Imp or King Yama, Who’s Hard To Deal With
Idler’s Note: I’m going to try to see if I can manage 3 chapters a week on a regular basis but again, I can’t guarantee it right now. I’ll see if I can keep up this increased pace although I have to work for a living and will likely need to prioritize that first so I can put food on my table. Hopefully, my translation speed and efficiency will rise with time so the tentative schedule will be easier to maintain and I will do my best to do releases more often. But again, translating is not my full-time job right now and only you, the readers, can decide if you want to support that possibility so I can devote more time to translating.
Disclaimer: This translation is by a fan for fans. Any opinions or commentary presented here are translated as is written by the original author. Any remarks by the translator will be in footnotes or in an editorial aside. The original work is the property of the author and any other associated copyright holders in their respective territories. Please do not reproduce, redistribute, or resell this translation anywhere else without permission! If you are reading this anywhere else but on WordPress, then it is being reposted without permission from the translator! If you are the copyright holder and/or have licensed this work for English publication and wish for this translation to be removed, please contact me to do so. Thank you!
Shiliu was also sent out to do things. After Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan woke up, they discovered that seated by the doorway there was actually another maid servant.
“I am really a bit impressed with your Mom [modern] of this lifetime for overseeing the manor’s affairs, breastfeeding us milk as well as maintaining control over her children’s surrounding situation at all times. If it were switched to that time period of ours, she would definitely also be a howling whirlwind1 of a superwoman.”2 Wang Juan said with a sigh.
“That is, you don’t even look to see whose Mom she is? In the future, don’t keep saying your Mom [modern], your Mom [modern] like that—it’s like you’re insulting people. Follow the local customs3 and say Dad or Mom. Who’s that by the doorway again? Can’t assign any more tasks, otherwise there won’t be enough people to use in the household.”
Zhang Xiaobao looked at the maid servant keeping watch there as another idea emerged from his heart. He thought on it before finally overruling it. Seeing that Wang Juan was grumpily looking over here, he smiled as he said: “Too used to it, I keep on feeling like I’m still that person controlling large-scale organizations, ~ne.”
“Then, keep reminding yourself from time to time, especially when facing outsiders. Let’s go. Go to the sand grounds. Let’s use the fast recovery rate of a child’s body to quickly grab the time to train.”
Once Wang Juan’s voice fell, the two of them began to kick the mat down to the floor. This was the only way that the both of them could get down by themselves.
“Little Mister, you [honorific] are up?” Just after kicking down one mat, that maid servant vigilantly walked over.
“Don’t need you. We’ll go ourselves. You’re called…?” Seeing the maid servant stretch out her hand to carry him and Wang Juan, Zhang Xiaobao spoke up to stop her.
“In reply to Little Mister’s words, I’m called Xiaohong. Many thanks to Little Mister and Little Miss’ intercession. From now on, I and Xiaoqi won’t ever dare be loose-lipped again.” The person calling herself Xiaohong was a bit cautious in her reply.
“Oh, you’re Xiaohong. Work well at the manor; we won’t mistreat you. Quickly, down.” Wang Juan said a sentence to Xiaohong before pressing Zhang Xiaobao to roll down first.
Deeply inhaling a breath with both hands protecting the head, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan consecutively rolled on top of the mat on the floor under that flummoxed gaze of Xiaohong’s. Xiaohong felt like the ones tumbling down there weren’t two children but two great boulders that were tightly pressing down on her chest, frightening her until she didn’t know what to do.
“Go to the kitchen hall to get the water we need. Once you mention it, they’ll understand. Go to the sandy grounds of the backcourt to find us. Remember to bring two or more changes of our clothing.”
Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan ignored the mat on the floor. This kind of matter should be done by Xiaohong. One in front and one in back, they tottered while walking outside.
Gazing at that vanishing silhouette of Little Mister and the Wang Family’s Little Miss, Xiaohong blankly stood there. Only after a long while did she react as she used a hand to cover her mouth as she whispered: “Not monsters. I don’t know anything at all, won’t say anything at all.”
Trembling, Xiaohong went to the kitchen as ordered. The kitchen had already readied the items. As she carried the water while walking to the back, Xiaohong was still in the middle of a trance. As she walked and walked, she suddenly stopped mid-stride as she said to herself: “If Little Mister really is a monster, then wouldn’t the future patriarch be a monster? Doesn’t seem too bad, ~ah. With a monster as the patriarch, who would still dare to bully the manor’s people?”
