Quality Check: Isalee
First Published on Chaleuria
Gao Zhun woke up very early the next day. As soon as he opened his eyes, he saw the other man’s pathetic figure on the sofa, all curled up like a wretched, unwanted stray. Pulling his blanket around him, he got out of bed and padded over to Zou Yun’s side. The next moment, he was stomping on the man with a raised foot, and the shock jolted Zou Yun awake at once.
“I’m starving.” Gao Zhun stared down at the man.
“Oh,” Zou Yun blinked, “I’ll heat up some congee for you.”
“I want bread for breakfast. Buttered.”
Rubbing his eyes, Zou Yun started feeling around for his trousers. “Sure,” he could not stop yawning, “I’ll buy some for you.”
The man was soon ready, and after grabbing his keys, he was gone. Emptiness filled the apartment as the old iron door swung shut behind him; Gao Zhun was all alone now. He turned around, surveying the tiny, rundown unit, running his eyes over the walls closing in on him – and his nose began to sting.
All of a sudden, tears were spilling from his eyes. But he did not know what he was crying for. Burying his face against the covers, he gave in to the immense swell of sorrow, silent and lonely in his despair. Every conscious thought faded away until only a single desire remained; as always, whenever the tide of inexplicable sadness returned to swallow him whole, he ached with the need to find his phone, to feel its weight in his hands.
He had left it at the head of the bed last night, he remembered. Just as he was about to reach for the device, however, he heard a click in the lock. Then Zou Yun was back in the room again with a rush of chilled air, scooping him into an embrace and peeling the covers back from his face.
Gao Zhun dodged awkwardly, rejecting the other man’s touch. “Where’s my bread?”
“Didn’t get any…” Zou Yun wiped away Gao Zhun’s tears with fumbling fingers. “Put on your clothes, and let’s eat out… together.”
Gao Zhun did not reply, but the other man was undeterred. He continued yanking at the blanket, stripping the fabric from Gao Zhun’s naked body and flinging it aside. “Get dressed,” he repeated as he grabbed Gao Zhun’s shirt off the chair, only to be distracted the next instant by the sound of something clattering onto the floor. Zou Yun sprang after it at once.
It was a crystal cufflink, a reminder to Gao Zhun of his wealth and financial superiority over the other man. “That’s vintage Swarovski, 12k apiece,” he gloated with spite.
The knowledge ought to have brought out some sign of shame on Zou Yun’s face, or a trace of that blatant greed Gao Zhun had seen far too many times in his other flings. But the man seemed unaffected altogether. “The fuck?!” he cursed indignantly as he placed the cufflink on the table with care. “That’s hella expensive!”
After breakfast, Zou Yun insisted on going to karaoke.
Dismissing the suggestion as a crazy whim, Gao Zhun refused – to no avail. “C’mon,” Zou Yun implored in the most shameless way possible, “I’m an amazing singer, I swear! You’ll totally fall for me once you’ve heard me sing!” Gao Zhun side-eyed the other man in scorn, then followed him into the KTV lounge.
They were given a tiny room measuring little more than five or six square meters in size. After ordering their drinks, the men sat down next to each other, shoulder to shoulder, leg against leg. Although Zou Yun was raring to go, he let Gao Zhun have the first pick.
“‘Bang Bang’ by Cher,”1 Gao Zhun said, glancing at Zou Yun as if he were a fool.
“Huh? What’s that?” Zou Yun asked with a blank stare, stumped.
Gao Zhun shoved him aside and helped himself to the song display. Music filled the air a moment later; it was an old English song, simple in both melody and lyrics. With a soft rasp in his voice, he began crooning a little clumsily into the mic as if he were recounting a story close to his heart, rooted deep in his very soul.
Zou Yun did not understand a single word; all he could do was to listen along in silent incomprehension – and watch the tears collect on the shivering tips of Gao Zhun’s lashes.
Now he’s gone, I don’t know why
And till this day, sometimes I cry
He didn’t even say goodbye
He didn’t take the time to lie…
Zou Yun became flustered. He could not bear to see Gao Zhun cry, but neither did he know how to cheer him up. And though he wanted to stop Gao Zhun, to cut off the song, he was afraid of angering the man. Bang bang… over and over again, the refrain rang out like cruel, relentless gunshots. Every time Gao Zhun sang it aloud, Zou Yun felt his heart clenching in pain.
Bang bang, he shot me down
Bang bang, I hit the ground
Bang bang, that awful sound
Bang bang, my baby shot me down…
Long after the music ended, Gao Zhun continued holding onto the mic, staring unseeingly at the randomized video on the screen. Zou Yun grabbed his hand. “You call that a song? Sounds like crap to me.” Then, running his own fingers over his buzz cut, he declared, “It’s my turn now – listen up!”
