Faithful to Buddha, Faithful to You — Chapter 26

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 26: My performance

I open my eyes and find Pusysdeva sitting beside my bed as usual. The sight no longer startles me. Ignoring him and his shouts telling me to hurry up, I try to sleep in for a bit longer, before getting up reluctantly. I change into the dress I received yesterday, and when I step outside, I see that Pusysdeva is wearing a light green tunic cinched at the waist. With his nice figure, had this been the modern era, he’d have made a fine model or actor. However, I can’t help but notice that the clothes we wear today really seem like couple outfits.

When Pusysdeva sees me, he lets out a whistle and circles around me, nodding in appreciation. But then the brat ruins it by adding: “Why didn’t you put make-up on? Where is your jewellery?”

Yesterday, aside from the dress, Pusysdeva also gave me a make-up kit of sorts. But I chose to stow it away in my backpack, with the intention of bringing it back to the 21st century and using it as an artifact for the researchers to study how women in ancient times beautified themselves. As for jewellery, I never wear it, and even if I possess any, I would have stowed them away for future research. The hairstyle of Han women during this time is very simple, just a neat bun at the back held together by a hairpin. I have always gone out wearing that simple hairstyle and encountered no problems, so for what reason am I being pushed in front of a mirror by this womanizer and forced to wear make-up today of all days? The worst part is I do not know how to use ‘make-up’ of the ancients, so that womanizer has to step in and take over the task.

I am forced to let Pusysdeva play to his heart’s content, clutching my heart in pain all the while, wondering just exactly how much lead my skin is absorbing?

When he is finally done after a long a while, I look at myself in the mirror and burst out laughing. My eyebrows are drawn exactly like the Chinese Opera’s mask Zhang Fei, my lips painted as red as Wu Jun Ru’s in her various matchmaking roles in TV dramas, like a circle of blood, a sight that would surely give children nightmares for years to come. My god, this appearance is no different from the “flower-like” * role in Stephen Chow’s comedic films! I make a quick dash to go wash my face, praying to the heavens that nobody has seen it in the meantime.zhangfei
20150923004362*referring to the role of a cross-dressing man with a finger up in his nose, a cameo frequently played by Hong Kong actor Lee Kin Yan. Stephen Chow is the director behind films such as “Shaolin Soccer” (2001), “Kung Fu Hustle” (2004), and most recently, “The Mermaid” (2016).

When I get back, I vow to myself that if Pusysdeva still insists on putting make-up on my face, I will not go out today, even if I really want to see the Sumuzhe Festival on its 6th day!

However, to my surprise, Pusysdeva stops forcing me, and on his face are reddish spots as if he is flushing, a sight I’ve never seen before. Now it’s my turn to circle around him. Is this really the face of that playboy who I thought can never change?

The streets today are filled with countless young men and women, though there are no masks like the previous days, replaced by pretty make-up and beautiful couple outfits, walking around hand-in-hand. Ah, I get it. The 6th day of the Sumuzhe Festival must be the Kuchan version of Valentine’s Day.

I find myself at the receiving end of envious glares from various women around me, who are clearly upset at the sight of Pusysdeva’s vice-like grip on my shoulders and our couple outfits. Ah, I have been wondering why he has been acting so nice to me, gifting me a dress, forcing me to put on make-up, but it turns out that his true intention was to use me as a shield, turning me into an evil witch in the other women’s eyes for no good reason. Angry, I try to remove his claws off my shoulders, but needless to say, my efforts are just as futile as the hundred times before.

All the couples are gathering in front of a stage set up in the main square, their faces brimming with excitement. I look around but find no professional dancers in sight. How strange. Could it be that today is reserved for public performances?

“It’s a singing competition where each couple will step up to perform a duet. The judges’ criteria will be based on the content of the lyrics, the performance aspect and the actual singing. The winning pair will be considered the best couple in Kucha this year. Look, that is the prize.”

