In a daze, Jiang Xiao smelled the aroma of roasted chestnuts.
He seemed to be fast asleep in the darkness, but he was suddenly yanked into consciousness by a sweet-smelling fragrance which drilled into his nose.
Then he heard someone hawking something, one shout after another.
A loudspeaker was playing a recorded sales pitch on repeat.
It was sharp and attention-grabbing.
“Chestnuts here, roasted chestnuts! Sweet and fragrant, cheap and delicious, five yuan1 a catty2!”
At first Jiang Xiao’s brain was in chaos, but when he heard the high-pitched calls he slowly regained some sense.
His first thought was where on Earth could anyone buy sweet chestnuts for just five yuan a catty?
Ahh, that sounds so good.
And the sales jingle he was listening to was both familiar and nostalgic, because it was in the local dialect of Houlin County, his hometown, a small county in central China.
After he dropped out of school at sixteen and left to work in the coastal city of Liujiang, he’d never returned, much less heard anyone selling merchandise in that dialect.
His head was dizzy, and the roasted chestnut sales pitch together with other street sounds poured into his brain.
Jiang Xiao was so annoyed that he covered his ears with his hands and tried to force open his eyes.
While he did his best to wake up, his other senses gradually returned.
The mattress under his body was hard and rigid.
He sensed that he was resting on a cushion layered over a wooden bed board.
To keep it from getting too stuffy, the pad wasn’t very thick.
It didn’t compare to the expensive, ultra-soft, luxury brand mattress in Xingfushu Private Hospital.
Next to his bed was a desk, which was a bit of a mess.
Piles of foreign language and mathematics textbooks and blank test papers were heaped on it.
A ballpoint pen hung partly off the desk, ready to roll off.
Just beyond the desk, an upright electric fan slowly rotated to direct air towards the bed.
In the corner against the wall was a wooden wardrobe with a red jersey hanging crookedly from the topmost handle.
A few good student awards were on the wall, but they looked a little old and dusty.
The room wasn’t very large and there were only a few furnishings, but as Jiang Xiao gazed at everything his face took on an expression of indescribable shock.
He knew exactly where he was.
This was his room.
It was his room in junior high school.
How could that be possible?
As Jiang Xiao struggled to sit up, feeling very lightheaded, he happened to glance down at his hands, which were immature and not fully grown.
Then he got out of bed to look around and saw his current appearance in the mirror.
His brain was as wide awake as anyone’s could be.
This was indeed what he looked like during his younger teenage years.
In junior high school, Jiang Xiao was already 1.75 meters tall.
He stopped growing at sixteen, having added only four or five more centimeters, with a final height of about one meter eight.
Right now his face was very boyish.
Because he’d just woken up, his hair was like a chicken nest.
His eyes were wide with surprise and his slightly open mouth revealed two pointed tiger teeth.
Everything about him resembled a teenager full of youth.
Jiang Xiao, who was both familiar and unfamiliar with his young face, jumped in place, then pinched his cheeks with his hands.
He wasn’t dreaming.
His height wasn’t the point, the point was… he was actually reborn?
He had so many regrets when he died.
He wished more than anything he could do it all again, but he never thought God would actually give him the chance!
Jiang Xiao was still frozen in front of the mirror when someone knocked on the door of his room and called his childhood nickname.
“NianNian, NianNian, are you up? It’s time for breakfast.”
It was his mom’s voice.
It was the sound of this voice which truly made Jiang Xiao believe he’d gone back in time.
There was a calendar on the desk which showed the year was 2002.
He was now just fifteen years old, in his third year at Houlin No.
3 Junior High.
Jiang Xiao put the calendar aside and wiped his face vigorously with his hands.
His face showed a complex expression of pain mixed with happiness.
He’d been reborn in the most fortunate period he could imagine.
It could be called the biggest turning point in his life.
Jiang Xiao’s father was a long-distance truck driver.
He was a hard-working man with a short temper who wasn’t to be messed with.
Jiang Xiao’s mother was an accountant in a company and had a gentle personality.
At first glance the two people might seem mismatched, but in fact they made up for each other’s differences and were well-suited.
When two people loved one another and sincerely considered their partner’s needs, what might look incompatible on the surface really didn’t matter.
Jiang Xiao had grown up in a happy family.
Although his father was often absent, whenever he came back he brought a lot of gifts.
In this era, big truck drivers were paid a lot.
