Who Can Beat The Spicy Sauce Once It Appears
Idler’s Note: I will be doing my best to make up for the week of releases I missed at the end of July as I am currently 2 chapters in the hole (I made up for one out of the three). Hopefully, I can keep to the schedule change of 3 chapters a week this month without dying. 😛 Please like, subscribe, and share to give me energy to power through this week!
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!
‘In front of me are two little kids who haven’t even been weaned off milk yet. I’m not afraid. I shouldn’t feel fear. Pretending—they’re all pretending. It’s the grownups who’ve taught them to speak like this.’
As Song Jing-gong listened to the words that Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan spoke, taking in the atmosphere when the two kids talked as well as that kind of inner something, he constantly reassured himself to make himself be clear on the matter before his eyes and to disperse the cloudy fog.
“Mister Song, please.” Zhang Xiaobao essentially didn’t even give Song Jing-gong a chance to adjust and seeing Song Jing-gong stare blankly, he picked up the tea and started drinking.
“Xiaobao, the tea is a bit old—pre-festival1 is still the best.” Wang Juan finished drinking the tea, evaluating it as she smacked her lips twice.
Filled with curiosity, Song Jing-gong also picked up the hot tea to take a sip. He didn’t dare pick up the cold tea as he feared being tricked. As he drank a mouthful of tea, he only felt one sensation—light. There wasn’t any salt or sugar in the flavor and even more, it didn’t have any ginger or scallions to enhance it. It was a bit unpalatable but after a little while, he discovered that he actually found that kind of lightly bitter taste of this tea addicting.
“The method of brewing this tea seems to be different from others?” Song Jing-gong asked, raising his head after he finished the tea.
“That is right. This way of drinking tea is for the sake of drinking while displaying elegance—not for ordinary life and to be used for the sake of culture that isn’t suitable for hardship. For those with money and status, they can use such a method. If it is only for the sake of maintaining the internal organs, then adding salt, ginger, or other such substances would be better. Today, I treat it with elegance; tomorrow morning, perhaps I may abandon it to disuse.” Zhang Xiaobao spoke with a light tone of voice.
“It’s to tell you that doing this is to put on airs. Decent people drink tea because they’re suffering from indigestion after eating. Adding salt is in order to not let the body lack salt. Adding ginger is for the sake of preventing nausea and get rid of chills. For people with no power and money, living is the most important. Of course, when pretending is necessary, they will still pretend—pretending is a part of life.”
Seeing Song Jing-gong go into a daze, Wang Juan gave a ‘translation’ to the side.
Song Jing-gong nodded his head. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand but that he hadn’t thought that tea could actually be used to reflect status. If he had known this earlier, then wouldn’t he have had an additional trick when he was swindling in the past? But this little kid in front of him had a trick that wasn’t use. Could it be that he had already reached a level that he disdained using such a method?
In listening to this little girl’s words, what caused him the greatest shock was that last sentence. Pretending is a part of life—how could this come out of the mouth of a little girl who was only a year or so old?
“This Song has received instruction. Wonder if Mister Zhang is willing to teach the way to make this tea? This Song will certainly reciprocate a thousand and a hundredfold.” Song Jing-gong’s thinking was crooked as he felt like he had a new way to swindle people.
Not waiting for Zhang Xiaobao to speak, Wang Juan over there had already spoken up: “What can you reciprocate? You owe us money now, ~ne. It’s a lot. Several hundred silver taels—how are you going to repay it?”
Upon hearing these words, Song Jing-gong’s face changed in expression several times before he finally helplessly exhaled out a breath. He was about to speak when Zhang Xiaobao directly said: “Mister Song, I’m calling you Mister today not because you have an honorary title. Dog fart of an honorary title! If I wanted to, I could be your equal in standing before the age of 4. It is because though you have swindled many, you have never targeted ordinary people.
What you did previously, I approve of it all. Save for your actions during the chick hatching matter, which disappointed me. Could it be that with a large enough profit, you’ll forget your beginnings?”
Hearing Zhang Xiaobao’s words, Song Jing-gong trembled. It was really like what this kid had said. At that moment, he had actually been moved toward wickedness and hadn’t been the same as what he had decided to be in the past.
“Many thanks, Mister Zhang. But the method of the tea leaves…?” Song Jing-gong still wanted to keep swindling.
