Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 51 (White Orchid)

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 51

White Orchid

Xiǎo lǐzǐ managed to stay close to the car he was following in spite of the fact that they soon reached an area which looked a little rough and was totally unknown to him. The streets were barely lit (as the few bulb lights were shyly providing a certain level of luminosity) showing that the city in that particular area was not very generous when came down to citizens’ safety. John felt how he got chills. However, he wanted to know more about this mysterious girl, the girl who had the trust of the old lady from the store, trust which turned into assigning her to a delicate mission: reaching “Nine Orchids Order” – apparently an exclusive and highly elitist place.

She eventually reached her place. A blind, barely lighting bulb light was trying as hard as it could to provide some light at the entrance. The building was a four- storey flat and one could see that the inhabitants were trying to save as much as they could as only a couple of lights were turned on. The girl entered, not before turning again her head to see if she was followed. At John’s requests, from the moment they reached that particular neighborhood, Xiǎo lǐzǐ shut down his head lights. They were now into the complete darkness of the night. The lights and the engine were turned off and both of them were barely breathing, trying somehow to increase their level of cover. The taxi which the mysterious girl took turned around, passed Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s car, accelerated and in few minutes was lost into the darkness of the night. An oppressive silence settled into the car and for one or two minutes nobody said a word.

-Mr. Parker…what we do now? Xiǎo lǐzǐ whispered the question in a way that made John almost guess it.

-Now I get out of the car and I will go in the back of the building. You stay in the car and watch at which apartment the light will come up. I will do the same into the back. There are four apartments per level. You watch these two sides. I will do the same in the back.

-OK Mr. Parker. Careful…

-Don’t worry.

John quickly got out of the car and rapidly moved towards the rear of the building. It was completely dark and he was more or less guessing his way. His logic was telling him that it must be a way for the inhabitants to get into the back where probably the dumpster was. He pulled his cell phone from the pocket and used the light to navigate. He was right…the dumpster was in the back; unfortunately garbage pick-up day was far away as the smell from the garbage container was suffocating. He took the handkerchief he was always carrying and turned it into a bandana. It was not long before the light at one of the apartments at the last floor turned on. Then the girl he was following showed up at the window, pulled the curtains and disappeared. John waited few more minutes. Shortly, the light went off.

-OK. She either went to sleep or she is using a night stand lamp. Good, now I know where she lives. Let’s get back to the hotel. Xiǎo lǐzǐ was patiently waiting.

-So, Mr. Parker…you see? I see nothing.

-Yes, Xiǎo lǐzǐ…I saw what I needed to see. She lives at the fourth floor, that corner…let me see where the North is. John looked at his wrist watch:

-OK, so the North is that way. Great, she lives at the apartment from the South-West corner of the building. Now let’s go back to the hotel. Do you know how to get there?

A huge laughter came out of Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s chest.

-Mr. Parker, I taxi driver…remember?

It was John’s turn to burst into laughter:

-Sorry Xiǎo lǐzǐ, I almost forgot you brought me here.

-No problem Mr. Parker. Here we go!

John was completely unprepared and again the sudden step on the accelerator made him hit the back of the rear seat and bang his head against the head rest of the seat. “That’s it! I made up my mind! This guy is mental! Why does he have to do this every time he puts this car into motion?” He shook his head and decided to keep quiet and watch the places which were passing by. Same ghetto neighborhood was laying in front of him: poorly lit streets, apartment buildings in a rough shape, bad roads filled with pot holes and a great sentiment of emptiness, of a place that is deserted and is just waiting for some creatures from another planet to populate it. John felt some chills along his spine. “It’s good I didn’t make it into this neighborhood alone…so creepy!”

Shortly, the environment started changing and a different type of streets were showing up. They were better lit, the quality of the pavement was much better and soon restaurants and little ma and pa shops started showing up, thus signaling an area that was thriving through commercial activities.

Suddenly, John put his hand on Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s right shoulder and with a voice which was not accepting any sort of opposition asked him to stop. The cab driver stepped on the brakes so hard that made John completely hug the front passenger seat. “Damn it! I knew he would slam on those brakes! I should’ve given him a two mile notice!” John got out of the car and started walking back, as the taxi passed the store he wanted to get into. Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s was following him closely. Once in front of the store, Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s smiled and exclaimed:

-Oh, Mr. Parker…you remember. You buy orchid Saturday night.

