Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 49 (John and Yue Ying (I)

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

 

Chapter 49

John and Yue Ying (I)

The little ma and pa shop was something totally new for John. He had never been into such small authentic little shops. Everything was jam-packed – obviously in an attempt to fit as many customers as possible into the given space. Two little windows facing the street were providing the necessary day light. In spite of the fact that it was just around 3 pm, the place was almost dark. No artificial light was provided and this was giving the visitors a mysterious feeling and the place an almost creepy look. The walls were covered in bamboo wood; mystical masks representing characters from the Chinese Mythology were hanging from the ceiling and from the side walls. The light from outside was desperately trying to make its way in, but the windows were grossly under-dimensioned to serving this objective and maybe this was done on purpose. The feeling of creepiness and unease encompassed John. “What the hell am I doing in this place? Why did that numb nut from outside took us to this shack?” He took a look at Yue Ying; apparently she was not bothered at all by the environment as she was looking around for a free table. John’s heart came to an ease seeing her completely undisturbed by the look of the establishment they just stepped in. “Well, hopefully the noodles are good in this place”. And yes, the place chosen by the cab driver was only making noodle soups. It didn’t take long before the owner (or the manager of the place) showed up. He was already anticipating a good business endeavor, seeing a westerner in his shop. He deeply bowed and started asking questions. Obviously Yue Ying was carrying the conversation while John was trying to smile and put a look onto his face, (a look which was mimicking a certain level of conversation understanding). Obviously he had no clue on what Yue Ying and the owner (or manager) were talking about.

-He say upstairs better, more room, not so busy, but more expensive. He owner.

-Great, then let’s go upstairs! It will be for sure money well spent. Both of them laughed and Yue Ying told their host that they want to go to the second level.

The little old man made a sign and took them in the back and then upstairs through a wooden staircase. The staircase was horribly squeaking and made John startle. It reminded him of his first day in Shanghai when Mr. Wang took him and Vic to the back room of his restaurant; on their way he saw that wooden staircase where a mysterious woman (which never showed her face) was always present at the top of the stairs. This place started making him feel nervous. However, he trusted Yue Ying and the fact that she was not bothered at all about the looks of the establishment, made him cool down.

At the second level, there was a totally different environment: The windows were larger and thus were allowing a greater amount of sun light. There were only five tables, thus signaling the fact that this level was a sort of “VIP” level. At the moment when they took a seat, only one other table was taken. This made John understand that the prices for dining upstairs were significant higher than at the main level. Shortly after they took a seat, the owner came back with the menu. John startled and felt like he needed to catch a breath: the little man in front of him was a carbon copy of Mr. Wang! The round face, the little strand of hair he was trying to use in order to cover the whole frontal area, the sharp, intelligent and investigative eyes behind the glasses made John believe that this individual was Mr. Wang’s twin brother. There were so many similarities between Wang and him! “This is unbelievable! How many brothers are they? It is Mr. Wang, it’s this guy and then it is the owner from Black Swan – which I do believe that has some ties to Mr. Wang…there was too much resemblance in spite of the fact that he was all the time trying to conceal his face by standing into the shadow. This is unreal! Are all of them linked to the curse?” John shook his head and grabbed the menu. Everything was in Mandarin, so he refrained at looking at the pictures. However, he couldn’t stop scrutinizing the man in front of them while pretending that he is reading from the menu. The many conversations he had with different people (into the short time he had been in China) about the curse, started surfacing again…this time though, through another piece of the puzzle which stepped in: Yue Ying! John looked at her while still simulating that he was interested into the culinary offer. “Who is she? Why did she so intempestively and abruptly butted into my life? Why did we have the amazing night we just had? Are we in love with each other? What is her role into this story? Does she have anything to do with the curse?” John was again completely lost into the intricacy of the story. It was the time when Yue Ying grabbed his hand and ask him what he wanted. John startled and looked at her. Her gorgeous eyes put a smile on his face:

-I have no idea what to order. I am assuming everything is fresh and good.

-Everything fresh, Mister. We make here. His hand stretched into a direction and John realized that the establishment had a little kitchen at the second level too.

-What do you think, Yue Ying?

-Everything looks good. I order noodles with vegetables and beef.

-OK, then. Make it two.

-They have many options: shrimp, chicken, fish…

-That’s OK. Whatever you are having, I am having.

-OK, two beef and vegetable noddle soups for you. It will be ten minutes.

-Thank you, Sir!

It was John’s turn to grab her hand. Until their meal showed up, both of them looked into each other’s eyes, smiled and held hands tight. One would’ve said that they just met after a long time of separation and were trying to catch up where they left it off. Yue Ying’s big, black eyes were looking at John in a way which would’ve made a neutral observer realize right away that she was deeply in love with him.

-Soups for you! Enjoy!