“Song Jing-gong, how can you disappoint me so, ~ne? Except for this kind of—as I see it—lowbrow swindling technique, you don’t know of anything else? Harming people while benefiting yourself to make money, that’s the low road. Helping people while benefiting yourself is the petty road; benefiting the nation and its people while making money is the great road. Are you just prepared to hang around on the low road?”
Zhang Xiaobao, seeing that Song Jing-gong was still thinking of using deceptive methods to earn money, was genuinely disappointed. If swindling was really needed, then would you, Song Jing-gong, even be needed?
Song Jing-gong put down the tea bowl as he gazed at the little kid in front of him and suddenly felt a kind of awkwardness, especially with the contemptuous look and expression of disappointment on this little kid’s face. When he looked over at the little girl next to him, she actually had an appearance of hating that the iron hadn’t turned into steel.2
Song Jing-gong felt like when he faced the two kids, it was like they were his past test officials and he couldn’t help feeling kind of lost.
“Wonder which type Mister Zhang belongs to?” Song Jing-gong still wasn’t willing to give up as he asked again.
“This point doesn’t need Xiaobao to speak of it, I can tell you. Not to the left, not to the right, and not to the middle—that is moderation.”3 When Wang Juan said these words, she turned her head, not willing to look at Song Jing-gong anymore.
At this moment, Song Jing-gong really was won over. He already understood that for these two kids to swindle him to death, the energy needed to blow the dust off wouldn’t even need to be expended. How were these even children? They clearly were already masters of themselves.
“Mister Zhang, Jing-gong is dull-witted and hopes that many doubts will be answered in the future.” Song Jing-gong humbled himself.
“Answer what doubts? Listen more, see more, do more, think more, ask more—that is learning. By my side, I lack an advisor4 so whenever I do anything, there’s always something that’s overlooked. I wonder if Mister Song…?” Zhang Xiaobao didn’t speak but implied the last words.
“Learning has no end;5 those who reach it, teach.6 From now on, Jing-gong shall do as Little Mister orders.” Song Jing-gong had already figured it out. If some of the sentences before could be taught by people, then the following words in reply didn’t have any other people who could teach it. Even if Zhuge7 was alive, it wouldn’t be possible. Everything had all been said according to the will of these two kids themselves.
These two kids weren’t like ordinary people. Moreover, he himself was still weighed down with debt; his life and death was entirely based on their one word. If he didn’t seek service with them at this time, then he’d have to wait till when—did he really want to make them take those actions of blood and iron8 after causing them disappointment?
Thinking of this, Song Jing-gong already understood that they didn’t wish for him to have to die and only wanted a person who could handle their affairs. Song Jing-gong felt that working for the victor wasn’t disgraceful. As for culture, it came whenever they opened their mouths. With swindling, several of him added together would still lead to a fate of bankruptcy and ruin.9
“Really? Gaining a person like Mister Song, it is like I have gained a Guan Zhong.10 From now on, I will have to trouble Mister Song a lot.” The overtures that should be made, Zhang Xiaobao still made.
“Little Mister, it would be better to call me Zijin11 in the following days.” Song Jing-gong said.
At this time, Wang Juan also turned her head around and said: “So Mister Song’s style name12 is Zijin: ‘Blue, blue is your lapel that sways, sways my heart.’13 Since you possess a heart that worships the common people, then you’ll have to work hard. Xiaobao, hand the matter of the soybean oil to Zijin.”
Song Jing-gong was really speechless. Just saying out loud one style name from himself here and a one year old kid immediately recited the poem there. When he looked over at these two kids again, no matter how he looked at it, they were such a matched pair. If they were like this around a year old, what would they be like after growing up?
“Fine. [Older] Brother Zijin, since it’s like this, then I’ll have to trouble you. I wish to use soybeans to make some oil and trade it to the peasants to eat those carrots that you brought over—that is, the sweet plants. You sold this stuff a bit expensively. It isn’t worth 1 wen [cash] for 1 catty but 1 wen [cash] for 2 catties is about right.”
At this time, Zhang Xiaobao also spoke up, wishing to lower the price of the sold carrots in half.
“When dealing with us, there is only whether you wish to do it and not whether it’s possible or not.” Wang Juan said with certainty.
