Gloomy Salad Days Episode 4





And the gloominess continues! I don't know about Shabei (and you, dear reader), but I really like Xiao Lin's story better. I know, I know, there's no Wang Zi and Mao Di, BUT! I think I can relate more to this story; her issue is something I feel strongly about. Now on to the recap!



Episode 4

We continue with the scene after which Xiao Lin stole a chocolate bar, (what seems to me is) a beer and some money from her relatives’ grocery store. It is probably her first time tasting beer, so when she finds it not so tasty, she tosses it off. Just then, two men in a motorcycle pass by; they shout at her for being careless.


The motorcycle men, Panther and Ah Cai, stops at a convenience store to greet a friend, Huang Huang (who is also called the Young Betel Nut Beauty because of her, uhm, best features). Xiao Lin follows them to the store and buys bottled water. She is offered a job at the store, but she turns it down and leaves.


At the riverside, she ponders on what Nicole told her before: Abandon them first, before they abandon you. She takes off her necklace and decides to throw it with the rock, but before she even got to throwing it, someone else throws a rock into the river first.


A guy threw not just any ordinary rock, but the kind used for writing calligraphy. He boasts further by saying that the most expensive ink stick was made from his rock, while her rock is just an ordinary one. But he came to the riverside not only to throw off a rock worth hundreds of thousands, but to spray paint.


We see he is no ordinary spray painter as he gives life to a boring wall. It is art, he says, after Xiao Lin accuses him of vandalism. Xiao Lin notices the word “Jie” written along his drawings, and this is when he introduces himself as Jin Jie Shu, or Ah Jie. He also asks her name. Smooth, boy.


He hands her a sketchpad (Will I see sketchpads as frequent as I will see rocks in this series?). Drawn in it is a skeleton biting on calligraphy, and Xiao Lin interprets: “So it means one’s detest for calligraphy?” Not really, he answers, and he explains that his dad is a famous calligrapher. She accuses him of stealing the rock, but he refutes, saying his dad gave it to him. His father wants him to be a successful calligrapher too, and judging from the size of the rock he threw earlier, it will take a hundred years before the rock is used up entirely.


Ah Jie hates calligraphy, obviously, and throwing the rock into the river will dissolve it and leave no trace of evidence. What’s more, a thief stole something in his house days ago, so he can say it was the thief’s fault the rock is missing. Very clever, and to this Xiao Lin is very much amused. But Ah Jie feels betrayed: she knows his secret and he knows nothing.


She lets him in on her secret: the Nai He bridge rock. Sometimes, it will beat like a heart, especially when she’s angry, or when she misses her parents. She repeats the parents-have-fallen-ill act, so he thinks she’s just hallucinating. But she insists on having seen the Death Girl herself. He is not buying any of it, and calls her imaginative, but asks her to describe what Death Girl looks like so he can draw her.


And so Ah Jie draws Death Girl on a wall next to his graffiti. He is in a hurry, since the sun is soon to come out, and his dad jogs along that area; he cannot be seen drawing like that. Xiao Lin likes his art, though, and this puts a smile on his face.

But the next thing we know, two men—and hey, it’s Panther and Ah Cai once again—extorts money from Xiao Lin and Ah Jie just so his graffiti won’t get messed up. Ah Jie has no money, though, so Panther still splashes paint on one of his graffiti. They threaten him to bring money the night after or else all his drawings will be completely messed up.

Frustrated, Ah Jie says he won’t be drawing any graffiti in that place anymore. Xiao Lin comforts him by saying that at least his father will get to see it one last time before the thugs totally destroy the drawings.


AJ: I think he is not looking at all.
XL: How can that be? You draw so well. It’s not possible that he doesn’t notice.
AJ: Even if he notices, he wouldn’t say anything.
XL: That’s because he doesn’t know who they were drawn by, so he can only admire them in silence.
AJ: Why would he admire in silence?
XL: He would. I think your drawings can attract a lot of people.
AJ: Really? If he admires in silence, then I’m satisfied already.
Early morning, as they go their separate ways, Ah Jie gives Xiao Lin his number (and again, smooth). We haven’t seen Xiao Lin smiling this much, but here she is, grinning to her heart’s content—all thanks to Ah Jie. Finally, she has found a friend to whom she can relate to and be herself.