-Of course I remember and I want to buy another one.

-Orchid expensive…but very beautiful.

-Let’s see if they still have some left and up for buying.

That’s being said, John stepped into the store. He realized that the owner was preparing to close. However, the old woman who sold him the purple orchid (the orchid which he bought Zhaohui), recognized him. A large smiled flourished on her face and immediately started speaking to him. She knew that she would eventually make a good sale off of John. The store was filled up with fresh flowers but John had his eyes once again on the place behind the counter. He graciously refused woman’s offer to take a look at the flowers placed into shelves on the side walls and headed straight for the back of the store with his eyes pinned at the gorgeous flowers which somehow he felt they were guarded by the owner of the shop. And yet again, she placed herself between John and the orchids, as she did last time. John smiled and speaking as slowly as he could, he said:

-I want to buy one of them.

The old lady had the same smile on her face and replied to John in Chinese. It seemed like she didn’t want to sell him any of the orchids. It was the time when Xiǎo lǐzǐ stepped into the conversation:

-She say you bought one Saturday. Why you buy one more?

John was perplexed! He thought he didn’t hear properly what his driver told him.

-I want to buy another one…that’s all. Is there a problem with this?

Another round of conversation started between the store owner and Xiǎo lǐzǐ.

-She wants know who you buy for.

-What? This is unbelievable! It’s my business to whom I am buying this flower for!

After another short conversation, Xiǎo lǐzǐ looked at John and with a great disappointment imprinted on his face said:

-Sorry…she no sell to you.

-Unbelievable! That’s fine. Let’s go find another store. I hope that there are still some shops open. I want to buy some flowers for Yue Ying.

At the sound of Yue Ying’s name, the old lady’s face physiognomy changed. Yet, one more time she had another conversation with Xiǎo lǐzǐ.

-Mr. Parker, Mr. Parker…John was almost at the door. He turned around and looked at his cab driver quite puzzled.

-What happened?

-She say she sell to you…but only one.

-Great! What made her change her mind? John’s face was now radiating with happiness and his great smile came back making his whole appearance look so relaxed, joyful and cheerful. He was stunned by the beauty of those flowers.

-I have never seen orchids this beautiful. I can understand now why she is so protective. It looks to me like she treats them the way one treats his babies. While listening to the translation, the woman was speaking to John. Obviously John couldn’t understand a word she was saying, however Xiǎo lǐzǐ was trying to keep up with her in translating back to John.

-She say you lucky man…she say you handsome…she say you born under lucky stars….

John was mesmerized by the freshness and the beauty of those orchids and all Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s words just flew by his ears. “Wait a minute: there were nine orchids, I bought one for Zhaohui and there are six left. Somebody bought two of them or two people one each. If she is so careful to whom she is selling these flowers, then who are those two persons who bought the two missing ones? Hmm…strange. Anyway, I will buy one for Yue Ying. I believe she will like it. Which one, though? OK, so it looks like the yellow and the yellow with pink are gone. That yellow was gorgeous! And so it was the other yellow one, which had pink spots on it. Which one do I buy?”

Once again, John had the feeling that while looking at those beauties one should be quiet as a simple whisper would simply make them vanish, this is how feeble and delicate they looked. The colors were so pure and genuine that making a choice on the spot was an impossible task to achieve.

Which colors does she like? This is the question I guess I have to answer! John’s memory started bringing back scenes from the cloth store and from the night when Yue Ying performed at Black Swan. Nothing out of ordinary popped up into his mind. All of a sudden, he remembered the white traditional coat she was wearing yesterday night on the stage. The coat was still with her into his hotel room. The decision was made: he picked the white orchid. He stretched his left hand and pointed towards the flower:

-I would like to buy the white one, please.

The old woman starting speaking again…this time her voice was softer and the inflections carried into conversation showed a great level of happiness and in the same time of relief. The cab driver was trying hard to keep up with translating, but his English was not that great and only made John burst into laughter. He didn’t know why John is laughing so hard and in turn he joined in. It was a great, relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The store owner was now carefully wrapping the orchid following the same procedure: she brought the plastic protector and then methodically folded the nicely coated white paper around the whole package. When she handed the flower over to John, a sigh of almost sorrow and regret came out of her chest. It was probably her way of saying goodbye to a child she raised until the moment the kid has to leave home. And yes, the way she was taking care of these splendid flowers was nothing short from love and passion.