My eyes follow to where Pusysdeva is pointing to and find two boxes placed on a high table. There must be some valuable items inside. Because of the distance, I cannot tell for certain.

Pusysdeva lets out a long sigh: “Ai Qing, there are so many women who want to sing with me, but because of you I declined them all. Do you know how long I’ve been coveting that prize?”

He casts a glance full of longing at the prize table.

“Come!” I pull Pusysdeva towards the stage.

“Ai Qing, this is the first time you initiated hand-holding, I’m very happy, but could you tell me what is it that you’re planning?”

“What else but help you win that prize?” With a sly smile, I wink at him. “This is my reward for your beautiful dance yesterday.”

After we register, I pull him to the side and sing to him a Chinese song. Pusysdeva bursts into laughter and receives my death glare in return.

“Be serious, this is a competition!”

Pusysdeva stops laughing, listens to my singing intently, and begins to translate the lyrics into Tocharian. Even though the melody is rather simple, his translation is pretty fast and even flows well with the tune. With only one more listen and he is already able to sing back to me the full song fluently in Tocharian. I am astonished. Pusysdeva is actually very intelligent, perhaps not at the same level as his brother, but his IQ definitely surpasses the level of ordinary people. But because he always plays and jokes around each day, people are not aware of this fact.

We rehearse a few more times until there are no mistakes and confidently walk up the stage when the MC calls our names.

We stand at opposite ends of the stage. Pusysdeva acts as if he is merely wandering the streets. When his eyes spot me, they dance with joyful surprise, and he begins to circle around me. I pretend to be shy and appear like I’m about to walk away. He tries to stop me but I sidestep around him. From behind me, he begins to sing:

“Heeeyy yo, what is it that frolics on the water?
What is it that builds towers on the water?
What is it that sets up an umbrella on the water?
What twosome entwines their heads on the water?”
* “Heyyy yo” here is a phonetic expression of the hollering that is used to open a verse in traditional Chinese folk songs, not to be confused with actual English words.

Pusysdeva has a strong voice that rings far and wide. He not only dances well but also sings well. I turn around and look at Pusysdeva, giving him a shy expression, before replying with a clear singing voice that was once unbeatable in every karaoke room:

“Heeyyy yo, it is the duck that frolics on the water,
The boat that builds towers on the water,
The water lily that sets up an umbrella on the water,pair_of_mandarin_ducks_in_the_water_wallpaper_-_1280x800
And a pair of mandarin ducks* that entwines their heads on the water.”
* Mandarin ducks are referred to by the Chinese as yuanyang, where yuan (鴛) and yang (鴦) respectively stand for male and female mandarin ducks. In traditional Chinese culture, mandarin ducks are believed to be lifelong couples, unlike other species of ducks, and as such are regarded as the symbol of romantic love and fidelity.

Bright laughter rings out. Overjoyed, he comes closer and wants to grab my hands, but I quickly sidestep him and begin to sing:

“Heeyyy yo, what has a mouth but cannot speak?
What has no mouth but makes a din?
What has feet but will not walk?
What has no feet but travels to a thousand homes?”

Listening to me sing, he scratches his head, appearing lost and confused, spreading out his hands as if asking his opponent to not give out such hard riddles! These acts were not part of our rehearsals, clearly an improvisation on the spot by Pusysdeva. His acting is very natural, making our story much more engaging. This rascal clearly has acting skills in spades. Looking at his fake-but-seemingly-real face, I just want to laugh.

I have finished singing but the guy is not responding right away. He takes a few steps, face contemplative, making the audience think that he might be losing, and thus appear anxious for him. At last, his face lights up as he knocks on the palm of his hand, turns around to face me and replies:

“Bodhisattva has a mouth but cannot speak;
A copper gong has no mouth but makes a din;
A rich man has feet but will not walk;
His money has no feet but travels to a thousand homes.”