When Jiang Xiao was little he had expensive toys, and when he got a little older he had brand name sneakers and jerseys.
His mother always had a smile on her face, as if she never got angry, and his parents worked hard together to maintain the family home.
Their family wasn’t rich but they were comfortable, and they were never short of anything Jiang Xiao needed.
He grew up spoiled by his family until his father’s death half a year ago.
He was in a car accident and couldn’t be saved.
His father’s work unit paid out a pension, and his mother was still working.
They had enough income to support two people.
But his mother couldn’t stand the shock.
Her whole body wasn’t in good health and she became depressed.
After Jiang Xiao’s father passed away, the quarrelsome relatives on that side pressured his mother over and over for money.
She was soft-hearted, and Jiang Xiao was still young, so most of the pension was squandered.
If Jiang Xiao hadn’t noticed in time and blown up about it, the small remaining portion would have been lost too.
But the family had experienced a dramatic change, and Jiang Xiao was only fourteen years old.
He couldn’t control his emotions.
He had nightmares for more than a year, and he was in the middle of puberty.
He struck out at everything, not just outside but inside.
The first change was that he lost interest in school.
His grades plummeted.
His mother couldn’t accept it, but she wasn’t able to control him.
Jiang Xiao, who previously was a model student and ranked in the top three of his grade, fell all the way to the bottom.
The educational resources in Houlin County were average at best.
There was only one good public high school in the county, Houlin No.
1 Senior High, but on the day of the high school entrance examination, Jiang Xiao slipped out to play games and missed some of the tests.
When the results came out, forget about getting into the best high school, he also failed to get into the county’s ordinary high schools.
He could only go to the private high school in the south of the city.
It was a school that was happy to report good news for its students year after year.
There Jiang Xiao got mixed up with a group of friends who weren’t motivated.
His scores got worse and worse.
His mother was concerned about him, but she herself was in extreme pain.
Her son’s degeneration was like a knife twisting in her heart.
She didn’t know how many times she exhausted herself dragging Jiang Xiao out of a small Internet café, arguing with him until she cried.
It was only when her body couldn’t support her anymore that Jiang Xiao woke up.
The incident when his mother collapsed in a hospital bed was a shock.
Jiang Xiao finally awakened from the muddle of the last two or three years.
He emptied out all the money in the family to treat her illness, but in the end, she couldn’t be saved.
He had no money for school and he didn’t want to stay in that high school anymore.
He left his hometown of Houlin with nothing more than his backpack.
He went to work in Liujiang City without daring to look back.
This period of turmoil in junior and senior high was the most immature and chaotic period of his life.
He regretted so many things.
Perhaps because he lost so much back then, when he later met a person he liked and cherished, he held on and refused to let go.
Now he was reborn right in the middle of this time, fifteen years old, in the third year of junior high school.
Looking at the calendar, today was the first day of the new semester.
His dad couldn’t come back, but his mom was still alive.
He had the chance to change his grades and do well in the high school exam.
He had time to truly make up for the regrets of his past life.
Maybe because there was no reply for a long time, the voice outside called again.
“NianNian, you have to get out of bed.
You’ll be really late for school.”
NianNian was his nickname.
He and his mother didn’t fight every minute.
His mother was gentle by nature and spoke softly to him most of the time.
“… I’m coming,” Jiang Xiao spoke his first words after being reborn, but his voice was a bit hoarse.
“Give me a minute.”
He found the blue and white school uniform on the hanger.
The school uniform in China didn’t have much shape or style.
Students were always disgusted with it and called it ugly.
But when Jiang Xiao put on the school uniform, he thought it was comfortable and good-looking.
As he touched this treasured collar he felt impossibly fortunate and happy.
But with his height, good face, broad shoulders, and long legs, he really did look different from other students in the same uniform.
The old house with three bedrooms and two common rooms had appeared before him after a long absence.
He had a wordless feeling that this place was impossibly far away from the small, luxurious villa he bought later on, but the small house still felt like home.
His mother was diligent and kept everything tidy, so the house felt lively and warm.
The green onion noodles in the kitchen smelled flavorful and delicious.
When Jiang Xiao was brushing his teeth he smelled fried eggs.
He still remembered his mother’s recipe, which tasted better than any of the eggs he’d eaten later.
He smoothed his feather duster hair, washed his face with a towel, and wiped away the tears in his eyes with cold water.