John paid and lifted the flower slowly and carefully, then bowed to the old lady and headed for the door. The store owner did not stop speaking until John was out of the flower shop.

-What did she say while I was heading to the door?

-She say: you take good care of flower and Yue Ying. You born under good stars. You lucky and you have good destiny in front.

-Did she say if I will be able to stop Tony and my neighbor stealing from Glenworth?

-Don’t understand…who stealing?

-Never mind said John while bursting into laughter. It was a joke!

-Oh…you joke! Ha, ha, ha! You joker, Mr. Parker.

-I believe I am…John was still laughing hard when he entered the car. He decided to sit into the front seat as he had to protect that valuable thing he was planning to give to Yue Ying. He put the seat belt on and wrapped his hands around the flower he was holding the way a mother holds her baby after birth. And he was right to do so, as Xiǎo lǐzǐ stepped hard onto the accelerator, following his natural habit. John shook his head and once again the same question came up: “Why is this guy so fond of killing those pedals? I guess I will just have to live with this. He is a valuable asset. He knows the city very well and he actually took me to Yue Ying. Was this just a coincidence? What if he has his own role into this story or curse or whatever else could be called? No, I am getting paranoiac now. I hope that Chang mao dashi will take my offer and we will be done. The question is: what would he want in return? I guess it won’t be too long before we will find out”

John turned his eye sight to the right passenger window while looking at the trees on the side of the roads pass by one by one; his mind started wandering through the intricacies of this story which turned his life upside down. His assignment, Vic, Zhaohui, Mr. Wang, his strange neighbors – who apparently belong to one of the greatest aristocratic families of the Ming Dynasty – and now, Yue Ying. “Who is she? Does she hold a role into the story too? What sort of role? Why did I get so attracted to her from the moment I saw her for the first time in the street, on my first day in Shanghai? And now she is waiting for me in my hotel room…how will this story end? Zhaohui mentioned that she is responsible to close this cosmological circle from her side of the family – which is the Imperial family of Chongzen Emperor. On the other hand, my neighbors are the descendants of Yuan Chonghuan – the general executed by the Emperor due to Court intrigues – and they have the same task as Zhaohui. Very peculiar story. I just hope that will end soon. How will it end? Probably not even Mr. Wang knows”

It was the moment when the cab reached the entrance of the hotel. John pushed hard into his legs as he knew that Xiǎo lǐzǐ will slam onto the brakes. He did the right thing. Once he reached the destination, he hit the brakes in a way that made John congratulate himself for the decision he had made – to prop into his legs as solidly as he could. When out of the car, he reached for the wallet but to his surprise Xiǎo lǐzǐ nodded in a negative way and said:

-No Mr. Parker! You paid me at market, remember? It is good.

-Are you sure it’s enough?

-Yes Mr. Parker. You have good night.

-Thank you Xiǎo lǐzǐ and you have a good night too.

Xiǎo lǐzǐ got into his car and according to his habits, hit the accelerator pedal hard, leaving a trace of fumes coming out of his exhaust pipe. John shook again his head and murmured: “at least he is an honest man”

When he entered the apartment, Yue Ying was already sleeping on the couch with the TV still on. John carefully took the remote from her hand and turned the TV off. Then slowly headed towards the office area and placed the flower onto the desk. When returning to the living room, he grabbed a thick blanket that was laying onto an arm chair and covered her. From the bedroom he brought a pillow and placed under her head. Finally he headed for the bedroom, got into his pajamas and called it a day.

Shanghai Sun – The Curse of the General; Chapter 50 [(John and Yue Ying (II)]

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 50

John and Yue Ying (II)

Soon, Yue Ying found herself so busy in trying different types of jeans, pants, shirts and dresses that she completely forgot about the old lady and John. The two girls who greeted them at the entrance were buzzing around her like two working bees…one would say that Yue Ying’s got two personal assistants who were delighted to work for her and bring from the back of the store the items she was requesting. It was clear that both girls smelled a nice tip from the handsome westerner who was accompanying Yue Ying. John was giving his opinion from time to time and was making suggestions on color matching or style assortment. A regular, normal cloths trying event turned into almost a frenzy of clothes and shoes shopping.

