In the period that followed, several major events happened.
First, the equipment was shipped from Harbin, and I also bought a water pump.
During the days when Poker-Face was gone, Fatty was the only one working. I was staring at the yard in a daze.
I felt as if my soul had been left behind in that bamboo forest, but Fatty seemed unfazed. Every day, he would say a few words and fart a few times before continuing to work on digging the pond and collecting the materials.
Slowly, my world line was pulled back to the present.(1)
I suddenly realized that Fatty was here, and he had always been my baseline. The reason my soul didn’t fly around everywhere was because he was in the human world, guarding the Southern Heavenly Gate.(2)
That night, we finally had our first crab dish. Poker-Face was supposed to come back in the middle of the night, but Fatty couldn’t wait that long. While we warmed up the wine and mixed the rice, I asked Fatty, “Am I thinking too much? Is there something wrong with me or is there something wrong with you?”
Fatty just chuckled and said, “Man, it’s normal to feel a bit emotional. But do you plan on being this moody for the rest of your life?”
I shook my head, “No, it’s too fucking sad.”
“If that’s the case, you’ll recover from it eventually, right? You’ll be confused for a few days, and once you get back to normal, you’ll realize that you haven’t done any work. That’s when you’ll start working, isn’t it? But I saved you the hassle and took care of the middle process, so when you suddenly figured it out and looked up, you found that I had done almost all the work. How does it feel?”
“What do you mean how does it feel?”
“You fall down by yourself while I stay exactly where I am. When you look up again, you’ll find that I’ve become a Buddha. You’ll probably wonder why I’m so tall and imposing, but I didn’t actually do anything. How cheap is my Buddhahood—do you know how hard it is to stay put? How hard it is for people not to torture themselves? Why are some Buddhas called Immovable Wisdom Kings(3), and can become Buddhas by staying motionless? Why? It’s because mortals are always moving.”
“What do you mean?” I didn’t understand. “That’s not what Immovable Wisdom King means, right?”
“It doesn’t matter. Let me tell you, whatever you’ve been thinking about isn’t going to bother you as much as me lighting the sofa on fire right now. So, do you want to keep thinking about it or do you want to put out the fire?”
“Don’t you dare.”
“It’s just a hypothetical.” Fatty clicked his tongue, too lazy to argue with me.
I sighed, “Put out the fire.”
“Is there any profound philosophical truth about this fire? Since it’s a fire set by your Fat Master, it’s incredibly tacky and no different from the fire used to roast skewers. Why don’t you focus on the more important things in your heart?”
I laughed, and Fatty continued, “Don’t fucking think about unnecessary things. Everyone’s a thinker when there’s nothing to do. They all turn into the neighborhood committee aunt when they find out the gas hasn’t been turned off.”
I cursed angrily, “You’re the fucking aunt.”
“I’m not saying this because I discriminate against aunts. Do you discriminate against them? When it comes to work, there’s no distinction between social hierarchies. It’s always more convenient to look for help from someone who manages things near you than to find someone who is far away. Just try and offend those aunts. Moreover, I’m currently around the same age as them, so I have to call them nicknames like Little Fang.”
I heaved a long sigh. Yes, Fatty was right. I came here to stay still, but I was a person who was always changing after all.
“Eat. We’ll pick up Little Brother in the evening.” Fatty broke a crab open for me, “It has crab roe.”
That night, the moonlight was the same as always, and my thoughts finally returned to those design drawings.
The next day, the three of us went up the mountain to dig a waterway that would lead to the pool. It was a big project, and as I was digging, I realized that I’d have to use cement to prevent water from seeping out of the channel.
The amount of natural spring water was endless, so there was a huge volume of water flowing on the sandy bottom of the stream. Some of it would penetrate deep into the ground and become groundwater while some would go down underground to irrigate the mountain. The streams on the surface were only a small part of what constituted a real stream.
But what I was doing was essentially trying to nourish the Sahara with a water hose. How much was my water bill going to be for all of this?
After that, I bought cement and bricks and started digging the waterway. I then lay the bricks down and mixed the cement.
This work took about two weeks. With regards to the lantern festival, I used the lanterns from the grand funeral to send the village head away so that I could concentrate on the courtyard. Two days later, the simple waterway was complete. We poured cement into a pool on the mountainside, hauled the pump into our yard, and began sucking water away from the mountainside and into the waterway, which led back to the pool in the courtyard.
This step was done without any pomp since it was just a trial run. During those two weeks, the three of us forgot all about eating and sleeping. It was no different from being in the mountains.
This step ended up going relatively smoothly; at least, the water was running smoothly. The pump on the mountainside was a little noisy, so we built a temporary shack on the mountain to cover the pool.
It had only been up for a day before it was captured by a satellite sweep. Then, the Land Management people came over and fined us three thousand yuan and demolished it.
Fatty and I scratched our heads and pondered over it for a long time before we decided to make a greenhouse out of plastic film instead. After covering it with dead leaves, we used a drone to take aerial photographs. I breathed a sigh of relief when it didn’t show up in the photos.
