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My Neighbors in Garden Lane (Whole) [Copy link] 中文

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Post time 2006-7-23 11:41:47 |Display all floors
(1.1) My Hometown

My hometown is a remote but very beautiful place.
A small hill named Dongshan is located in the city center covered by lots of lofty trees reaching the sky. Several pavilions and temple are shaded by those trees. When a gust of wind is blowing over, they are eagerly showing their beauties at every possible moment.
Just the downward of Dongshan Hill there is a vast lake named Shihu where endless bluish waves are surging and hundreds of seagulls are as flying as twittering.
The lake firmly holds the hill just like a mother affectionately embracing her baby into her broad breast.
In between the hill and lake, there is a street spreading from east to west.
One day in May of 1949, the PLA (People’s Liberation Arm) liberated our town and set up new administrative organizations. This street was divided into 3 portions and named after Democracy, Liberation and Victory respectively.
Among them, Liberation Street was in downtown area with commercial prosperity. Lots of smart business men and artificers were gathering there.
My family was settled down there too and accompanied by our neighbors. Most of them were skillful craft masters, who had promoted the booming of our community with their hard work and wisdom and had composed an arduous chronicle of our society.

(1.2) Mr. Li’s Incense Shop

Contrary to the flourishing environment in the middle part of Liberation Street, there was a dilapidated shop, as someone put it ' with the height of a dog’s jumping'. It was extremely unusual in this so-called golden area, but, it was the reality.
This store named Mr. Li’s Incense Shop and owed by my father. “No, it wasn’t as humble as this.” my father always explained to his customers loudly, “It was a spectacular building with 3 storey height before the damnable Japanese Invasion.” he said over and over again.
It was true. My father and grandfather had successfully run an incense business for decades. At that time, Mr. Li’s Incense Shop was so well known that a few people in my hometown knew nothing about our brand products and neither any family nor temple ever burned the incenses other than ours.
However, a fire set by Japanese invaders had wrecked it in this way and completely terminated its business prosperity ever since.
After Japanese surrender, my father and his neighbors got a relief. Some of them had rebuilt their shops. The street got its booming again.

(1.3) A Fallen Misfortune

One day morning, an administrative official dropped in father’s shop and announced a governmental decree: “No incense business is permitted since it is for feudal superstition.”
Just like a lightning bolt, my mother and father were shocked because our family life had immediately been driven to a corner. Without this self-support means how could a 9-folk family with the majority of the elderly and little kids make its life?
They had no way to survive but selling their possessions gradually.
After a while, some of our neighbors felt pity to our situation and asked my father to assist them in construction work. My father was a craft man not a labor. With less physical strength, he was really suffering in this heavy-duty work.
Came to the year end of 1950, it should be the holy time for ancestor worship as per local custom. However, since new government firmly forbade such practice, all such activities associated were considered illegal. Even though, there were still some countrymen constantly came to our shop and asked for incenses slinkingly. It really scared my honest and timid father.
My mother was a strong and determined person. She insisted in selling out all inventory. “It is my idea and determination. None of your business.” she said to my father who was trembling and full of fear. “If someone considers it as crime, put me into prison. OK?” She was inspiring awe by upholding justice, “How could a business be stopped just by one word without buffering time to treat those raw materials and products on stock?” Mother’s words sounded reasonable, but we all knew it was an excuse caused by the cornered financial situation. As saying “Necessity knows no law”, she was risking a danger by desperation.
Sure enough, father’s business was recovered in secret way. Customers came to our shop in front door and carried incenses with a towel covered basket out from back door.
The sales income made my parents very happy, because they would have enough money to celebrate New Year feast.
Nothing happened until September 29.