However, John’s eyes were still on the old lady, trying to scrutinize and catch the slightest gesture of emotion or attempt towards communication. Not a sign of such relief was coming from that direction as she was carefully watching the activity taking place into her store. The same enigmatic and cold smile was imprinted on her lips. “This woman is made out of marble! There is no any sort of emotion whatsoever showing up on her face!” John was disappointed to say the least. In a sign of distress, he started walking through the store, apparently looking interested into the items which were displayed on the wall.

All of a sudden, while looking into a mirror, he realized that the door to the back of the store slowly opened up and a girl came out. John froze! He was not moving anymore, he was not even blinking…apparently he was looking at a pair of blue jeans he was holding into his hand. However, his eyes were on the mirror, scrutinizing every motion, every move the girl was making. She looked so familiar! While out in the store, she spoke to the old lady by whispering for a couple of minutes into her ear. The mimic on the lady’s face did not change…same imperturbable expression, same stony look and same cold and enigmatic smile. Then, as elusively as she came through the door, she slipped back into the storage room of the store leaving the door cracked open.

“Interesting…she is not shutting the door closed. Is she interested in whatever it’s being discussed here? Where did I see this girl before? I definitely know her from somewhere…but where from?”

John turned around and he could only smile…Yue Ying was like a kid into a candy store: she was trying everything she was touching or the two helpers were bringing to her to try out. “Not much work left for me in this area”. He looked again at the old woman behind the counter…nothing changed in her stance, posture, face expression or behavior. “Is she alive? God, she is not moving! Maybe I need to poke her to make sure she is not a ghost!” That being said, John turned around and headed for the door. Xiǎo lǐzǐ was patiently waiting outside, looking at the crowd and cracking from time to time a conversation with the owner of the store across the alley. It was one of those small little ma and pa shops that were selling everything: from fake purse brands and watches to travel luggage and cheap cloths. John stopped on the upper entrance step and looked around. A sea of people moving in two directions at a speed which was greatly reduced by the narrow alleys and the little stands (covered with merchandises); some of these stands were nothing else but foldable tables which were taken inside at the end of the day. Unfortunately, they were chocking the normal flow inside of the huge commercial center and you would have to bump into other people had you wanted to get by. “Unbelievable! So many people! Now I can grasp on the idea called: market size. This is truly a huge market. The problem is that their mentality is funneled towards saving not spending. Hopefully the new generation will change this unproductive and ancient way of life”

All of a sudden, his attention was drawn to one of the alleys which was on a straight angle to the one they walked to get to the store. The girl he saw in the mirror inside of the store came from the closest side alley and John realized that the back of the store was facing that particular access way. She looked like she was in a rush as she was trying to quickly squeeze herself through the sea of people coming from all the directions. John made a quick move: he crossed the alley and without hesitation pulled 150 RMB from his pocket, gave it to the business owner across the store and grabbed a fleece hoodie. In few seconds he put it on and pulled the hoodie in a way which was only allowing his face to be seen. Then turned around and went back to the store where a dismayed Xiǎo lǐzǐ was looking at him the way one would look at a ghost.

-I need you to do something for me, please. Listen carefully: I am giving you my card, you will pay for everything she buys. Here it is another five hundred RMB…you give those two girls a good tip, understand? Xiǎo lǐzǐ nodded affirmatively but John could actually see that the eyes of his driver were betraying a great amount of amazement and astonishment. The rest is yours for the trips, ok? You take Yue Ying back to the hotel. Here it is the access card from the room. I hope I won’t be long. Tell her to wait for me in the hotel room. Do you understand what I am asking from you? Again the cab driver nodded and this made John feel at ease.

-OK, I have to go now…I trust you, Xiǎo lǐzǐ! This last sentence motivated somehow the man standing on the stairs and to John’s pleasure, the cab driver said:

-No worry, Mr. Parker. I take Yue Ying back hotel. No worry. Thank you for this…it was the moment when Xiǎo lǐzǐ showed John those five one hundred RMB bills while a large smile on his face. John was already on the alley and heading towards the direction he saw the mysterious girl heading. However, he turned around and looking at Xiǎo lǐzǐ, he cautioned him:

-You will have to give the two girls from the store a good tip from that too, I hope we have an understanding here.

-Of course Mr. Parker…good tip girls. I know.

-Alright, you are a great help and a true asset to this operation.