Greenhouses weren’t considered illegal structures, so it didn’t count as us breaking the law. Fatty piled dead leaves around the outside to act as soundproofing, and soon, the greenhouse became something similar to a hobbit hole.
Next, I carefully and skillfully worked to design the filtration system. It was actually very simple—several large frames were tied together with iron wire, and pebbles that had been picked up on the riverbank were piled up inside. Then, small stones, fine sand, sponges, coarse sand, and thumb-sized volcanic rocks I had bought online were placed inside layer by layer.
Dozens of frames were stuck in the waterway one by one.
There was also a compressor that was equipped to cool the incoming water to about seven degrees Celsius. The photovoltaic hadn’t arrived, so the electricity was going to cost us a bit, but we were so enthusiastic that we did a test run at home.
After about five days, the muddy water became as transparent as glass and was freezing cold.
Next, we started tidying up the yard. We first pumped out all the water in the yard and then used cement to ensure that water wouldn’t seep out of the bottom of the pool—I actually dreamed of having a natural pool at one time, but I estimated that forty tons of water was needed every day so I decided to forget about it.
After the cement dried, we surrounded the whole pool with stones—thanks to Boss Xie’s Mid-Autumn Festival gift, we got some huge landscaping stones that were freight-free and paid on delivery.
Those landscaping stones were half a butt big and looked very natural. They must have been shipped from Guizhou. They definitely weren’t artificial, nor were they Taihu stones(4) (I didn’t like Taihu stones because they reminded me of my underground experiences). We placed them in a circle around the pool and then began covering them with moss. The final result was that all of the stones were completely covered in a one-centimeter-thick layer of moss.
The bottom of the pool was then covered in a half-meter-thick layer of volcanic black granular mud, which came from the small granular stones that erupted from volcanos.
Once that was done, I went about the task of planting my handful of aquatic plants.
The whole pond was finally beginning to operate. Even though it looked similar to a bald man now, all of the elements were still there.
Next, in order to create a picturesque view from the doorway, I arranged the remaining landscaping stones according to my design drawings. Among the design drafts I ended up scrapping, some replicated Changbai Mountain’s Heaven Lake(5) and some replicated the snow-capped mountains. But they were all scrapped in the end.
Others would look at it and feel calm whereas we would often feel a headache when we looked at it.
In the end, I chose an ordinary landscape that wasn’t based on anything.
What was art? Art was a process plus a result. If that bit of landscaping was my first design, then it wasn’t worth shit. But after going through such a long design process and finally choosing this landscape, it could be considered a work of art. At this point, I could be called Art Master Wu Xie.
Although ordinary, it was also very beautiful. The bases of the maple trees we had planted were surrounded by coarse sand, and moss had also been planted on top. The shrubs and maples made a great arrangement.
The bamboo gate and walls acted as the background of the whole courtyard. After we were done with everything, the maple trees looked withered, the moss looked like someone with bald patches on their head, and it looked like there wasn’t anything under the water.
Compared with building a house, we were much more proficient at handling the courtyard. We didn’t zealously continue working because I knew that the real deciding factor would be time.
In the period that followed, we spent some time collecting moss, which we would use to cover up any bald patches we found. But we really couldn’t find any aquatic plants, and we didn’t know when our other ones would grow and cover the bottom of the pond.
Since then, this small courtyard was just like a small welfare lottery. When I got up every day, I used a ruler to measure whether the moss had grown a little bit. Fatty had named every aquatic plant, hoping that they would have offspring to fill the bottom of the pond.
As it turned out, happiness and gains were infinitesimal.
Poker-Face just looked at us. Our courtyard had moss, but his courtyard had us and the four seasons.
<Chapter 17><Table of Contents><Chapter 19>
(1) The world line (or worldline) of an object is the path that an object traces in 4-dimensional spacetime. It is an important concept in modern physics, and particularly theoretical physics. Info here.
(2) The Southern Heavenly Gate is the main entrance to the Heavenly Court so it’s seen as the entrance to the human world and the immortal world (depending on which side you’re on).
(3) Also called “Āryācalanātha”. He’s a wrathful deity and dharmapala (protector of the Dharma) prominent in Vajrayana Buddhism and East Asian Buddhism. In China, he’s known as “Budong Mingwang”. Info here.
(4) Porous limestone produced at the foot of Dongting Mountain in Suzhou.
(5) Also called Changbaishan Tianchi, it’s a volcanic crater lake on the border between China and North Korea.
I am not happy with this and feel like I did a worse job than usual but I’ve been working on it for 2 days and am so done right now. If you all want to just wipe it from your minds and come back in like a week when Tiffany gets around to fixing it, I’d totally understand. Til next time~
Tiffany to the rescue! Updated 11/10/2021
5 thoughts on “Chapter 18 Courtyard 13 Project”
It’s a bit heavy on the metaphorical, but it’s not bad!!! 😄 And I think that last line brings it together nicely and makes it all worth it. 🥰
Thank you for your labors!
Thanks for the chapter ❤️
Thanks for the chapter and Happy Diwali Merebear, may the festival of lights bring peace and prosperity to you too.
Thank you, you as well! 😘
I can imagine this was tough going, well done! I really enjoyed reading it, the last line in particular is lovely 😊