LOVE BRIDGE

by Chang Shi-kuo

Translated by Daniel J. Bauer

Love Bridge is on the northeast side of the city, and sometimes the southeast side. Generally speaking, in spring and summer it's northeast, and in fall and winter the southeast. But that isn't to say it's necessarily that way every year. The local chronicles say, "Love Bridge is on the east side of the city." The local chronicles are wrong.

It is said that Love Bridge was constructed not long after the millennium by the new settlers. Another legend has it the bridge was the prize-winner at the Millennial World Trade Expo. No one can say which of the claims is true. Every brick used in the bridge carried a microbot chip linking it with software and a server that controlled the size and shape of the brick--without doubt a high- tech product at the time. After the signing of the Artificial Beings Rights Act, any one using a microbot chip without its expressed permission was in direct violation of the law. Thus Love Bridge was the only great microbot project to have survived, which is how it has become such a great tourist attraction for the city.

Love Bridge was not always called "Love Bridge." Its original name was actually "Madison Bridge", a reference to either the charismatic warrior leader of the early settlers or the visionary chairman of the chamber of commerce. Since both men were called Madison, it is impossible to decide which one the bridge was named after. At the very beginning, the purpose of Madison Bridge was to protect the city from enemy invasion. In such a circumstance, the microbot's electronic voice detection system could pick up the accents of enemy speech and order the bricks of the bridge to automatically contract. The bridge would then collapse. After the perilous situation had vanished, the bridge would then return to its original condition. As to the change that led to the name "Love Bridge", there is a moving story behind it.

Madison Bridge stretched across the River I-Lo in an area of great natural beauty. It was a fine place for lovers to meet. It so happened that a young man by the name of Wei had arranged to meet his beloved there beneath the bridge, but the time for their assignation passed and she didn't arrive. Just then the heavens unleashed a huge torrent of rain in the upper riches of the river, which sent the river into a fast rising swirl. Stubborn young Wei was unwilling to leave the site. Instead, he threw his arms around a pillar beneath the bridge and held on for all he was worth. Just before he was engulfed, the bridge suddenly changed its shape and, holding him as if on a plate, lifted him higher and higher so that in the end he did not drown in the tumultuous pool below. Madison Bridge won extraordinary renown because of this event, and from that moment on, the local people began calling it "Love Bridge."

Sad to say, the young fellow Wei did die in the end. His girl friend never appeared. For an entire month he waited, starving to death under Love Bridge. This time even the bridge could not save him. Some historians feel that given the fact Wei died because he was love-starved, Love Bridge betrayed its name. The majority of scholars, however, maintain that Love Bridge is still a bridge of compassion, and it wasn't its fault that it could not save the fellow. After the Wei incident, the bricks for Love Bridge were re-arranged by the bridge itself, to prevent any access to paths below it, and as a result couples could no longer meet there for a tryst. Naturally enough, there was no putting an end to lovers' matches at Love Bridge. What did happen was that the microbot chips would turn on the multimedia monitoring system and make an espionage project out of it. Thus, each and every move of the lovers was under watch at Love Bridge. In accordance with local custom, romantic couples enjoyed singing love ballads for one another, to express their love by means of the wonderful sound of music. So the microbots of Love Bridge assembled a vast collection of romantic songs in their memory banks, and over the years became a specialist in folk music. As these Romeos and Juliets passed refrains back and forth, Love Bridge would join in without asking for anyone's approval. Things had eventually gotten to the point where if a certain male crooner or female soprano sang just too impossibly off key, Love Bridge would be so bold as to slip in a dubbed voice.

