I am all for promoting this novel to new audiences, and although I think re-translating from my translation is not a great idea (since I’m not even translating from the original Chinese), I am not exactly against re-translation per se. But at least have the decency to contact me and request my permission first if you want to re-translate? I am pointing fingers directly at a certain Thai translator, who I shall not name either their name or the site, but you know who you are. It seems like general courtesy is dead, or perhaps I should have been clearer in that Announcement post I made a couple months ago. So let me clarify for what I hope is the last time: Xiao Chun holds the copyright to FBFY, and Lương Hiền holds the credits for the official Vietnamese translation. That said, I do own the English translation, every word of it (unless noted otherwise), so give me credit where it is due, please. I am not that hard to contact. Leave a comment on any of my posts and I will certainly be notified of it on my phone and respond accordingly.
I may sound like a broken record, but honestly, I translate this novel for free, so at the very least, give me some basic respect. I also see some instances of people on other websites/forums complaining about my speed of translation, well guest what, it isn’t going to move any faster when these kinds of incidents keep happening! If it wasn’t for my own stubbornness, love of the novel and the support of many other readers, I’d have quit this project a long time ago! I would have also stopped putting in the endnotes, stopped doing the additional research and cross-referencing that pretty much no other English translator of c-novels do (not even Lương Hiền herself)!
EDIT (Nov.12/16): The Thai translator (Sydney) has come forward and admitted her mistakes. I accepted her apologies and we have been communicating back and forth. Sydney thus has my permission to re-translate to Thai; her translation can be found here. The Introduction post and Index page will be updated accordingly. However, I chose to leave my note above as is to reiterate to all visitors of this blog that the English translation of FBFY is mine, and that any re-translation attempt must first gain my approval. I still do NOT allow any re-posting of my translation anywhere else.
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 words I added for clearer meaning.
Chapter 23: Sumuzhe Festival
I travel to the Kuchan capital city using Rajiva’s horse carriage. The road is rocky, making the carriage sway from side to side, which normally would have made me fall asleep, but this time, for some strange reason, I am wide awake. Perhaps it is because I am still filled with the giddy feeling from before. I look down at my hands. Ever since these hands touched his face, I have been reluctant to wash them. I hold them out and close my eyes, trying my best to recall the outline of his face, as if my hands are still exploring it. I still remember that warmth, his bony face with slight stubble on the chin and the smooth skin. Unable to hold it back any longer, I let out a giggle.
I keep on smiling and giggling until I arrive at the capital city in the afternoon. Rajiva has already arranged for me to stay in a nice inn, for which I am grateful, as almost all the inns in the city has been filled due to the festival season. After a quick meal, I begin to feel drowsy. It has been a while since I’ve stayed up for this long. Before, I used to pull all-nighters in the self-study rooms at school during exam seasons. I thus decide to spend the rest of the day sleeping. I hope that due to how exhausted I am, I won’t snore in my sleep, and even if I do, that it won’t be so loud as to wake my neighbours.
Sumuzhe, also known as the praying for heavy snow festival, is held annually on the 7th month of the lunar calendar. The people pray for a cold winter with heavy snowfall, so that Kucha will have sufficient water for the crops in the spring. This festival will eventually be introduced to the Central Plains during the Tang Dynasty, where it will become a huge sensation for the Han people. A great many poems and songs will be written about this festival during this period, by poets such as Li Bai, Du Fu, Bai Juyi, Li He, etc. By the time of the Song Dynasty, Sumuzhe will become a central subject in many poems, the most famous of which is the ci poem by Fan Zhongyan [989 –1052 CE]:
To the tune of Sumuzhe
“A green, cloudy sky; and yellow leaves covering the ground—
there are even autumn colours in the waves.
Over the waves, there hangs an emerald green mist.
Mountains catch the setting sun; sky and water fuse.
The fragrant grasses are heartless,
but move further, now, beyond the setting sun.
There’s homesickness and wanderlust.