The chaos in his head had disappeared, leaving him totally awake.
I’m starting over, Jiang Xiao thought.
He smiled in the mirror.
By the time he was done cleaning up, his mother had already put breakfast on the table.
Her eyes still looked a little swollen.
She glanced at Jiang Xiao, then lowered her head.
Jiang Xiao guessed that it was because they’d argued again last night.
Jiang Xiao sat across from her, picked up his chopsticks, and said, “I’m sorry.”
His mother was visibly stunned.
She’d been a beautiful woman when she was young, and she had a pretty name, too, Xia WanWan.
When she was first married, her husband spoiled her, and when she gave birth to a child she still resembled a young girl.
Jiang Xiao remembered how his mother looked back then, wearing a beautiful skirt that no one else in their small town had.
When she went out, the whole street was watching her.
But now she’d been worn down by life and had no motivation to dress up.
In just a year or so, she’d lost her radiance.
“Mom, I’m sorry,” Jiang Xiao said earnestly.
His nose was a little sore.
“I should have said this earlier.
I shouldn’t have argued with you yesterday and made you angry.”
He made this apology ten years too late.
“… It doesn’t matter.” His mother smiled.
“It’s such a little thing I already forgot about it.
Hurry up and eat or you’ll be late for school.”
She urged Jiang Xiao and watched him bow his head to devour a bowl of noodles, thinking he was particularly well-behaved today.
When Jiang Xiao left for school, she slipped him twenty yuan.
In those days, twenty yuan was a lot of money for a junior high student.
Even though his father’s income was gone, his mother didn’t short him anything, and when she stuffed the money into his hand she added in a kind voice, “Buy something delicious outside.
You’re a good boy, don’t wrong yourself.”
Jiang Xiao’s eyes were stinging.
He couldn’t help but give her a hug.
This was the woman who cared about him most.
He couldn’t count how many times she’d told him before she died, “Don’t wrong yourself,” but she never knew how much her beloved child had suffered when he was on his own.
“I made you worry before.
I won’t do that anymore.” Jiang Xiao sniffled his nose.
“I’ll study hard at school.”
His mom was surprised when she heard this sudden promise, but it still made her happy.
She touched Jiang Xiao’s hair, not knowing why her son’s appearance had changed this morning.
Jiang Xiao didn’t say anything further.
He was afraid if he told her about his rebirth, she wouldn’t understand and it would make her worry more.
He wanted to tell her—you don’t have to worry in the future, Father may be gone but we still have each other, and you can rely on me.
But rather than say a bunch of empty words, he wanted to prove with actions how much he’d changed.
At least show her that his grades had improved.
He dutifully went to school with his school bag on his back.
It had been a long time, but Jiang Xiao still remembered the road to Houlin No.
3 Junior High.
It wasn’t far from home, only a five minute walk away.
Jiang Xiao was confused when he woke up, so he forgot to wear his watch.
When he was close to the school entrance he heard the bells ringing.
It had been a long time since he’d been a student, so he didn’t react.
His eyes kept looking at his surroundings.
The breakfast stall, the stationery shop next to the school gate, everything was dazzling.
It felt both real and unreal.
Just then, a wind struck behind him, grabbed Jiang Xiao’s collar and ran forward.
“Xiao Ge3, don’t just stand there, run! Don’t you hear the bell?” A boy came running up behind him.
He was about the same height, with a shaved flat head that made him look like a hedgehog, and he was holding a crepe4 in his hand and doing his best to stuff it into his mouth.
“Today’s the first day of school and the teaching director will be at the gate.
That bastard’s fierce, we can’t afford to mess with him.
If we’re late it’s over!”
Jiang Xiao was caught off guard.
He was yanked forward by the boy, stepping inside the school grounds just as the bell chime ended.
When he walked through the gate, the boy beside him relaxed and cheerfully ate the last mouthful of the savory crepe5 under the glaring eyes of the bald teaching director.
The boy was called Ye YingYing, and Jiang Xiao had a deep memory of him.
This was his junior high deskmate.
He also hated to study, but his family had some money.
In his last life, when they were about thirty, the two met again by chance.
By that time Ye YingYing was an ordinary office worker who ran into Jiang Xiao while in Liujiang on business.
The two people ate barbecue in a street stall.
The other man was full of bitterness, his whole face was exhausted, and he looked nothing like his teenage self.
