Chapter 3: The Arrival of Childhood Friends (Part 2)
After thinking about it once, I listed all the things I had to do today. The first thing was to apply for a business license and other economic documents regarding opening a private inn. I’ve already heard before that even though this is a little frustrating, it isn’t difficult. Now that the islands are focusing and developing tourism, they strongly support locals making some interesting businesses, to develop cultural tourism, and make the tourism industry thrive. When “natives” like me do business like this, time is the only problem. What worries me is the future renovations and operations of the private inn.
Even if the old house is old, it’s still pretty comfortable to live in, in my opinion. However, my opinion and the customers may be different, each room has to at least be renewed, have wifi and a television installed, curtains, bedsheets, quilts, towels and such will have to be newly prepared.
I worked in Beijing for three and a half years, lived cheaply and saved a total of one hundred twenty dollars. After I quit and went back home, I spent around a thousand and now my bank account has around ten thousand dollars left. That’s all of the money I have aside from the old house. I need to consider the fact that I may not be able to get customers and as a result not earn money at the start of my opening. I need to be meticulous when it comes to my spending since I must leave enough money for my daily life and initial operating fees for the start of the inn. I can only spend a limited amount of money for renewal and repairs, so the costs have to be calculated carefully.
I went online and looked at other people’s renewal experiences to learn more. I learned about taking the shortcuts, how to save money, and how supervising the construction will prevent deception.
While I was watching a video and taking notes, I saw a long and white arm reaching over. It poked the figures on the screen and poked some more, as if it wasn’t enough. It seemed like it was very curious as to why there was a moving person on the screen.
I stayed still for a while, then turned my head, speechlessly looking at Wu Julan who I had not known for how long he had been standing by my side.
Wu Julan looked at me blankly and calmly. Almost like a cold, dominant silence. If I did not see with my very own eyes, I really would have thought that the person who just poked the screen was someone else, not him.
I couldn’t help but ask, “You’ve never used a computer before? Did you have to send all of the money that you earned back home?” Even though computers are considered of the normal level in today’s society, in very poor places, they don’t even have colored lights. According to my understanding of Wu Julan’s family condition, it is very normal that he doesn’t have a computer. Even so, there are palaces called “internet bars” where many workers who can’t afford to own a computer will play games, and chat on QQ. Unless he’s like me, who needs to save money and cut down on daily expenses in order to do so.
At that moment, a lot happened in my head. Even the “Wu Julan’s parents are ill that he has to send all the money that he makes back home” sympathy almost came out.
Wu Julan didn’t answer my question. He just stared at me in disdain and then coldly said, “ You’re overthinking it. It’s not that I can’t afford one, it’s that I have no use for one.” After saying this, he turned around and walked away. His straight back expressed: I don’t need one!
I looked at his backside and it felt like a thousand grass mud horses trampled in my heart. It was funny, yet painful. This prideful man, even if his dignity was hurt, he still wouldn’t lie by saying he has used a computer before. He would only simply and rudely use disdain and coldness to conceal himself. This made me think about my younger self. That year I was six, mom and dad were arguing about getting a divorce, so no one could care for me. No one noticed even when my pants were too small. A mom of a friend that I would play around with noticed and kindly bought me two new pairs of pants. However, the sensitive me didn’t feel grateful at first, and instead, I felt the embarrassment of it being pointed out. So I insisted on not taking the pants, and continuously forced my mom to buy many pairs of pants for me, but I don’t like wearing new clothes. I liked wearing old clothes.
I jumped up and quickly ran over, blocking Wu Julan, “You finished washing the dishes?”
I pushed Wu Julan towards the computer, “I still have something for you to do, come over here!”
Wu Julan looked at me, not budging. It was like pushing a huge mountain, no matter how hard I tried, it wouldn’t move.
I got annoyed and stared at him, “I’m the boss, so shouldn’t you do as I say?”
Wu Julan followed me to the front of the computer table.
After I sat down, I pulled over a stool and motioned for Wu Julan to sit. I looked serious and business-like. “I’m researching how to build an inn, you should also learn. This is our future ‘life support’, so if you want to eat and drink well, you have to be focused.”
I opened the browser, and showed him how to use the search tool. As long as one knows how to use the search tool, the rest can be learned slowly. I slowed down the speed, Wu Julan sat next to me, silent and watching.
I suddenly remembered that he hasn’t used a computer before, so there is a high chance that he doesn’t know how to use a keyboard. “Is your pinyin good, or do you prefer handwriting?”
T/N: There’s an option to type out the pinyin and then select from the list of chinese characters on the application.