“All right. Then, how to make the oil? Soybeans have oil, too? To light lamps with?” Song Jing-gong had to admit that they were more formidable than he was.
“Not for lighting lamps. For eating—same as with lard. First, collect the soybeans. We can talk about the rest later.” Wang Juan said in interruption.
Song Jing-gong naturally wouldn’t protest as things would be fine as long as he followed their orders. Concerned with the matter of collecting the soybeans, he took his leave before he left.
Five days later, the sunlight was bright.
Carrying a basket in his hands, Erniu returned to find Zhang Xiaobao.
“Little Mister, the sauce has come out. This is what you [honorific] wanted. See what it’s like?” Erniu took out dozens of small jars from inside the basket and placed them in front of Zhang Xiaobao.
“[Older] Brother Zijin, know what this is?” Zhang Xiaobao smiled after seeing the objects as he spoke to Song Jing-gong who was beside him.
Song Jing-gong looked and said: “I know—soybean paste.”
“Bring the flat cakes14 over.” Zhang Xiaobao said to Yingtao next to him.
Yingtao had already prepared them in advance over there. For these past few days, she had been preparing the flat cakes day after day so upon hearing his voice, she immediately left to retrieve and place them in front of Zhang Xiaobao.
“[Older] Brother Zijin, please smear the paste on top of the flat cake.” Zhang Xiaobao said while handing over a pair of chopsticks.
Song Jing-gong uncertainly followed along with what Zhang Xiaobao asked and then looked at Zhang Xiaobao. When he saw this little kid make an eating motion, Song Jing-gong didn’t hesitate one bit and directly placed it in his mouth to take a big bite.
“Delicious, how was this stuff made? Little Mister, could it be that you made it?” After eating a mouthful, Song Jing-gong said a sentence to Zhang Xiaobao before eating the entire flat cake.
Just as he finished eating, Xiaohong there served up a bowl of chicken egg and spinach soup with scallions that had been stir-fried in oil floating on top. Drinking one sip left a fragrant aftertaste in his mouth.
“Little Mister, this stuff was made by you?” Song Jing-gong smacked his lips twice as he asked disbelievingly.
“Not me, it was Erniu. The soybeans have been more or less collected, right? From now on, you’ll sell this kind of paste sauce. I’ll give you several recipes for dishes using this kind of paste sauce. At the very least, you will sell 1 catty for 50 wen [cash].” Zhang Xiaobao also used a finger to dab up some sauce to taste it as he spoke to Song Jing-gong.
“No, that’s not it. It was Little Mister. Little Mister told me how to make it. It wasn’t me. It really wasn’t me.” Erniu had actually not tasted this sauce at all as once it had been made, he had brought it over. So seeing Little Mister credit him for the work, he vigorously shook his head in denial.
Song Jing-gong, seeing the two people’s expressions and the words that they spoke, recalled the taste in his mouth once again as he said: “Little Mister, I, Song Jing-gong, really do admit defeat today. I really do. There’s credit that you don’t claim and you can still make this kind of delicious item. You can relax; I’ll sell it at 100 wen [cash] per catty for you.”
“Don’t. If you really sell it that expensively, then that would be cheating me. You can only sell it at 50 wen [cash] for 1 catty. Wait until I’ve produced the soybean oil and it’s been stir-fried in oil afterwards—then, we can sell it for 100 wen [cash]. We’re doing legitimate business. We don’t need to swindle.”
Zhang Xiaobao, upon seeing Song Jing-gong’s appearance, knew what he was thinking and instantly rejected this suggestion. Then, looking at Erniu, he said: “Now, I’m giving you a new mission. Add the soybean bits [douban] inside the sauce. Categorize this and the previous one into two kinds of sauces. Remember to keep it secret.”
“Little Mister, you [honorific] rest assured as I, Erniu, will certainly complete this matter. I’ll go then.” After he finished speaking, Erniu turned around and left.
Song Jing-gong used his hand to scoop up some meat from inside the sauce to place it on his tongue as he asked: “Why is there a special flavor? It seems to be spicy.”
“It’s the same as that formula for hatching chicks that you had bought. You always need something better in order to sell something worse.” Zhang Xiaobao said, smiling.
