T/N: (๑´•ω • `๑)💦
Day 04 22:37
Altogether, less than five minutes had passed between picking up the phone and clearing up the misunderstanding. This kind of straightforward and highly efficient style of communication allowed Song Ran to rest easy, and subsequently his favourable opinion of Mr He rose by a large amount.
As an illustrator, Song Ran had often tasted the suffering brought about by communication failures. Last year, there was a period where his luck was particularly poor; he had often encountered solicitors who had no opinions in the early stage and were fine with anything when asked, but who would become very critical at the late stage and weren’t satisfied with anything when asked. They dragged their feet and threw around the sentence “I can’t say it specifically, but in any case it doesn’t feel right”—it really was an old grudge suppressed in his heart. Unable to forgive or forget, he only wanted to take his brush and stab it into the top of the other party’s skull.
Every time he stayed up late to revise manuscripts, Song Ran had to perform a ceremony. He would arrange his 4, 6, and 81These numbers refer to brush sizes brushes as if they were three sticks of incense and devoutly pray that the next one would be a bit more reliable. The best case scenario would be for the other party to tell him all the minor details in one go, so as to avoid tossing about his weak body any further.
If everyone were like Mr He, getting straight to the point instead of being circuitous or polite, the world would have been at peace long ago.
When Song Ran was in a good mood, he would talk more quickly. As soon as he started to speak, he was like a rabbit with three mouths, talking to Mr He about this and that. He told him that when dropping Bubu off at school, he was practically anguished to death, and since he knew a long time ago that there was a crucial phone call waiting for him, he would definitely change his bad wake-up habit of going out after sleeping for another extra half an hour.
“Who said that the early bird catches the worm?” His face was grumpy. “It’s precisely because I got up too early that I starved to death.”
A smile gradually materialized in He Zhiyuan’s eyes as he carried the empty cup to the kitchen to wash it. On his way over, a crafty idea burst into his mind. “I have a very simple plan which can completely stop this kind of situation from happening. Do you wish to know it?”
Song Ran immediately felt his spirits lift. “What plan?”
He Zhiyuan’s eyes squinted. “Would you mind telling me your cell phone number?”
“C-cell phone number… Ah, that’s right!”
As Song Ran patted the pillow, he suddenly had an epiphany—once he knew his cell phone number, they would no longer need to rely on that children’s cell phone which only had basic functions. Of course, Mr He could contact him at any time.
He rattled off a string of numbers. As He Zhiyuan was washing the coffee cup, he had no hands to spare, and thus concentrated on silently repeating it once, directly memorizing the eleven-digit number. “Okay, I memorized it. Do you have something to write with? Write down my number as well. These upcoming few days, if you encounter any problems that you can’t solve, call me as soon as possible.”
Song Ran made a faltering noise, somewhat hesitant.
To be perfectly honest, how could he not want Mr He’s cell phone number? But now that Mr He was really giving it to him, it would count as a formal exchange of contact methods. From the perspective of an employer and nanny, perhaps it wouldn’t be considered too strange, but Song Ran had always felt… always felt there was a measure of an elusive profound meaning within; for example, could he seize the opportunity to get a bit closer to Mr He…?
Ah, as expected, springtime had arrived. Song Ran had gone crazy from thinking about falling in love; even married straight men were brought into his erotic fantasies without compunction!
Utterly ashamed, the little virgin lowered his head and covered half of his face.
After contemplating it, he decided to restrain himself and nip the idea he shouldn’t have had in the bud. “Mr He, you don’t need to give your phone number to me. I will properly look after Bubu and won’t bother you.”
He Zhiyuan smiled after hearing his words. “I personally think that ‘disturbing me’ is a good way to look after Bubu. You see, I am Bubu’s father—naturally a high-quality resource, provided free of charge, and can even be used an unlimited number of times. Deciding to not use such a good resource like me only to rush about by yourself instead, do you want me to just sit idly by and enjoy the fruits of your labour?”
