Friday, March 4, 2016

Till Death Do Us Part - ch16

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

Till Death Do Us Part chapter 16


Ch’in Ching spotted a photograph of the late actress named Juan on a poster sometime in March, and it reminded him that he had met Shen Liangsheng around this time last year. He still remembered the situation – he was bent over looking for his glasses with a stampede of feet before his eyes. The next thing he knew, it became quieter. He found his glasses and stood up, and there Shen Liangsheng was, hands clasped behind his back. Despite his bad eyesight, he could see everything brightening. He had felt a bit lightheaded, and his ears rung a little perhaps due to having bent down for too long. His heart skipped a beat, and he felt nervous for some reason which is why he chose to make a joke to hide it.
Now that he thought about it, it almost felt like fate; this world full of evanescence and meaninglessness suddenly went quiet, and when he looked up, it was him.

It was then that he looked up to see the rippling water at Ningyüan. They were strolling along the lakeside to see the peach blossoms that bloomed early this year.
A group of senior high students were taking advantage of the nice weather and rehearsing in the peach tree garden. Ch’in Ching stopped for a moment to eavesdrop to find that it was a scene from Thunderstorm.
Ch’in Ching had attended the showing of Thunderstorm in Tientsin two years ago. He had also followed Ts’ao Yü’s Sunrise in Literature Monthly and completely agreed with the author’s afterword.
Shen Liangsheng was not interested, but he would listen if Ch’in Ching wanted to talk. The two ambled amongst the trees, and Ch’in Ching talked about novels and dramas and a quote from the afterword of Sunrise.
“I thirst for a ray of sunlight. I have not the chance to see the sun again, yet I wish that I can see hellfire rain down upon the earth and crush the phantoms and the ghouls overrunning it, even if that means land shall sink into sea.”

The two mostly indulged in romantic affairs and rarely touched on politics. Ch’in Ching could more or less tell that Shen Liangsheng harboured little love for this country – it was reasonable seeing that his childhood in China left few good memories, and that he went abroad at such a young age. He did not want to condemn the other man, so he simply avoided this topic. He feared that they might get into a fight if they delved too deeply because no matter what reason the man had, Ch’in Ching could not and would not agree with his views.
Meanwhile, Shen Liangsheng did not take this to heart as much as the schoolmaster did. He only kept a close eye on politics for business, not for dating. Furthermore, he had learned the Western mindset of allowing everybody to have their own opinions. Therefore, even if they did discuss it in detail, he would not get into an argument with Ch’in Ching.
Hence, Shen Liangsheng did not pay much attention to the rare display by Ch’in Ching regarding his political stance. He only thought the man looked rather quiet and wistful as he stood under the flowers in traditional ch'angshan staring at the sparkling ripples not far off, his expression not as grand and noble as the quote had sounded. Shen Liangsheng saw before him a watercolour painting on rice paper reminiscent of the ancient times, and he had the urge to kiss the man. But they were in public, so he instead teased, “Remember, you can’t swim, Missus Shen. I can save you if you fall into the lake, but if the land becomes sea, we’ll just have to stick it out at the bottom of the sea together.”
With that distraction, Ch’in Ching couldn’t stay worried about the state of the nation any longer. He grumbled, as he glared at the other man with a blush, “Hush, you.”

Speaking of the month of March, Shen Liangsheng had a swell time. The fact alone that Miss Jenny Wang had convinced her old man, with her persuasive tactics, to secure a ticket back to the United States was enough to make him a very happy man.
“Ch’in-keke, I’m going to Shanghai to see some friends first before taking the ship back to the States. Do you think you’ll have time to see me off at the train station?”
“No, he’s busy,” Shen Liangsheng quickly answered for the man, for he absolutely hated it when Jenny acted close with Ch’in Ching. Then, he added with a funny tone, “But in view of the splendid occasion, I’d love to take time and see you off before your trip.”
“But Master Shen, perhaps you forgot that you’re supposed to be the poor lad who was dumped by me.” Jenny never backed down from a battle of the tongue and continued her retort, “If you see me off, you should at least put on an act and spare a few tears, yes? But can you? I’d probably cry from laughing too hard when that happens, if it even does.”
Shen Liangsheng shot her an indifferent look and did not reply since he could not be bothered with her quips. He actually suspected that a quick-witted person like her most likely already saw the true nature of his relationship with Ch’in Ching. However, she did not tattle to Old Man Wang or spread gossip around town. At least all the free food that he had given her had not gone to waste.

