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【那夏天的我們】a stroke of fate

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The train ride is long but quiet. Lan Wangji spends the six hours alternating between dozing gently and reading a book on ancient poetry. When he realizes he’s been rereading the same poem on spring rain around the third hour, he turns his head to stare blankly out the window instead.

The scenery is green. Trees and meadows and fields and mountains in the distance, growing closer as the train moves forwards. It looks like a painting. Somewhere peaceful, far away from the chains of the concrete jungle where Lan Wangji has been living for far too long. He thinks perhaps he used to live in the mountains, as a child—he has an image of a cottage and his mother’s hand in his as they walk along a stream. But all of that felt like a distant dream. This, though, the idyllic view outside his window and the modest suitcase stored in the overhead compartment, this feels real.

His brother had asked him if he was sure about this trip. It wasn’t like Lan Wangji had much of a choice but to retreat from the public eye, and more importantly, from their family’s eye. He’d caused quite a scandal, talking back to the elders like that. The worst thing was, Lan Wangji cannot bring himself to regret a thing.

“There are other options,” Lan Xichen had said when Lan Wangji informed him of his destination. “We have cousins living overseas that would take you in for a few months. Or you could apply for a program abroad, maybe Japan, haven’t you expressed interest in learning their cultural arts as well?”

But Lan Wangji had shaken his head. He’d marked the place on the map and packed his things, and the next morning he had boarded the train. His brother was the only one to see him off, but the lunchbox and envelope of spending money that Lan Xichen pressed into his hands was all Uncle.

When the train finally reaches his stop, Lan Wangji puts on his coat and grabs his suitcase in silence. He slings his guqin over his shoulder. The station is empty. There is a lone guard in the booth by the gates, completely absorbed with the old television propped up in the corner. It is broadcasting a rerun of a historical drama, a line of static running up the screen every few minutes. Lan Wangji takes out his phone. He holds it up over his head. Half a bar’s signal. He sighs.

“Excuse me,” he says to the guard. “Is there a bus? I’m headed for the Wen Village.”

“Comes once a day,” the man says without looking up. “You just missed it.”

Lan Wangji blinks. He looks down at the suitcase next to him, then at the afternoon sun peeking above the trees. The man glances up at his silence and seems to take pity on him. 

“Here, I can give you a map. It’s not too far from here, but if you’re lucky, someone ought to be returning from Yiling proper soon so you can hitch a ride.”

“Thank you,” Lan Wangji says politely. He takes the map with the pen-drawn directions, and begins to walk.

Barely fifteen minutes of walking and his shirt has grown damp with sweat. The sun is thankfully not directly overhead, but the temperature is much higher here than he’s used to. Especially with no air conditioned buildings in sight. He sees nothing but trees, dirt, and a winding road that is barely wide enough for two lanes. There is an occasional breeze, but for the most part, it’s hot and sticky.

There is only one road from the train station to the village. He listens, but the only sound he can hear is the chirp of bugs in the woods and the rumble of his suitcase wheels on the rough pavement. Just as he resigns himself to walking the whole way, the distant sound of a car engine approaching from behind reaches him. He drags his suitcase to the side and waits for the truck to pull up next to him.

A young man peers through the open passenger window at him. He looks about Lan Wangji’s age, maybe a little younger, long black hair tucked under a bamboo rice hat. “Um, hello,” he says. “Are you heading to Wen Village?”

“Yes,” Lan Wangji answers. “I have informed the village head that I would be arriving today.”

“Oh,” the boy says. He takes in Lan Wangji’s slacks and the sleek guqin case on his back. “Oh! Lan- gongzi, right?”

Lan Wangji nods. The boy gestures for him to climb in. He waits until Lan Wangji has settled the suitcase in the truck bed and sat down on the bench before restarting the engine. There is no seatbelt. Lan Wangji rests his fists on his knees and tries to unclench them.

“We didn’t know when you’d be arriving,” the boy is saying, “or else we’d have sent a ride for you. There’s only one bus that passes by our village, sadly, and sometimes it doesn’t operate because the driver is hungover. Ah, it’s not that bad! Nobody really comes to our village, anyway, and we have this truck to go down to Yiling to do business.”

