(A Chinese Mermaid Tale)
FRIEND OR FOE?
In our last episode, a mysterious old woman had just invited Mei to dinner. Is this kindly seeming grandmother figure friend or foe? We find out today, with Part 3 of “Pearl” – a Chinese mermaid story.
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Chapter 6– Deciding to Stay
CHAPTER 6 生词 | Vocabulary (61 - 70)
61. 掀(Xiān) v. lift; raise (a cover, etc.)
62. 率先(Shuàixiān) adv. Take the lead in doing sth
63. 随即(Suíjí) adv. Soon after; immediately; presently … (not to confuse with 随即[Suíjī]; according to the situation; pragmatic)
64. 入口即化(Rùkǒu jíhuà) v.to melt in the mouth
65. 咽下(Yàn xià) v. to swallow v. to suppress
66. 光景(Guāngjǐng) n.Scene n. situation; circumstances; conditions
67. 清脆(Qīngcuì) adj. clear and melodious adj. crisp (of carrot, cucumbers etc..)
68. 绘声绘色(Huìshēnghuìsè) IDIOM vivid; lively
69. 引人入胜(Yǐnrénrùshèng) IDIOM（of scenery, literary works, et.）fascinating; enchanting
70. 不假思索(Bùjiǎsīsuǒ)IDIOM(act, respond, etc.) without thinking; without hesitating
The old woman lived alone. Mei followed her to a small hut perched at the water's edge. It stood on strong bamboo legs, all but floating over the sea waves that lapped below. The roof was thatched, a mix of palm fronds and straw. A single blue curtain hung over the door. It flapped gently in the breeze. Lifting the curtain, the old woman entered the hut, cane first.
“Mind your step,” she called over her shoulder, before easing herself inside.
Mei followed, listening to sound of water below.
Dinner was a simple affair.
Wooden chopsticks waited patiently beside two bowls of warm, fragrant rice. Lightly fried squares of turnip cakes (萝卜糕), savory and sweet, melted in the mouth. Leaves of green – lightly steamed and drizzled with soy sauce – burst upon Mei's tongue.
“Oh, how wonderful!” she cried, after taking her first bite of 萝卜糕. “I’ve never tasted anything like it!”
The old woman’s crinkled lips curved into a smile. For just a moment, her eyes seemed to change from milky white to a chestnut brown. “The good earth provides,” was her simple reply.
That night, the old woman with snow colored hair filled Mei's stomach with good, simple food. She fed Mei also with village tales, regaling her with stories of gods and goddesses of the sky and sea.
Therewas the beautiful Chang’e who lived on the moon – with only a white rabbit for company. Night after night she waited, in her quiet palace of woven moonbeams, longing for the day when she could return to earth.
How lonely Chang’e 姐姐must be up there, Mei thought to herself, before taking another mouthful of rice. The moon is even further from land than the sea…
“Aye, Chang’e’s life is a lonely one indeed,” sighed the old woman, as if she had read Mei’s mind. “But loneliness can happen when one seeks immortality… which reminds me of another story - ”
Here, the old woman paused. “Ah, listen to me prattle on” she said, eyes crinkling into a smile, “but I do love a good story!” she finished with a laugh. How queer, Mei silently mused, her laugh just then sounded… almost like a child’s!
“Oh, so do I!” Mei replied, “I love stories too! Please, tell me another.”
And so the old woman spoke on, telling Mei the story of Sun Wukong, a proud and mischievous monkey king who wreaked havoc in the heavens, before redeeming himself in a long and winding journey to the west…
As the old woman continued her tales, Mei ate, and Mei listened. And as Mei's stomach filled, so too did her heart.
When the food was gone, and the stories were told, the old woman looked straight into Mei’s sea-storm eyes. “I could use an extra pair of hands around here,” the old woman said, patting the back of Mei’s soft hands with her own gnarled ones. “Would you consider staying here with me?”
“Oh, yes!” Mei cried.
It was with a full stomach – and a full heart – that Mei decided to stay.
Chapter 7– The Fisherman
CHAPTER 7 生词 | Vocabulary (71 - 80)
71. 渔民(Yúmín) n. fisherman; fisherfolk; fishing population
72. 精致(Jīngzhì) adj. fine; exquisite; delicate
73. 创造(Chuàngzào) v. create; produce; bring about
74. 碧波(Bìbō) literary n. azure waves (used in 碧波万顷[bìbōwànqǐng], IDIOM a boundless expanse of blue water)
75. 浮现(Fúxiàn) v. (of past events) appear before one’s eyes
76. 逼真(Bīzhēn) adj. lifelike; true to life adj. distinct; clear
77. 壮丽(Zhuànglì) adj. majestic; magnificent; glorious
78. 窃窃私语(Qièqièsīyǔ) IDIOMtalk in whispers; whisper
79. 日出而作，日入而息(Rì chū ér zuò，rìluò ér xī) IDIOM lit. to get up at sunrise and work until sunset; fig. to lead a plain and hardworking life
80. 荡漾(Dàngyàng) literary v. ripple; undulate
Mei stayed, and she learned. She learned that when summer came, waves of heat and humidity washed over the land. She learned to plait her long flowing tresses into twin braids, keeping them off her neck when the days got hot.