When each night comes,
only happy dreams afford me sleep.
With the bright moon, on the balcony, I’m not to be alone!
The wine poured in my worry-guts
transforms itself to lovesick tears.”
* Translated by Julian Farmer with Liang Yujing on Litro
When he passed by Kucha, Xuanzang was also able to witness this festival and wrote it down in his Records. The Kuchan king at the time had asked the great monk to participate [in the festival]. When the singing and dancing began, the king invited Xuanzang to take off his kasaya robes and socks and join in the prayer for the cold. Xuanzang was able to watch the singing and dancing, so why can’t Rajiva? …Never mind, Xuanzang was a visitor from faraway lands, and as the saying goes, “When in Rome…”
I put on the mask I bought in Subashi City and begin to wander around. The main streets are packed with people, all wearing masks, greeting one another, stranger or not. The joyous atmosphere elevates my somber mood considerably. Caught in the excitement, I blend in with the crowd. A moment later, the parade sets off. Leading the procession is a team of drummers playing the jiegu1 on horses, beating their hands against the drum skin in unison, and thus begins the Sumuzhe festival. Following behind is a group of musicians holding various kinds of drums, big and small, hands beating, bodies swaying in harmony with the jiegu drummers ahead. A short distance away is a team of male and female dancers dressed in ceremonial outfits, regal and dignified. Each dancer straightens the long silk cloth held in their hands, expressions solemn, as they dance in simple steps steeped of tradition. Their dance has some similarities to the Yangge2 dance by Chinese aunties during the lunar new years.
1 jiegu is an hourglass-shaped drum used in ancient China originally from Kucha.
2 a form of Chinese folk dance developed from a dance known in the Song dynasty as Village Music (村田樂), very popular in Northern China.
In 1903, two Japanese uncovered a relic casket [śarīra] in the ruins of Subashi City. They brought the casket back to Japan and stowed it away. It took until 1957 for the Japanese to notice traces of a painting underneath the covering layer of paint. They then peeled off the paint and revealed the original image—a depiction of the Sumuzhe dance so vivid that it left people astounded. The painting depicts a great number of people, each holding an instrument native to the Western Regions, all wearing masks and performing different dance moves. The casket remains in Japan [in the Tokyo National Museum] to this day. We [Chinese historians] had to travel all the way there and bring back photos to study.
Now, that same festival that was once named the Great Festival of the East is happening right in front of my eyes. There are no words to describe the joy I feel. The Sumuzhe festival lasts for seven days and seven nights. When I return, if I can help recreate this festival, a festival of great importance in our cultural heritage, then the study of folk dance and music will flourish even more. Such a feat will earn me much envy from my colleagues. The very thought brings a big grin to my face.
It is now noon. The parade continues to travel along the streets. On the sidewalks, various food stalls have begun to set up. The smell of grilled lamb makes me salivate. I take off my mask and approach a small stand, asking to buy three skewers. The skewers in this era are so big ah, each piece of meat the size of a chicken egg! When I was travelling through Xinjiang [in 21st century], I noticed that the size of the skewers kept getting smaller from south of Xinjiang to north of Xinjiang, from Xinjiang to the mainland and then to the coast. In the south of Xinjiang (which includes Kashgar, Hotan, Kuqa, etc), the size of the lamb meat doesn’t change after 1,650 years, still as big as a chicken egg and usually costs about two yuan [Chinese modern currency] per skewer. The food stalls in front of my university, however, sell the smallest lamb skewers I’ve ever seen, one yuan per skewer, but we girls have to eat around twenty skewers before we can feel somewhat full.
Pulling my mind from the modern era back to the ancient festival before me, I continue to watch the throngs of people passing by as I eat my skewers. Eating yummy food while gazing at handsome men is the best [ha!], but I can hardly tell with everyone here wearing masks. Suddenly, just as I’m about to take another bite, something catches my eyes, leaving my mouth hanging open, my food forgotten.