-Thank you, Mr. Parker! John was already gone, and at this point he was trying hard to blend into the crowd. There was a problem though: his height was making the mission of blending into the crowd almost impossible. However, John was now heavily relying on his hoodie to keep him as incognito as possible.

John left some good distance between him and the girl he was following; however, the stands on the alley were giving him all sort of trouble in trying to keep the pace at which she was walking and in the same time to make himself the least visible as possible.

It was not long before the girl stopped, turned around and carefully scouted the crowd around her. John moved behind one of the stands and started talking to the owner. Obviously that the poor man was shocked to see first of all such a tall and large westerner stopping at his stand and talk to him like he knew that English was not a problem for him. He started speaking Chinese back to John. All this time John had his eyes on the girl he was following. The hoodie was covering his face, but he wanted extra protection, so he bought an umbrella from the store owner. Opened it up and simulating that he is trying all the features the umbrella possessed, he was actually watching every move she was making.

Eventually she took another side alley and disappeared. John followed her immediately, only to realize that the alley was ending up into the door steps of a large three level house. He could actually see how the girl he was following entered the house, not before checking again the surroundings. He was now stuck! He obviously couldn’t read what was written on each side of the entrance door but he assumed it was a temple as it had that particular traditional pagoda roof shape. The letters were yellow and were greatly contrasting with the wooden walls all painted into a nice red color.

John placed his index fingers at his temples, in a sign of: “Think, John! Think!” His years and years of Football training taught him that no matter how dire the situation was, there would always be a way out of it. “Common, man! You wait here for her to get out, then what? She will go back to the store…what’s the point of waiting? I have to get into that temple or whatever it is. But how do I get in? Is it accessible to anybody? What if there is security on the other side of the door? Well…I guess there is only one way to find out”. John was ready to move to the direction of the red building in front of him when the phone rang. It was Vic. The first instinct was to dodge again his calls, but a great idea crossed his mind. He picked up the phone call.

-Hey…where are you John? Why didn’t come to the office? Why aren’t you picking up my phone calls?

-Relax, man! I’ve been busy.

-I know you were busy, for crying out loud! John could hear at the other end a great, healthy laughter, a laughter so familiar already.

-Ok, ok, ok…you can laugh as much as you want. I don’t care.

-Hey, listen…I didn’t mean to insult you, but I want to ask you a question.

-Yeah, go ahead, Vic

-Was the honey sweet or really, really sweet? Another round of laughter was heard at the other end and John already felt like hanging up on his friend.

-I will hang up on you!

-No, no, no…sorry man! I just couldn’t stop it.

-I know, you bastard! I know! You couldn’t wait for an occasion like this one. Just couldn’t!

-Alright, man! Alright…I am chilling now. Sorry again. So, are in trouble again?

-As usual…another round of laughter (this time from both ends of the line) broke the silence and it was for twenty or so seconds before they both cooled down and started a conversation.

-Listen, Vic…this is what happened today. John tried to be as concise as possible as he started to tell the story from the moment he walked out of the hotel. The strange man who served them lunch and looked alike Mr. Wang, the lady from the cloths store who intrigued John at a level which almost made him lose his patience and this enigmatic girl who was now inside of this nice house, a girl he saw in the past, but he just couldn’t remember where.

-Wow! It’s unbelievable! The moment I leave you alone, you get in trouble. They both pulled another round of laughter from their chests, only to be followed by few seconds of silence.

-Vic, listen up please…I am going to take a photo of this building (which intrigues me) and send it to you. I need you to read whatever it says on the front, on each side of the door. Don’t hang up. We will do this real time.

-Ok. Go for it. I will wait.

It took few seconds before John made the picture and sent it to Vic.

-Jesus!

-What? What does it say? There was silence at Vic’s end, a silence which made John tremble from anxiety.

-It says: “The Order of the Nine Orchids”

John felt how a cold sweat was running down his spine and his hands were now shaking in a way which almost made him drop the phone.

-So this girl (a girl I just can’t remember where I saw before) went inside of the “Nine Orchids” building! What is her connection to the Order? Was she connected to his neighbors: Chang mao dashi or Jian Dashi?

-I don’t know, man…I started being afraid. Get your butt back to the hotel. John, you need to move. Zhaohui asked you to do it. I am asking too. You just wouldn’t listen, man!

-Vic, I don’t want to exhaust the negotiation venue with Chang mao dashi.

