Saturday, March 6, 2010

Lai He : stories translated from the China (sic) Post newspaper

The Lever Scale

part 4

[translated by Joe Hung]

De-san recently heard that selling vegetables at the outdoor day market in town would be a good gig for him. He then thought he had better get into this produce vending business himself, but the problem was that he had no money to start the business. Indifferent to money, he dared not borrow from any friends. All he could do to raise some seed money for his planned small business was to ask his wife to go to her father's family to ask for help. It only stands to reason that the wife of a poor pieceworker peasant has no rich father who could offer big help. But the wife of her elder brother was especially kind to her. She let her poorer sister-in-law take her sole precious accessory, a hairpin with a small gold flower at the head, to a loan office in town to pawn it for a couple of yen, which De-san could use for the time being as the seed money for his vending business. De-san's wife felt it's a risky way to raise the seed money for her husband, but she had no other options. She had to do what her sister-in-law intended her to do.

One very early morning, De-san brought home two large basketfuls of fresh vegetables which he intended to carry with his carrying pole to the market in town to sell.* He planned to have breakfast first before going to town. Then, his wife found out her husband did not have a lever scale to weigh the produce he hoped to sell.** “What shall we do?” he asked himself. “To buy a lever scale? It's a government monopoly, which isn't cheap at all. Where can I get that much money (to buy it)?” His wife hastened to a neighbor to borrow a lever scale. The neighbor was very kind. She was able to borrow an almost brand-new lever scale from him. De-san had to have one; otherwise he might be punished for illegal vending. Japanese policemen never fails to find faults with small fries like De-san to improve their track record on the beats. The more “crime” the cops can crack, the faster they can get promotions. Untold thousands of people have been thus accused. The crimes they have been falsely accused of include traffic offense as well as violation of street regulations, food-vending rules, traveling regulations, and the weights and measures decree. As a matter of fact, everything the people do in their daily lives is interfered with and placed under control of (Japanese colonial) laws. De-san's wife borrowed the lever scale from the neighbor to guard against a one-in-ten-thousandth possibility that cops may arrest and detain her husband.

*A vegetable vender in Taiwan used to fill their ware in two open large bamboo baskets, which he carried with a bamboo carrying pole on his shoulders. The two baskets had to be matched in weight so that he would have no trouble with the lopsidedness that would interfere with his normal walking gait.

**A lever scale in use in Taiwan in the past has a hook at one end of a wood rod, marked with catties. The produce to be sold would be tied up with a string and hung on the hook. The vender would use one hand to grasp the loop attached to the brass head of the scale, which he would lift up, adjusting the weight with the other to find out how heavy the produce to be sold was. All lever scales were issued by the bureau of weights and measures of the Japanese colonial government in Taiwan.

The Lai He Fiction serialization, sponsored by the Council for Hakka Affairs, is provided by the Central News Agency.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's Pity That She Died V

april 9

“Aiya,” Mrs. A-kua sighed. “Where can you find a good young man who will marry into a poor family like ours?” she asked Sister-in-Law A-kau. “Who will?” “Well, it's true,” Sister-in-Law A-kau said. “Such a marriage doesn't produce good results.” Then she thought the right time came to change the subject. In a clearer tone, she said:

“I think A-jin can be contracted out for work. A girl like her will fetch a better profit. But that needs A-jin's consent.”

“Let's not talk about whether A-jin would agree or not,” Mrs. A-kua said. “I don't have the heart to part with her now,” she added. “Without her living with me, I would rather ...” she could not go on, for she felt she was unutterably miserable.

“After all,” Sister-in-Law A-kau said, “you will have to think about it.”

“You can't put an end to your misery by suffering and moping alone at home,” she added. Then there was nothing more to talk about. So she took her leave.

A-jin was distressed after she had encountered all these disastrous happenings in such a brief period of time. She thought she was born with a bad karma, that also doomed her husband-to-be. Her heart was broken. But she was just heart-broken, not knowing what to do to get out of her present desperate predicament. On the other hand, when she saw Mrs. A-kua's rueful face, she did not have the heart to even heave a sigh lest she should make her once would-be mother-in-law's heart ache all the more. When Sister-in-Law A-kau was visiting Mrs. A-kua, A-jin was in a backroom, managing to overhear their conversation a little but glean enough to guess what they were talking about. What little knowledge she derived from their talks made A-jin sad, restless and anxious.

Then Sister-in-Law A-kau continued to come to see Mrs. A-kua a few more times. A-jin told herself, “Although Mrs. A-kua did not want to sell me now, there is no guarantee she may not be persuaded to do so sometime soon.” As she so reasoned, she could not help shedding an untold amount of tears.

Another year passed. A-jin realized life became worse than it had been before. What she earned by her labor was not enough to buy firewood and rice. Moreover, the money Mrs. A-kua had saved was all gone. A-jin was not sure if she could continue to make straw hats and wash clothes for other people so as to provide for Mrs. A-kua. Was there any other way? There was none. And she was all the more distressed.

One day, right after meeting with Sister-in-Law A-kau, Mrs. A-kua told A-jin, who was knitting straw hats, that they must talk. “A-jin,” Mrs. A-kua started to say in a quivering voice, “I want to have a word with you about ...” Tears fell before she could finish the sentence.

A-jin knew what was in store for her. But she was hopeless. She knew her downfall and degradation were inevitable but was afraid she would be sold again. Hearing what Mrs. A-kua hesitated to say, the girl knew her doomsday was arriving. Sobbing convulsively, she begged, “Dear Mother, I only ask you not to sell me. ...”

“Sell? Oh, no!” Mrs. A-kua said. “Even if I were a beggar woman, I wouldn't have the heart to sell you.”

A-jin continued to sob.

The Lai He Fiction serialization, sponsored by the Council for Hakka Affairs, is provided by the Central News Agency.