Two big bowls of soup were now resting in front of them. The smell of freshly chopped parsley and green onions sprinkled on top was making their nostrils dilate and deeply inhale. It was a happy combination of vegetables, rice noodles, and beef broth in which few pieces of meat and marrow were freely floating. However, John had a problem: in spite of the fact that he was more than able to handle the chop sticks, he never tried to eat a soup using the traditional Chinese eating utensils. Whenever he was ready to put the noodles into his mouth, they were simply slipping through his chop sticks and falling back into the bowl to Yue Ying’s great amusement. After few tries, he signaled that he is ready to give up trying to eat with chop sticks…

-No, no, no…you must try. I help.

-No, I don’t need help…I can do this! John tried again, but the soft, slippery noodles just wouldn’t listen to him and they were inevitably ending up at the bottom of the bowl.

-I help. You listen! Yue Ying’s voice was demanding this time. John looked at her and then affirmatively nodded. Yue Ying pulled a chair beside John’s and grabbed his hand, carefully adjusting the way his fingers were supposed to grip the sticks.

-Now you choose: bring bowl close to mouth or bring head down close to bowl.

-Obviously I am not going to do the first one…so, I guess I am just going to tilt my head closer to the bowl.

-Yes. You do that!

John listened and fished again for the noodles. This time he managed to grab a decent quantity and took it to the mouth; it was an instant success. Yue Ying clapped and cheered, the same way a mother would do it when she is seeing progress made by her child in performing new tasks. She moved back and the rest of the time they talked and laughed and enjoyed a nice soup. One would say that they had been known each other for ages, as no barriers whatsoever remained between them. The small talk, the laughter and the happy moments were greatly enjoyed by both of them. John remembered that the cab driver was waiting for them…

-Oh… Xiǎo lǐzǐ must be already bored. We need to go. John put his hand up in the air. The owner saw the gesture and immediately showed up.

-Everything good? OK everything?

-It was delicious. Bill please.

-Yes, Sir! One hundred RMB.

-Sure. Here it is the money. You have a good day. John stood up and headed for the stairs when all of a sudden turned around and asked the man:

-Do you have a brother in the city? Or maybe…two brothers?

John couldn’t help but seeing the face of the man changing colors while the physiognomy turned from an upbeat and jovial look into a gloomy and unfriendly one. “What did I say? I just asked him if he had one or maybe two brother in the city. What did I do wrong?”

-I thank you for your business, Sir! His right hand was already stretched towards the staircase, basically telling John that he is expected to leave.

Once they were out from the establishment, Yue Ying grabbed his hand and while lifting herself up on the toes to reach John’s ear, she murmured:

-I think…something not good with man inside.

-This is what I told myself…what did I say wrong? Why did his mood change so drastically? I just asked him if he had more brothers into the town…

-Never mind. We had good meal! Her face was all smile and the cheeks were showing now those superb hues which were making the whole physiognomy so friendly looking, pure and happy!

-Yes, it was a good meal! Today I learnt how to eat noodles with the chop sticks! It is a good day already! John started laughing and shortly he was accompanied by Yue Ying. Her vocal chords pulled a crystalline and jovial laugh out of her chest which followed her inside of the car.

-Where we go?

-Please take us to a store where we can buy some more comfortable cloths.

-OK. I know good store. I take you there.

-Alright. Let’s do it!

The usual second gear start up followed. This time John was ready for it; he had enough time to grab Yue Ying and plant his legs against the front seat. In another two seconds, the driver was already in the third gear and then into the fourth. “He is definitely crazy!” John told himself. But now he was saying it while laughing and enjoying the fact that he had Yue Ying into his arms.

The stores were all one level or maximum two level shops and were located into a busy commercial market. John was stunned! There were probably hundreds of little gift shops where one could’ve bought anything you could imagine. John was almost one head above everybody else and thus he was able to admire the crowd and the immensity of the place. “Man, if I get lost here, I am doomed!” Both Yue Ying and Xiǎo lǐzǐ were walking in front of him. His eyes were into a continuous alert, trying not to lose them and in the same time trying to find some stores where they could buy some more comfortable clothes for Yue Ying.

Eventually the cab driver pointed towards a store to the left, a store which looked a little different from any other stores. The front window was large and artificial mannequins were placed into display. The whole establishment had a more refined look than others…it was almost like this one did not belong to this place. Once they entered, two associates greeted them and started asking questions to which Yue Ying was quickly responding.

John didn’t bother listening…he couldn’t understand a word anyway. His curiosity was again kicking in and according to his habit of sticking his nose into everything, started wandering through the store looking at products. At the end of the shop there was a desk and the cash register. Nobody was there. However, a door towards the back was cracked open and he understood that the shop’s warehouse was probably in the back. His fine ear picked up whisperings behind the door. It was enough for him to direct all of his attention that direction. In spite of the fact that he couldn’t understand what they were talking about, he thought that he recognized a familiar voice tonality. He was now all ears…

Suddenly, the door opens up and a woman into her seventies (or even eighties) comes out. She didn’t look at all surprised to see somebody standing not far away from the now opened door. John’s eyes immediately caught a silhouette sliding into the dark, upstairs…”So there is a staircase going up to the second level. Interesting. And somebody just went upstairs as mysteriously and elusively as possible. Great! Here it is another Mr. Wang story!”