Love Bridge was able to produce powerful masculine voices in its songs, and soft and tender feminine ones as well. As a matter of fact, it was as easy as a snap of the fingers for Love Bridge-- considering the absolute vault of folk songs in its huge digital library. But some couples did not want to be bothered by Love Bridge, or perhaps they simply lacked self-understanding, and insisted on singing for themselves. This resulted in many regrettable incidents. Every now and then Love Bridge would suddenly collapse and dump a pair of singers into the water. A couple that were no swimmers lost their lives that way. Their folks filed a lawsuit naturally. In the eyes of the court, however, Love Bridge was not to blame. It was the couple themselves after all who decided on Love Bridge as the place to make sweet, and they who refused to heed the admonitions of the bridge to stop their singing. It was they who ought to suffer all the consequences. The whole world came to know of Love Bridge, where a Romeo and a Juliet died for love -- indeed for the sake of singing in praise of love. Love Bridge really made a name for itself. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry came running to make a ruckus and test their vocal chords against the reactions of Love Bridge. Surely Love Bridge did not need more disturbance. It re-arranged its bricks to put a stop to all access to the sidewalk of the bridge. Busybodies still made every effort imaginable to get up onto the bridge, until finally Love Bridge did away with the pedestrian lanes as well, permitting only moving vehicles to pass over it.

By now, Love Bridge was a dab hand at the songs of romance. Since the couples were forbidden onto the bridge, the bridge would sing the ballads all by itself in the late afternoons. In the beginning people living in the vicinity took a certain pride in this development, and saw the singing bridge as a drawing card for sightseers and tourists, and thus a potential plus for economic prosperity. But alas, the refrains in the songs of love at Love Bridge grew longer and longer, and far into the deep calm of night the special music persisted. Needless to say, this caused quite a disturbance for the peace of dreamers. At times the sound was even a long stream of weeping, most probably a replay of some hapless loversí valedictions. Perhaps Love Bridge chose to broadcast late into the night because it wanted to bear witness to its artistic taste. Yet people in the area couldn't see eye to eye with it on this point. Who wanted to put up with an unlucky bridge streaming with tears, anyway? Some urged that the bridge be torn down, but the Artificial Beings Rights Act acted as a restraint, and no one dared act rashly. The only thing to do was to first deprive Love Bridge of its civil rights. Only afterwards could anyone speak of tearing it down. But although it was put to a public vote several times, the proposal never passed.

Love Bridge was probably aware of the fact it was no longer a welcomed bridge. In autumn of a certain year, it did something that surprised everyone. Early one day, the neighbors looking out their windows saw something odd happening. A very long row of bricks had lined itself up on a path beside the river and was slowly creeping forward. All the bricks under microbot control were moving away, and though the pace was slow, the resolve of the step could not be denied. "Love Bridge is moving": the news quickly spread around the world. The local people seemed to have awakened from a deep dream. Their own selfish and stupid behavior had driven away the golden egg! But it was too late to cry over spilt milk.

It required a whole month's time, but Love Bridge moved from the northeast side of the city to the southeast, and at the point where the River I-Lo flowed into the ocean, another great bridge came to be. Within the space of that month, reporters who had followed the story from the start suffered greatly. To focus their cameras forever on the long and winding trail of bricks was after all the driest, dullest, dumbest news around. It was in that "Love Bridge is on the Move" month that reporters established their tradition of arena fighting. From then on, reporters have had to amuse the audience by fighting lions on top of covering their news. Press and TV news representatives that weren't up to the fight turned into snacks for the beasts, and everyone took it for granted. Today the expression "lions' snack" is synonymous with "news reporter", a direct allusion to all this.

Love Bridge liked its first move so much it was off again to greener pastures before long. Since then it has been meandering here and there. People gradually became accustomed to it, and thought it not so odd. In spring and summer Love Bridge would be in the northeast part of the city, and sing its songs to the mountains. Come fall and winter, Love Bridge would be over in the southeast section, crooning to the ocean. And so it was that Love Bridge had no fixed place, and not much could be said about its contribution to the local transport. But the entire world had come to know the city had this Love Bridge that, like a migratory bird, so loved to sing its love songs. It certainly drew a lot of tourists. To put it simply, Love Bridge made a great contribution to the city.

Today Love Bridge has a reputation five hundred years old. But the microbot chips are a bit more temperamental now. These days, when tour buses draw up beside Love Bridge, unless you're a Julio or a Estesan, please don't get careless and sing just any old thing, or else you'll endanger the lives of everyone on that bus! And on the paths near the River I-Lo, if you come upon a long scraggly line of bricks inching their way forward, don't you dare pick up any old brick without thinking. Be careful, or else you'll get your head split open by a couple of hot-blooded bricks.

Appendix: A unique three-decker bridge in China