Ramblings: I should probably stop with apologies at this point. Long story short: assignments, exam season (finishing this week), internship, and work. I have been translating ch.11 here and there, and was finally able to finish today, since I wanted a break from all the law stuff cluttered in my head.
Anyhow, my winter break starts next week so I should be able to update more often. That said though, ch.12 and 13 are very long, so we’ll see.
Also, thank you everyone for your kind comments in my last post. My health is fine now (relatively). I will try to take care of myself better. I have too many things I want to do to have time for illnesses lol. As always, all of your encouraging words help me find motivation to keep going. A big hug to all of you, old and new, silent and commenting readers alike.
T/N: Any notes at the end of relevant paragraphs that are indicated with an asterisk * are usually my own translation notes, unless I say otherwise in square brackets. Words in square brackets [ ] in sentences are also words I added for clearer meaning.
Chapter 11: I gain a new student
Jiva and Rajiva only stay at home for three days, after which they move to the newly built temple. It is a royal temple located on the west side of the palace—a 15-minute walk from the state preceptor’s residence [where Ai Qing is]. Before he leaves, Rajiva has made sure all the arrangements are in place: As his Han teacher, I can continue to live in his residence, and every day he will come home after his afternoon mantra for our usual lessons.
My plan to travel to the Central Plains is put on a hold because it is currently winter. The snow has blocked all the roads, forcing the merchants’ caravans to halt their journey. If I wish to go, I will have to wait until spring of next year. Oh well, I am not in a hurry anyway. I have just arrived in Kucha and have not even begun my research yet. Moreover, my Tocharian skill is still inadequate. Since someone is willing to provide me room and board, there is no reason for me to refuse.
My host, Kumarayana, is very kind, polite and attentive. His refined aura is like that of a university professor. If my school has a professor like him, I am certain all the girls would race to register for his class. There will not be enough seats, and even the hallway will probably be full. If he teaches Sanskrit, Professor Ji will not have to worry about having no students willing to learn the language. Kumarayana trusts me completely, never once questioning my teaching methods. And after hearing Rajiva’s praise, he even suggests that I take another student.
I eventually find the opportunity to make a few rounds around the ancient Kuchan citadel. This kingdom has three palaces, all heavily guarded by a garrison. The main palace [for royal family] is quite magnificent. Its total area is larger than the palace in Wensu by five, six times. Buddhism is welcomed here. Everywhere I go, I always spot temples, pagodas, both big and small, built in clusters.
Kucha faces the Tian Shan range to the north, and is seen as a kingdom rich in freshwater in the Western Region. As such, agriculture and animal husbandry are able to thrive. The Tian Shan is also full of minerals such as copper, iron and gold, enough to supply all the surrounding countries. Furthermore, Kucha is situated on the Silk Road, enabling trade to flourish at the same time as handicrafts. Kucha is thus the wealthiest kingdom in the Western Regions.
Every day, teams of horses carrying silk would stop by the main road points. Goods are traded and sold constantly amongst the flood of merchants and buyers. The entire city looks like an exhibition of diversity: there are the Yue Zhi people, the Wusun, Xiongnu, Turks, Xianbei, Rouran, Mongolians, Persians, Iranians, Indians, even the people from Europe like Greeks and Romans, and of course a great many Han people. Every time I walk on the streets, I always pause to watch, mesmerized, as the throngs of people in all kinds of colours and clothes pass by me. Only when my new student, who has been my guide, looks up in contempt, do I reluctantly continue on our way.
Speaking of which, this new student is currently my biggest source of headaches.
This milky white skin, very cute boy who is busy using my pencils to doodle on my sketchbook, after which he would switch to using my erasers to rub them out, rinse and repeat. The boy sees my reusable stationery as his latest toy, and keeps using them to draw the whole day.
I stand by and watch him in pain.
“Oh young master, little lord, little devil! You think my house is a store that sells stationery? The eraser only half a piece, the pencil only half a stick, and three pages of my sketchbook gone so unjustly! Do you know all these writing instruments are non-renewable resources? If you use them up, where can you find them in this era to compensate for me?”
I actually still have some left in my bag, but since I do not know how long I will be staying here, I have to be thrifty.
The brat ignores me and continues to draw. Which might be because I spoke in Han. But after seeing my fourth sheet of paper “pass away”, I have had enough. I yell in Tocharian: “Stop your drawing!”
