Yuan Hui stopped talking as he looked at Zhen Ting Yun. His eyes unknowingly held a hint of a smile.
Zhen Ting Yun had indeed completely forgotten everything around her as she read through <The Records of Shi Ping Gong>, from beginning to end.
[The trace of patriarch’s departed spirit… Fallen leaves blanket the mortal bodies. The rising of the greatest generation, all due to one’s meritorious work. Buddhist monk Hui Cheng…]
[Father, Mother, and relatives, may their souls soar like the phoenix during the Buddhist rites. Riding the wind away from the secular world, their spirits standing above all and spreading out like the clouds…]
[Completed on the twenty-second year of Tai He, the fourteenth day of the ninth lunar month. Penned by Meng Da.] 1In a VERY brief summary, it was during the Southern and Northern Dynasties when Buddhism was extremely prevalent. Many would build Buddhist shrines and caves to engrave inscriptions with names and well-wishes. After the death of his father, Shi Ping Gong, the grieving son, Hui Cheng, who was a Buddhist monk, had a Buddha statue sculpted. <The Records of Shi Ping Gong> was an inscription engraved on this Buddha statue carrying a son’s heartfelt wish that his deceased parents and family would be able to find peace and enjoy blessings with no more sorrow.
The stinging in her eyes felt like they were being pierced by many thin needles. She pressed her lips tightly together, exhausting all of her efforts in order to hold back her tears. Yet, she could not prevent a particular memory from surfacing. It was the memory of the first time her younger self picked up a brush to carefully write down her first character.
Her fingers gripped the smooth and cool body of the wooden brush. She held it tightly as she tried to follow the teacher’s instructions and slowly lowered the tip of the brush onto the snow-white rice paper.
The black ink smeared onto the rice paper. The character was so ugly and indecipherable like it was just a blob of splattered ink.
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Rd qynv, pvweukdt oyp y hlau lmrldpkhl yqqyka. Tkakdt y vlynbla aliwkale xsdlu. Mbl oakvkdt cawpblp, kdj pvknjp, ryrla, yde kdjpvsdlp yzps dllele xsdlu. Ohld vbl skz wple vs zktbv y zyxr ewakdt vbl dktbv vs raynvknl nyzzktayrbu oyp cwadkdt xsdlu. Zlv, kv ps byrrldle vbyv vbl qyxkzu’p xsdlu oyp yzz wdela Xze Yyeyxl Hbld’p nsdvasz. Ohlau vkxl pbl yrrasynble Xze Yyeyxl Hbld qsa xsdlu, pbl dllele vs prlde y zsv sq ldlatu yde lqqsav. Fbl yzps dllele vs clya okvb Xze Yyeyxl Hbld’p pnszekdtp zkjl, ‘Gp y tkaz, obu es usw dlle vs zlyad pwnb vbkdtp?’ yde ‘Zsw, rasektyz tkaz, sdzu jdsokdt bso vs prlde yzz vbl qyxkzu’p xsdlu!’.
Tsolhla, pbl oyp pvwccsad. Fbl oydvle vs zlyad yde pbl oydvle vs raynvknl nyzzktayrbu.
Fbl pvkzz alxlxclap obld pbl oyp cwv y nbkze, Wyvbla Hbld oswze sqvld oakvl zlvvlap vs Qaydexy. Gp Qaydexy oyp kzzkvlayvl, pbl oswze ypj vbl lzelazu pnbszya qasx vbl dlktbcsakdt pnbssz vs blzr bla alye yzswe vbl nsdvldvp.&dcpr;
Mblal oyp sdl vkxl, Wyvbla Hbld xldvksdle bkp lzelpv eywtbvla kd vbl zlvvla. Mblal oyp y ayal pldpl sq oyaxvb lmwekdt qasx bkp oakvvld osaep.
[Zk Zwd bye fwpv nlzlcayvle bla qkqvb ckavbeyu. Eyvnbkdt bla taso eyu cu eyu, pvyukdt blyzvbu yde zkhlzu obkzl clnsxkdt xsal zshlzu yde kdvlzzktldv. Gp y qyvbla, R nyddsv qkde osaep vs elpnakcl vbkp byrrkdlpp.]