Today’s version of his deskmate was going through an exuberant chuunibyou phase6, both silly and brilliant.
His school uniform was anything but proper, with the collar turned up to make it look cool and a wolf’s tooth pendant on his neck.
When Ye YingYing turned around, Jiang Xiao saw even more embellishment on his uniform.
The large white area on his back was painted with a winged demon wearing a crown.
In all fairness, it was a really good drawing if you ignored the seven giant words written above and below it:
Over Earth And Sky I Reign Supreme.
If you looked closely, you could find similar words written in smaller lettering on the sleeves for decoration, probably added when he was seized by inspiration.
For example, there were dramatic phrases like “I’ll Never Learn To Love” and “Watch As I Destroy The World”, which were incompatible with socialist core values, and others like, “Ah, to live with passion in this ruthless world!” Jiang Xiao almost couldn’t bear to read them.
After all, he was a man in his thirties.
When exposed to such a serious case of middle schooler disease he couldn’t immediately adapt.
But as he continued to look, he saw four flowery words written on Ye YingYing’s collar.
After careful scrutiny he was able to decipher them: “Born To Be Young”.
Born to be young.
Well, I hope so.
While he was observing Ye YingYing, Ye YingYing was also observing him.
He felt dissatisfied with the straight and narrow way Jiang Xiao was wearing his school uniform today.
He grabbed Jiang Xiao’s collar and forced it to stand up just like his own, because it looked so much cooler that way.
He gazed at Jiang Xiao’s plain school uniform with regret and said, “Your mom bleached it all, huh? Look at you, so serious and grim.
Don’t worry, I’ll draw another one for you today.
Something super cool.”
“No, no, you don’t have to,” Jiang Xiao came back from his daze and politely refused three times.
He folded his collar down.
“I don’t need anything, really, you don’t have to bother.”
Only then did he notice that his school uniform’s color was a little pale.
If you looked at it carefully you could still see a trace of the previous design.
In his third year of junior high he’d been infected with chuunibyou energy and wanted to destroy the world.
He and Ye YingYing weren’t even on the same level.
Jiang Xiao didn’t return to normal until he was beaten down by life.
Thankfully, Mom bleached his school uniform.
Otherwise he would have been too embarrassed to leave the house today.
Ye YingYing looked at him strangely.
He thought Jiang Xiao was acting really weird.
If he had to put it into words, he’d say this person was different from before.
He seemed kind of dispirited or sad.
In the next class, Jiang Xiao was even creepier.
He was actually listening carefully to the lecture! Did Jiang Xiao leave his brain at the door?!
“I reign supreme” – adapted from 唯我独尊 – puffed up with pride, exalting oneself, extremely conceited, overlordship, supremacy over all, the noblest and the greatest, supreme arrogance
“Born to be young” – adapted from 年少可期 – youthful as promised, young and promising, young as expected
Transliterated names, titles, and places—new in this chapter:
Houlin County – 厚林县
NianNian – 年年 – MC’s childhood nickname
Xia WanWan – 夏婉婉 – MC’s mother
Ye YingYing – 叶影影 – MC’s middle school 3rd year deskmate
yuan – the basic monetary unit of China.
1 yuan = 10 jiao = 100 fen.
In 2002, 1 USD was worth about 8 yuan. catty – a traditional Chinese unit of mass also known as a jin.
In modern mainland China, 1 catty = 500 grams = 10 taels. Xiao Ge – 宵哥 – Older Brother Xiao, Brother Xiao.
Ge is how you address a male who’s older than you but of the same generation crepe – 煎饼 – jiānbing – a thin pancake made of millet flour, mung bean flour, etc. savory crepe – 煎饼果子 – jiānbing guǒzi – a savory Chinese crepe, may be served with green onions, fried dough sticks, sweet bean sauce, chili sauce, pork, sweet potatoes, etc. chuunibyou – “middle school second year syndrome”, “eighth-grader syndrome”.
This Japanese slang term describes early teens who have grandiose delusions, desperately want to stand out, and have convinced themselves they have hidden knowledge of secret powers (Wikipedia).
The Mandarin version is “中二病” “zhōng èr bìng”, “middle two disease”, or “zhōng èr” for short.
The Japanese term has an English Wikipedia entry and an Urban Dictionary entry, so I used it instead of keeping the Chinese, which fewer English speakers are likely to understand and doesn’t lead to a definition when googled.
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