The woman had a face which was so wrinkled that one would say she was a mummy just coming out of the sarcophagi. The hands were at least as wrinkled as the face while the tanned skin was greatly contrasting with the white hair. Her attire was not the regular run down, neglected attire of a merchant from the area. One could actually see a certain level of sophistication in the way she was dressed, especially a superb thin gold chain hanging down from her neck. John was trying hard to decipher the meaning of the green jade figure which was resting on her chest. It was a superb piece of jewelry and John just couldn’t stop admiring it. He was fascinated by the beauty of the precious stone which was encircled by a black ring, a ring that had the freedom to slide alongside the chain, obviously. The shirt was white and classy with two large lapels which were covering the lapels of the nice red suit jacket she was wearing. The black ring of the precious jade was contrasting so beautifully with the white of the shirt while the green jade was matching so greatly the red coat! John smiled and with a sincere voice, complimented the woman standing in front of him:

-It looks nice on you. The necklace is so beautiful! What does that green jade represent? John simply rolled all these questions without even asking himself if she was able to speak any word in English. Quickly he realized that she didn’t speak the language he was speaking and to get out of an uncomfortable situation, decided to use the universal language of mimicking. He pointed towards the jade and then did a “thumb up”. Woman’s face lightened up and tilted the head discretely in a sign of “thank you”. Now John found himself into an even more delicate situation: he was looking at the woman and she was looking at him, probably waiting for him to say something else. John made the sign of a chain imaginary placed around his neck, then pointed towards hers and did again a “thumb up”. Once again she tilted her head in a “thank you” sign.

Unfortunately for John, this was the last idea he could come up with and he was now in a desperate need of help. The lady behind the counter was by no means too vocative or too willing to entertain him – probably she realized that it would’ve been a futile effort as she couldn’t speak any English. The salvation came from Yue Ying. Once she finished taking a peak through the store, she saw him at the counter trying to desperately initiate a conversation with the old lady. She approached the counter, grabbed John’s arm and quickly asked:

-Can I help?

-Absolutely! Would you mind telling this lady that I absolutely love that necklace of hers and I especially like that green jade enclosed into that black case? Yue Ying translated and once again the old lady’s face brightened up. A short conversation between the two women started up. John was listening, in an attempt to catch something…anything.

-She say: “Thank you; you gentleman”

-Oh, thank you very much mam! John turned towards the old lady and tilted his head forward, thus showing a great deal of respect.

-She also say that you handsome.

-Once again, mam…I thank you very much. For the second time, John tilted his head in a thank you sign. Yue Ying looked at him and quickly grabbed him by the neck with her arms and passionately kissed him. It was a gesture which put a smile on woman’s face. John felt a little embarrassed and slowly pushed Yue Ying back while whispering into her ear:

-We are in public…

-I don’t care, promptly came back from Yue Ying while pulling his head closer, so she can kiss him again. It was a long and passionate kiss, one of those kisses that are happening before one’s departure for an unknown amount of time.

The old woman behind the counter was scrutinizing every move they were making and one could see an enigmatic smile on her face. Her whole attention was now directed at the couple in front of her. Yue Ying eventually let go and was now looking straight into the woman’s eyes. This exchange of sights was not even close to being friendly. John picked up right away the hostility hidden behind that smile which the old lady had on her face. “Oops…she is not happy. Probably the last exhibit of affection from Yue Ying did not go too well with a person who potentially has a conservative and traditions based education. That look of hers, in spite of the smile I can see, is meant to be thrown at somebody you either do not like, or you despise. Things are getting a little dicey in this moment. I think it’s time for me to step in.”

-So, did you find anything you liked?

-Yes, but not want buy here. Let’s go.

-Why? They have nice stuff and the store is big and clean.

It was the moment when one of the two girls who greeted them in the beginning offered her services to help. The timing was perfect as one would’ve been able to pick up a certain level of hostility floating into the air.

-Of course you can help us! It was John who spoke. He did it from two reasons: first one, he didn’t want to start looking around for another store as all the establishments in that commercial center were small, jam-packed into each other and he didn’t really like their quality.

Secondly, his immense natural curiosity wanted to find out more about the back room and the person who elusively slipped upstairs when seeing him. He was actually dying from knowing who that person was, what is the purpose of this nice, elegant and spacious store so awkwardly placed into a regular traditional commercial center and who the old lady behind the counter was? Her smile was so enigmatic and intriguing, so cold and emotionless! His gut feeling was telling him that something was not right with this place and he may be able to find some leads into his investigation.