Wu Julan thought about it and replied, “Writing.”
I immediately downloaded a five stroke input tutorial, simply displayed it, and after, told Wu Julan, “You’ll get the hang of this after some practice and familiarizing yourself with the strokes.”
The books that grandfather used to use to learn how to work a computer are still here. I took them off the shelf and put them in front of Wu Julan, and asked him to use the books to learn.
I stood by Wu Julan’s side while he carefully flipped through the books. My eyes unintentionally glanced at the yard, and I saw the quilts and bed sheets that flowed with the wind. A thought suddenly popped into my head, “Did Wu Julan not use the washing machine because he didn’t know how to use it?”
I was shocked by my own thought, yet I felt hat it may be true. Just where did he come from? An old village deep and remote in the mountains? Where computers aren’t used for everyday life? No wonder his accent was so weird when he first spoke…
Even though I was a bit intrigued, I wasn’t planning for Wu Julan to become my boyfriend. I won’t be responsible for the later half of his life, so I became even less interested in knowing about the first half of his life. The important thing is to solve the problem in front of me.
The other electronics in the house are a microwave, an air conditioner, a refrigerator, a rice cooker, a TV, and a DVD player… I don’t know what he has or has not used before.
I thought about it, rummaging through the place and brought out all the instructions on how to use electronics, which were placed at the bottom of the cabinet, and placed them on the corner of a desk. “These are the instructions for all the electronics in the house, look through them sometime.” I was afraid of hurting his dignity so I rushed to add, “Different brands of electronics, and products that were produced in different years, have different instructions. So look through them, or you might act on your previous experiences and ruin my things.”
Thank goodness Wu Julan wasn’t as sensitive as I was when I was a child. After listening to my orders, he only simply replied, “Ok.”
I got my ID card, and paperwork that I thought may be useful for the registration, then headed out the door to register for a license to operate a private inn.
I originally thought that this much work wouldn’t take up much time, but who knew that the procedures were so bothersome. I needed to show a picture, then a recent medical diagnosis. Thank goodness I’m the “popular kid” of the island. No matter where I go, I’ll always encounter a classmate or a classmate of a classmate, it saves me so much time. However, according to what I’m doing, I need to run around and get tossed around for the whole day so this job would be considered done.
T/N: She encounters familiar people but for this registration process. She still needed to go to many palaces and was so busy(tossed around) so that this job could be completed.
It was almost six o’clock. I carried a watermelon that I bought along the way and tiredly went home. I managed to utter, “I’m home”, then collapsed onto the wicker chair.
Wu Julan glanced at me, and silently carried the watermelon to the kitchen.
After a while, he came out with a plate of peeled watermelon that was cut into cubes. There was a fruit fork nicely placed to the side of the platter.
I was a bit surprised. The way he was acting this morning didn’t seem like he knew how to use a fruit platter and a fruit fork, but I didn’t think too much of it since there was good food in front of me. I smiled widely, and stabbed a piece of watermelon with the fruit fork, “Thank you!”
I only felt revived after slowly eating half of the fruits on the platter. I told Wu Julan, “I already made an appointment with the builder. He’s coming tomorrow afternoon to see the place, and calculate an estimated cost. You definitely have to make the house sparkling clean. Hopefully this will save some money.”
Wu Julan replied, “Okay”, to show he understood.
It was already dinner time, so I decided to make some noodles and considered it done. I heard a sudden “knock knock” from the door.
I got up and asked, “Who is it?”
It was my old neighbor, Jiang Yisheng’s voice. You could say that we grew up together, or so called “childhood friends”. He was called the “magical doctor” when we were little because he had a very high IQ and was ranked first in the class. He would easily beat me and other people in seconds. Nowadays, he is the main surgeon at the island’s public hospital. “Yisheng” and “doctor” sound similar(in chinese), so even if you say “Jiang Yisheng”, it sounds like “Doctor Jiang”, so no one really cared anymore and just called him whatever they felt.
As usual, I ran to open the door, but I first stopped to say “Coming” and hesitatingly glanced at Wu Julan.
Wu Julan was very keen. He immediately sensed my concern and turned around to hide in the room. I made an impulsive decision and stopped him. Hiring a worker was just business. There was nothing to hide.
I whispered to Wu Julan, “It’s a good friend of mine. He’s a very good person. Later on, I’ll introduce you two to each other.” After telling him this, I went to open the door.
“Xiao Luo, you don’t have to make dinner. We’ll go out to eat today.” Jiang Yisheng said as he walked in.