This reason sounded rather convincing, but how come the strange feeling was now even more apparent?
Unable to figure it out, Song Ran pulled at his hair in vexation.
Noticing that he didn’t make a sound, He Zhiyuan spoke up again, “Song Ran, believe me, you will need me. No matter how well-behaved Bubu is, in the end he is still young and will get into mishaps more easily than adults. Nobody can know when urgent matters will arise. If, by any chance, he caught a cold and had a fever, it would be enough to trouble you for several days.”
As soon as he touched upon the issue of Bubu’s safety, Song Ran immediately changed his mind, thinking that giving this cell phone number was not only reasonable but also of vital importance. Extremely embarrassed at his previous flight of fancy, he pulled out his cell phone and tapped Mr He’s phone number into it, repeatedly verified it three times, then fell into a daze while facing ‘Contact Name’.
Mr He’s last name was He, but how should he refer to him?
“Err, Pa… Papa He? Can I write you down as Papa He?” He asked, “Or should I write it as Mr He?”
“He Zhiyuan.” That side generously replied, “‘He’ made up of ‘add’ and ‘shellfish’, ‘Zhiyuan’ from ‘lofty ideals are achieved through tranquillity’.”2He Zhiyuan’s surname is 贺 which consists of the characters 加 and 贝. The full proverb that his given name comes from is 淡泊以明志，宁静以致远 which means something along the lines of ‘One can only clearly envision his own ambition when he ignores secular wealth and fame; one can only realize his lofty ideals when he is at peace in both body and mind’
Song Ran’s hand speed was swift; upon hearing the reply, he deleted the word ‘Papa’ and started to search through the screen full of Chinese characters. “Zhi… yuan… Ah, I found it!”
He pressed ‘save’ and looked at the words ‘He Zhiyuan’ on the screen. The corners of his lips could not help twitching upwards in a smile that even he himself did not perceive. “Your name is very elegant. Was it chosen by the family elders?”
Song Ran blanked out. “Huh? I picked it? How… how could that be?”
He Zhiyuan was practically defeated by his adorable cluelessness, and his cup nearly fell into the sink. “It’s not about my name, it’s about honorifics—you can speak casually with me.3Up until this point, Song Ran has been using the respectful form of ‘you’ (您) to refer to He Zhiyuan, but He Zhiyuan asks him to use the casual ‘you’ (你) instead. This comes up several times throughout the chapter. From the very first phone call, you’ve always used respectful titles to refer to me. It’s true that I am somewhat older than you, but from the perspective of our relationship, we are neighbours and friends, so there’s no need to be so courteous.”
“Oh, all… all right.”
Song Ran nodded in reply.
He had assumed that Mr He was older than himself as well as having a higher social status, so he couldn’t go wrong with speaking respectfully. But referring to him by such after becoming closer truly did seem to be too distant, creating the opposite effect of being more impolite instead. As a result, he took the initiative to correct himself, practising by saying, “You… uh, you…”
He Zhiyuan held the empty cup in his left hand and rested his right hand on the handle of the dishwasher, patiently waiting for him to finish speaking.
Song Ran hadn’t planned out what to say. After strenuously repeating ‘you’ for a while, he finally managed to squeeze out a short but amazing question. “Are… are you dressed?”
After asking, he gave himself a clean slap.
Although He Zhiyuan had a lot of life experience, this time, he also was genuinely dumbfounded for a while. Then he broke out in laughter and prepared to reply with ‘I’m not’ to tease the younger man. But before he could open his mouth, a fierce burst of anguished howling came from the other side. “No, no, no, I didn’t mean it like that! Absolutely not! I just… I meant… that is, you, you, you should get dressed after getting out of bed, and after getting dressed, um, it would be time for breakfast… Have, have you had breakfast yet?!”
After the loudspeaker stopped broadcasting, both sides simultaneously fell into an awkward silence.