Ah Jie's painting, messed up

She goes back to look at Ah Jie’s graffiti one more time. As the camera pans to his drawing of Death Girl, suddenly someone speaks up: “That drawing is not bad.” Up in the tree is our appearing-disappearing friend, Du. She compliments Xiao Lin of becoming optimistic, but brings her back to reality: she isn’t sure yet if her parents understand that she needs them, loves them.

Death Girl: What if they don’t love you at all?
Oh, Du. You and your pessimistic ways.


Still optimistic about Ah Jie’s situation, she helps him by writing out his name along with his drawings. Instead of “Jie”, she writes his full name, hopeful that when his father sees his drawings, he will understand.


Back at her relatives’ home, her uncle is steaming with anger as he watches last night’s robbery thru the surveillance camera. He heads to her room to check if she’s hiding anything else. Xiao Lin comes back, and her aunt asks her of her whereabouts the night before. Before Xiao Lin even finished her sentence, her uncle slaps her in the face.

Slap! Why did you steal cash? Why didn’t you give me dinner? Slap! You are a burden; even your parents won’t take you in!


And Xiao Lin runs away. She heads to a phone booth near the graffiti area, and just then, we see Ah Jie’s father jogging along with two others. Just as Ah Jie thought, he did not even notice the graffiti until one of the men stops and notices. Ah Jie’s father looks at the Death Girl drawing, in his face a mix of shock and anger. He tells one of his men to call the environment office; he wants the “dirty things” gone.


Xiao Lin calls her own dad, asking him to take her home. But he says he’s in Hong Kong (which I doubt is true. With the “foxy secretary” in his office, it is likely he just wants to avoid Xiao Lin). It has been three months since she last saw him, but he tells her to call her mom first, and then he hangs up on her.

She calls her mom, but her grandma picks up the phone instead. Her mom’s not awake yet, as she was out late at night, getting herself drunk. Xiao Lin insists on talking with her mom, so grandma wakes mom up to give her the phone. With the hangover sinking in, her mom is no better than her dad. She tells Xiao Lin to go to her dad and see if he dares show up with his woman.


Xiao Lin walks out of the booth, and she sees the number written in her palm.


Ah Jie gets a lecture from his father, so when Xiao Lin asks him if he’s going to the riverside, he says no. He won’t be finishing the Death Girl drawing too, and he asks her if she was the one who wrote his name by the drawings. With his father listening to their conversation, he tells her that he doesn’t want to do graffiti anymore. And he doesn’t want to see her as well.

What about all of her optimism, you may ask? There it all is, gone with the wind. That was four blows in one day. And my heart just broke into thousand pieces along with hers.


Holiday is over, and Xiao Lin skips gym class, using her period as an excuse. Her teacher approaches her and asks what’s wrong, but she stays silent. After her teacher left, she takes out the rock from her pocket.

She meets up with Du, who asks her if she’s having a hard time letting go. She’s getting thinner, Du says, but Xiao Lin says it doesn’t matter—when her parents come to pick her up, they can eat a big meal. Ouch.


The other students see Xiao Lin “talking to herself”, calling her autistic. But Shen Qi sees Du as well, and runs to Xiao Lin to tell her not to talk to Du. Du is surprised that he can see her; Shen Qi is the only one who doesn’t need the black rock to see her. Then Du disappeared, as usual.


Another holiday arrives, this time, Chinese New Year, and Xiao Lin is expectantly waiting for her dad to pick her up. Her roommate offers to take her home for the holidays, but she is as hard as a rock: her dad will pick her up, for sure. Of course, we the audience know better, don’t we?


Being the only one left in the dorm for the holidays, Xiao Lin’s dorm supervisor offers to call her home for her. The supervisor tells her the good news: her aunt said her dad came back from Hong Kong the day before (Oh, so that was true eh?), and will be picking her up from the dorm, latest will be the night after. Xiao Lin is very much thrilled with this news, so she’s willing to stay for one more day at the dorm.


