personally.”
Ch’in Ching delivered the entire message word for word before adding, “Come to think of it, Vice Chairman Chou is half a Tientsiner.”
“Oh, a fellow Tientsiner.”
“I should be saying that, not you.”
Shen K’echen had moved to Tientsin after the Peiyang government fell and the Shen ancestry traced back to the Northeast, so Shen Liangsheng was not a true Tientsiner. But upon hearing this, Shen Liangsheng only turned over a page of the newspaper and retorted, “But I married into a Tientsin family. Why can’t I call myself a Tientsiner?”
Amused at how the man had become cheekier as he aged, Ch’in Ching shook his head smilingly and sat down beside the man. He skimmed through the page that Shen Liangsheng had just finished reading but did not find the column he wanted. Then he realized it was in the man’s hands and proceeded to hold out his hand in demand.
“I’m still reading. Wait your turn.”
Ch’in Ching simply looked at him with a smile on his face. Very soon, Shen Liangsheng could only wave the white flag and toss the papers over to him. He asked a question to which he didn’t expect an answer, “Are you the most obnoxious or what?”

The paper that Shen Liangsheng was reading was New Tientsin Gazette, which was previously known as Tienfungpao. The specific page that they were fighting over was the literature section in which the newest chapters of The Legend of the Shu Shan Swordsmen were being released. Ch’in Ching was a devoted fan of Huan Chu Lou Chu and thus would not miss even one chapter.
Originally, Shen Liangsheng did not read for leisure, but since he had settled down with Ch’in Ching and become used to domestic life, his tastes began to change. With time to spare, the two men tended to a few plants here and there, and on idle days, they would make a pot of tea and sit across from one another each with a book in hand for hours at a time.
Perhaps all men had a secret love for wu-hsia in their bones. Seeing Ch’in Ching following every single release of The Legend of Shu Shan Swordsmen and praising its story, Shen Liangsheng thought he might as well buy the printed books from Lili Press and read the story from the start. After catching up, he followed the new releases with Ch’in Ching and even engaged the man in discussion afterwards.
The Legend was a hsien-hsia novel with an extensively elaborate world. There were characters both good and evil, and each had wukung more powerful than the last. They could soar the skies and burrow through the earth. They could travel on their swords. Their abilities were strange and fascinating, never failing to surprise the reader. Regardless of how much his tastes had changed, Shen Liangsheng did not lose his fastidious and methodical nature. Even though it was a novel, he had Ch’in Ching accompany him in sorting the relationships between the always increasing character set, debating who had the better wukung and more useful magic items and whether good would prevail against evil or vice versa. In this, Ch’in Ching lacked the studious attitude of the other man but nonetheless found this serious way of reading fiction rather interesting. He gladly joined in the discussions, and before he knew it, he, too, had become quite serious. Occasionally the two men had opposing opinions and neither could persuade the other. At times like these, Ch’in Ching would threaten menacingly, “You disagree with me one more time and you’re washing the dishes this week!” While saying so, it didn’t occur to him that it was rather immature for two grown men to fall out over a fictional novel.
Despite it being fiction, the author’s captivating prose made the world come to life – as though such a place with a different sky and earth truly existed. In that wondrous world, the air was full of flying swordsmen, and characters came and went. But whether they became realized immortals or fallen demons, one thing never changed: no barbarian dared invade.

“Ch’in Ching, what are your plans now that Lao-Wu has left?”
Ch’in Ching was intently reading the new chapter when Shen Liangsheng suddenly asked. He replied lightheartedly, “What do you mean plans? Of course I’ll keep teaching.”
Shen Liangsheng didn’t pursue the subject, dropping it as though it had only been a spontaneous question. He didn’t bring it up again until they turned in for the night. With the lights off, he started in a rare tentative tone, “I’ve been thinking about the current situation, Ch’in Ching…. What if I said I want you to switch schools…maybe to an elementary school, how would that sound?”
Shen Liangsheng’s concern was justified – Sheng Kung had been expanding, and fame came at a price. As with Yaohua, Sheng Kung had been on the Japanese radar for some time. Back in the day, Nank’ai had suffered greatly for its anti-Japanese stance, and later on, the principal of Yaohua was assassinated by a Japanese agent in broad daylight. Shen Liangsheng was anxious because first, he had been inactive for a long time and broken off contact with the world of politics, and second, Ch’in Ching had worked for Lao-Wu. And who knew when the so-called “security strengthening campaigns” would come to an end? He knew the probability was low, but even that scared him. Should anything happen, he was afraid that he couldn’t protect the man, and thus he thought it would be best if the man transferred to a less prominent elementary school.
But then again, since they had moved in together, Ch’in Ching had stopped all other activities other than teaching out of concern for safety. By making this request now, Shen Liangsheng felt as though he were eating away more and more of the schoolmaster’s aspirations. Honestly speaking, he would by all means tie the man by a rope and keep him by his side if he could actually do that, not letting him go anywhere or do anything. He would only rest easy if he could keep the man at home every single day.