At first, He Zhiyuan didn’t feel very embarrassed. He was merely curious about Song Ran’s erratic thought process, but after the other had finished howling his cover-up, every word was like adding oil to the fire; one could smell the burning scent of embarrassment through the phone even now.
This neighbour was too much of a character.
He Zhiyuan conducted himself like a gentleman, always extending a helping hand when he could and never doing things like exposing people’s shortcomings or refuting others. Smiling as if nothing had happened, he pretended to believe Song Ran’s explanation. “The company provides breakfast, so I usually eat at the office.”
“Does… d-does it taste good?”
Awkwardness continued to ferment, but for the sake of propping up his dignity, Song Ran pressed onwards in his quest to find a topic.
He Zhiyuan answered in the negative regarding this topic, shrugging. “It’s true that there is a wide variety: honey toast, croissants, porridge, fried eggs, smoked bacon, vegetable juice… On the upside, it’s balanced in nutrients and abundant in calories, but the downside is that it’s too American style for my taste. It definitely can’t measure up to the wontons that you make.”
The tiny workshop that produced handmade wontons was rated five stars by Mr He, crushing the conventional large modern kitchen. Overwhelmingly flattered, the little chef Song Ran became so smug that he got carried away, and all residual traces of awkwardness disappeared in a flash. “If you like, once you return home, you can come to my place every morning…”
He Zhiyuan pointed out once again, “‘You’.”
“Ah, my bad, my bad!” Song Ran lightly bit the tip of his tongue as a punishment to himself and corrected his slip of the tongue at top speed. “Once you return home, you can come to my place every morning… to eat wontons.”
“Okay.” He Zhiyuan was pleased at the invitation. “I would love to.”
After tidying up the kitchen and returning to the living room, He Zhiyuan looked around the walls. Suddenly, his footsteps paused as he revealed a somewhat surprised expression—he didn’t know when the surveillance image had changed, but Song Ran’s face was vividly projected onto the wall, currently staring at him—no, staring at Little Q’s front-facing camera.
The youth’s appearance was excellent. Because he wasn’t very old, his eyes and brows carried a modicum of lively childishness. He appeared to be brimming with radiance, but in the camera lens, he also looked slightly comical.
In order to expand the scope of surveillance, Little Q was equipped with a wide-angle fisheye lens, causing the resulting image to be distorted to a certain degree. It was engineered to use a well-established correction algorithm, so the distortion usually was not severe, but Song Ran was too close to the lens—with his nose nearly pressed up against it, it caused his facial features to warp; his entire face was fattened into a circle, looking round and chubby.
But even such a deformed face like this was still full of bright and flourishing youthful vigour.
Song Ran’s eyelashes were long and thick, and their tips naturally curled up. Beneath them was a pair of clear jet-black eyes; in soft lighting, they were even more transparent than amber, reminiscent of a newborn fawn. Because he wasn’t aware that the camera was turned on, an expression of curiosity or wonder radiated without obstruction from that pair of eyes, making them look particularly sincere and alluring.
Being directly stared at by such eyes, He Zhiyuan suddenly felt dazed. His chest felt tight, as if a heavy stone were pressing down on him, but he was practically unable to suppress a certain germinating, long-forgotten sentiment.
He asked, “What are you doing?”
Within the image, Song Ran tilted his head and smiled. “Guess.”
He Zhiyuan pretended to be unable to guess. “Stargazing on the balcony?”
“The smog is so thick, where would there be stars for me to gaze at?” Song Ran smiled even more brightly, “I’m looking at your robot.”
A short while ago, after Little Q finished inspecting the living room, it meandered over to the doorway of the room. When Lin Hui left, she did not shut the door tight, leaving it slightly ajar, so it boldly came in. Song Ran had just gotten bored with squishing the pillow. Seeing that it was white and round like a peeled hard-boiled egg, he felt a lot more playful and stretched out his legs to trap Little Q, then squatted in front of it and examined this innocuous cute object.