In an instant, Xiaohong who had come around to the idea became happy. She sped up her footsteps to arrive at the sandy grounds in the back here, only to see Little Mister and the Wang Family’s Little Miss there, currently holding hands as they walked, ~ne. Nearby under a tree, Old Madam and Old Master were sitting, their faces filled with kind smiling expressions as they watched the two fellows over there mess around.
The proud sun slowly sinking in the west,4 Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan once again dragged their exhausted bodies back to their own room. Bearing with the aching soreness, they massaged each other once before lying down there to gradually fall asleep.
Mrs. Zhang-Wang had already given the orders these few days, requesting a pig elbow to eat every day—the kind without any salt. For her, for the sake of the children, it seemed that there wasn’t anything she couldn’t endure.
After being breastfed by Mrs. Zhang-Wang, by the time Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan flopped down there to read the Thousand Character Classic,5 Erniu and Yingtao had already returned while Shiliu was bringing several people to the market fair there to gather vegetable leaves, foul fish, and rotten shrimp.
“Little Mister, the sauce base6 has been prepped. Making sauce in this season isn’t that good. My Mom has said that it can still be made—it’ll be done after a couple days have passed. The money for the small ceramic jars that were commissioned will be sent over at the same time.” Only waiting until Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan raised their heads to rest their eyes did Erniu open his mouth to make the report.
“Unh, first work on this matter; you pay more attention to it. The items received through trade that aren’t soybeans, keep a tenth for your family. Transport the rest back to the courtyard. Find a place to store it for me. The amount of every item, find a person who’s literate to record it and give to me.
You also don’t need to constantly come here every day. Come once every 2 or 3 days. When you encounter unresolvable matters, you can also come seek me out for advice. Rest in the courtyard house tonight. Return tomorrow morning.”
Zhang Xiaobao deliberated slightly, after instructing Erniu, he then glanced Yingtao who was standing to the side. Nodding his little head, Yingtao came forward to say: “Little Mister, that kang [bed-stove] that you [honorific] spoke of has already been set and dried. Quite a few chicken eggs have also been purchased. I’ve been touching the chicken nests every day. I feel like I can do it.”
“Properly prepared? This is good, then. Do it according to what I say. Around 20 days later, there will be chicks hatching. Wait for me to think on it. I’ll describe the matter in detail for you to hear tomorrow. This stuff… I’m familiar.7 When you see Shiliu, have her be a bit quicker.” Zhang Xiaobao was pensive for a moment before slowly speaking.
When Yingtao had also left, Wang Juan stared at Zhang Xiaobao before suddenly smiling: “Even thought you really knew of everything. So you were actually insecure. You familiar with it? Why were you so unconfident when speaking of it?”
“Can’t say I’m unfamiliar. Yingtao had already grasped the temperature so what she needs is for me to give her confidence. Being in power isn’t easy, ~ah.” Zhang Xiaobao smacked his lips, continuing to read after he finished speaking. This wasn’t simply reading but also memorizing.
Wang Juan didn’t say anything more at the moment as her eyes looked straight at the characters with too many brush strokes.8 Only after a while did she speak: “Actually, living isn’t that easy. Who even knows what tomorrow will be like? Natural catastrophes, man-made disasters—if they can’t be avoided, then confront them. What do you want to use that stuff for?”
Wang Juan’s tendency for mental leaps was a bit stronger—she had been lamenting previously and then, with a switch in topic, had gone elsewhere.
“Rewards. From now on, the money made will be even greater and be subject to the suspicions of other people. I may not have the inclination to oversee the internal affairs. Right now, consolidating the hearts of the people is needed. My request is that the two manors of the Zhang and Wang families must be like a monolithic iron block. It’s good that there are people to help out.” Zhang Xiaobao said as he flipped a page.
Wang Juan flipped it back as she hadn’t finished reading it, ~ne: “Still short two lines—not used to reading the vertical version.9 Who did you say was helping?”
“Song Jing-gong, that swindler. We can get a sum of money from him. Read quickly. Read a page and then, sleep.” Zhang Xiaobao yawned as he spoke.
It was another brilliantly sunny day and the early morning breeze still carried a bit of coolness; the chirping of the birds were like the sunlight passing through the gaps in the foliage as their presence could be sensed only inadvertently. The little kids and idle adults with nothing to do were all at home flipping over the firewood piles as they dug out the decayed stuff from underneath to carefully heap it up to the side as they awaited the arrival of the people from the manor to trade for it.
