Skip to content

Chapter 1.2 The Pretty Lady’s Bane in Our Faculty (2)

Every Sunday, Tong Yan would go to work at her part-time job in a French sporting goods store.

This particular company actually had four or five different stores within Shanghai. In the beginning, when she first went for her interview, she had favoured this particular company simply because of its branch store that was near the university. However, she had not expected that shortly after she started her job, she would be internally transferred to another branch store that was much further away. When she had received the call informing her of this, she had hesitated for three seconds and then still chose to accept the transfer.

As a result, every Sunday at five o’clock in the morning, she needed to force herself to crawl out of bed and travel by bus for two hours before she reached the store. The only benefit of this was that this particular store was near the Hongqiao area[1] and 90% of its customers were foreigners, so it was a nice opportunity to practice her spoken English while being a sales assistant at the same time. Except, the store’s recent shipment of athletic pants had completely shattered that lovely dream.

These last several weeks, she had been sent directly into the storeroom where, like a machine, she would clip the pants onto the hangers. The biggest problem was, the metal clips were very stiff and the waist of the pants had to be pulled taut before they could be clipped. When she finished all of the more than five hundred pairs of pants, her fingers were swollen.

By the time the manager had completed inspecting her work, it was already past one o’clock in the afternoon.

She was starving, and her stomach rumbled as she walked out of the storeroom and ran with hands raised to the checkout counter. “Miao Miao, I’m going crazy. See how ridiculously swollen my fingers are?”

“Such a tragedy.” Miao Miao shook her head. “It’s a work-related injury, ah.”

She growled in complaint, “Yeah! The first three fingers of both my hands have no feeling. Am I going to have to eat my lunch using my ring finger and pinky to hold my chopsticks?”

Miao Miao was about to banter a couple more sentences with her when she suddenly switched to put on a professional expression, shifted her eyes away, and addressed someone behind Tong Yan. “Sir, this checkout counter is closed already.”

“That’s alright,” a voice answered from behind.

Teacher Gu? Tong Yan turned around in surprise. Gu Pingsheng was looking directly at her.

Could there be more of a coincidence?

Seeing the American professor beside Gu Pingsheng and that shopping cart that was crammed full of goods, she instantly understood. These two people were likely planning on driving themselves around on a self-guided tour. The cart was packed with things like tents and fishing rods…

“Your friends?” Miao Miao observed the two of them as he stared at her and she stared at him and quickly said, “Here, come here to pay. I’ll give you the 11% employee discount.”

After saying this, she immediately pulled the “closed” sign off her till and very keenly helped Gu Pingsheng pay for their items.

Seeing that she was standing off to the side with nothing to do, Tong Yan stepped in and helped her bag each of the items. This was work that she was accustomed to doing since early on, so very quickly, four large bags were filled. However, as she picked up the bags, she hesitated.

So heavy. Who should she hand them to? Forget it. Of course, she should take care of her own teacher. Without batting an eye, she handed the two lighter bags to Gu Pingsheng and gave the other two to the American professor. In any case, no one could tell the difference from just the size of the bags alone.

She had not expected that right when she handed the bags over, Miao Miao would grinningly whisper in her ear, “I’m going to have lunch now. You, have a nice lunch with your hot guy. I’m guessing you won’t even get to use your ring and pinky fingers. Just kind of take a couple of bites for show. When you’re all warm and fed, you tend to start thinking raunchy thoughts.”

A gasp of “ah” escaped from Tong Yan, and then before she could grab her back, that lass had already scurried away.

“Let’s have lunch together?” Gu Pingsheng spoke up at just the right moment.

Hence, Tong Yan somehow ended up eating lunch together with two university teachers.

Fortunately, she was eating curry rice, so she could use a spoon, which was easy to handle.

After the three of them had finished ordering their meals, Gu Pinsheng suddenly said to her, “Let me look at your fingers.”

Tong Yan paused in surprise. How was he going to look at them? She stretched her fingers straight upright in front of him. While she was still waiting nervously, he had already gently taken her fingers in his hand and pulled them closer to him. Tong Yan started in shock. It was rather inappropriate for Teacher Gu to hold a girl’s hand like this out in the open, right?

As he examined her fingers, the American professor put on a show of seriousness, glancing over at them and then bumping Gu Pingsheng on the arm. When Gu Pingsheng tilted his head to look at him, he grinned, “Hey TK, seeing that look in your eyes reminds me of when you were studying medicine.”

There was a seldom seen moment where Gu Pingsheng was taken aback before he smiled and let go of her hand. “Indeed, guilty again of acting out of occupational habit.”

Oh right, he used to be a doctor. To doctors, there were absolutely no taboos between men and women.

Secretly relieved, she pulled back her hand, took her straw between her fingers, and started sucking madly at her smoothie.

Those hands just a moment ago had radiated warmth, not the icy-coldness of many years ago. They were well-proportioned, slender, and completely without any flaws.