He Zhiyuan asked, “What do you think of it?”
“Hm…” Song Ran’s eyes flickered as he looked all over Little Q for a while before hopping a few steps back. He tapped at his chin with curled fingers, thoughtfully observing it as he said, “It’s not quite the same as what I imagined. I thought robots would all be like the kind in sci-fi films, um, shaped like humans, with two arms and two legs and a stiff imitation face.”
“You prefer a humanoid shape?”
Song Ran closed his eyes and thought for a second. Suddenly, the fine hairs on his skin stood up, and he shook his head as he replied, “I don’t! If there was a humanoid robot at home, seeing it in the middle of the night would scare me to death, too terrifying. Instead, this kind of Little Q is more likeable. With its simple profile that looks like a big cocoon, it’s cute no matter how you look, right?”
He stroked Little Q’s smooth shell as he spoke.
He Zhiyuan subsequently explained to him, “In the field of robotics there is a theory called ‘uncanny valley’ that refers to how people will feel strong fear of very human-like robots, followed by a feeling of rejection. Therefore, when designing appearances, there are typically two schools of thought. One kind is the route of extreme verisimilitude, making it so that it’s difficult to distinguish real from fake, while the other kind completely abandons any semblance to humans, taking the minimalist route, like with Little Q.”
Roughly understanding, Song Ran admired He Zhiyuan even more. “Mr He, you’re really amazing.”
He Zhiyuan corrected for the third time, “‘You’.”
“Ah, I’m so sorry!”
Song Ran stuck out his tongue in embarrassment.
Completely unaware that he was on display beneath the camera lens, the little chef Song Ran was in high spirits. He sat cross-legged and began to harass the big cocoon, touching here, knocking there, and asking about this and that. He Zhiyuan saw that the other party liked his work and patiently answered one question after another, no matter how basic it was.
“There’s a row of blue lights here above the logo that dim every few seconds before lighting back up—what’s its purpose?”
He Zhiyuan replied, “That’s the breathing light. It indicates that the camera is currently in operation.”
“The camera, huh…” In the image, Song Ran looked left and right, as if searching for it in all directions. Suddenly, the walls dimmed as a finger slid past the camera lens and quickly slid back again. “It’s this, right?”
In the following instant, Song Ran’s complexion abruptly changed, and it was closely followed by a loud ‘bang‘. The walls turned entirely dark.
He Zhiyuan moved the cell phone away from himself, shoulders shaking with laughter.
When the projection image lit up again, the lens was covered with a thick layer of water vapour. Once the water vapour evaporated, the image was completely empty; all that could be seen was the camellia-red upholstered sofa, thick curtains, curved wooden wall, alcove lights, etc.—Song Ran had hidden himself.
Standing with arms crossed, He Zhiyuan calmly waited in place.
Not too long after, the surveillance display began to automatically rotate. Its lens swept through 180 degrees before fixing in position to face what was originally the back of Little Q. Song Ran’s dumbstruck face appeared within the center of the image once more.
“How could it also rotate!”
Song Ran growled in shame and reached out a hand to block the camera, once again firmly covering up the lens. His earlobes rapidly burned red, and his cheeks were hot enough to fry scallion pancakes.
He Zhiyuan teased, “What are you hiding for? You’re already this old, yet still shy?”
Song Ran pulled out a thread from his chaotic thoughts and felt that he did overreact a bit. If he kept going like this, his improper thoughts about Mr He would be exposed. He calmed down, silently mouthed the words ‘good neighbourly friendship, harmonious relations’ several times, and then slowly released his hand.
Consequently, He Zhiyuan saw Song Ran sitting against the wall with a big pillow stuffed in his arms, his cheeks bright red as he stared at the camera with great vexation. “I-I’m not shy, it’s just that I think it’s a bit embarrassing… you, that is, between neighbours, if the camera is turned on, for better or worse, you should let me know.”