Despite the previous conversation, the two men still went to the station when the day came. Shen Liangsheng probably did it for social etiquette, but Ch’in Ching wanted to see her one more time because he truly liked this “sister” of his.
Old Man Wang was to accompany her until Shanghai, so he did not seem overly emotional at the station. Believing his baby daughter rejected Shen Liangsheng, he blamed her for having such high expectations and also felt a bit sorry towards the suitor, but he could not express it because of his status as the elder. In the end, he patted Shen Liangsheng on the shoulder and said good-naturedly, “My daughter’s still just a little girl, and she’s finally on her way after pestering you all these days. I guess we’ll both have some peace of mind, huh.”
“Oh no, I enjoyed her company very much.”
After the politesse, Shen Liangsheng waited for the older man to board before joining Jenny and Ch’in Ching.
“Hurry Shen-keke, if you don’t cry now, you won’t get another chance to,” Jenny teased him, and then turned to Ch’in Ching. “But don’t you cry, Ch’in-keke, or I’ll be heartbroken.”
“Quit fooling around. Take good care of yourself in America, and be careful of the friends you make. Better change that trusting attitude of yours, too.” Shen Liangsheng did not actually dislike her because, if he was being honest, sometimes her personality was similar to that of Ch’in Ching. The claim of a sibling relation was not entirely false. This point alone made it hard for the businessman to dislike her, so in the end, he wanted to leave her a few reminders.
“Can you not be so serious?” Jenny had nothing left with which to combat Shen Liangsheng when he became sincere. She looked down and mumbled, “I’m still coming back after I graduate. Don’t make it seem like it’s the last time.”
“It’s not.” Ch’in Ching sensed sadness from the girl and patted her on the head. “You’ll be all grown up when you come back.”
“You…I hate you two….” Jenny had been all smiles, but tears started to flow after the schoolmaster touched her head. “I didn’t want to cry…hate you….”
But the crying did not last more than a few sobs, and a smile reappeared on her face. She boarded the train, and after it began moving, she even stuck her head out, waving.
“Shen-keke! Ch’in-keke! Au revoir!”

That was the year Twenty-Six of the Republic. When the three youths waved goodbye as the train blew its whistle, none of them would have guessed that this would be really be their last time.
Afterwards, Jenny Wang never returned home due to the developments in the country, and the news of her fatal car accident at the young age of twenty-seven did not make it across the ocean either since the Wang family moved to the United States and never made contact again.
The world is an unpredictable place, which is why sometimes au revoir becomes an ironic goodbye.

The temperature spiked suddenly in mid-April. Shen Liangsheng came up with appropriate excuses to fire the loose-mouthed servants. The remaining staff learned their lesson and kept their mouths shut so nothing would travel to Shen Sr.’s mansion. Thus, Ch’in Ching continued staying over often at the Shen manor. Before long, he grew close with the servants in the manor on account of his easygoing nature. Every time he came over, the kitchen made only dishes that he liked making Shen Liangsheng taunt at the dinner table, “Wow, Mister Ch’in, you sure are popular.”
“Hah, I’m a people person, if I do say so myself.” Other than in the bed, Ch’in Ching never gave up without a fight when it came to battles of the tongue. He tapped the other man’s bowl with his chopsticks. “Eat your food, Master Shen. We don’t want the green-eyed monster coming back, now do we?”
It stayed stuffy and humid for days until finally a storm hit. The rain started around two in the afternoon in a continuous drizzle of varying degrees. Ch’in Ching was sitting in the staff room after his only class in the morning, listening to the drip-drop of the rain. He just could not settle down for some reason.
It had been a wonderful day during the morning with not a cloud in the sky. The Chevrolet that Shen Liangsheng usually drove was sent in for a check-up, and the reinforced Dodge left abandoned in the garage was likely low on gas. Shen Liangsheng had moved his office to a building he rented out on Hong Kong Road, just a stroll away from Cambridge Road. Hence, not wanting to waste time, the two left the house together in the morning, Ch’in Ching taking the tram and Shen Liangsheng walking to work.
Now the schoolmaster was sitting at his desk, remembering that the man did not take an umbrella with him. Then, he realized that there must be a car and a chauffeur at the office or some other arrangement to keep their young master out of the rain. There was no reason for him to worry about it, but he continued to brood. After nearly an hour of hesitation, he finally asked for the rest of the day off and left school early.
Ch’in Ching always kept an umbrella in the staff room. He got off the tram and walked to Shen Liangsheng’s office. He scoffed at himself for doing something that he knew was unnecessary, but he couldn’t help but want to pick the other man up. It was usually the businessman who picked him up, but he wanted to do it too, once in a while. He wanted to walk home with him under one umbrella in this endless downpour.