Shen Liangsheng himself thought the request was too much and didn’t plan to force the man to quit the job at Sheng Kung. He only wanted to make the suggestion, and if the man didn’t agree then he would let the matter go. But unexpectedly Ch’in Ching patted his hand under the sheets after seconds of silence.
“Fine,” the schoolmaster said quietly.
Ch’in Ching understood the other man’s intentions perhaps all too well. In the past two years, the man had donated all of his savings in offshore accounts using the identity of an overseas Chinese – what was the purpose? Certainly, this was partly because of the sentiment that the man had developed for this country and the wish to support the fight against Japan, but there also lay within a desire to make amends to him. They had left this unspoken, but only a shameless bastard would not have read between the lines.
“Of course it’s fine.” After not receiving any response from the man, Ch’in Ching patted his hand again and added reassuringly, “It’s the same job no matter where I go. Don’t worry about it.”

He asked the man not to think too much about it but had a strange dream himself.
The beginning was very normal and even had a sexual undertone to it. Ch’in Ching dreamt he was fooling around with Shen Liangsheng in the bedroom, their hands on each other’s bodies hinting at foreplay. Then, Shen Liangsheng pushed him up against the floor mirror in the corner. His back was against the icy glass but his groin was burning. He shut his eyes in the comfort of being fellated as a few moans escaped his lips.
But soon he felt a pair of arms circling him from behind in a nearly suffocating hold. Where did the arms come from? Ch’in Ching was horrified at the thought of the arms of a phantom reaching out from the mirror and grabbing him as though to drag him into it.
“Shen–” He wanted to cry out for help only to find the man who had been kneeling before him gone. He buckled against the clutch and turned around. The person, or perhaps ghost, had fully stepped out of the mirror and stood face to face with him. Blackness enshrouded them obscuring the apartment he was familiar with, but the face before him he knew well. It was none other than the man to whom he had cried for help.
“Shen Liangsheng….” Ch’in Ching called in a daze. Perhaps he had been reading too many wu-hsia novels; the man he knew so well for some reason was dressed in clothing from ancient times. His long hair was black and his attire even darker; only the man’s pale face stood out in the darkness. It was a face that harboured no emotions, but as they looked into each other’s eyes, a silent tear trickled down the man’s face.
“Don’t–” Ch’in Ching reached out in a panic. He wanted to tell the man not to cry but found he could not. He couldn’t even wipe away the tear for him – the tear seemed to hold within it an excruciating sorrow. He must have caused the man so much pain that this overwhelming agony, torn between love and hatred, could be seen in his eyes.
Ch’in Ching was so unnerved he didn’t know what to do – watching the man in pain made him hurt as well. He couldn’t squeeze out even a single word of comfort. He just stared at the man before him like a statue, afraid he would vanish if he so much as blinked.

