Based on what I have said, it would not be hard for you to guess that I wouldn’t be able to live off my skills as a paper craftsman forever. When the times change, people flee in all directions, just like street fair visitors who are caught in a downpour. In the course of my life, it seems as if I was walking downhill all the time, and couldn’t stop. No matter how hard I wished the world would get better, I couldn’t help but continue to slide deeper and deeper into a hopeless situation. This was a total change, which didn’t leave me any room to breath, a complete change from the past. It was not just an alteration, but a gale that blew people away without any idea where they were going. Many of the lucrative businesses of my childhood had abruptly come to a dead end, and seemed not to have much of a future. I had forseen this long ago. Had it been peace time, if I had wanted, I could have opened a small shop and taken on a couple of apprentices, and easily have led a comfortable life. Luckily I didn’t go down that path. If I didn’t get at least several big orders every year, how could I possibly manage to make a living just by making paper wagons or pasting paper on ceilings? Looking over the past dozen years, did I even get one decent work order? No, so it was a wise choice I made to quit.
However, this was not the only reason that I quit. The forces of nature are not something a man can fight, just like arms can’t wrestle with legs. You are looking for trouble if you intend to fight against the changes in society. It is even more unbearable should extra misfortune befall you alone. This in turn can easily drive a person crazy to do things like drowning themselves. These occurances are not rare at all, not to mention being forced to put down his old profession and pick up a new one. Difficulties which can be endured by a group, could easily crush an individual; a rice grain is small, but it takes an ant all his strength to move it. It is the same when it comes to man. Life depends on a breath; so anything keeping you from that breath would cause desperation. Man, what a fragile creature!
My intelligence and friendliness brought me only bad fortune, which sounds absurd at first, however, it is nevertheless true. If it had not happen to me, I myself wouldn’t believe such a thing. However, misfortunes came to find me. At the time, I was practically turned into a mad man. After two or three decades, as I look back, I can laugh it off and regard it as just a story. Now I have realized, one’s benefits do not have to belong to one alone. The real benefits should also belong to the people around, just like "no man is an island". If you alone are doing well, but the people around you aren't, then the benefit can be burdensome. Then what would intelligence and friendliness matter? In retrospect, since I now understand life, I can just laugh off that event. But at that moment, how could I swallow it all so easily. I was still very young at the time.
Who does not want to be good looking? When I was young, I always dressed myself up very dashingly when I was out socializing or running errands so that no one could even tell that I was a craftsman. In the olden time, leather was very expensive, and people were not supposed to wear them at will. Nowadays, anybody who wins at the races or wins a lottery can wear a leather overcoat the next day, whether you are teenage or a 20 year old young man who has not even shaved his face yet. In the past your clothes must fit your status and age. In those days, it was already flashy looking enough if you were able to have a shirt collar on your Chinese jacket or waistcoat. I always had such a shirt collar and the jacket and waist coat were made of blue silk – the silk back then was so incredibly strong that it would take over 10 years to wear out. I became a dirty wretch when I was pasting ceilings, but once I got home and cleaned myself off, I would immediately turn into a handsome young man. I preferred to be the handsome young man to the dirty wretch. I had a dark and long braid, and a well-shaved shiny forehead. When I put on the silk waistcoat with the shirt collar, I did look like “somebody!”
What a handsome young man fears nothing more than to marry an ugly wife. Long before, I had already explicitly or implicitly hinted to the elders that either I marry a pretty girl, or I won’t get married at all. In those days, “free” marriages were obviously not the common practice, but some freedom was allowed for young men and young women to decide on their marriages. I insisted on seeing my fiancée before marriage. I was not going to be taken in by the flowery words of the matchmaker.
At the age of 20, I got married. My wife was one year younger than I. She could easily be considered a pretty girl wherever she went. I managed to see her before our engagement. I wouldn’t dare say that she was a real beauty, but she was definitely cute and perky, which fit exactly my criteria in choosing my wife. I wouldn’t have nodded agreement had she failed my test. You can very well tell from my criteria for choosing wife what kind a person I was. In those days, I was young, handsome, and capable and therefore I would never marry a homely woman.
You'd have to admit that we were a perfect match, blessed by heaven. We were both young and appealing, and neither of us were tall. Before the friends and relatives, we were like a pair of agile tops, spinning in all directions, making the seniors smile out flowers from their eyes. We competed with each other to show off our wit and charm. We were both very competetive and would do whatever it took to win a few compliments that we were the most admirable of couples. Those complements from other people increased our mutual respect and affection, as it was put, that the real heroes know how to acknowledge and respect other heroes.
I was very happy. To be honest, my parents didn’t own a big fortune, but they had a house so that I could save up the rent money. I lived in a rent-free house, with a yard full of trees and a pair of orioles that perched on the eaves. I, myself, had good skills, a wide social circle, and a lovely young wife. How could I not be happy?
As for my wife, I couldn’t find any flaws. Granted, once a while I thought she was a little wild, but which active young wife is not a little wild? She was talkative, because she was very sociable; she didn’t avoid men, but she was only enjoying the privilege of being a young wife. For the new young wives, especially the capable ones, they would naturally shake off the shyness of the young girls, and act confidently like a “woman.” You can't really call these “flaws.” Moreover, she was kind and considerate toward the elders and dutifully served them. It really seemed nothing that she was a little too familiar when with other young people. She was very outgoing and sincere, expressing her warmness to both the aged and the young. I had never blamed her for being too open.
Then she became pregnant and a mother, even prettier than before, and more confident -- I could no longer bring myself to use the word “wild” to describe her. Is there anything more attractive than a pregnant woman, or anything more lovable than a young mother? Every time I saw her sitting at the threshold, suckling the baby with her breast exposed, my love for her would only swell, and I forgot all of her wild behavior.