A new office meant new security. New brooms sweep clean, and this new guard was no exception. He treated his well-paying job with great care and questioned every person who came through the door so that he would not let any trouble in.
Ch’in Ching was a stranger whose dress was average. The blue ch'angshan and canvas shoes were not the attire of a businessman. Also, the person he was looking for was the big boss upstairs, but he had no appointment. The guard was not going to risk letting him in, but he was polite and told the man to wait while he notified the boss.
Ch’in Ching did not take any offence and did not go into the roofed entrance, either. He stood outside the metal gates holding his black oil-paper umbrella.
Coincidentally, Chou was out on errands today, and because of his tight lips, no one else in the company knew of Ch’in Ching. Another secretary reported to Shen Liangsheng that a Mr. Ch’in was here to see him. The pen in the boss’s hand faltered before he walked over and took a glimpse out the window.
“Thank you, you may leave.”
Seeing the boss’s unexcited reaction, the secretary did not make the unnecessary effort to invite Ch’in Ching into the office and out of the rain.

The rain left the sky gloomy, but Shen Liangsheng only had on a desk lamp to read his files.
He stood by the windows of the dark room, half-hidden behind curtains, as he stared, transfixed, at the man awaiting him under an umbrella.
He looked past the pale mist and saw the man standing in the rain, the umbrella hiding his head. All he saw was his figure, a tall, slim and solitary figure clad in greyish blue changshan.
Late spring in the North could be quite warm but also surprisingly cold when it rained. Shen Liangsheng knew the man had come for him and was bound to get sick from not having dressed warmly enough, but he deliberately did not invite him in.
Small droplets of rain clung to the glass window, making the pane look like perspiring ice. Shen Liangsheng’s reflection in the glass appeared strangely pale and ghostly, his eyes just as cold as ice. He stared, transfixed, at Ch’in Ching standing in the storm waiting for him. A deep-seated sense of fulfillment blossomed in his heart with the haziness of what the French would call déjà vu –
A man holding an umbrella.
The wet ends of his ch'angshan.
The rainy music from an old dream.