The audience erupts into cheers. Thanks to Pusysdeva, the atmosphere of the festival has livened up. While everyone is still in high spirits, I shyly let the guy takes a hold of my hand, and together we sing:

“If you feel like singing, you should sing;
If you want to catch fish, head down to the river;
You work the spears and I will throw the nets;
Together we will travel along the currents of water.”

Pusysdeva moves from holding my hand to embracing me from behind, his head leaning onto my shoulder. We finish our performance with the classic pose of Jack and Rose from the film Titanic. The audience thunders with applause as flowers fly up the stage. I secretly elbow Pusysdeva in the stomach real hard, but he is unfazed and refuses to let go. I should have warned him off beforehand, so there is no use having regrets now.

The song we just sung is from the film “Liu San Jie” [Third Sister Liu]. The original lyrics contain riddles about tropical fruits like papayas, bananas, pineapples, and pomelos, which are all foreign to the Kucha people so I elected to remove them from our performance.liu-san-jie-su-li-huang-wanqiu-liu-shilong-1960-dvd-english-sub-brand-new-e3c502e3e368f6bc286f0d7bafb59927
* Liu San Jie is a legend of the Zhuang people of the Guangxi region, an ethnic minority in China with a population of 18 million in today’s times, second in number only to the Han. The story tells of a fearless folk singer by the name of Liu Shanhua, nicknamed Liu San Jie because she was the third daughter, beloved by all in her village for her beauty, singing voice and for refusing to be cowed by the tyrannical landlord Mo Huairen. Hundreds of years later, the legend was made into a wildly popular musical in early 1960 and then a film later in the same year, which was a huge sensation both at home and abroad.

Unsurprisingly, we win first place with the following comments from the judges: a unique song, interesting lyrics, very natural acting, and masterful singing. But of course! If you have come across novels with time-travelling theme, 99.9% of the time you will find the heroines being allowed the chance to showcase their hidden talents in singing and dancing in some way or another. I smile smugly to myself because my chance has arrived at last. Ha ha ha, from now on, nobody can complain about me having no common traits with all those time-travelling heroines!

The prize turns out to be pretty great! It’s a beautiful pair of lion pendants carved from Khotan white jade. The handiwork is very intricate and highly detailed. In the modern era, this would have been appraised at ten thousands of Chinese yuan [=thousands of dollars]! Pusysdeva fastens the pendant around his neck and then without a word, fastens the other one on my neck. He grins widely at me, his face radiant, as if he has never seen a more precious treasure.

For the rest of the day, Pusysdeva seems to never stop smiling, making all the women nearby lost in a daze as they stare at him, some walking into pillars, some into walls. Every time he opens his mouth to call me, he would say: “Heeyy yo.” I recall that time when I was travelling through Yangshuo [part of Guangxi], on the Western Street, where tourists are most concentrated, every restaurant that I walked by was playing that folk song on repeat, to the point that even when I get home, my mouth was still singing: “Heeyy yo, what is…” Pusysdeva is just like me back then, except he keeps singing it over and over next to my ears. Annoyed to the extreme, I warn him that if he sings one more time, I’m going back without him, which shut him up for good.

In the evening, the playboy sneaks into my room as usual, but unlike before, he no longer brings up topics that make me blush, and instead asks me to sing the songs from before [ten years ago]. The melodies of a few songs still linger in him, so he can still hum along. As I sing Wakin Chau’s “My Dearest Baby”, I suddenly recall the memory of me also singing that song to Rajiva [ch.11], and in that moment, I realize that I miss him, really really miss him, so much that my heart constricts in pain…

My voice starts to trail off as I become lost in a trance-like state. In that moment of inattention, I get pulled into a strong embrace. I regret not taking self-defence lessons back then. If I cannot use martial arts, then I must use words.

“Pusysdeva, why do you always like to hug me?”

“Because you have a very nice scent.”

He sniffs my neck like a puppy, tickling me into laughter. I lift my arm up to my nose. What nice scent? I did not bring along any modern shampoos or body lotions, do not wear any make-up or use any perfume. When I take baths, I always use the same soap that Kuchan people use, so how can there be a nice scent!