 

 

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 45 (A new beginning)

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

 

Chapter 45

A new beginning

The lights went down again and the crowd understood that the show was over. However, people were very happy; their faces were radiating that sentiment of pride and fulfillment that they were part of a great show. There was pure joy in their eyes and everyone was now talking about the spectacle which just ended up. Yue Ying’s name was on everybody’s lips. The lights came up again and Yue Ying showed up, this time accompanied by the whole band and thanked everybody for showing up. Then a strange phenomenon happened: people started rushing towards the stage. John immediately realized that the four girl band was now offering their fans the chance to get a sign autograph. It was such a wonderful disarray! At one point the bodyguard intervened and tried to put some order into the crowd and tried to make people line up. It worked in the beginning, but then the girls were again swarmed by the fans again. John and Vic were calmly watching the event. When Yue Ying announced that they are now signing autographs, their cab driver was the first in line and received a signed poster of the band. Then he pulled out few business cards from the pocket and gave them to Yue Ying’s friend – apparently at her request. She signed them and handed them back to the taxi driver, strangely pointing towards John on a particular one. The man came back to the table with a smile on his face as large as his mouth allowed him to do. He was so proud of the signed poster and cards. As per directions from the girl, he handed over one of the signed business cards to John.

-You lucky! She likes you!

-What did you say? Who likes me?

-She likes you…said again the man and pointed towards Yue Ying’s friend.

-You lucky dog! She likes you! Vic burst into such a laughter that his whole body was trembling and tears were coming out of his eyes. His face turned red; John managed to pull a smile while still keeping his eyes on Yue Ying. She was so happy speaking to her fans and signing autographs! John realized that she is truly made for this: the passion into her eyes, the dialog and the way she was managing to keep the fans wanting more of her performance was contagious. While watching every move she was making, he was playing with the card he received, flipping it non-stop from one side to another side. However, his eyes only had one target: Yue Ying. “She is amazing! What a stage presence! What a personality! What a talent! With this sort of skills, she should’ve been a star by now. Why is she singing in this restaurant? Does she sign somewhere else? I gotta ask Vic to speak to the cab driver” The moment he wanted to grab Vic and ask the question, his eyes fell on the card he was holding in his hand…his heart stopped and a twinge shot through his spine: “Call her” said on the card and a phone number followed below. He felt how a cold sweat was now encompassing his forehead. He lifted his head and looked again at the stage. Just few more people were still in line for autographs. To Vic’s astonishment he stood up and quietly placed himself at the end of the line.

-What are you doing, John? Vic asked the question while following John. Now he found himself in line waiting for autographs perhaps, or just trying to understand what his friend wanted.

-Thanks for joining me, Vic! I may need you to translate.

-They can speak English.

-I know, but please stick around, you never know…

-OK, John but I don’t like this!

-Relax, man! I just want to know if they sing elsewhere.

-Boy! This band must’ve made an impression on you!

-They are very good!

-OK, if you say so…the expression on Vic’s face was of deep wonder. He had a bad feeling that something is going to happen, that John will again get into one of those strange and new situations where he is also going to be dragged into. Since he met Zhaohui, he became cautious and learnt how to avoid trouble. Right behind Vic, the cab driver lined up too and immediately started a conversation in Chinese with Vic.

When John made it to the front and tried to say something, but the Yue Ying’s friend was faster:

-Chu Hua is my name and we met few days ago, John. Remember?

-I do remember. And I still didn’t thank you guys for giving me directions.

-You had no target to go to, John. We couldn’t give you directions. Both of them started laughing. In spite of the conversation he was having with Chu Hua, his attention was all pointed at Yue Ying. The smile on her face was angelical and John felt like he couldn’t speak or find his words anymore. You are special guests, we will go in the back.

The back stage was something improvised, something which was playing the role of change rooms and the same time a storage area. Immediately, Chu Hua started introducing the other two members of the band who played the instruments at such a high virtuosity. Then she went into offering a history of how they met and how they got to playing this particular style of music.

-This is …. And this is …..

John’s ears were listening, but his eyes were all on Yue Ying. Both of them never stopped looking into each other’s eyes. It was like they were both hypnotized by an unknown magician who had the powers to play with their minds, with their hearts, with their spirit and physical presence. They were both all smile, thus releasing a sentiment of reciprocity, of closeness, of friendship and companion. Then something completely unpredictable happened: John started slowly heading her direction. When he was just inches away from her, he stopped. He could now feel the vibration and the warmth of her body, he could smell the fresh April scent of her body perfume. All this time, they never took their eyes off of each other. It was something magic in the air. Slowly, John put his hands on her hips, then embraced her into a tight and meaningful hug. Their lips joined and a long and passionate kiss followed. There was so much intensity into that kiss that one would’ve said they just met after a long, long journey apart from each other, or maybe they just got re-united after centuries of wandering into parallel worlds, into separate Universes or Galaxies.