Someone is separating from the crowd and approaching me—a tall figure wearing an outfit typical of Kuchan nobles: flowing yellow robes cinched at the waist. The outfit at first glance resembles that worn by European medieval knights. As long as the man wearing it is of good build, the outfit will make him look even more gallant. The man walking towards me has such a build, very tall, each stride confident, making him stand out amidst the crowd.
Although I cannot see his face clearly, it is not hard to conclude that his face must be quite handsome too. Why is he approaching me? Why is his posture so familiar? He is wearing a scary-looking mask, and as he gets closer, I can see the surprise and inquiry in his eyes. I squint at him, trying my best to guess. Those light grey eyes seem very familiar. My heart is trying to jump out of its ribcage. Is it him? But…but…he told me he cannot come [to this festival]…
“Ai Qing, is that you?” he says with a tremble.
“Of course it is me.”
I hold up the mask on my wrist and realize with horror that my other hand is busy holding three gigantic skewers. I am done for! My mouth is still chewing loudly, my face oily [from the meat] and looking at him with an idiotic expression of surprise. What a ridiculous sight I must be, and yet this is all caught in his eyes!
I shrink in embarrassment, but suddenly get pulled into a warm embrace. My heart pounds like crazy, my mind a mess. Why…why is he…
Although my hand is still holding the skewers, the rest of my body is numb and motionless, letting this tall man lift me up and spin me around a few times.
“Ai Qing, you have returned at last!”
Dizzy as I am, I finally notice that although the voice is similar, it is not his! He is not this muscular, would not laugh this happily, let alone doing something so improbable like lifting me up to spin a few rounds so publicly.
The man eventually puts me back on the ground and takes off his mask with one hand. High nose, large and bright eyes, long thick eyebrows, light grey eyes, how similar! Even the height and build is just like him! But this man’s face is not as thin as his, the skin not as honey brown, and the curve of lips never this sly. Disappointment floods me for a second, only to be replaced by a new burst of joy.
* T/N: Previously I followed Lương Hiền’s lead and left his name as “Pusyseda”. My apologies, I finally was able to find the actual Sanskrit name of Rajiva’s brother. My thanks to Baidu for that (I finally had the sense to put his Chinese name into Google). I should probably fix his name in previous chapters too, but I am so lazy (alright alright, I’ll get it done…eventually)
It is now my turn to hug him back, but why is he so tall ah!
When I release him, I see that his face has turned sulky: “Ai Qing, the oil on your face is now all over my clothes!”
Whatever embarrassment I felt earlier from hugging such a tall man immediately vanishes after that sentence. This brat has not changed one bit!
“So, you must treat me to a meal in the future!” Before I can even react, he has snatched away the skewers in my hand, returns it to the food stall and whisks me away, not giving me even a moment to exclaim how wasteful it is! This rascal!
[Some time later]
I stare at the extravagant dishes on the table before me. How long has it been since I last ate Chinese food? Since I last saw white rice? In this era, rice can only obtained through merchants from the Central Plains, so eating white rice in the Western Regions like this is a luxury very few can afford. Look at the furnishings here, chairs with back rests [as opposed to stools]! Stuffing my mouth with white rice, I mutter to myself: What a wastrel!
Sitting opposite of me, Pusysdeva has barely touched the food and instead has been staring at me with a smile the whole time. Unnerved, I continue to stuff my face without meeting his gaze. A Han woman brings more food in, which he takes and thanks her with that same seductive smile, making her face redden in return. The poor girl is so rattled that when she leaves, she accidentally hits the door.
I sigh: “Pusysdeva, are you aware that that smile of yours is capable of making all the girls fall dead?”
“Oh?” he raises his eyebrows and leans forward, “What about you, Ai Qing?”
The rascal actually dared to speak to me like that!
I look at his sunny handsome face and swallow: “Please don’t. I am already an old woman, let me live for a few more years!”