Lan Wangji hums. He tries to subtly unstick his shirt from his skin.

“I’m Wen Ning, by the way. You’re lucky I was passing by on my way back from the morning market, or else you might not have arrived until nightfall. The bugs are something fierce after sundown. Make sure to ask my sister for her bug repellent—she also has ointment in case you do get stung. She makes them both herself and it’s super effective!”

Wen Ning fills the ride to the village with lighthearted chatter. He doesn’t seem to mind Lan Wangji’s lack of responses. Lan Wangji learns that his sister is the village head and also village doctor, that most of the residents in Wen Village are directly related to them. That Wen Ning is in his last year of university and is going back to school in the fall. That their village is small but they grow a variety of vegetables that they sell in town. That Lan Wangji is the first outsider staying long term for the first time in five years. The last outsider who came to their village happened to settle down and hasn’t left since.

Lan Wangji knows this, because that person is the reason why he chose to leave the city to live in an anonymous village so small it’s barely on the map. Yiling Laozu, a small time Youtuber who uploads videos about the countryside life. According to the site, his channel started roughly five years ago, but since then he has been regularly uploading at least one video every week. The videos range from agricultural time lapses to the village scenery, traditional food-making to random videos featuring the people who live in the village. Lan Wangji cannot remember how he stumbled across this channel, which has barely ten thousand subscribers, when his own music channel has over a million and he only ever uses his account to upload his songs and keep up with the Lan Agency’s promotions. But since he clicked into that first video, where the man who calls himself the Yiling Laozu is lamenting the poor crop of turnips they planted the year before, Lan Wangji has watched every single one. He made another account just to subscribe to the channel so he can receive notifications when a new video is up. Something about the aimless but peaceful content and something about the sunny smile of this Yiling Laozu strikes a soothing chord in Lan Wangji’s muted world of rules and expectations. So here he is, in a stranger’s truck, turning the bend to a village in the middle of nowhere, hoping to find and experience that tranquility for himself. 

He’s lived twenty-six years on this earth learning how to be proper and respectable. Just once in his life he wanted to do something reckless. Except, as Wen Ning pulls to a stop outside a modest courtyard, Lan Wangji suddenly feels like he made a mistake. When Uncle had advised him to keep a low profile and go into seclusion for a while until the elders calm down, Lan Wangji had made his decision without much thought. Now, though, he’s wondering if maybe his hastiness is too much.

Lan Wangji was raised in a big, bustling city. He hates bugs, despises grime, and has not deviated from his routine in long, long years. He’s no stranger to being alone, but out here, he is completely on his own. No brother to swoop in to translate for him, no uncle to excuse him. Maybe he should turn back while he has the chance.

“Ah, there’s my sister,” Wen Ning says, interrupting the downward spiral of Lan Wangji’s thoughts. He waves, and the woman striding towards them nods back. He lifts Lan Wangji’s suitcase with surprising ease, setting it down beside him before Lan Wangji can protest. Lan Wangji has the urge to tip him, but stops himself at the last second with an inkling that the gesture might not be appreciated here. “I have to go return the truck to Second Uncle, but my sister will show you where you’re staying. It was nice to meet you, Lan- gongzi.”

“Likewise,” Lan Wangji manages. He’s treated to a shy smile, and then Wen Ning is back in the truck and leaving him with a cloud of dirt-dust. He turns to see the woman staring at him with a cool but curious look in her eyes.

“Wen Qing,” she introduces herself. “Lan Wangji?”

He nods. They shake hands. Her hand is much smaller than his but covered in callouses, speaking of hard work. She doesn’t smile, but her eyes are kind. Even though she looks barely older than he is, she carries herself with an air of collected calm that Lan Wangji recognizes in his uncle. 

“I’m glad your trip was alright,” Wen Qing says, leading him not inside the courtyard but rather down the dirt path around the gate. “It was a bit of a surprise when we received your request about accomodation for your seclusion. I’m sure my brother told you, but we really don’t receive many visitors. This is just a simple village.”

“I apologize for any intrusion,” Lan Wangji says stiffly.

Wen Qing waves him off. “It’s fine. You’re not the only city folk looking to escape the crowd for a season or two. It’s hard work out here, but at least it’s quiet.”

