Tiny Times 2.0 is the second in the Tiny Times series by Guo Jingming and depicts the lives of four best friends as they face drastic changes that come with entering the real world. Will their friendship last?
The incredibly popular Tiny Times series has been compared to Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada, while also facing criticism for for being superficial and promoting materialism.
I was first attracted to this book because of the cast in the movie version. How can one not watch it when there are so many pretty faces like Kai Ko, Amber Kuo and Guo Biting? Not forgetting the funny Xie Yilin.
Tiny Times 2.0
It seems that in the final months of 2008, the newspapers and magazines have only two front page covers. The first captures Obama’s distinctive features and the seemingly determined, or perhaps distressed, look in his eyes. It is the first time a black man has become president of the United States. The second is the economic crisis. The impact of this crisis has been like a tsunami. Its unpredictable waves sweep everything in its way, spreading from the financial centre of the world, New York City. The whole world is being overturned and what remains are the muddy bubbles of the white ocean.
The same applies to Shanghai.
All the newspapers, regardless of language, revolve around these topics. Flip through any book and you’ll find the same thing—either Obama’s dark complexion or Washington’s depressive atmosphere. The only difference in the eyes of the US citizens is that the former represents “hope” while the latter represents “despair.” Of course, Obama’s detractors might think otherwise.
But like a tsunami, no matter how high the waves, there is always a flood wall to protect the people. Now, China has become a safe haven for businessmen, flocking to the sanctuary of Shanghai, shining as its brightest beacon.
Despite the crisis, the Lu family continues to lead a lavish lifestyle, not even slightly affected. They anticipate the day when Shanghai will finally become a flourishing financial hub that will release them from the dullness of life. The thudding of their heartbeats pulses like the strength of Shanghai’s economy.
Three-hundred and sixty million renminbi was used to build Hongqiao International Airport, one of the most connected and complex transport networks, bridging Shanghai to the world. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Nine-billion RMB is being pumped in by the government to beat the economic crisis. To quote a tabloid: “A rain of 9 billion RMB in coins would shower Shanghai continuously for 128 days.”
Maybe that’s why, when Nan Xiang and I came back to Shanghai, we did not detect any major changes. Or maybe it’s because we had only left for ten days. Or maybe it’s because the Shanghai that I saw was still a land shrouded in darkness by a giant black octopus, its slippery, black tentacles reaching to every small corner of the city.
The bustle and commotion of this city seems to be its lifeblood.
As if nothing had happened, Nan Xiang, Gu Li, Tang Wanru and I continue to snuggle intimately in our living room. The only change is that this room is now in a high-end bungalow, rather than the familiar room of our hostel.
Gu Li still drinks her Rwandan roasted coffee as she pages through the Business Times. Occasionally, she reaches for her red pen and scribbles on the newspaper. Her facial expression, somber, is like that of my old primary school teacher when she corrected our homework. After a few sips, she frowns at her coffee and abandons it on the table. “Nan Xiang, this tastes worse than the Chinese medicine you had before! Rwanda? Do the people there have problems with taste? Are their taste buds constantly producing honey? This is so bitter that even Xiaobaicai would die from its bitterness.” She looks at the packet of Rwandan coffee beans with disdain. She had bought that coffee from the biggest foreign department store on West Nanjing Road, and it tasted like shit.
She seems to have forgotten how excitedly she had left the department store, beaming with pride, after buying it. She looks up and gestures with her hand. “Lucy, throw this away,” she says.
After getting no response for a while, she again looks up and raises an eyebrow at Tang Wanru. “Lucy, I’m calling you!”
Nan Xiang tucks her hair behind her ear, looking at Gu Li in surprise. “Doesn’t Tang Wanru always call herself Ruby? Since when did she change her name to the same name as your maid? And, Gu Li jiejie, it’s only a cup of coffee. Please let the Rwandan people off.”
After using all her energy squeezing into a tight-fitting black dress, Tang Wanru faintly stands next to Nan Xiang. Tang Wanru has always been filled with a sense of justice. Every time Gu Li bullies me or Nan Xiang, she always speaks up for us. She crosses her legs and slowly takes a seat next to Nan Xiang (and in doing so, tries to impersonate the rich ladies she saw on TV, but fails and loses her balance while attempting to catwalk like them). But Tang Wanru, with her never-say-die attitude, is always calm in any situation. Right now, for instance. Even after falling so unglamourously, she still remains in the same position, and still holds onto Nan Xiang’s hands affectionately. Sympathetically, she says, “Don’t tell me your aunt is Rwandan? No wonder! I always felt that her complexion was…. How should I put it? Aiya, I’m a straightforward person, so don’t be offended, but I’ve always felt that your aunt’s complexion is way too dark.” After finishing her sentence, she points at the magazine in Gu Li’s hand and sighs. “She’s so dark, she could almost beat Obama. Really. No joke.”