“Ch’in Ching? Ch’in Ching?”
Ch’in Ching could not move in the dream, but in reality he was restless in his sleep, constantly trembling. As though he could sense it, Shen Liangsheng awoke and realized the man was having a nightmare, so he began shaking the man.
Still in a stupor, Ch’in Ching lay there for a few seconds before he suddenly rolled over and wrapped his arms tightly around Shen Liangsheng pressing his face against his chest. Moments later, he was clinging onto the man with both arms and legs as he muttered something under his breath so softly Shen Liangsheng could not catch it.
“There, there. It’s all right now….” Shen Liangsheng didn’t know what Ch’in Ching had dreamt about and found the man’s actions a bit amusing, but he couldn’t say that. He hugged the man back and gently brushed his back while comforting, “Did you have a bad dream? It can’t hurt you now that you’re awake. Don’t be afraid.”
“Why do you sound like my mom?” Coming back to himself, Ch’in Ching felt a bit embarrassed and grumbled in attempt to cover it up before pushing himself off of the man.
“Already getting cheeky with me, are you? I say you deserved that nightmare.” As though he had not had enough of Ch’in Ching, he pulled the man back into his embrace. “What did you dream about?”
“I dreamt you were a ghost and ate me up.” Ch’in Ching continued his cheeky remarks, but after a while, he couldn’t keep it bottled up inside and told everything to Shen Liangsheng. Finally, he asked in a whisper, “When did I do something terrible to you?”
“Yes, when indeed?” Shen Liangsheng kissed his forehead and sneaked a hand downward into his pyjama pants. “The second half was a nightmare, but the first half wasn’t, was it? I say you had that dream ‘cause we haven’t done it enough this week.”
“Quit it. It’s the middle of the night….” Ch’in Ching refused quietly, but he soon became aroused because his body had gotten used to the man’s touch. As the lust remaining from the dream was relit, he gave up trying to dissuade the man.
“All right, if you say so.” Shen Liangsheng purposely stopped after the other man was fully erect and patted him on the butt. “Go to sleep.”
“Oh, come on. Don’t be like that.” Ch’in Ching lowered himself and began nibbling on the taller man’s chest and lapping at the nipples. He reached under the sheets himself and slid his own bottoms down before bringing the man’s hand to his own bare hips. He led the man’s fingers to his entrance and deliberately flexed his muscles there while grinding his own erection on the man’s thigh.
“You hopeless rascal,” Shen Liangsheng scolded superficially as he rolled over and stripped the man in mere seconds. He started kissing Ch’in Ching from head to toe in efforts to arouse as much desire as possible until the man could no longer stand it. Only when the man spread open his own legs pulling his own cheeks apart and begging him to enter did he ram himself into the body he could not be any more familiar with. Even so, the sex never failed to be exhilarating, and they never grew tired of it.

“Isn’t it strange? Why do you reckon I had that dream?” After the sex, Ch’in Ching had recovered from the scare but still could not forget about the dream. He asked Shen Liangsheng in a puzzled manner, “What if I really did owe you in the last life?”
“You actually believe in reincarnation?” Shen Liangsheng lay with the man in his arms as he caressed his sweaty back. He thought to himself that the man probably had the dream because of the request he had made before bed. He truly was confining the man as he had in the dream, dragging the man to a place for just the two of them and selfishly forgetting about the war, about the present turmoil. It was just as the sonnet said, “Let us stay rather on earth, beloved – where the unfit contrarious moods of men recoil away and isolate pure spirits, and permit a place to stand and love in for a day, with darkness and the death-hour rounding it.”
“To be honest, I don’t….” Ch’in Ching paused wanting to continue but decided his mind was simply running wild at this hour of the night. In the end, he found a comfortable spot in Shen Liangsheng’s arms and hummed softly, “All right, good night.”
“Ch’in Ching, I have nobody left in my family. You, too.” With the man in his embrace, Shen Liangsheng spoke about what had been going through his head quite straightforwardly, “It’s just the two of us from now on. I will take good care of you, and we’ll stay like this until the end, yes?”
“Yes,” Ch’in Ching answered quickly. He looked up and stared at the man up close. Childishly but earnestly he added, “And I will take good care of you, too.”
“Good boy. Now, sleep.” Shen Liangsheng chuckled and planted a kiss on his eye, and the two drifted asleep in each other’s arms.

Even if they did not forget about the war and the present turmoil, they might not ever be considered selfless anyway. The amount that Shen Liangsheng donated was a number that the average citizen could not even dream of, but in the context of a long-lived war, it was but a drop in an ocean, a mere symbol of support. Compared to the truly selfless people who had shed their blood on the battlefield, their contributions appeared miniscule. However, in the end Shen Liangsheng simply wished to live with the man for the rest of his life, which was why he had to save his life for himself and for the man no matter what. Not only would they be each other’s companion, they would be each other’s parent, brother, and child; they would be all of the most intimate of relationships to each other. And together they would stay till death did them part.