He bursts into laughter, the sound completely different from Rajiva’s. Pusysdeva laughs loudly and without restraints. Rajiva’s laugh, rare as it is, is light and clear.
He suddenly stops laughing and speaks in a serious tone, “Ai Qing, you are a celestial nymph, how can you turn old!”
I open my mouth but no words come out. After all, it was me who told him that and it was also him who witnessed my disappearance. If I knew then that I would one day return, I’d not have sown such a stupid explanation in his young impressionable mind. Now, the mind that I have made distorted for ten years, can I straighten it out?
“Ai Qing, when did you return?”
“I…” I stutter, my mind turning inside out.
“Yesterday,” I eventually settle on. I do not want him to know that I have been here for three months, that I have been with Rajiva the entire time. Rajiva…I want to love and protect him in my own way…
After that, Pusysdeva asks where I am currently staying, so I tell him the name of my inn. Seeing that I continue to eat, he appears impatient: “Until when do you plan on eating?”
That startles me, “Why, are you busy?”
“Of course,” he says in a grave tone, “I must help you pack.”
“Where else but the residence of the State Preceptor!”
Pusysdeva follows me back to the inn. In the middle of packing, I let him see my bra by accident. He even picks up the item and asks me what it is with a curious face, making me incredibly embarrassed. After I am done, without a word, he slings my Northface backpack onto his shoulder, throws the innkeeper a string of coins and waves a hand: “Keep the change!”
This wastrel! I have no words!
When we’re almost at the residence of the State Preceptor, anxious, I pull his arm: “Hey, how will you explain my appearance to the others? I am the same as I was ten years ago.”
He pauses for a moment, thinking, then says: “I will tell them you are the niece of Ai Qing, named Xiao [little] Ai Qing!”
I am taken aback. They are indeed brothers. Even their thinking is the same!
“But I won’t conceal this from my father,” his face turns serious, “I can never conceal anything from him.”
Kumarayana, that elegant, scholarly man, probably would be able to accept my strangeness.
[Inside the residence,] I stare at my surroundings. The furnishings in my old room have not changed the past ten years. Even the wall behind the headboard of my bed is the same, still has pages of Han characters I once made Pusysdeva write. That time, he was insistent on hanging them there. I complied and hung up each page he finished. Those crooked characters that once made me mad just by looking at them now feel nostalgic.
“A maid comes in every day to clean this room, waiting for your return,” a soft voice passes by my ears, slightly itchy but gives my heart a burst of warmth.
“Come, I will show you something.” Before I can even recover from the surprise, he is already pulling me away. This brat, impatient as ever.
He pulls me to his room. The room has changed significantly. There are a number of swords hung on the walls, and from the looks of the scabbards, I can tell they are of high quality. I glance at the bookcase nearby and notice that most of the books are Buddhist scriptures. The books in Tocharian are all about weaponry and battle strategies. Only a few are in Han: “Art of War”, “Han Feizi”, “Strategies of the Warring States”, etc
I am looking around his room when I notice Pusysdeva carefully pulling something out of his drawers, a picture frame from the looks of it, and gently unwraps the cloth covering it. I open my mouth in shock. That is the Doraemon picture I gave him as a new year’s gift back then! To think he has kept it all along like a treasure!
Touched, I look up at him and call out: “Pusysdeva…”
“Don’t cry just yet, I have something else in store.” He pulls out a book from underneath his pillow and puts it in my hands. It is the Classic of Poetry*. The edges of the volume are all worn out, which means the owner must have flipped through it often.
* Shijing, also known as the Book of Songs or the Book of Odes, is the oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry, comprising 305 works dating from the 11th to 7th centuries BCE, and one of the “Five Classics” of Confucian canon.
“You can pick any page and test me on it.”
I do not flip the book, thinking for a moment, then ask him: “Can you recite ‘Ji Gu’ from Guo feng – Bei feng?”
