Monday, 11 September 2017

The Vast Desert 大沙漠 Part 1

The Gobi Desert (source)

As I’m watching nervously for Hurrican Irma to batter Florida USA (Hannah, stay safe!!!), I’m reading the second Chor Lau-heung novel from Ku Lung titled “The Vast Desert” 大沙漠. It’s over 200 pages of PDF as well, so I will try to finish reading it in 4-5 weeks. I read this novel in the Indonesian version; I suspect the translator is the same with the one who translated “Fluttering Fragrance on the Bloody Sea” 血海飄香. The writing style belongs to a slightly older period, perhaps the 80s, which in itself is nice to read, albeit a bit confusing at times. The chapter in PDF started with “Chapter 13”, which is weird. It does not follow the chapters in the last novel, which ended in Chapter 17. “The Vast Desert” has ended in “Chapter 28”, so it has 15 chapters. I’ll just assume Chapter 13 is Chapter 1 then.

Part 1 (Chapters 1-3)

After his adventure in the last novel, Chor Lau-heung returned to the Fragrant Boat in the hope that he’d get a delicious lunch from the girls. However, So Yung-yung, Li Hung-chao and Sung Tim-yi were nowhere to be seen. Upon finding a black pearl on top of a pile of yellow sand, Chor tai-gor’s blood boiled. He deduced that Black Pearl, the son of the Desert King we saw in the “Fluttering Fragrance on the Bloody Sea” 血海飄香. Black Pearl left a note: “You took my horse, I take your women.” Capitally disturbed, CLH rode his horse (well, Black Pearl’s) towards the Western Desert (I assume the Gobi Desert).



I’m actually rather surprised to learn that Black Pearl had kidnapped Yung-yung et al. He wasn’t a friendly person at the first place, but he was a decent guy in the novel. I take it that later CLH would find that it was not Black Pearl who kidnapped the girls, but that remains to be seen now.

CLH rode and rode until he arrived in a poor desert town at the Yellow River plain (I know that because of the yellow dust typical of the Yellow River plain). He was about to take a break when he saw a cat crossing the dusty town road, on a direct collision course with an incoming horse cart. Unexpectedly, before the cat was hit and killed, a person dove on top of the cat and rescued it, allowing the horse cart to hit himself. CLH was surprised to see a guy rescuing the cat out of the blue, but he was even more surprised when he realised that the person was okay. He got a pleasant third surprised to see that the cat rescuer was none other than Wu Tit-fa the drunkard!

Wu Tit-fa (Hokkien “Oh-Thi-hoa”) was also pleasantly surprised to see his old mate. They had a drink afterwards (CLH didn’t find the wine in that town to his liking), where they reminisced on the old days. CLH mentioned a particular woman, WTF (apologies for the abbreviation) immediately said that he was actually in that desert town because he was running away from that woman. Another surprise, the woman was Koh A-Lam (the Hokkien spelling is Ko Ah-nam). Here, Koh A-Lam was also a student of Hua-shan, but instead of mutually falling in love with WTF, KAL loved WTF but the drunkard didn’t harbour any interest in her. Instead, WTF was interested in the (very ordinary) wine seller who owned the shop he always frequented. Sadly, the wine lady wouldn’t even bother to acknowledge his presence since he first stepped into the shop three years ago.

Anyway, after my initial surprise subsided, I received another surprise, a pleasant one this time. When WTF asked CLH whether our tai-gor arrived here because he ran away from the three girls, CLH said this about his famous relationship with the girls:

“Many people think that my relationship with them is inappropriate. The truth is, they have followed me since they were about twelve years old. They see me just as their own big brother and best friend, and I… of course you still believe me, since the beginning I always see them as my own little sisters.”
(bold parts are my own marks)

WTF trusted that CLH saw the girls as such. As for me, dear readers, this information relieves me immensely. It means that what Michael Miu’s CLH said to Barbara Yung’s Song Siu-ching in the 1984 CLH series was in accordance with the novel. Chor Lau-heung did see the three girls as his own sisters.

Chor tai-gor informed WTF how he arrived in that town, that he was actually searching for the three girls and their kidnapper (suspected to be Black Pearl of the Western Desert). The Drunkard declared that he’d help CLH retrieve the girl; the two best friends immediately set forward. Yet, to their surprise, the wine shop owner cling onto WTF, saying that he shouldn’t leave.  CLH released a string of laughter as he saw WTF ran as fast as he could from the wine shop owner.