Zou Yun’s choice was “Roamer Watch” by Buyi Band:2
My boyfriend’s real high maintenance
He wants a Roamer watch
But I haven’t got a dime
How am I gonna afford it, afford it?!
Just like the man himself, the song was bold and free-spirited, with a touch of unpolished simplicity. And yet, there seemed to be a certain aloofness to it as well, a certain hint of pride. Gao Zhun watched him out of the corners of his eyes; Zou Yun was doing his best to make him laugh, he could tell.
So I gotta pick a pocket or two
When I’m caught on the streets
He’s watching and laughing from the side
What you fuckin’ laughing at?!
I’m doing this for you, all for you!
What a sad song it was. Would any relationship ever be complete without the pain of being torn apart like this, or such hopeless despair of feelings given away in vain? Gao Zhun broke into the barest flicker of a smile at the thought – and though it was gone again in an instant, that was all it took for that stifling pressure in Zou Yun’s chest to go away. He snatched up the bottle and took a hearty swig as he belted out the rest of the song at the top of his lungs.
“That’s enough of your ‘amazing’ singing.” Gao Zhun tugged at the other man and cut off the music. “Spare me the trashy nonsense.”
“Not your thing, eh?” Zou Yun leaned over with a grin, breathing against the skin by Gao Zhun’s ear, “The next one’s all for you.” Then he got to his feet without a single glance at the lyrics, eyes adoringly set on the other man like a tender, uncertain lover. Behind him, the title of the song appeared onscreen: “Beyond Exquisite”.3
I hear the whisper of your fingertips tracing the highest mountain ridge
And the murmur of your breath creasing the rippling waves
I lose myself even without the touch of your kiss
Yet I am lost when the invisible wings of your lips light upon my skin
I don’t need to see a thing to behold this splendor before me
Indeed, he had a lovely singing voice; no one could ever resist those charming, velvet tones. But this was a Cantonese song, and his command of the dialect was mediocre at best. As he started furrowing his brow in earnest like some over-expressive superstar, Gao Zhun turned away with feigned nonchalance, struggling hard to keep a straight face.
If the most tempting beauty may be the most moving music
So may storms of envy and scorn be but the passing shadows of the moon
What does it matter if we never laid eyes on each other
What does it matter if we did
Your visage blossoms, lush with the colors of Spring
My heart remains untainted and free
Zou Yun did not allow Gao Zhun to escape, however. Pushing the bottles aside, he cleared the table and sat down on its edge, framing the other man with his legs. His voice deepened with feeling as he leaned over, crooning:
The most exquisite love to the ears
Exists even if unseen
All my life I’ve never known the green of budding willows, or the black of silken hair
But what difference does it make to me
He caressed Gao Zhun’s hair, then ran his fingertips down the man’s throat, from his Adam’s apple to his chest.
I see not the fetters of your clothing
Nor do my eyes take in your form
Gently, he cradled Gao Zhun’s face and touched his lips.
Lest you adorn the world beyond me
With the brightness in your gaze, and the charm of your smile…
Gao Zhun resisted the man’s advances – yet it was impossible to stop himself from smiling at the dramatic longing on Zou Yun’s face. No one could remain truly unmoved by such intense wooing, after all. And though the light was dim in the room, there was no hiding the faint blush on his face.
This love, invisible to the eye –
There’s no telling who’s bound within
Not once have I set eyes on the shape of you
All I want is the freedom from all woes
Seeing not the terrace beyond, nor the sights of this earthly world
Lest you intoxicate me with your exquisite beauty one day
And pierce this heart of mine with your blade
And pierce this heart of mine with your blade… Zou Yun dropped the mic. As it rolled off his thigh, he pulled Gao Zhun into his arms and kissed him without warning.
“Stay, please.” In the wee hours of the morning, hidden in this tiny room in the KTV lounge, he clung to his unforgivable sin and murmured so innocently that he was almost pleading, “Be with me…”
Gao Zhun’s eyes lingered on the man before him, staring at him up close – how abominable he was, and how pitiful. Memories of that night came back to Gao Zhun, reminding him once more of his shame, the terror of being broken against his will… and Fang Chi. His heart ached, uncontrollably. He shook his head.
“Alright then,” Zou Yun released his grip with a laugh, “that’s alright…” Bending over, he picked up the mic as if he were lifting the unbearable weight of their lived reality. “How ’bout a duet, hm?”