Vic was stunned! He couldn’t say a word anymore. Initially, when he saw John heading towards her direction, he tried to say something…a sort of: “let’s go now”. But his words never made it out of his chest, as John couldn’t resist Yue Ying’s eyes anymore.

The cab driver was the only person at this party who openly applauded and expressed his happiness.

Chu Hua looked at them and a smile flourished on her lips. It looked like she was not all that strange to the fact that Yue Ying had some feelings for John. The other two girls were watching the scene quietly and same like Chu Hua, were discretely smiling, letting one’s know that they were in the possession of a certain level of knowledge about their leader’s heart choices.

Few minutes past by and nobody was saying a word any more. The silence was so deep that everyone could actually hear John’s and Yue Ying’s accelerated breaths. His neck was now encircling by her arms and the hips by her legs. Finally, she stopped the kissing and with a soft moaning set her head on his left shoulder and closed the eyes.

Nobody dared to say anything anymore. Everyone was waiting for something to happen, something out of the ordinary, something which would break that magic moment of pure love and tenderness. Then the door to the back stage quietly opened up and John could actually see a silhouette trying to get; but at the sight of the scene, backed up and sneaked into a cone of darkness.

John startled: “Mr. Wang! I swear it was him! Why isn’t he showing up?” In spite of the fact that he was now holding Yue Ying and his hypothalamus took almost completely over his actions, he couldn’t help but look into the direction where the individual who wanted to enter, disappeared. “This place is at least strange. I gotta’ find out more about this elusive owner”

Then, he made a sign towards the cab driver and Vic. Through another door, they got out of the building and headed towards the car. John was now carrying Yue Ying into his arms. He was holding her the way you hold an infant, carefully not to wake the baby and in the same time tenderly not to hurt the child. The drive to the hotel was too long (into John’s mind). He was sitting in the rear seats with Yue Yong into his arms. Vic was in the front and his face was showing the grimaces of a man who was incapable of comprehending a certain situation, a man astounded by the events, a man with no answers whatsoever to the multitude of questions which were exploding like popcorn into his brain.

The cab driver was the only one who was openly very happy by the turn of these events and never seized to show his admiration for the two individuals who looked to him that they were very much in love with each other.

John was now thanking in his mind to his driver that he took them to the show. “I believe this is Karma…what else it could be?”

Once at the hotel, Vic asked the driver to wait and accompanied John and Yue Ying upstairs. He was determined to put a stop to this, which in his mind was complete madness. However, he didn’t know how to tell John that he is making a mistake, that he has a job to do and he has no time for affairs. He opened up the door and let John and Yue Ying get in first. It was again the moment when the two embraced each other once again. Vic rapidly went to the kitchen and showed up with three glasses in his hand and an opened bottle of wine.

-Let’s have drink now…he put the glasses on the coffee table in front of the dining room couch and took a seat. But to his astonishment, John lifted Yue Ying into his arms and headed for the bedroom, opened the door and then closed it with his heel. Vis was mesmerized! That very moment he was completely out of ideas on how to react, what to do, how to handle a situation so delicate. He poured himself a glass of wine and headed to the window. The spectacle he was seeing was amazing, to say the least: the city was still in full motion, people were walking to and from the restaurants, the cars were rapidly carrying individuals to their destinations, while the great Huangpu was keeping a watchful eye over everything, just to make sure that life flows peacefully into the city that never sleeps. He slowly finished his wine, then headed towards the entrance to the apartment, not before taking a long look at the door behind which John and Yue Ying disappeared a little earlier.

“What a peculiar day! What a strange night! A cab driver stops by and takes us to a show. The lead singer of the band is a beautiful girl. She and John have something deep in common as they apparently hit it off. What a strange turn of events! I hope this little thing is over by tomorrow noon. We have lots of stuff to do next week. John buddy, enjoy and I guess I see you tomorrow” He shut the door closed behind him and headed downstairs where the cab driver was waiting for him. A large smile was still present on his lips, which made Vic burst into a huge laughter. Then he got into the front passenger seat and started chit-chatting with the driver all the way until he reached his house. “I can’t wait to tell Zhaohui this story! This is unbelievable!”

He looked at his cell phone: it was midnight. “She is probably asleep”. Vic quietly made it into the bathroom, took a quick shower and then (trying to make the least amount of noise possible), slipped under the blankets.

-How was your night out?

Vic startled as he didn’t expect his fiancée to be still awake.

-You are not sleeping?

-No. I waited for you. Just wanted to make sure you are OK.

-Thank you my sweet heart! I am just fine. Are you willing to listen to a strange story?