After the comedic episode, WTF took CLH to a town called Lan-ciu where they would meet a friend who could take them to the western desert. That person was called Ki Ping-yan (Mandarin: Ji Bing-yan), a rich guy in Lan-ciu. WTF called this Ki person “The Dead Rooster”. When the Dynamic Duo arrived at Lan-ciu, they found Ki Ping-yan, rich as he was, but he was unable to walk. About five years ago, Ki went to the western desert and found his riches there (not sure what; gold??). But, he was also trapped in the sand for two full days, only being rescued later by some camel entourage. His legs were not functioning ever since. Thus, although Ki wanted to go with CLH and WTF, he only sent them off with some very important logistics, mainly water, food and a horse for WTF.

As the two rode towards the desert, WTF lamented on how he was so sorry that Ki Ping-yan was now helpless on his sedan chair. WTF also scolded CLH for not showing a proper care for Ki’s fate. Only then CLH said that Ki actually made it up. He could still walk just fine, but he didn’t want to go with CLH-WTF to the desert. CLH deduced it from the way the two girls who served Ki acted around Ki. Their gestures were too intimate for mere servants, and they were certainly not going to be very sensual around Ki if Ki was not able to do anything. Drunkard Wu flamed to learn that Ki actually lied to them, but CLH just smiled and said that he knew Ki was always like that.

Yet, Wu was definitely not Chor Lau-heung. When the two friends were taking a rest on their first stop, Wu returned to Lan-ciu, kidnapped the two servant girls of Ki’s, and brought them bac to where CLH was. Chor tai-gor was surprised to see Ing-yan and Poan-ping (the two girls); Wu was adamant that he would still keep the two girls until Ki returned to apologise. Yet, since Ki never arrived to claim back the girls, Wu had to return Ing-yan and Poan-ping back. Laughing, CLH had no choice but to return to Lan-ciu with Wu and the girls.

However, on the way to Lan-ciu, they saw an entourage of horses and camels. The entourage looked neither like burglars nor an expedition company. To their surprise, the entourage belonged to Ki Ping-yan himself, who comically showed his healthy self as he enjoyed Wu’s surprised face. Not sure if Ki actually had always wanted to go with CLH and Wu, but now he was there, with all his logistics.

In his caravan, Ki Ping-yan explained his strategy: they would go to the source of Huang Ho (the Yellow River) and go to Ca Bok-hap (the Desert King)’s territory from there. They had to change horses at the “Old Dragon Bay”; CLH had to leave Black Pearl’s black horse there. CLH originally objected (he might be growing attached to that horse, or he felt he had to return the horse in exchange of the girls). However, Ki was adamant that the black horse had to be left behind, because it would attract too much attention. CLH thus reluctantly agreed.

They arrived at the Old Dragon Bay on the second day in the evening. CLH reluctantly said goodbye to “his” lovely horse; the horse seemed to have been attached to him as well. Meanwhile, Wu got to know their crew. A blind, deaf and mute big guy called Stone Camel was in charge of the camels and horses (he spoke their language, it seemed). Another guy was called Little Phoa, he was an excellent multi-lingual translator.

At their last stop before the vast desert, Ki sold their horses, burned his belongings (so that no one could own them), and bought some very precious water. The water quality wasn’t great, but that was all they had. Chor tai-gor, Wu Tit-fa and Ki Ping-yan changed into the desert clothing as well. Stone Camel changed into a Mongolian garb, he looked sad that he had to say goodbye to his horses. In the evening, they rode their camels into the desert. The desert that was indeed cruel. It was scorching hot even after sunset, yet at night it was violently cold.

During their first scorching day in the desert, they heard a cry. CLH and Wu insisted that they had to rescue the person who cried for help, thus the entourage changed course. CLH and Wu were so surprised to find two naked men, almost died of painful desert heat, tied on two crosses. They rescued the men immediately and gave them water. The two men said that they were attacked by desert burglars. Yet, to CLH et al’s surprise, once the two men recovered, they jumped to their feet and launched secret projectiles hidden in their messy hair. CLH, Wu and Ki were experts who could easily evade the weapons. However, the projectiles were not meant for them. Instead, they were meant for the leather pouches that contained their water supply.

CLH and Wu easily captured the two secret attackers, yet when Wu asked whether they were sent by Ca Bok-hap the Desert King, the men laughed it off. “Ca Bok-hap doesn’t even qualify to polish my master’s shoes!”