When it’s time to pick her up, Xiao Lin calls her dad, but his woman answers the phone. Her parents are arguing again, she tells Xiao Lin, and lets her listen to their argument. Heartbroken once more, Xiao Lin drops the phone and cries in remorse.


At Ah Jie’s home, they gather around the dining room to celebrate Chinese New Year. His dad gives him a Chinese New Year-slash-graduation gift, and his face lightens up. After dinner, he excitedly opens the gift, only to be disappointed with its content: ink sticks.


Back at school, Xiao Lin starts a fire and burns the food left for her to eat. Since her parents are not coming to pick her up, she figures she won’t eat. On a holiday when everyone is having fun, there she was, alone and broken.

XL: I’ll keep waiting. I’ll wait until I die.

It’s already the third day after the New Year, and Du pays her a visit. Xiao Lin falls to the ground, due to starvation. Du asks her why she won’t ask for help and calls her stubborn. In desperation, Xiao Lin answers: Help me. Please. I want my Mom and Dad.


And Du tells her to sleep. Her parents will be with her shortly after.

Her father dies in a car accident; her mom falls to the ground after getting drunk. And Xiao Lin? Her last breath was right after Du told her to go to sleep.


She left Nicole a “suicide” note:

“Dear Nicole, all the things in my dorm room are for you because I’ve reunited with my mom and dad.”


And along with these things is the rock.

Nicole opens the computer to find another note by Xiao Lin in their suicide blog. She types in, asking if Xiao Lin is already happy, now that she's together with her family in heaven. As for herself, only when she can separate can she truly be happy.


COMMENTS:

As we continue on with the story of Xiao Lin, we already see tension in the first episode of the story. I’m glad we can already sense some balance in the stories. I was also wondering how they will introduce new characters every story, but I see we don’t have a problem with how Xiao Lin was introduced. Same goes for Nicole.

Here you have two teenagers—couple, if you like—asking for the same thing: their parents’ attention. And this issue is not at all new. We see family after family getting broken because of different reasons, and I believe the children are the ones most affected. Behind every broken family is a child scarred, and although the depth may be different from child to child, one thing is sure: there is inevitable pain.

This series is all dark, and I guess it is already too good to be true for us to hope for even one happy ending. But I like how I learn from every story. Presented here are three teenagers, all of which have family problems of their own, and we have also seen how they dealt with it individually. Xiao Lin will do anything just to be with her parents, even if it means she has to be the bad student, niece, or roommate. Even if she has to die to be with them. Ah Jie, on the other hand, sacrificed his passion and his art just to get his father’s approval. He hoped that in his obedience his father will come to understand him, but in the end he still faced disappointment. As for Nicole, we don’t know her story too well yet, but we know she is Xiao Lin’s opposite: she will do anything to get away from her family.

I think the use of the telephone as the bearer of bad news is genius. You can see how these loosed attachments with people have taken their toll on Xiao Lin. Almost every heart ache she felt came right after every phone call, and she can do nothing about them. Once the call is done and over, she is left hanging, clueless. I felt betrayed for her. The pain intensifies especially on how every tension is dealt with. I still believe no problem should ever be talked over a phone call, or a text message, or a letter. It should be dealt with straight on. I think it makes the pain easier to handle.

All in all, I believe Xiao Lin’s story is better than Huang He’s, plot-wise. There wasn’t a “Huh?” moment for me, unlike the first two episodes, and Shen Qi is already establishing his presence in the story. As for Du, she’s still her Poof!, peek-a-boo self, but in that one scene with Shen Qi, her reaction upon knowing that Shen Qi can see her is still in my head. It was a new expression, and it was refreshing to get that from her since, well, all she did was convince her prospects to choose her, to choose death.

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited for the next episodes! Other than seeing more of the Shen Qi-Du interaction, I also can’t wait for Nicole’s story. She is a character present since Story 1, so I’m very keen on seeing how they will further develop her already-developed character.



 
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