Nan Xiang rubs her temple and sits next to me. She takes the champagne on the side table and pours herself a glass. Immediately, her face becomes as red as mine. I glance at Tang Wanru lying awkwardly on the sofa, and then shift my glance to Gu Li in her red Prada sweater. I start to giggle.
Nan Xiang and Gu Li notice my laughter, look over at my red-blushed face and sigh in unison. For her part, Tang Wanru is staring blankly at the corner of the room. No one knows what she’s thinking. To tell the truth, none of us can really keep up with the pace of her rapid, quirky kind of thinking.
I look at Nan Xiang, who is sitting beside me, and Gu Li. Both of them look so beautiful, blossoming in their youth like the sweet, charming scent of two delicate flowers. And Tang Wanru; she is full of life and vigour. She’s more like a cycad,silently growing stronger and steadier under the bright sunlight. As for me, I’m just a girl who has just woken up with messy hair and dark circles. I’m a pile of straw blown by the harsh winter wind.
Yes. These three girls are my best buddies.
If you really know us, you’ll know that the person in front of me wearing a Chanel hairpin on her head is Gu Li. I love her, and yet, I’m also afraid of her. She’s like a giant, solar-powered computer. During her three years at university, she obtained two degrees, got straight A-pluses, and became the top student in her faculty. When the dean of school handed her her scholarship, rewarding her for her outstanding achievements (first class honours), she roughly counted the money and said, excitedly, “Oh, that’s quite a lot. I can use this money to buy Lucy a slightly better pair of shoes.” Then she dumped the envelope filled with money into her Longchamp handbag. At that moment, I was convinced that Gu Li, standing under the glaring spotlight, was the spitting image of the advertisement of Kate Moss. Elegant, fierce, a black swan whose words are always acerbic and never forgiving. This applies especially to Gu Li, the supercomputer who spits out harsh comments every second of every minute. For instance, just this month, she spent ten minutes reprimanding a 40-year old co-worker and made the six-foot tall man bawl like a baby in the lobby. The entire time, she didn’t even swear once, but still managed to make him cry. In the end, she felt sorry for him and knelt down to give him her handkerchief, wiping away his tears. She cradled his head gently and whispered into his ear, “If you want to cry, go home and cry. People are still working here. Be good. Don’t act like a crazy man anymore. How old are you now?” Her eyes twinkled with an affectionate warmth as she spoke to him.
Standing beside Gu Li is Nan Xiang in a long, black coat from H&M. Nan Xiang’s lustrous, soft, black hair, mesmerising eyes, and her fair complexion glowing with hues of pink, exudes a natural beauty. Her face is always shrouded in a thin layer of mist, making her attractive at every moment. Her slender collarbones, long eyelashes, and soft, pink, pudding-like lips make her seem like a white camellia grown in a secluded valley; clean and pure, like the camellia pinned through her hair. The difference between her camellia and Gu Li’s jewelled Chanel hairpin is that Nan Xiang is wearing a real flower, filled with a refreshing scent. Nan Xiang’s flower can be easily damaged and will fade away with time, whereas Gu Li’s hairpin will last forever. Yeah, that’s their biggest difference. My feelings for Nan Xiang aren’t like the respect and admiration I have for Gu Li. Instead, there is something more—closeness and intimacy. Throughout the ten years that I’ve known her, we’ve shared our favourite novels, listened to the same songs, and gone shopping together and bought the exact same clothes. Every day, Gu Li teases us. Every day, we tease Tang Wanru together. Our relationship has grown stronger as the days roll on. If we want me to describe her, I really am at a loss for words. Despite majoring in Chinese literature, I realised that in order to write Nan Xiang’s story, I would have to write a book that’s at least as long as the Yellow River. To put it simply, Nan Xiang is the sort of person who would be the female lead in a good novel. She didn’t come from a remarkable family like Gu Li, nor a middle-class family like mine. She is so beautiful, but she has never dated a boy before. In high school, she got to know a man name Xi Cheng. He slapped her, kicked her, and showed no concern when she got an abortion.
I look up again to catch a glimpse of Nan Xiang. It looks like she is way ahead of me. She is drunk already.
As for Tang Wanru, who is desperately trying to squeeze her boobs together to create cleavage… well, how should I say it? I feel like she should be studying Chinese literature instead. She’s always coming up with classic quotes that leave people speechless and unable to comment. For example, in college, her most infamous quote which made her famous throughout the whole campus was: “What’s so great about looking at my boobs?” I remember the last time we celebrated National Day in high school, after Nan Xiang and I had thanked the audience and returned backstage, Tang Wanru excitedly came to welcome us. Of course, based on her talents, she wasn’t able to perform on stage. At most, she could say a few words. She rushed toward us at full speed, pushed Gu Li out of the way, and enthusiastically grabbed Nan Xiang’s hand, and said: “Nan Xiang, when you guys were spinning around, we were all so excited downstairs! We all saw your red underwear under your skirt! Everyone was roaring in excitement!” Gu Li and I palmed our foreheads. And this wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was when Tang Wanru bellowed from her diaphragm, shouting at Nan Xiang, “It felt like the national flag and your underwear were waving in unison… how do you sing that song? Oh! Oh! ‘The hero’s blood stained it red!'”*
The whole incident brought the concert to a dramatic close, popularising the catchphrase “the hero’s blood stained it red” as well as the previous comments on Nan Xiang’s underwear. We didn’t manage to remove the microphones in time, and her words echoed across the entire school and sports field: “Stained it… stained it… stained it…”
After the concert, Nan Xiang applied for three days of leave from school. On the fourth day, she came to class wearing a mask.