Zhaohui flipped the switch to the night lamp, fixed her pillow higher and took a typical Yoga position, signaling the fact that she is ready to hear the story. Vic did the same and after two minutes of quietness started telling the story. Zhaohui was all ears. A deep silence fell between them after Vic finished. He looked into her eyes trying to guess what she was thinking at, trying to understand how his story affected her. It was the moment when Zhaohui’s statement fell like a hammer on him:

-The circle starts closing. I want to meet this girl.

-What? You are kidding, right? It is probably just a fling. Tomorrow we have work to do. J.J. wants updates and answers.

-I think all we are doing is useless. All these investigations (involving the two detectives) are futile and will not bare any fruits. My feeling is that this girl is the piece of the puzzle that is missing. I need to speak to her! Her voice was almost demanding, making Vic startle once again.

-Unbelievable! I will speak to John tomorrow.

-Please do so. Now let’s have few hours of sleep. Tomorrow will be a new beginning.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 44 (Shanghai Sun)

An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.

Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism, into a world of traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.

Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life onto the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.

 

Chapter 44

Shanghai Sun

The lights came down again. The band was performing its last instrument tuning. Then few slow, strange tunes tickled John’s ears. He recognized the traditional Chinese music. It was the moment he decided to lean back and pay attention as his fine musical ear started liking what he was hearing. The tunes slowly evolved into something else, something he couldn’t understand and recognize; the music was still flowing naturally and fluently, but it was something he never heard before. The rhythm was no longer slow, as it picked up some “steam”; it only took few seconds for John’s good ear to realize that the melody was gradually evolving into a typical pop style on Chinese lyrics. He was astounded! “They are actually blending their traditional music onto Pop style! This is unbelievable!”

John was all eyes and ears as the music caught him by surprise through originality, rhythm, tunes and melodicity. It was such a nice surprise, that at the end of the song, he stood up and applauded as hard as he could.

-What do you think, Vic?

-It is…I don’t know…different!

-Exactly! Listen to the tunes, listen to the way they are blending into each other, listen to the transition between their traditional music and the Pop style.

-Yes, I knew I heard somewhere this style! Vic burst into laughing and joined John in openly applauding the band’s performance. The cab driver was also happy and joined the two westerners into a big round of applause. The atmosphere inside the restaurant was already electric and one would’ve realized that these people were regulars of the establishment as they recited and sang along at a certain point with the band.

The next song followed the same line, only this time the Pop tunes were a little faster. But the idea was the same: blending traditional Chinese tunes onto Pop musical lines. People started again clapping and singing along while their feet were beating the beat of the melody. John was by now completely hooked by the tunes and the way the band was ingeniously blending two apparently incompatible music styles. He wanted to absorb every tune, every sound that was coming out of those strange instruments. And there was something else: Yue Ying’s voice. It was crystal clear, it was powerful and had lots of personality and was complemented by a stage presence which let no doubts on who the lead singer of the band was. One would’ve realized right away that the whole show was revolving around her performance: the movements, the singing, the personality and the way in which she was managing to engage the spectators was second to none. John was mesmerized to say the least.

Then, as the band continued to perform that blend: Chinese and Pop, John realized that the musicians are slowly switching to a more upbeat type of music while keeping the start and some portions of the refrain onto traditional local style. “Are they switching to Rock? No way!” It only took John few moments to realize that the band was indeed revving up their style towards a softer Rock. He was mesmerized…”how do they do this, by only using these strange instruments?”

The answer came again from the same area as it came before: from the stage presence of the lead singer, from her angelic voice, from the way she was presenting and selling the songs to the audience. There was so much natural talent into her moves and voice that John simply couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

And the songs kept coming over and over, with the same intensity, same nice line of melodicity and great symbioses between traditional and now Rock music. John completely lost count of time. At one point, the band asked for a break and that was the time when food and drinks were now brought to the tables. Vic was checking the crowd like nothing different happened. The cab driver was happy that he recommended the show and John was still trying to digest the authenticity and genuine performance of the band. He checked his wrist watch and realized that the girls sang for a full hour.

-Wow! One hour of the strangest, yet some of the best music I have ever listened. He didn’t realize that he was speaking loud and so Vic felt like replying:

-Yeah, it is a pretty good music.

-You are not impressed? Are you kidding? This is awesome music, man.

-Yeah, it’s ok.

John didn’t want to insist. He realized that Vic’s knowledge of music is limited to whatever he could recognize, name and eventually listen to. Few beers showed up at the table. The three men toasted and a high level of cheerfulness encompassed the table, only to blend into the general good mood atmosphere.

-Hey, Vic!

-Yeah, John! ‘Sup?

-Why do you think our neighbors are so quiet?

-Are they? I didn’t even notice…yeah, I think you are right. They are unusually quiet comparing to their earlier behavior. You must’ve made an impression. This was the point when Vic pulled another big laughter out of his chest. That hook right into that guy’s guts was awesome, man! And secondly, the large fellow they have as a body guard, must’ve made them think twice before creating another disturbance. I swear that I saw the table bending from the middle when he pounded it with his fist! I have never seen something like this! This guy is a monster!