(1.4) The Worst Situation

At that night, father was very tired and went into sleep soon with his thundering snore. Mother still kept herself busy and went bed at mid night. As usual, she lay on bed to plot her working plan tomorrow and dimly went to sleep later.
Suddenly, a faint sound from ladder awaked her. She boosted up her strength and found a thief was silently creeping down with a bundle of lit incense on hand. With constant incenses shaking to find his way, he passed the living room and directly went to the main hall as swift as a cat.
“Here is a thief!” mother awaked my father in undertone. “What!” he woke up with a start and let out a cry. However, when he found the opened door and the darkness behind, he immediately went into a panic. His legs were shivering and couldn’t move. He had to hold a bamboo knight and swatted on the desk. “What a damnable…. thief! How dare…. you are….. to steal … possessions!” father shouted with a shivery tone.
The thief knew well my father’s inward weakness and completely ignored him. He was too busy helping himself to money to notice any warming. To unlock this deadlock, my mother realized the urgent need of other’s support. “Help!” “Help us to catch the thief!” she was shouting again and again.
The noise woke up one of my neighbors next door, Deaf Grocery’s landlady. She awoke her husband loudly: “Get up quickly, deaf man! Our neighbor is stolen!” she said. The deaf man rushed to the street and blocked our main gate, “How dare are your guy! Come out and fight to me! I am challenging your devil.” He shouted with a shoulder pole shaking on hands.
Heard a brave shouting and metallic chugging, the thief thought he had been besieged by police and hastily fled from the back door.

(1.5) Out of the Unlucky Shadow

My family suffered a heavy lost in this robbery. Not only all sales income, but also the past deposit had all disappeared!
The situation came to worse. That New Year Eve was the most miserable one we ever spent.
Facing to such difficulty, my parents had no choice but to sell the useless shop with an extreme low price.
During those harsh days, they were helping and encouraging each other to overcome the endless difficulties. They had firmly set up a livelihood strategy: “No matter how much hardness, how less food would have; never sacrifice the opportunity for children’s education.”
In 1952, my family came to the edge of bankruptcy. At that very moment, my elder brother had graduated from the Jiangxi Medical Institute. He became the first university student in our community and duly took over the family-support burden from my father who was physically and mentally exhausted then.
Thanks to my parent’s farsighted strategy, my family had gotten over the most difficult time ever since.

(to be continued by P2 <The Brothers of Black Smith>)
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2.The Brothers of Black Smiths

(2.1)The Old Brothers of Black Smiths

About 20 meters away from the eastward of our shop, there was a narrow lane named Garden Lane led to Dongshan Hill. On the both sides of the rocky-step entrance there were 2 wooden houses. They all belong to my parents. One was for residence, the other used to be workshop where were equipped with some incense-fabrication facilities, such as grinding wheel, grinding trough, working desks, etc.
On the west side of the lane entrance, separated by our courtyard wall, there was a forging shop run by Oldest He, the elder brother among 3 black smiths. His younger brother, the second He was working across the main street of Liberation. His youngest brother, The third He was in his next door.
Although those 3 brothers shared the same parents, they had totally different appearances and characters. They run their own business individually with rare communication, except for traveling to Guang Zhou when they jointly purchased raw materials, such as coke, iron ingots, etc.
Ever since my childhood, I could only have seen the oldest He, with a brass smoking pipe on hand, had been crouching and coughing all day long. I never found he had ever touched the forging hammer.

(2.2) The Forger’s Second Generation

Actually, the forging process was carrying out by his three sons. One was shaking a large hammer, the other using small one and the third pulling and pushing bellows. 3 young men’s hard work made the oldest He’s business in full swing and the jingling hammering was cheerfully sounding day and night.
When I was a little boy, I always sat in front of them to observe the forging process carefully.
It had been said the person holding small hammer actually played the role of team-leader.
Sure enough, I had noticed he conducted the whole process with his hammer. When he held the hammer and pointed to upward, the bellows immediately became silent. The big hammer holder also laid down his tool and hastily took a towel around his neck to wipe out the sweat. In the mean time, with his pinchers fumbling in stove, the team leader clipped a red and shining iron piece out. As his small hammer hit the piece, the bellows was joyfully sounded again. And the big hammer instantly dropped down with numerous shining sparks splashing to all directions. As 2 hammers hitting in turn, 2 brothers were alternatively shaking their arms and bending themselves just like puppets’ mechanical movement.
After a while, the small hammer hit the anvil and generated a dull sound. Accordingly, the large hammer was stopped in half way.
It meant the piece got cool and needed to re-heat again.
The team leader sent the cooled piece to stove and covered with burning coal. Then, he picked up another hot piece and jointly hit it again.
In this way, 3 brothers cooperated harmonically just like a symphony playing a vivid iron-and-steel concerto.