“You speak from experience.”

“I grew up here. Went to Shanghai for a doctor’s degree, but I ended up coming back here.” She shrugs. “I don’t regret it.”

“I see.” 

A house comes into view through the trees. It’s small, and the front is full of weeds and old farming equipment, but the walls look recently painted. Wen Qing points out the uneven stone steps as they approach.

“Since most people that live here are family, there aren’t many spare buildings we can give you. I know you said you wanted somewhere private where you can do your own thing, but unfortunately, this place was the only one with a spare bedroom.” Wen Qing knocks on the door, and then proceeds to push at the knob. “There’s still plenty of room. And your roommate will probably be out of the house for most of the day, so you won’t have to worry about him.”

Lan Wangji is still processing your roommate when she finally shoves open the door, and a tiny blur comes rushing out of the house and straight towards him. The thing latches onto his legs, nearly throwing him backwards. He blinks down to find a child sitting on his shoes, grinning toothily up at him.

“A-Yuan,” Wen Qing says exasperatedly. “What did we say about running at people’s legs?”

“But he didn’t fall! This gege is strong!”

“Let him go, A-Yuan. This gege is a guest, and how do we treat guests?”

The child’s face scrunches up, thinking hard. “Drink with them? Wei- gege says we keep refilling their cups until they tell us what they want!”

Wen Qing puts her palm to her face. “Come here, A-Yuan. I’m sorry, Lan Wangji, this child has been spending too much time with our resident troublemaker. I promise you, if he ever becomes too annoying, you’re free to complain. We’ll trap him in the main house if we need to.”

He wants to ask, but the child—A-Yuan—is bounding into the house again, hollering as he goes, “Wei- gege, your new playmate is here!”

They move into the house. It is all stone-tile flooring, dusty under their outdoor shoes. The walls are stone and wood, keeping the inside of the building cool from the pre-summer heat. Wen Qing is right, it is spacious within the house; the main area is sparsely furnished with mismatched wooden stools, a big square table, twin rocking chairs, and miscellaneous household items piled in the corner. He can see a bit of the kitchen around the corner, and another hallway that must connect to the rooms at the back of the house. It is spacious, but lived in.

Wen Qing goes to pull open the curtains, muttering about the dust and snacks wrappers littering the place. Lan Wangji stands in the hallway, awkward and uncertain. Before he can form a question, A-Yuan comes back into view, towing a tall, yawning man behind him. Lan Wangji looks at him, and forgets to breathe for a few seconds.

On the Youtube channel, the Yiling Laozu always wears a mask. A silvery piece with intricate markings that cover half his face, leaving his smiling mouth open and hiding his eyes in shadow. Still, Lan Wangji has watched enough videos to recognize that self-assured saunter, that loose and confident posture, that blinding smile.

This man in front of him, patting A-Yuan’s head with one hand and rubbing his eyes with the other, is him. And he is much, much more attractive than Lan Wangji could have predicted. Shoulder-length hair held up in a lazy ponytail by a red ribbon, youthful features on sunkissed skin, and the brightest, most magnetic pair of grey eyes Lan Wangji has ever seen.

“Oh,” the man says. He blinks at Lan Wangji. “Hello there. Am I still dreaming? Wen Qing, did I die and go to heaven? There’s an angel standing in my house.”

Lan Wangji can feel his ears turning red. Wen Qing rolls her eyes. She goes to scoop A-Yuan up, carrying him under her arm like a roll of bedding. The boy squeals but can do little more than wiggle his arms and legs. “What are you doing here?” she asks. “Aren’t you supposed to be helping the aunties in the orchard?”

“I was,” the man says. “But they shooed me off because my pretty face was too distracting. Besides,” the man coos, reaching out to boop A-Yuan on the nose, “someone needed to watch the baby.”

“I’m not a baby!” A-Yuan shouts. “I’m seven years old! I’m a big boy!”

“This big boy needs to go back to Granny,” Wen Qing says. She points at the man with a threatening finger. “Help him get settled in but don’t be too extra. I told him he can and should report to me if you get on his nerves.”

“Wen Qing,” the man whines. “Turning him against me already?”

