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Manoa 15.2 (2003) 1-6
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A Date in Purple Bamboo Park
At noon on 26 July, my colleague Pei Zhong gave me a call. He says that "thing" I'd asked his help about was beginning to display some attractive features. Three o'clock this afternoon, Purple Bamboo Park. I had never asked him to do anything, but this was how he liked to talk.
He's a warm person with a rich sense of humor. I say he's warm be- cause, aside from teaching and writing, he has made it his fundamental mission to be my matchmaker. He has already introduced me to eleven girls, ranging in age from eighteen to thirty-eight. I say he has a sense of humor because I know that of those eleven girls, at least four were later to become his own mistresses. This is a game that has far-reaching implications—and one from which both of us have derived great delight.
I am a university professor of conceptual linguistics, forty years old, single. Although my natural reaction to women has always been rather dull, I know the repercussions of allowing yin and yang to fall out of balance. I picked up my best explanation right off the back of a black cat I had—her second time in heat she couldn't bear the burden of her solitude and went insane.
"You don't have to share pillow and bed with these women," Pei Zhong said to me once, "but there's no point in being afraid to inhale their scent either." I remember our conversation was in a fast-food place near school, and while he was saying this, his eyes were fixed on a tall woman at the next table. He thought her breasts were something special. We both laughed. Soon afterwards, he told me in a serious voice that if I were interested, he could bring me a girl the next day. "I want you to know what it means to be scared out of your soul."
I've heard that in the end the only thing that gives people hope and comfort are but a few empty phrases. The girls that Pei Zhong brought me flashed forth out of the gloomy background one by one, and one by one they faded and turned lusterless. They were only strand upon strand of floating cloud, or, to say it differently, wisp after wisp of a breath of perfume, ephemera passing before my eyes, leaving only a broken vocabulary: [End Page 1] tone, smile, gait, dress color, perhaps peels of eaten fruit and shells from sunflower seeds as well.
I have nothing to complain about. My whole life has been an involvement with vocabulary. I understand that calamity is always relative; if, for example, you want to read happiness into a tragic story, all you have to do is change its grammatical structure. You can take strips of ragged cloth, stitch them together, and get a brilliant patchwork brocade. At any rate, I have a satisfied heart.
I live amidst these unknown women. Drinking tea with them in the study, strolling through parks, discussing stocks and futures, sunrise and drizzle, rhetoric and divination—time passes quickly. Most of them have been quite cultivated. Even if they want to go home early, they give me a passable reason; for example, she suddenly remembered that when she left the house, she'd forgotten to turn off the gas...Only a small number, contemptuous to the point of hostility, will reveal their disappointment with me.
Simply put, each woman disappeared after the first date, not a single instance to the contrary. There's nothing strange about this. I certainly don't feel any frustration over it.
My reasoning is somewhat absurd to Pei Zhong, and we've debated it a few times. I give the example of there being many people addicted to the sport of fishing, but not in the slightest because they are gourmands. Pei Zhong's view is completely the opposite: he's more engrossed in substantial...