Though Ch’in Ching had never said it outright, the schoolmaster’s feelings were no secret to Shen Liangsheng. He knew Ch’in Ching truly loved him, and it wasn’t that he did no have feelings for the man himself. It simply pleased him to see the poor man waiting for him in the rain – every little thing that was proof that Ch’in Ching had fallen for him gave him that much more pleasure.
As one would expect, Ch’in Ching had a low-grade fever that night. Shen Liangsheng personally fed him medicine and undressed him before tucking him under the covers. He held the snugly wrapped man in his arms and planted soft kisses on his burning forehead – the man getting sick for him and his taking care of the man also gave him much pleasure.
Ch’in Ching was lying in Shen Liangsheng’s embrace when he had the urge to act like the three year old baby that the taller man was treating him as. He couldn’t hold back his devious giggles.
“What’re you laughing at?”
The fever made him feel drunk, a bit dizzy but also a bit fidgety. Ch’in Ching went along with the feeling and took a bite of the taller man’s chin, then his Adam’s apple, licking and biting like a teething puppy. His nose was not affected by the fever and was cool like that of a dog. He made up a lame excuse as he nuzzled the man’s neck.
“You smell so good, Shen-keke.”
“You’re sick. Stay still.” Frowning, Shen Liangsheng turned away from the pestering puppy but tightened his arms around him anyway.
But Ch’in Ching had not had enough fun yet. He teased again, asking breathily in the other man’s ear. “Are you hard?”
And when he got no answer, he asked again, “Well? Are you?”
The schoolmaster’s tone was very childish, but his words were blatantly provocative.
Shen Liangsheng was fully aroused but decided to bear with it since the other man was sick. While the puppy was still kissing and licking all over the place, he tried to leave and release himself in the bathroom, but the puppy just would not let him go. Shen Liangsheng began to suspect he had fed the man the wrong medicine and now the man could not think straight.
“You asked for it,” Shen Liangsheng growled dangerously, but he did not actually act in the same manner. He stripped himself naked and jumped under the covers with Ch’in Ching. After taking off the man’s underwear, he only slid his aching erection in between Ch’in Ching’s legs from behind and began thrusting. Hearing the man’s soft mewling, Shen Liangsheng really wanted to use Hsiao­-Liu’s reference for the schoolmaster: Jesus! He was not doing much to the man, so the seductive sounds he was making must have been intentional.
Ch’in Ching would agree that he had taken the wrong medicine. He felt weak but oh so very horny. He ground his hips against the taller man’s abdomen and guided his hand to his own swelling member.
“Put it in…,” he continued in a soft voice. “Put it in…please?”
By now, Shen Liangsheng felt like he was burning with a fever too, his temples pounding with every syllable out of the schoolmaster’s mouth. He coated himself with lubricant and pushed his swollen manhood into the other man. He could not suppress a low moan as he did so.
“Oh, baby, it’s so hot inside you.”
“No duh…I have a fever.” It was as though Ch’in Ching suddenly remembered that he was a sick man and that he had the rights of one as well. He did not care that Shen Liangsheng would suffer and commanded in moans and gasps, “Feel really weak right now. Don’t you dare go fast.”
With that, the taller man could only do as he was told and pump himself into the man slowly while taking care of the man’s member at the same time. For once, having sex was worse than not having sex, and all he wanted to do was help “Jesus” reach his orgasm as soon as possible.
Thankfully, Ch’in Ching did not last long due to the fever and presently came in Shen Liangsheng’s hand. The taller man was just about to pull out and stroke himself off to relieve the suffering when Ch’in Ching reached around to the place where they were connected.
“No…” he panted weakly, “Want you to come inside me.”
Shen Liangsheng could not stop himself from swearing – this time in his mother tongue. Perhaps he had heard far too much from his father these last few years, and now he was finally applying his knowledge. He was certain now that this man was sent by karma as payback. He thrust his hips forward and entered the man once more, but he could not move fast. Only after a long half hour did he reach his climax, and when he did, he took a hard bite on Ch’in Ching earlobe, asking, “You want me to come inside so bad, is it because you want to have my babies?”
“Go get your own baby….” Ch’in Ching was already half-asleep, but he still managed to form a retort with his last burst of energy. He suspected that he came again during the last half hour, but the sensations were not very distinct. On the other hand, he felt strangely satisfied feeling the man inside of him, their two bodies joined as one.

By the time Shen Liangsheng had cleaned him up, Ch’in Ching was dead asleep. The taller man finished a cigarette while watching him sleep before going downstairs to the study to retrieve the inkpad and the documents that he had had prepared for some time.
Since the Chinese New Year, Shen Liangsheng had been considering giving a house to Ch’in Ching. He had gone back on his word – he really cared for this man and this relationship was wilder and more intense than any of his previous ones. Accordingly, he decided to remove the weights on either side of his scale and stop evaluating. Now all he wanted to do was to find a way to keep the man so that he did not fall into someone else’s hands.
Shen Liangsheng knew there was an expression in Chinese, “hiding a mistress in a golden palace.” He had no interest in the story behind it because, in his dictionary, it had only one meaning – buy a cage and put Ch’in Ching in it so that he can have both the cow and the milk after he gets married himself.
In fact, Shen Liangsheng’s mother could count as a victim of the “golden palace,” too. Like father, like son; their selfish ways were no different from one another. If one were to say, the son was better in that he was willing to put Ch’in Ching’s name on the property. This way the house could act as a sort of compensation if the love disappeared and the two ended up splitting.
One could also say this was even more despicable. Shen Liangsheng recognized that the schoolmaster was currently deeply in love with him, so he was taking advantage and using that love to build the man a “golden palace.” He was even going to engrave Ch’in Ching’s own name on the door to show just how willing the man was for all this.