“You’re a menace, he should be warned.”

She sweeps out of the house with A-Yuan waving goodbye. The door closes behind them, leaving the two of them staring at each other in silence. Lan Wangji’s fingers are clenched tight around his suitcase handle. The man runs a hand through his sleep-mussed dark curls, the movement slow and careless and terribly distracting. He smiles at Lan Wangji with the force of a small sun.

“So, you’re the famous Lan- gongzi, huh,” the man says. “What’s a city slicker like you doing in the boonies?”

Lan Wangji frowns. “Are you not also someone who moved here from the city?”

He receives a surprised blink for that. Then the man laughs, and the sound is so much more vibrant outside of a screen. “I see you know who I am, huh. Are you a fan? Did you come all the way here for an autograph?”

“No,” Lan Wangji blurts out. He takes back all his previous thoughts. This man might be breathtaking to look at but he’s quite annoying once he opens his mouth. “I have seen your videos. But I am here purely for a break from my... work.”

“Right.” The man studies him with sharp eyes, but Lan Wangji just stares back stoically. He’s been looked at like he’s a puzzle, but Lan Wangji isn’t sure what the man is seeing. He’s not sure what he wants the man to see. 

“My videos, huh. Didn’t know the Yiling Laozu was interesting to rich young masters like you.” Shrugging, the man gestures for Lan Wangji to follow. “Wen Qing was saying you’re some hotshot musician. I guess if you play some ancient instrument, it makes sense for you to come all the way out here. Be in touch with nature, be zen, and all that. I play the dizi, you know. Maybe we can duet some time.” He throws a wink over his shoulder. When Lan Wangji merely blinks at him, he faces forwards again, continuing, “Anyway, here’s your room. Mine’s the one across from yours, and the bathroom’s down the hall. You can use whatever you find and if you’re missing something, just holler. I’m usually out during the day, but I edit my videos at night. I’ll try to keep it down for you, Lan- gongzi.”

“No need,” Lan Wangji says. He pauses. “My apologies for causing you inconveniences with my stay.”

The man waves a hand, much in the same manner that Wen Qing had. “Don’t worry about it. You’re the most exciting thing that’s happened in this village since we managed to grow potatoes. Oh! I haven’t introduced myself yet. I’m Wei Ying. Though you can call me the Yiling Laozu, if you like.” His grin is just on the edge of a smirk.

Lan Wangji sighs through his nose. “Lan... Zhan,” he says, surprising himself. Since his debut, only his brother calls him by his true name, and only rarely. Wei Ying does not seem to notice the pause. 

“Okay,” Wei Ying says, his smile widening into something more genuine. “Make yourself at home, Lan Zhan.” 

Then Lan Wangji is left alone. He looks around his new room. There isn’t much to see. A wooden bed pushed against the far wall, an antique-looking closet that spans half of one wall, a small table under the window. Everything is dark mahogany and bamboo. Someone must have come through to clean as the surfaces are free of dust. The colourful quilts folded on the bed smells clean, like they have been hung out in the sun. 

Lan Wangji sets his suitcase in the corner and lays his guqin on the table. There are messages on his phone from his brother, asking after his arrival. He has to figure out where he can find a proper signal for his phone, maybe ask Wei Ying for internet access. But for now, he sits down on the bamboo mat spread across the bed, and just breathes.

Outside, the cicadas are making a cacophony. There’s a bird flitting about somewhere in the distance. Lan Wangji is a stranger to this symphony of noise, but he stays quiet and listens.

The sound of summer—of a beginning.






potatoes time lapse - the kids grow up so fast!

9382 views • May 22nd

Yiling Laozu

our village head got mad at me for buying the wrong seeds
but i can’t be the only one sick of turnips by now!
pls tip in the link below if u would like to send my potato
children to college~

121 comments SORT BY

WontonBalls I love your time lapse videos! But I wonder how long it takes for you to compile them...

pplmountainpplsea yl calling these vegetables in his garden his children makes me so happy

heiheiheh BIG MOOD hes so cute

Radish Baby i wish he would show his face for once bc i bet he really IS cute

lianhua3 Those potatoes look like they’d make delicious stir-fry!