“If not Ca Bok-hap, then who is your master?!” asked Chor tai-gor.

The men didn’t reply. When Wu asked if they were not afraid of death, they said that they’d rather die for their master. Thus, they died, after swallowing a hidden poison. After checking their water supply, Ki had to throw away much of them because they were already poisoned by the projectiles. Having no choice, the entourage still resumed their journey into the desert. They didn’t have dinner that night because they had very little water left (thus no water to cook).

That night, CLH examined the projectile tube he found with the two attackers. He said that there were only three people in the world who could make such secret projectile tubes. The first two were Ciang-bun-jin of the Tong Family in Siok-tiong and Cu Losian-sing from Kanglam. The third person was he himself, Chor Lau-heung. So the 1984 series got it right again, CLH did use projectiles, only non-poisonous. He also then crossed out Black Pearl from the possible villain list because Black Pearl was not cruel and also not that high-skilled. Ki Ping-yan seemed to know who the mastermind of the attack was, but he didn’t say anything. Yet, he did say that tomorrow they would arrive in a secret water source about 100 li from their current location, so they should be okay with water supply. Meanwhile, Chor Lau-heung started to suspect that the Stone Camel had some deadly secrets in his past life.

Anyway, there was one funny time when Wu asked how Stone Camel knew when to stop and when to resume the journey, for Ki didn’t seem to give him any verbal instruction at all. Did Ki use some black magic or so? Ki grinned and asked if Chor tai-gor knew the answer. Our tai-gor slowly said, “You use a pebble. You hit Stone Camel’s left shoulder with the pebble if you’d like him to stop. You hit Stone Camel’s right shoulder with the pebble if you’d like him to resume the journey. This method –” our tai-gor smiled as he turned to address Wu Tit-fa, “ – can be done without black magic.”

The gang arrived at a spot with karst stones and just a sad tree growing there. Wu deduced that there should be water there; CLH said that the water must be very deep underground. Yet after an hour of digging, they still couldn’t find the water.

“Perhaps we’re in the wrong place?” still calm, CLH asked Ki. Yet, suddenly, they heard horse steps. Soon, four riders were seen riding towards them. The four riders stopped and started to fight with their sabres. Yet, they didn’t attack Chor et al, nor they attacked each other. Instead, they were just attacking the sand and the wind. Wu and Ki were confused, yet CLH just observed Stone Camel, who suddenly curled into a foetal position, shaking to the core.  What’s with him?

The gang then recognised the four riders. They were from the Peng Family. When they were slashing the air maniacally, an eagle soared from the sky and dove to steal a box that one of the Pengs dropped. The three riders died (of heart attack or stroke, I guess), yet one remained fighting the air. Wu rescued him and got some words of “Cruel devil, cruel, cruel devil…hundreds, thousands of cruel devils… kill!!” before the last Peng fighter also died. CLH et al buried Peng in-situ. Wu commented that he felt something like a chicken egg on the shoulder of one of the Pengs.

That night, Ki Ping-yan found out from Stone Camel (through a sign language) that the person responsible for the death of the Pengs was also the person who tortured Stone Camel. Yet, Stone Camel didn’t want to tell Ki who that person was. Suddenly, 20 black-clad men besieged Chor Lau-heung et al. They demanded that CLH et al. gave them “that thing”. Since CLH had no idea what “that thing” was, he just let the 20 men searched through themselves and their belongings. Ki realised that CLH just wanted to know what the item in question was, thus his passive stance. Finally, they learned that the burglars wanted something called “The Star in Heaven”. Possibly it was contained in the box that the eagle had stolen?

No, apparently I was wrong. CLH and Ki realised that the “chicken egg” that Wu felt on Peng’s shoulder could be “the Star in Heaven”.

“If we tell you where it is, will you give us some water?” asked Ki. The burglars agreed. Ki showed it to the burglars, the burglars found took an egg-sized emerald from Peng’s shoulder, and then left. Wu was baffled that CLH and Ki were so passive. CLH and Ki explained that those burglars came without water and camel, two most important survival items in the desert. It means that they lived nearby.  Soon after, CLH et al followed the burglars back to their village. They saw the 20 men returning to a hut in the village and spoke to a person whom they seemed to highly respect. Then they heard some strange melody… and then silence.

CLH went pale-faced when he realised what happened. Wu ran towards the hut to find the 20 men died, committing suicide. The person the burglars talked to was nowhere to be seen.

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