“Is that you? Did you get the noodles?”
“I didn’t go at all.”
“I passed by the grain market, and the line was so long I thought they’d sell out by the time it was my turn. Let’s make them ourselves.”
That was August of Year Thirty-Four of the Republic, nineteen forty-five by the Gregorian. After the news of Japan’s unconditional surrender had spread through Tientsin, the city fell into a joyous frenzy. The vendors of fireworks and firecrackers were stupefied when their inventory proved insufficient for the demand that was higher than even the New Year’s season.
Firecrackers aside, even common household items like noodles were in short supply. Every household celebrated the Japanese retreat to their godforsaken country by observing the custom of eating lao mien to rid one of misfortunes. At first, everyone was more or less in disbelief after hearing the news of surrender. Only after eating the noodles did their worries settle down, along with the noodles in their stomachs.
Ch’in Ching poured some flour into a bowl, and Shen Liangsheng stood beside him adding water for him. While Ch’in Ching worked on the dough, he prepared the vegetables and the gravy. The two men then stayed by the stove waiting for the noodles to cook. After the noodles were done, the men transferred them into bowls, careful not to break even the ends hanging outside the bowl as was the tradition for longevity noodle.
And eating the long noodles was like taking in the long happy years of the foreseeable future.

The two men ate noodles by themselves that day and went to the Lius’ place for another celebration the following day. On the way, they passed by a photography studio where Ch’in Ching stopped in his tracks. He looked over to Shen Liangsheng with a smirk. “Shall we?”
Actually, neither of them liked to take photographs. Moreover, they were together day in and day out, so it never occurred to them to buy a camera to take a photograph every now and then. It would be the first time they went to a studio together.
The studio storefront was not grand, but the ‘Just Married’ banners on the door attracted much attention. Seeing the owner was rather young, Ch’in Ching assumed he had recently married and greeted good-naturedly, “Congratulations on the marriage!”
“Oh dear. Lots of people have been saying that,” the owner replied with enthusiasm. “I married two years ago and had lots of these banners left over from then. It’s such a festive time now, I thought I’d put them up.”
Ch’in Ching was in a good mood to begin with, and the owner was a nice man, so he began engaging in light conversation. When the man asked if Shen Liangsheng was his friend, he looked over at the taller man and answered smilingly, “We’re cousins.”
“Cousins, eh. Good, good….” The owner stood behind the camera and gave them instructions as he peeked through the viewfinder. “A bit closer, my good sirs…come now, why are you standing so far apart? Closer…put your arm around him…yes, now that looks like two cousins! Now look here…and smile…perfect!”
Having taken the photograph and received the receipt, Ch’in Ching reached for his wallet, but the owner shook his hand. “Free of charge! How could I ask for money on a day as happy as today? I’m providing free services every day this week!”
“No, we couldn’t.” Ch’in Ching placed the money on the counter. “You can’t lose profit just because you’re happy, can you?”
“I said it’s free!” The owner chuckled merrily as he stuffed the money back into Ch’in Ching’s pocket and ushered the two cousins out of the studio. Pointing to a paper slip on the door, he said, “See, it’s written here. Happy times have been so hard to come by I’d gladly lose profit!”
Indeed, Ch’in Ching and Shen Liangsheng had not noticed the paper below the banners. Neatly written on it were these words:
Providing free services in celebration of the motherland’s victorious resistance.

The day they retrieved the finished product, Ch’in Ching took it out once more before bed even though he had already seen it earlier in the day.
“What are you smiling at?” Shen Liangsheng had just gotten out of the shower. Seeing the man looking at the photograph with a silly grin on his face, he sat down beside the man and wrapped an arm around him.
“I heard that the good-looking ones don’t look good in photographs, but you look just as good in the photograph as you do in the flesh.” After praising Shen Liangsheng, he shamelessly added for himself, “But I have to say, I don’t look too bad myself.”
If this were any other day that Ch’in Ching acted narcissistic, Shen Liangsheng would certainly make a few mocking remarks. As he held the man, however, he felt touched seeing himself holding the man in the same way in the photograph and the two men inside smiling at the two men outside.
“Let’s develop a bigger one and put it up,” Shen Liangsheng reached for Ch’in Ching’s hand and held it tightly and added, “to make up for our missing wedding photograph.”