-John, he is going to kill you! And maybe myself and Zhaohui as well.

-Why would he do that?

-Because we are slowly uncovering his tracks, maybe we are not far away from finding that bug planted at Glenworth.

-How about the curse, Vic? Is it still supposed to close? Is there something special that must happen to close this curse? You heard Zhaohui…and Wang…what if this girl who stepped into this house is the key to unveiling the road to bring Chang mao dashi down?

– I don’t know what to say, man…what do you want to do? Are you still going to follow this girl?

-Yes. I need to figure out how I know her, where we met, what is her link to this story.

-OK. If this is what you want…by the way: are you coming to the office tomorrow?

-I don’t know. It all depends on how this night will end up.

-I understand…Vic pulled another laughter which made John uncomfortable in spite of the fact that it was Vic.

-Hey…I meant: depends on what I find out about this mysterious girl.

-I got it, man! Common John, you can’t take a joke anymore?

-Alright. I know you are a joker! I let you go, but I need you to do me a favor: please call Xiǎo lǐzǐ and ask him where he is. I told him to take Yue Ying to the hotel when she is done shopping.

-OK. By the way: who is Xiǎo lǐzǐ anyway?

-The cab driver who took us to Black Swan last night.

-That’s his name? I think I have his card…let me check. Bingo! I have his card, I will call him and then give you a shout back.

-OK. Thanks, Vic!

-Alright! Take care and stay safe out there. How are you going to get back to the hotel?

-Don’t worry, I will grab a cab. I am a big boy.

-Careful, John! There are areas in the town where there is never a good idea to be at night, especially if you are a foreigner.

-No worries my friend…no worries. I will make it through the night. I just need to know that Yue Ying is safe.

-Great! We’ll talk later, I guess.

After hanging up, John started weighing his options. “I am so close to the lion’s den! I have in front of me the famous “Nine Orchids Order” established by the greatest aristocratic families of the Ming Dynasty. And my neighbors are part of it. What does this Order do? What is “Nine Orchid”? What does it mean to belong to such highly regarded Order? If the people who are part of it are descendants of those great families, how are they coping with the official Chinese Political system? I am not sure that the Communist Party would allow this sort of Organizations to thrive. How come that they are out there in the open? I need to find out somehow what’s going on in there…but how? This is the question!”

John looked around him and his first thought was to find a spot where he could watch the entrance without being seen. A vendor selling all sort of Baseball hats, T-shirts, shirts, sweat pants and many other cotton made products had a stand by his side. The site of the westerner man standing so close to his business venue apparently awoke the entrepreneurial spirit inside the vendor, as he became extremely talkative. John was listening to him but in the same time he was assessing his situation into the field. This place could’ve been the perfect spot for spying and keeping an eye on the door. The decision was made on the fly: he started talking to the vendor. His English and the man’s Chinese, turned into a veritable mumbo-jumbo, a conversation which would’ve made a bystander die from laughing. But John had a plan and was playing according to the set strategy. After many minutes of arguing on the price for a baseball hat (John was obviously just trying to buy time while keeping his eyes on the building in front of him), he purchased a hat, put it on and then pulled the hoodie on top of it. Now his whole face was covered by the visor of the hat and his scouting was secure. In order to kill some time, he walked across the alley and bought two pieces of corn on the cob which was sold by an ambulant vendor. He gave one to the man from which he bought the hat and continued his watching duty. Patience was something he was not excelling at and this was a flaw in his game during his Football career. He wanted to make things happen, he always wanted to throw that ball and put points on the board. Running game was not up his alley and this was something he struggled with his whole sports playing career. But this time he knew he had no choice. He had to be patient. And so, he started another conversation with the vendor, who was now trying to sell him a cane. Initially, John burst into laughter and asked him: “Why do you think I need a cane to walk with?” But then an idea crossed his mind: “Why not buy it? I could use it either as a weapon, or to disguise an old man’s walk. Once he made his intention clear that he wants to buy the cane, another round of negotiations started which made John even more comfortable standing by the vendor’s stand and watch the door.