There were two people behind him. A young girl wearing a long dress, with long hair that went up to her shoulders, a slim body and a beautiful face. The other was a man who wore glasses and gave off a gentle feeling. He seemed like a polite man. Coincidentally, he was the lawyer that I chatted with yesterday, Zhou Buwen.
I hesitated, then welcomingly greeted Zhou Buwen, “Builder Zhou, hello.”
Jiang Yisheng laughed out loud, placed his hand on Zhou Buwen’s shoulder and said, “How sad, you two really don’t recognize each other! Little Luo, look closely, do you really not recognize him??
Zhou Buwen lightly smiled while looking at me. It wasn’t like the thankful, distant, professional smile he gave me yesterday. This time, his smile showed actual happiness, with some touches of nervous anticipation. I felt so conflicted, and wanted to kick Jiang Yisheng who seemed to be playing a mystery game with us, but I held back, politely smiled and said, “We met yesterday, how could we not recognize each other?”
Jiang Yisheng gave a long, strange sigh and just when he was about to say something. Zhou Buwen stopped him, looked at me and said, “Little Luo, it’s me, Big head.” with a smile.
The polite smile on my face immediately disappeared. I shockingly looked at Zhou Buwen.
Big head Li, original name is Li Jing, my best friend when I was a teenager. I remembered him to be skinny with a big head, long legs and long feet, who wore a fierce expression. No one in the school dared to piss him off. The man in front of me was tall and polite. Looking closely, besides from his eyes and eyebrows that looked somewhat similar, nothing else resembled the way I remembered him.
When I was ten years old, because his dad remarried and his stepmother was pregnant, the cramped house had no place for me. My grandpa took me back to our hometown. I couldn’t speak the Hokkien or the Li clan’s language. I spoke Mandarin which caught the attention of many at school. When I first started school, my classmates were curious and jealous of me. However, not long after, the news that my dad didn’t want me anymore and my mom running away with a random man spread in school. The curiosity and jealousness became pity and disdain. At that time, I was like a porcupine, using sharp defenses to protect my almost shattered pride. I soon became the needles in people’s eyes, the spike in people’s flesh, the homework book thrown in the bathroom, the spit on the side of the road. There were even boys who put snakes in my backpack…Looking back, those were just childish, evil pranks, but at that time they made me feel as if I was in prison, until Big head Li moved there.
He was like me. He only knew how to speak Mandarin and had no parents; he lived with his grandma. But the reason he had no parents wasn’t because his parents divorced, it was because his dad died. For some period of time, I had an extreme thought. I would’ve rather been like him, where my dad died, instead of him abandoning me.
We were both vengeful people. Maybe because he was a boy, or maybe because he never lived with step parents, his defenses were always clear and bold, unlike me with my meek defenses. He was good at fighting. He could beat three upperclassmen who bullied him. No matter what names you called him, he would beat you till you surrender. He used pure strength to make everyone fear him.
Big head Li was three grades higher than me. Even though we both lived on Mazu street, and saw each other frequently after and before school, we never interacted with each other. Until one day, I was blocked by some classmates in a little forest near school. They continuously asked, “Did your mom run off with a random man?” Big head Li suddenly showed up and roughly chased the bullies away, warning them to not to come close to me, or he’ll hit them every time he saw them.
From then on, I stayed with Big head Li. Slowly, we learned how to speak Hokkien and a bit of the Li language and assimilated into island life. Later on, we became good friends with Jiang Yisheng, a true native who lived on the same street.
The three of us played around together for around three years, it was wonderful. It was like we all wore the same clothes. That was all up until I was thirteen years old. I received a confession letter from Big head Li. It was then that I suddenly realized I was a girl and he was a boy. My mind blanked out. I didn’t know how to respond to the “I like you” Big head Li wrote.
While I was thinking about how I should reply to the first love confession letter of my life, Big head Li’s grandma’s brain uncontrollably bled out and she suddenly died. Big head Li was then picked up by his mother. They left in a hurry. They left so quickly that we didn’t even have the time to say goodbye, and so, I didn’t have time to give him an answer to that confession letter.
I heard the neighbors gossiping that his mom was lucky and married a rich man who treated her well. He was a man from Nanyang who lived in a foreign country, but he didn’t have kids yet. When Big head Li gets there, as long as his step dad likes him, he’ll definitely be happy.
With the passing of time, big head Li faded away from my memory, but because he accompanied me through my life’s 3 hardest years, and the confession letter that I never replied to, he stayed in a corner of my blurry memory.
Jiang Yisheng pushed me, “Why are you in a daze? Do you remember him or not?”
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