Song Jing-gong didn’t return yesterday and had randomly found a household of the manor to request lodging with. Ordinarily, with a philanthropist like him staying for a few nights, the people of the house should have included the food to be taken care of by them without asking for even 1 wen [cash]. But who knew that the people of these two neighboring manors actually wanted money out of him.
One night’s stay was 5 wen [cash]; a single meal was 5 wen [cash] and it was even without meat while with meat, it was 10 wen [cash]. Just that single crummy dish—not mentioning the flavor not being so good, there wasn’t that much grease,10 either. Going to the town tavern to stay, 15 wen [cash] was enough and you could even drink a bowl of wine, ~ne.
When he left that household, Song Jing-gong even secretly swore a curse. All the money on his person had been given to that Zhang Family’s little kid but they had gone so far as to take an ink stone11 from the Four Treasures of the Study12 that he always carried on him. That ink stone had been priced at 50 wen [cash] and it had only been worth a broken down bed for a night’s stay, a bowl of brown rice,13 and a plate of eggs with stir-fried garlic chives14 that they had actually counted as a meat dish.
With such a dismal mood, even the weather being this nice couldn’t make Song Jing-gong cheer up. If that jade and silver hadn’t been taken by another person, Song Jing-gong was really prepared to leave here. Now that the stuff had been given away, if he didn’t swindle any profit, whatever else was said, he couldn’t accept it.
Imagining the spectacle of when the Zhang Manor’s people would be swindled to tears, Song Jing-gong’s heart was finally a bit comforted. He hurried along the way, only slowing down his footsteps after he had nearly reached the manor’s largest courtyard. Tidying his clothes, he said in the direction of the great door: “I wonder if the one managing the affairs of the manor is present? Song Jing-gong has come to pay a visit.”
The people at the doorway here had already received instructions so they glanced at the door and were silent.
Song Jing-gong waited for a while before reaching out to knock on the door. Only then did someone inside pull open the small portal, sticking their head out to look at Song Jing-gong as they said: “What?”
“I am Song Jing-gong, desiring to meet the person managing the affairs of your house.” Song Jing-gong cleared his throat, speaking in a clear voice.
“Don’t recognize you, have a name card?15 How could the person managing the affairs of my house be so easily seen?” The gatekeeper curled his lip in disdain.
“I came here before yesterday along with your house’s Little Mister. Why is this not known today?” Song Jing-gong was inwardly furious yet he couldn’t directly demonstrate it and could only continue talking.
“I only saw Little Mister yesterday and saw no other people. Eiyou~!16 Isn’t this Mister Zheng?17 You [honorific] have come; please quickly enter. This little one here will go inform them for you.” The gatekeeper was speaking when his face suddenly changed in expression, greeting Song Jing-gong afterward before turning around to run inside.
Song Jing-gong hearing this mention by the gatekeeper, turned his head to observe only to see a young person around 20 years of age with a face full of smiles who was currently standing there, his upper torso clad in a little jacket and lower parts in tight-legged trousers. He didn’t appear to be a person with money so why did that gatekeeper treat him like this?
“Oh, oh, greetings, Mister Song. Don’t know if Mister Song is like this one20 coming here to borrow money?” This Mister Zheng didn’t seem to know what secrecy was, revealing his purpose in coming upon opening his mouth.
“Borrow money? Then, I wonder why the gatekeeper gives the two of us such different treatment?” Song Jing-gong wanted to figure it out where he was lacking.
“Oh, Mister Song must be an upright person. Although I am borrowing money but every time I come here, I always…”
“Mister Zheng, you [honorific], please come inside.” Just as Song Jing-gong wanted to know the reason, the gatekeeper returned, standing by the doorway in welcome. Mister Zheng smiled as he said thanks, offhandedly handing over a string that was enough to be 300 wen [cash] in copper coins to the gatekeeper before walking inside with the gatekeeper in respectful attendance.
Gazing at Mister Zheng’s silhouette in the distance, the gatekeeper weighed the money in his hands with a face full of smiles before happily stowing it away. When he was looking back at Song Jing-gong again, he suddenly gave a cold humph and not speaking at all, he turned around to go inside.