(2.3)Unbelievable Fact

In 1958, the youngest brother, the bellows operator, was recruited.
After his departure, his mother missed him so much as if she were mad.
At that time, wiring broadcasting service was just put in trial run. A female announcer started broadcasting in mandarin.” Gan Yue Broadcasting Station, it is signing on now. ” The mother was sorely yearning towards her son. When she heard a strange sound coming from somewhere and misunderstood as a calling from her dear son’s army, “Gan Yue blacksmith’s attention, it is signing on now.” She was so excited that she took a chair and sat in front of her door and listened to it attentively. However, she heard nothing but continuous music playing. Waiting and waiting, she stilly sat there until mid night. When the trial run had completed and the calling sign had appealed again: ”Gan Yue Broadcasting Station, it is signing off now.” She was puzzled entirely and kept mumbling:” My dear son hasn’t come yet, why should it be signed off now?”

(2.4) Miserable Pleasure

As mentioned before, forging shops needed to collectively purchase raw material from time to time. This was the only opportunity for old brothers to gather together. Usually, they were tightly controlled by their wives and had no way to enjoy themselves thoroughly. With the agitation of extra male hormone and to compensate for their dissatisfaction and displeasure at home, they thirstily went to a red-light district and had their fling in Guang Zhou.
Unfortunately, just like a saying: extreme joy always begets sorrow. Their primitive sexual activities with no protection caused a miserable result.
Besides all necessary raw materials and luscious tropic fruits, they also brought back some thrilling sexual deceases. The youngest brother even suffered from terrible leprosy. His face was full of large and small dark red tumors and his forehead left no single piece of eyebrow. This awful look always made me sick and caused horrible night mare even by a remote glance.

(To be continued by P3 <A Thrifty Artist>)

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3. A Thrifty Artis

(3.1) A Luxury Photo Shop

On the east side of Garden Lane entrance, there was a photo shop run by Mr. Shu who was an artist in our community. He became an extraordinary figure not only for his booming photographic business but also for his wonderful skill of color painting.
Every space, such as receipt hall, studio even the ladder corridors were colorfully decorated by his spectacular landscapes.
Plenty of his masterpieces are still presented on the pavilions in Dongshan. Some of them may immortally remain.
His artist gift plus occupational ingenuity derived from his artful inspiration made his business vigorous and flourishing. With a series of 3 storey buildings, his property might be able to rank as No.1 among our community even in while Gan Yue County.

(3.2) An Eccentric “ landlord”

It has been said his success was not only resulted from his workmanship talent, but also from his extreme thrift.
He had a good habit of no smoking, no drinking, no gamboling no whoring either. Even in that brilliant period, he still brought food from home, when he had business trips for material purchasing or equipment innovation outside.
Sometimes things went into an exaggerated extent, as someone put it: “Once on his business trip, he brought a preserved egg* as meal dish. After several days, when he returned home, there was still half egg left. Because, when he ate plain rice every meal, he simply lapped up the egg for a salty taste, instead of having it.”” No matter there was still half egg remained after his journey!” people could not help exclaiming after heard this prevailing story.
Dislike some rich persons, who were always lifting up their horn, Mr. Shu was a very quiet and modest person. Walking in hurry, he never raised his head and looked someone in eye. His low profile may probably be attributed to his “dishonorable history” and the current title of “landlord”, the most disgusted political status in 1950’s.

(3.3) A Big Surprise!

