Land of Big Numbers

Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen

I first found this book on Twitter late last year and realized it wouldn’t come out for a few months. It seemed like the fiction counterpart to Age of Ambition, which was one of the first books I wrote about on this blog and one that got me back into reading after college. It’s crazy that it’s been almost 7 years.

1) “We were an army, invincible, or if we weren’t invincible we could hit replay at any time, which was pretty close to the same thing.”

When you win, you hit replay to keep the winning streak going. When you lose, you hit replay so you don’t end on a losing streak. Win-win.

2) “‘Did you know in the Song Dynasty it was illegal to throw away any pieces of paper with writing on them?’” – Lulu

No I did not know.

3) “‘Today I had one that tasted like I had just told a good joke and everyone was laughing.'” – Lao Sui

I feel the same when I eat a good mango.

4) “There were a lot of things I hadn’t done: run a marathon, become a doctor, developed a taste for Mediterranean food.”

This perspective is liberating, especially since I also haven’t done any of these things.

5) “When he was young, he had lived through a famine in which they ate the bark off trees! He’d seen the village since then electrified, paved with a road, reinforced with cement, grown noisy with motorcycles and mechanized tractors. He’d seen the village transform itself over a lifetime.”

Sometimes I wonder what life will be like when I’m old. The world was a different place 50 years ago. I’m both excited and apprehensive.

6) “The man who lived upstairs had died and it had taken the other tenants days to notice, days in which the sweetly putrid scent thickened and residents tried to avoid his part of the hall, palms tenting their noses as they came and left.”

Sometimes I also wonder how long it would take for people to notice.

7) “The stock market! It was like discovering a secret passcode. It was such easy money.”

This eponymous story about the stock market perfectly captures the zeitgeist of 2021.

8) “They needed to buy because they had the money and that’s what everyone else was doing; they had simple lives, and it was their children who were going on to do the complicated things.”

F1D vs F2D.

9) “The next day, he ate beef noodle soup for lunch and dinner at the sticky-tabled stall around the corner from his office: beef for cows, beef for bulls, for a bull market.”

Ok I will keep sous-viding steaks in this year of the ox.

10) “‘All the national parks are so crowded now. When we were kids, it was never like this.'” – Eric

National parks and free water at restaurants – the pinnacle achievements of America.

I’m a bit torn on these short stories. They are all intriguing, and the author does a terrific job pointing out the absurd in the ordinary, especially through the lens of Chinese/Chinese-American thought and values. Almost all of the stories end abruptly without a resolution. This was so glaring that it must be an intentional stylistic choice, maybe to convey that the social commentary is very much ongoing. I’m ok with that, but the stories are just not as memorable as I had hoped. That said, I don’t remember 99% of what I read anyway, so as long as I enjoyed the process, what more do I want? Stepping back a bit, I appreciate that this book exists. It’s exactly the type of stories I want to read about every culture.

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