Secretary Chou had spent much effort trying to find the perfect property. A Western-style single house was too much, but the boss thought traditional housing was not good enough. He found a nice place called Anle-ts’un in the English concession, but when his boss went and took a look, the choice was rejected because the numerous neighbours posed a threat to privacy.
In the end, Shen Liangsheng took the matters into his own hands and decided on a luxury suite in the Maoken Apartment. Each floor consisted of only two units, and the tenants were mostly foreigners with little interests in their neighbours as they spent a year or two exploring China before returning to wherever they called home.
Shen Liangsheng had connections and completed the entire contracting process, even the affidavit, without Ch’in Ching. All that remained was for Ch’in Ching to sign his name and stamp the document with his fingerprint.
Having retrieved the contract and an inkpad, he sat with his legs hanging off the bed and looked at the oblivious man. The schoolmaster’s cheeks were still pink from the fever, and there was a driblet of drool by his lips.
Shen Liangsheng gently wiped the fluid away before carefully guiding the man’s finger, first to the inkpad and then to the paper.
Now there was one last thing. The signature could be forged, but there was no meaning in hiding this matter. Thus, Shen Liangsheng did not wipe the red ink away with the towel. He wanted to leave it there as a conversation-starter when the man woke up the next morning.

By the next morning, the fever had retreated, and Ch’in Ching felt revived and in good spirits. The only thing was that his back was a bit sore which was surely the result of indulging during an illness.
He did not notice the red mark on his finger until he was brushing his teeth. He poked his head out from the bathroom with the toothbrush still in his mouth.
“What’s this?” he questioned with curiosity.
“Brush your teeth first,” Shen Liangsheng replied with a cigarette between his lips as he finished tying his tie, his expression giving nothing away.
“All right, what did you do behind my back?” Ch’in Ching had a fairly good guess, but he did not seem upset when he finished brushing his teeth and stood before Shen Liangsheng.
Instead of answering, Shen Liangsheng pulled the other man into his arms for a kiss as they had done for the many mornings they had spent together. The flavour of tobacco and toothpaste was so familiar to the two men that it had nearly become a part of their life together.
“I sold you off,” Shen Liangsheng finally replied calmly after the kisses. “After all this time under my care, do you want to guess how much you sold for?”
Ch’in Ching was wordless for a moment, for this man had the same expression on his face at all times, whether joking or serious. However, Ch’in Ching did spend quite a bit of time with him, and he realized that this was definitely not a joke.
“You’re a smart man, Ch’in Ching, and you should know without me having to tell you.” Seeing the schoolmaster stay quiet, Shen Liangsheng cut to the chase and announced for the first time, “There will be things that will come between us two.”
He did not confess his feelings but instead took the man’s hand and placed it on his heart. He spoke as he looked deep into his eyes, “But I don’t want to leave you because of those things.”
“I have my own problems,” he continued when Ch’in Ching stayed quiet. “And I don’t ask that you understand….”
“I only ask that you don’t leave me” was never ever going to come out of Shen Liangsheng’s mouth. He let go of Ch’in Ching and grabbed the documents from the dresser. After passing them to the man, he gazed into his eyes and said softly, “Sign here if you want…and if you don’t, just throw it away.”
Ch’in Ching still had not said a word. It felt as though he had gone back in time, back to the time when he had just met the man.
This man had done the same thing back then. He had set up a trap with his sweet and gentle words and lured Ch’in Ching into jumping into the trap himself.
But this time, things were different. Ch’in Ching was indeed clever and understood with only a glimpse at the papers in his hand that he would actually be selling himself away with this signature. With the signature, he would promise to be the immoral lover lodged between Shen Liangsheng and his spouse and would be selling his principles away for love, lust and greed.
“Let’s discuss this again later, Ch’in Ching.” Shen Liangsheng did not want to push him into a corner. He looked at his watch and changed the subject. “It’s time for breakfast now.”