It had been said, he was an underground member of CP (Communist Party) when he was young. After his arrest by KMT, he was too scaring to keep his loyalty and betrayed some of his comrades. Immediately after the Liberation, he was arrested again and committed as an “indecent betrayer”. With his death penalty, he was in a dreadful anxiety and waiting to his end in prison. However, his artist talent gave him a valuable opportunity to survive.
At that time, there were great many celebration events conducted by newly settled military regime every day. However, in local market there was no huge leader’s portrait available for them to hang on the up wall above the chairman seat yet. This awkward situation made Mr. Jin, the new governor of Gan Yue Military Committee headache severely. To relieve his vexation, someone bravely suggested that let Shu to have a try for portrait painting. Governor Jin had no choice but to agree.
Sure enough, the prisoner had his day and gave a full play to his remarkable skill. A lifelike portrait hung on the celebration stadium in time, which gave Mr. Jin a breathtaking surprise and gained great admiration from the audiences presented. He rose his fame swiftly and got Mr. Jin’s amnesty for “lacking of substantial criminal evidence” and for “his genius contributions”.

(3.4) A New Life

He had returned home and come back to his camera again. Among his colorful paintings and covered by a light-proof cloth, he had composed more and more artful photos with full self-absorption.
Had survived in such a catastrophe, Mr. Shu had more valued his life and career ever since.

*preserved egg: It is a sort of Asian food. People cover the egg (especially duck egg) with salty mud to keep it longer. Then, wash the mud away and cook it up before eating.

( To be continued by P4 《Unmovable Painting Marks》)

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4. Unmovable Painting Marks

(4.1)A Cool People’s Delputy

Opposite to the photo shop and across the street, there was a painting shop run by Master Tong.
In recognition of formal working class member, he had been elected to “People’s Delegation” and “People’s Jury” as well. Therefore, he always been found solemnly sitting up behind the judge.
He was so cool, that you could hardly found his face lit up.
He always kept himself busy at painting work with a dreadful smell and numerous painting marks on his overalls, which made him look like dressed in camouflage.
His shop was full of painted furniture for dowry, such as wardrobes, dressing tables and some ugly “soul plates” for funeral as well.

(4.2)Mysterious Soul Plate

With about 1 foot height, the “soul plate” is a house-like box holding a seated plate inside. The box looks like a black tombstone house. There is a narrow glass window inserted in front penal which is weirdly decorated by some yellow and green patterns around the glass. Through the winder the name, birth and death days of the dead can dimly be read on the plate.
People said the soul plate accommodates the soul of the dead. Therefore, once someone died, its successor must come to Master Tong’s shop and bought a “soul plate” for funnel and seasoning worship. This deal was much batter than that for dowry. People always said: “the people dropping in his shop with tears were much more than those with smiles.”
As a na&iuml;ve child, I was always scared by this mysterious soul plates and always puzzled by a fact why should the soul plate be considered with less superstition than our incense? My mother explained: “we are small potatoes not a people’s delegation!”.

(4.3) Charming Landlady

For above reasons, his shop was much less popular to our children than others’.
On the contrary to our attitude, some thirsty bachelor was always dropping around on purpose. They always addicted themselves to talk to Master Tong’s wife, a charming landlady.
With snow white skin and large and shining eyes, the landlady was considered a great beauty in our community. Her eyesight was so attractive that whomever it cast to, the man might immediately be disturbed.
Maybe for human being’s jealous nature towards beauty or for hate to her husband’s arrogance, people always pointed to Tong’s back and mumbled to him:” What a arrogant tortoise!* For what? For your green cap on head?** How many Japanese devils had your wife slept with, do you know?”
At that time we were too young to understand what that meant. As we grew up, the story came out in daylight.

(4.4) Painful Historic Wound

During the Japanese invasion, his wife was captured and forced to be a “comfort woman (military prostitute)”. She had born a physical and moral humiliation until 1945, when Japanese ghosts had been beaten. She came back to her husband again with a deep sense of shame which actually was forced by the evil upon an innocent weak woman.
With deep wounds in their minds, these miserable couple would never be free from the taunts given by their compatriots ever since. The same as those painting marks on Tong’s cloths; it could never be washed out in our community.

* It is a forbidden word to taunt a man for his timid nature like a withdrawal head’s tortoise without any reaction when his wife has a sexual relationship with someone else. It also implies his sexual disablement, as soft as a withdrawal tortoise’s head.
** Green cap is also a forbidden word with almost the same meaning as tortoise.

