Chapter 6 - A Hundred Beautiful Faces
The advance party’s task was to find a suitable location for construction. There were even two engineers, a geographer, and a geologist that came along. After we left the car behind we pushed on forward on foot for another two days. On the dusk of the second day, everyone set up camp. A handful of stars barely penetrated through the cloudy sky. It looked like a blizzard was going to descend.
The four engineers were all intellectuals who wore glasses. One of them was even a woman. They hadn’t yet adapted to the poor conditions of the high altitude. They coarsely took deep breaths as they laid down in their tents. Just hearing them made us worry about the state of their health.
The instructors, squad leaders, and sanitation leaders hurried to distribute medicine. They urged them to eat some food. The less food they ate, the more anaerobic they’ll feel.
The soldiers had sturdy bodies. Before they joined the team, they would train by running five kilos with all their gear on. Their ability to adapt to the environment was extremely high. By now, almost everyone had adapted to this low oxygen environment. We used specially treated charcoal to light up the campfire. The soldiers all huddled around it for warmth. They ate half warmed noodles and biscuits. Since we were so high above sea level, the water didn’t boil so we could only heat the water up partially.
Of the comrades that huddled with me, one was “Tall One” from the Heilong River area in the northeast, another was of Tibetan descent, “Gawa” and the other was around twenty six years old and a runner, “Little Lin”. The three of us gulped down our food and panted. It felt as though eating at high altitudes required much more energy. It was almost more tiring than the cross country we ran while we were on the plains.
Little Lin panted and said to me, “Brother Hu, you joined the military from the city, so you must know a lot. How about you tell us a story?”
Giant also agreed, “Yea, Old Hu, you rarely talk. How about you take on the task. Either ways, we’re gonna have to organize all of the toys that the company brought with us, so there’s no time to rest. Come, chat with us.”
Gawa wasn’t very fluent in mandarin, and he could only listen. He seemed to want to say something, but after opening and closing his mouth a few times, it seemed that he couldn’t think of what to say. In the end, he just waved his hands at me. I somewhat understood what he was saying, “Tell us, I want to hear about it too”.
I stuck out my tongue and said, “The air here is so thin. How could I have the effort to do that? Alright then, seeing as all of you want to listen, then I’ll give you guys a little. Later when the lieutenant harps on me, you guys better be helping me out.”
The reason why I said this was because the lieutenant of our team didn’t particularly like me. He had joined the military from a rural village. It took him five years of separation from his newlywed wife before he could become a small lieutenant. He especially disliked kids like me who had “entered through the backdoor”. Whenever the troop was lined up, he would always make me respond, and nitpicked on the small loopholes to let out his grievances towards me. It was practically a rule now. It was so infuriating, but there was no need to bemoan about it now.
But what should I talk about? I’ve read less than ten books total. Of them, four were the selected books from Mao Ze Dong. One was a book of quotes and the other was the dictionary. “Red Day” was one book, and the “Youth in the Military” was another. But they had all read those before. To top it off, they probably wouldn’t understand the “Mysteries of Feng Shui” book either.
I racked my brains for a story. Finally, I thought of the book that I had borrowed while I had stayed in the village. It was the manuscript for a popular legend at the time. The manuscript was told from the perspective of the Plum Blossom Sect and added quite a few strange anecdotes that happened in the society at the time. It was the story of a beautiful woman with a hundred human faces. That one had left a strong impression on me.
This story begins on a train that choo choo-ing towards Nanjing. Zhao Ping Ping, a female university student, sat on this very train. Across from her was a handsome young officer from the People’s Liberation Army. The two inadvertently stuck up a conversation. Zhao Ping Ping was head over heels from this officer’s elegance and poise. In this conversation, it was even mentioned that his family was well off and that he had gone through higher education. Zhao Ping Ping was starting to imagine marrying him. Before they knew it, the train had arrived at the Nanjing station. The officer invited Zhao Ping Ping to a restaurant near the station for lunch. After they finished eating, the officer stepped outside to make a phone call. When he came back, he was holding a letter. He had some urgent business to attend to back in the army and he asked that Zhao Ping Ping help him send it to his house in Nanjing. Zhao Ping Ping agreed without hesitation. The two reluctantly parted ways.
The next day, Zhao Ping Ping went to the officers house to send the letter. She was greeted by an old couple. The old woman took the letter and read it once. Afterwards, she kindly invited Zhao Ping Ping into her house. She even poured out a cup of tea for her. After a few sips of tea, Zhao Ping Ping started to chat with the old lady, but she suddenly felt her head spin. She fainted onto the ground. A bucket of piercingly cold water splashed Zhao Ping Ping awake. When she woke up, she realized that she was naked and strapped to a wooden post. Human skin hung from the walls around her. Several people were standing in a circle around the post. It was the old lady and a buff manservant. She held out the letter for Zhao Ping Ping to read. There was only one sentence on that letter, “I’ve sent you the hundredth pretty face. Please accept it.” The old lady coldly smiled and said, “Now that you’re on your deathbed, I want you to understand why. We’re all undercover special agents. We’re skinning women to fill them with explosives. We have to prepare a hundred skins and today, we finally have enough.” As she said that, she pulled out a thick blade from her manservants hands and let him skin Zhao Ping Ping alive. That blade was specially made for skinning people. The second he sliced the blade onto Zhao Ping Ping’s head, she screamed…
Right as I had reached the climax of the story, I was interrupted by the second squad leader, “Stop it already, no more. Hu Ba Yi, you’re making up some more bullsh*t again. We’re holding a meeting with all of the squad leaders. Don’t you like talking a lot? This time, how about we let you lead the meeting?”