Seriously, like the hands of one of those idealized surgeons in American television dramas…

“Will you be continuing to work like that this afternoon?” he asked her before motioning to a server. “May I trouble you to bring me some larger chunks of ice?”

Tong Yan waited until he had turned back to face them and she was certain that he could see the motions of her lips before answering, “No, not this afternoon. This afternoon, I just need to work as a sales assistant, that’s it.”

“Why don’t you switch to work somewhere else?” He thought for a moment. “For example, tutoring?”

Tong Yan smiled, “I’m a student in the liberal arts stream. In general, it’s the science or engineering students who can find the tutoring jobs. Middle school and high school students usually hire people to teach math, physics, and chem. Very few ask for tutors in language arts.”

“Even if you don’t do tutoring, there are lots of other jobs.”

She smiled again, “Yes, but I actually want to work in something that doesn’t just involve sitting down, writing and drawing. I’m letting myself toil and sweat and experience personally how earning money isn’t easy.”

The American professor grinned at this. “That’s very understandable and normal. I used to also frequently work as a cashier or something. University students usually just sit in a classroom, and if your job is like that, too, it’d be no fun at all.”

She quickly nodded in agreement. “That girl who was here earlier graduated from a technical college and has worked for many years now. My very first day here, I was writing out a receipt for a customer, and I actually realized that I didn’t even know how to write out the numbers one, two, and three in banker’s anti-fraud characters[2]. It’s really simple for me to type out characters on my computer, but when it really came time to write them out with a pen, I discovered I was like an illiterate.”

Soon, the server had brought over a bucket of ice. Gu Pingsheng pulled out his package of moist towelettes, took one, and wrapped an appropriately shaped ice chunk in it before handing it to her. “Hold this in your hands. It should be a little better by the afternoon.”

She took it from him and clutched it in her hands, feeling slightly embarrassed. She was not that weak and fragile, you know.

In the afternoon, when she was back at work, Miao Miao’s eyes were like those of a wolf. “When the manager came back just now, she secretly told me that a man was holding your hand. Let’s not even talk about how romantic it is. I specifically asked whether it was the Chinese guy or the American. Good thing, good thing, it turned out to be that Chinese guy whose looks are enough to make people envious. Ha ha ha ha! Hurry now. Tell me the secrets behind successful seduction.”

Tong Yan’s head was “covered with black lines[3].“ [speechless] “He’s my university teacher.”

Miao Miao was stunned. “A teacher and student romance? That’s wicked amazing!”

“He was just checking to see how my fingers were.” Tong Yan raised her hand and waved it right in front of Miao Miao’s eyes. “Did you forget about my work-related injury?”

Miao Miao continued with her surprised look. “Tong Yan, I remember you’re studying law, right? So your teacher should also teach law, right? At the very least, he should definitely have nothing to do with medicine.”

“He used to be a doctor and then later switched to teach law.”

“No wonder he’s a teacher at a prestigious school. So talented! So wickedly amazing!”

Tong Yan was simply speechless and decided to give up on trying to explain. She went over to greet a foreign couple and started her light and easy work as a sales assistant.

Due to all the physical labour of Sunday, on Monday, she successfully managed to sleep almost right up until the start of class and was dragged out of bed by Shen Yao. “Hurry and get up. Today is International Commercial Arbitration. There’s going to be a quiz.”

Her head still foggy, she opened her eyes and stared, unmoving, at that face in front of her for a long while before she suddenly sat straight up. “A quiz?!”

And it was in International Commercial Arbitration… Why was it Gu Pingsheng again?

She gnawed on the end of her pen and stared at those numerous and dense squiggles of English words in front of her. Normally, the thing that vexed her most was English comprehension problems. This time, just great, she not only had to read and comprehend, she had to thoroughly understand all of those complicated law cases as well. Most importantly, she also had to analyze them… and write out her analysis in English.

This wasn’t just a simple CET-4 or 6[4] English composition.

She cast a quick glance over at the quiz paper of the class prefect, who was sitting beside her. More dense squiggles of English words in handwriting that looked easy and confident. Basically, aside from “is,” “are,” and “here”… she did not understand any of it.

“Tong Wuji.” Shen Yao’s head was lowered as she called her name.

Her name was Tong Yan, like the idiom, “tong yan wu ji.” [“Children’s words are spoken without reservations or filters.”] Her nickname: Tong Wuji.[5]

Shen Yao had not spoken quietly, obviously taking advantage of Gu Pingsheng’s deafness.

From an unknown corner, a few chuckles could be heard followed almost immediately by more chuckles and quiet sounds of conversing coming from the front of the room. Without exception, everyone was staring down at his or her own quiz paper but murmuring with one another to compare answers.

Tong Yan stole a guilty look at the man sitting beside the classroom door and ignored Shen Yao.