(To be continued by P5 <A Nobel Copper Smith> )

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(5) A Noble Coppersmith

(5.1) A Peculiar Business

Being opposite to blacksmiths’ shops, there was Mr. Fu’s coppersmith shop which was very popular but only got a single product of scissors series in it. Besides, the scissors were also outstanding for their double metal construction, i.e, 2 brass handles welded on hardened steel base, which not only remained the sharpness of steel cutting edges, but also added the elegance and stainless nature of brass handles.
It had been said this wonderful workmanship was universally unique and exclusive even today. However, this technical innovation had not brought Mr. Fu too much fortune.

(5.2) A Lonely Master

To my knowledge, his business had never come out from depression. With no assistor, this quiet neighbor was always busy at this or that process alone. Sometimes he squatted beside his little furnace, as pulling or pushing bellows as loading materials. Sometime he was absorbed in sand mould making. After a careful molding-box opening, he was squinting his eyes behind the glasses and scrupulously amending those minor defects with some little tools.
After the molding completion, he clamped out a dazzling crucible with orange-green smoke rising up. As he poured the liquefied copper out and cast the mold, whole room had been shined by its glorious radiation. As if had placed ourselves in a fairy land, we all were excited and could not help hailing by this spectacular scene. In the mean time, Master Fu’s idiot sun with age about 18 to 20 would also cheerfully jump out to join us with his silly grin and arms’ stretching out just like a dancing gorilla.
Master Fu had 2 sons. One was this idiot who was so silly that he could never take care to himself. After washed his hands, he simply got up without further action. In this case, his stepmother, a blind old lady, had to fumble about his bottom cleaning and trousers putting on.
His second son had misfortunately drown, when he studied in an elementary school several years ago. Therefore, he had no business successor in his family.
But, why didn’t he recruit an apprentice as other craft fellows?

(5.3) A Valuable Peering

The answer to this puzzle had not been found until 1969 when I graduated from a university and had my summer vacation at home. I’d occasionally read a local historic logbook where Master Fu’s glorious legendary had been clearly recorded.
Master Fu was a very poor apprentice of coppersmith when he was young. His master was a very clever but grudging people. He’d invented a new workmanship to fabricate scissors with welded brass handle. But he never allowed any apprentice to approach this top secret process and always carried the welding out after their sleep.
The young Fu knew the importance well and made up his mind to get it. He pretended going upstairs earlier and sleeping soundly. When all of his apprentice fellows had fallen to sleep, he got up and peered thru the little gap on the wooden floor. He’d learnt this welding skill successfully and made it perfect with his own innovation.

(5.4) A Great Honor

He came back to his hometown and run his own coppersmith shop there. He rose to fame swiftly for a Golden Medal won in an International Craft Exhibition in Paris. It was the only product made in China and sent to the show on Chinese behalf. This great honor was immensely delight the emperor of Qing dynasty, who favored him a title of “the Most Skillful Craft Master” and promoted him an official title of“Qi Pin(Level Seven )”with the equivalence of “County Governor”.
In 1916, his scissors had been sent to Panama Show and had won a top-grade Golden Medal again.
Before the appearance of chromium plated or stainless steel, his scissors were the only sort of stainless products and had been very popular in both American and European markets. Their advantages were not only for the golden and shining color, but also for their hardened sharpness. My mother kept a small size scissors and had used for haft century without any damage.
Since this technology was so valuable and gained with great difficulty, Mr. Fu had taken his master’s lessons and vowed never diverge to someone else.
However, he was so unlucky, that he had no offspring to succeed to it. Consequently, this wonderful workmanship had completely disappeared with our enormous regret.

5) The disappearance of Garden Lane

It was in a very fickle year of 1958, when the tide of “Great Leap” was swept over whole China. At that very moment, a particularly officious governor, Mr. Lu came to Gan Yue county to take his new post. After his early arrival, he complained: “Served as our winder, the Liberation Street is terribly narrow. Tear it down immediately! ” he issued an order with his sickly arrogance.
Sure enough, after less than a week, half shops in Liberation Street and most of resident houses in Garden Lane has been demolished. The majority of our neighbors had moved away. Garden Lane had eventually disappeared which had sadly terminated my story with a full stop.

(The End)

[ Last edited by wenzili at 2006-7-31 02:07 PM ]

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