[Ebkzl R kxxlapl kd vbkp fsu, R alnyzz vbyv yzz ryaldvp pbyal vbl pyxl blyav yde xkdeplv. Rv xyel xl vbkdj sq Ysvbla, obs zshle xl elyazu. Gp y psd, vs cl wdyczl vs qwzqkzz xu qkzkyz ewvklp vs Ysvbla xyjlp xl alxsaplqwz yde vlyaqwz. R yx ypbyxle vbyv R nyddsv cl vblal cu uswa pkel yde xu pkd kp lhla ps blyhu.]&dcpr;
[Gp R yx oakvkdt vbkp zlvvla vs Ysvbla, Zk Zwd pyv cu y pxyzz elpj, raynvknkdt bla nyzzktayrbu. Fbl oydvle xl vs tkhl bla tallvkdtp vs bla taydexsvbla sd bla clbyzq. R pvkzz alxlxcla obld Zk Zwd oyp uswdtla, pbl zkjle vs cl ryxrlale, oyp ayvbla asoeu, yde oyp wdyczl vs pkv pvkzz. R bye ds nbsknl cwv vs byhl bla pkv sd xu zyr obkzl R vlynb bla vs alnkvl rslxp. Ubkzeald yal kddsnldv yde vblka osaep nyaau ds xyzknl. Xnnypksdyzzu, pbl oswze es vbkdtp vbyv cakdt xl fsu. Mblal yal eyup obld pbl yzps ydtlap xl. Zlv, vblal yal eyup vbyv pbl xyjlp xl zshl bla lhld xsal.]
[Fortunately, she had already matured and become more sensible. She could now sit by herself and earnestly practice her calligraphy. She had made it into a habit to do so every day, regardless of rain or shine. It was a pity that she was not born a man. Otherwise, your son would have a great successor and will have no regrets in this life.]
Father Zhen was truly proud of his eldest daughter. Between his rows of words, one could feel his sincere feelings. It was as if he was bragging about his daughter to others.
At that point in time, Zhen Ting Yun was only three and was just starting to make sense of things. Sitting beside Old Madame Zhen, she only partially understood the contents of the letter. But even then, she could sense Father Zhen’s joy. Hence, she unconsciously memorized the words of the letter. When she grew older and could finally understand the contents of that letter, she nearly could not hold back her tears.
When Eldest Sister was young, Father carried her on his lap and taught her poems, sentence by sentence. Occasionally having a good laugh because of Eldest Sister’s childish babble. When Eldest Sister turned five, she got to celebrate her birthday with Father and Mother. Zhen Ting Yun could only imagine how lively and joyous that day was. When Eldest Sister was practicing her calligraphy by the window side, Father was watching her proudly and he felt the need to write it in a letter to Grandma.
But then, what of her?
Every time she thought about this, Zhen Ting Yun would feel a bit of discomfort. It was as if a thin cotton thread was strangling her heart, making her chest feel stifled. In the beginning, in a fit of pique, she would think to herself, since her father liked a daughter who worked hard like Eldest Sister, she would also work as hard. Since her mother was a female scholar who graduated from a women’s academy, then she must get admitted into a women’s academy as well. She would be like Eldest Sister and become the pride of her parents that they would want to write letters to others to brag about her.
But as she grew older, those obsessions lessened. Zhen Ting Yun started to understand; studying should be for oneself, one would work hard for that reason and not because of an act of anger. There was also no need to constantly compare with others. In one’s lifetime, how one led one’s life would depend on oneself and never anyone else. Even if she craved the well-deserved parental affection, it should be a blessing and not a necessity. After all, these things cannot be forced.
In all honesty, deep down, she understood that despite her efforts and hard work it might all be for not in the end. She might not even be able to get admitted into a women’s academy and in this lifetime, she might never be as good as Zhen Yi Yun.
Yet, she was not reconciled!
Currently, holding onto <The Records of Shi Ping Gong>, she could not help but recall Yuan Hui’s earlier words.
‘However, if you really want to enter the women’s academy, it’s not completely impossible for you.’
Who knows? Maybe Yuan Hui was the ‘hope’ that came knocking on her door.
As these thoughts circulated in her head, Zhen Ting Yun clenched her fingers tightly around <The Records of Shi Ping Gong>. Due to the excessive force, the joints of her fingers turned pale, like the color of white jade.
After a while, she suddenly stood up from her seat, turned to Yuan Hui, who was leaning against the bedpost, and gave a serious salute, “Many thanks to Teacher for guiding me.”
At that very point in time, she was sincere in addressing him as her teacher.
Yuan Hui was amused by her solemn disposition. After releasing a chuckle he said, “Currently, I don’t remember anything. Without knowing my identity, you’re still willing to address me as your teacher?”
Zhen Ting Yun earnestly replied, “A tutor’s role is to give moral and practical guidance to one’s students to dispel their doubts and questions. You are completely worthy of this title.”