Song Jing-gong at once knew the reason. Gritting his teeth, he turned around to leave. This wasn’t because he didn’t want to swindle anymore but it was to go back to get money. He finally understood what was going on with this gatekeeper. This really was called King Yama21 is easy to see; an imp22 is hard to deal with.23
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“Chi zha feng yun” (叱咤風雲) is an idiom with Cantonese origins. When taken apart etymologically, chizha/叱咤 means “to roar/bellow” and fengyun/風雲 means “wind (and) cloud,” which tends to call up the image of a storm or turbulence. This phrase is generally used to describe something omnipotent or all-powerful using the weather/nature as an image. Because it was a bit hard for me to translate this literally as well as get the gist of it across as briefly as possible, I compromised by choosing a similar metaphor that hopefully also conveyed a roughly equivalent meaning. ↩
“Nu Qiang Ren” (女強人) is another slang term with Cantonese origins that was probably popularized and adopted into the Mandarin vernacular through a Hong Kong drama called “Jia Bian” (家變) whose official English title is “A House Is Not a Home.” Cantonese slang or idioms being re-purposed and re-adapted into Mandarin Chinese is understandable when you consider that Hong Kong was the main source of Chinese entertainment for years until the mainland Chinese economy kicked into high enough gear to allow its film/TV industries to mature and why Hong Kong-based celebrities still have name recognition in mainland China, even today. Qiangren/強人, meaning “strong person,” was a term first coined in the Water Margin (水滸傳) to describe someone highly skilled but it also later gained the added meaning of bandit or robber, which sounds similar since they are qiangdao/強盜 or qiangfei/搶匪 in Chinese. “Nu Qiang Ren” (女強人) likely harkens back to the initial “talented person” definition but adds the character for woman (nu/女) in front of it. A similar term in Chinese would be “tie niang zi” (鐵娘子) or “iron lady.” Both terms would be applied to career women who balance work and home lives while excelling at both. Because of these considerations and for the sake of reader understanding while simultaneously keeping the grammatically smooth, I have translated this term as superwoman. ↩
“Ru xiang sui su” (入鄉隨俗) literally translates to “entering village, follow customs.” An equivalent saying in English, which is attributed to Ambrose, would be “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” that is so often simply quoted as the shortened “when in Rome” to the point that people hardly remember the full expression. Here, Xiaobao is chiding Juan-Juan for still using the modern version of “your mother” to refer to Mrs. Zhang-Wang, which really sounds like she’s cursing him out. It is especially glaring since by contrast, Xiaobao has mostly switched to using the ancient term for mother. So he is telling her to switch over as well. ↩
I don’t think I did this phrase justice as the original Chinese is written rather poetically although I can’t find what classical source the author might be quoting or referencing: “jiao yang jian jian xi chen” (驕陽漸漸西沉). It could also be a turn of phrase the author made up on his own since he is rather literary. If anyone knows for sure, let me know! ↩
The Thousand Character Classic or “Qian Zi Wen” (千字文) is the equivalent of a primer for ancient Chinese children just like how little kids would get taught their ABCs as a basis for how to read and write in English (or any other Romance language that uses the Latin alphabet for that matter). It is written as a poem, which serves as a mnemonic device, similar to how singing the alphabet song helps American kids remember the letters. ↩
A “pizi” (坯子) is the base for the sauce that is usually created by mixing the raw materials and is then processed through fermentation, marination, or brewing depending on the needs of the recipe for the specific sauce. ↩
The shu/熟 used in this sentence can also mean hot or warm since being familiar with something in Chinese literally means to be hot/warm with it, adding a bit of wordplay in this conversation since they are talking about controlling the temperature by being familiar with it. ↩
This is another reference to the fact that Xiaobao and Juan-Juan are looking at Traditional Chinese characters, which would use more brush strokes than they are used to, having grown up using the Simplified Chinese character set. ↩
Wang Juan is referring to the fact that not only is Chinese a written language whose characters were traditionally oriented horizontally from right-to-left, it could also be written vertically. The influence of European languages such as English and the predominantly Latin-based encoding of computer fonts means that modern Chinese is now generally written horizontally from left-to-right with a decrease in the use of vertically written Chinese. So reading a Tang dynasty book would require some adjustment from Juan-Juan since the text would not only be using more complex characters (in her view, at least), it is also oriented in the opposite direction of what she’s used to, and probably oriented vertically as well. ↩