Shen Yao continued to call her name from behind her, changing her voice in all sorts of weird and wacky ways until, at last, she shouted loudly, “Tong Yan!” Shocked, Tong Yan dropped her pen and once again glanced guiltily at Gu Pingsheng.

A gaze passed over everyone in the room and quickly caught hers. Tong Yan hurriedly lowered her head and fixed her eyes hatefully on her quiz paper. “What?”

Shen Yao’s tone was especially fawning. “Tong Wuji, let me see your paper…”

“…… I haven’t written anything either.”

“Tong Yan.” A voice suddenly echoed out, rather cold, like a deep pool of water.

In a state where she wanted to cry but was unable to, Tong Yan rose quietly to her feet and looked directly at Gu Pingsheng. “Teacher Gu.”

He gazed wordlessly at her for a brief moment, then walked over, picked up her quiz paper that she had only written a couple of sentences on, and looked again at her. “Don’t know the answers?”

“…… I don’t.” If she were to fib even now in this moment, then she would be digging her own grave.

Outside the windows, the cicadas were chirping incessantly, and the ceiling fan above her head was happily spinning away.

But inside the classroom, it was extremely quiet. Great Beauty Gu’s demonstration of authority was quite scary.

After a long moment of silence, Gu Pingsheng finally gave a long sigh. “It’s the first in-class quiz, and all of you may not yet be used to using English to do the case studies. How about this? Tong Yan, you answer one question from me. If you answer correctly, today, you will all be allowed to bring your quizzes back with you to do and your marks will still count like normal towards your overall grade.”

The class broke out in an excited uproar, and everybody immediately turned and fixed their eyes on Tong Yan, the intensity of their gazes stronger than even the blazing sun. Only Tong Yan’s face grew even paler.

“What is the general concept behind ‘international commercial arbitration laws’?” Gu Pingsheng asked her smilingly.

General concept?

“Holy cr*p!” Someone from a corner murmured, “Tong Wuji, if you can’t even answer that, expel yourself at once from our class.”

“Tong Yan, for our overall grade, yah!”

“Pretty Lady’s Bane is deliberately letting us off the hook, hey, Yan Yan.”

Tong Yan wished she could cry. If you’ve got the breath to say all that stuff… why don’t you just hurry up and tell me the answer?

“All of you, raise your heads and look at me,” Gu Pingsheng instructed with a chuckle.

Once his voice rang out, every person instantly shut his or her mouth. Obediently, they lifted their heads to gaze at Great Beauty Gu.

“Are you done thinking over your answer?” he asked.

Torn with agony, Tong Yan steeled herself and forced herself to bravely look at Gu Pingsheng. “ ‘International Commercial Arbitration Law’… is… laws that are… international… and commercial… and about arbitration.”

The members of the class collectively felt tears springing into their eyes. Sure enough, spoken true to her name — like children’s words, completely without filters. Not even the slightest bit of technique or skill in them.

[1] 虹桥 “hong qiao.” The Hongqiao area in Shanghai is one of the primary expatriate areas of the city with its location near the Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport, presence of international schools and more Western style houses with yards.

[2] 大写”da xie.” There are actually two sets of ways to write out numerals in Chinese. The first is the standard way, which is what is used in everyday writing. The second is what is called “da xie”, which literally means “big writing” and is called in English, “banker’s numerals” or “banker’s anti-fraud numerals.” The latter was created to prevent forgery through alteration, since the standard characters are very simple and few in strokes.

[3] Slang. Often in cartoons, emoticons, etc, little lines are drawn over the head of the character to represent cold sweat that broke out from hearing or seeing something that caused awkward embarrassment or a complete loss over what to say or do in response. Therefore, “black lines over sb’s head” has become a colloquial way to describe that feeling. In the absence of emoticons, sometimes you can see this represented by -_-||||

[4] 四级 literally means “fourth level” and refers to CET-4. 六级 literally menas “sixth level” and refers to CET-6. These stand for “College English Test” Band 4 and Band 6, respectively. The CET are nationwide English proficiency tests for non-English major college/university students in China. The CET-4 is a criterion of most universities in obtaining an undergraduate degree. The CET-6 is a similar test but at a higher level and is not mandatory for all degrees, although more and more, Chinese employers are looking for CET-6 certificates.

[5] 童言无忌 “tong yan wu ji.” This is a well-known Chinese idiom that means children speak what they wish to, innocently and without filters, and hence, there is no need to take offense. However, that also means they speak what is truth to them. The characters of Tong Yan’s name, 童言, are the first two characters of the idiom and mean “children’s words.” As a result, Tong Yan is also jokingly given the nickname 童无忌 Tong Wuji, which pairs her surname with the idiom’s last two characters 无忌 “wu ji”, which mean “without reservations.” Sometimes, Tong Yan is called by this entire idiom, too.

%d bloggers like this: