(A Chinese Mermaid Tale)
Written and illustrated by Linda Yi | Chinese Translations by 竻竻
Princess to Carp… and out to sea!
In our last episode, Mei performed a a bit of magic and transformed from a princess-turned-village-maiden… into a rose colored carp! With a swish of her tail, she headed out to the open sea – to meet the quiet young fisherman she’s been watching from afar…
So, dear reader, do you think it’s a great idea for Mei to go to him in… well “carp”form? He is a fisherman after all! Today, we find out!
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Chapter 9 – First Meeting
第九章 – 初遇
CHAPTER 9 生词 | Vocabulary (91 - 100)
91. 时不时(Shíbùshí) adv. Colloquial often; time and again
92. 灾难降临(Zāinàn jiànglín) phrase. Imminent disaster; disaster falls
93. 昭烈(Zhāo liè) adv. As a rule; as usual; usually
94. 倒塌(Dǎotā) v.collapse; topple down
95. 惊涛骇浪(Jīngtāohàilàng) IDIOM lit. terrifying waves; fig. a perilous situation
96. 缓缓(Huǎn huǎn) literary adv. Slowly; gradually
97. 眺望(Tiàowàng) v. look into the distance from a high vantage point
98. 神情(Shénqíng) n. expression; look
99. 不切实际(Bù qiè shíjì) IDIOM unrealistic; unpractical; impracticable
100. 自惭形秽(Zìcánxínghuì) IDIOM feel unworthy (of other’s company); feel inferior
His name was Hai, and it was from the 大海– the sea – that Hai earned his living. Hai was a fisherman, just like his grandfather had been. It was grandfather, Yeye, who had raised Hai – for Hai’s baba and mama died when Hai was but a babe.
To this day, the villagers still spoke of the day the sea rose in a terrible rage, and swallowed people whole.
That day, Hai’s mama had gone down to the docks to meet her husband, just as she’d always done. She would greet him with a warm smile, and two sturdy wooden pails. Together, they’d move the day’s catch from net, to pails, and then to market. But that day, Hai’s bababrought back no fish. He had leapt from the boat and shouted at Hai’s mamato run! The skies behind him had darkened, and lightning forked over a purple sky. Out on the sea, waves became hills, and hills became mountains – mountains that rolled and crashed into each other in blue green fury.
When it was all over, the sea was once again calm, and the baby Hai was an orphan. And so ,Yeyetook Hai in. As the years passed, Yeyetaught Hai how to weave fishing nets so they were strong and unbreakable. Hetaught Hai to light incense sticks before heading out to sea, and to always leave small offerings for the dragons of old.
“Wei-shenme ?” Hai had once asked. “but why?”
“Always pray to the Dragons,” Yeye had replied. “For they rule all waters and control all tides.” Yeye had smiled down at Hai, before placing a hand on his shoulder. “We pray to the dragons, for they protect us.”
Yet one morning, on the day Hai turned 16, Yeye had gone out to sea alone. “I’ll be fine,” Yeyetold Hai with a laugh. “You may sleep in for once.”Hai smiled, before closing his eyes against the first rays of morning sun. As he did so, he saw Yeye light a stick of incense.
But by evening, Yeye had still not returned. The incense that his grandfatherhad lit had long since burnt to ash. A few days later, Yeye’sboat washed ashore… but hewas not there.
From that day on, Hai fished alone. He also stopped burning incense before setting out to sea. What was the point? The Dragons weren’t listening. They weren’t even real….
What was real, Hai thought to himself, was the heat.
The day sweltered, blanketing the land and sea. Dawn had long since gone, and the morning sun hung in the sky, hurling down relentless rays. Hai set his nets aside and wiped his brow with a piece of cloth.
Hai usually welcomed the pulsing waves of humidity which descended each summer. The summer heat, coupled with plentiful rains, meant good harvest from the land – and from the sea.
At least... It usually did. Hai’s nets were unusually empty today.
The sun blazed. Hai wiped his brow again. He leaned over the side of his boat to dip the cloth into the sea. His eyes closed, briefly, at the feeling of cool water against his hand. Perhaps he'd go for a swim? The fish weren't coming today...
Not for the first time, Hai’s mind drifted back to land. The hand still holding the cloth drifted lazily in the water. As a sea breeze ran its fingers through his hair, Hai thought of the same wind which made twin braids dance against the colors of sunrise. Eyes closed, he saw in his mind’s eye the girl. The one who always came to stand at the dock at dawn.
Hai had first seen the girl at the open market. Two months ago, Hai had taken his daily catch to market. He had passed by a barefooted girl, who was standing by a fruit stand. As Hai walked past, he saw her bite into a lychee fruit. Her eyes sparkled with joy, and she had laughed.
The memory of her laughter startled Hai’s eyes open. He blinked against the sun, but his eyes were still seeing the childlike joy which spread over her face - as if she had never tasted the fruit before. It was this look that stayed with him.
She looked so incredibly...happy.
The rosy flush on her cheek reminded him of the red ribbons they sold at the market. Hai imagined giving the girl one of those ribbons, and seeing that look of joy on her face.
Here, Hai shook his head, pulling back from such fanciful thoughts.
Give her ribbons? When he couldn't even muster up the courage to look directly at her, let alone speak? Hai’s eyes traveled to his right hand, and he blushed a ruddy red. What would fine ribbons look like in his sea calloused hands? He sighed, and then remembered the cloth he still held underwater. Hai leaned over the boat once more, to wring it dry. As he did, a flash of gold and rose met his eyes.
It was a carp – the most unusual he’d ever seen. It had scales of rose coral which glimmered under the sun. The carp swam cautiously up to Hai’s boat, and then darted away. Soon, it came swimming back once more.
Hai suddenly remembered that he still had part of steamed bun - a man-tou- in his pocket, a remnant from breakfast. He fished it out, broke off a small piece, and held it out to the carp. It swam even closer. Hai dipped his hand into the water. The carp ate the bun from his finger. Hai chuckled, partly at the strange behavior of the creature, and partly from the tickling feeling of the carp's mouth as it ate.
The rose carp was so close that Hai could make out the patterns upon its back. Eight large scales ran from its head to its tail. The first and biggest scale was colored rose, the second one of sapphire blue, the third colored a ruby red ... the scales shimmered like jewels. Without thinking, Hai reached out a finger and stroked the rose carp's back. Instead of darting away, it stayed, tail drifting lazily in the water.
"What a strange one you are", murmured Hai.
Chapter 10 – Missing
第十章 – 失踪
CHAPTER 10 生词 | Vocabulary (101 - 110)
101. 间隙(Jiànxì) n. inverval; gap; space
102. 歇一歇(Xiē yī xiē) v. have a rest
103. 酷热(Kùrè) adj. extremely hot; broiling; scorching
104. 肥美(Féiměi) adj. fertile; rich adj. luxuriant; plump; fleshy; fat
105. 蛤蜊(Gélí) n. clam
106. 肉质(Ròuzhì) adj. succulent; carnose
107. 一望无际(Yīwàngwújì) IDIOM stretch as far as the eye can see; stretch to the horizon
108. 流逝(Liúshì) v. (of time) pass; elapse … (compare with 流失[Liúshī] lose; drain off )
109. 不情愿(Bù qíngyuàn) adj. unwilling
110. 集市(Jí shì) n. country fair; market; marketplace
Each morning, the rose-colored carp would swim beside Hai as he rowed out to sea, coral scales glinting under the first rays of dawn. And each day, out in the open sea, Hai would pause in his task to scatter a few choice morsels of his breakfast for the rose carp to eat.
One day, the carp did not come.
The sun was already red and blazing, glaring down at the sea with all its might. As Hai gathered his nets, he cast a puzzled eye into the water, straining to see a flash of rose within its blue. The morning grew hotter while Hai filled his nets. Today’s catch was plentiful: fat crabs with turquoise backs and red tipped claws; tiger striped clams whose tightly closed shells hid sweet tender meat; and plump juicy shrimp with waving whiskers and dancing feet.
Hai’s nets were now fit to burst, yet he stayed out on the water for many minutes more, hoping that the carp might come.
A puffy white cloud drifted across the light blue sky. In the ocean below, Hai’s small fishing boat drifted quietly upon the rich blue sea. The sun sat, high and yellow, above. Hai reached for his oars, and reluctantly rowed back to shore. Any later and he would miss the afternoon market.
Chapter 11 – The Bargain
第十一章 – 交易
CHAPTER 11 生词 | Vocabulary (111 - 120)
111. 参差不齐(Cēncī bù qí) IDIOM uneven; not uniform
112. 锦衣玉食(Jǐnyīyùshí) IDIOMlive in luxury
113. 不屑(Bùxiè) v. disdain to do sth;
114. 美滋滋(Měizīzī) adj. very pleased with oneself
115. 扁担(Biǎndan) n.peddler; vendor; hawker
116. 幸灾乐祸(Xíng zài luōhú) IDIOM to rejoice in other people’s misfortune; Schadenfreude
117. 得意忘形(Déyìwàngxíng) IDIOM grow dizzy with success; beside oneself with joy
118. 缓过劲来(Huǎnguòjìn lái) Expression.Take a breather; recover one’s breath
119. 漫不经心(Mànbùjīngxīn) IDIOM careless; heedless; absent-minded; indifferent
120. 初出茅庐(Chūchùmáolǘ) IDIOM lit. venturing from one’s hut for the first time; fig. young and inexperienced
Sha rarely arrived at market before Hai. In fact, Sha rarely ventured into the market during the day – preferring to visit the village taverns at night. But today was different. Today, Sha had something of value to sell.