At the age of 24, I was already of a father of a son and a daughter. But when it comes to parenting, how much credit can a husband claim? When the husband was happy, he would lift the baby and play around; the wife did all the unpleasant work. I was not stupid. I didn’t need anyone to tell me this. Really, men are totally helpless even when they want to help the wife during childbirth or raising children. However, as long as you have understanding, you should make your wife’s life a little easier and give her more freedom. People who bully pregnant women or young mothers are real jerks. As for my wife, I gave her even more freedom after we had children. I thought that was the right thing to do.
In addition, it is said that the husband and wife are like trees, and their children are flowers. The flowers by the trees demonstrate the deep roots of the trees. Any suspicions, or distrust should be eliminated. The children would hold their mothers firmly. Therefore, even though I sometimes felt she was a little wild – and I hate to use this word – I was no longer worried, because she was already a mother.
不过，这还不是我忽然改了行的唯一的原因。年头儿的改变不是个人所能抵抗的，胳臂扭不过大 腿去，跟年头儿叫死劲简直是自己找别扭。可是，个人独有的事往往来得更厉害，它能马上教人疯了。去投河觅井都不算新奇，不用说把自己的行业放下，而去干些 别的了。个人的事虽然很小，可是一加在个人身上便受不住；一个米粒很小，教蚂蚁去搬运便很费力气。个人的事也是如此。人活着是仗了一口气，多喒有点事儿， 把这口气憋住，人就要抽风。人是多么小的玩艺儿呢！
我的精明与和气给我带来背运。乍一听这句话仿佛是不合情理，可是千真万确，一点儿不假，假 若这要不落在我自己身上，我也许不大相信天下会有这宗事。它竟自找到了我；在当时，我差不多真成了个疯子。隔了这么二三十年，现在想起那回事儿来，我满可 以微微一笑，仿佛想起一个故事来似的。现在我明白了个人的好处不必一定就有利于自己。一个人好，大家都好，这点好处才有用，正是如鱼得水。一个人好，而大 家并不都好，个人的好处也许就是让他倒霉的祸根。精明和气有什么用呢！现在，我悟过这点理儿来，想起那件事不过点点头，笑一笑罢了。在当时，我可真有点咽 不下去那口气。那时候我还很年轻啊。
哪个年轻的人不爱漂亮呢？在我年轻的时候，给人家行人情或办点事，我的打扮与气派谁也不敢 说我是个手艺人。在早年间，皮货很贵，而且不准乱穿。如今晚的人，今天得了马票或奖券，明天就可以穿上狐皮大衣，不管是个十五岁的孩子还是二十岁还没刮过 脸的小伙子。早年间可不行，年纪身分决定个人的服装打扮。那年月，在马褂或坎肩上安上一条灰鼠领子就仿佛是很漂亮阔气。我老安着这么条领子，马褂与坎肩都 是青大缎的——那时候的缎子也不怎么那样结实，一件马褂至少也可以穿上十来年。在给人家糊棚顶的时候，我是个土鬼；回到家中一梳洗打扮，我立刻变成个漂亮 小伙子。我不喜欢那个土鬼，所以更爱这个漂亮的青年。我的辫子又黑又长，脑门剃得锃光青亮，穿上带灰鼠领子的缎子坎肩，我的确象个“人儿”！
二十岁那年，我结了婚，我的妻比我小一岁。把她放在哪里，她也得算个俏式利落的小媳妇；在 定婚以前，我亲眼相看的呀。她美不美，我不敢说，我说她俏式利落，因为这四个字就是我择妻的标准；她要是不够这四个字的格儿，当初我决不会点头。在这四个 字里很可以见出我自己是怎样的人来。那时候，我年轻，漂亮，作事麻利，所以我一定不能要个笨牛似的老婆。
这个婚姻不能说不是天配良缘。我俩都年轻，都利落，都个子不高；在亲友面前，我们象一对轻 巧的陀螺似的，四面八方的转动，招得那年岁大些的人们眼中要笑出一朵花来。我俩竞争着去在大家面前显出个人的机警与口才，到处争强好胜，只为数人夸奖一声 我们是一对最有出息的小夫妇。别人的夸奖增高了我俩彼此间的敬爱，颇有点英雄惜英雄，好汉爱好汉的劲儿。
对于我的妻，我简直找不出什么毛病来。不错，有时候我觉得她有点太野；可是哪个利落的小媳 妇不爽快呢？她爱说话，因为她会说；她不大躲避男人，因为这正是作媳妇所应享的利益，特别是刚出嫁而有些本事的小媳妇，她自然愿意把作姑娘时的腼腆收起一 些，而大大方方的自居为“媳妇”。这点实在不能算作毛病。况且，她见了长辈又是那么亲热体贴，殷勤的伺候，那么她对年轻一点的人随便一些也正是理之当然； 她是爽快大方，所以对于年老的正象对于年少的，都愿表示出亲热周到来。我没因为她爽快而责备她过。
到了二十四岁，我已有一儿一女。对于生儿养女，作丈夫的有什么功劳呢！赶上高兴，男子把娃 娃抱起来，耍巴一回；其余的苦处全是女人的。我不是个糊涂人，不必等谁告诉我才能明白这个。真的，生小孩，养育小孩，男人有时候想去帮忙也归无用；不过， 一个懂得点人事的人，自然该使作妻的痛快一些，自由一些；欺侮孕妇或一个年轻的母亲，据我看，才真是混蛋呢！对于我的妻，自从有了小孩之后，我更放任了 些；我认为这是当然的合理的。