by Ye Sheng-tao translated by Donald Holoch
The fan, revolving, made a commotion like a humming mass of bees. The hiss occasionally heard was a waiter in white jacket uncapping a bottle of soda. A record started to play: Maestro Tan, of course, in "The Outlaw's Horse," or Maestro Liu singing "Emperor Beheaded," which were meant for the customers' pleasure; it was natural to cater to their tastes.
The room was the white of snow. A canvas-like awning, unrolled to keep the scorching sun off the street window, and the fan turning so busily gave the entering customers sudden relief for the eyes and the impression that the worst heat of summer was over. Elegantly simple chairs and tables were like marshalled forces; flowers in the vases trembled unceasingly, and the tall glasses reflected a dazzling light.
Quite a few customers were seated in booths: white and black and light red and pale blue dresses; and soft or hard broad-brimmed or high-crowned straw hats, and the exposed but fully powdered arms and the fluffy white feather fans were all quietly slowly swaying in place. Holding a spoon of ice cream in the mouth or sipping liquid through a straw, never glancing aside, they had a certain air of respectability. They spoke softly and laughed with reserve so that nothing would destroy the peace in the room.
Near the wall by the window two men had just taken seats. When the waiter walked over with an expression of readiness, lean Zu-qing, who had taken the best seat, doffed his straw hat and stroking his hair casually said, "Red bean ice, two glasses."
The waiter turned and left.
"We haven't finished talking yet," said Xin-bo, the man in the other seat; his interest was aroused. He had a small round face, the eyes seemed especially small, the eyebrows were light, and the nose was slightly flat which gave the center of his face a comical look; his lips were thin, an indication of skill in argument as they say.
He moved his chair, got a bit closer to his friend and said, "There's just no way! Bian the Fifth is afraid if he gets into the limelight he'll never get out; 'Noble' Nann would love to try, but the public isn't prepared for. . . ."
"I wish you'd use plain language." There was a stern glint in Zu-qing's eye as he contemptuously cut him off. "Where do we get all the time to memorize the rank and order of what bunch, and who goes by what nickname!"
"That's what they're all called, you get used to it without realizing," Xin-bo said by way of excuse.
"What nonsense!" Zu-qing turned his head, withdrawing his gaze from his friend's face. "Even if you didn't call them Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and didn't use their disgusting nicknames, bringing them up as you do isn't reasonable either."
Xin-bo felt slightly uneasy and, wiping his temples with a handkerchief, gingerly said, "Why . . ."
"Such an attitude as yours practically concedes that their behavior is as it should be, that there's no other basic consideration. But let me give you an analogy: We're watching a bunch of robbers break and enter our homes, they grab whatever is there and attack the members of our families. Yet we're on the sidelines discussing how the short robber won't be able to lift the safe and how that tall one already has three bundles on his back. Isn't that the height of stupidity and