He Zhiyuan apologised to him with a smile. Song Ran indignantly rubbed at his face, still deeply resentful. “Mr He, this is your home. If you wish to turn on the camera, I definitely won’t stop you. Besides, I-I don’t have anything to hide. However, isn’t this… isn’t this especially bad of you?”
“Yes, especially bad.”
He Zhiyuan went along with his implication and admitted his mistake with a sincere attitude, even pampering a little as if he were coaxing a child, causing Song Ran to have no idea how to continue. He hastily ran his fingers through his hair and tugged at his shirt collar, wishing to make himself look a bit more presentable to the best of his ability.
The ice-blue indicator lights flashed, slow and gentle, like the ocean water that repeatedly washes up to the beach during a rising tide.
On the other side of the indicator lights was He Zhiyuan’s eyes attentively gazing at him.
Seeing his current shabby appearance, would Mr He laugh at him? Would he avoid him?
He seemed to be not very photogenic-looking—in the afternoon, he had put on a wrinkled T-shirt and ran out to a magazine agency to turn in his drafts. While he was on his way home in the evening, he bought a serving of fried noodles and a few drops of canola oil had accidentally dripped on his chest. His hair was blown into a bird’s nest by the wind, and his cross-legged sitting posture was too casual, not to mention his naive attempt to hide behind Little Q… Looking like such a mess on the first encounter, how could he salvage it in the future?
Oh, and there was still that drawn-out one hour, thirty-nine minutes, and eighteen seconds phone call.
Song Ran thought of the phone call and felt so gloomy that his shoulders drooped—forget it, there’s no salvaging it. His current image is not much different from an idiot, so it would be difficult to make it worse at this point unless he thought outside of the box and streaked in front of the camera.
Hang on a moment, streak?!
He abruptly lifted his head and asked with a stutter, “Just then, i-in Bubu’s room, the whole time, was, was this camera…”
He Zhiyuan: “It was.”
The expression on Song Ran’s face was scorched as if he had been struck by lightning. “So when I took… t-t-t-took off my… you saw that too?”
“I saw it. Your figure is not bad.” Without batting an eyelash, He Zhiyuan acted roguishly, praising him, “Exercising regularly is a good habit. You should continue to maintain it in the future.”
After falling to the ground with a whimper, Song Ran snatched up a pillow and pressed it against his face with great force, wishing that he could suffocate himself to death.
He Zhiyuan was a complete master at the art of speaking. After two minutes of coaxing, Song Ran had forgotten his embarrassment and changed the topic to introduce his own exercise methods, using the alarmist talk of ‘after thirty years old it’s very easy for men to gain a pot-belly’ to remind Mr He to pay attention to exercise and not let himself go just because work was too busy.
He Zhiyuan smiled but didn’t speak, kindly allowing him to retain some dignity and not pointing out that he was teaching fish how to swim.
They had been enthusiastically conversing for a long while when Song Ran suddenly propped up his chin and sighed at the camera lens before his eyes that was flashing with blue and purple light. He Zhiyuan asked him what the matter was, but Song Ran wasn’t paying attention; a complaint that had been lingering for a long time finally emerged. “Only you can see me, but I can’t see you—it’s so unfair!”
After saying that, he was completely stunned. Struck dumb like a mute, he only wanted to reverse the flow of time and bite this sentence to bits before swallowing it back down.
He Zhiyuan lowered his head and smiled.
He discovered that not only was he not necessarily annoyed at Song Ran’s almost-flirtatious complaint, he also didn’t mind the impetuous demand underneath the complaint; he even thought that this demand was extremely ingenious, feeling delighted at it.
“As long as you’re willing, you can see me right now.” He Zhiyuan said, “This room is my home theatre as well as a teleconference room. The screen is right in front of you, the projector is directly behind you, and twenty centimetres above you is a switch. If you press it and count to ten, we will be on equal footing.”