Meat was considered a luxury in the ancient Chinese diet. So the oils, fats, and grease associated with meat consumption was correspondingly very highly valued to the point that “you shui” (油水), which is grease or “oil water,” became a synonym for profit in Chinese and oily or greasy merchants were a common epithet to illustrate how rich they were. ↩
A “yan tai” (硯台) or ink stone is a mortar that serves as the surface that the ink stick is ground against as well as being the container that the ink is mixed and stored in during use. An ink stone could be made out of different kinds of material as well as decorated or carved to beautiful effect with some of them being sought after for their historical and artistic qualities as well as utilitarian function. ↩
The Four Treasures of the Study or “wen fang si bao” (文房四寶) are the brush, ink (stick), paper, and ink stone. They were considered necessities for a scholar to have in their study and carrying them around on their travels in case inspiration struck them was also a common habit. Needless to say, selecting the right ones was itself an art form and a matter of subjective opinion that the ancient literati took seriously. ↩
I have translated “jiu cai” (韭菜) as garlic chives though it is also known by a plethora of different names in English that include Chinese leek, oriental garlic, etc. Its scientific name is Allium tuberosum and it was widely cultivated in East Asia for its culinary, medicinal, and decorative purposes. ↩
I have translated “ming tie” (名帖) literally as “name card” though it is essentially the ancient Chinese equivalent of a calling or visiting card. The reason I have done so is because I wanted to emphasize the name part as they were handwritten and served as an impromptu way to prove the holder’s identity while showing off their calligraphy. Obviously, these cards were more effective the more famous the card owner was. A card bearing the name of the person was given to the household they wished to call upon as a form of etiquette. These cards were considered the person’s “face” and could also function as a form of letter of introduction if given to a friend or acquaintance that could be used to gain entry to a household outside of their social circle or request a meeting with someone who was also a friend or acquaintance of the name card’s owner. Since these helped facilitate social calls, they were a necessary tool for the Chinese aristocracy and literati in maintaining their social networks, similar to their European counterparts. ↩
“Eiyou” (誒呦) is another onomatopoeia in Chinese that is an exclamation of surprise. ↩
The gesture of greeting Song Jing-gong is making here, “gong shou” (拱手), is a hand gesture similar in concept to a Namaste but with one hand clenched in a fist instead of the palms meeting. This was a polite way to greet people as it maintained a safe distance between the greeter and the one being greeted without touching as well as conveying polite friendliness. So it is a bit like a handshake geared for wary hypochondriacs or those with a phobia to touch. You’ve probably seen this gesture before if you have ever watched any Chinese fantasy media as it shows up a lot in kung fu films, wuxia series, and any other visual media that are set in ancient China or an analogue of it. For pictures on what it looks like, you can visit this page here. ↩ ↩
Song Jing-gong is using humble speech to refer to himself in the third person here. “Zai xia” (在下) literally means “is under” and is a polite way for the speaker to imply that they are beneath the listener as a sign of polite humility. Since Song Jing-gong wants information from the other person, the power dynamic between them is unequal and his polite humility is warranted. ↩
The Chinese used here of “you li” (有理) literally means “have rationality.” Since this is one of those pleasantries said by rote upon meeting someone, I translated for the gist rather than the literal meaning. ↩
Mister Zheng is referring to himself with just mo/某, which would be similar to someone using “one” to refer to themselves (ex: One wishes one could take a vacation). ↩
“Yan Wang” (閻王) is the Chinese name for King Yama, who is the King of Hell in Buddhism. The Chinese name is based off the original Sanskrit name, Yama Raja (यम राज). He is known as Enma Ou in Japan so some translations will use this name or a variation on it for him. He is a figure that plays a similar role to Osiris or Hades in that he impartially judges the souls of the dead that come before him and decides their destination. ↩
“Xiao gui” (小鬼) literally translates to “little ghost.” However, because it is being mentioned in text to contrast with King Yama who is the king of the underworld and has a lot of demons and spirits as his subordinates, I chose to translate it as imp. Kids can also be jokingly referred to as “xiaogui” (小鬼) when they are naughty or precocious, further supporting its connotations as imp. ↩
This 8-character couplet, “Yan Wang hao jian, xiao gui nan chan” (閻王好見，小鬼難纏), is essentially a Chinese aphorism that states that individuals of high status like King Yama (who is known for his fairness, by the way) can be easier to meet or deal with than is expected while small-time peons like the imps subordinate to King Yama (who are prone to bribery or caprice) can be harder to deal with by contrast and their difficulty in being dealt with seems to be an inverse reflection of the pettiness or greatness of their positions.