That night they made sweet, sweet love. It was not very passionate but rather mild and long-lasting as though they were floating on water, gently drifting down a warm river to a place too far to glimpse.
In the year of the victory against Japan, Shen Liangsheng was thirty-five, Ch’in Ching thirty-three. They didn’t notice the age in the other person because they saw each other every day. The men in the photograph also appeared young and spirited.
However, the fact of the matter was that a long time had passed. After the lovemaking, they lay side by side holding hands. Ch’in Ching gazed at the foot of the bed where a sliver of moonlight peeked through the nearly shut curtains making him realize just how much time had passed.
He seemed to remember that once upon a time he had lain beside the man watching a sliver of moonlight fall upon the floor, a glowing beam creeping past the foot of the bed amidst the gloom. It was like a silvery white thread that wove through nearly ten years of their lives.
Ch’in Ching flipped over and gazed into Shen Liangsheng’s eyes. He brushed his hand along the man’s hairline and commented softly, “Haven’t seen any white hair on you.”
“It’ll come soon. I’ll have to ask you to help me pluck them.” Shen Liangsheng guessed what was on Ch’in Ching’s mind and replied in the same soft voice. He reached out his hand too and touched the mole by the man’s eye while continuing to joke, “But I won’t be able to help with these two creases.”
Ch’in Ching loved to tell jokes and to smile. Probably because he smiled too much, there were two faint wrinkles by the corner of his eye.
“Wow, you already think I’m old, don’t you?” Ch’in Ching made a fake pitiful face, but in the next moment, he seemed to have thought of something else and snickered, “Remember what the novel said….”

Most of the books that Ch’in Ching had read Shen Liangsheng had read with him, and thus the latter knew exactly to which novel the schoolmaster was referring. As expected, Ch’in Ching began talking about the prose of a certain female author by the name of Chang from Shanghai who had gained quite a bit of popularity in recent years. It was a metaphor for love and marriage that was both playful and relentless:
“Every man will probably have two women like this in his life, at least two. If he married the red rose, sooner or later, the red would become a smudge of mosquito blood on the wall while the white stayed the moonlight by the bedding; if he married the white rose, the white would become a grain of rice stuck on his clothes while the red became a rouge mole on his chest.”
“Come now, as if I’d ever think badly of you.” Hearing Ch’in Ching bring up this story, Shen Liangsheng was extremely happy – he had treated their photograph as a belated wedding picture, so the man treated himself as his wife. Even if it was a joke, it made Shen Liangsheng fill with joy.
How could he think badly about this? All he wanted to do was rejoice.
Perhaps it truly was the good karma that he had collected in the past life that would allow him to be together with this man till their hair whitened, till death did them part, so that he could caress all the laugh lines that would appear on the man’s face.
Because of this happiness, he eased closer to the man. Amidst the continual weave of moonlight and time, he kissed the mole by his eye and said in a sweet, endearing tone, “You’re my rouge mole, Mrs. Shen, and also my moonlight.”

Shen Liangsheng remembered the title of the novel on marriage as Red Rose, White Rose. The author gained a huge wave of popularity from her serialized releases on Wan-hsiang, but they had read her works only after the various chapters were collected and bound. The entire collection had few stories with themes of happiness and reunion, but it had a spectacular name.
It was called Legend.

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Ta lu mien (da lu mian), a traditional dish in northern China. The one in the picture is specifically the Tientsin version.

A copy of Wan-hsiang

For more information:
Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, the concept which the security strengthening campaigns were aimed at achieving.
Resistance and Revolution in China: The Communists and the Second United Front (security strengthening campaign mentioned on pg. 268)
Zhou Enlai (speculations regarding his love for a man)
The Legend of Shu Shan Swordsmen (Amazon link)
Yaohua School
Gravy noodles recipe (da lu mian or Tientsin lao mien)
Longevity noodles recipe (shou mian)
Eileen Chang
A nice overview of Chinese literature starting from the very first texts.
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ayszhang: TuT I...I wasn't crying!!! *sniff*

I worked hard and finished early so I decided to post one day early! *u* 

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Till Death Do Us Part - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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