“You are not like the other women, whose bodies are smelly, making me not want to touch them.” He takes another deep whiff. “You smell very nice, Ai Qing!”

Ah, I think I get it now. The foul smell Pusysdeva is referring to is what we [modern] call body odour. Chen Yinke [a historian] once wrote an academic paper on “Hu [people] smell and body odour”1. One paragraph reads: “Body odour, or Hu smell as it was once called, refers to the characteristic smell of the Hu people in the Western Regions. Even after intermarriages of the Hu people with the Han, the smell can still be found in some descendants. But technically speaking, calling it the ‘Hu smell’ is not very appropriate, seeing as how the smell is closer to the smell of foxes, so the term becomes ‘fox smell’.” Most modern Westerners still have body odours, which I have always guessed is because their diets differ from East Asians, containing more cold foods, and over time, it creates the smell. East Asians rarely have body odours2, so that must be why Pusysdeva likes to sniff me. I shudder. Thank heavens the two brothers do not seem have the body odour problem.
1 The title of the essay in Chinese is 胡臭与狐臭, which in pinyin is “húchòu yǔ húchòu”, so you can see that although the words for “Hu smell” and “body odour” are different, phonetically they’re pronounced the same. 胡 (Hú) is an ancient term most commonly used during the Tang dynasty to refer to non-Han people, specifically people from Central and Western Asia. The term carries a derogatory connotation, similar to ‘barbarians’. The 狐 (also Hú) character in the modern Chinese term for body odour on its own means “fox”. [T/N: bang my head on the table]
2 And yes, it is a scientific fact that East Asians (almost all Koreans, most of Chinese and Japanese) do not have body odours, which has to do with their non-functional ABCC11, a gene that affects the apocrine sweat glands and determines whether your earwax is ‘wet’ or ‘dry’… [T/N: I was amazed when I learned of this too!] It is not certain how evolution worked that way for the East Asians, so the eating habits thing is a total conjecture made by Ai Qing (and by extension, the author Xiao Chun).

“Also, you are very warm…”

“Nonsense!” I push him away. “I am a human, so of course I’m warm!”

“But my mother feels very cold.”

Pusysdeva lets me go and walks over to the where the pages of his messy scrawls in Han are hanging on the walls. He looks at them carefully.

“In my mind, the memories of my mother are those times my father takes me to visit her at the temple. She wore outfits that I disapproved of, always looked at my father with such cold eyes, and with me it was no different. I have never once told my father about how I actually hated all those times I had to go visit my mother and older brother. When they took off on a pilgrimage for four years, I was secretly relieved, because finally, I will no longer be forced to meet those cold people.”

“But I remember that when they returned, you had hugged your mother and cried really hard.”

“I did that to please my father,” Pusysdeva turns around to face me with a rueful smile. “He wanted me to love her, and I’d do anything to make him happy. Even though I could not understand it, how he could be missing those cold people each and every night.”

I was rendered speechless. Barely ten years and already Pusysdeva had known how to play-act to make his father happy! But in a way, it is understandable. Kumarayana is the only family member always by his side from when Pusysdeva was young until now, whereas between him and his mother and brother, there was always an invisible barrier he could never cross.

“That was the first time I ever hugged my mother. I wanted to know how it would feel to be in a mother’s embrace, but she was indifferent. I hated her cold arms as well as her cold gaze. From then on, I never wanted to hug her again.”

A desolate look crosses his face, an expression that greatly resembles Rajiva’s. They are brothers after all, so even if there is no affection between them, the blood that runs in their veins is still the same.

“But you are different. When I was ten, in your arms, I felt very warm, unlike how it was with my mother, so I really liked to hug you back then.”

Pusysdeva extends his arms and pulls me back into his arms. A long sigh ghosts over my neck.

“Ten years later, holding you in my arms, I cannot help but remember the old days.”