Eventually the girl came out and the same routine followed – as when she entered: she looked around and scrutinized the market. John pulled his visor down as low as he could and tried to take cover behind few hangers which had sweat shirts on them. His eyes were watching every movement the girl was making. Before she started walking down stairs, she turned around and made a “good bye” sign to somebody from inside who accompanied her to the door. John was dying to see the face of that person. His wish came through as the head of an old man with long, white beard came out through the door and started scrutinizing the market place himself. John thought that he recognized him as the old man from one of the pictures taken by his detectives last week, at the funeral where they followed his neighbors. He pulled the zipper of his sweatshirt all the way up and made sure that his visor was completely covering his face. It didn’t take too long before the girl passed by and headed back towards the store. John took as much cover as he could, but he never took his eyes off her. He started following her back not before giving the vendor two one hundred RMB bills for the cane; apparently was a good deal for the vendor, as he started bowing in a universal gesture of thankfulness and gratitude.

John could barely keep up with her, as he always had to stop and simulate bargaining for a product whenever the girl was turning around. Yes, the girl was well instructed not to leave any traces behind her and she was using her knowledge so well that made John murmur: “Damn she is good! She knows how to slide into the crowd only to come back up wherever to expect the least. I hope that my disguising wardrobe was good enough for the perfect cover”

It didn’t take long before she reached the store. Xiǎo lǐzǐ was not there anymore, as John suspected. The night was now covering the whole market and the vendors were preparing to close the shops. And so was the old lady, the woman “made out of stone” as John named her before leaving to follow the girl. John took again cover as much as he could, with the cap fully covering his face while the hoodie was providing another layer of protection. Soon, the lady closed the door and pulled the blinds down. The light was still left on in the store, but John could actually see her heading towards the rear of the store. “I am just wondering if there is a back alley behind the store…” John took a street that was running perpendicular to the main alley and then hanged a left. And yes, the back alley looked like a street which was used by vendors to bring their goods through; it was a loading and unloading alley. “Well, now which door do I guard? Which door are they going to use? Keeping in mind that the old lady closed the front door, I can only assume that this will be their exit. Let’s wait and see”

John was right. Both women eventually came out through the alley door and then stopped. The old lady made a phone call. Shortly a limousine showed up out of nowhere. John didn’t realize that the superb, hot, expensive car just passed by him. He froze! As he had not seen the car coming and passing so close to him, he assumed that the people inside of the limo recognized him in spite of the fact that he had a good cover behind some wooden skids and a pile of cardboard boxes. This was the limousine in which he saw few days ago his neighbors leaving for that funeral. A door in the back opened up and the old lady got in not before giving some instructions to the young girl. The limo departed and John could see the girl rapidly walking in the opposite direction. When she passed by, John ducked as much as he could behind the pile of cardboard packaging. He started following her and (as he was not familiar with the area) soon found out that it was hard to keep pace with her. The streets were not too dark as they were lit up to a decent level. However, John had to keep a safe distance not to blow his cover up. All of a sudden a taxi pulled in front of her and she got in. John was now desperate. “How am I going to keep up with this car? Think, John! Think!” He started looking around for help. A feel of helplessness encompassed him when all of a sudden a cab pulled right by his side. A huge sigh of relief came out of his chest:

-Thanks God! You are a savior, Xiǎo lǐzǐ!

-I know Mr. Parker! This time his face had a waggish look which made John burst into a huge laughter.

-Follow that car then, Mr. NASCAR!

It was all Xiǎo lǐzǐ needed: his foot hit the accelerator so hard that made John hit the head rest at an impact which pulled another (soft but this time angry) cry to himself: “No, I made up my mind! That’s it! This guy is (or becomes) mental when getting behind the wheel. Unfortunately he is always present when you need him! I should probably say: fortunately he is always at the right place at the right time. He took me to the place where I met Yue Ying, after all”

A smile came up on his lips:

-Hey Xiǎo lǐzǐ…did you get to the hotel alright? How is Yue Ying?

-Yes, she ok. She try cloths. Many clothes! A good and healthy laughter came out of his chest which made John smile and switch his attention to his mission.

-Don’t lose that car!

-No worry Mr. Parker. I no lose car. You good hands!

-Alright then. I know I am in good hands…at least until you step on the brakes, for crying out loud!

-What you say?

-Nothing. Please stay close to the car in front of you. That’s all.

-You no worry Mr. Parker! I drive!

“And that’s why I’m mostly afraid of…John grabbed the back of the front seat and prepared himself for the first occasion when Xiǎo lǐzǐ would step on the brakes.

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 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.