Dong shen, idolising Tao Xiaodong, lit.
Tao Xiaodong’s trip spanned over a month, and the weather had cooled by the time he returned.
Those at the store said that Dong ge was too free-spirited, coming and going as the winds blew, and Da Huang boisterously said to let him be.
After coming back, he settled down for a long period, getting to work.
He’d arrive at the store punctually at eight every morning and stay until the sky turned dark, occasionally even working after hours to plough through another tattoo.
With a single shake, the ever-irresponsible boss suddenly transformed into the gold standard.
Some day near the end of November, the young nurse that he had made concessions for during the last medical mission trip dropped in with her boyfriend.
Tao Xiaodong was unable to recognise her out of her nurse uniform.
The young lady stood right before him and called, “Director Tao!”
That then jogged his memory.
He welcomed her.
Her boyfriend, who seemed to be schooling still, did appear to be Tao Xiaodong’s die-hard fan; he was spazzing out at the sight of him.
Tao Xiaodong asked, “Is it your birthday today”
“Tomorrow!” The boy was rattled to see his idol.
“But the booking is for today.”
“That works.” Tao Xiaodong chatted with him, and as the boy went on, he kept gushing “you’re so cool, Dong shen” every other sentence.
When it came to tattooing, Tao Xiaodong could receive praises with good grace, remaining unabashed by them.
He glanced askance at the little nurse missy, jokingly asking her, “Your boyfriend is saying that he likes someone else right in front of you, aren’t you going to do anything about it”
“I don’t care, it’s up to him who he likes.” She waved it off.
“I also do the same, we don’t get in each other’s way.”
Next to them, a young employee doing the prep work laughed.
He was mute; he could hear but he couldn’t speak, and his laughter was soundless, too.
“Pretty open, I see.” Tao Xiaodong picked up his machine, remarking.
The boy had requested for a skull tattoo, but especially said that the design didn’t have to be settled in advance; he wanted to let Dong shen free-hand it.
Tao Xiaodong roughly described the design concept, while the boy kept bobbing his head without a single objection.
“Director Tao, you don’t have to run anything by him.
He’s your fanboy, whatever you say goes.
Just get down to it and it’ll be done,” said the nurse.
“Yeah.” The boy agreed with alacrity.
The young mute laughed from the byline.
Tao Xiaodong had many fanboys, but the one today was a lost cause.
Tao Xiaodong smiled and said, “I’ll stop asking then, just don’t complain to me when I’m done.”
“No way that’ll happen.”
Tao Xiaodong didn’t use numbing creams when tattooing his clients.
In his words, what did this little bit of pain count for if you really wanted a tattoo
The boy had rather high pain tolerance, not making much noise at all.
As time wore on, the prolonged pain gradually caused sweat to bead his forehead.
In spite of all her jokes, the young nurse was still concerned for her boyfriend, and she started to engage him in conversation.
The boy’s posture was ramrod straight.
Tao Xiaodong asked him, “It hurts, right”
“Relax your muscles.” Tao Xiaodong tapped his shoulder.
“Don’t tense up.”
“He’s probably too charged up from finally getting to see and be tattooed by his idol,” said the young nurse.
Her boyfriend glanced at her, laughing.
“Crazy jealous.” She pouted.
“I even got told off by my idol a few days ago.”
“Who’s your idol” Tao Xiaodong casually asked.
“Your friend,” the boy answered in her place, “Their Consultant Tang.”
Tao Xiaodong’s hands paused.
Surprised, he turned his head, looking at the girl.
“He’s the eye candy of our hospital, everyone likes him.” The young nurse was even puffed with pride.
At the mention of Tang Suoyan, she suddenly remembered, saying to Tao Xiaodong, “Oh, right.
I told him when I clocked off in the morning that I was coming over to your parlour today.
He said to say hi for him.”
Upon hearing this, Tao Xiaodong simply smiled without saying much else.
After they left, he texted Tang Suoyan: Did you delete my number
Seeing this after work confused Tang Suoyan, who replied: What
Tao Xiaodong: Oh You didn’t Then why are you getting someone else to pass along your regards
At his joke, Tang Suoyan directly sent a voice message over, his amusement audible.
“It’s been so long since our last contact that I couldn’t find the chat.
I almost forgot your name.”
And so Tao Xiaodong said, “Shall we meet up, then”
It was indeed some time since they last saw each other.
Come to think of it, they had only met up once since coming back from Gansu, the one time that they had bumped into Tong Ning.
They hadn’t seen each other since; Tao Xiaodong travelled out of the city, and they just never had the opportunity.
Though out of contact for a while, their brief exchange wasn’t awkward.
It still had the same familiar rhythm from before.
Tao Xiaodong asked, “Shall we find a weekend when you’re free to grab lunch”
Tang Suoyan considered it.
“I’ll be away on business this weekend.
Let’s do next week.”
Tao Xiaodong replied sure.
This verbal appointment wasn’t set in stone.
They both had busy schedules; it was hard to say if anything would crop up between now and then.
During this period, Xia Yuan had looked for Tao Xiaodong twice, but he wasn’t really in the mood for it and brushed away the invites.
Being a businessman, Xia Yuan was accustomed to discussing business over drinks, and as such he was always out entertaining people and attending social engagements.
While he did rake in the big bucks, he would still vent a bit when drunk.
In life, no one had it easy.
Business talks couldn’t be done on the lonesome.
Xia Yuan would host a few gatherings, inviting some mutual and non-mutual acquaintances to sit together, livening up the table.
That way, they could freely talk about anything and everything, and the atmosphere wouldn’t seem so stiff.
As a reputable and trendy tattoo artist, Tao Xiaodong was an easy conversationalist.
Therefore, Xia Yuan often came to him, and he would join when free as a small favour.