Ch’in Ching had woken up later than usual because of the fever, and then the above conversation ensued. He glanced at the clock and was reminded of his schedule that day. If he did not leave now, he would not make it to the first class, so he did not have time for breakfast.
Luckily, the chauffeur had tidied up the Dodge and filled up the gas tank without his boss’s reminder. As usual, Shen Liangsheng drove the schoolmaster to work after passing the lunchbox and thermos that the kitchen had prepared to Ch’in Ching. “Eat it on the way.”
His mind racing, Ch’in Ching had no appetite and sat in his seat with the bag in hand while staring out the window. Shen Liangsheng did not urge him either and only reminded him to take the food with him and not to stay empty-stomached until lunchtime.
Shen Liangsheng’s concern was justified. Ch’in Ching never cared for his stomach during his years away from Tientsin, and his eating habits simply went haywire after his parents had passed away. Shen Liangsheng had witnessed an episode of stomach cramps early on in their relationship, and ever since then, he had been supervising almost every one of Ch’in Ching’s meals.
Despite the things weighing on his mind, Ch’in Ching’s stomach had become accustomed to having food in the morning and started acting up after the first class. Ch’in Ching opened the bag to find a few pieces of paper stapled together. It was none other than the nearly complete property contract. Only someone like Mr. Shen Jr. would place such an important item in such a place.
The lunchbox was wrapped in thermal fabric and the buns inside were still steaming. Ch’in Ching paused in shock at the smell which belonged to the buns from the shop that used to be near his house.
The shop had gained popularity and moved to a larger storefront farther away. Afterwards, Ch’in Ching rarely had the chance to go and just the other day had been complaining to Shen Liangsheng about missing the Hui buns and needing to arrange a date to visit the new shop.
Ch’in Ching didn’t know when the young master had the servants fetch the buns, but considering what happened this morning, it was likely all a show put on to please him.
But then again – the man had taken to heart a careless comment of his.
And one could not put on a show like that unless he put some heart into it.

As he munched on the buns, Ch’in Ching stared at the stack of papers. His vermillion fingerprint was on it already; all that was missing was his signature.
His eyes lingered on the blood red fingerprint on the white paper. The memories of their first encounter flashed through his head – he created a small world of peace and quiet for him, and when he looked up, it was him.
The one clear autumn day where he spoke teasingly sweet words to him on a rowboat in the middle of a lake.
The words that he wrote in his palm in the dark theatre and the faint smile that appeared on his face.
The pain of their first night that ensnared him like a web, closing in more and more tightly until he could no longer escape.
 The number of times he kept asking in that gentle voice in the following night – does it hurt, does it hurt?

The picture morphed and changed as the frames whizzed by. Strangely, the last scene was of Hsiao­-Liu warning him.
“Ch’in Ching, I’m gonna come right out and say it. The rich can be cunning. If he wants you to sign anything, don’t do it. Don’t be a gullible lil lamb.”
“Liu Pao-hsiang. Oh, Liu Pao-hsiang….”
Swallowing the last bit of the buns, Ch’in Ching picked up the pen, twisted the cap off and quickly signed his name on the page.
“You just had to jinx me, didn’t you?”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
For more information:
Ts'ao Yu (Cao Yu)
Golden palace proverb
Location of Anle-ts'un
Location of Maoken Apartment

Photo of the Maoken Apartment as a present day hotel

On the passage that Ch'in Ching quoted from Sunrise:

The "ghouls and phantoms" that he is referring to are the foreigners who have invaded and are occupying China. This makes it clear that Ch'in Ching is a patriot who is against foreign powers exploiting China. 
The desperation from this passage stems from the fact that the country at the time had not industrialized enough and was far behind in technology compared to the Western powers and Japan. The Republic government consisted of mainly those educated in Western ideology or the wealthy upper class who intended to model the new country after the Western countries, whereas the majority were uneducated farmers (a remnant of the imperial times). This led to much internal struggle as well which led to the civil war, which in turn made it easy for foreign powers to take advantage of the situation.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
ayszhang: I might be even slower with the rest of the book...not because I don't have time but because translating the contents is actually painful for me emotionally. It takes a lot of effort to bring myself to relive the horrors in Chinese and then once again in English... so please understand m(._.)m

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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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