-No, Vic…you are wrong…

-I’m wrong about what?

-I believe that they are up to something. I don’t like their physiognomies.

-They are drunk, man! What else can you read on those drunken bozos’ faces?

-I am not sure what they are plotting about, but I don’t like what I see.

-You are getting paranoiac over nothing. I am telling you that they can barely walk on their feet.

-OK. I hope you are right, Vic…also, what is bothering me as well, is the fact that I can swear I heard Mr. Wang’s voice…it really bothers me. Why did the owner keep his face into the dark the whole time he spoke to me? There was a cone of darkness by our neighbors’ desk. He placed himself every single time into that shadowy spot carefully hiding his physiognomy. I could only guess that he was wearing thin eye glasses. That’s all. Something is fishy with this place.

-Neah…you are worrying over nothing. Here we go…the girls are coming back onto the stage. I have to admit that they are beautiful.

-Girls, beautiful. Very beautiful…it was the cab driver speaking again and giving the thumb up. Vic cracked again in laughing while giving the driver the thumb up back. The lights came down into the room and the band was now under the stage lights. John’s eyes were watching every single move Yue Ying was making…her whole body was so graciously accompanying the tunes of the songs she was singing while the natural and crystalline voice was so greatly accompanying such a beautiful face and angelic smile!

Again and again, her voice was changing tonalities and was naturally switching the beat from now semi-traditional tunes to rock and roll. John was amazed! He was amazed of not only the fact that the band was able to master the switch from these two (apparently) so different types of music, but also amazed of the knowledge they had on composition, on transition from tonalities otherwise irreconcilable, to beautiful melodic lines. Every end of a song was accompanied by applauses and one could actually see that the band already had its fan base inside of the restaurant. John was shocked! He expected a traditional show, typical old Chinese music…he couldn’t have been more wrong! People knew the lyrics by heart, people were singing along, people were actively participating into the show and the band was offering a spectacle to die for.

-Unbelievable! This is an amazing show! I thank you for recommending this to us! The driver bowed and thanked John for his words:

-Yes, this good show! I told you! This good band! Vic and John pulled a big laughter out of their chests and then went back to watching the girls. It looked like everybody was having a good time, when all of a sudden the lights came down and the instruments started playing their tunes slower, and slower, and slower until they were barely audible even to people who were sitting at the front tables. John was intrigued…

-The lights came down and along with the lights, the rhythm of the song, the beats and the tonality. Are they up for something? John whispered his question hoping that nobody could hear it. But apparently the cab driver had a very sharp ear and answered immediately:

-Now Shanghai Sun…

-What?

-Now sing Shanghai Sun.

John looked at him and realized that he was trying to tell him that the next song was going to be called: Shanghai Sun.

-You know their show by heart! How often do you come here?

The taxi driver started laughing and with a waggishly smile answered:

-Many times, Sir!

-OK then. Now let’s listen.

The lights above the stage came back up but at a much lower intensity which made John wonder why? Soon he got his answer: the band started singing a slow song. The prelude was once again a typical combination of Chinese tunes played at a slow beat. The harmony at which those four instruments (this time the lead singer grabbed one of those strange mandolins and stepped in as an instrument player) were playing was absolutely stunning. It was a dialog of happiness, a dialog of birds happily chirping at one another while waiting for the sun to come up, it was a dialog about green colors of the spring, about nature reviving and coming out reinvigorated from a long winter, it was a dialog about peace and serenity, about fast flowing little creeks trying to cover with their sounds the concerts of the living creatures in the woods.

“It almost sounds like Vivaldi’s Spring” exclaimed John in his head! “What a skill! To produce such a delicate, yet complex music with these instruments (which honestly look quite basic to me), is amazing! What a skill”. To John’s wonder, the melody started picking up some beat and soon turned into a Rock where the lead singer now had the full control of the stage by not only playing that strange instrument, but by also singing. The inflections of her voice were phenomenal to say the least! It turned out that the song was one of those ballads which only great Rock bands can write and play. The way the song progressed from its Chinese roots, then to soft Rock sang by their leader was astonishing. At one point, John realized that the lyrics switch to English…now he was in a state of shock! He realized the last line of the refrain was saying: “Now and then and forever…this is Shanghai Sun”. And it was repeated again: “Now and then and forever…this is Shanghai Sun”.

“What a beautiful song! This is unbelievable! I could’ve never imagined that such song can come out of those instruments! Wow!”

John looked at Vic. He did not look very impressed but he was at least listening and watching carefully. In return, the taxi driver was all eyes and ears. He was trying to absorb every single sound that was coming out from the stage. It looked like his whole body was connected to the musical activity that was happening in front of him. “This guy is more sensitive to good music than Vic is!” John muffled a laughter for himself. It was actually the end of that great song. He jumped on his feet and immediately started applauding as hard as he could:

-Bravo! Bravo! Well done! Well done, guys! What a great song!