↑ RETURN TO TOP ↑
Juan-Juan says “ming qian” (明前) in Chinese here, which literally means “before light” and refers to “ming qian cha” (明前茶) or “before light tea” that itself is a shorthand name for tea that was picked before the Qingming Festival (清明節) as it is believed that tea leaves picked afterward don’t compare in taste to the tea leaves picked before the festival. Therefore, pre-festival tea leaves tend to be exponentially more expensive and valued than tea leaves picked post-festival. Juan-Juan stating that the tea is too old means that the tea leaves were picked later as they had time to grow more and thus, are not as tender as they could have been if they had been picked earlier. ↩
“Heng tie bu cheng gang” (恨鐵不成鋼) is an expression in Chinese that uses the analogy of iron and the hard work required to turn it into steel as the metallurgic technology wasn’t advanced enough back then to guarantee that iron could be successfully forged into steel. So someone who hates that the iron hadn’t turned into steel is usually metaphorically expressing frustration that someone with great potential is wasting it. This idiom is especially apt if the person so frustrated is the metaphorical smith who has put a lot of effort into nurturing or transforming the wasted talent that is being likened to the iron ore that failed to turn into steel. ↩
“Zhong yang” (中庸) translates to “moderation” and refers to the Confucian philosophy, “zhong yang zhi dao” (中庸之道 ), which means “path of moderation” though it has been translated as “Doctrine of the Mean” in English. It is also the title of one of the Four Books of Confucianism. It shares remarkable similarities to the Greek philosophical idea of the “Golden Mean” as posed by Aristotle and the Buddhist concept of the Middle Way or “zhong dao” (中道) in that all three approaches basically argue for avoiding excess or extremes and sticking to the middle. ↩
“Mu liao” (幕僚) roughly means “aide” but it is a term that doesn’t refer to the typical peon assistant or aide and has an added connotation of an advisory background role that is granted a great deal of independence and trust in order to work toward their leader’s goal. For the sake of reference, the title of White House Chief of Staff is translated into Chinese as “Bai Gong Mu Liao Zhang” (白宮幕僚長) as the White House staff are essentially the President’s personal advisory aides who’d help with anything that impacted the President as an individual politician versus the national advisors who would give advice on official national policy but wouldn’t normally deal with the personal politics of the President. So Xiaobao is basically asking Song Jing-gong to not only be his assistant but also act as an independent personal advisor. This term comes up a lot in historical Chinese fiction because these “mu liao” could be collected into a group to become an ancient form of think tank or advisory team for their lord and acted as key players if there were any backroom dealings or conspiracies to scheme over and put into action. For example, one of the most famous geniuses in Chinese history and culture, Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮), was essentially one of these for Liu Bei (劉備) before he was promoted to Chancellor after the state of Shu Han (蜀漢) was founded during the Three Kingdoms period. ↩
“Xue wu zhi jing” (學無止境) is a 4-character couplet that can be traced back to a Qing dynasty text, “Wen Shuo” 《問說》 by Liu Kai (劉開). Likely, the author didn’t realize that this was anachronistic so let’s just pretend Song Jing-gong is unwittingly ahead of his time… ↩
The 4-character idiom “dazhe wei shi” (達者為師) is another one of those mnemonic phrases that don’t make complete sense until you consider the entire context that it is taken from. Taken literally, it means “the one who reaches it becomes a teacher,” which is a bit nonsensical. The full sentence is “學無前後，達者為先” and is from the Tang dynasty text, “Shi Shuo” 《師說》 by Neo-Confucian poet Han Yu (韓愈). The latter half makes more sense when you combine it with the former half’s meaning, which translates to “learning has no first or last.” This expression basically espouses the thinking that those who are the best or most skilled should be respected regardless of seniority, an idea that is slightly heretical to the respect given to the age hierarchy in traditional Confucianism as it encourages the possibility of an older or more senior person deferring to a younger or more junior person if they possess the necessary learning or skill. Thus, it’s essentially promoting a version of “survival of the fittest” within scholarly circles in that the most learned ones should become teachers, regardless of age or seniority. “Dazhe” (達者) became a synonym for “capable one or expert” because of this quote even though it technically just means “arrived one.” Song Jing-gong essentially modified this sentence so that the meaning is slightly changed to show that he is acknowledging the children’s fitness to be his master and teacher. ↩