Sha grinned at the thought, revealing yellowing teeth. Those teeth, slightly protruding, were brown at the roots, and planted upon a bed of red and inflamed gums. His hair, unwashed and oily, was already beginning to gray before its time. Sha wrote this off as another stroke of bad luck – yet another sign that the heavens were against him.
The only luck Sha ever happened upon was when his parents had died, the old fools that they were. The gold and silver they had left behind had allowed Sha to spend his days in idle drink and play. The gold was gone now, though. And the silver was dwindling too…
Sha snorted in derision and took another swallow of liquor. The stuff burned down his throat and pooled in his belly, giving off waves of heat. He smacked his lips before grinning again, showing off those horrible teeth. Sha looked down at a wooden pail, and thought to himself: His luck was changing…this, this was a sign!
Hai reached the shore. He fastened his boat and gathered his catch for the day into dual wooden pails. Hooking the pails onto a bamboo shaft, Hai bent his knees and hoisted the shaft onto his shoulder. Straightening, he set off towards the market.
Hai walked by the ribbon vendor selling her “pretty ribbons for pretty girls”. He passed by a cart carrying steamed buns filled with pork. As he walked, Hai’s eyes were drawn to a crowd of children, who were huddled around the village drunkard. Hai paused at this unusual sight. Sha was not popular with the village children – he often reeked of rice liquor and was foul tempered to boot. Curiosity piqued, Hai drew closer to the crowd.
Sha was gloating, fairly crowing over something Hai couldn’t yet see. There, by Sha’s feet, was a wooden pail – just like the two Hai carried. "Stupid creature" Sha chortled, his rough voice catching with glee. He leered down at a small girl who had been peering curiously into the pail. The girl took a hasty step back.
Stupid creature swam right up to me" Sha continued with a cackle and a cough. He wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand and gave the pail a rude kick.
Water sloshed over the sides and splashed onto his shoes. Sha eyed the children gathered around him crowed: "Feast your eyes on this, you little fools!" He pointed at the bucket by his feet. "A beauty isn't she? Have you ever seen such a color on a fish? A rose carp will fetch me a pretty penny at market, I should think!!”
When he breathed in again, the first breath came swift and shallow. It was as if a strip of cloth had been wrapped around his chest – and had been bound much too tight. Still carrying his own bountiful catch of the day, Hai walked - in what he hoped was a nonchalant pace - toward the crowd of gathered children. He stopped right in front of Sha.
"Brother Sha, what do you have there?"
As Hai spoke, he slid a casual glance over to the pail sitting between them. In it, swimming in fitful circles, was a rose-colored carp. A row of rainbow scales shimmered down the length of its back. A trickle of cold sweat ran a jagged path along Hai’s spine.
"My catch of the day" smirked Sha. He stuck a bamboo shaft into the pail, prodding roughly at the carp. The rose carp darted and whirled frantically about – trying to evade the cruel jabs.
"Look at the stupid creature dance!" Sha crowed.
Hai’s fingers balled into fists. His nails dug half-moons into his palms. How he wanted to knock that smirk off of Sha’s face! Hai clenched his fists tighter and took a deep breath. It took every ounce of self-restraint to keep the roiling anger out of his voice, yet when Hai spoke, his voice was steady and calm.
He looked at the fish, and then turned to face Sha. "She certainly is a pretty one" Hai said.
Sha narrowed his eyes at Hai, regarding the young man with shrewd calculation. Unpleasant as he was, Sha was no fool. He could tell that the young man standing before him wanted the rose-colored fish, and wanted it badly.
Sha grinned, baring rotting teeth. "A pretty silver piece might do it" he said with a sly grin, knowing quite well that such riches were beyond Hai’s reach.
Hai’s face fell.
Sha gloated. He felt a rush of power, reveling at seeing this righteous young man squirm. But Hai was no novice at haggling, and he quickly recovered his composure. "An entire silver piece for such a small fish?” “If we aren't going to speak sense, brother Sha, then we're done here." Hai moved his shoulders up and down, as if to dislodge some bothersome fly. He began to turn away.
"Now wait but a moment, brother Hai,"
Sha called out, a plastic grin pasted to his face. Sha pointed at the twin pails Hai still carried with him. "What has the sea blessed you with today?" Sha saw, quite clearly, that Hai’s buckets were filled to the brim with large meaty clams and plump juicy shrimp. An entire day’s work, which Sha had neglected to do. Sha’s stomach rumbled in complaint.
"I'm feeling generous today," Sha continued, greedy eyes fixed upon Hai’s plentiful catch. Sha gave what he believed to be a long suffering sigh. He produced something closer to a wheezing squelch, breathing out the sour stench of stale wine. He splayed five fingers across his chest, thumb resting on his collar bone. "So, this old fool will give you my rose-colored beauty in exchange for what you have there in your buckets...All of it."
Hai glanced down at the rose carp. He looked back into Sha’s bloodshot eyes.
To be continued in Pearl (Part 5)