Selected Modern Chinese Essays: Sakura Apartment

◎ Xie Bingying

In my long seeking for lodgings, I often met with a snub. I remember how, before Te arrived, when Xue Ying and I went out hunting for a room to let, we would often encounter an elderly woman emerging from a house to announce her curt refusal to rent out a room to a Chinese or a single woman. That incurred our great displeasure and we sometimes found it both laughable as well as irritating. If we had asked her for the reason why, she would probably have, to our even greater displeasure, cooked up stories of how noisy and messy the Chinese were…

It was with great difficulty that I finally, together with two friends, managed to find a living place called Sakura Apartment. It was an exquisite small house with its exterior painted pink—of exactly the same colour as cherry blossoms. I was very much struck by it at first sight. Oh, how poetic it would be to be domiciled in a pink house!

Meditatively, I kept muttering the name of the house“Sakura”. Beautiful!What a beautiful name!I’d sure take up my lodgings here if only there was a room available!

Hearing me talk to myself, my friends burst out laughing. When the landlord told me there was a flat available downstairs, I immediately paid some earnest money and decided to move in the next day.

After alighting from a street car and crossing a railway track, I came to a busy village street. Near a florist’s shop, a wonderful scene suddenly came into view. Standing tall and erect before me in neat array was a forest of evergreen pines and firs. The shortcut to Sakura Apartment was by a beautiful track through this forest. While walking in the shade of the trees, I preferred not to focus my attention exclusively on the scenery. I found it most interesting to watch, by slowing down my pace, other people walking ahead of me one after another. On a fine day, I enjoyed watching them like on television. On a rainy day, however, the bad condition of the track was abominable. The place was, however, very charming on a snowy day when all was white. Glittering icicles hanging from eaves of houses and branches of trees plus the snow-capped mountains in sight would make you feel like living in an earthly paradise. Snow falling off branches of pines and firs would land all over on pedestrians. When it happened to land on young girls’ heads or their delicate necks, their sweet giggles and rosy cheeks would form a picture of indescribable beauty.

Once, on the second day after the second fall of snow in spring, when we were halfway through the track, a lump of snow falling from the trees almost hit Te on the head. He immediately put his own hat on my head and walked ahead of me bareheaded. Two nearby Japanese boy students, seeing me wearing a man’s hat, began to laugh out loud. I didn’t see anything funny about a woman wearing a man’s hat. I rather thought it funny for them to laugh. So I also laughed.

Yes, this was a very interesting place. On the right side of the track stood a Japanese Shinto shrine, which we often passed by on our way to the post office. All was quiet and clean. The most memorable thing was the soughing of the wind in the pines at dusk and the singing of spring birds at dawn.

On a moonlit night, when you passed through this place, you would better understand the following two lines escaping your lips:

The bright moon peeps through pine trees,
Crystal-clear spring water flows over stones.

Beside the forest lay a brook, which kept babbling along, through the thick forest and by the pink house.

Sakura Apartment was tucked away in a natural environment of peace and quiet. Though the interior of the house was not so beautiful as its exterior, I paid only 12 yen a month for my flat complete with study, bedroom and kitchen. An accommodation renting so cheaply was hard to come by in Tokyo. Moreover, I could rise at the call of the early morning sun and enjoy the company of the bright moon every night. These were but two of the things I didn’t want to miss.

Yet I had to leave this quiet and enchanting place!

“Let’s stay on…in this nice place!”I kept saying falteringly to Te until the porter came.

Thirty minutes after the car left, I, in a dreamy state, still turned back to look out of the glass window in search of Sakura Apartment hidden in the depths of the forest.