“Zhuge” (諸葛) is the surname of Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮), who is commonly considered the epitome of genius and intelligence in Asia due to the essential role that he played as the strategist for Liu Bei (劉備) and the state of Shu Han (蜀漢) during the Three Kingdoms period as well as the inventions attributed to him. This status is also helped by the fact that the novelization of the historical events of the Three Kingdoms is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms or “San Guo Yanyi” 《三國演義》, that took artistic license to expound greatly on Zhuge Liang’s cunning and exploits. It is easy to know that Zhuge Liang is being referenced when just using the surname since it is rare to have 2-character surnames (also known as compound surnames) in China, much less the particular one of Zhuge. ↩
The Chinese used here of “tie xue shou duan” (鐵血手段), I translated literally. I am footnoting it because I had to suppress the urge to translate it as blood and steel since steel is the metal mentioned whenever an euphemism for weapons is used in English whereas iron is the metal that always shows up in the Chinese language as a symbol for weapons or war. This is likely because the Chinese literary customs ossified and forever tied iron with war, even after the Chinese had already discovered ways to produce steel although steel wasn’t produced in enough mass quantities to have entire armies outfitted in them. This is probably similar to how English idioms will still mention swords in metaphors even though they are no longer in common use, having been superseded in their role by guns. ↩
I translated “qing jia dang chan” (傾家盪產) as “bankruptcy and ruin” but it actually literally translates to “collapse of house, rocking of production,” which basically means loss of home (homelessness) and financial loss or instability. ↩
Guan Zhong (管仲) was the chancellor of the state of Qi (齊) during the Spring and Autumn period who was thought to be the ideal minister and was greatly praised by Confucius. His efforts made his state the most powerful of the feudal states in China at the time. ↩
“Zijin” (子衿) isn’t actually a real word but is the title of a poem. So this would be similar to someone taking on an internet alias or pseudonym based on a song or book. Zi/子 is a multi-purpose character that has a variety of meanings depending on the situation and in this case, it is likely acting as a placeholder word for person or individual. Jin/衿 refers to the collar or lapel that diagonally traverses the front of a Hanfu (漢服) garment. Because of the export of Chinese clothing styles over time through the Sinosphere, you can see this collar style reflected in the design of the traditional Japanese kimono (きもの/着物) or Korean hanbok (한복/韓服) as well. ↩
Zi/字 literally means “character” but in this case, it is referring to the style or courtesy name that an educated man assumes upon reaching his majority at the age of 20. Biao/表 (meaning appearance) is also another way to refer to this name in Chinese. This style or courtesy name was reserved for intimates or close friends to use in ancient China while those who weren’t, used the person’s titles or surname to address them. A person’s given name was hardly ever used except for in legal documentations since even family members tended to either use nicknames and pet names or family titles to address them by, a practice that was likely a culmination of various Chinese naming customs and an extension of the thinking that doing so would possibly draw too much attention from malevolent spirits who would be able to identify the person by their true name. ↩
The quote of “qing qing zijin, you you wo xin” (青青子衿，悠悠我心) comes from an anthology of classical Chinese poetry called “Shijin” 《詩經》 or the Classic of Poetry—namely, it is from a poem titled “Zijin” (子衿) from the “Zheng Feng” (鄭風) or the Odes to Zheng section of the “Airs of the States” (Guo Feng/國風) part of the compilation. The poem’s subject is about a man waiting in the upper story of a building for his close friend or lover (there has been some historical debate over the actual nature of the relationship). This particular phrase was then quoted by the Three Kingdoms period warlord and founder of the state of Cao Wei (曹魏), Cao Cao (曹操), in a well known yuefu (樂府) style poem of his that he composed right before the Battle of Red Cliffs (赤壁之戰) that was titled “Duan Ge Xing” 《短歌行》 or Short Song Style in order to express his passionate longing for collecting talented people under his flag. For those wondering why it sounds like it could be a song lyric, it is because yuefu style poems are composed to resemble music. ↩
“Bing” (餅) translates to “cake, bread, biscuit, or cookies” depending on the context. Because the food item in question here is a flattened and round cake made out of unleavened dough that is similar to flatbreads and pancakes (in fact, scallion pancakes are a fried type of these), I chose to translate this food item as “flat cake” in English. For other similar foods, compare Mexican tortillas, Indian roti, or French crêpes.