The cab driver followed him and frenetically applauded. Vic did the same and shortly the whole establishment did the same.

The band deeply bowed and thanked everyone in Chinese. Then, the lead singer turned towards John’s party and in a decent English thanked for the applauses:

-We thank you…if I remember…you…John. Thank you, John and thank you your friends.

John bowed and so did the cab driver and Vic.

-It was a great song! Congratulations! This was a sincere exclamation which came out of Vic’s chest, a shout which made Yue Ying say:

-I thank you, Sir…

-Vic is my name.

-I thank you, Vic!

John’s eyes were all on her, on the way she was conducting herself on the stage, on the graciousness of her moves, on the naturalness of her whole body moving from left to right, on her long black free flowing hair reaching her breasts, on her out of this world smile which was in turn bringing two gorgeous hues into her cheeks, on her face which was exhibiting a large sentiment of satisfaction and thus letting two rows of perfectly white teeth release the most angelic smile possible.

Their eye sights met again…this time it was the look of two souls which have just re-discovered each other after an eternity of separation, after wondering through different worlds, after unsuccessfully trying to reach each other, connect and close a destiny.  It only took few seconds for the two pair of eyes to cross paths and for their minds and hearts to connect. Vic was mesmerized! The cab driver was all smile and it seemed that he liked what he was seeing.

Finally, Yue Ying returned to the center of the stage and started clapping while the rest of the band was playing an up-beat song which in turn brought the audience on its feet and made everybody clap on the sound of the music. The crowd was now fully entertained and the owner of the establishment showed up from the kitchen. However, same like the first time, he made sure that he didn’t show his face and remained into a cone of shadow, to John’s disappointment. John grabbed his beer, put a leg on top of the other and decided to listen. The sight exchange he had with Yue Ying brought a strange sentiment into his heart; it was something he couldn’t comprehend, put in order, measure with his imagination or explain. “I have the feeling that I know this girl from somewhere…but from where? Obviously this is my first time in China and I don’t think she ever made it to America! But when I look at her, she looks so familiar, she looks like we are close relatives or friends, or…” John stopped. He didn’t want to say the word which came on his tongue. He took a napkin and wiped his forehead. On the stage Yue Ying was proving that she did have great showgirl skills, entertaining the establishment with her song, dance and stage presence. One after another one, the songs kept pouring out of the band’s repertoire; nobody was sitting anymore. Everybody was on their feet dancing by the tables and singing along with the band. The atmosphere was electrifying and entertaining to say the least. The girls knew how to express their personality on the stage, knew how to get the crowd engaged, knew how to make the patrons feel like they are treated like VIPs and most of all they had the knowledge of pacing themselves throughout the show so they wouldn’t burn faster than they should. The level of maturity this band was exhibiting was truly stunning! John was amazed and besides the fact that he was watching every single move Yue Ying was making, he just couldn’t stop admiring both the harmony of the instruments which were dialoguing between them and the synchronization of the band players when moving around on the stage. They could’ve only achieved this through long hours of hard practicing.

Towards the end of the show, the crowd started chanting: Shanghai Sun! Shanghai Sun! Shanghai Sun! The atmosphere was electrifying to say the least. The lights went down again and everybody took a sit waiting for their favorite song to be played again. This time just Yue Ying showed into the spot light. The rest of the band was still in the dark. “This is unbelievable, said John to himself! She is taking the task on singing this song by herself without the help of the band! Wow! She is really talented!”

John was right. Yue Ying started singing the song alone, without the accompaniment of the band. Her voice was truly amazing. She hit all those hard inflections, those quick changes of pace or high to low octaves. John was not moving a finger anymore. His whole attention, was channeled towards watching Yue Ying’s performance. It was like he was hypnotized by her presence, by her singing, by the entire way she was conducting herself on the stage.

At the time of the refrain, once again the whole establishment accompanied her while clapping and singing along. It was an electrifying atmosphere and John was happy that he followed Vic’s advice and visit Black Swan. Two more times the crowd inside the restaurant called her back. The refrain of this song was working like a drug on this crowd, the more they were listening to it the more they wanted to hear it…again and again. Every time she came back to sing, her face was radiating from the pleasure to entertain her fans. It was pure joy, eagerness to be grateful to the people who were appreciating her talent, but most of all it was that natural gift she possessed: the gift of a born entertainer.

-Wow! What do you think, John? Vic’s question remained unanswered as John’s eyes were all on Yue Ying. On the stage, she was like a fish in the water. Their eyes exchanged paths many times during audience’s three time call back to the stage. One thing was clear: something made them connect with each other and engage at a spiritual level which was more than just simple admiration. John was like a stone, like a big chunk of marble just waiting for the sculptor’s hand to bring it to life. His eyes and mind were now completely captured by Yue Ying.