* The Classic of Poetry is organized into roughly four sections: Guó fēng (“Airs of the States” or “Lessons of the States”), Xiǎo yǎ (“Lesser Court Hymns” or “Minor Odes of the Kingdom”), Dà yǎ (“Major Court Hymns” or “Major Odes of the Kingdom”), and Sòng (“Eulogies”, broken down further into Eulogies of Zhou, Eulogies of Lu, and Eulogies of Shang).
Guó fēng contains 160 poems organized into fifteen odes, one of which is Bèi fēng (“Odes of Bei”). Jī gǔ (“Beating drums”) is one of the 19 poems in Bèi fēng.
[T/N: I had a hard time finding the correct poem to search for English translation because the Chinese ebook uses simplified characters, while the original poems would of course be written in traditional characters…]
“Hear the roll of our drums!
See how we leap about, using our weapons!
Those do the fieldwork in the State, or fortify Cao,
While we alone march to the south.
We followed Sun Zizhong,
Peace having been made with Chen and Song;
[But] he did not lead us back,
And our sorrowful hearts are very sad.
Here we stay, here we stop;
Here we lose our horses;
And we seek for them,
Among the trees of the forest.
For life or for death, however separated,
To our wives we pledged our word.
We held their hands; –
We were to grow old together with them.
Alas for our separation!
We have no prospect of life.
Alas for our stipulation!
We cannot make it good.”
* English translation by James Legge (1815-1897), a Scottish sinologist, missionary and scholar, best known as an early and prolific translator of Classical Chinese texts into English. He was the first Professor of Chinese at Oxford University (1876–1897).
[T/N: The Vietnamese version only includes the first and last stanza of Ji Gu, but I thought you all might benefit from reading the full poem.]
This poem is my favourite from the Classic of Poetry. Back then, I taught Pusysdeva using Tocharian, unlike when I taught Rajiva using Han. [Now,] listening to Pusysdeva speak Han with a slightly off pronunciation, I feel like laughing, but for some reason my nose is stinging, as if tears are about to fall.
“Do you remember, you said that if I can memorize the Classic of Poetry, then you would return?” [see Ch.14]
I nod. I was not serious when I said those words, but Pusysdeva had wholeheartedly believed in them.
“In the first year, I memorized the entire book, but you did not return. I thought maybe it was because my recitation was poor, so in the second year, I recited the poems again, but still no sign of you. Every year on the 10th day of the first month [lunar calendar, Ai Qing’s birthday], I would come to your room and recite the entire book. I did it for ten times and here you are at last…”
“It’s a moving story, isn’t it?”
I nod. I cannot hold back my tears any longer!
“Then, give me a hug!”
The Big Bad Wolf is about to jump on the Little Red Riding Hood, but before he can do it, he receives a knuckle on the head instead. I swallow back the tears that almost spilled over earlier.
Later that day, I go over to greet Kumarayana. In the past ten years, his two sons have matured into young men in their prime, but to him, the past ten years resembled an invisible knife carving harsh lines across his body. His already thin face now appears haggard and bony. His hair is all white. He is only about fifty years of age, and yet he looks very weak, coughing every now and then. But those light grey deep-set eyes are still full of wisdom and experience, as if they can penetrate your very soul. I tremble at the sight; Rajiva’s eyes are the same as his father’s.
Pusysdeva’s usual carefree and joking manner is gone. He is every bit respectful in front of his father, conversing with him in Sanskrit for a long while. Kumarayana keeps glancing at me with surprise, making me worry. But after that, he does not raise any inquiries about my strange background. He gently tells me that I can be at ease here in his residence, and that I will be treated with honour and respect. I have guessed correctly. A wise person like Kumarayana, even if he does not know my true identity, he still wouldn’t consider me some witch that should be burned alive. It is no wonder that he was able to have such a pair of sons that deeply respect him so!
That night, I sleep in the same room that was once familiar to me for three months straight. I wonder what Rajiva would think if he knows I have returned to his father’s residence. What is he doing right now? Does he miss me at all?