Xia Yuan had already made it back when Tao Xiaodong was still hard up, and Tao Xiaodong never forgot the favours the other had done for him.
Besides, friends didn’t fuss over stuff like that; counting every last thing down to the penny would make them seem like strangers instead.
Today, however, it actually wasn’t about business.
He was just used to inviting Tao Xiaodong along all the time.
They were brothers for life; it had been too long since they last caught up.
It was a gathering of former coursemates this time.
Xia Yuan’s work was inextricably linked to healthcare, so he still had to upkeep relations with these school alumni even if he wasn’t doing business with them.
There were around twenty people in the room, mostly from medical school; Xia Yuan, Tian Yi, and Tong Ning were among them.
Tao Xiaodong and Tong Ning met again on such an occasion.
Their first meeting was also under similar circumstances, and Tao Xiaodong had even intercepted drinks for him.
They both greeted each other naturally during this night out, going through the usual niceties.
In fact, Tong Ning stood apart even from this crowd.
Despite graduating from the same school, with many in attendance being doctors as well, he could still be picked out at a glance.
Watching him through the crowd, Tao Xiaodong concluded that Tong Ning just had this different air about him.
Tao Xiaodong knew almost everyone at the table, but there were still a few unfamiliar faces.
Two of them had just transferred back from other regions to undertake training programmes, hoping to pull some connections through this to be offered a job.
One happened to go to San Hospital’s Ophthalmology Department.
He had been with the glaucoma subspecialty for half a year now.
He was trying to be converted into a full-time staff, but never found an open channel.
“You’re out of luck, San Hospital hasn’t taken in outsiders for years now.” Someone said from the side, “They’re cherry-picking straight from the doctorates at med school now—all trained by their own people, so they get preferential treatment.
They go in and rotate for three years, and by then they’d be slightly over thirty, which is also around our age.”
“Who here hasn’t graduated from med school” Someone else sighed.
“I didn’t apply for Er Hospital and San Hospital back then because of how harsh the working environment was and went to a small place instead.
Now I can’t look back even if I want to.”
A handful here had studied ophthalmology but since scattered to different hospitals.
There really were none from San Hospital.
One of them suddenly recalled with a “huh”, asking, “San Hospital Isn’t that where Tang Suoyan is He’s our direct senior.”
Tao Xiaodong lounged on his seat drinking water as he listened to them chat.
Hearing this, the person who was undergoing a trainee pathway at San Hospital snorted, even with an incredulous look plastered on his face.
“Senior Only in name, other than that it’s no help at all.”
Now, that was obviously a loaded statement.
Xia Yuan glanced at Tong Ning; Tian Yi glanced at Tong Ning, too.
While there weren’t many at this table who knew of the relationship between Tang Suoyan and Tong Ning, there were still some.
Perceiving that the conversation was going awry, they tactfully started to talk about something else instead.
In this world, there existed some quicker on the uptake, and naturally then there also existed those on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Unaware that there were people present who had a more-than-ordinary relationship with Tang Suoyan, the subject that had been diverted away by others was routed back around.
“Did you try asking Tang Suoyan’s words carry weight in San Hospital.
He’ll be the big boss of the department once Xu lao retires, in fact, he’s pretty much it already.”
“Sure, his words count.” The trainee doctor laughed spitefully.
“But people like us are beneath his notice in the first place.
Any status or connection is irrelevant; when I call him senior, he doesn’t even spare me a glance.”
“So full of himself” This uninvolved somebody was quite keen on gathering gossip.
“If you ask me, leaving aside Xu lao, everyone else is beneath him.
Full of himself Hah, you be the judge, I dare not.”
Tao Xiaodong expressionlessly drank water through it all.
When his cup was empty, he topped it up.
Tian Yi made eye contact with him, not appearing all that happy.
Tao Xiaodong remained composed, and his lowered gaze only lifted once after some time to look at Tong Ning—his expression was slightly chilly, but he didn’t speak up either.
When others were spitting vitriol at such a venue, at the end of the day, it was just that.
Anyone who did take it up with them would instead seem to be the one kicking up a fuss, and it would be awkward all around the table.
Tao Xiaodong took gulp after gulp in succession, and his gaze dropped back down after shooting a look at Tong Ning.
“But even if he’s full of it he does have the stuff to back it up.
The accomplishments to his name can go on for miles,” someone said.
The insensitive dullard might have had too much to drink, immediately countering, “No thanks to Xu lao for taking him under his wing.
With everything basically spoonfed to him, how can he not gobble it up”
Tian Yi clicked his tongue.
“Accomplishments What accomplishments” That person scoffed.
“When it comes to the papers that he has authored, it’s as clean as a whistle—”
Before he could finish his words, there was abruptly a resonant clang on the table followed by an echoing clatter.
Tao Xiaodong had toppled a teapot right onto the vase in the middle of the table, scattering ceramic shards all over the glass table.
“I’ve been bearing with you for ages now.” Tao Xiaodong slowly got to his feet, his palm clasped around his cup, staring straight at that guy.
“In the future, when you get drunk and want to wag your tongue, look around first to see if anyone at the table doesn’t want to hear it.
Today, tough luck. I don’t want to hear it.”
Tao Xiaodong couldn’t be damned to check how the others reacted.
He didn’t look at anyone else, speaking directly to that guy, “The Tang Suoyan that you’re talking about is my friend.
Your prattle is a nuisance to my ears, I won’t stand for any of it.”
“This is the very first time when out for drinks that I’ve made such a scene.
My apologies to all.” Tao Xiaodong drained the remaining half-glass of water in his hand, then flung the cup aside.
He looked the other in the eye and said, “But if you utter another word about Tang Suoyan, then it’s really going to get ugly.”
With that, Tao Xiaodong turned on his heel and left.