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Kai Zhang — PhD candidate and tutor in the Modern Chinese program — reads an excerpt from Running Upon Alarms (跑警报) by Wang Cengqi (汪曾祺) in Mandarin.
Running Upon Alarms (excerpt)
There were three types of alarms. The Preliminary Alarm signified that the Japanese airplanes probably had set off. The Air Raid Alarm signified that the Japanese airplanes probably had entered Yunnan Province, which did not necessary mean that they were heading towards the city of Kunming. It is until the siren rang consecutive short sounds—the Emergency Alarm, that it could be confirmed that these airplanes were about to come to Kunming.
Sometimes, there could be a rather long gap between the Air Raid Alarm and the Emergency Alarm. Therefore, people did not rush down to the ditches after they had arrived. There was not any sunshine down there. And it could be very boring sitting in the dugout like a Yungang stone statue of Buddha. Mostly, people would read books, chat, or play bridge on top of the ditches. Many even held still after the Emergency Alarm rang. Even then, the Japanese airplanes might not ultimately make it to Kunming but more often than not divert to other places. People usually quickly stood up, ran down to the ditches and took shelter in the dugout only after they caught sight of the actual planes. The students of the Union University, as well as other people living in Kunming were too experienced about running upon alarms to get into a panic.
The above-mentioned couplet might seem like a general lament. It, however, was of real significance. Running upon alarms provided opportunities for people in love.
The students from the Union University often ran in pairs upon alarms. Once the Air Raid Alarm rang, male students would wait along the road by the new dormitory building, sometimes even with a bag of snacks such as pearl pears or peanuts... Once the female student that one was waiting for arrived, they said “Hi” to each other and then walked happily shoulder by shoulder out of the back gate of the new dormitory building. Running upon alarms was hardly a serious endeavour to go through the hardship or to die together.
It nevertheless bore a vague sense of danger, which was not the same as going to cinema or walking around the Cui Lake. It is exactly this sense of danger that brought the couple even closer to each other. The female student was happy to be attended to while the male student took the chance to be attentive and to show his knightly manner. Just as Sun Wukong [The Monkey King] said in Gao Lao Zhuang, “Firstly the patient’s eyes were cured; Secondly the doctor was paid. This was thus a business that added four and six.” From this perspective, running upon alarms was rather romantic.
As long as some fell in love, love triangles would occur, and so would break-ups. The pairs that ran together were not always fixed. Sometimes, one party was dumped by the other and the two broke up. In such a case, a new pair needed to be formed. The person who wrote — let’s call this action “to write” — that couplet was probably a male student who got “dumped”. Though, it was not necessary so.
The duration of the Emergency Alarm could be quite long, as long as two to three hours, which really “bored” people. Once the Emergency Alarm ended, which signified that the Japanese air raids had finished, people became relaxed. Soon afterwards, the siren rang long sounds, which meant that the alert was lifted. Everyone then stood up, patted the dust off their clothes, and returned to the downtown in an endless stream. Sometimes, people would start to go back even before the alert was lifted.
One of such circumstances would be when the dark clouds came and would bring rainfall for sure. The Japanese airplanes would not come once it started to rain. Getting drenched by the rain in the wild was too annoying to be tolerable!
Once it rained, one fellow student, the above-mentioned Hou-surnamed student who always attempted to forecast the arrival of the Preliminary Alarm, would definitely take the lead to go back. He collected umbrellas from each dormitory room, brought them right outside the back gate of the new dormitory building, and passed them to the female students that passed by. He was trying to keep these female students from the rain.
This Hou-surnamed student was burly but nevertheless sentimental as if he was Jia Baoyu. He had probably learnt about “The Dream of the Red Chamber” with Professor Wu Yuseng and come under its influence. It became a tradition for Brother Hou to send out umbrellas. He did not miss a single time when it rained during the alert. He became famous campus-wide because of his persistence. By the way, when the rain stopped, he would again collect these umbrellas from the female students’ dormitory in the South Yard and returned them to the owners.
Storytelling is just one way by which we at CHL connect with the cultures, histories and languages in the world around us. If you wish to support this research, you can now donate to the School of Culture, History & Language fund.
Credits Music: "Absolution" by Scott Buckley
CC BY 4.0