Even my lioness’ roar is not enough. He looks up and bats his big round eyes at me. Eyes exactly like Rajiva’s, a light gray inherited from their father, and curly red-brown hair from their mother. He looks at me for a long moment, then drops the pencil, climbs down the seat and dives into my arms.
“Then you must sing for me!”
Not again! A while ago, Kumarayana went to Gumo on some business and did not return for a few nights, so the brat snuck into my room one night and insisted on staying with me. To make him less of a pest, instead of useless shouting, I ended up singing nursery rhymes to him. Except after that night, he came back and demanded me to not only sing every night, but also to not have any songs repeated. So my modern songs have turned into lullabies! How ludicrous!
I let out a sigh and scoot over to give the boy space on my stool. Patting his back, I begin to sing Wakin Chau’s “My Dearest Baby”. The little guy closes his eyes, revealing long lashes that only add to the high bridge of his nose, quite an adorable picture!
I can understand why the little guy sticks to me like glue. Both his mother and brother left to serve the Buddha when he just turned six—four long years without any correspondence. His nanny, who has taken care of him since young and the one he was closest to, has passed away couple years prior. Even though the house is full of female attendants and nannies, they cannot give him the motherly love he needs. At this age, he needs friends, and even though every day he is at the palace studying with the princes, by the time he comes home, there is no one for him to play with. His brother is only three years older but is like a little adult, and there is also the distance of four years they spent apart. Every time he sees Rajiva, he becomes very shy.
My appearance here fulfills both the mother role and the playmate role—someone he can be pampered by. His naughty antics are only meant to attract my attention, to make me care about him. But all of that only makes me suffer! Every day I have to play countless roles: At one point I am a solider under the great commander forced to give daily reports, then an enemy fighting against the commander, and finally the defeated who begs for mercy with a white flag. Day after day playing with such an energetic child, I am weary to the bones.
When the last note of the lullaby finishes, I find that he has fallen asleep. I then carry him to the bed. Massaging my aching shoulders, I mutter under my breath, “Little guy, you are too heavy, soon I won’t be able to carry you anymore. Already ten and yet still so playful. I just sang you one song and you’re already asleep.”
It has been snowing the past few days. I am a Jiangnan* person, and despite the climate change going on, I have rarely seen snowfall as great as here. The first few days I was very excited and even dragged Pusyseda along to build snowmen. But after a while the excitement ceases. There is too much snow and I am not good with the cold. After that, I rarely go out and my research project is also put on hold. Fortunately, Rajiva brings me many Han books like “Historical Records”, “Commentary of Zuo”, “Lushi Chunqiu”, “Warring States”, “Book of Poetry”, etc—books that I have already read long ago—as well as books thought to be lost like “Star Catalogue of Shi”.
* referring to lands immediately to the south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River in China
Rajiva’s family reading room has many classics and texts written in numerous languages: Sanskrit, Tocharian, Brahmi, Kharoṣṭhī. The content is varied and diverse, touching on all kinds of subjects: phonology, philology, crafts, technology, calendar, medicine, logic, law, etc.
My mouth waters when I look at all those texts on the shelves. If only I can bring them back to the modern era, what a great source of research they would be! Most people cannot afford books from this era because each book is equivalent to a year’s worth of salary. That is not to mention the books that are written on silk. Or the court officials’ documents, sale and purchase agreements that are written on wood, because paper is many times more expensive than wood.
From the outside, the state preceptor’s residence looks very ordinary. Even the furnishings are also plain. All of the wealth is concentrated in this reading room. So every day, I always come by this room and sit for hours, studiously copying those precious texts that no amount of money can buy. The books are either brought here from India by Kumarayana or given as gifts by neighbouring countries to the Kuchan king. Since I cannot bring them with me, I can only transcribe as much as possible. The past ten days were thus not boring for me.
Every day, upon arriving home, Rajiva would go greet his father, come over to my room for his lesson, and then to the reading room to study. He will silently read as I silently transcribe. He will often return to the temple with an unfinished book, but by the next day, it would be exchanged with a new book. Occasionally he arrives home before Pusyseda’s lesson is over. He would then sit and study the lesson materials in silence. By the time I begin our lesson, he would have already memorized what I am about to teach. He even gently corrects me whenever I read something wrong, making me sweat. Does he think I’m a genius? Five thousand years worth of history, what’s wrong with a few mistakes? Annoyed, I would knock on his head lightly, warning him to respect his teacher.