The choice of song was left up to Gao Zhun. He picked “Whirlpool”, guessing that the other man was fond of Anthony Wong, and Zou Yun took up the male part as the melody began:4
I follow the spiraling path you’ve designed
Turning circles on the spot, falling into the paradise in the eye of the storm
Everything’s spinning, gravitating towards the center,
The world sinks into the depths with me, just for you
Gao Zhun joined in, singing along to the female part:
Transcending all reason, transgressing beyond nature
Dust returns to dust
It matters not if you’re whole or broken
Come rest in the deep of my embrace
“Buried under love…” Zou Yun’s voice quivered a little.
Gao Zhun pretended not to have noticed. “This world’s falling apart…”
Together, their voices mingled like two lonely souls that had been cast adrift:
Come hold me
Churn up a whirlpool, you and I
Let loose the tempest of passion behind this heated kiss
Come hold me
Consume me from the tips of my feet
Every inch of my soul is falling into the flooded abyss
“Love is eating away at me…” Zou Yun choked on a sob.
Still, the other man remained unmoved, showing not the slightest hint of sympathy. “Ensnared with nowhere to run…”
“Without a care for consequences,” Zou Yun moved close and wrapped his arm around Gao Zhun’s shoulders, “come what may…”
“This disaster, born of illusory pleasure…” Gao Zhun relaxed against the body beside him.
Trembling, seeking solace in each other’s warmth, they lost themselves in the song – and the lyrics set them ablaze word by word:
It doesn’t matter anymore, who’s consuming whom
Or who’s the hapless sacrifice to this siren call…
- “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” by Cher: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfyBHZc9rK4
- Given the context of this chapter, it’s very likely that Gao Zhun was singing along to the original version instead of the 1987 rock remix version.
- It is also possible that he is singing along to Nancy Sinatra’s cover of the song, which is a slower rendition than the original: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEFa4ztm9P0
- “Roamer Watch” by Buyi Band: 《罗马表》(布衣乐队) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UhNrC7aAf0
- Buyi Band is a pioneer in northwestern rock music founded in 1995. It has been featured by BBC as one of the icons of indie rock music in China.
- In this chapter, Zou Yun makes a slight modification in the first verse by changing “girlfriend” to “boyfriend”.
- “Beyond Exquisite” by Anthony Wong: 《绝色》(黄耀明) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPgYACAMFYU
- The wordplay in this song’s title reflects the philosophical depth of its lyrics.
- When read as an adjective, “绝” (jue) is a superlative that means “peerless / incomparable / the best”, which translates the title into “The Most Exquisite Beauty / View”.
- However, the lyricist intended for “绝” to be used also as a verb, which means “to reject / resist / abstain from”. This reading will turn the title’s meaning into “In Rejection of Appearances / Physical Beauty” instead.
- In order to capture the complexity of this song, I have tried to capture both layers of meaning in my translation.
- The wordplay in this song’s title reflects the philosophical depth of its lyrics.
- “Whirlpool” by Cass Phang and Anthony Wong: 《漩涡》(彭羚、黄耀明) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnICyfTENVs
- This song is the third work and only duet in the famous “Trash Pentalogy”, a collection of 4 songs (for 5 singers) written by composer Chan Fai Young and lyricist Wyman Wong.
- The collection is named after “Trash”, the 1998 hit that propelled not only the singer (Candy Lo) but also the songwriters to fame. Following its success, Chan Fai Young and Wyman Wong promised to co-create more songs for female singers using variations of the melody and effects in “Trash”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyUuDOssujo
It’s been more than a year since my last update. A lot has happened since then, and if you’re one of the readers who have been waiting for DITA — a big thank-you for your patience. If you’re a new reader, welcome (and I hope you’ll come to love this novel as much as I do).
When I went on hiatus last year to work on editing my old chapters for e-book publication, I did not intend to be gone for this long. But once I started reviewing my old chapters, I knew I had to re-translate all of them in order to do justice to the novel — and to maintain some form of consistency in style. Re-translation is a very painful process, because it requires me to undo and outdo what I’d already spent more than a year working and re-working. And it didn’t help that various things happened in my personal life that pushed me to the brink of breakdowns.
But I’ve never stopped working on DITA in the past year. Even now, I’m still in the midst of re-translating my old chapters, but the end is in sight (I’m down to just 5 more). It is my hope that the e-book (volume 1) will finally be out by the end of this year. As I wrap up the preparations for the e-book, I will start resuming DITA updates — hopefully on a monthly basis at least.
Once again, thank you all for waiting, and for loving this novel that’s so close to my heart. Unless Chaleuria’s management decides otherwise, I will never abandon this project. See you again in September, or October.