This time I don’t try to remove myself from his hold like before. My maternal instinct makes me unable to turn him away. He has always both lacked and longed for a mother’s love. In her relentless pursuit of ideals, did it ever cross Jiva’s mind that she was a cause of pain to Pusysdeva? Perhaps she had loved both brothers like any other mother, but her way of love was rather strange, wasn’t it?

Although I let him hold me for a long while, I still have to make it clear with him. Even if these intimate actions come from his longing for a mother’s love, I cannot replace Jiva. Pusysdeva at this age is always surrounded by many women, but he has probably never given any thought to my feelings. I cannot let this continue any further. Most importantly, I do not want Rajiva to witness this kind of scene. Even though no promises have ever been exchanged between us, in my heart, he is the only one.

I let out a long sigh and try to choose my words carefully: “Pusysdeva, you are now an adult. The Han has a saying: 男女授受不亲 (nánnǚ shòushòu bù qīn), which means that there should always be a proper distance between men and women. We call that etiquette. So you should not hug me whenever you want like this. I am a Han person, and thus do not like men being this forward with me.”

“You do not like this?”

Seeing my serious gaze, Pusysdeva sighs and lets me go.

“I always thought that every woman would like for me to embrace them.”

“Because they love you. Only those who love each other would like that kind of physical contact.”

“Then…” Pusysdeva suddenly moves close to me, his eyes glued on my face to watch my expression, and softly asks: “Do you love me?”

“No,” I tell him with a strong voice. “You are like a little brother to me. Don’t forget, I am older than you by three years.”

“But you are a fairy, so in a few years, I will be older than you. Even when I become an old man, you would still be as young as ever.”

Ugh! Not this again. Exactly how should I explain it so as to erase those lies I told him back then?


With a strange glint in his eyes, he cuts me off: “Alright, if you don’t like it I will not try to hug you anymore.”

His playboy gaze returns. “But once in a while is okay, right?”

Serious for a few minutes, and he is back to his original form! You know what they say: A leopard cannot change its spots.



Here is the video clip of the folk song in Liu San Jie:

Side note: I actually downloaded the whole film with English subtitles to help me translate the lyrics and get a sense of the scene in my head. Liu San Jie’s voice wasn’t my style but watching bits and pieces of the film, I could see why it had such a great appeal. To many Chinese (and Hong Konger), she was a beloved figure in their childhood, the heroic archetype of folk tales.

In my research for an accurate translation (the subtitles weren’t the best), I came across this interesting tidbit.

This verse, particularly the last two sentences, was actually modified from the original folk song when it was made into the film version.

The film version:

“Bodhisattva has a mouth but cannot speak;
A copper gong has no mouth but makes a din;
A rich man has feet but will not walk;
His money has no feet but travels to a thousand homes.”

Here is the original version transcribed by folklore fieldworkers:

“Bodhisattva has a mouth but cannot speak;
A copper gong has no mouth but makes a din;
A stool has feet but cannot walk;
A boat has no feet but travels to a thousand homes.”

This revision was made in part due to Mao Zedong and the CPP’s “New Folk Song Movement” in 1958 (part of the Great Leap Forward). After watching the musical, Mao Zedong had praised it highly because “Liu Sanjie fights class oppression and is a revolutionary play”. The film production team and screenwriter were thus pressured to modify the lyrics as such to fit the ideology of the times.
Source: A Companion to Folklore (2012), ed. R. F. Bendix & G. Hasan-Rokem, (Wiley Blackwell: Malden, MA), 205-207.

Xiao Chun herself probably wasn’t aware of this fact, or if she was, I doubt she’d be able to make any such observation in the novel 😛 Sorry for the foray into politics, folks, but if you think this is bad, wait until the novel itself touches upon the political struggles of this historical era later on! (My head already hurts thinking about the research I have to do…)


4 thoughts on “Faithful to Buddha, Faithful to You — Chapter 26

  1. Thanks so much for the chapter!!! 😍😍😍
    As always, awesome job, I can totally iimaginethe scenes coz of your notes and other images 😊😊😊


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