Just as I am reminiscing my past ten days as a tutor and pulling a blanket over Pusyseda, I suddenly feel a draft of cold air behind my back. I spot Rajiva, who has opened the curtain and is standing at the doorframe watching me.
“Hey, how come you are so early today?”
His afternoon mantra starts at 4 and ends at 5, so he usually comes for our lesson around 6. But it is now only 5:30. How can I measure the time so accurately? It is because my time-travel watch can also tell the time, and the corresponding Gregorian and lunar dates, very useful. Every since the time-travel function stopped working, the watch can only be used to tell time. As such, I wear the watch every day, and anyone who sees it only thinks that it is an unusual bracelet.
I must also point out that there is a two-hour time zone difference between Xinjiang and Beijing. So when I’m travelling in Xinjiang [where she is now], I always adjust the watch to local time. Otherwise my daily schedule will be very weird: Waking up at 10am, lunch at 2-3pm, lights still out at 9pm, and going to bed at 1am. In any case, people of this era still have no concept of time zones, so I chose to adjust the time to 21st century Xinjiang.
“I was in the palace talking with the king, and then came here directly.”
He steps into the room, looks calmly at Pusyseda’s sleeping form, and suddenly speaks in Tocharian: “Stop your pretence!”
Pusyseda immediately opens his eyes and climbs down the bed. His face red, he calls out in small voice, “Big brother…”
My eyes shoot upward. This little brat, pretending to sleep to make me carry him to bed! Still speaking with that calm demeanour, Rajiva tells Pusyseda to return to his own room. The little boy is more afraid of his older brother than his father, so he quickly springs away.
“He is still young, no need to be so stern,” my maternal instinct rises up. I have always been reluctant to be harsh on Pusyseda.
“Those songs sounded very nice,” Rajiva skilfully changes the topic.
“They are only Han children’s songs. Kuchan music must sound much nicer.”
After all, Xuanzang has praised that “It is well known that Kuchan music is famous throughout the whole region.”
“I have never heard it [Kuchan music].” A trace of sadness passes by his eyes, he hesitates before saying, “My parents have never sung me to sleep.”
I chuckle as I imagine a scene where Kumarayana and Jiva sing lullabies to their sons, which probably resemble hypnotic chanting more.
Rajiva looks at me somewhat puzzled. I hasten to say, “Then do you want to hear them [Han children’s songs]?”
He hesitates and does not answer me, looking down pensively. Then as if he has just made a big decision, he looks up and gives me a firm nod. I find it a bit strange. It’s only a song, why the hesitation?*
*[T/N: Remember this moment, it’ll pose more significance and makes more sense much later.]
I sing “My Dearest Baby” again. On a whim, I recall that scene where Song Hye Kyo makes up this song’s lyrics and funny dance moves in the drama called “Full House”.* Although the dance moves had no artistic sense, they provided a good comical effect. With such thoughts, I tried my best to recreate that scene. The handsome little monk before me gives a brilliant smile in return, a carefree smile more appropriate for a thirteen-year-old boy.
*Ai Qing is probably referring to this famous scene. Since the drama is my sister’s favourite, I have watched it growing up. The song is called “Three little bears”, and is an actual Korean children’s song, though the moves were indeed made up by the actress.
Even though I have already finished singing, his laughter remains, a beautiful sound. I watch him silently, wanting to immortalize that youthful look in my memory. The past days, I have been trying hard to sketch a portrait of Rajiva to bring back to my era, to let people in the 21st century know about this great monk from 1650 years ago. But I am not an artist. I know how to sketch buildings and objects in dimensions, but portraits are somewhat beyond my skills. I kept drawing again and again but the efforts remain unsatisfactory. His otherworldly aura aside, I have not been able to capture even a third of his appearance. At the moment, I wish I have a magical brush. That smile, that picturesque smile, if I can sketch it and store for a thousand years later, how wonderful would that be!
Rajiva’s face is reddening again, his eyes drifting somewhere else. I wake up from my ‘dream’. I must have stared too long and made him uncomfortable.
I quickly change the topic, “So why did the king want to talk to you?”