Yuan Hui studied her serious countenance. He felt his heart turn a little softer and he smiled, “Alright. Let’s take it as my good fortune to be able to smoothly receive such a good tutee.”
Although Zhen Ting Yun had the intention to be respectful, she unwittingly pursed her lips and snorted softly after listening to Yuan Hui’s teasing tone.
Yuan Hui then instructed, “Since you’ve finished studying the script, let’s move on to replicating the script. I’ll watch you practice…”
Zhen Ting Yun nodded. She dipped her brush into the ink and was able to raise her brush to start practicing her calligraphy.
In the end, Yuan Hui opened his mouth once again to correct her sitting posture, “Sit properly. Legs apart, perpendicular to your shoulder width. Shoulders to be parallel to the table in front of you… Keep your back straight, but don’t tense up, relax your muscles! Be more natural. You can lean slightly forward, but do not lose your sense of balance. What does it mean to be ‘in command of one’s will without restain’? What does it mean to ‘write to fulfill one’s satisfaction’? It states that you use your right arm to send a force to your wrist, then from the wrist to the fingers, and it gets transferred from the fingers to the brush, onto the paper.”
“Focus less on using your thumb,” Yuan Hui instructed. Then he smiled and told her, “Speaking of which, when practicing calligraphy, there is an emphasis on ‘disfavor of using the thumb’. However, when playing the zither, there is an emphasis on ‘disfavor of using the pinky’…”
With Yuan Hui nitpicking everything, Zhen Ting Yun felt like she did not truly know how to grip her brush. With much difficulty, she finally corrected her posture and was about to write something when she once again heard Yuan Hui muttering to himself, “It might not be enough for her to just practice calligraphy like this. Why not, we try tying sandbags around the wrist tomorrow?”
Zhen Ting Yun, “…”
After practicing a few big characters in this position, Yuan Hui looked at the sky and commented, “Let’s end it for today. From the looks of it, your arm is about to stiffen. It’s not practical to keep practicing and persevering like this. The most important thing is to pursue it unremittingly, knowing when it’s enough and knowing when it’s time to take a break.”
After a slight pause, Yuan Hui teased, “Besides, it’s already getting late. As a female, it will not do you good to continue remaining in my room.”
Zhen Ting Yun stopped writing and gave him a glare. But in the end, she still followed his advice and started packing up her things.
Watching her pack up, Yuan Hui gave her another piece of advice, “One must be organized in whatever they set out to do. Return and consider what you want to learn. Create a daily timetable and give it to me tomorrow. Since you have addressed me as your teacher, I shall genuinely impart my knowledge to you.”
Zhen Ting Yun bit her lip, deeply moved by his words as she nodded vigorously.
As she was still planning to continue practicing calligraphy tomorrow, she decided to leave the copybooks and her writing materials with Yuan Hui. She tidied the table and picked up the tray of dishes, prepared to bring them back down to the kitchen.
Just when Zhen Ting Yun was about to step out, Yuan Hui seemed to suddenly remember something and stopped her, “Wait a moment!”
Zhen Ting Yun paused and turn back to look at Yuan Hui in puzzlement.
Yuan Hui fumbled around his pillow before finding what he was looking for. He tossed it to Zhen Ting Yun saying, “This is for you. You can use that to pay for all of my expenses. If it’s not enough, you can come and ask me for more. If there’s spare change, just treat it as a meeting gift to my tutee.”
Zhen Ting Yun did not know what Yuan Hui wanted to give her. She stretched out her hand and accepted the item, before lowering her eyes to look at it.
She received a shock. It was actually a piece of golden ingot!
Staring at the piece of gold in her hand, Zhen Ting Yun thoughtlessly blurted, “You- where did you get this gold ingot from?!”
Her mood was too agitated that even her voice trembled.
Last night, when Zhen Ting Yun instructed the men to carry Yuan Hui off the horse, he had nothing else but the clothes on his back. Even so, those were drenched by the rain, and Zhen Ting Yun had asked the innkeeper to change him out of it.
Therefore, she wanted to know where the impoverished Yuan Hui, who needed to be supported when he walked, got his gold ingot from.
The author has something to say:
Yuan Hui: Although I’m currently immobile, I still have the money to raise my wife!
In many ways, I truly respect people from ancient times as they had to grow up so quickly. Zhen Ting Yun was in the midst of her teens but she showed so much maturity in her cognition with how she dealt with her jealousy when she finally understood the contents of her father’s letter.