After that, whenever the English teacher wore red underwear under translucent white clothes, or when the sky turned red, or when a much-hated English book came with a red cover, the only explanation was: “The hero’s blood stained it red.”
But besides that, Ruru is also exceptionally brave with a daredevil streak. She’ll do anything. One time, when she was drunk, she carefully unzipped Gu Li’s Kenzo bag and puked inside it. After that, she zipped up the bag, acted nonchalant as if nothing had happened, and continued to sing with us. (Of course, ater that incident, Gu Li locked her in the bathroom and starved her for the whole day.)
Another time, she had a fever and incoherently bumbled into Watsons instead of the pharmacy next to it. She rushed towards the counter and howled, “Give me the medicine! Quickly! Give me the medicine! I don’t think I can make it!” Her exasperated cries nearly caused the cashier to dial 110.
Of course, there’s no shortage of handsome guys revolving around us. Based on the quality of Gu Li and Nan Xiang, there’s no man that we can’t handle. Don’t people always say that if your friends are of a high standard, then people will think that you’re one of them too? I use this logic to explain to myself why I have such a great boyfriend.
Gu Li has a wealthy prince called Gu Yuan who is very passionate about her, even though his name sounds like they’re siblings. If we were really living in a soap opera, it’d probably be revealed in the future that Gu Yuan and Gu Li are blood relatives and then the two lovebirds would have to separate. Of course, this is not a Qiong Yao novel, and Gu Li and Gu Yuan are not Liu Xuahua and Ma Jingteng either. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen in real life.
As for Nan Xiang, she has a man named Xi Cheng who pesters her and always follows her around. If you understand our life, then you should know that ten days ago, when Nan Xiang and I were on the train, we bumped into this monster of a person. At that moment, I hated him so much, I couldn’t wait for the day he dies.
Tang Wanru has miraculously formed some chemistry with our school’s musclebound heart-throb, Wei Hai. But Gu Li and I don’t want to make any evaluations on this. That’s because anything related to Tang Wanru will always end up in a disaster. Every time!
I curl up into the sofa and sip at the champagne. My eyes are so red that it looks like I’ve just murdered all the pickpockets in West Nanjing Road. I laugh and cry as I look at my three best friends in front of me. A medley of confused emotions overwhelm me. I’m sure that my current expression must look awfully distorted.
I watch Gu Li and Nan Xiang doll each other up in front of a mirror. Gu Li pulls a stray hair from Nan Xiang’s face behind her ear. They speak to each other softly, as if they are each other’s best friend, as if nothing will ever break them apart. Tang Wanru is lying on the bed. She smiles at them faintly, but in her eyes are something I’ve never seen in her before. This profound, complex look betrays her intelligence. She speaks gently to them, “Seeing both of you like this, I’m so happy. Both of you have really reconciled.”
The whole room is filled with the overpowering smell of champagne. I drunkenly press into the soft sofa cushions and the scene in front of me suddenly terrifies me. Two glamourous women are affectionately combing each other’s hair in front of the mirror. The other one is humming to herself. It’s as if the scene from the movie Painted Skin is playing in front of me. It feels like Gu Li and Nan Xiang will, at any moment now, pull off their layers of skin and whisper seductively, “I am a monster,” or, “If I don’t eat a human heart, I will turn old.”
I am sure I am indeed drunk.
And I am sure that you won’t believe how the four of us, so closely knitted to one another, were like just a month ago.
Our life was beyond the most ridiculous soap operas or the hallucinations of the insane. Our life was more exciting than any Hollywood action movie. Blood, splashing around. Bullets, shooting continuously. Our spirits, exploding in the air.
My boyfriend kissed and got into bed with another woman. After that, he even blamed me for finding another man. As for Gu Li and Nan Xiang, both of them were secretly dating the same guy. Nan Xiang got hundreds of thousands in cash, and tricked me into getting on a train for a total of ten days. And my new love, Chongguang, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, pushing me to the brink.
Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Wait for the day when the waves recede and you’ll see the whole seabed littered with skeletons and bones exposed in the bright daylight.
But for now, the ocean is still blue and stunning.
Many thanks to idarklight and benji for their help in editing this translation.
 Xiaobaicai is a fictonal child whose mother died and is mistreated by her father and stepmother.
 Qiong Yao is famous for writing melodramatic stories. Liu Xuehua and Ma Jingteng are actors who have appeared in a number of her series.