Mei learned to make tang, a different broth for every ailment: spicy ginger root for health; red-orange gojis for vitality. Her clever fingers learned to shape crescent shaped dumpling – and those clever fingers also learned how to sew. Fingers dancing, Mei’s needle was a paintbrush, deftly embroidering colored thread onto a canvas of cloth.
Mei embroidered what she saw: soft pink lotuses floating on a turquoise lake, white cranes with wide spread wings – about to take flight. With each passing day, more and more scenes appeared beneath Mei’s busy fingers.
Each day Mei gazed towards the rising sun, never forgetting that first time she saw it kiss the sky awake. Each morning she rose and went to the water’s edge, hair in twin braids, to look out at the sea. Her eight bracelets jingled on her wrist.
As the days glided by, Mei began to look at the fishing boats. She watched the fishermen cast and draw their nets, watched them move in rhythm with the sea.
This day, Mei gazed at a particular someone.
He wasn't one for words.
As the other fishermen prepared to cast off, they tossed between them words and jokes.
He was quiet.
He untied his boat with steady hands. Mei watched as he pushed out to sea, a single bamboo shaft gripped in his palm. Mei kept watch as his boat shrank - smaller and smaller - towards a brightening sky.
Mei rose earlier, every morning, to watch the young fisherman push out to shore. Never once did he look her way. His world seemed to consist only of ropes, knots, his boat, and the sea. As Mei watched his boat disappear toward the horizon, she drew a deep breath of cool sweet air. The day was still waking and the heat had not yet come.
There was a sweet sort of tightness in her chest, not entirely unpleasant. A soft breeze ruffled her hair. The bangles at her wrist sang. The rose colored pearl lay - warm and cool - against her skin.
Chapter 8– The Rose Carp
CHAPTER 8 生词 | Vocabulary (81 - 90)
81. 一如既往(Yīrújìwǎng) IDIOMas always; just as in the past
82. 缝隙(Fèngxì) n. chink; crack; crevice
83. 幽深(Yōushēn) adj. (of forests, palaces, etc.) deep and serene
84. 藤蔓(Téngmàn or Téngwàn) n. vine and tendril
85. 倾泻(Qīngxiè) v. to pour; come down in torrents (not to be confused with 倾斜[Qīngxié]; tilted or inclined)。
86. 光晕(Guāng yūn) n. halo
87. 径直(Jìngzhí) adv. Straight; directly; straight away
88. 悠扬(Yōuyáng) adj. (of music, etc.) rising and falling; melodious
89. 敏捷(Mǐnjié) adj.quick; nimble; agile
90. 赫然(Hèrán) adv. Impressively; awesomely adv. Terribly (angry)
One morning, as she watched him push off towards the sea, Mei had a thought.
"I will go with him".
And why not? She knew the sea as well as he. And with that thought swimming circlets in her mind, she turned and walked away from the dock, a light spring to her step.
She walked along the beach, heading towards where the seashore met a coastal mountain range.
Soon, she reached a cluster of rocks which rested at the foot of a mountain ridge. The opening to the cave was almost completely hidden by jutting rocks and a curtain of hanging ivy. Sweeping the ivy aside, Mei entered through a narrow entrance, coming through to the other side. The cave was enormous. Part of the ceiling opened toward the sky, and shafts of sunlight streamed through onto a crystalline pool.
Mei smiled to herself. She knew this place well – though it was the first time she’d come through by the land. The pool at the center of the cave led straight to the sea. Mei had discovered this cave many years ago. One night, she had swum close to shore, hoping to hear more of the songs the villagers sang. It was then that she discovered the underwater pathway that lead her to this cave. Since then, she had often visited her secret alcove – to bath in the moonlight that streamed down from the sky, and to soak in the cheerful sounds that drifted from the nearby fishing village.
How different the cave looked in sunlight! The water, which at night had been the deepest shade of midnight blue – and glittering with reflected stars – was now turquoise and smooth.
Hidden from view, Mei unplaited her hair, letting the black tresses shimmer to her feet. She shed her linen clothes, leaving them neatly folded upon a dry patch of rock. She came to the edge of the pool and stepped nimbly into the water. Mei wiggled her toes, delighting at the delicious coolness lapping at her ankles. She continued to wade in, until she was waist deep. With a single index finger, she tapped the surface of the turquoise water:
Thrice – 三下-
(The bangles on her wrist clinked with each movement)
- and in one sleek movement, Mei slid beneath the water. In the next moment - she was no longer there.
Where Mei had been was a rose colored carp, swimming in happy circles. It looped figure eight patterns, clearly enjoying the feeling of flight through water. Mei savored the silken feeling of water against her shining scales, which flashed gold and white from rays of filtered sunlight. The rose carp did a few more turns. Then, with a flick of her tail, Mei swam towards the depths of the pool, heading to sea.
To be continued in Pearl (Part 4)